By Susan Steinberg
President, Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association
Here we go again. New York State’s rent laws expire in June 2019 and tenant groups are already taking action to renew and strengthen them.
The 2019 date was deliberately set at the time of the 2015 rent law renewal so it would occur in a non-election year, saving incumbents from the danger of losing their seats as a result of a strong, forceful tenant lobby. 2018 is, of course, an election year which means that now is the time to start putting the pressure on state legislators who want tenant support for their election or re-election runs. Since bills to strengthen rent laws can be passed any time prior to the June 2019 expiration, the challenge is to get them to the floor of the Senate for a vote. They are now languishing in the Senate’s Housing Committee. (The State Assembly has already passed two bills and will easily pass a third but the Senate has yet to act.)
What is the tenants’ game plan? We are pushing for passage of three bills to strengthen regulations by repealing two laws most responsible for the loss of rent-regulated units — vacancy deregulation and vacancy bonus — and for closing the preferential rent loophole. Vacancy decontrol is responsible for the loss of 250,000 rent-regulated units over the past decade; the vacancy bonus gives landlords a 20 percent rent increase each time an apartment turns over; preferential rents are a discount from the legal rent that can be taken away at lease renewal leading to a sudden increase of hundreds of dollars.
On April 17, members of The Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association were active participants in Tenant Lobby Day, the first of a series of tenant actions organized by Real Rent Reform. R3, as it is called, is a coalition of community-based organizations, labor unions, tenants associations, legal support and political clubs in the five boroughs and Westchester working together for safe, stable, and affordable housing for New Yorkers. In turn, R3 is part of Housing Justice for All, a statewide alliance. Only a statewide alliance can exert enough pressure to win legislation. (The five New York City boroughs have only 40 percent of the votes needed to pass a bill in either the Senate or the Assembly.)
The April 17 event sent busloads of tenants from Union Square, Upper Manhattan and Queens to Albany to meet with both Republican and Democratic senators, urging them to commit to supporting the three bills to strengthen rent regulations.
We asked Democratic senators who had not yet done so to sign onto the three bills. We urged Republican senators to allow the bills, out of the Housing Committee where they are stalled and onto the floor for a vote. R3 had done the considerable job of advance work. We were organized into groups of 5 or 7; meetings with individual senators were pre-scheduled, although in some instances, our groups met with chiefs of staff instead of the decision-makers. We made the case that our message isn’t just about rent-regulated tenants. It’s about the disappearance of the middle class generally and the increase in homelessness.
In between the morning and afternoon meetings, the 150 participants held a rally on the Million Dollar Staircase with State Senator Brad Hoylman giving a rousing call to action, proudly holding aloft a Tenants Association sign.
There will be more tenant action days to come and the TA will let you know as soon we know. If you haven’t participated before, think about joining us next time. It’s fun and stimulating and the camaraderie of your fellow STPCV’ers can’t be beat.