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Will Rent Stabilized Tenants See Their First-Ever Rent Freeze?

By Amy Zimmer | June 29, 2015 12:38pm
 The Rent Guidelines Board will vote Monday at Cooper Union to increase lease renewals for rent-stabilized apartments.
The Rent Guidelines Board will vote Monday at Cooper Union to increase lease renewals for rent-stabilized apartments.
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DNAinfo/Ben Fractenberg

MANHATTAN — Will the city's roughly 1 million rent-stabilized apartments see their first-ever rent freeze?

That possibility will be on the table at Monday night when the Rent Guidelines Board holds its final vote on whether to increase rents following Albany's four-year extension of the rent laws.

Though the board's nine members have submitted eight proposals to consider for the increases — or even decreases — for new leases on rent-stabilized apartments, they are expected to consider raising one-year leases by 0 to 2 percent and two-year leases by 0.5 to 3.5 percent.

The board delayed its vote from last week as state legislators continued debating the fate of the laws regulating rent-stabilized homes, which expired June 15.

Last week, Albany passed an extension with few modifications effective retroactively from the expiration.

Tenant advocates — along with Mayor Bill De Blasio — lobbied to eliminate what's known as vacancy decontrol, which is when an apartment can be removed from regulation once it reaches $2,500 per month and a tenant vacates the unit. Instead, the threshold to start charging market rate was raised to $2,700 a month for deregulation.  

Now, residents are looking at tonight's vote as a way to keep rents in check and have been calling for a rent rollback.

"We didn't win much in Albany [so] people are banking on the Rent Guidelines board," said Sheila Garcia, a community organizer at CASA New Settlement, a nonprofit that works to maintain affordable housing in the Bronx. She is also a tenant representative on the Rent Guidelines Board, appointed by de Blasio.

Garcia, who anticipated nearly 1,000 people will turn out to the meeting at Cooper Union's Great Hall, said the board was "in an exciting place" compared to years past.

"If we did anything this year, we shifted the conversation," she said, to "If an increase is merited, how low can it go?"

Many expect that this year's rent increases could be the smallest ever since the ranges they are considering are lower than last year's historically low increases of 1 percent increase for one-year leases and 2.75 for two-year leases.

This is also the first year all nine members serving on the board are appointees of Mayor Bill De Blasio, who campaigned for rent freezes and pushed unsuccessfully for such a freeze last year.

The board is also looking more closely at "what the data is saying," Garcia said.

In the past, she explained, "The [board's chair said,] 'Tenants' economic problems are not something we should look at.' This year the mandate is, 'Let's look at both sides.'"

Operating costs for rent-stabilized buildings increased by only 0.5 percent last year because of lower fuel costs, according to a report issued by the Rent Guidelines Board, which projected that costs will rise 4.2 percent over the next year.The board also found that the median rent for these regulated units is $1,200 a month and household income is $40,600 a year with a rent-to-income ratio of 36.4 percent. (Economic experts recommend rent comprise no more than 30 percent of a tenant's income.)The new rates are for leases renewed on or after Oct. 1.

Albany also charged the Rent Guidelines Board with determining the threshold for vacancy decontrol in the future. Starting on Jan. 1, 2016, the RGB will make yearly adjustments to that threshold.