New York City Council Committee on Housing and Buildings
(March 11, 1997) Part 1 of 7

[ Index ] [ Next Section ]

Note: The following transcript covers over 300 pages of testimony in seven separate files. At the end of each file, click the "next" link to advance to the next part of the transcript. Some pages were missing from the original we received and the transcript is marked where these ommissions occurred.





March 11, 1997 Start: 1:10 p.m. Recess: 8:00 p.m.

City Council
Public Hearing Chambers
New York, New York


Archie Spigner


Stanley E. Michels
Antonio Pagan
Thomas V. Ognibene
Guillermo Linares
Kathryn M. Freed
C. Virginia Fields
Helen Marshall
Thomas X. Duane
Stephen DiBrienza

Richard Roberts
Department of Housing Preservation and Development

Moon Wha Lee
Department of Housing Preservation and Development

Fernando Ferrer
Brooklyn Borough President

Tobi Koffer
Office of Senator Deborah Glick

Kathy Kinsella
Office of Assemblyman Richard Gottfried

Karen Lin
Office of Senator Catherine Abate

Meg Block
Office of Senator Franz Leichter

Richard Anderson
New York Building Congress

James Cobb
Local 1219
District Council 37

Barry Jacobson
Local 154
District Council 37

Gloria Freedman
District Council 37

Jenny Laurie
Met Council on Housing

Michael McKee
New York State Tenants and Neighbors

Robert Katz
Queens League of United Tenants

Joseph Strasburg
Rent Stabilization Association

Marolyn Davenport
Real Estate Board of New York

Oda Friedheim
Legal Aid Society

Julia Murray
Legal Aid Society

Deanne D'Aloia
Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development

Julio Muniz
Citywide Task Force on Housing Court

David Robinson
Legal Services for New York

Michael Laub
Bronx Realty Advisory Board

Dan Margulies
Community Housing Improvement Project

Nunzio Del Greco
Bronx Board of Realtors

Bonnie Haber
Community Housing Improvement Project

Karen Stamm
East Side SRO Legal Services Project

Adrian DiLollo
West Side SRO Law Project

Adam Weinstein
West Side SRO Law Project

Raquel Cook Brown
Small Property Owners of New York

Helen Daniels
Black and Latino Coalition

Ida Harnden
Joint Public Affairs Committee for Older Adults

Gail Bell

Valerio Orselli
Cooper Square Committee

Colin Rudd

Marcy Boucher

Paula Glatzer

Richard Martin

Marilyn Percy

Richard Faulkner

Tim Collins

Vincent Castellano

Minerva Dorham

Loren Renz

Cynthia Colter
Office of Manhattan
Borough President Ruth Messinger

Dennis Griggs

John Stanley

Thomas Ligon

Walter Gambin
SRO Tenants United

James Bradshaw

Dawn Sullivan

Mary Margaret Amato

Jane Wood
Chelsea Coalition on Housing

Meryl Stein
Chelsea Housing Group

Anne Cunningham
Commander Hotel Tenants Association

Katherine Callaghan

Kernan Huttick
Chelsea United for Tenants Rights

Alex Staber
Brooklyn-wide Interagency Council of the Aging

Robert Widman

Anita Romm

Florence Daniels

Kevin Breen

Hudson Herring

                     * * * * * * * * *

CHAIRPERSON SPIGNER: Good afternoon. I'm Council Member Archie Spigner
and I chair the Committee on Housing and Buildings.

Today the committee will be considering two items, Resolution 2177 and
Intro 920. Together, these items extend rent control and rent
stabilization without any changes.

Resolution 211 determines that a housing emergency requiring rent
control in the City of New York continues to exist and will continue to
exist after April 1, 1997. Intro 920 extends the rent stabilization law
of 1969 from April 1, 1997 to April 1, 2000.

Pursuant to state law, the Council is to determine on or before April
1st of every third year beginning in 1967 whether or not there exists a
public emergency requiring the continued regulation and control of
residential rents and evictions.

Such a determination is to be made following the submission to the
Council by the Mayor of a survey of the supply of housing accommodations
within the city, the condition of such accommodations and the need to
continue regulation and control of residential rents and evictions
within the city.

A report indicating a citywide vacancy rate of 4.01 percent was prepared
by the Department of Housing Preservation and Development for the period
between March and June of 1996.

The rental vacancy rate is calculated by dividing the number of vacant
available for rent units, that are not dilapidated, by the number of
renter occupied units plus the number of vacant available for rent
housing units, that are not dilapidated. When an emergency was last
declared in 1994, the net citywide rental vacancy rate for the first
quarter of 1993 was 3.44 percent.

There were approximately 81,000 vacant available rental units in New
York City as of the survey period, an increase of approximately 11,000
units since 1993.

The number of housing units in the city since 1993 has increased
slightly from 2.986 million to 2.995 million, while the total number of
rental units for the same period has decreased slightly from
approximately 2.05 million to approximately 2.03 million rental units.

In 1996 units subject to rent control made up approximately 3.6 percent
of the occupied rental stock, or 71,000 units, while in 1993 there were
approximately 102,000 rent controlled units, a decline of approximately
31,000 units, or 31 percent.

