JOHN CAHER State editor
Albany Times Union, May 21, 1997

ALBANY -- Viola J. Oliver of Manhattan doesn't even live in a rent-regulated apartment. Still, the issue hits home.

``I care what happens to my neighbors, my community,'' said Oliver, one of between 2,000 and 8,000 demonstrators who came to Albany on Tuesday in support of laws that keep rents, primarily in the New York City metropolitan area, at below market prices.

``I care what happens to my city,'' Oliver said. ``If rent control goes, (the city) will have a lot of homeless folks. What affects one of us affects all of us.''

April Tyler, Harlem district leader, accompanied two busloads of tenants to Albany early Tuesday morning.

``Our community is a community of renters,'' Tyler said. ``The median rent in west Harlem is under $400. The income, the median income, is $13,000, so people can't afford high rents, or the pressure that decontrol, vacancy decontrol or elimination of rent protections would cause.''

Hattie Jones of the Bronx said she pays $476 for her two-bedroom apartment, and believes her rent would double under decontrol.

``My salary -- I am a city worker -- has not kept pace with economics,'' Jones said. ``My rent goes up every two years when I sign my lease.''

Hordes of people -- many of them senior citizens -- donned pink and white hats announcing, ``I'm a tenant and I vote!'' and brought their concerns to the seat of government Tuesday in a massive demonstration.

Organizers say they distributed 6,500 of the hats and that the 160 buses were filled with 48 people each, for a total of 7,680. Capital police, however, estimated the crowd at between 2,000 and 2,500.

The tenants and their supporters are seeking continued rent regulation and threatened electoral revenge for politicians who defy them.

Henry Singleton of Manhattan accused the governor of attempting to further enrich wealthy, greedy landlords.

``I think what is going on here is Gov. Pataki is supporting landlords who want to push the middle class out of Manhattan,'' said Singleton, organizer for a health care workers union. Singleton lives in a rent-controlled, $1,000-a-month apartment at East 28th and Second Avenue.

Sharon Washington of 95 Lenox Ave., Manhattan, said she pays $300 monthly for her three-bedroom apartment. Without restraints, Washington said, the apartment would rent for ``the fair market value, about a thousand and change. I can't afford that.''

Kenny Schaeffer, an attorney in Manhattan, said he pays over $1,000 to live in a two-bedroom, rent-controlled apartment with his family. He said his rent could double or triple, and disputed the view that rent control is a downstate problem.