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Paying Rent

Rents Will Go Up for 1 Million NYC Tenants: ‘This Mayor Is Not Doing Us Any Favors’

9:48 AM EDT on June 22, 2022

Tenants hold signs that say "stop increasing our rents" during the RGB vote on Tuesday night.

Tenants protest the Rent Guidelines Board vote on Tuesday night (Steven Wishnia / Hell Gate)

"It's disgusting," Bronx tenant Joanne Grell told Hell Gate, moments after the Rent Guidelines Board voted on Tuesday night to allow landlords to raise rents on the city’s roughly one million rent-stabilized apartments. The increases—3.25 percent on one-year leases, and five percent on two-year leases—are the largest hikes since the Bloomberg administration.

"It affects my neighbors. It affects my community," said Grell, who earlier in the evening told the crowd outside the hall at Cooper Union that she was struggling to pay her $1,541/month rent before the increases. "There's going to be a tsunami of evictions."

Mariatou Diallo lives in the southwest Bronx and works as a home health aide. An immigrant from Côte d'Ivoire, she said she'd fallen behind in her rent after her hours were reduced during the pandemic. Her landlord tried to evict her. "Most of the people here don't have much income," Diallo noted.

"For me, it's really a lot. And I'm working," added Elene, a 77-year-old tenant advocate at a Brooklyn nonprofit. Elene, who declined to share her last name, pays $1,800 for an apartment in Bay Ridge.

"I'm working so I can pay the rent because my retirement is not enough," she said. "This mayor is not doing us any favors. A photo op, that's all he is."

For months, Mayor Eric Adams publicly refused to advocate for a rent freeze, and repeatedly invoked "mom-and-pop" landlords as a reason the RGB should consider raising rents. But in a puzzling about-face after Tuesday night's vote, Adams called the decision "disappointing."

"This system is broken, and we cannot pit landlords against tenants as winners and losers every year," Adams said in a statement.

Tenants rallied outside the Cooper Union hall before the vote. (Steven Wishnia / Hell Gate)

The RGB is composed of nine members—two landlord representatives, two tenant representatives, and five people who represent the public at large—all appointed by the mayor. Tuesday's vote was the usual 5-4, except instead of the five public members voting as a bloc to support the increases, one public member, Christian Gonzalez-Rivera, opposed them. Landlord representative Christina Smyth voted yes to put them through. The increases will apply to leases that go into effect on or after October 1.

First-year tenant representative Adán Soltren ripped into the board when his turn to speak came, saying he quickly realized after being appointed in April that "this 'impartial' and 'independent' body had already decided many of your fates." He said the public members came up with a new argument for raising rents every time one was debunked. That they regularly asked whether tenants were really struggling that much, he added, showed that they "are out of touch—or, they're out of touch and they don't care."

RGB chair David Reiss, largely drowned out by chanting protesters, said the increases were justified because while "rent-stabilized housing is unaffordable," landlords' costs had risen, with the board's index of typical expenses up 4.2 percent, mortgage interest rates up to four percent, and fuel costs up even more.

The board members quickly headed backstage after the vote.

The Rent Guidelines Board before Tuesday's vote. (Steven Wishnia / Hell Gate)

The increase will cost Sarah Lazur of Crown Heights, a tutor and translator, almost $700 a year. "Maybe I can't go visit my family in California," she said. She already spent "tons of my savings on rent" during the pandemic.

"Before they give an increase, they need to come look at the buildings," said Carolyn Brown. In her west Bronx building, tenants are paying $1,200 to $1,600 a month, but "the roof is leaking down to the vestibule."

According to the triennial Housing and Vacancy Survey, rent-stabilized tenants in New York City had a median household income of $47,000 in 2021, and paid a median rent of $1,400. More than half spent at least 30 percent of their income on rent. In the last five years, the city has lost 96,000 apartments renting for less than $1,500. Adjusting for inflation, it's lost 500,000 since 2008. Only 17 percent of rent-stabilized apartments still cost less than $900.

"It's not really about data," Sheila Garcia, the other tenant representative, told Hell Gate after the vote. Public members "keep talking about the small landlords"—the argument also made by Mayor Adams, himself a small-time landlord. But only one percent of landlords own ten units or less, Garcia said.

There isn't much good data on who owns rent-stabilized apartments, Community Service Society housing policy analyst Oksana Mironova told Hell Gate, because ownership is generally hidden behind limited-liability corporations. But according to a JustFix report released in May, 89 percent of rental units in New York City were registered with the City as owned by corporations. More than half of those corporate landlords control more than six buildings, while less than five percent of individual owners do, it said.

Only about ten landlords and supporters showed up at the RGB vote, staying discreetly in a back row on the far side of the auditorium. Among them was Jonathan Kimmel, who was RGB chair in 2013 when the board allowed increases of four percent for one-year leases and 7.75 percent for two-year leases.

"The average New York City household needs to double their income to have an average rentable unit in this city," Adams said while announcing his homelessness-reduction program on June 14. But his first nomination as a public member was Arpit Gupta, an adjunct fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a rightwing urban policy think tank that has stridently opposed rent regulations.

Soltren said that most of the board had "feigned interest" in tenants' concerns. One public member fell asleep at a public hearing in Queens earlier this month, he said, while others were on their cell phones during testimony. But the conundrum, he added, is that "people can’t stop coming out": If tenants don’t show up and testify, then they really won't get any attention.

Garcia, who has served on the board since 2014, called Soltren's diatribe "necessary."

"It's frustrating," she said before the vote. "The disrespect to poor people in this city is insane."

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