Opinion: The rent gamble

By former Assemblymember Steven Sanders

With all the changes made last month by the State Legislature in tenant protections and rent regulations, the nine-member New York City Rent Guidelines Board (RGB) appointed by the mayor remains intact. That is the entity which sets rent increases for leases expiring in any given year.

For hundreds of thousands of tenants facing lease renewals between October 1, 2019, through September 30, 2020, the RGB has set the increases at 1.5% for a one-year lease renewal and 2.5% for a two-year lease renewal.

The question for tenants is, which one is best? It’s all about short-term and long-term dollars and cents. But it is not that simple.

To some extent clairvoyance is required, but that function does not appear on any calculator. What do I mean?

One thing is a certainty: you will save money in the first year if you opt for a one year renewal. But what about the following year? Well, if the guidelines remain the same next year, then a tenant will be spending more money in the second year if they opt for consecutive one-year renewals as opposed to a two-year lease renewal at 2.5%.

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Opinion: Drop the busway lawsuit

By Sophie Maerowitz

With the planned implementation of the 14th Street Busway on July 1, residents of the East Village were preparing for a major uptick in our quality of life. However, a frivolous last-minute court order has delayed much-needed bus improvements for tens of thousands of our neighbors yet again.

As a resident of East 14th Street and an advocate of the 14th Street busway since 2015, I was incredibly disheartened to see this snap decision. I have spent  years working with my neighbors doing grassroots activism, building widespread community support for a car-free bus corridor on 14th Street, and it is quite frankly perverse to argue that transit improvements are an environmental threat, as the suit alleges.

The truth is, this delay will only serve to keep the M14A and M14D buses moving at an appalling sub-4 mile per hour speed. It’s no surprise that the #BusTurnaround coalition has given these lines an “F” rating.

Whatever else contributed to the decision, I don’t think it helped that the judge in this case, Eileen Rakower, never heard the perspective of those of us in the community that care about quick and reliable bus service on 14th Street, which we know won’t work if buses are caught in car traffic. If only she was there when we raced the M14D on foot; it only beat us by two seconds.

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Opinion: What’s this picture worth?

A father and daughter drowned while trying to cross a river between Matamoros in Mexico and Brownsville, Texas. (AP Photo/Julia Le Duc)

By former Assemblymember Steven Sanders

I remember the powerful image of an anguished female student standing over the bloodied lifeless body of a fellow Kent State College student killed by National Guardsmen during the Vietnam War protests. I remember the picture of the lone Chinese protester blocking a tank rolling through Tiananmen Square during that country’s crackdown on democracy. And who can forget the image of Neil Armstrong stepping on to the lunar surface with his giant leap for mankind 50 years ago next month? Such photographs capture a moment in history and became etched in our collective psyches. They also shape the way Americans feel about important events and shape policy issues to come.

It has been said that a picture is worth a thousand words. In an instant, it can define a policy debate or provide instant clarity to a complicated issue with its powerful graphic. And so it was last week.

Who amongst us was not moved to tears while viewing the father and his daughter both drowned in their perilous attempt to make it across the American border because all other entries were closed off? This was a parent desperate to escape his country’s violence and secure a better life for his daughter and family. Every parent can understand that impulse. This father was certainly not of the criminal element as President Trump has tried to depict all immigrants from Central America.

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Opinion: Stop stalling and save Mom & Pop

By Kirsten Theodos, co-founder, Take Back NYC

All across the city, we are seeing the character and spirit of our neighborhoods being destroyed by hyper real estate speculation pushing out longtime established small businesses. Amazon cannot be blamed for all of the closings. A year ago, 41-year-old Cornelia Street Café was forced to close because of an exorbitant rent hike.

The Small Business Jobs Survival Act (SBJSA) would have saved them by giving commercial tenants rights to renew their leases and negotiate reasonable terms. In a recent interview, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer made clear in her view the SBJSA shouldn’t apply to all commercial leases. Her argument is weak, that the “unintended consequences” of the bill would be including “white shoe law firms” and “financial institutions.”

