City Agrees to Divest From Fossil Fuels + NYC Rent Laws

Local News

  • City Comptroller Scott Stringer has agreed to divest the City’s pension funds from fossil fuels, about $5 billion out of a total $189 billion. The announcement is a major victory for divestment advocates and could lead to a ripple effect across the country. Mayor de Blasio also announced plans to sue big oil companies to pay reparations for the City’s Hurricane Sandy recovery effort. The State government is currently exploring fossil fuel divestment but has not yet made any firm commitments.
  • There were 22,000 renter complaints about lack of heat or hot water during the cold snap, including many directed at NYCHA. Public Advocate Letitia James faced a deluge of letters from public housing residents whose heating systems have not been properly maintained.
  • Newly elected City Council Speaker Corey Johnson has handed out key positions to allies of Representative Hakeem Jeffries (NY-8), including making Laurie Cumbo (District 35, Crown Heights) Majority Leader, Robert Cornegy (District 36, Bed Stuy) Chair of the Housing and Buildings Committee, and Chaim Deutsch (District 48, Brighton Beach) Chair of the Jewish Caucus. Johnson also appointed Ritchie Torres (District 15, Central Bronx) to head a new investigative unit that will look into the operations of city agencies.
  • City Council Speaker Corey Johnson has directed Council Member Carlos Menchaca (District 38, Red Hook, Sunset Park) to form a City Council task force “dedicated to monitoring the progress of the proposed Brooklyn Queens Connector” (BQX). Menchaca has expressed skepticism of the developer-backed BQX, stating he is worried that the project would further exacerbate gentrification in his district. City officials have cast doubt on the economic feasibility of the project.
  • Assembly Member Pamela Harris (District 46, Bay Ridge, Coney Island) was arraigned in federal court on Tuesday for a number of charges including fraud and witness tampering. Prosecutors alleged that Harris stole thousands of dollars of government funding meant to help victims of Superstorm Sandy. Assembly Member Harris is the second 46th Assembly District representative in a row to be indicted for fraud. The nonprofit that Harris ran, and allegedly pocketed money from, received almost $200,000 in taxpayer dollars from her close ally, Council Member Mark Treyger (District 47, Coney Island).
  • The Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, a major police union, is suing the NYPD over its release of body camera footage, claiming that doing so violates the officers’ civil rights and the public’s privacy.
  • De Blasio scheduled a last-minute hearing for the new, watered down Right to Know Act on Monday, while many police reform activists were at the memorial service for Erica Garner.
  • A former staffer for IDC Leader Jeff Klein has accused the State Senator of forcibly kissing her in 2015. Klein has denied the accusations. The State Senate Majority Leader, John Flanagan (R, Long Island), has said the matter does not fall under the Senate’s jurisdiction, but Gov. Cuomo is calling for an investigation.
  • The State Department of Corrections enacted extremely restrictive policies surrounding package delivery to inmates, but Cuomo reversed the rules after widespread outcry.
  • Hope House, an organization that provides transitional housing to formerly incarcerated women, has failed to open a home in Castle Hill in the South Bronx due to community backlash. A town hall meeting that may determine the program’s future is scheduled for January 18.
  • Fast Food Justice, an organizing group for NYC fast food workers, announced that it organized 1200 workers in response to a recently passed City Council law that allows workers to deduct dues from their paychecks to nonprofit advocacy organizations similar to labor unions.
  • De Blasio’s statue commission decided not to take down any of New York City’s monuments, settling instead to add historical context to statues like the one of Christopher Columbus at Columbus Circle.

Elections

  • The New York State Republican Party has so far failed to recruit any high-profile statewide challengers to Governor Cuomo or Senator Gillibrand for November’s election, which could spell disaster for down ballot Congressional and State Legislative GOP candidates.
  • Council Member Jumaane Williams (District 45, Flatbush) intends to run for Lieutenant Governor this fall.

In-Depth: NYC RENT LAWS

New York City has some of the most expansive rent regulation in the country, which enables low-income households and people of color to continue living in an ever gentrifying city. However, tenants are constantly battling with landlords and developers as the real estate industry seeks to diminish their rights. This battle will come to a head on June 15, 2019 when the New York State Rent Laws are set to expire, leaving millions of New Yorkers at risk of losing the rent regulation protections provided under the current laws.

The rent laws determine several aspects of rent regulation, particularly how a landlord can deregulate an apartment. Deregulation occurs when the monthly rent is increased to a rent threshold, which is currently set at $2,733.75. Once the apartment meets this threshold, it is deregulated and becomes a market rate apartment, which means the landlord can charge whatever they want without concern for affordability.

Currently, the law has several loopholes that make it easy for landlords to meet this threshold. For instance, a landlord can increase the rent by 20 percent each time a tenant moves out, making it much easier to meet the deregulation threshold. Advocates and some progressive lawmakers have tried to end this process, otherwise known as vacancy decontrol, but have so far been unsuccessful in the face of pervasive real estate lobbying. Such laws encourage landlords to harass tenants and allow apartments to fall into disrepair in hopes the tenants will move out. This has far reaching implications: mold, as well as rat and roach infestations lead to higher instances of asthma and other health conditions, particularly among communities of color. As a result of deregulation, thousands of rent-regulated apartments have been lost over the years.

There is no doubt that the real estate industry will be fighting hard to eliminate tenant protections and increase their own profits. However, the upcoming expiration of the rent laws is also a great opportunity to expand tenants’ rights and close loopholes. In 2015 (the last time the rent laws expired), the State passed new ones which increased the deregulation threshold each year at the same rate set by the Rent Guidelines Board for one-year lease increases. This was an improvement, as the deregulation threshold had previously remained the same each year, while rents increased. This fall’s State Legislative elections and the resulting balance of power in the State Senate (which in 2015 was controlled by Republicans and the IDC) will have a major effect on next year’s rent law negotiations.

The Housing Working Groups of NYC-DSA are committed to removing the profit motive from housing and moving toward a world without private property. Our homes are a basic human need to keep us warm in the winter, to shelter us from the rain, to provide a place for families and communities to come together. Our homes should not be a means for a small group of people to reap profits by providing housing only to those willing to pay the highest price, and denying it to those who can’t afford it. The NYC-DSA Housing Working Groups are currently gearing up to fight the battle over the rent laws by launching a tenant organizing campaign to build power among tenants. We demand universal rent control in 2019! And through tenant organizing, rent regulated tenants can come together to confront their landlords and demand rent laws that put people before profits.

We have an upcoming tenant organizing training on February 10th. To get involved, email Cea Weaver at cea.weaver@gmail.com

Contribute to The Thorn

We welcome submissions of in-depth articles, comics and illustrations from anyone in DSA. Whether you want to write for us or just know of stories we should be covering, please get in touch.

Subscribe to The Thorn

The Thorn is a weekly update on what's happening in local New York politics from a socialist perspective. Please sign up with us to receive an email every Monday morning.