On Monday night, in the Great Hall of Cooper Union, the New York City Rent Guidelines Board, which controls the annual rate of increase on the city’s one million rent-stabilized apartments, had its preliminary vote.
The process began with its customary opening volleys. The nine-member board’s two tenant members proposed an increase of 0 percent, as they do each year. The two landlord members proposed an upping of one-year leases by 9 percent, and two-year leases by 15 percent. Four-fifths of tenants, claimed board member Steven Schleider, “can and should pay more.”
Then something unusual happened. Adriene Holder, a Legal Aid attorney and tenant representative, put aside her prepared remarks to make an unplanned speech.
“First of all,” she said, “I want to know where everybody is.” There were not so many folks there! When confidence in city government runs low, the people abscond.
“The tenants are here but not in the number that you would expect,” Ms. Holder said, “given how important this situation is, and how dire this is to what’s going to happen to tenants here in New York City. Perhaps they’re not here because they’re still working; perhaps they’re not here because they’re working their second job; maybe they’re not here because they’re discouraged, they’re disappointed; and maybe they’re not here because they’ve become weary of a process that guarantees that there’s going to be an increase.
“Increasingly, what we are seeing is two different cities,” Ms. Holder said. “We’re seeing a city that’s becoming increasingly rich, and a city that’s becoming increasingly poor, and a middle or moderate class that is moving away from the city.”
She laid into the five members of the board representing the general public. (The tenant members and the owner members talk with each other, but apparently conversations do not occur with the five general members. “They’re puppets,” suggested someone in the audience.)
“I’m really concerned that if we don’t get a handle, what we are going to notice is that this one-size approach that doesn’t help anyone is actually going to make us truly irrelevant to this process.”
In the end, the board, irrelevant or not, voted 5 to 4 in favor of a range of increases that resembles the increases of previous years. There will be two long days of public testimony in mid-June, if anyone shows up, with the final vote coming shortly thereafter.
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