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Volume 73, Number 29 | November 19 - 25, 2003

EDITORIAL


Bloomberg’s housing plan falls short

Mayor Mike Bloomberg proposed state legislation a few weeks ago intended to protect tenants — like the ones at the West Village Houses and Tribeca’s Independence Plaza North — 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 has pointed out, the prospects of the mayor’s bill passing the Republican-controlled state Senate are slim, if they are that good. Other Downtown legislators share the view that Albany is not the best place to try to preserve Mitchell-Lama housing.

While Bloomberg was able to persuade state legislators to go along with his school reform plan, this time we think the mayor has chosen an impossibly tough hill to climb. We remember how in 1995, state Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno led the charge to weaken, if not eliminate outright, the rent laws. Bruno at that time had the support of Gov. George Pataki.

In the last legislative session in Albany, Bruno again threatened rent protections, but thanks to the united fight by Democrats led by Silver, the program is still in place.

The Bloomberg bill announcement was made — in all likelihood not coincidentally — the same day Mitchell-Lama tenants rallied with Council leaders outside City Hall.

The Council’s bill is supported by the I.P.N. Tenants Association among many others. The bill would force building owners to negotiate with tenants before “buying out” of the middle-class rent protections in Mitchell-Lama, as the W.V.H. owner and new I.P.N. owner have applied to do.

The Bloomberg administration and the real estate industry argue the Council bill is illegal because the city can’t pass a law changing the state law. Of course, no one has even seen the mayor’s bill yet.

Meanwhile, W.V.H. tenants are divided on whether to support the Council’s bill, some fearing that it would “chill negotiations” currently underway with the complex’s landlord. On the other hand, most at W.V.H. are skeptical of the mayor’s idea, calling it “grandstanding,” noting he failed to support a similar measure in previous sessions of the state Legislature.

We can’t be sure who is right, but we think waiting for Bruno to get an 11th-hour change of heart and back new rent protections is wishful thinking.

Bloomberg pledged last year to preserve or build 65,000 affordable apartments. However, it’s substantially cheaper to preserve than to build affordable units.

If Mitchell-Lama complexes switch to market rates around the city, Downtown Manhattan 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 — and viable — plan from him. It’s time to walk the walk, Mr. Mayor.


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