(Photo Dave Colon)

Protesters drowned out members of the Rent Guidelines Board last night following the defeat of a proposed rent freeze on rent-stabilized apartments across the city. Instead the board settled on proposed increases between .75 percent and 2.75 percent for one-year leases and between 1.75 percent and 3.75 percent for two-year leases, before leaving the stage to chanting and boos.

Before the meeting at Cooper Union’s Great Hall, tenants were at least hopeful that the board might take their side and institute a freeze, telling reporters in a press conference outside the auditorium that the cost of living had gone up in addition to their rents and that they couldn’t afford even a 1 percent increase.

Inside the auditorium, tenant organizer and west Bronx resident Carmen Vega-Rivera told Bedford + Bowery that even with a rent freeze on 1-year leases in 2015 and 2016 and a relatively low, 1.25 percent increase on those leases in 2017, tenants were still feeling the squeeze.

“Do the math. It could be one percent, but [landlords are] still doing major capital improvements, which is permanent increase,” she said, referring to the law that allows landlords to hike the rent of an apartment based on the cost of certain upgrades. “They have the 20 percent vacancy bonus, landlords are now charging individual apartment repairs even if they’re not repairing anything, and on major capital improvements are overcharging for many things and getting away with it. So when you add it all up, it becomes a number we can’t afford.”

Another tenant activist, 90-year-old Maxine Zeifman, said she had been coming to Rent Guidelines Board meetings for 28 years and said contemporary politics made the situation for rent-stabilized tenants worse than ever. “[Governor] Cuomo let the Independent Democratic Conference take the senate, so we could never have the head of a housing committee who’s Democratic,” which could have theoretically allowed for more tenant-friendly legislation in Albany. “My rent has gone up tremendously,” she said, “so my landlord’s not deprived.”

“I think New York City rent stabilized housing stock is extremely valuable,” said Sheila Garcia, one of the board’s tenant members. “It allows us to keep rents low overall for tenants in the city and allows us to have a diverse community we all love.” After making a numbers-based case for a rent freeze, Garcia told the audience and the board “a zero percent rent increase isn’t based on ‘Let’s feel bad for tenants.’ It’s based on data we have seen over and over again.” She proposed a vote on rent increases between 0 percent and 1.5 percent for 1-year leases and 0 percent to 2 percent for 2-year leases.

The motion was voted down by a vote of 7-2 and from there, any remarks from the board were drowned out completely by audience members chanting “Shame,” “Do the right thing,” blowing whistles, shaking noisemakers and booing. At some point during the yelling, the board voted on and passed a motion to consider the .75 percent to 2.75 percent and 1.75 percent to 3.75 percent increases, before the meeting was adjourned without comment from the landlord representatives on the board.  

(Photo: Dave Colon)

Following the meeting, David, a member of Good Old Lower East Side, was blunt in sharing his frustration with the potential increase. “How the meeting went? How do you think it went? It stunk,” he told Bedford + Bowery. “They start you off with that filler cockamamie crap and then they go and skim a little something off the top. 1.5 percent, 2.2 percent. We want nothing! Zero! You’re a vampire, you’ve sucked the corpse dry and you’re still looking for more blood? When there’s no more blood there? Where is it? They’re unbelievable.”

Leah Goodridge, the newest tenant representative on the board, expressed disappointment with the vote but told tenants to keep coming to the board’s public meetings before the final vote in June.

“We urge tenants to come out, and tell your stories about living in New York,” Goodridge said. “This city, as we testified to today, is a very diverse city and in order for it to stay that way we need people to be able to afford the rent.”