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5. Tenant Responses to the Urban Housing Crisis, 1970-1984

Ronald Lawson with the assistance of Reuben B. Johnson III

The Political Thrust

NYSTLC (later NYSTNC) had led the tenant movement into direct participation in the political process in 1974 and met with considerable success in its first two years. The phasing out of rent regulations, begun in 1971, was reversed (although the original strictness of rent control was not restored); the freedom of landlords to convert or demolish their buildings without considering the interests of their tenants was restricted; public housing tenants gained input to decisions concerning their developments; and the weakness of tenants within the tenant-landlord relationship was mitigated when the lease took on the mutual obligations of a contract. Although these outcomes were political reverses for the real estate industry, they by no means represented its political rout; indeed, the industry remained extremely powerful. Tenant activists found during 1976-1984 that their efforts achieved mixed results legislatively. During these years the political rhythm was set to a great extent by the sunset provisions of the rent laws because these occasions gave both sides the opportunity to attempt to amend the laws or to allow them to expire.

Both of the rent laws as well as the Cooperative/Condominium Fair Practices Act were due to expire in June 1976. The Housing Committee of the Council of Property Owners, an ad hoc coalition of New York City real estate groups, launched a strong advertising campaign upstate with headlines such as "Warning: Blumenthal-Beame Pressure State Legislators to Extend N.Y.C. Rent Control. This Means Higher Taxes for Upstaters. Which way will your legislator vote???" Advertisements showed stark pictures of abandoned housing and blamed this upon rent regulations. The Emergency Financial Control Board, the State Moreland Commission, and several leading papers and business weeklies also blamed the city's financial crisis upon rent regulations, which they claimed had caused abandonment and therefore the erosion of the city's tax base, and demanded that the regulations, rather than the housing, be abandoned.[86] The climate was not favorable to extension.

To make matters worse, there was open division among tenant ranks. Met Council felt threatened by the new prominence of NYSTNC -- the more so because Michael McKee had become its chairperson. It therefore became more active politically, lobbying for its own comprehensive statewide rent control bill while, at the same time, NYSTNC sought support for a different bill with similar intent. Although the two had agreed to keep their disagreements private and did cosponsor one or two demonstrations for the first time, Met Council, later attacking the NYSTNC rent bill in an editorial, accused it of "compromising tenant rights," and told several legislators both during their mass mobilization in Albany and in phone calls not to sponsor NYSTNC's "landlord" bill. This opened the way for a classic example of "divide and conquer," when Democratic senate minority leader Manfred Ohrenstein used the presence of branches of both federations in his district as an excuse for supporting neither bill -- a considerable blow to their chance of passage.[87]

Both federations regarded the Emergency Tenant Protection Act as weak, but they also saw its extension as vital when the alternative was deregulating what was by now a large segment of the rental units. They were helped by the fact that 1976 was an election year. However, the extension granted all three laws by the legislature was for just one year -- to a nonelection year. The implication was evident to all: it would be easier to let the laws lapse, or at least weaken them, at that point. Meanwhile, pressure to abandon the regulations entirely continued to mount -- from the press, banks, Washington, the Republican (majority) leadership in the state senate, as well as from the ongoing real estate campaign.

NYSTNC therefore geared itself up for a crucial defensive struggle in 1977. The problem was to develop a strategy that would at the very least extend the three pieces of legislation. Its leaders, prodded initially by a letter from Assemblyman Frank Barbaro warning of the danger of public infighting to the defense of the existing pro-tenant laws, agreed it was essential to close ranks with Met Council.[88] Upon meeting with their Met Council counterparts, NYSTNC found it was much easier to plan joint action to protect existing benefits than to press for new programs.

