Articles from July 2011

Mid-July 2011 Update

Mid-July 2011 News & Updates

The last few months have been incredibly busy for Mt. Vernon United Tenants. In addition to our ongoing work preventing evictions, organizing tenant associations and educating tenants about their rights, we’ve just seen the end of a two (2) year campaign to renew and strengthen the state’s rent laws and simultaneously we concluded the annual Westchester Rent Guidelines Board (WRGB) process.

Real Rent Reform (R3) Campaign: This campaign has dominated our program work for the past six (6) to nine (9) months. We’ve been organizing throughout Westchester – hosting workshops, sponsoring repeated and regular bus and van trips to Albany, facilitating letter-writing, meeting with state legislators locally, getting various government bodies throughout Westchester to pass resolutions in support of the campaign’s goals, writing letters to The Editor, and much more.

What was the result? We Won!  The rent laws were renewed – for four (4) years, and they were improved, but only minimally. (We’re enclosing a brief outline of the results).
Many in the tenant movement were very, very disappointed in the result. After all of the good, quality education and coalition-building that the R3 Coalition engaged in during the campaign, the hopes were that we’d see major improvements in the laws. Clearly, we could not compete with the real estate community in money to influence the legislative process. However we had nearly fifty (50) major tenant, housing and other social justice organizations that are very effective and competent in their work, working day and night to reach our goals. (MVUT was the only non-NYC organization on the “Steering Committee”).

Regardless, and despite our disappointment, the tenant movement has taken solace in the fact that this is the first time in twenty (20) years that we’ve seen improvement. The last three (3) renewal cycles – 2003, 1997 and 1993 all saw major weakening amendments to the rent laws. The fact that this year saw no weakening of the laws and some improvements has got to inspire us to work harder in the future – and MVUT is already doing so. We’re meeting with the R3 Coalition to review what went well and where we can build a stronger movement and just this past week we met with Assembly Housing Chair Vito Lopez, and Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries of Brooklyn who was the key legislative leader in the R3 Campaign to begin working to promulgate regulations for the Rent Act of 2011.

This whole campaign was very costly for MVUT – both in staff time and cash outlays. While we did not win everything we wanted, we did get the laws renewed and regulated tenants in Mount Vernon and Westchester can know that they are still protected. Many tenants financially supported the campaign but far more did not. We hope that
everyone supports MVUT now and makes a contribution to help us retire the debt we’ve incurred during the campaign and start planning for upcoming efforts. We’re enclosing an envelope for your convenience.

Westchester Rent Guidelines Board (WRGB):  You’ll remember that MVUT led the way last year when the WRGB passed 0% guidelines for both one (1) and two (2) year renewal for leases commencing between October 1, 2010 – September 30, 2011 ! The odds of repeating that were indeed small. However, the data the WRGB were provided clearly supported it. As MVUT has focused for years, the key for landlords ever-expanding profits has been vacancy increases. There are two (2) separate means whereby landlords get generous increases in rent regulated rents:

1) State Statutory Bonus: In 1997, as part of the rent renewal battle, the real estate community was able to include in the law a 20% vacancy bonus (with even higher amounts allowed if the apartment had not changed hands for a number of years).

2)Individual Apartment Improvements (IAI): Landlords can raise the rent, 1/40 of the amount of any improvement made while the apartment is vacant. You can do the math. If the landlord ‘invested’ $ 10,000 in a vacant apartment e.g. new kitchen, new bathroom, the landlord could legally permanently raise the rent $250.00/month, if $ 20,000 was invested – a permanent rent increase of $500/month! As if this is not bad enough, the enforcement capabilities of the state housing agency have continually eroded to the point
where many landlords can and have actually raised the rents under IAI without actually doing the work!

At this year’s Public Meeting to deliberate on the guidelines (after the three (3) Public Hearings), tenant representative Genevieve Roche was making a compelling and convincing presentation for the Board’s sake and she was literally shouted off the stage. The landlords engaged in a coordinated and concerted yelling and bullying tactic which resulted in a police official being summoned by a landlord and ultimately Ms. Roche’s testimony being cut off! The main culprit behind this? Board Chairperson and supposedly ‘Public Member’ Joseph Whelan (see copy of July 7, 2011 Journal News “Letter To The Editor” by MVUT member Dorianne Roe enclosed).

Well, after a break, where WRGB landlord members and three (3) Public Members caucused, a quick motion by Public Member Jane Morgenstern (for guidelines of 2 1/2% for one (1) year renewals and 4% for two (2) year renewals – with a $ 25 minimum for one (1) year and $ 40 for two (2) years) was seconded and passed by a 5 -2 vote with the two
Tenant Representatives voting against it (see copy of enclosed 6/22 Journal News article on reverse side of Ms. Roe’s letter). Tenants in the audience were outraged. Ms. Roche had commanding and overwhelming facts on her side and the landlords realized that. Instead of engaging in a fair debate/discussion, they resorted to the tactics that spoiled people do – they bullied. You’ll recall last year, when the landlords were upset about the 0% and 0% guidelines. What did the landlords do? They (both of the two (2) WRGB Landlord Reps andall of the landlords in the audience) stormed out and at the next Public Meeting to certify the guidelines, the two (2) landlord reps boycotted the meeting. 

Even though the guidelines 2 1/2% and 4% were much higher than the numbers justified, they were much, much lower that what the landlords were asking for – 5% for one (1) year and 9% for two (2) year renewals. And they were noticeably lower than the New York City guidelines 3 3/4% and 7 1/4%.
So while in both of those major campaigns – the R3 and the WRGB – we did not get everything we wanted, we still did really well when you put it all in context. A job well done to all of the tenants who participated in one (1) or both of those campaigns. THANKS!

Homelessness Prevention Program

                  Evictions Prevented          Families & Individuals Rehoused
April                         14                                                  5
May                          10                                                  0
June                           7                                                  3
Economic Inequality:   MVUT will be working on this issue in a variety of ways over the next year. We co-sponsored a very successful “Town Hall Meeting”- Future Directions For America in White Plains on June 29, a few of us went down to Hostos Community
College in the Bronx the next evening as part of a nation-wide “Speak Out For Good Jobs Now – Rebuild The American Dream”, and we brought people up to the Mt. Kisco library the following week on July 7 for a meeting specifically on Medicaid and Medicare in U. S. Representatives Nan Haywroth’s District. Congresswoman Hayworth will likewise be
the target of a press conference and rally on July 21 (see flyer enclosed). This is part of a larger Statewide Caravan To Restore The American Promise (see reverse side of above flyer) MVUT will be bringing members and friends up to Nan Hayworth’s office and later in the day to a celebration at the FDR Presidential Library. Want to go? Call the office.
Can’t go but want to help? Make a donation to pay for the van and gas. Get Involved! Help us win more campaigns.

Support Tenants’ Rights!  Support Economic Justice!!  Support MVUT!!

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