Stuyvesant Town woman fatally struck by Con Ed truck at 16th St. and Ave. C

On Sunday night, four days after Stella Huang was hit by a Con Ed truck, the area at 16th Street and Avenue C is coned off. At this time, a streetlight there is broken. (Photo by Lawrence Scheyer)

On Sunday night, four days after Stella Huang was hit by a Con Ed truck, the area at 16th Street and Avenue C is coned off. At this time, a streetlight there is broken. (Photo by Lawrence Scheyer)

By Sabina Mollot
An 88-year-old woman was fatally struck by a Con Ed truck that was making a left hand turn from Avenue C onto East 16th Street, police said last Wednesday.
The woman, who has been identified as Stuyvesant Town resident Stella Huang, was hit at around 5:15 p.m. and taken to Bellevue, where she was pronounced dead. She was killed close to her home at 271 Avenue C.
The Con Ed Truck remained at the scene and police said the investigation ongoing.
On Monday, a spokesperson for the utility, Sidney Alvarez, said, “We are cooperating fully with the NYPD in their investigation of this tragic accident. Our thoughts and condolences are with the family and friends of Stella Huang.”
Alvarez added that there had been two drivers in the Con Ed truck. Both were taken to a nearby hospital and have since been released with minor injuries.
In related news, a streetlight that had been broken for some time at the scene of the accident was fixed on Tuesday. Council Member Dan Garodnick, who was made aware of the light being out on Monday, said his office had contacted the Department of Transportation the next day to get it fixed.
“I don’t know if this contributed (to the accident),” said Garodnick, “but we have to take a closer look at that intersection and ensure that it is safe for people interacting with cars and in particular Con Ed vehicles.”
Garodnick added that prior to last week’s traffic fatality, said he hadn’t heard complaints about that area being in any way unsafe, although four years ago he helped arrange for the installation of a greenstreet at a nearby intersection, 18th Street and Avenue C. This was to improve traffic safety for little leaguers who frequently crossed that intersection from Stuyvesant Town to Murphy’s Brother’s Park and Con Ed Field.

This article has been updated to include statements from Con Ed and Dan Garodnick.

Local synagogues will celebrate Thanksgivukkah

By Maria Rocha-Buschel 

This holiday season, the Jewish community will have a lot to celebrate due to the rare overlap of two major holidays in what has been coined “Thanksgivukkah.”

This year marks the first time in 125 years that two fall holidays will be happening on the same day: Thanksgiving, which falls on the fourth Thursday of every November, will be on November 28 this year and the first day of Hanukkah, which falls on the 25th day of Kislev according to the Hebrew calendar, will also be this upcoming Thursday.

The Hebrew calendar is lunar and has fewer days than the solar Gregorian calendar so the former occasionally adds in a month to compensate.

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Letters to the Editor, Nov. 27

Asser Levy Pl. closure causing traffic issues

The following is an open letter to Department of Transportation Margaret Forgione from Waterside Plaza Tenants Association President Janet Handal:

Hello Margaret,

We are delighted to see that ground has been broken on Asser Levy Park. However, the closing of Asser Levy has created a problem for eastbound traffic on 23rd Street, which needs to go uptown on First Avenue. A few years ago, a no left turn sign was posted at this intersection for eastbound traffic. To go uptown, people proceeded to Asser Levy, turned left and then left again on 25th Street and then right on First Avenue to proceed uptown. When I discussed this potential problem with Dan Garodnick when the park was being contemplated, I was assured that the traffic signage would be revisited. As 23rd is a major cross-town corridor, uptown access is needed at First Avenue. I checked yesterday and the no left sign is still up.

I also wanted to bring to your attention that the streetlights on the 42nd Street FDR off ramp are not working. There are also a number of streetlights on the FDR in the NYU Bellevue area, which are not working.

I look forward to your attention to this matter.

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Ground broken on extension to Asser Levy Playground

Local politicians and Parks reps break ground at a Wednesday morning ceremony. (Pictured Parks Department Manhattan Borough Commissioner William Castro, State Senator Brad Hoylman, Parks Commissioner Veronica White, Council Member Dan Garodnick, Community Board 6 Chair Sandro Sherrod, State Senator Liz Krueger and Assemblyman Brian Kavanagh (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

Local politicians and Parks reps break ground at a Wednesday morning ceremony. (Pictured) Parks Department Manhattan Borough Commissioner William Castro, State Senator Brad Hoylman, Parks Commissioner Veronica White, Council Member Dan Garodnick, Community Board 6 Chair Sandro Sherrod, State Senator Liz Krueger and Assemblyman Brian Kavanagh (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Local elected officials joined the New York City Parks Department and neighborhood residents to celebrate the groundbreaking of the new park planned for Asser Levy Place between East 23rd and 25th Streets on Wednesday.

“This underutilized space was screaming for us to do this here,” said City Council Member Dan Garodnick, who helped secure some of the funds for the new park.

Garodnick was joined at the ceremony by State Senators Brad Hoylman and Liz Krueger, NYC Parks Commissioner Veronica White, Manhattan Borough Commissioner William Castro, CB6 chair Sandro Sherrod and Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh, who rode a Citi Bike to the event.

“The Parks Department has a great legacy in this city and we’re grateful for all the open spaces that you’ve brought here,” Hoylman said. “It’s important to our kids and families to have these open spaces and we want to attract more young people to the community. This park is going to help.”

Kavanagh added that the planned park was the result of a successful land swap and although other parkland was given up, it was beneficial that the city was able to gain more park space in exchange.

“This is a very exciting day because we’re doing more to expand our parkland. This is just the first piece of a bigger project,” Garodnick added, referring to the plan for the East River Blueway.

The new park will be adjacent to the Asser Levy playground and recreation center. The space will serve as a replacement for the parkland lost to the development of a new United Nations building at Robert Moses playground. The new park will offer space for various recreational activities, including ping pong, badminton, volleyball, chess, soccer, football, t-ball and others.

