The city’s Rent Guidelines Board approved rent hikes for the Big Apple’s nearly 1 million rent-stabilized apartments – but agreed to a six-month freeze to allow time for the pandemic recovery.
The board voted 5-4 in a virtual meeting Wednesday to freeze rents for the first half of new one-year leases with a 1.5 percent increase in the second half. New two-year leases will go up 2.5 percent, effective October.
Neither owner nor renter advocates were satisfied with the outcome, with tenant groups seeking a second rent freeze during the economic carnage set off by the coronavirus pandemic – and owner groups saying apartment costs are far outpacing RGB-approved rent increases
“There is a job that government and elected officials should be doing and there’s a job we should be doing,” owner member Robert Ehrlich said prior to the vote, noting the increasing cost of property taxes and utilities.
“The job we should be doing is looking at costs and setting rent increases that are commensurate with those rent increases. A rent increase to cover an increase in operating costs is not unreasonable.”
But tenant members, participating in the meeting surrounded by renters, noted that there remained a lot of uncertainty even with rental assistance programs as part of the COVID-19 recovery.
“I don’t think that there’s any discrepancy as to what we want,” tenant member Leah Goodridge said before leading the crowd in a call and response.
“What do we want?” she shouted as tenants shouted back “rent freeze.”
The response to the vote was quick Wednesday night, as owner groups expressed frustration with the de Blasio’s administration’s record on rent-stabilized hikes amid increased costs around Gotham even before the pandemic. Renters have not only assistance coming their way, but have been protected by an eviction moratorium, owners stated.
The Rent Stabilization Association bashed the new rates, saying the RGB was doing “the political bidding” of Mayor de Blasio.
“We can only hope that the next mayor allows the RGB to operate independently of political pressure and interference, and embraces the city’s largest providers of affordable housing as the solution, not the problem – or else affordable rental housing will collapse under their watch, placing full blame on them for de Blasio’s miserable housing failures,” association president Joseph Strasburg said in a statement.
The group said it represents 25,000 owners across the five boroughs.
Jay Martin, executive director of the Community Housing Improvement Program, said the government should provide assistance through vouchers, tax breaks and other subsidies. He said with pressure to keep stabilized rents flat or near flat, property owners have to increase market rents to make up the difference.
“Renters and owners are trapped in the housing hunger games, begging the government to consider who is worse off and fighting each other to prove whose struggles are more deserving of redress,” he said in a statement.
“Meanwhile elected officials ignore their role in driving up rents in the first place. This system must be changed if we are ever going to address the critical housing needs of our city.”
Meanwhile, the Legal Aid Society chimed in and said the hikes will harm some of the city’s most vulnerable residents.
“These New Yorkers – the overwhelming majority of whom are from neighborhoods of color – include seniors, the disabled, working class families and others who are still grappling financially as a result of the pandemic,” Robert Desir, staff attorney with the Civil Law Reform Unit, said.
“Those in government must advance policies that protect these communities, not measures that will add further economic harm to people who are already struggling to make ends meet.”