By Sabina Mollot
Last Wednesday, over 30 tenants from different organizations, including 11 from the Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association, headed to Albany to lobby for stronger rent laws. The rent regulations that keep over a million apartments in New York City stabilized will expire this June. While they are expected to be renewed, tenants always hope to get them strengthened, which seems more likely to happen this year with Democrats having a majority in the State Senate.
At the Wednesday event, Anne Greenberg, vice president of the ST-PCV Tenants Association, led one of the groups of tenants who came from Manhattan. Another group had come from Brooklyn. The Cooper Square Committee was also participating. Greenberg’s group met up with an aide of State Senator Kevin Thomas and there was also another meeting with freshman Assembly Member Simcha Eichenstein. Tenants also eventually ran into local Assembly Member Harvey Epstein, which Greenberg noted, happened by chance because the capitol was so crowded with people.
Greenberg in particular said she thought it was important for tenants to tell personal stories like about how rents can go up drastically upon lease renewal because of preferential rents. Tenant activists are also hoping for vacancy decontrol and reform on rent increases for major capital improvements, individual apartment improvements and vacancy bonuses.
“Part of the mission is to put a story and a put a face to the issue of why we need rent reform,” Greenberg said. “The legislators aren’t always up to speed on all the issues. Now there’s a foundation where we could follow up.”
When not discussing affordability, much of the day involved waiting behind a rope, with tenants hoping for additional meetings with lawmakers while police officers kept the stairwells clear.
“This is what lobbying means,” sighed Greenberg. “You’re standing in the lobby.” But despite the crowding and waiting, Greenberg, a veteran of such efforts, described the scene as “controlled chaos,” that ultimately seemed to be worth the participants’ time.
“I can’t speak for the other people on the trip, but I feel like we got the ball rolling,” she said.
Besides, even all the waiting around in the state capitol wasn’t as frustrating as what the group had experienced earlier, when the bus that brought tenants from the city to Albany arrived two and a half hours late. Until a replacement bus could be arranged to pick up the group waiting on Second Avenue, Manhattan tenants sought shelter from the cold and falling snow inside the nearby IHOP on 14th Street. Their Brooklyn counterparts took the subway to the Manhattan bus stop to save time. While they all eventually made it upstate, a rally tenants had earlier planned had to be cancelled.
Ava Farkas, executive director of Metropolitan Council on Housing, who’d organized the bus trip, later said that it was important that tenants become active and brace for a big fight from the real estate industry. It’s actually already begun to some degree in in the form of ad campaigns.
“We’re up against very powerful interests, some of the most powerful people in the state and they’re not going to concede on this issue,” said Farkas.
She referred to one ad that has been put out by the landlord group the Rent Stabilization Association, which suggests that stronger rent regulations would lead to owners not being able to afford to maintain their properties.
“Their talking points are that New York will go back to the 1970s and using NYCHA as a bogeyman, saying rent regulated properties will be in disrepair like NYCHA,” said Farkas.
“They’re using fear to say landlords are not going to make a fair profit, which we know is bogus. Real estate is one of the most profitable types of businesses. They just don’t want to lose all the profit they’ve been making all these years as the rent laws have been weakened and gutted.”