New York CIty Council Member Ben Kallos

Capital New York City Council members to call for rent freeze by Ryan Hutchins

City Council members to call for rent freeze

More than half a dozen City Council members will speak out Monday afternoon in favor of freezing rents for the nearly one million New Yorkers who live in rent-regulated housing, Capital has learned.

The council members are expected to speak at a public hearing being held by the Rent Guidelines Board, which is set to vote on possible rent increases on June 23. This is the first time the 45-year-old board has considered a zero-percent increase.

Council members Margaret Chin, Dan Garodnick, Corey Johnson, Ben Kallos, Mark Levine, Ydanis Rodriguez and Helen Rosenthal are scheduled to testify at the hearing, which is starting this hour, according to a draft press release obtained by Capital. City Comptroller Scott Stringer is also scheduled to testify at 5:30 p.m.

The council members will argue that the board, for years now, has favored the interests of landlords over the interests of tenants and that it is time residents get some relief.

“New York City’s renters are currently carrying the highest rent burdens ever recorded—the average amount of rent paid by stabilized tenants has increased to 34.9 percent of household incomes,” Kallos' prepared remarks read, in part. “Over a third of all rent stabilized households pay more than 50 percent of their income towards rent. The time is now for a rent freeze.”

Mayor Bill de Blasio supported the idea of a rent freeze while campaigning as a mayoral candidate last year. But his deputy mayor for housing and economic development, Alicia Glen, recently threw cold water on the idea, given that costs for landlords rose 5.7 percent in a year.

Even some who work in affordable housing have quietly questioned the wisdom of freezing rents, suggesting it could hurt the mayor’s ambitious plans to build and preserve 200,000 units of affordable housing over the next decade.

Still, the council members will say the opposite is true.

“At this point, proposing any rent increases will further endanger our city’s affordability and New Yorkers’ ability to remain here,” Chin is expected to testify. “Whenever we threaten the affordability of our city, we threaten the economic vitality and vibrancy of a place that has long been home to artists, entrepreneurs, seniors and working class families.”

Quotes from some of the other council members' prepared testimony:

—Garodnick: “The safety and security that rent-stabilized housing provides has been under a persistent threat, and these tenants are in need of relief.”

—Johnson: “Over the past decade, the Rent Guidelines Board has overcompensated landlords to the detriment of tenants. This massive increase in owner income occurred as tenant incomes declined, housing affordability deepened, and homelessness in our city skyrocketed.”

—Levine: “There is a direct correlation between Rent Guidelines Board increases, the loss of affordable housing, and the growing homeless shelter population in New York. Last year nearly thirty-thousand families were evicted from their homes. This figure is steadily rising and causing thousands of housing units to become subject to vacancy decontrol. Shelters have consequently swelled to crisis levels and are costing our City millions more than simply helping tenants afford to stay in their homes.”

—Rodriguez: “New Yorkers are suffering under oppressive rents, forcing many to move away from neighborhoods where they have lived their entire lives. If we want to preserve historic communities in this city, we need to keep people in their homes… Affordable housing is dwindling and this is one of the few ways we can preserve this vital resource.”

—Rosenthal: "It is clear to me that the historic annual rent increases created a rent-burden crisis that has spiraled out of control. This Board must take the necessary measures to address the disappearance of our affordable housing stock and take a firm stance to help tenants stay in their homes. Over ten percent of the loss of rent stabilized homes citywide has occurred on the UWS."

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