Groundhog Day at the Rent Guidelines Board: Part 7, “Some of it dirty”

July 23, 2014 | Affordability, Apartments, de Blasio, democracy, Housing, Markets, mobs, New York City, Politics, Rent control, Rent Guidelines Board, Rent Stabilization, Rental, Takings | No comments 100 views

[Continued from yesterday's Part 6 and the preceding Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5.]

By:David A. Smith

gd_04_drive

Phil: There is no way that this winter is *ever* going to end as long as this groundhog keeps seeing his shadow. I don’t see any other way out. He’s got to be stopped. And I have to stop him.

– Groundhog Day

Yesterday’s Part 6 of the Rent Stabilization epic brought us the vote, but not the full story of how it happened.

Sources for this post

The Indypendent (May 11, 2005; powder-blue font)

New York Post (June 24, 2009; brown font)

New York Times (June 24, 2010; violet font)

New York Times (June 27, 2011; yellow font)

The Real Deal (December, 2011; navy blue font)

Rent Stabilization Association blog post (October 11, 2013; sepia font)

New York Observer guest editorial (May 14, 2014; peach font)

New York Daily News (June 11, 2014; emerald font)

New York Daily News (June 13, 2014; blue font)

New York Daily News (June 17, 2014; olive font)

New York Daily News (June 23, 2014; black font)

New York Post (June 23, 2014; teal font)

New York Post (June 24, 2014; orange font)

Curbed New York (June 24, 2014; lavender font)

New York Post (June 25, 2014; gray font)

Rent Stabilization Association blog (June 26, 2014; red font)

Crain’s New York (July 9, 2014; magenta font)

The event was indeed a circus:

The anger (perhaps some genuine hate) was palpable. In addition to chants of “What do we want? Rent freeze!  When do we want it? Now!” there was “Make history” (which technically happened), “Tenants united will never be defeated,” and “Rollback” (rent adjustments of negative 6% and negative 4% respectively were in a proposal that was not voted on).

3D. A profile in courage

[Mayor de Blasio] named six of the board’s nine members, including Steven Flax, a vice president at M & T Bank.

After all the hearings, all the chanting and shouting, all the intimidation and political position-taking, and with a board six of whose members were appointed by the mayor, it should have been a done deal.  Courageously, it wasn’t:

In a surprising act of independence, the board voted 5-4 to raise rents on nearly 1 million rent-stabilized apartments by 1% for new one-year leases and 2.75 percent for two-year leases.

As Mr. Flax said in the hearing, just before his vote:

“This moment is a nightmare,” Mr. Flax said amid a cacophony of shouts from both tenant and landlord advocates in the audience.

Unlike anyone else on this board, I’ve had intense, intense pressure from both the right and from the left. Some of it dirty, some of it principled.”

edmund_g_ross_brady

A man who faced even worse pressure, some of it dirty, some of it principled

Despite this pressure, similar to that faced by Reconstruction Kansas Senator Edmund G. Ross, Mr. Flax did the one thing that flabbergasted the audience:

In the end, he explained, “I have to vote my conscience.”

Mr. Flax, who understandably has categorically refused to be interviewed after the vote, is well qualified to look at things from the public perspective. 

Mr. Flax left town immediately after the vote. In response to an email message seeking comment, he said, “I apologize but I am not making myself available to the press.”

steve_flax

Flax earned his vacation

Mr. Flax is thoroughly qualified for his role.  He’s the downstate (i.e. metro NYC) regional Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) officer for M&T Bank, where he’s worked for 21 years, after graduating with a BA in Labor Studies (Penn State 1982) and an MS in City and Regional Planning (Pratt Institute).  And he cares about New York City.

St Nicks alliance fundraiser at Wythe Hotel Williamsburg Brooklyn NY

Mr. Flax being recognized by the St. Nick’s Alliance

“I have to say this moment is a nightmare,” he said before voting “yes” on the hikes.  [Mr. Flax has a three-year term ending in December, 2016; I suspect it will now be eventful. – Ed.]

raquel_de_anda

Raquel de Anda waves a sign protesting a hike during the final vote in the hearing Monday night.

In a room full of people who just wanted an answer, Mr. Flax actually did his job:

“It costs money to run buildings and I do believe that my proposal is sincerely a historic change,” Flax said at a raucous meeting at Cooper Union in the East Village.

Furious tenants, witnessing an unprecedented freeze slipping away, began screaming that Flax was a “sellout.”

Isn’t it typical that when a person does something based on his conscience and not for self-interest, the only smear people can think of is that he’s a sellout?

It’s not clear what de Blasio will do with his own appointee, Steve Flax, who proved to be the swing vote in favor of the small increases.

fredo_youre_nothing_to_me

Fredo, you’re nothing to me

“We will look at the future when the time comes in terms of the RGB,” de Blasio said at a press conference Tuesday.

The mayor described Flax as a “person of integrity,” but added, “I disagree with his vote.”