Even if a business is a hedge fund, it should not be excluded from protection from unscrupulous landlords. Carving out specific types of businesses from the bill is discrimination and would certainly be legally challenged. After years of broken promises to save Mom & Pop, it is unclear why she is back on the small business beat and weighing in on this now.

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Opinion: The difference maker

By former Assemblymember Steven Sanders

It has often be said that elections have consequences. That statement was never truer than last week in Albany.

 You may recall that Brian Kavanagh, after serving for ten years in the State Assembly, in a district that I represented for almost three decades, ran for an open State Senate seat in downtown Manhattan and Brooklyn two years ago. He was elected. But of even greater significance, the State Senate became a Democratic Party majority this year after the 2018 November elections. Senator Kavanagh became chairman of the Senate Housing Committee. That was important because all the New York City tenant protections laws would lapse this year and would need to be debated once again.

 For over half a century the State Senate majority was in the hands of the Republican Party almost without interruption and mostly represented by upstate and suburban legislators. For all those years the Senate was commonly referred to as the place where progressive tenant protection and rent regulation reforms went to die. I can personally attest to that.

During my years in the State Assembly, I introduced dozens of affordable housing bills designed to protect tenants from unfair and excessive rent increases and other protections as well. They routinely passed in the Assembly but rarely if ever were even allowed to be voted upon in the State Senate. Did that fact have anything to do with the other fact, which was that Republican senators received millions of dollars in campaign contributions from the real estate industry? Well, nobody can say for certain, but neither do I believe in coincidences like that. My counterpart in the State Senate, Roy Goodman, was frequently rebuffed by his own leadership in trying to advance these bills. In those days, Roy was only one of a couple of other Republican senators who represented large communities of tenants in New York State. So try as he did, he was stymied at every turn.

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Editorial: On rent regulations and politics

To say this has been a big week for tenants would be the understatement of the century. However, we’ll say it anyway. While the fine print in this epic tenant protection bill is still being examined with a fine-toothed comb, it is nonetheless safe to say that these are no token reforms like the minimal improvements in 2011 and 2015. They are incredibly significant in terms of the ways tenants will be protected from price-gouging.

Additionally, we agree with TenantsPAC’s Michael McKee who pointed out that this victory could not have been achieved without the work of die-hard activists like those in the Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association. It was the tireless efforts of these individuals, combined with a city of renters dead tired of being given the shakedown, that helped turn the State Senate blue, giving long-stalled bills a chance to pass.

Civil Court judge primary
In other news, don’t forget to vote on June 25 as there will be a Democratic primary election for Civil Court judge representing the fourth municipal court district. (This is the area comprised of Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village, Gramercy, Waterside and Kips Bay.)

In recent issues of this newspaper, we’ve run interviews with both candidates, veteran attorneys Grace Park and Lynne Fischman-Uniman. Since we ran the profile of Fischman-Uniman, we’ve been contacted by a few readers who wanted to know why it wasn’t mentioned that up until fairly recently the Democratic candidate was a registered Republican. The answer is we didn’t know as she didn’t mention it.

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Opinion: Check your eligibility for the Croman restitution fund

By State Senator Brad Hoylman

Notorious landlord Steve Croman first made the Village Voice’s Worst Landlords list in 1998. He made it again in 2003. And again in 2006.

The landlord equivalent of teflon, Croman terrorized tenants, dragging them into protracted court battles. Tenants lived in dangerous and intolerable conditions. Croman pled guilty to grand larceny and other felony charges in 2017. He was released from jail in 2018, only to buy a building this year on the other side of my district that is home to the historic White Horse Tavern.

Croman is just one of many bad actors who, eager to recoup on their substantial real estate investments, resorted to abusive and exploitative tactics to drive out rent-regulated tenants. They made millions. Many of them went unpunished.

Croman, for his part, was at least forced to pay $8 million in restitution funds—the largest ever monetary settlement with an individual landlord—to the thousands of rent regulated tenants he tormented and preyed upon to evict them from their homes and convert their units to market rate apartments.

