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December 12, 2008

‘¡Sí se puede!’ is rallying cry for housing activists


Attendees numbered near 1,000 at Tuesday’s rally to end vacancy decontrol, which allows rent-controlled and rent-stabilized apartments to be deregulated when they are vacated and the rent reaches $2,000.  ‘¡Sí se puede!’ is rallying cry for housing activists.

Rallying to save rent-stabilized housing, an estimated at 1,000 tenants and their allies from dozens of organizations citywide packed the Ethical Culture Society on W. 64th St. Tuesday night, overflowing into the back, sides and balcony of the auditorium. They began the rally by singing to the lively sounds of the Rude Mechanical Orchestra marching band, chanting “¡Sí se puede!” (“Yes we can!”) and calling for an end to vacancy decontrol, a mechanism that allows rent-controlled and rent-stabilized apartments to be deregulated when they are vacated and the rent reaches $2,000.

The rally, part of the **Real Rent Reform Campaign, was organized by Housing Here and Now, a coalition of community and religious organizations, unions and affordable housing advocates. Many members of the housing advocacy groups the West Side Neighborhood Alliance and Housing Conservation Coordinators also made a show of force.

“We have to fight to revoke the vacancy decontrol law,” said housing activist Ramona Santana a day after the rally. “Landlords are pushing tenants to abandon their apartments so that they can raise the rent.” And the effect is felt not only by individual tenants, she said, as whole communities are losing their homes.

“We need the vacancy control law taken off the books, said housing activist Pat Boone. “This is something that is devastating to everyone, no matter where you live. … This is devastating to us as a society as a whole.”

The statutory vacancy bonus, enacted in 1997, allows landlords of rent-stabilized apartments to increase the rent by a minimum of 20 percent every time an apartment turns over, even if it turns over more than once a year. Landlords contend the regulation helps correct some of the problems caused by rent control, like a decline in the taxable value of their rental properties and a corresponding rise in the tax burden on private homes.
But many tenants complain that landlords harass tenants by cutting off services and failing to maintain or repair the premises to force them out. “There was no heat, they had broken ceilings, broken floors,” said tenant activist Gladys Puglia. “If they had children, they couldn’t live like that no more. So they just moved, by force.”

Many attempts to modify the law have been made to no avail in recent years, but both tenants and legislators hope that the new Democratic majority in the state Senate will succeed in passing reforms that will halt or at least delay the deregulation through vacancy decontrol. According to Housing Here and Now, New York City stands to lose 136,000 apartments to vacancy decontrol by 2015, in addition to the 50,000 lost since 1994.

“The repeal of vacancy decontrol is a top priority of mine,” said State Sen. Tom Duane in a statement. “I will absolutely speak with the Senate leader, the chair of the Housing Committee once appointed, and the governor at the beginning of the new session to express my desire to see the legislation passed, because New York State cannot afford to lose any more rent-regulated apartments.”

Tenants in rent-regulated units have other representatives in Albany who understand their concern that the city’s affordable housing supply is disappearing at an alarming rate. They were backed by State Sens. Duane, José Serrano and Andrea Stewart-Cousins, as well as Sens.-Elect Joseph Addabbo and Daniel Squadron. State Sens. Liz Krueger, Diane Savino, Eric Schneiderman, and Assemblymembers Richard Gottfried, Deborah Glick, Linda Rosenthal, Karim Camara, Hakeem Jeffires and José Peralta sent their representatives. All signed a pledge committing them to expedite rent reform legislation.

Several City Council members, including West Side Councilmember Gale Brewer, showed their support by attending the rally. But for now the focus is on the state Legislature, because the Urstadt law transferred power over rent regulation and evictions away from the City Council to the Legislature in Albany in 1971. A bill to restore home rule to New York City is part of the rent reform agenda of the Real Rent Reform Campaign, which is also supporting legislation to protect Mitchell-Lama and Section 8 buildings by moving their apartments into rent stabilization when those programs expire.

**Make the Road New York is an active participant of the Real Rent Reform Campaign, and a member of the Housing Here and Now coalition.


More on: Improving Housing 


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