Experts: Rent Deal Slams Door on Poor

New York Daily News, June 18, 1997
The poorest New Yorkers will get shafted by the new state rent agreement because the deal will cut the supply of low-cost apartments and spur virtually no new construction, housing experts charged yesterday.

Advocates for the poor also criticized the pact as Gov. Pataki and legislative leaders for a second day struggled to translate their "conceptual agreement" on new rent laws into formal legislation.

"Any way you look at it, low-income people will be negatively impacted by these changes," said Michael Schill, director of New York University Law School's Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy.

The criticism focused on provisions that would let landlords hike rents at least 20% on vacant apartments and charge an extra $100 a month, in addition to vacancy bonuses, for units that previously rented for $300 or less.

Schill, who did a computer analysis of the pact using census data, said the proposed changes would "redistribute" income from poor tenants to higher-income renters. That's because the poor tend to move the most, seeking apartments that will cost more.

"The only housing that's conceivably affordable to someone at poverty level" would become unaffordable, said Andrew Scherer, author of "Residential Landlord-Tenant Law in New York."

As landlords get the new vacancy bonus, the poor will find the lowest-rent apartments, "completely out of reach," said Shelly Nortz of the Coalition for the Homeless.

"We totally disagree," said Pataki spokesman Michael McKeon. "This agreement protects all tenants but the wealthiest few, and it will help create new affordable housing."

Pataki, Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno (R-Rensselaer) and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) last night haggled over wording of the final legislation. The leaders said they hoped to finish work last night and hold Assembly and Senate votes today.

"It's just about there," said Silver.

One point of debate was the wording of a provision requiring tenants to pay rent in escrow during court battles with landlords. Negotiators argued over how to define penalties if a tenant fails to make the escrow deposits.

Tenant advocates also say the escrow provision would spur evictions by forcing tenants to pay rent that they may or may not owe. Landlords said the provision would protect their legal rights without harming tenants.

Also being argued was a change that would lower the $250,000 annual income limit for households receiving rent protections to $175,000. Negotiators were haggling over whether the high-income tenants should have the right to keep their apartments once they start paying market-rate rent.