Day of action: Coalition of New York housing advocates push for reforms to help tenants in distress

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Throughout four cities across New York State, a coalition of housing activists gathered for a day of action.
Spencer Gallop/The Legal Aid Society

Throughout four cities across New York State, a coalition of housing activists gathered for a day of action Tuesday, launching their #HouseNY 2022 NYS legislative campaign.

Over the past 17 months, the economic strife induced by the COVID-19 pandemic pushed New York State’s housing crisis over the edge, exacerbating disparities and insecurities in communities. Short-term fixes like the eviction moratorium and emergency rental assistance programs helped for a brief period, but housing rights advocates say it was a Band-Aid response that has left tenants vulnerable to landlord harassment, unfair rental increases, and, potentially, homelessness.

On Tuesday, activists, civil legal services organizations, and elected officials gathered together in New York City, Albany, Rochester and Buffalo to launch the #HouseNY 2022 legislative campaign, which is a five-year housing plan that makes real, long-term legal changes to protect against eviction.

Activists called for the governor to enact legislative protections for tenants. Spencer Gallop/The Legal Aid Society

“Our clients and all New Yorkers deserve these common-sense legislative solutions to the ongoing economic devastation from the pandemic,” said Judith Goldiner, Attorney-in-Charge of the Civil Law Reform Unit at The Legal Aid Society. “With the statewide moratorium likely set to expire in January, we are facing a tidal wave of evictions, which could leave countless vulnerable tenants at risk of losing their homes and exacerbate the public health and homelessness crisis. Albany must act now to keep New Yorkers safely housed in their homes.”

In New York City—at 20 Hudson Yards—elected officials such as state Senators Brian Kavanagh, Robert Jackson and Mike Gianaris, and others joined housing rights leaders and tenants to call upon Governor Kathy Hochul to enact Good Cause Eviction, Repeal of 421-a, Housing Access Voucher Program (HAVP), Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act (TOPA), and an expanded Housing Our Neighbors with Dignity Act (HONDA).

“Evictions are violence! We can’t talk about public safety without talking about the housing crisis.  A 50% rent increase is slow-moving violence. If we are serious about public safety, we must be serious about ending the housing crisis,” Queens Assembly Member Zohran Mamdani said at the New York City rally.

Several tenants spoke out against their landlords who they say have taken advantage of them during this difficult time.

Carlos Junca, a member of Make the Road NY,  shared that due to flooding from Hurricane Ida’s remnants in September, his landlord is pushing him after demanding a $1,000 rental increase in Woodside apartment. He believes his landlord is capitalizing on the natural disaster to renovate and rent out the apartment at a higher rate.

Assembly member Zohran Mamdani. Spencer Gallop/The Legal Aid Society

“For six years, I rented a semi-basement in a two-family house in Queens. Although the pandemic brought us a very difficult situation, and I struggled to keep up with my rent payments, I have been paying with all the savings I had, and trying to find any job to continue paying. Although I have paid and been a good tenant, I find myself being displaced and without protections and the Hurricane was an opportunity to get me out,” Junca said. “As COVID is settling and more people want to rent in the city, landlords are taking advantage of opportunities to rent to people who can pay more. This is unfair! I stayed here in NY during the pandemic and paid my rent and now they take me out of my home to charge more.”

Hochul’s office noted that the governor has, since entering office in August, pushed for greater housing rights, including working with the state legislature to extend the eviction moratorium through January 2022.

“Governor Hochul has taken bold action to protect tenants, from calling a special session of the legislature to extend the eviction moratorium, to allocating $25 million for free tenant legal services across the State, to breaking the Emergency Rental Assistance Program logjam – bringing New York from the back of the pack to the front among all states by committing more than $2.2 billion to help tenants in need. The Governor is firmly committed to helping New Yorkers stay in their homes and will carefully review all legislation that reaches her desk,” said Avi Small, a spokesperson for the governor.