By Sabina Mollot
Despite on and off downpours, a crowd of around 300 tenants rallied on the steps of City Hall on Friday morning to demand more involvement in any future deal surrounding Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village.
Originally the rally was set for the day of a foreclosure sale by CWCapital but was since turned into an opportunity to promote the fact that negotiations are currently taking place between CW, the de Blasio administration and local politicians on finding ways to maintain affordability at the complex. The goal is to satisfy the senior bondholders while also preserving the thousands of units for the middle class.
While CW said it is committed to the talks with the city for the next two months at least, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal, speeches at the podium centered around tenants having a say in any sales process as well as a guarantee, secured by U.S. Sen. Schumer earlier this week, that lenders Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac would not finance any deal at ST/PCV that didn’t have the backing of the tenants or the city.
“I said, ‘No if, ands or buts?’ They said, ‘no ifs, ands or buts,’” Schumer told the crowd.
He added that it would be “very hard” for any would-be buyer without Fannie and Freddie’s participation.
Schumer went on to say he’s always enjoyed visiting Stuy Town where his cousins lived.
“It’s always been a place for average folks to actually still be in Manhattan,” he said.
Other politicians at the event — Comptroller Scott Stringer, Council Member Dan Garodnick, Council Member Rosie Mendez, Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh, State Senator Brad Hoylman and Congress Member Carolyn Maloney — also spoke along those lines, saying no would-be owner should bank on being able to oust current tenants or jack up the rents. They also said ST/PCV should officially be considered part of de Blasio’s housing plan that’s aimed at creating or preserving 200,000 units of affordable housing.
Mayor De Blasio didn’t show, but a rep for Governor Andrew Cuomo was present. Though the governor wasn’t at the rally, he issued a statement in support of the tenants.
“Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village are critical to keeping New York affordable,” Cuomo said. “My office, along with the office of New York State Homes and Community Renewal, will be monitoring the sale closely and we will continue to work to ensure that the rights of thousands of rent-regulated tenants are maintained and preserved for generations to come.”
Maloney brought up legislation she recently reintroduced, aimed at ensuring Fannie and Freddie wouldn’t be able to provide liquidity to any deal that reduces rather than creates affordable housing. (However, she recently told Town & Village that the bill isn’t likely to get through Congress as is.)
During a Q&A period (made brief due to a downpour), Council Member Dan Garodnick was asked if CW had made any commitments regarding a housing plan. In response, Garodnick said no details had been determined yet because the discussions have just begun.
When asked if the de Blasio administration was aware that, despite talk of maintaining affordability at ST/PCV, many newer tenants’ rents are already at levels that they don’t consider affordable, the answer was yes.
“We are making that clear to the administration and to CW that there are many tenants barely hanging on but would stay if the ship was set right,” said Garodnick.
He added that he didn’t think CW was just paying lip service to tenants or the city at this point because the company had actually retained “a variety of professionals for the purpose of these discussions.”
(A spokesperson for CWCapital declined to comment on the rally or the talks.)
As for the tenants who came to the event, most were those who’d lived in the community for many years. Along with seniors, there were also children and their parents who’d taken the morning off from work.
Some carried signs, reading: “Hey Wall Street hedge funds: Don’t be predators!,” “No middle class housing means no middle class” and “Fannie and Freddie, we bailed you out. Don’t bail on us!”
Tenants Association board member Kirstin Aadahl, one of the newer tenants, discussed how she, her husband and then one-month-old baby moved to Stuy Town six years ago. Since then, she’s become involved in the PTA at her daughter’s school, PS 40, but is concerned about how much longer her family can afford to stick around. Aadahl was one of the “Roberts v. Tishman Speyer” tenants to get socked with a mid-lease increase last year. After hearing about the foreclosure, “The future looks even more bleak,” she said.
Tenants Association Chair Susan Steinberg noted how when CW took over operations at the property in 2010, “Remaining a stable middle class community was not in their business plan. The apartments were renovated at an incredible rate and at startling speed.” But, she added, “We’re changing that business plan. They’re going to have us there when they make their decisions.”
Following the event, a couple of tenants told Town & Village they were mostly worried about the stability of the community.
“I can afford it, but I’ve been there 25 years,” said Mark Thompson, the former chair of Community Board 6. He said he was concerned for seniors, parents and “people who do not have huge bank accounts.”
Another longterm resident of Stuy Town, Gary Ireland, was there with his daughter Sydney.
When Tishman Speyer was the owner, Ireland’s family had faced a primary residence challenge. This was after his mother-in-law, who lived in New Jersey, died, and his wife was accused of not being a resident. “It was really aggressive behavior. She had to prove she lived here.”
But years later, the stability of the community doesn’t appear to be any less shaky. On Ireland’s floor, there are three apartments that have turned over as many times in the past three years. His next door neighbor is a longterm tenant and a senior citizen. “A nice guy who wants to live there without getting harassed.” Then there’s another apartment Ireland suspects is being used as an illegal hotel. “There are a lot of people with suitcases coming in,” he said. “It happens all the time.”
As an attorney, whose wife is a teacher, Ireland said he’s able to make the rent in Stuy Town and his daughter attends Friends Seminary, a tuition-based school.
“We make some difficult financial decisions,” he said. “We have a two-bedroom and two kids with a makeshift bedroom in the living room out of bookshelves. We live the way a lot of people in Stuyvesant Town live.”
Note: The article has been updated to reflect the head count that was provided to Tenants Association President John Marsh by police.