“This was not a consensus choice. The mayor deliberately stacked the deck in favor of landlords and at the peril of tenants.”

Adi Talwar

Members of the Rent Guidelines Board, including the author Adán Soltren (third from left).

Mayor Eric Adams’ is naive and wrong to think that last month’s vote from the New York City Rent Guidelines Board (RGB) to increase rents on vulnerable tenants in rent regulated units was the product of months of uncoerced, willing collaboration and ultimate consensus, as characterized by his public statement following the vote.

As an attorney who represents low-income New Yorkers facing eviction and a tenant representative on the New York City Rent Guidelines Board, I’m happy to set the record straight.

It’s important for the public to know that the mayor has carte blanche over appointments to the Board, all nine members.

READ MORE: Annual Vote Spells Further Rent Increases For NYC’s Stabilized Tenants

While I’m grateful to have a seat on this body, the majority of my colleagues, both landlord and the five public representatives, are pro-real estate. This should be abundantly clear for anyone with eyes to see.

And to put it plainly, without those bona fides, they would have never received his nod.

Over the last several months, the RGB held hearings throughout the boroughs to hear directly from impacted tenants. These are people of color, the elderly and disabled, who, without New York’s Rent Regulation laws, would likely be on the street, in shelter or worse.

They epitomize our most vulnerable neighbors.

As prescribed by the law, the Board’s mandate is to “forestall profiteering” to try and preserve affordable housing and to prevent rent adjustments that cause “severe hardship” that “were uprooting long time city residents from their communities.”

Be that as it may, it becomes increasingly evident each year that not everyone on this Board understands and agrees with this well-established mandate.

This is New York City’s housing landscape to date:

  • 40 percent of rent stabilized tenants are severely rent burdened, as revealed by a RGB staff report published earlier this year;
  • eviction filings following the lifting of the eviction moratorium have skyrocketed by a whopping 167 percent;
  • City Marshals have already executed 3,200 evictions this year alone;
  • civil legal services providers charged with defending low-income New Yorkers from eviction, due to flat-funding and staff attrition, have had to decline cases, forcing tenants to proceed without counsel;
  • New York City’s rental market is as volatile as ever, with median rents setting new records each month;
  • landlords have enjoyed state bailouts to the tune of $2.5 billion since the COVID-19 pandemic;
  • and property owners have offloaded rent-stabilized units on average of $23,248 per unit, far exceeding sale prices prior to the statewide housing reforms enacted in 2019;

This has all transpired while real wages have remained stagnant, yet my Board colleagues fail to consider this enough evidence to freeze rents, in defiance of the aforementioned core duties.

Furthermore, when compared to market rate tenants, rent stabilized tenants tend to have lower incomes, they are more likely to have an elderly tenant in their household, are more likely to have a tenant with a disability and are more likely to be people of color.

Somehow, this Board still believes that we are preserving affordability, preventing unreasonable and oppressive rents, preventing severe hardship and the uprooting of longstanding communities?  I don’t think so. 

And let’s look at the history.

Landlords have indisputably been wildly overcompensated over the last 31 years due to this Board’s decision-making and vacancy increases, with owners’ Net Operating Income up 50 percent since 1990 after adjusting for inflation.

This year, we’ve heard that the major concerns for landlords include increased insurance costs, taxes, and trepidation about refinancing. These are not human concerns, but rather business concerns and costs that implicate business decisions. Our mandate as a Board is to make sure that we simulate a fair housing market, not support or maintain a business model that extracts wealth from poor communities across the city to generate profit for business owners.

Another justification Board members used to defend their choice to increase rents this year is because of their supposed concern about the state of the rent stabilized housing stock.

What this doesn’t account for is the fact that we still don’t have sufficient, reliable data or proof that landlords are using any or a portion of their income to reinvest in their buildings. If the Board blindly follows this reasoning for the next several years, we will continue to displace and uproot the diverse communities that make this city great.

This was not a consensus choice. The mayor deliberately stacked the deck in favor of landlords and at the peril of tenants. My vote was one to mitigate the suffering and both the mayor and RGB deserve the public scorn for this unconscionable increase and the inevitable harm it will cause to those, who, if anything else, need our care, empathy and assistance.

Adán Soltren is a tenant representative on New York City’s Rent Guidelines Board.