When the idea was pitched to Julia Salazar, a community organizer at the time, to run for New York State Senate seat in 2018, she was logically tentative. She would have felt more comfortable waiting a couple of years.
“[In 2018 and before] the housing justice movement was always on the defense and not in a powerful position to demand more. In 2019 we wanted to be in a position to demand more. That convinced me to run,” said NYS Senator Julia Salazar.
She knew important housing legislation was coming up in 2019, and she could be a force to direct needed positive change in that area. She won the NYS Senate 2018 primary for District 18 with 58.9% of the vote and ran unopposed in that year’s general election. A NYS Senate term is two years, and she won her second term with 97.5% of the vote in 2020. She is running for her third term this year.
During her first term in office one of her committee assignments was the Housing, Construction and Community Development Committee. As a member of this committee she was pivotal in helping Bill S6458, the Housing Stability and Tenant Protection act of 2019, to pass. This legislation strengthens tenant rights for those in rent stabilized units and helps to protects rent stabilized units from being transformed into market rate apartments via the misuse of loopholes.
Affordable housing remains a raison d’être of hers. When asked what legislation she has sponsored in her current term that is a top priority she said, “Good Cause Eviction.” NYS Senate Bill S2892 was sponsored by Salazar in the 2019-2020 legislative session. It has since been amended twice, and then brought to a vote this year without passing.
“Part of the strategy to pass [Good Cause Eviction] in 2023, [is to make known] there are localities in the state that have passed laws or resolutions [akin to Good Cause]. Kingston, Poughkeepsie, Syracuse, and Albany have laws similar to Good Cause Eviction. We’ve seen in NYC that one in five kids are in the shelter system. Legislators are seeing the impact of failing the passing of Good Cause.”NYS Senator Julia Salazar
“Unregulated tenants don’t have any right to protest ultrahigh rent increases — or prevent their eviction if they pay their rent every month but can’t get repairs. It’s a risk [for them] to call 311. Under Good Cause Eviction, if a landlord wants to evict a tenant they would have to have good cause to do so. The real estate in NYS is very powerful political interest so it’s hard to pass,” stated Salazar. She went on to say that she wants people to understand that isn’t only a NYC issue it’s affecting families all over the state. “Part of the strategy to pass it in 2023, [is to make known] there are localities in the state that have passed laws or resolutions [akin to Good Cause]. Kingston, Poughkeepsie, Syracuse, and Albany have laws similar to Good Cause Eviction. We’ve seen in NYC that one in five kids are in the shelter system. Legislators are seeing the impact of failing the passing of Good Cause.” In regards to the bill’s chances in 2023, Salazar is seeing stronger support in the NYS Senate and steadily growing support in the NYS Assembly. She says NYS Assembly Member Hunter is passionate about the bill. “We’ll see more cosponsors on the bill, more assembly members coming in that support Good Cause,” said Salazar
One of her expectations about being a NYS Senator that has been realized is working in public service full time. Before becoming a state senator she took odd jobs, part time work, and worked full time as a community organizer. She would have to fit public service work in her spare time, which could be difficult. She is very respectful of the privilege she feels now that public service is her full-time job.
Did anything surprise her about working in state senate? “What surprised me, to come in as the youngest senator, I came in with humility. I was surrounded by a lot of people who have been doing this for decades. But found that everyone is pretty much winging it most of the time. The people who I thought had it all figured out are still figuring it out.” Salazar says this with respectful wonder, in such a way that I interpreted she was conveying an importance to being open to figuring things out in the moment. She also praises legislators’ staff, “So much of the work is done by people who don’t get recognition, but their work has a profound impact on everyday lives.”
“It’s easier to have my ear to the ground and be responsive to [the community]. Also representing the interests of workers.”NYS Senator Julia Salazar
In her first term she was chair of the Women’s Issues Committee. In the current term she is chairing the Crime Victims, Crime, and Corrections Committee. In the NYS Senate the senate committee assignments are made at the discretion of the majority leader. Salazar says that care goes into the assignments to place senate members in committees they have requested. Julia did request all the committees she is on, and she requested to be the chair of the crime committee. She said had worked in a coalition for police reform, with people who had been in the reform system: those who were impacted by the system, and those who were victims of crime. She said, “Legislators have the right to visit prisons. I’ve seen the failures up close and wanted to take the opportunity to improve them.”
She feels her strengths as a senator come from her background in community organizing. “It’s unique not having to be a career politician. It’s easier to have my ear to the ground and be responsive to [the community]. Also representing the interests of workers,” said Salazar. She emphasized that her experiences in witnessing the capacity of people to change their mind makes her more willing to persist in to getting those who oppose her to open up their view and find agreement.
Her thoughts on redistricting, “It’s bittersweet. The process was terrible; it was a mess this year. I’m grateful it won’t happen for another ten years. I’m very happy and honored to get to represent the district I have,” stated Salazar. She added that is sad to lose Greenpoint, and in Williamsburg she gained the same amount that she lost. She supports Kristen Gonzalez wholeheartedly. Overall, she doesn’t see demographics changing so much in the district, and she didn’t want to lose any of her district. The most significant change is she will have one third of Ridgewood so that will make her a bi-borough senator, which is exciting for her. She does see how the special master’s changes make sense, and that it is necessary to redistrict after the census every 10 years.