Tenants, Electeds Pack Public Hearings on Rent

Prior to its final vote June 29, the city Rent Guidelines Board held four public hearings to take testimony from tenants, landlords, and elected officials. Putting pressure on the RGB at these hearings was a priority of many tenant activists and organizers, who had declared 2015 to be the “Year of the Tenant.” 

There was one hearing each in Manhattan, the Bronx, Queens, and Brooklyn. The scheduling of the June 8 Manhattan hearing drew some complaints, because while the others were held from 5 to 8 p.m., it ran from 2 to 6 p.m., when many working tenants would be unable to attend. 

City Councilmember Corey Johnson said years of rent increases have left his constituents unable to pay for housing, while Borough President Gale Brewer talked about how past rent increases have far outpaced any rise in landlord costs. “The raising of rents will leave the city devoid of the cultural and economic diversity that makes New York special,” she added. Representative Jerry Nadler highlighted that while stabilized rents rose 11 percent between 2011 and 2014, tenants’ incomes increased by only 5 percent. Councilmember Ben Kallos said he cannot afford to live in a market-rate apartment in his own district.

Three days later, at the Bronx Museum of Art, hundreds of tenants, notably from CASA, marched in chanting. Union leaders from 1199 SEIU and District Council 37, representatives of the Working Families Party, and Councilmember Vanessa Gibson testified about the past rent increases’ effect. “We are becoming a city of the very rich and the homeless,” said Assemblymember Jeffrey Dinowitz. Only a few landlords showed up, and most of their testimony was drowned out by tenants chanting, “the people united will never be defeated.”

In Queens on June 15, many spoke about how the borough’s cultural strength and diversity will be destroyed if residents are forced to leave. “It’s extremely strategic to push people out of the neighborhoods which have been cultivated for decades,” one tenant said. One tenant from the MinKwon Center said she spends more than 80 percent of her income on rent and has been forced to cut back on food, clothing, and medicine. 

The June 18 hearing in Brooklyn had the most raucous crowd, with over 300 people calling for a rent rollback filling the room at Borough Hall within the first half hour. “There’s no reason we can’t do a rollback,” Borough President Eric Adams said. Council Housing Committee chair Jumaane Williams said that while he wants owners to be able to make a profit, he doesn’t want that profit to come “on the backs of tenants.” Councilmember Mathieu Eugene said increasing homelessness wasn’t a housing crisis, “this is a human-rights crisis.” 

Staff from Met Council testified about how high rents, harassment, and gentrification  disproportionately affect the minority population. “Evidence of the alienation of people of color in their own neighborhoods is everywhere,” said program coordinator Zann Ballsun-Simms. One tenant underscored the urgency of the issue: “I just dropped my son off at prom and rushed back, because I had to be here,” she said.