By Sabina Mollot
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.”
On his thoughts about the RGB itself, he said, “We’ve only just had our first meeting, so I don’t have too much to say about it. I’m new and I’m looking forward to getting a better feel for the issues and some of the history.” As far as what his goals are as a member, Rahman said, “My goal is to do the best I can. We’re still in the beginning of the process, and a lot of the beginning of the process is to get a sense of and a handle on what’s going on with the state of the economy and the state of the rental market.”
On the other two appointments, according to the official press release from the mayor’s office, Schaub has ten years of experience as a community organizer with a “significant focus on housing.” The new owner member, Walsh, previously worked as an architect and has consulted for the Urban Land Institute. He has also been widely reported to be an ally of the mayor’s.
However, Wiley Norvell, a spokesperson for de Blasio, said there are a number of factors that go into determining who gets picked for seats on the board, and denied that anyone’s a proxy for the mayor. The board’s chair, Rachel Godsil, has some input, and there are a specific qualifications for those seeking to be public members. Those members have to have five years of experience working in either housing, finance or economics. Owner members are expected to have knowledge of issues surrounding property management, construction and lending, and tenant members should have a background in tenant organizing and affordable housing.
But there’s not an open application process. Potential candidates are searched out and then picked by the administration.
When asked if the mayor was hoping for a rent freeze this year as he announced he was last year, Norvell said it was too soon to determine that since the latest data surrounding landlord vs. tenant income has just been released.
On March 12, the RGB released its 2015 Income and Expense Study that determined owners’ net income (after operating expenses are paid) had grown by 3.4 percent from 2012-2013. This meant that it the ninth consecutive year owners saw an increase in income. During that same time, the report determined that rental income had gone up by 4.5 percent. Total income had also gone up by 4.5 percent while owner expenses were increased by 5 percent.
The board, which includes two tenant members, two owner members and five public members, including the chair, vote every June on what the increases will be for roughly 1.1 million rent-stabilized households in the city.
Last year, despite the mayor’s call for a rent freeze, the board opted to authorize the historically low increases of one percent for tenants signing one year-leases and 2.75 percent for those signing two-year leases.