City Council bill blitz takes aim at lying landlords

Council Member Keith Powers and other members of the Council (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

The City Council has introduced a package of 18 bills that take aim at landlords who use shady tactics to empty their buildings on lower-rent paying tenants.

To crack down on the practices, which include lying on permits and denying access to building inspectors, the legislation’s sponsors are hoping to hit back with denials of permits and doubling of fines for violating existing laws.

Keith Powers was one of the 12 council members who introduced a bill. His legislation would deny building permits to property owners for one year if they are caught lying about the number of occupied units in their buildings.

Powers told Town & Village the bills are intended to crack down on bad actors and improve coordination between oversight agencies. They were, in part, inspired by the revelation that the Kushner Companies failed to note the presence of rent-stabilized tenants in 17 buildings 42 times when filing applications with the Department of Buildings.

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Affordable housing and L train woes top concerns at East Side town hall

Mayor Bill de Blasio answers questions from audience members at a town hall co-hosted by Council Member Keith Powers at Hunter College. (Photos by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

The L train shutdown and the lack of local affordable housing were among the main concerns of East Side residents who packed a town hall hosted by Mayor Bill de Blasio and Councilmember Keith Powers last Wednesday evening. The mayor, along with numerous representatives from city agencies as well as Powers and other local elected officials, answered questions from more than 300 advocates and community residents during the event at Hunter College.

Stuyvesant Town resident and former ST/PCV Tenants Association president Al Doyle got in the first question of the night, asking the mayor if he would actively support a return to rent stabilization of all apartments that had been deregulated due to vacancy decontrol.

The mayor admitted that he couldn’t necessarily commit to that, at least at this point, despite wanting to.

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Stringer releases affordable housing plan

Comptroller Scott Stringer, pictured at a town hall earlier this month (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

City Comptroller Scott Stringer unveiled an affordable housing plan at the end of last month targeting middle-income New Yorkers who don’t qualify for affordable housing under the city’s current plan, proposing to fund it by eliminating advantages for all-cash home buyers.

The new tax model proposed in Stringer’s plan would eliminate the Mortgage Recording Tax (MRT). When buyers purchase a home in New York City or elsewhere in the state, the Real Property Transfer Tax (RPTT) is imposed and is based on the price paid, but only those who borrow to purchase their home or who refinance to pay for the home pay the MRT, which often means they end up paying twice as much in taxes as all-cash buyers.

Stringer’s plan would eliminate the MRT entirely and would treat all transactions equally, regardless of how a home is purchased. A report from Stringer’s office that the plan is based on predicts that the tax proposed in the plan would save middle-class New Yorkers more than $5,700 on a purchase or refinancing, and would raise up to $400 million annually.

“Paying all cash means that you pay less,” Stringer said. “There’s a penalty you pay for being middle class, but under our plan, all home purchases would be taxed the same. If we keep the rate low, we can make ownership more affordable for the middle class. This is good policy and would raise enough to fully fund our plan.”

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New pols promise stronger rent regulations

Tenants carry signs at a rally in front of City Hall. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

Since the flipping of the State Senate last month, local Democrat elected officials have been crowing that 2019 will be the year of the tenant.

That point was hammered home on Monday when about 70 tenant activists and about a dozen members of the State Senate and Assembly held a rally in front of City Hall on the laws that regulate rents for about 2.5 million New Yorkers. On June 15, the rent regulations will expire in Albany, but with many new members-elect of the State Senate having campaigned on the issue of affordable housing, there is a better chance than ever before that they’ll make good on those promises.

State Senator Liz Krueger, who got to witness an embarrassing coup in her chamber a previous time the Democrats won the majority, said this time it will be different.

“This is a statewide cry that’s been building louder and louder,” she said about the demands for more affordable housing. “It was this issue that every single senator downstate ran on and now it’s a statewide issue. Now housing is unaffordable in many areas in the state, not just the city.”

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Tenants talk strategy at town hall

Sheila Garcia of CASA and State Senator Brad Hoylman (Photos by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

With Democrats having taken the State Senate last month, local elected officials and tenant advocates held a town hall last week, essentially to rally the troops for what will still be a battle to pass tenant-friendly legislation next year.

More than 200 people attended the event hosted by State Senator Brad Hoylman last Thursday in the New York Public Library Schwarzman Building.

City Comptroller Scott Stringer, Aaron Carr of the Housing Rights Initiative (HRI), Delsenia Glover of Tenants and Neighbors and Sheila Garcia of Communities for Safe Apartments (CASA) joined Hoylman for the discussion on vacancy decontrol, the LLC loophole and the possibility of strengthening the rent laws now that the State Senate has gone blue.

Hoylman said that in addition to vacancy decontrol, another policy that the State Senate should focus on is the LLC loophole.

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Homeless encampments are on the rise in New York, study says

A homeless person sleeps at the corner of First Avenue and 14th Street (pictured in 2017). (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

As affordable housing continues to disappear in New York City, homeless encampments on the street are on the rise, one study is showing.

