Advocates call to freeze, cancel rent for April

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

City and state affordable housing advocates have proposed suspending this year’s Rent Guidelines Board vote, effectively freezing the rent for rent-stabilized units until June of next year, although the move would have to be enacted by the governor, who had not responded to the proposal by the end of March.

Despite the lack of an official response from Governor Andrew Cuomo, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced last Friday that the city government would be working with the state to suspend the Rent Guidelines Board process for the upcoming year, which would maintain all regulated rents at this year’s level until next year’s vote. The change would affect 2.3 million tenants in almost one million rent-stabilized apartments throughout the city.

“I think if ever there was a time there should be a rent freeze, it is now,” de Blasio said. “So for the millions of New Yorkers who live in rent-stabilized housing in this city, normally you wait until later in the spring for the Rent Guidelines Board to make its decision on what rent levels should be for the upcoming leases. What we’ve seen here, to me, makes clear that we need a rent freeze for everyone who’s rent-stabilized.”

De Blasio also noted that renters who are not stabilized need some kind of relief as well, but since there is already a mechanism in place for rent-stabilized units, he said that at least those tenants should have their rent frozen.

Assemblymember Harvey Epstein introduced legislation last Tuesday that would amend emergency tenant protections in order to prohibit the RGB from increasing rents on certain leases during a state disaster emergency.

State Senator Brad Hoylman also said last week that he supports a rent freeze for both residential and commercial tenants.

“We’re in an extraordinary time and we can’t allow our tenants to be stuck in the cracks through no fault of their own because of this worldwide economic and health disaster,” he said. “It’s one way we can protect people’s apartments. The worst thing to do would be to put people out on the streets. The time to fix the leaky roof is when the sun is shining and once the sun is out we need to begin preparing for this, whether it’s climate change or terrorism or something we didn’t take seriously, like a disease.”

Advocates have also called for officials to cancel the rent for tenants this month but Governor Andrew Cuomo indicated in a press conference on Monday that he wouldn’t consider that possibility, noting that tenants would be able to defer payments for 90 days because evictions won’t be allowed but that tenants will still owe the same amount in rent because owners have bills they will have to pay as well.

Epstein is also a cosponsor of a bill, sponsored by Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou, that would suspend all rent payments for certain residential and small business commercial tenants. The bill would also allow residential and small business tenants whose lease is expiring have their lease renewed at the existing rate and the bill proposes forgiving mortgage payments for landlords that face financial hardships from the loss of rent.

State Senator Michael Gianaris introduced the State Senate’s version of the bill last Monday, arguing that the eviction moratorium from the governor only creates IOUs that will still be impossible for some tenants to pay months from now.

City Council Speaker Corey Johnson said in a statement at the end of March that he supports Gianaris’s proposal to suspend rent for tenants who have lost income due to the outbreak, but also to provide support for small building owners.

“We need to balance rent relief with financial support for building owners whose tenants are suffering, especially small, mom and pop landlords and non-profit building owners,” Johnson said. “We should consider whether we should, in some cases, extend temporary tax relief to those landlords so that they can get through this period.

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