HEALTHY FIGHT: HOUSING ADVOCATES BUILD SUPPORT FOR SLUMLORD BILL

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The fate of hundreds of tenants could hinge on the vote of one City Council member, say advocates of the Healthy Homes Act, legislation designed to crack down on negligent landlords.

Introduced last October by Councilmember Leticia James, the act is currently awaiting its second hearing and will likely be voted on this session. Thirty-three council members, including Speaker Miller, have already signed on. But with the mayor staunchly opposed to the bill, proponents are now trying to sway one more council member to establish a veto-proof majority.

“We’re getting really close to obtaining the support we need,” said Andrew Friedman, founding co-director of Make the Road by Walking, a Bushwick-based nonprofit that pushed for the bill.

Make the Road is part of a coalition called Housing Here and Now that advocates for tenants’ rights and affordable housing. “We were seeing situations when, even after they reported hazardous conditions and violations were issued, nothing would happen,” said Friedman. “Tenants were going without hot water for months at a time.”

The proposed legislation would require automatic re-inspections of the most serious building violations, increased fines for landlords that fail to make repairs and rent abatements for tenants in apartments with the most serious “Class C” violations.

Popular with tenants and supported by mayoral candidate Freddy Ferrer, the bill has faced stiff opposition from the city’s housing agency and from the mayor’s office.

“There are a lot of problems,” said mayoral spokesman Jordan Barowitz. “The act lets landlords off the hook and forces the city to do repairs. It’s a terrible incentive. Landlords will never repair anything and then the city will be responsible for collecting the money.”

Kate Suisman, legislative assistant to Councilmember James, acknowledged that “there are administrative issues that need to be addressed.” “It will take more workers and more inspectors, but these costs would be paid for with increased fines,” she said.

Still, the mayor’s opposition means the bill needs one additional vote on the Council, enough to guarantee a mayoral override. Supporters are particularly focused on representatives from the Bronx, an area where blighted buildings often have hundreds of pending violations.

Councilmember Joel Rivera is one of three Bronx representatives that have yet to co-sponsor the act. “He knows that it’s a very important issue and needs to review the language to make sure the bill is the best possible solution,” said Angel Audiffred, a spokesperson for Councilmember Rivera, citing Rivera’s recent press conference at a Hughes Avenue building with 1,700 violations.

Friedman plans to keep the pressure on. “It’s unacceptable in a city like New York that landlords are able to get away with such lawless behavior,” he said. “It’s grossly irresponsible and [the city’s housing department] has been too passive for too long.”

–Amanda Becker