The survey also notes that the median monthly gross rent, including
utility payments, increased 14.3 percent from $551 in 1993 to 3630 in
1996. However, the inflation adjusted increase in median gross rent was
only 6.1 percent.

Today the committee will hear comments on Intro 920 and Resolution 2177.

I would like to welcome the new commissioner of HPD, Commissioner
Richard Roberts.

Commissioner, are you present? We will be happy to hear your testimony.


CHAIRPERSON SPIGNER: Good morning and welcome, Commissioner.

COMMISSIONER R. ROBERTS: Thank you very much. My name is Richard
Roberts, the commissioner of the Department of Housing Preservation and

I just want to extend hello to the committee. I look forward to working
with you in the future. And this is the first time I've appeared before
you and I'm going to present the findings of the report and we can get
on with it.

CHAIRPERSON SPIGNER: Before you begin, Commissioner, since you're new
and we want you to recognize some familiar faces with the rest of us,
starting on the far right, Council Member Andrew Eristoff from

Council Member Martin Malave-Dilan from Brooklyn; Council Member
Guillermo Linares from Manhattan; the senior member of the committee,
Stanley Michels, also chairman of the Environmental Protection

The young man sitting next to me is Anthony Baronci, the counsel to the
committee. On my left, the leader of the minorities, the Republicans,
that is, Council Member Thomas Ognibene from Queens; followed by Council
Member Enoch Williams, the chair of the Health Committee; and Council
Member Sal Albanese from Brooklyn.

You may continue.

COMMISSIONER R. ROBERTS: Good morning. Thank you for this opportunity to
appear before the Committee on Housing and Buildings and members of the
public today to testify in strong support of Resolution No. 2177 and
Intro 920.

These measures would constitute the local determination as to the
continuation of the housing emergency in the city and would permit the
extension of the rent control and rent stabilization laws in the city
for three more years. This local determination is required to be made by
the City Council on or before April 1st.

The purpose of my testimony today is to present the initial results of
the city's tenth Housing and Vacancy Survey, or HVS. This survey of the
city's housing stock has been carried out over a 30 year period starting
in 1965, and the methodology has remained constant since that time.

Joining me is Dr. Moon Wha Lee, assistant commissioner for policy
analysis and research, who oversaw the development of the HVS and will
be able to answer questions as to the methodology used in this survey.

To provide the basis for the Council's declaration of emergency, the law
sets forth the obligation of the city to conduct every three years a
survey of the supply of housing accommodations, the condition of such
accommodations, and the need for continuing the regulation and control
of residential rents and evictions in the city, and requires that the
results of the survey be presented to the City Council.

As in all survey years since he first in 1965, the city has turned to
the U.S. Bureau of the Census to undertake the 1996 New York City
Housing and Vacancy Survey to estimate the vacancy rate for rental
housing and the supply and condition of housing accommodations in the

According to the survey, conducted between March and June of 1996, the
rental vacancy rate for the period was 4.01 percent, which is well below
the five percent vacancy rate threshold set forth in the statute as the
standard for a determination that a housing emergency continues to exist
in the city.

In addition, the 1996 HVS reports that the shortage of affordable rental
units for low income households in the city was severe.

The vacancy rate in 1996 for units with asking rents of less than $300
was 1.46 percent. For units with rents at $300 and $399 and $400 to $499
the vacancy rates were 3.59 percent and 3.20 percent, respectively.

Vacancy rates for units with asking rents between $600 and $899 in 1996
were over 5.00 percent.

The vacancy rates for $600 to $699, $700 to $799, and $800 to $899 were
5.10 percent, 5.20 percent and 5.81 percent, respectively.

However, the vacancy rates for units with asking rents of $900 or more
were below 5.00 percent, 3.3 percent for $900 to $999, 4.65 percent for
$1,000 to $1.250, and 2.47 percent for units renting for $1,249 or more.

The survey also reports that the number of housing units in the city has
remained relatively stable, from 2,986,000 in 1993 to 2,995,000 in 1996.
The number of rental units was 2,027,000, comprising 68 percent of the
housing stock in 1996.

Rent controlled units numbered 71,000, or 3.6 percent, of the occupied
rental stock in 1996. They housed 127,000 city residents. Rent
stabilized units, occupied and vacant, numbered 1,052,000, which was 52
percent of the rental stock in 1996. They housed 2.4 million persons.

The structural and maintenance condition of the city's rental housing
remains very good. The percent of renter occupied units in buildings
with no building defects was 88.6 percent in 1996 compared to 89.3
percent in 1993, and only 1.3 percent of renter occupied units were in
dilapidated buildings in 1996, about the same as the 1993 dilapidation
rate of 1.2 percent.

The proportion of renter occupied units with no heating breakdowns
stayed the same, at 79.9 percent in 1993 and 80.4 percent in 1996. The
percent of rental units with no maintenance deficiencies was 41.0
percent in 1993 and 42.1 percent in 1996.

Neighborhood quality noticeably improved from 1993 to 1996. The
proportion of renter households who rated the quality of residential
structures in their neighborhood as good or excellent increased from
61.8 percent to 63.9 percent between 1993 and 1996.

