When Zara Realty bought her building back in 2014, they made, according to her, some “necessary and unnecessary” improvements to her building and enrolled in the Major Capital Improvements (MCIs) program.
Since the 1970s, the program has allowed landlords to apply hikes to rent-stabilized tenants in order to pay for the costs of new improvements.
This led to rent increases in her building that ranged from $366 to $600, which has proven to be a burden for Budnetz, but for others effectively an eviction notice.
“We just feel so distressed beyond what we can cope, we don’t know what to do,” she said.
Budnetz was one of dozens of tenants who participated in a rally on Saturday that unveiled a potential sign of relief for tenants affected by MCIs.
The rally, which was organized by Woodside on the Move, was to support new legislation that would end the program.
Last month, Assemblyman Brian Barnwell and State Senator Michael Gianaris introduced a bill that would end the MCI program and allow landlords to apply for tax credits in order to recoup the costs of improvements instead of hiking rents for tenants.
According to Barnwell, not only will the bill abolish the MCI program, it will also include a provision that will allow residents to petition to have their rents restored to pre-improvement levels if the rents increases occurred within the last decade.
“Whatever it was before all the increases, it would go back down to that,” he said.
In addition, Barnwell said landlords will face heavy fines if the apartment fall back into disrepair and unlivable conditions.
“No more slaps on the wrist, this is a serious bill,” he said.
Gianaris said many people are suffering because of the lack of affordable housing in the city.
“These neighborhoods are great because of the people who have lived here all these years, and we want to keep them here,” he said.
Woodside on the Move organizer Ivan Contreras said he understands that landlords can’t always afford necessary improvements, and that the goal isn't to force them to pay.
He said tax credits would alleviate costs without passing them onto tenants, who once the rent is hiked, are forced to pay for the improvements indefinitely.
“The law as it is right now doesn’t work,” he said.
State Senator Jose Peralta and Assemblywoman Ari Espinal were also present at the rally, as well Jessica Ramos and Catalina Cruz, their respective opponents in this week's Democratic Primary. Congressional candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was also in attendance.
During the rally, Ramos, Cruz, and Ocasio-Cortez signed a pledge stating that they will make the elimination of the MCI program a priority.
Budnetz and other tenants were encouraged, but admitted the fight is not over yet.
“I think it's going to be a 'David and Goliath' fight, but we have to fight,” she said. “We have no choice.”