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Rent Hikes Approved by Board as Tenants Jeer

By DNAinfo Staff on June 27, 2011 9:13pm

By Jill Colvin

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

COOPER UNION — The city's Rent Guidelines Board voted to increase rents on 1 million rent-stabilized apartments Monday night, prompting several hundred tenants packed into Cooper Union's Great Hall to erupt in jeers.

The nine-member board, whose members represent tenants, landlords and the public, voted 5-to-4 to increase one year leases by 3.75 percent and two-year leases by 7.25 percent.

That's higher than last year’s increases of 2.25 percent for one-year leases and 4.5 percent for two. The increases kick in Oct. 1.

The board had also considered adding a 1 percent supplemental boost for oil-heated buildings to compensate owners for rising prices, but decided to scrap the surcharge, citing the struggling economy.

The raucous crowd of more than 250 people jeered and booed throughout the proceedings, often drowning out members of the board representing landlords, including Steven Schleider, who argued that owners' costs have skyrocketed in recent years and that tenants should have to pay their share.

One recent study released by the board found the cost of operating rent-stabilized buildings increased six percent this year, driven by a 23 percent jump in the cost of fuel oil.

But tenant members rebuffed the owners, and said many residents are already stretched to the limit because of the bad economy.

Tenant member Adriene Holder said the city is facing a housing "crisis" and said any increase "will exacerbate an already desperate housing situation."

About half a dozen other proposals, ranging from no increases on one and two year leases and a 6 percent increase on one year leases and 10 percent for two, failed before the final vote.

"This is catastrophic. It’s criminal," said Ann Shirazi, 66, who has lived in her rent-stabilized apartment on the Upper West Side for nearly 40 years.

She said that making ends meet is getting more difficult by the year.

"It’s going to be a terrible hardship," said Shirazi, who also worries young people will be driven from the city.

Judith Caporale, who's lived in a rent-stabilized Tudor City apartment for more than 25 years, said she fears she'll be driven from Manhattan, where she grew up.

"It's possible I will have to leave Manhattan and that will be heartbreaking. This is my home," she said.

She said she was especially frustrated that the hike seemed like a foregone conclusion and the proceedings were just a show.

"I don't expect anything from them anymore," she said.

But Joe Strasberg, president of the pro-landlord Rent Stabilization Association, said he was disappointed by the vote and thought owners deserved more.

"We don't understand the rationale," said Strasberg, who'd hoped to see an increase of at least 4 percent.

"The quality of housing in the city will suffer," he said.

The vote comes three days after Albany lawmakers voted to extend rent regulations through 2015.

Lawmakers also added several new protections to keep rent-stabilized apartments from flipping to market rates, including increasing the deregulation threshold from $2,000 to $2,500.