Stuy Town garage customers won’t get expected refunds

Aug16 garage

Stuyvesant Town’s garages are run by Quik Park. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

For the Stuyvesant Town residents who are customers of the complex’s six garages, which are run by Quik Park, the wait for a refund for $60 in rate increases that came without notice last year is finally over. This is because there will be no refunds issued to these customers after all.

In July, Councilman Dan Garodnick said he was told by the Department of Consumer Affairs that refunds were on the way for customers of Quik Park (parent company Citizens Icon Holdings) who’d been issued an improperly implemented increase. This was accurate, but apparently the Stuy Town garage customers were not included in that pool of motorists. The only refunds that will come through are for customers who’d gotten a notice that the rate hikes they were being charged were for a “Living Wage Assessment,” which happened elsewhere in the city.

Asked if there was still a possibility that the Stuy Town customers could see their money back as well, a spokesperson for the DCA didn’t have a response, but did say the department was working with the garage company (and others in the industry) to ensure customers will receive proper notice of increases in the future.

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Rent will go up 1.25, 2 percent

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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.”

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McMillan planning citywide rent strike

UPDATE: Jimmy McMillan, early today, announced he was calling off the strike in light of a judge’s decision on Tuesday to keep the rent freeze in place.

June27 jimmy mcmillan

Jimmy McMillan is now running for Rosie Mendez’s Council seat.  (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Sabina Mollot

Jimmy “The Rent is Too Damn High” McMillan, now a Republican City Council candidate, is calling on the tenants of New York City to join him in a rent strike this October.

McMillan, an East Village resident who’s been in and out of court with his own landlord for years, said the plan is inspired by what he’s blasting as conflicting interests in the New York City Housing Court.

“The attorneys that sit on a committee that appoint New York City Housing Court (judges), stand before that same judge against the tenant representing the landlord,” he stated in a press release.

The 70-year-old Vietnam vet also believes this setup has impacted his own case.

According to current information on the New York Courts website, the advisory committee that helps appoint judges to the Housing Part of the Civil Court includes three representatives of the real estate industry, including the chair of the NYC Housing Authority, three members from tenants’ organizations, two members representing civic groups, two bar association members, two public members, one mayoral appointee and the commissioner of the state housing agency, Housing and Community Renewal.

McMillan’s plan to strike, meanwhile, is also aimed at raising awareness of his campaign platform — affordability. His goal is to see rents slashed across the board.

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Tenants fight landlord lawsuit to undo rent freeze

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Tenants defend the rent freeze. (Photos by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

A group of tenants from around the city are hoping to intervene in a lawsuit that was filed in July aimed at stopping the rent freeze authorized a month earlier by the Rent Guidelines Board.

That lawsuit was filed by the Rent Stabilization Association, an organization that represents around 25,000 landlords in New York City.

On Tuesday morning, the tenant group announced its intention to fight the litigation at a rally held at Foley Square, near the courthouses. The group, dubbed the Rent Justice Coalition, includes tenant and civic groups from around the city with legal representation by Legal Aid Society, Goddard Riverside and the Urban Justice Center.

Event organizer Larry Wood of Goddard Riverside told the crowd of tenants and activists, “The RSA says the Rent Guidelines Board used criteria they shouldn’t have. The RSA claims tenant affordability shouldn’t have been considered. It’s outrageous to say they’re not supposed to think about tenant hardship.”

The suit had argued that the issue of affordability shouldn’t be handled by the RGB, but by government-sponsored rent relief subsidies.

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Letters to the Editor, July 7

Cartoon by Jim Meadows

Cartoon by Jim Meadows

Zero % increase for stabilized tenants

To the Editor:

I’ve been listening to several of my neighbors, all rent stabilized, and something doesn’t add up.

We’ve had three apartments in and out over the last several years. My current neighbors, finishing up their lease, pay twice as much as me.  Once they’re gone, the new occupant(s) may pay closer to three times as much as me.

And who would argue that this increase per apartment isn’t happening on every floor of every building in both Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village?

Now, if you take the average age of all the rent stabilized tenants, it’s got to be closer to 80 than 60. So given that management is making such an enormous vig on all of the many new tenants, why wouldn’t the stabilized tenants be stabilized at their rents permanently? Management isn’t going to buy them out.

There’s no other stabilized housing in the city where half of the stock is luxury at unlimited turnover at unregulated increases.

Rentals to new tenants is tantamount to scooping up money with both hands. Raises to stabilized guidelines is tantamount to picking up bottles for their return deposits.

