Allegations of behind the scenes dealings clouded a split vote taken by the Village of Ossining Board of Trustees last week to repeal the Emergency Tenant Protection Act (ETPA).
Trustees Omar Herrera and Quantel Bazemore chastised Mayor Victoria Gearity and trustees Rika Levin and Manuel Quezada for eliminating ETPA after determining the regulation of rents for certain classes of housing accommodations within the village did not serve to abate the previously declared housing emergency.
“It is not a compromise but deception,” Herrera charged. “This is disturbing to me. It’s creating a class warfare in the community.”
Herrera, who noted Ossining was the 20th municipality in Westchester County to adopt ETPA last September, maintained Stuart Kahan, the Village’s Corporation Counsel, never informed the entire board that a request was made to him from Gearity, behind closed doors, to write a replacement policy for how ETPA will function in the village, and a draft was never made available for anyone’s review.
“We are in a strategic time where the county and especially state government (Assembly, Senate and Executive branches) are set to address our housing crisis and consider making ETPA better by revising, expanding and strengthening rent-stabilization; this is not done by stripping away current rights and protections and refusing to work with your partners in government,” Herrera said. “I am saddened to say Ossining has become the leader against such efforts and that the real estate lobby has purchased our local leaders. This last-minute repeal hurts more residents, removes protections, creates a local bureaucratic process, places much administrative burdens on village resources and property owners and doesn’t actually explain how it will work, but it goes into effect immediately?”
Bazemore was equally critical of three fellow board members for removing ETPA when he said it was clear a housing emergency exists in Ossining.
“This is not a compromise. This is trash,” Bazemore remarked. “You’re doing something just to say you did something. You cooked this up in the middle of the night. This doesn’t make any sense. It’s bad. It’s not right. Clearly if you’re poor you don’t matter in this town. If you don’t donate to someone’s campaign, you don’t matter.”
Herrera, Bazemore and former Trustee John Codman took steps last year to enact ETPA after a housing study revealed that Ossining had a 3.06 percent vacancy rate, putting it within the bounds of eligibility to adopt the initiative.
Under the act, the village was mandated to enforce a rent stabilization policy for all buildings constructed before 1974 with six or more units. ETPA also ensured that tenants were offered one or two-year leases and that apartments received proper maintenance. It also protected tenants from being evicted except on grounds allowed by law, illegal rent increases, landlord harassment, and a rent freeze for certain senior citizens and people with disabilities.
In Ossining, more than 1,200 apartments were eligible for rent stabilization, making it the largest expansion of rent stabilized housing in the state in two decades.
The new policy adopted last week stipulates that ETPA does not apply to the following classes of housing accommodations in Ossining completed prior to January 1, 1974: all buildings with 20 or fewer units; and buildings where building owners have entered into binding agreements with the village providing 20% set aside for affordable units, and rent to account for no more than 30% of tenant’s income, among other requirements.
Gearity emphasized more than 1,000 apartments in Ossining will still be included in the ETPA program.
“I’m very troubled by some of the comments that have been made this evening by my colleagues,” Gearity said, noting there was no resolution on the September 5 agenda when ETPA was adopted. “Most tenants in Ossining are rent burdened. We need to do a better job with code enforcement.”
Levin, who said she would not address Herrera and Bazemore’s claims, called ETPA “an antiquated dinosaur law.”
“ETPA is not the appropriate rule of law for a village of our size and where we are at,” Levin said. “It is about the right thing to do for our community at this time. It doesn’t take into account the whole community.”
Quezada said he could sympathize with residents who implored the board not to repeal ETPA.
“I do know the sacrifice. I know what people feel. The compromise that we came out with…I feel comfortable that it will work,” he said. “If you look at the law we are creating affordable units. This is something ETPA does not.”
Westchester County Executive George Latimer, in a letter sent to the Village Board on January 25, requested trustees temporarily suspend any action on ETPA since the county is preparing to undertake a study on the provisions and impacts of ETPA across Westchester.
“We are engaged in an effort to expand affordable housing options across the many municipalities across the county, as we seek to satisfy the requirements of the fair housing lawsuit,” Latimer wrote.