Affordable Housing Is 'Disappearing' Every Day, Says Silver

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver has made reforming New York City's rent laws a top priority. The Assembly made the first move in what will likely be long, drawn out negotiations, approving a one house bill that Silver said will ensure that more renters can stay in their homes. He said affordable housing is "disappearing" every day.

"At least 10,000 rent-stabilized apartments are lost in the city each year," Silver said. "And that number is rising."

Silver wants to rescind what is known as "vacancy decontrol," rules passed in 1997 that allow landlords to remove apartments from rent regulations if a tenant gives up their lease and the market value rent of the unit is determined to be higher than $2000 a month.

Landlords can also reach the $2000 a month threshold by fixing up the apartment. The Assembly bill would be retroactive and would even try to gain back apartments that were lost due to vacancy decontrol after January 1, 2007.

Silver said he's counting on Governor Andrew Cuomo to help convince Republicans in the Senate to enact the reforms. Cuomo has said he backs changes to the rent laws to make it easier for tenants to remain in affordable housing.

"Fortunately, we have a governor who supports the extension and enhancement of the rent laws," said Silver, who urged Cuomo to use his "clout to bring together the relevant stakeholders."

The Senate GOP is less interested in repealing vacancy control, but earlier this session Senate Republicans were very keen on imposing a 2 percent across the board property tax. Senators approved a one-house property tax cap bill in January. Silver has said the two issues are related because both efforts aim to keep people in their homes. Cuomo also has said repeatedly that imposing a property-tax cap is a very high priority.  

The speaker said he expects that a tax cap "will happen" in the Assembly, but refused to comment on reports that the final tax-cap legislation may be watered down, with a 3 or 4 percent limit, or exemptions for things like worker pensions, which are a cost driving factor for schools and local government.

A Siena College poll released Monday found that voters view enacting a property tax cap as their No. 1. Spokesman Steve Greenberg said 37 percent of those surveyed said a property tax cap was their No. 1, coming in ahead of the 27 percent who favored ethics reform.

Among New York City voters, new ethics laws were the top concern, followed closely by reform of the rent regulations.

Final action on those issues is not likely to occur anytime soon.

The legislature is taking a 2-1/2 week break. After the April 13 session, Senators and Assemblymembers will not be back at the Capitol until May 2.  

Silver said it will give a chance for legislators to be in their districts and "hear from their constituents."