Zero increase for the lifetime of Stuyvesant Town/Peter Cooper Village’s stabilized tenants.

Billy Sternberg, ST

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Tenants and owners blast Airbnb at RGB hearing

Joanne Joemelti

An East Village resident, Joanne Joemelti, argues that tenants shouldn’t be punished because of the ones that use Airbnb. (Photos by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

With just a week to go before the mayor’s Rent Guidelines Board votes on the year’s increases for roughly one million people, the city’s stabilized renters, both tenants and landlords went before the board to argue why they needed a break — in rent rollbacks or rent increases high enough to cover operating costs, respectively. The usual reasons for both were mentioned: desperate tenants citing stagnant wages while rent increases have steadily been granted until last year’s historic freeze, and owners blaming soaring real estate taxes and other factors like water/sewer fees and building maintenance.

But one thing both sides had in common was a mutual loathing for the increasingly common practice of short-term rentals.

Tenants brought up owners who flout the law to rent vacant units to tourists since it’s more lucrative than monthly rent and doubles as a form of harassment to longtime renters who’ve lost a sense of safety and community. Meanwhile, equally frustrated owners lamented how tenants live elsewhere, while paying under market rent and earning a windfall through Airbnb.

The arguments were made at the auditorium of the Cooper Union building on Monday afternoon. Tenants and landlords lined up to speak along with several elected officials at an RGB hearing.

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Albany extends Rent Stabilization Laws for five days

Susan Steinberg, Al Doyle, Anne Greenberg, Kirstin Aadahl and Margaret Salacan of the Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association protest outside a fundraiser for Governor Cuomo. (Photo courtesy of the ST-PCV Tenants Association)

Susan Steinberg, Al Doyle, Margaret Salacan, Anne Greenberg and Kirstin Aadahl, Margaret Salacan and a resident of the Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association protest outside a fundraiser for Governor Cuomo. (Photo courtesy of the ST-PCV Tenants Association)

By Sabina Mollot

Days after the deadline to renew the Rent Stabilization Laws, with no resolution in sight, the state legislature worked to extend the laws for another five days.

In a joint statement, Albany’s three men in a room, Governor Andrew Cuomo, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, confirmed the governor’s signing of the bill, and claimed to be “moving in a positive direction toward a resolution.”

But rather than offer any detail, the statement then went on to tout the legislature’s passage of unrelated bills such as protections against sexual assault on college campuses and investments in infrastructure.

Heastie, however, issued a statement of his own, stressing that the Assembly wouldn’t bend on its efforts to win stronger protections for tenants.

“We have agreed on a short term extender bill with the Governor and the Senate which will allow for more time to come to a final agreement,” said Heastie. “But one thing is clear – the Assembly Majority will not compromise its principles and agree to a package that does not provide critical rent protections for the millions of New Yorkers who depend on these laws.”

The rent law legislation the Democrat-controlled Assembly hopes to pass is wildly different from the package put forth more recently by the Republican-controlled Senate. The Senate hopes to create a database in which tenants would have to verify their incomes. Tenant friendly measures are codifying the Tenant Protection Unit and imposing stiffer penalties on landlords who harass tenants. The Assembly hopes to repeal vacancy decontrol, reform preferential rents, MCIs (major capital improvements) and IAIs (individual apartment improvements) and lower vacancy bonuses.

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Rent regs expire with no hint of progress in Albany

ST-PCV Tenants Association Chair Susan Steinberg and other tenants at a vigil on Sunday outside the midtown Manhattan office of Governor Cuomo. (Photo by Anne Greenberg)

ST-PCV Tenants Association Chair Susan Steinberg and other tenants at a vigil on Sunday outside the midtown Manhattan office of Governor Cuomo. (Photo by Anne Greenberg)

By Sabina Mollot

It wasn’t quite the climactic end to another four years tenants were hoping for when at midnight on June 15, the laws regulating rents in New York expired without being renewed or strengthened.

The following morning, the talks continued in Albany, though there was no sign that that they’d be concluded any time soon.

Part of the reason was that Governor Andrew Cuomo has been hoping to include the passage of an education tax credit in the negotiations, while Senate Republicans also last week passed a set of rent regulation legislation that’s wildly different from the package the Assembly passed in May. The much hyped 421-a tax abatement for developers who include some affordable housing in their projects has also been a factor, but hasn’t been given as much attention as it was expected to get, according to State Senator Brad Hoylman.

