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Harlem rally for rent protections: 'My neighborhood is slipping through my fingers'

Hundreds of ralliers championed nine pieces of legislation, including the extension of the Emergency Tenant Protection Act.

The Upstate Downstate Housing Alliance and Housing Justice

The Upstate Downstate Housing Alliance and Housing Justice for All hosted a rally at the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem on Thursday evening. Photo Credit: John Roca

Hundreds gathered on Thursday in support of several pieces of state legislation aimed at protecting tenants' rights in rent-regulated buildings.

The rally, hosted by The Upstate Downstate Housing Alliance and Housing Justice for All at the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, called for the passage of several pieces of legislation, which organizers said all fit under an umbrella of universal rent control.

“My neighborhood is slipping through my fingers. I feel like I moved without actually moving,” said Kathy Wakeham, 70, who has lived in a rent stabilized apartment on the Lower East Side for 46 years. “They’re doing construction as harassment. I feel like I live in an empty shell because the old tenants, many of them have moved out. They know I’m a tenants' rights activist and I know my rights, so they haven’t done anything to me but they have to my neighbors.”

The rally championed nine pieces of legislation, including the extension of the Emergency Tenant Protection Act — which expires every two years and is set to expire on June 15 — as well as a more controversial bill that would limit when a landlord could evict tenants, including for tenants' failure to pay rent if they were charged an "unconscionable" rent increase (or increasing the rate more than 150 percent of the region's consumer price index).

"They all really can't be done without the other," said Cea Weaver, the campaign coordinator for Housing Justice for All, adding that the bill preventing evictions may be the most important. "It's by far the most impactful bill on our platform … Because it’s the most expansive."

Before a planned march, the group, hundreds strong, packed into the church and danced to gospel music.

City Council Speaker Corey Johnson was in attendance, and said he would go to Albany to advocate for tenants' rights.

“There is a monumental decision on a fundamental question that is before us: Are we going to be a city where only the richest can live … or are we going to be a city where working people can survive?” Johnson said. “And the battleground for this fight is Albany.”

Jay Martin, executive director of the Community Housing Improvement Project, said in an email that the state "needs to pursue laws that will continue to incentivize private property owners to invest in their buildings, that will expand the NYC Rent Freeze Program, and that will finally tackle the NYCHA crisis … universal rent control will reverse this progress and force private buildings into the same state of disrepair experienced by NYCHA residents every single day.”

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