Opinion: Five tips to testify effectively for fair rent in front of the RGB

Some of the members of the Rent Guidelines Board, pictured at a hearing last year (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Angela Pham, member, Met Council on Housing

At my day job, I’m a professional storyteller — I use words and stories strategically to get executives to buy something. This kind of persuasion is handy not only in a business context, but also to be heard in other areas.

But you don’t have to be a professional storyteller to see impact. With the upcoming Rent Guidelines Board (RGB) vote, we all have the opportunity to use stories for persuasion.

If you’re a rent-stabilized tenant, or are just an everyday citizen concerned about the lack of affordable housing in our city, you can use your voice for good by providing a 2-minute testimony in one of the upcoming public hearings.

The downtown Manhattan Hearing will be Wednesday, June 14 from 2-8 p.m. at Alexander Hamilton U.S. Customs House 1 Bowling Green.

These stories help members of the board decide whether they will increase the rent of a million stabilized tenants’ rents by a lot, a little, or not at all—and that often means the difference between tenants having a home or becoming displaced.

Here are 5 tips to help you craft your testimony.

Be personal. Many New Yorkers have the data about our rising homeless populations, our stagnating wages, and our escalating rents. But few have the stories you do. The more personal you can make your testimony, the better—whether you struggle to pay rent every month, whether you see your neighbors come and go as they lose the fight to afford their homes, or whether you have two children at home who are living in unsafe conditions.

Tell a story. Most of us have a long laundry list of grievances that demonstrate how our landlords aren’t creating living conditions that justify the rents we pay. But focusing on one story is often more memorable. For example, you might use your entire two minutes to talk about a story with a beginning, middle, and end: What’s lead to your rent being raised above the RGB increases, how you struggled to fight for your home, and how the outcome showed you that a rent freeze is the only solution for people like you.

Share the little details. Think about the senses you feel every day, then use those to paint a story for your viewers that helps them empathize and imagine the conditions you describe. For example, has your landlord neglected your repairs for so long that your ceiling paint crumbles onto your bed every night? Do you remember the sinking feeling you had in your stomach when you wrote out your last rent check for an amount you knew you didn’t have in the bank? Does opening your mailbox fill you with fear and remind you of the time you got that unwarranted eviction notice? Has your landlord gotten Major Capital Improvements (MCIs) that raised your rent? Capture little details like this that will linger in the board members’ minds long after your testimony is over.

Be concise. There’s a giant 2-minute timer that will count down the limited time you have to speak. So make sure your testimony doesn’t go over by more than a few seconds. Practice a few times to get your script down to the right length.

Be respectful. Many of us dislike landlords and the real estate lobbyists that put people over profits. But name-calling more often creates discord than empathy, and we want the whole of the RGB—real estate reps and all— to empathize with our plight. So stick to sharing your story with feelings of hope, grief, or anger—but not with hatred.

If you would like to learn more about the testifying or the Rent Guidelines Board, please contact the Metropolitan Council on Housing or email info@metcouncilonhousing.org.

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