Letters to the editor, Feb. 22

Cartoon by Jim Meadows

Differing ideas about housing ‘reform’

To the editor:

My principal difficulty with Harvey Epstein’s “Living in NYC isn’t a privilege,” opinion, Town & Village, Feb. 1, is his omission of what has brought us an “unprecedented housing crisis.” Mr. Epstein took pains to lay bare the crux, but he did not get to its persistent cause. As we read his letter, it becomes apparent that while he understands the crisis, in the sense that he, like we, can describe it, he does not understand it as anything other than a crisis in housing. It is, in his words, “an alarming trend” whose remedy is “up for debate.” I do not know why Mr. Epstein sees the “unprecedented crisis” as a “trend,” and it bears badly for his future leadership and his constituency that he thinks the remedy is “up for grabs.”

To treat the plight of our most vulnerable, Mr. Epstein would provide them with “subsidies so that they can afford to stay in their rent-regulated housing.” He would require “all developers to set aside a percentage of all future development for affordable housing.” He would “repeal vacancy deregulation… reform the way in which landlords impose exorbitant rent increases based on MCIs,” and he would “end the vacancy bonus which allows landlords to increase rents a whopping 20 percent whenever a tenant [vacates] an apartment.” In the main, covering all of the issues, Mr. Epstein believes that, “It’s time we create new working class housing program that allows working class New Yorkers the ability to work and stay here.”

In themselves, Mr. Epstein’s borrowed but well-intended expressions to make things better were made thin-in-sound long before his courageous stands. There is one cause of the “unprecedented housing crisis.” It is the relentless pursuit of profit. It occurs within the political void once occupied by progressive alliances. Unchallenged, that pursuit has detached a once vital language from the realities of life. To be sure, we still have the friendly sounds of “affordable” and “regulated” and “housing subsidies” and “reform” and they do carry the old feel — that is why, for one purpose or another, we reach for them — but today’s sounds and feels are the floating embers of alliances whose prime has passed. For example, take “reform” and “affordable” and “reasonable.”

Mr. Epstein writes, “We need to reform the way in which landlords can impose exorbitant rent increases bases on major capital improvements.” Unfortunately, that reform business is exactly what we have been doing. We have been “reforming” the way “landlords can impose exorbitant rent increases.” In the give-and-take of “reform,” it has seemed reasonable to elected officials that we compete, against each other, for their comprehension of “affordable” apartments, that we accept, not only the hand-out of a sprinkling of apartments when available, but scraps in a lottery that comes loaded with imperatives — the latter just in case we get uppity ideas about our place in life. In the give-and-take of “reform,” we have accepted the insidious effect of persistent cumulative increases in rent — driving our apartments closer and eventually into free market numbers. Within “reform,” we have accepted splitting rooms, shrinking footage per occupant, the loss of privacy, the advent of transiency and of course fear.

When Mr. Epstein wrote that “It is time we create a new working-class housing program,” he too ignored the practicality test: How do we bring that about when our material is the free-floating ashes of a once viable working-class alliance?

John M. Giannone, ST

When he’s a gross creep… maybe

I don’t normally write letters to the editor but am doing so now because there is a question I would really like answered.

Recently I was on a crowded train standing across from a man standing with his back to the doors who appeared to be moving his hips back and forth in a very rhythmic movement that looked rather suspicious.

I actually asked why he was doing this. He responded that he was trying to keep his balance. I didn’t question him further. This man was also standing near the door so it was possible. (Not that anyone else was gyrating like that.)

So my question is, for the gentlemen reading this, is this kind of movement in mass transit ever really necessary to avoid falling down? And even if it is, can you please just not do it?

Thank you.

Name withheld

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