A member of the 5th Avenue Committee, a non-profit organization fostering economic and social justice in Red Hook, Sunset Park, Gowanus, and lower Park Slope, waves a sign.

Photo by: Marc Fader

A member of the 5th Avenue Committee, a non-profit organization fostering economic and social justice in Red Hook, Sunset Park, Gowanus, and lower Park Slope, waves a sign.

Thirteen people were arrested Monday afternoon at a sit-in outside 250 Broadway, an office building in lower Manhattan that houses some New York State Senate and Assembly offices. The sit-in was staged by protesters angered by the state Senate’s failure to pass rent-reform legislation. Protesters blamed the failure on a key group of Democrats in the Democrat-controlled Senate, including senators Pedro Espada, Craig Johnson, and Carl Kruger.

“Democrats in name only must leave the New York Senate. Democrats who act like Republicans—we must vote them out of office,” cried Councilwoman Letitia James, a Brooklyn Democrat, at the noon rally that occurred before the sit-in.

Democrats who once promised to restore some of the tenants’ rights rolled back under decades of a Republican-controlled state Senate have failed to follow through, say tenant organizers.

“A couple of renegade senators who are in the pockets of landlords are being allowed to set the agenda,” said Mario Mazzoni, an organizer for the Metropolitan Council on Housing and the Real Rent Reform Campaign – the coalition of housing organizations, faith-based organizations, labor unions, and advocacy groups that organized the rally. “They’re blocking [rent reform] bills from coming to a vote—so we’re telling the senate leadership to stop letting these corrupt members have the final say.”

The bills that Mazzoni, Councilwoman James, and other tenants’ rights advocates in the Real Rent Reform Campaign are lobbying for include S-2237-A, which would repeal a “vacancy decontrol” law that they contend has removed hundreds of thousands of the city’s affordable housing apartments from rent and eviction protections, and S3326-B, a bill that would extend rent stabilization to Section 8 and Mitchell-Lama housing and prohibit landlords from increasing rent for “unique or peculiar circumstances.”

Both bills were referred to the Senate’s Housing, Construction and Community Development Committee early this year but neither has been brought to a vote. Real Rent Reform Campaign organizers believe this to be due to intentional stalling on the part of senators who have received contributions from landlord associations.

“Individuals who would like to convert New York City into a playground for the rich do not represent our interests,” declared Councilwoman James.

A pastor from the Jesuits of New York, Park Hallinan, was also present at the rally. “This is not just a political issue,” he said. “This is a moral issue.”

Jan Clausen, an organizer with the Prospect Lefferts Gardens Neighborhood Association in Brooklyn, said that tenants in formerly rent regulated apartments, some of whom have been living in the neighborhood for upwards of twenty years, are being pushed out—“sometimes because of rent increases that they just can’t handle, but also because of landlords harassing the tenants whose rents are low, not giving them adequate services, and sometimes calling them into housing court on trumped up charges.”

Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, a Manhattan Democrat, also attended the rally, and insisted that strong rent laws are what make housing affordable and communities stable in New York. “And that is what we are fighting for,” he said. “Affordable, stable homes for all New Yorkers.”