Socialist notches key NY Senate appointment

Brooklyn’s Jabari Brisport lands on housing committee

Sen. Jabari Brisport (Photo via Jabari for State Senate; iStock)
Sen. Jabari Brisport (Photo via Jabari for State Senate; iStock)

The Democratic Socialists of America just got another seat at the table where New York state housing laws are decided.

Sen. Jabari Brisport, a newly elected Democrat from Crown Heights, was named to the Senate’s Committee on Housing, Construction and Community Development. Housing bills must typically be passed by the panel to come up for a vote on the Senate floor.

Brisport, a public school teacher who defeated Assembly member Tremaine Wright in the Senate race’s Democratic primary with the support of the DSA, campaigned on canceling rent, raising taxes on the wealthy, funding public housing, enacting a blanket eviction moratorium and passing statewide rent control. Such a moratorium was enacted in January, and progressive lawmakers have continued to push for the rest of that legislative wishlist.

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Brisport said that he was excited to join such other “housing champions” as Sens. Zellnor Myrie and Julia Salazar, who have both pushed pro-tenant legislation. He said his first priority on the committee is passing Salazar’s bill to cancel rent.

While he said he has not been in contact with any “large or corporate” landlords in his district, he highlighted the inclusion of a landlord hardship fund in that bill, but said he is trying to address the state’s housing affordability crisis after the pandemic ends.

“The problem we are trying to address is, what do you do when the eviction moratorium is over?” said Brisport. “What do you do with the million-plus people who have not been able to pay rent for months?”

The figure comes from Census survey data, compiled by consulting firm Stout, showing 800,000 renter households have no or slight confidence in their ability to pay next month’s rent. Adding some of the households with moderate confidence in that ability brings the number to 1.23 million.

Industry reports have indicated that rent payments have remained steady throughout the pandemic, however, and not far below pre-pandemic rates.

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Brisport’s appointment, by Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, moves the 11-member committee further to the left, reflecting the two-thirds majority Senate Democrats secured in the November election.

From 2019 to 2020, four Republican senators sat on the committee, which approved some of the most progressive housing legislation ever passed in New York. Now, just three Republicans are left: Long Island’s Phil Boyle, Canandaigua’s Pamela Helming and Ulster County’s Mike Martucci.

Two newly elected Senate Democrats, Sean Ryan of Buffalo and John Mannion of Syracuse, were also appointed to the committee. Both have expressed support for Stewart-Cousins’ plan to raise taxes on the wealthy to address New York’s budget deficit, which Gov. Andrew Cuomo has called a possibility he prefers to avoid.

One more housing panel seat for a DSA-backed senator may not determine the fate of such controversial legislation as good-cause eviction, which is essentially statewide rent control. It does, however, reflect the sustained influence of the socialist group, whose handful of state candidates swept their races last year.

The committee’s restructuring stemmed in part from Republican retirements: Queensbury Sen. Betty Little and Albany Sen. George Amedore did not seek re-election.

In addition to the Republicans who vacated their seats, Manhattan Sen. Liz Krueger, who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, will not serve in the Housing Committee this cycle.

Last February, progressive groups pressured Krueger to support taxes on the wealthy. They issued a report highlighting the billionaires who call her district home, including Blackstone’s Stephen Schwarzman and Jonathan Gray, Lefrak Organization CEO Richard Lefrak and New York Mets owner Steven Cohen.

Correction: Brisport defeated Assembly member Tremaine Wright in a Democratic primary for Senate. Wright was not an incumbent senator.