Today, Thursday, May 14, the Flatbush Tenant Coalition will join groups across the city to rally for stronger state rent laws that are up for renewal this June and which affordable housing advocates, including neighbors with the FTC, say need to be amended to better protect renters who are being illegally forced from their longtime homes.
“We need Albany to strengthen the rent laws before June 15th, otherwise the hemorrhaging of affordable rent regulated apartments will explode even more brutally in our neighborhood,” Aga Trojniak, of the Flatbush Tenant Coalition, wrote to us. “We will likely not get another chance at this — we’ve lost so many rent regulated apartments in the last few years and the pace is quickening.”
Thousands of tenants are expected to participate in the “Rally to Save NYC,” which begins at 5pm today at Foley Square. If you can’t make it exactly at 5pm, don’t worry — it will start with a rally at 5pm and then there will be a march across the Brooklyn Bridge to Cadman Plaza.
To meet up with FTC members, join them on the steps of the Supreme Court at Foley Square at 5pm (take the 4,5 or 6 trains to Brooklyn Bridge/City Hall). If you can’t find the FTC when you’re there, you can call 347-232-5417.
What exactly are the rent laws and how do they affect us?
Today’s event is being held almost exactly one month before the state’s rent laws are set to sunset on June 15 — meaning Assembly and state Senate lawmakers must vote to renew them. While there is very little danger that the laws won’t be renewed, numerous neighbors, affordable housing groups — like the FTC, and elected officials, including Borough President Eric Adams and Councilman Jumaane Williams, have said they could be further diluted to give unscrupulous landlords greater control. Adams and other lawmakers have repeatedly called on Gov. Andrew Cuomo to make affordable housing a priority – specifically by addressing the rent regulation laws.
[pullquote]We need Albany to strengthen the rent laws before June 15th, otherwise the hemorrhaging of affordable rent regulated apartments will explode even more brutally in our neighborhood. -Aga Trojniak, Flatbush Tenant Coalition[/pullquote]
These laws are particularly relevant in Flatbush, where 70 percent of residents live in rent stabilized apartments — and where, between 2008 and 2011, there has been a loss of 3,500 rent-regulated units, according to the FTC.
“But rent stabilization has been gutted over the last few years,” the FTC’s Aga Trojniak said. “It’s now a set of loopholes where landlords can dramatically increase rents… What’ we’re seeing in the neighborhood is large corporations buying up apartments in bulk, and they’re waging war on longterm residents.”
That “waging war” entails a series of illegal efforts by landlords to push rent-regulated tenants from homes, including withholding repairs and taking individuals to Housing Court over being one month late in paying rent.
The FTC wrote in a recent email:
Why does this harassment, and the displacement it creates, happen? The answer is simple: the weakened rent laws now allow landlords to dramatically increase rents in between tenants, and to deregulate an apartment when the rent hits $2,500. It happens because the weakened rent laws incentivize it to happen. And these rent laws are up for renewal this June 15th. The real estate industry is trying to use this as an opportunity to weaken them again.
Rent laws that would better protect tenants could “help stop this displacement dead in its tracks,” the FTC wrote in a recent email about the upcoming rally.
“Eliminate deregulation,” the FTC continued. Get rid of “vacancy bonuses” and other rewards for pushing out long-term residents. Protect tenants with ‘preferential rents‘ against astronomical rent increases when their leases expire.
“Stronger rent laws can help build the beautiful NYC that we all long to see – affordable, stable housing for working class NYC families and neighborhoods where all NYers can thrive!” the FTC wrote. “We need to show Albany we mean business.”
Our neighbors’ fight for affordable housing
Members of our neighborhood’s tenant coalition have pushed hard to see change from Albany when it comes to affordable housing, and tenant leaders with the FTC have recently met with Assembly Members Rodneyse Bichotte, Jim Brennan, Walter Mosley, Latrice Walker, and Nick Perry, as well as state Senators Kevin Parker and Jesse Hamilton to urge them to vote in favor of strengthening the laws, as well as to end what’s known as 421-a. Tenant advocates have said the 421-a tax exemption program is responsible for lining luxury developers’ pockets with taxpayers’ money and paving the way for rapid gentrification.
[pullquote][Elected officials] need to fight for this. Instead they are giving up before the fight even starts. They are allowing their constituents, our neighbors and families, to be pushed out of their homes. -Flatbush Tenant Coalition’s Aga Trojniak[/pullquote]
Both Hamilton and Brennan have said they support ending 421-a, with their offices taking a public stance on the issue during a press conference in Albany in April.
“Shockingly, the others have told us ‘it won’t happen this year,’ Trojniak wrote to us. “But THEY, our elected officials, are the ones who have the power to make it happen. This is on them, and them alone! They need to fight for this. Instead they are giving up before the fight even starts. They are allowing their constituents, our neighbors and families, to be pushed out of their homes.”
FTC members have also been pushing Cuomo on the rent regulation front in an effort to persuade the governor to shift his stance on the matter. Tenant advocates have slammed the governor for making statements suggesting Albany cannot make serious changes when it comes to reshaping policies regarding developers.
“Governor Cuomo says that the atmosphere in Albany does not lend itself to doing much on the rent laws,” neighbor and FTC tenant leader Jean Folkes said at a recent rally outside Cuomo’s New York City office. “And his answer is to extend the present laws? Again, this Governor is shifting the real reason so that he will come out looking clean. Not this time around Governor Cuomo. You are fully aware of what is happening in Albany; it is the donations of the big real state barons that have most of [the legislators] in Albany in their hands.”
Cuomo did not respond to a request for comment from us, but a spokesman for the governor recently told the New York Observer that:
Governor Cuomo has spent his entire career in public service focused on expanding affordable housing to ensure that everyone has a safe, decent, place to live,” a spokesman said. “This administration has made a deep, long-term and unprecedented commitment to housing affordability in New York. The governor will continue that fight in the weeks ahead.