As the issue of the renewal of rent regulations hovers over Albany’s waning legislative session—along with a list of what’s considered other pro-tenant legislation—an interesting dynamic appears to be developing.
In a nutshell, it’s widely understood where Mayor de Blasio stands. Governor Cuomo recently expressed his support for the renewal of rent regs as well as other protections, at least in theory, in a Daily News editorial. Upstate Senate Republicans—many of whom receive large amounts of money from downstate developers and landlord groups like the Real Estate Board of New York and Rent Stabilization Association—certainly oppose the changes tenant groups support. And, the Assembly—led by new Speaker Carl Heastie—overwhelmingly backs the tenant groups’ wish-list.
So where in this mix is Independent Democratic Conference co-leader Jeff Klein? First elected in 2004, the longtime Bronx senator managed to broker a power-sharing deal for himself and a small band of breakaway Democrats in 2011, when Republicans didn’t hold enough seats in the Senate to control it. After last fall’s election, Republicans won control outright, thus making the IDC significantly less relevant.
“We’ve not seen nor heard from Klein,” says Delsenia Glover, campaign manager for the Alliance for Tenant Power. “He never sides with tenants.”
In March, the Alliance embarked on a social media campaign targeting Klein. His support for 421-a as well as his close ties to the real-estate industry—from whom he has received large donations—have alienated Klein from tenant advocates. In fact, the very formation of the IDC raised the ire of many tenant groups because it enabled Republicans, who have historically worked on behalf of the real estate industry and against tenant interests, to run the Senate.
Klein has defended his record on tenant issues, citing his support for Mitchell-Lama affordable housing, and blamed the enmity of tenant groups on personal animus.
In recent months Klein and the IDC have issued detailed reports and proposals on NYCHA maintenance issues, employment scams and subprime auto lending. But the group has had little to say about rent regs. Asked about the senator’s positions, the IDC’s deputy director of communications, Candice Giove, issued this statement via email: “Senator Klein supports the continuation and strengthening of rent regulations. He is discussing with his colleagues in the Senate and the Assembly overhauling vacancy decontrol, so that affordable apartments do not fall off the rolls, and limiting the MCI costs passed onto tenants.”
“Senator Klein likes Mayor de Blasio’s ideas on the 421-a program because it creates a mixed-use of low- and middle-income housing. He also supports the mayor’s mansion tax which would generate $200 million a year to create more affordable housing in our city,” Giove added.
Klein’s district has about 45,000 rent-regulated units. At a rally in Albany on Tuesday, Klein constituent Raphael Schweizer said he wants “more than Klein supporting the laws. We need him to lead the charge.”
Tenants held an action on Tuesday at Klein’s capital office, where they attempted to hand him a letter asking for his help. According to Glover, neither Klein nor any of his staff made themselves available. Ultimately, the group had to present the letter to a security guard in the hopes it would get passed on to the senator. Klein “won’t be forgotten at election time,” Glover says. “We want to hold him accountable.”
Elsewhere in the rent regulation drama:
- At least two events were held by tenant activists Thursday. A surprise action took place in front of the Manhattan building where Governor Cuomo has offices. Several participants chained themselves to the building. Seven people were arrested. The same group blocked traffic in front of the same building last week.
- Later in the day on the steps of City Hall, the Alliance for Tenant Power, along with elected officials including Council housing chair Jumaane Williams. In the event the rent laws do sunset on June 15, the group urged Cuomo to preemptively prevent mass evictions of regulated tenants using executive authority.
- An article in Capital NY found increasing pessimism about the renewal of the rent laws and 421a. According to the article, Cuomo and other state lawmakers are blaming the impasse on the recent corruption scandals in which the top Senate and Assembly leaders were indicted for dealings with a high profile real estate firm who benefits both from the expiration of rent protections as well as the renewal of 421a, which has become very lucrative for developers. “If there was a different time and a different climate, I might just put everyone in a room and try to negotiate this myself. But with this climate in Albany, it’s not conducive to that,” Cuomo told reporters after a rally.
- On Wednesday, the governor expressed support for a straight “short-term” extension of 421-a because all the different versions-—including those involving prevailing wage provisions–currently being debated confused matters and made legislators to feel as if they were under a microscope. Furthermore, Cuomo said there would be “mayhem” and “pandemonium” if rent regulations temporarily lapse.
City Limits coverage of public housing and New York’s rental affordability crisis is supported by the Charles H. Revson Foundation.
City Limits coverage of the Bronx is supported by the New York Community Trust.