Hoylman: Why I needed to get arrested

Photo courtesy of Brad Hoylman

Photo courtesy of Brad Hoylman

By Brad Hoylman, State Senator, 27th District

Bayard Rustin once wrote, “We need in every bay and community a group of angelic troublemakers.”

I can’t think of a more angelic cause than protecting people’s homes. So last Wednesday, I was one of 55 troublemakers, including eleven elected officials, arrested for civil disobedience outside of Governor Cuomo’s office in Albany protesting Albany’s inaction on strengthening the rent laws this session.

As 25,000 of our Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village neighbors know all too well, New York’s rent laws will expire next week – midnight on June 15. The issue isn’t if the rent laws will be renewed, however. It’s practically a given they will be. The real question is whether protections for rent-regulated tenants will continue to be eroded by the status quo that favors landlords at the expense of tenants.

Tenant activists have put it bluntly: a straightforward extension of the rent laws is an unmitigated disaster for tenants and New York’s affordable housing stock. I agree. The reason is because currently landlords can take advantage of a raft of anti-tenant provisions in the law to flip regulated apartments to market units, making the rent out of reach for most New Yorkers.

Vacancy bonuses allow landlords to hike rents by 20 percent when an apartment becomes available for a new tenant, creating an incentive to push old tenants out.

They use so-called preferential rents to bait prospective tenants into a deceptive sense of safety with a single year of rent below the legal maximum allowed, and then shock them with huge rent increases based on that legal maximum when their leases come up for renewal.

And they make tenants pay extra for major capital improvements (MCIs) — often after the cost of the improvement has been recouped. The result is that over the last two decades, New York has lost 400,000 rent-regulated apartments. Tenants quite literally cannot afford to lose any more.

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Stuy Town tenants head to Albany

Around 150 residents of Stuyvesant Town/Peter Cooper Village along with tenants from other communities headed to Albany on Tuesday to call for stronger rent laws. (Pictured) Tenants Association Chair Susan Steinberg and President John Marsh with another resident (left) and Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh on the Assembly floor (Photo by Maria Rocha Buschel)

Around 150 residents of Stuyvesant Town/Peter Cooper Village along with tenants from other communities headed to Albany on Tuesday to call for stronger rent laws. (Pictured) Tenants Association Chair Susan Steinberg and President John Marsh with another resident (left) and Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh on the Assembly floor (Photos by Maria Rocha Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Hundreds of tenants gathered in Albany on Tuesday to call on the state legislature about renewing and strengthening the housing laws that are set to expire next Monday. The ST-PCV Tenants Association sent three buses full of tenants (around 150 in total) to the rally. The Stuy Town and Peter Cooper Village residents also made sure that they were seen, standing out from the crowd with their neon yellow-green TA shirts. Dozens of other tenant groups made the trip to the state’s capital this week, all easy to tell apart in the rainbow of signature colored shirts.

“It was great, the way the shirts worked out,” TA treasurer Margaret Salacan said. “It’s like all the groups coordinated to wear different colors but it wasn’t even planned.”

Other groups to make the trip included the Cooper Square Committee and the Met Council on Housing, along with Rent Guidelines Board tenant representative Harvey Epstein, on a fourth bus that also left from First Avenue and East 19th Street on Tuesday morning.

Former TA President and Stuyvesant Town resident Al Doyle said that the last Albany trip that the TA took was in 2011 but that the last time tenants came out in such high numbers for the trip to Albany was in 1997.

Councilmember Dan Garodnick was also in attendance, after hopping from bus to bus throughout the trip to give residents updates on the situation with the rent laws and answer any other concerns they had in what he called his “rolling town hall.”

“The reason that we need to renew the laws is obvious,” he said. “Rents could go through the stratosphere. The rent for a one bedroom in Stuy Town is already $3,500 and it’s $6,000 for a two-bedroom in Peter Cooper. It’s why you see so many students crammed into single apartments. How else do you afford five to six thousand a month without cramming in as many people as possible?”

Garodnick also said that he is cautiously optimistic after reading an op-ed from Governor Andrew Cuomo that was published in the Daily News last weekend. Garodnick had previously sent Governor Cuomo a letter (which ran in this newspaper last week) urging him to end vacancy decontrol and reform MCIs and preferential rents.

“The tenor from the governor appears to have changed,” he said. “Initially I was reading they were talking about a straight extender. To my great pleasure, it was like he took my letter and emphasized those three things. All these questions are now on the table.”

On the first bus at the start of the trip, TA chair Susan Steinberg outlined the plans for the day, which included a rally at the ornate steps at the Capitol known as the Million Dollar Staircase, which actually cost $1.5 million to build when it was constructed in 1894. She added that ST-PCV tenants would then be heading to the gallery at the Assembly to participate in a non-disruptive protest.

“Members of the Assembly will look up and be greeted by a sea of neon,” she said.

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Letters to the Editor, June 11

June11 Toon Republican

Cartoon by Jim Meadows

Tenants Assoc. to Cuomo: Loopholes in rent laws are eroding Stuy Town’s stability

Dear Governor Cuomo,

I’m writing on behalf of the 25,000 residents of Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village. Our residents, as well as tenants throughout New York City, are facing the worst housing affordability crisis in the city’s history. This crisis is damaging the economic and social fabric not only of our city but of our state as well.

As our residents devote an ever-increasing percentage of their income to rent, the drop in their discretionary income has impacted local businesses.

We see more and more empty storefronts. Local businesses have not only experienced precipitous drops in sales, their own rents are rising. The small, individually owned stores that provided a great diversity of needed services are disappearing, replaced by an oversupply of chain pharmacies and banks.

The ST-PCV Community is at the center of the loss of affordable housing. Our apartments are currently rent regulated. However, in the wake of the NY State Court of Appeals decision Roberts v. Tishman-Speyer, which reregulated destabilized units, many of our apartments are renting at or above market rate.

We want new families – not just the transient renters who currently make up a large percentage of new residents – to be able to afford to come to ST-PCV, put down roots and return this community to what it was originally designed to be during the administration of Gov. Thomas E. Dewey.

However, excessive rent increases due to loopholes in the existing regulations are destroying the laws that keep New York affordable for more than one million people. One of these loopholes, known as preferential rent, slams preferential renters with hundreds-of-dollar increases at lease renewal time. Many of our neighbors, young families with preferential rents, are one lease renewal away from having to move.

Major capital improvements have also unfairly burdened tenants. Tacked on to the rent in perpetuity, this windfall for owners simply is not justified beyond the recovery of actual costs. It is unconscionable.

But the overarching issue which we hope you will support is repeal of Vacancy Deregulation, which has been responsible for the loss of thousands of rent-regulated apartments over recent years. This continued bleeding of affordability will ultimately destroy the city.

Thirty-one years ago, your father addressed our nation about a “shining city on a hill.” It was a vivid presentation about what people could accomplish with hard work and a little help from their government in times of need. We are doing the hard work. Now we need that help from our government so that people who work in this shining city can afford to live in it.

For the sake of our community’s future and for all other rent-stabilized middle- and lower-income New Yorkers, I urge you to give your full support for renewing and strengthening rent laws.

Sincerely,

John Marsh,
President, Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village
Tenants Association

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