When Cushing Dolbeare founded NLIHC in 1974, she was part of an era in which housing advocacy was emerging across the country in response to changing policies that could adversely affect poor tenants. In New York State in 1971, the legislature passed bills to dismantle rent regulations that had been in effect since 1943. In 1970, the New York City Council passed an ordinance that allowed annual rent increases for apartments while they remained rent controlled. Landlords undertook strategies to coerce tenants with rent-regulated apartments to move so that rents could be decontrolled and raised.
Tenant organizing surged in response. Sixty-seven neighborhood tenant organizations formed in New York City between the years of 1969 and 1973. Threats of displacement and rent increases drew both working and middle-class tenants to join with the active lower income tenants. City based advocates began to build suburban and upstate constituencies, so as to increase their influence at the state capitol in Albany. In 1973, Michael Ehrmann of the West Side Tenants Union, and Michael McKee of the Brooklyn Tenants Union, established the New York State Tenants Legislative Coalition (NYSTLC), which became the New York State Tenants and Neighborhood Coalition (NYSTNC), and is now known as Tenants & Neighbors.
The state legislative session of 1974 proved to be monumental for tenant organizing in New York. Along with New York City constituents, public housing tenants in Albany spoke up about sub-par conditions and a lack of representation in local and statewide decision-making. The tenants, supported by United Tenants of Albany, went on strike and demanded the Albany Housing Authority Board be expanded from five members to seven, with the new members being tenants elected by other tenants. This rent strike led to passage of The Langley Law, allowing upstate public housing tenants the right to elect up to two representatives to the governing boards of local housing authorities. Two other pieces of housing legislation were also passed: The Cooperative/Condominium Fair Practices Act, and The Preservation of Sound Housing Act, both of which protected tenants against strategic displacement by landlords.
Today, NLIHC is proud of our affiliation with Tenants & Neighbors, an NLIHC State Coalition Partner, and United Tenants of Albany, an NLIHC member.
Historical information for this article is from the United Tenants of Albany's “Reflections: 40 Years of Housing Activism 2014 Calendar” and The Tenant Movement in New York City, 1904-1984. (Source: Lawson, R. The Tenant Movement in New York City, 1904-1984 (1986), Rutgers University Press.)
NLIHC will mark its 40th anniversary throughout 2014, culminating in a commemorative event on Monday, November 17 in Washington, DC. Please save the date.