There will be an artificial turf field, adult fitness equipment, benches, tables, an exercise track, drinking fountains and trees. The project was funded with allocations of $500,000 from the UN Development Corporation and $1,175,000 from Garodnick and it is expected to be complete by next fall.

 

Stuyvesant Town/Peter Cooper residents won’t see MCIs on rent bills until January

Tenants Association attorney Tim Collins speaks to residents, while Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh, State Senator Brad Hoylman and TA Chair Susan Steinberg listen. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

At a meeting held on November 2, ST-PCV Tenants Association attorney Tim Collins speaks to residents about the MCIs, while Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh, State Senator Brad Hoylman and TA Chair Susan Steinberg listen. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

Residents of Stuyvesant Town/Peter Cooper Village won’t see the recently approved round of MCI rent hikes on their rent bills until after the holidays, CWCapital has announced.

In an email sent to residents on Friday, the special servicer said:

“CWCapital and CompassRock Real Estate have agreed to defer new MCI billing until January 2014. As a result, your December 2013 rent bills will not include the recently approved MCIs. CWCapital, the ST/PCV Tenants Association and DHCR are engaged in discussions regarding the implementation of the MCIs and we will keep residents informed of any developments.”

A spokesperson for management declined to comment further on the delay to implement the MCIs, which the Tenants Association also mentioned in an email to neighbors sent at around the same time in the afternoon as CW’s. The Tenants Association also noted that it was engaged in discussions with CWCapital and the Division of Housing and Community Renewal (DHCR) of New York Homes and Community Renewal (HCR), the state housing agency.

In the past month, tenants have received notices that MCIs (major capital improvements) for security upgrades done in 2009 as well as work done that year on doors, resurfacing and water tanks and valves, had been approved. The Tenants Association has since said it would challenge those MCIs, while CWCapital has made an offer to reduce the MCIs’ retroactive portions by 35 percent if tenants agree not to partake in any challenge. The DHCR, meanwhile, recently agreed to the Tenants Association’s request for reconsideration of the MCIs.

Community residents remember day of Kennedy assassination

JFK 50 years ago

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

With the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination coming up, seniors at the Stein Center took a moment earlier this week to tell Town & Village what they were doing when they found out about the historical shooting.

Rose Ackrish had a unique experience to recount of the day’s events. She said that she was walking by a bank that was on the corner of East 17th Street near Union Square Park and it was in the process of getting robbed. She said she then went back to her office to tell her coworkers about the incident.

“I got back and I said, ‘You’ll never believe what just happened,’ and everyone said, ‘We already know,’” she said. “I just thought, how could they know about the robbery? But then someone said that the president had been shot. I never did find out what happened with that bank robbery.”

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Letters to the Editor, Nov. 21

NYU’s ‘suggestions’ for Stuy Town students

For anyone whose apartment is within earshot of a student apartment in ST/PCV, you might find the following information valuable. In fact, this is important information even if you have no students nearby because it can happen at any time.

In case you do not know, Stuyvesant Town is listed on the NYU website as a residence hall. The site is full of valuable information for incoming students including the following: Twin beds are provided, but students must bring their own linens. The apartments have kitchens, but students must bring own cookware, dishes and other kitchen supplies. Apartments have hardwood floors; students may bring rugs.

Did you see the difference there? “Must” for linens and cookware but only “may” for rugs! And, in the very same paragraph, students are told to bring headphones to be used with TVs and stereos… to allow use without disturbing roommates.”

Wow! This just keeps getting better and better. The message here is loud and clear: You should avoid disturbing your roommate but don’t worry yourselves about your neighbors – upstairs, downstairs or next door.

As luck would have it, the website also provides contact information for both the NYU residence hall director and resource manager and I think it’s time we demand that NYU either insist that students purchase area rugs with padding that adequately cover the floors and absorb the sound or that NYU carpet all apartments they lease in Stuyvesant Town for student housing. The school is supposed to be preparing their students to become part of a larger community and what better time to start than right now in our community. And if they are unwilling, then I would urge any NYU alumni living in the ST/PCV communities to withhold contributions to the school as it is becoming increasingly clear that they have lowered their standards.

J.M. Polise, ST

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13th Precinct sees spike in thefts, burglaries

Police also preparing for upcoming SantaCon pub crawl

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Deputy Inspector Dave Ehrenberg at the 13th Precinct (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

Deputy Inspector Dave Ehrenberg at the 13th Precinct (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

The 13th Precinct saw a 35 percent spike in crime over the last month, mostly in burglaries and grand larcenies. The stats were revealed by Deputy Inspector Dave Ehrenberg at a meeting of the 13th Precinct Community Council on Tuesday. However, Ehrenberg, the precinct’s commanding officer, noted that part of the reason for the increases is because of the comparison to the low numbers last year due to Hurricane Sandy.

The increases in burglaries are mostly due to residential incidents and, noted Ehrenberg, there were no cases of forced entry in the residential burglaries that had occurred.

“They’re getting in through patios, roofs and doors from adjacent buildings,” he said, adding that the crimes are easier to prevent than they are to solve and he reminded residents to lock their doors as well as windows, especially if they lead to a fire escape or balcony.

There has been an increase in grand larcenies as well and an especially large increase in what the NYPD refers to as “picks and dips,” which is when someone is pick-pocketed or their property is left out somewhere and then stolen. Cell phones and wallets are the most commonly stolen items in these cases and Ehrenberg said that it isn’t necessarily the newest model of cell phones that are getting stolen so regardless of how new the phone is, residents should still be vigilant.

Because these crimes are also difficult to solve after the fact, Ehrenberg advised that people be careful with their bags while on the subway and walking down the street.

“The thing about the 13th precinct is that we have a lot of people on our streets and we have to rely on eyewitnesses for solving these crimes,” he said. “A lot of times, crimes like these are reported late because victims don’t notice until later that their property is missing. They say they remember later that they got bumped and maybe their bag wasn’t zipped. If there’s a big gap in the time between when it happened and when it’s reported, it’s hard to figure out who did it.”

