Housing activists, Bronx pols set 2023 state housing priorities

protestors hold signs
Housing Justice for All advocates rally in front of Gov. Kathy Hochul’s Manhattan office on Thursday.
Photo courtesy Housing Justice for All

Housing justice advocates across the state rallied on Thursday to call attention to their legislative priorities for 2023, which includes five bills that have the backing of Bronx politicians.

The Housing Justice for All advocacy group’s announcement on Thursday came in conjunction with 30 groups across the state, including the Northwest Bronx Communities and Clergy Coalition, and 23 state lawmakers, including Bronx Assemblymembers Karines Reyes and Amanda Septimo, though several Bronx politicians are listed as sponsors on the bills.

Reyes, a Parkchester Progressive, told the Bronx Times that the policy changes would go a long way in the Bronx, where housing is one of the biggest issues impacting residents.

“We have a serious housing crisis,” Reyes said. “ …. And we have a lot of people that are living in substandard conditions. So we are doing the best we can from a policy lens to ensure that people have adequate housing that is dignified, that they can continue to stay in the communities that they’ve lived in and known for years without being displaced.”

Advocates gathered in front of Gov. Kathy Hochul’s Manhattan office and in Albany, Rochester and Newburgh.

The package of bills, called the Our Homes, Our Power, incorporates three bills that were considered this year and two bills that will be introduced in the coming weeks.

All three of the existing bills had the sponsorship of Bronx state Senators Jamaal Bailey, Alessandra Biaggi and Gustavo Rivera, as well as Bronx Assemblymembers Reyes, Chantel Jackson, Kenny Burgos and Jeffrey Dinowitz. The other two bills had support from several other Bronx pols.

One of the new bills, called the Emergency Tenant Protection Act and Rent Guidelines Board Reforms, would require the New York City Rent Guidelines Board to take more variables into account when determining how much rents will increase for rent-controlled and rent-stabilized apartments.

The other new measure, called the Social Housing Development Authority bill, would create a statewide agency with the power to build and preserve high-quality affordable housing across the state, such as Co-op City. The buildings would be publicly funded and allow residents to “exert democratic control” over their homes, according to the advocacy group.

Advocates also emphasized their support for the Good Cause Eviction bill, a hot-button effort that goes back to 2019 and would require landlords to justify rent increases larger than 3% or 150% of the Consumer Price Index. The bill also allows tenants to challenge evictions that may be arbitrary, retaliatory or discriminatory.

protestors hold signs
Housing Justice for All advocates rally in front of Gov. Kathy Hochul’s Manhattan office on Thursday. Photo courtesy Housing Justice for All

Protestors in the spring blamed Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, as well as Majority Leader Andrew Stewart-Cousins for the bill not moving forward, which never left the judiciary committee.

Another bill that didn’t succeed this year was the Housing Access Voucher Program, which would establish a housing voucher program that provides rental assistance to New Yorkers who are homeless or face an imminent loss of housing.

The bill passed the housing committees in the state Senate and Assembly, and had the support of housing justice advocates as well as the real estate industry. It moved onto the state Senate Finance Committee and Assembly Ways and Means Committee in February but didn’t progress further.

Finding the money to pay for the effort has been an obstacle for the bill, according to Reyes.

Lastly, the Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act, which also didn’t leave committee this year, would allow tenants to buy the buildings they live in when it’s put up for sale. It is aimed at preserving affordable housing by allowing tenants to own or continue renting where they live.

Tenants could own the building as a cooperative, turn it into public housing or work with a nonprofit to maintain affordable housing, according to Housing Justice for All.

The Opportunity to Purchase and Good Cause Eviction bills have faced opposition from landlords who are concerned about losing their autonomy to choose who they rent to, though eviction proceedings would still be an option for those with good reason, Reyes said.

But there were also concerns with the pandemic eviction moratorium when it was proposed, though it garnered enough support to pass, Dinowitz said.

“We’ve done so much the past few years on behalf of tenants, that each new thing we try to do gets a little bit harder because we’ve gone so far,” the Riverdale Democrat told the Bronx Times. “But we still need to do more, because right now there is a huge housing affordability crisis.”

Reach Aliya Schneider at aschneider@schnepsmedia.com or (718) 260-4597. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes