With Democrats claiming the majority in the New York State Senate for the first time in a decade, progressives are hopeful that bread-and-butter causes affecting working-class New Yorkers will finally be at the legislative forefront.
From single-payer health care to funding for education and passing criminal justice reform packages, the blue wave is poised to unstick legislation stalled in the Senate because of bipartisan clashes. Protecting New Yorkers from unjust evictions, rent increases and seizure of property are top Democratic priorities, with calls for expanded rent control and the elimination of MCI-induced rent increases.
The Brooklyn senators now charged with making the blue shift stick include two newly-minted elects, Senators Julia Salazar (District 18) and Zellnor Myrie (District 20), as well as incumbents Kevin Parker (District 21), Velmanette Montgomery (District 25) and Roxanne Persaud (District 19).
In a victory not unlike the landslide win by Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez against 10-term Congressman Joe Crowley, Salazar, a 27-year-old Latina, beat out eight-term incumbent Sen. Martin Malave Dilan, who has represented Greenpoint, Williamsburg, Bushwick and Cypress Hills since 2003.
“It challenges so much of what I grew up with,” said Salazar. “Growing up I didn’t see many women, especially women of color, in elected office. And that’s radically changing.”
A longtime community organizer inspired to run for office because of the affordable housing crisis, Salazar is raring to introduce a policy package to replace existing rent laws set to expire in June 2019.
“I want to introduce legislation around just cause evictions,” said Salazar. “In order to evict a tenant, the burden would be on the landlord or management company to prove that there’s a just cause for seeking to evict a tenant or raise their rent.”
In addition to sunsetting MCI-induced rent increases, in which tenants bear the cost of capital improvements made to their apartments through hiked rents, Salazar is pushing for universal rent control and a tenant’s rights platform that includes the right for all renters to renew a lease, and protections against rent hikes and harassment.
“What we really want is for all tenants to have the protection they need to be able to stay in their homes, not be facing housing insecurity and eviction,” Salazar explained.
Meanwhile, Myrie’s victory against incumbent Sen. Jesse Hamilton, who represented Crown Heights, Brownsville and East Flatbush since 2015, might bode a more united front amongst progressive and moderate Democrats. One of eight senators who caucused with Republicans through the Independent Democratic Conference, Hamilton was accused of accepting contributions from real estate lobbyists and blocking progressive legislation. Myrie, on the other hand, helped write the first Tenants’ Bill of Rights protecting renters from unscrupulous landlords. One of his priorities is to repeal the Urstadt law, which caps rent stabilization in NYC.
For nine-term Sen. Parker, who represents East Flatbush, Flatbush, Midwood, Ditmas Park, Kensington, Park Slope, Windsor Terrace and Borough Park, the Democratic majority in the Senate represents an opportunity to reallocate resources to Black and Latino communities.
“This gives us an ability to right some of those wrongs and create a balance in the budget in which Black and Latino communities across the state are now getting the resources they need, because up until this point most of them have been underrepresented,” said Parker.
Last month, he introduced the Jeremiah’s law, a bill designed to protect children from false 911 calls after the “Cornerstore Caroline” incident occurred, in which Flatbush resident Teresa Klein falsely accused 9-year-old Jeremiah Harvey of groping her.
In addition to championing sustainable energy causes and calling for one million households in New York to use solar panels by 2023, Parker also advocates for stricter gun control and has proposed legislation requiring those who apply for a gun license to undergo a social media history review that scours for red flags like hate speech. If the bill passes, applicants would have to provide access to their Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter and Instagram, and their Google, Yahoo and Bing searches.
“It’s something we can do to make sure that we are not giving gun licenses to people who should not have them,” said Parker.
The state senators will return to Albany for the new legislative session on January 9, lead for the first time by a woman, the newly appointed Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins.