Stuyvesant Town resident challenging Maloney

Stuy Town resident Peter Harrison (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Stuyvesant Town resident Peter Harrison is the latest candidate to challenge Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney for her seat in the 12th District, with a campaign centered on the housing crisis.

“I’m a housing person, both as an activist and as a policy person,” he said. “And there’s a moment right now in this district to talk about housing as this lens for other major, major issues. The narrative of the campaign really is centered on housing as this focal point for talking about economic justice, climate justice and racial justice.”

Harrison moved in Stuy Town as a market-rate tenant in 2009 with some friends and less than a year later, they received a letter saying that they were members of the Roberts class-action lawsuit. That prompted him to get involved with the STPCV Tenants Association.

“There was an amazing opportunity to learn how to organize tenants because it was a ton of effort, and a huge capacity left for the TA,” he said. “So I really got thrown in, became a building captain and was knocking on hundreds and hundreds of doors, learning a lot about it.”

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Local politicians call on sanitation to remove trucks from East 10th Street

The trucks have been on East 10th Street for almost a year. (Photos by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

State elected officials are introducing legislation that would prevent the Department of Sanitation (DSNY) from storing their trucks in residential neighborhoods after East Village residents voiced complaints about the vehicles on their block for the last year.

Elected officials spoke about the quality of life issue on the block at East 10th Street between First and Second Avenues this past Sunday morning, noting that it has been almost a year since the Department of Sanitation started parking on the block and also announced that they would be sending a letter to Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia requesting updates on the situation.

The letter noted that Mayor Bill de Blasio addressed the situation last September, shortly after the trucks first arrived in the neighborhood on September 15, 2018, saying that he would try to work something out with the commissioner because the city didn’t want residential areas to feel the burden of the trucks, but the situation has remained largely unchanged since then, residents and business owners said.

The proposed legislation, sponsored by Deborah Glick in the State Assembly and Brad Hoylman in the State Senate, would amend the administrative code to prohibit garbage trucks from parking overnight on city streets. The new section would specify that vehicles operated by or under contract with the Department of Sanitation, and which are used for removing, disposing of or transporting solid waste, can’t be parked on the streets overnight.

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Attorney running to unseat Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney

Erica Vladimer (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Attorney Erica Vladimer still has a long way to go before the Congressional Primary next June, but she’s ready to challenge longtime Congressmember Carolyn Maloney in the election for the District 12 seat after announcing her candidacy this past June. The district covers the East Side of Manhattan, including the East Village, parts of Midtown and the Upper East Side, as well as Long Island City and Astoria in Queens and Greenpoint and Williamsburg in Brooklyn.

“I never fully intended to run for office, especially at this age, but if there’s ever been a time where a new generation needs to bring a new voice to all levels of government, this is it,” Vladimer said of her campaign. “And it gutturally feels right.”

Vladimer, 32, filed her paperwork to run on June 3 but was also in the news at the beginning of last year after she accused State Senator Jeff Klein of forcibly kissing her outside a bar in Albany while she was a member of his staff. She left his office in 2015 and said that she thought she had put it behind her, but felt differently when she started hearing about the accusations against film producer Harvey Weinstein.

“I will forever carry that with me,” she said of the incident. “Other people who were harassed, I feel that I played some role in it because I didn’t speak out.”

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Questions answered at housing forum

Assemblymember Deborah Glick, Councilmember Keith Powers, Assemblymember Harvey Epstein, Cooper Square Committee director of organizing and policy Brandon Kielbasa, State Senator Liz Krueger and Legal Aid housing attorney Ellen Davidson at the forum last week. (Photos by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Assemblymember Harvey Epstein’s office sponsored a forum on Thursday at the NYU Dental School on East 24th Street regarding the rent laws that passed in June to answer questions that tenants have about rent regulation and affordable housing protections.

State Senators Brad Hoylman and Liz Krueger, as well as Assemblymember Deborah Glick, Councilmembers Keith Powers, Carlina Rivera and Ben Kallos, were also in attendance, and Legal Aid housing attorney Ellen Davidson was available to answer questions about the complex aspects of the new laws.

“The MCI section [of the rent laws] is just like MCIs: very complicated,” Davidson said of one of the parts of the law most difficult to understand. “[The Division of Housing and Community Renewal] will have to set a schedule of reasonable costs of what can be recovered but they have to do it quickly because they can’t do any work until it’s approved.”

