On Monday morning at City Hall, residents, activists and elected officials called for a rent freeze to rent-stabilized apartments.
Feeling like they’re being pushed out because of rent increases, workers hoped to wake up the Rent Guidelines Board to the reality of their lives. The Rent Justice Coalition, made up of tenants, community organizers and advocates, called out landlords for making more money and spending less on expenses.
“Every year, I come to the rent guidelines hearings with much trepidation,” said Harlem resident and Tenant & Neighbors Member Veronica Glasgow, in a statement. “I am a senior on a fixed income who does not qualify for SCRIE and I am afraid of being priced out of my home and my community. Where will I go? Landlords are prospering and tenants get squeezed more and more, year after year. We need a rent freeze right now.”
Representatives for landlords and for Real Estate Board of New York President John Banks said that closing off revenue streams would force them to raise rents. According to the coalition, however, data shows that landlords have overcompensated when it comes to rent increases for decades.
In a statement read by a representative of Banks at the hearing on his behalf, he said, “If the funding streams that allow owners to maintain and invest in their buildings are eliminated, the RGB would have to raise rents 7.5 percent annually to make up the difference. This is not the kind of rent reform that helps tenants and owners.” Banks called on the city to create a new model for raising rents based on costs for the board to operate without political influence.
But Pilar DeJesus of the Urban Justice Center, and a paralegal with the Community Development Project, said that landlords were playing with the truth.
“They’re liars,” DeJesus told the AmNews. “It’s ridiculous at this point. Landlords have been crying broke for a long time while making lots of money.”
Recently, New York State Senator Michael Gianaris and New York State Assembly Member Brian Barnwell introduced a bill that would eliminate the major capital improvements program, which some landlords use for rent hikes on regulated apartments. The bill also calls for a rollback of any rent hikes tied to MCI that occurred the past seven years and refunds be issued to all tenants affected.
DeJesus said that landlords have managed to extract rent increases via MCI and a vacancy bonus. “Why would you want your building vacant?” she said. “The fact they think they’re going to have to increase rent because they’re going to lose MCIs. MCIs aren’t a stream of revenue. Most landlords who do things the right way use the MCIs to repair roofs and boilers. If a boiler breaks down and it’s been about 10 years, you can use MCIs to get a new boiler.
“If you do a good job and hire good people to repair roofs and install boilers, you’re not doing those types of capital improvements on a regular basis,” said DeJesus.
One activist agrees with DeJesus. Malik Mills, a housing and homeless work leader for VOCAL-NY and a Brooklyn tenant, told the AmNews that landlords who don’t make repairs shouldn’t receive rent.
“My landlord doesn’t deserve any more money. Like many landlords, he doesn’t make basic repairs or ensure general upkeep, which is often just a form of illegal eviction by unscrupulous landlords trying to push tenants out,” Mills told the AmNews. “Rent increases are immoral in a city where the homeless population is at a historic high and continues to grow. Like so many New Yorkers, if they were able to increase my rent I would be out on the street.”
According to a new report from the Fiscal Policy Institute, 46 percent of families across New York State spend over 30 percent of their income on rent. In New York City specifically, 46 percent of Black, non-Hispanic families spend over 30 percent of their income on rent, 53 percent of Hispanic/Latinx families spent over 30 percent of their income on rent and 52 percent of “Asian & other” families spend over 30 percent of their income on rent. Thirty-six percent of white families in New York City spend over 30 percent of their income on rent.
At the hearing, Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development Senior Associate Stephanie Sosa said that 53 percent of rent-stabilized tenants in particular spend over 30 percent of their income on rent and 27 percent are spending over 50 percent or more of their income on rent.
Thomas J. Waters, housing policy analyst for the Community Service Society, told the AmNews that landlords will always find a way to raise rents legally even in rent-stabilized apartments.
“The city is extremely unaffordable especially for low income people,” Waters said. “We have a rent emergency and that’s why we have rent control and rent stabilization. [But] even if you look just at rent stabilization, there are loopholes that allow for excessive rent increases like ‘vacancy bonus’ and other mechanisms for raising rents legally.”
Waters did, however, give some credit to Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration for getting the RBG to consider tenants when the issues of rent hikes come up.
“Before the de Blasio administration, the rent board ignored tenants, income and affordability situation when making their guidelines,” said Waters. “They just went by landlords’ cost. That’s changed with de Blasio and the rent board now looks at both sides of the situation, but we haven’t caught up with where we should be. There’s only so much rent stabilization can do really. It’s more about protecting the rights of tenants.
“The most effective thing for our tenants is to feel secure enough that they’re able to organize against their landlords and demand repairs or go on rent strikes,” Waters concluded. “But landlords have too much power and tenants are afraid of retribution.”