Rent Guidelines Board to Sell its Wares

The Rent Guidelines Board, which sets the rent increases allowed for the city’s over one million rent-stabilized apartments, has announced its intention to put its research services up for sale and charge the public for the reports it produces.RGB Chairperson Edward Hochman told Real Estate Weekly, in its Nov. 11 issue, that he adopted the policy when “I sat there one day and said [to myself], ‘Why are we giving this away when we could sell it?'” The nine-member board, composed of five “public” members — now mostly investment bankers and Giuliani fund-raisers — two landlord members, and two tenant members, did not vote to engage in this commercial enterprise.

The RGB was created by the rent-stabilization law to protect tenants from rent-gouging and other common abuses in the city’s rental market. Its researchers’ salaries and supplies are paid out of public funds. However, the new policy is in line with the Giuliani Administration’s business approach to government. “Now we’re selling these things to real-estate brokers and bankers,” Hochman proudly told Real Estate Weekly.

Two reports, a general overview of the rental-housing situation and a detailed report breaking down owners’ operating costs in different community board districts, have so far been announced. The RGB charges $28 for the first and $90 for the second. Hochman says he would like to see the board’s staff expand and do much more.

Last spring, when the RGB was considering the 1996-97 rent guidelines, Met Council criticized its staff for misapplying widely accepted data and producing a report on apartment affordability and tenant incomes that presented the situation for tenants as being far less onerous than it actually is. For example, they cited the average tenant income for 1993 instead of the median income, the figure universally used to compensate for skewing at the high end. The average 1993 tenant income was $28,000, but the median — the amount that half the city’s tenants make less than — was only $19,000.

Hochman also has his eye on producing the triennial Housing and Vacancy Survey report that the city now contracts out, most recently to longtime city housing expert Anthony Blackburn. The federal Bureau of the Census collects the data for it. The 1996 HVS survey was performed earlier this year and is in the tabulation stage. Its summary data will be released to the City Council by March 1, 1997, in connection with the expiration of the city rent laws on April 1.