Amid emphatic chants of “shame, shame, shame,” and “fight, fight, fight, housing is a right,” the city’s Rent Guidelines Board voted with narrowest of margins (5-4), in a preliminary vote held at the Cooper Union Hall last night, to approve rent increases on rent-stabilized apartments.
Though this is only a preliminary vote, the board approved increases of between 0.75 percent to 2.75 percent for one-year leases, and between 1.75 percent to 3.75 percent increases for two-year leases.
Even an hour before the meeting commenced at the Cooper Union Hall, tenants in rent-stabilized apartments, and various tenant advocacy groups were rallying outside the hall in the Cooper Square area.
“Although, the last few years we have won historic lows, that is not enough,” said Lucy Arroyo, a tenant who lives in a rent-stabilized apartment, in a statement. “Many of us are on fixed incomes or making the minimum wage, and the cost of living expenses continue to increase.”
Tenants and advocacy groups held an impromptu press conference inside the hall prior to the start of the meeting at 7 p.m., and even as members of the Rent Guidelines Board tried to get things underway, they were drowned out by cries of “If we don’t get it, shut it down.”
Tenants indicated that they wouldn’t let the meeting move forward unless the board approved a rent freeze. But the voting moved forward regardless. First it was the turn of the tenant representatives on the Rent Guidelines Board.
“We want this to be profitable for landlords, but not at the cost of displacing tenants,” said Sheila Garcia, one of the tenant representatives on the board. “We’ve seen unemployment go down, but income hasn’t gone up. Despite two rent freezes in recent years, tenants aren’t doing better. They are still facing continued harassment in their buildings.”
Garcia made a motion to call for increases on one-year leases between zero to 1.5 percent, and for two-year leases, zero to 2 percent. The motion was handily defeated by the rest of the board, which resulted in the auditorium erupting in boos and protests.
At one point, a group of tenants and advocates walked past a barrier near the stage where the board members were seated to voice their complaints, but they were immediately escorted back by security personnel in the auditorium.
The chair of the RGB tried in vain to get the owners (landlords) representatives to make a motion, but they weren’t able to move forward in the deafening sound that had enveloped the Cooper Union Hall. Instead the chair of the board, a public representative, made a motion for increases of between 0.75 percent and 2.75 percent for one-year leases, and between 1.75 percent and 3.75 percent for two-year leases.
And even though the board members were having a hard time listening to each other, they ultimately managed to vote in favor of this particular motion. Thursday night’s decision isn’t final; in the coming months, the RGB will host a series of public meetings in the lead up to the final vote on June 26.