Maloney, Hoylman, Kavanagh re-elected

Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney chats with a voter in Stuyvesant Town.  (Photo courtesy of Congress Member Maloney)

Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney chats with a voter in Stuyvesant Town. (Photo courtesy of Congress Member Maloney)

By Sabina Mollot

On Tuesday, three local Democrats easily held on to their positions as voters, along with re-electing Andrew Cuomo as governor, also re-elected Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, State Senator Brad Hoylman and Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh.

Maloney won with 79.85 percent of the vote, defeating former seminary student and former Pfizer employee Nicholas Di iorio, who got 20.15 percent.
Di iorio had fought tooth and nail for each vote though, having sent out near daily press releases blasting his opponent in the weeks leading up to the election on everything from her trip to China to secure a panda for New York to failure to get many bills passed in Washington. For this he labeled her ineffective.

He’d also hounded his opponent for a debate, and did eventually succeed in wearing her down. The only debate of the campaign took place at a newspaper office in Queens last Thursday, focusing on issues of interest to that part of the district.

Meanwhile, by Tuesday morning, Maloney reported doing well with voters she encountered while campaigning.
Many told her they’d be giving her their vote, though she quickly added, “I probably shouldn’t say that. Of course they’re not going to tell me if they weren’t going to vote for me.”

After casting her own vote at the 92nd Street Y, Maloney also made several stops throughout the district, including popping by Stuyvesant Town in the afternoon.
Some voters had gripes about long lines to cast their votes, although this year, without a presidential election, lines weren’t exactly spilling out of polling place doors.“It’s definitely lower (turnout) than in a presidential year, but people are coming out to vote,” said Maloney. She added that she would work on trying to keep lines shorter in the future, either by pushing for more polling sites or the creation of smaller voting districts.

She also said that if reelected, “I’ll be focused like a laser on affordable housing and making sure Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac do not finance anything that removes affordable housing.”
Other goals included making it easier for people to buy homes, doing away with excessive bank overdraft fees and getting a bill for women’s equality passed, that has, since Maloney’s been in office, failed to do so.

Nicholas Di iorio talks to a voter in Brooklyn. (Photo courtesy of Nicholas Di iorio)

Nicholas Di iorio talks to a voter in Brooklyn. (Photo courtesy of Nicholas Di iorio)

On Tuesday, Di orio was also making various campaign stops around the three-borough district, starting on the Upper East Side, where he lives not far from Maloney, Greenpoint, Brooklyn and later Queens. At around 11 a.m., he was in Manhattan, after voting at Knickerbocker Plaza on 91st Street.

He said for the most part voters he was encountering were familiar with his campaign, having read interviews with him in Town & Village and other newspapers.
When voters stopped to chat with the candidate, typically they had questions that were economy-related. This is where he felt his background working to save money for a pharmaceutical giant worked in his favor.

“It’s been a great day so far,” said Di iorio said. “A lot of the legislators in Congress talk about growing the economy but they haven’t spent time working in economics. That’s one of the differences between me and Congress Member Maloney. I’m trying to help companies and small businesses hire more employees.”
His platform was based around cutting corporate taxes to keep jobs from going overseas.

Later, when asked about the contentious nature of the race, Maloney dismissed her opponent’s steady stream of criticism as a typical Republican tactic.
“The Republicans do not fight on issues,” she said. “They try to destroy the person.”

But not all Republicans used tough guy tactics in this race — or even any tactics at all. Hoylman and Kavanagh both sailed to reelection thanks to their opponents, Stuyvesant Town resident Frank Scala, and East Villager Bryan Cooper, respectively, not running active campaigns.
Kavanagh won with 85.06 percent of the vote, while Cooper got 14.94 percent. Hoylman got 85.66 percent while Scala got 14.34 percent.

State Senate candidate Frank Scala

State Senate candidate Frank Scala

Scala, who’s the president of the Albano Republican Club and the owner of a Fifth Avenue barber shop, said he only ran for State Senate after being asked by the Republican County Committee. But he didn’t seek attention beyond participating in a candidate forum last week hosted by the 17th Precinct Community Council, which his opponent didn’t attend.
And this wouldn’t be the first time in recent years that local candidates have run just to have a Republican on the ballot. In Manhattan, there hasn’t been a Republican elected since the late Roy Goodman left the State Senate in 2002.