RealtyHop, a house and condo sales listings website, has released a report that tracked encampments throughout the city in each neighborhood based on 311 data and the most recent annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

Based on the stats, in total, 5,120 encampment complaints were reported from October 2017 to September 2018, 11 percent more than the previous year. The results also show that encampments are mostly a Manhattan problem, with Midtown-Midtown South having it worse than any other neighborhood in the borough. That said, the problem does seem to be on the decline in that area with 402 complaints, which, while extreme, is 201 fewer (half the number) than what was reported in 2017. Another homeless hotspot is the West Village, with 275 complaints in 2017 and 260 reported in 2018 as of October 31. The numbers get lower as neighborhoods get farther away from the city center.

The study had a formula that “de-dupes” or ignores duplicate complaints (more than one from one address on the same day).

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ST/PCV apartment lottery reopening

ST buildings

By Sabina Mollot

The last time the Stuyvesant Town apartment lottery opened was in January, with slots only being made available for applicants in the upper tier of income levels, meaning those who earn a maximum of 165 percent of the area median income. As part of owner Blackstone’s deal with the city in 2015, as apartments have become available in the complex, half become market rate while the other half become available to lottery tenants. Of the lottery apartments, 90 percent of them go to tenants earning up to 165 percent of the AMI, the other 10 percent going to those earning a maximum of 80 percent of the AMI.

However, the lottery is once again reopening, and this time, applicants in both income tiers are eligible to apply for apartments, which are available in a variety of sizes in Stuy Town as well as Peter Cooper Village. The deadline to apply is October 11 and applications can be done online at stuytownlottery.com. To request an application by mail, send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to Stuyvesant Town/Peter Cooper Village Wait List, Peter Stuyvesant Station, P.O. Box 1287, New York, NY, 10009.

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Waterside Plaza residents retiring next year could benefit from affordability plan

Waterside residents learn more about the affordability agreement at a Community Board 6 meeting on Monday. (Photos by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Waterside Plaza tenants might want to consider early retirement to take full advantage of the affordability deal brokered between owner Richard Ravitch and the city.

Representatives from the Department of Housing Preservation and Development told Waterside Plaza residents at a recent Community Board 6 meeting that only tenants who have retired by 2019 will be eligible to have their rent reset as part of the deal that was announced earlier this month.

Dozens of residents, including Waterside Tenants Association President Janet Handal and property manager Peter Davis, were at the Land Use and Waterfront committee meeting on Monday to learn additional details about the plan.

A number of residents at the meeting expressed concern about how much they would benefit through the plan, saying that they were eight to 10 years away from retirement and would ideally like to stay at Waterside Plaza for the foreseeable future but wanted to be eligible for a rent reduction.

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Affordability deal proposed for Waterside Plaza

Sept12 Waterside

Waterside Plaza

By Sabina Mollot

The owner of Waterside Plaza, Richard Ravitch, has entered into a tentative deal with the city to help preserve affordability at the complex in 325 apartments occupied by “settling tenants.”

Those tenants had entered into an agreement with the owner after the property left the affordable Mitchell-Lama program at the turn of the millennium to pay a fixed increase each year, which is currently 4.25 percent. In those apartments, about 30 percent of Waterside’s housing stock, the majority of their occupants are seniors.

Under the agreement, which still must go through a ULURP process and get the approval of Community Board 6, the borough president and the City Council, tenants in those 325 apartments will all see some sort of rent relief.

For tenants earning under 165 percent of the area median income and paying over 30 percent of their household incomes in rent — effectively making them rent-burdened — their rents will become 30 percent of whatever their incomes are. Currently, 165 percent of the AMI is $120,615 for one person, $154,935 for a family of three and $185,995 for a family of five.

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Teachout: More tenant protection needed against predatory equity

July19 teachout cropped

Zephyr Teachout discusses her platform in front of a Jared-Kushner-owned building. (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Attorney General candidate Zephyr Teachout has announced specific tenant-friendly objectives she would implement in the office if elected in response to reports that 19 tenants are suing Jared Kushner’s real estate company for pushing them out of their rent stabilized apartments.

Teachout’s agenda, which she announced on Monday in front of the Kushner-owned building in Williamsburg whose tenants have filed the lawsuit, includes creating an ombudsman position that would be responsible for engagement with tenant groups and organizers to respond to complaints and increasing criminal prosecutions in the Real Estate Enforcement Unit, a division of the AG’s office that investigates and prosecutes cases involving bank fraud, deceptive lending practices, tenant harassment and other real estate-related crimes.

“These crimes are committed every day by real estate companies in New York,” she said. “If we really want to change their behavior, we have to go after them criminally and not just civilly.”

