By Marina Metalios
Our rent laws expire on June 15, 2015. At the last ST/PCV Building Leader meeting in February, we discussed what is at stake. Guest speaker Michael McKee (treasurer, Tenants PAC) explained that if we cannot reduce the phase-out of protections this year it may be too late to do so at the next renewal. The real estate lobby is quite content on a “straight extender” this June because the rent laws as currently written are doing exactly what the real estate lobby scripted.
The combo in the current laws of legal rent increases from individual apartment improvements and MCIs and vacancy destabilization are doing yeoman’s work for the real estate lobby. Simply put: Our current laws contain the seeds of their own destruction. Consider this proof: In our last renewal in 2011 the tenant movement wanted a three-year extender only (to get a renewal in the politically advantageous election year of 2014).
But the real estate lobby wanted a 14-year extender, to 2025! A 14-year extender would have rewarded the real estate lobby richly with minimal exertion. During this time the landlords would have waited patiently, their deregulation plans successfully on auto-pilot. By 2025, so few units would have remained rent-protected that the lobby would have won just by waiting it out. If not “won” outright they would be close enough to order champagne.
Strengthening our rental protections is detailed in the nine-point “Tenant Legislative Platform” of the Real Rent Reform (R3) Campaign and Alliance for Tenant Power (ATP). For more information visit the website.
Of them, the first and #1 most important demand is to repeal vacancy destabilization. (Of the others, the ones which are compelling to our community are repealing the automatic 20 percent vacancy bonus, making MCIs temporary, making preferential rents the base for a rent increase and tightening individual apartment improvement increase calculations.)
You may say this list is familiar. Yes, we still need to expand tenant protections, despite the 2011 renewal. I say “despite” because the 2011 renewal was technically the first since the 80s (approximately) during which the rent laws were not shrunk further. Cuomo made a huge gigantic broo-ha-ha deal about his (puny) expansions to our tenant protections in 2011. He strutted about the improvements he engineered that year. But let them be cautionary: the 2011 expansions to the rent laws are almost imperceptible and Cuomo prodigiously fund-raised from real estate during both his elections. In his 2014 re-election he raised more money from landlords than even the Senate Republicans and seven of his 10 biggest donors were landlords or developers.
So we need strengthened rent laws this June and Cuomo cannot be counted on for palpable help and the NYS Senate is hostile. This leaves the Assembly as our pressure point.
This renewal will be different in Albany however in that it is the first in over 20 years without Sheldon Silver as Speaker. Carl Heastie is the new Assembly Speaker and, while untested, the initial reviews of his position on tenants is promising. You may have read that in early February, he met with Mayor de Blasio and some regulated Brooklyn tenants and said that strengthening the rent laws is “our number one priority.”
But he needs pressure and confirmation from tenants like us that — indeed! — housing is “our number one priority” too. Specifically, he needs to hear from his Democratic Conference that they must play hardball with the Governor and Senate. Heastie needs to hear so loudly from the Assembly Dems that he says to Cuomo and Skelos “The Assembly will not do XXX unless you repeal vacancy destabilization.”
Further, Cuomo needs to hear that his 2011 renewal was insufficient and not acceptable this year. We see through you, Cuomo, because you left all the deregulation mechanisms in place.
As STPCV tenants we fit in by pressuring three specific politicians:
Write/contact/communicate with our Assemblyman Brian Kavanagh. Tell him, “You must deliver. You must strengthen the rent laws. A straight extender is a failure for us. You must play hardball to secure the repeal of vacancy destabilization.’” Send letters and call and send another letter so Kavanagh is able to say to Heastie, “My constituents are demanding we repeal vacancy destabilization.” Address your letter to Assemblymember Kavanagh, NYS Assembly, Albany, NY, 12248.
Write/contact/communicate with Speaker Heastie. Thank him for saying that stronger rent laws is his #1 priority. Push for the repeal of vacancy destabilization. Address your letter to Speaker Heastie, NYS Assembly, Albany, NY, 12248.
Blast communications to Governor Cuomo. Tell him you are rent stabilized and ask him what his plan is to strengthen the rent laws and specifically to repeal vacancy destabilization (personalize with your issue if MCIs or individual apartment improvements or preferential rents are part of your story). Tell him you expect an answer. (Note — I wrote to Cuomo and got a mail response which was pure drivel. It read: “Your issue will receive the utmost attention.” Oh please. So I’ll write him again because he clearly didn’t understand my question.) Cuomo’s address is Executive Chamber, Albany, NY, 12224.
A word about letters from McKee. Politicians in this age don’t actually get much snail mail with a stamp. They get lots of emails but an actual old-school “letter” they pay attention to. They count them. Two sentences and your name in a stamped envelope packs a wallop. Think of what 50 or 100 letters from each ST/PCV building would do. It would be tremendous.
Please share this information with your Stuy Town/Peter Cooper neighbors. Please write your letters and make your calls and get one neighbor to do the same. Because we’re not leaving and we’re not staying quiet.
Marina Metalios is a longtime Stuyvesant Town resident and tenant activist. She’s a a member of the ST-PCV Tenants Association and is the director of special projects for the Urban Homesteading Assistance Board (UHAB), an organization helping low and moderate-income tenants take control of their housing situations.