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Rent Justice Coalition

Tenant protesters at the RGB meeting in 2019 pressed for a rent freeze. Now the call has new urgency.

New York’s residential housing profile, unlike any other city, shows that it is comprised mostly of renters, not homeowners.  More than two million people live in the city’s one million rent stabilized apartments found throughout the five boroughs.

These New Yorkers who live in rent-regulated units, the vast majority of whom have only low or moderate incomes, must be protected from the destructive financial impact of the coronavirus.  The New York State Legislature or Governor must take action to suspend board deliberations and freeze rents of rent regulated apartments until next year. 

Every year, from late winter to summer, the New York City Rent Guidelines Board votes to determine what increases, if any, to impose on renters.  The board, whose nine members include representative for landlords and five public members, review reports on projected costs and net income, hold public meetings to hear from tenants and then take a preliminary and final vote on the rent adjustment levels for lease renewals.

We, the board’s two tenant representatives, believe that this year, amid the ravage of the coronavirus, is not the time for business as usual.  Instead, it is the time for a time-out.

We do not make this request lightly.  We are fully aware that many landlords, too, will be hurt by the pandemic.  But it is already apparent that many of the city’s tenants are enduring a sudden, devastating, economic impact by a pandemic-related job loss.  The New York State Labor Department revealed that the agency has already seen a 1000 percent increase in claims since the inception of the coronavirus outbreak.   

Of course New Yorkers will not be the only ones suffering during this economic crisis.  Approximately 3.3 million have filed for unemployment nationwide.  But here in New York, the ugly truth is that even before the pandemic, many tenants were at a crisis point, particularly given the city’s increasingly expensive housing market.  We—a tenant organizer and housing attorney—have heard the wrenching stories from tenants frantically trying to hold on to their rent stabilized apartments amid sudden reverses in income: a bus driver who suffered a life changing disability and as a result, a loss of employment; a woman fleeing spousal abuse who found the shelter system to be only a temporary reprieve; a man whose diagnosis of dementia has upended his life.  These stories, all too common even in the best of times, describe an unsettling reality: moderate income New Yorkers are one tragedy away from homelessness in a city with unaffordable rent.  Housing stability for low-income tenants is even more precarious.

Now, for many New Yorkers, the coronavirus has brought that “one tragedy” to their doorstep.

It is a crisis exacerbated by the fact that more than 280,000 apartments have been rent de-regulated across the city since 1993. Those apartments remain deregulated, even as numerous studies show that most New Yorkers are “rent overburdened”—that is, more than a quarter of their income goes towards rent.  That rent burden means that tenants have less money for other necessities such as childcare, groceries, and transportation.

Of course, the multiple crises caused by the coronavirus pandemic are not only affecting New York’s tenants of rent stabilized apartments.  But it is one area where the course of action necessary to be undertaken is clear.  For one thing, the social distancing measures taken to limit the pandemic’s reach have made the Board’s process of considering a rent increase untenable.  And live-streaming the public testimony, hearings and votes would not work either.  We could not expect tenants to engage in any meaningful way in such an effort because many do not have access to computers or the internet.  By state law, the board cannot vote for a rent freeze that would take effect now—it must adhere to the process of hearings, a preliminary vote and a final vote.  That is why the governor or state assembly—both of whom have the power and authority—must act now to suspend the board deliberations and freeze the rents.  Mayor Bill de Blasio has expressed his support for this relief.

The Rent Guidelines Board did not freeze rents during the Great Recession of 2008. We must not make that same mistake now.  The pandemic has proven to be disastrous in a matter of weeks and will likely leave an even deeper financial dent in our lives than the Great Recession.  The Governor and the state Legislature must act now to protect New York rent regulated tenants.

Leah Goodridge is the Supervising Attorney at Mobilization for Justice, Inc. and Sheila Garcia is the executive director of Community Action for Safe Apartments. Both are tenant representatives on the Rent Guidelines Board.

8 thoughts on “Opinion: Two RGB Members Agree with Mayor—NYC Needs a Rent Freeze Now

    • Of course with Climate Change we’ve just had a warm winter. Less to heat means less fuel to buy. How about a buy-back?

  1. I’m a father or 6 and I’m struggling already and the corona virus made life harder and worst and I’m not giving up but we definitely need a rent freeze .I dont know how I’m gonna pull through if a forgivable rent freeze doesn’t come through and I’m afraid of losing my rent regulated apartment due to non payment .landlords need help too water bill freeze real estate tax freeze to help landlords too .even small business owners are shuttering because of this pandemic and we all need help .

    • Why do you have six children? Perhaps that has something to do with your financial difficulties?

      And why do you expect society, or even your landlord from bailing you out for your bad decisions?

      And why do you think you have the “right” to live in someone else’s property rent-free?

  2. You guys should have some shame. You want to stay in someone’s house and don’t want to pay. And this mayor already made great mistake and push all of us towards this life threatening position by delaying city shutdown. Now talking about rent freez another mistake. Its like taking money from owner on gun point. City run on home owners tax and neglect them the most. Horrible!!!

    • I happily pay my rent and my taxes now i been out of a job 3 weeks cant work due to quarantine cant pay bills and rent due to corona virus. Everything should be put on hold til the pandemic is over. Freeze rent for 90 days then put on payment plan to pay it back is not like the landlord will not get his money. Look up what the president of france and el salvador did suspended all debt mortage car payment rent creditcards for 90 days to then resume and be negociated to pay back interest free.

    • 1- the rest of us are out of work… Not getting paid… But we still have to pay the owner if the place we live… Why do they get paid and we don’t.

      2- most mortgages if not all have relief now… Why do the owners of our rentals not only get a paycheck (our rent), but also get to avoid paying the mortgages on the homes they are living in and the ones they have tenants living in?
      How is that fair?

      3- Are you old enough to remember 2009?
      People lost their jobs then their homes which created a snowball effect that damaged our economy and took years to rebound from.
      Forgiving 3mths rent just lime we are dealing with mortgages keeps people in their homes so we do not have a gigantic housing crisis…

      What happens when that person owing 2000-4000 a month in rent cant pay for 3 months because they were furloughed? A pause owing it all in 3 months doesn’t help.. They aren’t going to get back pay the day they start work… How will they afford $8000-$16000 rent payment the day they return to work? So people Will be evicted.. Homeless which Will cause more disease spread. Those people wont stimulate the economy and we will be in a world of crap.
      Banks will get bail outs… Funnel the burden to them

      I was a landlord and owned investment property and i am FOR rent freeze. My houses would have been mortgage free and i personally would feel like a piece of crap sitting back getting unemployment, not paying my mortgage and collecting rent from people in worse situations than I. I would feel disgusting.

      Sometimes you have to look at the bigger picture and not just think about yourself.

      • i really like your answer of “the rest of the country cant get paid so why should the landlord, and the banks are getting bailouts let them deal with it”
        It really make me think twice that hey yeah why should they collect AND get mortgage relief

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