New York City's Rent Guidelines Board took an unprecedented step Monday, voting for the first time to freeze rents on one-year leases for tenants in rent-stabilized apartments.
The vote came before a crowd of jubilant tenants and advocates, who cheered when it became clear the proposal would pass. The board voted to increase rents on two-year leases by 2 percent.
The city has more than 1 million rent-stabilized apartments, accommodating more than 2 million people.
The board last year voted to raise rents by 1 percent on one-year leases and 2.75 percent on two-year leases, and state legislators voted last week to extend rent regulations for another four years.
"It's historic, it's a win for affordable housing," said Wasim Lone, 58, who's been living in a rent-stabilized apartment on the Lower East Side for 20 years.
Karen Smith, who lives with her grandmother in a rent-stabilized apartment in the Bronx, called the decision "amazing."
"This is necessary for people to just live in New York City," she said.
Others said even 2 percent is hard to manage, especially for people who have not seen their income go up.
"A lot of people see this as a victory, but I don't think it's a total victory," said Lloyd Smith.
Kathleen Jones of Pelham Parkway said, "A lot of our children can't afford to move out. How can they afford on 10, 11, 12 an hour to pay $1,200 to $1,800 a month in rent?"
Both measures apply to leases renewed between Oct. 1 of this year and Sept. 30, 2016.
The board has nine members. Two represent tenants, two represent owners and five are members of the public. Owner representative Sara Williams Willard voted against the proposal, saying, "This is myopic, it's biased." The other owner representative also voted against it.
Chairwoman Rachel Godsil said the board had considered data that showed building owners were doing OK, but tenants were struggling to keep their rents affordable.
Current board members were picked by Mayor Bill de Blasio, who spoke out last year in favor of a rent freeze but didn't ask for any specific action this year.
De Blasio said the vote was "the right call" and praised the board.
"We know tenants have been forced to make painful choices that pitted ever-rising rent against necessities like groceries, childcare and medical bills. Today's decision means relief," he said.
The Rent Stabilization Association, which represents landlords, said any rent freeze or small increase needed to be met with property tax and utilities relief for building owners.
"I think a zero percent increase would be harder on the tenants because it's going to be even much harder for the owners to put money back into the properties," said Aaron Sirulnick, chairman of the association and a building owner. He added, "It's hard to imagine a zero percent revenue increase will help anybody in this process."
Jimmy Silber of the Rent Stabilization Association said the water and sewer rates went up 3 percent this year, and the city's real estate taxes went up nearly 12 percent.
"We are now thinking that this is it, this is the time to bail out. We feel this is a sinking ship," said Silber.
State legislators voted last week to extend rent regulations for another four years.