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Brooklyn News Review

Tenants and Landlords Make Pitch to Rent Guidelines Board Ahead of First Rent Hike Vote


A row of brown tenement
buildings lined a South Bronx
street.

Hiram Alejandro Durán/THE
CITY

With a vote on rent hikes for a million apartments looming
next week, tenants and landlords pleaded their case to the Rent
Guidelines Board in a five-hour meeting Thursday — with one side
asking for a rent freeze and the other for an increase at a scale
the city has not seen in years. 

Tenant
leaders testified that high rents and utility costs are already
forcing New Yorkers out of their homes, and that any rent increase
will result in more evictions, while landlords are not facing
equivalent hardships.

“While New York has various
types of affordable housing, most of it isn’t accessible to New
Yorkers,” testified Leah Goodridge, managing attorney for housing
policy at Mobilization for Justice and an RGB member between 2018
and 2021, appointed by Mayor Bill de
Blasio.

Landlords, meanwhile, pointed to sharp
increases in operating and maintenance costs amid rising inflation,
pointing to a recent RGB report that recommended hikes as high as
8.5% due to higher costs.

The Rent Guidelines Board, whose nine
members are appointed by the mayor, will take their annual vote
next month on maximum rent hikes for one- and two-year leases on
rent-stabilized apartments, based on its own staff reports analyzing the city’s
housing market and testimony from city housing officials and
mortgage lenders, in addition to tenant and landlord
groups.

Thursday’s meeting was one of four public
hearings ahead of a preliminary vote next Tuesday, May 2, at which
the board will set a range of potential rent hikes. Then, at a
final vote sometime next month, the board will take a final vote
that will determine rent increases for leases in the year that
begins Oct. 1.

Always contentious, the vote this year is
particularly crucial as tenant leaders, landlords, elected
officials and policy advocates are in agreement that the city is in
a housing crisis. The board’s research this year showed 30% of
tenants are spending more than half their income on rent, and the
majority are considered “rent burdened,” or spending a third of
their earnings or more on housing costs.

Last
year, the board, in its first vote under Mayor Eric Adams, raised
rents by 3.25% for one-year leases and 5% for two-year leases. That
was a big change from the de Blasio years, when the mayor
successfully urged the board to deliver rent freezes in three of
his eight years in office. 

Now tenant
groups want a return to those zero-increase
days.

“We need a rent freeze in 2023. The numbers
I have heard floated coming out of this board are absurd. They
arecold-blooded,” said Delsenia Glover, a veteran tenant advocate
who spoke on behalf of Harlem’s Lenox Terrace Concerned Tenants
Association. She noted that any increase in rent would threaten
housing for the significant senior population at Lenox Terrace who
live on fixed incomes but are not eligible for the city’s Senior
Rent Increase Exemption Program
(SCRIE). 

Michael Tobman, membership
director for the Rent Stabilization Association, a group of 25,000
landlords who own more than a million apartments, pushed back
against the notion of an eviction crisis looms. He pointed to the
slew of operating costs owners must shoulder courtesy of 24
government regulations, including the Climate Mobilization Act,
which will require many buildings to install energy efficiency
measures. 

“There has been no eviction
tsunami. This is a headline-friendly soundbite that oversimplifies
and misleads,” he said. “Evictions are down everywhere and when
they do happen, again, only a small fraction compared to 2019 and
earlier” — numbers reflected in the Rent Guidelines Board research
showing the 4,109 evictions last year were down 76% from 2019
levels. 

Both groups responded to
research on landlord income and expenses, reported for buildings
with more than 10 apartments.The board found that the average
citywide monthly income for tenants was $1,667, barely outpacing
the average rent of $1,495. Owners’ average operating cost was
$1,091 while the net operating income tallied at $576 per unit per
month. 

‘Experiences Are not the Same’

Tenant leaders pointed to rent-stabilized
housing as one of the last vehicles of affordable housing, and
noted that the state Emergency Rental Assistance Program, which has
paid out $2.3 billion to landlords, helped tenants endure heavy
rent burdens but is no longer taking
applications.

Goodridge noted high housing costs
disproportionately affect Black, Latino and Asian people and have
contributed to a mass exodus of 200,000 Black families from the
city over the last decade — and that the rental debate often and
falsely frames tenants and landlords as
equals. 

“One experience would be a
landlord who was trying to make a profit off of their property,
and, therefore, wants rents to be raised. And the other experience
would be a tenant who is literally on the brink of homelessness
because those rents will be raised,” Goodridge testified. “Those
experiences are not the same and they’re not equal and shouldn’t
even be considered to have the same struggles, but oftentimes
having been on this board, unfortunately, the experiences were
equalized.” 

Property owners argued that
the RGB’s income and expense report’s inclusion of “Core Manhattan”
— areas below West 110th Street and East 96th Street — 
presents a rosier economic outlook for buildings with
rent-stabilized apartments than actually exists, since many
buildings in those areas have few remaining regulated units and
command high rents for retail
spaces. 

The board’s analysis should
focus on buildings outside of core Manhattan, which account for 80%
of rent-stabilized buildings in the city, according to Joseph
Condon, general counsel at Community Housing Improvement Program
(CHIP), an association of 4,000 owners and managers of over 400,000
rent-stabilized rental properties. 

“The
board should give more weight and consideration to their economic
situations compared to other rent-stabilized buildings. We think
these highly stabilized buildings should really be driving the
discussion here,” Condon said. “Pre-1974, highly-regulated
buildings, they have little to no free-market tenants. Many of them
have no commercial income. And there’s no other way to keep up with
operating costs.” 

At least one
testimonial called for not just a rent freeze but a reduction.
Chinatown Tenants Union representative Chen Ren Ping, 65, lives in
a rent-stabilized apartment and said he pays $1,552.36, more than
double his retirement income of
$794. 

“We hope that the Rent Guidelines
Board and all of its members this year will not add any rent and
roll back the rent.”

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