Housing is a human right, but New York State’s elected officials have instead pursued policies that treat it as a speculative investment. The results of these market-driven policies have been sadly predictable: gentrification and tenant exploitation. During my first term, as a member of the Housing Committee, we made some strides to roll back gentrification and better protect tenants: We passed landmark legislation to restrict foreclosures and evictions for two years (S50001), to make certain zip codes in Brooklyn “Cease and Desist Zones” to prevent aggressive real estate solicitation practices (S2929B), and to provide protection against unjust foreclosures (S5473D). We also fought against efforts to renew and expand a system of wasteful and inefficient subsidies that transferred billions of dollars to private real-estate developers that create unaffordable units that gentrify our neighborhoods.
Over my lifetime, I have witnessed the effects of gentrification personally. I grew up in Prospect Heights and I have seen how evictions, deed theft, and unaffordable rents impact our community. As property owners get wealthier and wealthier, too many working class New York renters are getting left behind or pushed out. At the same time, public housing units in my district and across the State are in terrible disrepair and neglected by our politicians. We cannot allow New York to become a playground for the rich and powerful. High-quality housing is a human right, and I will fight tooth and nail to ensure that right for all New Yorkers.
I’m proud of our accomplishments in the Senate—especially in a state like New York that is politically dominated by real-estate and financial interests. Passing an eviction and foreclosure moratorium, and keeping it in place for two years, was no small feat. Nonetheless, there is so much more that we need to do. We can build and protect truly decommodified housing for our neighbors. New York is in the midst of an ongoing and accelerating housing crisis, and we need to act.
As State Senator, I will continue to fight to:
Strengthen Tenants’ Rights
Landlords have tremendous leverage and power over tenants in New York State, and they have every incentive to squeeze tenants to extract profits. The stranglehold that real-estate and finance interests have on our State is making a bad housing crisis much worse. For decades, developers in Brooklyn have pushed out long-term residents in a brutal process of gentrification. We are at a point where 50% of low income New Yorkers pay more than 50% of their income on rent. Recent reports indicate that landlords have raised rents by 25% from one year ago, with the average rental price in Manhattan hitting $5,000 per month in May 2022. At the same time, evictions are soaring, as landlords currently have the ability to evict tenants without any good cause whatsoever. What we are seeing now, with unaffordable rents and surging evictions, is simply the culmination of decades of policies that prioritize real estate profits over our communities.
Despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the Governor and Mayor pushed to allow the eviction and foreclosure moratorium in New York State to expire in early 2022. New York should not have allowed this moratorium, which has saved countless lives, to expire. However, now that the eviction moratorium has expired, it is critical that we pass the Good Cause Eviction bill to prevent needless evictions in our state and to restrict unjust rent increases. This past year, even as local “good cause eviction” laws have passed in some localities, the real-estate lobbyists in Albany have been working overtime to stop this legislation from becoming a statewide reality. They simply don’t want to have to show “good cause” to evict tenants.
Meanwhile, in New York City, real-estate friendly appointees to the Rent Guidelines Board have been pushing to increase rents for rent-regulated tenants by the largest amount in a decade. And although New York City enacted a Right to Counsel program to provide legal representation in housing cases, that program has been underfunded and is running out of attorneys to assist tenants.
The interests of the real-estate industry have been prioritized over the interests of tenants and communities for far too long. We have 92,000 homeless New Yorkers, and these policies clearly aren’t working. This year, my priorities include the following:
- Pass Good Cause Eviction. For years now, passing the “Good Cause Eviction” bill (S3082) has been one of my top priorities. This critical bill would prevent landlords from evicting tenants where they have no “good cause” to do so, and would give tenants the power to fight back against the astronomical rent hikes facing so many in my district.