NYSTNC's initial strategy for the 1977 legislative session was to convince the leaders of the Democratic-controlled state assembly to take a strong stand on the rent laws early in the session as a means of applying pressure to the state senate. The senate Republican majority leadership had regularly used delaying tactics on controversial measures in the hope that by the end of the session the urgency would be so great that the Democrats would make concessions in order to get anything passed at all. Because the senate leadership had gone on record as favoring an end to all rent regulations, it was felt that a last-minute consideration of the issue could not be risked.

The assembly obliged by passing a three-year extender bill. However, this was, of course, meaningless without senate approval. The lobbyists well knew that power in the senate was centered in the Republican leadership and that they needed external strategies to build enough momentum to overcome the resistance of Senator Warren Anderson, the majority leader. Consequently, NYSTNC chose to pressure the seven New York City Republican senators to sponsor the extensions. It reasoned that each of these senators had a sufficiently large tenant constituency for him to be threatened by an effective leafleting campaign in his district. If these senators joined the twenty-four Democratic senators on the pro-extension side of the issue, there would be a majority for their passage.

The first mobilization took place in Senator Frank Padavan's district in eastern Queens in March. Evidence of its impact followed quickly. As NYSTNC was preparing to leaflet the district of the second targeted senator, Martin Knorr, in southwestern Queens, the Republican senators from the city met in caucus on the rent issue and then in turn pressured their leaders. Before any of the leaflets in the second wave could be distributed, Senator Anderson came out with a proposal to renew the expiring rent laws for an additional four years, thus outdoing the Democratic bill that had passed the assembly. His bill also set up a temporary commission, whose members would be appointed by but not include any politicians, to recommend general reforms in rent regulations.

A few days later NYSTNC distributed an ebullient letter from Chairperson McKee commenting on what had happened:

This is an enormous tenant victory and we should all play it that way. Our strategy worked. We decided to concentrate on the renewal of existing laws rather than pushing for stronger controls; I am more than ever convinced of the soundness of this strategy. We decided to concentrate on putting pressure on legislators in their districts, rather than in Albany.... Another crucial factor was that all tenant groups maintained a posture of unity.... This victory has greatly increased the prestige of the N.Y.S.T.N.C. in Albany.... While we have successfully lobbied for the enactment of significant legislation in the past, for the first time we have taken on a political battle and won. We played our cards carefully and well. We have been able to reverse the anti-rent control tide of the past two years.[89]

NYSTNC's strategy had triumphed in a year when the real estate leaders had felt they were in a position to gain ground. The latter's end-of-the session strategy was undercut by the early action of the assembly, and the defection of the Republican senators left them weaponless: "It blew up in our faces in the midst of negotiations. The New York City Republican senators went off the deep end, intimidated by the tenant demonstrations."[90]

In contrast, the effort to extend the Cooperative/Condominium Fair Practices Act failed. In part this was because the NYSTNC lobbyists, distracted by the threat to the rent laws, gave it less attention. Assemblyman Edward Lehner, chair of the Assembly Housing Committee, in an appearance before the NYSTNC board, cited three reasons for the outcome. limited constituent pressure; the restricted number of districts where the issue was pertinent; and the feeling among officials that the real estate industry was correct that the stability of existing housing in New York City relied strongly on the ability of landlords to convert their properties, thereby giving tenants an economic stake in the future of those buildings and communities. It had indeed proved difficult to arouse rank-and-file support, in sharp contrast to 1974, partly because two large developments that had been threatened with conversion at that time, Fresh Meadows and Tudor City, had withdrawn from NYSTNC -- the threat to them seemed to have abated and there had been policy disagreements because their leadership was more conservative than that of the federation. Another reason for the outcome was perhaps equally significant: many legislators felt that by extending the rent laws, they had given tenants their due, and it was now the landlords' turn. Indeed, the landlords with the greatest political influence probably had more at stake in the conversion law than ETPA. Conversions open the way to large profits, and it seemed that the law had stopped them almost entirely; on the other hand, since ETPA applied only to apartments that were previously decontrolled or uncontrolled, their rents were already fairly high.

