The Power of Persistence in New York City’s Fight for Affordable Housing

The crowd of tenants was growing raucous in Cooper Union’s Great Hall in lower Manhattan on June 29. On stage, a long table awaited members of New York City’s Rent Guidelines Board, or RGB, which had been set to vote on rent adjustments for rent-stabilized apartments an hour earlier. The tenants – many of whom were donning matching shirts and waving signs calling for a rent rollback – seemed unconcerned with the delay, filling the time with chants in English and Spanish. One stood out as particularly accurate: “Cuomo betrayed us! The RGB can save us!”

Thanks to the 1971 Urstadt Law, New York State, rather than New York City, controls the city’s rent laws, which expired on June 15. These laws include vacancy decontrol, which allows rent-stabilized apartments to be destabilized once they are vacant and the rent reaches a certain threshold. However, the city does have one means of managing its rent-stabilized apartments: the RGB, which votes on yearly rent increases for stabilized apartments. This year’s vote was scheduled for late-June. The combination of the rent laws expiring and the RGB vote resulted in a period of heightened mobilization for tenant organizations and provided an opportunity for them to come together to pressure both the city and the state in two separate but related struggles.

By the end of the day on June 15, there was no agreement on a rent-law renewal plan in Albany, the state’s capital. The laws expired at midnight, impacting more than one million rent-stabilized apartments throughout the city. Three days later, on June 18, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced a five-day extension of the rent regulations to give state legislators more time to agree on a deal. They reached a tentative agreement at the end of the five days and it became law on June 25. The final package, nicknamed “the Big Ugly” by tenant advocates, extends the rent…

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