Cooper, who, like Scala, has run for office locally before, told Town & Village he had been genuinely interested in running for Assembly, but had wanted to try doing it in a “grassroots” way. He didn’t build a campaign website or attempt to get press, choosing instead to walk around the Lower East Side and the East Village, mostly, as well as Stuy Town where he said he’s noticed a “strong Republican presence.”

“People do come to our club meetings,” he said, referring to the Albano Club, in which he’s a district leader. “People feel like our interests are not being represented. We need a Republican, especially on the Lower East Side.”
Cooper, a production assistant and Navy veteran, said he’d been hearing disgust from his neighbors about corruption in Albany and Cuomo’s handling of the Moreland Commission’s dismantling. Lack of jobs was another concern.

Nov6 Bryan Cooper

Assembly candidate Bryan Cooper

“We want more businesses to be here, less taxes. There’s more unemployment and the homeless situation has risen. Why is this? Businesses are leaving New York.”
He also said that following Mayor de Blasio’s efforts to end stop-and-frisk, he’s found that people no longer feel safe.
“Ever since they stopped stop-and-frisk, people are like, ‘I’m out of here,’” he said. “What’s the point of having a police force when your hands are tied? What’s the problem with stopping and asking a question or checking your bag?”

On his low-key campaign, he explained it was mainly due to money reasons, but he also wanted to see “how effective it would be,” since he is already planning a run for State Senate. “Maybe if this doesn’t work out, I’ll learn my lesson.”

TA blasts CW for short or no notice on work in apts.

Garodnick drafting bill to protect tenants from unauthorized entry

By Sabina Mollot

In CWCapital’s ongoing effort to renovate as many apartments as possible, tenants in neighboring units have also been made to allow work to get done in their own apartments to replace pipes in support of the work on the adjoining renovation projects. In the process, some of those neighbors have been getting inconvenienced in ways that have, in at least a couple of instances, been disturbing, according to the ST-PCV Tenants Association.

In a notice that will soon be shared with neighbors on the TA’s website, the TA noted how management hasn’t been giving tenants sufficient notice before breezing on in, in several cases. In one complaint, the TA heard how a teenage girl, alone at home, got scared when maintenance workers unexpectedly banged on and then opened her apartment door.

In another case, a tenant, who gave no authorization for her apartment to be entered, recently returned from a vacation to find her cabinets emptied. The cabinets’ contents were left strewn on the counters, with no explanation. Meanwhile, the work takes one to two days to complete, leaving the kitchen unusable.

“Despite the gross inconvenience, management has not offered to compensate affected tenants for the loss of use of the kitchen and the disruption to the tenants’ right to quiet enjoyment of their homes,” the TA said.

In a case of short notice, the TA said, a tenant was given notice on a Thursday that workers would be entering the apartment on the following Monday. “That’s just four calendar days; the city requires seven calendar days,” the TA said. Additionally, the TA said, management is only supposed to be entering apartments for non-emergency work if tenants’ have given their explicit permission, “and these renovations are not emergencies.”

In response to the TA’s concerns, Council Member Dan Garodnick is drafting legislation that would protect tenants from unauthorized entry or entry with very short notice.

The legislation would include provisions that in notices requesting apartment access, management would have to provide, along with a callback phone number, an email address or another electronic option for tenants to use if requesting a schedule change. Additionally, notices would have to be dated and sent to the tenants’ email address if the owner has one on file. Lastly, consent would not be assumed if the tenant doesn’t respond. However, if after 14 days there is no response, then an owner could enter the apartment.

“There has long been a feeling that people are finding themselves with unwanted visitors,” Garodnick told T&V, “just because they did not see a note or did not have time to respond. This has picked up recently where there are non-emergency improvements being made to neighboring apartments. In that context, we need to protect the sanctity of individual units.”

