Baruch professor appointed as a public member of RGB

Hilary Botein said she was surprised to be asked to serve on the board. (Photo courtesy of Hilary Botein)

By Sabina Mollot

Last Thursday, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced two new appointments to the Rent Guidelines Board — the same day the board held its first meeting to help determine this year’s rent increase (or freeze) for over a million households.

One was real estate professor and lawyer David Reiss. The other was Hilary Botein, an attorney and associate professor at Baruch College’s Marxe School of Public and International Affairs, who teaches courses on housing and community development policy. Both she and Reiss are now public members, replacing K. Sabeel Rahman and Steven Flax.

Reached on the phone after Botein attended her first RGB meeting as an active participant, she told Town & Village the call from the mayor’s office came as a surprise. However, saying yes to the unpaid position wasn’t difficult for Botein, who’s been to many RGB hearings and meetings as an observer and has also sent her students to the often raucous forum for assignments.

“It is a lot of work and a big responsibility,” she said, “but I also felt it was an opportunity to bring my experience and knowledge of housing in New York to (impact) millions of people.”

According to a brief bio issued by the mayor’s office, Botein’s research “explores factors that influence urban development, with special attention to policies and programs underlying affordable housing and community development, including for vulnerable populations.”

She worked for 18 years as an attorney and policy analyst on affordable housing and economic justice issues. From 1999 to 2003, she was director of program and policy development at the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD).

Asked if her background, which includes a focus on affordable housing, means she thinks the rent is too damn high, Botein said this is not necessarily going to be the case.

“I really do take seriously that I’m appointed as a public member,” she said. “It’s a long, very detailed process that revolves around information. I’m coming into this with no preconceptions.”

On that very detailed process, Botein said her desk has already been stacked high with binders of information from the morning’s meeting.

“It is kind of exciting to be getting reports and getting into crunching the data.”

She added that she sees the RGB process, which involves testimony from tenants as well as landlords, looking at costs of living and costs of operating property and then finally making a vote “the beauty of New York.

“Even though not everyone agrees, everyone has a right to be heard on this issue,” Botein said. “Of course everybody feels like they’re being wronged.”

She declined to opine on the recent decision by a judge to maintain the rent freeze voted on by the RGB last year. The freeze had been fought by a group representing landlords.

The voting process has over the years has been blasted as a sham by critics on both sides, but Botein insisted that isn’t true.

“It’s a process that relies on data and a lot of hard work goes into gathering that data. It’s an important process and it’s a process that everybody takes seriously,” she said.

Botein added that she expects that Baruch’s Marxe School, which is “committed to public service,” will be understanding that through June, hearings and meetings will be cluttering up her calendar.

De Blasio, meanwhile, cheered his two new recruits in a press release, saying, “Professors Reiss and Botein are experts in real estate law and urban policy planning and will serve New Yorkers fairly as they work to strike the right balance on any rent adjustments.”

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