13 Tenant Activists Arrested During Protest

Thirteen people were arrested Monday afternoon at a sit-in outside 250
Broadway, an office building in lower Manhattan that houses some New
York State Senate and Assembly offices. The sit-in was staged by
protesters angered by the state Senate's failure to pass rent-reform
legislation. Protesters blamed the failure on a key group of Democrats
in the Democrat-controlled Senate, including senators Pedro Espada,
Craig Johnson, and Carl Kruger.

"Democrats in name only must leave
the New York Senate. Democrats who act like Republicans—we must vote
them out of office," cried Councilwoman Letitia James, a Brooklyn
Democrat, at the noon rally that occurred before the sit-in.

Democrats who once promised to restore some of the tenants’ rights
rolled back under decades of a Republican-controlled state Senate have
failed to follow through, say tenant organizers.

"A couple of
renegade senators who are in the pockets of landlords are being allowed
to set the agenda,” said Mario Mazzoni, an organizer for the
Metropolitan Council on Housing and the Real Rent Reform Campaign – the
coalition of housing organizations, faith-based organizations, labor
unions, and advocacy groups that organized the rally. “They’re blocking
[rent reform] bills from coming to a vote—so we’re telling the senate
leadership to stop letting these corrupt members have the final say.”

The
bills that Mazzoni, Councilwoman James, and other tenants’ rights
advocates in the Real Rent Reform Campaign are lobbying for include
S-2237-A, which would repeal a “vacancy decontrol” law that they
contend has removed hundreds of thousands of the city’s affordable
housing apartments from rent and eviction protections, and S3326-B, a
bill that would extend rent stabilization to Section 8 and
Mitchell-Lama housing and prohibit landlords from increasing rent for
“unique or peculiar circumstances.”

Both bills were referred to
the Senate's Housing, Construction and Community Development Committee
early this year but neither has been brought to a vote. Real Rent
Reform Campaign organizers believe this to be due to intentional
stalling on the part of senators who have received contributions from
landlord associations.

“Individuals who would like to convert New
York City into a playground for the rich do not represent our
interests,” declared Councilwoman James.

A pastor from the
Jesuits of New York, Park Hallinan, was also present at the rally.
“This is not just a political issue,” he said. “This is a moral issue.”

Jan
Clausen, an organizer with the Prospect Lefferts Gardens Neighborhood
Association in Brooklyn, said that tenants in formerly rent regulated
apartments, some of whom have been living in the neighborhood for
upwards of twenty years, are being pushed out—“sometimes because of
rent increases that they just can’t handle, but also because of
landlords harassing the tenants whose rents are low, not giving them
adequate services, and sometimes calling them into housing court on
trumped up charges.”

Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, a Manhattan
Democrat, also attended the rally, and insisted that strong rent laws
are what make housing affordable and communities stable in New York.
“And that is what we are fighting for,” he said. “Affordable, stable
homes for all New Yorkers.”


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