The proportion of renter households near buildings with broken or
boarded up windows on the same street declined from 13.7 percent in 1993
to 11.4 percent in 1996. This rate is 51 percent lower than in 1981,
when it was 23.3 percent.

According to the 1996 HVS, the crowding situation remained the same as
in 1993. In 1993, 10.3 percent of renter households were crowded, that
is, more than one person per room. This is identical to the rate of

The 1996 HVS reports that the real incomes of New Yorkers remained
virtually the same between 1992 and 1995. The inflation adjusted median
income for all households was $24,871 in 1992 and $25,000 in 1995. The
median income of renters, however, decreased slightly, by 2.7 percent,
after adjusting for inflation, between 1992 and 1995.

The inflation adjusted median gross rent, including utility payments,
increased by 6.1 percent between 1993 and 1996. The inflation adjusted
median contract rent, which excludes tenants' payments for utilities,
increased by 9.8 percent.

Rent burdens increased between 1993 and 1996. The median gross
rent/income ratio increased from 30.8 percent to 32.3 percent.

As the 1996 HVS shows, while the inventory of residential units has
remained stable, structural and maintenance conditions remained very
good, and the quality of neighborhood conditions improved. However,
there are still significant housing shortages and there is still much to
be done to provide decent, affordable rental housing for low income
households in New York City.

The Census Bureau's 1996 HVS data clearly indicate the continuing
serious rental housing shortage in New York City. Given this shortage,
the standards for continuing rent control and rent stabilization in the
city have been met and dictate that both be extended for another three

Thank you, and it is our pleasure to answer any questions you may have.

CHAIRPERSON SPIGNER: Thank you, Commissioner. Your testimony is very

I just want to ask one question. In your announcing of the report how do
you make the conclusion the shortage on the upper end of the rental
spectrum is a good deal more intense than our middle or lower range?

COMMISSIONER R. ROBERTS: There are variances in all of the rental
ranges. I'm not sure as to what the specific impact of the higher rental
categories mean. We don't interpret the data, we merely conduct and
commission the study and the study comes back and tells us what the
conditions are, but we don't interpret it for purposes of this exercise.

CHAIRPERSON SPIGNER: So when it says that there are a few broken window
on the same street, significantly declined, you have to take that
statement at face value unless we go out --

COMMISSIONER R. ROBERTS: That's a methodological question that the
survey has been conducted the same way over the last 30 years. Those
issues or indicators have been counted during --every time the survey is
conducted, whether that's good news or bad news, it's news. And that's
really what this is about --

CHAIRPERSON SPIGNER: And if you want to make good news out of you can
make good news out of it.

I guess the same thing could be said about the increase in the number of
renters who feel that their housing situation is better --

COMMISSIONER R. ROBERTS: Those are survey results which are conducted
every time.

CHAIRPERSON SPIGNER: Council Member Michels.


First of all, let me congratulate you, Commissioner, on becoming the new
commissioner. Perhaps you haven't been sworn in yet but you're here and
you're to be recognized as the commissioner. And I look forward to
working with you on this and many other issues.


COUNCIL MEMBER MICHELS: One of the things I'm going to ask you is about
the housing survey, and I guess Mr. Lee will be there to help you on
this subject.

One of the questions is, why does the citywide vacancy rate go up when
most people thought it would go down, and is there a perception that the
market was tighter in 1996 than it was in 1993?

COMMISSIONER R. ROBERTS: There are two factors which I will point to.
The first is that in certain areas of the city there were some dramatic
changes and an increase in the vacancy rates. Those areas of the city
included parts of the southwest Bronx and in certain areas in community
districts in central Brooklyn.

And in addition, within certain categories, the Chairman's question
related to the difference in certain categories, in certain rent levels,
including the rent level between $600 and $699, we saw a dramatic
increase in vacancy rates.

COUNCIL MEMBER MICHELS: Now what we're talking about is apartments which
are vacant and available for rent. Now it's my understanding, and I
don't see any note in here, that the New York City Housing Authority
took some two to 3,000 apartments off the market and that is being
counted in this group and those apartments are vacant but they're not
available for rent, and as far as I'm concerned they should not have
been included in this survey.

COMMISSIONER R. ROBERTS: You raise the question of the NYCHA apartments.

COUNCIL MEMBER MICHELS: That's right. Do you know the numbers?

COMMISSIONER R. ROBERTS: It's my understanding in reading of the survey
the numbers are not specifically broken out or addressed. But I will say
the following with respect to that, we haven't had the discussion with
NYCHA and it's for them to discuss, but I think that there was a federal
mandate having to do with them rehabilitating apartments for handicap
access and the process of rehabilitating those apartments I think has
created some difficulty with respect to apartments being vacant.

I think that they would disagree as to whether the apartments were
actually available and whether they should have been included in the
survey. But it's a technical question and I think that the problem here
is that we are bound by -- we have tried to conduct the survey with a
uniform methodology over a period of several years, and that's the way
the survey is conducted --

COUNCIL MEMBER MICHELS: I understand. This covers from March to June and
you use from January to March of '96, and it was conducted by the
census, but you contract with them and tell them what to do. It's very
clear that these apartments are supposed to be vacant and available.

