By Julie Shapiro
CITY HALL — More than 200 tenants and activists packed the steps of City Hall Monday night to call on Gov. Andrew Cuomo to support stronger rent protections.
New York City has lost more than 300,000 rent-protected apartments in the past 16 years because of loopholes in the rent laws, said the Real Rent Reform Campaign, which organized Monday’s rally.
"We have a crisis on our hands," said Vito Lopez, chairman of the Assembly’s Housing Committee.
The tenant advocates also called on the state Assembly and Senate to renew the current rent protection laws that are scheduled to sunset on June 15. Without those laws, rent stabilization and rent control in the city would cease to exist.
The first step toward a solution is for the state Legislature to renew the rent protections before June, Lopez said. He predicted that the renewal bill would pass the Democratic Assembly by mid-February, but it will then face a harder test in the Republican-controlled State Senate.
"It may be more of an uphill battle [in the Senate]," State Sen. Bill Perkins said. "But we will fight nonetheless."
Council Speaker Christine Quinn said a renewal of rent protections is just the beginning. She also wants the state to repeal vacancy decontrol, which allows landlords to deregulate rent-stabilized apartments once tenants move out.
"We are always at best only going to be running in place…until we strengthen [the laws]," Quinn said.
Holding candles and huddled together for warmth, the crowd used the brief breaks between speakers to chant, "Hey hey, ho ho, decontrol has got to go!" and "Fight, fight, fight! Housing is a right!"
Several of the speakers summarized their remarks in Spanish for the diverse activists who came from all over the city.
Perkins said it was important for the group to stay united if they are going to prevail.
"This is not just an ideological fight," he said. "This is about all of us."