Bill will further protect tenants against eviction

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

State Senator Brad Hoylman and Assemblymember Jeffrey Dinowitz, along with State Senator Liz Krueger, introduced the NYS Tenant Safe Harbor Act on Tuesday in order to further protect tenants from eviction beyond Governor Andrew Cuomo’s 90-day eviction moratorium.

The new bill would prohibit landlords from evicting tenants for non-payment of rent that accrued during the State of Emergency and for six months after the State of Emergency’s eventual end. Cuomo’s executive order prevents landlords from evicting tenants for 90 days, which will be in effect until at least June 20, but tenants who can’t afford to pay all of the rent owed once the moratorium ends could face immediate eviction. The legislation, sponsored by Hoylman and Dinowitz and co-sponsored by Krueger, would protect these tenants from being evicted for non-payment of rent that accrued during the State of Emergency that started on March 7, through six months after the State of Emergency ends.

“The governor’s 90-day eviction moratorium was a good first step to protect tenants from losing their homes during the COVID-19 crisis. But it’s not enough,” Hoylman said. “Unless we act, we’ll see a tidal wave of evictions immediately after the moratorium ends when tenants who’ve lost income are suddenly forced to pay several months’ worth of rent. Our legislation prevents an impending eviction disaster by providing tenants who’ve lost their jobs a safe harbor to get healthy and back on their feet while our country recovers from this economic disaster.”

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New bill would give tax credit for plasma donation

State Senator Brad Hoylman

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

State Senator Brad Hoylman introduced legislation last Tuesday to create a COVID-19 Convalescent Plasma Donation Credit, which would create a refundable New York State personal income tax credit of $1,000 for individuals who recovered from COVID-19 and donated their blood plasma for treatment and medical research of the disease. The bill would take effect immediately and apply to the taxable year that began this January 1.

“The COVID-19 pandemic is the worst public health crisis to hit New York in more than a century—New Yorkers who survived the virus have a major role to play in our fight to find treatments and a cure. I’m proud to introduce this legislation, which would create first-of-its-kind benefits for New Yorkers who volunteer to donate blood plasma after recovering from this disease. As we race to conduct research and find a cure for COVID-19, New Yorkers who donate blood plasma deserve our thanks.”

The legislation would amend New York State’s tax law to create a new tax credit for those who have recovered from the illness and donate their blood plasma, either for the purposes of medical research or treatment of patients who are still suffering from COVID-19.

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Rental assistance program announced

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Management announced at the end of March that residents who are experiencing financial hardship due to COVID-19 can apply for assistance through a new program, although residents will still ultimately be required to pay all rent that is due.

The C19 Resident Financial Hardship Assistance Program provides options to leaseholders who have a demonstrated financial hardship as a result of the virus, which includes a loss of income or extraordinary expense due to COVID-19. Leaseholders who are in good standing who can demonstrate financial hardship can apply for assistance, but at least half of the leaseholders in the apartment must be experiencing hardship to be eligible for the program.

The program has multiple options for those who are able to provide proof of financial hardship, including a payment plan and early lease termination. Under the payment plan, residents can defer up to 100% of one month’s rent and will enter a payment plan that will have the deferred rent paid in equal installments every month until the lease ends.

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Temporary commissary kitchen at Eleven Madison Park

Left to right: Daniel Humm, chef and owner of Eleven Madison Park; Winston Chiu, Chief Strategy Officer (CSO) at Rethink; Dominique Roy, Culinary Research and Development at Eleven Madison Park. (Photo courtesy of Rethink)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Nonprofit organization Rethink has partnered with Eleven Madison Park to feed New Yorkers in need during the pandemic. The organization, which uses food excess from restaurants throughout the city for meals for hungry New Yorkers, announced last Thursday that they were transforming into Emergency Food Management and would be turning the Michelin-starred restaurant adjacent to Madison Square Park into a commissary kitchen that will serve healthcare workers and other New Yorkers impacted by the pandemic. The restaurant and organization are expected to produce more than 2,000 meals per day at full capacity.

“Our mission of delivering food to New Yorkers in need has never been more important, and finding a way to continue serving those that have always relied on us, as well as helping hospitals provide meals in this all-hands-on-deck moment, is so important,” said Matt Jozwiak, Executive Director and Founder of Rethink Food NYC. “This innovative program also helps the very restaurants we’re using to prepare the meals and we hope this partnership serves as a model that can be replicated nationwide, which we’re already working to do.”

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Relief available for small businesses affected by COVID-19

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

The de Blasio administration and the Department of Small Business Services announced last Friday that loans are now available for small businesses that have been affected by COVID-19. The Small Business Continuity Fund offers financial assistance to small businesses in New York while they deal with challenges in response to coronavirus, and businesses can access the application online.

To meet the requirements for a loan, small businesses must be located within the five boroughs, demonstrate that the COVID-19 outbreak caused at least a 25% decrease in revenue, employ fewer than 100 employees across all locations, have no outstanding tax liens or legal judgments and demonstrate the ability to repay the loan.