Now if they're including in there thousands of apartments which are not
available, whether it's disabled or other rehabilitation purposes, then
this vacancy rate is to be questioned and it really should be more of a
vacancy rate.

COMMISSIONER R. ROBERTS: Again, without getting into the specifics of
that, because, as I said, I don't know and we don't --

COUNCIL MEMBER MICHELS: I understand. I'm not blaming you --

COMMISSIONER R. ROBERTS: Let me say the following. Still at a four
percent vacancy rate, we are still significantly below the threshold
that is required to take the formal actions necessary in order to
continue regulations, so I'll just stress that --

COUNCIL MEMBER MICHELS: I'm not telling you -- I'm just saying it's
important that these figures are used for a lot of purposes and it's
very important. On page 3 of the select findings it says rent went up.

In other words, 9.8 percent or contract rents against 2.7 percent for
income adjusting for inflation, what does this mean in terms of the
effect on tenants' pocketbooks, in your opinion?

COMMISSIONER R. ROBERTS: Well, again, I'd like to stay clear of trying
to interpret the data, but I think that that speaks for itself with
respect to those issues. But again, we would rather not interpret.

COUNCIL MEMBER MICHELS: The fact is that people are less and less able
to afford the rents that are being charged.

COMMISSIONER R. ROBERTS: Again, I would like to avoid interpreting the

COUNCIL MEMBER MICHELS: We have to, that's what the data is for, to
interpret, and that's the interpretation I'm giving here and that's why
this is very important for the people in the city. This is the trend and
we see the same difference between 1991 and 1993 in the housing survey.

MR. M. LEE: Strictly based on 1991, 1993 and 1996, we don't see any
clear -- (inaudible) --but I think there is an increase in between 1993
and 1966.

COUNCIL MEMBER MICHELS: I have a table showing the race and ethnicity of
rent regulated tenants and the race and ethnicity of tenants living in
all privately owned rental units in 1993. It shows that a majority of
rent regulated tenants in 1993 were people of color and/or Spanish

I did not find this information in the official study published by the
city. Can HPD update this table using the 1996 numbers? And how soon can
we get this table 7

And the figures are census figures in '93 which show that over 53.4
percent of the rent regulated apartments are occupied by black and
African American and Puerto Rican and other Hispanics and Asians and
others, so the great majority of these apartments that we're talking
about, the rent regulated, are occupied by other than white,
non-Hispanic people.

MR. M. LEE: The numbers I think are from 1993.

COUNCIL MEMBER MICHELS: We don't have those numbers, and I'm wondering
why not.

MR. M. LEE: When we see the final data we will be able to get it but we
don't that have data yet.

COMMISSIONER R. ROBERTS: Council Member, let me just clarify. We are
merely providing the initial findings. The full fledged, the full blown
report obviously has had that information in the past and --

COUNCIL MEMBER MICHELS: The reason this is important is because there's
a myth out there that the rent regulation is trying to protect white
rich people. The majority of the people we are trying to protect are
poor people, non-white --

COUNCIL MEMBER PAGAN: What does race have to do with poverty or income

I take offense to that statement. Shame on you.

CHAIRPERSON SPIGNER: Council Member Ognibene.


Commissioner, just a few questions to clarify some of the issues. When I
was going through the statistics, I noticed that for rentals between
$600 and $900 there actually is no basis to declaring an emergency
because those statistics show a vacancy rate of over five percent.

In addition, in the lower rent category, where you find obviously your
poorer constituency, there appears to be a low vacancy rate.

But the question I want you to answer with regard to that is that the
information that I've been supplied is that in most cases in those
poorer housing areas the tenants that are there are unable to pay even
the current rent stabilized rents.

So would you answer, why declare an emergency from $600 to $900, and how
can you declare an emergency and benefit the poor when they can't even
pay existing rents?

COMMISSIONER R. ROBERTS: Again, Council Member, my understanding is that
what is required, the condition that is a prerequisite for establishing
the emergency requires us to look at the aggregate and the rent levels
from a variety of levels. And so we pull out and specify rent categories
I think in order to provide information.

But again, I don't think that it permits us to make emergency
determinations as to whether the emergency exists with respect to
specific rent levels. Instead we have to look at the entire picture, and
that's what we presented here.

Secondly --

COUNCIL MEMBER OGNIBENE: You have indicated though, providing affordable
housing, I was just wondering, since you're the commissioner, how the
poor are benefiting from the system if they can't even pay the existing

COMMISSIONER R. ROBERTS: We will -- our goal is to provide as much
housing as we can throughout the city through a variety of different
mechanisms. I think that the other findings that the survey indicates
are the shortages that exist throughout the city, and my statement about
providing housing related to the shortage conditions that we identified.

Again, interpretive statements with respect to the rent regulation
system is something that is not part of this exercise. We are merely
trying to establish the fact that the conditions exit, and I think
that's what we've done.

