Maloney on fire at Met Gala

CAMP CHAMP–At a star-studded bash that’s become a glorified photo op, one guest made that work to her advantage, while decked out in FDNY. (Photo courtesy of Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney)

By Sabina Mollot

At a party jam packed with celebrities and others jockeying for the position of the guest with the most “camp” outfit, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney still managed to stand out, glowing in an FDNY jacket.

The congresswoman was in attendance at the Met Gala, which is considered to be one of the toughest, if not the toughest events in town to get on the guest list to. However, the veteran legislator wasn’t there to preen.

The firefighter’s jacket was worn in an attempt to draw attention to the 9/11 compensation fund for first responders. Its upcoming expiration, Maloney is warning, will leave thousands of responders and their families without badly needed money.

Maloney was gifted the fireman’s jacket by 9/11 first responders and has pledged to wear it to all events, including the Met Gala, in the hope of growing support for her legislation aimed at renewing and permanently funding the 9/11 Victims Compensation Fund.

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Landlords grilled at hearing on proposed rent regulations

Linda Rosenthal

Assembly Member Linda Rosenthal discusses the package of bills at a pre-hearing rally. (Photos by Sabina Mollot)

 

By Sabina Mollot

Politicians left no doubt that the balance of power in Albany has unquestionably shifted during a hearing of the New York State Assembly last week.

At the heart of the debate was the understanding that a package of tenant-friendly legislation stands a good chance of being passed in June, following last November’s elections that turned the previously industry-friendly State Senate blue.

At one point, Assembly Member Linda Rosenthal, who represents the Upper West Side, turned her attention to a panel of real estate professionals who were there to give testimony. 

“How much money have you used to influence our laws?”, she asked.

When none answered, Rosenthal told them, “You’ve had a lot of friends in Albany over the years. Now you have fewer friends.”

Earlier in the hearing, Paimaan Lodhi, senior vice president of policy and planning for the Real Estate Board of New York, cautioned that the city’s housing stock would deteriorate as a result of the bills’ passage. 

However, he said the industry is in favor of passing rent regulations that “increase transparency that protects the public from a few bad actors.”

But Rosenthal told the room, “We have many good bills and we are going to pass them. There is no reason why tenants shouldn’t be protected. You guys get tax breaks. In return, you have obligations you have not met. How come so many landlords fail to register their rent-regulated units?”

In response, Joseph Strasburg, president of the Rent Stabilization Association, said the RSA encourages its members to resister their units, warning there are consequences if they don’t. He then said there should be more enforcement mechanisms and countered there wasn’t “an upside” to trying to game the system.

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JP Morgan Chase employee running against Maloney

Lauren Ashcraft at one of her comedy benefits, pictured on an evening she raised money for survivors of 9/11 (Photo by Kristen Wilson)

By Sabina Mollot

On the heels of what was the most competitive primary race Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney faced in about a decade last year, another millennial who’s never held office is now also attempting to unseat the 25-year incumbent.

Lauren Ashcraft, a Turtle Bay resident who works as a project manager for JP Morgan Chase, officially launched her Congressional campaign at the end of March.

Since then, the 30-year-old Democrat has been raising some small donations (around $2,500 so far) from those who like her elevator pitch promising to get big money out of politics.

“I feel it’s a central issue because progressive issues are stalled because it,” said Ashcraft, who has pledged not to take any corporate or superPAC money. Her donations have been mostly in the $50 range, but she’s hoping her campaign will be taken seriously with the help of a volunteer staff of 15 and by getting a head start. The Democratic Congressional primary isn’t until 2020 and candidates won’t even have to start petitioning until next year.

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Accusations of racism fly at rent regs hearing

Assembly members at a hearing on rent regulations (Photos by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

A hearing on Thursday about the rent regulations that are sunsetting this June in Albany at times got heated with a speaker representing the real estate industry being accused of racism by the crowd and even a couple of Assembly members.

