Last Wednesday, community organizations across the country participated in a National Day of Action to advocate for universal rent control and other protections for renters.
In Brooklyn, dozens of tenants rallied at Macri Triangle in Williamsburg, chanting in both English and Spanish that they intend to stay in their longtime Brooklyn homes.
Advocates targeted their demands at Governor Andrew Cuomo and state lawmakers, who will take up expiring rent regulations this legislative session.
“We want Albany to close the loopholes that are killing affordable housing and displacing our communities,” said Luz Rosero, president of the tenant group United Neighbors Organization (UNO). “We won’t go.”
Tenant groups are pushing several bills as part of a larger legislative agenda. Among the measures is repealing vacancy decontrol, which allows landlords to permanently deregulate apartments that reach $2,733 in monthly rents after a renter leaves. Advocates want to re-regulate the hundreds of thousands of units that have fallen out of rent protection.
Another bill would eliminate the vacancy bonus. Under current law, a landlord is allowed to increase the rent by 18 percent for one-year leases or 20 percent for two-year leases whenever an apartment turns over.
Tenants say this loophole incentives landlords to harass tenants into leaving their rent-regulated apartments.
Advocates also hope to eliminate a 1970s-era program known as Major Capital Improvements (MCI), which allows landlords to pass the cost of building upgrades and individual apartment repairs onto tenants. Some landlords have abused this program to hike up the permanent rent.
Finally, tenants spoke about changing the current preferential rent system. Preferential rent is a discounted rent that a landlord charges initially. However, they are allowed to revert to the market value of the apartment when a tenant renews their lease, which can lead to a sudden rent hike.
According to advocates, 266,000 families in New York City have preferential rent. Among them are Magali Mecalco, who has lived in the southside of Williamsburg for 16 years.
Mecalco said the conditions in her apartment are “deplorable,” and the landlord hasn’t done anything to fix them. The tenants in her building are currently on a rent strike to get the landlord’s attention.
“He has neglected the tenants and he has neglected the building,” she said. “That’s not allowed.”
Virginia Morales, who lives at 298 North 8th Street, said her building was bought two years ago by new management. The landlord then offered all of her neighbors buyouts to move out of the building.
Out of the 36 units at 296 and 298 North 8th Street, fewer than half of the tenants remain. In her 18-unit building, only four original families are living there now.
Morales said the landlord has been taking advantage of New York’s rent laws to push out tenants, who are still living in subpar conditions.
“We’ve been living with cockroaches and mice,” she said, “no floor maintenance and faulty windows.”
The group of tenants then marched ito the northside of Williamsburg, chanting and catching the attention of passersby along the way.
Elise Goldin, an organizer with St. Nicks Alliance, said tenants are feeling optimistic that these rent-related changes will be enacted this year. They fought hard to ensure both the Assembly and State Senate are controlled by Democrats.
“There’s a lot of power in the movement,” she said. “Not just in New York City, but all over upstate, tenants are organized and united around a common platform.”
Goldin said north Brooklyn is one of the “epicenters of displacement.” Landlords know they can use the laws in place to kick out long-term tenants and bring in newer residents, she said.
“If we can pass these bills, then those incentives wouldn’t be in place,” she said. “They wouldn’t have the same incentives to be harassing tenants the way they are now.”
As Albany continues to pass progressive policies with its new Democratic majority, including the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA), the Reproductive Health Act and the Jose Peralta New York Dream Act, Goldin said housing advocates will keep up the pressure on the rent bills.
“We’ll continue to organize,” she said. “We are holding our various elected officials in Albany accountable and asking them to sign pledges to stand with tenants.”