Residents of the rent-stabilized Cosmopolitan Houses complex have previously rallied in front of their building owner’s offices and the state Department of Housing and Community Renewal (DHCR) office in Jamaica.
At the center of their protest is the state’s rent laws, specifically the Major Capital Improvements (MCI) program that allows landlords to tack on the costs of capital projects to the tenants’ permanent rent.
Though the 1970s program was initially created to incentivize landlords to make improvements, tenant advocates say they see the program as a way for owners to jack up rents and force out residents.
On Monday, dozens of tenants met with Congressman Joseph Crowley and New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman at Woodside on the Move’s second-floor office. At the roundtable, residents shared their stories of rent hikes and fears about displacement.
Crowley, who grew up in Woodside, said the tenants also spoke about the tactics that the landlord has used to “force people out.”
“We know the duress that families are under,” Crowley said. “It’s not only here in Queens, but throughout the city.”
The congressman added that on the national level, he wants to bring a tax benefit to renters, similar to one that homeowners enjoy through mortgage interest deductions.
Schneiderman said Woodside on the Move has gathered a lot of information that helps officials like him do their jobs better. The attorney general said his office created a tenant harassment prevention task force that has the ability to go after bad landlords.
“The issues that have been raised here regarding abuses of the rent laws and the provisions for Major Capital Improvements are tremendously important,” he said. “We are, in fact, meeting with the lawyers who represent some of the tenants here on some of these issues.”
He added that the current housing crisis was created by the real estate market boom that has given incentives for unscrupulous landlords to push tenants out, as well as the federal government’s “assault” on housing programs.
Ivan Contreras, a tenant organizer with Woodside on the Move, said the roundtable was a “really productive first meeting” with the elected officials.
“It seems like they’re going to take action,” he said.
Contreras noted that given Crowley’s position as chair of the Queens Democratic Party, he has the influence to inform other elected officials about the issue and to encourage them to support changes to the law.
The organizer said tenants also presented Schneiderman with evidence about what they deem as unnecessary MCI projects. Contreras said he hopes the attorney general will start an investigation into Cosmopolitan’s practices.
“The next step is to continue organizing people on this issue,” Contreras said. “More tenants are getting more aware about this and getting involved in this campaign.”