Conversions remained a live and frustrating issue for NYSTNC throughout the remainder of the period as their pace rapidly picked up momentum. In spite of their spread throughout many areas of the state by the early 1980s, NYSTNC was not again successful in securing passage of legislation that covered the whole state. However, it did have the 35 percent minimum tenant approval restored in the areas most immediately threatened -- New York City and the three suburban counties. Protections -- for example, of senior citizens -- were gradually improved over time, and the long-sought goal of 51 percent tenant approval was finally realized in 1982. However, these changes were drafted in such a way that they also made tenant approval of conversion plans easier to achieve in some buildings. On the other hand, the state senate leadership remained adamant in its rejection of what had become NYSTNC's key objective -- a similar process of approval by tenants in residence at properties offered noneviction plans. Such plans be came more and more frequent, especially after the passage of the 51 percent approval for eviction plans. In 1983 the legislature passed a statewide local option bill under which municipalities could bar eviction of senior citizens and severely disabled tenants in conversions. Some fifty towns, villages, and cities have opted for the law.[91]

Legislatively, then, 1977 proved to be a year of both victory and defeat for tenant political activists seeking to prevent the protections won in 1974 from lapsing. While legislators responded sharply to tenant pressure, they ultimately tried to balance the total outcome when weighing tenant and real estate interests. However, one new NYSTNC initiative, the Neighborhood Preservation Bill, was successful in 1977. This bill, the brainchild of Robert Schur, who had been elected to NYSTNC's board, sought funding to cover the administrative staff and expenses of "neighborhood preservation companies" (NPCs) -- that is, neighborhood organizations primarily involved in rehabilitation and management. It set out to meet a key need of such organizations, for the external funding available was usually targeted so specifically that it did not provide for such essential costs as rent and administrative staff. In lobbying for such legislation, NYSTNC was trying both to cement the already close ties between it and ANHD and to strengthen its own constituency among black and Hispanic tenants. The bill gained the support of the leadership within the legislature and made rapid progress -- it was difficult to be opposed to neighborhood preservation, especially when potential recipients were scattered in many of the state's electoral districts. The main question was whether funding could be found in a year of financial stringency. Eventually, with the support of Governor Hugh Carey, the program received an initial budget of $500,000 for its first six months and $5 million the next year. Eleven of the first fifty neighborhood organizations to be funded were ANHD affiliates. By 1982 total funding of this law had reached $9.6 million, with 250 recipient neighborhood organizations statewide.[92]

Another bill introduced by NYSTNC in 1977 banned retaliatory eviction. The bill sought to protect tenants from reprisals for joining a tenant organization or for making a complaint in good faith to a code enforcement agency. While this right was guaranteed to tenants covered by rent regulation laws, tenants in many upstate areas and those in small buildings excluded from rent legislation had no such protection. NYSTNC introduced this bill because it believed the bill established a basic civil right; there was as yet no great demand for the bill from its tenant constituency. Consequently, it took time to build support for the legislation, and it was not until 1979 that the bill was finally successful.

The effective cooperation in 1977 of NYSTNC and Met Council to secure the extension of the rent laws cemented a relationship that, in 1978 and again in 1979, allowed the joint introduction of a statewide rent control bill. This bill was in fact a modification of that introduced by NYSTNC in each of the two preceding years. The federations also worked together somewhat uneasily, with other neighborhood organizations and within an ad hoc group, the Coalition against Rent Increase Pass-alongs (CARIP), which had come into being initially to oppose and challenge a series of city decisions to add special increases to rents when costs, such as labor or fuel, rose sharply.

