Annual Assembly Elects Met Council Board of Directors, Discusses Redistricting and Tenants Bill of Rights

Met Council’s annual assembly took place on March 14 at the Goddard-Riverside Community Center on Columbus Avenue on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.

In addition to electing the next year’s Board of Directors, the capacity crowd heard an update from Larry Wood of Goddard Riverside Family Center on the Real Rent Reform agenda for 2012, followed by reports from Susan Lerner of Common Cause NY about redistricting, and from City Councilmember Melissa Mark-Viverito about the prospects for pro-tenant bills such as the Tenants Bill of Rights in the Council.

As the state legislature prepared to vote on new districts in response to population changes revealed by the 2010 U.S. Census, Lerner described the attempt to create nonpartisan districts that reflected real communities throughout the state. (See story on page 1.) Unfortunately, in a session that ran until the early hours of the following morning, the legislature adopted a district map that allows Republicans to maximize their chances of holding the majority in the state Senate, where they have blocked stronger tenant protections for years. In exchange, Democrats were allowed to draw the Assembly districts, to enhance their already strong majority there. Although Gov. Andrew Cuomo had committed to ensuring nonpartisan districts, he reneged on this promise.

Common Cause NY partnered with Newsday to propose nonpartisan districts, but LATFOR, the legislative task force which drew the new lines, ignored them. Lerner pointed out that the legislature did not even make a serious attempt to draw new congressional districts, which fell to the federal courts. 

Councilmember Mark-Viverito, who represents East Harlem, spoke about the Tenants Bill of Rights, of which she is among the many sponsors. The measure would require all residential building owners to post a list of the basic rights tenants are guaranteed by existing law. While not enacting new laws, the Tenants Bill of Rights will increase enforcement of those already on the books by making sure tenants are aware of their rights under them. The measure is similar to disclosure laws that affect workplaces and retail stores, informing workers and consumers of their rights. 

However, although the measure already has the support of a majority of the Council, Speaker Christine Quinn and her housing chair, Erik Dilan, have prevented the measure from getting a vote or even a hearing. In the past, Quinn has supported many pro-tenant measures while remaining close to developers and the real-estate industry. As the 2013 mayor campaign begins, Quinn will have to decide which side she is on with respect to this important legislation.

A few people came to protest against Mark-Viverito for her past support of the upzoning of 125th Street, the law against tenant harassment (which they called a pro-landlord measure), the Columbia University expansion, and the designation of a vacant school building in East Harlem for housing. The protesters were escorted out after their third outburst.

The assembly elected the Board of Directors for the coming year. Re-elected were David Brown, Jackie Delvalle, Cathy Grad, Vajra Kilgour, Jenny Laurie, Stuart Lawrence, Jon Lilienthal, Michael McKee, Kenny Schaeffer, Scott Sommer, and Gloria Sukenick. Joining them is newly elected Edline Jacquet, a housing policy analyst at the Supportive Housing Network of New York.