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August 13th, 2008


by Joelle Panisch

Councilmember Rosie Mendez addresses the crowd.

City Hall Park was resounding with chants of protest Tuesday morning as gatherers rallied at the building steps against phony demolition regulations. Led by councilmember Rosie Mendez, the rally included close to a dozen high-ranking officials and advocacy group leaders.

The assembly came about an hour before the Division of Housing and Community Renewal (DHCR) heard testimony on the unlawful use of the demolition clause to evict rent-stabilized tenants. The clause was instituted to protect renters from bodily harm due to unsafe conditions in buildings that are beyond repair. However landlords and developers have been abusing the law’s unspecific language to evoke the demolition clause with the actual intent to oust low rent tenants and create profitably luxury housing.

All this technicality is over the definition of demolition. “Demolish means razed to the ground,” Mendez said with the support of the crowd.

But the DHCR seems to disagree. The proposed regulations would adopt a definition which would mean gutting the entire inside of a building but not necessarily the outside structure and walls. This has been widely opposed by both sides.

New York State Senator Liz Krueger says allowing such an open definition creates “a situation where you can try to claim full demolition of a building when in fact you are just evicting the tenants, ending rent regulation and just doing renovations to the building.”

Brooklyn Councilmember Diana Reyna agrees. “There is a major problem with the system when the law is left to self-interpret and can be argued either way.We cannot allow this issue of demolition to continue if we are going to protect affordable housing.”

Renters in this city have long been plagued by the search for affordable real estate, but not since the 1970’s did the search feel so desperate. “It’s desperate on both sides,” said Reyna. “Landlords are pressured to pay their debts and make a profit.”

Rent stabilized and low rent tenants are feeling the pressure. Landlord intimidation and costly litigation are amongst the deceitful schemes to push undesirable renters out. But of all the tactics, phony demolition is the most easily eradicated—with the cooperation of the DHCR, that is.

To a crowd of his constituents, Senator Martin Connor summed up the problem best. “[Phony Demolition] was never the intent of the law and if allowed to continue it will deplete any availability of affordable housing in our neighborhoods…It’s a loophole to end affordable housing.”

Also lending support were Assemblymember Daniel O’Donnell, Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal, Assemblymember Richard Gottfried, Assemblymember Micah Kellner, Councilmember Diana Reyna, District Leader Brad Hoylman, and Assemblymember Deborah Glick (in a statement read by Bethany Jankunis).

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