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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Letters to the editor, June 20

Cartoon by Jim Meadows

Bikes not the only danger to pedestrians

To the Editor:

In advance of the Tenants Association meeting covered by the recent article “Bikes still a primary concern for ST/PCV residents” (Town & Village, June 6), I consulted NYC’s Open Data concerning collisions and injuries; this data is available to anyone. I used what I found to inform my remarks at the meeting, and I was disappointed that the article didn’t mention those remarks.

The data available on that website comes from NYPD and reaches back in time as far as July 1, 2012.

I conducted two searches covering all of zip codes 10003, 10009, and 10010 from that date through the latest date for which there is data available, April 30, 2019. I found 48 instances involving one or more bikes and no other vehicles, in which instances at least one pedestrian was at least injured. (There were no fatalities, only two instances on First Avenue, and no instances on 20th Street.)

Then I completely removed bikes from the formula, leaving in other types of vehicles, and ran the same search. I found over 1,400 instances in which at least one pedestrian was at least injured. (I encourage anyone interested to check and critique the quality of my analysis.  And as anyone using the site will see, there are ambiguities in the data.)

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Could a lawsuit really undo the rent regs?

Blaine Schwadel

By Sabina Mollot

Ever since the new rent regulations — all 74 pages of them — were signed into law by Governor Andrew Cuomo on Friday, real estate attorneys have been scrambling to determine what this means for the city’s property owners.

There has been at least one published report in the Commercial Observer suggesting there could be an industry-backed lawsuit, and Blaine Schwadel of Rosenberg & Estis, a law firm representing owners and lenders, said he’s pretty sure there will be some kind of legal action taken.

This reporter was unable to determine what group, if any, was behind the rumor of a planned suit, but Schwadel said there’s at least been talk.

“I have heard that various real estate groups, RSA (Rent Stabilization Association), REBNY (Real Estate Board of New York) and CHIP (Community Housing Improvement Program) are having discussions about how to challenge it,” said Schwadel.

But, he warned, “There have been very few successful challenges to rent regulations in the past.”

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Opinion: Time to end runaway MCIs

ST buildings

Stuyvesant Town

By Council Member Keith Powers, Assembly Member Harvey Epstein and State Senator Brad Hoylman

As tenants in Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village know all too well, there’s nothing minor about a Major Capital Improvement (MCI). That’s why we’re pushing for the elimination of MCIs in Albany this June.

Almost weekly, we hear from tenants about new MCIs being added to their rent, costs that never disappear, and the unfairness of a system that transforms sometimes dubious improvements into permanent revenue streams for landlords. These costs push rents higher and only exacerbate annual rent increases.

In theory, MCIs are designed to incentivize landlords to continually keep up and improve properties with rent stabilized tenants. For example, a landlord might pay to replace a boiler or install new windows with the ability to pass a portion of the costs onto the tenants. MCIs allow owners of residential buildings to apply to New York State Homes and Community Renewal (HCR) for permanent rent increases after completing improvements or installations — not repairs — to rent regulated buildings. Part of the problem is that HCR almost always automatically approves these requests, leaving tenants bearing the burden. In fact, we have been helping the Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association contest 39 MCIs dating back over a decade.

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Opinion: Tenants need another rent freeze

By Assemblymember Harvey Epstein

Before I became a state legislator, I was one of two tenant representatives on New York City’s Rent Guidelines Board, the entity responsible for setting the rents for the city’s million-plus units of regulated housing stock. During my tenure, I worked closely with advocates to push through two consecutive rent freezes––the first and second in the Board’s 50-year history.

Freezing rents for two years in a row provided much-needed relief for over a million rent-stabilized tenants––relief these working class New Yorkers still need today. Unfortunately, since 2016, the Board has voted twice to raise rents; they look poised to do so again this year. I don’t believe the data support increasing rents.

New York City is in the midst of a homelessness crisis of historic proportions not seen since the Great Depression. According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, our city is home to the largest homeless population of any city in America: tonight, some 60,000 New Yorkers will sleep in shelters.

