By Maria Rocha-Buschel
New Rent Guidelines Board tenant representative Leah Goodridge is, first and foremost, a native New Yorker.
“Because I’ve seen the changes in the city over a number of decades, (joining the board) was definitely something I was interested in,” she said. “Being a native New Yorker has allowed me to really see the city and be connected to it where I care deeply about its future and its past.”
Goodridge, a supervising attorney at Mobilization for Justice, told Town & Village that tenant advocacy in her career impacted her decision to join the board as well but seeing so many changes for tenants throughout her life emphasized for her the importance of the work that the board does.
“(The RGB) plays a huge role in affordability, which is one of the main issues in New York,” she said. “I’m from Brownsville, I live in Bed-Stuy now and I’ve seen the neighborhoods change dramatically. People are being priced out.”
Prior to working at Mobilization for Justice, Goodridge was a staff attorney at the Urban Justice Center, where she primarily focused on cases for NYCHA tenants. Her current focus is eviction prevention and she said this experience as well as being a tenant advocate has given her a window into the struggle tenants face due to rent increases.
“I get to see the after-effects of unaffordable rents,” she said. “When the rent is $1,700 or $1,300 then it becomes difficult for lower and even middle-income tenants to pay. A lot of people end up in housing court. It’s a huge pipeline to the shelter system.”
After Goodridge graduated from Vassar College in 2004, she started a program in the Dominican Republic through a fellowship, intending to lead a series of seminars about sex education for low-income communities in the country’s capital city but ultimately created a girls’ empowerment program to help teens learn about self-esteem, body issues and domestic violence, taking cues from those involved in the program on what to include.
“Even though it wasn’t in the U.S., it was the first time I thought I could do something, take my education and background and impact someone’s life,” she said. “That was the experience that made me realize I was going to be in public service. I had never been (to the Dominican Republic) before but I wanted to get out there in the world and help.”
The timing meant that within a few years in 2009, she wasn’t able to continue funding the program because of the recession.
But she said that the experience was life-changing because it allowed her to see poverty from a different perspective and it prompted her to take classes on housing and structural discrimination when she went to law school at UCLA. The experience also gave her the background to start another program helping New Yorkers start nonprofits in communities of color and helping people start small businesses.
“That was impactful for me because I was able to meet so many people who wanted to contribute to their community in different ways,” she said. “I got to see how the role of daycares, religious institutions, barber shops and places like that were important and how that created a community.”
Regarding the recent preliminary vote for the Rent Guidelines Board, Goodridge said that she is still optimistic that tenants will get low increases at the final vote in June. Tenants and advocates often deride the preliminary vote as a sham, but Goodridge said she feels that it’s an important part of the process.
“It allows time for all the board members to get a sense of where everyone else is at, then logically after the preliminary vote is when people come and testify about what impact it would have if rent were to go up,” she said. “It wouldn’t be great if it were a one-time, one-shot deal, because in that case, we might not even know how other members will vote, so it’s good to see where folks are.”
In addition to a new tenant representative, the mayor also appointed Angela Sung Pinsky as an owner representative and Rodrigo Camarena as a public member and Goodridge said that these changes require an adjustment period for the board.
“We have three new members who were appointed at the same time so there’s a settling-in period,” she said. “I am hopeful that in the next couple of weeks, we can come to an agreement that’s appropriate and doable for New Yorkers.”