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State Senator Julia Salazar introduced a bill that would cap annual rent increase by no more than 150% of the consumer price index. We speak to Sen. Salazar about the proposal

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SHARMINI PERIES: It’s The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries, coming to you from Baltimore.

Our next guest, in an interview with Jacobin magazine last year, said: “My earliest experience organizing was my own building. I lived in a building in Harlem that was owned and run by an abusive neglectful management company that wouldn’t adequately heat the building in the winter, and failed to make urgent repairs that were necessary to make tenants’ apartments livable. I was 21 with no legal training, but I went on the city’s website, determined we could legally withhold our rent. So I talked to my roommates and my neighbors, and we organized a rent strike. We withheld our rent for three months.”

Now joining me is the woman behind that story, New York Senator Julia Salazar. Welcome to The Real News, Senator.

JULIA SALAZAR: Thank you, Sharmini.

SHARMINI PERIES: All right, Senator. Between 2010 and 2018, New York City’s rent increased by 31 percent. That speaks for itself in terms of why it’s necessary to have a bill like the one you’re introducing, but tell us why you think it’s necessary.

JULIA SALAZAR: Absolutely. As you alluded to, rents are rising still at a completely unsustainable rate across New York City. And actually, even in many cities across the state beyond New York City. Increasingly, tenants upstate and downstate are are very rent burdened, and it’s because of a lack of rent regulation. It’s also because of policies statewide that are deregulatory, that really favor landlords and developers over tenants. And the result is that thousands of people in my own community and and all over New York are being displaced every year, including families who have been here for a long time.

It’s really important that we finally take this opportunity. In June we have a deadline to either renew the rent regulations, the rent laws, in New York State and in the state legislature, or we can pass stronger rent laws to finally protect tenants, allow more people to stay in their homes, and to try to put an end to this really harmful affordable housing crisis.

SHARMINI PERIES: And so tell us about, then, Senator, the protections that your bill is proposing over and beyond the existing one.

JULIA SALAZAR: Currently only tenants who live within the rent regulation system in a rent stabilized apartment and enjoy true rent protections. Most tenants could, on renewal of their lease, be denied a lease renewal. And landlords can use many different tactics, such as the need to make repairs, as an excuse to increase their rent, and also to even destabilize currently stabilized rents to push more people out of the system permanently.

It’s really important that we pass this bill. This bill refers to something called a–referring to it as the “good cause eviction” bill. What it would require is that in order for a landlord to increase the rent an unconscionable amount, which we define as more than 150 percent of the consumer price index of the municipality, in order for a landlord to increase the rent above that threshold, they would have to show–legally have to show good cause, otherwise the tenant is entitled to a renewal lease. So it really would offer protection to the countless tenants who live outside of the the rent regulation system right now, and it would allow more people to stay in their homes.

SHARMINI PERIES: Senator, the irony in all of this is that the poorer neighborhoods in which people can least afford steeper rents were the ones experiencing the highest rent increases, and wealthier neighborhoods in New York City, many of them didn’t get the same kind of increases. Rent stabilization is an important regulation to have. Is that enough? Or are people getting or using various loopholes to get through that stabilization regulation, and will your new bill protect tenants from that?

JULIA SALAZAR: Absolutely. The current rent stabilization system is not at all enough. There are many loopholes. One commonly referred to is the preferential rent loophole, for example. It allows a landlord to sort of lure tenants in initially with a more reasonable rent, a rent that they can afford, that is lower than what is referred to as the legal maximum rent. And then after a certain amount of time determined by the landlord, at their will, they will on the lease renewal increase the rent by often an enormous amount, hundreds of dollars per month. That is, effectively evicts the tenant, and displaces people.

So that’s just one example of one of the problems that landlords take advantage of. And additionally, often when landlords take advantage of other things–[one called] MCI-induced increases rate that I referred to, in which the landlord justifies a huge rent increase because the his repairs are needed. Those are also removing apartments from the rent stabilized system altogether. And so with this loss of rent stabilized housing stock, it’s all the more important that we extend regulation and protections to tenants who live outside of it. And that’s the importance of this good cause eviction bill. It would cover apartments that are currently by definition excluded from the rent stabilization system because they are fewer than five units. And that’s also really important for tenants across the state because they currently don’t–outside of New York City there’s virtually no regulation and protections for tenants.

SHARMINI PERIES: All right, Senator, so how is this bill being received by the state legislature?

JULIA SALAZAR: So far–so I introduced the bill less than two weeks ago. And so far that received really positive reception. I think that people are aware that this–we can’t continue to do the same thing that we’ve always done, and we can’t continue to just allow landlords and the real estate lobby to do whatever they like. People, legislators are seeing the harm that this is causing their communities. And I think additionally, after this recent election cycle, legislators are, Democratic legislators, are really emboldened. We know that when people, when New Yorkers demonstrate that they need something, that they want something, as the housing justice movement is demonstrating to us right now, that we have an obligation to respond. And not only do we have an obligation to respond and fight for our tenants and the people who elected us, but additionally we know that this is our true base of support, as we are bringing more people into the electoral process and expanding our democracy so that more people can participate. And instead of instead of relying on or seeking any support from the real estate lobby.

SHARMINI PERIES: And I assume that the biggest counterpoint you’re going to receive is that somehow this kind of legislation would put the brakes on urban development, that it would of course reduce the value of the houses that they have currently. And many people who buy in New York, New York City in particular, is kind of banking on it as an investment that would have a huge increase within a short period of time. So how do you respond to those concerns?

JULIA SALAZAR: Yeah, I think, first of all, we’ve seen property values only increasing in New York. And I think it’s a mess and unrealistic to think that this is going–that implementing a common sense rent regulation will universally affect property values or even have any detrimental impact on homeowners. I think that most importantly we need to consider that most New Yorkers are tenants, and are not big property owners, right. And those are the people we really need to be fighting for. We shouldn’t be in the business of advocating for the wealthy few in the 1 percent. We have a responsibility to fight for tenants, even when that displeases property owners, and even when it does–even in situations where it is a threat to the profit margin of a developer or a landlord.

SHARMINI PERIES: All right, Senator, I thank you so much for joining us. And we’ll certainly follow and track this bill as it goes through its process in the legislature, and I wish you all the best with it on behalf of all the people who are renters in New York.

JULIA SALAZAR: Thank you very much, Sharmini.

SHARMINI PERIES: And thank you for joining us here on The Real News Network.

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Sharmini Peries was a co-founder of TRNN, where she harnessed the power and expertise of civil society institutions. Previously, Sharmini was Economic and Trade Adviser to President Hugo Chavez at Miraflores and for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Venezuela. Prior to that she served as the executive director of the following institutions: The Commission on Systemic Racism in the Criminal Justice System, The International Freedom of Expression Exchange, Canadian Journalists for Free Expression, and the Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants. She also managed the Human Rights Code Review Task Force in Ontario, Canada. She holds a M.A. in Economics from York University in Toronto, Canada. Her Ph.D. studies in Social and Political Thought at York University remain incomplete (ABD).