Those lucky enough to have a home face challenges: in an annual report produced by the RGB, a majority of rent-stabilized tenants were shown to be rent-burdened and a third are severely rent-burdened, meaning they pay 50 percent or more of their incomes towards rent. Rent-burdened tenants face serious difficulties meeting their everyday needs for nutritious food, healthcare and education and the health outcomes of children that live in rent-burdened households are worse than their non-rent-burdened counterparts, according to Pew researchers.

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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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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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Tenants push for stronger rent regulations

Tenants board a bus to Albany for a day of lobbying ahead of the rent laws expiring in June. (Photos by Sidney Goldberg)

By Sabina Mollot

Last Wednesday, over 30 tenants from different organizations, including 11 from the Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association, headed to Albany to lobby for stronger rent laws. The rent regulations that keep over a million apartments in New York City stabilized will expire this June. While they are expected to be renewed, tenants always hope to get them strengthened, which seems more likely to happen this year with Democrats having a majority in the State Senate.

At the Wednesday event, Anne Greenberg, vice president of the ST-PCV Tenants Association, led one of the groups of tenants who came from Manhattan. Another group had come from Brooklyn. The Cooper Square Committee was also participating. Greenberg’s group met up with an aide of State Senator Kevin Thomas and there was also another meeting with freshman Assembly Member Simcha Eichenstein. Tenants also eventually ran into local Assembly Member Harvey Epstein, which Greenberg noted, happened by chance because the capitol was so crowded with people.

Greenberg in particular said she thought it was important for tenants to tell personal stories like about how rents can go up drastically upon lease renewal because of preferential rents. Tenant activists are also hoping for vacancy decontrol and reform on rent increases for major capital improvements, individual apartment improvements and vacancy bonuses.

“Part of the mission is to put a story and a put a face to the issue of why we need rent reform,” Greenberg said. “The legislators aren’t always up to speed on all the issues. Now there’s a foundation where we could follow up.”

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Letters to the editor, Feb. 14

Cartoon by Jim Meadows

The time-honored tradition of greed

The average rent in Stuy Town/Peter Cooper Village is now higher than the average rent in the rest of Manhattan. This is pretty worrisome trend. Far from being a middle-class bastion, it is now a high-rent complex.

Greedy landlords contributed. Metropolitan Life had enormous help from city to clear 80 acres in the Gas House District and evict over 13,000 working class people and their families from their homes. They said it was a slum clearance project — but there were three churches, three schools and countless mom and pop stores all there. The landlord was given enormous tax breaks.

When Mike Bloomberg was asked to intervene when Met Life said they wanted to cash in their chips in a $5.4 billion payday, Bloomberg adapted a laissez-faire attitude and said it was a “private transaction.” He deliberately turned a blind eye.

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At Epstein town hall, concerns abound on bikes, voting rights

Rachel Bloom from Citizens United Foundation (right) on voting rights at the town hall

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Assembly Member Harvey Epstein hosted a town hall at the New York University Dental School on East 24th Street last Thursday, attended by more than 100 people braving last week’s arctic deep freeze.

Instead of a single-room free-for-all, the event was broken up into two separate hour-long panels with three different topics that residents could learn more about during each panel. Epstein said that the approach intended to give attendees one-on-one time with experts on a number of different topics, which included voting rights, education and legalization of marijuana during the first panel and transportation, housing and disability rights during the second.

Alex Camarda from Reinvent Albany and Rachel Bloom from Citizens Union Foundation discussed voting rights and good government during the first panel, answering questions about legislative issues such as closing the LLC Loophole, in addition to addressing difficulties that residents had while voting in the last election.

“I’ve lived in Stuyvesant Town for many years and I had so much trouble voting in the last election,” Adrienne Cosner said. “There’s been a lot of irregularity.”

