Andrew Cuomo Wants Tougher Rent Regulation

I've been pleasantly surprised by Andrew Cuomo as governor of New York; he's shown himself willing to stand up to his party's special interests, and even taken on the fearsome Local 1199 of the SEIU in an effort to reduce Medicaid spending.

But Andrew Cuomo got his political start in the affordable-housing-industrial complex (he founded a non-profit dedicated to providing transitional housing to homeless families, where I spent an eye-opening 11 months working as a secretary in the mid-1990s).  Given that, I suppose it was too much to hope that he'd take New York City's rent control regulations in a more rational direction.  Indeed, he wants to strengthen the rent regulations that have led to the deterioration of the city's rental housing stock, driven up rents for market-rate apartments, and helped ensure virtually the only new housing construction consists of luxury apartments.

Leaning on his time as HUD secretary during the Clinton administration, Cuomo called affordable housing "the building block of strong communities and a strong economy."

Says the gov:

In New York, more than 1 million people are protected by New York's rent regulation program.

However, this program is set to expire June 15, less than 5 weeks from now.

That would be a crisis for our state.

In fact, what we need to extend and strengthen our rent regulation laws, and we need to do it now.

Since 1994, over 238,000 apartments have been removed from rent regulation leaving middle class New Yorkers with fewer affordable options.

And by current standards it is estimated that over 130,000 more apartments could be lost to decontrol in the next few years.
I find it utterly bizarre that rent control gets discussed in the context of affordable housing.

The apartments aren't means tested, and indeed, in my experience, rent controlled apartments tended to go to the most affluent applicants.  After all, the landlord of a rent controlled apartment has a valuable property on his hands; he can afford to be very choosy, picking only the tenants most likely to make their monthly payments.  When I was very strapped, and applying for these apartments, the typical experience was to show up to look at an affordable studio, and find thirty other applicants there to look at the same place.  Few of them seemed to be in genuine financial distress.

Which is not actually that surprising: the minimum income requirement was usually at least 40 times the monthly rent, which almost definitionally ensured that these places were not going to the seriously needy.  The defacto requirements were often much higher, because landlords tended to favor the people with the highest and most stable incomes. Most of the people I knew who had rent controlled apartments were, in fact, extremely affluent--they were connected, obviously not going to miss a payment, and they could best afford the bribes that occasionally went along with obtaining these prizes.

But rent control is popular--popular with advocates, and very popular with the educated and fairly affluent white people who have lucked into controlled or stabilized apartments.  (They tend not to view themselves as affluent because they believe that living in Manhattan is a natural condition, like psoriasis, rather than a very expensive personal choice). And it doesn't cost the state money directly.  Small wonder that Cuomo has chosen to pander on the one policy that virtually every economist, left to right, can agree is a bad idea.