A spokesperson for CWCapital declined to comment on apartment access or the planned legislation. However, the owner and the TA have clashed on this issue in the past, like last year when management was conducting a round of apartment inspections on safety issues and lease policy compliance. At that time, the TA advised residents to consent to the inspection but be present for it to a recent spate of apartment burglaries that may have been committed by a contractor doing work for CW.

Aug. 12 SCRIE/DRIE workshop to be held at Community Center

Assemblyman Brian Kavanagh held a press conference about the DRIE income limit increase on July 24, just moments before the City Council gave its blessing to the increase. Kavanagh is pictured with Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, Public Advocate Letitia James, Ellen Davidson of Legal Aid and Council Member Helel Rosenthal

Assemblyman Brian Kavanagh held a press conference about the DRIE income limit increase on July 24, just moments before the City Council gave its blessing to the increase. Kavanagh is pictured with Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, Public Advocate Letitia James, Ellen Davidson of Legal Aid and Council Member Helel Rosenthal

A workshop on recent expansion of eligibility for the programs SCRIE and DRIE (income caps for both programs have been raised significantly in both cases to $50,000) will be held at the Stuyvesant Town Community Center on Tuesday, August 12.

State Senators Brad Hoylman and Liz Kruger, Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh and Council Members Rosie Mendez and Dan Garodnick will be co-hosting the event, which is aimed at helping senior and disabled constituents apply for SCRIE and DRIE. One-on-one sessions at which eligible candidates can get personal assistance with their applications, or get their questions answered, will be held 1:30-4:30 p.m. at the community center, located at 449 East 14th Street (on the First Avenue Loop, near 16th Street).

If you are 62 and think you may be newly eligible for SCRIE (Senior Citizen Rent Increase Exemption) or are 18 or older and eligible for DRIE (Disability Rent Increase Exemption), you can learn how to apply at this event.

The SCRIE and DRIE programs provide exemptions from future rent increases and some MCIs (major capital improvements). They are now within reach of many more ST/PCV residents, due to legislation authored by Kavanagh ecently enacted at city and state levels.

If you plan to attend, call the Community Center at (212) 598-5297, so staffers will know how many to expect.
For those who can’t make it, there will be two additional informational events/registration drives.

One will be at Tompkins Square Library, 331 East 10th Street between Avenues A and B, on Monday, August 11 from 1-3 p.m.
Another will be held at Stein Senior Center, 204 East 23rd Street between 2nd and 3rd Avenues, on Tuesday, August 21 from 1-3:30 p.m.

Democrat control of Senate is likely

TenantsPAC wary of Klein’s leadership

State Senator Jeff Klein

State Senator Jeff Klein

By Sabina Mollot
On Wednesday, June 25, a group of breakaway Democrats in the State Senate, called the Independent Democrats Conference, formed an alliance more mainline Democrats. As a result of this cooperation, which would begin after the November elections, IDC Senator Jeff Klein, if re-elected, would become a “co-leader” along with Senate Minority Leader Andrea-Stewart Cousins, and the IDC’s alliance with Senate Republicans would end. The IDC was formed in 2012.

The move, while cheered by Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio, is being seen as potentially disastrous by the real estate industry since it’s expected to put Democrats back in control of the Senate. Additionally, Stewart-Cousins is a tenant-friendly Democrat. At the same time, it’s also being eyed with caution by TenantsPAC, which views Klein as a tool for landlords.

TenantsPAC has been actively campaigning to get Klein’s opponent in the primary, former City Council Member Oliver Koppell, elected instead.
The political action committee has even begun phone banking to get close to 700 registered democrats in The Bronx to support him.
“Tenants anywhere should care about this election,” TenantsPAC treasurer Mike McKee said.
TenantsPAC has also given $4,000 to the campaign, and hopes to give the candidate $2,500 more, which would bring the donation to the maximum allowed.

Of the new Senate Democratic coalition, McKee said, “It makes sense for the real Democrats to do this, but we’re raising a note of caution about a major issue which is coming up in the legislature next year.”
This statement was in reference to the law governing rent regulated housing that will be up for renewal, and Klein, noted McKee, has a history of shooting down pro-tenant legislation.

