Saturday, April 16, 2011

Minority pols urge Gov. Cuomo to champion stronger rent laws

DAILY NEWS ALBANY BUREAU
BY Glenn Blain

Friday, April 15th 2011, 4:00 AM

Gov. Cuomo faced criticism last year from some minority lawmakers.
Mariela Lombard for News
Gov. Cuomo faced criticism last year from some minority lawmakers.

ALBANY - The battle over New York's expiring rent regulations is a "defining" issue for Gov. Cuomo's strained relationship with minority communities, lawmakers told the Daily News.

A group of 40 minority legislators sent a letter to Cuomo this week imploring the governor to champion the fight for stronger rent laws - including a repeal of vacancy decontrol - with the same vigor he sought to slash the state budget.

"We are definitely expecting him to stand up on this one," said state Sen. Adriano Espaillat (D-Manhattan), a member of the Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Legislative Caucus.

"He does have to deliver," added Sen. Ruth Hassell-Thompson (D-Westchester County), the caucus chairwoman.

Democrats in the state Senate and Assembly want to not only extend the rent laws, which are set to expire on June 15, but beef them up.

The elimination of vacancy decontrol - which allows landlords to deregulate vacant units with monthly rents of $2,000 or more - is a top priority.

Caucus members believe Cuomo's advocacy is the only way to overcome the opposition of Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Nassau), who supports only an extension of the existing rules.

"The governor is absolutely committed to extending and expanding rent regulations before the laws expire in June," Cuomo spokesman Josh Vlasto said. The governor has offered no specifics.

The debate over rent laws comes after Cuomo angered many Democrats, especially those from poor and minority communities, by pushing for a budget that slashed school aid while failing to renew the state's tax on wealthy individuals.

Cuomo also faced criticism last year from some minority lawmakers who raised alarms about the lack of diversity in the Democratic ticket and in his transition team.

"The issue of rent regulation will be a defining one between Gov. Cuomo and communities of color," said Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries (D-Brooklyn).

In their letter, the 40 caucus members urged Cuomo to champion rent regulations with the same "purpose and enthusiasm" he showed for cutting education aid and other budget initiatives.

"A simple extension is not acceptable," they wrote. "The tenant protection laws must be strengthened in a meaningful and comprehensive way."

gblain@nydailynews.com

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