COUNCIL MEMBER OGNIBENE: Let me ask you then, I notice when we do an
aggregate there's a chart here and one of the categories, all other
renter units, and I see included in there public housing, Mitchell-Lama,
in rem and some others.

I'm curious why when we compute the vacancy rate, and let me just go
through it, public housing, which is for the poor, that would mostly be
the category that rent stabilization wouldn't help and it's not
stabilized so it has no bearing on the vacancy rate of stabilized
apartments and is grossly backlogged.

Mitchell-Lama, which is means tested and right now for most people that
would be in Mitchell-Lama, no means testing for housing and in rem is
curious because in rem property is deregulated property.

It was housing that was regulated -- and when I say you, I mean you
chose to deregulate it, and the answer that I often get when people from
your department come in to testify is the reason you deregulate it is
because the rents are not high enough to pay the operating costs.

In order to continue a system of rent regulation, you're including
properties which you deliberately deregulated because the rents are not
sufficient to operate the buildings.

Would you explain to me why they're included in the system?

COMMISSIONER R. ROBERTS: The methodology of the survey involves us
assessing all rentals on a citywide basis --


COMMISSIONER R. ROBERTS: This is the methodology that we've worked out
with the Census Bureau over the course of the last 30 years --

COUNCIL MEMBER OGNIBENE: Why couldn't I have a vacancy rate computerized
on available private and regulated housing, not including these
statistics, so we could get an accurate picture?

COMMISSIONER R. ROBERTS: I think the picture is accurate. We are not
attempting to try to pull specific elements of the survey out in order
to present or reach a conclusion one way or the other. But what our goal
is here is to establish vacancy rates across all rental units throughout
the city.

We can compute that by bringing all of the units into the methodology
and we come out with a number that is below five percent. That's the
process by which we conduct the survey and we are not given the charge
to pull out specific rental units, specific types of housing, and to
utilize that number to demonstrate one point or another.

COUNCIL MEMBER OGNIBENE: I understand. I thought that there would be a
common sense basis for taking it out since they come under a different
system of laws, a different system of regulation, and really had no
bearing on the private housing market.

Let me ask you, you had alluded to the fact that the cost of rent had
gone up and that the cost of living had increased for renters. How much
has the cost of operating real property in the City of New York gone up
during that period? Do you make that part of your statistics, sir?

COMMISSIONER R. ROBERTS: No, we do not. It's not part of the survey.
It's not part of the survey.

COUNCIL MEMBER OGNIBENE: Let me ask you another question. Do you think
that it is the obligation of landlords and building owners to provide
housing for the poor?

COMMISSIONER R. ROBERTS: Again, in interpretive questions with respect
to this report I think we are in the position to address those, but we
don't take a position about -- I mean, our goal at HPD and part of HPD's
mission is to look to as many sources as we can in order to provide
housing for as many New Yorkers as we can. We certainly do some of that.
NYCHA does some it. The private sector does a fair amount.

Sure, I think we can have an intelligent discussion about the mix, the
goals, the responsibilities of the various actors within the market. But
I guess that would be my answer to the question. A lot of different
entities play a role in providing that housing.

COUNCIL MEMBER OGNIBENE: I only brought it up because you had mentioned
affordable housing. Do you think that the obligation of government is to
provide rent subsidies for wealthy people making more than $100,000 a

COMMISSIONER R. ROBERTS: Again, that's not something I'm in a position
to answer.

COUNCIL MEMBER OGNIBENE: But clearly when you talk about affordable
housing you're not including people making $100,000 a year.

COMMISSIONER R. ROBERTS: We have a number of specific programs that have
a number of stipulated and specified income guidelines and so forth.
Those programs are specific to HPD and other providers. We'll certainly
have opportunities to discuss those in the context of this --

COUNCIL MEMBER OGNIBENE: You have no means testing of income --

COMMISSIONER R. ROBERTS: I'm not saying that. I'm not getting into that.
That's not what I said. This is my first day. You're just going places
that --

COUNCIL MEMBER MICHELS: You'll get used to this.

COUNCIL MEMBER OGNIBENE: And I'm sure you'll grow to love it too.

(Disruption from the audience.)

COUNCIL MEMBER OGNIBENE: You know, I can be treated like that at home,

The point is that you do have some sort of means testing within your own
organization. It wouldn't be too inaccurate for me to suggest that there
should be some form of the means testing, especially for wealthy people.

(Disruption from the audience.)

CHAIRPERSON SPIGNER: Please, there's no need for that. I'm just not
going to permit that. We'll be here long enough without the

Permit me to announce the presence of Council Member Kathryn Freed and
Council Member Joan McCabe, and on my left Council Member Antonio Pagan,
Council Member Virginia Fields, Council Member Helen Marshall.

Now we move on to Council Member Linares.

COUNCIL MEMBER LINARES: Commissioner, welcome.


COUNCIL MEMBER LINARES: I believe it was 1971 to 1974 that we
experienced as a city deregulation and at that time when the commission
was established and sort of began to take shape, as a result of
deregulation, I understand that there was an immediate 300,000 families
that were in the street without apartments and there was an immediate
crisis in the City of New York which led to the current regulations and
laws that we're now fighting to extend.

