An intense snowstorm, the first of the season, didn’t hamper dozens of upset tenants from marching in lower Manhattan for affordable housing and rent reform Thursday.
Residents and advocacy groups from across the state marched from Bowling Green to the office of the Rent Stabilization Association, a group representing landlords in New York City, to call on Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state’s new Democratic majority to expand tenant’s rights and implement universal rent control statewide.
The march was organized by Housing Justice for All, an initiative backed by a coalition of housing rights organizations. The group has called for legislation to protect tenants when New York state’s rent stabilization law expires in June 2019.
Housing Justice has drafted a rent control legislative package that aims to improve current law by closing what the advocates believe to be regulatory loopholes favoring landlords and by extending protections against evictions to residents statewide.
The current law is effective in the five boroughs of New York City and Nassau, Westchester and Rockland counties. Under the law, tenants living in rent stabilized apartments are entitled to regulated rent increases and have the right to renew their lease. Landlords can apply to deregulate rent stabilized apartments if the rent reaches $2,733.75 a month and the current tenant vacates the apartment, a process called vacancy decontrol.
One tenant at the march said she has been living in a rent stabilized building in lower Manhattan since 1957 and that the landlords have harassed tenants to get them to move out so rents can be increased.
“You can make a lot of money,” said Mary, who did not want to give her last name because she did not want to be identified. “You can take these people who pay $600 to $2,000, you renovate the apartment and they charge you $7,000 rent. Who can afford $7,000 a month?”
Since 1994, more than 143,000 units have been added to the rent stabilization system, while more than 290,000 properties have been deregulated, resulting in a loss of 147,512 rent stabilized units in New York City alone, according to data in a recent report by the New York City Rent Guidelines Board. Other data from the same report showed that in 2017, 53 percent of the rent stabilized units were deregulated through vacancy decontrol.
According to Housing Justice’s website, a significant decrease in the number of rent stabilized properties has caused “an affordability and mass homelessness crisis.”
More than 89,000 people are homeless in the state of New York, and the number is expected to reach 100,000 by 2020, according to a Housing Justice for All report. Between 2007 and 2015, the number of homeless increased by 41 percent in the state, rising from 62,000 to more than 88,000, according to a 2016 report by Thomas DiNapoli, the state comptroller. In the same period, homelessness decreased by 11 percent across the nation.
Homelessness is linked to housing affordability, according to the nonprofit National Alliance to End Homelessness, as the gap increases between housing costs and stagnant income.
“We are demanding that our politicians address this housing crisis and homelessness crisis that they have neglected for so long,” Annie Cardoso, community organizer for the nonprofit Neighbors Together, said as heavy snow fell during the march. “We want to ask our elected officials: ‘Whose side are you on, are you on real estate side or on tenants’ side?’.”
In 2017, Cuomo signed a five-year plan to invest $20 billion to fight homelessness and create and preserve affordable housing. “The largest housing program in the history of the state of New York,” Cuomo said during a press conference at the time.
Advocates, however, said Cuomo’s plan is not enough. According to Cea Weaver, one of the organizers of the march, Cuomo has not allocated much of this money or made any significant improvements. In a phone interview, she said she hopes the new Democratic majority in the state legislature will finally make the difference. “We hope that this is a new day,” she said. “We hope that the real estate industry will stay out of Albany.”
Marchers were also concerned about the new Amazon deal with the state to develop its second headquarters in Long Island City, and are worried it could give landlords incentive to push people out of their homes and accelerate gentrification. “Amazon is a terrible deal for renters,” Weaver said.
Cuomo’s office didn’t respond to requests for comments on the legislative plan proposed by the housing advocates or on the Amazon deal.
“It is disappointing to see politicians choosing corporations over tenants,” said Cardoso of Neighbors Together. “We are in the middle of a housing crisis, of a homelessness crisis, and Amazon is receiving tax cuts that New Yorkers are going to pay for.”
Header photo: housing advocates in Bowling Green before the march. (The Ink/Valeria Piantoni)