‘Roberts’ tenants won’t get settlement checks by October

Tenants attorney Alex Schmidt Photo courtesy of Wolf Haldenstein

Tenants attorney Alex Schmidt
Photo courtesy of Wolf Haldenstein

By Sabina Mollot

Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village residents who are due rent overcharge damages as a result of the “Roberts v. Tishman Speyer” lawsuit won’t be getting their money as soon as expected.

According to the “Roberts” attorney for tenants, Alex Schmidt, while he’d initially aimed to get checks sent to tenants by October, attorneys are now hoping that some money will be distributed later this year and the rest by the first quarter of 2014.

The delay in payments was first reported in Crain’s on Friday. John Marsh, president of the ST-PCV Tenants Association, had also given neighbors a heads up on Wednesday on the association’s Facebook page.

However, both Schmidt and a rep for CWCapital insisted that the October date had never been set in stone; it’s just what the parties had been shooting for. Schmidt said the reason “Roberts” plaintiffs haven’t been paid yet is that the paperwork for the plaintiffs (of which there are 27,500) is taking a longer time to sort through than expected, with many parties only entitled to minimal damages. (Damages range from $150 to $200,000.)

Additionally, at this time, attorneys are also waiting for CW to turn over data regarding “Roberts” class members who the special servicer believes owe back rent money. Under the settlement, CW is entitled to any rent owed and therefore that affects how the individual would be paid.

Schmidt said attorneys are hoping to get money owed by MetLife to tenants by the end of the year, then focus on getting people paid who are not in arrears in rent, and then the people who CW says do owe rent.

Those individuals “would then have 45 days to say whether or not they disagree,” said Schmidt, but first the special servicer of the property has to calculate how much it believes it is owed. “It’s unfortunately very complicated,” said Schmidt.

Brian Moriarty, a spokesperson for CW, added, “A timeframe for payments was never established. That said, we hope that tenants are paid as soon as possible, but it is a lengthy administrative process given the number of claimants.”

Council Member Dan Garodnick, who is a “Roberts” class member, said the money should be repaid to tenants “as quickly as possible.”

He added that CW “should be as quick to give it back as they are to take it.”

Out of a $173 million settlement for tenants in apartments that were illegally deregulated by former owners MetLife and Tishman Speyer, close to $69 million will be paid out to tenants. The rest of the money is in the form of rent savings.

In other “Roberts” related news, over 150 tenants who got mid-lease increases have gotten rent rollbacks, Garodnick said.

In June, following an investigation by the attorney general into the mid-lease increases issued to around 1,100 residents of ST/PCV, the A.G. and CWCapital reached a deal to give rent rollbacks to any tenant who’d been misled into thinking there would be no mid-lease hikes.

The investigation came as a result of Garodnick alerting Attorney General Eric Schneiderman that he’d heard from residents who claimed they were assured by leasing agents that getting a mid-lease increase was highly unlikely, only to then get socked with an increase. Those tenants were then asked by the A.G. to sign affidavits describing how they were misled about the increases and in June, Garodnick said he knew of about 40 people who were affected. CWCapital said at the time that after its own “exhaustive effort” to find the affected parties, the special servicer had only heard from around 10. However, Garodnick said he has since learned about a total of 152 people who were awarded rent rollbacks.

The rent increases were issued by CW in May as a result of the “Roberts” settlement. The increases went as high as over $2,000, though most affected tenants reported getting hikes that were in the hundreds, and tenants were given six weeks to decide whether to renew their leases or leave. Another two hundred tenants got rent reductions.

Mendez opponent, a pastor, says poor have been ignored

City Council candidate Richard del Rio  Photo by Sabina Mollot

City Council candidate Richard del Rio
Photo by Sabina Mollot

By Sabina Mollot

Lower East Side-based clergyman Richard del Rio, or, as the hog-riding, tattooed 61-year-old is better known in the neighborhood, “Pastor Rick,” will be on the ballot on Primary Day as the Democratic challenger facing Council Member Rosie Mendez.

Del Rio, who founded his nondenominational church, Abounding Grace Ministries, over 30 years ago and has since become known as a community activist as well as a spiritual leader, said he is running because he feels there’s been a neglect of the poor and the elderly in the second city district, in particular NYCHA residents.

He’s also staunchly against elected officials being able to run for a third term, a policy enacted four years ago so Mayor Bloomberg could run again. “It’s legal, but it’s still offensive,” said del Rio. “It was just a few people that overturned the will of 8.5 million people.”