I doubt Mr. Flax will be invited to any more mayoral events

fredo_fishing

Can he sleep with the political fishes?

4. Those who forget the past

Phil: What would you do if you were stuck in one place and every day was exactly the same, and nothing that you did mattered?

Ralph: That about sums it up for me.

4A. Who says there have been giveaways, anyway?

To hear the various advocates, the last few years have been the landlord’s pig fest:

wsj_rents_expenses

Does this look like landlords have been gouging?

“The range being considered is the lowest in history, and that’s a reflection of the affordability crisis we are facing as a city,” City Hall spokesman Wiley Norvell said when asked whether de Blasio still supports a rent freeze.  “Tenants are clearly struggling after so many years of significant rent increases.”

Either Mr. Norvell’s simply wrong or he has an unusual definition of ‘significant’. 

wiley_norvell_02

If my boss says it’s significant, it’s significant, okay?

Only hours before the meeting, de Blasio told reporters at a Queens bill signing that his predecessor, Mike Bloomberg, had been too generous to landlords.

As Mayor de Blasio’s loathing for Mr. Bloomberg is manifest in everything he says and does, it can lead him astray, “not knowing when the campaign ends and the administration begins.” 

de_blasio_is_mayor

Not ‘for’ mayor, ‘is’ mayor … and there’s a big difference between the two

I went back through the newspaper accounts and this is what I’ve found for year on year CPI (I used May-to-May as approximating what the Board would have available) versus rent guidelines board annual increases:

Year

CPI

RGB

2014

1.9%

1.0%

2013

1.4%

4.0%

2012

1.8%

2.0%

2011

2.9%

3.7%

2010

2.2%

2.3%

2009

-0.1%

3.0%

“We need a course correction — a one-time action to clearly rectify the mistakes of the past,” de Blasio said, urging a freeze.

Make-up calls?  What is this, middle-school soccer?

[Continued tomorrow in Part 8.]

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Groundhog Day at the Rent Guidelines Board: Part 6, “A different situation by law”

July 22, 2014 | Affordability, Apartments, de Blasio, democracy, Housing, Markets, mobs, New York City, Politics, Rent control, Rent Guidelines Board, Rent Stabilization, Rental, Takings | No comments 98 views

[Continued from yesterday's Part 5 and the preceding Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4.]

By:David A. Smith

gd_11_0600

Phil: You want a prediction about the weather, you’re asking the wrong Phil. I’ll give you a winter prediction: It’s gonna be cold, it’s gonna be grey, and it’s gonna last you for the rest of your life.

– Groundhog Day

In Part 5 we saw that the behavioral tactics of residents and owners differ remarkably, with residents and their advocates willing to shout, chant, disrupt and otherwise intimidate and smear anyone who disagrees with them, versus the owners, who as unwilling participants are functionally put on trial by the uninvested, to be judged by the unaccountable.

Sources for this post

The Indypendent (May 11, 2005; powder-blue font)

New York Post (June 24, 2009; brown font)

New York Times (June 24, 2010; violet font)

New York Times (June 27, 2011; yellow font)

The Real Deal (December, 2011; navy blue font)

Rent Stabilization Association blog post (October 11, 2013; sepia font)

New York Observer guest editorial (May 14, 2014; peach font)

New York Daily News (June 11, 2014; emerald font)

New York Daily News (June 13, 2014; blue font)

New York Daily News (June 17, 2014; olive font)

New York Daily News (June 23, 2014; black font)

New York Post (June 23, 2014; teal font)

New York Post (June 24, 2014; orange font)

Curbed New York (June 24, 2014; lavender font)

New York Post (June 25, 2014; gray font)

Rent Stabilization Association blog (June 26, 2014; red font)

Crain’s New York (July 9, 2014; magenta font)

3B. By the unaccountable

In addition to the mayor giving his strong views, other elected officials decided to weigh in, knowing they could freely grandstand without being held accountable for it:

melissa_mv

Mark-Viverito: “Two years ago, landlords enjoyed their largest year-to-year increase in operating income since the Giuliani era. Yet tenants’ median household income fell by three percent from 2007 to 2010.”

But loud calls for a rent freeze dominated a hearing Monday — from elected officials who included City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, Public Advocate Letitia James and Comptroller Scott Stringer.

scott_stringer

Stringer’s for bagel freezes too

Like the others, Ms. Mark-Viverito expects that resident affordability should figure in rent-setting (CBS New York; gray font)

”This is a challenge we must face head on — it cannot be solved unless we commit to ending the distressing loss of our existing stock of affordable housing. This means not just preventing further deregulation of apartments, but also ensuring that rent stabilized apartments are in fact affordable,” Mark-Viverito said in a prepared statement.

Naturally, she’s unwilling to appropriate any money for this purpose

The mayor may not be able to freeze property taxes and water charges to help keep rent increases low, but a revamp of the property tax system to reduce the relative burden on rental properties should be in the housing plan.

