By Karen N
With New York State’s rent laws set to expire in less than two months, the fight for Universal Rent Control in New York State is heating up. The current rent laws expire on June 15, and the legislature has until the end of June to pass a new package of rent regulations. Unlike in years past, today’s tenant movement is strong enough to fight not just for the status quo, but for transformational, positive changes to the rent laws.
This fight has implications for the entire country: New York is one of the few states with any type of rent control (Oregon just added itself to the list). It also has critical local implications, as the state faces its greatest housing crisis since the Great Depression. Every day, 100 people are evicted – with 89,000 people experiencing homelessness statewide. Of the 3.3 million renter households in New York State, approximately 1 million apartments, mostly in New York City, are covered by the current system of rent stabilization, which has been in place since 1974. However, since the 1990s, the state legislature has introduced and preserved loopholes (such as vacancy decontrol, vacancy bonus, preferential rent, Major Capital Improvements, and Individual Apartment Improvements) that allow landlords to deregulate apartments and evict tenants, who struggle to find affordable housing as New York becomes more expensive.
And in New York City, as in many cities, a disproportionate number of poor tenants are immigrants and people of color. Three-quarters of NYC tenants in rent-stabilized apartments are people of color, which means that preserving and expanding rent stabilization is a critical way to address the legacy of racial discrimination in housing.
This is the first statewide movement for rent control in New York. Historically it’s been perceived to be a New York City issue. This year, however, we have arrived at an exciting political moment, as tenants from Buffalo, Kingston, Albany, and Rochester, along with mobile home residents from Western New York and Long Island, are fighting alongside NYC tenants to realize the universal right to stable, affordable housing.
NYC-DSA and several DSA chapters statewide are part of the Upstate-Downstate Housing Alliance, a coalition of more than 60 organizations pushing for Universal Rent Control. Our nine-bill platform has two main planks: ending the loopholes that landlords currently exploit to harass and evict rent-stabilized tenants, and expanding tenant protections to currently unregulated tenants in NYC and the rest of the state.
Our targets in this campaign are: the leader of the State Senate, Andrea Stewart-Cousins; the speaker of the Assembly, Carl Heastie; and Governor Andrew Cuomo. For months now, we have been meeting with individual senators and Assembly members, and holding direct actions in their districts to ensure they understand how Universal Rent Control impacts their districts and how important it is to their constituents. In early April, Heastie and the Assembly came out in support of eight of our nine bills. Unfortunately, the one bill that they didn’t endorse was State Senator Julia Salazar’s good-cause eviction bill, which would expand basic protections to currently unregulated units. Even so, Heastie’s announcement shows that we are having an impact and need to keep mobilizing!
While more and more legislators support our bills, we’re also provoking opposition from the powerful landlord lobby. The real estate lobby is motivated to fight against Universal Rent Control because, without it, any increase in property value goes directly to the landlords, even if they have done nothing to create it. Meanwhile, tenants are left at the mercy of the market.
Two landlord lobby groups, the Rent Stabilization Association and the Real Estate Board of New York, have joined together to promote “Responsible Rent Reform” – a misleading campaign that suggests landlords can’t afford to treat tenants fairly and that if Universal Rent Control is passed, the state will collapse into crisis. Meanwhile, REBNY’s board members have helped create Hudson Yards, a luxury development that received $6 billion in public funding.
On April 11, many DSA members and tenants from across NYC took action to highlight the human side of the housing struggle, as well as the racial dynamics of the campaign. We participated in an inspiring Moral March and Rally for Universal Rent Control, hosted at the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem. The event stressed housing as a moral issue, bringing together tenant leaders, faith leaders, and elected officials. After a high-energy rally at the church, we marched with hundreds of tenants to the Harlem State Office Building and held a candlelight vigil for victims of the statewide housing crisis.
There are only seven weeks left before the rent laws expire – and we need all DSA members to join this campaign between now and June 15!
Here’s what you can do to take action now:
Contact your assembly member and state senator! If they’ve already signed on to our platform, thank them for their support and encourage them to enlist their colleagues. If they haven’t signed on, ask them to stand with tenants! Call them, email them, tweet at them, visit their district office – make sure they hear our voices.
Canvass for Universal Rent Control! The Brooklyn Housing Working Group is hosting weekly canvasses in districts of legislators who haven’t yet signed on to our platform. To learn more, email email@example.com.
Testify at the Assembly hearing on rent stabilization on May 2, at 250 Broadway in Lower Manhattan. Our goal is to push the Assembly to pass all nine of our bills, including Julia Salazar’s good-cause eviction bill. The hearing has two sessions: one from 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. and one from 6 – 8 p.m. If you are interested in testifying, you need to sign up in advance. There will also be a press conference at 10 a.m.
Come to Albany on May 14! This is an important day of action, one month before the rent laws expire! We want to organize at least one bus of NYC-DSA members to join tenants from across the state in Albany. If you can spend the day in Albany and want a seat on the bus, sign up here.