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Residents Ask For a Rent Rollback as Board Prepares to Vote

  A residents offers testimony at the Rent Guidelines Board meeting Tuesday night in Harlem before their final vote Monday
A residents offers testimony at the Rent Guidelines Board meeting Tuesday night in Harlem before their final vote Monday
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DNAinfo/Dartunorro Clark

HARLEM — Dozens of residents offered emotional testimony Tuesday night as the Rent Guidelines Board held its final meeting before voting next week on whether to raise the rent for nearly 1 million rent-regulated apartments.

Inside the auditorium at the Oberia D. Dempsey Multi Services Center, at 127 W. 127th St., resident after resident pleaded with the eight board members to rollback rents in light of the board’s historic decision last year to pass a one-year freeze for rent-stabilized tenants.

“The rent just keeps going up and up and I don’t know what to do,” one resident said during her testimony, fighting back tears.

Harlem resident Elaine Williams, who is on the Lenox Terrace Association of Concerned Tenants, told the board to strongly consider a rent rollback.

“My son and grandchildren were raised in the complex and it was expected that they, too, would live and raise their families in the same community, but that is not the case,” Williams said.

“We want a rent rollback. We deserve a rent rollback.”

Robert Smith, a Harlem resident, told DNAinfo anything other than a rent rollback would be harmful for him considering his health problems.

“It’s tantamount to a death sentence if I’m evicted,” said Smith, who suffers from emphysema and said his condition could worsen if he’s left homeless.

Smith said he was not on the lease when his partner died from cancer several years and has been in a battle with his landlord — who he said wants to increase rent — over succession rights of the Harlem apartment.

“It’s very important to live in an apartment where I’m comfortable,” he said.

Other residents blasted the board, saying it has helped landlords more than tenants.

“This board overcompensates landlords at the expense of tenants,” one community member told the board. “The scarcity of affordable housing has contributed to the rise of homelessness.”

Another resident present was one of the few building owners who offered testimony.

“I cannot continue to be in business until I see ...an inflationary increase,” said the owner, who said he owns two cooperative apartments in Brooklyn.

“No one will buy an apartment that is losing money. If I sell it it will be to a slumlord."

Local politicians also offered testimony to the board calling for a rent rollback — or at least a rent freeze — including Harlem City Councilmembers Mark Levine and Melissa Mark-Viverito, Councilwoman Helen Rosenthal, who represents the Upper West Side, and Manhattan Assemblyman Keith Wright.

“The city is in the midst of an affordable housing crisis,” said Mark-Viverito, who is also the speaker of the City Council.

“That’s why we must preserve our affordable housing stock. It is critical that rent stabilized housing and families living in rent stabilized housing be protected.”

The councilmembers also said they have seen harassment from landlords toward tenants, particularly senior citizens.

The board, which is mandated to establish rent adjustments for rent-stabilized dwellings, is expected to have its final vote Monday and issue a decision.