The increases in grand larcenies have also been due to victims leaving their property out and having it stolen. Ehrenberg said that there have been three cases in the past month of this happening in the Starbucks on Union Square West, with all items worth more than $1,000.

“It’s like having $1,000 in cash,” he said. “I’m not going to leave that sitting out on the table so why would I leave a laptop out on the table? These items have to be treated like cash.”

Telephone scams, which are recorded as grand larcenies, have also been a problem for the 13th precinct, and Ehrenberg noted that it isn’t just elderly people who are being targeted but that most of the victims have been between the ages of 20 and 40. “Con Edison is not going to ask for cash or a prepaid card and if they come to your door you should always ask to see their identification,” he advised. “If you’re suspicious, call 911 about it.”

Meanwhile, residents at the meeting have already begun expressing concern about the impending arrival of SantaCon, the annual pub crawl that often results in excessive drunkenness in the neighborhood starting in the morning and escalating throughout the day, and which will take place on December 14 this year.

SantaCon revelers gather in front of an East Village bar at last year's event. (Photo by Allegra Kogan)

SantaCon revelers gather in front of an East Village bar at last year’s event. (Photo by Allegra Kogan)

A resident of Stuyvesant Town said that he looked at the website and noticed that there are already 12,000 people who have signed up to participate. Ehrenberg said that police are already planning on increasing their presence on that day and while they try to speak to bar owners and discourage them from participating, he noted that this is difficult since the bars do make money from the event.

“They started earlier than we were expecting last year and last year was ridiculous,” Executive Officer Frank Sorenson added. “Security will be ready earlier this year so we’re more prepared.”

At the beginning of the meeting, Ehrenberg awarded Officer John Dziedzic as Cop of the Month for arresting a man for mugging a 16-year-old deaf boy in October. The boy was on his way to school at PS 347 on East 23rd Street when he was mugged. Ehrenberg said that the officers needed the assistance of two interpreters to communicate with the boy for a description of the man but when they went out with the description, Dziedzic followed him and an arrest was made. He was charged with robbery as well as grand larceny for an incident last year in which he had targeted the same boy.

Last month’s community council meeting was full of residents from buildings on East 28th Street who had complaints about a homeless man who had been causing problems in the neighborhood. As Town & Village reported earlier this month, Ehrenberg said at Tuesday’s meeting that the man, Anthony Lawrence, had been arrested and formally indicted on two high charges, attempted robbery and assault. Ehrenberg noted that his next court date would be November 26 and cops have been working closely with the District Attorney’s office on the issue.

 

Lease signed for future Peter Stuyvesant Post Office

The current Peter Stuyvesant Post Office, which will be relocated to another space on East 14th Street (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

The current Peter Stuyvesant Post Office, which will be relocated to another space on East 14th Street (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

The U.S. Postal Service, which in May decided to proceed with a plan to move the half-a-century-old Peter Stuyvesant Post Office to a smaller space on East 14th Street, signed paperwork on Friday making the new location official.

The new post office, last home to a Duane Reade store, inked a deal to sublease the space between First and Second Avenues for 10 years, the real estate firm Feil Organization announced. The new post office will occupy 6,940 square feet of ground floor space and additional 1,500 square feet of basement.

“The Post Office is a destination in itself and has been downsizing its space needs in response to the growing use of email and other technologies,” Randall Briskin, vice president of leasing at The Feil Organization said. “The new space at 333 East 14th Street is smaller than, but in close proximity to its current location, allowing the U.S.P.S. to continue convenient service for Stuyvesant Town, the East Village, and the surrounding area.”

Duane Reade had moved from that space in January. Prior to that, the address was home to a Gristedes.

As Town & Village reported back in April, the decision by the U.S.P.S. to move and downsize was a hotly contested one with Stuy Town and East Village residents packing a meeting to argue that as it was, the post office was a busy one with lines that frequently spilled out the door.

The lease will be up in that space, 432 East 14th Street, in February of 2014. Initially the U.S.P.S. said a decision was made to leave after the agency was unable to come to an agreement with the owner, but a rep for the owner said it was actually the Postal Service’s decision to leave because of a desire to downsize.

The agency has cited the fact that it’s losing money, which a union for its employees has blamed not on a drop in the volume of mail but a federal law passed in 2006 that forces the U.S.P.S. to fund its employees’ pension plans 75 years in the future, costing it $5.5 billion a year.

Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, who believed the busy post office had to be making money regardless, said she asked the agency to review the branch’s financial information, and was refused.

Hoylman: Add ST/PCV, hospitals to Sandy restoration area

14th Street between Avenues B and C (Photographer unknown)

14th Street between Avenues B and C during Sandy (Photographer unknown)

By Sabina Mollot

State Senator Brad Hoylman, along with other East Side elected officials, has been petitioning the state’s new storm recovery program, which has been focusing its efforts on restoring and protecting Lower Manhattan from future Sandy-like disasters, to include areas further north — in particular Stuyvesant Town, Peter Cooper Village, Waterside Plaza and the hospitals along Bedpan Alley.

Through the program, New York Rising, which was launched by Governor Cuomo, Lower Manhattan was awarded $25 million to implement community-input-driven strategies to rebuild downtown and strengthen the area against future extreme weather.

However, as Hoylman noted in testimony he gave to the Lower Manhattan Community Planning Committee on October 30, areas as far north as the mid-30s on the East Side and the high 20s on the West Side also saw serious damage as a result of the superstorm. Just a few examples include the flooding and months-long shutdowns at hospitals including NYU Langone, Bellevue and the VA Medical Center, loss of numerous services for months in 15 buildings in Peter Cooper Village and two in Stuyvesant Town, as well as the destruction of the management office there, and on the West Side, the flooding of half a dozen residential buildings that required evacuations, including one Chelsea building housing 50 people with HIV/AIDS.

In mid-October, the planning committee for NY Rising agreed to extend the borders of its catchment area from Canal Street west of Essex Street up to Delancey Street east of Essex up to all of Manhattan south of 14th Street, so Hoylman said he hoped the committee would also consider expanding the area further north to include Bedpan Alley.

