Williams, Suozzi push pro-tenant agenda ahead of primary

From left: US Assemblyman Thomas Suozzi, New York Governor Kathy Hochul and New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams (Getty Images, iStock/Photo Illustration by Steven Dilakian for The Real Deal )

Democratic candidates for public office have seized the final 24 hours before the primary election to align themselves with a political zeitgeist – protecting renters from landlords.

Governor Kathy Hochul’s challengers took the opportunity to distance themselves from the incumbent by presenting themselves as candidates for the people, not the owners.

Rep. Tom Suozzi, a Long Island centrist and Hochul’s closest competitor, appeared Monday afternoon outside NYCHA headquarters in midtown Manhattan to lament the state of the public housing stock, criticize a Hochul-approved plan to reform it and support tenants’ cries to avoid privatization.

Hours earlier, Coney Island Assemblyman Mathylde Frontus had rallied against an example of this scourge at NYCHA’s O’Dwyer Gardens complex. Flanked by tenants, Frontus demanded that gas service be restored to the long underserved property.

And the day began with a 9 a.m. protest at Flatbush Gardens apartments in central Brooklyn, where public attorney Jumaane Williams, another Hochul challenger, joined a spokesperson for State Senator Kevin Parker. – also seeking another term – to speak out against the dismal living conditions he has blamed. Action Clipper.

In a city where two-thirds of the constituency rents, the candidates’ events represented an eleventh-hour bid to draw votes from the city’s large pool of Democratic voters.

Their strategy? Affirm the issues tenant advocates have raised at Defcon 1 in recent months.

Market rate tenants who have struggled to pay throughout the pandemic have seen rents soar by as much as 40%. Meanwhile, the stabilized tenant increase has been set at 3.25% for one-year leases renewed on or after October 1, a hike deemed unaffordable by their advocates. This is their biggest increase since 2013.

And dozens of NYCHA tenants are tired of waiting for the city to fix the long-beleaguered public housing stock, though a bailout is well underway and another was passed this month.

At the Flatbush Gardens rally, residents of the largely rent-stabilized apartment complex described the irony of paying more and getting less.

“Rents have just increased from 3.25% to 5% for a two-year lease. Salaries are not increasing; services are declining,” said a member of the Flatbush Gardens Tenant Association.

Farah Louis, a member of the Flatbush Council, broadcast the complaints of tenants by megaphone: collapsing ceilings, mold-covered walls, rats in the hallways.

“We have a management team that wouldn’t even go to the discount store to buy Fabuloso so our buildings wouldn’t stink,” the tenant member added, referring to the budget cleaner.

Williams stepped in midway through the conference to offer solutions and tout his advocacy track record.

“The first building I ever organized as a tenant advocate was this building here,” Williams said. “I’m so upset that decades later we have a new name but some of the same issues.”

Williams said he called David Bitricer, CEO of building management firm Clipper Equity that morning, but got no answer. Clipper Equity also did not return The Real Deal’s request for comment.

“We better hear from her or we should probably organize people to stop paying their rent until we get the necessary repairs done,” Williams announced to applause.

Williams, the most progressive of the three Democratic gubernatorial candidates, built his campaign in part on isolating tenants from “predatory landlords” by pushing policies such as eviction for a good cause. The legislation did not pass in Albany last session.

For most of 2022, Hochul has remained silent on the bill, distinguishing between tenants and the real estate industry, a group that has filled her campaign with millions of dollars.

But as primary day approached with a comfortable lead in the polls, the governor became more vocal, telling the New York Times that she does not support deportation for a good cause because she is “very concerned about the small owner”. She also promised attendees of the New York Real Estate Board gala that she would help the industry.

Williams’ appearance alongside the Tenants on Monday was a final attempt to distinguish himself as the antithesis of Hochul.

Suozzi took a more direct approach. He used his mic time Monday to tackle a bill that Hochul signed into law this month to fund part of the $40 billion in repairs needed at NYCHA’s 172,000 apartments.

The legislation created the New York City Public Housing Preservation Trust, a way to tap Section 8 grants — a more reliable and plentiful source of federal capital than NYCHA’s usual Section 9. The trust could issue bonds, borrowing from the Section 8 revenue stream, to potentially cover billions in reparations.

Some NYCHA tenants, however, have bristled at any plan to allow a third party to invest in social housing. After Hochul established the trust, a group of residents wrote in a City Limits op-ed that the bill faced “fierce and unwavering opposition from residents” because the program was based on “mechanisms of debt financing for repairs that would prioritize creditors and debt servicing. residents and community needs.

Similarly, residents have protested the Rental Assistance Demonstration or RAD program, which has handed the management of some NYCHA properties to private developers, arguing that the Obama administration’s program line the pockets of corporations and includes few incentives to make repairs. But others called it a tremendous success, and the city scaled it.

Suozzi has aligned himself with dissidents, supporting groups such as Save Section 9 that have pledged to keep private interests out of NYCHA.

“NYCHA residents do not support this legislation and it should not have been passed without their input,” Suozzi said, rebutting Hochul’s praise for the program during a June 16 debate.

However, Suozzi did not present an alternative to NYCHA funding. A spokesperson for Suozzi’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

A closer look at Suozzi’s positions on housing shows that he is far more industry-friendly than one might guess from his event on Monday.

In the same June 16 debate, Suozzi dodged a question about how he would “help people struggling with high rent,” instead emphasizing needed NYCHA reforms and criticizing the governor’s spending.

The Long Islander was also candid about the need to roll back some provisions of the pro-tenant Rent Act of 2019.

“I think it doesn’t work,” Suozzi said in an interview with The real deal, explaining that landlords need a way to get the city’s 42,000 vacant stabilized homes back online. Allowing landlords to reset rents for vacant units, as suggested by the Community Housing Improvement Program landlords group, would be one solution.

In the same interview, Suozzi said he “absolutely” does not support eviction for cause, a policy that would offer tenants protection in Housing Court if their rent is increased by 3% or 1.5%. times the rate of inflation, whichever is greater.

“I get worried when I hear stories about people’s rents going up 50%, 100% or more in a short period of time and we need to figure out what we can do using market principles,” Suozzi said. “But I’m afraid that this deportation for a good cause will not lead to more problems.”

But whether Monday’s rallies were vote grabs or shows of genuine support, they are unlikely to make much of a difference in the outcome. Last week, Hochul led Williams and Suozzi by more than 30 points.

The cries of tenants may be loud, but in this race real estate money speaks louder.

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