Last night ESP held its second Learning & Action party: "State & Local Politics 101: Affordable Housing for All!". We heard from Vaughn Armour and Cea Weaver of NY Communities for Change, City Councilmember Ritchie Torres of the Bronx - chairman of the Council's Public Housing Committee, and our very own Amshula Jayaram. What we heard was shocking.
The lack of affordable housing in New York City is not just a problem, it's a crisis. 39% of NYC's rental units that are affordable to households earning less than $40K for a family of three were lost between 2002 and 2011. Median rent increased 19% in the period 2000 to 2014, while median household income decreased 6.3%. Thousands of New York families are going homeless as a result. Over 61,000 people sleep in shelters each night in NYC, up from just over 20,000 in 1998 and 31,000 in 2006. Many of these are working people - 30% of those in shelters are working full time, creating a new class of people in NYC - the working homeless. Millions of New Yorkers are barely able to make ends meet, scrambling to make rent, choosing between rent and utilities, never certain how long they'll be able to stay in their homes. In fact, nearly 30% of New Yorkers are severely rent burdened, meaning they pay over 50% of their monthly income in rent!
We simply don't have enough truly affordable housing for our citizens, and there have not been enough protections put in place to prevent low income residents from being harassed out of their apartments.
Luckily there are ways average citizens can help, and it doesn't require protesting on the streets (although protesting helps too, and there are plenty of opportunities to do so!) - you can do it in minutes per week, right from your home.
ACTION 1: INDIVIDUAL LEVEL: LEARN YOUR RENT HISTORY
If you live in an apartment constructed before 1974 w/ 6 or more units, you may be in a rent stabilized unit, but being charged
a higher rent than is legally allowed or being used as part of a scheme to get your apartment deregulated! This process will leave
your neighborhood UNAFFORDABLE for working-class and ultimately even middle-class families.
Making sure you’re not getting cheated nor used as a pawn in rapid gentrification is easy; just find out your rental history. Two of the easiest ways to do this:
1. Request it by email from firstname.lastname@example.org
2. Call the Rent Infoline at 718-739-6400
Request your rent history since 1984, when HCR started keeping records. The rent history will be printed and mailed directly to the apartment/building address. If you have questions - call the Metropolitan Council on Housing’s tenant hotline: 212-979-0611
Support the campaign to push the Rent Control Guidelines board NOT to raise rent on rent stabilized units. Be sure to use the hashtags #rentrollback and #2percent2much and follow @Met_Council Campaign ends 6/27/2017!
ACTION 2: CITY LEVEL: KILL THE BEDFORD UNION ARMORY DEAL
CALL COUNCILMEMBER LAURIE CUMBO
Councilmember Laurie Cumbo reps the 35th district, home to the publicly-owned Bedford Union Armory, which a developer is hoping to rezone in order to convert the building into apartments. Rezoning cannot happen without the Council’s ok. Cumbo recently came out against the project in its current form, but she did not call on the city to demand that the project be entirely affordable for neighborhood residents -- an achievable goal since the city owns the land and the building!
Up for reelection this year, Cumbo faces challengers in both the primary on Tuesday, September 12, 2017 AND the general election on Tuesday, November 6, 2017. If you live in her district, let her know you’re paying attention!
If you live in another district, it’s just as important to call your own rep, as having all Councilmembers opposed to deals like these is an important first step in the fight for 100% affordable housing for all.
ACTION 3: STATE LEVEL: LEGISLATORS WORK FOR US!
CALL YOUR STATE SENATOR, ESPECIALLY IF THEY ARE A MEMBER OF THE IDC
The NY State Legislative Session ends at the end of June. Bid your Senator good-bye with a friendly reminder that they work for YOU! They’re all up for reelection in 2018. Remind them that you’ll be paying close attention to their stance and votes on
Affordable Housing. If they are a member of the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC), remind them that their participation puts Republicans in charge of the Senate, which prevents progressive legislation of any kind from even being voted on.
Our friends at Metropolitan Council on Housing (MCH) have put together some key pieces of legislation that would protect OR strengthen rent regulations that have made NYC affordable for vast numbers of New Yorkers who would otherwise be priced out of their own neighborhoods. All three of these bills have passed the state Assembly, but languished in the Senate’s Housing Committee. Call your State Senators and tell them you want to see these bills pass in the next legislative session.
ELIMINATE THE “VACANCY BONUS”
This bill would eliminate the statutory vacancy bonus, an automatic rent increase of up to 20% that landlords can use to raise rents every time the apartment turns over. The vacancy bonus gives landlords an incentive to evict tenants, leading to undue pressure and harassment. Since units are no longer regulated once they reach $2,700 in rent, landlords have an added incentive to evict tenants.
PROTECT TENANTS WITH “PREFERENTIAL RENTS”
This bill would close a loophole in the rent laws that currently impacts hundreds of thousands of "preferential rent" tenants. Preferential rents occur when a landlord offers a rent stabilized apartment for less than the legal regulated rent. As of now, when leases are renewed landlords can raise rents all the way up to the legal regulated rent, which can be hundreds of dollars higher than the preferential rate. This bill would require that preferential lease renewals be offered based on the lower rate, and only allows landlords to jump up to the legal regulated rent upon vacancy.
FEDERAL LEVEL: FIGHT THE CUTS TO HUD
President Trump’s fiscal budget proposal for 2018 will have a devastating effect on NYC. The budget includes three hundred and forty million dollars in cuts to New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), as well as a proposed raise in rents for housing-project residents, from thirty to thirty-five per cent of their income. Shola Olatoye, the chair of the Housing Authority, declared the cuts, “an assault on public housing and affordable housing as we know it in this City.” The budget requires congressional approval so stay on top of your Federal Reps!