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Opinion: One flag, many stars

“One nation Indivisible with liberty and justice for all.” Those are the words from the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag first written in 1863 and formally adopted by Congress in 1942. Twelve years later “under God” was inserted after “one nation.” The Pledge articulates the ideal of a unified society with the common belief that everyone is valued and that freedom and fairness guides our civic life. These are principles worth reflecting upon as America observes Flag Day this week.

The Pledge contains nice words for sure, but aspirational at best. Over the decades many Americans have struggled to secure their liberty and justice. Women were only granted the right to vote in the last century and black people and other minorities were suppressed or restricted and also kept from voting by discriminatory local laws.

As for a “nation indivisible”… that is a tough one. From our inception there have always been profound national schisms. At first it was the agrarian states, mostly in the south with their particular cultural orientation vying with the industrialized northern states. The southern states coveted cheap and even free labor to work their fields and desperately protected the immoral and inhumane institution of slavery. Every school child knows that the fracture between free states and slave states led to the bloody Civil War which divided regions and even families, pitting brother against brother on the battlefields of America.

Despite Lincoln’s hopes for a charitable reconciliation at the war’s end “with malice towards none,” the defeated Confederacy lived under a virtual occupation during the Reconstruction Period. Resentments festered giving rise to hate groups like the Ku Klux Klan, which sought to restore the bigotry of a white supremacist society through intimidation and violence against blacks and others. In the succeeding years America remained deeply alienated along racial, religious and geographic lines.

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Editorial: For stronger rent regulations, call Cuomo

June 15 is the day New York’s rent laws expire, and although the now-Democrat controlled Assembly and State Senate have promised to stregnthen them, Albany is still Albany and this means anything can happen before then.

To ensure that all of the legislature’s bills aimed at protecting tenants are passed, the Met Council on Housing recommends calling the governor’s office at (518) 474-8390 and asking that they be kept intact. Additionally, the Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association is advising tenants to do the same and also call Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins. Heastie’s Albany office can be reached at (518) 455-3791 and the district office can be reached at (718) 654-6539. Stewart-Cousins can be reached at (518) 455-2585 (Albany) and (914) 423-4031 (district).

The real estate industry has always given generously to Albany’s elected officials, including Cuomo, but tenants can still have power in numbers. Not a political kind of person? You don’t have to be. Just think of a time your life was personally impacted in some way by vacancy decontrol, MCIs, IAIs, vacancy bonuses, preferential rents or just plain unadulterated greed. (See? It’s easy.) And then let those elected officials know this price gouging spree has gone on long enough.

Editorial: Landlords scared and should be

The fact that the power has shifted drastically in Albany has been missed by no one, in particular landlords, who for many years could rely on the Republican-controlled State Senate to kill any bill deemed too tenant-friendly. While it’s tempting to dismiss the ongoing preening of Albany Democrats as the usual hot air, it isn’t. Good evidence of this is that the property owners of New York City are fighting tooth and nail to defend the status quo.

To keep major capital improvement (MCI) and individual apartment improvement (IAI) rent increases, which are permanently tacked onto a tenant’s rent, they’ve sought cooperation from contractors to argue that owners will stop improving their buildings, which will hurt middle class people who need the jobs. It’s a pathetic argument, however, because if a landlord allows his or her property to deteriorate, just because they can no longer get reimbursed for the project (and earn a profit on top of that) then he or she is nothing but a slumlord. And not deserving of anyone’s pity. Certainly not any more than the renters who are made to pay in perpetuity to improve properties they don’t own.

The system that allows MCIs and IAIs has been abused for many years. A story in this week’s issue of Town & Village demonstrates just how easy it is for someone in charge of renovations to wildly inflate costs of IAIs for the purpose of deregulating units. All they have to do is be willing to fill out credible looking paperwork, send it to a housing agency too under-resourced to verify the information and employ people who don’t mind getting paid more than a renovation should actually cost. This must end.

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Opinion: Pick up the phone

May30 Sanders phone

One of the city’s remaining pay phones at First Avenue and 17th Street

By former Assemblymember Steven Sanders

Thomas Jefferson once said when angry, count to 10 before speaking and when very angry, count to 20.

The problem with modern social media is that it is instantaneous with no pause before we unload our thoughts. Texting, Facebook likes, Instagram, and of course tweeting.