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Pols get behind female Boy Scout, who is still unrecognized by BSA

Local elected officials held a press conference by the Fearless Girl statue to draw attention to the fact that Stuyvesant Town Boy Scout Sydney Ireland, who’s been in the program for over a decade, still doesn’t have her record of work recognized. (Pictured) Assembly Member Harvey Epstein, Sydney Ireland, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, State Senator Brad Hoylman and Sonia Ossorio, president of the New York chapter of NOW (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Just as the organization officially began accepting girls into its program on February 1, elected officials last week called on the Boy Scouts of America to officially recognize Stuyvesant Town resident Sydney Ireland’s 13 years of work as a Scout.

Assembly Member Harvey Epstein, along with State Senator (and Eagle Scout) Brad Hoylman and other advocates, joined 17-year-old Ireland at the Fearless Girl statue last Thursday to demand the BSA formally acknowledge Ireland’s work with the organization.

Ireland joined the Cub Scouts at age four with her brother and has been fighting to be recognized by the organization since she was 11. She said that leaders at the local level have been more open to making decisions that allow her and other girls to participate but that despite changes at the national level, much of her work in the Scouts will have to be redone.

“If the (Boy Scouts of America) wants to welcome young women and build our program, we must be treated equally,” Ireland, who has been working to obtain the coveted Eagle rank, said. “(Chief Scout Executive Michael Surbaugh) should not hide behind the discriminatory membership ban against girls to then justify dismissing my hard work and the work of so many young women.”

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Opinion: Now’s the time to speak up

By Assembly Member Harvey Epstein

New York is often held up as beacon of progressivism, but the truth is that our state has not been a leader on enacting criminal justice and re-entry reforms, fairly funding our schools, increasing voter access and protecting and amplifying the voices of groups that have traditionally been excluded from the political process. This year, with decisive Democratic majorities in both houses of the legislature, we will have a unique opportunity to go from a laggard to a leader on many important issues by making substantial changes in state law that will have implications for decades to come.

Every issue the state government is dealing with this year is permeated by the issues of race and racism, which are ever present in our society. We need to hear from people with diverse perspectives and experiences. It is critical that people who share a social justice and racial justice lens engage in the legislative process.

Please get involved. Whether you care about single payer healthcare or the renewal and expansion of the rent laws, criminal justice reforms, or fixing the MTA –– pick your issue and dig in. Learn about the bills, think about the policy implications, consider how your community may be impacted and speak up: tell your representatives what you want to see.

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Epstein wants student loan forgiveness for low-income NYers

Assembly Member Harvey Epstein (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

Late last month, the State Assembly held a hearing in an effort to come up with solutions to the worsening student loan crisis.

Assembly Member Harvey Epstein later said that while it’s yet to be determined by his colleagues if this is a matter to be handled legislatively, he personally supports student loan forgiveness. At the hearing, testimony was also given about whether it’s necessary to regulate student loan servicers in New York.

Over the past decade, student loan debt in New York State has grown by 112 percent, bringing the number of borrowers here to just under three million. Prior to the hearing, the Assembly said the stats highlight “the significant impact the student loan industry has on our population and (how it) needs to be examined with greater urgency.”

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Gilman Hall eyed as possible shelter for homeless women and children

Gilman Hall was sold last year to CIM Group, who says there is currently no plan to turn the building into a facility for the homeless. (Photo via Google Maps)

By Sabina Mollot

Gilman Hall, the former residence for residents of Mount Sinai Beth Israel that was sold last year to a California developer, is being eyed as a site of a future shelter.

Word that the city was mulling using the now vacant property to temporarily house women and children reached Community Board Six last Thursday.

Asked about this, Molly Hollister, CB6 chair, and Carin van der Donk, chair of CB6’s Housing, Homeless, and Human Rights Committee issued the following statement to Town & Village:

“We have been notified by our elected officials that Gilman Hall at East 17th Street and 1st Avenue is currently being assessed as a possible shelter or temporary housing facility for women and children by the New York City Department of Homeless Services. There is no immediate timeline for a final decision for the site.

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