Rent Control Deal May Be in the Works

Classic Albany deal would protect city renters while capping suburban property taxes

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    NEWSLETTERS

    AP
    Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, speaks during a news conference at the Capitol in Albany, N.Y., on Monday, April 11, 2011. A classic Albany deal is in the works that could protect 1 million New York City renters from big rent increases while also capping the growth in property taxes in the suburbs and upstate. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)

    A classic Albany deal is in the works that could protect 1 million New York City renters from big rent increases while also capping the growth in property taxes in the suburbs and upstate.

    The Assembly, led by New York City Democrats, planned to pass its measure on Monday to strengthen and expand protections for people living in rent-controlled apartments, mostly in New York City.

    The Senate, led by suburban Republicans, has already passed a bill proposed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo that would cap the growth of property taxes at 2 percent a year.

    Advocates on all sides of each issue are scrambling to stop efforts to weaken the major bills in closed-door negotiations. That includes proposals to amend Cuomo's property tax cap bill by allowing the annual tax rate to rise as much as 4 percent, with more expenses added to a list that could allow a local school board to suspend the cap.

    In the renters' bill, efforts could allow landlords to continue a practice of upgrading an apartment to the point that he or she is allowed to charge a higher rent and exempt the apartment from the 60-year-old rent regulation program.

    "Affordable housing for our working families is disappearing each day," said Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a lower Manhattan Democrat.

    He said 10,000 rent stabilized apartments are lost each year and the median income of renters in subsidized apartments is $38,000 a year. Loss of more affordable apartments will lead to more homelessness, he said.

    "It's imperative that we win this," said Assembly Housing Committee Chairman Vito Lopez, a Brooklyn Democrat.

    Reauthorization of the measure important to the Assembly every few years has resulted in long negotiations and linkage with other measures sought by the Senate.

    "While the current rent laws expire on June 15 and we do have plans to address the issue in the weeks ahead, upstate and suburban homeowners have waited years for the property tax relief they need and deserve," said Senate majority spokesman Scott Reiff.

    Silver has sponsored Cuomo's tax cap bill in the Assembly, but it's not moving any closer to a floor vote. On Monday, Silver told reporters the two bills aren't "linked" as a single deal, but he wouldn't say if the property tax bill, which has already passed in the Senate, will move before his renters' bill passes that Republican-led chamber.

    Silver also said he doesn't think the 2-percent cap on annual property tax growth is too low, discounting a need for the cap to be higher which would be more feasible for schools.

    Senate Democratic leader John Sampson of Brooklyn said relief from state mandates on schools also needs to be part of the negotiations. Schools have said they need relief from some costly restrictions enacted in Albany on how to use state aid and how to pay for construction projects to save money if a tax cap is forced on them.

    "I think everything is on the table," Sampson said.

    A Siena College poll on Monday found a majority supported a key element of Cuomo's ethics bill that would force disclosure of lawmakers' clients and outside income, a 2-percent cap on property tax growth, and renewal of the rent regulations.

    "There is always room for negotiations — this is Albany," Cuomo told reporters last week when asked about changes to his tax cap bill. He is in the midst of negotiating the two issues in addition to an ethics reform bill that was a centerpiece of his campaign last year.

    "One way or another, ethics reform, property tax cap and rent will be three of the top priorities," Cuomo said.