After a few New York City tenant leaders and advocates spoke favorably about a package of tenant-friendly bills aimed at, among other things, ending vacancy decontrol and major capital improvement rent increases, Joseph Strasburg, the president of the Rent Stabilization Association, told the Assembly housing committee members not to “NYCHA-tize the private sector.”

The Rent Stabilization Association represents roughly 25,000 New York City landlords.

In response to his comment, a couple of audience members shouted out “Racist!”

Strasburg disagreed, but one black Assembly member, Latrice Walker, responded that as someone who had grown up in a NYCHA development, only to later lose that apartment and become homeless, she didn’t appreciate his comment.

This was echoed by another black Assembly member, Walter Mosley, who said, “I think the term used with regards to NYCHA, it’s not up to the person who doesn’t know what racism is to determine what racism is. To say it is disrespectful to the members here who are of color as well as those who live in NYCHA, who are a number of my constituents.”

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Assembly taking aim at MCIs, IAIs, vacancy de-control

Photo by Sidney Goldberg

Assembly Member Harvey Epstein during a recent tenant lobbying day in Albany (Photo by Sidney Goldberg)

By Sabina Mollot

With the rent regulations set to expire on June 15, the New York State Assembly has set public hearings on May 2 and 9 to discuss a package of proposals aimed at strengthening the current laws.

Among the legislation includes a bill that would end major capital improvement (MCI) rent increases and also require the state housing agency to create a program ensuring property owners maintain a certain level of repair. MCIs are charges tacked on to a tenant’s rent to pay for improvements to the property.

“The major capital improvement rent increase program is a flawed system which has been overly complex for property owners to navigate,” said the bill’s sponsor, Assembly Member Brian Barnwell, “and has been a great disservice in our efforts to preserve the affordable housing stock.”

Another bill would end individual apartment improvements (IAI). Under the current law, landlords are allowed to raise rent after making IAIs, which can range from cosmetic repairs to redoing various rooms.

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Rent Guidelines Board vote and rent regulation debate are both on the horizon

Mike McKee of TenantsPAC (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

Spring has sprung and every four years in New York means one thing: that government decisions made at the city and state levels will be directly impacting the affordability of over a million stabilized apartments.

The city’s Rent Guidelines Board is beginning the process of debating what this year’s increase will be for renters with its first meeting of the year set for this Thursday. The final vote will be made in late June.

The rent regulations that affect the city, made in the state’s capital, are also set to expire on June 15. Though they’re expected to be renewed, lobbying from both the real estate industry and tenants has already begun to hammer out the details.

Both parties will of course have their hands full in terms of advocacy. What this means for tenants, who don’t necessarily have the time to be in two places at once, is that they should prioritize Albany. So states Michael McKee, treasurer and spokesperson of Tenants Political Action Committee (PAC).

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March for Mueller report

 

By Sidney Goldberg

On Thursday evening, a protest was held to demand the full release of the Mueller report that began in Times Square and ended in Flatiron outside Madison Square Park.

The protest was organized by MoveOn.org together with the Nobody is Above the Law Coalition and was said to be one of almost 300 similar protests around the country yesterday.

There were protest songs led by the group Sing Out, Louise! and a few speakers, including the NYC public advocate, from a stage that was set up on Broadway.

Despite the large turnout of at least hundreds, the event was hampered by a delay in marching, with the crowd being held at Times Square and a half. This caused some grumbling among the participants about the need for all the stage time commanded by the speakers.

Small biz bills called helpful, but not enough

By Sabina Mollot

Last month, members of the City Council introduced a package of bills aimed at helping small businesses. They ranged from creating a registry of vacant retail spaces to having landlords sign a “certificate of no harassment” before getting construction permits to providing training to help small business owners digitally market themselves.

Since then, Town & Village reached out to operators of three local storefront businesses to ask if they thought the bills would help them — and if not, what would.

In response, Carole Husiak, who owns the Ibiza Kidz clothing shop in Stuyvesant Town, said she liked all the bills.

