Jimmy McMillan, founder of the Rent Is Too Damn High party, came to our neighborhood on Saturday to collect petition signatures for his 2014 gubernatorial campaign – as well as to speak to residents about, well, the rent being too damn high.
Thanks to neighbor Emile for sending in these photos of McMillan, who ran for mayor last year (making this video to launch that campaign) and made a bid for governor in 2010 (and stole the limelight at a gubernatorial debate that year) – and even has his own talking action figure. A Vietnam War veteran, karate expert, and former private investigator, McMillan’s message no doubt resonates with many of our neighbors, many of whom recently spoke to a slate of candidates running for Assembly and state Senate about the affordable housing crisis.
Brooklyn’s rents have skyrocketed in recent years, with the average rent in our borough coming perilously close to the prices in Manhattan – a mecca of unaffordable housing. A number of recent reports continue to show that our rents remain at all-time highs (including this report from City Comptroller Scott Stringer that stated the average median rent in the city has risen 75 percent since 2000).
There are so many stories of skyrocketing rents in our area – and, just last week, a neighbor who has lived in an apartment building near Newkirk Plaza for the past five years contacted us about the fact that the price of her studio is increasing by $430 each month come September 1. That means, for an 11-by-20 studio, she would have to pay $1,550 come September – which she can’t afford to do and now has to move.
And she’s not the only one. The neighbor (who wanted to remain anonymous because she doesn’t want retaliation from her landlord) said others in her building have spoken to her about the price of their units increasing by drastic, unaffordable amounts.
“I was in the laundry room telling a neighbor of mine my story, and this woman said one of her neighbors’ rent was going up $500 – she wrote him off and thought it was crazy, but then she said, ‘You’re telling me this too?'”
The neighbor who spoke to us stressed that she really wants people to pay attention to whether or not they have what is known as “preferential rent” – something she believed was a “snotty” way of her landlord saying stabilized rent, but, as it turns out, is a rent that is lower than the legal regulated rent registered with the State Division of Housing and Community Renewal (which a landlord has to do if they have a rent stabilized place).
Essentially, this means that a tenant, like the neighbor to whom we spoke, can see the word “rent stabilized” on their lease agreement – but then can be shocked by a massive increase (like the $430 spike) because the landlord is, upon renewal of the lease, legally permitted to increase the apartment’s rent to the amount that is registered with the state.
“The landlord was charging rent so low people couldn’t help but move in to keep the building full,” the neighbor who spoke with us last week said about her building. “My rent would go up $50 each year – but now it’s $430. It’s gonna be $1,550 for an 11-by-20 studio. That’s unbelievable to me.”
This scenario, is, the neighbor said, “part of the larger gentrification conversation.”
“This is the oldest story in New York,” she said. “It’s nice that this area has become noticed. They’re fixing the sewers – there was a horrible smell when I moved in, and that’s been attended to. The new Newkirk Plaza is gorgeous – but it comes with a cost, and this is it.
“When I looked at Ditmas Park seven years ago, the train station looked like war-torn Beirut,” she continued. “I ended up walking to Windsor Terrace because I thought, ‘I’m not getting on a train there.’ Now there’s this gorgeous train station. Now there’s this coffee shop that serves $4.50 cups of coffee. It all happened very quickly.”
Like our neighbor said, we’ve seen this story play out time and again – but how do we change this? What have you experienced as far as rent increases around here? And what do you think can be done to maintain affordable housing in our neighborhood?
Photos via Emile