A Republican for Rent Regulation

New York Times, June 12, 1997
ALBANY -- When my wife and I married more than 30 years ago, we moved into an apartment in Glen Oaks, a sprawling complex on the eastern edge of Queens providing affordable housing for young families.

In time, like the countless New York families that preceded us, we left the apartment for the space and privacy of a house.

My experience has taught me that rent regulations help young families establish themselves in New York. Without rent-stabilized apartments, how many couples would be able to start families and their careers in New York City? Very few, I fear.

As a Republican, I agree that eliminating excessive government regulation and fostering private ownership of property are worthy fundamental beliefs of the party, both nationally and in New York State. So I understand why Gov. George Pataki and Joseph Bruno, the New York Senate majority leader, have proposed loosening rent regulations.

But I also believe that Republican principles must be tempered with reality in the case of New York City. Very simply, affordable housing is essential for the city's economic survival. If apartments were deregulated as they became vacant, there would be fewer and fewer apartments that middle-class families could afford.

Republicans in New York City recognize this above all else. That's why I and other Republican officeholders, including State Senator Roy Goodman, support Mayor Rudolph Giuliani's call for renewal of the 23-year-old Emergency Tenant Protection Act.

The facts back us up. In my own State Senate district in Queens, which is about as far from midtown Manhattan as you can get, the rent for an unregulated apartment in Bayside is 54 percent higher than the rent for a similar unit under stabilization.

A study released in April by the Rent Stabilization Association projected that if the laws are not renewed, rents in Bayside will rise immediately by 15 percent to 19 percent.

Tenants in stabilized apartments are far from wealthy. In fact, 27 percent of all households in rent-stabilized units have incomes below the poverty level, and the average income for a family in a rent-stabilized unit is less than $30,000. How many of these families could afford a huge jump in their rent?

Rent regulation was not foisted on many landlords unwillingly. Over the last two decades, many of them, including those who are now complaining bitterly, accepted rent regulation in exchange for tax abatements on their properties. These landlords initially offer apartments at market rates; the units then fall under rent regulation until the landlord's property tax abatement lapses -- usually in 15 or 20 years.

Rent stabilization may not be without flaws. But the fact is, it has kept the city alive. The state tried decontrolling the rents for vacant apartments in the early 1970's, and it didn't work.

Let's preserve New York's economy by keeping rent regulations intact. It's in the best interests of everyone, Republicans and Democrats alike.

Frank Padavan, a Republican, represents northeastern Queens in the New York State Senate.