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Rent Guidelines Board Approves Lowest-Ever Rent Increases

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"What do we want?" "Rent freeze!" When will they get it? Not this year. When Bill de Blasio became mayor in January, he appointed several new members to the Rent Guidelines Board, including the term unlimited chairperson, Rachel Godsil, and de Blasio spoke of the possibility of no increase in rent for rent stabilized apartments. But Monday evening, after the public was invited to participate in meetings in four of the five boroughs over the past couple of weeks, the RGB voted.

One-year renewal leases commencing on or after October 1, 2014 and on or before September 30, 2015 will be going up 1 percent. Two-year renewal leases can increase 2.75 percent. These are the lowest ever rent hikes to be enacted since the board was created in 1969. The vote count was five to four. The full proposal is available here.

But it was hardly a smooth evening. The anger (perhaps some genuine hate) was palpable. In addition to chants of "What do we want? Rent freeze! When do we want it? Now," there was "Make history" (which technically happened), "Tenants united will never be defeated," and "Rollback" (rent adjustments of negative 6 percent and negative 4 percent respectively were in a proposal that was not voted on). There was a lot of yelling, even as members of the RGB were trying to speak. While that delayed the proceedings, it didn't seem to do any more than that.

The first item on the agenda was the rent adjustment for hotels. But before they could vote on that, RGB tenant member Harvey Epstein objected on the basis that the Great Hall at The Cooper Union wasn't yet full because people were still trying to get through security. At this point, it was already 6:51 p.m. and the meeting was supposed to have started at 6:00.

Eventually, the first hotel proposal, covering long stay hotels and Single Room Occupancy buildings, and was voted on, which called for 3 percent increases. It failed five to four. The second hotel proposalpassed five to four, enacting no increase for hotels.

Then came the vote for apartments. The proposal was introduced by RGB owner member Magda Cruz—the nine-member board has two landlord/owner representatives, two tenant representatives, and five reps for the general public— who called the proposals which had been advocated other members of the board "politically motivated" and said they would "exacerbate housing inequity." Then RGB public member Steven Flax spoke. He accused Cruz of playing dirty politics by proposing the proposal he was going to propose as a middle ground. At the same time, he said a rent increase of zero or less would simply be a "political win" and would not be helpful in the end. Flax, as it turned out, was the swing vote.

RGB tenant member Garcia called the proposal "shameful." RGB chair Rachel Godsil mentioned the zero percent increase proposal that was not on the table and noted the RGB's job was to prevent "unjust, unreasonable, and oppressive rents." She added that it was their job to "protect tenants" and "ensure owners." It was suggested that previous rent increases were based on projections that never came true, and RGB member Garcia said they had to "right a wrong." But ultimately the proposal passed, five to four, with Flax voting for it and Godsil voting against it.

As soon as it passed, the crowd stormed the front of the room, which had previously been cordoned off, and starting holding up signs and chanting. They did that so fast and were so loud, you could barely hear Godsil ask for a second from the board to adjourn the meeting. Outside the building, where around 100 people had rallied before the vote, a small band was playing. It included a trombone player with the word "overthrow" on the instrument.

—Evan Bindelglass is a local freelance journalist, photographer, cinephile, and foodie. You can e-mail him, follow him on Twitter @evabin, or check out his personal blog.
· Rent Guidelines Board [official]
· All Rent Guidelines Board coverage [Curbed]