Hi! It’s been awhile.

A lot has happened since last time I blogged on here. The end of my senior year got really busy; I just graduated, and the most important highlight is that I was accepted to law school, where I hope to earn the credibility and knowledge to defend NYC tenants’ rights.

I also started blogging quite a bit for a new LexBlog site, 99 Park Row. I highly recommend checking it out. 99 Park has daily posts from members of the LexBlog staff about anything even remotely related the world(s) of legal and digital publishing. The piece I’ve written that’s most relevant so far to my writing on here is probably this one.

During my hiatus, a lot has gone down in the world of NYC politics and housing justice too. Here’s a quick overview of some of the more recent major events relevant to what I blog about (but I recommend doing your own research too; I’ve linked a few articles throughout):

  • For starters, my last post has had a startling update; Dianne Morales, progressive superstar and my former favorite mayoral candidate, showed her anti-union hypocrisy towards her campaign, which means I’ve decided to follow her head staffers’ example in supporting progressive Maya Wiley during these last few weeks of the race.
  • Last month, the Rent Stabilization Association, which represents approximately 25,000 landlords across the five boroughs, filed a lawsuit following Gov. Cuomo’s extension of the state’s eviction moratorium to September, which was approved to support both residential and commercial renters suffering from pandemic-related financial troubles. I share the view of community leaders and activists that the lawsuit is pointless, cruel, and simply not legally sound.
  • The NYC Council recently passed a bill raising the value of NYC’s rental assistance vouchers, in an attempt to address the rising homelessness rates across the city. This article details how the new criteria expands accessibility to vouchers for the city’s unhoused population, an effort that Mayor de Blasio has been hindering for years. The article also discusses the link between racial justice and housing justice; in a year fraught with racial injustice, the platitudes peddled by the city government are meaningless without significant action on the housing front.
  • If you’re looking to learn more about homelessness rates during the pandemic, this April article shares some helpful information, and the Coalition for the Homeless offers more general information and ways to help.
  • For older legislative updates from March and April, I recommend checking out Housing Justice 4 All’s news section. Consider this my promise to be blogging much more regularly on these issues as the summer proceeds.

After two terms of Bill de Blasio, New York City is gearing up for a mayoral race full of new faces. As of a week ago, there were fourteen candidates still in the mix, which means there’s a whole lot to cover. I’m going to discuss a couple of candidates who have caught my eye and focus specifically on their housing policy plans.

Before, I begin, it’s worth noting that a majority of de Blasio’s housing policy has relied on concepts such as “rezoning” and “development” which translate loosely to gentrification. His projects consistently skewed in favor of white, middle-class families, and even his pursuit for more housing long-term involved the displacement of Black and brown people. The potential for fundamental change in NYC’s approach to its irrefutable housing crisis makes this mayoral election of tantamount importance

Here are the four people I’m paying closest attention to:

Dianne Morales: I’ve been following Dianne for awhile now. She’s a New York native, the daughter of Puerto Rican immigrants, a community organizer, and former CEO of Phipps Neighborhoods, a nonprofit devoted to helping low-income families in the South Bronx rise above poverty through education, career programs, and community services. On the housing front, Dianne is devoted to achieving for Housing for All.

  • She recognizes the dangers of gentrification and deep subsidies for private developers, as well as the long-term impacts of redlining and other discriminatory policies.
  • She supports immediate housing relief during the pandemic, which includes rent cancellations for those who cannot afford them, reimbursements and targeted relief funds for small building owners, mortgage forgiveness for qualifying homeowners, an eviction moratorium until the State of Emergency is lifted, and a guarantee that residents of temporary housing will not be displaced.
  • Long term, Dianne is determined to prioritize tenants’ rights by working towards universal rent stabilization (i.e. eliminating hikes such as MCI and IAI). She also plans to readjust the definition for “affordable housing” to fit the incomes of those who need it and avoid the sort of private maneuvering that leaves so many displaced.
  • Dianne is further invested in equitable zoning, which means the city would partner directly with the communities and promotes cooperative ownership programs, empowering tenants and ensuring that facilities such as parks, daycares, pharmacies, and more are available to everyone.
  • Finally, as someone who grew up in the NYCHA system, Dianne understands the importance of the organization as well as its many shortcomings. She wants to reimagine NYCHA in the terms of the Green New Deal for Public Housing, as well as the Section 3 HUD mandate, aiming to prioritize economic opportunities for low-income residents of public housing.

