The Rent Control Debate
(an ongoing dialogue in the L letters pages)
A well done analysis (The Life and Death of Rent Control, Adam Bonislawski, May 25); I think you've hit the nail on the head regarding the essential lottery aspect of stabilization/control. Everyone knows they won't win the lottery, but they continue to buy tickets because it's "Hey, you never know". This mentality has, in my opinion, taken over every aspect of our society, all the way through the war in Iraq (WMD? Hey, you never know! Democracy in the Middle East by killing thousands? Hey, you never know!).
The truly unfortunate side-effect of rent-control is that it is both the poor and the small landlord who get screwed. Large landlords buy the outcome they need from the tenant, city, or L&T court, and in most low-income neighborhoods, the legal rent is higher than the market rent! The small landlord can't make money on his good properties, and so can not hope to expand or renovate housing elsewhere. The administrative overhead/nightmare that is the DHCR and HPD is incredibly reminiscent of Soviet ministries which accomplished nothing with thousands of employees. Any filing with these organizations can take years to resolve, and you can never get a straight answer about the status.
If Mayor Bloomberg were serious about construction jobs in New York City, he would abandon the bloviated concept of a West Side statdium and concentrate on eliminating rent-control with an incentive for small landlords to build new housing.
I read Adam Bonislawski's article with enthusiasm, and am glad Noah Osnos responded with another accurate description of the rent regulation fiasco in this city. It is shocking that most people who live here, especially the young and largely un-regulated (coincidentally the L's readership) continue to support a program that actually harms them. The landlord's irresponsibility in fixing that leak? The grafitti on the front door? The ugly lighting in the hallways? The stairwell filthy? You have rent regulation to thank for that. With no competition and an impossibly tight housing market, landlords have to do about zilch to rent their falling-apart apartments for high prices. And we are all to eager to comply. I've lived around the country, and have universally paid lower rent, in better quality buildings, with more responsive management everywhere else. This doesn't have to be.
But what is more shocking, is that the following week [June 8, "The Building of City Hell"] you run another op-ed which completely contradicts the wisdom of Mr. Bonislawski's. The Mayor's proposed development plans could quite possibly be savior for the high-rent and lousy conditions we have been enduring. Unfortunately the plans have been opposed by neighborhood groups and lots of young people, including Mr. Kiel, and organizations such as the Williamsburg Warriors — largely on the grounds that they don't include enough "affordable housing" — which is code word for more rent regulation. The irony is that mainstream leftist belief sells the argument that development raises prices — while all Economics 101 texts say just the opposite!
Just last week we learned how reducing regulation leads to benefits for many people; the same is true of development. More housing means lower prices and better quality. So why is Kiel espousing the old-line rhetoric of "the intractability of the profit motive" being the problem.
Growth — in places that can handle it — will bring us more public amenities such as parks; jobs and economic development, and the environmental benefit of density and transit, while thwarting the ceaseless sprawl to the suburbs and south.