Storm Clouds In Silver's Silence

The great rent debate isn't much of a debate. The Republicans are negotiating with themselves while the Democrats stay stone silent. The Dems must start talking and dealing. Otherwise, 2 million New Yorkers will know whom to blame June 15 when the current laws expire.

The GOP should be absolved if the worst happens, because its leaders are ready to compromise. From Gov. Pataki to Sen. Al D'Amato to State Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno, top Republicans have advanced numerous ideas. Still, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver demands only that the status quo continue.

That's not realistic or good social policy. It's long past time to loosen the stranglehold of rent controls. The challenge is to do it the right way so that New York housing joins the free market in an orderly fashion.

The best mix of changes is now being pushed by D'Amato. He advocates two main reforms luxury decontrol and vacancy decontrol, a combination suggested by this page.

Luxury decontrol removes limits on expensive units rented by people with very high incomes, while vacancy decontrol frees apartments only when tenants move out. Neither measure would have any impact on the vast, vast majority of middle-class and poor tenants who do not move. Instead, they'd target protections where they are needed, not across the board.

Luxury decontrol is already law, involving units where the rent exceeds $2,000 a month and the renter makes more than $250,000 a year in two consecutive years. Even Silver supported this measure in the past. If the threshold numbers were lowered, a small number of affluent tenants would be affected.

Vacancy decontrol would have a greater impact on the market, freeing perhaps 80,000 apartments per year. It's an idea whose time has come. After all, it's reasonable to guard in-place tenants from large increases, but once those people move out, why should the new tenants get the same subsidy?

What wouldn't happen under vacancy decontrol are situations like the one with the upper West Side landlord who demanded a 337% rent increase from the existing tenant. All tenants in regulated units would retain a right to renew their leases with regulated increases. And there's no time limit involved.

Even with that safeguard, Silver hasn't budged. His position is that vacancy decontrol was tried 20 years ago and didn't work. That's not persuasive the market and the city are vastly different now. Besides, the current system hasn't worked, either.

Most important, the game of chicken will end one way or another. Bruno has said that unless Silver agrees to changes read, vacancy decontrol all protections will expire.

Silver seems ready to test Bruno's resolve. He shouldn't. With only 46 days until June 15, the time to get real is now.

Original Story Date: 043097
Original Story Section: Opinion