At Hearing, 3 Mayoral Candidates Advocate Rent Freeze

By MONA EL-NAGGAR

Kathleen Jones, with a Bronx community group, cried at a public hearing in Manhattan while talking about higher rent costs.

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

Rent Board Trims Roster of Hearings on Increases

By 
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

RGB Approves Low Increase in Rents

NY Times

Board Is Met With Jeers as It Recommends an Increase in Rents

By C. J. HUGHES

May 1, 2012

A panel voted on Tuesday to recommend raising rents on rent-stabilized apartments in New York City by amounts comparable to those approved last year.

By a vote of 5 to 4 at Cooper Union’s Great Hall, the Rent Guidelines Board approved increases of 1.75 percent to 4 percent on one-year leases, and 3.5 percent to 6.75 percent increases on two-year leases.

The actual increases will be narrowed to a single percentage when the board votes again on June 21, after hearings on June 13 and 18, at which members of the public can testify.

Last year, the nine-member board, which is appointed by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, approved increases of up to 3.75 percent on one-year leases and 7.25 percent on two-year leases. About one million apartments in the city are rent stabilized.

As in the past, protesters jeered from their seats during the vote, under the watchful eyes of police officers, who set up metal detectors at the front doors.

The meeting coincided with May Day protests by the Occupy Wall Street movement. Helicopters buzzed, nearby streets were closed, and a band with a tuba and drum played outside.

Some protesters at the board meeting carried a banner reading, “Tenants are the 99 percent,” while others shouted, “Greed” and “Shame on Bloomberg” while the board members spoke.

But the protesters’ ranks were thinner this year because of an Occupy march scheduled for around the same time on Broadway, said Larry Wood, a housing advocate.

Still, he promised, they would turn out in droves in June. “There will be a lot more theater for the next vote,” Mr. Wood said.