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.”
Tenants play limbo at the vote. (Photos by Maria Rocha-Buschel)
By Maria Rocha-Buschel
The city’s rent-stabilized renters will be seeing increases of 1.25 percent for one-year leases and 2 percent for two-year leases.
The increases were voted on by the Rent Guidelines Board on Tuesday evening, after two years of rent freezes for one-year leases, frustrating tenants as well as landlords.
Tenant advocates and community groups were pushing for at least another freeze and in many cases a rollback, but owner representatives felt that the increases didn’t go far enough.
Tenant member Harvey Epstein said in his remarks prior to introducing the proposal that ultimately passed that he and Sheila Garcia, the second tenant member on the board, knew tenants needed a rollback or at least a freeze, but he said that neither were possible at this year’s vote.
“It’s our job to do the best we can and live with the political realities,” Epstein said. “We take this job seriously and today is the first day to move to a better system.”
A protest for stronger rent laws spanned three days outside the governor’s midtown office. (Photos by Maria Rocha-Buschel)
By Maria Rocha-Buschel
Tenant activists, including some who are homeless, gathered in front of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s midtown office for three days last week from Wednesday evening to Saturday to demand rent reform in Albany.
A coalition of tenant groups organized the efforts, including New York Communities for Change, Tenant Power NY, Community Voices Heard and others. The groups dubbed the temporary encampment on the sidewalk “Cuomoville,” and linked the governor’s failure to enact stronger rent laws with the increase in homelessness throughout the city.
Gigi Morgan, an activist from Brooklyn who currently lives in a women’s shelter in Harlem, was at the protest on Friday morning after having slept there Thursday night and participating on Wednesday and Thursday.
UPDATE: Jimmy McMillan, early today, announced he was calling off the strike in light of a judge’s decision on Tuesday to keep the rent freeze in place.
Jimmy McMillan is now running for Rosie Mendez’s Council seat. (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)
By Sabina Mollot
Jimmy “The Rent is Too Damn High” McMillan, now a Republican City Council candidate, is calling on the tenants of New York City to join him in a rent strike this October.
McMillan, an East Village resident who’s been in and out of court with his own landlord for years, said the plan is inspired by what he’s blasting as conflicting interests in the New York City Housing Court.
“The attorneys that sit on a committee that appoint New York City Housing Court (judges), stand before that same judge against the tenant representing the landlord,” he stated in a press release.
The 70-year-old Vietnam vet also believes this setup has impacted his own case.
According to current information on the New York Courts website, the advisory committee that helps appoint judges to the Housing Part of the Civil Court includes three representatives of the real estate industry, including the chair of the NYC Housing Authority, three members from tenants’ organizations, two members representing civic groups, two bar association members, two public members, one mayoral appointee and the commissioner of the state housing agency, Housing and Community Renewal.
McMillan’s plan to strike, meanwhile, is also aimed at raising awareness of his campaign platform — affordability. His goal is to see rents slashed across the board.
Council Member Dan Garodnick outside the courthouse where arguments were being heard over the Rent Stabilization Association’s lawsuit (Photos by Sabina Mollot)
By Sabina Mollot
Lawyers for a landlord group were met by an angry crowd of protesters as they arrived in court to argue against a citywide rent freeze Tuesday.
Despite freezing temperatures and snow, the sign-waving group of renters, made up mostly of seniors, led chants that at times called for either a rent freeze or a rollback.
Among their supporters was Council Member Dan Garodnick, who said, “We have seen what happens year after year, even in years when costs went down. Rents only seemed to go in one direction and that was up. As a result, evictions go up. Homelessness goes up. The Rent Guidelines Board acted totally appropriately in making that determination.”
Judge Debra James was hearing arguments from the Rent Stabilization Association, the plaintiff, and those seeking to intervene in the lawsuit, including a coalition of tenant groups, legal service organizations and 18 City Council members.
The Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association is seeking neighbors’ help in an effort to challenge the recently announced video intercom MCI.
The major capital improvement rent increase, if approved, will impact the following Peter Cooper Village buildings: 420 and 440 East 23rd Street, 350, 360, 360 and 390 First Avenue, 2 and 3 Peter Cooper Road and 431 and 441 East 20th Street.
ST-PCV Tenants Association President Susan Steinberg (Photo by Sabina Mollot)
Susan Steinberg, president of the Tenants Association, said this particular MCI, one of four on the horizon, is expected to cost tenants $2.13-$2.50 per room per month.
At a meeting last month, Steinberg said the four MCIs would be challenged for different reasons, including issues with paperwork.
The Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association will hold an open tenants meeting on Saturday, October 22, at 1 p.m. in the auditorium of IS 104, 20th Street between First and Second Avenues.Speakers will include: President of the ST-PCV Tenants Association Susan Steinberg, City Council Member Dan Garodnick, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, State Senator Brad Hoylman, Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh, NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and Rick Hayduk, CEO/General Manager of StuyTown Property Services. The general theme will be the state of the community. Each speaker will briefly address issues as they directly relate to and affect Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village, from the L train shutdown to the telephone scams targeting the community, from MCIs to rent-freeze month. An open-mic question-and-answer period will follow.
“Tenants will want to hear from our own elected representatives as to what they have been doing on our behalf,” said Steinberg. “We also plan to provide a summary of TA activities during the year. This is an important meeting, and we hope to see a packed auditorium.”
Last Thursday, Finance Commissioner Jacques Jiha and Council Member Dan Garodnick announced that citywide, eligible seniors and disabled tenants aren’t taking advantage of an available rent freeze, especially in Stuyvesant Town and along the East Side of Manhattan. (Photos by Sabina Mollot)
By Sabina Mollot
Last Thursday, the city rolled out what’s it’s calling East Side Rent Freeze Month, a series of events in October aimed at getting eligible New Yorkers signed up for programs that would exempt them from rent hikes, including MCIs (major capital improvements).
The reason for the push was that in Stuyvesant Town/Peter Cooper Village alone, 800 eligible tenants have yet to sign up for the programs. According to Jacques Jiha, the city’s finance commissioner, the number of eligible people citywide is 80,000, and many of them are East Siders.
“The East Side of Manhattan has the highest number of eligible participants,” said Jiha, as he stood outside Stuyvesant Town’s Community Center with local elected officials and tenants for a press conference. “During the month we’ll sign up as many eligible seniors and people with disabilities as possible.”
ST-PCV Tenants Association President Susan Steinberg, pictured at a Rent Guidelines Board hearing in June, describes the ways stabilized rents are legally padded until they’re unaffordable. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)
By Sabina Mollot
The state housing agency has approved major capital improvement rent increases (MCIs) for four buildings in Peter Cooper Village that underwent exterior restoration work — and more are expected to be approved.
The Tenants Association warned neighbors about the approvals of the MCIs, previously referred to by TA President Susan Steinberg as CWCapital’s “goodbye present,” in an email blast on Sunday.
As of July, the association had heard about the MCIs being filed for 19 different buildings in Peter Cooper and Stuyvesant Town. The cost varies at different addresses, from about $1.15 to $3 per room per month.
Reached on Monday, Steinberg said the association, which did challenge the MCIs, will continue to do so.
“There are a variety of reasons,” said Steinberg. “In a couple of instances, it was past the two-year window when it should have been submitted. There was some question whether Sandy insurance money had been used for some of the work. So we are not letting it go.”
Some of the MCIs were requested as far back as August of 2014.
The Rent Guidelines Board (Photo by Sabina Mollot)
By Christian Bautista
The city’s biggest landlord organization is looking to build a winning streak in the courts as it sues the Rent Guidelines Board over its decision to enact a rent freeze.
The Rent Stabilization Association, which represents 25,000 landlords of one million rent-stabilized apartments across the city, has lodged a lawsuit in Manhattan State Supreme Court, arguing that the RGB acted outside the scope of the Rent Stabilization Law when it voted 7-0 to freeze rents on one-year leases.
“Nowhere does the law provide that the RGB is supposed to consider the subject of affordability when determining rent guidelines. Affordability is an issue that should be addressed not by the RGB, but through government-sponsored rent relief subsidies to tenants actually in need,” said Joseph Strasburg, the president of the RSA.
“The RGB, through the rent freeze, is inappropriately and unlawfully providing a rent subsidy to all tenants regardless of need. The rent freeze is not based on need, but rather on the perceived inability of tenants to pay, and to accommodate de Blasio’s political agenda of gaining favor with a large segment of the city’s voting block. “
An East Village resident, Joanne Joemelti, argues that tenants shouldn’t be punished because of the ones that use Airbnb. (Photos by Sabina Mollot)
By Sabina Mollot
With just a week to go before the mayor’s Rent Guidelines Board votes on the year’s increases for roughly one million people, the city’s stabilized renters, both tenants and landlords went before the board to argue why they needed a break — in rent rollbacks or rent increases high enough to cover operating costs, respectively. The usual reasons for both were mentioned: desperate tenants citing stagnant wages while rent increases have steadily been granted until last year’s historic freeze, and owners blaming soaring real estate taxes and other factors like water/sewer fees and building maintenance.
But one thing both sides had in common was a mutual loathing for the increasingly common practice of short-term rentals.
Tenants brought up owners who flout the law to rent vacant units to tourists since it’s more lucrative than monthly rent and doubles as a form of harassment to longtime renters who’ve lost a sense of safety and community. Meanwhile, equally frustrated owners lamented how tenants live elsewhere, while paying under market rent and earning a windfall through Airbnb.
