On Monday, in Union Square, New York States two U.S. senators, Chuck Schumer, center, and Kirsten Gillibrand, right, endorsed Bill Thompson, left, for mayor in next months general election against incumbent Mike Bloomberg.
Rent ranters turn on Bloomberg, who didnt freeze hikes
By Patrick Hedlund
Tenants from across the city and elected officials gathered on the steps of City Hall to decry recently enacted rent increases for the citys 1 million rent-stabilized apartments and chastise the mayor for refusing to support a rent freeze.
Advocates organized the Thurs., Oct. 1, rally on the same day the rent hikes kicked in, raising the prices of stabilized units 3 percent for one-year leases and 6 percent for two-year leases.
The demonstrations intent was to criticize the city Rent Guidelines Boards vote to levy the increases despite the recession. But the gathering ultimately came to resemble a campaign rally for mayoral candidate Bill Thompson, who attended the event.
These days when rents go up, we know whats wrong, said Thompson, the citys comptroller, in front of a vocal crowd waving signs referring to Mayor Mike Bloomberg as Bloombucks. Mike Bloombergs rent-stabilization board, his guidelines board, that continues to increase rents, isnt there for tenants theyre there for the landlords.
Since the R.G.B. is composed of nine members appointed by the mayor including two landlord and two tenant representatives, as well as five public members Bloomberg has been faulted for not advising the board to freeze rents during the downturn. The board has never approved a rent freeze in its 40-year history, and last year voted to approve its highest increases in nearly 20 years 4.5 percent for one-year leases and 8.5 percent for two-year leases.
Mike Bloombergs board continues to escalate rent, continues to squeeze us more each and every day, continues to say to those who rent, New York Citys not for you unless youre going to rent luxury housing and theyre pushing us out of the city of New York, Thompson continued. I see signs here that say he needs to fire his rent board. We need to fire Mike Bloomberg instead.
In June, the R.G.B. voted 5 to 4 in favor of the increases despite calls by many elected officials for no rent hikes. Joining the push was City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who has a strong record on tenant protections but has been viewed as a close ally of Bloomberg.
Whatever year you go to the Rent Guidelines Board [vote], the sad truth is you can predict the outcome before it has even begun, said Quinn, who represents Greenwich Village, Chelsea and Hells Kitchen, and was one of the only speakers not to join in the anti-Bloomberg rhetoric. Whether or not expenses have gone up or expenses have gone down; whether profits have gone up or profits have gone down; whether tenant income has gone up or tenant income has gone down rents go up year after year after year. This is basically a kangaroo court.
Assemblymember Richard Gott-fried, however, pointed to the dearth of Democratic leadership in the Mayors Office as the reason for the invariable increases.
It is so important that we have a chance to have a mayor who will actually speak and work and appoint on behalf of tenants, said Gottfried, whose district covers Chelsea, Hells Kitchen and much of Midtown. It has been 16 years since this city had a mayor who was not hostile to the interests of rental tenants. And thats why we have the Rent Guidelines Boards rent increases that are not only unfairly high, but come on top of year after year after year of unfairly high rent increases.
Brooklyn Councilmember Letitia James, who organized the demonstration, referenced a host of statistics to reinforce the call for a freeze, including figures showing that nearly a third of the citys tenants put half of their incomes toward rent and more than 1.5 million New Yorkers live in poverty.
Yet landlords, according to the Rent Guidelines Boards own income-and-expense reports, they have fared well, she said. In fact, theyre doing better.
Upper West Side Councilmember Gale Brewer said that the mayor should be stripped of his ability to appoint board members, suggesting instead that the responsibility fall on the City Council.
Over all, the common refrain by most at the rally was that Bloomberg needs to be held accountable come Election Day.
We want everyone in the city to become cognizant that your apartment may be the last one that you can live in in New York City if we dont get rid of this corrupt Rent Guidelines Board, said Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal, whose Upper West Side district includes a small swath of Hells Kitchen. Rent freeze, get a new mayor we can all live happily ever after.