The Great Hall at Cooper Union. On February 27th, 1860, Lincoln’s speech here helped propel him to the Presidency. New Yorkers now gather here to facilitate the destruction of their housing stock.
A few weeks ago New York City’s Rent Guidelines Board voted for its recommend range of rent increases permitted in the city’s million or so “rent stabilized” apartments for the year beginning October 1st. What everyone’s waiting for is the circus where the final decision is made; this year’s entertainment begins at 6:00 PM on June 23rd in the Great Hall at Cooper Union.
Meanwhile, time and money get wasted over at the Ansonia, a grand old Upper West Side building. Marieliz Unwin has occupied a rent controlled turreted one-bedroom there since 1978. Her landlord is now three and a half years into an eviction suit, claiming Ms. Unwin actually lives in a farmhouse upstate and only uses the apartment for commercial purposes, for which she would not be entitled to protection under the rent control laws.
Her current rent is $1,100, for a unit that would list for $5,000/month on Craigslist tomorrow morning. The fight has so far involved high-powered lawyers, undercover detectives and lots of demands for documentation, including tax returns and credit card statements, to try to determine where, exactly, Ms. Unwin “lives”.
The resources poured into this fight are a deadweight loss to everyone, as none of it goes to paying rent or building more apartments in a city so famously in need of them. The tenant, the landlord and the city all lose.
Lincoln was prescient: two years before the Cooper Union address he said, “A house divided against itself will not stand.” Because of rent control laws, New York is divided against itself, and is locked into an inferior equilibrium, destroying itself from the inside.