TenantsPAC actually supported Klein a decade ago, because, “his opponent was worse.” The opponent, Steven Kaufman, had said he would caucus with Republicans. And as for Klein, McKee said, “we didn’t know he would be this bad.”
Over the years since then, McKee has had three meetings with the senator, two in his district office and one in Albany, with constituents present, in an effort to get Klein to support a repeal of vacancy decontrol.
“He told us flat out he would vote on it if it comes up, but ‘I will do everything in my power to make sure it doesn’t get to the floor,’” said McKee. “And it never got to the floor. You have to give him some credit for being so honest and not stringing us along.”

A spokesperson for Klein didn’t respond to T&V’s request for comment.

State Senator Brad Hoylman, meanwhile, said the new cooperation should still make a big difference because, as McKee noted, Democrat legislation doesn’t currently tend to make it to the floor for consideration. This would be legislation on issues such as tenant protections, LGBT rights, the DREAM Act and de-criminalizing small amounts of marijuana.
“Everything has been stymied by Republican control of the Senate,” Hoylman said. “It’s at-will legislation, whatever they want. The leaders of the Senate have tremendous strength.”

For this reason, Hoylman said he wants to see more power given to committees.
“I’m hoping that this is the beginning of a new term in the Senate with new leadership that defies the dysfunctional label some have wanted to paint Democrats with,” he added.

This dysfunction was the reason for the formation of the IDC.Following its creation, out of 63 Senate members in New York, 24 are currently Democrat, five are IDC, 30 are Republican, although, noted Hoylman, “One of the Republicans is a Democrat.” That would be Simcha Felder of Brooklyn, who conferences with Republicans “even though he was elected as a Democrat.” Then there are two vacant seats formerly held by Republican Charles Fuschillo of Long Island, who resigned to work for a nonprofit, and Democrat Eric Adams, who’s now the Brooklyn borough president.
There are former Democrats John Sampson (who’s been charged with lying about a liquor store he’s a partner in) and Malcolm Smith (who’s been accused of being involved in a scheme to bribe Republicans) who were “kicked out and floating without a committee,” said Hoylman.

As for the shakeup in leadership, Hoylman called it “a good position for the Democrats to be in, but,” he warned, “it is not a done deal.”
There are after all primaries coming up and “tenants were bitterly disappointed the last time Democrats were in control,” said Hoylman.
This was in 2009, a year that was marred by a coup in which two Democrats, Pedro Espada Jr. and Hiram Monserrate, temporarily switched sides. (Both men have since been convicted of crimes, Monserrate of assaulting his girlfriend, and Espada of embezzling from a nonprofit he founded, and are no longer in office.)

As for this year, “Tenant advocates cannot sit on the sidelines,” said Hoylman. “They have to make sure their voices are heard. “This could hopefully do a lot for rent regulated apartments in my district, mainly Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village. This could make a big difference but it could also be a lost opportunity.”

NY Assembly, Senate pass DRIE expansion

Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh discusses SCRIE.

Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh discusses SCRIE.

By Maria Rocha-Buschel
The New York State Assembly passed legislation Thursday, June 19, that will allow more tenants to qualify for the Disability Rent Increase Exemption (DRIE) program. The bill, which was introduced by Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh and State Senator Diane Savino, increases the annual limit for DRIE tenants from $29,000 to $50,000.The Senate approved the legislation on Friday.
It has not yet been signed by the governor or passed by the City Council, but a spokesperson for Kavanagh said there’s no opposition expected.
DRIE is similar to Senior Citizen Rent Increase Exemption (SCRIE) program, which following a legislative effort by Kavanagh, got the same increase on its income limit earlier this year.
Kavanagh said that the increases didn’t necessarily need to be introduced separately but were because of the budget constraints of submitting both at the same time. There was an extra push to have the legislation passed before the legislature adjourned for the summer at the end of last week and the effort was a success for Kavanagh and the disability rights advocates who were calling for the increase.
The DRIE program freezes rents for residents with disabilities who are living in rent-regulated housing with low incomes and who pay one third or more of their income in rent. Landlords are compensated for difference through property tax abatements.
“DRIE helps keeps economically vulnerable New Yorkers in their homes, despite ever-rising rents,” Kavanagh said. “Increasing the income limit for DRIE, just as we did with SCRIE earlier this year, will ensure the program keeps up with New York’s economic realities. Everyone deserves an opportunity to live affordably and independently in communities they help to sustain, and we all benefit from recognizing this.”

Maloney: Fannie/Freddie bill won’t get passed as is

Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney at a May, 2010 press conference in front of Stuyvesant Town, discusses her Fannie/Freddie legislation. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, at a May, 2010 press conference in front of Stuyvesant Town, discusses her Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac legislation. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot
Two weeks before the scheduled foreclosure sale of Stuyvesant Town’s debt, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney reintroduced legislation that would prevent Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac from investing in future, similar housing deals that lead to the loss of affordable housing rather than the creation of it.
However, she freely admitted that the bill is not likely to get passed any time soon.
“It is very difficult to get a bill through Congress, but I am continuing to build support behind this important bill,” said Maloney, “and I am looking for opportunities to incorporate the reforms it proposes in other legislation.”
The bill was first introduced in 2010 after Fannie and Freddie got affordable housing goals credits for their participation in the Tishman Speyer purchase of Stuyvesant Town.
Maloney reintroduced the bill on Friday, May 30, following the formation of a coalition of over 40 local elected officials aimed at fighting predatory equity. The Coalition Against Predatory Equity (CAPE) was formed by Council Members Dan Garodnick, Jumaane Williams and Ritchie Torres and one of its goals is to ensure responsible lending by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
Both agencies are mandated by the federal government to help increase affordable housing. However, Fannie and Freddie were parties to the Stuy Town deal in 2006, despite the owners’ business plan of ousting stabilized renters and replacing them with market rate paying ones.
Specifically, the agencies invested in a $22 billion commercial mortgage-backed securities transaction that contained the senior debt on the ST/PCV. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac’s participation as senior debt holders of $3 billion was critical, as it represented nearly 60 percent of the total cost of the acquisition.
Maloney’s bill, if passed, would prevent Fannie, Freddie or any other government sponsored enterprise (GSE) from receiving affordable housing goals credits when a project’s debt is disproportionate to its income like the ST/PCV venture.
The bill would also require the GSEs to use the same standards for assessing their investments in the secondary securities market as they would for direct investments for the purposes of affordable housing goals credits.
“Part of Fannie and Freddie’s mission is to encourage affordable housing, but some of the deals in which they have invested have caused the opposite to occur,” said Maloney in an official statement. “Affordable housing credits shouldn’t be awarded for investments when the only conceivable scenario for profitability is for rents to rise. That is what’s happening at Stuyvesant Town/Peter Cooper Village, and that’s what my legislation is designed to prevent.”
A spokesperson for Fannie did not respond to a request for comment. A spokesperson for Freddie said he couldn’t comment on legislation affecting the agency.

 

Pols planning housing ‘emergency legislation’

Council Member Dan Garodnick (second to left) with Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh and State Senator Brad Hoylman pictured at a January meeting of the ST-PCV Tenants Association meeting, with (far left0 TA attorney Tim Collins

Council Member Dan Garodnick (second to left) with Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh and State Senator Brad Hoylman pictured at a January meeting of the ST-PCV Tenants Association meeting, with (far left) TA attorney Tim Collins (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

UPDATE: Since this story ran in the June 5 issue of Town & Village, CWCapital moved to formally take ownership of ST/PCV, a story in the New York Times reported. According to Council Member Dan Garodnick, he still expects to move ahead with the emergency legislation.

By Sabina Mollot
In response to the upcoming foreclosure sale of some of the Stuyvesant Town debt, local elected officials are drafting emergency legislation to help protect the stability of the community and others like it.
However, it’s unclear what that legislation would do or if it would impact the foreclosure process in any way.
The legislation was mention in an email sent by the ST-PCV Tenants Association to neighbors on Tuesday afternoon, in response to being asked what the association was doing about the foreclosure.
Along with scheduling a rally on the day of the sale, Friday, June 13 at 10 a.m., in front of City Hall, the email mentioned that the TA had approached the mayor as well as the attorney general to ask for help. Additionally, the TA noted, “State Senator Brad Hoylman, Assemblyman Brian Kavanagh, and Councilman Garodnick are working on an emergency package of legislation to be introduced at both the city and state level to help protect the long-term stability of communities such as ours.”
When asked for details on the legislation, Garodnick said he couldn’t provide any yet.
However, he said, “We are contemplating a variety of options. Hopefully we’ll have more soon. I can’t say much more than that at the moment.”
He also said that he’d been in touch with the mayor’s office about the impending foreclosure. “My sense is that they are looking at ways to be helpful,” Garodnick said.
The mayor’s office hasn’t responded to T&V’s numerous requests for comment on the subject of the Stuyvesant Town foreclosure.
Last week, Garodnick announced the formation of the Coalition Against Predatory Equity, which is aimed at keeping affordable housing from turning into overleveraged housing.
Garodnick, who’s also an attorney, added that the only parties with the power to stop or delay the foreclosure are those “in the capital stack.”
The TA said in the Tuesday email it wasn’t sure if one of the debt holders would attempt to stall the process or if CWCapital would attempt to continue to shut the TA out of the process. CW has still declined to talk business about the TA’s hope for a condo conversion plan. The company has also declined to discuss a bid reportedly being prepared by its parent company Fortress, of $4.7 billion.
“Ultimately, we can control only what we can control,” the TA said. “But we can continue to make sure our voices are heard and try in a thoughtful, aggressive, substantive way to affect what happens when CW forecloses — not just for ourselves but for those who aspire to live here in the future.”
The Tenants Association, along with asking tenants to show up for the rally, is seeking volunteers to flier buildings.
The TA is also offering bus rides to City Hall. Those who want to reserve a seat are asked to register online.

Council backs expansion of eligibility for SCRIE

Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh, pictured at a Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association meeting on May 10, authored legislation to expand eligibility to SCRIE. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh, pictured at a Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association meeting on May 10, authored legislation to expand eligibility to SCRIE. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

UPDATE: Following this story’s publication in the Thursday, May 29 issue of Town & Village, the SCRIE legislation was signed by the mayor.

By Sabina Mollot
Legislation recently enacted that would significantly expand seniors’ eligibility for SCRIE has now been incorporated by the City Council into the budget, and is expected to go into effect on July 1. Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh, who introduced the proposal, said the mayor has indicated his support of it and is expected to sign onto it today.
The plan, which was first enacted in the state two months ago, would increase the maximum income a senior can have in order to qualify for the rent assistance program from $29,000 to $50,000. SCRIE (Senior Citizen Rent Increase Exemption) limits rents for people over 62 in rent-regulated housing who pay more than a third of their incomes in rent. Any rent hikes after leases are signed get paid to the landlord through a tax abatement, not by the tenants. The expansion is expected to make 22,000 additional seniors eligible for the program, Kavanagh said.
The bill was actually first introduced in 2007, Kavanagh’s first spring in the Assembly, and finally enacted this year.
“All parties cared about getting it done,” he said.
What has been adopted by the City Council on May 14 is a change that will have the state paying the cost of any newly eligible participants with incomes between $29,000 and $50,000.
Currently, it’s the city that pays the full cost of SCRIE, and, noted Kavanagh, “the state doesn’t mandate that the city participate” in the program.
This change in policy would be up for renewal by the state in 2016. Meanwhile, Kavanagh said he’s trying to get the word out to seniors that they should apply for the program before July 1.

‘CAPE’ crusade aims to fight predatory equity

Council Member Dan Garodnick, with other elected officials at City Hall, discusses the “CAPE” coalition. (Photo by Ilona Kramer)

Council Member Dan Garodnick, with other elected officials at City Hall, discusses the “CAPE” coalition. (Photo by Ilona Kramer)

By Sabina Mollot
On Wednesday, Council Members Dan Garodnick, Jumaane Williams and Ritchie Torres announced the formation of a coalition of over 40 elected officials who are committed to keeping affordable housing from turning into overleveraged housing.
Specifically, the Coalition Against Predatory Equity (CAPE) was organized in an effort to avoid the type of massive debt deals that have led to the loss of affordable housing like at Stuyvesant Town.
“We have a wide-ranging, diverse group and together we have some powerful principles,” said Garodnick, adding that the coalition is “strength in numbers.”

