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.
Thankfully, tenants and their allies are fighting back. In addition to organizing the mass arrest of the “Albany 55,” they’ve held marches, rallies and letter writing campaigns. And by most accounts, they’ve caught the attention of our elected leaders and the news media.
Shortly after our arrests, Governor Cuomo said he would keep legislators in Albany until they agreed to strengthen – not just extend – tenant protections. Mayor de Blasio, in addition to working on the issue for months with state legislators like Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh and me, has made strengthening the rent laws a major cornerstone of his affordable housing plan and legislative agenda in Albany. The New York Daily News has been publishing a hard-hitting series over the last few weeks showing the negative consequences of vacancy decontrol. And just this week, busloads of tenants arrived in Albany, including members of the ST-PCV Tenants Association and Council Member Dan Garodnick, demanding tougher laws to protect rent regulated tenants.
The stakes are high. More than 100,000 rent-regulated apartments are on the verge of flipping to higher market rates because of vacancy decontrol. Some parts of our Senate district, including Chelsea and the Upper West Side, could lose as much of half of their rent-regulated apartments as a result.
Back to that arrest in the State Capitol. While I didn’t come to Albany to be a political stuntman, I think we have to play every card to bring attention to the dire situation facing our rent-regulated tenants – including acts of civil disobedience. We’re doing just that thanks to tenant activists like the ST-PCV Tenants Association, our community’s angelic troublemakers.