The ongoing effort by NY Rising is “laudable,” said Hoylman, “but it excludes major swaths of Manhattan

The East River flows west under the FDR Drive last October 29. (Photographer unknown)

The East River flows west under the FDR Drive last October 29. (Photographer unknown)

that were damaged by Sandy including Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village, and especially the hospitals, which serve the whole city. I think our community above 14th Street is a natural fit for this conversation.”

Hoylman’s senatorial district includes ST/PCV, Waterside, Chelsea and Greenwich Village, areas that saw some of Manhattan’s heaviest damage last October.

Especially important in planning for the future of those areas, noted Hoylman, is the protection of the elderly population.

“The seniors in Peter Cooper and Stuy Town were essentially cut off from civilization,” he said.

Congresswomen Carolyn Maloney and Nydia Vasquez, Assembly Members Brian Kavanagh and Richard Gottfried, State Senator Liz Krueger and Council Members Dan Garodnick, Margaret Chin and Rosie Mendez have also been in support of the area north of 14th Street’s inclusion in the planning and on October 22, all signed onto a letter, as did Hoylman, that was sent to Seth Diamond, the director of the Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery. At this time, Hoylman said they’ve yet to receive a response.

Letters to the Editor, Nov. 14

The year since Sandy at VA Medical Center

On Monday, November 11, Veterans Day, our nation paid tribute to America’s Veterans. As the director of VA New York Harbor Healthcare System, the charge of maintaining VA health care facilities to provide care to veterans is always foremost in my mind.  And this year has been a daunting challenge.
With safety as our priority, over 100 inpatients were evacuated to VA facilities in Queens, Brooklyn, Bronx and Montrose, NY without incident one day prior to Hurricane Sandy’s landfall.  VA staff accompanied patients to the new locations to ensure uninterrupted care.
On October 29, the Manhattan VA Medical Center sustained catastrophic flood damage to mechanical and electrical switches, steam system, generators, elevators, heating/air conditioning/ventilation units and the Sterile Processing Service.  The storm left the facility flooded with no power, heat or fire suppression.  The ground floor, where 150,000 square feet of outpatient care suites and diagnostic imaging equipment was located, was completely devastated.
Centralized scheduling, a call center and clinic staff began calling veterans to reschedule Veteran appointments to nearby VA medical centers and VA community clinics. A Pharmacy Refill Program was established to enable Veterans to receive medication at several local pharmacies, and VA shuttles transported veterans to clinic appointments. VA mobile health units were positioned at the Manhattan VA Medical Center to triage patients, renew prescriptions, give vaccinations and schedule appointments.
Recovery efforts began immediately and lasted several months.  Mechanical, electrical and other utilities were reestablished and existing space to relocate outpatient clinics was identified, renovated and the clinics were moved.
Outpatient clinics were phased in by April and inpatient care, including surgery and the Emergency Department, were completely operational in May.  Several major projects, some underway now, will harden the facility against future flooding.
I am moved by the encouragement and support provided by veterans and grateful for a dedicated VA staff who worked tirelessly to restore services.  On this Veterans Day, we salute our veterans and take pride in overcoming the challenges to provide the quality health care and services they deserve at the Manhattan VA Medical Center.
Martina A. Parauda
Director,
VA New York Harbor Healthcare System

 

Do we have a say on 14th St. development?

Re: “Building across from Stuy Town to be redeveloped,” T&V, Oct. 24
My worst fears were confirmed in Town & Village about what’s happening on the south side of 14th St. The proposed buildings could have a monumental negative impact on our neighborhood in so many ways. How is Stuyvesant Town going to handle the onslaught of people living across the street?
The redevelopment could bring hundreds more people wanting some green space to not only sit in, but walk their dogs or just walk around. In addition, a once desirable sleepy part of 14th street will be hustling and bustling. Can the infrastructure handle all the new residents?  And, not to mention it’s going to be a major, major irreversible crime for residents who’ve enjoyed light and views all the way downtown to lose them! If ST ever goes condo or co-op, could this decrease property values?
Before it’s too late, where does Council Member Garodnick stand on this? Can he fight for us and win to limit the height and scope so the buildings are no higher then existing tenement buildings on the south side? Can he partner with Council Member Rosie Mendez to help us? Where does the TA stand on this and can they harness their power and influence to help us? Where does CWCapital stand on this?
It’s not to say that this stretch has not been blighted, but the character of the neighborhood could forever be changed for the worse. We’ve seen this type of building invade other neighborhoods. How can information be so hard to get? Is the zoning commission a secret organization? Someone, somewhere, somehow is approving plans. It’s time to rally and defeat this plan. Help!
Name withheld, ST

 

It’s time for some MCI reforms

Re: Letter, “MCIs then and now,” T&V, Nov. 7
To the Editor:
Regarding the rent increases from MCIs, Geraldine Levy asks “When and where will this end? Our legislators…regularly object to these outrages.”
Unfortunately, the majority of our legislators do NOT object to many outrages that harm New Yorkers financially, physically or psychologically. If they did, they would immediately correct this assault on affordable housing. I suggest two proposals.
First, these state reps would legislate that all legitimate MCI increases will end when the MCI is paid off.
For example, I’ve been paying for the same antique stove and refrigerator for 22 years; for what I’ve paid I could have bought new appliances every two years. These appliances may not be considered MCIs but they were considered improvements which raised the rent on my apartment and continues to this day.
Wouldn’t it be nice if I received a retroactive reimbursement for every penny I paid more than the cost of the stove and refrig, or for any other MCI that I’ve paid for many times over?
Second, these honest legislators (Is that an oximoron?) would transfer the DHCR and its authority over all housing matters for NYC including MCIs back to New York City.
Then our newly elected Democratic mayor, who promises to correct the abuse of our annual rent hikes courtesy of 20 years under Republican mayors, Bill de Blasio could fire every official in the current DHCR and hire new ones who support affordable housing in NYC, especially housing that already exists like ST and PCV and not those new housing developments that real estate moguls dream about.
Speaking of dreams, if we lived in Disneyland instead of New York State, my proposal might be the happy ending at the top of every tenant’s wish list.
But unfortunately as the saying goes,  “In your dreams! Fahhgeddaboudit!”
Perhaps under the leadership of the capable Dan Garodnick and the Tenants Association something might be accomplished to ease this burden on tenants so that our housing here in Stuy Town at least remains affordable. Let’s hope so.
Otherwise, it’s Hello, Mississippi!
John Cappelletti, ST

