Bronx residents facing a recommended rent hike of as much as 7% over two years spoke out for over five hours at a marathon Rent Guidelines Board hearing at Hostos Community College in the South Bronx.
From seniors on fixed incomes to young adults who have struggled with homelessness,tenants testified about why any increase in rent could result in more pain and evictions.
“The underlying cause of each of my family’s incidents of homelessness has been a lack of safe, permanent and affordable housing,” testified 19-year-old Bronx native Makeda Byfield, who said she has experienced homelessness twice.
The in-person public hearing was the first of three the board is holding, along with a virtual hearing, following its preliminary vote at a raucous meeting on May 2 to recommend allowing landlords rent hikes of between 2% and 5% on one-year leases and 4% and 7% on two-year leases for the city’s 1 million rent-stabilized apartments.
The other two in-person hearings will take place in Jamaica, Queens, on Thursday and downtown Brooklyn on Thursday, June 15.
While six of the board’s nine members have been appointed by Eric Adams, the mayor said in a statement after the preliminary vote that “a seven-percent rent increase is clearly beyond what renters can afford and what I feel is appropriate this year.”
The board’s final vote, scheduled for June 21, is expected to produce a number within its recommended range. Two of the board members are appointed to represent owner interests while two others represent tenant interests and the other five, including the chair, represent the general public.
More than 100 people testified on Monday, and not one seemed to think the hikes the board is considering were acceptable. Not a single landlord testified.
But while the consensus inside the room was clear, there were never as many as 100 people at a time inside of an auditorium that seats 884.
Those who showed up tried to fill the space with chants of “The tenants united will never be defeated!”
Despite the limited turnout, the hearing exceeded its scheduled 8 p.m. end time by more than two hours, inspiring some tenant organizers to have a few pizza pies delivered at about 9:30.
Bronx Councilmember Pierina Sanchez, chair of the Committee on Housing and Buildings, “strongly” urged the board to adopt a freeze, saying tenants have been disproportionately affected by rising rents and incomes that haven’t kept pace.
“This is not a crisis that is affecting everyone equally,” Sanchez said.
Later, Bronx Council member Althea Stevens and Bronx Borough President Vanessa Gibson both called on the board to “protect” tenants, without specifically calling for a freeze. Both said the proposed increase would be devastating to tenants.
Building owners have lobbied for higher allowable increases to cover their rising maintenance and operational costs.
A majority of rent stabilized tenants are not able to afford their apartments, based on the federal benchmark for housing affordability, and nearly 40% of rent stabilized households pay more than half of their income in rent, according to the Board staff’s 2023 income and affordability study.
Homelessness “doesn’t just look like Jordan Neely, rest his soul,” said 24-year-old law student Savannah Miles, who grew up in Bronx public housing and remembers her mother going to Housing Court to get her children onto her voucher.
“It looks like all of us in this room today.”