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'Cuomo, We're at War!' Brooklyn Tenants Demand Rent Control

Fair housing activists joined residents in Brooklyn and across the country to march against the loss of affordable units.
Yadira Dumet from St. Nick’s Alliance, part of Housing Justice for All, leads a march. Photo: Alex Williamson for BK Reader

On Wednesday, tenants and housing advocates held a Housing Justice for All rally in Williamsburg. The marchers protested rising rents causing the gentrification and mass displacement in Brooklyn, and called for enhanced protections for tenants across New York state.

"Cuomo, escucha! Estamos en la lucha!" the marchers chanted in Spanish. "Cuomo, listen! We are at war!"

Members of Make the Road NY, St. Nicks Alliance, The Democratic Socialists of America and Churches United for Fair Housing led the march, joined by representatives from Bushwick State Senator Julia Salazar and City Council Member Antonio Reynoso's offices.

Housing Justice for All, BK Reader
Emily Rodriguez from Churches United for Fair Housing addresses the crowd outside of 296-298 North 8th Street. Photo courtesy of Housing Justice for All

The Emergency Tenant Protection Act, the state's rent stabilization laws, is due to expire in June. Activists hope to use the opportunity to expand tenant rights and to remove what they consider loopholes which some landlords use to take advantage of renters.

"It's too easy to raise the rent to a point where the apartment becomes deregulated," said housing organizer Alex Lee.

The Housing Justice For All platform, a coalition of tenants, homeless individuals and housing advocates, calls for universal rent control across New York State, the removal of clauses which allow landlords to hike rents after major capital improvements and doing away with ETPA's "vacancy bonus" —- a loophole allowing landlords to raise rents by 20 percent when an apartment becomes vacant.

"It's an incentive for landlords to push people out by using every trick in the book to raise their rents," said Alex Lee, housing organizer for the Cooper Square Committee about the vacancy bonus. "It's too easy to raise the rent to a point where the apartment becomes deregulated."

Housing Justice for All March, Cooper Square Committee, BK Reader
Alex Lee (left) and Jodie Leidecker from the Cooper Square Committee.

The protestors marched from Macri Triangle to two nearby apartment buildings at 296 and 298 North 8th Street, buildings owned by Ink Property Group, where the majority of residents have been pushed out. According to tenant Virginia Morales, the buildings have been neglected and the four remaining residents are dealing with cockroaches, mice and broken windows, while surrounded by upscale apartment buildings.

"Housing is a right," said Ramon Pebenito, a representative for Senator Salazar. "It's time to write this right into the books of law."

"It only seems to be people of color who are targeted by these bad policies," said Emily Rodriguez from Churches United for Fair Housing. "It's not fair looking up at these huge, luxury buildings and knowing it's not for me."

Other housing marches and actions took place simultaneously in Albany, Chicago and California. Activists also delivered a "Rent Control Now" petition with over 2,700 signatures to Governor Cuomo's office on Wednesday.

"Housing is a right," said Ramon Pebenito who represented Senator Salazar. "It's time to write this right into the books of law."