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Smoky haze obscures the New York skyline as ducks fly over the city’s harbour. (LUCAS JACKSON/REUTERS)
Smoky haze obscures the New York skyline as ducks fly over the city’s harbour. (LUCAS JACKSON/REUTERS)

New York City rejects rent freeze, allows 1 percent hike Add to ...

New York City’s Rent Guidelines Board rejected on Monday a proposed rent freeze backed by Democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio on a million rent-stabilized apartments, instead opting for a 1 percent increase for one-year leases.

The 5-4 vote, which came after a raucous public meeting with cheering, boos and jeers, was a blow to Blasio, who has pledged to confront economic inequality and backed the rent freeze.

Tenant advocates have been pushing for a rent freeze for years, saying average incomes in the largest U.S. city have not kept pace with increased housing costs. Building owners say higher rents are needed to meet their tax and maintenance burdens.

But it still represented the smallest rent increase approved since the board was formed in 1969.

“It costs money to run buildings,” said board member Steven Flax, who was seen as the swing vote heading into the meeting and voted in favor of the increase. “I agree it is not a political win for the mayor.”

The board also approved a 2.75 percent increase in two-year leases and a rent freeze on more than 17,000 single-room occupancy homes, a last-resort housing option for poor New Yorkers.

In 2013, the board approved a 4 percent increase on one-year leases and a 7.75 percent increase on two-year leases - about double the increase from the previous year.

“This is the year that we should have gotten a rent freeze and they blew it,” said City Councilman Jumaane Williams, who represents the Brooklyn neighborhood of East Flatbush.

Jimmie Silver, whose family has owned a 100-unit building in Greenwich Village where 70 units are rent stabilized, called the increase disappointing.

“Even though we got a 1 percent increase and prevented a rent freeze, it’s woefully inadequate for small owners to pay their bills,” he said. “They say the rent is too damn high. The real estate taxes are too damn high.”

Last month, de Blasio unveiled a plan to create and preserve 200,000 units of affordable housing over the next decade - a centerpiece of his strategy to address an “affordability crisis” in the city.

A report by New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer found that from 2000 to 2012, the median rental price in New York City rose by 75 percent, compared to 44 percent in the rest of the country, while the real incomes of New Yorkers declined.

Meanwhile, the city’s shelter population stands at more than 52,000, including more than 22,000 children - both record highs.

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