It’s an annual tradition in Albany as old as the budget being late. First, the Assembly passes a raft of housing bills aimed at strengthening New York’s rent laws and protecting tenant rights. Then the Senate ignores them and the bills die before ever getting out of the chamber’s housing committee.
In years past, the overwhelmingly Democratic Assembly could blame Republicans who made no secret about their distaste for these laws. But last year, for the first time in more than 40 years, Democrats took control of the state senate and its committees. Assembly members and housing advocates thought there would finally be some action on these housing bills, which they believed would go a long way toward keeping the city’s housing affordable.
But with Bronx Senator Pedro Espada, Jr. in charge of the housing committee and receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars in support from pro-landlord lobbyists, it hasn’t worked out exactly how they planned.
Last year Espada flip-flopped numerous times on his support for several housing bills passed by the Assembly and championed by affordable housing and tenant advocates. In the end, he didn’t address any of them.
This year, Espada has pushed an alternative bill he says will preserve hundreds of thousands of affordable housing units, but that advocates say is completely unrealistic and basically a gift to the city’s wealthiest landlords. Vito Lopez, the head of the Assembly’s housing committee, told the Village Voice that the bill was “not something I find acceptable.”
Meanwhile, the other pro-tenant bills, many of them simple rule changes — like repealing vacancy decontrol of apartments renting for more than $2,000 a month; reducing the amount a landlord can hike up rents of vacant apartments; or limiting a landlord’s ability to recover a rent-regulated apartment for personal use — continue to languish.
“Tenants need strong laws in place that protect their rights and ensure they have affordable, safe places to live,” said Assemblyman Jeff Dinowitz in a statement announcing his chamber’s passage of the housing bills. “Without rent regulation — which prevents rapidly rising housing costs — working families would not be able to afford living in New York City.”
You can tell Dinowitz is getting a little exasperated.
“Last year, the senate did not pass any of these pro-tenant bills even with a Democratic majority for the first time in 40 years,” he said in the release. “I hope the senate finally acts this year and does the right thing for the people of New York.”