Campaign for Stronger Rent Laws Focuses on Cuomo

Chanting “This is what democracy looks like!,” four busloads of tenants from across the city marched through the state capitol concourse in Albany on Feb. 19, during a weekend of events for the New York State Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Legislative Caucus. They then filled a large conference room for a rally attended by numerous Caucus members, including Assemblymember Hakeem Jeffries (D-Brooklyn) and state Senator Gustavo Rivera (D-Bronx).

With rent and eviction protections for 1 million New York City households set to expire on June 15, tenants in all five boroughs continue to mobilize aggressively to demand that the laws be renewed and strengthened (see page tk, “Fixing Rent Stabilization”). At the top of the list is repealing vacancy destabilization, which has led to the loss of 300,000 affordable apartments, as well as protecting tens of thousands of tenants who lose their Mitchell-Lama or Section 8 coverage.

The Democratic majority in the Assembly, led by Jeffries, Linda Rosenthal and Brian Kavanagh of Manhattan, Francisco Moya of Queens, and others, has made it clear that fixing the rent laws is their top priority. Given the opportunity to speak before Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Jan. 5 State of the State speech, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver stressed that renewing and “enhancing” the rent laws is as important to New York City as property-tax relief is to other areas of the state. Silver has also said that real-estate developers cannot expect renewal of their cherished 421-a subsidy program without strengthening of the rent laws.

On the other hand, the Senate, which returned to a Republican majority after last November’s election fueled by millions of dollars in real-estate contributions, will certainly be no friend to tenants. However, it might go along with stronger laws as part of a compromise in exchange for property-tax relief and 421-a renewal. On Feb. 20, the Daily News quoted a “real estate source” who said, “None of us can afford total chaos. Neither can the governor.”

The key player is Cuomo, who, according to his spokesperson, is “open to everything.” Without committing to specifics, the governor has made encouraging statements to members of the Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Caucus, the Working Families Party, and others indicating support for strengthening the laws. One possibility is that he would fold this issue into negotiations over the state budget, which is due on April 1, but might be late.

While Cuomo accepted very large campaign contributions from members of the Real Estate Board of NY (REBNY), he is less close to the Rent Stabilization Association (RSA). RSA is an implacable foe of rent regulation, but the developers in REBNY are more concerned with the 421-a subsidy, making it possible that the Albany leaders will agree on a package including stronger rent laws and 421-a renewal. Assembly housing committee chair Vito Lopez (D-Brooklyn) has openly stated that he intends to link the two.

Met Council is part of the Real Rent Reform (R3) coalition of community, faith, and labor organizations. R3 has been mobilizing tenants to travel to Albany weekly to meet with legislators, and has organized rallies from City Hall to Elmhurst, Queens to Washington Heights, as well as successful borough-wide events in Manhattan on Jan. 27 and Brooklyn on Feb. 17. The Bronx town-hall meeting will be March 24 (see box) and Queens will be March 25 (location still to be determined at press time). A large march over the Brooklyn Bridge is on tap for May.

Contact: active@metcouncil.net for updated information about these and other events and to join the campaign.