One of the victories that state legislators claimed in the passage of the rent laws was an annual cap on MCIs, or major capital improvements, at 2%. The previous cap was 6%. The new law also caps the amount that a landlord can pass on to tenants after a vacant apartment is renovated at $89, while also eliminating the previous 20% vacancy bonus that landlords could add after tenants moved out.

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Anti-vaxxers protest local politicians at forum

Anti-vax protesters attended the housing forum to voice their concerns to state legislators, primarily State Senators Brad Hoylman and Liz Krueger, as well as Assemblymember Deborah Glick, about a law that eliminated religious exemptions for vaccines. (Photos by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Anti-vax protesters disrupted a housing forum held at the NYU Dental School last Thursday, frustrating tenants who wanted to learn details about the new rent laws.

State Senators Brad Hoylman and Liz Krueger were two of the elected officials at the event and the two that received the most ire from the protesters, primarily because they were both sponsors legislation in the State Senate repealing religious exemptions for vaccinations.

The law requires that all students in public and private schools be vaccinated to attend, with no exceptions made for those with religious objections to vaccines, and many of the protesters at the event had signs arguing that thousands of children, including those with special needs, were being kicked out of their schools because of their parents’ religious beliefs.

The protest surprised elected officials attending, in part because local politicians who appear at community events in the neighborhood rarely have such vehement opposition to their policies, especially where the topic at hand is entirely unrelated to the subject being protested, but also because the legislation passed more than a month ago in mid-June.

Even as he was arriving at the event, Hoylman was challenged in the elevator by a man who argued that politicians shouldn’t be dictating how parents provide healthcare to their children, while Hoylman shot back, “You’re right, doctors should, and they have.”

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City Council passes retail vacancy registry bill and others aimed at helping mom-and-pop

Il Forno on Second Avenue is one of the many small businesses in the neighborhood that has closed in recent months. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

Last Tuesday, the City Council passed five bills aimed at helping mom-and-pops, including one that would track retail vacancies and information about those spaces’ leasing history.

Each of the bills passed unanimously, with the exception of the vacancy tracking one, which still easily got through with just two objections.

If signed by the mayor, building owners would be required to submit information to the city regarding ground and second floor commercial spaces. The city’s Department of Finance would then establish publicly available data on those commercial properties, disaggregated by council district. Information would include median average duration of leases, the median and average remaining term to lease expiration, the median and average size of rentable floor area, the number of such premises reported as being leased and vacant, the median and average rent, the length of time a property has not been leased as well as construction information, and the number of such premises where the lease is due to expire within two years of the current calendar year. The bill would also require the release of a list of addresses of commercial properties and an indicator of whether or not such properties are vacant.

The legislation’s sponsor, Council Member Helen Rosenthal, said she thought it would go a long way to fighting retail blight.

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Senate passes 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund

Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, joined by US Senator Charles Schumer (left) and Congressman Jerrold Nadler (right), cheered the passage of the legislation in the House earlier this month.

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

The bill to make the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund permanent passed in the Senate by a vote of 97 to 2 on Tuesday, following its passage by an overwhelming majority in the House earlier this month.

Following the bill’s passage in the House on July 12, lead sponsor Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney urged Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to call for a vote in the Senate before the August recess during a press conference across from the World Trade Center memorial last Monday. During the event, Maloney donned an FDNY jacket gifted to her by the Fire Department, which she had pledged to wear at all events to raise awareness until this particular bill had passed.

“The true Twin Towers of New York are the FDNY and the NYPD, and fully funding and permanently authorizing the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund is the least we can do to honor their sacrifices,” Maloney said following the vote in the Senate. “I will not rest until the September 11th Victim Compensation Program is made permanent and we finally turn our promise to Never Forget into law. I hope the President signs this legislation quickly, so we can finally give these heroes the peace of mind they deserve.”

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Activists protest Jeff Bezos at his Manhattan apartment on Amazon’s Prime Day

Protesters demonstrated at the Manhattan home of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos on Prime Day, condemning the tech mogul for his company’s alleged connections to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Immigration activists attempted to deliver more than 270,000 petitions to Amazon founder Jeff Bezos during a protest at his new home across from Madison Square Park during a protest on Monday afternoon during Amazon’s Prime Day. Activists were calling on Bezos to cut ties with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and end abusive working conditions at Amazon warehouses.

