Letters to the editor, Sept. 4

Cartoon by Jim Meadows

Cartoon by Jim Meadows

Time to own is now, before students take over

To the Editor:

Here we go again. The big move-in by students, new grads and those just starting their first jobs.  The SUVs and U-Hauls are here with hopeful parents bringing the usual bric-a-brac items needed for city living. And it’s three or four to an apartment to split the rent that no one else can afford alone. Say hi to them and ask how long they might be living here, and they will say a year or two and then on to other pastures.

Unfortunately these people will be heard howling in the courtyards when they come home from their weekend drinking and bar hopping and then on to clip-clop with their high heels on the uncovered floors to wake up their neighbors at 3 or 4 in the morning. They use the laundry carts as moving aids to get their things from street to floor. But none of them will help create a viable community where neighbors get to know each other over the years. They are just here to fill their “dorm” time and for the landlord to fill vacancies when there are few others.

So what’s the solution?  It’s time for PCV/ST to be converted into co-ops or condos. Where people will own what they live. Where neighbors will be neighbors who care about each other and care about what they own. Demand that this be done.

Demand that CW do this. And at a reasonable conversion rate that is affordable to all the tenants who live here today and to those that have been living here for 30 or 40 years or more.  If CW won’t comply, demand that they do. Get someone bigger than them so they will. If the Tenants Association can’t do it, find someone else who can. If our elected officials can’t make it happen, vote for those who want it converted and who will make it happen. It’s time. We have all been waiting long enough and we don’t want to wait any longer.

See you when I own my apartment. And everyone is a proud owner.

Larry Edwards, ST

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Teachout: I’d repeal Urstadt Law, support retail diversity

Zephyr Teachout  (Photo courtesy of campaign)

Zephyr Teachout
(Photo courtesy of campaign)

By Sabina Mollot

Despite allegations that the Cuomo administration compromised the governor’s own corruption watchdog panel and despite the fact that Cuomo’s opponent in the primary has been interviewing non-stop — thanks to an unusually interested press in a longshot candidate — that opponent has still retained her title of just that, a longshot.

Still, there’s no doubt at this point that Zephyr Teachout is gaining momentum. Cuomo recently attempted, unsuccessfully, to have her tossed off the ballot over allegations she didn’t live in New York for the past five years. Meanwhile, the move to keep her from running may have backfired. Along with pointing out that Teachout, a Fordham law professor, was an underdog candidate, it also alerted New Yorkers to a fact many weren’t aware of previously, which was that there was even a primary election at all.

During a recent interview over the phone, Teachout shared her thoughts with Town & Village on why voters are starting to pay attention to this race. She also spoke about her ideas on what can be done to keep New York affordable for tenants (including small businesses) and why developers like Extell are part of the problem. (The interview has been edited for length.)

Why do you think people are finally noticing your campaign? Do you think it’s just the Moreland Commission?

There’s a latent, deep frustration about our economy, about how New York State has the most segregated schools; it’s the most unequal state. It’s a closed all-boys club in Albany. It’s supposed to be an egalitarian state. I’m anti-corruption. Extell gives $100,000 in campaign donations — and this is Extell of the poor door fame — and Extell is getting subsidies that other New York businesses aren’t. What I think people are starting to see is that Extell is not just a developer. They’re spending so much money on developing political power and connections. One thing about me. You’ll always know where I stand. Andrew Cuomo is hiding from the issues. He’s hiding from a debate right now. He’s scared of bringing more attention to the campaign. I won’t tell you that the reason people are (paying attention) is any one thing, but Moreland is pretty shocking. I think he’s governing like an ad man. He’s putting on a lot of ads, but he doesn’t engage reporters. We like to say that Andrew Cuomo is my biggest campaign donor. That (Cuomo has taken me to court) has perked up a lot of reporters’ ears.

As a political outsider, how do you feel about political alliances, like the recent announcement that the Independent Democratic Conference was breaking away from the Republicans, and the expectation of a Democrat-led Senate as a result?

Not to toot my own horn, but Andrew Cuomo only started fighting for a Democratic Senate when I entered the race. I entered the race at the end of May and within three days Cuomo was making all kinds of concessions that he hadn’t agreed to in years. He could have made a Democratic Senate years ago if he vetoed the redrawn districts, which had been a campaign promise. There’s no excuse for not having a Democratic Senate in New York. The reason we don’t is Andrew Cuomo. If it was in Democrat control we’d be a lot better off in terms of affordable housing.

As a political outsider, how would you handle the actual politics of governing? Dealing with the various alliances in order to get things accomplished?

I think the job is leadership. You’re not going to win every fight. My vision of leadership is hiring great people and respecting people who work for the state.

In Stuyvesant Town/Peter Cooper Village, everyone’s rent-stabilized, so there’s concern over the fact that the Rent Stabilization Law is coming up for renewal in 2015. What would you do to strengthen it?