The four goals of the group are:
To get Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to commit to not lending to any owner in a deal that puts affordable housing at risk.
Avoid investment of city and state pension funds in deals that harm tenants.
Stop offering tax abatements or subsidies to development deals that would lead to the loss of affordable units.
Come up with legislation aimed at limiting “the abuses of predatory equity, and assists tenants in over-leveraged buildings.”

Garodnick, who released a report about the dangers of predatory equity in April, said the coalition is also concerned about the Stuyvesant Town foreclosure and the reports of a bid by CWCapital’s parent company Fortress.
“We are looking into the appropriateness of all that activity,” said Garodnick, adding that all of the coalition’s four principles are relevant to a post-predatory equity Stuyvesant Town.

Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, who’s previously authored legislation that if passed, would ensure more responsible lending by Fannie and Freddie, said she’d reintroduce that bill this week.
“Nothing was more shocking about the Tishman Speyer/Stuy Town/Peter Cooper transaction than finding out that the federally-chartered Government-Sponsored-Enterprises tasked with expanding affordable housing were actually investing in a deal that could only succeed by converting as many affordable units as possible into luxury rent apartments,” said Maloney. The congresswoman said she hoped the bill would “send a message that these GSEs cannot game the system and fail to comply with their affordable housing responsibilities.”

Along with politicians, over a dozen organizations, including the ST-PCV Tenants Association, Tenants and Neighbors and the Urban Justice Center, have joined the coalition.

Hoylman bill would bring back SBS lights

SBS bus (Photo via Wikipedia)

SBS bus (Photo via Wikipedia)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

State Senator Brad Hoylman introduced legislation on Monday that would allow New York City Transit to use purple flashing lights on SBS buses.

“It’s hard to believe we need Albany approval to change the color of lights on select buses in New York City, but we do,” Hoylman said. “That said, it’s important we pass legislation that enables select buses to use purple colored lights to allow thousands of riders, many of them my constituents, to distinguish from a distance SBS buses from traditional buses, giving riders time determine whether they need to pre-pay the SBS fare or take a local bus. Plus, purple lights won’t cause confusion with emergency vehicles because they don’t use this color.”

The legislation comes about a month after Community Board 6 passed a resolution that supported the return of the flashing lights at the full board meeting on April 9.

Assemblymember Micah Kellner introduced a bill in the State Assembly in March, 2013 to amend vehicle and traffic law and correct the issue. Hoylman’s bill is the same as the one in the Assembly and the legislation would add a new paragraph to the law so that the MTA was permitted to use flashing purple lights for buses on SBS routes. The senator’s district includes significant portions of the M15 SBS route, which runs on First and Second Avenue, as well as the M34 SBS route, which runs crosstown on 34th Street.

Stuyvesant Town resident and CB6 board member Lawrence Scheyer has been a strong supporter of the return of the lights because of the hassle that a lack of lights has caused for both express and local bus riders. Many proponents for the lights have argued that the short warning time for an approaching SBS bus makes the curbside payment system more difficult.

“Especially during long waits for buses on dark and stormy and frigid nights, the first sighting of the SBS bus’ signature twin beacons of blinking light in the in the distance was reassuring to all waiting bus passengers,” Scheyer said. “At major stops where riders wait at different locations for local or Select buses, such early warning provided ample opportunity for everybody, calmly, to pre-pay at curbside kiosks and obtain receipts.”

Flashing lights were utilized on SBS buses from the time they were put into service in 2008 until late 2012. Elected officials from Staten Island pressured then-MTA commissioner Joe Lhota to get rid of the lights, citing confusion with volunteer emergency vehicles and no flashing lights have distinguished the buses since then.

