August is a busy time for government hearings. It's that small window of opportunity for government to escape notice while everyone is on vacation. (That hearings are even allowed during August is a disgrace in a democracy.)
Tuesday's DHCR hearing was something of a diversion.
DHCR currently allows landlords to demolish buildings solely for the purpose of evicting rent stabilized tenants and rebuilding minus rent stabilized tenants. It's just another way to skirt rent protections, along with owner-occupancy according to which a landlord can evict you from your home for his personal use of it (reminiscent of feudal driot de seigneur, which also included taking your wife and daughters -- if they were worth money, that would be next on the agenda) and luxury decontrol. By allowing landlords to compensate evicted tenants for a limited number of years, rather than requiring landlords to return the tenants to the rebuilt building with their previous rents, DHCR is encouraging landlords to evict and demolish and eliminate affordable housing.
Demolitions should be allowed only if the tenants are endangered by a structurally unsound building, not to endanger tenants merely for the landlord's profit.
Yet the hearing didn't address the question of whether demolitions should be allowed in structurally sound, inhabited buildings. Instead, the hearing concerned whether the whole building must be razed completely to the ground or only partly to the ground to allow for such evictions and how much or how little the evicted should be compensated for their loss of home. Sort of like asking whether murderers should be required to clean up their victims' bloody corpses or may they leave them lying around the house or in the street. Surely these are the wrong questions. They assume too much. This is a world stood upside down.
The best testimonies -- perhaps the best given by Monte Shapiro -- emphasized that demolition should only be allowed if the building is structurally unsound, that tenants should be relocated in comparable space in the neighborhood at comparable rents and, after the structure is rebuilt, offered comparable space at comparable rent in the rebuilt structure. That would deter landlords from demolishing solely for the purpose of building a new structure, as several people put it, "in no significant way different from the original structure except without the rent stabilized tenants."
The demonstration prior to the hearing was attended by a crowd unusually large for the steps of City Hall. Our Councilmember Rosie Mendez spoke first and coordinated the speakers who included Martin Connor, Gale Brewer and Dick Gottfried, a few others; Deborah Glick's office helped organize the demonstration. Councilmember Tony Avella appeared but had to leave early for a Council hearing. Paul Newell, who is challenging Sheldon Silver in the democratic primary, attended as well. Silver didn't show.
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