On Tuesday May 17, I was arrested while protesting because renters across New York State, especially in my neighborhood of Flatbush, are under immense pressure, and we have been for years. The pressure we’re under leads to tremendous instability — not just for households, but for families, neighborhoods and cities. Let me explain.
In 2020, a family member, whom we will call Joe, moved into an apartment he rented in Bed-Stuy. Just a few months later, he was informed that the building was being sold and that he had to leave or face eviction, even though there was a statewide moratorium on evictions at the time. Joe is a green card holder, and even if he might have won an eviction case in court, as an immigrant, he did not want to risk involving ICE in this situation.
Distraught and upset with the prospect of being homeless, he called my wife to ask if we could assist him in finding a place to lay his head. So in January of last year, he moved into the living room of the apartment I share with my wife and two daughters. Joe was never able to recover his security deposit. He stayed with us until October when he had saved enough money for a new apartment. We love our family and were happy to help, but the situation should never have come to this; tenants deserve the right to remain in their homes.
This story is not unique. While out canvassing, I often hear similar experiences from the people in my district. They’ve had to live in substandard and crowded conditions at predatory prices. Longterm residents are forced out of the neighborhoods they grew up in, and away from their existing communities and support networks. People who can stay in their neighborhoods can often only do so because they’re sleeping at a relative’s house or have other kinds of family support. Working class people are having to move farther and farther away from transit, their jobs, and their families.
This is true in Flatbush and across the city. There simply is not enough affordable housing. This is a problem in and of itself, but what adds insult to injury is that landlords across the state take advantage of this situation. They know that there are no consequences for their egregious actions. When renters do not have any other options, property owners know they can raise the rent by twenty, fifty, even one hundred percent and get away with doing so because demand for an availability for apartments is high for renters.
People are caught between a rock and a hard place because they do not want to move away from their support systems, namely: the community they have come to love, their friends, family, neighborhood and community. Also the cost of finding a new place is often exorbitant. These are some of the staggering rent increases we’ve seen across New York City in the past few months.
There are some programs for low-income families, but the resources available cannot keep up with the need. When my wife was pregnant with our first child in 2015, I was driving 40 hours per week for Uber as well as working as a community health worker. Despite working two jobs and applying for over fifty different apartments through the housing lotteries and Section 8, we didn’t hear back from any apartments we qualified for until December of 2021. Of course, since then we had two children, and a one-bedroom is now too crowded for our family.
While New Yorkers absolutely need more affordable housing to be made available, we can also protect renters by keeping people in their homes.
This session, there was a bill introduced in Albany that would give all renter families in the state the right to remain in their homes, and stop landlords from taking advantage of the precarious situation renters are in: Good Cause Eviction. The bill, sponsored by State Senator Julia Salazar, would give renters the right to renew their leases with reasonable rent increases. In doing so, it would block the unjust evictions that happen as a result of egregious rent hikes.
When people get rent hikes of twenty or fifty percent, they often rightly ask, “This must be illegal, right?” They have the right idea — it should be illegal — but until we pass Good Cause Eviction, those types of egregious rent hikes will be legal, and landlords will continue to exploit the lack of affordable housing.
The impact of these practices falls not only on families who rent, but also families who own their homes. When renters are displaced from the neighborhood it creates neighborhood churn as landlords constantly cycle through renter family after renter family. As homeowners in Flatbush know, a key ingredient that makes neighborhoods strong and resilient is stability — something homeowners have, but most renters do not.
Another benefit for neighborhoods, and even homeowners, is that Good Cause would discourage much of the housing speculation that occurs across the city. Without the ability to cycle through family after family, short-term “flipping” practices wouldn’t make as much sense. Instead, we could encourage the long-term investments in quality, affordable housing that our neighborhood deserves.
Unfortunately, Good Cause Eviction didn’t pass this session. While some members of the legislature fought hard for it, it’s common for senators and assemblymembers to take significant contributions from the real estate lobby, who want Good Cause Eviction kicked to the dustbin. But tenants will keep fighting — and they need legislators who aren’t beholden to corporate cash on their side.
We can have a neighborhood where all families — renters and homeowners — have the right to remain in their homes, where we have abundant, affordable housing, and where speculation and churn are replaced by stability. I’m running for state Senate to represent Flatbush, to pass Good Cause Eviction, and to make this better future a reality.
David Alexis is a longtime East Flatbush resident, a community organizer and a working father of two. He is running against longtime incumbent Kevin Parker for the Democratic nomination in State Senate District 21, which includes the neighborhoods of Flatbush, East Flatbush, Midwood, Ditmas Park, Kensington, Flatlands, Bergen Beach, and Mill Basin.