If I’m being honest, Andrew Yang really only grabbed my interest because he’s leading the race by a lot right now, so if he wins, I want to know what’s to come. For me, his current housing policy is a mixed bag, but I really appreciate his focus on sustainability.

  • He wants to let communities take the charge in in rezoning and redevelopment plans (although he doesn’t specify what that kind of organization would look like).
  • City Hall will prioritize funds for land acquisition and vacant lot allocation in Community Land Trusts (CLTs).
  • According to his website “[e]mbracing co-living and allowing for single-room occupancy (SRO) living spaces will allow individuals to find housing that works for their lives and their budget.” I won’t lie; this feels a bit rich coming from the guy who caught heat earlier in his campaign for saying he simply couldn’t work during the pandemic in his 2-bedroom apartment with his kids, but alas…
  • He wants to invest $48 billion in NYCHA for capital repairs from the federal government.
  • Here’s my favorite part; Yang wants to bring a Green New Deal to NYCHA by abolishing NYCHA’s carbon pollution, accelerating deep energy retrofits (saving hundreds of millions of dollars), committing to putting solar on every NYCHA rooftop by 2030, giving every NYCHA resident access to air conditioning, and ridding NYCHA of mold and lead. He also wants to invest in job training for NYCHA residents with a specific focus on “green” jobs.
  • He wants to add more residents to the NYCHA board, expanding it from seven members to a total of eleven with five non-residents and six residents and make the most of Tenant Participation Activity Funds.
  • Yang wants to prohibit luxury development on NYCHA property, a Yang Administration and require all considered development to be subject to the ULURP process.

Maya Wiley is a nationally recognized social justice advocate and city government leader, who served as counsel to de Blasio and has worked for a variety of organizations, including the NAACP, ACLU, and NBC News. She’s laid out a pretty comprehensive housing policy, prioritizing an end to evictions.

  • Like Dianne, Maya supports an eviction moratorium for the duration of the pandemic.
  • She wants to transform rent relief through the creation of an “ambitious Citywide rent and tax relief program for small landlords and nonprofit landlords,” thus bailing out tenants and landlords.
  • She wants to create stronger eviction protections through increased legal representation for NYC tenants (yay!) by expanding the income threshold from 200% of the federal poverty line to 400% and partnering with area law schools and pro-bono legal partners to introduce a community lawyering model.
  • She hopes to create a rapid rehousing program that responds to pandemic-induced issues specifically.

Scott Stringer has been serving as comptroller of NYC since 2013. He’s considered a progressive who makes an effort to appeal to more moderate voters, and he has some experience already in improving housing.

  • Over the course of his career, he has identified over 1000 vacant, city-owned lots that could hold up to 50,000 new units.
  • He has also aggressively audited NYCHA for repairs and improved quality of public housing.
  • He proposed a sweeping “Universal Affordable Housing” requirement for all new construction in NYC, which would require 25% permanently low-income, affordable housing in every new development with 10+ units
  • The requirement also supports focusing all NYC housing investments on affordable housing to address the city’s homelessness problem.

Like I said, these candidates make up only a small fraction of the mix. However, I hope this synopsis was somewhat helpful for those of you interested in potential progressive housing policy as NYC moves forward.


After a cumulatively horrendous year (followed by this past emotionally taxing week), some good news has emerged.

On December 28th, Governor Cuomo finally implemented a legitimate eviction and foreclosure moratorium, known as the COVID-19 Emergency Eviction and Foreclosure Prevention Act of 2020. Obviously, it’s nowhere near perfect, but it’s far more progress than we’ve seen thus far. Here’s how it works:

Concerning homeowners (who will thus have less reason to harass and pressure tenants):

  • The Act also places all foreclosure proceedings until May 2021 and prevents local governments from attempting a tax lien sale or tax foreclosure until the same date.
  • Lending institutions are forbidden from discriminating against property owners seeking credit for reasons such as forclosure proceedings or tax lien sales.
  • Property tax breaks for elderly and disabled homeowners (SCHE and DHE respectively) are being carried over from 2020 into 2021.

