Volume 16 • Issue 25 |November 18 - 24, 2003


Bloomberg’s plan for housing falls short

Mayor Mike Bloomberg proposed state legislation a few weeks ago intended to protect tenants — like the ones at Independence Plaza North in Tribeca — from losing the rent protections in the state’s Mitchell-Lama program.

The legislation, assuming it were passed, would likely produce the desired effects. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver told us he supports the bill and he would have no problem convincing his Democratic colleagues to pass the bill in the Assembly.

So what’s the problem?

As Silver, two other Downtown legislators — State Sen. Martin Connor and Councilmember Alan Gerson – and many others have pointed out, the prospects of the mayor’s bill passing the Republican-controlled state senate are slim, if they are that good.

While we do have some respect for Bloomberg’s ability to persuade Albany legislators to do things they have never done before, this time we think the mayor has chosen an impossibly tough hill to climb. This mayor did convince Albany to give him control of the city schools – something his predecessors failed at repeatedly. But on housing, Bloomberg is going up against one of upstate Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno’s deeply-held passions – that is Bruno’s quest to end all rent protections in the city. We remember well in 1995, that Bruno foolishly held up a Downtown economic revitalization program because he said he thought it involved rent control This was the same program that had the unwavering support of the real estate industry and Gov. George Pataki.

More recently, Bruno has fought hard to end rent stabilization, and it is only because of the united fight by Democrats led by Silver that the program is still in place.

When Jerilyn Perine, Bloomberg’s commissioner of Housing Preservation and Development, testified before the City Council a few weeks ago, she gave skeptical councilmembers no concrete reason to think the climate in Albany had changed.

The Bloomberg bill announcement was made – in all likelihood not coincidentally – the same day I.P.N. tenants rallied with Council leaders outside City Hall.

The council’s bill is supported by Council Speaker Gifford Miller, Gerson, Silver, Connor and the I.P.N. Tenants Association among many others. The bill would force building owners to negotiate with tenants before “buying out” of the middleclass rent protections in Mitchell-Lama, as the new I.P.N. owner has applied to do.

The Bloomberg administration and the real estate industry argue that the council bill is illegal because the city can’t pass a law changing the state law.

We can’t be sure who is right, but we are confident the I.P.N. tenants stand a better chance defending this proposed city law in court than waiting for Bruno to get an 11th hour conversion and back new rent protections.

Bruno’s press for unfettered housing markets is not good policy prescription for New York City. With the city’s historical housing shortage, city residents cannot, literally speaking, wait in the cold for months and years on the theory that the market will “adjust,” new housing will be built, and the supply will drive down rents. Too many middle class and poor people will be driven out, or freeze before that happens.

Bloomberg pledged last year to preserve or build 65,000 affordable apartments. It’s substantially cheaper to preserve than to build affordable units. We have seen far too little action from the mayor since his announcement last year. He has let I.P.N. continue down the path away from affordable housing and he has not indicated any desire to save the affordable units in Gateway Plaza, which face a similar dilemma in 2005.

If Tribeca and Battery Park City become places where only the wealthy live, if Mitchell-Lama complexes switch to market rates around the city, Lower Manhattan and the rest of New York will lose something profound – its balance, its diversity, and we believe, part of its soul. Bloomberg has talked the talk about not letting that happen. Now we’re waiting for a real plan from him. It’s time to walk the walk, Mr. Mayor.


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