By Sabina Mollot
The Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association, which has recently enlisted the aid of the de Blasio administration in an effort to maintain some affordability in the complex, is also now hoping it will have an ally in Kathy Hochul, Governor Cuomo’s choice for the next lieutenant governor.
On Thursday afternoon, Hochul joined Tenants Association Chair Susan Steinberg along with a handful of TA volunteers on a stroll through Stuy Town, and got filled in on tenants’ more pressing concerns. She’d come at the request of Council Member Dan Garodnick, who was also there with Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh. Prior to the walk through the grounds, Hochul, a former Congresswoman asked the small group, “What’s on your mind?”
“You got a whole afternoon?” was Steinberg’s answer.
Tenants then began chiming in about the dormification of the community with students packing into apartments in order to make the rent affordable, major capital improvements (MCI) for what often seems like unnecessary work — and tenants’ frustration at having to pay for those improvements in perpetuity — and the fear of both longterm and newer tenants of getting priced out. Other topics brought up included more longterm tenants’ fear of harassment, increased transience and questions about what will happen to the rents when the J-51 tax abatement expires in the year 2020. Steinberg also briefed Hochul on the TA’s partnership with developer Brookfield aimed at a condo conversion as well as CW’s lack of interest in talking business with them. Al Doyle, the former president of the Tenants Association, brought up the ongoing issue of predatory equity throughout the city, with Stuy Town, of course, being the poster child for the practice.
Kavanagh and Garodnick brought up that they wanted to see the rent laws get strengthened, but the State Senate hasn’t exactly been friendly to tenants. While refraining from making any promises, Hochul said she thought the community is “worth fighting for.” If she becomes lieutenant governor, she pointed out, she’d have the tie-breaking vote in the event of a deadlock in Albany. From 2011-2013, Hochul represented New York’s 26th District, which includes the areas of Buffalo and Niagara Falls.
During her time in Congress, she lived with colleague Carolyn Maloney in Washington.
“We used to say that we should have a reality show, ‘The Real Women in Congress,’” said Hochul. When asked how Maloney was as a roommate, Hochul admitted, “She’s a lot cleaner than I am.” As for the current state of the Congress, Hochul casually remarked that it’s “the most dysfunctional government on the planet.” However, she added quickly, “There are still a lot of good people out there.”
Hochul also touted her experience, claiming she’d helped make the Department of Motor Vehicles “a more positive experience” when she served as county clerk and when in Congress, fought with other Democrats “like pit bulls” to get more cash for restoration after Hurricane Sandy than Republicans wanted to allocate. During the walk through the grounds, Hochul said that from what she’s seen, “Everybody wants the same thing. A safe house, a job, their kids to get a good education. It’s universal. It’s not downstate or upstate. This is what the governor and I are focused on.”
Steinberg pointed out some positive aspects of the community like the playgrounds, a few of which recently got new water features, and the hayrides for kids that take place each Halloween. When passing by the Oval Café/Playground 9 area, Hochul remarked, “I’d like to live here.”
When the group walked past the Public Safety office, Garodnick, realizing officers might think tenants were about to rally, made a point to say hello and introduce Hochul to Public Safety Chief Bill McClellan. Soon afterwards, Hochul left the complex at First Avenue and the crowd dispersed.
Steinberg then said that she did feel Hochul was genuinely listening to tenants. “I think she got it,” Steinberg said. Kavanagh also said he thought she’d make “a strong partner in the executive branch,” and support tenants, while Garodnick also said he believed Hochul would be in tenants’ corner. “She is clearly a serious and thoughtful person who was willing to take the time to understand our unique challenges,” Garodnick said.
Doyle, meanwhile, just seemed happy that the would-be lieutenant governor got to hear firsthand from tenants how all the different types of rent increases were impacting the community.
“Homeowners outside the city, when we tell them how (an MCI) is a permanent increase, they don’t believe us,” he said.
Following the stroll, T&V asked what Hochul’s thoughts were on the Cuomo administration doing something to preserve dwindling stability and affordability in the community.
Responding in a written statement, she said, “Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village are critical to keeping New York affordable. I will work closely with the governor, along with the office of New York State Homes and Community Renewal, to ensure that the rights of thousands of rent-regulated tenants are maintained and preserved for generations to come.”
There was no response, though, when T&V asked Hochul’s campaign reps if she wanted to comment on investigation over corruption in the governor’s Moreland Commission. However, in an interview this week with Buffalo-based NBC news outlet WGRZ, she defended the commission, saying, “they had the independence to do what they needed to do.”