I’m very familiar with Stuyvesant Town. I used to live near there on East 7th Street and I would go up there to go swimming at Asser Levy. (On Rent Stabilization Law), there is precisely a role for the city to play. We need to repeal the Urstadt Law. At a minimum the city should be free to directly do things. It’s a crisis of people living in expensive housing. It’s a crisis for our economy.

In ST/PCV, some people pay affordable rents, while others pay double for the same apartments. A big concern is all the legal ways owners can raise rents from major capital improvements (MCIs), to individual apartment improvements (IAIs) to vacancy bonuses.

Rent stabilization is still one of the best sources of housing for low income people in the city. We have to make sure affordable means affordable, not unaffordable.

Zephyr Teachout with running mate Tim Wu, candidate for lieutenant governor (Photo courtesy of campaign)

Zephyr Teachout with running mate Tim Wu, candidate for lieutenant governor (Photo courtesy of campaign)

It seems that more and more small businesses are being priced out of their locations and being replaced with chain stores. What do you think of the idea of rent regulation for commercial tenants?

We have two different visions. One is commercial rent control for small businesses. The other is making sure big box stores aren’t getting an unfair advantage. We have to make sure our lending system is accessible to entrepreneurs who need it. You have to have a blend of strategies. We also have to make sure for retail diversity that there’s a range of minority owned businesses.

What made you write a book about corruption?

I began writing it years ago. I began writing in 2008 because the New York Supreme Court’s vision of corruption was narrow and cramped. They said it was only about illegal bribery, so it wasn’t about Extell. If you’re giving $100,000 in donations and getting tens of millions in subsidies, it is a violation of democratic principles. I think the core of it is if you want to be a public servant, you have to serve the public and not just serve yourself.

When you meet with voters, what are their top concerns?

Housing is one of the top concerns. People just don’t have the money to meet the basics. Another concern is people feel there aren’t enough (services) for people with psychiatric disabilities, but the more mainstream (concern) is housing. Upstate it’s property taxes and schools are central. With schools, it’s high stakes testing and over-crowding.

What would you do to alleviate classroom crowding?

There needs to be smaller classes, no more than 20 in a class. I used to be a special ed teacher’s aide, and you can’t give each child the attention they need when there are 33 kids in a classroom. There needs to be art and music for every child. They’re not extras. They’re essentials. We should be the best public school system in the country.

What’s your opinion of charter schools?

Charters have a role, but a very small role. Eva Moskowitz’s assault on education is not what charters are supposed to do. I am opposed to colocations and I don’t think charter schools should get money that was intended for our public schools.

What would you do to create jobs?

I’m a traditional Democrat. One (idea) is investing in the infrastructure, in the MTA, in transit. Upstate it’s in renewable energy. All of these create jobs in the short term and enable jobs in the long term, and affordable higher education.

If elected, what is your first priority?

My first priority is taking on the old boys’ network that allows corruption to continue. The school system is unequal and there’s immigration. Andrew Cuomo has a running mate who’s anti-immigrant. Every child at the border should see New York as a sanctuary.

TA: Broken machines, dirty laundry rooms top tenant complaints

Along with broken machines, inspections by tenants volunteers in various laundry rooms found a lack of signage, a lack of carts and a lack of timely responses to maintenance requests. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

Along with broken machines, inspections by tenants volunteers in various laundry rooms found a lack of signage, a lack of carts and a lack of timely responses to maintenance requests. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

For years, one of residents’ top quality of life complaint in Stuyvesant Town had to do with the complex’s laundry facilities — specifically that the machines installed during the Tishman Speyer era are prone to breakdowns. And, based on the finding of recent, tenant volunteer-led inspections of numerous laundry rooms, it appears that not much has changed.

In addition to washers and dryers that are frequently out of order, residents also said management isn’t always quick to make repairs of the machines that the company that services the machines, Mac-Gray, isn’t either. Other complaints include a lack of signage when machines are broken, dirty and sometimes stinky laundry rooms and missing carts, due to tenants sometimes taking them, which is against the rules, and not returning them.

The results were released by the ST-PCV Tenants Association after 48 volunteers surveyed 42 buildings in August, for a total of 95 individual reports. Based on their experiences, on the dates surveyed, a total of 147 washers and 102 dryers were not functioning, some for several days at a clip.

“The condition of the laundry rooms is generally deplorable,” the TA found. “Filthy floors, lint filters that have not been cleaned out, standing water in the washers, laundry detergent spilled all over the machines or floor, and no signs posted on machines that are nonfunctioning. Calling Mac-Gray — which many volunteers did as part of this survey in addition to tenants’ calls — to report machines that were down was a frustrating and typically useless exercise, mostly yielding little result. If the volunteer called and complained to STPCV maintenance, they were told to call Mac-Gray; Mac-Gray said to call maintenance.”

