Met Council’s 60th Anniversary Celebration Begins

Met Council’s 60th Anniversary Celebration Begins

Published: 
February 2019

2019 marks the 60th anniversary of the founding of Met Council on Housing, New York’s oldest tenants’ rights organization. We will mark the occasion throughout the year in a series of public events, on our website, and in these pages with personal stories by past and present activists about what got you involved in Met Council, and what it has meant to you. Please submit your own story to Tenant/Inquilino editor Steven Wishnia at wishnia@ hotmail.com.

A Brief History of Met Council

The Metropolitan Council on Housing was formed in 1959 as a coalition of mostly women-led groups working to protect tenants and preserve communities. Our founders included Jane Benedict of Yorkville Save Our Homes, Esther Rand of Eastside Tenants Council, Jane Wood of the Chelsea Tenants Center, and Frances Goldin of the Lower East Side. The focus was on fighting against misguided urban-renewal plans, landlord neglect and exploitation, and threats to end rent control, and advocating for more public housing. Many of the early leaders were communists and socialists who came out of the labor movement and the beginnings of the civil- rights movement. From its inception, Met Council has emphasized racial justice, and we continue to prioritize recruiting and training female leaders and staff.

With a small staff but dozens of volunteers, our model was to organize tenant associations into local branches, where neighborhood residents could drop in and get help. The branches helped members see the big picture and get active in broader fights while working together to improve their own conditions. Buildingwide rent strikes were a common tactic when basic services were denied.

For decades we have maintained a free telephone hotline, staffed by volunteers, to give tenants information about their rights and remedies. We’ve advised people on getting repairs and basic services, resisting eviction, fighting rent hikes, having roommates and pets, and passing on the rights to stay in an apartment to family members (traditional or nontraditional).

The tenant movement was shocked in 1971, when billionaire governor Nelson Rockefeller pushed through bills that imposed vacancy decontrol on the million New York City apartments under rent control, and prohibited the city from enacting stronger rent laws of its own. This created a disaster: Within three years, some 400,000 apartments had been deregulated, and allowing landlords to charge the highest rents they could get didn’t stop them from abandoning 300,000 apartments — creating a housing crisis that has only gotten worse since then.

Met Council fought for the 1974 Emergency Tenant Protection Act, which put formerly rent-controlled apartments under rent stabilization, and then mobilized tenants to support the Flynn-Dearie bill, which would have required landlords to open their books to state auditors before they could raise rents. When control of rent regulations was given to the state Division of Housing and Community Renewal, Met Council participated in a Tenant Advisory Council to monitor its actions.

an all-out campaign to stop the state government from abolishing rent regulation, although the laws were seriously weakened by provisions such as vacancy decontrol of high-rent apartments. When the rent laws came up for renewal in Albany in 2011 and 2015, Met Council welcomed new allies in the fight to strengthen them, particularly organizations working in low-income communities of color in Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx. With real-estate allies in the state Senate and the governor’s mansion, however, the laws were renewed with minimal improvement.

This year, with a solid Democratic majority in the state Senate, things may be different. With the housing crisis spreading across the state, Met Council has joined the Upstate/ Downstate Housing Alliance. The coalition’s Housing Justice for All platform includes a statewide “just cause evictions” law that would protect tenants from arbitrary eviction or rent increases, letting local governments enact rent-stabilization laws, repealing the 1997 vacancy-decontrol and vacancy-bonus laws, and closing the loopholes that allow sudden rent increases through preferential rents and major capital improvements. [See article on page 1.] Because of the emphasis on a statewide platform, Met Council has put aside our longtime demand for restoring the city’s home rule for the time being.

Locally, Met Council has continued to organize tenant associations to fight for repairs and resist displacement and rent hikes, although rent strikes have become less common due to the difficulties faced by tenants without lawyers in Housing Court, as well as the blacklist of tenants with court records. We have been a leading voice in opposing the rent increases allowed by the Rent Guidelines Board, including the “poor tax” surcharge on low-rent apartments — efforts that paid off in 2016 and 2017, when the RGB froze rents on one-year lease renewals for the first time ever. We have also campaigned to improve building conditions by beefing up the city’s inspection and litigation units

In the last several years, Met Council has also worked with tenants to resist massive rezoning and development proposals that threaten to gentrify communities and displace long-term tenants, particularly through coordinating the Northern Manhattan is Not For Sale campaign.

Much has been done, and much remains to be done. Sixty years young, Met Council looks forward to great victories in 2019 and the years ahead.