The Rent Guidelines Board's annual carnival of cacophony—wherein hundreds of rent-stabilized tenants shout themselves hoarse as the board votes to raise their rents again—goes down tonight at Cooper Union. Speaking to the Daily News, board chairman Marvin Markus describes the always raucous affair as "one of the rites of spring," and quips, "Maybe we'll give out Valium." Ha ha, making a mockery of "rent stabilization" is always good for a laugh.
But this year's primal scream therapy may be substituted by one of those contemptuous silent protests; some tenant activists say they'll to tape their mouths shut during the meeting to underscore the board’s disregard for their protestation. Tenants and some government officials are calling for a rent freeze this year due to the economy, something the board has never done since it was established in 1969. City Councilman Bill de Blasio tells the Times, "I think it's time to talk about extraordinary measures. If we can do bank bailouts and other government actions we never would have dreamed of, we certainly should talk about freezing rent increases."
Board member Magda Cruz is fed up with the noisy activists, telling the News, "It is such an offense and assault, almost, to the work that we have done [to] be subjected to that kind of abuse by the audience." To which tenant organizer Michael McKee retorts, "People scream and holler because they're disgusted at the corrupt process that this entire system represents. The whole process is fixed. I don't expect any kind of fairness from these people, because they are, to a person, anti-rent regulation." Last year, the board approved its highest set of allowable rent increases since 1989—4.5 percent on one-year leases and 8.5 percent on two-year leases.
Meanwhile, who will speak out for the landlords? For the first time since 1997, the Rent Stabilization Association, which represents thousands of landlords of rent-stabilized apartments, has produced an ad campaign defending their point of view. Five radio spots feature testimonials from landlords of small buildings, who argue that because property taxes and water rates have gone up, they have no choice but to raise the rent accordingly. About 27 percent of NYC's rent-stabilized apartments are in buildings with 19 or fewer units.