Rents will go up by 1.5, 2.5 percent

Tenants protest the dearth and death of affordable housing at the final vote of the Rent Guidelines Board. (Photos by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

The Rent Guidelines Board approved 1.5 and 2.5 percent increases for rent-stabilized tenants in the board’s final vote at Cooper Union’s Great Hall last Tuesday evening. The event attracted the usual crowd of chanting tenants, most calling for a rent freeze at the vote and pre-event rally and some even hoping for a rollback, but the increases proposed by RGB chair Kathleen Roberts passed in a narrow 5 to 4 vote.

While the annual vote usually ends with a proposal that is a compromise between high increases from the board’s landlord representatives and low increases, or often a rent freeze, from the tenant representatives, a public member voted differently than members in the same position have in the past.

Rodrigo Camarena, who Mayor Bill de Blasio appointed this year, voted with the tenant representatives for a rent freeze while the other public members, as well as the owner members and the chair, voted against the measure.

“For the vulnerable, for the displaced, for fairness, I vote yes,” Camarena said when casting his vote.

Continue reading

Advertisements

Opinion: Fixing rents and making enemies

By former Assemblymember Steven Sanders

It is said that a good deal is one in which neither party is entirely satisfied. More about that in a moment.

Rent regulations in New York City has been a thorny issue for decades. So a little recent history. The Rent Guidelines Board (RGB) was established in 1969 and modified by the passage of the Emergency Tenant Protection Act of 1974. There are nine members of the RGB all appointed by the mayor. Of the nine, two are from the real estate industry, two representatives of tenant groups and five “public members.”

The RGB will meet on June 26 to set rent increases for leases that will expire beginning on October 1 through September 30, 2019. Currently, increases are set at 1.25 percent for a one-year lease and two percent for a two-year lease. Based on the proposals that have been recommended for public comment by the RGB, next year’s guidelines will be similar. There have been years where the rent increases rose into the double digits and there have been years that rents have been frozen. Generally speaking whatever the RGB decides, both tenants and owners cry foul. This year will be no different.

The fact is that try as they may, the RGB satisfies nobody. Moreover, it is difficult to do any planning because nobody knows what the rents will be set at from year to year. It is also a very dubious claim that the decision by the RGB is tied to any real economic data in terms of owners’ costs or profits and certainly not taking into consideration the financial burdens on tenants. In short, it is an arbitrary and often political process.

Continue reading

Opinion: Same fight, different jersey

By Assembly Member Harvey Epstein

In the ‘90s, New York’s legislature sold out tenants and tipped the scales in favor of big landlords by passing the Rent Regulation Reform Act. This piece of legislation passed in both houses, its sponsors claiming to be sticking up for the mythological “mom and pop” landlord, whose profits were supposedly being squeezed by rent regulation.

Among the most damaging provisions of the act was the invention of “vacancy decontrol” which, since its inception, has eroded New York’s stock of affordable housing by jacking up rents on units if tenants leave or are forced out by unscrupulous landlords seeking to cash in on another perversity of the act: the vacancy bonus.

The assault on tenants has not abated. In response, community groups have had to rise to the occasion and tirelessly defend tenants against the bad actor landlords playing with a stacked deck. I am proud to have been fighting to keep tenants in their homes for decades and as your new Assembly Member, I am eager to continue the fight having acquired a different set of tools to work with and new opportunities to win victories for tenants. The struggle is the same, but my election to the Assembly will afford new ways to achieve our goals.

Small business owners have even fewer protections than residential tenants –– they are at the mercy of their landlords, who have no constraints on how much rents can be raised.

Continue reading

Editorial: Rent-stabilized story tellers wanted

Tenants at this year’s preliminary vote for the Rent Guidelines Board (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

You know spring has sprung when the stories start coming out about jet-setting tenants who Airbnb their rent-stabilized apartments while only paying a few hundred dollars in rent or less.

Just one example is the recent tale in the New York Post about a woman paying $100 for her stabilized digs that she inherited after moving in on an older, dying man.

She convinced the elderly gent, the tenant of record, to adopt her as his daughter despite being close to retirement age herself.
It’s an intriguing tale that makes one feel sorry for the poor landlords of stabilized properties.

Meanwhile, these stories about unicorn-rare rents are, we suspect, planted by groups representing landlords as the Rent Guidelines Board gears up to decide how high of an increase the city’s tenants in roughly one million rent-stabilized units will be hit with. And it will be an increase rather than a freeze, based on last month’s preliminary vote.

Continue reading

Letters to the editor, May 10

Cartoon by Jim Meadows

Why ruin a good thing for tenants?

Re: “Epstein elected to Assembly,” T&V, Apr. 26

To the Editor,

I wish I could share everyone’s enthusiasm for Mr. Epstein’s winning our Assembly seat.

He becomes my fourth representative in fewer than 19 years.

I write because he was pitching perfect games vs. the Rent Guidelines Board.

Why do we need him in Albany?

More could be done in Albany to strengthen rent laws, but not from New York City’s delegation to the State Assembly.

