‘If we eat, we cannot pay rent’: Tenants protest proposed rent increase at final public hearing

'If we eat, we cannot pay rent': Tenants protest proposed rent increase at final public hearing

Tenants rallied outside of a Rent Guidelines Board in the Bronx on Wednesday ahead of a looming vote that could raise rents for more than 1 million rent-stabilized apartments throughout the city.

On June 21st, the board will vote on potential rent hikes of between 2% and 4% for one-year leases, and between 4% and 6% for two-year leases. They have hosted several public hearings in the weeks leading up to the vote, and before the final one on Wednesday, tenants group Community Action for Safe Apartments, or CASA, rallied outside in protest, calling for a rent rollback instead.

Kim Statuto, who led the CASA protest, told Gothamist that people could lose their homes if the rent increase makes it through.

“We just want a chance to get our head above water, to get this back rent up off our back,” she said. “And if you increase the rent how are we gonna do that?”

Protesters marched to the meeting inside a CUNY building, where they filed into the auditorium seats with signs reading “#Rent Rollback 2022.” One by one they tested, pleading with the board to vote against the rent increases.

Bronx resident Christiana Garmendiz said she heard about the protest from someone in her building, and was moved to take action because she was afraid of what could happen to her and her neighbors if the proposed increases were approved.

“This is bringing average people with average income down to poverty and below, because now, with a paycheck, I cannot even buy food to eat. I’m trying to make the rent work and it’s not,” Garmendiz said.

The proposal to raise rents would impact nearly 2.4 million rent-stabilized tenants. If approved, the nine-member board made up of mayoral appointees would green-light the biggest rent increase since former Mayor Michael Bloomberg was in office.

Landlords, for their part, said rent increases were necessary to keep up with building maintenance costs.

Speaking before the board, Christopher Athineos said his family has been providing housing in Brooklyn for decades, and the proposed rent increase was necessary to help cover a recent increases in water rates, real estate taxes and building maintenance costs.

“Affordable housing providers like ourselves, and our renters, suppliers and contractors, we’re all part of this interconnected ecosystem,” he said.

He suggested the rent increase didn’t go far enough to cover the costs associated with the highest inflation figures to affect the United States in decades, and that previous rent freezes, like those enacted during the COVID-19 pandemic, made the proposed increase more necessary.

“Kicking the can down the road got us into this mess,” he said. “It’ll probably push out long-term family ownership like us because we don’t want to provide substandard services. Sure, a rent freeze would make some renters really happy, but in the end, who does it serve? It is just perpetuating the demise of the quality of housing.”

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