I want to be totally clear. This much-needed legislation was not the result of some stroke of goodwill from Andrew Cuomo or NYCHA or any other government-affiliated party. Since the beginning of the pandemic, tenant organizers have been hard at work protesting, petitioning, and articulating their needs. Here are a few of the leaders in grassroots efforts towards pandemic housing justice:

These groups, along with several others, demonstrated the impact of empowering community members to take matters of justice into their own hands, particularly when the government is hanging them out to dry. It’s work that they shouldn’t have to do, but their strength and persistence in doing it anyway is, simply put, heroic. I highly recommend supporting any and all of these organizations by learning more about what they do, following them on social media, and donating to help them continue fighting the good fight.

I want to end by pointing out that the way vaccine distribution is currently proceeding provides no guarantee that a moratorium lasting until May is enough to sustain people who may be sick, out of work, or otherwise unable to pay rent. It is certainly a start, but it also should not be considered an extraordinarily monumental move by the NY government. This moratorium will serve as a brief taste of the sort of fair housing policy that ought to be universal and without expiration.

(photo and caption source: https://www.thecity.nyc/2021/1/7/22217235/cuomo-new-york-eviction-moratorium-protections-not-automatic)


The New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) is currently fast-tracking a new plan known as “Blueprint for Change” with the stated goal of “addressing the physical needs at every building in the NYCHA portfolio”, essentially stabilizing 110,000 apartments. The official plan has three main stages: creating the NYC Housing Preservation Trust, making interim use of Tenant Protection Vouchers (TPVs) for repairs, and stabilizing the property through and alongside economic recovery.

So what does all of that mean? Well, TPVs become available to tenants once their housing meets a point of “obsolescence”. NYCHA is assuming that about 110,000 apartments are going to meet that criteria; the organization will then pool all of the vouchers and use them to raise funds for repairs instead of assigning them to the apartments that warranted them in the first place. This means that those individuals who did qualify may not end up receiving the adequqate attention that they need.

The Justice for All coalition has raised several additional objections to the plan, detailed here: https://tinyurl.com/HaltBlueprint. Here’s a brief summary:

  • The creation of the new trust involves converting Section 9 housing units over to Section 8, a sector of privatized NY housing units. This ties tenants’ living stability to the luck and profits of private investors, creating a more uncertain future for all affected tenants.
  • In order for NYCHA to receive the necessary TPVs to make repairs, they are relying upon the “obsolescence” of affected apartments, meaning they have the motivation to not conduct repairs in the meantime.
  • Tenants have minimal influence on the plan’s proceedings, and there is no oversight system in place to ensure that the Trust is carried out in the tenants’ best interests.
  • There is no pathway for converting Section 9 housing back to Section 8, so the move to privatization of those properties would be permanent.

In short, NYCHA’s plan is looking at the affected tenants as numbers on an agenda, not real individuals with lives to maintain and families to house. Despite the organization’s statement that the Blueprint’s Trust is not privatization, it is certainly a step in that direction, and the risk that poses to New Yorkers should not be underestimated.

For those looking to help, the link above to Justice For All’s document has several action steps listed that you can take against the Blueprint plan, including contacting representatives, submitting public comments, and more.

image source: https://www.6sqft.com/the-city-will-issue-new-section-8-vouchers-for-the-first-time-in-two-years/


It’s safe to say that this has been one of the most stressful weeks in recent electoral history for America as a whole. One way I’m dealing with the anxiety of our country’s future hanging in the balance is focusing on the positive things that we do know.

We’re lucky that many state election results are in, so we can say with some certainty that a substantial progressive presence is slowly but surely growing in Congress. This is due in part to NYC representatives in the House, both new and incumbent. These candidates share many of the values that make the likes of Bernie Sanders such stand-out politicians; here are a few who are particularly notable in the area of housing justice.

Newcomers:

Representative-elect Mondaire Jones of the 17th District (not in the boroughs, but close by i.e. regions of Westchester, White Plains) doesn’t have an official detailed housing platform yet, but he is bringing a host of progressive goals to the House, including ensuring safe and secure housing for LGBTQ+ youth in NYC.

