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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Fighting the NIMBYs on Affordable Housing

New Orleans City Council Meeting 05.23.2019 on housing development in the Bywater neighborhood.

New Orleans     Sadly, it’s not just an aberration in my own neighborhood where bizarrely the “not in my back yard” crowd fought fiercely to block the return of affordable housing to a long established Housing Authority of New Orleans (HANO) site.  It seems to be almost everywhere in big American cities with increasingly entitled, gentrifying faux-liberal populations.

In a small victory, the New Orleans City Council voted 6-0 with the uptown councilperson taking a powder, on a so-called “compromise” allowing the project to move forward with a slightly smaller footprint but at least holding on to the more than 80 affordable units that included slightly more than 50 market rate apartments.   The district councilwoman had been touting embarrassing and ridiculous proposals to try to pander to the NIMBY crowd that included some of the neighborhood, real-estate dominated civic associations.  One of the more bizarre had been an argument that she was for the number of affordable units, but wanted them spread all over town.  You can hear the dog whistle from here, can’t you?

Let’s be clear.  Affordable housing is an issue in New Orleans.  Repopulating African-American families in neighborhoods is also an issue for me and for people who care about the city post-Katrina, as well as diversity of race and income in neighborhoods like Bywater where I live that were solid multi-racial working class and lower income areas when we moved here decades ago.  To save face, when I can only believe that she couldn’t get any votes, our councilwoman pasted together a fig leaf compromise that allowed some of the NIMBYs say in the design of the project to try to salvage their claims about “neighborhood character” and “green space” as something other than hard core class and race bias.  Hopefully, this committee will not kowtow to this small entitled group.  The highlight for me was reading that another councilman following the vote, essentially chided the projects opponents saying that they needed to really look deeply into their real motivations. Amen!

More depressing was reading that the pretend-progressive California legislature scuttled a bill that would have repealed restrictive zoning for single-family housing near transit stops in order to allow lower income families more access to jobs and services.  The Times columnist reporting on this normally writes about tech issues, but the headline was “Nimby Liberals Make Cities Unlivable,” and he quoted George W. Bush’s comments about “catastrophic success” from the Iraq war.  What a double-shot to the gut!

City after city in the US, Canada, the European Union, Australia, and, OK, all around the world are fencing out people to create enclaves for the rich and white and forgetting the rest of what makes cities work.  Our back yards have no value without people, and people have to be our priority.  Lots of people, not just a few.

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Please enjoy Hamish Anderson’s What You Do To Me.

Thanks to KABF.

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