Nor did Ms. Mark-Viverito or the others endorse an offset of government charges on housing that the government has economically suppressed:

The mayor could also reduce costly government mandates and provide relief from nuisance administrative fees and penalties as he has promised to do for other small businesses.

The mayor too failed to mention any changes to make property more affordable, such as these:

Regulation causes a lot of [the city’s] housing problems. The solution would be to have a system of step-by-step deregulation of housing stock. You’d see things ease up, and you’d see more housing being built, even in this economy [2011]. When you have apartments with regulation, you see landlords having to make up the shortfall in other apartments by raising those rents.

de_blasio_election_night

The moment of triumph: Election Night

Bill De Blasio is a smart man [Not since his election – Ed.] and his initial position on rent increases probably recognized the fact that most property owners would need a rent increase as long as city taxes, oil, insurance and other operating costs continue to escalate.

Landlords said they would fight a rent freeze. Jack Freund, vice president of the Rent Stabilization Association, an organization that represents thousands of city landlords, said a rent freeze should be accompanied by a freeze on municipal sewer and water charges and no increases in property taxes. (Messrs. de Blasio and Lhota have pledged to not raise property taxes.)

jack_freund

Offering Fruendian analysis of the mayor’s political miscalculation

“Bill is not too smart backing this,” Mr. Freund said. “I’m not sure if this is campaign rhetoric but he will recognize the reality if and when he takes office.”

As referenced earlier, I think the mayor did recognize the reality, felt himself backed into a corner where he had a political debt to pay (endorsing a one-time rent freeze). 

Six days earlier, he had urged board members to decidewhat makes sense” based on “the actual numbers.”

And he took the position as late as he could:

But Mr. de Blasio’s first public statement as mayor in favor of a one-year freeze came on the morning of the vote.

zero_percent_brain

Tenants and Mayor de Blasio favored a first-ever rent freeze, which the board rejected.

Unfortunately for the mayor, having thus reversed for political reasons, he then suffered the political ignominy of not even getting what he had endorsed.

“We’ve never had a situation where you have a mayor in place that campaigned on a zero Rent Guidelines Board increase, so I think they’re certainly shooting for zero — and they could possibly get it, because the mayor has appointed a majority of the members,” said Jack Freund, vice president of the Rent Stabilization Association, which represent 25,000 property owners.

“We’re looking to keep owners whole and keep them in business, and what that requires is a rent increase above the range this board is considering,” he added.

Further, the mayor demonstrated his personal unaccountability by expecting others to do what he himself will not:

Meanwhile, de Blasio danced around the issue of whether he was going to raise the rent on his own apartments, which are not covered by the guidelines.

“I have a different situation by law,” he said, adding: “It depends ….”

Mister mayor, what does it depend on?

Mayor de Blasio, who is preparing to move into Gracie Mansion, is planning on renting out his Park Slope home while he lives on the taxpayer’s tab for at least the next three and a half years.

062414BdB_rental7GSB

This looks to me like a candidate for gander-sauce rent stabilization: Mayor de Blasio’s 11th Street home in Park Slope.

According to a source, de Blasio could receive at least $5,000 per month while renting his home and possibly much more.

Not only will de Blasio collect rent payments on his actual home, he will also continue to collect rent on a two-family rental that he owns.

So candidate de Blasio saw the economic and social value of becoming a landlord.

According to the article, annual rental income on that property rose from $47,500 in previous years to $52,000 last year. For at least the next year, owners of rent stabilized units will struggle to preserve the City’s affordable housing stock with 1% increases while the Mayor continues to benefit from unlimited market rents.

Other NYC landlords saw the mayor’s answer as hypocritical:

“Sometimes there’s no increase, sometimes there is,” de Blasio said of his units.

His answer didn’t sit well with landlords fuming over the loss of a rent hike for a year.

“I think it’s completely outrageous,” said West Village landlord Jimmy Silber. “To be the champion of affordable housing and not promote it in your own building is completely hypocritical.”

jimmy_silber_2011

Jimmy Silber (far left), in 2011

3C. For the uninvested

As I’ve posted before, rent stabilization residents have no stake in anything: not the property’s physical condition, not its cost of operations, not their overconsumption of housing that displaces others who might be more needy.  Feeling themselves entitled by luck, they become perpetually aggrieved against …well, against somebody.

Angry tenants stormed up to the stage after the vote, chanting and yelling.

The board members scurried off to the sound of boos and hisses, and one man carrying a pro-tenant sign who climbed onstage was hauled off by cops.

“We feel like the rug was snatched from beneath us,” said disappointed Brooklyn resident Donna Mossman, 56.

donna_mossman_testifying

Rug about to be snatched away?  Ms. Mossman testifying

[Continued tomorrow in Part 7.]

