- Last week, the State Senate passed two criminal justice bills. The first would make assaulting a police officer a hate crime, while the other targets “gang violence” by lengthening sentences and offering an absurdly loose definition of a “gang.”Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie announced opposition to the latter bill, while community activists see the specter of gangs like MS-13 being used to criminalize young people in minority communities.
- Department of Corrections Commissioner Joseph Ponte resigned on Friday amid allegations that his department spied on investigators who were looking into corruption at Rikers, and that he used a public vehicle for personal use. Mayor de Blasio stood by Ponte until the last moment.
- De Blasio’s rezoning plans largely target lower-income communities of color, omitting wealthier parts of New York that also have room for higher density development.
- A group of non-union contractors is pushing the City Council to mandate drug and alcohol testing for all city construction workers in an attempt to scapegoat workers for construction accidents.
- Concerns are surfacing about how the $16.4 million that de Blasio’s budget allocated for defendants in immigration court will be spent.
- Three IDC members who are vice-chairs of senate committees are getting pay bonuses usually reserved for committee chairs, ranging between $12,500 and $18,000 per year. Four Republican State Senators who are not committee members are also illegitimately receiving these stipends. These stipends may or may not be illegal due to the falsification of payroll records.
- While IDC senators are profiting financially from their arrangement, Governor Cuomo continues to aggregate more power from the State Senate’s dysfunction in advance of a likely presidential run.
- Jarrett Murphy writes a full review of the gap between the Mayor’s rhetoric and his record on homelessness.\
- Vincent Chirico confirmed that he will be entering the D. 43 (Bay Ridge) City Council Democratic race in which DSA endorsee Khader El-Yateem is running.
- Republican Mayoral Candidate and current Staten Island Assemblymember Nicole Malliotakis was called out more than once this week for displaying a tenuous relationship with the truth. First for claiming a 33% increase in rapes reported since De Blasio took office and then for incorrectly claiming on her website that she won her last election with 100% of the vote.
- DSA member Patrick Bobilin is running for City Council in the 5th District. He will compete with incumbent Ben Kallos in September’s Democratic primary. Kallos faces no other challengers in either the primary or the general.
The Rent Guidelines Board and YOU!
Although much of the conversation around affordable housing in NYC is focused on new development and tax breaks, a significant stock of affordable housing already exists in the form of unsubsidized rent-stabilized apartments. Nearly half of rental apartments in NYC, about 1 million units, are subject to rent stabilization, giving those tenants a slew of rights that non-stabilized tenants don’t have (such as a right to a lease renewal and a right to live free from frequent buyout offers) as well as a uniform cap on the amount that their rent can go up each year.
The ongoing affordability of rent stabilized apartments in NYC lies in the hands of the Rent Guidelines Board (RGB), which publishes yearly reports on the average income and expenses of running multifamily buildings, and uses that information to vote annually on the cap on how much rents can rise on rent-stabilized leases. The board comprises 9 members who are appointed by the Mayor to represent various competing interests; there are two owner/landlord representatives, two tenant representatives, and five “public members” who cannot be rent-stabilized tenants and who tend to have a non-housing professional background.
The RGB meets annually between April and June to hear expert panels and public testimonies from tenants before voting to approve how much rent stabilized leases can go up on all 1- and 2-year lease renewals. The process is somewhat transparent, with multiple public hearings held in each borough, advertised in multiple languages, followed by a final vote. Tenants and organizing groups flood the hearings to delivery testimony about how landlords exploit loopholes to increase rent beyond the allowable increases, and how even small rent increases can impact their ability to stay in their apartment.
Unfortunately, the stated intent of the RGB and its limited scope prevent it from truly serving the needs of NYC tenants. One limitation is that the board is expected to base its decisions on hard data about changes in operating costs, not affordability needs or the lived experiences of tenants. In 2015 and 2016, the RGB voted on a 0% increase (or rent freeze) on 1-year leases for the first time in rent stabilization history, due primarily to the drop in oil prices during those years but also to particularly strong tenant presence at public hearings. This was a huge victory for tenants and advocates, but the Rent Stabilization Association (a landlord group) immediately sued the RGB for what they claimed was a politically motivated decision, suggesting that the Mayor intentionally chose public representatives who would vote to please tenants, and that the RGB is not supposed to consider affordability in their votes. The NY State Supreme Court ruled against the RSA in March and upheld the rent freeze, but last week the RSA filed an appeal, so this issue is ongoing.
Another limitation of the RGB is its inability to address weaknesses in rent stabilization law, all of which are under the purview of state legislation. Vacancy bonuses (allowing landlords to raise rent 20% when a tenant moves out), Decontrol (allowing landlords to take apartments out of stabilization once the rent reaches $2,700/month for a new tenant), Preferential Rents (allowing landlords to attach a rider to leases saying that they are temporarily renting an apartment before the legal cap until the moment they decide not to, often resulting in increases that are higher than tenants can afford) and Major Capital Improvements (allowing landlords to pass the costs of certain building improvement directly to tenants with little oversight) are a few of the major issues that are resulting in the decline in the amount of rent stabilized units as well as the ability for this program to offer decent and truly affordable housing.
Information about how to find out if your own apartment is rent stabilized can be found here. If you are a rent stabilized tenant, consider attending one of the upcoming RGB hearings throughout June; the RGB’s preliminary vote in April called for potential rent increases between 1% and 4% but this could change before the final vote with enough public pressure