Late Thursday evening, June 25th, the State Senate began voting. Even later that evening at around 11pm, the State Assembly started their vote. Sometime afterward the majority officially ruled, and the State Legislator got to call an end to a session that was extended by more than a week due to the delay in approving the “Big Ugly” bill that involved rent regulation law, for starters. Governor Cuomo was so pleased with what was passed he renamed this bill “The Big Lovely”. Lovely or Ugly, the bill signed onto a four-year extension of the rent regulation laws that cover 1 million apartments in the city (2.5 million statewide), and it raises the ceiling where regulated apartments can be deregulated to $2700 from $2500. However the question still looms as to whether or not this is enough to safeguard or advance affordable housing in the city.
State Senator Martin Malavé Dilan said, “Not one of these proposals was what we were calling for. They aren’t remotely close to what anyone was demanding in the Capitol corridors or were shouting from the front lawn. While this ‘big ugly’ may have closed session for the year, the fight for real rent relief and reforms is far from over.” Senator Dilan also pointed out that, “Instead of acting to preserve our dwindling affordable housing stock lost to vacancy decontrol, the plan includes a mere vacancy deregulation threshold increase of $200.”
Strong community effort and participation was demonstrated in the frequent rent rallies spanning the past several months that took place in the city and up in Albany. This was all done in hopes that their legislators would hear their call to strengthen the laws and even rollback rents.
Senator Dilan cast a “No” vote because, “it was quickly apparent that it fell far short of any real recourse for millions of rent-regulated tenants,” he said.
The Assembly voted 122-13 to pass the legislation and the Senate passed it 47-12. Some legislators who voted “Yes” viewed their vote as securing the protections already in effect and progressing them somewhat .
Assemblyman Joe Lentol said, “The final legislation offers hard fought protections for tenants. Is our work done? Not by a long shot. But this session has netted progress for tenants in our community. Work on behalf of tenants needs to continue on various fronts – the rent law reform package we just did is a very important protection; funding for Legal Services is essential so they can fight tenant harassment vigorously, and we need to continue to find ways to create affordable units in the marketplace.”
It will be those who are directly touched by the legislation that has passed who are in the best position to determine whether it is Lovely or Ugly.
Rob Solano, Executive Director at Churches United For Fair Housing, which represents north of 20,000 congregants in NYC, stated, “Our State legislators reached a “deal” – a policy very similar from the already existing rent laws which has cost us 35,000 affordable housing units in the past four years, and tenants will lose an additional 100,000 more affordable housing units over the next four years. The failure to strengthen New York’s rent laws will continue to be the spearhead to all of the negative implications of gentrification in our communities, including, encouraging landlords to illegally evict tenants, and families being priced out of their homes at a rapid rate; however, the fight for making affordable housing available and making those that currently exist reflect the income needs of tenants in our community is not over.”
As we go to press on Monday, June 29, there is another vote approaching. The Rent Guidelines Board will vote on rules to be applied to rents beginning on or after October 1. The rules proposed by owner members call for small increases from 0.5% to 2% in one-year rents, and up to 3.5% in two-year leases. The tenant members proffered 5 plans for 1-year leases: 1 that asked for a 4% decrease and 4 that requested a rent freeze. Mayor de Blasio appoints the guidelines board’s nine members. Two are tenant members, 2 are owner members, and 5 are deemed public members. Odds are on the board voting for a rent freeze for 1-year leases that would beat last year’s 1% increase: the lowest rent increase since the rent guidelines board began to set rents in 1969.