|Diaz at a rally in Albany last year for former Sen. Pedro Espada's "rent freeze" bill, which tenant advocates called a "de-control bill in disguise." (File photo by Alma Watkins)|
But, over the past year and a half, Diaz himself has done his share to divert attention away from the strengthening of rent regulations.
"I would love to see Mayor Bloomberg and Speaker Quinn set their priorities straight and spend a day in Albany to push for an extension of our affordable housing laws before the deadline passes," Diaz wrote in a statement sent out last week after Bloomberg and Quinn had trekked to the capitol to lobby for gay marriage.
"The Rev" has spent a fair amount of his own time focusing on same-sex marriage -- he organized a rally last Sunday against its legalization -- but he says that was just in response to other politicians pushing the issue.
"I'm not putting [same-sex marriage] as a priority," he said in a phone interview last week.
His priority, he says, is the Emergency Tenant Protection Act, the set of state laws that protect the rent-regulated status of hundreds of thousands of apartments in the Bronx, and about a million across the city. Tenant advocates have been pushing to see the laws not only renewed before the June 15 deadline, but strengthened to close some of the loopholes that landlords use to hike rents in regulated units.
Diaz said the mayor and Gov. Andrew Cuomo were ignoring the approaching June 15 deadline, and that, he says, "is a crime."
But last year, Diaz supported a bill (former senator and housing committee chair Pedro Espada's "Rent Freeze" legislation) that many tenant and housing advocates say would have done the opposite of what he now says is his priority.
The bill, which never made it out of the senate's finance committee, proposed to freeze rents for certain eligible low-income New Yorkers. It was slammed by most tenant advocacy groups as being a pro-landlord bill in disguise because it would be financed by allowing landlords to voluntarily pay back capital improvement tax breaks they received in exchange for allowing them to deregulate the improved apartments.
"It’s basically a de-control bill in disguise,” Michael McKee, head of the Tenants PAC lobbying group and the Real Rent Reform Campaign, told the Norwood News last year.
In the housing committee he ran, Espada repeatedly refused to introduce any of the rent regulation legislation favored by affordable housing and tenant rights advocates. Instead, he pleased landlord lobbyists by continually pushing the "rent freeze" bill.
Diaz was one of six senators to vote in favor of the bill during a housing committee session last June. But he was reluctant to answer questions about it when asked last week, first saying he'd never voted for it, then saying he couldn't remember the legislation in question.
"I don’t even know what you’re talking about," he said. "This is this year. That was last year."
When he was reminded of his vote, and that he attended Espada's rally for the bill (see the photo above), he said it was in the name of friendship.
"I supported Pedro Espada as a friend," he said.
Last month, the Assembly passed a bill that would extend rent regulation until 2016, as well as repeal vacancy decontrol -- the rule that lets landlords deregulate apartments once a tenant vacates, if the rent exceeds $2,000. The legislation faces an uphill battle in the Republican-controlled Senate.