Isn't it true that if we pursue deregulation that what we have in New
York City is massive exodus of working people and middle class leaving
the very wealthy and the poorest of the poor in our city?

Wouldn't this be devastating for all of us?

COMMISSIONER R. ROBERTS: Council Member, I'm going to skip to the
results of the findings in the survey. That would be my response to

COUNCIL MEMBER LINARES: You're here promoting the extension of this, and
are you interested, is the Administration interested in conducting an
in-depth analysis of the impact? Because we have to go and fight.

This is just the first round. We have to go to the state legislators and
argue what the devastation would be for them to dilute or to eliminate
under the current laws and protections that we have for tenants.

My question then becomes, is the Administration, since you're
representing here the Administration, conducting an in-depth analysis
that would clearly delineate the devastation and the impact that
deregulations or elimination of these laws and regulations would have on
our city?

COMMISSIONER R. ROBERTS: I'm not aware of a specific study that has
taken place in that regard.

I would have two responses to that, one, that this Administration is
responsible for preparing the findings in this report which served as
the basis for the Council and the Mayor taking action to continue the
current system in full force and effect for the next three years.

Secondly, let me be clear that I think the Mayor's position on this is a
clear one and that he is supportive of the current system continuing in
force and without change.

So those are my statements in response to that question.

COUNCIL MEMBER LINARES: Let me just indicate that I think it's a good
position to take but the fact of the matter is that we still have --
what this reflects is that we have a crisis in terms of housing, and my
question is what is the Administration doing to address the crisis that
we have. Because we have a lot of homeless, we have a situation that is

And the question also needs to be posed to the City Council as well,
what are we doing to really address the crisis so that we don't continue
the Band-Aid approach that we've been having --

CHAIRPERSON SPIGNER: Council Member, I don't want to limit you but
certainly we're here to discuss a vacancy report that's on the table.
And we could spend the rest of the week theorizing and philosophizing of
whatever the root causes are but I don t think we have that much time.

COUNCIL MEMBER LINARES: Mr. Chair, I think that the question is
appropriate. I think we need to address the question, that's why we're
here. Either we have a crisis or we don't have a crisis, and I say we
have a crisis.

I have a technical question pertaining to the survey. Why did the
vacancy rate for apartments renting for less than $300 go up to -- why
did they go up, and they went from .64 percent up to 1.46 percent, and
the vacancy rate for apartments renting between $300 and $399 go up even
more, from .91 percent up to 3.59 percent?

Are there a large number of vacant rent stabilized apartments at this
rent level?

COMMISSIONER R. ROBERTS: Again, we present the findings of the -- you're
absolutely right in terms of citing the changes in the statistics.

It is not part of the survey methodology to interpret those statistics,
that's not required. We merely indicate what the numbers are.

COUNCIL MEMBER LINARES: Do you have a sense of what the vacancy rate was
then in l991 and 1993?

MR. M. LEE: Councilman, Table 5 --

CHAIRPERSON SPIGNER: You have to talk in to the microphone.

MR. M. LEE: If you take a look at Table 5 in our report, 1993, the
vacancy rate is so small we couldn't even show. In 1994, 3,290, we show
that. The figure is for 3,399, in 1993 is too small. In '96 it's 4,896,
somewhat increased.

CHAIRPERSON SPIGNER: Do you want a second round, Council Member?


CHAIRPERSON SPIGNER: Council Member Freed.

COUNCIL MEMBER FREED: Thank you, Mr. Chair.

And welcome, Commissioner. We're sorry to do this to you on your first

I had a question. One of things I'm concerned about is the luxury
decontrol that was, I think, mistakenly put in two years ago. Do we have
statistics on how many units have been decontrolled under that law?

MR. M. LEE: It's not designed to provide such numbers.


CHAIRPERSON SPIGNER: Excuse me, Council Member, we do have some
statistics, 3,417 as a result of the vacancy, 2,000 and 1,700 as the
result of the $250,000 annual income.

COUNCIL MEMBER FREED: Well, how many of these are actually from
Manhattan? Do we have it broken down by boroughs? All of them were from

And people thought I was wrong when I said it was an anti-Manhattan

Anyway, what I have heard in a number of areas, however, is that a
number of the apartments that were vacant were vacant because of
technical problems as opposed to really verifying the rent or the
income, and I wonder how we track that and if anyone is keeping track of

My understanding is DHCR, if the person, the technicality is being
raised against that they can be evicted anyway whether they meet the
rental or the income levels.

CHAIRPERSON SPIGNER: Commissioner, do you want to respond to that?

COMMISSIONER R. ROBERTS: That's part of the survey.

COUNCIL MEMBER FREED: I wondered if I had an answer on that.

CHAIRPERSON SPIGNER: The commissioner is on the stand and he can choose
to answer or not.

COUNCIL MEMBER FREED: Is there some way we can get that information?
Because obviously some of us would like --

COMMISSIONER R. ROBERTS: HPD does not have -- does not compute or
calculate those kinds of statistics --

COUNCIL MEMBER FREED: You don't think it would be interesting for us to
find out since these units are basically being taken out of the
affordable rentals?

