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[New York Housing News]
New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams continues his fight for rent reforms and tenant protections...
Photo: NYC Public Advocate

New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, above third from right, at a Buffalo rent regulation forum...

This week, New York City Public Advocate Jumaane D. Williams concluded a tour of upstate cities to rally support for rent reforms and tenant protections. Williams did this as Albany lawmakers consider a package of nine bills to renew and expand rent regulations ahead of the June 15th deadline. The legislative push has been driven forward by a grassroots advocacy and coalition of activists from across the state.

"The need for affordable housing, for tenant protections, for strong rent laws, is not an upstate or downstate issue" said Williams on his tour. "From Brooklyn to Buffalo, tenants are crying out for reform and relief. I've been a tenant organizer and housing advocate for decades, and I'm glad to join the advocates who have worked tirelessly for months and years pushing for change around New York in calling on Albany to get it done for New Yorkers and deliver housing justice for all."

In the first stop on his tour, the Public Advocate met with a group of New Paltz elected officials on Tuesday, including the Mayor and Deputy Mayor, Town Supervisor and Deputy Town Supervisor, among others. Their discussion focused on the common problems and common goals of different areas of the state related to housing and tenant protections. New Paltz has a significant percentage of residents who rent, in part due to the large population of college students. An issue highlighted by the local officials was the lack of knowledge students have about their rights as tenants, or adequate ability and opportunity to exercise them. The leaders further discussed ways that localities can supplement or spur state action with local laws enhancing tenant protections.

On Tuesday, Williams also joined hundreds of advocates in Albany in a rally and civil disobedience action outside the legislative chambers and Governor's office in the Capitol, which led to the arrest of 61 activists including the Public Advocate. The majority of the demonstrators arrested were charged with disorderly conduct. Chanting "They think it's a game, they think it's a joke - fight, fight, fight!" among other call and responses. Williams and the advocacy groups marched through the Million Dollar Staircase and hallways of the Capitol before sitting down and refusing to allow access to the Governor's office. Following the action, State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins announced that there was sufficient support in the body to pass all nine priority pieces of legislation, but votes have yet to take place.

The Public Advocate then returned to the Mid-Hudson Valley on Thursday to speak with tenants at the Lakeshore Villas apartment complex in Port Ewen, just outside Kingston, NY. Kingston tenants discussed the recent massive displacement of tenants after a gas leak and the failure of the management company to adequately respond and provide accommodations for those displaced. Joined by Citizen Action of New York and the Kingston Tenants' Union, they also discussed additional issues of landlord neglect, evictions, and a failure by property manager E&M Management to communicate adequately with tenants. E&M Management, known to be a bad landlord in New York City, has begun to expand operations upstate as a result of the lack of rent laws outside the city. This is an issue the Public Advocate highlighted as part of the need for statewide protections. Local elected officials including Town of Esopus Supervisor Shannon Harris and County Legislator Laura Petit joined in the conversation, sharing resources and working to develop local legislative solutions.

Williams then traveled to Buffalo for a community housing forum in partnership with Citizen Action of New York and Housing Justice For All. There he and a panel of Buffalo housing advocates fielded questions from tenants and shared strategies for impacting state law, fighting local gentrification and rising rents. Included on the panel were John Washington of PUSH Buffalo, Franchelle Parker of Open Buffalo, Jim Anderson of Citizen Action of New York, Tonya Goffe of 1199 SEIU, and Rebecca Gerrard of the Housing Justice For All coalition. The community members present for the event, which was hosted by the local 1199 SEIU chapter, pushed for passage of the nine pieces of legislation in the universal rent control package, making calls to state legislators and further organizing around the issue in the final days before the deadline.

The Public Advocate concluded his upstate tour Friday morning, discussing the need for good cause eviction protections and lead abatement mandates in the city of Syracuse. Together with housing advocates, he reiterated the need to pass the nine bills on the state level, fulfilling a promise to the tenants of New York State, and then to move forward in localities pursuing additional housing justice measures for all communities, both for renters and owners.

Williams has made tenants' rights and expanded rent regulation laws signature pieces of his agenda. He has done this both in the three months since becoming Public Advocate and in years prior as a Council Member and Chair of the Committee on Housing and Buildings. Last month, he held a one day five-borough tour throughout New York City. He stopped at significant locations in each borough including housing court, real estate developer offices, apartment buildings in need of repair, and more in order to amplify the need to pass each bill in the package.

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