Hoylman described the tax program, which also expired on Monday, as being “radioactive” to many of his colleagues because of its being “at the heart of the investigations” into corruption in Albany by U.S. attorney Preet Bharara.

“It’s understandable that it wouldn’t be a front burner issue,” said Hoylman, adding he wouldn’t be mourning the program’s loss if it isn’t ultimately renewed and that he thinks it ought to be negotiated separately.

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Letters to the Editor, June 11

June11 Toon Republican

Cartoon by Jim Meadows

Tenants Assoc. to Cuomo: Loopholes in rent laws are eroding Stuy Town’s stability

Dear Governor Cuomo,

I’m writing on behalf of the 25,000 residents of Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village. Our residents, as well as tenants throughout New York City, are facing the worst housing affordability crisis in the city’s history. This crisis is damaging the economic and social fabric not only of our city but of our state as well.

As our residents devote an ever-increasing percentage of their income to rent, the drop in their discretionary income has impacted local businesses.

We see more and more empty storefronts. Local businesses have not only experienced precipitous drops in sales, their own rents are rising. The small, individually owned stores that provided a great diversity of needed services are disappearing, replaced by an oversupply of chain pharmacies and banks.

The ST-PCV Community is at the center of the loss of affordable housing. Our apartments are currently rent regulated. However, in the wake of the NY State Court of Appeals decision Roberts v. Tishman-Speyer, which reregulated destabilized units, many of our apartments are renting at or above market rate.

We want new families – not just the transient renters who currently make up a large percentage of new residents – to be able to afford to come to ST-PCV, put down roots and return this community to what it was originally designed to be during the administration of Gov. Thomas E. Dewey.

However, excessive rent increases due to loopholes in the existing regulations are destroying the laws that keep New York affordable for more than one million people. One of these loopholes, known as preferential rent, slams preferential renters with hundreds-of-dollar increases at lease renewal time. Many of our neighbors, young families with preferential rents, are one lease renewal away from having to move.

Major capital improvements have also unfairly burdened tenants. Tacked on to the rent in perpetuity, this windfall for owners simply is not justified beyond the recovery of actual costs. It is unconscionable.

But the overarching issue which we hope you will support is repeal of Vacancy Deregulation, which has been responsible for the loss of thousands of rent-regulated apartments over recent years. This continued bleeding of affordability will ultimately destroy the city.

Thirty-one years ago, your father addressed our nation about a “shining city on a hill.” It was a vivid presentation about what people could accomplish with hard work and a little help from their government in times of need. We are doing the hard work. Now we need that help from our government so that people who work in this shining city can afford to live in it.

For the sake of our community’s future and for all other rent-stabilized middle- and lower-income New Yorkers, I urge you to give your full support for renewing and strengthening rent laws.

Sincerely,

John Marsh,
President, Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village
Tenants Association

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Mayor signs legislation extending rent regulation for 3 years

Mayor de Blasio, surrounded by other elected officials, signs legislation that renews the rent laws for another three years. (Photo by Anne Greenberg)

Mayor de Blasio, surrounded by other elected officials, signs legislation that renews the rent laws for another three years. (Photo by Anne Greenberg)

On Monday, Mayor Bill de Blasio signed into law Intro. 685, which extends the Rent Stabilization laws in New York City until April 1, 2018. The 2014 Housing Survey shows that New York City currently has a rental vacancy rate of 3.45 percent, which constitutes a housing emergency, and this legislation, the mayor said, is necessary to restrict rent increases and prevent evictions. This bill was approved by the City Council during a meeting on March 11.

“Rent regulations are vital to protecting New Yorkers from displacement and keeping our communities whole,” the mayor said in an official statement. “Renewing and strengthening rent rules is a top priority for us in Albany this session, and we will fight alongside our partners in the City Council and our delegation in the State Legislature to ensure we have the tools we need to preserve more than a million rent stabilized apartments.”

A spokesperson for the mayor noted that the legislation in no way shapes what the outcome will be in Albany in terms of parameters of the law when it comes up for renewal this June. In other words, an extension of the law in the city wouldn’t mean changes to the law potentially made later this year at the state level.

Three new members appointed to RGB

K. Sabeel Rahman

K. Sabeel Rahman

By Sabina Mollot

Last Thursday, Mayor Bill de Blasio named three new members of the nine-member Rent Guidelines Board, which means the entire board is now made up of individuals he’s picked or has re-appointed.

