Tag Archives: Urban Justice Center

Op-Ed: Rent laws protect tenants and preserve communities

By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com


In Joseph Strasburg’s editorial published on May 14, ”Rent rules hurt everyone,” he attacks Mayor de Blasio’s proposal to strengthen the rent laws and conveniently ignores all the facts about the New York City real estate market.

The facts show that what the mayor is proposing is exactly what is needed to save NYC’s largest stock of affordable housing. Landlords and their lobbyists have weakened rent laws for the past 20 years. Allowing landlords to have vacancy bonuses and rights to deregulate apartments has led to the loss of almost 300,000 affordable, rent-stabilized apartments.

In addition, vacancy deregulation creates an incentive for landlords to harass existing rent-stabilized tenants so that tenants move out, landlords increase rents and the apartment gets closer and closer to the threshold. Removing this incentive, as the mayor has proposed, is absolutely critical.

Mr. Strasburg also ignores the fact that rent increases proposed by the Rent Guidelines Board have overcompensated owners over the past 20 years. Rent increases by the board have resulted in a 34 percent increase in net operating income. Rents in rent-stabilized apartments have also increased at a pace that far exceeds the consumer price index in the past two decades.

He further ignores the fact that rent-stabilized tenants are low income, earning, on average, less than $40,000 per year. Strasburg also overlooks the fact that most of the rent-stabilized apartments are owned by large corporations, many of which engage in predatory tactics. If owners really do need increases, they should open their books.

Moreover, rent regulation is not just about protecting tenants from huge rent increases and market speculation — it is about preserving the stability of our neighborhoods.
Rent regulations give tenants the right to have their leases renewed and stay in their apartments, making a home to raise their children and grandchildren. Without this protection, the 2.5 million tenants who live in rent-stabilized apartments would worry about where they would live every time their lease expired — every one to two years.

This important protection allows tenants to confront landlords who violate the law by not providing basic services or harassing tenants with frivolous lawsuits or charging them illegal fees. It allows tenants to organize, to call 311, to take their landlords to court. Without this protection, many tenants would not organize or fight for their rights, and many more would live in substandard housing conditions.

This protection is good for all tenants at various income and rent levels.

Tenant representatives work hard to support rent subsidies for low-income tenants. However, that is only one solution to the affordability housing crisis we have in New York. More than 60,000 New Yorkers are homeless. More than 28,000 individuals and families are evicted each year, and approximately half of those evictions are from rent-stabilized apartments.
What tenants need right now is the end to vacancy deregulation, MCI reform, elimination of additional fees, a right to counsel in housing court and a rent freeze. This is essential for all New Yorkers.

Garcia is the deputy director of Community Action for Safe Apartments (CASA) and Epstein is director of the Community Development Project at the Urban Justice Center.


Free legal clinic services to be offered for NYCHA residents

| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer's office

NYCHA residents are getting a helping hand to make their lives easier.

The Safety Net Project of the Urban Justice Center and Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer launched free legal clinic services on Monday that will serve residents of the New York City Housing Authority.

“NYCHA residents deserve stability and the right to live in dignity,” said Van Bramer, who helped allocate $50,000 toward the services. “Through these services thousands of NYCHA residents will be given the legal resources they need to fight against wrongful evictions and poor living conditions that have plagued so many families for far too long.”

Known as the “NYCHA Dignity Campaign,’’ legal clinics will be made available to residents at the Jacob A. Riis Settlement House, located at 10-25 41st Ave., in the Queensbridge Houses on the first and third Tuesday of each month from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

On the second and fourth Friday of each month clinics will be available on the fourth-floor conference room at Councilman Donovan Richards’ Rockaway office located at 19-31 Mott Ave.

“This free service will be vital service for all NYCHA residents,” said April Simpson-Taylor, president of the Queensbridge Tenants Association. “A lot of the residents will use this service because of the issues they face with housing. Whether they are with repairs in apartments, pending evictions or termination of their leases, these free legal services will give a voice to residents when it comes to fighting for the issues they care deeply about.”

The clinics will be offered by a team of attorneys, advocates, researchers and operations staff who will provide help with public assistance benefits, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, shelter applications for homeless families and adult couples, and also public housing issues.

“I have nothing but great hope for this program and we hope it [goes] on to make the lives of NYCHA residents better,” Simpson-Taylor said.


South Asians step up for workers’ rights

| lguerre@queenscourier.com

Photo Courtesy Desis Rising Up & Moving

Low-wage South Asian workers in the city are suffering from human rights violations at their workplaces through discrimination, according to a new study.

The report, which is the first ever to focus on Asian immigrant workers, is the result of about 200 surveys conducted by Desis Rising Up & Moving (DRUM) and the Community Development Project (CDP) at the Urban Justice Center.

The findings were released at a press conference in DRUM’s office in Jackson Heights on July 18, and found that employees are consistently underpaid, earn less that industry averages, and experience harassment while working in hazardous conditions.

“It is distressing to learn that in this day and age employers are still not paying workers or are paying them below minimum wage,” said Councilmember Daniel Dromm, who is chair of the Immigration Committee.

After the conference, workers went out to the streets to drum up support with postcard signatures.

“I categorically state that we will not tolerate these crimes,” Dromm said. “In all work there is dignity. Workers must be treated with respect.”

The report highlighted that more than half of all survey respondents make less than minimum wage, and respondents make, on average, $5.03 less — sometimes as high as $16.43 less ­­— than the average New Yorker in the same occupation.

Two-thirds of domestic workers surveyed said they are not allowed to take breaks, while 95 percent have no health insurance and 75 percent can’t take any paid sick days. Also, one in five survey respondents reported workplace harassment.

DRUM officials say one of the reasons for the discriminatory treatment is because many of the laborers are illegal immigrants.

“Sometimes the employers blackmail us because we do not have papers, saying ‘If you do something I will call immigration,’” said a Bangladeshi retail worker at the conference.

South Asians comprise approximately 23 percent of the undocumented immigrant population in the city. With the new research they are poised to step forward to fight for rights.

DRUM plans to use stats from this report to foster South Asian workers’ rights locally, nationally and globally. Later this year, the organization plans to launch the Global South Asian Migrant Workers Alliance to bring together undocumented laborers from around the globe.

“As one of the fastest growing communities and one of the most targeted after 9/11, South Asian immigrant workers are speaking out to join a growing call for respect for labor and human rights,” Maulik said.