By MONA EL-NAGGAR
At the Rent Guidelines Board public hearing on Thursday, much of the theater and drama were as always: tenants insisting that the proposed increase at rent-stabilized apartments in New York City was far too high, and landlords complaining that it was far too low.
But with this being a mayoral election year, the hearing featured a few different actors.
Among those in attendance were three Democratic mayoral candidates,Christine C. Quinn, the City Council speaker; Bill de Blasio, the public advocate; and John C. Liu, the city comptroller. All three spoke in favor of imposing a rent freeze.
“It is time we finally consider the tenants,” Ms. Quinn said, arguing that owners have fared better than tenants over the course of the recession.
“Good luck on your campaign,” replied Steven J. Schleider, who represents property owners on the nine-member board.
“So you’re taking a position that government can dictate how much money or profit or return a private owner can have?” Mr. Schleider asked.
“We’re focused on the needs of tenants,” Ms. Quinn repeated.
Mr. Schleider shook his head.
Ms. Quinn shot back: “We’ve danced this dance before, we know who’s leading when, who’s following when, and at what point we go from waltz to fox trot.”
The audience broke out in laughter. Some cheered from the back of the room. One man waved his sign that read, “Justice for tenants.”
In a way, the gist of Ms. Quinn’s remark summed up Thursday’s hearing.
This year, the board has proposed an increase ranging from 3.25 percent to 6.25 percent for a one-year lease and 5 percent to 9.5 percent for a two-year lease. Last year, the board approved an increase of 2 percent for a one-year lease and 4 percent for a two-year lease. An additional supplement, which tenant advocates refer to as the “poor tax,” would impose a higher increase in rent for those tenants who live in a rent-stabilized apartment and pay less than $1,000 a month.
Judith Seigel, an 83-year-old artist who owns an 1835 brownstone on Morton Street in the West Village, said her property tax had doubled to about $40,000 over the last decade. And while she said the Village had become more often populated by “movie stars than artists,” it is still her home.
“My husband would come home from his job as a buyer in training at Bloomingdale’s, hang his clothes and lay bricks and scrape paint until midnight,” Ms. Seigel said. “Back then, we could never imagine that World War II emergency rent controls would last beyond 1984, much less 2001. And now it’s 2013.”
Mr. de Blasio criticized the board for holding only one public hearing; since 2005, a second hearing has been traditionally held in the Bronx, Brooklyn or Queens. “By not holding a single hearing in the outer boroughs, the board has marginalized the voices of more than 700,000 renters who face the prospect of higher rents,” Mr. de Blasio said. The board’s solitary hearing “is not just an inconvenience; it’s an outright failure of democracy.”
Mr. Liu called for a one-year moratorium on rent increases.
The board will reconvene next Thursday to vote on the proposed increases.
“It feels like the two sides come from alternate universes, that they are living in different realities,” said Harvey Epstein, another board member who sits on the opposite side of the hearing table from Mr. Schleider. “We have to hear the two sides and try to find some balance.”
Source: New York Times