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Amid rent regulation debate, town hall planned in Assembly speaker's Bronx district

Advocates are hoping the state passes a slew of rent regulation reforms before the end of the legislative session.

Tenants demand that lawmakers and Gov. Andrew Cuomo

Tenants demand that lawmakers and Gov. Andrew Cuomo pass rent regulation reforms. Photo Credit: AP/Hans Pennink

Housing advocates are hoping to drive home the need for rent regulation reform by hosting a tenant town hall in Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie's district Thursday.

With less than two weeks left in the state legislative session, the Upstate/Downstate Housing Alliance said Bronxites will make the case for a pro-renter package of nine bills while gathered at the Eastchester Gardens Community Center gym on Thursday. 

Heastie's office declined to explain his position on the package of bills and would not comment on the town hall. 

In April, he put out a list of priority legislation for his chamber's Democratic majority that included eight of the measures, but omitted the so-called good cause eviction protection bill. That would limit when currently unregulated landlords could evict tenants, including protecting people who fail to pay rent following a rent increase of more than 1.5 times the local inflation rate. 

Heastie has previously told housing activists that lax rent regulations are not a widespread issue in his northeast Bronx district, according to Andrea Shapiro, program manager at Met Council on Housing, which is part of the alliance and involved with the town hall.

"Carl Heastie has renters in his district that have been neglected by him, and it's important that they know what their representative is doing, as well as (have) the chance to speak up," said Shapiro.

She said organizers expect about 75 people to attend and Heastie to dispatch a staffer.

"The problems we've been seeing in his district are pretty widespread. We do a lot of door knocking on a regular basis, and the fact that nearly every single building that we'd knock on a door at has a problem says a lot," Shapiro said, adding that the good-cause measure would protect tenants in relatively small residential buildings. "They need a repair; they need the ability to tell their landlord that something isn't right and not fear that they're going to lose their homes."

The tenants forum comes after a tense week in Albany, where proponents of the rent regulation reforms blocked entrances in the state capital Tuesday, leading to more than 60 arrests, according to Marlene Peralta, a spokeswoman for the Upstate/Downstate Housing Alliance.

State Senate Democratic Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins released a statement Tuesday evening noting that enough of her members backed the package to pass all nine bills. However, after emerging from a meeting with Heastie on Wednesday, she said they were collaborating on the issue and only that there is "support" for the measures. 

“We are working together. We know we have to engage the governor so we can do what we want to do about rent,” Stewart-Cousins said.

If the package is approved, owners would no longer be able to permanently hike rent to help recoup the cost of building-wide renovations — called a major capital improvement (MCI) — or bill residents for similar upkeep in their units — called an individual apartment improvement (IAI).

Owners sometimes do unneeded work to raise rent and move rates closer to the threshold at which a unit can be deregulated, currently $2,774.76 a month, tenants argue.

Taxpayers for an Affordable New York, a consortium of groups representing landlords, argues MCIs have improved the quality of the city's housing stock and that the proposals before the state would leave owners, particularly smaller landlords, unable to afford investments beyond basic maintenance, taxes and utilities.

"We support responsible rent reforms and will make sure lawmakers continue to hear from the owners, contractors, doormen, supers and other building workers whose livelihoods rely on the right balance of rent regulation," Taxpayers for an Affordable New York spokeswoman Kerri Lyon said in a statement. 

Gov. Andrew Cuomo urged the leaders Wednesday to promptly firm up their positions on rent regulations, which are slated to expire days before the legislative session concludes. Activists' hopes are particularly high this year because Democrats are in control of the State Senate for the first time in a decade. 

"I call on the Senate to pass the bills today. I am ready to sign the bills if they pass. If they do not pass the bills today it means they cannot and New Yorkers should know the respective positions so we can pass a new law before the expiration of the existing rent law on June 15," Cuomo said in a statement. 

— With Michael Gormley 

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