The Rent Guidelines Board as it prepared to cast its vote on Monday.

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On Monday, the city’s Rent Guidelines Board approved hikes for the city’s rent-stabilized tenants of up to 1.5 percent on one-year leases and up to 2.5 percent on two-year leases that start between October 1, 2018 and September 30, 2019. It was the biggest jump for one-year leases during the de Blasio administration, though lower than any increase approved under any other mayor since John Lindsay. Leah Goodridge, a tenant representative on the board, cast one of the dissenting votes and made these remarks. To read a contrasting opinion, please see “CityViews: Squeeze on Regulated Rents Puts Vital Housing Source at Risk”
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I am here tonight to advocate for a rent freeze on behalf of New York City tenants. For the last three months, my fellow board members and I sat together and read several reports prepared by the staff of the Rent Guidelines Board. We listened to testimony by scores of New Yorkers on how a rent increase would impact their lives. My proposal tonight is that we choose people over profits. Let’s talk about numbers:

About 63,000 people sleep in homeless shelters in this city every night—many of them huddled together with their children and dreams of a better life.

While we had two years of a rent freeze, we had over ten years of high rent increases. Some of these high rent increases were based on inflated figures. Some of these high rent increases were during the Great Recession. Compare—ten years of mistakes to two years of correction. Does that seem to add up to you?

The landlords’ main argument has been that another rent freeze will bankrupt them. But consider this: the data by the Rent Guidelines Board’s own reports show that in 2016, landlords made $312,000 in net operating income. That amount is after maintenance expenses to care for buildings are taken out. How much did landlords garner in net operating income before the rent freeze? $296,000. So you know what their argument is–that they didn’t make enough money! But we must choose people over profits.

The Rent Guidelines Board held hearings in four boroughs this year (Manhattan, Brooklyn, the Bronx and Queens). How many tenants came out to testify at those hearings? 262 tenants. Do you know how many landlords testified at these hearings? Only 12. They are not here because they have lower much stakes: their concerns are whether this vote will bring them higher profits. Our concerns are whether this vote will swell the homeless population in this city’s shelters.

The people make this city. The people make New York City. So this vote is for you. This vote is for the tenants struggling to make ends meet if the rent goes up. The tenants who have to make a painstaking decision: “Should I buy a MetroCard or should I pay my rent?” “Should I buy food for my child or should I pay rent?” “Should I move down south because I’m being priced out of the city that I love?”

This vote for a rent freeze is for Joy Noel, an 85-year old rent stabilized tenant who was evicted in Brooklyn while she was out of town. She died homeless!

This vote is for you Dasani, the 11-year old girl featured in the New York Times article whose family was struggling with homelessness and the vicious cycle of poverty.

This vote is for all the tenants in Bronx Housing Court that join a line around the block as they enter the building to fight for their rent stabilized homes.

This vote is for the lady on the train who made an announcement that we all know all too well: “Excuse me ladies and gentlemen, sorry to interrupt but I’m homeless. Can you please help?”

This vote is for the man sleeping outside of Cooper Union who I passed by on the way here.

I am asking you, fellow board members: do we vote for people or profits? Which one do you think matters most? If you care about the future of New York City, you must vote for people over profits.

Rent freeze now.

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Leah Goodridge is the supervising attorney at Mobilization for Justice, Inc., and a tenant representative on the New York City Rent Guidelines Board.