“People really haven’t seen, yet, the full extent of the economic recession on real estate,” Mr. Strasburg said. “All you have to do is look at Stuy Town–Peter Cooper, which everybody is recognizing that, clearly, there’s a real issue there. They’re running out of money.”
Just how the Senate will act is a guessing game, but there seem to be increasing signs that the body will embrace tenant-friendly legislation.
Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith of Queens has stayed away from offering specifics in his public statements on rent-regulation issues, though through a spokesman he said, “The Senate Democratic Conference has long been committed to protecting middle-income families by improving rent-regulation laws.”
Both landlords and tenants say he has given them encouraging signs in private.
Mr. Smith tends to be less liberal than the bulk of his conference, and also, as the majority leader, has to be more concerned with fund-raising for future elections, an area where landlords have some sway. Still, the Working Families Party, unions and other advocacy groups—all important in bringing the Democrats to power—are pushing hard on vacancy decontrol and other housing issues.
“I think we’re going to be able to get vacancy decontrol repealed,” said Mike McKee, a tenant advocate who has led fund-raising and policy efforts through the group Tenants PAC. “It’s not going to be a walk in the park, but I think we’re going to be able to do it.”
FURTHER CLOUDING the issues is a new chairman of the housing committee, Pedro Espada Jr., a Bronx Democrat who was given the post over State Senator Liz Krueger, a Manhattan Democrat who clashed with the real estate industry. Mr. Espada has yet to stake out public positions on vacancy decontrol and other proposed legislation, and advocates on both sides say they have little clue as to how he will proceed.
Speaking from Albany on Monday, Mr. Espada asked in an interview for “a little patience.” Without offering specifics, he pledged that the Senate would indeed reform tenant laws, including vacancy decontrol, though there would need to be a balance.
“There’s no question that there has been a set of policies,” he said, “on and on over the last 10 years easily that has increasingly impacted negatively on the availability of affordable housing to New Yorkers, and that we will deal with.”
He also suggested he would oppose the Urstadt Law’s full repeal, which was passed by the Assembly and which would shift policy and lawmaking on issues such as vacancy decontrol to the city level.
“I, for one, am not looking to take the state out of its constitutional role—to make sure that our committee has a statewide focus,” Mr. Espada said.
Tenant advocates had hoped the legislation would be taken up before the end of the month, though Mr. Smith’s spokesman suggested the budget was of paramount concern right now. Should the Senate pass any of the same or similar legislation as the Assembly, it is widely believed that Governor Paterson would sign it into law, as there would be minimal cost to state coffers.
Further, Mr. Paterson lives in a rent-stabilized apartment in Harlem, and has advocated for tenant-friendly legislation in the past.
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