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Locals React to Rent Law Impasse

IMAG0153Khristopher J. Brooks A sign created by advocates for new rent laws.

As the hours tick by and criticism mounts, state lawmakers have not settled on a renewal plan for New York City rent laws.

Legislators in Albany allowed the law to expire Wednesday night and they’re now in extra innings trying to develop a solution that satisfies both Assembly Democrats and Senate Republicans. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has said that he wants the law renewed in some form before the 2011 legislative session ends Monday.

Meanwhile, local tenants and tenant advocacy groups in our neighborhood are anxious to find out what will happen. They’re constantly checking news Web sites, e-mailing their contacts in the Capitol and taking their protest efforts to a higher level. Here’s some local reaction to the deliberations in Albany.

Steve Herrick
Executive Director
Cooper Square Committee

“I think it’s not surprising that it’s come down to the wire again because the Republicans have the majority in the Senate and so they have a little more leeway there, but luckily we have Gov. Cuomo on our side. Tenants are going to continue calling Cuomo and telling him they appreciate what he’s doing, but he has to continue to apply some pressure.”
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Locals Join Albany Rent Law Protest

Albany Rent Law Rally 1Khristopher J. Brooks Protesters at the rally.

ALBANY — Hundreds of New York City residents, including 33 from the East Village, converged on the state Capitol Building Monday trying to urge state lawmakers to renew and tweak the laws that govern apartment rent prices.

Leaders of the Cooper Square Committee, Real Rent Reform and Good Old Lower East Side, organized the rally, which muscled its way into the building, past legislators, up steps and eventually to the office of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.

Shouting “Fight! Fight! Fight! Housing is right!” the rally participants started on the fourth floor and then moved to whichever other corridor could accommodate them. They made noise, blew whistles, waved posters, banged on doors and clogged hallways.

“Right now, in Albany, our presence and our demands are being heard more than ever, more than I can ever remember,” said Wasim Lone, housing services director for Good Old Lower East Side.

At issue is how and at what rate landlords should be allowed to raise rent in future years. In its current form, the rent laws allow New York City landlords to dramatically increase the rent of a property immediately after a tenant has moved out. This practice, known as “vacancy decontrol” has resulted in roughly 300,000 empty rental units across New York City, said Marina Metalios, 48, a volunteer with Real Rent Reform.
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A Bus Trip to Back New Rent Laws

IMG_0158Khristopher J. Brooks The committee is an organizer of the trip.

Leaders of the Cooper Square Committee and the Good Old Lower East Side are organizing a free bus trip to Albany Monday so East Villagers can speak out in favor of changes to New York City rent laws.

“We’re planning to have a rally inside the Capitol,” said Georgina Christ, housing chairperson for Cooper Square Committee. “We’re just gonna make noise and try to talk to the elected officials.”

At issue is how and at what rate landlords will be allowed to raise rent in future years. Rent prices are a particularly hot-button issue for locals since the East Village is the home of some of the city’s most expensive rental properties.

As the law stands, Ms. Christ said, landlords are allowed to dramatically raise the rent of a property after a tenant has moved out, a practice known as “vacancy decontrol” that prevents future tenants from paying the same price for rent. Wasim Lone, the housing services director for Good Old Lower East Side, said vacancy decontrol is responsible for tens of thousands of vacant units around the East Village and the Lower East Side.
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Budget Cuts Put Senior Centers At Risk

Lunch at WaldRachel Ohm Lunch is served at Lillian Wald Senior Center on Avenue D on a recent afternoon. In the last year the number of lunches served at Wald has doubled to accommodate the closure of the nearby Jacob Riis Senior Center. “We don’t have enough chairs,” said Betsy Jacobson, the center’s director.

Earlier this month, the Department of the Aging released a list of 105 senior centers in the city that may be closing this year because of proposed budget cuts in Albany.

This could mean an influx of older New Yorkers into centers that remain open, fewer resources and less accessibility to services for those without transportation.

Last year, the city slated Lillian Wald Senior Center on Avenue D for closing, but it has remained open with funding from Community Council District 2 and private donations. To accommodate older East Villagers from Jacob Riis, another neighborhood center that closed, the 25 meals a day that Wald was serving last year has now more than doubled to around 50 to 55. Wald is now the only senior center in Alphabet City. “We don’t have enough chairs,” said Betsy Jacobson, the director of Wald. “We have people standing and eating and our numbers are probably going to continue to grow.”
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