By ELIZABETH A. HARRIS
Decades-Old Housing ‘Emergency’ Continues, and So Does Rent Regulation
Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg signed a bill on Monday that extended the city’s participation in rent regulation for another three years by redeclaring a state of housing emergency, even as a challenge to rent regulation laws looms in the United States Supreme Court.
“The Department of Housing Preservation and Development reports the vacancy rate in rental apartments to be at 3.12 percent,” Mr. Bloomberg said at the bill-signing ceremony. That, he continued, is “well below the 5 percent rate at which the law requires that rent regulation be discontinued.”
The city has had a vacancy rate of less than 5 percent since the department began keeping track more than 40 years ago, which means it has been in a state of housing emergency for all that time. But critics of rent regulation argue that an emergency by definition must be temporary.
Among them are James D. and Jeanne Harmon, who own a brownstone on the Upper West Side that has rent-stabilized apartments. The Harmons have been challenging the state’s rent-regulation laws, and they have taken their battle to the Supreme Court.
The court is expected to decide next month whether to hear their case.
“My family is making a last stand,” Mr. Harmon said. “We believe that the Constitution gives us the freedom to decide who lives in our own home. The mayor is free to think otherwise.”
Supporters of rent regulation, however, are not convinced. They say that a dearth of low-cost housing persists, especially for the poorest New Yorkers. The New York State Legislature renewed rent regulation laws last year, increasing the ceiling for a regulated apartment from $2,000 to $2,500 per month.
“There are not enough affordable apartments available,” said State Assemblywoman Linda B. Rosenthal, a Democrat from Manhattan, who points to the vacancy rate cited by the Department of Housing Preservation and Development as proof. “We have to keep the system we have and try to make improvements in order to keep New York an option.”