Tick. Tick. Tick. Time is running out for a host of legislative reforms that find themselves excluded from the state budget before the Legislature adjourns Thursday. One of those reform bills is Good Cause legislation which while popular amongst the public, remains in legislative limbo and likely “doomed,” according to sources.
As anxiety for advocates of Good Cause has risen, so has pressure on state politicos at their less-active local borough offices.
Roughly 100 angered tenants marched from Foley Square to the Broadway offices of Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, where they strung garlands of keys on their office doors to symbolize the thousands of keys taken from families who have been evicted from their homes — for many, a last-ditch effort demanding state lawmakers to pass “Good Cause” eviction protections before the legislative session ends on June 2.
Organizers told the Bronx Times that the Assembly, in particular Heastie in his role as speaker, is “holding up” Good Cause legislation. The Bronx Times sent an inquiry to the Heastie’s office and are still awaiting comment.
The Good Cause bill would allow tenants to challenge exorbitant rent increases and unjust evictions in court. The law would require landlords to justify rent increases greater than 3% or 150% of the Consumer Price Index and let tenants fight the increases in court if a landlord attempted to evict a tenant for not paying the new, higher rent.
If a landlord wants to deny a lease renewal, they would need to be prepared to justify the decision before a judge. The legislation also would prevent arbitrary evictions for half of all renters in New York state, advocates say, and as many as 75% of tenants in some counties.
Eviction cases in New York City’s courtrooms are stockpiling, precipitated by the repeal of the state’s eviction moratorium on Jan. 15. There are about 220,000 pending eviction cases in the city — over half of which were filed during the pandemic — and nearly 600,000 households behind on rent, with tenants of color disproportionately impacted.
“In my district alone, we have lost 20% of our Black population in 10 years. With this critical legislation, we’re taking the necessary first step to guarantee all of our communities — and Black women who are disproportionately impacted by evictions — have the opportunity to live without the threat of being evicted by predatory landlords,” said Brooklyn Councilmember Crystal Hudson. “Good Cause Legislation puts forth a plan for protecting vulnerable tenants. Tenants need this reprieve and it’s our responsibility to make sure it passes.”
Opponents of the legislation contend that Good Cause would lead to higher property taxes while also negatively affecting the creation of affordable housing in the state.
And Friday’s “die-in” protest was too little, too late for demonstrators like Ana Reyes, who was evicted in March when she lost her job and her landlord increased her rent. But she feels public demonstrations are the only way that New Yorkers are being heard about their frustration with the systemic issues in the state.
“I feel like this is the only way we can be listened to,” Reyes, a Heastie constituent who lived in Williamsbridge. “My elected officials said he listens to his (constituents) but he didn’t support basic measures that would keep me and my family secure with a roof over our head.”
New York City is in a housing crisis as rents have soared 33% over the past year and evictions have surged back to pre-pandemic levels after the expiration of the state’s eviction moratorium in January. Evictions have stockpiled, especially in the Bronx, to the point where there are no lawyers left to represent low-income tenants.
For the third year in a row, the Bronx led the state in eviction filings, a percentage of household filings that went down to 2.1% in 2021, after rates hit 5.5% in 2020 and 13.2% in 2019.
Support for the Good Cause bill has ramped up as Thursday’s deadline looms, with more than 1,000 tenants descending on Albany last week to call for the legislation.
A Data for Progress poll released Monday showed that two-thirds of likely voters in New York state back Good Cause, with more than 60% of likely voters supporting the bill in every region of the state, including conservative and moderate-leaning regions like Long Island and the Hudson Valley.
Reach Robbie Sequeira at [email protected] or (718) 260-4599. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes