Manhattan didn’t appear to be slowing down for the NYC Rent Guidelines Board upcoming meeting. Third Avenue was bustling with commuters getting off of work. Few seemed deterred by the protesting in front of the Great Hall at Cooper Union where a crowd of several hundred people was gathered.
Shouts of “Aquí estamos y no nos vamos” rang out, along with call-and-response cries of “What do we want? A Rent Freeze! When do we want it? Now!” Demonstrators held slips of paper that read “0%” and proudly displayed the banners for their tenant associations.
Inside the board was set to vote on whether to raise the rent for some two million New York tenants who live in regulated housing and, if so, by how much. It has not frozen rents since 2016.
Kim Statuto was among the protesters outside, demanding their rent remain the same. The state legislature passed a sweeping tenant protection package in June but there is still a long way to go toward making the city comfortable and affordable for many tenants. Statuto said she joined Community Action for Safe Apartments (CASA), a tenant-run organization that educates renters of their rights, when her landlord’s illegal piping work knocked out her gas. She and her neighbors in the Bronx were given hot plates to cook with. That was over nine months ago.
“My landlord doesn’t deserve a rent increase,” said Statuto, who is also waiting on having knee surgery because her apartment complex is not wheelchair accessible. “He owns 23 buildings. Most of his buildings are in disrepair.”
When the meeting got underway, artists Seth Myers and Izaak Mills sat in the back of the crowded auditorium.
“We want a rent freeze,” said Mills. “We don’t need rent increases every single year. When you push out artists, you push out the culture of a city. That’s why I’m here.”
Myers added that the board should act in the interest of the community rather than the real estate industry before is “just turned into Duane Reade and Starbucks and all the substance is gone.”
When the nine members of the board took their seats an hour after the doors opened, demonstrators chanted “Do the right thing” over David Reiss’, its chair, as he introduced the meeting.
An increase of 1.5 percent on one-year leases and 2.5 percent on two-year leases passed by 5 to 4.
Leah Goodridge, a tenant representative on the RGB, was dissatisfied with the outcome and lamented that hiking rents has become almost reflexive for the board. “Even the term ‘rent increase’ automatically insinuates that every year, the rent is going to go up,” she said.
“I am hoping that next year we are able to make this a national issue,” Goodridge added. “Because, in all honesty, housing affordability is becoming an issue everywhere. States and cities are consistently looking to New York for our protections and we need to show that with the board that is responsible with adjusting the rent every year.”