Michael McKee was the only tenant activist appointed to membership of the Temporary State Commission on Rental Housing, which had been mandated by the state senate in its extension of the rent laws in 1977. The 1980 report of the commission, with 114 bitterly contested recommendations and two minority reports, made almost no political impact.[93] However, McKee's frustration with the commission did contribute to a decision by NYSTNC that a system of rent regulations based upon the existence of a housing "emergency" that had to be reaffirmed regularly should be replaced by a permanent system. Thus NYSTNC proposed a Statewide Rent and Eviction Regulation Bill that would regulate rental housing "as a public utility, for the public good and in the public interest," and consolidate the various rent regulation systems into one unitary system presided over by a state agency.[94]

The announcement of this bill at the end of 1980 precipitated a bitter public break with Met Council and CARIP, which regarded NYSTNC's retreat from the statewide rent control bill they had been sponsoring jointly (now known as the Flynn/Dearie Bill) as a betrayal. Met Council declared, in an editorial in Tenant, that Flynn/Dearie was a "rent control-type bill," where the only increases were for hardship. In contrast, the NYSTNC bill was a "rent stabilization-type bill" with annual increases such as those that had led to rapid rent increases under rent stabilization. The NYSTNC proposal was therefore "doing the Landlords' job for them." NYSTNC leaders responded that both bills were study bills, introduced to raise concepts and ideas: Met Council was insisting on treating Flynn/Dearie as viable legislation, but in fact it had not gotten out of committee in three years. However, when a few months later Flynn/Dearie unexpectedly passed in the assembly, NYSTNC sent out a "tenant alert" urging tenants to push their senators to act favorably on it. Nevertheless, the senate blocked passage; this was repeated also in 1982.

NYSTNC continued to find fault with many aspects of Flynn/Dearie; however, it also began to take part in joint talks aimed at making acceptable modifications, and in fact gained considerable input to reshaping it.[95] By 1983 NYSTNC reported with enthusiasm that the bill had been greatly improved by redrafting. NYSTNC especially liked the bill's formula for rent increases, which was tied to the equity investment of the landlord in his building: "This is a novel economic concept, the first serious new proposal for fair rate of return in more than 30 years of rent controls."[96]

NYSTNC had been searching for internal unity, growth, and financial stability throughout its first decade. Initially an ad hoc federation, compromising extensively to develop united stands on issues and to maintain the support of varied neighborhood organizations, it had lacked discipline: members would go off and "do their own thing," often supporting only part of NYSTNC's legislative agenda and seriously detracting from its credibility as a tenant voice. However, the negative political climate engendered by the financial crisis of the city of New York and the new financial austerity of the state that followed led to a demand for more disciplined support. Consequently, the membership of the Columbia Tenants Union, which had attacked NYSTNC in its newspaper, was suspended, and other more conservative groups that had engaged in independent political action, such as the Fresh Meadows Tenants Association and the Tudor City Tenants Association, were not pursued when they failed to renew their memberships.

At the center of NYSTNC's plans for expansion lay the need to broaden its constituency geographically in order to increase its legitimacy with legislators. Consequently, NYSTNC's leaders established an independent nonpolitical entity, the Peoples Housing Network, which obtained foundation funds to allow it to employ organizers in different sections of the state. Although it was almost always short of funds, it was successful in helping to broaden NYSTNC's membership base. One of its strategies was to use the election of tenant representatives in public housing authorities under the Langley Law, a law NYSTNC had drafted, lobbied for, and later defended from attack in the legislature, as an opportunity to mobilize tenants. Later, following the passage of the Neighborhood Preservation Act, it saw the Neighborhood Preservation Companies (NPCs), which were situated all over the state, as potential recruits. A membership drive focusing on these groups in particular helped increase NYSTNC's membership from twenty-seven to sixty-three between April 1980 and May 1981. Only thirty-five of these were situated in New York City. A bylaw change that admitted organized buildings that were not attached to neighborhood organizations also brought it an increasing flow of middle-income members.