That said, Husiak doesn’t feel the bills address what she considers to have been her biggest problem as a business owner for the past 30 years — real estate taxes.

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Pied-à-Terre Tax killed in final budget

State Senator Brad Hoylman (center) discusses the Pied-a-Terre Tax at a February press conference. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

A real estate tax bill sponsored by State Senator Brad Hoylman that had recently gotten its second wind after languishing in the capital for years has just been killed in the finalized state budget. After being fought tooth and nail by the real estate industry, what had been dubbed the Pied-à-Terre Tax was instead substituted with other tax increases.

The Pied-à-Terre tax, which would have been charged to owners of properties worth over $5 million that are not the owner’s primary residence, was besieged by accusations that it would gut the luxury market and even significantly reduce the value of impacted units.

Prior to its demise, Hoylman acknowledged all the controversy and various headlines surrounding it.

“We’re calling it the Pied-à-Scare Tactic,” he told T&V. “They’re trying every argument against it.”

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For one week, New Yorkers get a vote on how $1M in city money gets spent through participatory budgeting

Mar28 Asser_Levy_Recreation_Center

One of the possible projects is $250,000 in enhancements to the Asser Levy Recreation Center.

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Residents in City Council Districts 2 and 4 will get a chance to vote on improvements in their neighborhood during participatory budgeting vote week starting on March 30.

Councilmembers Keith Powers of District 4 and Carlina Rivera of District 2 solicited ideas for “capital” projects this past fall and volunteers went through the suggestions and picked roughly a dozen ideas per district that residents can vote on through April 7.

Powers, who represents Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village, Waterside, Midtown East, Central Park South and the Upper East Side, has a handful of district-wide improvements that residents can vote on. One project, which would cost $200,000, would bring countdown clocks with real-time passenger information to bus stops throughout the district. Another project would resurface distressed roads for one mile of Council District 4 and would require $250,000 in funding. New plantings and tree guards throughout the district would cost $150,000.

Local residents can also vote for improvements to the Asser Levy Recreation Center across from Peter Cooper Village, which would provide new fitness equipment and flooring in the gym of the rec center and would cost $250,000.

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Drivers push back on congestion pricing

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer (pictured with Council Member Carlina Rivera and State Senator Brad Hoylman) held a town hall on congestion pricing last Thursday. (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Manhattan elected officials argued strongly in favor of congestion pricing at a public hearing last Thursday, but car-owning residents in attendance felt differently about the plan.

“This congestion was caused by the city allowing Uber and Lyft to put hundreds of cars on the streets that were already congested without charging any revenue for the city,” said attendee Sheila Williams. “If they had at least done that, they could have increased revenue and decreased the cars on the street, but now you want all of us to pay for this debacle and it’s already decimated the yellow cab industry.”

Manhattanites got the opportunity to offer their thoughts on the plan at a public hearing hosted by Borough President Gale Brewer at Cooper Union last Thursday evening. Many of the few hundred residents in attendance identified themselves as car-owners and suggested that residents who live in the area shouldn’t be forced to pay a fee just based on where they live.

“I do think that people living in the zone should be exempted from congestion pricing,” Stuy Town resident Lynn Janofsky said. “The only reason I have a car is to drive out of the city. I only go up or down the FDR and don’t drive in the city because I’m too worried about killing somebody, with the bikes, Ubers, pedestrians and phones. I have zero faith in the mayor to think things through before implementing something. For all of us who live in Stuyvesant Town/Peter Cooper Village and our six garages, we should be exempt.”

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Robo-call prevention bill passes in NY Senate committee

Mar28 Hoylman robocall bill

State Senator Brad Hoylman

On Tuesday, Senator Brad Hoylman and Assembly Member Yuh-Line Niou announced that a bill of theirs aimed at banning robo-calls in the state of New York has passed in the Senate Committee.

The Robocall Prevention Act came in response to the scourge of the record number of robocalls placed in 2018, a total of 47.8 billion nationwide.

