By Sabina Mollot
Spring has sprung and every four years in New York means one thing: that government decisions made at the city and state levels will be directly impacting the affordability of over a million stabilized apartments.
The city’s Rent Guidelines Board is beginning the process of debating what this year’s increase will be for renters with its first meeting of the year set for this Thursday. The final vote will be made in late June.
The rent regulations that affect the city, made in the state’s capital, are also set to expire on June 15. Though they’re expected to be renewed, lobbying from both the real estate industry and tenants has already begun to hammer out the details.
Both parties will of course have their hands full in terms of advocacy. What this means for tenants, who don’t necessarily have the time to be in two places at once, is that they should prioritize Albany. So states Michael McKee, treasurer and spokesperson of Tenants Political Action Committee (PAC).
“They’re both important, but Albany is more important,” said McKee. “The Rent Guidelines Board is going to be there every year, but this is one of those times when the rent regulations are sunsetting and when Democrats have an overwhelming majority, but there’s no guarantees in politics. This is one year where we have to get this done.”
He recommended that tenants who want to advocate go to RGB hearings to testify if they don’t have the time or the mobility for a bus trip to Albany. Additionally, he noted, it’s not as though anyone has to wait for an organized trip upstate to speak to their local elected officials, as they also have district offices.
“Ideally you should do both, but there are limits to people’s time and energy,” said McKee. “People should not feel guilty about not doing everything that we in the tenant movement are asking them to do.”
A now long dead bill in Albany would have moved the schedule of the RGB from the spring to the fall so there wouldn’t be a conflict of the rent increase vote and the rent regulations sunsetting as well as the rush of taking care of business in Albany before the legislative session breaks for the summer. However, this bill hasn’t seen the light of day since State Senator Tom Duane retired in 2012. Its sponsor in the Assembly, George Latimer, is now a state senator and Duane has been replaced by Brad Hoylman. While he shares many goals with Duane, McKee admitted the tenant movement hasn’t pushed this particular issue in a while.
But the timing is important, with McKee saying he’s hoping the rent regulations won’t be hashed out down to the wire in June, and that they will actually be worked out some time in May.
Local elected officials have been promising this year will be different for tenants due to the overwhelmingly blue State Senate, where previously tenant-friendly legislation never made its way onto the floor.
The next organized tenant event to push stronger rent regulations will be a rally in Harlem called the “Moral March for Housing” on April 11 from 5:30-8:30 p.m. at Abyssian Baptist Church, 132 West 138th Street. Participants will march from there to the State Office Building on 125th Street. The Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association is asking those interested in going to let them know since the association may get its own bus. The TA can be reached at (866) 290-9036.
Tenants can also attend RGB meetings on Thursday, April 4 and 18 at 9:30 a.m. at Landmarks Preservation Commission conference room, David N. Dinkins Municipal Building, 1 Centre Street, 9th Floor. At these meetings members of the board will discuss their research. However, tenants will not be able to give testimony. Invited tenants and owners will be able to give testimony on Thursday, April 25 at 9:30 a.m. at the same location. For more information visit nyc.gov/rgb.