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Groundhog Day at the Rent Guidelines Board: Part 5, “No Airborne Chairs”

July 21, 2014 | Affordability, Apartments, de Blasio, democracy, Housing, Markets, mobs, New York City, Politics, Rent control, Rent Guidelines Board, Rent Stabilization, Rental, Takings | No comments 132 views

[Continued from last week's Part 4 and the preceding Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.]

By:David A. Smith

                      

gd_02_glum

Psychiatrist: I think we should meet again. How’s tomorrow for you?

[Phil begins punching himself in the head through pillow]

Psychiatrist: Is that not good?

– Groundhog Day

Every year without fail, New York City’s Rent Guidelines Board hearings, as we saw yesterday in Part 4, degenerate into street theater of the absurd, with residents banging drums, shouting and chanting, but fortunately no airborne chairs (this year, anyhow), in striking contrast to the tactics adopted by owners, who are invariably careful, polite, and respectful to their political opponents.

When a clutch of owners of small apartment buildings banded together to form an association almost three decades ago, one word was notably absent from the name they gave themselves.

Landlord.

“We stopped calling ourselves landlords in 1984,” said Roberta Bernstein, who owns 40 apartments in Upper Manhattan. “Landlords are people who tie tenants to railroad tracks.”

roberta_b_04

roberta_b_02

Portrait of an owner (2011); the quotes are worth reading too

Sources for this post

The Indypendent (May 11, 2005; powder-blue font)

New York Post (June 24, 2009; brown font)

New York Times (June 24, 2010; violet font)

New York Times (June 27, 2011; yellow font)

The Real Deal (December, 2011; navy blue font)

Rent Stabilization Association blog post (October 11, 2013; sepia font)

New York Observer guest editorial (May 14, 2014; peach font)

New York Daily News (June 11, 2014; emerald font)

New York Daily News (June 13, 2014; blue font)

New York Daily News (June 17, 2014; olive font)

New York Daily News (June 23, 2014; black font)

New York Post (June 23, 2014; teal font)

New York Post (June 24, 2014; orange font)

Curbed New York (June 24, 2014; lavender font)

New York Post (June 25, 2014; gray font)

Rent Stabilization Association blog (June 26, 2014; red font)

Crain’s New York (July 9, 2014; magenta font)

A profile of Ms. Bernstein from The Real Deal (December, 2011; navy blue font), which included this exchange:

How did you get into real estate?

I was a schoolteacher and I was fascinated by “the real world.” As teachers, we always felt like we were in a cocoon. So I started looking at the business world. In 1971, I bought a brownstone on 81st between First and Second avenues. The building cost $175,000 and had five units and an owner’s apartment.

For those of you too young to remember, back then this was, if not the Wild West, certainly the frontier of New York’s neighborhoods: close to the Hudson River and a fair way up.

needle_park_1971

1971, the year of The Panic in Needle Park

Then I bought derelict buildings in Chelsea — one 12-unit building and one 28-unit building. I really didn’t know what I was in for! I taught until 1976, and then I took a temporary leave of absence to focus on my properties. I always thought I’d go back, but I never did.

In other words, Ms. Bernstein worked on these properties for forty years, buying them when New York City was heading down, owning and managing them through a tough decade (1971-1981), including the period when Rent Stabilization came into effect (1974) to supplant rent control – and by 1984, she and the others had figured out that the business they had chosen made them sitting ducks to be stereotyped and caricatured.

sly_caricature

Ya but ah’m a public figyah

2C. There’s no downside to political misbehavior

Acting-out at the Rent Guidelines Board hearings has become de rigueur because over the years,

residents and their advocates have learned that outrageous behavior has political upside (favorable press, intimidation of the Board) with no downside:

With members wearing headphones so they could hear each other over the roar of angry tenants, a sharply divided Rent Guidelines Board last night approved rent hikes of 3% and 6% for one- and two-year lease renewals in rent-stabilized apartments.

Headphones to speak over the roar of angry tenants?

Mind you, that’s from 2011. 

knight_throws_chair

Not a rent stabilized tenant

At one point in the meeting, which was punctuated by jeering but no airborne chairs

It sounds almost as if the Times was apologizing for the lack of chairs being thrown.  What kind oc circus is that?

– tenant protesters drowned out the comments of a board member with shouting that continued for several minutes.

Too bad about the airborne chairs, but evidently the tenants didn’t need them:

A proposed fuel surcharge of 1% was not voted on.

When intimidation works, it has no downside and is reusable. 

3. Government of the unwilling, by the unaccountable, for the uninvested

Phil: Morons, your bus is leaving.

– Groundhog Day

Unlike a legitimate government comprised of the people who chose to form it, run by the people to governs, and for benefit of the people it governs, rent stabilization is anti-democratic because it is:

1.     Of the unwilling.  Property owners never consented to having their property covered by Rent Stabilization’s retroactive application to properties built before the law was conceived; they have no ability to opt out, and because real estate is immovable, they cannot emigrate their capital.

2.     By the unaccountable.  Those who make Rent Stabilization decisions (the Rent Guidelines Board, and behind them the mayor) are not accountable to the owners whose property value and economics the state has confiscated.