If signed into law, the RPA would:

  • Prohibit any person or entity from making robocalls to any telephone number owned by a person in New York State, unless for emergency purposes or with the prior express consent of the call recipient;
  • Require telephone service companies to have technology available that would block unwanted robocalls, free of charge to the consumer;
  • Give the State Attorney General new enforcement powers on robocalls and authorize new civil penalties of up to $2,000 per robocall, up to $20,000 for calls placed in violation of the law within a continuous 72-hour period; and
  • Grant New Yorkers a private right of action to go after violators themselves, and allow courts to award treble damages for those who knowingly violate the law.

“There isn’t an issue I hear more about from constituents than the proliferation of robocalls,” said Hoylman. “These calls aren’t just annoying — they’re dangerous, and often used to defraud unsuspecting consumers, seniors, and vulnerable New Yorkers.”

Hoylman first sponsored legislation last May.

City talks shop as lawmakers move to help mom-and-pops

Ahead of a hearing on several small business bills, City Council members including Mark Levine and Helen Rosenthal (pictured with supporters), hold a rally at City Hall. (Photos by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

The City Council is mulling a package of legislation aimed at protecting mom-and-pops that ranges from creating a registry to track storefront vacancies to providing affordable retail spaces at developments where owners collect $1 million or more in subsidies.

On Monday, the bills were debated at a hearing chaired by the City Council Small Businesses Committee Chair Mark Gjonaj, after a rally on the front steps of City Hall.

The piece of legislation that would require the city to maintain a vacancy registry is being sponsored by Council Members Helen Rosenthal, Carlina Rivera, Ben Kallos and Mark Levine as well as Speaker Corey Johnson. The registry would include the location of the property, the reasons for the vacancy, the owner’s name, contact information for the property and the day it became vacant. Property owners would be expected to register once a property is vacant for more than 90 days. Failure to register would result in a penalty of $1,000 for every week after that.

Another bill, sponsored by Rosenthal and Johnson, would require the city to maintain a database of commercial properties.

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Opinion: Help the SBJSA move forward

The following is an open letter from Small Business Congress founder Sung Soo Kim to City Council Speaker Corey Johnson on the Small Business Jobs Survival Act. It has been edited for length.

Honorable Speaker Johnson:

I am disheartened that you refused to respond to my first request to meet and at least try to create compromise legislation to stop the closings of our city’s small businesses and save jobs. I took you at your word made at the October hearing on the Small Business Jobs Survival Act that you recognized a serious crisis existed and that you were committed to a solution and moving the bill (Small Business Jobs Survival Act) to a vote.

It is obvious to every small business owner that the grossly unfair lease renewal process places their futures and the futures of their employees in grave jeopardy when their leases expire. The empty storefronts on every main street make it obvious to every New Yorker that their beloved mom and pop businesses, having no rights nor protections from exorbitant rent increases, are desperate for government intervention to save them.

Putting aside the REBNY, Chambers, SBS and BID spins, false narratives, and insulting studies and fake worthless proposals, the majority of the city’s lawmakers also know their small businesses cannot survive without this legislation that gives rights to business owners in the critical lease renewal process.

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D.A., Council discuss recreational marijuana legalization

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance (Photos by Michelle Deal Winfield)

By Michelle Deal Winfield

On Wednesday, February 27, the City Council’s Committee on Public Safety held a hearing to call on the New York State legislature to pass laws to legalize recreational marijuana.

Testifying in favor of this proposal was Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance who’d been invited by the Council to discuss the issue.

“Last year, my office prosecuted 603 marijuana cases and this year we have prosecuted just 13 cases,” Vance said. After being questioned further, he added, “My office has decided to devote its resources to enforce public safety. Selling drugs is still an offense and we will prosecute. We do not want to waste money and take NYPD officers off their patrols for minor marijuana offenses.”

Vance also noted, “There are tests to detect alcohol-impaired driving. Unfortunately, there is no scientific test for Tetrahydrocannabinol, THC, marijuana.”

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