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A Moment to Fix New York’s Housing Laws

What a rare opportunity New York has been given, now that the federal prosecutor Preet Bharara has delivered two ferocious kicks to the anthill of Albany, leaving politicians and deal makers dazed and blinking in the light.

The arrests of two of the three most powerful men in state government on corruption charges, former Speaker Sheldon Silver of the Assembly and Dean Skelos, the State Senate leader, creates an opening for the third, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, to be a hero. He can push through reforms of state laws to give the poor and those of modest means — perennial losers in a game rigged for and by real-estate developers, landlords and self-dealing politicians — a better shot at being able to afford to live in New York City.

The reforms involve the state’s rent-stabilization law and an obsolete tax break for developers. Both expire on June 15, and reforming them is an important goal of tenants’ advocates and of Mayor Bill de Blasio, who has made it his mission to preserve and expand the city’s endangered supply of affordable housing.

The advocates and the mayor want the Legislature to make big changes. These include eliminating a provision in the housing laws that removes vacated apartments from regulation once the rents hit a threshold of $2,500 a month, allowing them to float as high as the gentrification tides will take them. Advocates say this provision has led to the loss of more than 300,000 affordable apartments in the city. Other changes would eliminate landlords’ ability to automatically jack up rents 20 percent when apartments are vacated, and allow landlords to impose only temporary, not permanent, surcharges to pay for major apartment improvements.

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