Monday, June 17, 2013

Testimony: Sam Stein, Tenants & Neighbors

On Thursday, June 13th, over 100 tenants testified against the Rent Guidelines Board's unusually high preliminary guidelines (3.25% - 6.25% for one year leases, and 5% - 9.5% for two year leases), as well as their decision to jettison an outer borough hearing. We heard from apartment tenants and SRO tenants, long term residents and relative newcomers, young and old, representing diverse communities of regulated tenants from around the city. Across these differences, there was a unified message: the RGB's proposed increases are way too high. In today's economy, tenants simply cannot afford them. The board must reconsider, and reject these unwarranted increases.

We will be posting the testimonies of a few tenants who spoke out that day, starting with Tenants & Neighbors' Rent Regulation Campaign Coordinator (and rent stabilized tenant) Sam Stein. Want to share your testimony with us? Please email a copy to
Good morning. Thank you to Chairman Kimmel for holding this hearing today, and to all of you for hearing the testimony of rent stabilized tenants about the proposed guidelines for renewal lease increases. My name is Sam Stein, and I am an organizer at New York State Tenants & Neighbors, a grassroots organization that helps renters preserve at-risk affordable housing and strengthen tenants’ rights in New York. We represent approximately 2500 tenants, most of whom are rent stabilized, almost all of whom have low or moderate incomes, and many of whom are elderly people on fixed incomes. I am also a tenant in a rent stabilized apartment in Queens. 
As a representative of my organization and our members, I have attended every public meeting that this board has held over the past 4 months, and read each report that the board staff has ably produced. Based on the information presented to the board by both staff and invited experts, as well as my experience counseling rent stabilized tenants from around the city, I believe the preliminary guidelines this board has approved are far too high. 
  • As the Income and Affordability report showed, tenants are facing dire economic conditions, with unemployment rising again, wages declining, and nearly a third of rent stabilized tenants city-wide putting half their income towards rent.  
  • As the Income and Expense study reported, landlord’s net operating incomes have risen for the 7th consecutive year. 
  • As the Mortgage Survey showed, the market for rent stabilized buildings remains strong, even in light of a national housing crisis. 
  • According the RGB’s “Changes” report, at least 9,499 apartments left rent stabilization last year. That is a staggering number: it’s more New Yorkers than complained about bed bugs at the peak of that crisis; it’s more New Yorkers than were killed by cigarettes last year; it’s more New Yorkers than are on the organ donor waiting lists. It’s an ongoing crisis in this city, and one that the RGB must take into account as it considers an abnormally high preliminary range of rent increases. 
I’d like to address the public members, because how you choose to vote is of the utmost importance. Mr. Kimmel, Ms. Levy-Odom, Ms. Moore, Ms. Shine, and Mr. Wenk: on April 30th, you voted for a preliminary guideline of 3.25% to 6.25% for one-year leases, and 5% to 9.5% for two-year leases. We believe this entire range is above the level many tenants can afford, and beyond the need of most landlords. Additionally, the proposed guidelines under consideration today would send many apartments over the vacancy decontrol threshold, setting them up to leave rent stabilization when the current tenant leaves. This would impact not just the rent stabilized tenants we and our allied organizations represent; it would also disrupt the stability and change the character of the these tenants' communities, and would have broader implications for our city as a whole. As you are representatives of the public- of the New Yorkers who care deeply about their neighbors and about the communities in which they live- I would like to ask you each, personally, to vote for a significantly lower adjustment this year than what was approved at the preliminary vote. Additionally, if a proviso targeting lower rent apartments is once again introduced this year, I ask you to reject it. As data from the Community Service Society has shown time and again, these provisos disproportionately fall on the backs of the poorest, oldest and most long-term of rent stabilized tenants. The tenants we represent, and many others, simply cannot afford these kinds of increases. 
We urge the board to consider holding rents still in 2013. If you determine that this is not possible, we encourage the board to consider the lowest possible rent increase, and ask you to remember the tenants who testify here today, and the hundreds of thousands more who this rent increase would affect.

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