By former Assemblymember Steven Sanders
Throughout my entire 28-year tenure in the State Assembly, the State Senate was controlled by the Republican Majority with their leadership mostly based in conservative rural or suburban regions of New York.
The Republicans are ideologically closer to big business, such as the real estate industry, than with consumers or tenants. I don’t say that as a value judgement, but rather as a political fact.
Of course, the millions of dollars from those business groups and corporations that roll into the Senate Republican campaign coffers regularly help.
During my time in the Assembly representing the East Side of Manhattan, Roy Goodman was my counterpart in the Senate for almost all those years. We worked closely together to press for needed tenant protections and fair housing laws. But try as he might, Roy was frequently stymied by his Republican leadership. Bills passed in the Assembly never saw the light of day in the Senate.
Those days ended a week ago when the State Senate was won by the Democratic Party for only the second time in the past 52 years. The question now is what will they do with their newfound power?
When Lyndon Johnson unexpectedly became president in 1963, his close advisors cautioned him against pursuing a too ambitious agenda for fear he might alienate some people, especially as it related to Civil Rights legislation and his Southern colleagues in Congress. It is reported that Johnson replied, “What the hell good is being president if you don’t do great and important things?”
So the question for the new Democratic Senate is will they be prepared to do big things and work with the Assembly to pass long overdue laws to protect tenants from rent gouging and the loss of affordable housing units?
The rent regulation laws expire next year.
The Senate should join the Assembly in repealing vacancy decontrol, ending permanent rent increases for Major Capital Improvements, and then repealing the Urstadt Law once and for all and return authority for New York City housing policy back to the City Council and mayor where it belongs.
They will surely get pushback from powerful entrenched special interests in Albany. They may even forfeit political campaign support and donations. Some newspapers may decry their agenda as “radical.” Many of those detractors care a lot about lowering property taxes for individual homeowners but fail to acknowledge that rents in New York City have risen at a faster pace than taxes and costs for one and two-family homes.
So this is the moment of truth for the new powers that be in the State Capitol. How will they respond?