Mendez, of course, is running for a third time, and, while del Rio was quick to say during a recent interview at his Avenue C campaign office that he isn’t about to “trash her,” he has referred to her as a “no-show” politician on his website.

During the interview, del Rio discussed a number of issues from crime (which he’s been on top of as an NYPD clergy liaison), NYCHA’s plan to build market rate housing on eight of its developments (which he’s opposed to) and the gentrification of the district, which includes the Lower East Side, the East Village, Alphabet City, Gramercy Park and Kips Bay. (Del Rio said he’s been extremely concerned about residents being priced out of the area and NYU’s ongoing expansion without having to build any affordable housing as part of the development deals.)

Meanwhile they’re getting prime real estate and (they want) humungous towers that are overwhelming to the community.”

On NYCHA’s “infill” plan of leasing space on public housing parks and parking lots to outside developers, including at Campos Plaza, del Rio said he feels that the housing authority’s board has “not only neglected but dismissed the poor.” If elected, he said he promises to fight the plan, as well as fight to protect the rent-regulated housing that exists.

The middle class and the poor are being pushed out,” he said, “the creativity of the East Village — that’s all being stifled with this new plan to create a city for the wealthy.”

Del Rio, whose parents were immigrants from Puerto Rico, has always worked directly with the poor since starting his church in “the worst area” of that time which was the Lower East Side. This place, cops, warned him, was where people sold heroin and their bodies. The idea of setting up a base there was to cut down on gang activity and crime, with del Rio saying he found the most effective way to do this was by befriending gang members and other young people who were failing school, homeless or facing other problems like incarcerated family members. Del Rio and his sons, then ages 3, 6 and 8, were often with him as he took a van around, in particular to Union Square, offering information about treatment and other drug-related programs.

It was in the mid-90s when, del Rio said, he was able to stop a gang from retaliating at Alphabet City’s Haven Plaza for the killing of one its members by a rival gang. He did this by showing up, talking to the gang members and “letting them vent.”

They want to know you’re going to talk to them without judging them or even preaching to them, so I became friends with them,” he said.

After asking his wife to make some sandwiches and hot chocolate — because he’d be inviting the gang over — the group talked some more and then, said del Rio, “It was my turn and I told them, ‘If you do this, this is just going to escalate.’” In the end, the retaliatory battle never happened. Del Rio said he became privy to the looming gang war from the cops, who he said he’s always enjoyed a good working relationship with. For the past 20 years, del Rio has been an NYPD police-clergy liaison.

On crime these days in the district, del Rio is concerned about the still-occasional shootings at public housing projects, and attends meetings of the 9th Precinct Community Council. He has mixed feelings about stop-and-frisk, having once been on the receiving end of such an investigation in which he thought the officer’s behavior was “rude,” but also believing that the local cops – NYPD and those working for NYCHA – have a tough job to do.

On education, del Rio is not a fan of the current system that shuts down failing schools. “Our mayor brags about being able to shut schools down; why in the world would he want to have that as his achievement?” asked del Rio.

In 1996, del Rio and his family started a program called Generation X-Cel, which was aimed at helping kids who were failing in school and had other problems. His sons, who helped run it, had asked local kids, what kind of things they wanted to see in an after school program, and found that by asking, the kids got interested. The program ran at a space rented in a building at the Jacob Riis Houses, until the group was booted when NYCHA decided to use it for storage. The organization was replaced in 2008, though, by another program called 20/20 Vision for Schools, which was implemented at 16 schools.

One of his sons is still involved with the program. Del Rio has a total of three grown sons as well as a grown daughter, now a registered nurse, who is adopted. She came from a family he knew, in which the mother was dying of AIDS. The mother had asked del Rio and his wife Arlene to care for her children, which they did, and he wound up adopting one of them.

As for his pastoral duties, del Rio has operated his church in a space he rents at MS 34, a school on East 11th Street and Avenue D. Though he’s been less active at the church since he launched his campaign earlier in the year, he’s still been involved in some activities including a couple of local street fairs organized by clergy as well as an 18-year-old church tradition of holding an annual basketball tournament.

(People are) so dismissive of clergy, but clergy are servants you don’t have to pay and they have a relationship with the community,” he said.

