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Know Your Rights
Source: El Diario
Subject: Housing & Environmental Justice
Type: Media Coverage

Renters Rage Against State Senate Dems At City Hall Protest

More than 200 angry tenants staged a protest rally and sit-in today outside City Hall — resulting in 13 arrests for disorderly conduct — to send a message to state Senate Democrats: ”Do not come home without passing our bills!”

The protest was over the supposed reneging by the slender Democratic majority in the Senate to pass tenant-friendly bills, including one to roll back vacancy decontrol, which allows landlords to permanently remove housing units from rent regulation once the rent reaches $2,000 a month or more. Tenant activists estimate some 300,000 apartments have become deregulated since decontrol was enacted a decade ago.

Among the demonstrators was Councilwoman Letitia James (D-Brooklyn), who scolded the Senate Democrats for not acting on the bills, calling the Albany solons “Democrats in name only.”

She shouted, “Democrats who vote like Republicans, we must vote them out of office.”

Others participating in the rally were Assemblyman Richard Gottfried (D-Manhattan) and Council members Gale Brewer (D-Manhattan) and Jumaane Williams (D-Brooklyn).

“We vote you in; we vote you out!” another tenant activist shouted through a bullhorn as the sweltering demonstrators gathered in the hot sun on the sidewalk at the foot of City Hall Park.

Led by a raucous mini-band with a loud drum, the group then marched across to 250 Broadway, which houses state and city legislative offices, chanting, "Keep your promises, keep your promises!”

In a scripted arrest scenario, 13 of the demonstrators, including longtime housing activist Michael McKee of Housing Here and Now, sat down in front of the entrance and linked arms. Police officials gave two separate warnings that if they didn’t get off the sidewalk, they would be arrested.

Other than chanting, there was no disturbance, as other demonstrators obeyed officers’ instructions to stay out of the way. When the sitting protesters refused to get up, they were told they were under arrest and peacefully let themselves be handcuffed with their hands behind their backs, led to a police transport truck to be taken to the First Precinct’s station house for processing.

Civil-rights lawyer Norman Siegel, who was at the scene helping protest organizers from the Real Rent Reform Campaign coordinate their activities with police, said they would be charged with a disorderly conduct, a non-criminal violation, and were expected to be released in a few hours pending court appearances in several weeks.

The demonstrators came from a number of housing groups, including the Met Council, Tenants & Neighbors and Make the Road by Walking. The organizers said the Senate Democrats had pledged to approve various tenant-friendly bills, but were dissuaded not to by lobbying from landlord groups.

“Everyone knows that the landlords own some of the Democratic senators,” stated Cathy Stephens of the East Harlem group Community Voices Heard.

Update — Austin Shafran, the spokesman for the state Senate Democratic Conference, issued this comment on the demonstration, “Senate Democrats passed the Loft Law bill and HIV Rent Cap to improve tenants’ rights and expand access to affordable housing. We will continue to work with all sides on a housing legislation package that enhances protections for tenants while promoting economic stability in the real estate market."