Furthermore, incumbent Yvette Clark of the Ninth District (Brooklyn) and the main driver of the Affordable Housing and Area Median Income Fairness Act, which notably lowers rent and redefines affordable housing, was reelected. Alexandria-Ocasio Cortez, 14th District (eastern Bronx and north-central Queens) incumbent and political superstar also made a strong return. Her housing plan includes the Green New Deal for Public Housing, a progressive policy cornerstone of both environmental and tenant protections. Additionally, re-elected incumbent Nydia Velázquez of the Seventh District (parts of BK, Queens, and Manhattan) has been a trailblazer in the House for NYC reps by, among other things, introducing the Public Housing Emergency Response Act and pushing for rent suspension during COVID-19.

Although Democrats lost seats in the House this time around, the Progressive presence is becoming more assertive with each passing election. This seeming paradox signifies the distinction in policy priorities between establishment Democrats and Progressives; the latter group has certainly shown more concern for housing justice, and I am excited to see what they are able to accomplish in NYC as we move forward.


We’re almost two weeks into October, which means that twelve days ago, rent was due for New Yorkers. Due to the surge in unemployment that has accompanied the COVID-19 pandemic, thousands of tenants have been unable to pay their rents on time and were counting on an extension of Governor Cuomo’s eviction moratorium. However, the governor refused to fully comply. Instead, towards the end of September, he elected to extend the provisions of the Safe Harbor Act to pre-COVID housing court cases. These provisions do not cover tenants facing holdover evictions, meaning that since October, thousands of people have been forced out of their homes despite virtually no change in the status of the pandemic and its effects on New Yorkers. Additionally, the legislation does not prevent landlords from harassing tenants through “frivolous litigation”, leaving the rent crisis still largely unresolved as people attempt to carry on their daily lives.

Since the beginning of October, individuals and grassroots organizations have been marching in protest, calling for a total moratorium on evictions. New York’s Housing Justice for All, an organization made up of over seventy organizations fighting for statewide housing, has led marches and standing protests each week of this month, some of which have resulted in arrests.

One of my personal observations is the lack of substantial coverage from the perspective of those protesting. If anything, there has been some misleading reporting, with headlines claiming the Cuomo is extending his moratorium until January 2021, which is clearly an incredibly conditional statement. In any case, the much bigger story in the world of New York housing since the beginning of the pandemic has been the rapidly spiraling prices of real estate due to the mass exodus of upper-middle-class and wealthy homeowners from the city, especially Manhattan. As this group heads to the suburbs, several major media outlets and countless prominent social media influencers have focused on the idea of a rapidly emptying New York City. At the same time, New York’s poorer tenant population is having its homes forcibly taken. These people have nowhere else to turn, and in many cases, they have been in the city much longer than those who are wealthy enough to move away. It is truly shameful that these tenants receive such a lack of consideration and proper justice from both the government and the media.


Hello!

My name is Sophia Singh, and I am a senior at Fordham University Rose Hill in the Bronx, New York. I decided to start this blog recently to drop some of my thoughts on tenants’ rights, protections, and laws in New York City (all 5 boroughs, not just Manhattan).

To start things off here, I am going to write a bit about a situation that I researched last spring, in a class that focused on learning more about the Bronx community that graciously hosts our student body for some of our most formative years.

Tenants’ rights violations and tenant harassment by landlords have been serious issues in the Bronx for years. This particular project was focused on 919 Prospect Avenue, or 830 East 163rd Street, in the Woodstock neighborhood of the South Bronx. Examining 919 Prospect Ave as an example of the ongoing tenants’ rights crisis plaguing many Bronx residents reveals important truths about the power dynamics in urban living situations as well as the importance of community coherence in tackling this issue.

As of 2011, when the building was brought to foreclosure, the average apartment rent was $966. That year, landlord Seth Miller purchased the property for $3.7 million; five years later, then-public advocate and current New York attorney general Letitia James listed the building as the worst in the Bronx, citing Miller as the main source of these problems. This reasoning is unsurprising because Miller has a history of abusive tactics as a landlord; Bill de Blasio was a public advocate when he called Miller’s buildings some of the worst across New York, including two in Crown Heights, Brooklyn where he withheld heat from sick tenants in the winter. James supported her 2016 claim by listening to the accounts of tenants, pointing to the legal action that was taken, and reviewing the precedent of prior assessments of the building, including 525 unaddressed city housing violations in one year.