3.     For the uninvested.  Those who benefit from Rent Stabilization do nothing to earn it; they do not invest in the property, they have ownership’s economic upside without no downside or obligations of ownership, and they do not even have the societal justification of being needy by any objective or verifiable standard. 

3A. Of the unwilling

Rent Stabilization makes owners unwilling participants in these kangaroo courts:

“The fact that only one person was there is indicative that they know they’re in the wrong,” said Shanequa Charles, 34, one of more than 350 rent stabilized tenants at Hostos College for the first of four hearings leading up to a June 23 vote on rent increases.

Having done everything they can to create an atmosphere of intimidation and the inability of others to speak, Ms. Charles and her friends then sneered at the one man who did:

The one man was Shpend Nezaj, a landlord from Pelham Bay and a member of the Rent Stabilization Association — a group that rolled out a six-figure landlord-backed advertising blitz calling for rent increases last week.

 

nezai_bronx_landlord

Does this look like a slumlord to you? 

Shpend Nezaj, a Bronx landlord, was the only person to testify for a rent increase at the Rent Guidelines Board public meeting in the Bronx.

 

Owners before the Rent Guidelines Board are like C. P. Snow’s mnemonic of Newton’s Three Laws of Thermodynamics: You can’t win, you can’t break even, and you can’t get out of the game.

c_p_snow

A man with the psychological disposition to cope with being a rent stabilization landlord

Nevertheless, Mr. Nezai did his best:

 

“I don’t think that all of the tenants realize the cost that building owners incur,” Nezaj said after asking the board for a minimum 3% increase. “Maybe one day when they own their own home they will understand the expense.”

Though tenants wish that rent stabilization property owners were plutocrats and landed gentry, in the main they are ordinary people who made the mistake of investing their money and their labor by providing affordable housing that New York desperately needs:

[The Small Property Owners of New York] has about 1,000 members, Ms. Bernstein said, most of whom own 10 units or fewer.

Many do not have live-in superintendents; they often handle repairs themselves and work second jobs to supplement their incomes.

Hardly the fat-cats who are better to hate in the abstract.

fat_cat_love

[Continued tomorrow in Part 6.]

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Groundhog Day at the Rent Guidelines Board: Part 4, “Off the wall, off the wall”

July 18, 2014 | Apartments, de Blasio, democracy, Housing, Markets, mobs, New York City, Politics, Rent control, Rent Guidelines Board, Rent Stabilization, Rental, Takings | No comments 176 views

[Continued from yesterday's Part 3 and the preceding Part 1 and Part 2.]

By:David A. Smith

                             

gd_05_camera

Larry: People just don’t understand what is involved in this. This an art-form! You know, I think that most people just think that I hold a camera and point at stuff, but there is a *heck* of a lot more to it than just that.  – Groundhog Day

At the end of Part 3, we has seen that the mayor appoints every Rent Guidelines Board member, with new mayor Bill de Blasio having just appointed six of the nine – two to advocate for owners, two for residents, and five to be ‘public advocates’ – he appeared to have the board packed with people who would vote his way.

Sources for this post

The Indypendent (May 11, 2005; powder-blue font)

New York Post (June 24, 2009; brown font)

New York Times (June 24, 2010; violet font)

New York Times (June 27, 2011; yellow font)

The Real Deal (December, 2011; navy blue font)

Rent Stabilization Association blog post (October 11, 2013; sepia font)

New York Observer guest editorial (May 14, 2014; peach font)

New York Daily News (June 11, 2014; emerald font)

New York Daily News (June 13, 2014; blue font)

New York Daily News (June 17, 2014; olive font)

New York Daily News (June 23, 2014; black font)

New York Post (June 23, 2014; teal font)

New York Post (June 24, 2014; orange font)

Curbed New York (June 24, 2014; lavender font)

New York Post (June 25, 2014; gray font)

Rent Stabilization Association blog (June 26, 2014; red font)

Crain’s New York (July 9, 2014; magenta font)

Then the politically impossible occurred.

Though the RGB staff recommended rent increases in a range between 0% and 3%, thus inviting the Board to propose 1½%, which itself would have been the lowest rent increase in the Board’s 45-year history, candidate de Blasio had embraced a zero percentage increase, and many expected this would happen.

In a surprising act of independence, the board voted 5-4 to raise rents on nearly 1 million rent-stabilized apartments by 1% for new one-year leases and 2.75 percent for two-year leases.

The slight increases were proposed by RGB member Steven Flax, a de Blasio appointee who is vice president for community development at M&T Bank.  [He is, in fact, the bank’s regional Community Reinvestment Act officer – Ed.]

Mr. Flax was appointed by the mayor to represent the public interest, and to be independent, and he did both of those things.  So of course he has been praised by the man who appointed him:

sarcasm_sign

Closed captioned for the irony impaired

Mayor de Blasio is furious that the Rent Guidelines Board he supposedly controls refused to go along with his public call for a rent freeze, according to one insider.

de_blasio_barking

Off the wall, off with his head!

