Testimony by Kamilla Sjödin, Associate Director of Housing Law, before the Rent Guidelines Board: Rent Guidelines for October 1, 2015 through September 30, 2016

June 8, 2015

Chair Rachel D. Godsil, Board members, and staff of the Rent Guidelines Board, good afternoon and thank you for the opportunity to speak about rent regulation in New York City and any changes to the rent guidelines for October 1, 2015, through September 30, 2016.  I am Kamilla Sjödin, Associate Director, Housing Law at the New York Legal Assistance Group, a nonprofit law office dedicated to providing free legal services in civil law matters to low-income New Yorkers.  NYLAG serves immigrants, seniors, the homebound, families facing foreclosure, renters facing eviction, low-income consumers, those in need of government assistance, children in need of special education, domestic violence victims, persons with disabilities, patients with chronic illness or disease, low-wage workers, low-income members of the LGBTQ community, Holocaust survivors, veterans, as well as others in need of free legal services.

We are testifying today to urge the Board to roll back rent increases for one year lease renewals by 1.5% and to freeze rent increases at 0% for two year lease renewals for rent regulated apartments. Rolling back rents in 2015-2016 would best serve the rent-stabilized tenants of New York City, so many of whom struggle to meet yearly rent increases.

Poverty in New York is rampant and the homeless population, including thousands and thousands of children, is at an all-time high[1]. Neighborhoods are gentrifying at an unprecedented rate.  The Section 8 waitlist is still closed.  These many and various pressures on New York City tenants make this an especially crucial moment to maintain affordable rents for rent-stabilized families, allowing them to remain in their homes and communities.

I know that our testimony will support the testimony of tenants and of other organizations that are also witness to the continual loss of affordable housing in New York and the damage that it does to tenants and communities. To that end, in addition to maintaining affordable housing stock and regulating rents, I would like to emphasize that stabilized housing also provides stability for families, the vast majority of whom are low income. Neighborhoods are also stabilized, in that stabilized tenants have the right to renew their leases every year or every two years, unlike market housing where tenants have little to no protection from being evicted upon the expiration of their lease.

NYLAG’s Housing Project represents tenants in Housing Court and before various agencies in the five boroughs.  Currently, most of our cases are in Queens, where we have a satellite office in the Queens Housing Court that works with hundreds of tenants every year. In Queens, we see many cases where non rent-stabilized clients are constantly forced to move from one apartment to another, often annually leaving neighborhoods, friends, family, support services, and medical providers, and forcing children to constantly change schools.  We also see a lot of these families unable to find alternate housing once their leases expire and, as such, they are brought to Housing Court where they are sometimes able to gain some time to move, but often, even with additional time, are unable to find alternate housing and end up entering the shelter system.  It is clear that there is an inadequate amount of affordable housing available, and as the rent stabilization program ages, and stabilized units are continuously lost, this crisis will worsen.

Before making a decision that will affect so many low-income New Yorkers, we strongly urge the Rent Guidelines Board to consider a high burden of proof of unit owners who claim that rising costs necessitate high guidelines increases: personal economic interests cannot outweigh the rights of tenants to live in decent and affordable housing.

In conclusion, we urge you to roll back increases for renewal leases in 2015-2016.  Struggling New York City tenants living in rent stabilized housing simply cannot afford further rent increases given the current lack of affordable housing.  We welcome the opportunity to further discuss or comment on these matters in the future.

Thank you for the opportunity to testify today.

Respectfully submitted,

Kamilla Sjödin, Esq.
Associate Director, Housing Law


 

[1] See “Thousands of New Yorkers living in dangerous ‘cluster units’ as homeless population tops 59,000, a record high,” New York Daily News, February 1, 2015, available at http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/nyc-homelss-population-tops-59k-record-high-article-1.2099150.