Richard del, Rio, not long after Hurricane Sandy, helps distribute food and supplies. Photo courtesy of Richard del Rio

Richard del, Rio, not long after Hurricane Sandy, helps distribute food and supplies.
Photo courtesy of Richard del Rio

Del Rio noted that it was through relationships he’d developed with locals and law enforcement that enabled him to respond to Sandy with trucks full of supplies. He and others, including groups from as far as West Virginia, distributed hot meals as well as things like blankets and batteries on the street on Avenue D. Eventually, 20,000 people were recipients of the supplies and 12,000 hot meals were served.

On smaller issues, del Rio said he would like to do more for residents who feel that they’re living in “permanent construction zones” and be quicker about fixing things, like, for example, restoring a few Alphabet City bus stops that were recently removed. The removals were supposed to be temporary, he said, but complaints he’s gotten from local seniors have indicated that they weren’t.

If elected, del Rio said he is hoping for a Democratic mayor that is either Bill Thompson or Bill de Blasio. Both, he said, have promised to have roundtables with local clergy.

Being a political outsider, I know there’s a lot for me to learn,” said del Rio, but, he added, “I’m a quick learner.”

Mendez, hoping to improve housing crisis, running again

Council Member Rosie Mendez in front of her campaign office

Council Member Rosie Mendez in front of her campaign office

By Sabina Mollot

Rosie Mendez, who’s served as City Council member for the second city district for the past eight years, is hoping voters will choose her on Primary Day, as she seeks a third term.

Mendez, who’s been tackling such issues as building neglect in public housing, disappearing affordable housing options in the district and more recently, plans for a sanitation garage on First Avenue that she opposes, said she’s running again because, “I love my job and I still have more to do. I don’t want to run for something else.”

On Monday, Mendez discussed her goals for the coming years if re-elected as well as ongoing projects at her campaign office on Avenue B and 11th Street, just down the block from where she lives.

In that area of Alphabet City, it’s hard to find a storefront that doesn’t have a campaign poster with either Mendez’s smiling face or Democratic rival Richard del Rio’s.

Del Rio has been critical of his opponent for running for a third term, but at her office, Mendez defended her position, saying that while she had been against overturning term limits for the mayor, she doesn’t feel the same way about other city legislative positions.

“My opponent and some people do not remember the whole process,” she said of the City Council’s move to overturn the term limits, which allowed Mayor Bloomberg to run for a third time.

The reason she said she feels a different policy should apply to the executive of City Hall from the rest of the elected officials, is that simply put, the mayor, with his staff, has outnumbered and outmaneuvered the Council, with theirs, at numerous turns and disagreements.

“Their staff was able to run circles around us,” she admitted. “We don’t have the staff with the experience to really get in and catch everything they’re hiding.”

At this point, Mendez is hoping the next mayor will be the Democratic candidate she’s endorsed, Speaker Christine Quinn. (Mendez also said she supports term limits for that position as well.)

However, Quinn, she believes, would be more sympathetic to tenants, and housing has for many years been the biggest challenge facing the district. This is particularly due to owners of regulated units opting out of the Mitchell-Lama and Section 8 programs and public housing being in a state of crisis with NYCHA having fallen seriously behind on repairs — around one million jobs. Additionally, at this point, the agency seems unsure where to go with a previously hatched “infill” plan to build market rate housing at existing low-income developments. As of last week, NYCHA went from asking developers from RFPs (requests for proposals) to RFIEs, requests for expressions of interest. Mendez said this week that she doesn’t want to see anything pop up that doesn’t have the support of tenants and isn’t entirely or mostly affordable housing. She also doesn’t want any new development at one of NYCHA’s proposed infill sites, Smith Houses, because of how it flooded during Hurricanes Irene and Sandy.

Council Member Rosie Mendez at Campos Plaza, where residents recently got a security camera system Photo by Sabina Mollot

Council Member Rosie Mendez at Campos Plaza, where residents recently got a security camera system
Photo by Sabina Mollot

Having grown up in Williamsburg Houses, the first public housing project to be built in Brooklyn, Mendez is no stranger to the problems of public housing.

Mendez said she is also not a supporter of the infill program because she doesn’t think the expected income from market rate units will cover the financial needs of the complex, but, she said, doing away with the $74 million NYCHA pays each year for police services would. The practice of paying the police, which private landlords do not, began in the Giuliani era. Mendez said she’s been pushing for the payments to end since she first came into office. While she is not enthusiastic about that happening any time soon, she has allocated $10 million in funding to NYCHA this coming fiscal year. Last year she did the same.

Mendez, who chairs the Council’s Public Housing Committee, said one thing she is considering — if constituents like the idea — is to get some affordable housing built specifically for seniors. Although well aware that it “takes funding to make,” she’s optimistic about the future under a new mayor, who, she hopes, would give owners incentives to maintain as well as build affordable housing beyond the standard 80/20 formula.

