Tenants’ hopes dashed as ‘charity’ eviction law meets Albany chopping block

Rents are rising above pre-pandemic rates, would-be tenants are being pushed into bidding wars with other tenants, and those facing dazzling rent increases are no longer protected by an eviction moratorium from the pandemic era that expired earlier this year.

Amid the chaotic housing market, more than a million tenants in the state may have found some relief from proposed “charity” legislation sponsored by Senator Julia Salazar and other left-wing lawmakers. The bill would have given tenants the right to a lease extension unless they had failed to pay rent, violated their lease or caused some sort of nuisance — forcing landlords to evict people only for “good reason” rather than simply higher-paying ones. tenants.

But after a marathon day of meetings and voting, the bill failed to make it to the finish line in Albany.

“I am frustrated by inaction in Albany and I am angry and terrified of millions of New Yorkers who will face some pretty serious price hikes in the coming months,” said Cea Weaver, with the Housing Justice for All campaign — one of the coalitions of community groups. pushing for legislation.

Rather than vote on the charity measure, the state Senate passed a bill that would create a committee to study affordable housing. The Assembly is expected to adopt a similar measure on Friday.

“A committee doesn’t keep families in their homes,” Weaver said.

On the Senate floor, progressive lawmaker Jabari Brisport accused his colleagues of falling for a disinformation campaign backed by the real estate lobby on Thursday night. He voted against alternative legislation creating an Affordable Housing Commission, calling it an “unforgivable abdication of our responsibility.”

†[The legislature] was sitting on a bill that would dramatically improve housing stability for a huge percentage of New York’s most vulnerable tenants,” he said.

Among those the bill may have protected were tenants such as Gerardo Vidal, a 49-year-old tour guide who lives in a one-bedroom apartment with his wife and two children in Corona, Queens. Vidal’s landlord warned him that his rent would increase by $900 to $2,000 this month.

“It doesn’t make sense… and I don’t know what’s going to happen,” Vidal said in Spanish, adding that he plans to pay his old rent and see how his landlord would react. He had started looking for apartments, but everything was more than he could afford. “I’m going to see what comes next. I don’t know if they’re going to try to evict me.”

Spokespersons for the Assembly, the Senate and the governor’s office did not immediately return requests for comment.

The “good business” bill is said to have provided an estimated 1.6 million market-rate tenants across New York with similar protections to the rent-stabilized tenants in New York City currently enjoying — and the kind most tenants in New Jersey already enjoy. have for decades.

In addition to eviction protections, the bill would also have protected against excessive rent increases in excess of 3% or 1.5% of the consumer price index, whichever was greater.

Most market-based tenants, including an estimated 784,000 New York City households, would be protected by the bill. However, tenants of multi-family houses of less than four units, where the owner lives in the building, were exempt from the protection.

In negotiations between state lawmakers, the charity legislation was linked to a proposed extension of the 421-a tax break, a subsidy ostensibly intended to encourage affordable housing. It allowed developers to waive standard property taxes for years, costing the city and state billions of dollars and subsidizing units at or even higher than the market rent for singles earning up to $121,420. The real estate industry wanted the tax break extended, but progressive lawmakers got their way, with the legislature dropping the provision.

Tenant advocates say the reason they couldn’t get their other priority through the Albany meat grinder was simple: the real estate lobby.

Real estate groups had stepped up efforts in recent months to block the bill, arguing it would bring property owners to their knees and make it harder for them to maintain their buildings and drive the price of vacant apartments through the roof. let it rise.

“Real estate has really decided this is what they wanted to stop, because they don’t want to give tenants the power to stay in their homes, to fight for better conditions,” said Andrea Shapiro, with the tenant rights group MET Council for Housing.

A report by the Housing Justice for All Coalition, published in April, found that the three main real estate advocacy groups — the Rent-Stabilization Association, the Community Housing Improvement Program and Real Estate Board of New York — raised more than $1.13. million on lobbying employers last year, and had funneled another $1.4 million through a group called Homeowners for an Affordable New York City that was set up to fight the charity bill.

The report also tracked more than $2 million in campaign contributions to RSA, CHIP and REBNY lawmakers and their board members since 2018.

Governor Kathy Hochul’s campaign treasury has also received a boost from real estate donors. By comparison, tenant rights groups pushing for legislation tend to operate on a shoestring budget.

“The Money That” [we were using] fighting for ‘charity’ mostly goes to sandwiches,” Shapiro said.

Spokespersons for REBNY and homeowners for an affordable New York City did not immediately return requests for comment.

Several people familiar with the negotiations said the hectic relocation mess had sucked up much of Albany’s air, leaving little time for members to discuss other issues, such as tenant protection. Some also suspected that fears of right-wing backlash in the run-up to the midterm elections prevented the legislative leadership from broaching the ‘good cause’ bill.

“It’s just embarrassing to have to return to my constituents without anything for them,” said Brooklyn MP Emily Gallagher, who pushed for the legislation.

“Every week we get multiple calls from voters telling us their rent is going up by $500, $700, $900 and saying, ‘How is this not illegal’, or ‘Is this illegal? What can I do?’” Gallagher said. “We have to tell them, ‘Unfortunately, this is legal and I’m sorry, but you should actually try to negotiate with your landlord.'”

Tenants such as Dorca Reynoso 48, an Inwood tenant who has lived in her apartment for 25 years, said she had pinned her hopes on staying in her old apartment under the good business law. Her landlord doubled her rent in 2014 and tried to evict her a few months before COVID-19. She’s been able to stay put thanks to the state moratorium and now the Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP), which gives her another year in which her landlord can’t sue her. But then she said she fears the worst.

“Protecting landlords’ profits, protecting billionaires’ money is not what is going to make the city better,” Reynoso said, adding that she fears further housing instability will impact public safety in the country. general. “Poor people, people of color… our people are being removed from the city as if we don’t matter.”

Jon Campbell contributed to reporting

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