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Rent reform advocates in Inwood take new approach with Christmas carols

Tenants and housing advocates will rally for rent

Tenants and housing advocates will rally for rent reform in Inwood on Wednesday, Dec. 20, 2017, by singing revamped versions of Christmas carols. Photo Credit: Metropolitan Council on Housing

All these New York City tenants want for Christmas is rent reform.

Over 50 New Yorkers are set to sing Christmas carols in Inwood on Wednesday, but the classic holiday lyrics might sound a little different as the group tries to convince state Sen. Marisol Alcantara (D-Manhattan) to voice her support for a package of housing bills.

“We have a couple of songs that we changed the lyrics of,” Nova Lucero, community organizer with tenants’ rights organization Metropolitan Council on Housing, explained. “One is ‘[Little] Drummer Boy.’ We changed the lyrics to that.”

The Met Council is one of a handful of organizations that are urging Alcantara to publicly state that the Senate’s Independent Democratic Conference backs three bills aimed at protecting tenants from being priced out of their homes. The IDC, of which Alcantara is a member, is a group of eight Democratic senators who entered an agreement with Republicans in order to share control of the Senate.

Lucero said the group of housing advocates wanted to do something creative to catch Alcantara’s attention, and given the time of year they felt caroling was “a little more interesting.” In addition to the “Little Drummer Boy,” the protesters will perform tweaked versions of “Alcantara” to the tune of “Oh, Christmas Tree;” “The Tenant Movement’s Coming to Town;” “The Twelve Days of Christmas (My Landlord Gave to Me);” an original song called “Onward Tenants;” and “Feliz Navidad.”

The package of bills would essentially close loopholes in current laws that allow landlords to get around rent stabilization regulations. The bills, S3482, S6527 and S1593, would repeal Vacancy Decontrol; reform Preferential Rent; and repeal Vacancy Bonus, respectively.

Preferential Rent offers a discounted price on a rent-stabilized apartment. It’s also legal, however, for a landlord to end the discount during a lease renewal, which can lead to a sudden spike in rent and the potential ouster of the tenant.

Bill S6527 would eliminate that loophole, only allowing landlords to change Preferential Rent when a tenant willingly vacates the apartment.

“There are a lot of people who are in support of this,” Lucero said of the package of bills. “There are a lot of people who need this to stay in their homes.”

In Alcantara’s district, which covers Inwood and Washington Heights, about 30 percent of the more than 85,200 rent-regulated apartments offer Preferential Rent, according to the Met Council.

Alcantara is a co-sponsor of all three bills, which have been referred to the Housing Construction and Community Development committee but have not been voted on. 

"I am always glad to hear from my constituents about the issues that are important to them, and I share their concern about the loopholes in current rent stabilization law," she said in an emailed statement responding to the caroling protest. "I will continue to fight for tenant protections in Albany."

Despite her involvement in the bills, Lucero said housing advocates feel it’s important for Alcantara to voice her support because the end of the year is just around the corner.

“And it would make a direct impact if it’s in the 2018 budget,” she added.

The Christmas-caroling protesters hope Alcantara will either hold a news conference or write an op-ed article, stating that the bills are a priority for the IDC.

“More than anything, we want to apply more pressure . . . Her name is on the bill,” Lucero said, adding that Alcantara is up for re-election in 2018 and that her actions on the housing bills won’t soon be forgotten by voters.

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