Reform urged for RGB ‘sideshow’

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City councilmembers and state legislators are scrambling to pass resolutions, seeking to significantly reform the Rent Guidelines Board (RGB) as it decides whether to increase rent for rent-stabilized tenants citywide.

“The RGB has become a sideshow, a predictable and silly display that holds no regard either for the residents or their circumstances, and that must change,” City Council Speaker Christine Quinn said in testimony delivered to the Rent Guidelines Board last week. “We need to restore faith in the entire RGB from the ground up. We need to change the process for the better.”

Quinn and Councilmember Letitia James are co-sponsoring a resolution in support of legislation making its way through the State Senate called the Rent Guidelines Reform Bill.

The bill proposes to automatically deny rent increases for landlords with buildings that have serious violations for a period of one year, restructure the board by adding three tenant members, and require that both income and expense information be considered when determining whether a rent increase is necessary instead of just relying on the Price Index of Operating costs for determining guidelines.

The bill will also require board members to be knowledgeable of affordable housing practices and require that the City Council must approve any mayoral appointments to the board.

“I love the idea of having City Council approve mayoral appointees and determine whether members can be a fair representative of both tenants and landlords,” State Senator Eric Adams said. “I believe it is important to have more tenant participation in the process.”

Adams said his office has been receiving complaints from tenants whose landlords are failing to address violations in order to push tenants out. He has been lobbying Republican colleagues to pass the RGB reform bill and believes that the vote will come down to the decisions of Republican state senators representing New York City districts, such as Senators Serphin Maltese and Frank Padavan.

“We’re getting a lot of pushback from Republican counterparts, but the dynamic is different,” Adams said. “The public must compel downstate senators in order for the bill to get passed. Renters for the most part are in the downstate area.”

James has seen similar complaints from her constituents in Fort Greene. She has sought to halt the displacement of rent stabilized tenants in Downtown Brooklyn by helping steer the passage of the Safe Housing Act and the Tenant Harassment Act through the City Council earlier this year. The City Council will not be able to overturn the Rent Guideline’s decision regarding rent increases this week, but James pledged to find ways to prevent long-term tenants from being priced out of their homes.

“We all have to make sacrifices but landlords in rent-stabilized buildings have received considerable increases over the years,” James said. “It appears that the Rent Guidelines Board is stacked against tenants. If landlords seek increases, they should open up their books.”

Housing advocates who have attended the Rent Guideline Board hearings over the past two weeks have called for moratoriums against any additional increases for rent-stabilized tenants this year. Last year, tenants received increases of three percent for one-year leases and five percent for two-year leases.

“We support the initiatives in Albany restructuring the Rent Guideline Board,” said Rolando Guzman, a housing organizer with St. Nicholas NPC in Williamsburg. “We think the bill will be passed after November.”

Sister Kathy Maire, assistant director of the Bushwick Housing Independence Project disagrees, believes the legislation does not address fundamental tenant issues and that the Board should be disbanded entirely.

“The problem is as rents go up, salaries do not go up and tenants can not afford rent increases. It just can’t happen,” said Maire.

Updated 3:48 pm, October 19, 2011
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