New York State

Q&A: Julia Salazar on ‘good cause’ negotiations and why Solidarity PAC is nothing new

The state senator talks about the state of play on her landmark housing bill as budget negotiations ramp up.

State Sen. Julia Salazar talks about a potential housing deal in Albany.

State Sen. Julia Salazar talks about a potential housing deal in Albany. NYS Senate Media Services

State Sen. Julia Salazar’s landmark bill, “good cause” eviction, has been tied as a key tenet to any housing deal the state Legislature passes. The bill prohibits eviction without a “good cause,” guarantees lease renewals and limits rent increases. Last year, disagreements with Gov. Kathy Hochul regarding “good cause” and other tenant protections derailed the entire budget process, and it’s unclear where those talks will go this session. Salazar, though, remains optimistic about the legislation, calling it “good public policy.”

This year’s budget process is in full swing with state Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins proclaiming negotiations were at the “middle of the middle.” On “good cause,” Salazar is open to compromise, and it has been reported that building exemptions and rent increase caps are already being considered.

It’s also an election year. Salazar, who has been endorsed by the New York City chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America, also talked about Solidarity PAC. The PAC is a pro-Israel organization offering support for candidates who support the state after the Israel-Hamas war became a wedge among Democrats. Salazar, who supports a ceasefire in Gaza, isn’t at risk from the PAC, but it does target many of her allies. But to her it’s nothing new, progressives are always targets in her eyes.

After the state budget was officially delayed, Salazar spoke with City & State for an interview about “good cause” eviction, the state of the progressive coalition and her odds of winning City & State’s budget poll. This interview was edited for length and clarity.

Are you even a little bit shocked that the state budget will be late?

I’m not surprised, given recent history, but also that April 1 happens to fall on a Senate holiday this year and so close to Easter day and Good Friday. It’s unsurprising that we ran out of runway before April 1, but hopefully, next week, or the following, we’ll finally have an enacted budget.

That’s also April Fools’ Day.

It’s true. That’s the thing, I forget about it every year because now I just associate it with the budget, but it’s pretty funny.

One of your biggest bills is “good cause” eviction and we’ve seen some reporting that the legislation might undergo tweaks to applicable buildings and rent increase caps. Do you think your bill will make it through negotiations?

I feel very confident that “good cause,” in a housing package, is going to be included in the final budget. There’s just very strong political will for it, very strong support for it and we’re having really constructive conversations about it that I think are going to produce a final deal that is really good public policy.

Do you expect it to pass as written or are you open to compromise on it?

Definitely. I think that in order to get the strongest policy, we should change the bill as written, and that’s been the subject of the conversations we’ve been having. You know, I do think that the bill as written is very strong public policy, both for tenants and landlords, and I also am sensitive to considerations from all parties, including efforts to make sure that tenants know their rights when this becomes the law. So putting, for example, notice requirements into the statute is important for there to be clarity for both tenants and landlords. So we’re definitely looking at all options to make sure that the intent of the bill is achieved, and also, that it’s the best policy that we can get.

Should people still expect a version of this bill that applies to tenants and landlords in New York regardless of region?

The existing bill isn’t universal, as you know. So there’s exemptions, for example, for buildings with fewer than four units that are owner-occupied. So that’s even in the bill as written but has been subject to negotiation. Absolutely, the bill as written applies statewide. I think that is a very important component of the bill, because, one, whether a tenant lives in New York City or outside of New York City should not impact whether they deserve tenant protections, on principle, but additionally, numerous localities outside of New York City have demonstrated need formally through passing legislation and publicly have demonstrated that they need ”good cause” eviction protections and that they want them. So speaking specifically about the localities, such as Albany, Newburgh, Kingston, Beacon, at one point, Hudson, all of these localities outside of New York City that are facing the same problems with rent, price gouging of tenants and tenants having virtually no protections at all, from an eviction without “good cause.”

So you feel good about an opt-in or opt-out free version of the bill making it to the budget?

It’s unclear at this stage because we don’t have a final deal, and so I don’t want to speak too soon. But for my part, in the conversations about it, my position is that we shouldn’t exempt tenants based on where they live. So I do think that applying it statewide is important.

What’s your take on Solidarity PAC, a sort of localized version of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee?

We have always seen, in my opinion, the interference of special interests that are well-funded in our elections, but I feel really confident that candidates, whether they’re incumbents or insurgents, who are representing the views and the needs of their communities, who are accountable to the communities they are representing or seeking to represent in a grassroots way, that ultimately, our democracy will favor them despite well-funded opposition seeking to interfere with that or defeat them.

I think it does a disservice to our communities when a lot of money from outside is funneled in and billionaires are seeking to buy votes or buy elections. But I think that we have many examples of that strategy no longer succeeding as New Yorkers become more civically engaged and aware, and therefore more resistant to the efforts of unaccountable billionaire PACs.

Does it feel as though this is building off the divide created by the Israel-Hamas war or more like an attack on progressive or socialist-leaning candidates?

It seems to me that maybe it’s both. Before Oct. 7, we saw PACs like this every single election cycle. So in that regard, I don’t think that it’s new. In fact, we know that some of these PACs are essentially the same people, rebranding and presenting in a different way. I think that in that regard, it’s not new, but I do think that they may be messaging in a way that takes advantage of the devastation in Gaza and candidates having the courage to speak out about it.

How do you rate the health of New York’s progressive coalition?

When I think of the words ” New York’s progressive coalition,” I think of the New York Working Families Party, I think of organized labor, I think of, obviously, the Democratic Socialists of America. I think that if you look at the past, let’s say five years, but potentially longer than that, from flipping the Senate blue by defeating the IDC in 2018, the Working Families Party thriving, despite former Gov. (Andrew) Cuomo’s attempts to try to defeat the party by making it harder, essentially, for WFP to keep the ballot line, and then WFP organized in response and New Yorkers demonstrated even stronger support for the party. Democratic Socialists of America over the past five years in each election cycle, we have won at least an additional seat. We’ve gone from having zero DSA-endorsed state legislators before 2018 to now having eight. All of this is to say I think that there’s evidence that progressives and the left in New York are really thriving and have thrived even in the face of very well-funded opposition.

I’m sure you saw, but City & State put out a poll for readers to guess when the budget would be done. Did you participate, or would you like to throw out a guess?

Oh, sure. I’ll participate in the poll. I like voting. But if I had to guess, with the caveat that this is hardly an educated guess because I’m surprised every year, I’m going to go with April 9. April 8 actually, that’s my current guess.

If that holds true, I believe City & State will owe you a branded bathmat.

Valued at less than $15 resale value, I’m sure, as the Public Officers Law requires. Otherwise, I’ll have to split the bathmat into several pieces and share it with my friends.