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Speaker Mark-Viverito: Rent Freeze Is Needed For Struggling NYC Tenants

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) -- City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito on Monday called on the Rent Guidelines Board to approve a rent freeze for New York City residents with rent-regulated apartments.

Last month, the board voted to consider 0 to 3 percent increases on one-year leases on rent-regulated apartments.

In a preliminary 8-1 vote, the board also agreed to consider 0.5 percent to 4.5 percent increases on two-year rents.

It was the first time that the board had considered a rent freeze.

Mark-Viverito, who represents the 8th City Council District in East Harlem and the South Bronx, urged the board to approve the freeze on the grounds that the city is experiencing a severe affordable housing crisis.

" 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.

The speaker claimed the board has "undermined" the goal of keeping rent-stabilized apartments affordable since the 2008 economic crash.

"New York City was hit especially hard by the recession and is yet to fully recover, with incomes still down and an unemployment rate at least a point higher than the national. Despite this, the Rent Guidelines Board has handed down sizeable rent increases every year since the recession began," Mark-Viverito said. "In the face of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, the Board protected landlords' profit margins even as tenants in regulated apartments were, on average, getting by with less."

She said the rent landlords have collected has vastly outstripped increases in operational costs.

"Since 2007, landlords' net operating income has grown by 32 percent, whereas their costs only grew by half as much," Mark-Viverito said. "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."

Mark-Viverito said the city is becoming unaffordable to working families, and said 81 percent of low-income households and nearly a third of all renting households are "rent burdened" and paying at least half their gross income in rent.

City Council members Margaret Chin (D-1st), Corey Johnson (D-3rd), Mark Levine (D-7th), Ydanis Rodriguez (D-10th), and Helen Rosenthal (D-6th), and city Comptroller Scott Stringer were also set to testify at a hearing on the proposed rent freeze Monday.

A final decision will be made on June 23.

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