“He’s off the wall, off the wall,” said the source.

I believe the mayor is furious not out of the RGB’s decision itself but because he made a political calculation, threw away some principles, and now got nothing for it.  From the Rent Stabilization Association [owner perspective] blog post (October 11, 2013; sepia font):

Democratic mayoral candidate Bill De Blasio has maintained his call for a rent freeze on one million stabilized apartments next year. A De Blasio spokesman told Crain’s New York, “The rent freeze speaks for itself”.

But De Blasio was for a rent increase before he was against a rent increase.  

During this year’s Rent Guidelines deliberations, De Blasio was quoted as being in favor of a rent increase for small property owners.

After being pummeled by the other Democratic candidates for his stance, De Blasio switched his position and called for zero rent increases across the board.

Thus the candidate abandoned his belief in pursuit of votes; having got their political equity, he evidently felt he had to give his voters their return:

keep_promise_freeze_02

Vote your conscience, or vote your promise?

If De Blasio is elected Mayor [written October 11, 2013], we will soon know whether he remains mired in campaign rhetoric or whether he has the courage to stand up to his supporters and do what is necessary to maintain affordable housing in New York City.

Unfortunately for mayor de Blasio, he appointed someone appointed (Board member Steve Flax, about whom more later) who had more principles than he did:

tenniel_queen

Off with his term!

Uh – not until 2017, Mr. Mayor, you just appointed him

Still, the mayor will have multiple opportunities to appoint others whose independence is more to his liking:

The source said the mayor intends to replace two Bloomberg appointees, David H. Wenk [Cushman & Wakefield] and Carol Shine, who voted with landlord reps to increase stabilized rents by 1% and 2.75%.

“Our terms are up at the end of the year, when he will appoint someone else in all likelihood,” Wenk told The Post.

david_h_wenk

His remaining term is measured in months, not Wenks

Mr. Wenk probably regards his eventual departure from the RGB with great relief, as the job is thankless for all concerned.

2. Street theater of the absurd

Larry: People just don’t understand what is involved in this. This an art-form! You know, I think that most people just think that I hold a camera and point at stuff, but there is a *heck* of a lot more to it than just that.  – Groundhog Day

Do the same thing annually once a year for forty-five years and eventually you get bored with the basics, racing through them to introduce baroque or even rococo variants, such as this (The Indypendent, May 11, 2005; powder-blue font):

What turns senior citizens into irate foul-mouthed spectators and brings armies of homeless folks out from shelters? A Rent Guidelines Board vote to raise rents, of course.

When the repeated event is zero-sum (at best), political, public, and played without accountability (to come in Section 3B below), naturally enough the posturing and verbal flame wars become occasions in their own right.  Long ago the Rent Guidelines Board hearings lost the standard of evidentiary decorum in favor of anything-goes mob tactics – the street theater of the inequitably absurd.

2A. The demonstration *will* be staged as scheduled

nyt_tenant_shouting

Despite a ban on noisemaking instruments, tenants sneaked in whistles, and earplugs. (2008)

(For a video of the chaos, watch this YouTube video.)

Good governance requires public deliberation and public input; further, New York is large and diverse, so commuting, public access, and the variety of circumstances all require that there be multiple hearings.

The first of four public hearings held by the Rent Guidelines Board will take place Thursday at Hostos College in the Bronx, giving rent stabilized tenants a chance to argue in favor of an historic rent freeze.

Measured by people, tenants outnumber landlords, so naturally public hearings will be dominated by speaker after speaker expressing basically the same ideas about his or her own apartment.  I’ve been to such public hearings in Massachusetts, and all sorts of understandable human behaviors occur.  (I also was picketed once.)  Many residents are nervous, intimidated by the specter of government (which many of them fear), intimidated by public speaking (which ranks ahead even of going to the dentist as an anxiety source), intimidated by government.  Their nervousness, and their organization by a community advocate (almost invariably), means they arrive in packs and huddle among themselves working up their courage. 

In response to a landlord-backed ad blitz calling for rent increases, tenants’ rights groups will hold a rally before the meeting encouraging board members to back the freeze — which would be the first in city history.

They also fear being tongue-tied, so many write down what they intend to say, and may be hesitant when they start to speak.  And they tend to say the same thing over and over, speaker after speaker.

hostos_community_college

Full house at Hostos Community College in the Bronx for the Rent Guidelines Board public hearing. More than 100 tenants testified that they would like to see a rent freeze.

This makes them pliable clay for agitators who love the theatrics more than the outcome.

2B. The many shout down the few

Bronx tenants boo landlord and call for rent freeze at raucous city meeting

Residents are explicitly coached to make noise, to cheer loudly for each other, to wave their pre-printed placards, and to boo loudly anyone who disagrees with them:

There was a lot of yelling, even as members of the RGB were trying to speak. While that delayed the proceedings, it didn’t seem to do any more than that.

