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.”

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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.

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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.”

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Tenants get 2nd rent freeze

Freeze is for 1-year leases, 2% hike for 2 years

Members of the Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association participate in a pre-vote rally. (Photos by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

Members of the Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association participate in a pre-vote rally. (Photos by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Tenant advocates didn’t get the rent rollback they were hoping for but the Rent Guidelines Board did offer some relief with a freeze for one-year leases in their vote at Cooper Union’s Great Hall this past Monday night. Tenants signing two year leases will be getting a two-percent increase as a result of the vote.

The proposal, which Board Chair Kathleen Roberts presented after motions from both the tenant and landlord representatives failed, passed with a vote of 7-0, with the two owner representatives abstaining. The two percent increase and the freeze is the same proposal that passed at last year’s vote.

Prior to offering a proposal, owner representative Scott Walsh acknowledged the significance of the housing crisis in New York but suggested that there were other solutions, like rent credits for tenants paying more than half of their income in rent and the expansion of rent subsidy programs.

Walsh got the approval of the crowd, rare for an owner representative on the board, at the suggestion of increasing the income threshold on SCRIE and DRIE to $72,000 for two-person households and $63,000 for one-person households, but he was drowned out again by the yelling of protesters when he ultimately offered a proposal to increase one-year leases by three percent and two-year leases by five percent.

“This attempts to balance the needs of landlords and tenants,” he said. “Rent stabilization is not an official affordable housing program. Owners still need to account for costs.”

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Bill would change how RGB calculates landlords’ costs

Rent Guidelines Board tenant members Sheila Garcia and Harvey Epstein (at podium) with Council Member Corey Johnson (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

Rent Guidelines Board tenant members Sheila Garcia and Harvey Epstein (at podium) with Council Member Corey Johnson (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

The City Council member representing Greenwich Village, Corey Johnson, has called on the mayor to reform the Rent Guidelines Board and eliminate the price index from the calculations used to determine the annual rent adjustments for stabilized tenants. Elected officials and tenant advocates joined Johnson at City Hall last Thursday to support his legislation on the matter because they say that the Price Index of Operating Costs (PIOC) does not accurately reflect the costs and revenues accrued by landlords, causing unfair increases for tenants.

The price index doesn’t measure what owners actually spend running buildings but instead estimates their costs based on changes in prices for goods and services, like utilities, without taking changes into account, like the weather. The price index also doesn’t measure any of the income received on the properties.

“The PIOC overestimates landlords’ expenses by as much as one third and doesn’t measure income,” Johnson said. “Tenants deserve a fair shot. The 2.5 million rent-stabilized tenants in New York deserve a metric that accounts for actual income and expenses.”

Mike McKee of TenantsPAC said that the price index study is “an enormous amount of work” and that there is nothing in the law that requires the board to use the data from the study in their decision.

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