In order to demonstrate a revenue decrease, businesses will be required to provide documentation such as point-of-sales reports, bank statements, quarterly sales tax filings, 2019 tax returns, or CPA-certified profit & loss statements. Businesses that are eligible can receive loans up to $75,000 to help retain employees and ensure business continuity.

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Advocates call to freeze, cancel rent for April

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

City and state affordable housing advocates have proposed suspending this year’s Rent Guidelines Board vote, effectively freezing the rent for rent-stabilized units until June of next year, although the move would have to be enacted by the governor, who had not responded to the proposal by the end of March.

Despite the lack of an official response from Governor Andrew Cuomo, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced last Friday that the city government would be working with the state to suspend the Rent Guidelines Board process for the upcoming year, which would maintain all regulated rents at this year’s level until next year’s vote. The change would affect 2.3 million tenants in almost one million rent-stabilized apartments throughout the city.

“I think if ever there was a time there should be a rent freeze, it is now,” de Blasio said. “So for the millions of New Yorkers who live in rent-stabilized housing in this city, normally you wait until later in the spring for the Rent Guidelines Board to make its decision on what rent levels should be for the upcoming leases. What we’ve seen here, to me, makes clear that we need a rent freeze for everyone who’s rent-stabilized.”

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Elected officials propose plan to use security deposits for April rent

Council Member Keith Powers

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Four local elected officials, including Councilmember Keith Powers, have proposed that renters be allowed to use their security deposit for this month’s rent. Powers, in addition to Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, Brooklyn Councilmember Robert Cornegy and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, announced the proposal last Tuesday and sent letters to Mayor Bill de Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo last Thursday asking that tenants be given relief.

Allowing tenants to liquidate their security deposits would serve as a needed $8 billion cash infusion for the thousands of New Yorkers who have lost their jobs or income due to the coronavirus outbreak, the officials told Crain’s last week.

“New Yorkers are facing unprecedented circumstances due to the coronavirus,” Powers said. “With thousands of tenants facing sudden and unprecedented hardships, we must look toward immediate solutions for those struggling to make their next rent payments in a matter of days. Using existing, pre-paid security deposits to supplement rent payment allows tenants time to seek relief.”

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Locals stepping up to help during COVID-19

Trinity’s Services and Food for the Homeless near Tompkins Square Park has been providing meals for anyone who needs them. (Photos courtesy of Trinity’s Services and Food for the Homeless)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

While many businesses and organizations have been forced to shut down over the last few weeks to slow the spread of COVID-19, others in the community have persevered in order to help New Yorkers most in need, by volunteering at local soup kitchens, donating medical supplies and providing various healthcare services.

Trinity’s Services and Food for the Homeless, which has been operating out of Trinity Lower East Side Lutheran Parish at 602 East 9th Street for the last 33 years, has continued providing hot meals and packaged food for people who need it, although Executive Director Alex Lawrence said that they’ve made adjustments to their soup kitchen and food pantry operations to keep everyone safe.

“The soup kitchen usually has a dining room, but obviously that is not good anymore so we switched to grab-and-go lunches,” he said. “One person comes in at a time and then we send them off.”

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Confusion reigns as renters, owners worry how to pay their bills

By Linda O’Flanagan

Multifamily borrowers with Freddie Mac loans have been granted a 90-day extension on loan payments, it was announced yesterday (Tuesday, March 23).

It was the first officially sanctioned program announced to help renters and mortgage holders following days of “guidance” from the state on who will get financial aid as the coronavirus brings New York to a standstill.

Although Governor Andrew Cuomo has said renters and mortgage holders will get relief, and REBNY has issued a pledge that its members won’t evict renters for non-payment, housing advocates say an official order must be passed.

Cea Weaver, of tenants rights group Housing Justice for All, said. “We need rent relief — in the form of canceled rent, for the duration of the crisis — now. Cuomo can do this by executive order, and he must.”

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Peter Cooper announces COVID-19 case

By Maria Rocha-Buschel 

Editor’s note: This story has been updated since publication on Thursday, March 26 to include more information about cases that have been reported in Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village. 

StuyTown Property Services notified tenants in an email last week that a resident of 5 Peter Cooper Road has tested positive for COVID-19. So far, there have been 10 reported cases in 10 different buildings across the 110 buildings in Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village. The exact buildings will not be made public but residents of those buildings have been notified.

“To date, a small number of the buildings in PCVST have a self-reported tested positive resident,” StuyTown Property Services General Manager Rick Hayduk said. “Those residents are self-quarantining and our extraordinary team is immediately dispatched to disinfect the building in accordance with CDC and NYC Health guidelines. Residents are being updated regularly and this will continue throughout the pandemic.”

Management sent the email about Peter Cooper’s first case last Monday, noting that the household was self-quarantining and maintenance completed a deep cleaning of all public areas in the building.

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Supermarkets offering special hours for seniors

By Maria Rocha-Buschel 

Some supermarkets with locations in Gramercy and Kips Bay are designating some early morning hours for seniors to get their shopping done to help the at-risk population avoid crowds. Morton Williams, which has locations at 313 East 23rd Street and 278 Park Avenue South, and Whole Foods, which has a location on East 14th Street across from Union Square Park, have announced that they will be setting aside special hours for seniors. West Side Rag reported the changes for the stores last Wednesday.

