Capital New York Tenant advocates, elected officials push for rent rollback by Kelly Weill

Capital New York
Capital New York
Tenant advocates, elected officials push for rent rollback
Kelly Weill
06/08/2015

The city’s Rent Guidelines Board is proposing a rent increase of between zero and 2 percent for one-year lease renewals on stabilized units but the possibility of a historic rent freeze hasn’t stopped calls for a rollback.

During a hearing Monday in Manhattan, activists and elected officials called on the board to not only stop increases, but to reduce rents citywide. The activists’ calls were countered by building owners and managers who asked the board to raise rents rather than freeze them.

”While last year I pushed for a rent freeze … this year I am joining with the tenant advocates in calling for a rent rollback,” City Councilwoman Margaret Chin said, citing rising housing costs in her Manhattan district.

Chin was not alone. Council members Corey Johnson, Dan Garodnick, Ben Kallos, Jumaane Williams, Helen Rosenthal and Mark Levine also called on the R.G.B. to reduce rents on stabilized apartments.

The crusade for a rent rollback faces significant barriers.

The R.G.B. has uniformly agreed to raise rents every year since its inception in 1969, a fact Johnson noted in his testimony.

“Since the Rent Guidelines Board was empanelled over four-and-a-half decades ago, it has voted for rent increases every year with no exceptions,” Johnson said. “Irrespective of what landlords were making in profits, tenants were asked to pay more.”

A more likely outcome is a rent freeze. The R.G.B. bases its proposed rent changes on a Price Index of Operating Costs report, which compiles data on landlords’ annual expenses. This year’s price index saw only a 0.5 percent increase.

Last year, the board passed a 1-percent increase for one-year leases.

A rent freeze also faces opposition from real estate interests.

Bonnie Diaz, a property manager for a Chelsea building with 10 rent-stabilized apartments, testified at Monday's hearing that her tenants could afford their rent, but that the building could not afford a rent freeze or a rollback.

“Five people who had preferential rents were running very profitable Airbnb businesses” and lived outside the buildings, Diaz said. Her company’s push to evict these tenants incurred “extreme legal fees,” a considerable burden for the small property group.

The R.G.B. will have hearings in Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx before holding a final vote on rent increases on June 24.

“We need a rent rollback so we can stay in our home,” Jamaica Taber, a Brooklynite living in a rent-stabilized apartment told the R.G.B. in her testimony.

“Move to Delaware,” a woman responded from the audience.

Issue: 
Affordable Housing