Initially NYSTNC set low membership dues and then tried to finance its lobbying activities by urging member groups to contribute regularly to this cause. Consequently, it lived from one financial crisis to another, and its members got used to responding to crises. In 1980 it decided to finance the salary of a lobbyist in Albany in order to increase its efficiency and presence there, and set a scale of dues based on the total income of its members. Consequently, it raised $8,000 in 1980-81 -- twice its total for the previous year. As its membership expanded, it became more ambitious, and in 1982-1983 it budgeted to cover part-time salaries for a statewide coordinator, a lobbyist, and a "federal issues coordinator." Once again it urged its members to voluntarily increase their financial commitments and succeeded in raising $26,000. It also took a first step in following the financial path earlier trodden by Met Council when it established a membership category of individual member with dues of $15 per annum. Its budget was still modest when compared with that of Met Council, which was based largely on individual dues.[97]

Met Council's rate of membership growth declined after 1976, in spite of an increase from three to five in its paid organizing staff. Consequently, when its rent for office space trebled, it was left in a financial squeeze. Its falling growth rate was related to competition from tenant organizations whose rent strikes drained away other potential recruits, the need of organizers to spend time with tenants who were already members, a decline in its renewal rate, and demands placed on the time of organizers by the intractable problems of decay. Met Council's efficiency was also reduced by increasing turnover of its paid staff, who, in spite of great dedication, burned out as a result of long hours at low salaries. This pattern became a matter of increasing concern for Met Council stalwarts as the original core of volunteer leaders was thinned by advancing age and as the time for the retirement of Jane Benedict, chairperson for a quarter of a century, approached and was finally, after earlier postponements, set for the end of 1984.

By the early 1980s Met Council's decline in new members turned into a contraction of membership, from a maximum of over 10,000 in 1980 to under 8,000 in 1983.[98] Met Council was going through major changes at this time: frustrated with the long-term results of its years of organizing, it chose to divert some of its resources and to become overtly more political and radical. A key symbolic issue was its decision to endorse political candidates. This led it to take a strong stand for Assemblyman Barbaro in his 1981 mayoral race on the Unity party ticket against Mayor Koch, who had antagonized Met Council through his anti-tenant policies, appointments, and rhetoric, such as "the free lunch for tenants is over" and "move if you can't afford the rent."[99] The next year Jane Benedict herself ran on the Unity party ticket as candidate for governor, with the ostensible goal of gaining fifty thousand votes and thus giving the party a permanent line on the ballot. However, she fell far short. Meanwhile, in a series of obituaries occasioned by the deaths of early Met Council activists, Tenant revealed the ties of many of them to the Communist party, a fact that had previously been kept under wraps -- less than a decade earlier Jane Benedict had ordered that an issue of Tenant be drastically altered and reprinted because she feared that a center spread celebrating May Day might alienate some members.[100] Concurrently, however, and rather incongruously, Met Council worked politically as part of CARIP, which was chaired by John McKean, a sometime Republican candidate for the state assembly, whose organization, the Tudor City Tenants Association, had earlier pulled out of NYSTNC upon finding it too radical. Met Council saw CARIP as able to compete with NYSTNC; however, without Met Council, CARIP would have had little credibility.

In 1979 a suit forced the Rent Guidelines Board (RGB), the body responsible for setting increases within the rent-stabilized sector in New York City, to hold its meetings in public. The tenant federations cooperated in organizing their constituencies to attend the hearings. When the RGB announced the smallest increases on record, the pattern for subsequent years was set: meetings were held in a circus-like atmosphere before a noisy, confrontational, and packed audience of tenants, landlords and, it is said, "landlords" recruited for the day at central casting. This new focus on the RGB hearing represented an acknowledgment that the majority of tenants were now, as a consequency of vacancy decontrol and the ETPA, rent stabilized rather than rent controlled.[101]

In 1980 NYSTNC launched a campaign to separate the Rent Stabilization Association (RSA), an organization of landlords, from the administration of the rent stabilization system. The RSA had been taken over, after a power struggle in 1978, by a group of activist landlords pledged to use its economic resources to further the political goals of the real estate industry.[102] Intended to be a neutral administrative body, it was transformed into a real estate advocacy organization:

