NY City & State: Take action to create & preserve affordable housing

 Photo by deberarr/iStock / Getty Images

Photo by deberarr/iStock / Getty Images

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.

Here's how: 

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 rentinfo@nyshcr.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

Additional Resources:

http://www.nyshcr.org/Rent/tenantresources.htm

http://metcouncilonhousing.org/help_and_answers/preferential_rents

SOCIAL

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.

Additional Resources

http://www.brooklyneagle.com/articles/2017/5/22/amid-controversy-bedford-union-armory-ulurp-process-kicks-brooklyn

http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/brooklyn/city-councilwoman-takes-stand-brooklyn-armory-conversion-article-1.3177588 

http://citylimits.org/2017/06/07/council-challenger-demands-speedy-vote-on-bedford-union-armory/

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.

LEGISLATION MATTERS

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”

S1593 (Serrano) / A954 (Kavanagh)

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”

S6527 (Krueger) / A6285 (Cymbrowitz)

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!

Additional resources:

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/30/opinion/hud-budget-cuts-ben-carson.html

First Action on Nukes

Originally sent Jan. 3

There are 62 of you who wrote back to join this endeavor of ours, which is far more than I expected. Thank you all for joining this thing - it's incredible that, aside from Elizabeth Warren and Bernie, liberals and progressives on the national level have been so muted since the election; these early days are very key, and I think it's valuable to step up on the local level, to the extent we all can. Somebody's gotta speak up--

First, some housekeeping: I've created a Google list-serve, empirestateprogressives. Some of you have asked to remain anonymous, which I fully appreciate, and others have said you'd like to be part of the ongoing conversation and the list-serve. Either way, please write back to me with your preference, bcc'ed or on the list-serve. I can accommodate both options with no trouble, so let me know.  Also, either way please go to www.callmycongress.com and tell me who your congressperson is. 

On to the "first action" - nuclear weapons. 

Post Trump's inauguration, the focus will be on the early spate of Republican legislation (Obamacare repeal) and some of the more egregious cabinet appointments (Justice, EPA, etc. - I'm open to suggestions). But in this interregnum period, an issue that I thought would be best to start with is to push back forcefully against this very serious and absolutely lunatic discussion of a nuclear re-buildup. This is an issue that really central to my fear about Trump as a completely reckless guy with vaguely authoritarian leanings. Talking about growing our nuclear fleet is nuts: our fleet is already massive, and his aggressive posture when it comes to nuclear weapons is, to be honest, very frightening. This really puts some meat around the notion that the "this is not normal" - world affairs are not a reality show and a nuclear arsenal is a negotiating chip to land some "great deal." Presidents shouldn't be talking so cavalierly about this stuff. 

A little background:

According to various sources, the U.S. currently has 3,000-4,500 nuclear weapons (bombs that go boom), and 1,900 "methods of delivery" (missiles that deliver the bombs). We've spent cumulatively $8.8 Trillion on developing nukes since 1940, and they cost a lot of money to maintain - I've seen estimates at around $35-50 billion annually.

Since 1991 we've been cutting our nuclear arsenal. Under Obama and the New START treaty with Russia, we've dropped our arsenal by over 75%. Which is good because these things are really really dangerous. 

 

Why does Donald Trump want more nuclear weapons? I don't know - maybe he thinks it's a strong counterpunch to Putin's similar call. (????) Whatever his intentions, growing our arsenal is really stupid, and needs to be called out as such.

This is a practice run, here, since we're just getting started. But over the next few days, you can:

Call or email your Senators and Members of Congress

A lot of people have asked me about 1) the experience of calling a congressperson, and 2) the value of doing so. I can speak to the value first - members of the House and Senate take their active constituents really seriously; they keep an effective tally of who phones or writes in to them. As for the experience, I figured that I'd try it myself. I called a few congressional offices today, and both senators. I spoke to Gillibrand's folks for a few minutes, to my congressman's for a minute or so, and Schumer's line was busy. It's very easy - really, you're just talking to staff-members who will tell you they'll pass along your concerns to the congressperson and the good thing is, they'll do so. Emails are also great; they don't need to be chock-full of facts, just clear and in your own words. If you want a good "script," try this from the Union of Concerned Scientists: https://secure3.convio.net/ucs/site/Advocacy?cmd=display&page=UserAction&id=5446&s_src=wac&s_subsrc=website&_ga=1.209526418.1676183103.1483461020

My campaign guru Mike Moschella tells me that Tweets are apparently very effective. Whatever you can do, feel free to do it! Feel free to shoot me a note afterward to tell me what you did and the response you got.

More to come shortly. I've really appreciated your feedback on matters big and small thus far so please keep it coming. 

Thanks folks,

Evan

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