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Green Party candidate running for now vacant Assembly seat

Adrienne Craig-Williams hopes to make rent more affordable for stabilized as well as market-rate tenants. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

On April 24, four candidates will be on the ballot in the hope of winning the now-vacant Assembly seat previously occupied by State Senator Brian Kavanagh.

Out of those four, two are Third Party candidates, Juan Pagan of the Reform Party and Adrienne Craig-Williams of the Green Party. They will face off against Democrat Harvey Epstein and Republican Bryan Cooper.

Craig-Williams, a resident of the East Village (formerly Peter Cooper Village), is running on a platform of justice system reform and affordable housing.

Prior to the holiday weekend, she discussed her campaign with Town & Village over coffee at Ninth Street Espresso (which is actually on East 10th Street).

Craig-Williams, 37, officially launched her campaign at the beginning of March. She would have started sooner, but didn’t know she was running until February when an expected party candidate decided to back out.

However, Craig-Williams, who’s been active in her party since 2004, usually to help champion its candidates, insisted she’s in it to win it.

Responses to her candidacy have been encouraging, she said, and no one has attempted to talk her out of it. “I don’t think people consider the Green Party a threat,” she admitted, “unless they want to blame the party for something.”

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Tenant lobbying event in Albany

Real Rent Reform (R3), a coalition of tenant advocacy groups, is organizing a lobbying day in Albany on Thursday, March 22 to tell the State Senate to close the loopholes that are making housing in this city unaffordable. Even in rent-regulated apartments, the rent is too high and stability is at risk. Nearly 266,000 tenants live with a preferential rent which means their rent can jump hundreds of dollars when their lease is up.

Transportation will be provided free of cost by R3 as well as a light breakfast and lunch.

The Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association will have representatives there and is asking neighbors to attend.

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Republican runs for Kavanagh’s old Assembly seat

Assembly candidate Bryan Cooper believes it’s unfair Republicans are blamed for the lack of affordable housing. (Photo courtesy of Bryan Cooper)

By Sabina Mollot

In New York City, it’s generally understood that whichever Democrat candidate is on the ballot in a general election is going to win, regardless of who the Republican or third party candidate is. And Bryan Cooper, the Republican hoping to fill the Assembly seat vacated by State Senator Brian Kavanagh, knows this.

Nevertheless, he is hoping three time’s the charm. This will, after all, be the third time he’s run for the 74th District Assembly seat. Cooper, now 51, ran against Kavanagh in 2008 and again in 2014. He also ran against then-City Council Member Rosie Mendez in 2009.

While both incumbents were easily re-elected, Cooper said he’s more hopeful this time since the special election on April 24 is an open one.

He’ll be on the ballot along with Democrat Harvey Epstein who last Monday got the nomination from the Democratic County Committee. That same evening, the Manhattan Republican Party announced it was supporting Cooper.

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Letters to the editor, Feb. 22

Cartoon by Jim Meadows

Differing ideas about housing ‘reform’

To the editor:

My principal difficulty with Harvey Epstein’s “Living in NYC isn’t a privilege,” opinion, Town & Village, Feb. 1, is his omission of what has brought us an “unprecedented housing crisis.” Mr. Epstein took pains to lay bare the crux, but he did not get to its persistent cause. As we read his letter, it becomes apparent that while he understands the crisis, in the sense that he, like we, can describe it, he does not understand it as anything other than a crisis in housing. It is, in his words, “an alarming trend” whose remedy is “up for debate.” I do not know why Mr. Epstein sees the “unprecedented crisis” as a “trend,” and it bears badly for his future leadership and his constituency that he thinks the remedy is “up for grabs.”

To treat the plight of our most vulnerable, Mr. Epstein would provide them with “subsidies so that they can afford to stay in their rent-regulated housing.” He would require “all developers to set aside a percentage of all future development for affordable housing.” He would “repeal vacancy deregulation… reform the way in which landlords impose exorbitant rent increases based on MCIs,” and he would “end the vacancy bonus which allows landlords to increase rents a whopping 20 percent whenever a tenant [vacates] an apartment.” In the main, covering all of the issues, Mr. Epstein believes that, “It’s time we create new working class housing program that allows working class New Yorkers the ability to work and stay here.”

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Rivera focused on mom-and-pops and affordable housing at tech hub

Council Member Carlina Rivera outside her district office in the East Village (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Newly-elected City Council Member Carlina Rivera spoke with members of the community media in a round-table discussion this week, covering affordable housing, the plight of small businesses and the transit woes affecting District 2.

Rivera, who took over the seat from Rosie Mendez, who was term-limited after 12 years in office, previously worked with Mendez as her legislative director and is a long-time community activist working in the East Village and the Lower East Side.

One of the subjects she brought up was the new “tech hub” the city is planning on East 14th Street, and Rivera said she wants to make sure affordable housing is factored into the plan.

“In terms of the zoning, it’s going to be important to look at how we can incentivize affordable housing,” she said. “People are worried that this tech hub is going to be a purely commercial development and one of the most important things we need is affordable housing.”

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