COOPER UNION — The Rent Guidelines Board cast a preliminary vote Tuesday night to boost rents on more than 1 million rent-regulated apartments, despite pleas from tenants' groups for a full-on freeze.
The board voted 5-to-4 to set an increase range of between 1.75 and 4 percent on one-year leases and 3.5 percent to 6.75 percent for two-year leases. A final vote, which will determine the exact number, is set for late June.
Unlike previous years, when hundreds of rowdy tenants drowned out board members with hisses and boos, Tuesday night’s discussions kicked off in near-silence, with only a handful of tenants filling Cooper Union’s near-empty Great Hall.
Instead, several dozen tenant activists and members of Occupy Wall Street set up outside, staging a demonstration as part of the May Day rallies taking place blocks away in Union Square.
But shortly before the board's final vote, the protesters burst into the auditorium, chanting “Occupy! Shut it down! New York is a tenants’ town!” as they marched.
They continued heckling board members, booing and shouting, “This is a sham!” as the members cast their votes.
Several other options had also been discussed.
Tenant member Brian Cheigh had suggested a 0 percent rent hike, arguing that tenants are suffering from a still-weak economy, and that stabilized tenants keep paying an ever-higher percentage of their incomes on rents.
“It is a very dire situation,” he said.
But owner representative Steven Schleider said that while the city needs more affordable housing, owners should not be forced to bear the burden when their costs are also going up, too, for more expensive heating oil and higher water and sewer rates.
He proposed an increase of 5 percent on one-year leases and 9 percent on two-year leases, in addition to a 1 percent supplement for oil-heated buildings and an additional charge for tenants who have lived in their buildings for six or more years.
“Are you kidding?” one tenant shouted in disbelief when the idea was proposed.
But while this year’s rent increase looks as though it will be less steep that last year, when the board voted 5-to-4 to increase one-year leases by 3.75 percent and two-year leases by 7.25 percent, rent-subsidized tenants said they just can’t bear to pay more.
“We can’t afford it! The economy is bad,” said subsidized tenant Gladys Wilson, 74, who said she lives on a fixed income in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, and is already having trouble making ends meet.
“It’s hard. I can’t do other things,” she said. “Everything goes to my rent.”
Horacio Marmolenjos, 61, who lives in Washington Heights, said he lost his job performing house repairs about four months ago and is now struggling to support his family, including his three kids.
“It’s tough. Right now I’m unemployed, so it’s really hard [to pay the bills],” said Marmolenjos, who said he currently pays $750 a month in subsidized rent.
The board also voted to raise rents for hotels and temporary residences, like SROs, between 1 and 3.5 percent.
The board will now two public hearings: at 4:30 p.m. at the Repertory Theater of Hostos Community College at 450 Grand Concourse in the Bronx on June 13 and at 10 a.m. at Cooper Union on June 18.
The board is set to cast its final vote June 21 at 5:30 p.m.
The higher rents would kick in Oct. 1.