‘Give struggling tenants a break’: Queens residents demand lower rents at Jamaica hearing

Photo courtesy of Caitlin Shann

The rent is too darn high for more than a hundred Queens residents who gave the Rent Guidelines Board (RGB) an earful during a hearing this week in Jamaica.

The tenants marched on June 5 from the Presentation Church to the Rent Guidelines Board (RGB) hearing at the Jamaica Performing Arts Center, where another 50 tenants were already waiting to testify to urge the RGB to lower rents of rent-stabilized apartments.

During the public testimony, members of the Rent Justice Coalition — a group of tenants, community organizers and advocacy groups — spoke out against unscrupulous landlords sometimes using illegal tactics to evict long-term residents of rent-stabilized apartments so they can elevate rent prices to a level that many local residents cannot afford.

“I’ve taken my landlord to court three times for repairs and for overcharges. He has cleared out my building of all the old tenants except for me and two others and now he has high rents in all those apartments,” said retired MTA worker Steve Janawsky, who lives in a rent-stabilized apartment in Ridgewood. “He’s harassing my disabled neighbor so that he leaves, too. So while I’m on a fixed income and spending my retirement taking my landlord to court, my landlord lives in a building with a tennis court and a pool. He does not need any more of my money.”

In May, the RGB voted in favor of a rent increase between 1 and 3 percent for one-year leases, and between 2 and 4 percent for two-year leases, which would go into effect starting Oct. 1. For the last two years, the board voted on rent freezes for rent-stabilized units.

This year, to combat the rising rents across the city and the shortage of truly affordable housing, residents demanded that the RGB not only establish a rent freeze, but create a rent reduction.

“When you add it up, landlords are making more and more profit. But tenants in rent-stabilized apartments too often are forced to choose between paying their rent and buying groceries to feed their family,” said Harvey Epstein, director of the Community Development Project at the Urban Justice Center and a member of the RGB. “As the Rent Guidelines Board weighs the evidence, surely the decision will be clear: It’s time to give struggling tenants a break.”

Raquel Namuche of the Ridgewood Tenants Union took the floor to highlight some the troubles rent-stabilized tenants face on an almost daily basis, including harassment from landlords to the looming threat of gentrification.

“I am certain that in five to 10 years, all of the working-class tenants that I know will not be able to stay in their communities,” Namuche said. “And you, the Rent Guidelines Board, can help be a big part of what can prevent this displacement from becoming a reality.”

The RGB will hold four more public meetings in the city’s other boroughs between Thursday, June 8, and Tuesday, June 27, when they will cast their final vote on what will happen with rent-stabilized units.

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