Home Rule Is Busting Out All Over!

Home Rule Is Busting Out All Over!

Published: 
February 2014

Tenants in New York City have been fighting to regain local control of our rent and eviction protections since it was taken away in 1971 and given to the state. The demand has been growing stronger as Albany repeatedly weakened rent and eviction protections, contributing to record homelessness and an affordability crisis for a majority of New Yorkers. And in recent months, home rule has become a key question in policy disputes on issues ranging from taxes to fracking, from lowering speed limits to raising the minimum wage.

Mayor Bill de Blasio made increasing taxes on people making more than $500,000 a year in order to fund universal prekindergarten classes a cornerstone of his election campaign, but that can’t be done without a state law—and both Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state Senate’s Republican majority oppose it. “New York City should be given the right to make decisions for itself. It’s the case of self-determination or home  rule,” he said Jan. 23.

That same week, city Comptroller Scott Stringer traveled to Albany to call for home-rule power to raise the city’s minimum wage to $11 an hour, and a New York Times editorial said the residents of Saratoga Springs should get to decide whether a casino is opened there. “Having no real say in the matter is simply unfair to the communities that are often saddled with the downsides of these gambling operations,” it said.

More than 100 communities around the state have adopted ordinances against hydrofracking, the highly polluting technique for extracting natural gas, but the energy industry is contending that only the state may regulate it. The state Court of Appeals is scheduled to decide that question.

Mayor de Blasio has also called for the city to have home-rule powers over traffic safety. According to Transportation Alternatives, there is widespread agreement that lowering the speed limit on city streets from 30 mph to 20 will save many lives, but currently only the state can act. 

New York City cannot preserve affordable housing by strengthening its rent laws, because the state’s 1971 Urstadt Law prohibits that. With the power to act, the City Council could enact stronger rent and eviction protections for a million rent stabilized families and also extend protections to the hundreds of thousands of people living in apartments that are not currently regulated.

Mayor de Blasio, Public Advocate Tish James, Comptroller Stringer, and City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito have all expressed strong support for restoring home rule—the first time since 1971 that all the city’s top elected officials have done so—as have the Working Families Party and the Council’s Progressive Caucus.

“Traffic deaths on our streets, along with our broken rent laws, are a symptom of a broken political process that puts lawmakers who don’t represent New York City in charge of policies that are vitally important to New York City residents,” says Juan Maldonado, general counsel of Transportation Alternatives.

 

If you are interested in joining the fight to restore home rule over housingand other issues, please contact homerule@metcouncil.org.