The arguments were made at the auditorium of the Cooper Union building on Monday afternoon. Tenants and landlords lined up to speak along with several elected officials at an RGB hearing.
Mayor de Blasio has appointed two new members to the nine-member Rent Guidelines Board, a new chair and a new owner’s representative.
The two appointments – new chair Kathleen Roberts, a former United States Magistrate Judge, and owner rep Mary Serafy – “have years of experience in both the public and private sectors,” the mayor said in a press release on Tuesday.
The Rent Guidelines Board is responsible for determining rent increases for around one million apartments in the city each year, last year issuing its first ever rent freeze for tenants signing one-year leases.
In an official statement, the mayor said, “Judge Kathleen Roberts has years of experience serving New Yorkers as a United States Magistrate Judge and Assistant United States Attorney in the Criminal and Civil Divisions. Likewise, Ms. Serafy is well-versed in the field of housing, planning and development in both the public and private sectors.
“I’m confident that their addition to the Rent Guidelines Board will serve New Yorkers well – tenants and landlords alike – in establishing rent adjustments that are fair and grounded in real-life conditions in our neighborhoods.”
By Maria Rocha-Buschel
Local elected officials have started holding workshops to enroll residents in Senior Citizen Rent Increase Exemption (SCRIE) and Disability Rent Increase Exemption (DRIE) programs since a report came out earlier this year noting that less than half of eligible tenants are receiving the benefits they are entitled to.
State Senator Brad Hoylman, along with State Senator Daniel Squadron, Assemblyman Brian Kavanagh, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and Congresswomen Carolyn Maloney and Nydia Velazquez, most recently hosted an event at 535 East Fifth Street on October 23 to encourage eligible seniors and disabled residents to sign up for the program that would freeze their rent, and the workshop was attended by about 30 tenants.
SCRIE and DRIE, collectively known as the New York City Rent Freeze Program, is available to seniors over age 62 and tenants with disabilities. Eligible tenants receive rent increase exemptions through a property tax credit and the income threshold increased to $50,000, from the previous limit of $29,000, earlier this year.
Attorneys from Legal Aid and legal firm Skadden Arps were available at the workshop to help residents complete their paperwork but Senator Hoylman noted that filing for the benefits doesn’t necessarily require a fine-tuned legal mind.
“A big part of it is education,” he said. “A number of people who are eligible just don’t know that it’s available, and because it’s pegged to income, you have to re-enroll every year.”
Senator Hoylman cited the low enrollment specifically in Stuyvesant Town as one of the motivating factors for holding the workshops. The report from the Department of Finance found that Stuy Town was one of the most underenrolled neighborhoods in the city, with only 1,317 out of 5,144 eligible residents enrolled in the program, meaning that only 25 percent of eligible seniors and tenants with disabilities are receiving benefits.
Liliana Vaamonde, Director of Training for the Civil Practice with Legal Aid, also noted that education is an important component for enrolling residents in the program, mainly because of the recent changes in the income limit.
“There was a big change that happened last year with the income level so a whole new, large group of people are now eligible,” she said. “The city has been making an effort to do outreach at senior centers and elsewhere so it’s going to take time to inform everyone about the increase.”
Vaamonde added that there are a few misconceptions about the program that residents have at the workshops as well, relating to eligibility and the income level. She clarified that some tenants are confused about why they are not eligible even though their own income is below the $50,000 threshold.
“It’s about the household and not their individual income, so even if a primary tenant has an income below $50,000, other members of the household might bump it up too high,” she said.
She also clarified that the program is only available to tenants who live in rent-regulated housing and they often get questions about eligibility from residents in public housing or privately owned buildings who do meet the income requirements.
“This is all contingent on the fact that they have rent stabilized housing,” Vaamonde said.
Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal, who represents the Upper West Side, has been doing her part to increase education about the program, with legislation that requires landlords to notify tenants about programs that would freeze their rents. Assemblymember Rosenthal announced this past Monday that the bill had been signed into law by Governor Andrew Cuomo.
Around 150 residents of Stuyvesant Town/Peter Cooper Village along with tenants from other communities headed to Albany on Tuesday to call for stronger rent laws. (Pictured) Tenants Association Chair Susan Steinberg and President John Marsh with another resident (left) and Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh on the Assembly floor (Photos by Maria Rocha Buschel)
By Maria Rocha-Buschel
Hundreds of tenants gathered in Albany on Tuesday to call on the state legislature about renewing and strengthening the housing laws that are set to expire next Monday. The ST-PCV Tenants Association sent three buses full of tenants (around 150 in total) to the rally. The Stuy Town and Peter Cooper Village residents also made sure that they were seen, standing out from the crowd with their neon yellow-green TA shirts. Dozens of other tenant groups made the trip to the state’s capital this week, all easy to tell apart in the rainbow of signature colored shirts.
