Tenants Groups Split Over Rent Deal

by Merle English
Newsday, June 17, 1997
Some of the city's tenant organizations are calling the "conceptual" deal that emerged from the rent regulation negotiations in Albany early yesterday a victory for tenants, but others said it's a step toward total decontrol.

"Obviously it's a victory for the tenants' side," said Jenny Laurie, executive director of the Metropolitan Council on Housing. "We defeated vacancy decontrol."

Berniece Siegal, of the Queens League of United Tenants, said her association was "very reluctant to comment on the specifics of the bill until we see the language in it, but we are all excited and pleased that not only did we beat back the attempt to deregulate entirely but we beat back the attempt to do vacancy decontrol."

But Fran Lucky, an organizer with the Housing Solidarity Network, characterized provisions of the proposed new law as "a defeat. Perhaps not as bad a defeat as we might have had, but it is definitely a defeat," she said. "We don't see this as the type of victory as it's being played out to be. The landlords have taken a large step in their plan to eventually decontrol all New York State apartments."

Warren Wexler, a spokesman for the Real Estate Board of New York, which represents 25,000 landlords, said, "The compromise provides benefits that have been long sought by property owners. There are changes that should result in an infusion of capital for maintaining buildings and building new units which the state and city desperately need."

The tentative measure outraged organizers for the Housing Solidarity Network and the Building Foundation, a tenant advocacy group in the South Bronx.

"I think it's a sellout for the people and a great victory for the Republicans and the rich," said Jacques Derrida, one of 30 people arrested for disorderly conduct and other charges during last Thursday's tenant demonstration in Manhattan. "Any compromise is always followed by more compromise," he added, "just as there used to be three-year leases and now people only get one- and two-year leases."

Bob Sacco, a part-time teacher and volunteer with the Housing Solidarity Network, said a one-room "cell of an apartment" in the east Village for which he pays $700 per month could easily go up to $1,000 if this law passes. "This is truly the beginning of the end of having any middle or working class in New York City," he said.

Lucky said the plan would give landlords incentives to harass tenants to move.

"We've got a situation where they've chipped away a lot," she said. "There will be less rent-regulated tenants next time around to fight back as a lot of people will probably go for co-oping now, understanding how vulnerable they are staying in apartments. And they will be back in six years to take away the rest."

Organizers with the Metropolitan Housing Council and the Leagueshare the concern about some of the provisions of the proposed law.

"What all of this does as a package is it most severely hits the lower-rent apartments that are the only resource for poor people," Laurie said. "I feel that tenants could have gotten a better deal on some of these issues. It's better than what we were faced with, which is vacancy decontrol, but it's a lot worse than what we had before. Tenants have taken a real hit."