Articles from December 2010



Join the fight to renew, strengthen rent laws

Join the fight to renew, strengthen rent laws
BY DENNIS HANRATTY • NOVEMBER 28, 2010
The Journal News

There has been much affordable housing news in the local media recently: the proposal to remove the county from the operation of the Section 8 program; the federal lawsuit regarding segregation and the resultant settlement; the passage of an anti-discrimination bill on “Source of Income” and its veto by the Westchester County executive. However, the biggest and, in my opinion, most cost-effective affordable housing program — rent regulation — is set to expire in June.

The New York state rent laws — the “old rent control” (1947) and the newer rent stabilization law (in Westchester, Rockland and Nassau, it’s called the Emergency Tenant Protection Act of 1974) — are scheduled to “sunset” on June 15.

In the past, the Legislature has renewed these laws. The past three times the laws came up for renewal — 1993, 1997 and 2003 — they were seriously weakened after the real estate industry gave huge amounts of campaign cash to Republican state senators. We’re preparing to see more of the same this coming year and things are further complicated by the fact that three state Senate races have not been resolved since the election.

The overwhelming majority of Westchester residents covered under the laws fall under the ETPA. Who is covered? Tenants living in buildings with six or more units built before Jan. 1, 1974, in one of the 20 communities in Westchester that have adopted the ETPA. For specifics on covered municipalities, visit the state agency’s website: www.dhcr.state.ny.us/rent/about.htm. There is no exact count of units covered, but it is believed to be more than 30,000.

In New York City, where a great majority of rent-regulated housing exists, more than 300,000 units have been de-controlled as a result of the aforementioned weakening amendments. Tenants in those units no longer have a right to leases or lease renewals, nor are their rents regulated — the landlords can charge anything they want. It is no longer possible to move into an affordable apartment, at least in Manhattan.

The ETPA is not a subsidy program. It is a rent regulatory system. It is a rent and eviction law — it limits rent increases and prevents unwarranted evictions. Tenants may be evicted but only for cause, e.g., for nonpayment of rent or substantial violations of their lease. Tenants also have the ability to hold their landlords accountable by making administrative complaints to the state agency for service issues, overcharges, harassment, etc.

Tenants throughout the metropolitan area have been organizing to both renew the laws and strengthen them, i.e., to undo some of the damage done in the past three renewal cycles. This damage, most especially “high rent vacancy decontrol” and the resultant incredible upward pressure on rents, in my mind, has been the most important factor in the overall reduction of affordable rental units in Westchester. The campaign to renew and strengthen the laws is called the Real Rent Reform (R3) campaign.

My organization, Mount Vernon United Tenants, is the lead agency in Westchester for the R3 campaign. Things will be very busy into 2011 with lobbying trips to Albany, demonstrations, letter-writing and telephone calling to state legislators.

We’re going to need all of Westchester’s tenants who are covered by the ETPA to become involved. We’d also encourage others who are concerned about affordable housing in Westchester to join the campaign. Advocates for economic justice, faith groups, anti-hunger activists and all those who believe that Westchester should not be just for the very rich and the very poor, should support the R3 campaign. Call my office at 914-699-1114 or e-mail us at R3Campaign@gmail.com to get updates on the campaign and find out how you can get more involved.

The 30,000-plus units protected under the ETPA (and the approximately 100,000 individuals residing therein) form the great majority of reasonably affordable housing in Westchester. They are all in danger. They will only stay protected and affordable if people become involved in the R3 campaign.

Contrary to misrepresentations from the real estate industry, the rent laws do not only protect the “lucky few” who live in regulated units. Rather, these same units, if we reverse the decontrol measures secured by landlord dollars in 1993, 1997 and 2003, should be seen as the bulwark to keeping Westchester’s communities integrated economically and racially — without costing county taxpayers anything!

Get involved — and win!

Budget Cuts Hurt Tenants Group

Budget cuts hurt tenants group
NOVEMBER 29, 2010
The Journal News

Re “Closing two shelters will not harm efforts to help homeless,” Nov. 20 Community View

Karl Bertrand’s above Community View is correct. He is right that the “progressive agenda…is to move away from shelters…by concentrating resources on 1) preventing evictions, and 2) rapidly rehousing people….” However, when he says that the county has achieved homelessness reduction by investing money in eviction prevention, he is wrong! The county has actually significantly reduced eviction prevention efforts. One such glaring example is Mount Vernon United Tenants, one of, if not the most effective eviction prevention agencies in the county. MVUT was recently completely defunded (after being funded for more than 20 years) due to the county’s austerity budget! The small annual grant MVUT received, $55,000 to $ 60,000, helped stop over 150 evictions every year! You can do the math — when it costs $3,000 to $4,000 monthly to shelter people. This is neither smart policy, nor effective use of taxpayer dollars.

Further, the county administration has been withholding $240,000 appropriated by the County Legislature to help stop evictions! The reality is that if you really want to prevent evictions and/or rehouse people, you have to actually invest in these efforts. While we share the goal of the HEARTH Act of having no one remaining homeless for more than 30 days, all government indicators — local, state and federal — are that low to moderate income people are going to pay a disproportionate price into the future. We will probably be seeing an increase in homelessness in Westchester, unless of course, we invest wisely.

Jacqueline Thomas
Mount Vernon

The writer is a member and former board member of Mount Vernon United Tenants.

MVUT Web site under construction

Pardon the dust, but we’re setting up the MVUT web site.  We’ll have more information and content posted in the next few days.