Instead of adequately funding the CAB [Conciliation and Appeals Board], RSA has spent its dues on hiring lobbyists and public relations consultants, and paying lawyers to sue RGB, CAB and even HPD. RSA set up a front group, the Neighborhood Preservation Political Action Fund, to raise money for campaign contributions. NPPAF also ran radio ads upstate during the 1981 legislative session when the Emergency Tenant Protection Act was up for renewal, urging voters to lobby their legislators against "New York City rent control" -- and failing to mention that the ads were run by New York City landlords."[103]

In July 1980 Congressman Ted Weiss demanded an inquiry into the budget of RSA, which, he charged, was being misused for political purposes. He had been alerted to this by NYSTNC, which had already issued a flyer raising questions about RSA encouraging and covering up rent overcharging. NYSTNC continued to carry out its own investigations, and in November 1980 Chairperson Bill Rowen informed Attorney General Robert Abrams of forty-two specific violations by RSA of its statute. The upshot was that Abrams brought suit to prevent the RSA from lobbying or litigating on behalf of landlords. The suit also sought restitution of nearly $1 million in misspent dues. Abrams followed up by petitioning HPD commissioner Gleidman to suspend RSA's registration; however, Gleidman took no immediate action. In 1981 NYSTNC had a bill introduced in Albany to separate the RSA from the rent stabilization system and, by registering rents, to make it more difficult for landlords to overcharge their tenants, but it was not successful. A similar city council bill the next year also failed.[104]

The Emergency Tenant Protection Act was due to expire once again at the end of the 1983 session. This time, however, it seemed unlikely that there would be a simple extension of the law because of the pressure of support for several other bills. These included the Flynn/Dearie Bill, now supported by NYSTNC as well as Met Council and CARIP; the new governor, Mario Cuomo, was also on record as supporting the "principles" of this bill. Met Council and CARIP were optimistic about its chances because of its success in the assembly during the previous two years and promises of support they had garnered from within the senate; NYSTNC was more cynical about the worth of such promises. The NYSTNC-backed bills separating the RSA from the rent stabilization system and requiring the registration of rents were also introduced once again. All tenant organizations expressed support for extending rent regulations to unprotected geographic areas and a variety of previously excluded building categories. They also agreed in their strong criticisms of the rent stabilization system (and therefore of the current ETPA) for giving overly generous rent increases and poor enforcement, including insufficient penalties to deter rent overcharging, and that an important ingredient in correcting such problems was removing the RSA from the system. So strong was the combined tenant assault on the prevailing system that senate Republicans felt under attack. Nevertheless, the extent of opposition from real estate forces led NYSTNC to predict that the most likely outcome was a negotiated bill.

The negotiations turned out to be extremely tortuous, in spite of a degree of agreement on several issues in advance, and the end result inevitably contained compromises that left all parties partly unsatisfied. This result, as laid down in the Omnibus Housing Act, which was in fact a greatly amended extension of ETPA, was that the state Division of Housing and Community Renewal (DHCR) took over the administration of both New York City rent regulation systems, rent control, and rent stabilization. Both systems kept their separate identities but were consolidated administratively with DHCR's administration of ETPA and state rent control in the suburban counties. Rents were to he registered and treble damages for overcharging imposed. Tenants in housing owned by institutions and with unrelated roommates, both of whom had been rendered defenseless by recent court cases, were protected. On the other hand, the formula for hardship rent increases was liberalized, with mortgage interest rates included for the first time; rent-stabilized tenants no longer had the option of a three-year lease; and the period during which overcharge claims could be brought was shortened considerably. These impediments, together with the bitterness of CARIP/Met Council at the failure of the Flynn/Dearie Bill, caused NYSTNC to pause before publicly claiming a major share of the credit for the changes; nevertheless, the results of its campaign against the RSA and for a consolidated, state-run system that provided for registration of rents had been enshrined into law. NYSTNC foresaw potential for the expansion of tenant protections and political power by unifying the system and bringing unregulated areas and classes of housing within it if the tenant movement was strong and focused its attention carefully.[105]

