Saturday, December 13, 2008


UP FRONT News December 11, 2008
Published by Tom Weiss
Editorial Advisor: Willard Whittingham
"The paper that can't be bought and can't be sold."


By Tom Weiss

Thanks to the power of the real estate lobby in all the major political parties in New York, rent protection laws are inadequate, a major contributing factor in the steadily worsening affordable housing crisis and the related metastasis of homelessness. The fact is that, particularly in New York City, the citizens here lose what we most need and in fact get what we least need. i.e. luxury housing and obscenely overpaid athletes. The real estate section of the Sunday New York Times and the sports pages of any newspaper are proof positive of that reality. There is little likelihood that newly signed pitcher C.C. Sabathia or his narcissistic Madonna/Kabbalah-entranced teammate, Alex Rodriguez (over $26 million a "year" for a part-time job), paid by the taxpayer-subsidized outfit known as the New York Yankees will wind up on a waiting list for Section 8 housing.

That is part of the political and economic context generating the well attended tenants rights rally on December 9 at the Ethical Culture Center in a very wealthy section of Manhattan. The rally focused in the imminent battle in the New York State legislature to eliminate "vacancy decontrol", whereby a rent-stabilized apartment that reaches $2,000/month can go much. much, much higher.

The fact that a rent stabilized apartment can be leased lawfully at $2,000/month shows what is wrong with the existing loophole-ridden rent "protection" system in New York in the first place. Rent "stabilization" is a sham. It is a sham because it is based on a system under which landlords, in demanding periodic rent increases before the NYC Rent Guidelines Board, are allowed to plead poverty while keeping their books closed.

In fact landlords (not all, but many) have been known to cook their books as if they were were among the world's finest chefs. I know from my experience in the last millennium with Thomas Berger, one of the greediest, most politically connected landlords since the Old Testament and the owner of a loft building at 190-A Duane Street in Tribeca (the mega-gen-trified neighborhood I call DeNirostan) where I lived from 1977 until 1993 (5 1/2 of those years without heat and water thanks to the avaricious Ed Koch pal Berger, a resident of Forest Hills, Queens). Indeed under the euphemism known as rent stabilization, Berger ripped off a rent increase of over almost 400% approved by the landlord-tilted NYC Loft Board.

Among the people most responsible for the Swiss cheese "stablization" laws under which massive gentrification and displacement have taken place, aside from the overt and well or- ganized real estate lobby have been self-appointed "tenants rights leaders" such as Mike ("The Knife") McKee and his pal in the loft Chuck ("Ol' Loophole") Delaney.

It was McKee and Delaney who quietly conspired in 1980 with in particular "liberal" Demo- cratic legislators who took campaign cash from the real estate lobby to insert a provision into the Loft Law allowing landlords to pass along "legalization" costs as rent increases. And when I traveled to Albany to try to prevent that, they arranged with a seriously mentally unstable legislative aide to former State Assemblyman Paul Viggiano (D.-Manh.) have me arrested in the Legislative Office Building. No kidding! The result was a Loft Law so loophole-riddled that it resulted in the wholesale luxurization of loft districts such as SoHo, NoHo, TriBeCa and DUMBO under rent "stabilization." As far as I am aware, among the relatively few protected loft tenants has been Delaney, who lives in a financial district Pearl Street building from which another loft tenant suddenly and mysteriously disappeared - forever.

As far as I am aware the only bill ever introduced into the New York state legislature that would have properly protected tenants was the reccurently buried in the last millennium Flynn-Dearie Rent Protection Act. The key provision of that bill was that it required any owner of a multiple dwelling seeking a rent increase to prove need by opening his or her books for auditing by the state. That provision of course was anathema to the landlords and their friends. Among those friends were - and are - Mike McKee and Chuck Delaney.

Among the organizations supporting Flynn-Dearie was the Metropolitan Council on Housing, then led by activists such as Jane Benedict and Esther Rand. Mike Mckee split the tenants movement by creating the New York Neighborhood and Tenants Coalition and opposed
Flynn-Dearie, claiming that the "open the books" provision was "too cumbersome."

In fact, since the "Flynn" in Flynn-Dearie was State Senator John Flynn, a conservative but tenant-sensitive Republican legislator from Yonkers, the Flynn-Dearie Rent Protection Act, unlike other tenant bills, could have passed. John Dearie was a Democratic State Assemblyman from the Parkchester area of the Bronx. Had Flynn-Dearie become law, gentrification would have been essentially stopped, while landlords actually in need of rent increases would have been protected.

Mike McKee, who will not talk about his reported ties to the right-wing Manhattan Institute, is to an important degree responsible for a great many displacements.

Mike McKee and Chuck Delaney are what are known as fifth columnists, i.e. reactionary infiltrators camouflaged as populists. (The term was originally applied to politically well-camouflaged pseudo-leftists collaborating with Francisco Franco before and during the Spanish Civil War.)

The last time I saw McKee as a speaker spouting his militant populist rhetoric was in April, 2007 at a rally in front of 47 East 3rd Street in Manhattan in support of the tenants of that building being displaced by the landlord Economakis family by means of "owner occupancy." Evictions of rent-protected tenants in this way are, as the courts have ruled, "legal." Why? Because of a loophole in the rent stabilization laws. The notion of McKee speaking at such a rally was analagous to perhaps Dick Cheney addressing a Quaker meeting and so I used my First Amendment rights to somewhat spontaneously educate the public as McKee slunk off to the rear of the rally with his baseball cap pulled halfway over his eyes "perp-walk"-style. A more sincere speech on that day was delivered by East Village activist and Ben Shaoul tenant Monte Schapiro.

The December 9 rally at the Ethical Culture center was addressed by several state legislators, most vociferously by State Senator Tom Duane (D.-Manh.), who pledged that vacancy decontrol will be ended in the upcoming legislative session. As far as I am concerned, while that would be a step in the right direction, the chronic problems afflicting tenants will remain until a Flynn-Dearie-type law requiring landlords to open their books and closing the owner occupancy loophole is enacted.

I've spoken to several legislators, including Assemblymembers Linda Rosenthal (D.-Manh.), Brian Kavanagh (D.-Manh.) and State Senator Andrew Lanza (R.-S.I.) about this. All three have expressed support for the Flynn-Dearie "open the books" concept. What a politician says, however, means little until something is put into writing (at least to me), something that Rosenthal, Kavanagh, and Lanza have not yet done. (I hope they're not worried about the politically receding Mike McKee, who has been the subject of puff coverage in the mainstream media but has been more thoroughly covered in UP FRONT News.)

As a resident of the very gentrification and highrise-threatened working class community of Stapleton on Staten Island's North Shore, which the developers would like to "upscale" into another Lower Manhattan (with little in the way of real resistance from the elected officials and the City Council candidate wannabes) as far as I was able to tell, there were relatively
few Staten Islanders at the December 9 rally. One sponsoring group, Make the Road New York, has offices in Queens, Brooklyn and S.I.

Mike McKee, in his tenants rights uniform, may still try to confuse people with his uncon-vincing impersonations of Che Guevara but at Ethical Culture he wisely did not appear on the speakers' platform. Also absent was McKee pal, the recurrently tenants rights spouting New York City Council Speaker Christine ("The Flighty") Quinn, who has been known to accept much campaign cash from the real estate lobby.
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