Espada Proposes Rent-Freeze Plan to Help Tenants

Industry advocates don't think it will work

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Espada says he wants to help renters, but industry advocates are dubious.

    Sen. Pedro Espada has a new plan to make things easier for struggling renters, but industry advocates don't think it will fly.

    The senator, who has been criticized for his cushy relationships with landlords, wants to implement a rent freeze for working-class families making under $45,000 a year who live in rent-stabilized apartments and spend a third or more of their monthly wages on rent, according to a published report. 

    Espada announced his intention to introduce the bill early this month. If passed, it could assist up to 500,000 people in the city.

    "It is these people in New York City who need help right now," Espada, the Bronx pol behind the coup that stalled state politics for more than a month, told the Daily News.

    The proposal would cost about $77 million a year, the Senate majority leader told the paper. But the money would come primarily from landlords who agree to refund tax breaks known as J-51 exemptions that they've previously earned on their buildings.

    Espada's program would compensate participating landlords with new tax exemptions in exchange for freezing rents for eligible tenants. But tenant advocates don't think many landlords will be so inclined to return the tax breaks they've received in the past.

    "He knows it will never fly," Michael McKee, a spokesman for the Tenants Political Action Committee, told the News.

    Espada's gotten a lot of flack from housing advocates over the years for not doing enough to help tenants and accepting thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from landlords.

    Back in May, tenants and housing organizers launched a protest outside a building where Espada was inside addressing a group of some of the city's wealthiest landowners. They criticized his lack of support for tenant-protection bills and threatened to vote him out of office if he didn't throw some muscle behind the legislation. 

    Now Espada says he wants to help tenants, but industry advocates don't believe he's going about it the right way.

    The J-51 exemptions that Espada's plan would require returned were at the center of a massive class action lawsuit against Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village. Tenants had complained the landlords were unlawfully raising rents in those buildings, despite receiving tax breaks to keep them stabilized.

    A judge sided with the tenants in October.

    By offering the landlords an opportunity to return those J-51 exemptions, critics say Espada is trying to give them an easy way out.

    "I smell a rat here," McKee told the News. "I think this is probably designed to let Tishman Speyer and other landlords who have been illegally deregulating units off the hook."

    A spokesman for Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Stu Loeser, declined the News' requests for comments on the Espada proposal.