A throng of residents and community leaders implored the Ossining Village Board last week not to repeal the Emergency Tenant Protection Act (ETPA) that was enacted last September.
On September 5, the board narrowly voted to establish the ETPA following years of controversy over affordable housing and rent stabilization within the village. However, with Trustee Manuel Quezada having replaced John Codman, a proponent of ETPA, it appears Mayor Victoria Gearity and Trustee Rika Levin, who voted against the measure five months ago, now have the upper hand to get rid of the law.
Ossining became the 20th municipality to enact the state law. Other Westchester communities, including Croton-on-Hudson, Dobbs Ferry, Sleepy Hollow, Pleasantville and Tarrytown, have implemented ETPA.
Under the act, the village is required to enforce a rent stabilization policy for all buildings constructed before 1974 with six or more units.
ETPA ensures that tenants are offered one or two-year leases and that apartments receive proper maintenance. It also protects tenants from being evicted except on grounds allowed by law, illegal rent increases, landlord harassment, and all a rent freeze for certain senior citizens and people with disabilities.
In Ossining, more than 1,200 apartments are eligible for rent stabilization, making it the largest expansion of rent stabilized housing in the state in two decades.
Following a spirited rally in the streets that spilled into the Birdsall-Fagan Police Court Facility on Spring Street last Wednesday, about 25 individuals spoke at a public hearing for about 90 minutes, with the overwhelming majority vehemently against repealing ETPA.
“I believe our village may be turning its head, for a moment, away from what is right,” said Julie Gross, a more than 50-year village resident and former Ossining High School teacher. “What happened in the last five months? What pressures have you had? Where are our values? Where are our concerns for our neighbors who can only live here under rent control? This is not who we are.”
“To repeal would be striking a blow at the essential character of this community,” said David Schwartz, vice chairman of the Westchester/Putnam Working Families Party. “Do not let self interest trump achieving fairness in this community.”
Mel Tanzman, executive director of the Westchester Disabled on the Move, said he was speaking for 3,600 seniors with disabilities in Ossining who “deserve the right to live in housing that is affordable, accessible and safe.”
“The proposal to repeal the Emergency Tenant Protection Act in the Village of Ossining would strip them of the only legal protection available to them in New York State,” Tanzman said. “The human cost to our residents and community is far too great. It’s simply bad policy.”
The proposal was also criticized by local clergy and caught the attention of a councilwoman in Newburgh, State Senator David Carlucci, Westchester County Legislator Catherine Borgia and Peekskill Councilwoman Vanessa Agudelo, who said she was “incredibly disappointed” the Ossining board would consider doing away with the ETPA.
“Give it more than five months. It’s cruel not taking into consideration what you have heard from people that you serve,” Agudelo remarked. “ETPA is not the solution, it’s not perfect, (but) it is protecting a large part of your population that is the most vulnerable.”
Linda Mangano, a 34-year resident and owner of a two-family home, was in the minority supporting abolishing the law, contending it had “outlived its usefulness.”
“We are a country of capitalism. We all have right to earn money, including landlords,” she said. “I want government to stay out of my wallet.”
Trustees Omar Herrera and Quantel Bazemore, who supported the ETPA last year and continue to be strong advocates, ripped their colleagues for considering repealing the measure. Herrera also suggested Quezada may have a conflict of interest since he is a landlord in the village.
“I don’t play with people’s lives and their paychecks,” Herrera said. “What is being done here is completely unacceptable.”
“The way some of my colleagues have dealt with ETPA is truly in poor taste. They have bought into rhetoric,” Bazemore charged. “We are all in this together. We are all Democrats. Act like it.”
Quezada, who rejoined the board in January following his election last November, said he does own a two-family home and will make his decision based on what “benefits the village as a whole.”
“I tend to focus all my energy on the public and the community itself,” he said. “I understand a lot of the struggles that a lot of people have.”
Levin said she cannot support the ETPA because “it is not income based,” adding, “It is only about what building you happen to live in and that makes it inequitable and unfair to all those people.”
Gearity penned a long column on her website explaining her reasons why she opposes the ETPA.
“The Village of Ossining’s two greatest housing challenges are substandard housing and an inadequate supply of affordable housing for the people who need it most. ETPA does not address these concerns, and actually makes these problems worse,” she stated. “There has been a lot of misleading and misguided messaging surrounding the ETPA conversation. The good news for people concerned about preserving and expanding affordability of housing in Ossining, is that there are effective actions we can take.”
The board voted to accept written comments on the proposal until Friday, February 15. No date was set for a vote on the measure.