Bronxites push back against proposed rent hikes

Renter Azaria Valentin shares her testimony with the NYC Rent Guidelines Board at a June 11 public hearing at Hostos Community College. Photo by Juan B. García

Rent Guidelines Board will vote on the increases on June 26

Bronxites worried about rising rents packed Hostos Community College’s Main Theatre on June 11, to give the NYC Rent Guidelines Board a piece of their minds, in the wake of proposed rent increases by the Board.

They were joined by advocates and community organizers to urge the nine-member body during a public hearing, to put the brakes on this year’s hikes. The Board is considering an increase for one-year lease renewals of between 0.75% and 2.75% and, for two-year renewals, of 1.75% to 3.75%, hikes that tenants and advocates say they may not be able to pay.

“I make just about minimum wage. I literally cannot afford another rent increase. I live almost paycheck to paycheck,” said one local resident, Azaria Valentin, bursting into tears as she addressed the Board. She said her whole life has consisted of working long hours, low pay, and clinging to the hope that she will be able to afford the basic necessities after the rent has come due.

A community organizer from Longwood-based housing advocacy group Banana Kelly said the tenants in South Bronx buildings that the group manages will be badly hurt if the proposed rent hike is approved.

“I think it’s insane. I think it’s ridiculous. People are having a hard time paying their rents (even now). All these rent increases are going up and people are not getting paid more, so it doesn’t make sense,” said Girina Matos. “And the landlords use MCI (Major Capital Improvement) as an advantage.” Matos, a single parent who lives in Hunts Point, said that she herself is having a hard time paying off her student loans.

Attendees were allowed to speak for two minutes, though some spoke for up to four or five. Some tenants asked the Board for a rent freeze, which is only available for senior citizens and people with disabilities, and complained that landlords rarely address tenants’ complaints in a timely manner. Emma Allotta, a member of the Department of Education’s District 10, which includes Fordham, Belmont, Kingsbridge and Riverdale, said that her landlord was “the worst.” Landlords who don’t make repairs to their buildings should be held accountable when rent hikes are taken under consideration, she said.

A member of Bronx Community Board 1’s Economic Development Committee, Cesar Yoc, said that he has seen developers present housing proposals to Board 1 that they touted as affordable, but that the rents they expect to charge are not affordable at all for most Mott Haven and Melrose residents.

Matos said that Banana Kelly is still seeking the support of elected officials to help in their campaign to lower the proposed increases, but that the organization has so far received no such support.

In an email response to the Herald/Express, City Councilman Rafael Salamanca Jr., who represents Hunts Point and Melrose, said that he will advocate for affordable housing on behalf of his constituents and oppose the proposed rent increases.

“Keeping our communities affordable is one of my top priorities as Council Member for a district that’s witnessing significant development. I stand with my community and am against the rent hikes proposed,” said Council Member Salamanca Jr.

The NYC Rent Guidelines Board will continue holding public hearings around the city until it votes on the proposed rates on Jun. 26.

The story was updated on June 21 to include Councilman Salamanca’s stated opposition to the proposed rent hikes.