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Instantly outraged tenant advocates storming the stage after the vote

Ms. Levine’s words were soon drowned out by boos and yelling from an agitated crowd of tenants, who have long used the annual meeting as a forum to vent their frustrations over the city’s soaring housing costs. [From 2010, and similar reports in other years. – Ed.]

The tenant organizers seek to turn any hearing into a political spectacle.

The Rent Guidelines Board held the first of four planned public meetings before voting on whether or not to allow landlords to increase rents.

Chanting “slumlord” and calling on a citywide rent freeze, hundreds of tenants shouted down one brave landlord willing to appear at a Rent Guidelines Board hearing Thursday.

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The louder we chant, the more coverage we get!

It’s all straight out of the agitation handbook:

[Continued next week in Part 5.]

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Groundhog day at the Rent Guidelines Board: Part 3, “Scores of screaming tenants”

July 17, 2014 | Affordability, Apartments, de Blasio, democracy, Housing, Markets, mobs, New York City, Politics, Rent control, Rent Guidelines Board, Rent Stabilization, rental, Takings | No comments 145 views

[Continued from yesterday's Part 2 and the preceding Part 1.]

By:David A. Smith

gd_09_clock_punch

Rita: Do you ever have déjà vu?

Phil: Didn’t you just ask me that?

—Groundhog Day

Through Part 2 of this grimly lengthy post on Rent Stabilization and the Rent Guidelines [sic] Board, we’ve seen that it is among the worst possible approaches to affordable housing: mandatory, un-incentivized, not means-tested or means-adjusted, and uninterested in the viability of individual properties. 

Sources for this post

The Indypendent (May 11, 2005; powder-blue font)

New York Post (June 24, 2009; brown font)

New York Times (June 24, 2010; violet font)

New York Times (June 27, 2011; yellow font)

The Real Deal (December, 2011; navy blue font)

Rent Stabilization Association blog post (October 11, 2013; sepia font)

New York Observer guest editorial (May 14, 2014; peach font)

New York Daily News (June 11, 2014; emerald font)

New York Daily News (June 13, 2014; blue font)

New York Daily News (June 17, 2014; olive font)

New York Daily News (June 23, 2014; black font)

New York Post (June 23, 2014; teal font)

New York Post (June 24, 2014; orange font)

Curbed New York (June 24, 2014; lavender font)

New York Post (June 25, 2014; gray font)

Rent Stabilization Association blog (June 26, 2014; red font)

Crain’s New York (July 9, 2014; magenta font)

The result are rents whose fairness is purely eye-of-the-beholder, and hence purely political:

eye_of_beholder

There are objective standards of beauty, you know

New mayor de Blasio never misses a chance to swipe at his predecessor:

Speaking at a bill-signing ceremony in Queens [the day of the Rent Guidelines Board’s hearing], the mayor said the board under the Bloomberg administration has granted undeserved increases to landlords and it was now time to make amends.

Isn’t it nice to know that the mayor thinks the previous Rent Guidelines Board was either crooked or incompetent? 

More seriously, are we to make policy on the basis of score-settling with a previous mayor by a new mayor who’s already showing skins of thin-skinned grudge-holding worthy of a Boston mayor?

menino_angry

Who do you think you are to say I’m thin-skinned?

“I’m encouraging all the members of the Rent Guidelines Board to vote for a freeze. We need a course correction,” the mayor said.

He specifically called for a zero percent hike for one-year leases renewals.

So much for property viability. 

1D. Testimony is not subjected to any standard of evidence or veracity

Even more than other jurisdictions I’ve worked in, New York City makes the rent increase or rent-setting process into a judicial advocacy hearing, as if economic truth is best found in a political trial; so the Rent Guidelines Board ‘takes testimony.’ 

“The board will make its determination based on the data and testimony it receives,” added Wiley Norvell, spokesman for Mayor de Blasio.

Testimony implies veracity (the Latin root references an independent, third-party witness), or at least verifiability, and the Rent Guidelines Board takes testimony from anybody and everybody, and storytelling is rewarded.

The Rent Stabilization Association — which represents 25,000 landlords — launching a six-figure ad campaign.

That’s not testimony.  Nor is this:

“Landlords have been profiting quite handsomely,” saidFitzroy Christian, a leader of tenants’ group Community Action for Safe Apartments [Where RGB member Sheila Garcia comes from – Ed.]

That’s not testimony; Mr. Christian has no idea whether landlords are making money or not; he adduces no evidence at all.

[Random obscure fact: Mr. Fitzroy is 68 and apparently lives (irony alert) at 15 Featherbed Lane, Apartment 8e, Bronx, NY 10452-1612. – Ed.]

