Housing advocates call for another rent freeze
by Patrick Kearns
Jun 13, 2017 | 1052 views | 0 0 comments | 80 80 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Queens residents advocating for no increase for rent-stabilized apartments descended on the borough public hearing of the Rent Guidelines Board (RBG) last week in Jamaica.

At a preliminary hearing in April, RGB set ranges for this year's rent guidelines as between a 1 and 3 percent increase for one-year leases, and a 2 to 4 percent increase for two-year leases. A final hearing and vote will take place on June 27

At the public hearing at the Jamaica Performing Arts Center Auditorium, members of the tenants’ rights group, the Rent Justice Coalition, spoke about why increasing rent would be negatively impact renters across New York City.

Rachel Namuche, an organizer with the Ridgewood Tenants Union, lives in a rent-stabilized apartment and so does her mother.

She explained that they both have the same landlord, who is able to maintain the buildings without charging higher rents, but not every resident of the neighborhood is so lucky.

“Rent-stabilized tenants are facing many, many pressures,” Namuche said. “Not just from higher rents, but from harassment from landlords that want to buy them out, unsafe living conditions when landlords don’t want to make repairs, and from the gentrification taking over Queens that intensifies all these other problems that tenants are facing.

“I’m certain that in five to ten years, all of the working-class tenants that I know will not be able to stay in their communities,” she added.

Steve Janawsky, a retired MTA worker who lives in Ridgewood, has experienced some of that harassment firsthand.

“I've taken my landlord to court three times for repairs and for overcharges,” he said. “He has cleared out my building of all the old tenants except for me and two others, and now he has high rents in all those apartments.

“He’s harassing my disabled neighbor so that he leaves, too,” he added. “So while I’m on a fixed income and spending my retirement taking my landlord to court, my landlord lives in a building with a tennis court and a pool. He does not need any more of my money.”

Jose Genao, an Elmhurst tenant of over 40 years, has seen a drop in the quality of living even as rents have soared.

“A building that’s beautiful has become a building where you see graffiti,” he said. “There’s garbage left all the time and destruction.”

Jagpreet Khakh is a community organizer with Chhaya CDC, a group that advocates for the housing needs of the South Asian community. He says he’s seen multiple families forced to move back to the countries they fled looking for a better life.

“I have to tell these tenants all the time when they come in with their lease renewals that unfortunately there's very little that I can do for them,” he said. “I have to look into their eyes and see that they know they will be displaced.”

The Rent Stabilization Association (RSA), an organization representing the landlords who own rent-stabilized buildings, feels that the preliminary increases are too low.

According to the group, the cost of insurance, taxes and utilities has risen 6.2 percent over the past year. The year prior, it fell 1.2 percent.

“Although some form of a rent increase is likely, a minimal increase is not sufficient,” RSA said in a statement. “This board has placed tenant affordability above all else, and has put the health of the city’s affordable housing stock at risk as a result.

“After two straight years of rent freezes, property owners are in dire need of reasonable rental income in order to invest and properly maintain their buildings,” the statement added.

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