Morton Williams will be allowing vulnerable populations, including seniors age 60 and over and those who are immunocompromised, to come to the stores between 7 and 8 a.m.

“We are asking our customers to please prioritize the hours of 7 to 8 a.m. for our senior citizens, immunocompromised and similarly disabled neighbors,” the company said on their website. “Those most vulnerable in our communities would greatly appreciate it.”

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Speaker Johnson introduces $12 billion relief plan

By Maria Rocha-Buschel 

Councilmember Keith Powers came out in support of City Council Speaker Corey Johnson’s relief plan for workers and businesses throughout the city that are impacted by COVID-19 that was introduced last week.

Johnson’s $12 billion relief plan, proposed last Thursday, includes a temporary universal basic income for all New Yorkers, unemployment protections for hourly and freelance workers, up to $250,000 to cover costs for impacted businesses, temporarily deferring fees for businesses and refunding business taxes.

“We’re calling on the city to take action to help our restaurant and bar industry,” Powers said of the proposal. “We mandated they had to close. It’s already a struggling industry and it’s the lifeblood of NYC. They’re dependent on that paycheck.”

According to City Council estimate, more than 500,000 workers and more than 40,000 businesses generated $40 billion in taxable sales last year and are among the hardest-hit industries so far in the COVID-19 crisis. These businesses include the hospitality industry as well as retail shops, performance venues, salons and other businesses.

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Mount Sinai Beth Israel offering space for COVID-19 patients

Mount Sinai Beth Israel (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Mount Sinai Beth Israel will be making space available in the First Avenue hospital in order to provide additional capacity for New Yorkers during the COVID-19 pandemic, the hospital system confirmed this week. Governor Andrew Cuomo also signed an executive order on Monday requiring all hospitals in the state to increase their capacity by 50%, with the goal of increasing capacity by 100%.

Mount Sinai would not specify exactly how many beds can be made available because that determination is made by the state’s Department of Health, but the hospital system confirmed that it is making space available in the unused portions of Beth Israel on First Avenue and the new Rivington facility, which is a former nursing home that Mount Sinai intends to convert into a mental health facility that will include services currently available at the Bernstein Pavilion. The hospital system has been in contact with the state since the pandemic began and the Department of Health is in the process of evaluating all of the options for creating additional hospital beds.

“In the past few weeks and in the weeks ahead, our sole focus is helping the communities we serve prepare for and address the COVID-19 crisis,” a spokesperson for Mount Sinai said. “These are extremely unique and challenging times and we are doing everything in our power and utilizing every resource possible, including, but not limited to, offering the city and state usage of our Rivington facility and unused portions of Mount Sinai Beth Israel to help fight this growing crisis.”

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Petitioning suspended for congressional race

By Maria Rocha-Buschel 

Multiple candidates running for the Congressional seat in District 12, including incumbent Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, suspended petitioning last week in order to protect the public during the COVID-19 pandemic shortly before the governor suspended all petitioning on Saturday. 

Candidates Lauren Ashcraft and Peter Harrison also signed an online petition calling on Governor Andrew Cuomo to suspend or reduce petitioning requirements in response to coronavirus fears and the governor signed an executive order suspending the candidate petitioning process on Tuesday at 5 p.m. for the June primaries for Congressional, State Senate, State Assembly and Judicial races. The order also modified signature requirements for ballot access. Candidates will only need to collect 30% of the statutory threshold. For Congress, candidates would need 375 signatures instead of 1,250.

Maloney issued a statement on Thursday announcing that she would be suspending petitioning.

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New York State to go ‘on pause’ this Sunday

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Governor Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order on Friday requiring that all non-essential businesses close statewide by Sunday, with exceptions made for essential services like grocery stores, pharmacies and healthcare services. The executive order includes additional mandates about social distancing requirements that the state is encouraging individuals to practice if going outside. While city courts announced a 90-day moratorium on evictions last week, Cuomo made the moratorium on residential and commercial evictions statewide, while State Senators Brad Hoylman and Brian Kavanagh also introduced legislation that would enact a statewide moratorium on evictions and foreclosures during state emergencies. 

The policy, which the governor called “New York State on PAUSE,” institutes a 100% closure on all non-essential businesses effective on Sunday, March 22 at 8 p.m. The governor’s office released a comprehensive list of what are considered essential services, broken down into separate categories: healthcare operations, infrastructure, manufacturing, retail, services, news media, financial institutions, providers of basic necessities for economically disadvantaged populations, construction, defense, essential services to maintain safety, sanitation and operations of residences or other essential businesses, and vendors that provide essential services or products. 

The plan also specified that houses of worship are not ordered to be closed, but it is strongly recommended that no congregate services be held and social distancing should be maintained. Many local houses of worship in the Gramercy and Kips Bay area have announced the closure of their buildings while posting services online through live-streaming. 

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