15_featherbed_lane_bronx

One can see from this picture that obviously the landlord is making vast profits at 15 Featherbed Lane

While it’s impossible to generalize across a million apartments, I found this statistic compelling (New York Observer guest editorial, May 14, 2014; peach font)

The RGB itself measured a 5.7% increase in building operating costs last year, with most of these costs imposed directly by government through continually increasing real estate taxes and water charges, regulatory compliance costs and mandated improvements.

As a result, owners pass 30 to 40 cents of every rent dollar right back to the government, which uses that revenue to fund city services (police, fire, or sanitation) and social services (rent subsidies).

Because affordable housing always costs money, if government refuses to provide financial resources or subsidies, then owners and landlords are locked in a zero-sum or negative-sum game, and their dialog consists of people talking past one another:

– “despite the economic conditions which have been devastating to most of the city’s residents.”

If by ‘economic conditions’ Mr. Christian means cost of living, he’s belied by the Consumer Price Index for New York/ Northern New Jersey:

cpi_nyc

Typical household expenses have risen less than 2% a year for the last two years

It was suggested that previous rent increases were based on projections that never came true –

That’s not evidence because it’s hearsay, unsubstantiated, and unverifiable.

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Ms. Garcia is a community organizer at Community Action for Safe Apartments, which brought large demonstration contingents to the hearings

– and RGB member Garcia [Former resident advocate – Ed.] said they had to “right a wrong.”

Even though invalid in an evidentiary sense, all this is testimony in a political sense, in that it provides expressions of what people say they want, and allows those with prejudices to have them reconfirmed by selecting hearing the ‘evidence.’

n recent weeks, housing advocates have made the case for freezing rents. Among them was Christine C. Quinn, speaker of the City Council [and former mayoral candidate – Ed.], who noted that about 400,000 New Yorkers were out of work.

So let me get this straight: because New Yorkers are out of work, all landlords should get no rent increases? 

let_me_get_this_straight

Now let me get this straight

“It should be zero,” said Melida Martin, 66.

If that’s plausible, why not just bring back the Quartering Act? 

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We’re going to house 400,000 unemployed New Yorkers here

Oh, wait, that’s Unconstitutional.

“I don’t feel that they deserve a hike in rent when people can barely afford what they pay now.”

Ms. Martin is facing eviction from her Sheridan Ave. apartment after a change in landlords

Ms. Martin’s testimony might be more compelling if (a) we had any idea what her income was, and (b) she wasn’t already in an eviction proceeding, which (this being New York) can only be for non-payment of rent.

This, on the other, is or could be demonstrated to be testimony (from the Rent Stabilization Association blog):

What tenants and the Mayor continued to ignore were the rising costs for owners that was summarized by a 5.7% increase in total building operating costs.  [I presume the RSA can back this up with member evidence. – Ed.] 

1E. The Rent Guidelines Board is comprised of the mayor’s political appointees

Hizzoner [Mayor de Blasio – Ed.] appointed six of the nine board members, giving him a big say over how they vote.

He’ll appoint the remaining three members later in his term to replace holdovers from the prior administration.

Some regulatory boards are intended to be non-partisan or bipartisan; not the Rent Guidelines Board, which (like the Boston Redevelopment Authority, about which I’ve posted at length) is governed in a manner to make it wholly an instrument of the mayor’s wishes – and candidate de Blasio made the claimed unfairness of the Rent Guidelines Board an element in his campaign:

A historic Rent Guidelines process has finally come to an end. Although the process typically begins in March, it felt as if this year’s RGB process began last summer when Mayor Bill de Blasio, then Public Advocate, promised to fight for a rent freeze while campaigning.

Rarely has a politician been clearer about offering a direct quid pro quo of political equity: Vote for me and I’ll freeze your rents.  Thus it was no real surprise when the mayor, on the eve of the vote, stated his desire for a rent freeze.

de_blasio_freeze

Freeze, you hear me?

The board meets tonight at Cooper Union to decide on increases for about a million rent-stabilized apartments.

Since its creation in 1969, it has never voted for increases less than 2% for one-year lease renewals and 4%% for two-year leases.

Yes, but that was before the new mayor offered his political testimony the day of the meeting:

De Blasio called for a rent freeze last year when he was campaigning for City Hall. But, until today, he has only made general statements this year about what the board should do.

So much for evidence and not prejudiced the independence – yet, in an event akin to a political mutation, the board in fact did vote an increase, albeit historically small at 1%.

The surprise of the evening, though, was not that scores of screaming tenants drowned out most of the proceedings or that landlord and tenant representatives were constantly at odds –

In the next section, we’ll come back to the proceedings’ incivility, which though a feature in political terms is a bug in terms of anything resembling sensible policy-making. 

– but that a rift had developed among the five public members who frequently act as a united coalition.

If there are five public members, two to represent owners and two to represent tenants, and all five public members vote in lock-step, then in effect everything is window dressing … and yet, astonishingly, that did not happen:


steve_flax

The hero of the piece: Steven Flax

[Continued tomorrow in Part 4.]

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