By Sabina Mollot
Vanessa Aronson, one of the candidates hoping to replace Dan Garodnick on the City Council, has come up with a plan specifically for the residents of Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village, aimed at maintaining quality of life for residents as well as affordability.
That plan, which she outlined in an eight-page document provided to Town & Village on Monday, includes preparing for the L shutdown by implementing a free shuttle bus along 14th Street, turning ST/PCV into a single school district, educating seniors about rent freeze programs and even helping the owner keep the property’s open spaces their greenest, possibly through city funding. She also calls for advocating at the city level for repeal of the Urstadt Law, empowering local tenant boards and making the MCI (major capital increase) process more transparent.
In her plan, she notes, “MCI increases should never be a surprise,” and that she’d want to make sure tenants get information that includes concrete start and end dates for work and cost breakdowns. While tenants do currently get written notice when an owner has filed an application for an MCI, Aronson said there isn’t currently enough oversight to ensure that this is done.
“I’ve met people who have not gotten MCIs in a timely fashion or haven’t gotten notices with any details,” she said. “We have protections in place, but they aren’t being enforced and tenants don’t have a place to turn. The ST-PCV Tenants Association really does try to help and be that voice but there needs to be even more.”
In the effort to repeal the Urstadt Law and restore home rule, as proposed in a bill by State Senator Liz Krueger, Aronson said she’d work to with state legislators to form a coalition. This would also include fighting for a democratic majority in the Senate.
“The city has to decide what it will do,” she said. “Will it be an affordable place for the middle class or empty skyscrapers sold to the highest bidder?”
In terms of empowering tenant boards and associations, Aronson said this could be done by connecting them with similar groups around the country going through similar affordable housing crises in their cities. It’s also, she said, just about making herself available as a tenant advocate, if elected.
“I think it comes down to knowing they have a partner in city government,” said Aronson. “In my conversations with folks, I think they’re a little bit nervous about the upcoming elections and knowing they have an advocate is in itself empowering.”
While she doesn’t offer specifics, Aronson’s plan mentions guaranteeing affordability for the longterm in ST/PCV, explaining that with affordable housing plans that eventually expire, “organizing for long-term affordability must start now,” including working with the state legislature. This would include extending protections for ST/PCV’s “Roberts” tenants past 2025. The J-51 tax program expires in 2020 with Roberts tenants guaranteed rent increases of no higher than five percent each year until 2025.
“We need to protect those tenants. We need to start thinking about it now. 2025 is going to be too late.”
Another idea is to create legislation ensuring ST/PCV remains a middle class community.
Asked what such legislation would mean for the tenants, Aronson said it would be an acknowledgment of the property’s roots and suggested more public/private partnerships could be in order to continue affordability after the current affordability programs expire.
“The Blackstone Group will have completed their contract, and then you have elected officials say, ‘well, they’ve completed their contract, what can we do?’” Aronson said. “Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper were created as a middle class community. The model of the private public partnership has worked. I’m looking to find more partnerships.”
She added, “(While) the option to legislatively protect full affordable housing communities currently doesn’t exist, it doesn’t mean that it can’t in the future, if the city decides that protecting affordability should be a priority.”
Aronson also would like to see the complex designated a historic district by the Landmarks Preservation Commission. While this wouldn’t directly mean the complex was there to serve a particular income bracket, “the affordability of ST/PCV is part of its historic significance, and landmarking the community would be the first step in ensuring that once Blackstone group completes its contract, the property isn’t bulldozed and made into glass skyscrapers,” she explained.
On schools, Aronson said she wants the zoning lines redrawn so that students in ST/PCV would no longer be in separate districts. Doing so, she said would simplify bus routes as well as bring the neighborhood’s children together.
She also would like to see the district become more accessible to seniors with more pedestrian ramps and elevators.
“It needs to be constantly done, constantly kept up,” said Aronson, explaining that most able-bodied people wouldn’t necessarily even realize that just a crack in a ramp could render it unusable for a wheelchair user. Meanwhile, she found that 75 percent of the ramps located on the East Side are in disrepair.
“If you see what looks like a little crack, it may not look like such an obstacle, but for someone with an automated electric wheelchair, with a little rain that’s collected, it could mean the difference of, ‘I can’t navigate that.’”
She would also like to develop technology investments and programs aimed at preventing seniors from becoming isolated, including offering tele-health video counseling.
With the L shutdown on the horizon, Aronson said she supports the “PeopleWay” proposal of closing 14th Street to vehicular traffic except for buses and bikes. There would also be hours set aside for delivery to stores like the Associated Supermarket. However, in addition, she said with money allocated to the city by the federal government after Hurricane Sandy — recovery funds that are still unused — there could be a free shuttle bus that just runs along the length of 14th Street. She cited similar shuttle service in Washington, DC and Denver that have proven to be successful. Aronson said she didn’t believe the city would lose much in fares, figuring many of the riders would end up transferring to other bus or train lanes. She also said she’d work with the NYPD to ensure enforcement of traffic regulations for cyclists.
On another district issue, the planned sanitation garage, Aronson said she hopes to work with the community to find an alternate solution that keeps residential areas free of large sanitation garages. If, however, the city ultimately decides that this is where the garage has to be, Aronson said she would try to mitigate the effects on the community, possibly by ensuring part of the site is set aside for community use and by having some of the building located underground.
Another plan is to make sure Stuy Town’s green, open spaces are maintained, possibly by providing city funding or contracting city employees.
Aronson, an Upper East Side Democrat, worked as a public school teacher until becoming a full-time candidate. She previously worked for the U.S. Department of State as a foreign service officer and is running on a platform of improving schools, especially those sharing space and resources with others, and making the city more user-friendly for the elderly and disabled.