Tenants’ rights coalition announces 2020 legislative priorities

Members of the Ridgewood Tenants Union marched to demand protections for renters last year. A coalition of more than 70 tenants’ rights groups have unveiled their priorities for the next legislative session.  Eagle  photo by David Brand.

Members of the Ridgewood Tenants Union marched to demand protections for renters last year. A coalition of more than 70 tenants’ rights groups have unveiled their priorities for the next legislative session. Eagle photo by David Brand.

By David Brand

The last state legislative session resulted in landmark protections for tenants across New York — closing rent-stabilization loopholes while expanding and providing specific eviction protections. This year, tenants’ rights advocates want to ensure New Yorkers have even more power to remain in their homes amid rising homelessness and skyrocketing rents.

The Housing Justice For All campaign, a statewide coalition of more than 70 organizations, on Wednesday announced its legislative agenda, which prioritizes a subsidy for people at risk of becoming homeless, a bill that gives renters the right to renew their leases and deeper investments in public housing.

“The same tenants that won landmark rent protections last June are back to fight for more, until every person in this state has an affordable place they can call home and live with dignity,” said Winsome Pendergrass, tenant leader with New York Communities for Change, one of the coalition members. 

The Home Stability Support program, an initiative championed by Queens Assemblymember Andrew Hevesi since 2016, is one of the legislative priorities. The HSS bill would create a rent supplement for New Yorkers who are eligible for public assistance benefits and who face eviction or loss of housing due to domestic violence or dangerous living conditions. 

Legal Aid Society staff attorney Ellen Davidson said HSS is particularly important for stemming the homeless crisis in Queens and elsewhere in New York City, where 60,106 people — including 21,756 children — stayed in a homeless shelter on Oct. 15, according to the most recent daily census report from the Department of Homeless Services. Tens of thousands of New Yorkers are at risk for becoming homeless because they are rent-burdened, meaning they spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing. 

“The idea of providing housing subsidies for the poorest New Yorkers to live in homes instead of homeless shelters is incredibly important,” said Davidson, who serves in Legal Aid’s Law Reform Unit.

“The upstate-downstate housing alliance is coming off a pretty significant win for tenants from last year but we didn’t win everything on our agenda,” she added.

Davidson said the coalition will also advocate for the Good Cause Eviction, which prevents landlords from evicting tenants or not renewing their leases in buildings with less than six units unless they can prove to the judge that they have “good cause” for the eviction. “Tenants deserve continued tenure as long as they’re good tenants,” she said.

The law would provide protections for tenants in 163,000 apartments across Queens, wrote Sateesh Nori, attorney-in-charge of the Queens Civil Practice at The Legal Aid Society, in a May op-ed for the Eagle.

The coalition also calls on the state to increase funding for public housing, including a $2 billion annual fund for NYCHA, which is in a state of severe disrepair. 

“I've been a New York City public housing resident for over thirty years, and I have seen how decades of disinvestment at the federal, state, and city level has hurt public housing residents,” said Rose Fernandez, member-leader of the organization Community Voices Heard, who has lived in public housing for more than 30 years. “I — and thousands of others — suffer from poor health due to the poor living conditions in public housing,”

“I know this fight is not just mine. We have to address the root causes of housing injustice,” Fernandez continued. “The idea is simple: in the richest country in the world, we can and we must guarantee that everyone has a safe, sustainable, healthy and truly affordable home.”