Protesters rally for universal rent control in Bushwick

Protesters rally for universal rent control in Bushwick
Photo by Kevin Duggan

State politicians must enact so-called universal rent control, protesters demanded at a march in Bushwick Thursday.

More than one hundred demonstrators rallied in support of a slate of bills making their way through the Albany legislature by Democrats aiming to renew and expand rent regulations, before New York’s rent laws expire this June.

The bills aim to close loopholes for rent-stabilized tenants and expand their existing protections to all private tenants in the state, which will make housing safer for vulnerable New Yorkers, according to one protestor and housing activist who received a 30-day eviction notice to leave her Bushwick apartment by the end of April.

“I do not understand how we have created a system that makes it normal to harass tenants and put them out onto the streets. My family, like five million other renters, needs support in the form of legal protection,” said Mireya Vega, who is also a member of the tenants rights advocacy group Make the Road New York, which organized the march down the north Brooklyn neighborhood’s Knickerbocker Avenue terminating at her apartment building at Flushing Avenue.

The organization is part of a statewide coalition called the Upstate Downstate Housing Alliance, which lobbies politicians of both houses to enact nine pieces of legislation before the June 15 deadline.

The bills, which aim to bolster protections for currently-stabilized tenants, include laws to stop landlords from deregulating those apartments if the rent of a unit surpasses $2,733 a month or if the occupant leaves.

These tenants have several protections under the current rent laws, such as prohibiting evictions without good cause and limiting rent increases to somewhere between 0-2.5 percent, as determined annually by each city board.

These regulations only apply to buildings with six or more units, but several gentrifying neighborhoods – such as Bushwick and East New York – have a housing stock with mostly smaller buildings, according to the Alliance.

One local state pol who has been vocal on housing said that this creates an arbitrary discrepancy of rights which favors the landowners over tenants, as is the case with Vega’s impending eviction.

“For no other reason than that it is a smaller building, they are excluded from the protections of rent regulations,” said state Sen. Julia Salazar (D-Bushwick). “Our rent laws advantage property owners over tenants.”

The legislator in March introduced a bill which would prohibit landlords from evicting a tenant or not renewing their lease without good cause, such as the tenant not paying their rent, substantially violating their lease terms, or if the landlord or someone in their immediate family want to move into the apartment.

Salazar said that her bill was just one of many that she and her fellow pols upstate will have to make law in order to wrest power from landlords and make the city more affordable.

“Our housing crisis is like a sinking boat with many holes in it,” she said.

One protestor said that she saw her community forced out of neighboring Williamsburg due to a loosely-regulated real estate market and now fears that the same will happen in Bushwick.

“I used to work in Bushwick for 28 years and I know the situation,” said Maria Cortes. “We are losing the neighborhood, we are losing everything and we have the right to live over here, New York is our home and we want to stay in New York.”

Reach reporter Kevin Duggan at (718) 260–2511 or by e-mail at kduggan@cnglocal.com. Follow him on Twitter @kduggan16.