Housing

Rangel’s Wrangle with Rent Control

Charlie Rangel, the powerful chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, has been seen in recent months manicured and pressed, stumping for Hillary Clinton, and most recently, for Barack […]

Charlie Rangel, the powerful chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, has been seen in recent months manicured and pressed, stumping for Hillary Clinton, and most recently, for Barack Obama. This whole time I’ve been wondering: This guy’s 78 years old! How does he look so polished and spend so much time between his Harlem district, D.C., and on the campaign trail for his fellow Democrats?

Rest! And lots of it! He’s got any number of abodes to lay his head. The New York Times reported late yesterday on its Web site that the veteran congressman — part of Harlem’s political elite — has four rent-stabilized apartments in an exclusive Harlem address at a time when landlords are using aggressive measures to evict tenants living in rent-stabilized units.

The Times goes on to report that, in 2007, Mr. Rangel paid a total rent of $3,894 monthly for the four apartments at the 1,700-unit luxurious Lenox Terrace, when the market rate for those same units, according to the developer, the Olnick Organization, would fetch $7,465 to $8,125.

Rangel reportedly uses one of the units as a campaign office, even though state and city regulations require that rent-stabilized residences are primarily for residential use.

For all you young journalists out there, that sounds like the lede, right? WRONG! as John McLaughlin would say.

In today’s sensationalistic society, the lede is that Rangel, with an estimated worth of $566,000 to $1.2 million and his four rent-stabilized apartments, is getting apartments on the cheap. Ethically wrong? Yes. Illegal? Probably not — though the jury’s still out on the campaign office.

So, continuing the McLaughlin-isms, on a scale of zero to 10, with zero representing zero possibility and 10 representing complete metaphysical certitude, is this just another boneheaded PR fiasco for a powerful politician? I think we can agree on metaphysical certitude.

Also, it stinks of abuse of the system. Certainly, the purpose of rent regulation was not for the Charlie Rangels of the world to be able to live off the system like this.

Not only is Olnick known in the city for its aggressive eviction tactics, but concerns of rising property values amid a gentrifying Harlem are rippling through the neighborhood.

Tensions are especially inflamed in Harlem, where the rising cost of living and the arrival of more moneyed residents have triggered anxiety over the future of the historically black neighborhood. And Vantage Properties, a company established by Olnick’s former chief operating officer, has attracted billions in private equity financing by promising investors that it can aggressively convert tens of thousands of rent-stabilized apartments, many in Harlem.

Interesting. So why is Olnick not breathing down Rangel’s neck about his low-rent properties? Here’s a silent answer that speaks volumes:

Yet Mr. Rangel, a critic of other landlords’ callousness, has been uncharacteristically reticent about Olnick’s actions.

Sigh.

Lenox Terrace also houses other political luminaries like New York State Gov. David Paterson, his father, and Percy E. Sutton, the formal Manhattan Borough president. The Patersons, according to The Times, are living there for below market rate. The report also links campaign contributions from Sylvia Olnick, of the developer the Olnick Organization, to Rangel’s 2006 campaign and two other contributions to the congressman’s PAC.

But what of this?

Mr. Rangel’s residence, which has custom moldings and dramatic archways, is decorated with Benin Bronze statues and antique carved walnut Italian chairs, and was featured in the 2003 book “Style and Grace: African Americans at Home,” by Michael Henry Adams (Bulfinch Press). The article called the home a penthouse, although it is on the second floor from the top.

The book does not mention that the units are rent-stabilized, but says that the penthouse had been assembled by combining separate apartments. Mr. Rangel’s wife, Alma, is quoted describing the congressman as “the shopper in this family” who has a penchant for hunting down antiques like cut-glass champagne flutes and walnut chests to furnish their elegant abode.

After waving off the press, Rangel finally held a news conference Friday afternoon to explain that he “didn’t see anything unfair about” his living situation and that if there is any wrongdoing in using one unit as a campaign office, that his office would look into it. As far as the rent control, Rangel asserted that he was paying the “maximum legal rent” for his place.

In the New York market, the Rangel story was above the fold, right there alongside a report on a potential federal takeover of mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac amid billion dollar losses in the ongoing mortgage crisis. Housing, it turns out, is the issue of the day.

And while one story is certainly more important that the other, and while The New York Times Rangel story does not have that knock-out blow and is somewhat sensational, just like the story that alleged friendship (or whatever it was) between John McCain and lobbyist Vicky Iseman, the Rangel matter stinks. It stinks because there are so many people clamoring for affordable housing — particularly in neighborhoods that have personal historic connections for individuals who can no longer afford to live there.

It stinks because Rangel, respected among his constituency, should have known better. Unfortunately, those kinds of ethics are not yet mandated.

Related Articles

  • Illustration of a right hand holding a small red two-dimensional house between thumb and index finger. The hand is dark blue and the arm, shown a bit beyond the wrist, is wearing a white shirt and suit jacket. The background of the image is a city skyline, in lighter shades of the same blue, with puffy clouds above.

    Ownership Matters: Institutional Investors and Corporate Ownership

    May 23, 2024

    Who owns our homes is an absolutely essential part of housing policy, and an even greater part of housing politics.

  • A Black woman in blue flowered dress and dusty pink hijab speaks into several microphones. In foreground, blurry, are news cameras. The woman is part of a large group at a rally, carrying signs promoting rent stabilization and saying "Home to Stay MPLS"

    Affordable Housing Sector Split on Rent Control

    May 21, 2024

    In the Twin Cities, where voters have recently supported rent control, most nonprofit housing developers have stayed silent, and some have openly lined up with the developers and landlords who oppose it.

  • Seven people wearing jackets and caps on a city sidewalk holding signs that say "Listen to UREB," "Save Our Homes," "Negotiate with UREB," or "5,000 Against Displacement." One person is speaking into a microphone. At the curb by the speaker is a van with WRLC painted on the side, for Western Reserve Land Conservancy.

    Nonprofit to Close Mobile Home Community to Build a Park

    May 10, 2024

    Ohio’s largest conservation land trust has been accused of purchasing a manufactured housing community with the very intention of closing it, evicting more than 100 households in the process. But proponents of the park’s closure say the land's failing infrastructure—and the benefit the property will bring to an entire city—is what forced the decision.