 

TA blasts CWCapital’s MCI info workshops

Tenants Association volunteers John Sicoransa, Judith Preble Miller and Anne Greenberg hand out fliers that urge tenants not to sign CWCapital's offer while outside 360 First Avenue, where an informational workshop on MCIs was being held. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

Tenants Association volunteers John Sicoransa, Judith Preble Miller and Anne Greenberg hand out fliers that urge tenants not to sign CWCapital’s offer while outside 360 First Avenue, where an informational workshop on MCIs was being held. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

Following a contentious meeting held earlier in the month by the Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association, during which the group’s attorney advised tenants not to accept an MCI reduction offer from CWCapital, the special servicer reached out to tenants to discuss terms.

In letters slipped underneath doors in ST/PCV on Friday, CW offered to reduce the cost of the retroactive portions of recently issued MCIs (major capital improvements) by 35 percent, as long as tenants agreed not to try to challenge them. There was also an offer to reduce $15 million on other costs. However, the letter then went on to indicate that CWCapital could end up backing out of the deal.

“It is important to understand that under the Rent Stabilization Laws a small number of MCI appeals can impact the entire community,” the letter stated. “In the event that such a minority of residents seeks to undo the effect of this settlement, we may have no option but to permanently withdraw this offer as the owner will then be forced to defend its rights.”

This letter was swiftly responded to by the Tenants Association’s attorney Tim Collins. In his own letter, he addressed CW’s attorney Sherwin Belkin to say he thought the offer was “disturbing” because “it appears to be an attempt to intimidate those tenants who support the TA’s challenge to the MCIs, by penalizing or diminishing their rights, in direct violation of…. The Real Property Law…”

The Tenants Association, meanwhile, has also taken issue with a series of MCI information workshops being held this week by CW representatives at 360 First Avenue in Peter Cooper Village. In an email to neighbors, the TA blasted the workshops as a ruse to get tenants to sign CW’s agreement rather than inform them about how MCIs work.

“The proposed agreement is illusory, deceptive and unenforceable,” the TA wrote on its website. “The language of the form encourages acceptance while the owner holds a trump card of unilateral termination.”

The TA also noted that CW hadn’t mentioned that the retroactive portions of the MCIs, which for some residents can total thousands of dollars, get paid on a monthly basis (rather than a lump sum), with payments capped at six percent of the tenants’ rent in 2009. As for the $15 million in costs CW offered to waive, the TA said this was “almost meaningless — it consists of sales tax, which can never be included, and other costs DHCR almost never approves.”

On Monday evening, the first of the series of workshops on MCIs saw only a trickle of tenants coming in and out, as well as a few volunteers for the Tenants Association standing outside the building, hoping to talk neighbors out of signing any deal with the de facto owner.

One reason for this is that as of Friday, the state housing agency, the Division of Housing and Community Renewal (DHCR) of New York State Homes and Community Renewal (HCR), has agreed to the TA’s recent request for reconsideration of MCIs for five projects that were authorized by the agency.  This means tenants are not yet responsible for paying the retroactive portion, though they will be expected to pay the monthly cost that’s added to their rent in perpetuity until the agency makes a decision.

Three of the MCIs are for Stuy Town residents, and the other two are for Peter Cooper residents. The

Tenants Association volunteer John Sicoransa talks to a neighbor on First Avenue. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

Tenants Association volunteer John Sicoransa talks to a neighbor on First Avenue. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

MCIs are for work done in 2009 by Tishman Speyer on security upgrades, resurfacing, doors and water valves and tanks. All the MCIs are added to the tenants’ monthly rent with costs varying based on the room count of apartments and whether they’re in PCV or ST, and all have retroactive portions that date back to 2009.

The TA is hoping to challenge the MCIs based on the fact that Collins’ arguments made against them to the DHCR last year were not even acknowledged in the recent awarding of the increases to CWCapital. Additionally, Collins cited violations in some of the buildings, student housing in some apartments and shoddy workmanship on the resurfacing work as well as other factors.

The reconsideration means the TA will not yet be filing a petition for administrative review (PAR), as it had previously planned to do. However, the group is still collecting signatures from neighbors for pledges that would authorize the TA to represent tenants if it does file a PAR, which according to TA Chair Susan Steinberg, will most likely happen. “We’ll pursue it as far as we can carry it,” she said.

Over the years, the state housing agency has rejected almost all of the Tenants Association’s MCI challenges. However, as of Monday, the Tenants Association had collected over 2,000 signatures on its pledge.

While outside the MCI workshop, TA reps, including Steinberg and TA President John Marsh asked residents leaving if they thought they’d be accepting the offer for a retroactive MCI reduction, and a few were undecided.

One man, who moved in last year, said he was concerned that he would have to pay the retroactive portion of the MCI despite being a new tenant. A TA volunteer responded to say he thought the owner would instead have to hunt down the previous tenant to try and collect that amount, though he added something Collins had said at the recent TA meeting, which is that owners making such moves happens pretty rarely.

Another resident, a woman who lives in Peter Cooper, seemed less confused, saying she thought the reduction letter was “a non-offer.”

“I used to sell TV shows, and I learned from my boss I can’t respond to a non-offer,” she said.

When asked what she was told at the workshop, another woman, who said she didn’t know if she’d be taking the deal, said she was told that she’d have to pay “a lot higher” of an amount if she didn’t.

