In neighborhoods across the city, an army of tenants gathered this morning on side streets and in community center parking lots, boarding rented buses bound for Albany. It is tenant lobby day, an annual event in which activists, tenant association leaders and renters across the city descend on the state capital, hoping to influence elected officials who hold the reins on housing law.
More than 400 people were on their way to Albany this morning, according to Michelle O’Brien, a campaign manager for Housing Here and Now.
The Albany-bound citizen lobbyists represent dozens of organizations across the city, from coalitions of tenant associations to powerhouse community organizations such as Community Voice Heard , Make the Road New York and activist unions DC 37 — which represents municipal workers – and SEIU 1199, the healthcare workers’ union.
The activists are pushing for three bills they believe will preserve what remains of New York’s affordability for working and middle class people. O’Brien said the highest priority is the repeal of vacant decontrol, which permits rent stabilized apartments to become market rate when rent reaches $2,000 per month and the tenant moves.
For years tenant advocates have blamed vacancy decontrol for a surge in what they call landlord harassment, in which owners attempt to get rid of long term tenants in order to realize higher rents.
Other legislative priorities include a bill that would put buildings that leave the Mitchell Lama program immediately into rent stabilization.
For Joseph Ferdinand, 57, a member of the NorthWest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition, the agenda is straightforward. As he finishes an egg sandwich on the corner of 196th Street and Creston Avenue in the Bronx, Ferdinand explains why vacancy decontrol is important in the Bronx, even in a neighborhood where very few rents are approaching the $2,000 threshold.
“It does effect people in the Bronx, because people elsewhere, in the Lower East Side, in Harlem, in Brooklyn are being forced out because there are no affordable rents,” he says. “They are coming here. And the landlords can charge them a little more than they are getting. That pushes up the rent for everyone.”
Ferdinand says the trip to Albany is necessary to counteract the influence of the real estate lobby, which can make major contributions to lawmakers’ campaigns funds. “We are going up to show our outrage, our concern, that we are mad as hell and we’re not going to take this anymore,” he says.