The new faces include one owner member, Steve Walsh, vice president of development at Forest City Ratner Companies, and two public members, Helen Schaub and K. Sabeel Rahman. Schaub is the New York state director of Policy and Legislation at the healthcare workers union, 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East and Rahman is an assistant professor of law at Brooklyn Law School, who has also taught and serves as a teaching fellow at Harvard Law School and Harvard College. He was also a fellow at the Roosevelt Institute, where he advised Deputy Mayor for Housing and Economic Development Alicia Glen on issues including regulating the sharing economy, homelessness and place-based development.

Of the three new members, Rahman was the only one to answer our questions. (Walsh and Schaub did not get back to us.)

When asked what made him want to take on the role of RBG member, which, as is widely known, means being the target of heckling by both tenants and landlords at raucous public hearings, Rahman indicated he was prepared for that aspect of it.

“It’s obviously a really important issue so people are passionate about it as they should be,” he said. “I absolutely think it’s an important issue and I’m happy to help where I can.”

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TenantsPAC: It’s time for tenants to step up the pressure in Albany

TeantsPAC Treasurer Mike McKee (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

TeantsPAC Treasurer Mike McKee (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot
As is well known by tenant activists, the State Senate has long been the realm where any tenant-friendly legislation, from MCI limitations to elimination of preferential rents, has gone to die. While it did seem likely that the Democrats would be controlling the Senate after Election Day, following a decision by rogue Democrat group, the Independent Democratic Coalition, to end an alliance with Republicans, the Republicans then managed to win a narrow, but still clear majority, making an alliance with the IDC unnecessary.

Some critics have been quick to put the blame on the Election Day results on nation-wide voting trends as well as low turnout during a non-presidential election year. Others have said the blame is Governor Cuomo’s for not making an effort to help the Democrat candidates.
Mike McKee, treasurer of Tenants Political Action Committee, is in the latter camp, saying he believes Cuomo would rather have Republicans running the Senate.

“I’m very cynical about whether we will get any help from the governor,” he said. “On the one hand it’s better to have a governor who wants the rent laws on the books unlike George Pataki, but to keep them the way they are — containing the seeds of their own destruction — is not the answer.”

As for what all of this will mean for tenants with the rent regulation laws up for renewal or expiration next year, McKee said while the real estate industry clearly has the edge with a Republican-controlled Senate, tenants may still have a shot at getting some meaningful reform. That is, if they’re willing to fight for it.

“We have some leverage we didn’t have three years ago if Shelly Silver chooses to use it,” said McKee, “things that can be traded.”

The leverage, he believes, is in the 421-a and J-51 tax breaks, which owners want to be passed and property tax caps, “which the governor very much wants.”
McKee made a point to note that he personally abhors the 421-a tax abatement since it subsidizes “billionaires buying condos.” But developers want it as well as J-51, with McKee saying they hadn’t been scared off by “Roberts v. Tishman Speyer,” which ruled that owners accepting those breaks couldn’t deregulate apartments in those properties. “Those programs are extremely lucrative,” he said. And, said McKee, tenants should keep their eyes on the prize, which is vacancy deregulation.

“We mean full repeal. Not simply raising the threshold like they did three years ago. They raised the threshold and called it a great victory and they’re still trying to spin it as a victory when it was a cosmetic change.” This was in reference to the amendment of the law that allowed landlords to de-regulate an apartment if the rent was $2,000 and the tenant’s income was $175,000 for two years, by increasing that amount to $2,500 or more and $200,000.

“We have rent stabilized apartments in Stuyvesant Town renting for $5,000 or more because politicians allowed the rent laws to be trampled,” McKee added.

What tenants can do, he said, is ask their Assembly members to put pressure on Speaker Sheldon Silver to get tenant-friendly legislation to become more than just one-house bills.

“Do I think Shelly Silver is likely to do this on his own initiative? No. He’s going to have to be pushed,” said McKee. “If he’s going to just posture and introduce bills that die in the Senate, and put out press releases saying how pro-tenant the Assembly is, we’re in trouble. The question is whether or not the governor and the speaker will use that leverage.”

What doesn’t need to be fought for, said McKee, is repeal of the Urstadt Law, which would return home rule on housing to the city. Focusing on that this year, he believes is a trap, since the odds of the Senate agreeing to to it are too slim.

“We need a lot of things,” he said. “We need MCI reform so MCI increases aren’t permanent and compounded into the base rent and reform of the Rent Guidelines Board and stopping the 20 percent vacancy bonuses. But without vacancy deregulation, none of those changes are going to mean anything, because without the rent regulation system, in a few years there won’t be anything left.”

