Above Photo: Tenants disrupt the Rent Guidelines Board vote on June 21. Liberation photo.
On June 21, New York City raised the rent for over two million tenants.
After a pitched struggle over the last two months, the Rent Guidelines Board voted to increase rents on New York City’s rent-stabilized apartments. The increase for one-year leases will be 3%. For two-year leases, rents will go up by 2.75% in the first year and 3.25% in the second year.
This year’s increase follows last year’s increase of stabilized rents by 3.25% for one-year leases and 5% for two-year leases, which was the biggest increase since 2013. After these two increases, tenants are paying hundreds or even thousands of dollars more in rent over an annual lease term.
These increases come at a time when, according to the RGB’s own data, just about 40% of rent-stabilized tenants already pay over half their income in rent.
“You want to increase our rent?” asked Anna Gálvez, a leader with Community Action for Safe Apartments at a June 5 public hearing in the Bronx. “Have you asked us if our salaries have gone up? It’s not fair that I have to decide between groceries and the rent … I don’t have enough to pay the rent.”
Tenants had no input on these rent increases. They did not vote for them. They did not even vote for the people voting for them — the RGB is entirely appointed by the mayor of New York City. Every year, it votes on whether or not to increase rent on the city’s rent-stabilized units and by how much.
Under his administration, Mayor Eric Adams has appointed seven of the nine members currently on the board. Adams, himself a landlord, was the mayoral candidate most funded by developers during the 2021 election. There is only one rent-stabilized tenant on the RGB: Genesis Aquino, one of only two members who are meant to represent the tenants. There are also two landlord members, and five public members who have often sided with landlords and voted for rent increases in the past.
At every meeting and hearing of the RGB, tenants and housing organizations came out in force and demanded not just a rent freeze, but a lowering of rents, also called a rent rollback. On Wednesday night, the RGB ignored them and voted for the increase anyway.
An anti-democratic farce
In April, the RGB began the rent increase process by proposing an astronomical 15.75% increase on two-year leases. On May 2, they held a vote to approve a range for the increase. Tenants stormed the stage demanding a rent rollback. Despite this, the board approved a range of 2% to 7% for the increase.
The next stage in the process was a series of hearings, held on weekdays at 5 p.m., where tenants and concerned individuals could come give public testimonies about the impact of a potential increase. Only three hearings were held throughout the boroughs in the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens, with one more on Zoom. The RGB held no public in-person hearing at all in Manhattan, even though the borough is home to over 280,000 rent-stabilized apartments. At the in-person hearings, many waited hours in line to speak.
“This is absurd and unjust, and whoever is in there making these decisions doesn’t even have to worry about the impact of their decisions,” said an unnamed tenant outside the Brooklyn hearing. “Who are they? No one elected them.”
The hearings were dominated by tenants and tenant organizations exposing the outrageousness of the rent increase and illustrating the difficulties they already faced in their homes.
“I’m on the brink of being on the street,” said Valentine Lopez, another CASA member, at the Bronx hearing. “I have a 6-year-old. The mayor has forgotten about us, about the tenants. Our homes are filled with roaches, with rats.”
“They have the audacity to ask us to come out here to testify knowing full well that they’re still going to vote for a rent increase, the way that they did last year,” said Noor Inqalabi with the PSL outside the Brooklyn hearing. “We cannot put our hope in these unelected officials … We won’t let them pretend like they just had a public testimony, when what they just had is a farce.”
What’s next? Tenant resistance
At the public hearings and at the RGB’s final vote, tenants emphasized that they plan to organize and resist any rent increase the board imposes.
“We’re not gonna pay one more dime,” said Joselyne Gomez, a CASA leader, at the Bronx public hearing. “You should be ashamed. The rent has to go down. No one here is gonna pay. We should all go on a rent strike … All the tenants here, we’re all gonna go on strike.”
In addition to resisting the rent increase, tenants are setting their sights on the structure of the RGB itself. Instead of a body appointed and controlled by the mayor, tenants want to see a truly democratic one that represents tenant interests.
“Yes, we need a rollback, yes, we need a freeze,” said Michaela Kay of the PSL at the Bronx hearing. “But we really need a truly democratic body for the tenants, by the tenants, so this doesn’t keep on happening … Together, as tenants, we are powerful, we can make a change.”
As the members of the RGB walked away after increasing rents for millions of working-class tenants, the massive crowd in the hall chanted: “We’ll be back!”