New York rent control remains one of the most amazing institutions I can think of – during the wild upswing of the past few years, it seemed impossible that tenants could have achieved a position of power vis-a-vis landlords that allowed renters to set the terms of their tenancy.
Now, if real estate crashes and new building stops, tenant groups and other fair housing advocates will have a historic opportunity to negotiate with landlords and builders from a position of power. A decline in prices that falls faster than wages or employment could allow renters to band together and establish new rent-stabilization systems in exchange for agreements to keep on leases. Overbuilding and a wide decline in wages means that tenants for have relatively large amounts of power vs. landlords, and should seize on that opportunity to create a better future in a potential recovery.
The key will be tying in the current decline to long-range systems of exploitation in commercial real estate. Landlord exploit the intrinsic human need for shelter, and the key to new ethical-housing systems will be finding ways to explain landlord abuses during the bubble as an example of systemic problems with real estate in America, but New York in particular.