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August 6, 1985
Law on S.R.O.'s Is Only a Start, O'Connor Says

by Joyce Purnick
John Cardinal O'Connor and a number of city lawmakers, invited to watch Mayor Koch sign a bill designed to preserve some low-cost housing, used the occasion yesterday to express reservations about the legislation.

"We do not consider the bill to be perfect, I think you understand that," the Cardinal said to the Mayor, who nodded in response. "If you would permit me, we would look at this only as a beginning."

A few minutes later, the Cardinal added that, nonetheless, he considered the bill's passage a "monumental step" toward alerting the public about housing problems of the poor.

After the ceremony, Mr. Koch told reporters that the measure was "imperfect" and said he would study proposals to modify or buttress it with other legislation.

Passed by Wide Margin
The law, passed by the City Council last month, places a moratorium on the conversion, alteration or demolition of some single-room-occupancy hotels for the next 11 months. Such hotels, the only affordable housing for many low-income New Yorkers, have produced sizable profits for developers who renovate the often deteriorated hotels into luxury apartments.

The new law, which was retroactive to Jan. 9, was introduced at Mr. Koch's behest after the Cardinal and several elected officials pressured the city to do something about S.R.O. conversions. It is intended as a temporary measure, pending completion of a city-authorized study to recommend a more complete approach.

The measure was approved by 33 to 1, but at hearings leading up to the vote, a number of Council members argued that the bill included loopholes that could cause precisely what it was supposed to prevent: tenant harassment, evictions and apartment warehousing.

It passed by such an overwhelming margin mainly because it was seen as the only compromise likely to pass at all, its critics on the Council said at the time.

Concern on Warehousing
At the ceremony yesterday, which was also a brief public hearing, critics addressed some of the same issues raised during the Council hearings.

George McDonald, a candidate for City Council President whose nominating petitions were ruled invalid by the Board of Elections last week, said he was worried that developers would harass S.R.O. tenants to get them out of the hotels so conversion could begin when the law expires, in July 1986. The law should have had a provision preventing warehousing, he said.

The Cardinal said several times that he found Mr. McDonald's argument compelling. After the ceremony, Mr. Koch said his administration would examine the warehousing issue. Asked why the matter had not been examined in the past, Mr. Koch said the issue "has not been raised before."

Other concerns raised yesterday centered on the law's provision exempting buildings with 7 or fewer tenants and 24 or fewer units from the moratorium. Councilwoman Ruth Messinger said some of the S.R.O. hotels in her district on the West Side of Manhattan would fall into that category only because landlords had forced most tenants out.

The Mayor said he thought new legislation would be approved before the new law expired, and added, "We will see what concerns have been raised and, if necessary, improve the legislation."

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