Rent Decontrol Funds in Dispute

by Dan Janison
Newsday, June 11, 1997
Mayor Rudolph Giuliani claimed yesterday that the city has set aside new funds to fight tenant harassment if rent laws change - but fellow budget-maker City Council Speaker Peter Vallone said that wasn't true.

The odd post-budget dispute began when Giuliani linked $2.5 million from the budget enacted last week to the threat that as early as June 15, apartments could lose their rent-stabilization status when tenants move or die.

Before marching in the annual Puerto Rican Day Parade yesterday, Giuliani was asked by a reporter what preparatory measures were being taken.

"We have put aside funds in the budget for protection against harassment, protection against eviction and additional lawyers that will be available if necessary," Giuliani said.

But when contacted seeking details, Vallone replied, "I think the mayor is getting a little confused."

For one thing, Vallone said the allocations - $750,000 to fight homelessness, and $1.75 million in aid to the Legal Aid Society - merely restored funds the state cut or Giuliani proposed cutting.

For another, Vallone said those resources would be "woefully inadequate" to handle the eviction cases vacancy decontrol could bring, given that landlords can make more money if rent-stabilized tenants leave.

"We may have to go back and re-examine the whole thing," Vallone (D-Astoria) said. Both he and the mayor are on record opposing vacancy decontrol.

Steve Banks, of the Legal Aid Society's civil division, said the city added $750,000 of its own spending to make up for a state cut in the social-services program.

Deputy Mayor Randy Mastro acknowledged that money for eviction services had been targeted for cuts before. But he said the mayor agreed this year to more money because of the threat of vacancy decontrol.

In a related matter, Vallone criticized Gov. George Pataki for sending out millions of leaflets pushing his own version of a plan to end the rent laws.

Vallone, a possible candidate against Pataki next year, said the mailing "strikes me as blatantly political" but that moreover, Pataki "just doesn't get it."

"This is an issue of home rule, and let us [in the city] decide," Vallone said.

Patrick McCarthy, a spokesman for Pataki, said, "It's not surprising to see the Democrats once again putting their own political agenda ahead of the people's right to know the truth."