- CHARITY BENEFIT
In the cold and unforgiving months of December, members of the NYC housing movement got their feet wet, both literally and figuratively, with the Occupy Albany movement. On December 8th 2011, The Real Rent Reform (R3) Movement, a coalition including Goddard Riverside Family Council, Part of the Solution, West Side Neighborhood Alliance, Housing Conservation Coordinators, Community Voices Heard, Tenants & Neighbors, Interfaith Assembly on Homelessness and Housing, Peace Action-Manhattan and Grey Panthers-NYC, along with the Save Mitchell-Lama Housing campaign, rode into the state’s capital in hopes of putting pressure on Governor Andrew Cuomo to strengthen the state’s rent laws, enact fair taxation that produces enough revenue to fund social programs, education, health programs and human services, and ensure fair and independent redistricting of legislative seats. According to their fliers, there was also an asserted effort to save Section 8 housing. Much of their decision to join the Occupy movement seemed to come as a reaction to what many in the housing movement saw as the extension of New York Rent Laws under the faux banner of strengthening tenant’s rights.
Despite moves made by Andrew Cuomo and other lawmakers in Albany to make some improvements to strengthen New York State’s rent laws, those within the housing movement are quick to point out that the most corrosive aspects of the older laws, i.e. Vacancy Decontrol, still leads to the loss of rent regulated housing throughout the five boroughs. Those within R3 have often voiced their disappointment with Cuomo who has yet to preserve or strengthen Mitchell-Lama and Section 8 housing programs which are meant to serve lower income renters. Currently, there are an estimated 200,000 tenants who live in privately owned buildings that fall under these programs while another 200,000 reside in “public housing” (owned by the New York City Housing Authority and subsidized by the federal government) according to an article by the Met Council. The lists to get into these units are saturated with people who should expect to wait at least ten years before they are allowed to move into one of the 120,000 units.
The main threat to both Mitchell-Lama and Section 8 comes from landlords/ building owners who wish to opt out of subsidized mortgages and income limitations which pin them to these housing programs after 20 years. Building owners are allowed to pay off their mortgages along with other loans that they received by participating in the program before refinancing under a market rate mortgage, and the owner then has to pay their taxes in full. Once the process is finished, the building is no longer regulated but now is market rent. According Met Council, about 100,000 of these units have been lost over the past fifteen years.
The move towards a fairer tax system seeks to enact a progressive tax code which would increase what millionaires and billionaires pay every year. This would close the gap on the $4.5 billion dollars lost in revenue when the millionaire’s tax expired on December 31, 2011. The money would go towards public education, health care programs for the working class and human services. The State Senate allowed the tax to expire offering instead an “income tax overhaul” which creates a higher tax bracket for millionaires but will bring in far less than if the millionaire’s tax was simply extended. Some within the Occupy movement believe that this will lessen the tax burden on the wealthiest 1% while increasing pressure on less affluent New Yorkers to make up for lost revenue. This budget plan also cuts the payroll tax for the MTA and is expected to bring in about $1.6 billion according to the New York Times. The measure passed the state Senate 55-0.
The process of drawing district lines, as currently enacted by the state’s legislature and advised by the redistricting commission, is generally rife with gerrymandering and no small amount of corruption. Since whatever party controls the state government is in charge of redrawing the district maps, it is almost guaranteed that the district lines will be drawn to ensure the current majority keep their seats. There are now calls for the adoption of an independent commission to redraw district lines and they be free from political cronyism. The idea is to make elections fair. Governor Cuomo has stated he would veto any plan which would give one party an upper hand.
Only time will tell how Governor Cuomo will react to this tactic taken by the housing movement since he has already evicted members from Occupy Albany from the State owned park where many where staying, followed by mass arrests. Thanks to County District Attorney David Soares, however, protestors were allowed to stay in another park controlled by the city.
What is clear is that affordable housing has been hemorrhaging from all five boroughs at an alarming rate while housing groups are struggling to maintain support for some of the city’s most vulnerable tenants. It also has become clear that since City Council Speaker Christian Quinn is running for Mayor, she is forced to play both sides of the fence when it comes to appeasing tenants’ advocates and the real estate lobby.
Until next time…