Rent freeze opponent skips town

"This moment is a nightmare," Flax said before casting decisive vote

Steven Flax
Steven Flax

The Rent Guidelines Board member responsible for killing a possible rent freeze for tenants in rent-stabilized units fled New York just hours after the deciding vote was cast.

Steven Flax, one of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s six appointees to the nine-member board, drew fire from rent hike opponents after breaking camp with the mayor’s other appointees, who wanted to freeze rents in 2014. Instead, Flax backed a plan to hike rates 1 percent on one-year leases and 2.75 percent on two-year leases. The measure passed by a vote of 5-4, infuriating renters who lobbied for a full rent freeze. Landlords were likewise dissatisfied: the Rent Stabilization Association had called for hikes of 6 percent on one-year leases and 9.5 percent for two-years.

Before casting the decisive vote, Flax said: “This moment is a nightmare.” 

The board’s decision sparked an outcry from a group of irate tenants who gathered at Cooper Union for the vote. The crowd reportedly chanted, “Steve is dead.”

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Less than 24 hours after the vote was cast, Flax, who is a banker, boarded a plane, The New York Daily News reported. His wife told the paper that he was too upset to explain his actions.

“He isn’t ready,” she told the Daily News. “It was hard for him.”

De Blasio said he disagreed with Flax’s vote, but was not surprised. “We knew it would be a close vote either way you slice it,” the mayor said. “But I was trying to make very clear what I thought was the right way to go.” [NYDN]Sasha von Oldershausen