COMMISSIONER R. ROBERTS: Don't misunderstand me, I'm not saying it won't
be interesting -- I mean, I think we would go to the state DHCR --

COUNCIL MEMBER FREED: Particularly since we're being asked, obviously,
to approve this again and there are those of us who would like to go
back to the way we were as opposed to extending it, and I think it might
be helpful in our overall estimate of what's happening because I know in
Manhattan because rents are very high, it is one of the problems with
the whole vacancy decontrol, and some of the other statistics is that
they don't look into who's in a unit.

For instance, in a unit that may be over $2,000 a month rent, you may
have three wage earners, like three people just out of college, and it
made sense for them to go into this apartment.

You may have a large family where you've got the two income earners plus
maybe one of the children may be an income earner, and it doesn't look
into the size of the units.

And I think just passing laws that deal with monetary amounts alone or
income amounts alone for the entire unit fails to reflect the entire

COMMISSIONER R. ROBERTS: Crowded conditions are the same but they're
tabulated as part of the service.

COUNCIL MEMBER FREED: But are they tabulated after they're decontrolled?

COMMISSIONER R. ROBERTS: We assess all units so every unit in the city
would be included.

COUNCIL MEMBER FREED: Let me ask a couple of other questions. If these
two laws are allowed to sunset, do we know what the effects are on the
J-51 apartments and on the 421-A apartments?

They're rental apartments, obviously.

COMMISSIONER R. ROBERTS: I don't know that. We don't know what the
impact of that would be. I think it's our expectation that the condition
has been met, the process will move forward. I think we will have to
look at, if something changes, we will have to start to look at what the
impact would be.

COUNCIL MEMBER FREED: Some of these are programs that were granted and
part of the granting was to guarantee that there would be a certain
level of affordable housing --

CHAIRPERSON SPIGNER: Council Member, it would help us if you stuck to
the agenda for today.

COUNCIL MEMBER FREED: I think it gives us a picture of what the impact
would be for those of us who are very concerned that the entire city
would be destabilized by this situation.

Second round. Thank you.

CHAIRPERSON SPIGNER: Council Member Fields.

COUNCIL MEMBER FIELDS: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Many of the questions just raised by my colleague, Kathryn Freed, I want
to be associated with. But I specifically I want to ask you a question
now with respect to what role --

By the way, welcome. This is your first hearing, I understand, and this
is a big one.

What role are you playing in terms of lobbying in Albany, I mean, are
you going to go to Albany to convince Senator Bruno in any way? What
specific role will you be playing in that regard?

COMMISSIONER R. ROBERTS: Council Member, I'm not aware of any specific
role I will be playing in that regard. I think that those decisions and
activities are handled in the Mayor's office and I'm not --

COUNCIL MEMBER FIELDS: But as the housing commissioner and having the
benefit of the information and coming before the housing committee of
the city, who exactly then will be protecting the interests of the
residents of New York City in Albany?

COMMISSIONER R. ROBERTS: Again, I will go back to the statement that I
made to Council Member Linares, which was that the Mayor's position on
these issues is clear, he is supportive of continuing the system without
changes, and I think that whatever activity occurs in Albany will occur
at his direction. If he instructs me to do so certainly I will be
involved, but he has not done so and I don't know what his plans are.

I will say again that the role that HPD plays in this process is a
peculiar one in that we have been merely dictated by the statute to be
the agency responsible for commissioning this study.

Our role is a minor one in terms of the process of continuing these
regulations in full force and effect. We have commissioned the study. We
present the findings. Our role is to present the findings and really not
to be interpretive in that respect.

COUNCIL MEMBER FIELDS: I guess that is part of the problem that had been
raised by the earlier speakers too, Mr. Chairman. It seems to me that as
a result of the extension of laws that this Council went even further in
the last debate around rent regulation.

Based on some of the information that continues to be brought forth to
Council Members about how it's being implemented that some mechanism
needs to be put in place at the city level so that we can in fact
understand more exactly what is happening with over 3,000 -- I think
that's the number -- 3,400 apartments in Manhattan having been
deregulated as a result of the last --

CHAIRPERSON SPIGNER: Council Member Fields, I'll note that there's a
bill being circulated that addresses this topic and when that bill is
before this committee for a hearing I think that would be the
appropriate time to discuss it.

COUNCIL MEMBER FIELDS: So you will be looking to hear legislation --

CHAIRPERSON SPIGNER: I'm telling you what I heard. I haven't seen the
bill. I'm told there's a bill being circulated called the Fields-Michels
bill. When I see the bill I'll be able to respond to the issues being

COUNCIL MEMBER MICHELS: Mr. Chairman, I can verify that your information
is correct.

COUNCIL MEMBER FIELDS: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

CHAIRPERSON SPIGNER: Seeing no additional requests to speak -- I'm
sorry, Council Member Marshall.



COUNCIL MEMBER MARSHALL: Welcome to the City Council.

Your agency is one of the most important agencies in the city. My area
is in Queens County where we have a tremendous amount of doubling and
tripling up and I was just wondering, do you have any observations, if
we do decontrol, what will happen to those families?

