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Friday, March 25, 2011

Bronx Pols Push Cuomo On Rent Reform; Jeff Klein’s Name Absent

The following story appeared in this week's issue of the Norwood News.

By Jeanmarie Evelly

A number of local elected officials are urging Gov. Andrew Cuomo to renew and strengthen rent regulation laws, in favor of renters, as part of his budget negotiations with the legislature this month.

Last week, about 90 lawmakers signed a letter to the governor pressing the issue, which requested that he not only renew the existing Emergency Tenant Protection Act that expires this spring but that he include provisions to repeal vacancy decontrol — the law that lets landlords hike rents of stabilized apartments once tenants vacate them, essentially deregulating the city’s housing market.

State Senator Jeffrey Klein
Every Bronx state representative put his or her name on the letter with the exception of one: State Sen. Jeff Klein, whose district covers parts of the Bronx and Westchester. Klein, who recently formed a four-member Independent Caucus among centrist Senate Democrats, has been a target of housing advocates’ campaigns in the past, criticized for his inaction on pro-tenant legislation and for receiving substantial campaign contributions from landlord and real estate groups.

“Jeff Klein is an operative for the real estate lobby,” said Michael McKee, of the Tenants Political Action Committee. “He works behind the scenes to make sure that pro-tenant legislation does not pass.”

Klein’s camp, however, said that the senator was never given the letter to sign.
“We don’t have a record of receiving the letter,” said spokesman Rich Azzopardi.When asked where Klein stood on the issue of vacancy decontrol, Azzopardi said the senator would support the legislation if it came up for a vote.

“We’re not opposed to having these issues in the budget,” he said. “If the bills come to the floor, he’ll vote for them.”

But housing advocates say Klein’s history indicates otherwise. In 2008, his name was absent from another letter of support signed by Senate Democrats at the time to push for the repeal of vacancy decontrol, according to an article in the New York Times.

“He has not really been a strong advocate of tenants,” said Mary Tek, of the advocacy group Tenants & Neighbors. “I think he thinks he has a lot of homeowners in his district.”

But Klein’s 34th State Senate District has approximately 24,600 rent-regulated apartment units in the New York City portions alone, Tek said, all of which stand to become deregulated in June if the Emergency Tenant Protection Act is not renewed.

Advocates have been throwing their support behind legislation known as the Onmnibus Rent Bill, introduced in the Assembly this year by Brooklyn Assemblyman Vito Lopez. The bill would renew existing rent laws but also repeal vacancy decontrol, re-regulate hundred of thousands of apartments that have been de-stabilized over the years and raise the minimum amount of rent at which landlords can de-regulate apartments.

The bill has the support of a number of local lawmakers, though Klein has not signed on as a sponsor, and it still faces an uphill battle in the Republican-controlled State Senate—which is why advocates and lawmakers who support it are pushing Cuomo to include it in the budget, which is due April 1.

“We don’t have enough leverage [in Albany],” McKee said. “We are going to be in serious trouble if we don’t get this in the budget.”

Cuomo said recently that he’s open to including rent regulation in his budget negotiations, but did not specify in what form.

“The devil is in the details,” Tek explained. “We need to really nail the governor down on what he means.”


  1. As the years have gone on, Jeff Klein has gotten more and more out of touch. His agenda is only Jeff Klein, not his constituents.

  2. Didn't rent regulations already destroy the Bronx once? Have you ever SEEN the pictures of what rent control did?

    This is a TERRIBLE idea and will send us back to the fires, arson, and neglect that we just got away from

  3. Anon@12:04AM,

    I have heard this theory on blogs before, but have yet to see any proof that rent regulation was mainly responsible for what happened in the 70s.

    On the contrary, there is much documentation of other causes, including especially redlining, disinvestment, the loss of a tax base in NYC that left with manufacturing jobs and suburbanization, the closing of fire stations and other cuts to municipal services, as well as the aging of the housing stock, increased levels of drug addiction, bad urban planning, etc.

    I would be really interested to read into some proof that rent regulation actually was an underlying cause of the destruction of some of these neighborhoods. Without any, I have a hard time believing the unregulated free market would have any benefit for folks that aren't in the landlord-class. Especially with all that's gone on in the economy in the past few years, it's hard to see how deregulation has ever benefited those not already in power.

    Furthermore, it has been under the weakening of rent laws that we saw the horrid conditions in the Ocelot and Milbank buildings, the closest we've been to the 70s.

  4. You sound like a professional tenant organizer.

    The basic problem was that in an era of relatively high inflation rent control did not allow the landlords to make enough to cover their costs, much less re-invest in the buildings. This is pretty thoroughly documented -- otherwise the landlords wouldn't have turned over tens of thousands of zero-debt buildings to the city -- after all, if they had positive income, the buildings would have had some value.

    Redlining was a RESPONSE to rent control -- landlords were abandoning their buildings, even with tenants in place. No prudent bank is going to lend money to a landlord who isn't legally allowed to collect enough rents to repay it.

    A lot of the arson in the Bronx was also due to rent control -- the landlords didn't maintain the buildings (they didn't get paid for it), and tenants who were displaced got first crack at the housing projects. So both sides had incentives to burn buildings -- the buildings were actually insured for more money than they were worth as rentals, and if the building was destroyed, you could build free-market housing on the site while paying very low property taxes when it was vacant.

    I have read almost every academic paper on the subject of rent control, and I've never seen a coherent argument that a rent control policy that has any teeth actually works in the long run.

  5. You read the wrong academics Anonymous. The theory that rent control and rent stabilization caused the problems of the South Bronx in the 70s is a canard that landlords often pull out. There was a famous study in 1977 put out by the Women's City Club that pretty convincingly disproved this theory. Try reading some of the work of Peter Marcuse -- he has studied this issue in depth. He describes the complex forces at work that led to the problems many poor neighborhoods in NYC and elsewhere experienced in the 70s. Rent stabilization and control really was not the problem -- there was not enough income in communities to support the legal rent levels and other government subsidies were reduced. One important lesson we should take from the 70s is that the market cannot solve problem of affordable housing. The reality is that government intervention is always going to be necessary to support housing for the lower income earners. Rent stabilization certainly is not enough to create viable mixed income communities, especially with high concentrations of low income earners. We clearly need programs like Section 8 and other government subsidies too.


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