By WINNIE HU
Published: June 5, 2013
Even as many New Yorkers face substantial rent increases, they will have one less chance to complain about it.
Citing poor attendance in the last few years, the Rent Guidelines Board, a nine-member board appointed by the mayor, has eliminated a public hearing this month that has traditionally been held in the Bronx, Brooklyn, or Queens since 2005. The remaining public hearing will be held in Lower Manhattan on June 13 from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.
The rent board is proposing to allow rent increases for tenants living in about one million rent-stabilized apartments in New York City. For a one-year lease, the proposal would allow an increase of from 3.25 percent to 6.25 percent; it would be from 5 percent to 9.5 percent for a two-year lease. Last year, it approved rent increases of 2 percent and 4 percent, respectively, after a dip in landlords’ operating costs. The board will make a final decision on June 20.
Renters outside Manhattan, and their advocates, say that many people want to testify this year because of the large increases that are being proposed, but will not be able to get to the Manhattan hearing because they cannot afford to take time off from work, or would find it difficult to travel there.
“This arrangement all but assures the working people most affected by the board’s decision will be unable to participate, and their voices will have no bearing on the final rent increase decision,” Bill de Blasio, the public advocate, said in a letter to the board. “This is not a mere inconvenience — it is a downright failure of the democratic process.”
In protest, tenant groups organized a hearing of their own on Wednesday evening in the Bronx that drew more than 180 people. Susanna Blankley, director of housing organizing for Community Action for Safe Apartments, a project of New Settlement Apartments, said they had invited the rent board to attend, but the majority did not respond. The proposed rent increases are higher this year to help cover the increases in operating costs for rent-stabilized buildings, including the cost of real estate taxes, utilities, labor and insurance, said Jack Freund, executive vice president of the Rent Stabilization Association, which represents about 25,000 building owners and managers. He noted that the price index of operating costs for rent stabilized buildings rose by 5.9 percent this year, compared with 2.8 percent last year. “It’s a necessary increase,” Mr. Freund said. “If you want to maintain that work force housing, you have to pass along the cost increases.”
Andrew McLaughlin, executive director of the Rent Guidelines Board, said the board had seen declining attendance at public hearings since the 1990s, when a few hundred people would rise to speak, and the board members would stay as late as midnight. He said that so few people attended the Queens meeting in 2010 that board members sat for an hour with no one to listen to. Last year’s meeting in the Bronx drew 21 speakers (of which 12 were tenants) compared with 55 in Manhattan, he said.
Tenant advocates say that many people do not know about the hearings because they are not well publicized, and the information is provided only in English. Mr. McLaughlin said that notices were sent out to major media outlets, community boards, council members and others, and that translations into Spanish and other languages are available through a function on its Web site.
Mr. McLaughlin added that the board, which had to cut its budget 20 percent last year, to about $450,000, saved between $4,000 and $5,000 by not renting space for the second meeting. He said that the Manhattan meeting was extended by an hour this year, to 7 p.m., and that the board would stay to listen to anyone who had registered by that time.
But renters like Alfreda Lee said it would be difficult, if not impossible, to get there in time. Ms. Lee, 59, said she answers phone calls on a domestic violence hot line in Brooklyn until 6 p.m. or later on weeknights. “We have to work full-time jobs to pay rent,” she said. “If you really wanted to hear from people, you would make it fair.”
Source: New York Times