COMMISSIONER R. ROBERTS: Again, that's an interpretive question that I'm
not in a position to address --

COUNCIL MEMBER MARSHALL: Do you have any statistics?

COMMISSIONER R. ROBERTS: We do, and I didn't mention it in the prepared
testimony, that the survey as it's currently conducted does identify
crowded conditions and it defines those conditions as situations where
more than one person per room resides in a unit.

I guess that situation remained on a citywide basis, remained constant
from 1996 to when the survey was last conducted in 1993.

But let me point out that I don't know, do we? -- we don't break that
information out by specific borough or community district or what have

COUNCIL MEMBER MARSHALL: I would suggest that that would be an important
thing to do. It would certainly give a better measure of the housing
needs of our city. 1993 was four years ago. We have outlived that number
considerably and largely because people, in order to get decent housing,
they can't afford the rental so they double and triple up also because
of the housing. So that's a figure that needs to be brought up to date.
I know it's your first day but that would be very helpful to us.

COMMISSIONER R. ROBERTS: Luckily it's not staff's first day. And again,
this is just initial findings that we are presenting. The full report
which will be finished some time later in the year does break out the
information that you're requesting and we'll be happy to share that with

COUNCIL MEMBER MARSHALL: Just to share with you, I have a large
development that used to be in my district. It is no longer but every
time the owner of the building gets MCI, we lose a whole slew of people.
They can't afford the increased rent. People are spending far more a
percentage of their income than they ever have. I know it's rough on the
landlords too but this is part of the complex problem of housing in our

Thank you.


CHAIRPERSON SPIGNER: Commissioner, thank you very much. And we look
forward to working with you in your new position.


CHAIRPERSON SPIGNER: And the next person to testify is the Borough
President of the Bronx, Borough President Fernando Ferrer.

BOROUGH PRESIDENT F. FERRER: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Good afternoon. I'm Fernando Ferrer, President of the Borough of the

Mr. Chairman, in a theoretical free market economy, we should refrain
from imposing restrictions to the greatest extent possible. And there is
little doubt that regulations of this type have caused some hardship
particularly on small owners. It is also true that what was originally
imposed has now been in existence for most of this century.

However, that emergency measure has continued in existence for the
simple reason that for most New Yorkers an affordable housing crisis not
only remains in existence but is also growing significantly worse. The
Housing and Vacancy Survey indicates that 112,000 affordable apartments
have been eliminated since 1993.

During this free fall, the prior safety net of federal subsidies and
your own City Council's commitment to rehabbing and building have also
dwindled. In recent times New York has completely failed to produce
adequate numbers of new apartments. Even during the relatively affluent
'80s an average of only 12,000 units annually were produced, and that's
half the rate produced in New York City during the Great Depression.

In recent years this figure has not been much better. The number of
units authorized for construction in 1994 was a post-war low.

It must also be noted that due to the advanced age of much of our
housing stock we actually lose fourteen to nineteen thousand dwelling
units annually.

It's been argued that the existence of the rent regulations has
discouraged new construction, but that's simply wrong. Rent regulations
are not imposed on new units. The development in limited upscale areas
of the city of units designed for the very wealthy does nothing to
address the affordable housing crisis.

And an increase in the number of vacate studio apartments with a $3,500
monthly rent has no bearing on the real world for the vast majority of
New York families, and indeed it's essentially misleading to even
include those units when calculating a vacancy rate.

Those holding elected office have a clear duty to act responsibly. You
heard the debate has unfortunately turned on the irresponsible
statements of the majority leader of the State Senate whose own district
is not even affected by this --

(Disruption from the audience.)

BOROUGH PRESIDENT F. FERRER: Remarkably, when proposing the almost
complete elimination of rent protection, Senator Bruno has offered
absolutely no alternative for the over one million residents who would
literally have no alternatives.

At a time when federal and state and city housing programs are at a
historic low and far too little affordable housing is being developed by
the private sector within New York City, any proposal to eliminate rent
protection without providing alternatives is irresponsible and even

So does the housing emergency exist? of course it does. Is there a way
to end rent protections? Yes, it's by eliminating the need for them.
During my tenure as Borough President I have made housing a key

Developing an adequate supplying of affordable housing must be
recognized as a crucial challenge to the future of our city. Until that
challenge is successfully met, we have no alternative but to continue to
protect the million residents who live in rent controlled or rent
stabilized apartments.

Now one final thing I would like to add, and that is that in making
these proposals the State Senate has drawn the line with respect to not
only the million households who live in New York City but those who live
outside of New York City. And this is a time when leadership needs to be

Leadership needs to be asserted not merely in this legislature and not
merely in the State Legislature but by this city's executives to go to
the Assembly, to go to the Senate and to tell them in the clearest
possible terms that if they really want to do something important, if
they really want to do something constructive and useful for housing in
New York, it is to protect the million tenants who live in the city who
are under rent protection and to build new housing.

There is no other way out, and that's the only way and that's the only
way to stabilize this market, protect the million households, and
continue to offer decent, safe, affordable and standard housing units to
the millions of people who still need them.

Thank you very much.


[ Index ] [ Next Section ]