De Blasio Announces New Rent Board Members Morning of First Meeting

Bill de Blasio. (Photo: Ed Reed/NYC Mayor's Office)

Bill de Blasio. (Photo: Ed Reed/NYC Mayor’s Office)

Mayor Bill de Blasio this morning announced a reshuffling of the Rent Guidelines Board, which determines rent increases for more than one million city residents living in rent-stabilized units, less than two hours before their first public meeting.

The new members are: Sarah Williams Willard, who will serve as an owners’ representative; Cecilia Joza and Steven Flax, who will serve as public members; and Sheila Garcia who will serve as a tenant representative. Mr. de Blasio also re-appointed Harvey Epstein, one of the board’s current tenant representatives.

The mayor’s office sent out the release announcing the appointments at 7:39 a.m. this morning. The board is set to hold its first public meeting of the year at 9:30 a.m.

The new members are likely to lead the board in a more tenant-friendly direction than appointees of the previous mayor, Michael Bloomberg, who approved a series of rent hikes in recent years, drawing howls from tenants’ advocates and members of the public at board hearings.

Ms. Joza currently currently serves as housing counseling program director at Mutual Housing Association of New York, a housing nonprofit that manages affordable housing units, according to the mayor’s office. Mr. Flax, who lives near Mr. de Blasio in Park Slope, is currently vice president of community reinvestment at M&T Bank, where he “oversees New York City community development lending for the bank.” And Ms. Williams Willard works in real estate development and management as senior project manager at the Hudson Companies.

Ms.Garcia is a community organizer at CASA New Settlement, a nonprofit that works to maintain affordable housing and provide community-services in the Bronx. Mr. Epstein, who has sat on the board since April 2013, works at the Urban Justice Center as he project director of the Community Development Project.

During his campaign for mayor, Mr. de Blasio promised to push for a rent freeze on the units overseen by the board, saying “at a time when nearly half of our city’s residents are living in or near poverty, we cannot continue to put additional financial burdens on poor and working New Yorkers,” according to the New York Times.

Wiley Norvell, a spokesman for the mayor, further told the paper the administration was “seeking balanced candidates who understand the needs of low- and moderate-income tenants.” “We plan to undertake an ambitious agenda that confronts the affordability crisis facing the city’s tenants,” he said.

Back in June, Mr. de Blasio slammed the board for its decision to hike rents by 4 percent. “With nearly 1/2 of NYC living at or below the poverty line, Rent Guidelines Board again choses to sharpen economic inequalities. ,” he wrote on Twitter.

Mr. de Blasio will be able to appoint another four members to the board in December. His office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the timing of the announcement.

Read the city’s full release below:

DE BLASIO ADMINISTRATION APPOINTS FIVE NEW RENT GUIDELINES BOARD MEMBERS

NEW YORK—Mayor de Blasio today announced five appointments to the Rent Guidelines Board. The Mayor appointed Sarah Williams Willard as an owners’ representative, Cecilia Joza and Steven Flax as public members, and Sheila Garcia as a tenant representative. The Mayor also re-appointed current tenants’ representative Harvey Epstein to the board. The Rent Guidelines Board determines annual rent adjustments for approximately one million apartments across the city subject to the Rent Stabilization Law.

The Mayor’s first public member appointee, Cecilia M. Joza, is currently the housing counseling program director at Mutual Housing Association of New York, a not-for-profit housing organization that owns and manages over 1,200 affordable rental apartments in New York. In her role as the housing counseling program director, Joza facilitates and conducts home purchases for first-time homeowners, and offers foreclosure and predatory lending prevention counseling.

Steven Flax, the Mayor’s second public member appointee, has spent decades involved in promoting community-based housing and development. Currently a vice president of community reinvestment at M&T Bank, Flax oversees New York City community development lending for the bank. Flax is also the chair of the Neighborhood Opportunities Fund, a collaborative of foundations and banks, which has invested over $25 million to enable non-profit community development corporations to lead the revitalization of distressed communities throughout New York City.

The Mayor’s owners’ representative appointee, Sarah Williams Willard, has spent over 15 years in real estate development and management. Willard spent her early years at Prudential Capital, CarrAmerica and Greenfield Partners, where she held several roles, including debt origination, development modeling and acquisitions. Willard also worked at the MacFarlane Group and at Blesso Properties, where she eventually became a real estate developer. Last September, Sarah joined Hudson Companies as a senior project manager, where she is responsible for managing the company’s activities on Roosevelt Island.

The Mayor is re-appointing Harvey Epstein to the Rent Guidelines Board, where he has served as a tenants’ representative since April 2013. Epstein is also the project director of the Community Development Project at the Urban Justice Center, which represents dozens of community-based organizations and assists their members in litigating employment, housing, health and consumer matters. Prior to working at UJC, Epstein was the associate director and managing attorney for Housing Conservation Coordinators, a community-based not-for-profit that works to preserve decent affordable housing. Epstein has also worked as a staff attorney at the Community Law Offices for The Legal Aid Society, and worked with numerous tenant associations in obtaining ownership of their buildings.

The Mayor’s second tenant representative appointee, Sheila Garcia, is currently the community organizer at CASA New Settlement, a not-for-profit, mixed-income housing and community-service organization the Bronx. At CASA, Garcia works with community residents to improve living conditions and maintain affordable housing in the neighborhood. Garcia has a 23-year track record of active commitment in neighborhood revitalization, community building, and positive youth development.