Psychiatrist: I think we should meet again. How’s tomorrow for you?
[Phil begins punching himself in the head through pillow]
Psychiatrist: Is that not good?
Every year without fail, New York City’s Rent Guidelines Board hearings, as we saw yesterday in Part 4, degenerate into street theater of the absurd, with residents banging drums, shouting and chanting, but fortunately no airborne chairs (this year, anyhow), in striking contrast to the tactics adopted by owners, who are invariably careful, polite, and respectful to their political opponents.
When a clutch of owners of small apartment buildings banded together to form an association almost three decades ago, one word was notably absent from the name they gave themselves.
Portrait of an owner (2011); the quotes are worth reading too
Sources for this post
The Indypendent (May 11, 2005; powder-blue font)
New York Post (June 24, 2009; brown font)
New York Times (June 24, 2010; violet font)
New York Times (June 27, 2011; yellow font)
The Real Deal (December, 2011; navy blue font)
New York Observer guest editorial (May 14, 2014; peach font)
New York Daily News (June 11, 2014; emerald font)
New York Daily News (June 17, 2014; olive font)
New York Daily News (June 23, 2014; black font)
New York Post (June 23, 2014; teal font)
New York Post (June 24, 2014; orange font)
Curbed New York (June 24, 2014; lavender font)
New York Post (June 25, 2014; gray font)
Crain’s New York (July 9, 2014; magenta font)
A profile of Ms. Bernstein from The Real Deal (December, 2011; navy blue font), which included this exchange:
How did you get into real estate?
I was a schoolteacher and I was fascinated by “the real world.” As teachers, we always felt like we were in a cocoon. So I started looking at the business world. In 1971, I bought a brownstone on 81st between First and Second avenues. The building cost $175,000 and had five units and an owner’s apartment.
For those of you too young to remember, back then this was, if not the Wild West, certainly the frontier of New York’s neighborhoods: close to the Hudson River and a fair way up.
1971, the year of The Panic in Needle Park
Then I bought derelict buildings in Chelsea — one 12-unit building and one 28-unit building. I really didn’t know what I was in for! I taught until 1976, and then I took a temporary leave of absence to focus on my properties. I always thought I’d go back, but I never did.
In other words, Ms. Bernstein worked on these properties for forty years, buying them when New York City was heading down, owning and managing them through a tough decade (1971-1981), including the period when Rent Stabilization came into effect (1974) to supplant rent control – and by 1984, she and the others had figured out that the business they had chosen made them sitting ducks to be stereotyped and caricatured.
Ya but ah’m a public figyah
2C. There’s no downside to political misbehavior
Acting-out at the Rent Guidelines Board hearings has become de rigueur because over the years,
residents and their advocates have learned that outrageous behavior has political upside (favorable press, intimidation of the Board) with no downside:
With members wearing headphones so they could hear each other over the roar of angry tenants, a sharply divided Rent Guidelines Board last night approved rent hikes of 3% and 6% for one- and two-year lease renewals in rent-stabilized apartments.
Headphones to speak over the roar of angry tenants?
Mind you, that’s from 2011.
Not a rent stabilized tenant
At one point in the meeting, which was punctuated by jeering but no airborne chairs –
It sounds almost as if the Times was apologizing for the lack of chairs being thrown. What kind oc circus is that?
– tenant protesters drowned out the comments of a board member with shouting that continued for several minutes.
Too bad about the airborne chairs, but evidently the tenants didn’t need them:
A proposed fuel surcharge of 1% was not voted on.
When intimidation works, it has no downside and is reusable.
3. Government of the unwilling, by the unaccountable, for the uninvested
Phil: Morons, your bus is leaving.
Unlike a legitimate government comprised of the people who chose to form it, run by the people to governs, and for benefit of the people it governs, rent stabilization is anti-democratic because it is:
1. Of the unwilling. Property owners never consented to having their property covered by Rent Stabilization’s retroactive application to properties built before the law was conceived; they have no ability to opt out, and because real estate is immovable, they cannot emigrate their capital.
2. By the unaccountable. Those who make Rent Stabilization decisions (the Rent Guidelines Board, and behind them the mayor) are not accountable to the owners whose property value and economics the state has confiscated.
3. For the uninvested. Those who benefit from Rent Stabilization do nothing to earn it; they do not invest in the property, they have ownership’s economic upside without no downside or obligations of ownership, and they do not even have the societal justification of being needy by any objective or verifiable standard.
3A. Of the unwilling
Rent Stabilization makes owners unwilling participants in these kangaroo courts:
Having done everything they can to create an atmosphere of intimidation and the inability of others to speak, Ms. Charles and her friends then sneered at the one man who did:
Owners before the Rent Guidelines Board are like C. P. Snow’s mnemonic of Newton’s Three Laws of Thermodynamics: You can’t win, you can’t break even, and you can’t get out of the game.
A man with the psychological disposition to cope with being a rent stabilization landlord
Nevertheless, Mr. Nezai did his best:
Though tenants wish that rent stabilization property owners were plutocrats and landed gentry, in the main they are ordinary people who made the mistake of investing their money and their labor by providing affordable housing that New York desperately needs:
[The Small Property Owners of New York] has about 1,000 members, Ms. Bernstein said, most of whom own 10 units or fewer.
Many do not have live-in superintendents; they often handle repairs themselves and work second jobs to supplement their incomes.
Hardly the fat-cats who are better to hate in the abstract.
[Continued tomorrow in Part 6.]