Lay Off Rangel (At Least a Little Bit)

Rent stabilization is one of the nation’s most successful affordable-housing initiatives since World War II, but it’s increasingly harder to defend thanks to the sorts of performances today by Representative Charles Rangel of Harlem.

As The Times‘ City Room blog notes, Mr. Rangel was recalcitrant, rude and vulgar in his defense of renting four stabilized apartments in Harlem’s Lenox Terrace complex at West 135th Street. Here he is responding to a question from Times reporter David Kocieniewski:

“I have decided unilaterally that you have asked more than your share.” He added, when Mr. Kocieniewski tried to press him, “Hell no, I’m not going to respond to you.”

Nice. Very statesmanlike. But here’s the thing: Mr. Rangel’s legal leases on three of the four apartments as residential residences appear perfectly valid. It may seem unseemly, as reports have noted, that he gets a break on his Manhattan rent when so many are having trouble finding affordable housing.

But, as I noted when The New York Sun outed Governor David Paterson as a rent-stabilized tenant in the same Lenox Terrace, this situation doesn’t change the fact of stabilization’s efficacy in preserving affordability in New York City. Opponents of stabilization will likely trot out Mr. Rangel beside Mr. Paterson and other high-worth individuals like Bianca Jagger and Nora Ephron as examples of past or present stabilization tenants gaming the system.

So what? A few relatively bad apples don’t spoil the bunch here. Look at Cambridge, Mass., over the last decade.

I wrote in November about what happened to the rental apartment stock in Cambridge in the 1990s after Massachusetts ended rent regulation and made most apartments market-rate. (Cambridge, along with Boston, was one of a handful of Massachusetts municipalities that still had rent regulation at the time.) Rents shot up across Cambridge and stayed up; and the town, home to Harvard and M.I.T., became even more a bastion of the well-heeled.

The only real infraction at this point by Mr. Rangel (that I can see based on the reports about his situation) is that he’s using that fourth stabilized apartment as a campaign office–a clear no-no under the rules: No commercial use; you have to live in the apartment.

Mr. Rangel today offered to address that problem. Case should be closed. Lay Off Rangel (At Least a Little Bit)