McKee believes that close to 400,000 units of affordable housing have been lost in the past 20 years due to erosion of the rent laws. In 1996, 56 percent of rental units in the city were rent controlled or rent stabilized, based on figures from a city housing and vacancy survey that’s done every three years. Fifteen years later, in 2011, that number had been whittled down to 47 percent, based on the same source. “That should tell you something about the rate of loss,” he said. In some cases, this is due to condo or co-op conversion, but the majority of those cases are vacancy deregulation.

And as always, said McKee, tenants should also keep their mouths open — not to mention their wallets —in the effort to help TenantsPAC.
“I’m talking about money, I’m talking about bodies,” he said. “We have all volunteers so 95 percent of all we raise goes directly to the candidates we support.” (The other 5 percent goes to the organization’s phone, internet, and office rent expenses.) The money, however, never comes close to what the real estate industry spends to elect Republicans. (As of October 20, the Real Estate Board of New York had spent $1.9 million and owner group the Rent Stabilization Association spent $500,000.) Additionally, unlike REBNY, the RSA did this quietly, funneling the funds to a Washington, D.C.-based Republican State Leadership Committee which then gave an even larger amount to a New York group which spent heavily to elect Republicans, Crain’s reported on Friday.

The tenants do have one advantage though. “One of the things we bring to the table that the real estate lobby doesn’t is volunteers.”

He noted that many volunteers as well as donors have been residents of Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village. But for those whose rent demands don’t allow for large donations or work schedules don’t leave time for trips upstate to go door-knocking, McKee recommends phone banking as a good alternative for would-be volunteers. This can be done at home, usually in the evenings, and even after elections, since TenantsPAC phone banks in support of legislation.

As for why Election Day was such a dismal one for Democrat legislators and candidates, McKee believes Democrat voter apathy is partially to blame. While he was in upstate Kingston going door to door to campaign for Democrat Senator CeCe Tkaczyk, who ended up losing, he saw it firsthand.

“In non-presidential election years, Republican voters show up and Democrats tend to stay home,” he said.

NY Assembly, Senate pass DRIE expansion

Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh discusses SCRIE.

Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh discusses SCRIE.

By Maria Rocha-Buschel
The New York State Assembly passed legislation Thursday, June 19, that will allow more tenants to qualify for the Disability Rent Increase Exemption (DRIE) program. The bill, which was introduced by Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh and State Senator Diane Savino, increases the annual limit for DRIE tenants from $29,000 to $50,000.The Senate approved the legislation on Friday.
It has not yet been signed by the governor or passed by the City Council, but a spokesperson for Kavanagh said there’s no opposition expected.
DRIE is similar to Senior Citizen Rent Increase Exemption (SCRIE) program, which following a legislative effort by Kavanagh, got the same increase on its income limit earlier this year.
Kavanagh said that the increases didn’t necessarily need to be introduced separately but were because of the budget constraints of submitting both at the same time. There was an extra push to have the legislation passed before the legislature adjourned for the summer at the end of last week and the effort was a success for Kavanagh and the disability rights advocates who were calling for the increase.
The DRIE program freezes rents for residents with disabilities who are living in rent-regulated housing with low incomes and who pay one third or more of their income in rent. Landlords are compensated for difference through property tax abatements.
“DRIE helps keeps economically vulnerable New Yorkers in their homes, despite ever-rising rents,” Kavanagh said. “Increasing the income limit for DRIE, just as we did with SCRIE earlier this year, will ensure the program keeps up with New York’s economic realities. Everyone deserves an opportunity to live affordably and independently in communities they help to sustain, and we all benefit from recognizing this.”

RGB votes for lowest increases ever

Madeline Mendez, one of many tenants gathered outside the Cooper Union building holds a sign prior to the Rent Guidelines Board vote on Monday. (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

Madeline Mendez, one of many tenants gathered outside the Cooper Union building holds a sign prior to the Rent Guidelines Board vote on Monday. (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Although the rent freeze that stabilized tenants were desperately seeking did not pass at the Rent Guidelines Board final vote on Monday evening, the board still made history with its lowest ever increases of one percent for one­-year leases and 2.75 percent for two­-year leases.

The vote took place as it usually does in a packed Great Hall at Cooper Union but with some new faces on the nine­-member board. Unlike in previous years, the vote did not go in favor of the chair, Mayor de Blasio appointee Rachel Godsil, who was urging the board to vote for a rent freeze.

Instead, the 5-4 vote was in favor of a proposal submitted by public member Steven Flax, also newly appointed by de Blasio, which the owner members adopted as their own. Flax ultimately decided to go in favor of his own proposal but he said that he had struggled with his vote.

