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It’s tenants versus landlords - Groups urge Rent Control Board to back moratorium on increases

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Owners and tenants clashed after several tenant groups called for the suspension of rent increases at the Rent Control Board Hearings in downtown Brooklyn Wednesday night.

“We hope that this Board will declare a moratorium on rent increases, especially for landlords that are abusive and don’t provide services,” said Sister Kathy Maire, assistant director of the Bushwick Housing Independence Project, at the hearing, held at the New York City College of Technology (285 Jay Street).

Several hundred tenants from Brooklyn filtered through the six-hour hearing throughout the evening, testifying about their housing situations and the difficulties they would have paying rent. Most of the tenants attending the hearing were living in rent-stabilized buildings, which are subject to increases on a yearly basis every time a lease is renewed.

“How are tenants possibly going to pay their rent if it is raised to $900 a month if they are only bringing in $265 a week?” asked Father Powis, director of BHIP.

Last year, the Rent Control Board raised rents for tenants in rent-stabilized buildings about three percent for a one-year lease and about five percent for a two-year lease.

Owners, claiming that fuel and maintenance costs have gone up significantly, proposed increases as high as 12 percent for tenants with a two-year lease.

“It’s the city’s problem so far as they are driving the cost of living up,” said Frank Ricci, a representative with the Rent Stabilization Association, an organization representing owners. “Property taxes are the single biggest component in operating a building.”

Speaker Christine Quinn, Brooklyn Councilmembers David Yassky and Letitia James, and Borough President Marty Markowitz, all testified at the hearing, expressing their opposition to any proposed increases. Quinn urged reforms to the rent control process while Yassky explained the consequences of rent increases to constituents living in Greenpoint and Williamsburg, who have been displaced further east or have left the city altogether.

“What happens if there is an increase? People will be pushed out of their apartments. It is as simple as that,” said Yassky.

Deb Howard, executive director of the Pratt Area Community Council, has observed increased harassment of rent-stabilized tenants in Central Brooklyn by investors looking to buy the comparatively inexpensive buildings tenants live in.

“Investors are looking to get a return of 20 percent in one year and the only way for them to do that is to get long-term tenants out,” Howard said.

Howard advocated for no increase at this time, though Father Powis preferred that the Rent Control Board refrain from voting and instead direct the City Council and Mayor’s Office to propose a solution.

“These people are being used by the people who should make the decision,” Powis said. “The mayor and City Council must do something because we don’t want to make thousands of families homeless. Any increase of 10 to 12 percent will be catastrophic for the city.”

The Rent Control Board will hold hearings again on June 16 at the Great Hall at Cooper Union (7 East 7th Street) from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and will convene to make a final decision on rent increases on June 19.

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