Kabuki rent control
A meeting of the city's Rent Guidelines Board
was interrupted Monday night by Mary Allen,
who complained about her housing troubles.
Owner members of the board contend that
the increase doesn't go far enough.
Rents to Rise at Least 3%, and Tenants Howl in Anger
Casey Kelbaugh for The New York Times
By JANNY SCOTT
Published: May 9, 2006
The board that sets rents for the one million rent-stabilized apartments in New York City proposed tentative increases last night of 3 to 6.5 percent on one-year leases and 5 to 8.5 percent on two-year leases, setting the stage for increases that are likely to be larger than last year's when the board holds a final vote next month.
Last night's vote by the New York City Rent Guidelines Board, in a raucous meeting in which hooting and bellowing tenants often drowned out the proceedings, came on the heels of a recent board report that apartment owners' costs had risen by 7.8 percent in the last year, driven by a 22.8 percent rise in fuel costs and a jump in real estate taxes.
The vote was 5 to 4, with the board's two tenant members and two owner members voting against the proposal and its five other members in favor of it. Marvin Markus, the board chairman, who made the proposal, said last month that it would be a "serious challenge" to hold this year's increases to last year's levels of 2.75 and 5.5 percent, respectively, for one- and two-year leases.
"I see two New Yorks," Adriene Holder, a tenant board member, said at the hearing. "I see one increasingly affluent. And I see another one increasingly, increasingly becoming more poor." She added, "Landlords are hardly impoverished, landlords are hardly hurting, landlords are hardly poor."
The meeting last night, in an auditorium at Cooper Union, proceeded with all the orderliness and calm of a British soccer match or a Roman gladiators' fight. Tenants marched, chanting, outside the building; then several hundred filled the hall and shouted down the speakers, insulted the board members, chanted, drummed and hooted.
At one point, a woman rose from her seat and began a lengthy monologue about her own housing troubles, cheered on by the audience. When she made her way, still talking, to the floor in front of the stage, where she was immediately engulfed by television cameras, Mr. Markus briefly adjourned the meeting and walked off the stage.
After the board returned, the tenant board members proposed a one-year rent freeze, which the board voted down, 7 to 2. Next, the owner members made their own proposal for a 7 percent increase on one-year leases and a 7 percent increase on the first year of two-year leases, with the second year's increase to be determined next year. As an alternative, they proposed a 6 percent increase on one-year leases and 9 percent for two-year leases.
Their proposal, too, failed 7 to 2.
The proposal that finally passed applies to rent-stabilized apartments and lofts. The board also voted 5 to 4 in favor of a proposal for increases of up to 2 percent for rent-stabilized hotels, like residential hotels, rooming houses and single-room-occupancy hotels.
Jumaane D. Williams, the executive director of Tenants and Neighbors, a statewide tenants organization, objected later in an interview not only to the size of the proposed increases, but also to Mr. Markus's use of ranges instead of specific percentages, which he and others complained makes the proposals more difficult to oppose.
The fact is that this is far from over. If enough people scream, the mayor will order his people to propose a lower amount. The tenants lobby is very powerful in NY and no mayor is going to ignore them. They outnumber landlords by a large factor.
But the thing is, that this has been exactly the same argument since I covered this in 1991. The tenants want a rollback or rent freeze and feel fully justified in asking for it and the landlords want large increases, making the same argument every year.
When Joe Bruno tried to end rent control in an election year, Rudy Giuliani ran to defend the system. Why? Because Bruno was fucking around where he didn't belong. He could have cost Giuliani his job and Pataki his job and filled the court with thousands of cases.
But what was even more amazing was the complete and utter stupidity of the landlords. The reason I call them the worst businessmen I've ever dealt with is simple: no sense of stability, no sense of keeping tenants happy. Landlords will wait for years to jack up rents, losing income for a payday.
I won't even discuss the harassment they use to force tenants out.
But when Bruno was about to hand them this gift,what did they do? Go on TV and talk about $400-$500 rent increases in the Bronx. Excuse me, who the fuck was going to pay $1500 in 1998 to live on the Grand Concourse? These people saw a fat payday with no clue as to who would pay these rents.
A lot of this is pure venting. The tenants have the power to limit large increases, and the landlords won't ever see a rollback unless they fuck up beyond words. Costs don't go down.
But if you ever want to understand how New Yorkers feel about landlords, attend a meeting. It's fucking nuts.
posted by Steve @ 12:33:00 AM