Rangel's rent-control mansion

Getting an apartment in New York City can be an expensive affair — unless the renter is a Congressman, apparently.  Charles Rangel (D-NY) has four rent-controlled apartments in one building in Harlem, even though rent control should only apply to a primary residence.  Rangel uses one of the rent-controlled apartments as a campaign office, which calls into question whether he has broken gift-acceptance and electoral regulations:

While aggressive evictions are reducing the number of rent-stabilized apartments in New York, Representative Charles B. Rangel is enjoying four of them, including three adjacent units on the 16th floor overlooking Upper Manhattan in a building owned by one of New York’s premier real estate developers.

Mr. Rangel, the powerful Democrat who is chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, uses his fourth apartment, six floors below, as a campaign office, despite state and city regulations that require rent-stabilized apartments to be used as a primary residence.

Mr. Rangel, who has a net worth of $566,000 to $1.2 million, according to Congressional disclosure records, paid a total rent of $3,894 monthly in 2007 for the four apartments at Lenox Terrace, a 1,700-unit luxury development of six towers, with doormen, that is described in real estate publications as Harlem’s most prestigious address.

The current market-rate rent for similar apartments in Mr. Rangel’s building would total $7,465 to $8,125 a month, according to the Web site of the owner, the Olnick Organization.

Olnick belongs to the group of owners accused of pushing tenants out through aggressive evictions in order to raise the rent on their apartments.  Rent-controlled apartments can only have the rates raised significantly when tenants leave, and so owners have incentive to push marginal tenants out quickly in order to increase revenues.  While these marginal tenants get pushed out, Rangel has four apartments at half of the current market rate — despite a shortage of affordable housing.

No one has a problem with Rangel occupying one rent-controlled apartment, although one has to wonder why Rangel should have priority for affordable housing over others who really need it.  The subsequent leases look a lot like gifts, and their value goes into the thousands every month, far exceeding the one-time $100 value limit for House members.  Using one of the leases for a campaign office looks even more problematic.  That can easily be seen as an in-kind campaign contribution by Olnick worth tens of thousands of dollars over the last few years.

The FEC should investigate this arrangement for Rangel, and so should the state and city of New York.  The House Ethics Committee also has a responsibility here, but no one expects them to act.  Nancy Pelosi only talked about ethics long enough to get a majority, and she’s certainly not going to allow another member of the Congressional Black Caucus to get investigated, not after they closed ranks so effectively around William “Dollar Bill” Jefferson.

Update: Comments copied from Headlines.