The company started Prime Day last year offering deals for members of the Amazon Prime and the protest was organized specifically on Prime Day as part of a national day of action against the company. Representatives and activists from New York Communities for Change, Make the Road New York, ALIGN NY, NYC-DSA, Mijente, DRUM, JFREJ, MPower Change, Workers United SEIU, Tech Workers Coalition and Chhaya CDC, as well as immigrant families and former Amazon workers, participated in the protest, which started on the northern end of Madison Square Park and marched to the West 26th Street entrance of Bezos’ apartment at 212 Fifth Avenue.

Curbed reported at the beginning of June that Bezos had purchased three condos, including a penthouse previously listed for $58 million, in the building. The penthouse that Bezos reportedly purchased is a triplex with five bedrooms, five bathrooms and almost 6,000 square feet of outdoor space. The Wall Street Journal reported that the total value of the apartments Bezos bought in the building was around $80 million.

One former Amazon warehouse worker who spoke at the protest, detailing the long hours with no breaks that employees have reportedly been subjected to. While speaking about working with insufficient lunch and bathroom breaks, the former Amazon employee held up a clear water bottle with an unnamed yellow liquid, although an organizer assured protesters that the mystery liquid was not urine.

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Grace on fire: Park wins Civil Court primary race

Grace Park has been an attorney with the Legal Aid Society for 14 years.

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Legal Aid attorney Grace Park won the Democratic primary for Civil Court Judge in District 4 during Tuesday’s election.

According to the Board of Elections, Park received 73.45 percent of the vote and opponent Lynne Fischman-Uniman got 26.09 percent, with 90.38 percent of the scanners reported.

There was a slight controversy regarding the primary at the 11th hour on Election Day when Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village residents received a letter from neighbors endorsing Fischman-Uniman that some residents felt was deliberately meant to look like it was sent by the Tenants Association. The letter didn’t mention the TA at all, but residents Roberta Moldow, Jane Crotty and Alan Fleishman signed the letter, which was addressed to “residents of Stuyvesant Town.”

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Albany passes strongest rent regulations ever

Tenants in Albany on Friday (Photos courtesy of Housing Justice for All)

By Sabina Mollot

On Friday, the governor signed the most tenant-friendly package of rent regulations the state has ever seen, including the repeal of vacancy and high-income deregulation, the end of vacancy bonuses and much stricter limitations on major capital improvement (MCI) and individual apartment improvement (IAI) rent increases.

As for what this means for tenants, most notably there will be adjustments to stabilized tenants’ rent, said Assembly Member Harvey Epstein. MCIs, which previously could be no higher than six percent of a tenant’s rent, will now be no higher than two percent. They will also be eliminated after 30 years instead of being paid in perpetuity. If tenants have signed a lease with a preferential rent, that amount, when the lease is renewed, will now only be allowed to climb as high as the rent increase voted on by the Rent Guidelines Board. Previously it could have gone as high as the maximum legal rent (often a difference of hundreds of dollars).

Additionally, while this doesn’t impact current tenants, tenants moving into an apartment won’t have nearly as much to pay in IAIs, which will now be limited to $15,000 each, and only three units will be eligible over a 15-year period. The increase would also last 30 years instead of remaining permanent. Tenant blacklists will also disappear and there will also be more protections available for tenants fighting an eviction. Additionally, any conversions to co-ops or condos must be non-eviction plans. Tenants who want to file overcharge complaints will now have longer to do so, six years instead of four.

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Candidate for Civil Court judge says she’d encourage mediation

Lynne Fischman-Uniman (center) with Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney and Assembly Member Dan Quart, who are supporting her campaign (Photo courtesy of Lynne Fischman-Uniman)

By Sabina Mollot

On June 25, there will be a Democratic primary in New York City, albeit a quiet one in certain districts, mainly for delegates for judicial convention, county committee members and district leader positions. But in the fourth Municipal Court district — the area comprised of Stuyvesant Town/Peter Cooper Village, Gramercy, Kips Bay and Murray Hill — there is a race for Civil Court judge with two serious candidates.

One is West Midtown resident Grace Park, an attorney with the Legal Aid Society, and the other is Upper East Sider Lynne Fischman-Uniman, who also practices law, in her case for nearly 40 years. Unlike other races, judicial candidates don’t need to live in the districts they’re running in and it’s quite possible that if elected, they will end up being assigned outside the area or even the borough, depending on where the demand for judges is.

Civil Court judges decide cases involving small claims of up to $25,000 and some housing cases, though sometimes they’re assigned at first to Family Court or Criminal Court.

As for why New Yorkers should care about a local race for the bench, Fischman-Uniman’s elevator pitch to voters has been that along with her experience in law, including teaching it at New York Law School, she is devoted to the betterment of the court process wherever possible.

