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Rent Increases Considered in White Plains

Update :  This article was changed Wednesday morning to include figures received from the Commissioner of Finance that were not available before deadline.

More than 60 Westchester tenants and landlords crowded into the county court in White Plains Monday night to have their opinions heard before the County’s Rent Guidelines Board decides whether to increase rents for state-regulated apartments.

Gabe Kiernan and 21 other speakers jostled over how the board should increase rents.

“All I would ask of the board, whatever you decide on the rates, I don’t think that you should double up this year,” said Kiernan, 40, who lives in a White Plains apartment subject to the Emergency Tenant Protection Act. “Doubling up or making a nine percent increase is almost...repealing what you did in the past two years.”

The board passed no rent increases last year and tenants at one of this year’s hearings urged the board to act similarly when it decides the rent increase rate for ETPA-regulated apartments next Monday. There are 3,014 White Plains housing units that are subject to ETPA-regulation, according to the city's Commissioner of Finance Michael Genito.

Many in the regulated apartments, which were designed to provide more affordable housing in tight real estate markets, said the vacancy clause allowing landlords to raise the rent 20 percent in empty units earns owners enough money.

Dennis Hanratty, the executive director of the Mount Vernon United Tenants organization, asked the board to consider the high unemployment rates and slumping economy.

“This board can help avoid the unnecessary pain and suffering on those least able to afford it, the tenants,” said Hanratty. “Do the right thing. Pass another rent freeze. The landlords will survive. In fact, they’ll more than survive. They’ll thrive as they always have by continuing to grab huge vacancy increases.”

Tenants, including Monique Stephens of Dobbs Ferry, said the rent increase negotiations were less of a concern than Albany's Wednesday vote on extending housing-regulation programs.

“A lot of people would be homeless and would have to look for other alternatives,” said Stephens, 37, a Medicaid service coordinator. “In Westchester County the rents are high. The [government] needs to keep in mind that middle [income] people are the backbone of this country.”

Landlords came to the hearing with allies from the oil, real estate and insurance industries to vouch that rising commodity costs and a bumbling economy made last year’s zero percent increase particularly damaging.

Michael Mascolo, 74, who owns four rent-stabilized units and 13 ETPA apartments in his White Plains building, said rising fuel and water costs coupled with taxes and maintenance fees made this a tough year.

“I had six tenants renew their leases this year with a zero percent [rent] increase for two years and that’s over 30 percent of my building,” said Mascolo, who has owned his 34 Merritt Ave. building since 1917. “It strains my bottom line because my fuel cost alone was over $7,000 in the previous year. Think of it this way. You work for your salary. Would it bother you if they were to cut 10 percent of your salary?”

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