The Omnibus Housing Law set up two situations on which tenants had to act if their rights were to be protected. One was the question of refunds for past overcharges, where the sunset was March 31, 1984, and the onus of proof was placed on landlords once applications were filed. The second was the registration of rents by landlords, where tenants had only ninety days to file challenges after the deadline for landlord filing of June 30, 1984. Failure to file a challenge had the effect of sanctifying the landlord's figures as the legal rent, no matter how inaccurate. NYSTNC geared up to warn tenants and supply them with information by publishing and widely distributing special explanatory issues of its paper, Tenants and Neighbors, and opening a hot line.[106] As a result, it found itself in the spotlight and attracted a flow of new individual and building members. Met Council, however, failed to focus on the situation as a major recruitment opportunity.

The state senate, in passing the new rent law, had insisted on handing the RSA the task of preparing a new administrative code for DHCR, which brought it both a handsome fee and also the opportunity to shape the form of future rent regulation. However, the RSA overplayed it hand. Its proposed code would have so gutted tenant protections that Attorney General Abrams found fifty violations of current landlord-tenant law in the code. Consequently, the code created such an uproar that it allowed the tenant movement, once again united around a major threat, to place so much pressure on the city housing administration, which was required to ratify the code, that it rejected the code altogether. The administration of the new rent law thus began with an outdated but not malevolent code inherited for the time being from the city and a bureaucracy that had begun to gear up for its task very late.[107]

NYSTNC has been building a worthy track record in Albany for a decade. During this time it has scored some notable, though rarely unmixed, successes. Drafting legislation and pressuring legislators, it has become a presence in Albany. During most of this time its presence has been maintained by the intense activity of only a few people: it was only with great difficulty that it could even muster occasional shows of mass support. There are structural factors at work here: some issues, such as rents, have larger constituencies than others, especially when what is at stake has come to be accepted as a right. The constituencies affected by other issues are often small, fragmented, and insufficiently mobilized. Member groups are so involved locally that they must feel that a broader issue is vital to their interests before they attempt to respond significantly. That is, there is a great distance, within the pyramidal structure of the tenant movement, from the grass roots building organizations via neighborhood and citywide organizations to the statewide level: a decision to push for a new law in Albany does not have the same immediacy to most tenants as a rent strike protesting the absence of heat and hot water in their own building. On some of their bills, therefore, NYSTNC leaders were in effect speaking in the name of a constituency that was barely aware of the issues involved. That is, the leaders acted as consumer advocates who analyzed the system, looking for inequities in it, and then drafted bills to alleviate them. The surfacing of a bill would create an opportunity to educate a constituency around an issue, but only sometimes was this done effectively.

According to McKee, in its earlier years NYSTNC had impact because the legislators believed it was stronger than it was. As time passed, and NYSTNC built loyal support in many parts of the state, its clout strengthened. Much of the credit for this belongs with NYSTNC leaders, especially McKee, for their careful research and planning and imaginative deployment of resources. Some of the laws NYSTNC favored were enacted to buy off potential discontent before it erupted. Legislators remember occasions when tenant leaders had successfully stirred up hornets' nests and targeted them accurately. The RSA code fiasco is a recent reminder. The Republican senators from the city have been especially aware of the pressure that NYSTNC can bring to bear on them, even when it appears rather limited to outside observers. Annual NYSTNC legislative conferences, each lasting two days, have also demonstrated a growing, though still small, grass roots strength. Meanwhile, the increased political activity of CARIP and Met Council, and the more open radicalism of the latter, when focused on legislative targets rather than on NYSTNC, have helped strengthen the credibility of NYSTNC and the political clout of the movement as a whole. Politically, the tenant movement has matched the real estate lobby in sophistication if not in wealth.

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