- Establish a statewide Right to Counsel in eviction proceedings. In addition to providing legal rights to tenants, we need to make sure that those legal rights are respected. To that end, we can pass legislation (S6678C) that establishes a statewide Right to Counsel in eviction proceedings, and work to ensure that such programs are adequately funded. Over the past few decades, countless New York City tenants have been deprived of their homes without the benefit of legal counsel, forced to defend their rights against well-financed landlord attorneys. This is an obvious power imbalance that often leads to unjust (and illegal) outcomes. Many tenants are evicted where they would otherwise not be if they had competent legal representation. This began to change in 2017, when New York City enacted a legal Right to Counsel in eviction proceedings for households whose income falls below 200% of the federal poverty level. This law led to a dramatic increase in tenant representation in housing court. Whereas in 2013, only 1% of tenants were represented by counsel, that number had increased to 30% in 2018. This resulted in 29,000 fewer eviction proceedings being filed in 2018 compared to 2013. We know that this program works because, in 2018, 84% of tenants in New York City who were represented by Right to Counsel lawyers remained in their homes. Evictions in neighborhoods where Right to Counsel had been implemented dropped by nearly 30%. In light of the successes seen in New York City, Right to Counsel should be implemented—and fully funded—across New York State.
- Ban landlords from shifting their brokers’ fees onto tenants. The Housing Stability and Tenant Protection Act of 2019 (“HSTPA”) included numerous policy changes to protect tenants. Among those protections was a prohibition on charging real estate broker fees to tenants, which could be prohibitively expensive for working people, especially when combined with an application fee and a security deposit. The State issued guidance related to the HSTPA, which stated that brokers hired by landlords “cannot be compensated by the prospective tenant.” Well-funded real-estate brokers filed a lawsuit, and a judge in Albany, siding with the real-estate industry, struck down the ban in a decision that has been criticized in the press. In light of this bad judicial decision, we need to amend the Real Property Law once again by passing S6427, to make perfectly clear the HSTPA’s ban on broker fees, so that no judge can misinterpret the language again. This would save New York State’s millions of renters from incurring steep brokers’ fees simply to rent a home. If a landlord wants to hire a broker, the landlord should be the one to bear that cost.
Invest in Public and Social Housing for All
This past year, one of my top priorities has been to fully fund public housing. The decades of neglect and disinvestment from our federal, state, and city governments has been absolutely unacceptable. That is why I fought so hard alongside public housing tenants for federal and state aid to public housing. We need to maintain these units, and we don’t want our public housing tenants thrown out into the brutal and unaffordable private rental market at a time when rents are skyrocketing. This past year, I worked with the federal Congressional delegation to ensure that Congress included $40 billion for the New York City Public Housing Authority (NYCHA) in the “Build Back Better” legislation. I also fought against the cruel and unnecessary exclusion of NYCHA from the ERAP program (S8850). In the New York State budget, I also fought alongside my fellow Senators for $3.4 billion in capital funds and $2.8 billion in operating funds for NYCHA. Although it was heartbreaking to see the federal Build Back Better plan stall, and to meet resistance from the Governor’s office on funding public housing in the state budget, we did acquire $350 million for NYCHA capital repairs and renovation, $50 million for other public housing authorities for capital repairs and renovation, and $6.4 million for the statewide Public Housing Modernization Program. Next year, I will continue to fight for public housing, and to be a strong advocate for fully funded public housing, because this money is owed to our public housing tenants.
Although funding is the primary issue, it is not the only one. That is why, this past year, we passed legislation requiring a public database of open code violations at NYCHA (S72A) and to provide a searchable database of ticket numbers (S7859A). Both 311 and the New York City Department of Transportation provide updates on searchable ticket numbers, and there is no reason why NYCHA should not do the same.
This year, my priorities include the following measures to support public and social housing:
- Fully funding NYCHA and pushing back against privatization. It is essential that we fully fund NYCHA. Disinvestment and privatization are not solutions. For far too long, the city, state, and federal governments have failed to fulfill their commitments to NYCHA residents. I support fully funding public housing with the money that we have long owed to residents. I will work with our federal representatives to secure funding, and will also fight to include $3.4 billion in capital funding and $2.8 billion in operating funding in the state budget so that NYCHA can remain financially solvent, spend all budgeted capital, establish vocational resident training programs, support resident management, and address its unacceptable work order backlog. I will also fight against all forms of privatization of NYCHA, including the RAD/PACT conversions that Human Rights Watch has found leads to increased evictions.