Another resident said she wound up feeling uncomfortable at the fact that there was a guard posted outside the workshop building, and once she went inside, saw that there were two more. Before allowing her into the workshop, the woman, who, like the other attendees interviewed, didn’t want her name published, said she was asked for her address and apartment number. Though the guards were nice, “It just made things uncomfortable,” she said. “If they can’t trust me, how can I trust them? This is a tall order without trust.”

Attending was worthwhile though, she said, since she got useful information about her own particular situation — and extra incentives to sign. Still, she thought she would most likely not take the deal.

John Sicoransa, one of the TA volunteers outside, said that neighbors of his who are “Roberts v. Tishman Speyer” class members “are utterly confused” by the offer. Being former market rate tenants, they hadn’t received notices in 2009 about pending MCIs, which are for rent-stabilized tenants, though they did get the recently issued letter from CWCapital. Additionally, “the post-Roberts people got them,” said Sicoransa.

Future MCI workshops being held by CWCapital will take place on Thursday, November 14 from 5-8 p.m. and Friday, November 15 from 8:30 a.m.-11:30 a.m., both at 360 First Avenue.

A spokesperson for CWCapital did not respond to requests for comment about the MCI workshops. However, the rep, Brian Moriarty, commented on the offer to say it was done in “good faith” and also noted that tenants’ appeals over previous MCIs haven’t gotten them much.

“The owner made a good faith offer to the community,” said Moriarty. “Historically, tenant appeals have resulted in negligible increases after protracted administrative and court proceedings. We do not believe that repeating this process is healthy for the broader community. Assuming that tenant appeals achieve a five percent decrease in the approved amounts (which is more than what has been achieved over the past 20 years of tenant appeals), then it would take the average tenant approximately 25 years to equal the benefit that the owner has volunteered to make. We hope residents review their offers carefully and do their homework to understand the benefit we are offering.”

Tenants Association President John Marsh hands out fliers on the MCIs. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

Tenants Association President John Marsh hands out fliers on the MCIs. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

Marsh, meanwhile, in a written statement, blasted the offer as “an attempt to legitimize an unenforceable scheme” to get tenants to waive their right to challenge MCIs.

“While we appreciate any gesture by management to soften the blow of these increases, it is not enough for them to look at just the retroactive amount,” he added. “We are also concerned with the permanent increase. We will keep all channels of communication open with management while we continue to collect public membership pledges, so we can be in a position of even greater strength moving forward.”

The Tenants Association’s MCI pledge is currently on its website at stpcvta.org.

ST resident voters wanted change from Bloomberg era

Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, pictured in Stuyvesant Town in August, was elected mayor. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, pictured in Stuyvesant Town in August, was elected mayor. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

New Yorkers elected a new mayor for the first time in 12 years this past Tuesday and for the first time in over 20 years, made a Democrat the city’s leader. The New York Times called the election for Democrat Bill de Blasio based only on exit poll data because the margin was so wide. According to the unofficial results from the Board of Elections, the city’s current public advocate received 73.34 percent of the vote and Republican Joe Lhota received 24.27 percent.

Current Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer also enjoyed a landslide victory in the city comptroller race, getting about 80.53 percent of the vote. His Republican challenger, Wall Streeter John Burnett, got only 16.63 percent.

Locally, City Council Member Dan Garodnick was able to retain his seat with 70.25 percent of the vote over Republican newcomer Helene Jnane, who got 29.75 percent.

At the polls, some voters felt it was important to vote because of issues such as tenants’ rights.

“It’s always about that,” one Stuyvesant Town resident who didn’t want to be named said after voting at the community center. “Without tenants’ rights, we can’t live here. Your vote always comes down to where you live.”

A number of residents, however, were motivated to cast their ballots because of Bloomberg fatigue.

Council Member Dan Garodnick, shown with son Asher at his polling place in Peter Cooper, was reelected. (Photo courtesy of Dan Garodnick)

Council Member Dan Garodnick, shown with son Asher at his polling place in Peter Cooper, was reelected. (Photo courtesy of Dan Garodnick)

“I’m so done with 12 years of Bloomberg,” said Lisa Baum, a Stuyvesant Town resident. “He’s done a lot of damage to our city. This isn’t the city that we had before he came into office. I’m raising a child and there is more homelessness in the city now. She sees that, she sees the homelessness.”

Mary, a Peter Cooper Village resident who declined to give her last name, said she was hoping for a Democrat in the mayor’s office after more than a decade of Bloomberg. “He wants more tourists in the city,” she said. “He cares more about tourists than he does about citizens.”

Mary Garvey, a Stuyvesant Town resident and a teacher, said that she is hoping for changes in education as well as changes in general. “New York is a very wealthy city,” she said. “But we need to think about all the people, not just the wealthy.”

The Board of Elections approved a decision in mid-October to use six-point font on the ballots for this election and a number of elected officials have come out against this move because it makes the ballots more difficult for voters to read.

“Voters have a right to clear, readable ballots,” Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh said. “Shrinking the words to a minuscule six-point font is simply not acceptable. We have legislation that would make this impermissible — and would make it easier for boards of elections to design ballots that are clearer in a variety of ways — but it shouldn’t take an act of the legislature to make sure people with reasonably good eyesight can actually read the names of the people they’re voting for.”

One poll worker stationed in the site at 360 First Avenue said that voters were making complaints about how difficult the ballot was to read all morning. Garvey, who voted at the community center polling site, said that she didn’t have too much trouble reading the ballot, but she worried that seniors might. “The proposals are a very important part of voting and the font for those is so small,” she said.

As with elections in the past, redistricting in the neighborhood has shuffled polling sites around, sometimes leaving residents confused about where they were supposed to vote.

Madge Stager, a Stuyvesant Town resident who voted at the community center, said that it took her 20 minutes to figure out where she was supposed to go because she went to her regular polling place and only then discovered that the site had changed. She ultimately figured out that she was supposed to vote in the community center at 449 East 14th Street but said that she never received any notice about a change, and the site coordinator at the community center, Donna Canton, said that polling places have been changing frequently.

