By Mark Hallum
Catalina Cruz, a Democratic candidate for the seat held by state Assemblywoman Ari Espinal (D-Jackson Heights), has released her initiative for making neighborhoods more affordable while providing tenants with the resources they need when meeting their landlord in a courtroom.
Espinal won a special election in April and is also facing Yonel Letellier Sosa in the Sept. 13 Democratic primary.
Cruz held a news conference Tuesday in Elmhurst in front of the site where a controversial Target center is under construction. She said that once in office she will push to create a state-funded right to counsel for all renters and end the pass-through to tenants of Major Capital Improvements by landlords, which can increase monthly housing costs even for rent-controlled tenants indefinitely, among other issues.
“As a former housing attorney, I understand the need, the inequities that happen every time someone steps into a courtroom and does not have an attorney,” Cruz said. “We need to make sure people’s rights and people’s homes are protected. I also want to make sure that we are pushing to repeal vacancy decontrol, stop bonuses and MCIs. Every time a landlord fixes an elevator, it should not be passed on to the tenants. This is the cost of doing business, this is not the cost of us living in our neighborhood. I am tired of knocking on doors and hearing from our neighbors, ‘I can no longer afford to live here.’ We need to protect our community.”
The corner of Baxter Avenue and 82nd Street has been the source of heated debate since March when developers Sun Equity began the process of filing a ULURP application to build 13 floors of housing, partially affordable, above the 10-story zoning limit with a Target store on the ground level.
But after strong community opposition, the developers abandoned the ULURP application altogether, although the City Planning Commission had already granted its approval, in favor of building no additional housing in the neighborhood. The Target is currently being built at the 40-31 82nd St. site.
Cruz’s initiative falls in line with Democratic state Senate candidate Jessica Ramos, who is running against state Sen. Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst), in her call to end MCIs in early July.
“I’m a lifelong renter here in Queens. The diversity, inclusivity, and affordability that always kept me in the neighborhood is disappearing before our eyes—all because rents are skyrocketing,” Ramos said. “Enough is enough—we need to keep Queens home to working families from every corner of this earth who are looking to make it here in New York City.”
The state approves MCI rent increases and tenants can challenge these applications on specific grounds.
Catalina Cruz was endorsed by City Councilman Mark Levine (D-Manhattan) during the news conference.
Reach reporter Mark Hallum by e-mail at mhall