- Increasing the value of foster youth rent subsidies. Decades ago, New York created a housing subsidy program to prevent homelessness and address housing instability for families and youth aging out of foster care. However, the rates for those housing subsidies have not been updated since the 1980s, meaning that they don’t currently do much to secure housing for these vulnerable populations. I introduced legislation (S5419B) that would increase these subsidies, and also index them to inflation so that we don’t end up in the same exact place years down the road. Especially now, with inflation and rising rents, we can’t leave these vulnerable populations behind. I’m proud that we were able to pass this bill through the Senate, but we will need to keep fighting next year because the Assembly failed to pass the bill.
- Enacting TOPA. When buildings are first put up for sale on the private markets, the tenants who live in the building and who are most directly impacted should have a say in the matter. The Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act (S3157) would do exactly that, allowing tenants to form a tenant association to bid on a building and democratically run it as a co-operative, a community land trust, or even converting it into public housing.
- Establishing HAVP. The Housing Access Voucher Program (S2804B) is a state-funded rental assistance program. Under this program, at least 50% of the rent-supplement program—administered through public housing authorities—would be dedicated to help homeless New Yorkers across the state find stable housing. The rest will go towards eviction prevention for households at risk of becoming homeless.
- Funding HONDA. As of today, approximately 92,000 New Yorkers are homeless. Last year, the legislature passed the Housing Our Neighbors with Dignity Act (HONDA) to create permanently affordable, low-income housing that can address this problem by converting vacant hotels and commercial real estate. However, if we want to see results we will need to fully fund the program.
- Expand access to and increase support for democratically controlled housing on community land trusts (S8265). Community land trusts (CLTs) are nonprofit, community-based organizations designed to ensure that the community, not developers, control the land. When landlords are negligent, mismanage buildings, harass tenants, and refuse to make repairs the buildings should be taken under control of the city or state and turned into social housing, such as resident-owned Housing Development Fund Corporation (HDFC) cooperatives.
Combat Gentrification in Our Communities
Rents rose in New York by a whopping 33% between January 2021 and January 2022, and they continue to skyrocket. This is unsustainable and amoral. We could have taken measures to restrict these increases, by restricting the Rent Guideline Board’s approval of rent increases for rent stabilized units, or by passing the Good Cause Eviction bill to provide market-rate tenants the ability to contest rent increases that are above either 3% or 150% of the U.S. Consumer Price Index. These measures would have made a meaningful difference, and we will return to this fight in the next legislative session. I will continue to fight for legislation to ensure that our homes remain within the hands of the people who built our community, and the Black and brown residents and homeowners who have the right to stay there. To do so we must:
- End tax breaks for developers. It was a good first step to let 421a, a property tax exemption that allows developers expire. That legislation allowed real-estate developers to skirt billions of dollars in property taxes, and create a large amount of unaffordable housing, in exchange for creating a small amount of affordable housing for a limited period of time. But there is still much more to be done. I strongly support a vacancy tax, which would penalize developers and landlords who seek higher profits by leaving properties empty. We should not be subsidizing wealthy developers, but should instead reclaim this revenue and reinvest it in NYCHA and other permanently affordable, socialized housing.
- End predatory development practices to protect long-term residents and small homeowners. In the neighborhoods of my district, small homeowners, particularly Black and brown homeowners, are being harassed daily by real-estate investors and solicitors to sell their property. This year, the Governor signed a bill to open a period of investigation and public comment into designating certain areas of Brooklyn a “Cease and Desist Zone” (S2929B) which would effectively allow homeowners to opt in to join a list that would prohibit them from being targeted by predatory solicitors and developers and aid in curbing the nuisance to Brooklyn homeowners and ever exacerbating gentrification trends in the borough.
- Enact a “flip tax” bill. Small homes are often purchased by investors and immediately resold for substantial profits in a practice known as “flipping.” I support enacting the flip tax bill (S5376), which would amend the NYC Administrative code to create a real property transfer tax to disincentivize real estate speculation (i.e., a “flip tax”) and provide a revenue stream for truly affordable housing in New York. This bill would provide certain exemptions for owners who convey property to a family member and owners who can demonstrate a financial hardship, which justifies conveying the property in less than or equal to two years.
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