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Tenants brace for yet more rent hikes under Mayor Adams

BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | The rent’s too damn high! … And, under Mayor Adams, it just keeps right on getting higher.

As the Rent Guidelines Board held its final public meeting this past Tuesday evening, Councilmember Carlina Rivera called for the board to consider the hardship facing tenants and approve a rent rollback or, at the very least, a rent freeze.

However, unlike with former Mayor de Blasio, under whom the city’s cash-strapped, rent-regulated tenants saw several years with no rent hikes, it’s been a very different R.G.B. under Mayor Adams.

The board is currently proposing rent hikes of from 2 percent to 4.5 percent for one-year leases and 4 percent to 6.5 percent for two-year leases. Tenants living in roughly 1 million rent-regulated apartments across the city would be affected.

After 10 previous public meetings and hearings starting in March, the nine-member board will make its final vote on the issue on Mon., June 17, at a public vote at Hunter College, at 7 p.m.

In 2015 and 2016, the R.G.B. under de Blasio voted for a rent freeze; two other years during his tenure, there was a partial rent freeze. However, in 2022, the first year under Adams, the R.G.B. voted to jack up rents on stabilized apartments by 3.25 percent for one-year leases and 5 percent for two-year leases. Then, last year, rent hikes of 3 percent were approved for one-year leases and 2.75 percent for the first year on two-year leases and 3.2 percent for the second year.

Last December, at a roundtable meeting with the city’s ethnic and community media news outlets, Adams said that without rent increases, “Black and brown” small landlords would be hurt, and that their communities, in turn, would be “destabilized.”

“We’re destabilizing Miss Jones…came from Trinidad, she bought a house, eight-family house,” he explained. “Her entire assets is that house. … We’re saying to her now…’You must keep your rent at zero increase.’ She loses that house. Now some developer comes in to develop that property, you have a whole different dynamic. And so, it sounds good when people say, ‘Don’t raise any rent at all’…but how does it impact all those folks that are small property owners, and how would it impact their lives?… There must be a balance of not allowing some outrageous increase, but also making sure we stabilize these small property owners.”

Adams, in his remarks at that time, claimed of the R.G.B., “That’s an independent board,” adding, “We pushed back” against its initial proposed rent hikes for 2023 as being too high.

Rivera represents Council District 2, which stretches from Greenwich Village and the East Village to Murray Hill. The district has large Hispanic (18 percent) and Asian (14 percent) constituencies and a somewhat smaller Black (6 percent) population. Rivera told the R.G.B. that, in fact, what is destabilizing her community is not landlords’ alleged lack of income but tenant rent increases. After all, there are a lot more tenants — millions of them — than landlords in New York City.

“I advise the board to consider the significant hardship on renters and institute a rent rollback,” she said, “or at the very least freeze rents at current levels” — “rollback” meaning an actual rent reduction.

“More than half of New York City households are rent-burdened and we continue to contend with high rents and low vacancy rates that keep families at risk of eviction and displacement,” she stressed.

“Our city has lost nearly 500,000 residents since 2020, and the city’s Black population has declined by nearly 200,000 people in the past two decades, or about 9 percent,” she continued. “A 2023 report from the Fund for New York City and United Way indicates that 50 percent of New York households are struggling to cover their basic needs.

“The most recent New York City Community Health Survey reports that 49 percent of all households on the Lower East Side are rent burdened,” she added, meaning they pay more than 30 percent of their income toward rent. “The high cost of living and scarcity of affordable housing for working families are disrupting lives and impacting our city’s collective identity.

“It would be more appropriate to rollback or freeze rents to ensure working-class and legacy residents can afford to live here,” Rivera urged. “I understand that property owners also face difficulties in navigating higher costs, inflation and other factors that have worsened hardship since the pandemic, but this cannot be resolved by raising prices on New Yorkers that simply cannot afford higher rent.”

Mayor Adams appoints the R.G.B. members, and thus controls the board. He has consistently, on the one hand, expressed sympathy for rent-burdened tenants, while at the same time arguing that small landlords — of which he is one — are also struggling under high costs and need more rent revenue.

Meanwhile, Andrea Shapiro, director of advocacy and programs at Metropolitan Council on Housing, said with the R.G.B. keeping on approving rent hikes, something needs to give.

“The board has made it very clear that they’re not willing to listen to the tenant advocates,” she said. “Tenants simply can’t afford it. We’re viewing it as a system that needs to be changed dramatically — that it doesn’t work.”

As for the mayor harping on small landlords’ alleged plight, Shapiro retorted, “We know there are a very small number of small landlords left, and many of them have deregulated [market-rate] tenants,” meaning unaffected by R.G.B. rent hikes. “So we’re not being honest in the conversation.”

The tenant organizer also blasted landlords’ perennial lament they aren’t making enough profit to cover their operating costs and properly maintain their buildings.

“We know this year there was another record increase in [landlords’] profit — the third-biggest year since records were kept,” Shapiro said.

Two years ago, after the first rent raises of Adams’s tenure, Michael McKee, a veteran housing advocate and current treasurer of TenantsPAC, said the mayor showed his true colors and that it was already time to find a pro-tenant candidate to challenge him in 2025.

“Tenants had better wake up and start looking for a candidate,” he fumed.

Met Council’s Shapiro said state Senator Zellnor Myrie, who last month launched an exploratory committee for mayor, might be someone to rally around.

McKee added that the metric the R.G.B. uses to set rent increases — a “price index” of fuel, utilities and other operating costs — is “completely misleading.” Instead, he stressed, what matters is landlords’ actual income.

“Over the last 30 years, their net operating costs are going up and up and up,” he said. “Landlords are doing very well.”

McKee scoffed at what he calls the annual “charade” of how the R.G.B. first announces too-high increases, then, by the end of the process, whittles them down slightly to still-high increases.

Mayor Adams owns a small Brooklyn building, but it has only three or four units, less than the six required to be eligible for rent regulation. But, according to tenant advocates, it’s glaringly obvious he is in landlords’ corner.

“This is the way Eric Adams thinks,” McKee said. “He’s a landlord. He keeps talking about small landlords.”

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