It may be Mr. Epstein has the necessities to be a Democratic leader in due course. But given that’s he was doing uniquely well fighting the Rent Guideline’s board, I wouldn’t have moved him to where he won’t be able to do as much.

Billy Sternberg, ST

Continue reading

Meet the Rent Guidelines Board’s new tenant member

Rent Guidelines Board’s two tenant members Sheila Garcia and the newly-appointed Leah Goodridge (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

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.”

Continue reading

No rent freeze this year, RGB decides in preliminary vote

Tenants react to the board voting down a rent freeze (Photos by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

The possibility of a rent freeze was quashed last Thursday at the Rent Guidelines Board’s preliminary vote, held at Cooper Union’s Great Hall. As is the case in most previous years, the proposal that ultimately passed was from the board’s chair, Kathleen Roberts, with ranges from 0.75 to 2.75 percent increases for one-year leases and 1.75 to 3.75 percent increases for two-year leases for rent-stabilized tenants.

Tenant representatives Sheila Garcia and newly-appointed Leah Goodridge offered a proposal that would have included a rent freeze for one-year and two-year lease renewals but the chair, the board’s four public members and the two owner members voted against the measure.

The owner representatives attempted to offer their own proposal but were shouted down by tenants who started chanting and yelling once the proposal for a rent freeze failed. Roberts read her proposal and held a vote amidst the yelling and the board walked off the stage with most tenants in the crowd unaware that anything had been decided. The chair’s proposal passed in a vote of five to four, with the owner and tenant representatives voting against the measure and the public members and chair voting for it.

Continue reading

Epstein elected to Assembly

Harvey Epstein (right) with an aide at the Stuyvesant Town flea market (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

On Tuesday, residents of the 74th Assembly District trickled into polling places, almost exclusively to make Harvey Epstein the next Assembly Member.

Epstein, the Democrat nominee who was also running on the Working Families line, obliterated three other candidates with 90.59 percent of the vote, according to unofficial poll results released by the New York City Board of Elections.

Republican Bryan Cooper got 4.69 percent, the Green Party’s Adrienne Craig-Williams got 2.16 percent and Juan Pagan, a Democrat running on the Reform Party line, got 2.25 percent. Thirteen people (.3 percent of the voters) opted for write-in candidates.

All the now-former candidates are residents of the East Village and had run on platforms that included affordable housing and tenant protections. Pagan is a retired entrepreneur and former corrections employee who’s run for office several times. Cooper is an event planner and the vice president of the Albano Republican Club who’s also run for office before. Craig-Williams is a graduate student and longtime Green Party activist who was running for the first time.

Continue reading

Editorial: Make Epstein an Assembly member

On April 24, there will be a special election in which voters of the 74th Assembly District will choose their next Assembly member. There are four candidates on the ballot, but we are solidly in camp Harvey.

Harvey Epstein, a social justice attorney, is no stranger to the community he hopes to represent. Over a decade ago, when residents of Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village were being issued residency challenges like they were going out of style, it was Epstein who ran a free legal hotline for tenants. More recently, he served for five years as a tenant member of the Rent Guidelines Board and in two of those years, the board issued rent freezes for tenants signing one-year leases and low increases for those signing two-year increases.

If someone wants to top that act, they’ll need to get a rent freeze for three years or a rent rollback. (And hey… please do try!) But since none of the other candidates have yet managed to demonstrate how they’d be a better champion for affordable housing, we don’t see why voters should favor someone’s campaign promises over someone’s results.

Continue reading

Garodnick endorses Epstein

(Pictured) Former Council Member Dan Garodnick with Harvey Epstein

By Sabina Mollot

On Wednesday, former City Council Member Dan Garodnick announced his support for Harvey Epstein, who’s running for the Assembly seat vacated by State Senator Brian Kavanagh.

“I’ve known Harvey Epstein for years and have personally witnessed his leadership in fighting for tenants and seniors — especially his advocacy for Stuyvesant Town/Peter Cooper Village,” said Garodnick,

“Not only was he responsible for supervising my office’s free tenant hotline over the past decade, but his work on the Rent Guidelines Board led to the historic two-year rent freeze. It is important that we have elected officials who understand the community’s needs and the government process and I am confident that Harvey will be a real asset in Albany.”

Continue reading

Democrats vying for Kavanagh’s Assembly seat

epstein

Harvey Epstein (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Sabina Mollot

Following Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh’s easy victory at the polls last week for the downtown Senate seat he wanted, two Democrat candidates have expressed interest in filling the now vacant 74th District Assembly seat.

One of them is Harvey Epstein, a tenant representative on the Rent Guidelines Board and the project director of the Community Development Project of the Urban Justice Center. The other is Mike Corbett, an aide to Queens-based City Council Member Costa Constantinides and a former teamster. Marie Ternes, a communications consultant who previously worked for then-Congress Member Anthony Weiner, said she is considering running.

Recently, outgoing City Council Member Rosie Mendez told Town & Village she was mulling a run for Assembly, but then later told the local blog Lo Down that she’d decided against it. Council Member Dan Garodnick has also previously said he has no plan to run.

