Rent board refuses to freeze hikes, even amid a recession
By Kara Bloomgarden-Smoke
The Rent Guidelines Board approved increases of 2 percent to 4 percent on one-year leases and 4 percent to 6 percent on two-year leases for rent-stabilized apartments at a preliminary meeting on May 5.
A small but vocal group of tenants and tenants rights organizations expressed their outrage at any rent increase as the nine-person board debated in the Great Hall at Cooper Union in the East Village.
The Rent Guidelines Board consists of nine members — two members represent tenant interests, two represent owner interests and the remaining five are “public members.” All are appointed by Mayor Bloomberg.
Both tenant members voted in favor of a rent freeze, which was proposed by tenant member Ronald Languedoc and supported by Adriene Holder, an attorney at the Legal Aid Society. Cheers from the audience greeted Languedoc and Holder as they spoke about the detrimental effects of the recession on tenants in rent-stabilized apartments. Their proposal was vetoed 7 to 2.
“Owner member” Steven J. Schleider, who is the president of Metropolitan Valuation Services, recommended an increase of 5 percent on one-year leases and 9 percent on two-year leases, noting that he himself grew up in a rent-stabilized apartment and recognized that it was “not a birthright.”
“Housing is a right, not a privilege,” shouted an audience member to cheers.
“This is going to cause more hardship for tenants,” said Wasim Lone of GOLES (Good Old Lower East Side), the local tenant advocacy organization. “This is what we expect from Bloomberg’s handpicked board. This is disappointing but not surprising.”
“These increases are not called for or justified by the statistics,” said Mario Mazzoni of the Metropolitan Council on Housing. “The landlords are going to make money while the tenants lose money.”
Although the audience was vocal during the meeting and held up handmade signs, the Great Hall was not nearly filled. This was attributed to the nature of a preliminary vote.
“The public had no opportunity to speak out today,” said Maggie Russell-Ciardi, executive director of Tenants & Neighbors, noting that tenants will have an opportunity to share their stories during the upcoming public hearings.
There will be public hearings on June 15 and 17 and the final vote will be at Cooper Union on June 24.
“The numbers can change on the day of the final vote so it is important for tenants to show up,” said Russell-Ciardi.