Pols arrested in Albany as rent war ratchets up

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Corey Johnson being arrested in Albany on Wednesday during a planned sit-in protest outside the governor’s office.
Corey Johnson being arrested in Albany on Wednesday during a planned sit-in protest outside the governor’s office.

BY WINNIE McCROY and LINCOLN ANDERSON  |  On Wednesday, Councilmember Corey Johnson, state Senator Brad Hoylman and Assemblymember Richard Gottfried were arrested in the state capitol for protesting for the extension of rent regulation and the reform of the rent laws.

A post on Johnson’s Facebook page shortly after 4 p.m., showed a photo of him shouting as three officers were handcuffing him.

“BREAKING: I’m being arrested for demanding Albany to strengthen rent regulations and protect New Yorkers in our last remaining affordable housing stock,” Johnson’s post read. “We will not give up!”

According to Erik Bottcher, Johnson’s chief of staff, Johnson was yelling “Governor Cuomo, do you hear us!” when he was arrested. 

In all, 55 people were arrested, including 12 elected officials. All were charged with disorderly conduct and given desk warrants.

“Today we sent a message to Governor Cuomo that we will not accept anything less than true reform of our rent laws,” Johnson said in a statement. “With eight days left in the session, this is the single most important item on Albany’s agenda. More than 2.5 million tenants who live in affordable housing are counting on the governor and our state legislators to stand up and do the right thing. The future of preserving affordable housing in New York City depends on it.”

Brad Hoylman being arrested in the state capitol outside the governor's office.
Brad Hoylman being arrested in the state capitol outside the governor’s office.

In a statement on Thursday, Hoylman said, “Yesterday, I got arrested in the capitol building in an act of civil disobedience to sound the alarm to my colleagues in Albany that it’s urgent we act now to strengthen the rent laws. I have 50,052 rent-regulated apartments in my district — the fifth most in the state — so the expiration of the rent laws is of tremendous importance to my constituents and me.

“The clock is ticking,” Hoylman said. “Rent laws expire on June 15, leaving us only five session days to act and protect the homes of more than 2 million New Yorkers who depend on rent regulation. But a straight extension of the law isn’t enough. We need to end vacancy decontrol and preferential rents and make major capital improvement (MCI) increases temporary, among other reforms, if we’re going to preserve this vital segment of New York City’s affordable housing stock.

“Some things are worth getting arrested over,” Hoylman said. “Saving the rent laws is one of them. Albany needs to wake up and strengthen the rent laws now.”

Hoylman, Assemblymember Richard Gottfried, to the left of him, and state Senator Adriano Espaillat, to his right, as they waited to be arrested while doing civil disobedience on Wednesday.
Hoylman, Assemblymember Richard Gottfried, behind Hoylman to the left of him, and state Senator Adriano Espaillat, behind Hoylman to the right, as they all waited to be arrested while doing civil disobedience on Wednesday.

Among the other politicians arrested included state Senator Adriano Espaillat, Assemblymember Bill Perkins, Councilmembers Jumaane Williams and Laurie Cumbo.

Assemblymember Deborah Glick was not among the protesters.

“End of session is very busy and she was occupied with committee work,” a spokesperson said, referring to the upcoming end of the legislative session later this month when the state Legislature breaks for the summer.

According to one of the arrested state legislators, they were taking a risk by holding the protest, as opposed to the city councilmembers.

“I still have to work with Cuomo,” he said.

The protest was organized by the state legislators.

Four days earlier, 70 people had gathered in Chelsea at the Hudson Guild for a forum led by Johnson on the critical struggle to save affordable housing, including rent-regulated housing.

“The costs of rent, food, the subway and clothing are going up, but people who’ve lived in this neighborhood for their entire lives are wondering how long they can hang in there, especially on the West Side,” Johnson told the audience. “Are we going to become a city of luxury housing for part-time residents, or a city of families…that contribute to the fabric of New York?”

Johnson hosted a panel of housing experts, including Sarah Desmond of Housing Conservation Coordinators; Katie Goldstein of Tenants & Neighbors; Daniel Hernandez from the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development; Brian Honan of the New York City Housing Authority; Alexander Ryley of Volunteers of Legal Service; and Marti Weithman of MFY Legal Services.

With the city’s rent laws set to expire this month, tenant advocates are planning to head in force to Albany on Tues., June 9, to lobby for their extension. June 15 is the deadline for the expiration of current rent regulations.

Advocates are seeking an end to vacancy deregulation and a change to the practice of rewarding landlords a 20 percent rent increase for vacated apartments — or even more, if the tenant has resided there for more than eight years.

Currently, vacant apartments can become decontrolled if the rent is as little as $2,100; the 20 percent rent increase pushes the rent to $2,500, which is the threshold for vacancy decontrol.

According to a report in Wednesday’s Daily News, more than 100,000 rent-regulated apartments are on the verge of vacancy decontrol — including more than 11,300 in Chelsea and 8,700 in Tribeca and nearly 9,000 in the Stuyvesant Town/Murray Hill/Midtown East area.

“Vacancy decontrol has done more damage to the housing stock than any single item,” Desmond told the audience at Hudson Guild. “The landlord can deregulate the apartment when it’s vacant. Then the next tenant has no right for [a lease] renewal, and no regulations.”

Under the current system, landlords can use an assortment of tactics to boost rents. For example, they can make major capital improvements and raise the rent one-fortieth of those costs.

There has been a loss of 400,000 rent-regulated apartments in the past 20 years, Desmond said.

“We want reform in the rent guidelines for the city’s 2.5 million rent-stabilized tenants,” Johnson said, adding, “It’s high time for a rent freeze or rollback.”

Rent regulation allows tenants to remain in the apartment as long as they don’t violate the lease, and to have their rent hikes set by the Rent Guidelines Board, a nine-person board appointed by the mayor to determine the permitted rise in rent for one- and two-year leases.

Though this usually maxes out at 2.75 percent for a two-year lease, advocates charge it is way too much. In fact, they charge, the R.G.B. has improperly exaggerated landlords’ projected operating expenses in recent years to justify the hikes. As a result, a rent rollback — in short, an actual rent reduction — is now owed to tenants based on landlords’ actual operating costs over recent years, tenant activists argue.

“We’re pushing for rent rollbacks, because every year the board rubberstamps rent increases while landlords reap incredible profits,” Goldstein said. “In the next month, there will be public hearings in each borough. Tenants must testify, because landlords are saying they are not making enough money.”

Advocates and tenants will rally in Albany on Tues., June 9. Buses will leave at 7 a.m. at 135th St. and Fifth Ave. in front of P.S. 197 and will return to New York City at 6 p.m. Transportation is free, and breakfast and lunch are included. To reserve a seat on one of the buses, call Darren at Tenants & Neighbors at 212-608-4320 x316 or e-mail [email protected] .