Monday, March 30, 2009

Landlord Lobby Rules The Day In Albany

Democrats may officially have control in Albany but that doesn't mean reform on all the key issues will immediately be coming down the pike. While Rockefeller Drug Law reform last week was a huge victory, translating that into upsets for tenants over landlords is a whole other matter. The prison industrial-complex lobby could not overcome the demand for a change in the drug laws but the landlords and their minions in Albany knew how to cover the board with more than a million dollars in cash and prizes, meaning that tenant rights' organizations will most likely fall short in their goals this year and lose faith in the nascent Democratic majority in the state senate. What people should be paying close attention to is who getting what.

From The Gothamist:

The Daily News notes that Brooklyn Senator Carl Kruger, who has 40,000 rent-stabilized units in his district, took in $27,700 from landlord lobbyists, and has yet to take a position on the issue. Groups like Tenants PAC are working to change the vacancy decontrol laws that landlords have exploited to take thousands of apartments out of the rent-stabilized system. Under the current laws, they can do this if rents reach $2,000 a month and household income exceeds $175,000, or if renovations on a vacant apartment require raising the rent above $2,000.

Though the Assembly has passed 10 rent reform bills since November, reform in the Senate is tied up in committee, just like in the Republican era! Pedro Espada, chairman of the housing committee, opposes reform because he says it would just help the affluent: "If we rubber-stamp the Working Families Party housing agenda, we would virtually provide protections for people who earn $175,000 or more annually — which is essentially a Manhattan-based constituency."

Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal finds Espada's argument specious, noting that far fewer units (4,223) are decontrolled because their occupants earn $175,000 a year, compared with the 70,000-plus decontrolled by becoming vacant. Many tenants in rent-stabilized apartments complain that landlords pressure them to leave so they can make renovations and get out of the rent stabilization system; that's why the City Council passed the Tenant Protection Act last March. Rosenthal tells the News, "This has nothing to do with the rich. This is about a calamity for people of middle-income means. "It’s not a Manhattan issue. That’s what landlords are saying."

The landlords will say whatever they have to in order to keep the status quo as it is. For decades now a Republican state Senate has given them all they want and more. Landlords will go after the amoral Democrats in order to thwart the will of the new, but slim majority and then some. The Gang of Three/Four are certainly a part of their strategy and the actions of those Senators reflects the lobby's power. This shouldn't mean tenants should turn apathetic about the new majority though. It is a sign that not only do we need Democrats in control, but that better Democrats need to replace those that so willing to sell out their constituencies for a campaign contribution.