Corbett, Epstein and Ternes spoke with a Town & Village reporter this week, although Ternes declined to be interviewed at this time since she hasn’t yet made a decision on running.

It’s expected that there will be a County Committee vote held by each party to determine who will get onto the ballot for a special election. However, it’s still unclear when the vote will be or when the election will be, since a special election must be called by the governor. Another possible, though unlikely, scenario is that there will be a primary in June when there’s a Congressional primary, or even later.

Continue reading

Rent will go up 1.25, 2 percent

June29 rgb limbo.JPG

Tenants play limbo at the vote. (Photos by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

The city’s rent-stabilized renters will be seeing increases of 1.25 percent for one-year leases and 2 percent for two-year leases.

The increases were voted on by the Rent Guidelines Board on Tuesday evening, after two years of rent freezes for one-year leases, frustrating tenants as well as landlords.

Tenant advocates and community groups were pushing for at least another freeze and in many cases a rollback, but owner representatives felt that the increases didn’t go far enough.

Tenant member Harvey Epstein said in his remarks prior to introducing the proposal that ultimately passed that he and Sheila Garcia, the second tenant member on the board, knew tenants needed a rollback or at least a freeze, but he said that neither were possible at this year’s vote.

“It’s our job to do the best we can and live with the political realities,” Epstein said. “We take this job seriously and today is the first day to move to a better system.”

Continue reading

Steinberg shoots down RSA’s argument that MCIs are ‘laughable’

ST-PCV Tenants Association President Susan Steinberg (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

At a Manhattan hearing of the Rent Guidelines Board, where both landlords and tenants were invited each year to give testimony on their respective suffering, Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association President Susan Steinberg took umbrage at one owner representative’s argument that MCIs are not sufficient rent increases.

She spoke up after Rent Stabilization Association president Jack Freund, whose organization represents landlords throughout the city, said at the hearing that Major Capital Improvements (MCIs) and preferential rent increases don’t offer enough income to sustain landlords.

“You cannot substitute MCI increases for maintenance and operating rent increases,” he said. “MCIs have nothing to do with this issue and the suggestion that preferential rents somehow should play into this, that you can eliminate the need for rent increases because owners can increase rent (with MCIs and preferential rent increases), is a ludicrous notion. Both of those suggestions, that MCIs and preferential rent increases, can somehow substitute for a necessary, across-the-board rent increase, are just laughable.”

Later, Steinberg, who said she’d originally planned to read pre-written testimony, changed her mind in order to respond to Freund.

“Perhaps he forgot that MCIs get onto a tenant’s rent in perpetuity,” she said during her testimony. “It goes way beyond recouping the landlord’s costs and if you’re a tenant living in a building and have received several MCIs that get added permanently on top of the RGB increases, that adds up really fast. Maybe it’s laughable for the landlord but it sure isn’t for tenants.”

Continue reading

Editorial: Same old, same old at the RGB

On the heels of tenants’ bargaining power getting stripped away in Albany through the renewal of 421a and the de-coupling of the tax break’s expiration date with that of the rent regulations, the Rent Guidelines Board made it clear that it’s not considering the rent rollback tenants have asked for or even another freeze.

Additionally, the city’s stabilized landlords, represented by the group Rent Stabilization Association, feel they need a win after losing a lawsuit in March charging that last year’s rent freeze wasn’t valid.

So despite this being an election year, in which a pro-tenant mayor is hoping to get reelected, there probably won’t be another freeze. The rent increase ranges voted on Tuesday night, 1-3 percent for a one-year lease, 2-4 percent for a two-year lease, are just preliminary, but there’s also no reason to believe there could still be a freeze without bringing new, significant evidence to light that could change the board members’ minds.

Landlords have made the argument that it costs big bucks to run buildings properly, even more so in the past year, and tenants did already get two years of a freeze if they signed a one-year lease. A small business owner (as the RSA insists most landlords are) who can’t make ends meet because the rent is too damn low does sound like a legit argument indeed.

Continue reading

Tenants, landlords both plead their case

Tim Collins, counsel for ST-PCV Tenants Association

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Each year, prior to the final vote of the Rent Guidelines Board that determines the increases the city’s stabilized renters will have to pay, tenant advocates as well as real estate industry professionals both make impassioned pleas at public hearings.

At one such hearing last Thursday, tenant advocates called for a rent freeze while landlords pushed for increases.

Tim Collins, head counsel for the Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association and a former executive director of the board, noted that while last year he had urged the board to roll back rents, this year he was advocating for a rent freeze.

“The price index is significant but when weighted against other economic factors, a rent freeze would be appropriate,” he said.

Collins explained that he wasn’t basing his decision on tenant welfare.

“Although I respect and am concerned about people left out by poverty and one of the barriers to a decent life is housing, but the board shouldn’t focus on making every apartment affordable,” he said. “But the board also shouldn’t focus on making every owner profitable. If you look at what you’ve done, what prior boards have done, all told since 1990 (increases have been) higher than what is needed to keep owners whole.”

Continue reading