Priority one though for Mendez, if re-elected, would be to focus on a plan of action and preparation for the next Sandy-like disaster. After the superstorm hit, Mendez and her staff went to many buildings to check on the district’s most vulnerable residents, the elderly, sick and disabled. In some cases, this meant trudging up the stairs of high-rises to recharge residents’ motorized wheelchairs or bring them hot meals, medicine and buckets of water for drinking and flushing. With many residents having no water or just afraid to use what they’d saved, “It created an unhealthy and unsanitary situation,” said Mendez. By coordinating with local nonprofits such as GOLES and the Stein Senior Center, Mendez said she was able to meet the needs of those who were most in need while also not duplicating services offered by other agencies.

“It was multiple levels of triage to try to get to everyone so we wouldn’t have a tragedy,” she said, though she added that, “Unfortunately, we did have some tragedies.” One was a senior living at Kips Bay Court who had been carried down the stairs from her apartment on an upper floor, in her bed, as well as along with her oxygen tank, for medical help. The woman ended up not surviving although curiously, she wasn’t considered a Sandy casualty, with her death getting blamed on whatever condition she had. “It should count,” said Mendez.

Other problems were that at local emergency shelters, there weren’t enough cots for people who’d evacuated, and that those who remained behind in their homes were in many cases just unprepared for a blackout that lasted several days.

On education issues, Mendez has been opposed to many of the co-locations of schools in recent years and blasted the Panel for Education Policy as “rubber stampers” for approving the Department of Education’s co-location plans.

“I like to say I’m old school,” said Mendez. “When I went to school, a school was a building and a building was a school.”

From what Mendez has seen, the co-locations have led to principals having to put students’ issues on the back burner while trying to coordinate on who gets the library or rear yard at what time and schools not getting enough funding for arts, music and summer programs.

“I’ve been trying to supplement it with that much maligned discretionary funding,” she said. “It allows me to fund after school programs and during the day.”

Schools that have been on the receiving end of such funding include PS 110, PS 34, PS 40, PS 116, PS 188, PS 15 and MS 104, which recently used the money for a summer tennis clinic.

Other money from the discretionary funds has gone towards local nonprofits’ food pantry and hot meal programs. Mendez noted how on any given Saturday morning, at a church across the street from her campaign office, near the corner of Avenue B, the line for bags of food stretches outside almost down to Avenue A. “You’ll see anywhere from 200 to 400 people,” she said.

More recently, another issue that has been of concern to Mendez is the planned Brookdale campus sanitation garage. While located in City District 4, it would affect Mendez’s constituents living in East Midtown Plaza and Kips Bay. Mendez said she is mainly opposed to it because the garbage trucks would all be located in an area where “we’ve seen cars floating. If the trucks were to get flooded, there are pollutants and a lot of dirt and grime on them. I don’t know how the mayor justifies putting this right in the middle of hospital row, right in the middle of a flood zone. I think it’s very ill advised.”

On crime, Mendez said she believes the police force currently has too few officers due to a shrinking force, and while District 2, which covers the Lower East Side, the East Village, Alphabet City, Gramercy Park and Kips Bay, hasn’t seen the kind of crime it used to, there is still the occasional shootout, and noted Mendez, a spike in sexual assaults all around the city. She suggested that the city put “less money into consultants and more into our agencies.”

As far as quality of life issues is concerned, noise from bars has been an ongoing one though Mendez noted stipulations on hours venues can do business as well as fines issued by the State Liquor Authority against repeat offenders have helped to some degree. Another growing complaint has been evening noise from construction sites with developers applying for and getting variances to do construction from as early as 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Mendez said she’s, in some specific cases, managed to get it “scaled back” though at other locations, late construction has persisted despite intervention from her office. She said she’ll continue to meet with the developers as well as the Department of Buildings.

Throughout her career in the City Council, Mendez said she considers her biggest accomplishments to be helping to save the Stein Senior Center, which has recently reopened in a new and improved location, preventing closures of daycare centers and in general, being responsive to individual concerns.

“Everything in politics is local,” she said, “so I’m proud of my track record with constituent services.”

Before her first run for office, Mendez graduated from New York University and Rutgers School of Law.

She began her career in politics as chief of staff to her predecessor in the Council, Margarita Lopez (now employed by NYCHA). Like Lopez, Mendez is openly gay and a champion for LGBT rights.