Rent wars: Protesters rally against rent increases at City Hall Park

Tenants and elected officials rallied in City Hall Park Thursday to decry Mayor Eric Adams for potentially allowing possible rent prices, however, the mayor’s office says no decision will be made until June.

Members of Community Action for Safe Apartments (CASA) brought their fury to City Hall Park on April 28 after they say Mayor Adams’ hand-picked Rent Guidelines Board is considering a massive rent increase on rent-stabilized tenants. 

Citing the current homeless crisis, advocates and tenants believe many more people will be displaced and find themselves on the street if rent is increased. Julius Bennet has lived in a Bronx apartment building for over 33 years and is a tenant leader, and has seen a sharp decline in tenant rights, specifically rent stabilization. 

Assembly Member Yuh-line Niou joined the rent rally with her fist in the air. Photo by Dean Moses

“Things are changing and need to be modified, and I have to say this to us: Things are changing in America and so a lot of things that are changing in America are trickling down and causing the housing problem because tenants have lost their respect, their dignity because landlords have been allowed to treat us like pig, dogs,” Bennet said. 

Bennet shared that he and many advocates at the rally have pushed for the right to counsel, ensuring that if a tenant goes to housing court, they have a right to an attorney; however, with the influx of eviction cases pouring in after the eviction moratorium ended many of these tenants are unable to have an attorney due to public defenders’ caseloads. While it continues to be an uphill battle, Bennet states that the tenants will continue to organize and fight back against landlords. 

“We are no longer a group of tenants. We are a coalition of families that are in the same docile getting stronger and we’re gonna get stronger because we are going to fight. We are learning how to vote,” Bennet said. 

Those at the rally said a 9% percent rent raise will cause many to lose their homes. Photo by Dean Moses

With some even stating that the situation has become so dire their rent costs more than they make, speakers at the rally demanded prices be reduced. Holding signs depicting the mayor with money bags in his eyes, the group chanted “Rent rollback!”

However, while many at the rally are pointing the finger of blame at Adams, Adams only appointed three members to the Rent Guidelines Board, the other six remain from the previous administration. Moreover, the rent increases are reportedly merely recommendations by professional staff and the ultimate decision will not be made until June by the board members. 

In April, the mayor said the raise is also about aiding small landlords.

Protesters decried Mayor Adams for his position on rent increases. Photo by Dean Moses

“We must balance this, because this is sometimes lost in the conversation. We must balance those. We don’t want to aggravate the eviction process, but we also got to look at small property owners. If you are a mom and pop that owns a 10-family unit and your electric bills are going up, your water bills are going up, this is your only source of income. And sometimes when we think about landlords, we think about the mega guys. We think about those who have thousands of units. But these small mom and pops have been decimated. They’ve been impacted by the COVID issue,” Mayor Adams said.

Still, critics say that rent increases of any kind could send many already on the edge of eviction spiraling into the streets and a life of poverty. With homelessness in the city already reaching uncontrollable numbers, some in city council are applying immediate pushback.

“Mr. Mayor just laid out a 100-day plan for what he wants to do to the city. He talked about economic development, he talked about addressing homelessness, he talked about public safety, but at the same time, he is participating and potentially evicting hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers. That is not right and that does not fit your plan, Mr. Mayor. There are working class New Yorkers that make the city this city. They’re the workers that uplifted us and kept us okay, during the pandemic. The fact that we want to increase the rents and put more people on the streets is atrocious,” Brooklyn Council member Chi Ossé said, adding that the majority of the calls he receives from his constituents are about tenants being pushed from their homes. 

A sign said: “Rent rollback now!” Photo by Dean Moses

Fellow elected official Christopher Marte agreed, deeming the prospect of a rent increase a “shameful” act.

“It is shameful that they want to increase our rent by 9%! Nine percent equals displacement, equals gentrification, equals profit over the lives of the people’s lives who built it continue to keep this city intact. That is shameful. There is no reason for this. We are still in the middle of a pandemic. People are still out of work. People are still trying to figure out their lives. And you know what the first message that we get from this administration is, a middle finger, a middle finger and goodbye,” Councilmember Christopher Marte said. 

“​​Many of the people around us are tried and true. We’ve been in these battles before and we have won and we’re gonna do the same, today, and every day until we get our rent rollbacks,” Marte said.

Tenants and elected officials say no to rent increases. Photo by Dean Moses