Tenants Prepare for RGB Hearings

Before its June 27 vote setting what rent increases to allow for rent-stabilized apartments, the city Rent Guidelines Board will hold five public hearings to take testimony from tenants and landlords. The first one was in Queens on June 5, followed by two in Manhattan and one each in the Bronx and Brooklyn.

This year, the RGB is considering allowing increases ranging from 1 to 3 percent for a one-year lease and 2 to 4 percent for two-year leases. While there is nothing in the rent-stabilization law that requires the board to stay within the range recommended at its preliminary vote Apr. 25, tenant representative Harvey Epstein told The Villager that they were “specifically told [that they] need to be within range.” 

Tenant groups organized under the Rent Justice Coalition need to persuade five members to vote for guidelines in the lowest part of those ranges, even while still calling for a rent rollback. While tenants need a rent rollback to compensate for the large increases of the past, this year, keeping them down to 1 percent for a one-year lease and 2 percent for two years would be considered a victory.

The nine-member board has five public members, two tenant representatives, and two landlord representatives, appointed by the mayor to serve staggered terms. Both tenant representatives are the same as last year: Sheila Garcia, deputy director of CASA New Settlement Apartments in the Bronx, and Harvey Epstein, director of the Urban Justice Center’s Community Development Project. The owner members, BRP Development design director Mary Serafy and J. Scott Walsh, vice president of development for Forest City Ratner, are also back.  The three returning public members are retired judge Hon. Kathleen A. Roberts; Cecilia Joza, director of housing counseling at Mutual Housing Associations of New York, and 1199SEIU vice president Helen Schaub, the health-care workers’ union’s state director of policy and legislation. 

The two new members are Hilary Botein and David Reiss. Botein, an associate professor at Baruch College, lists her academic interest as “how housing programs can meet the needs of vulnerable populations—and how they fail.” David Reiss is a professor Brooklyn Law School and research director at its Center for Urban Business Entrepreneurship. He also writes a blog which focuses on “law and practices related to the real-estate finance industry.” 

To get the lowest possible increase, tenants and the Rent Justice Coalition are meeting with several of the public members, and making sure our stories are heard both at the public hearings and beyond. Keep an eye out on social media for the #2percent2much and #rentrollback for ways to share your story. Tenants can testify at any hearing, not just the one in their borough. (See the May 2017 issue for advice on testifying.) 

This year, tenants are also being encouraged to let the board know not only if they are member of a tenant group, but also if they are a member of a labor union, particularly if they are a member or retiree of 1199SEIU.

The board will vote on the final guidelines on Tuesday, June 27 at 7 p.m. at Baruch College, and the new rates will go into effect Oct. 1.