Rent Law Ax To Cut Deep

By MICHAEL FINNEGAN
Daily News Staff Writer

New Yorkers who would get hit hardest by the threatened elimination of state rent laws could be those who can least afford it, according to new statistics obtained by the Daily News.

The average tenant sweating out the threatened June 15 expiration of the rent laws earns less than $30,000 a year, the numbers show. And most of those anxious tenants spend more than half of their monthly income just to pay the landlord.

The findings emerged from a new U.S. Census Bureau survey of the New York City rental housing market scheduled for official release this week.

The statistics seem to undercut arguments by Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno and landlords who say the state rent laws should be abolished because they protect rich tenants who don't need protection from rent hikes.

"It blows the myth out of the water," said Billy Easton, executive director of the New York State Tenants & Neighbors Coalition.

Yolanda Jones represents the reality behind the statistics.

She's a mother of four who pays $500 a month for a four-bedroom rent stabilized apartment on W. 142d St. in Harlem.

Jones, 34, works at the city Administration for Children's Services and earns an annual salary of $19,000 which means she spends most of her take-home pay to cover the rent.

"It's a tight squeeze," Jones said.

She fears her family could wind up homeless if the rent jumps to the market rate of $800 or more, the amount some of her neighbors pay for similar apartments.

The census data shows that Jones is among 61% of the city households who live in rent stabilized units and earn less than $30,000 a year. The statistics also show that:

The median household income for tenants in rent-stabilized city apartments is $21,600.

Nearly 24% of the households in rent regulated units receive welfare or another form of government assistance.

Nearly one in three households in rent stabilized apartments spends more than half of its income on rent, the numbers show.

Bruno, who has vowed to let the rent laws expire in nine weeks unless state officials agree to a two-year phaseout, stressed that his plan would maintain rent protections for the poor, elderly and disabled.

The upstate Republican and Joseph Strasburg, president of the Rent Stabilization Association, a group of 25,000 landlords, said the census data undercounted well-off tenants.

"It's very difficult for us to justify people making big six-figure incomes and having rent regulated apartments," said state Senate Housing Committee Chairman Vincent Leibell (R-Putnam).

However, the census statistics show that examples of well-to-do tenants freeloading on the system are rare. Just 4% of the New York City households in apartments covered by the rent protections earn more than $100,000, the survey found.

Judy Pedraza only dreams about earning that much. She makes $30,000 a year as a social services case manager, and she pays just a bit more than $1,000 a month for the rent stabilized two-bedroom unit she shares with her daughter in Fresh Meadows, Queens.

With take-home pay of $865 every two weeks, Pedraza sets aside $500 for the rent. That leaves her family $365 for food, utility bills and other expenses.

"I know what it's like not to have any money in your pocket and live from paycheck to paycheck," said Pedraza. "It's a tremendous struggle. I just kind of squeeze through, and if there's an emergency, I'm in trouble."

Original Story Date: 041397
Original Story Section: City Central