“It was great, the way the shirts worked out,” TA treasurer Margaret Salacan said. “It’s like all the groups coordinated to wear different colors but it wasn’t even planned.”
Other groups to make the trip included the Cooper Square Committee and the Met Council on Housing, along with Rent Guidelines Board tenant representative Harvey Epstein, on a fourth bus that also left from First Avenue and East 19th Street on Tuesday morning.
Former TA President and Stuyvesant Town resident Al Doyle said that the last Albany trip that the TA took was in 2011 but that the last time tenants came out in such high numbers for the trip to Albany was in 1997.
Councilmember Dan Garodnick was also in attendance, after hopping from bus to bus throughout the trip to give residents updates on the situation with the rent laws and answer any other concerns they had in what he called his “rolling town hall.”
“The reason that we need to renew the laws is obvious,” he said. “Rents could go through the stratosphere. The rent for a one bedroom in Stuy Town is already $3,500 and it’s $6,000 for a two-bedroom in Peter Cooper. It’s why you see so many students crammed into single apartments. How else do you afford five to six thousand a month without cramming in as many people as possible?”
Garodnick also said that he is cautiously optimistic after reading an op-ed from Governor Andrew Cuomo that was published in the Daily News last weekend. Garodnick had previously sent Governor Cuomo a letter (which ran in this newspaper last week) urging him to end vacancy decontrol and reform MCIs and preferential rents.
“The tenor from the governor appears to have changed,” he said. “Initially I was reading they were talking about a straight extender. To my great pleasure, it was like he took my letter and emphasized those three things. All these questions are now on the table.”
On the first bus at the start of the trip, TA chair Susan Steinberg outlined the plans for the day, which included a rally at the ornate steps at the Capitol known as the Million Dollar Staircase, which actually cost $1.5 million to build when it was constructed in 1894. She added that ST-PCV tenants would then be heading to the gallery at the Assembly to participate in a non-disruptive protest.
“Members of the Assembly will look up and be greeted by a sea of neon,” she said.
A tenant holds up a note in a photo posted on the ST-PCV Tenants Association’s Twitter feed this week.
By Sabina Mollot
With the rent law negotiations in Albany just a couple of weeks away, The ST-PCV Tenants Association is asking neighbors to make their feelings on the matter known through social media.
The “Tell Your Story” campaign encourages Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village tenants to share their personal experiences dealing with rent increases, including major capital improvements (MCIs). Prior to the June 15 decision on whether the rent regulation laws will be strengthened or renewed as is or just allowed to expire (the latter of which is not expected), tenants’ tweets with the hashtag #tellyourstory will be compiled and sent to Governor Cuomo.
“We want our legislators to understand that real people are affected by rent regulation,” said Susan Steinberg, chair of the TA. “It’s not just units, it’s about people’s lives.”
She added, “It’s only 140 characters. How hard can it be?”
In addition, the campaign is aimed at drawing awareness to MCIs and their impact on tenants. “Many new tenants don’t understand MCIs and their implications,” Steinberg said. “Tenants need to know that MCIs can amount to thousands of dollars a year in charges. And the best way to do that is by communicating personal experiences.”
A photo posted on the Tenants Association’s Twitter feed
To keep things interesting, tenants aren’t being asked to type their stories onto a keyboard but instead write on paper and take a photo of the note. So far it’s been the TA doing the posting of neighbors’ notes but Tenants Association President John Marsh is hoping neighbors will soon chime in on their own feeds. It’s the first social media campaign for the Tenants Association and since many Stuy Town lifers don’t tweet, TA volunteers are now finding themselves in the position of first having to educate newer neighbors about what the rent laws mean and the changes tenants are hoping for. Those changes include vacancy decontrol, MCI reform and an end to preferential rents.
“Everyone in this community is impacted by these Albany decisions and MCIs,” Marsh said. “This campaign provides an outlet for tenants to make their voice known.”
Of the notes to be put on Twitter so far, one shared by the TA (@ST_PCV_Tenants) read, “I’ve lived here 65 years I don’t wanna go.” Another read, “Uncontrolled landlords are pricing even middle incomes out of Manhattan.” Another read, “I’ve been living here six months. Rent laws should be extended for everyone.”
The Tenants Association also previously asked tenants at a meeting last month to write postcards or letters to Albany legislators, in particular to Cuomo, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and local Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh. The Association is also organizing a bus trip to Albany on June 9. Anyone interested in going should RSVP by June 4 online at stpcvta.org or by calling (917) 338-7860.