By Brendan McHugh
Last week, state Senator Adriano Espaillat unveiled a countdown clock to remind Albany legislators about the urgency of passing rent regulations, slated to expire on June 15.
The Democratic-led Assembly approved an expansion of rent regulations two weeks ago, but the Republican-led Senate is hesitant to approve a broadening of the regulations. The Democrats' plan would reverse the state's policy enacted 18 years ago, of slow-motion deregulation of housing at the high end by increasing minimums on rent and tenant income.
Under current rules, an owner may remove an apartment from stabilization when government-approved increases push the rent above $2,000 a month and either a tenant moves out (vacancy decontrol) or a tenant's income exceeds $175,000 for two years (luxury decontrol).
In the new bill, apartments would be exempt from regulations once rent tops $3,000 a month or tenants have incomes of more than $300,000 a year for two years.
Plus, tens of thousands of apartments deregulated in the past 20 years would suddenly be regulated again and have their rents rolled back. Units that left the system before 2007 and rent for more than $5,000 a month would escape recapture.
Republicans and opponents of the bill have said rent regulation is disturbing the supply and demand of the market, and it would be better not only for tenants, but also entire communities, to let the regulations expire.
Rent Stabilization Association president Joseph Strasburg, in a statement to members said, "It has become clear that tenants are not just getting a break on their rent, but that they are receiving a subsidy funded on the backs of private property owners."
That hasn't concerned democratic state Senators, who hold a significant number of tenants in their districts who rely on rent regulation to stay in their homes.
"If rent regulations were to expire, over a million New Yorkers would be in danger of being kicked out of their homes," state Sen. Gustavo Rivera said. "In my district alone, there are at least 71,600 families that live in rent regulated apartments that would be at risk of losing their homes because of rent hikes."
At an April 13 press conference in Albany, where the Democrats unveiled the countdown clock, Rivera said, "Of all the senate districts in the state, number one in rent regulation is Senator Espaillat, number two is mine."
Espaillat, who came up with the idea for the clock, has 79,000 unites that would be affected by expiring rent regulations.
"We must extend and strengthen rent regulations and we must do so now," said Espaillat, the top-ranking Democrat on the Senate Housing Committee. "Allowing these regulations to expire will squeeze millions of New Yorkers out of their homes, and that's simply unacceptable."
The countdown clock is a reminder to elected officials, particularly Senate Republicans who have thus far blocked a vote on rent regulations, that with every passing moment, New York comes one step closer to a housing crisis. The clock will be a fixture in the Capitol building and remain just outside the Senate Chamber until rent regulations are extended.
At 9 a.m. on April 21, the countdown clock will be at 55 days and 15 hours.
Espaillat is the main sponsor of legislation - S.2783-A - extending and strengthening rent regulations.