“They redistricted again after last year’s general election and they shouldn’t be doing that,” Canton said. “My polling site last year was 283 Avenue C and now it’s 10 Stuyvesant Oval, and even one of my neighbors in my building has a different poll site.”

Other than these few hiccups, poll workers said that everything was going relatively smoothly on Tuesday morning. They noted that voter turnout was heavy and the residents that came out were more than happy to do their civic duty.

“I’m glad to vote,” Garvey said. “It’s a moment of optimism. Voting always makes me very emotional.”

Letters to the Editor, Nov. 7

Was that an offer or a threat?

As if receiving multiple MCIs that have been sitting on the DHCR’s desk without proper action and due process for years were not enough for tenants to cope with, management has taken this opportunity to instill fear and more insecurity in tenants by distributing a rather ambiguous letter not easing but adding to the confusion.

Paragraph 6 reads as follows:

“Many longer tenured residents have accrued significant retroactive charges due to the unusually long period between the MCI application dates and the approval dates. We will seek to reduce the amount of retroactive charges added to monthly bills in order to mitigate the impact of the component for our longer term residents.”

Even if all of the MCIs were to be found correct after due process, which obviously was omitted by the DHCR, the law allows the landlord to only add a specific percentile of retroactive charges to the monthly rent. The management seems to tell the tenants that if they don’t comply with their request as stated in this letter they might be faced with paying thousands of dollars all at once or as management sees fit.  If this is not fear mongering and harassment, then what is? Apparently they think tenants are so afraid and ignorant of existing laws that they will just shut up and comply.

This is certainly not a conciliatory way of solving this issue.

Name withheld, ST

Continue reading

Tenants Association to challenge round of MCIs

TA tells tenants: Ignore CWCapital’s reduction offer, 

CW says: We’re trying to avoid conflict

Tenants pack a meeting on MCIs, held at the Simon Baruch Middle School auditorium. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

Tenants pack a meeting on MCIs, held at the Simon Baruch Middle School auditorium.
(Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

After residents were hit with five MCIs (major capital increases) in October for upgrade projects in Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village, management firm CompassRock made an offer to try and reduce the retroactive portions of those increases  — an offer that the Tenants Association swiftly responded to, to suggest that neighbors ignore it.

The MCIs were discussed by the Tenants Association’s attorney Tim Collins at a meeting held on Saturday at the Simon Baruch Middle School auditorium.

This meeting, which was attended by around 500 people, took place a day after tenants received a letter from CompassRock, which mentioned that management hoped to work with tenants to lower the amount of retroactive charges in the MCIs “in order to mitigate the impact of this component for our longer term residents.” It also mentioned that some residents — those whose legal rent is higher than their preferential rent (what they actually pay) — shouldn’t see any increases at all.

However, the letter, which was unsigned, then went on to warn tenants that though they have a right to challenge the MCIs, if they did, they could forget management’s offer to try and reduce the retroactive portion, and that even if tenants did appeal, the MCIs would still likely be approved.

“It is our belief based upon legal advice received that at the end of any appeal process, we will obtain all or almost all of the amounts reflected in the orders,” the note read. CompassRock then went on to say management hoped to address the issue with tenants over the next few weeks so the proper amount of rent could be issued in the December bills.

“We hope that our residents take this letter as it was intended — not as a formal legal offer, but as a gesture of our good faith and a commitment from us to mitigate the effect of these orders,” said the note.

A few residents told Town & Village they thought the letter had a threatening tone, and later, Brian Moriarty, a spokesperson for management and special servicer CWCapital issued a statement, explaining that the offer was made to avoid any conflict with the tenants.

“We intend to make public final settlement terms by the beginning of next week,” said Moriarty. “In doing so, we are seeking to mitigate the effect of the MCIs and provide residents with clarity regarding their ongoing rents. As we stated in the letter, we have received legal advice to the effect that all, or almost all, of the MCIs that have now been lawfully approved by DHCR will ultimately be granted, but perhaps after some lengthy and contentious delay.  This does not seem good for the community overall, or for individual residents, and therefore we will seek to waive a meaningful amount of the retroactive charges for residents. We are confident that this gesture of good faith will be positively received by our residents. Obviously, we respect that all residents will need to see the details in order to make their judgment. We assume that the vast majority of residents understand that it is not possible to compromise while simultaneously contesting the compromise. Unfortunately, the way the rent stabilization system works, it seems that appeals from a small minority of residents could disrupt a settlement of which a significant majority of the property is in favor. We feel that it is important people know and understand this.”

But at the meeting, Council Member Dan Garodnick commented on the letter to say that he thought the offer to reduce the retroactive amounts — but not the monthly increase that would be charged in perpetuity — was only made because the monthly increase is added to tenants’ base rents. This would bulk up the property’s rent roll, which would be attractive to a potential buyer, noted Garodnick, while the retroactive charges “do nothing for that.

“While we appreciate the gesture, we may have to challenge them in any event,” Garodnick added. “CW is well aware that we have the ability (through a challenge) to tie the system up for quite some time.”

Tenants Association attorney Tim Collins speaks to residents, while Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh, State Senator Brad Hoylman and TA Chair Susan Steinberg listen. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

Tenants Association attorney Tim Collins speaks to residents, while Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh, State Senator Brad Hoylman and TA Chair Susan Steinberg listen. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

Collins also spoke about the offer to say he was confident that the MCIs would be rescinded if appealed due to the fact that his arguments on behalf of the TA on why they shouldn’t be implemented, which were made last year, weren’t even acknowledged in the responses. Previously, he referred to this as a “reversible” error.

“You should ignore that letter,” he said at the meeting, then addressing any CW employees who might be in the audience to add, “That doesn’t mean we’re ignoring it.”

He added that complaints include the TA’s belief that since some of the work benefits ST/PCV’s commercial tenants, they too should share in the cost and that in some buildings, there were “class C” violations found, which would make the owner ineligible for an MCI. There was also the issue that some apartments were being used for student housing. Another argument, specifically against the resurfacing MCI was due to the quality of the work.

