Is the rent too damn high? For many of the more than 1,000,000 New Yorkers living in rent-stabilized apartments across the city, if it isn’t already, it soon will be.
Today the nine-person Rent Guidelines Board decided on next year’s rent increases in a public meeting in the Great Hall at Cooper Union (please note the irony). Rent will jump 4% on all one-year leases and 7.75% on all two-year leases in the city. The tenants jeered, the landlords cheered. It came down to a 5-4 vote.
Standing outside Cooper Union immediately before the meeting were members of both camps eagerly pitching their side to the news media that had gathered. Some were loudly complaining about their rent burdens, others were accusing the city government of communist-style price-fixing. Present among the crowd was Jimmy McMillan, the erstwhile candidate for Governor famous for his tenaciously held view that “the rent is too damn high.”
We asked McMillan what he thought was going to happen at the meeting. He was skeptical, stating that in all likelihood the same thing would as had in years passed: the rent would go up, and there was nothing the public could do about it (For a brief video of our conversation with McMillan, look below. Please excuse the sound of the wind).
And as high (or low) as the rent hikes may seem, the numbers actually represent a compromise between owner representatives and tenant reps. So naturally, everyone was pissed.
The tenant members and the owner members of the Guideline Board–appointed in equal number (two each) in a maybe-futile display of the board’s even-handedness–each gave proposals before a final vote was taken on a proposal that split the difference.
Tenant member Harvey Epstein opened the discussion of proposals by comparing the relative plights of landlords and tenants, stating that “not one owner applied for a hardship increase” to the amount of rent they could charge in 2012, while “tens of thousands of tenants” ask for a reprieve every year. After his speech, he tossed up a proposal for rent freezes, which was promptly spiked in a 7-2 vote.
Owner member Steve Schleider rebutted that landlords indeed face increased costs every year and claimed that the Epstein had underestimated the burden on owners and proposed 6.25% and 9.5% for one- and two-year leases, respectively. After two more rounds of voting–done over shouts of “Where do you live? Park Avenue?!” and “free market!”–the board finally settled on the split of 4% and 7.75%.
We caught up with McMillan after the meeting. He was still standing outside the auditorium when the crowd started to exit. He asked for the results.
“I knew it. I knew it.”
He followed with, “Being a vetern of the United States Army, I’m not going to give up, that’s for sure.”