At Last, A Sane Idea on Rent

NY Daily News, May 13, 1997
Gov. Pataki finally came in from the cold yesterday with what he calls a "fair and balanced plan" for determining how much rent New Yorkers pay in the future.

By my logic, he is moving in the right direction because everyone's squawking.

Democrats in the Assembly that is to say, Speaker Sheldon Silver hate Pataki's plan. Landlords and tenants are angry, too. Landlords say the governor doesn't go far enough fast enough; one leading tenants' advocate predictably predicts "a reign of terror by landlords." And so it goes.

Granted, the governor gets no points for decisive leadership on this matter, which has been No. 1 on the state's legislative agenda since the fall, when Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno, the wealthy lord of a manor in Rensselaer, decided that city dwellers are living high off the hog in apartments for which they pay too little rent.

Our lithe governor has swung the whole arc of the pendulum, from landlords (rent regulations are no good) to tenants (99% of New York City tenants deserve rent protections). In March, he seemed rather lackadaisical about the situation, even as tenants' fears mounted: "I hope it doesn't take something like the expiration of [rent] laws to force serious negotiations [on the state budget], but if it does, it does."

Along the way, he said that the poor, the disabled and the elderly should be protected, but in their panicked state, few seem to have heard the governor or believed him.

Now comes his new formulation: Protect the poor, disabled and elderly; allow tenants to remain in rent-controlled or rent-stabilized apartments until they die or move away; require market rates for anyone earning at least $175,000 two years in a row. Family members will continue to qualify for rent protections as "successors" to mother, father, spouse, etc.

Pataki has given those on the political stage the outlines for a compromise. But Cardinal O'Connor has reminded them that the ultimate solution should not be political alone. It is not about holding on to rent controls merely because they've existed for 50 years or ditching them because times have changed. Doing the right thing is also paramount.

In his homily at St. Patrick's Cathedral on Sunday, O'Connor had a response to those who hold that anyone who wants to live in New York City must pay whatever it takes and, if they can't afford it, then move to a suburb.

"That's morality and economics in a vacuum," he said. "How long will it take to get to work if you live far from your job? . . . How much more time are you away from your children? What is to be traded off? Food, education, health care?"

The cardinal, who insists that "dignified housing is a human right for anyone," proposes "hearings and study," something our rather spineless legislators should have figured out weeks ago.

"It is my observation as a citizen," the cardinal said, "that the current system of rent regulations must be intensively reviewed if we are to move more closely toward the ideal of justice for all, then amended if required to achieve justice."

New Yorkers are at a major crossroad without bold leadership that breaks from the pack of landlords on the Republicans' side or tenants on the Democrats' side. But now that the governor has weighed in with a plan that reasonably seeks to achieve the goals of landlords and tenants, why don't legislators schedule a series of public hearings?

Do they even know the meaning of the word "debate"? Or do they only know how to follow the leader of their respective parties, logic and morality be damned?