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Albany poised to pass much stronger rent regulations

Tenants rally outside the governor’s midtown office in support of the proposed rent laws on Wednesday. (Photo by Anne Greenberg)

By Sabina Mollot

Although nothing is yet a done deal, on Tuesday night the State Assembly and Senate announced that the package of bills aimed at repealing vacancy decontrol, among other tenant protections, is being pushed forward by both chambers. A vote is expected to take place on Friday, and Governor Andrew Cuomo has said he would sign such a bill if it passes in both chambers.

The package’s protections for tenants, if signed into law, would:

  • Make the rent regulations permanent, instead of sunsetting every four years
  • Repeal vacancy deregulation and high-income deregulation, which has applied to residents whose household incomes were at least $200,000 for two years
  • Repeal the vacancy bonus, which allows owners to raise the rents by 20 percent every time an apartment turns over
  • Repeal the longevity bonus, which allows owners to raise rents on an apartment for new tenants based on the length of the previous tenancy
  • Prohibit Rent Guidelines Boards from setting additional increases based on the current rental cost of a unit or the amount of time since the owner was authorized to take additional rent increases, such as a vacancy bonus

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IAIs were inflated at hundreds of NY apts. suit says

Attorney General Letitia James

By Sabina Mollot

A property manager is being accused of lying about the costs of hundreds of apartment renovations in order to have the rents reach the threshold where they could be converted to market rate.

The property manager, David Drumheller and his company, JBD Realty Services, were both named as defendants in a lawsuit that was filed by Attorney General Letitia James last Thursday.

The suit accuses Drumheller of fraud and repeatedly violating the Rent Stabilization Law for the individual apartment improvement (IAI) scheme, which was allegedly perpetrated at hundreds of apartments in Manhattan and Brooklyn. At that time, he was working for Newcastle Realty Services, a firm that manages roughly 2,500 units in the city. He also, along with an unnamed associate, allegedly collected $1.2 million in kickbacks from contractors who did renovation work at Newcastle-managed apartments. Some contractors were said to have paid the pair directly, while others paid for their expenses such as country club dues, Porsche payments and home improvement projects. Most of the contractors made most of their money from the Newcastle jobs, including a landscape design firm that had no apartment renovation experience when hired by Newcastle.

According to the attorney general, the scheme went on for years between 2012-2016, with Drumheller manipulating the IAI system that allows property owners to charge permanent rent increases to tenants based on the cost of the renovations that were done in their apartments. An owner can charge 1/60th of the cost in buildings with over 35 units, and 1/40th of the cost in buildings with 35 or fewer units. The goal was to get the rents to reach the threshold where they could be deregulated.

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Civil Court judge candidate Grace Park wants you to know that there is a primary

Grace Park has been an attorney with the Legal Aid Society for 14 years.

By Sabina Mollot

Midtown resident Grace Park, an attorney for the past 20 years and a mother of two teen boys, is on the ballot for a position that doesn’t pop up too often — Civil Court judge.

And considering that most people don’t know that judges even need to be elected, and considering that this is a quiet election year, Park knows it’s going to be tough to get voters out to a June 25 Democratic primary.

She’s just begun the process of getting the word out about the race, in which she is running against Lynne Fischman Uniman, another experienced attorney.

There is no Republican candidate for this position, which is to represent the 4th District, an area that covers Stuyvesant Town/Peter Cooper Village, Gramercy, Kips Bay, Murray Hill and Midtown East.

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Student MetroCard program set to expand

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

The MTA Board officially approved a proposal that expands full-fare MetroCard access for students on Wednesday. The proposed resolution expands access to three-trip, full-fare student MetroCards for students who currently have half-fare MetroCards, and would eliminate the half-fare MetroCard program.

Half-fare student MetroCards allow bus-only access for K-12 students who live at least half a mile from their school. Students with half-fare cards are supposed to pay $1.35 in coins for every ride, which the MTA said increases dwell time and can be challenging to collect.

The resolution would give half-fare recipients the same three-trip MetroCard that other students already receive, which gives students three free rides every day and can be used on buses and subways.

There are currently 27,000 daily bus trips using half-fare cards. The MTA issued 200,500 half-fare MetroCards to the Department of Education for distribution for the spring semester of 2018, and data from the DOE shows that 66 percent of the half-fare MetroCards that are shipped to schools and distributed are never used, and of the cards that are used, they are used on only eight percent of school days.

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