By Maria Rocha-Buschel
The city’s Rent Guidelines Board last week voted to increase rent-stabilized rents 4 percent on one-year leases and 7.75 percent on two-year leases.
The hikes are significantly higher than last year’s, 2 and 4 percent for one and two-year leases, respectively, though the RGB’s preliminary votes could have allowed for increases as high as 9.5 percent for two-year leases.
Tenants turned out to the meeting in full-force, often shouting over the two owner members on the board who wanted to implement the maximum increases.
Jimmy McMillan, of the Rent is Too Damn High party, was one of the few people who stayed outside during the meeting, but that didn’t make him any less dedicated to the cause.
“I’m gonna do my next video butt naked. All my clothes money went to rent,” he said afterlearning about the results of the final vote.
One of the two tenant members, Harvey Epstein, offered the first proposal of the meeting, calling for a rent freeze.
“Tenants are struggling. Unemployment and eviction continue to rise. It’s a direct contrast as the net operating income of landlords continues to grow,” he said.
“Landlords can apply for hardship increases and not one landlord applied in 2012. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of tenants applied for DRIE and SCRIE benefits. Many tenants came and gave testimony saying that they have to make the decision between paying rent and paying expenses.”
Owner member Steven Schleider proposed a 6.25 percent increase for one-year leases and a 9.5 percent increase for two-year leases, as well as a 5 percent vacancy allowance and a 10 percent sublet allowance. Schleider said that housing in the city is “generally affordable,” adding, “Tenant subsidies are available through SCRIE and DRIE.
“No board member denies that tenants are struggling, but we don’t have the power to address it. Operating costs are understated and buildings are more expensive to operate every year. The vast majority of landlords need the increases.”
Tenant member Brian Cheigh then submitted a second proposal, countering with a 3.25 percent increase for one-year leases and a five percent increase for two-year leases.
Elected officials and advocates are continuing to work towards changes in the system. Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh and State Senator Daniel Squadron are co-sponsoring legislation that would change the way the RGB members are appointed.
City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who supports the legislation, was disappointed in the vote’s results. “The Rent Guidelines Board had an opportunity to protect tenants, an opportunity the Board squandered when they chose to subject New Yorkers to disruptive rent hikes instead,” she said.