Editorial: The city can, and should, help ST/PCV’s market rate residents

For the past couple of weeks, residents of Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village have been able to talk about little else but what the latest sale of the property means for them — or doesn’t.

For the property’s market raters, those with stabilized leases paying market rent or close to it, the deal means nothing. Not only did it not include an option to buy, it didn’t guarantee insider preference for the stock of affordable units as they become available — or even eligibility. Those details have yet to be decided, with a lottery as one possibility.

While it is certainly encouraging to hear that the new owner wanted to make a deal that appealed to tenants, it is a shame that the residents in ST/PCV’s renovated units have been left out.

Obviously, securing their stability in this deal would have been far more expensive and complicated for the city, and that’s in all likelihood why this was not even attempted. (For over a year, the mayor’s office made it clear that its goal was to preserve affordability at some, not all of the apartments.

Originally, the goal was 6,000 units, with the explanation that there didn’t appear to be any way to turn back the clock for the “Roberts” and post-“Roberts” tenants.)

However, it wouldn’t be any more expensive or complicated to allow current market rate tenants to get preference when affordable units become available. Because of the income limits already in place, the city would be able to make sure that the affordable units would be going to those who do really need them.

When the “Roberts v. Tishman Speyer” lawsuit was won by tenants in 2009, the general expectation was that apartments that were illegally deregulated would go back to being affordable. But of course as anyone who lived it knows — that’s not what happened. Instead, apartments at ST/PCV remained at rent levels out of reach for many. Though many class action members received checks for overpayments, those of them who were still living in the community had been hoping for a stable future, not just a onetime payout.

The current deal provides the “Roberts” tenants with something of a cushion when the apartments leave stabilization in 2020 — rent increases capped at 5 percent a year. But those tenants could use longtime stability as much as anyone else in the community.

We fully recognize that there are also plenty of other middle income people in the city in other neighborhoods who are struggling to get by, and of course the city also has its hands full in trying to put roofs over the heads of the homeless. But making sure existing tenants can remain in place in ST/PCV would go a long way in keeping this community, its schools, houses of worship and local businesses stable. Council Member Dan Garodnick has said the legality of insider preference is being looked into, and we hope there are no legal obstacles for what is clearly a logical policy.

And the fact is, tenants do need the city’s support here. Renters haven’t had much luck in Albany when it comes to having their homes protected. The minor strengthening of the rent regulation laws the past two times they’ve been renewed are nowhere near enough to stop the bleeding out of New York’s middle class. Proof of this is in the city’s own data that’s shown that units were being lost in ST/PCV at a rate of 300 a year.

The preservation of 5,000 apartments in ST/PCV was a positive step in the mayor’s affordable housing initiative. But there is still more that can — and should — be done.

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3 thoughts on “Editorial: The city can, and should, help ST/PCV’s market rate residents

  1. As a Roberts apartment renter I too hoped the negotiated agreement between the City and Blackstone would include some clause that protects the Roberts class of renters. If I infer correctly, there are only 1,500 of us remaining at PCV/ST.

    The current agreement states that 4,500 units will remain protected under an agreement that sets rent at 30% of 165% of adjusted median income (AMI). An additional 500 units will be reserved for families earning less. The agreement’s aim is to protect a specific number of units and not specifically any current tenants. That’s not a bad thing so I’ll expand a bit. By placing an earnings restriction and rent restriction, the City compels the landlord to rent 5,000 apartments to families the City considers middle class.

    It is estimated that long-term tenants (pre-Roberts) currently number at or about this 5,000 unit threshold. So the thinking must be that as these pre-Roberts tenants vacate their apartments, the units will be protected by the City/Blackstone agreement. Remember, current pre-Roberts tenants are already protected under in-place rent stabilization laws. So as a pre-Roberts apartment vacates, an apartment falls out of the rent stabilized protected category and into the City/Blackstone agreement protected category (forget the extension of rent stabilization via Roberts decision through 2020).

    So what about the Roberts class tenants? The agreement in its current form does nothing for us. But is there time and political will to amend it and what can be included to assist us?

    If Roberts tenants can have their voices heard, I’d offer this as a request. The number of apartments protected can remain at 5,000. The affordability calculation for re-letting can remain as currently negotiated within the agreement. But a waiver is inserted within the language of the agreement which allows some or all of the Roberts tenants to enjoy rent protections through 2035.

    How does this work? The current estimate is that 300 or so pre-Roberts apartments are vacated annually. Remember, the City/Blackstone agreement protects a number of units (not specifically the units vacated). We have 4.5 years remaining until Roberts decision induced rent stabilization expires. So let’s say roughly 1,350 pre-Robert apartments will vacate. Current estimate are that 1,500 Roberts tenants remain. If 10% of the Roberts tenants vacate over the next 4.5 years, we’re at… 1,350 units.

    I’ll leave the exact language to lawyers but here’s an overview: Landlord shall at all times maintain the “Affordable Units” count at 5,000. However, as “Initial Affordable Units” become vacant and unit count is at or less than 5,000, Landlord shall replace an Initial Affordable Unit with a “Roberts unit” so long as Roberts unit’s exist. When all Roberts units are either vacated or transferred into the Affordable Units category, Landlord shall adhere to the Future Affordable Units clause.

    Does this make sense to all parties? I’d say “yes”. The City continues to save 5,000 units to its affordability campaign. The Landlord actually makes a few more dollars since current rental income of Roberts units exceed pre-Roberts units (and Landlord need not spend any capital flipping the unit through the decontrol process). Current pre-Roberts tenants continue to be protected via in-place rent stabilization laws. And current Roberts tenants enjoy long-term access to their current homes (with annual rent escalations either marked to RGB annual increases or the percentage increase in AMI or CPI).

    Can this work? The agreement is not yet complete so if Dan Garodnick, the Mayor, or the TA have any value, this should work.

  2. Utter nonsense. There were applicants on the waiting list for years waiting for PCVST apartments before management decided to toss it into the trash and offer Housing Project apartments at Luxury Living prices to the highest bidders.

    Then Met cashed in and sold to Tishman who went on a despicable crusade trying to evict long time tenants in order to replace them with high paying newcomers. And these people walked right into the leasing office and said, “Sure, I’ll take old Mrs. Monahan’s apartment at twice the price!”.

    Now, years down the line, they’re complaining about the lack of affordability? Man, that’s what I call chutzpah!

  3. You are damned right, T-Mac. Tishman Speyer conducted a war of terror against the longtime tenants and there was no shortage of fools lining up to take their apartments at a ridiculous rent with a few chintzy “upgrades.” Would they jump into someone’s coffin as fast?

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