By Sabina Mollot
When it comes to resolutions for tenants in the coming year, TenantsPAC treasurer and spokesperson Mike McKee says time is of the essence.
“They have to pass some of our reform bills this year, not 2019,” the activist said.
McKee is adamant about the timing of a growing, organized effort to strengthen the rent laws, explaining that the following year when the rent regulations are up for renewal or expiration, tenants will no longer have leverage that exists this year. The reason for this is simple. Elected officials, including Governor Andrew Cuomo, will be up for reelection in 2018, and, explained McKee, six months after the new term, “he’ll have no interest in June 2019 of doing anything for the tenants” nor will the Republican-aligned members of the Independent Democratic Conference.
McKee, who was reached on the phone last Friday, added that he was planning, along with dozens of other activists, to protest outside Cuomo’s State of the State speech. A number of participants, he added, had committed ahead of time to getting arrested for blocking the entrance to the capitol.
McKee said while it isn’t clear who TenantsPAC will be endorsing for governor in 2018, it definitely won’t be Cuomo, who McKee has blasted for being one of the biggest beneficiaries of real estate money in Albany and for his apparent disinterest in his own party controlling the State Senate. “He has screwed tenants big time,” McKee said.
Still, he believes that the eight breakaway Democrat senators in the IDC are now sweating over the possibility of losing their seats in upcoming primaries. This, McKee said, would be because of Democrat voters who have become politically active over the past year, mainly due to their opposition to the president.
“The reaction to Trumpism has been tremendous and it hasn’t slowed down or abetted as has been predicted,” said McKee. “And a lot of the anger is focused on the IDC.”
For TenantsPAC, the top three legislative goals for the coming year are:
Repealing vacancy decontrol and reregulating apartments that have been lost due to vacancy decontrol
Closing the preferential rent loophole, which allows hefty increases beyond what the Rent Guidelines Board has authorized, up to whatever the maximum legal rent is when a regulated tenant’s lease is up for renewal
Repealing the 20 percent vacancy bonus an owner gets whenever a regulated unit turns over.
The real estate industry will push back of course, as always, through “stealth and cash,” McKee acknowledged, while predicting that Cuomo, who has long been reported to have his sights set on the White House, will not want to do anything to risk offending real estate donors he’ll need if he runs for higher office.
Asked if there was anything regular renters could do to help spur some action in 2018, McKee recommended getting involved in organizations like his or Met Council on Housing or Tenants and Neighbors.
“Send money, write letters, get on a bus,” he said. “There are all sorts of things people can do between now and next June.”