By Tamara Laine
Signaling a victory for housing advocates in New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed landmark legislation, after lawmakers passed a robust rent reform package on Friday. It was a historic moment for the 2.4 million NYC tenants living in rent-regulated housing.
New York City tenant struggles have long been a part of the cities ethos. Renters, pitted against landlords, have endured steep rent hikes, maintenance problems, gentrification and low vacancy.
Father Edward Mason, pastor of Our Lady of the Presentation, says that this issue particularly affects residents in Brooklyn. Now he says these new tougher protections will give “our people a lot more security and stability in their home.”
Social justice issues and accessible housing have long been at the heart of Father Mason’s mission. For decades he has been on the front lines of the fight for tenant’s rights. He sees the legislation as “an important step to stop the bleeding,” but said “the next step is to provide for the families that are already affected by the crisis.”
Even so, these laws may not go far enough to solve New York City’s housing crisis.
According to Charles McNally of the NYU Furman Center, over 50 percent of the New York City renters are “rent-burdened” or “severely rent-burdened,” meaning they pay 30 to 50 percent of their gross income on rent.
“What these bills don’t tackle is the housing shortage,” said McNally. He cited a lack of supply as one of the bigger issues facing NYC renters, stating that “this legislation is really treating symptoms.”
This, however, is an important first step for many housing advocates who have organized, protested, and even been arrested battling for tenant protections.
Emely Rodriguez, a youth organizer for Churches United For Fair Housing, understands housing instability first-hand. Her family lives in a restabilized home.
“There is always the scary feeling of what if they raise our rent too high,” she said, “what will happen?”
This is particularly unnerving to her now: her dad is losing his business after owning it for over two decades. “My father has owned this business for 25 years and now they are not giving him his lease again,” she told Currents News.
Her family’s business is being forced out, and she claims gentrification has a large role.
“On the outside, it looks like they are putting up big buildings, but in the end it’s not for us even though we’ve lived here for years we were just left here to rot.”
Experts who study the housing crisis say this legislation is a bandaid, not a cure. “As long as that demand is here you are going to have a crisis of cost,” said McNally.
From Albany to the five boroughs, tenants are celebrating a victory towards better tenant protections. But with the ink not yet dry on the new rent reform legislation, concerns continue to loom over many city renters.