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Board OKs Rent Increase on Stabilized Apartments at Contentious Meeting

 The Rent Guidelines Board voted during a meeting at Cooper Union to increase lease renewals for rent-stabilized apartments, June 20, 2013.
Rent Board Votes for Increase
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EAST VILLAGE — The city's Rent Guidelines Board voted 5-4 to hike rents for rent-stabilized apartments during a raucous hearing at Cooper Union on Thursday evening.

Speaking over chants of "RGB has got to to go!" from dozens of angry tenants in the audience at The Great Hall auditorium, the board voted to increase the rent on one-year lease extensions by 4 percent, and on two-year lease renewals by 7.75 percent.

The approved jump, which takes effect Oct. 1, is nearly double last year's permitted increases of 2 percent for one-year leases and 4 percent on two-year rentals.

Diane Felix, 45, who has lived in her $1,025 a month rent-stabilized apartment in Washington Heights for 19 years, said she is currently putting two children through college and doesn't know if she can afford the increase.

"I can barely pay my rent now," said Felix, who works in a kitchen and makes a little more than minimum wage. "Now I pay half one bill so I can pay the other."

Felix said expenses like groceries keep increasing as well, making it hard to make ends meet in the city.

"When I go to the market I get two or three bags, it's 80 dollars," she said. "I just want to cry."

But some building owners who attended the meeting complained that tenants often abuse the system.

"You get people who move in and then don’t pay rent," said Tom Diana, who owns a building in Park Slope. "It forces us to push the apartments out of rent control."

Members of the board blamed elected officials for the increased rents, arguing they provide too little resources for struggling renters.

"This is a difficult task that impacts a very diverse group of households scattered throughout the city," board chairman Jonathan Kimmel said just before the vote.

"Our decision is a blunt instrument and cannot be used to solve these issues — issues that need more precise solutions…real solutions lie with the Legislature. They know how to fix these problems but instead they place the fault at our feet."

Kimmel said the state should provide more subsidies for "tenants in need" and that the city should consider reducing costs to building owners.

Legislators immediately fired back.

“Find me a senior whose Social Security was increased by half as much this year, or any person for that matter whose salary was increased by that much, and then I'll call this increase fair,” said Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal in a statement. 

"Despite its mission to achieve balance in its rent calculations, the RGB has proven once again today that its goal is to continue to enrich already-wealthy landlords at the expense of tenants.”