Tenant Breakthrough in New York State on Rent Control

Katy Murphy – Bay Area News Group

New Orleans        For tenant activists and organizers around the country and the world, rent control, real rent control, often seems like gold at the end of the rainbow, almost a mirage, certainly unattainable, and perhaps not worth the struggle.  New York City has long been a beacon for tenants trying to win such protections, even if the light from those policies has been flickering and rising rents have made the divide between landlords and tenants unbridgeable.  Overcoming fierce opposition by landlord lobbyists and decades of erosion of protection in the one-million rent-regulated apartments in New York City and a loss of tens of thousands of affordable housing units, a coalition of tenant advocates and organizations, Housing Justice for All, managed to win a historic agreement that would strengthen rather than weaken the rules.  This is huge!

Here are key elements of the final agreement worth noting:

  • Rent control would be expanded statewide offering cities and towns the ability to create their own rent control policies.
  • So-called “vacancy decontrol” would be abolished.This provision had allowed landlords to take units out of rent protections after rents passed a specified benchmark.  The New York Times noted that 155,000 units had been lost in the last 30 years due to this provision.
  • The so-called “vacancy bonus” would be abolished.This provision had enabled landlords to skyrocket the rents by 20% whenever a tenant vacated a rent-controlled unit.
  • Provisions were strengthened to provide tools to tenants to fight reno-raises, as I would call them, which are increases imposed by landlords when they renovate units or make improvements in the building, some of which were little more than cosmetic, but allowed rents to be gentrified, a problem we see around the world.
  • Rent discounts called “preferential rents” would be made permanent preventing huge bumps when a rent control tenant renews a lease.

I understand we’re in the weeds here, but watching what happens to the real estate market for tenants in New York in the next couple of years will be critically important.  If it works, as we believe it should, and it expands to cities and towns from Buffalo to Syracuse to wherever in New York State, it may serve even more successfully as a model for tenant victories in the future where the special, sui generis nature of the big Apple itself has been a barrier in the debate, even as it has been a beacon of hope.

The fight is not over.  Eviction protections for tenants in market rate units not under rent control did not improve which is a disappointment.  As Jonathan Westin, the executive director of New York Communities for Change, the former New York ACORN, was quoted in the Times, “…this is a huge win for the tenant movement that will impact the lives of millions of renters … but we also feel we have a long way to go.”

Amen, and many of us will be trying to follow your lead!

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Mexican Tariffs Create an Alternate Reality

Mural in Sam Houston Park in Houston, TX

New Orleans       Texas is a red state with a headache.  The cities are becoming bluer and bluer, and a huge number of the F150 pickup driving, cowboy boot wearing folks are Latinos.  A visit to Houston might be educational for the president.  For example, President Trump doesn’t understand that the border stretches all the way into the city without even stopping for gas.

Before a screening of “The Organizer” at the Harris County AFL-CIO building, I pulled into the giant, fenced parking lot across the street with the boldly painted letters spelling Taqueria.  Walking in the largest set of doors, I then realized that I was actually in a bus station.  The space was cavernous and the buses were all going back and forth to Mexico with couples, families, and elderly with their belongings sitting quietly and chatting of the benches.  In the taqueria of the two servers, only one young woman spoke any English, while the other spoke nothing but Spanish, and since I was the only Anglo anywhere nearby, it didn’t pose any problems in this establishment.

A day is coming when Texas and its huge number of voters will once again be the kingmaker and replace Florida as the critical battleground for national politics.  Trump likely could care less how much he alienates the millions in Texas with Mexican roots and relatives, but the future of the Republican Party, and perhaps the Democratic Party as well, will pivot on the fact that Texas is a bilingual and multi-ethnic, multi-racial state.  Heck, there are already two candidates in the Democratic list for president with Texas roots!

Keep this thought in the foreground as we contemplate the alternate reality that Trump is now trying to create of the border and the crisis of tens of thousands of migrant families fleeing Central America and flooding into the United States as he attempts to bully Mexico into creating the dike, and it becomes clear he is the little boy with his small fingers in the hole.  First, there were threats of tariffs, destabilizing the symbiotic human and economic realities of the border.  Pout, pout, whine, whine, he wanted Mexico to somehow solve the problem for the whole continent, which is as ridiculous a proposition as his claim that they would pay for his wall.  Then he swore he had a deal, except all involved on both sides of the table argue that all of the announced agreements had been made months ago.  Then in another twitter storm, he seemed to be claiming that there were secret side agreements which the Mexican foreign minister categorically denies.  This is our president, and this is how we now do foreign policy and trade negotiations.

This isn’t a Trump reality show, it’s a complete farce, but any time in Texas within hundreds of miles of the border quickly demonstrates it’s not a farce, but a tragedy.  And, it gets worse. In his madness, he claims victory from this Mexican mess of his own making, and now claims he’s going to see if he can do the same thing with China.

Via con Dios!

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