“We have 40 to 50 pictures showing what a mess it was,” Collins said. “The workmanship was horrendous. So we were really surprised when these things (MCI notices) started pouring out.”

Decisions on whether to grant MCIs are made by the state housing agency, the Division of Housing and Community Renewal (DHCR) of New York State Homes and Community Renewal (HCR). The applications for the MCIs were made in 2009 by then-owner Tishman Speyer for security upgrades, including a now destroyed command center and video intercoms in Stuyvesant Town as well as (for Peter Cooper residents) work on water valves and tanks and (for Stuyvesant Town residents) resurfacing work which was bundled with charges for doors and water tanks and valves. Costs of the different MCIs vary per tenant, but all include retroactive portions to account for the time from when the work was done to when the decision to authorize the MCI was granted.

Only half jokingly, when Collins took the podium, he slammed down a pile of paperwork that was about six inches thick. Collins then told the audience that if he wasn’t confident about getting results from the HCR, he wouldn’t have shown up at the meeting. “I would not have canceled my proctologist appointment,” he said.

The attorney also asked residents to sign a pledge, which would allow the TA to represent them in a joint petition for administrative review (PAR). Collins has asked that tenants not file their own PARs, unless they have “unique circumstances,” since the TA believes a joint argument will have more strength. The TA is also preparing another document called a request for reconsideration.

On CW’s current offer to tenants, Collins said it could later cause increases for tenants whose preferential rents are lower than the legal rents, which are the maximum amounts an owner can charge.

“You have to understand how preferential rents work,” he said. “Preferential rents can be changed upon a renewal. They might say, ‘Right now you see no change, but next time we’re going to raise it.’”

He added, “I think we’re prepared to ask for more. A lot of the work was shoddy. A lot of the work was redundant.”

SCRIE, DRIE and MCI legislation

Along with Collins, other speakers at the event, which was emceed by TA Chair Susan Steinberg, included local elected officials such as Garodnick, Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh, Congress Member Carolyn Maloney, Borough President Scott Stringer and State Senator Brad Hoylman.

While at the microphone, Hoylman mentioned that there is currently some relief from MCIs for tenants who are eligible for SCRIE (Senior Citizens Rent Increase Exemption) and DRIE (Disability Rent Increase Exemption). Through those programs, tenants would be locked into the rent they paid when they first signed their lease except under extreme circumstances. To make sure an MCI would be covered, tenants would have to apply to the program within 90 days of it being issued. “But,” noted Hoylman, “it must be completed for each MCI separately.”

Kavanagh, who then discussed the state of the housing law that determines MCI policy, got some chuckles out of the audience when he mentioned that, “The MCI system is part of a larger system that was intended to protect tenants.”

However, legislation authored by Kavanagh, which seeks to end MCI payments once the cost of the improvement would be recouped by owners, has been collecting dust in Albany. He noted that the housing laws are up for expiration again in 2015 and he hoped to get the bill passed then, which would also add more oversight to the application process. At this time, the HCR has a limited ability to verify “what costs for improvements really are.”

Tenants argue against the MCIs

Following statements from local elected officials, tenants then lined up to ask questions about the MCIs, the overall theme of which seemed to be: What can be done to stop them and why is CWCapital entitled to money for work that was paid for by Tishman Speyer?

Stuyvesant Town resident Liza Sabater asks a question as other tenants line up to do the same. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

Stuyvesant Town resident Liza Sabater asks a question as other tenants line up to do the same. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

“CW is nobody who actually spent money on the major capital extortion, I mean improvement,” griped one tenant.

In response to the latter question, Collins said that it was standard that a new owner step into the shoes of the old owner.

As for the former question, Kavanagh responded to say the answer was in restoring home rule from the state to the city, because in the state legislature, many of the politicians making decisions on city housing law live outside the city with few rent-regulated renters as constituents.

Another resident then suggested that the Tenants Association purchase shares of Walker & Dunlop, the parent company of CWCapital, so tenants could be at company board meetings. This got the attention of Garodnick, who responded, “How much are shares? I say we do it.”

When another resident asked if tenants could be socked with yet another MCI for the ongoing renovation of the storefronts on First Avenue, the answer was no, because it doesn’t benefit all tenants.

Another resident, introducing herself as Emily Juno, said she’d lived in the community for 18 months and was never notified about a pending MCI. She added that she had neighbors who’d told her the same. In response, Collins said she wouldn’t have to pay it in that case, but also cautioned her to check her lease and any riders to make sure there was no reference to an MCI.

A resident named Liza Sabater, who said she’s raising two children in Stuyvesant Town, said she had a “mundane” question, which was that she didn’t even know the amount to put on her rent check. The wording in the MCI documents made her wonder if her rent had been increased by over $1,000, but Collins said no one’s rent had gone up that high, because the monthly MCI payments are capped at six percent of whatever each tenant’s rent was in 2009.

A longtime resident, Tom Hickey, said he didn’t believe the resurfacing MCI was valid because he recalled similar work being done at the turn of the millennium. (Later, he said he filed his own objection in 2009 to the  housing agency since the last resurfacing was actually done in 2003 or 2004 by Met Life.) Didn’t this, Hickey asked, mean the 2009 project occurred before the prior resurfacing had completed its useful life? Collins said he’d check to see if that information was included in his objections.

Another resident wanted to know why there was a retroactive portion if MCIs get paid on a monthly basis, anyway, to which Collins replied that, “It doesn’t make sense to me if it’s in perpetuity, but that’s the way the law works.”

Following the meeting, Steinberg said that the TA had collected around 750 signatures on its pledge for a joint challenge of the MCIs, but said the association was still looking for more and would be putting the pledge online on the TA website (stpcvta.org).

In related news, Hoylman, Garodnick and Kavanagh wrote a joint letter to HCR Commissioner Darryl Towns, expressing their concern over the recent flood of MCIs, asking that they be reviewed.