Rent Increases: Enough is Enough

“Take a hike, tenants told,” read the Daily News headline on May 17, after the Rent Guidelines Board proposed the highest rent increases since 1989 for millions of rent-stabilized tenants. But with an effective vacancy rate under 1 percent for affordable housing, tenants have nowhere to go. And with incomes for working families declining in fixed dollars, and public assistance for those most in need under sharp attack, tenants cannot afford to pay more.

Yet the billion-dollar real-estate industry continues to cry poverty while spending millions on lobbying, advertising, and campaign contributions to Mayor Giuliani, Governor Pataki, and others. Giuliani has appointed Wall Street investors and other corporate reactionaries to be the “public” members of the boards, and then dictated the increases he wants through RGB chair Edward Hochman.

Under the law, the RGB must vote on suggested guidelines in May, then listen to public testimony on June 20 before taking a final vote on June 24.

Tenants and everyone who cares about affordable housing must turn out in force at One Police Plaza on June 20 to make the Mayor and his appointed “public” representatives hear firsthand that New Yorkers cannot afford higher rents, and that we will hold politicians accountable for their actions. A steady flow of phone calls, letters, and faxes to City Hall must let Rudolph Giuliani know that anti-tenant positions will be fatal for any re-election hopes he harbors for 1997. If he cannot serve the needs of the majority, let him return to practicing corporate law or, as he really seems to want to do, run for Bronx District Attorney.

But what of those “public”members? It may sound naive, but we have the right to demand that if they accept the appointment to serve on the RGB, then they must truly represent the millions of families in this “city of renters” who, in stabilized apartments, have a median yearly income of $19,000.

Despite a well-oiled industry assault on rent regulation, echoed in the editorial pages of many newspapers which accept millions of dollars in real-estate advertising, rent stabilization is the law. And public members of the RGB must enforce the letter and spirit of that law regardless of the Mayor’s views, or they should step down.

There is simply no basis for raising rents now. Last year, although owners’ costs did not rise, rents were increased substantially, so owners have already been compensated for the aberrant costs incurred in the record snow-filled winter of 1995. It is time to freeze rents now.

Two provisions in the RGB’s May 16 proposal are particularly poisonous to rent regulation. For the third year in a row, the RGB is proposing a “poor tax” of $20 a month, in addition to regular increases, for all apartments renting for $400 or less a month. With millions of New Yorkers living at or below the poverty line, lacking in food, health care, and other necessities, this mean-spirited provision would push thousands into unbearable hardship if not homelessness. The board is also calling for a 9 percent increase on top of all other increases for any vacant apartment. This would reward landlords for evicting families, which is insane public policy. It is also an irrational inflation of rents in violation of the legislatively determined need to keep rents stable.

The poor tax, the vacancy increase, and big rent increases are a prescription to increase human misery and erode housing affordability.

With the entire rent-stabilization law up for renewal (or extinction) next year, now is the time to raise our voices and say “ENOUGH IS ENOUGH.”