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Opinion

Long Island rent regulation in the spotlight

Protesters rally outside State Senator Todd Kaminsky's Rockville

Protesters rally outside State Senator Todd Kaminsky's Rockville Centre office on June 11, 2019 to demand Kaminsky pass nine bills that make up the universal rent control package. Photo Credit: Danielle Silverman

Daily Point

Putting the focus on rent regulation

With the so-called “good cause” eviction bill left out of the rent law package that the State Assembly and Senate agreed to this week, the focus for state senators from Long Island has turned to the expansion of rent regulation to the rest of New York State. The provision would allow communities to opt in to rent regulation, as long as their vacancy rates don’t surpass 5 percent.

While Nassau County already has rent regulation, Suffolk does not. So the new legislative package could mean that qualifying villages or towns in Suffolk could regulate rent.

But the question remains: Which communities in Suffolk would qualify under the guidelines of the Emergency Tenant Protection Act?

The Point used census data as an initial guide, but the data for rental vacancy rates are only available on a county and town level. According to 2017 census data, Suffolk County’s overall vacancy rate stood at 6.2 percent. Of Suffolk’s five western towns for which data are available, only Babylon’s vacancy rate falls below the 5 percent threshold -- coming in at 3.4 percent. The others range from 10.8 percent in Smithtown  to 6.3 percent for Brookhaven. Data for East End towns aren’t available. Nassau has lower vacancy rates, according to the census. Overall, the county’s vacancy rate stands at 4.6 percent, and all three towns hover at or below the 5 percent cutoff. Both Long Beach and Glen Cove have rent regulation now, and therefore meet that threshold, too.

None of that census-based data might matter anyway. A State Senate source told The Point that individual cities, towns, or villages interested in rent regulating would have to commission their own vacancy-rate study. If such a study finds a rate lower than 5 percent, that community could hold a public hearing and then declare a “housing emergency,” opening it up to rent regulation.

Perhaps the question to ask, then, is which Suffolk communities will even undertake that effort -- especially when the real issue for so many of them is the need for new rentals, not the regulating of old ones.

- Randi F. Marshall and Kai Teoh @RandiMarshall @jkteoh

Talking Point

The art of the union deal

Once Dan Levler, president of the Suffolk County Association of Municipal Employees, had negotiated a new long-term contract with County Executive Steve Bellone, he had to sell the deal to his members. At first, that looked like it might not be easy. Opposition political factions in both the union and on the broader Suffolk County political scene were pushing against the deal, at least partially as a way to oppose both Levler and Bellone.

The resistance was serious enough that Levler created a “FACT VS. FICTION” flyer to post on the union website, arguing the merits of the contract and debunking some assertions he says were untrue. And it worked. When online voting ended on May 31, the deal passed with 66.8 percent of the vote. The Police Benevolent Association deal was approved by a larger majority, 84 percent.

Levler told The Point Thursday the deal passed because it’s a good deal. Running through 2024 (and reaching back to 2017 with catch-up raises), it’s the AME’s first long-term deal and boosts pay 12 percent during its span. It also gives the union full power to control its own benefit fund for the first time, meaning it can provide the  services its members say they want most in their plan, creates a new annual health insurance stipend for members at age 60 whether they are retired or still working, with the amount still to be determined, and creates a small hourly wage for workers who are “on standby” to be called in while on duty.

Opposition had centered on the new health care agreement, which now forces all county employees to contribute to premiums for the first time.

The easy passage of the AME and PBA contracts has implications in other votes, too. Bellone is a  favorite in his bid for reelection in November, but unrest on the part of the county’s politically powerful unions, which provide a ground game and financial support to their chosen candidates, might have been an opening for Bellone’s Republican opponent, County Comptroller John Kennedy. Instead, the unions are big Bellone fans right now, with contracts that will still be running when he’s term-limited out of office in 2024, assuming he wins in November.

- Lane Filler @lanefiller

Pencil Point

Executive decision

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Reference Point

The message remains the same

Newspapers in trouble. Some closing, some consolidating. Costs increasing, revenue decreasing. The future looking iffy.

“At a time when it is increasingly important that people be informed, and that all shades of opinion and interpretation of news be published,” Newsday’s editorial board wrote, “too few newspapers are left in the country.”

Those words, so apropos today, were published on June 14, 1950 — a different age for the newspaper industry. The board was moved to write because New York City’s vibrant journalism scene had just retracted — the demise of the New York Sun left the city with “only” three afternoon newspapers, in addition to such morning mainstays as The New York Times, New York Daily News and New York Herald-Tribune.

The board back in 1950 pronounced the confluence of events “a situation approaching jeopardy.”

Much the same is true today. Some 1,800 papers have closed since 2004. The remaining 7,000 or so newsrooms lost half of their combined staffs between 2008 and 2017. About 200 counties across the United States have no local newspaper, according to Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.).

One huge problem has been Facebook and Google. The tech platforms build audiences by putting newspaper content on their platforms but newspapers don’t share in the ad revenue. The Duopoly, as the two platforms are called, suck up 60 percent of total digital advertising revenue in the U.S. and 90 percent of digital ad revenue growth.

Collins and Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) have sponsored legislation to give newspapers a fighting chance. The bill would grant a four-year antitrust exemption to news publishers to let them negotiate as one entity with Facebook and Google, with the goal being to re-examine the way the platforms use news content and distribute ad revenue.

The measure is being co-sponsored in the Senate by John Neely Kennedy (R-La.) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.).

The legislation is recognition of something Newsday’s editorial board wrote in 1950, that “newspaper revenues do not come from a bottomless pit...”

Sixty-nine years later, the very people journalism seeks to hold to account are doing something about it.

- Michael Dobie @mwdobie

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