Rent increases fights by tenants across NYC as Rent Guidelines Board weighs potential hikes of up to 7%

For many in Queens, rent increases of up to 7% under consideration citywide by the Rent Guidelines Board will drive them to make choices difficult.

“Asking people to choose between rent and food and medicine is beyond unfair, it’s obscene and amoral and [a] driving force in the housing crisis today,” said Douglas, an Elmhurst retired, during the board hearing on rates for rent-stabilized units at the Jamaica Performing Arts Center on Monday evening.

“If I get squeezed any more I’ll be living out of a cardboard box on the street.”

Speakers became emotional as they expressed frustration with their landlords, the cost of living and the overwhelming burden of rent playing in their lives. Some were particularly exasperated with the unselected board and its all-important role in setting rates. This year’s vote comes amid a housing crisis and soaring eviction rates as half of New Yorkers struggle to afford basic necessities.

Maria Segura, a home attendant and single mother, spoke through a Spanish translator as she shared her story.

“I think it is very sad and embarrassing to come here every year in front of you guys and beg for something that is our right, which is a standard of living, which is a basic human right,” she said. “There’s no excuse to steal from our hardworking families. … We’re done, that’s enough. … The landlords have exploited us until we’re basically empty.”

The board rent hikes of 2% to 5% for one-year leases and 4% to 7% increases for two-year leases in a 5-to-4 preliminary vote approved during a chaotic meeting last month. The final vote is set for June 21.

At Monday’s hearing in Queens, tenants asked the board to “do the right thing” and either freeze rates or roll them back. It was the second of four public meetings held by the Rent Guidelines Board ahead of its final vote. During a Bronx assembly last week, tenants similarly implored the panel not to raise rents.

In a statement after the vote, Major Adams criticized the preliminary numbers — despite having personally appointed six of the board’s nine members.

“I want to be clear that a 7% increase in rent is clearly beyond what renters can afford and what I feel is appropriate this year,” he said at the time.

Landlords, in turn, have pointed to high property taxes, energy bills and other maintenance costs in asking the board to approve steeper rent hikes. Just one landlord spoke on Monday night, after the trade organization the Rent Stabilization Association told its members not to testify in person following the hectic preliminary vote, during which a number of progressive elected officials took to the auditorium stage in protest.

Monday was tenant organizer Amy Collado’s sixth time testing before the board.

“It’s extraneous every year because tenants feel like this process is so disempowering,” she said. “Every year, year after year, tenants say, ‘What’s the point of people coming if we know that these people are already bought by landlords, if they’ve already made their decision?’ ”

Local elected officials also lent their voices Monday in support of tenants, including Queens Borough President Donovan Richards, city Public Advocate Jumaane Williams and Councilwoman Julie Won.

There was a virtual meeting Tuesday night, and the last public hearing will be held in Brooklyn on Thursday before the final Rent Guidelines Board vote.