Housing Activists March on Wall St. to Demand Tenants Rights

Tenant power in the city mounts; calls grow for the passage of the Good Cause Eviction bill.

Lachlan Hyatt Apr 24, 2022

Demanding housing justice and more affordable rent in the city, around 150 activists and organizers rallied and marched on Wall Street on Thursday, April 21.

The demonstrators called for expanded eviction protections for tenants, an end to tax breaks that sanction luxury real estate developments, and for the city and state to further invest in affordable housing.

“Our goal is to make sure that housing is a human right, make sure that everybody’s housed,” said Ibrahif Ayu, a VOCAL-NY organizer who has struggled with homelessness since losing his job in the pandemic. “We are demanding that the politicians right now take notice of our issues and stop talking around the issues.” 

As part of the Housing Justice for All Coalition (HJ4A), activists from advocacy organizations like VOCAL-NY, New Immigrant Community Empowerment (NICE), Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM), as well as tenant rights organizations like the Metropolitan Council on Housing, St. Nicks Alliance and United Tenants-Los Sures, gathered in Bowling Green Park on Thursday evening to kick off the raucous demonstrations. 

The group blocked traffic around Lower Manhattan as they marched to the Community Housing Improvement Program (CHIP) headquarters, a longstanding organization that supports the interests of property owners in New York. Activists then marched and rallied at the Rent Stabilization Agency office downtown, an organization that “works tirelessly to protect the real estate industry from anti-owner legislation and harmful regulation,” says its website. 

Housing-justice advocates say the tax-break program facilitates NYC’s housing crisis and that the $1.7 billion that would be gained in tax revenue if the program ends should be directly invested into affordable housing.

At the top of the activists’ list of demands was for the New York state government to pass the Good Cause Eviction bill. The bill would limit viable paths landlords can use to evict tenants and eliminate unjust evictions based on arbitrary rent increases.

“Good Cause Eviction would make it so that every tenant across the state, with a few small exceptions, is guaranteed the right to lease renewals and it would tie increases basically to the rate of the inflation,” said Andrew Hiller, an organizer with NYC-DSA. “What that would do is give a sense of security for people who’ve been on a year-to-year lease. They can plan to stay in their communities and feel secure in their homes.”

Another key demand put forth at Thursday’s demonstration is that for New York to let the 421-a tax break expire in June, as is scheduled, and to not let a new version of the tax program pass in the New York State legislature.

Currently, the 421-a tax program provides a tax break to real-estate developers that include middle-income units in buildings — while marketed as “affordable housing,” these units are often only accessible for families making six figures, and loopholes in the program allow for some buildings to be constructed without any affordable units at all. Housing-justice advocates say the tax-break program facilitates NYC’s housing crisis and that the $1.7 billion that would be gained in tax revenue if the program ends should be directly invested into affordable housing.

“We don’t want the landlords to get any more tax breaks,” said Dorca Reynoso, a tenant organizer with the Metropolitan Council on Housing. “They need to pay their taxes, just like we do, and that money could be used to solve this problem. The people that are suffering are getting blamed for the violence. They’re getting victimized and when people are getting victimized and they go through all this hardship, that creates violence.” 

Earlier this year, Governor Hochul proposed the 485-w tax program to replace 421-a but the attempt was met with fierce backlash from the HJ4A Coalition, the members of which demonstrated on the state capitol during budget negotiations earlier this month, and the newly proposed tax break failed to make it into the budget for fiscal year 2022.

“For us, it’s basically lipstick on a pig,” said Mr. Hiller about the 485-w program.

Also present at the rally were members of the CAAAV Organizing Asian Communities. The group is organizing opposition against the construction of two megatowers in the Two Bridges neighborhood. Opponents of the construction argue the luxury towers will displace longtime residents of Chinatown and negatively impact quality of life for those who stay. CAAAV members point to the development as an example of how the 421-a program, which the towers’ developer Joe Chetrit is rushing to take advantage of, hurts lower-income communities to serve the rich.

Thursday’s event also came as the city faces a surge in evictions since the state’s eviction memorandum expired in January. In March, there were 8,987 evictions in NYC, the most since the pandemic began in March 2020 The uptick in evictions exacerbates problems in this city’s housing courts. The courts are rolling through cases at a rate that denies tenants’ right to legal counsel — understaffed and overwhelmed legal aid organizations cannot provide housing lawyers at the rate at which cases are mounting.

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