Excerpts From R³ Letter to Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie

Over a million families in rent-regulated housing are counting on you. Affordable housing is at a crossroads. For the past two decades, pro-landlord forces in state government have relentlessly attacked the rent-regulation laws that protect tenants and preserve the affordable rental housing stock in New York City and three suburban counties. Hundreds of thousands of affordable apartments have already been converted to market-rate status in the downstate metropolitan region.

Unless we reverse course over the remaining days of the legislative session, we are proceeding on a path that will lead to the inevitable death of this vital program. With massive campaign contributions and illegal corruption schemes, pro-landlord forces have secured deregulation amendments that have also placed a target on the backs of the remaining rent-regulated tenants, encouraging predatory behavior by speculators who buy up rent-regulated property and then aggressively harass tenants to empty the buildings.

Under your predecessors, the State Assembly consistently failed to stop these losses. In 1993 and again in 2003, the Assembly was either outmaneuvered by or complicit with the Senate Republicans, passing anti-tenant deregulation amendments. In 1997, it was even worse, when then-Speaker Sheldon Silver agreed to a staggering array of unnecessary and damaging givebacks to the Senate and Governor [George] Pataki that essentially gutted the rent laws. 

In the most recent sunset year, 2011, the rent laws were at least renewed with no further givebacks to landlords, but the renewal bill left intact the loopholes that allow landlords to remove vacant apartments from the system, as well as all the loopholes that allow landlords to jack regulated rents up to the point that many tenants can no longer afford, forcing them to move. Despite attempts by Governor Cuomo to portray the 2011 extender as a great victory for tenants, at best the bill represented a draw with the real estate lobby, while allowing further deregulation of a devastating number of affordable apartments. Another “victory” like 2011 and it will all be over. 

As you are surely aware, a straight extender, or an extender with minor improvements, would be a terrible defeat for affordable housing. In particular, failure to repeal vacancy-deregulation amendments would cause the inevitable loss over the next few years of the largest affordable housing stock in the state.

Some Assembly Democrats are telling tenants, “There is not much we can do, the Senate will not pass these bills, and we have limited leverage.” Waving the white flag of surrender with this defeatist, self-fulfilling prophecy is the last thing we need our allies in the Assembly to do—this is the time we need you to stand strong and lead the fight for working families. 

We do not accept that the Assembly lacks leverage. There are numerous issues that are important to the Governor and his allies in the Senate GOP, and you have the ability to fight back. This is the time when those legislators who understand the importance of maintaining a stock of rent-protected housing must stand up, and stand firm, for real rent reform.

This year’s opportunity for real rent reform might never come again. 

With the media finally paying attention to the connection between real-estate money and policy outcomes, and with a spotlight turned on Glenwood Management—at the center of scandals involving the former leaders of both houses, as well as the single biggest contributor to Governor Cuomo—the time is now for a serious effort to restore our rent laws.

The world now knows that the existing rent laws are the product of a corrupt process that led to the arrest of both former leaders of the legislature. Mr. Speaker, you have the power to reject and negate this corruption with your actions in the coming weeks. You can be a hero to the tenants of New York City and Nassau, Westchester, and Rockland counties. We urge you not to fail.

 

The letter was signed by representatives of 18 tenant and community organizations. To see the full text, go to http://www.scribd.com/doc/267037756/R3-Heastie-Letter-V7#scribd