Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., is facing tough questions about four rent-stabilized apartments he is leasing in New York’s Lenox Terrace — a luxury development in Harlem — at rates that are far below market value.
Rangel, a 37-year congressman who also chairs the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, uses one of the apartments that overlooks Upper Manhattan as an office, according to a report in The New York Times.
Three of the units are adjoined to each other on the 16th floor and can be combined into a single penthouse apartment, while the campaign office is located on the 10th floor.
Rangel, who has lived at Lenox Terrace since the early ‘70s, reportedly paid $3,894 a month for all four apartments in 2007, an average of $975 for each, according to the Times report.
However, the Web site of Olnick Organization, the real estate company that owns the prestigious building in which Rangel rents, says current market-rate rent for similar apartments would total $7,465 to $8,125 a month (approximately $2,000 per unit). Federal Election Commission records show Sylvia Olnick, owner of Lenox Terrace and one of New York’s premier real estate developers, has contributed to Rangel's campaign and a political action committee he controls in the past.
Adding to concerns of whether stabilized rent is proper at a time when affordable housing is scarce is the fact that state and city regulations require rent-stabilized apartments only be used as primary residences.
While Rangel pays less than half the market value for the units, he is not the only powerful New York politician receiving a break on rent at Lenox Terrace.
New York Gov. David A. Paterson also has an apartment in Lenox Terrace for which he and his wife pay just $1,250 a month. The unit has two-bedrooms and it normally rents for $2,600 or more, according to the Times. The governor’s father, Basil Paterson, also has a unit there and pays $868 a month for the up-scale apartment. The Pattersons also have a home in upstate New York and access to the Governor's Mansion in Albany.
In addition, former Manhattan borough President Percy Sutton also lives at Lenox Terrace, though records about his rent were not made available. Sutton is a longtime ally and friend of Rangel.
Rangel has been a staunch critic of callous landlords and Harlem slumlords in the past, but reportedly has never come down hard on the Olnick Organization which, according to The New York Sun, has used overzealous tactics in the past to evict tenants from their rent-stabilized apartments and convert the units into market-rate housing.
Rangel’s neighbors defend his right as a New Yorker to live where he has lived for decades. “Why shouldn’t he live there?” neighbor Sharon Stacey tells The Sun. “It’s not illegal, and he’s not rich.”
Jeff Jackson, a Harlem resident, says he is grateful the influential legislator lives in the neighborhood. “At least he’s here,” Jackson tells the Sun. “He’s in Harlem and hasn’t left us behind.”
State Assemblyman Keith Wright of Harlem also defends Rangel, saying if politicians like him did not enjoy the same rent breaks as thousands of tenants, they would not be able to live in their home districts. “I have a rent-stabilized apartment,” he says. “I have been there for years. If I didn’t, I might not be here at all.”
For his part, Rangel says his housing is a private matter that does not affect the representation of his constituents. “Why should I help you embarrass me?” he told the Times during a phone interview before abruptly hanging up.
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