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Op-ed: 200,000 tenants deserve better this MLK Day

activists march against eviction moratorium with signs on brooklyn bridge
Tenants and activists walked across the Brooklyn Bridge to Manhattan Housing Court as they called for Gov. Hochul to extend the state eviction moratorium, which is set to end on Jan. 15.
Photo by Adrian Childress

To celebrate Martin Luther King Day, State Leadership in Albany has decided to let the eviction moratorium lapse and put nearly a quarter of a million households at risk of displacement. This is hardly a way to honor the legacy of the democratic socialist organizer and force behind what became the Fair Housing Act of 1968. 

For the last several months, constituents have called my office every day fearful of what would happen on Jan. 15, when the eviction moratorium expired. The Black and brown immigrant New Yorkers who have called my district home for decades are afraid because so many are not protected from eviction by New York’s rent stabilization laws. They are parents, small business owners, and unregulated renters: families who, once their lease is up, are vulnerable to harassment and enormous rent hikes. Many of my neighbors, come Jan. 15, will learn their landlord is evicting them as retaliation for a request for repairs, retaliation for an arbitrary interaction, or for no reason at all.

Evictions are discriminatory with the greatest impact falling on Black and brown New Yorkers. For unregulated renters, landlords can take them to court or evict them for discriminatory reasons: their family make-up, their source of income, or yes — even the color of their skin. This blatant discrimination is supposed to be illegal, but in courts across New York State, landlords do not have to give any reason to pursue eviction at all, allowing their unscrupulous behavior to continue unchecked.

Good Cause Eviction would protect against this. Sometimes called the “Right to Remain,” it would protect people from this fate by providing most tenants in New York State with legal protections against no-fault evictions. It’s so important to my district, which is both home to 14,000 unregulated renter households and one of the most rapidly gentrifying parts of the City. Without good cause, my neighbors have no protection against landlord retaliation and unreasonable rent increases that ultimately displace tenants.We know that many landlords use a steep rent increase as a way of effectively pursuing an arbitrary and unjustified eviction. Good Cause would prevent that: requiring that landlords give a reason or “Good Cause” in order to evict and to justify large rent increases. 

Good Cause is so important not just for renters, but for entire neighborhoods. Research has shown us that just one forced removal from a home can kick off a cycle of displacement and instability that can be difficult to end. When one person suffers from unsafe or unstable housing in a classroom or in a workplace, the whole community suffers. The overall impact of evictions on our communities is impossible to account for, but between the financial and social displacement impacts, and the impacts on health and education, the costs are astronomical. 

I know this first hand. I became a State Assemblymember after decades as a renter and housing organizer in Sunset Park. I have experienced the unnecessary suffering and trauma that evictions can inflict, especially upon Black, brown, and immigrant communities. Like so many other immigrant households in New York, my family moved to the U.S. from Peru when I was a child. In 2006 after 30 years of living in the same apartment, we were evicted by a predatory landlord. This was incredibly destabilizing to my life in a time when I was already vulnerable, raising my daughter on my own. In the aftermath of that loss I dedicated over 10 years to building tenant power right here in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. That work helped allow for the passage of the historic 2019 rent reform laws, a fight that continues now in our effort to enact Good Cause. 

As the eviction moratorium expires, Good Cause is a fair and balanced approach that appeals to every sensibility. It would allow landlords to recoup investments in their properties and tenants to fairly navigate the lease renewal and eviction process. It would improve living conditions, as tenants would be able to proactively use code-enforcement systems without the fear of retaliation. It’s also politically popular: over 80 percent of New York democrats support it.

But Albany has to act now to avoid a mass eviction crisis and displacement of our communities in New York State. Nearly 4 million New Yorkers would benefit from the added protections provided under Good Cause – something that is so necessary in the face of rapidly rising rents, record-high homelessness, and sustained unemployment. I was devastated to leave Albany this week, with the threat of the moratorium expiring and without the chance to speak to my colleagues about Good Cause Eviction. My neighborhood of working class, Black and brown immigrants like myself needs leadership and permanent housing solutions. I am calling on Gov. Hochul to make passing Good Cause protections as soon as possible a priority, and that is why I call on my colleagues in the state legislature to sign onto this legislation today. 

Assemblymember Marcela Mitaynes represents the 51st Assembly District which includes the neighborhoods of Red Hook, Sunset Park, and northern Bay Ridge. Born in Peru, Marcela has been a tenant organizer in her community with Neighbors Helping Neighbors for more than 10 years. Read more here.

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