Garodnick says city needs to crack down on predatory equity

At City Hall, Councilman Garodnick cited Stuyvesant Town as a prime example of predatory equity, a practice that has continued throughout the city. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

At City Hall, Councilman Garodnick cited Stuyvesant Town as a prime example of predatory equity, a practice that has continued throughout the city. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

With Mayor de Blasio expected to unveil a housing plan soon that’s supposed to create or preserve 200,000 units of affordable housing, Council Member Dan Garodnick has released a report that’s determined a part of the plan to maintain the city’s stock of affordable housing needs to be a crackdown on predatory equity.

Garodnick discussed the issue in front of City Hall on Tuesday, saying that even after the market crashed, landlords have continued to accrue excessive debt in building purchases and then attempt to either pass the costs on to tenants in ways that are sometimes illegal or become slumlords.

“Tenants are being forced out because rents are jacked up on their apartments or because the apartments are becoming uninhabitable,” he said. Garodnick, while joined by other elected officials, housing advocates and a handful of tenants of distressed buildings, said it’s up to the city to step in with policy to break the cycle of buildings becoming distressed and tenants getting gouged or harassed. Naturally, Garodnick gave the example of the now infamous $5.4 billion Stuyvesant Town deal, in which owner Tishman Speyer lost all of its investors’ money following a failed attempt to turn the mostly rent-regulated complex market rate. Calling it the poster child for predatory equity, Garodnick recalled how “their entire business plan was to evict as many rent-stabilized tenants as quickly as they could.”

Meanwhile, since then, there have been similar deals that have been even worse in terms of those properties being allowed to deteriorate. Such blighted properties, noted Garodnick, are a burden on the city. He also referred to the refinancing last week of the 1,600-unit Three Borough Pool, which was $133 million in debt. After being refinanced, the property’s debt has swelled to $146 million, which Garodnick said makes no sense.

“They avoided foreclosure by refinancing with even more debt. How is that even possible?”

In his report, titled “Ghosts of the Housing Bubble; How Debt, Deterioration and Foreclosure Continue to Haunt New York After the Crash,” Garodnick suggested a few policy changes to deal with properties that are overleveraged. One is to have the city invest much more in Alternative Enforcement Program, which allows the city to repair violations and bill the owner. The city currently only spends $50,000 on the program, relying on federal grants to make up the rest of the $7.6 million budget.

Another plan is to give good-acting landlords the first chance to buy foreclosed mortgages after the city buys them. He also said he would look into the possibility of “creative solutions” where long-suffering tenants being able to get a crack at buying. He noted how this was currently a goal in ST/PCV, though in that case, the proposal to buy was not organized with assistance from the city. Another of his recommended changes is to create new standards for receivers or debt servicers to make sure they are protecting the health and safety of residents. Currently, receivers can’t be sued in Housing Court without approval of the Supreme Court judge who appointed them. Finally, Garodnick also recommended creating new state guidelines around the existing federal Community Reinvestment Act, which pushes banks to lend in low-income areas. The idea there is to focus on the quality of loans, not just the quantity.

Along with those proposals, Garodnick also discussed new legislation that would make the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) create a watch list of owners who engage in predatory equity. The bill was authored by Council Member Ritchie Torres, who represents a district in the Bronx where the practice has become increasingly common.

Harvey Epstein of the Urban Justice Center recalled the predatory equity in Stuyvesant Town. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

Harvey Epstein of the Urban Justice Center recalled the predatory equity in Stuyvesant Town. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

While at City Hall, Torres said that at this time, “There are no consequences” for owners who engage in “intentionally harassing, defrauding and displacing tenants from their homes.” He, along with State Senator Brad Hoylman, said he supported Garodnick’s proposals, and Hoylman said he would address them at the state level. A couple of tenants then shared tales of living in buildings that were so poorly maintained, the only ones who seemed to be in control were the rats and drug dealers.

The issue of Stuyvesant Town was also revisited by Harvey Epstein, director of the Urban Justice Center’s Community Development Project. Epstein recalled when Garodnick, then a new member of the City Council, contacted him in 2006 about Tishman Speyer. At that time, stabilized tenants had started receiving, en masse, primary residence challenges from the owner. “Over 3,000 tenants were subject to potential eviction in Stuyvesant Town,” said Epstein. “That’s what predatory equity is. When you take tenants who’ve lived in a building 20, 30, 40 years and you find ways to get them out.”