Six inches of snow and sleet didn’t deter hundreds of tenants from across New York City and state from marching up Wall Street Thursday night demanding stronger protections for low-income tenants.
“I’m here to tell you what’s going on upstate!” yelled Barbara Rivera, a 30-year-old seamstress from Rochester, who drove six hours with fifteen of her neighbors to march and address the crowd. “The ceiling in my building fell on my daughter. By the grace of god she was not hurt. Other tenants are living with mold… we have rats, you name it. And when we brought it to the attention of our property manager, he said, ‘If you don’t like it, get out.’”
Thursday’s rally was organized by the Upstate Downstate Housing Alliance, a coalition of thirteen tenant and homeless advocacy groups. Their goal is to cast the housing crisis as a statewide issue and pressure Governor Andrew Cuomo to bolster and expand rent protections, despite his long-standing record of accepting money from powerful real-estate interests.
Currently, counties outside of New York City and neighboring Westchester, Suffolk and Nassau cannot legally opt in to rent stabilization; tenants don’t have the right to a lease renewal, or incremental rent increases, or housing court. The alliance hopes to expand these rights statewide in addition to eliminating loopholes, including vacancy decontrol, that have contributed to the siphoning of hundreds of thousands of New York City’s stabilized apartments since the mid-1990s.
Josefina Ventura, a rent-stabilized tenant from Washington Heights, told Gothamist that she’s met with many upstate tenants recently. “It’s horrible, I tell you,” she said. “Because at least here we can go to housing court and fight to keep a home. But in different cities they can’t go nowhere.”
Strategically scheduled eight months to the day before the state’s rent-stabilization laws are set to expire, Thursday’s march gained new significance this week after Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio jointly announced their closed-door negotiations with Amazon. Many fear the corporate behemoth, wooed to the city with billions of dollars in incentives, will drive up rents and increase speculation and displacement, further exacerbate the city’s existing housing crisis.
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