Rent Guidelines Board Tenant Representatives Sheila Garcia (center) and Harvey Epstein (left) with others at rally in front of 1 Centre Street prior to the RGB’s first meeting of the year (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)
By Maria Rocha-Buschel
Ahead of the Rent Guidelines Board’s first meeting of the year, tenant advocates called for a rent rollback at a forum hosted by Council Member Corey Johnson at PS 3 in Greenwich Village last Wednesday evening attended by about 100 area residents, most of whom were rent stabilized tenants.
Attorney Tim Collins, who also represents the ST-PCV Tenants Association, is the former executive director of the RGB from 1987 to 1993 and he argued that putting a stop to increases for rent stabilized tenants is long overdue.
“Last year I didn’t ask for a rent freeze; I pushed for a rollback then,” Collins said. “The numbers are clear. The board has clear data on where operating costs have gone. We know that operating costs have gone up faster than inflation at 144 percent but landlords have been given 177 percent in increases since 1990. The RGB has overcompensated owners.”
Johnson, who represents Manhattan’s District 3, periodically hosts “Let’s Talk” events for community residents to inform New Yorkers about issues important to them. He won’t be hosting any other events on the RGB this year, but he said that this event was scheduled specifically to be on the night before the board’s first meeting of the year.
“It’s important that New Yorkers understand what is going on and the massive reforms that need to happen,” he said. “And we want to make sure that the RGB is treating tenants fairly.”
Last Thursday, Mayor Bill de Blasio named three new members of the nine-member Rent Guidelines Board, which means the entire board is now made up of individuals he’s picked or has re-appointed.
The new faces include one owner member, Steve Walsh, vice president of development at Forest City Ratner Companies, and two public members, Helen Schaub and K. Sabeel Rahman. Schaub is the New York state director of Policy and Legislation at the healthcare workers union, 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East and Rahman is an assistant professor of law at Brooklyn Law School, who has also taught and serves as a teaching fellow at Harvard Law School and Harvard College. He was also a fellow at the Roosevelt Institute, where he advised Deputy Mayor for Housing and Economic Development Alicia Glen on issues including regulating the sharing economy, homelessness and place-based development.
Of the three new members, Rahman was the only one to answer our questions. (Walsh and Schaub did not get back to us.)
When asked what made him want to take on the role of RBG member, which, as is widely known, means being the target of heckling by both tenants and landlords at raucous public hearings, Rahman indicated he was prepared for that aspect of it.
“It’s obviously a really important issue so people are passionate about it as they should be,” he said. “I absolutely think it’s an important issue and I’m happy to help where I can.”