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A New York City panel has moved to increase rents on nearly one million apartments across the city, during an emotional hearing that saw proceedings disrupted by protestors.

The Rent Guidelines Board, in a 5-4 preliminary vote, moved to approve rent increases of between 2 and 5 percent for one-year leases, and of 4 to 7 percent for two-year leases on the nearly one million rent-regulated apartments across the city.

Before the vote could be cast, dozens of tenant advocates disrupted the proceedings for more than an hour with a protest, chanting “shame!” and “rent rollback!” while blowing whistles and banging chairs.

Tenant advocates and numerous elected officials eventually took to the stage of The Great Hall at Cooper Union, prompting the board members to leave the stage. When they returned, protestors marched in circles around them, chanting and carrying signs while they attempted to carry out the meeting.

“It’s the first time that I’ve gone to one of these RGB votes where I was talking to multiple people who really were on the absolute brink,” Esteban Girón, a member of the Crown Heights Tenants Union who participated in Tuesday’s protest told Inman in an interview. “Mostly seniors and people on disability who don’t have the ability to grow their income, they’re just completely at their wits end.”

“When you get to that point of desperation you’re going to do stuff like storm the stage,” he added.

The vote on Tuesday was preliminary, with the final vote to determine rent increases scheduled for June — though the preliminary vote has reflected the final vote for the past 20 years. The vote will effect leases beginning during or after October.

If the board votes to codify the increase in June, it will be the second year in a row that the board approved a higher than normal increase. In 2022, the board voted 5 to 4 to approve an increase of 3.25 percent for one year leases and 5 percent for two year leases — the highest increases approved in almost a decade.

However, in an unexpected move, Mayor Eric Adams expressed in a statement Tuesday night that he felt the proposed high point of 7 percent was a bridge too far.

“While we are reviewing the preliminary ranges put forward by the Rent Guidelines Board this evening, I want to be clear that a seven-percent rent increase is clearly beyond what renters can afford and what I feel is appropriate this year,” Adams said. “I recognize that property owners face growing challenges maintaining their buildings and accessing financing to make repairs; at the same time, we simply cannot put tenants in a position where they can’t afford to make rent.”

The statement is a departure from Adams’ previous stated attitude towards the board.

“I don’t meddle,” he told state legislators in February. “I appoint, and I take a step back.”

Last year’s vote was the first during the tenure of Mayor Adams, who is seen as more attuned to the concerns of landlords than his predecessor Bill de Blasio, who oversaw the only one year rent freezes in the boards history, in 2015, 2016, and 2020.

Girón said he suspects the mayor came to the realization that two straight years of sizable rent increases for rent stabilized tenants could hurt him politically.

“I think he realized he has a political landmine on his hands,” he said. “Landlords cannot vote him into office.”

Advocates for landlords declared the process broken following Tuesday’s vote.

“This entire RGB process is broken,” tweeted Jay Martin, executive director of the landlord group Community Housing Improvement Program. “The rent of a million apartments and millions of renters should not [be] determined by a public charade where elected officials lead chants to scream and shout against facts and data.”

Landlord representatives have pointed to the increasing costs of essential supplies such as fuel to justify increasing rents substantially.

The members of the Rent Guidelines Board are all appointed by the mayor and include two representatives of rent-stabilized tenants, two of building owners, and five representatives of the public.

The board was formed in the late 1960s to regulate a subset of city apartments in response to falling vacancy rates and rising rents.

Rent-stabilized apartments make up about 44 percent of New York City’s rental housing stock, with about 2 million people living in them across the city.

Email Ben Verde

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