Monday, February 23, 2009

Bring Control of Rent Control to NYC

For nearly 40 years, the authority over rent control and rent stabilization in New York City has been held by the New York State Government. The time has come for the New York City Mayor and the New York City Council to be provided with the tools to show leadership and judgment in this critical area of policy related to local housing. With approximately 90% of all of New York State's rent controlled apartments located in New York City, the State Legislature and the Governor should work to grant authority over New York City's rent controlled units to New York City.

State Control

In 1971, New York State took away New York City's authority to administer rent control within New York City through the adoption of the Urstadt Law. Urstadt was the Housing Commissioner under Governor Rockefeller in 1971, and the law that carries his name prohibits cities in New York State from enacting rent control regulations that are more protective of tenants than what is contained in state law.

The New York State Assembly, with its long history of Democratic control, has passed legislation that would repeal the Urstadt Law several times. The New York State Senate had been controlled by Republicans since the mid 1960's, and the Republicans had failed to control the New York State Senate for only one year of the last 70 years. The New York State Senate would prevent a repeal of the Urstadt Law as frequently as the Assembly would vote in favor of such a change. As we stated in our October 2008 endorsement of Joseph Addabbo for a Queens State Senate seat, ending the 70 years of Republican control of the New York State Senate creates enormous opportunities to improve the public policy landscape for Manhattan and for all of New York City as well as for our entire state.

Now, after the Democratic Party took control of the New York State Senate as a result of the 2008 elections, there is a very real chance for a bill to repeal the Urstadt Law to pass both houses of the New York State Legislature and receive the signature of Governor Paterson, thereby returning control over New York City's rent control regulation to New York City.

Mayor Bloomberg Sides Against New York City

Ironically, the New York City Mayor prefers that New York City leave control over rent control in the hands of the state government. Mayor Bloomberg should be leading the charge for New York City to have authority over regulating its housing stock. We hope that he changes his position and that whoever is elected Mayor in November 2009 advocates for increased control by New York City over local issues such as housing.

Economic Impact of Rent Control

Perhaps the Mayor's opposition to local control is actually a reflection of his discomfort with rent control more broadly. He may believe that the New York City Council will make poor choices in an effort to pander to tenants, who represent a large voting block. Landlords tend to make large campaign donations but represent a small number of votes and may not be voters at all if their primary residence is outside of New York City. He may also side with many economists, who argue that rent control regulations reduce the amount of housing available in the market, reduce the quality of the housing available in the market, increase corruption in the housing market, and do not result in more affordable housing.

He should keep in mind that decontrolling apartments creates economic shocks and displaces families in ways that are very unhealthy. Dr. Mindy Fullilove brought to light the incredible emotional and psychological harm done to those who are forced to leave their homes in her book Root Shock. Just as artificially low rents may lead to some undesirable outcomes, massive displacement is a major threat to the safety, economic health, and mental health of the people of New York City.

The specific approach to rent control (and rent stabilization) that will create the best outcomes for New Yorkers is open for debate. There should be no debate over whether New York City should have the authority to implement the policies in this area that our elected leaders in New York City think are best for our city.

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