Socialist Worker

New York state housing campaigners win big victory

Glyn Robbins reports from New York, where tenants and campaigners have scored a victory against the landlords

Issue No. 2660

Activists fight for housing justice

Activists fight for housing justice (Pic: Glyn Robbins)


Private tenants and housing justice campaigners in the US have scored a big, important victory.

On 14 June politicians were forced to pass a range of measures to protect and improve the rights of 2.4 million people living in rent-controlled apartments in New York City.

The legislation has significance beyond New York City. It potentially extends to another million households with private landlords throughout the state of New York—an area about the size of England.

It’s a clear message to housing campaigners everywhere—change can come, even in Donald Trump’s backyard.

Alongside proposed restrictions on landlords profiteering in Berlin and growing housing justice movements in Ireland, Britain and other countries, it’s a sign the tide is turning.

The New York laws renew the rent control system that enables people on low and moderate incomes to live in the most expensive city on earth. And they go further.

Freedom

Landlords will no longer have the freedom to take apartments out of rent control and hike rents when they become empty, a practice that leads to tenants being harassed and bullied out of their homes.

There are also new rules to protect against eviction and restrict fees. Judith Goldiner, a lawyer working for the campaign coalition that won the reforms said, “This landmark deal has recognised that the rights of tenants to stable, affordable and fair housing is an absolute necessity and should be placed above landlord profits”.

Like the Fight for $15 campaign to increase the minimum wage, the demand for universal tenant rights could snowball to other parts of the US.

The triumph of tenant power is confirmed by the squeals of protest from the property industry.

Predictably, landlord groups warn the changes will deter investment. This scare?mongering always accompanies any attempt to improve conditions for tenants. This is similar to when campaigners in Britain recently forced the government to end “no fault” evictions and Sadiq Khan proposed some mild regulation of private renting.

New York City has had a system of rent control since 1943 and there’s no evidence landlords are put off. On the contrary, the property consultants CBRE boast New York City is “The real estate capital of the world”. It’s where Trump boosted his inherited fortune as a property speculator and slumlord.

These laws in favour of working class people weren’t granted easily. As ever, they resulted from long and hard?fought campaigns based on broad-based coalitions.

Alongside massive historic investment in public housing, rent control helps make New York City the kind of diverse, vibrant city it is. Those special qualities have been under threat by profit?driven housing policies firmly controlled by developers.

Public housing, like British council housing, has been under sustained attack. Many people have been displaced as a result and working class communities put at risk.

Last week’s reforms won’t change all that instantly. New York, like every other place under the neoliberal yoke, still has a massive housing problem.

But this is a significant moment in the global fightback for safe, secure, genuinely affordable homes for all and the right to the city.

Glyn’s book, There’s No Place—The American housing crisis and what it means for the UK, is available from Bookmarks

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