“I heard what you’re saying and I know what you’re going through. I’ve developed and managed affordable housing — and you’re not going to like what I have to say,” he said as the crowd cheered him on, “but the takeaway is that it costs money to run buildings.”

Before the vote, Godsil recognized that Flax’s proposal was a historic low but argued that it was not low enough.

“I don’t think it’s supported by the data,” she said. “It doesn’t acknowledge the assumptions from previous years of expenses that did not occur. It is our goal to make sure that the tenants and owners are balanced and I don’t think this proposal does that.”

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Historic rent freeze is a possibility

Tenants attend the preliminary vote of the Rent Guidelines Board on Monday night, hoping as always, for that elusive rent freeze. (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel
The Rent Guidelines Board took an unprecedented step in its preliminary vote on Monday night in proposing a rent freeze for one-year leases on rent-regulated apartments. The vote took place at the U.S. Custom House on Bowling Green to the usual raucous crowd.
While the tenant members of the board initially called for a rent rollback for both one and two-year leases and the owner members proposed up to 5.5 percent and 9.5 percent increases for one and two-year leases respectively, the board ultimately voted on newly-appointed Chair Rachel Godsil’s proposal: a range of zero to three percent for one-year leases and 0.5 to 4.5 percent for two-year leases.
This was the board’s first vote with the members appointed by Mayor Bill de Blasio. In addition to Godsil, the mayor also appointed Sarah Williams Willard as an owners’ representative, Cecilia Joza and Steven Flax as public members and tenant representative Sheila Garcia, who received enthusiastic cheers from the crowd when her name was announced in the roll call.
“We’re here to simulate what’s fair for both landlords and tenants and the board has ignored its mandate to make a fair decision,” Garcia said when outlining the proposal from the tenants’ side, eliciting more cheering from the public. “It’s my job to make a balance. We’re calling for a rent roll back and it’s not as a favor to tenants but it’s to level the playing field.”
Garcia and the other tenant rep, Harvey Epstein, called for a roll back of negative six to zero percent for one-year leases and negative two to zero percent for two-year leases but this was shot down by a vote of six to three.
The subsequent proposal from the owner members, unlike that of the tenants, was welcomed with jeering from the crowd, causing the chair to call for order multiple times because the noise was drowning out Williams Willard as she outlined their suggestions.
Willard said that their proposal was based on data which has found that between 1990 and 2012, the price index for building expenses has gone up 5.1 percent and Real Property Income and Expenses (RPIE) have increased 4.3 percent annually while RGB increases have averaged 4.3 percent annually.
“Operating expenses have also gone up this year,” Willard added.
Based on this analysis, she said, the ranges the owner members thought were appropriate were a 3.6 to 5.5 percent increase for one-year leases and 4.3 to 9.5 for two-year leases with a 10 percent sublet allowance.
Epstein and Garcia both shook their heads in disbelief at the suggestions.
“I appreciate what you claim to be facts but I think we have different definitions of what facts are,” Epstein said in response to the proposal. “We look at data when coming up with our figures as well. What we’ve found is that owners are doing well and tenants are getting evicted. When you say that owners are ‘only getting a three percent profit,’ you have to remember that our job is to look at the balance.”
The only votes in favor of the owners’ proposal were the owner representatives themselves, after which Godsil presented her range of increases. The proposal passed, with the only member voting against it being Cruz. Epstein seemed reluctant to vote in favor of it but noted that he was only doing so because of the possibility of the “historic rent freeze.”
Although the RGB has held votes in the Custom House in previous years, the security to let the public into the federal building moved very slowly this time and the meeting, which was supposed to start at 6 p.m., didn’t get under way until after 6:45.
Before beginning the proceedings, Godsil noted that she preferred not to begin until all of the people who came to hear the meeting were allowed in but at that point, just before 7 p.m., there were still about 50 people who needed to go through security. In fairness to the attendees already in the auditorium, she said that she would have to begin the meeting even though members of the public were unable to get in.
Epstein expressed frustration at the system.
“The fact that 40 to 50 people weren’t able to get in for the start of the meeting is unacceptable,” he said. “This is something that we need to consider for future meetings and look for the most open and accessible spaces available.”
The final vote will take place on June 23 at Cooper Union’s Great Hall, where Godsil said she hoped security would move more quickly than at the Custom House. In the upcoming month before the final vote, there will be five more meetings, including four with the opportunity for public testimony.