If you walk along First Avenue between 14th Street and 23rd Street, you may see a few communication relics from the past.

For those who were born after the year 1999, they used to be called “telephone booths.” They are very scarce now, sort of like the Model T car of transportation.

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Opinion: We will not lose the war on women

By Congresswoman Carolyn B. Maloney

In the nearly half a century since the Supreme Court affirmed in the historic Roe v. Wade decision that a woman’s right to an abortion was protected by the Constitution, we have seen countless attempts by abortion opponents to strip millions of women of this right. But this year has been especially shocking.

Since January, more than 300 anti-choice, anti-women bills have been introduced across the country. In numerous recent cases, states have passed legislation that would effectively be statewide abortion bans.

This is a war on women. And we will not go back.

One by one, these draconian laws are being struck down in the courts. But the threats to women’s healthcare persist. The legislators spearheading this legislative strategy are aiming to control women. They want to take away women’s right to make decisions about our own bodies. They want to shame women who make choices they don’t agree with or even imprison them and their doctors.

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Opinion: Time to end runaway MCIs

ST buildings

Stuyvesant Town

By Council Member Keith Powers, Assembly Member Harvey Epstein and State Senator Brad Hoylman

As tenants in Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village know all too well, there’s nothing minor about a Major Capital Improvement (MCI). That’s why we’re pushing for the elimination of MCIs in Albany this June.

Almost weekly, we hear from tenants about new MCIs being added to their rent, costs that never disappear, and the unfairness of a system that transforms sometimes dubious improvements into permanent revenue streams for landlords. These costs push rents higher and only exacerbate annual rent increases.

In theory, MCIs are designed to incentivize landlords to continually keep up and improve properties with rent stabilized tenants. For example, a landlord might pay to replace a boiler or install new windows with the ability to pass a portion of the costs onto the tenants. MCIs allow owners of residential buildings to apply to New York State Homes and Community Renewal (HCR) for permanent rent increases after completing improvements or installations — not repairs — to rent regulated buildings. Part of the problem is that HCR almost always automatically approves these requests, leaving tenants bearing the burden. In fact, we have been helping the Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association contest 39 MCIs dating back over a decade.

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Opinion: Double-edged Sword

By former Assemblymember Steven Sanders

So it’s official: Bill de Blasio is running… away from New York City. He is seeking the nomination for president in a crowded field of nearly two dozen Democrats. His chances of success range from nearly impossible to absurd.

That would be ok if he were doing this on his own time. But he is virtually abdicating his responsibilities as mayor. That is the part that is really arrogant and offensive.

Blame term limitations at least in part.

You see, de Blasio is a politician with no path to future office but nothing to lose thumbing his nose at his current constituents. He can’t run for mayor again and when his current term ends in 2021, there is no other viable office for him to seek.

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Opinion: Tenants need another rent freeze

By Assemblymember Harvey Epstein

Before I became a state legislator, I was one of two tenant representatives on New York City’s Rent Guidelines Board, the entity responsible for setting the rents for the city’s million-plus units of regulated housing stock. During my tenure, I worked closely with advocates to push through two consecutive rent freezes––the first and second in the Board’s 50-year history.

Freezing rents for two years in a row provided much-needed relief for over a million rent-stabilized tenants––relief these working class New Yorkers still need today. Unfortunately, since 2016, the Board has voted twice to raise rents; they look poised to do so again this year. I don’t believe the data support increasing rents.

New York City is in the midst of a homelessness crisis of historic proportions not seen since the Great Depression. According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, our city is home to the largest homeless population of any city in America: tonight, some 60,000 New Yorkers will sleep in shelters.

Those lucky enough to have a home face challenges: in an annual report produced by the RGB, a majority of rent-stabilized tenants were shown to be rent-burdened and a third are severely rent-burdened, meaning they pay 50 percent or more of their incomes towards rent. Rent-burdened tenants face serious difficulties meeting their everyday needs for nutritious food, healthcare and education and the health outcomes of children that live in rent-burdened households are worse than their non-rent-burdened counterparts, according to Pew researchers.

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