Hundreds of tenants from across the city packed Cooper Union’s Great Hall last Monday, June 23 and attempted to convince the nine members of New York City’s Rent Guidelines Board to support their call for a rent freeze for those who live in stabilized apartments. But their request wasn’t granted, and neither was that of Mayor Michael de Blasio, who appealed for a freeze hours before the vote. 

In an unprecedented move, the board voted 5 to 4 to allow landlords to increase rent by 1 percent for one-year leases and 2.75 percent for two-year leases, making it the lowest increase the board has ever approved in its 45-year existence. Last year, the board approved increases of 4 percent for one-year leases on rent-stabilized apartments and 7.75 percent for two-year leases.

Although the increase is low, it upsets many City Council members and tenants because they were hoping that because six of the board members were appointed by de Blasio earlier this year, all six would have voted for a freeze for one-year leases. Brooklyn Councilman Brad Lander told the AmNews after the vote that “tenants have [been] pressured year after year with increased rents that exceed tenants’ incomes. The board should have given them a break. I’m deeply disappointed with the results.” 

After the vote was announced last week, tenants stormed to the podium. Holding signs, they booed and chanted, “Shame on you!”

“I’m very unhappy that it’s not zero percent. These landlords are killing tenants in Brooklyn. They’re driving tenants homeless. And if you have something that needs repair, you can’t tell them anything,” said Flatbush resident Jean Folkes. 

“I would be happy for a rent freeze, and that’s what the mayor promised us in his campaign. He should have kept his promise,” she added. 

Folkes’ sentiments were also echoed by Althea Matthews, a homeless woman who lives in the Bronx with a friend. “This is going to make it harder for tenants,” she said, adding that the board is more concerned about landlords’ operating costs than about “low-income people who are not getting a wage increase and trying to make ends meet.”

Kali Noye from Brooklyn said, “There’re no winner in this. For the renters to get a 1 percent is historic, and zero percent they wanted would have been good but unfair for the owners. The result didn’t rectify the wrong; it just adds another layer of how capitalism is unfair to all.” 

Public Advocate Letitia James and dozens of City Council members testified at recent hearings the board had in all five boroughs to convince the Guidelines Board members to freeze rents for the city’s 1 million rent-stabilized tenants. Had it been done, it would have been the first time in its history.

After the vote, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito said in a statement, “It is disappointing that the Rent Guidelines Board voted in support of a rent increase despite hours of testimony from concerned, hard-working New Yorkers fighting to make ends meet. While we appreciate that the increase was kept to a minimum, as our city’s housing crisis comes to a head, it’s crucial that we utilize every opportunity to fight for and preserve affordability for the New Yorkers who call this city home.”

Although city landlords’ requests were granted—to raise rents—they too were unsatisfied with the results. In their proposal to the board, they argued that they’re facing a 5 percent increase in operating costs. They want a higher increase in rent to offset those costs. 

But Sheila Garcia, a tenant representative who voted for a freeze, said, “The figures the landlords presented were only projected numbers.” According to Garcia, their operating income has been increasing for the past eight years in a row. Two of the members who voted for freeze stated that landlords’ operating income also indicated that an increase in rent wasn’t necessary. 

However, Jack Freund from the Rent Stabilization Association of NYC told reporters that the 1 percent increase is “very disappointing” and it’s not enough. “We asked for a 6 percent increase for a one-year lease. That’s what owners needed to pay real estate taxes and also to maintain operating and maintenance cost.”

Landlords also proposed a 9.5 percent increase for a two-year lease. 

Steven Flax, a vice president at M&T Bank and a de Blasio appointee, wrote the proposal that was passed. He came under intense criticism from Brooklyn Councilman Jumaane Williams, chair of City Council’s Housing and Buildings Committee. He said Flax “didn’t vote his conscience. He voted for banker’s interest.”

Before he voted yes, Flax cautioned, “I have to say this moment is a nightmare, and I have to vote my conscience.” 

New York Assemblyman Brian Kavanagh told the AmNews that he sponsored a bill with state Sen. Daniel Squadron to strengthen the city’s existing rent laws, which is to ensure that “housing remains affordable for working families.” The bill also calls to “reform the Rent Guidelines Board,” he said. Currently, the board members are only appointed, removed and replaced by the mayor. He said the bill was passed in the Assembly two times but was voted down in the Senate. He said he will reintroduce it at the next legislative session next year.

“We would like the City Council to have a voice. We want both the mayor and the City Council to select the board members,” said Kavanagh. 

Lander lauded Kavanagh’s effort and said, “That would be great. City Council represents tenants, and we should be a part of the decision making.” 

The rent increase will go into effect for one-year and two-year renewal leases that beings on or after Oct. 1 to Sept. 30, 2015.