By Maria Rocha-Buschel
The Rent Guidelines Board voted to increase rents on rent-stabilized apartments by 1.5 percent on one-year leases and 2.5 percent on two-year leases at the final vote in Cooper Union’s Great Hall on Tuesday night. Chair David Reiss put forth the proposal that ultimately passed, citing a slight increase in real estate taxes and possible impacts from the rent regulations that just passed in Albany.
Reiss noted that while the 2019 price index for operating costs and taxes went up for all owners, the ratio of expenses to revenue is “healthy” enough for owners to maintain buildings, making a larger increase unwarranted.
Tenant representative Sheila Garcia expressed the usual disappointment at the lack of a rent freeze, noting that she and fellow tenant member Leah Goodridge felt that the research from the RGB supports a rent freeze.
“I think there would be a chance (for a rent freeze) if people weren’t afraid to do what the data actually states,” she said. “The landlords cry wolf and people fell for it again. They saw the winds around the rent laws as a wind that tenants would be okay and that’s not true. They’re still going to have MCIs and there are still going to be other increases that landlords use as loopholes.”
Garcia and Goodridge submitted a proposal that would freeze rent for one-year leases and increase rent by 1 percent on two-year leases.
“We need to stop ignoring the data that talks about tenant affordability and stop putting it next to profits,” Garcia said before the proposal failed. “We need to decide as a city that we’re going to prioritize people who live here over how much more money someone can make. This is one of the most profitable businesses in the country. Let’s not fall back into the same rhetoric that a modest increase doesn’t mean anything and won’t affect tenants.”
Both tenant representatives, in addition to public member German Tejeda, voted in favor of the proposal but the remaining public members, the chair and the owner members all voted against it.
After the proposal from the tenant members was voted down, owner representative Scott Walsh attempted to put forth the proposal from him and second owner member Patty Stone, although chanting made his discussion on the proposal largely inaudible.
“The city happily raises property taxes while increases are artificially low,” Walsh yelled into the mic amid the chanting. “This is not sustainable.”
The owner’s proposal called for a 2 percent increase on buildings with 41 or more rent-stabilized units and a 2.5 percent increase on buildings with 40 or fewer rent-stabilized units for one-year leases and 4 percent for buildings with 41 or more rent-stabilized units and 5 percent for buildings with 40 or less rent-stabilized units for two-year leases.
All but the two owner representatives voted against this proposal, prompting the proposal from the chair that ultimately passed. Tejada, as well as Walsh, voted against the proposal along with the tenant members. Stone was ultimately the tie-breaker vote, initially passing but then voting for the proposal along with the chair and the three other public members.
The preliminary vote for the RGB in April approved a range of 0.5-2.75 percent for one-year leases and 1.5-3.75 percent on two-year leases.
Tenants rallied both before and after the final vote, with many holding the usual signs calling for a rollback or rent freeze. But a number of other signs criticized Mayor Bill de Blasio, presumably for his presidential campaign that has taken him outside the city in recent weeks, with the mayor’s photo along with text noting that he was last seen in Miami.
“The number one offender is Mayor de Blasio,” Met Council on Housing member Lena Melendez said during the press conference following the vote. “De Blasio is no more a progressive than his predecessor, Mayor Bloomberg. Under (de Blasio’s) watch, we lost a boatload of affordable housing and are facing 15 devastating rezonings.”
Cooper Square Committee organizer Jodie Leidecker returned to the RGB in costume, this time dressed as a witch instead of her ZZ Top outfit that she wore for the preliminary vote.
“A witch is a more universal symbol for evil,” she said, noting that the character was meant to be a stand-in for landlords that continually increase the rent. “The 80s esoterica didn’t register with as many people at the preliminary vote but it felt like a witch would resonate more.”