“All you landlords, you can’t hide. We can see your greedy side,” and “All my money is spent when I pay my rent” were the chants that rose from housing activists and tenants at the Great Hall at Cooper Union yesterday evening. They rallied to demand that the Rent Guidelines Board roll back rents when it meets Monday to set new rent levels for regulated apartments.
The vote, which had been set for yesterday, was postponed till Monday after the big-ups in Albany failed to renew the laws governing rent regulation, extending them only till Tuesday while they continue to negotiate. Today, the Daily News and NY1 reported that a deal had been reached that would increase, from $2,500 to $2,700, the rent threshold at which a vacant apartment can be deregulated. The deal, expected to be voted on today, would also extend by six months the 421a affordable housing tax credit for developers.
Last year tenants won the fight for a one to 2.75 percent rent increase (depending on lease length). Those we spoke with in the crowd yesterday felt that landlords don’t deserve an increase, especially in light of reported abuses by landlords seeking to replace their tenants with higher paying ones.
The crowd was filled with people wearing t-shirts representing community organizations like CASA, GOLES and others. They called on De Blasio for support because he has advocated for strengthened rent regulation.
“We’re hoping they do a rent rollback,” said Soledad Franco, a leader of CASA, who lives in the Bronx in a rent regulated apartment with six family members. “The reason that we’re requesting this is because of all of the years the rents have been going up so high and a lot of us can’t afford it anymore. Me personally, 65 percent to 70 percent of my salary goes to rent alone.” She claimed there had been a fire in her apartment, where the ceilings are falling down, because the landlord of her rat-infested building had hired an unlicensed electrician.
“The landlords don’t do any repairs, the landlords don’t do anything good so we feel like they don’t deserve a rent increase.” she said.
To kick off the rally, her 15-year-old son, Michael Santos, gave a speech about his mother “struggling through the pain. I’ve been seeing her all the time struggling. When I come home I worry more about her health instead of my education and stuff. We really need this rent rollback.”
After he joined his mom in the crowd, we spoke to Elizabeth Perez. She has lived in the Lower East Side for 63 years and is a former police officer and secretary of a local tenant association.
“We want our rent to be stabilized. It’s not fair,” she said and explained she was there to fight for her mother as well, who has lived in the same apartment since 1947. “Our pay stays the same and our rent goes up. We can’t buy no food, we can’t buy no clothes, nothing for the children.”
Her childhood friend, Evelyn Rosado, retired after working on Wall Street for 39 years. Rosado explained that when she first started her job everyone would be dropped off by the company limo following a party. But she always requested to be dropped off in Stuyvesant Town, rather than at her apartment.
“I was embarrassed that they thought so little of this Alphabet City. Now, all of a sudden, I take a cab from Wall Street and they say, ‘How did you get there? How did you get an apartment there? Oh my God, I would love to live here,’” she said, her voice increasing in volume with her anger. “Now I’m going to retire and they’re gonna get me out? When I had to hide where I was living? I don’t think so. Bury me first and then do what you want, but I don’t think that’s right.”
She lives with her son who still suffers from a liver transplant and a handicapped granddaughter. Rosado explained she doesn’t get enough money to cover expenses and doesn’t know where they will go if there is an increase in rent.
“Unfortunately, nothing that I have done is working for me. Nothing,” she said. “I don’t need this at my age. I worked, I did the right thing, I retired. I want to retire gracefully, not miserably.”
“The landlords are oblivious to the fact that they’re providing housing,” said one man in a GOLES t-shirt, who declined to give his name. “They think they’re speculators working for a profit and they’ve forgotten that they’re supposed to house the people.”
When the chanting ceased everyone gathered to listen to different speakers. Whether they spoke in Chinese or Spanish, the same message resonated: tenants are done being mistreated by landlords and being displaced by high rents. A number of hand painted signs declared that housing is not a monetary issue, but a civil rights one.
“Their quality of life is being affected from every angle. Their pockets and their general quality of life,” said Carlina Rivera, a GOLES director of programs and services, about the experiences of rent regulated tenants. “De Blasio said during his campaign that he would advocate for the year of the rent freeze and we’re waiting for that. We want it today — it’s long overdue.”