RGB gets new chair, owner rep

Mar31 Bill de Blasio

Mayor Bill de Blasio

By Sabina Mollot

Mayor de Blasio has appointed two new members to the nine-member Rent Guidelines Board, a new chair and a new owner’s representative.

The two appointments – new chair Kathleen Roberts, a former United States Magistrate Judge, and owner rep Mary Serafy – “have years of experience in both the public and private sectors,” the mayor said in a press release on Tuesday.

The Rent Guidelines Board is responsible for determining rent increases for around one million apartments in the city each year, last year issuing its first ever rent freeze for tenants signing one-year leases.

In an official statement, the mayor said, “Judge Kathleen Roberts has years of experience serving New Yorkers as a United States Magistrate Judge and Assistant United States Attorney in the Criminal and Civil Divisions. Likewise, Ms. Serafy is well-versed in the field of housing, planning and development in both the public and private sectors.

“I’m confident that their addition to the Rent Guidelines Board will serve New Yorkers well – tenants and landlords alike – in establishing rent adjustments that are fair and grounded in real-life conditions in our neighborhoods.”

Roberts has been a mediator, arbitrator and court-appointed special master with JAMS (a private dispute resolution center) since 1995. The announcement noted that she’s specialized in complex commercial cases, including commercial real estate disputes. Roberts is also an adjunct professor at the NYU School of Law, where she has taught alternative dispute resolution for over 15 years.

Serafy currently serves as director of design for BRP Development. Since 2007, Serafy has been responsible for leading BRP’s development activities including planning, zoning analysis, design, coordination, construction administration and LEED Certification. Prior to joining BRP Development, Serafy was a project manager at Danois Architects PC from 1998 to 2007.

During that time, Serafy designed, managed, and coordinated the completion of more than 1,000 residential units throughout New York City.

Roberts and Serafy didn’t respond by deadline to voicemails requesting comment.

However, the Rent Stabilization Association, an organization representing owners in the city, blasted the new appointments.

“This is the third consecutive year that Mayor de Blasio has appointed an owner representative on the RGB without consulting with the largest providers of rent-stabilized affordable housing,” said Joseph Strasburg, president of the RSA.

“It is a courtesy that was always extended by all of his predecessors, regardless of political party,” Strasburg added. “We look forward to educating the new appointees on the issues – including the fact that owners received a total 1 percent rent increase over the past two years, while the mayor over the same two year period increased property tax assessments by 21.6 percent and water and sewer charges of 6.3 percent. With the city’s aging housing stock – most buildings are over 75 years old – owners cannot maintain the affordable housing they provide when their only source of revenue is being eliminated. It is hypocritical for the mayor to talk about preserving affordable housing, then deny apartment building owners the ability to do so.”

Katie Goldstein, executive director of Tenants & Neighbors, said she hoped the new chair would be willing to meet with tenants before this year’s vote in June.

“With over a third of rent-stabilized tenants paying 50 percent or more of their income in rent, we hope that the mayor’s appointments will be fair-minded on the Rent Guidelines Board,” Goldstein said. “We hope that Judge Kathleen Roberts will meet with and listen to tenants as the new chair, and makes decisions based upon the clear facts that the Bloomberg Rent Guidelines Board overcompensated landlords leading to an unprecedented nine year span of increasing landlord profits.”

Mike McKee, the treasurer and spokesperson of Tenants PAC, said he wasn’t familiar enough with the appointees to comment on their entry into the RGB. However, he indicated the more time-sensitive battle over affordable housing was at the state level and upcoming special elections.

The first public meeting of the RGB will take place on April 7 at 9:30 a.m. at the Landmarks Preservation Commission Conference Room in the David N. Dinkins Municipal Building, 1 Centre Street, ninth floor. Prior to that, at 8:30 a.m. there will be a rally outside by the Rent Justice Coalition, a group of tenant groups and legal service groups.

Akina Young, a paralegal for the Urban Justice Center, which is a member of the Rent Justice Coalition, said the coalition will be pushing for a rent rollback this year, in light of owners getting higher increases for years under prior mayoral administrations.

“The only way to make it fair is with one year of a rent rollback or a few years of a rent freeze,” she said. “One year of a rent freeze is not enough.”

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