Occupy Albany!

Tenants in Albany with the Housing Justice for All campaign on May 14 also occupied the offices of several lawmakers who have been recalcitrant about supporting their nine-bill package for universal rent control.

One group, led by Met Council head Ava Farkas and and Marcela Mitaynes from Neighbors Helping Neighbors in Sunset Park occupied the offices of three southwest Brooklyn legislators: Assemblymember Peter Abbate, a Democrat; state Senator Simcha Felder, who caucuses with the Republicans and runs on both party lines; and Senator Diane Savino, one of the two remaining former Independent Democratic Conference members.

Security lines getting into the Legislative Office Building were so long that many legislators were already on the floor by the time the tenants reached their offices.

Felder’s staffer refused to get the senator on the phone. Instead, he called security and told the group to fill out a contact form. Savino, confusing the housing coalition with another group, told them their meeting was not scheduled until later. “We don’t all look the same!” they shouted.

“The blatant disrespect from Savino, who claims to be a Democrat, was appalling,” said Pamela Ozga, a Met Council volunteer. “We tried many times over the past few months to get an appointment with her, which just goes to show her disregard for tenants and this humanitarian crisis we are facing.”

Abbate told the tenants, “Check my record.” It’s a line he’s used before, and he didn’t make any commitments.

Another group took over the office of Assemblymember Tremaine Wright of Brooklyn. This group included activists from the Crown Heights Tenant Union (CHTU), Met Council, New York Communities for Change, Flatbush Tenant Coalition, Tenants PAC, Urban Homesteading Assistance Board, Democratic Socialists of America, and the New York State Communist Party.

Wright has not signed onto a single one of the bills, and has refused to meet with tenant constituents, claiming that her district in Bedford-Stuyvesant and Crown Heights is “mostly homeowners.” In reality, only 9,000 households are homeowners, and 43,000 are renters: 16,000 rent-regulated tenants, 16,000 unregulated tenants, and 11,000 in public housing and other subsidized rentals.

“The only real tenant-related bill Tremaine has introduced is A04557 — essentially a “NO Good Cause Bill,” CHTU organizer Esteban Giron says. “It would allow a homeowner to evict a tenant even when there were bad conditions.”

Darryl Randall of CHTU put a sign on a staffer’s desk reading “30 DAY NOTICE” in bold red lettering from the “People’s Court of New York State,” announcing, “This is an eviction notice, right here.”
“We’re gonna primary her,” someone shouted. “Elections are in November!”
“Tell her to get that U-Haul truck.” Randall continued. “We’re gonna put someone else in here. We got an eviction coming up, seriously.”
“One second, please!” the staffer interrupted. “I’m not trying to interrupt your conversation with her; I’m asking you could you keep it down.”
“Absolutely not!” Desiree Joy Frias o f DSA shouted, and sat down. “We came to Albany not to keep it down!” Giron responded.

The whole delegation was soon sitting on the floor, chanting “Shut it down!” and singing “Which side are you on?” as another shook a tambourine.

“From Bed-Stuy of all places!” one tenant lamented. “Supposed to be leading this movement. Instead, they’re lagging behind. This is a Republican office!” A state trooper soon came in and told everyone they had to leave. The activists filed out, posted the “eviction notice” on Wright’s placard outside.