According to a coalition of resistant tenants known as Tenants United Against Seth Miller, unsafe building conditions have plagued them for as long as Seth Miller has been in power. Reports of the building’s unacceptable living standard range from accounts of mice, rats, roaches, and bed bugs to children suffering from lead poisoning as a result of excess dust from intrusive renovations. Elderly tenants had their bathroom doors drilled shut, resulting in a lack of latrine access for weeks. Additionally, tenants reported being “constantly harassed, denied basic services, left without heat and hot water…and [being] taken to court for no reason” . Several tenants reported having to move while still paying rent because of issues such as a caved-in ceiling or mold infestations. All of these conditions and more are not necessarily unique to 919 Prospect; however, their extremity and Miller’s refusal to address any of them coupled with his consistent harassment and unreasonable financial demands earned him a top spot on James’ Worst Landlords List as well.

To fight against what many were calling Miller’s “reign of terror”, tenants rallied in protest outside of the building, spoke to the press and housing rights advocates, and formed their own coalition, determined to stand up to Seth Miller. In December 2016, as an act of response and resistance, over two dozen tenants living at 919 Prospect formed an alliance with the Community Development Project at the Urban Justice Center, a non-profit legal services and advocacy organization in New York. The groups worked together to file a lawsuit against Miller, calling for a jury trial and a permanent injunction requiring him to correct his maintenance of an unsafe building, stop overcharging rent, and start offering timely lease renewals.

On December 22nd, Miller responded by filing for bankruptcy, claiming the case was a conspiracy to remove his control of the building in order to prevent it from moving forward. A federal judge refused the argument, saying that the bankruptcy claim was simply a preventative measure taken by Miller to prevent economic troubles in his own self-interest and not actually necessary. Miller was then removed from the building, and the tenants came together with James, the Urban Justice Center, Congressman José Serrano, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. assemblymember Michael Blake, Council Member Rafael Salamanca, and Banana Kelly Community Improvement Association Inc to sue for a court-appointed repairs administrator. The court responded by providing a trustee to oversee the necessary building repairs, resulting in improved conditions and safety over the course of the following two years.

Although the situation was appearing to take a turn for the better, challenges resurfaced for the tenants of 919 Prospect in April, 2019. After just over two years, Miller regained control of the building, firing those who were overseeing repairs and maintenance and hiring negligent superintendents who consistently harass tenants and ignore building needs. Since Miller has regained control, conditions have spiraled once again; tenants have reported sewage leaks and other abysmal conditions that require repairs. Miller and those that he hired are ignoring all of these needs.

Several resistance efforts ensued; tenants took to protesting outside of Seth Miller’s home. They further created a website to increase awareness of the issues in their building, publicizing tenant testimonials, images, and videos of the unlivable conditions as well as any news mentions of Miller and accounts of numerous lawsuits filed against him. They have even highlighted the charities that Miller and his wife donate to under the pretense of philanthropy, which the tenants prove is at odds with the wellbeing of the people of color that Miller exploits and mistreats in his New York properties. Organizers such as Anna Burnham spread word of the issue further on social media, using the hashtag #slumlordseth and publicizing protest efforts. On a policy level, Letitia James, who is now the New York Attorney General, worked to pass a criminal tenant harassment bill and highlighted 919 Prospect Avenue in its writing. James used the bill to considerably expand the definition of “tenant harassment” and furthermore ensured that the bill could be used in court against abusive landlords such as Miller. 

The 919 Prospect tenants association has furthermore preserved its rights to sue for harassment from the 2016 bankruptcy case. The group is currently preparing to bring a case against Miller in the New York Supreme Court. Thanks to Letitia James’ aforementioned efforts in policymaking, New York law now states that harassment includes failing to offer lease renewals, threats, intimidation, overcharging rent, failure to make repairs, and deliberately causing construction-related issues for tenants. Since Seth Miller has done all of these, the tenants are hopefully looking at a strong case.

The combined effort from impacted tenants, advocates, and political figures is a representative manifestation of community solidarity against the likes of Seth Miller. The question then becomes, of course, why do landlords have so much power, to begin with? Will these types of situations continue to spiral out of control even with new legislation and increased awareness?