Broken machines was still the number one complaint.

“It’s the primary thing — the machines aren’t working,” said Susan Steinberg, chair of the ST-PCV Tenants Association. “My laundry’s been going out for the past two years, because I won’t deal with it, but I’ve been hearing from tenants.” On the lack of signage, “They used to put up signs when they were out of order,” she said.

Other complaints, at few individual buildings, were of extreme instances of filth or malfunctioning machines.

A few of those cited by volunteers were:

At 15 Stuyvesant Oval: Floor drain spits up dirty sewer-smelling water. Room smells bad. Money card machine is frequently out of order. The room has not been cleaned in more than a month.

At 321 Avenue C: Sometimes all washers and dryers are out of service, despite calls from tenants. At 4 Stuyvesant Oval: There are always at least two washers and dryers out of order. The laundry room is dirty, leaky, smelly and occasionally infested with roaches and flies.

At 455 East 14th Street: The electricity plugs for four washers were out and could not be used for 3-4 weeks. They were replaced with newer machines that are not commercial grade appropriate for the tenants’ needs. All machines in the laundry room are now the newer machines. They were installed approximately 2-3 months ago and are already having problems and need repairs. Students are using laundry carts to move from one apartment to another.

5 Stuyvesant Oval: Volunteer said that after calling Mac-Gray every week for three weeks, the response is always that they are sending someone tomorrow. ST/PCV maintenance said they would call Mac-Gray. Followup emails and tweets from the tenant got no response.

In addition, “When people move out, we have four carts or less.” Though not mentioned in the report, another tenant concern, said Steinberg, is confusion over whose responsibility it is to clean laundry rooms, in part due to, she admitted, tenants who are slobs. “We’ve been hearing that the porters now how have to clean out the filters,” she said. “It used to be individual tenants. This doesn’t go on anymore.”

Steinberg said the TA has a meeting with reps from CWCapital in a couple of weeks, and naturally, the state of the laundry rooms will be on the agenda.

In the meantime, she noted that tenants also have to do their part to keep the laundry rooms tidy. “Tenants also have a responsibility to do what they can,” said Steinberg. “Don’t leave laundry overnight. Take it out in a timely fashion and try and keep the laundry room clean. The fact that they’re filthy is because of the tenants. Take a little responsibility.” She added, “The carts are a bummer. They are totally misused by people who don’t care to pack up their cars. There’s a lot that needs to be corrected by management or whomever.”

In some positive results, the new machines installed at Peter Cooper buildings where basements were damaged by Hurricane Sandy haven’t gotten too many complaints. “They tend to be more reliable than the old ones,” said Steinberg of the Wascomat models, which are also maintained by Mac-Gray.

CWCapital and Mac-Gray didn’t respond to requests for comment.

DHCR rejects TA’s objection to MCIs for roof, elevator projects

By Sabina Mollot

The Division of Housing and Community Renewal has rejected arguments made by the ST-PCV Tenants Associations against two MCIs for projects done years ago and now, retroactive portions of the MCIs are subject to collection. One was for new elevators in 2006, and the other was for work on building roofs in 2005.

The MCIs (major capital improvements) were for Stuy Town only and not all buildings got them. However, both were challenged through a petition for administrative review (PAR), which Susan Steinberg, chair of the Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association, said was shot down this week.

Steinberg said she got the notice from the state housing agency on Tuesday, which was dated August 29, denying tenants’ arguments that the old elevators hadn’t outlived their useful lives and other challenges that were related to the projects. “They kept repeating this phrase: ‘They do not see our claims as basis for revoking the administrator’s order,’” Steinberg said. The TA has 60 days from the date of the notice to challenge the order through an article 78. “We’re conferring with our attorney,” Steinberg said.

The elevator MCI costs tenants in 70 buildings between $9-13 per room in their apartments. The roof project took place at 31 buildings with MCIs of $7-8.50 per apartment. MCIs, which are paid in perpetuity, also come with a retroactive portion dated to the time of the work. Tenants who had filed PARs were exempt from having to pay the retroactive portion while the MCI was pending appeal.

Reps for the DHCR once told the Tenants Association leaders that one fifth of the MCI applications it sees come from ST/PCV. “I think Stuyvesant Town/Peter Cooper takes up one third of their filing cabinets,” said Steinberg. The TA has in the past blasted the DHCR for acting as a “rubber stamp” for the owner. The August 29 notice comes months after a settlement between CWCapital and the Tenants Association to eliminate or reduce five other MCIs that were approved last fall.

Reps for CWCapital and Homes and Community Renewal, the umbrella agency that includes DHCR, didn’t respond to a request for comment by Town & Village’s deadline.

Correction: The print version of this article incorrectly states that cost of the roof MCI as being per room, rather than per apartment.