Possible upgrades for 30th St. shelter

Council Member Dan Garodnick speaks at a meeting aimed at coming up with ways to improve the men’s shelter. (Photo courtesy of Dan Garodnick)

By Sabina Mollot

The Department of Homeless Services is planning to make some upgrades to the dilapidated 30th Street men’s homeless shelter, possibly even turning an unused theater into a space for public use.

On Monday, July 17, representatives of the department met with a few representatives of Community Board 6 as well as a few elected officials to discuss ideas, including to create a co-working space where shelter residents can get job placement assistance and work on resumes. As for the theater, a possible plan would be to renovate it or even repurpose it and have it used by the shelter’s residents or the community. Outside the shelter, which is located inside the Bellevue Old Psych building on First Avenue, another idea was to create green spaces like a small park that could also be open to the public.

Following the brainstorming session, Council Member Dan Garodnick said ideas were based on what the shelter’s residents want as well as what the surrounding community wants.

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Brewer: Retail blight ‘worse than I thought’

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer (pictured at a recent press conference on the Commercial Rent Tax reform bill) conducted a foot patrol study of vacant storefronts along Broadway. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

Two Sundays ago, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, with the help of nearly three dozen volunteers, walked along the length of Broadway in Manhattan, taking note of every vacant storefront they passed. The exercise was for a study on retail blight conducted by Brewer’s office, the results of which were not pretty.

In fact, said Brewer, who strolled a strip from the 60s to the 70s, “It was worse than I thought.”

Along her way, she observed five empty storefronts in a two block radius. “I don’t know how long they’ve been empty,” she said.

She chose Broadway as the street to monitor due to it being a part of so many different neighborhoods. Additionally, from what she’s seen the problem doesn’t appear to be more prolific in some neighborhoods than others.

“In Manhattan, it’s everywhere,” she said.

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Maloney hopes Fearless Girl will save women’s rights in Washington

Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney is hoping that the momentum surrounding the Fearless Girl statue will encourage members of Congress to pass legislation beneficial to women. The Congresswoman shared the wish at City Hall this past Monday after announcing that the artwork will stay in its place in front of Wall Street’s Charging Bull until 2018.

“It empowers women in so many fields and now with all the energy around the Fearless Girl, hopefully we can pass my legislation,” she said. “I’m hoping this will spark a movement in Congress to pass legislation I support that focuses on women, like the National Women’s Museum and the Equal Rights Amendment. It inspires us to get out and get things done.”

Maloney said that the statue’s extension was thanks to the mayor and commissioner of the Department of Transportation because the piece was officially accepted into the DOT’s art program.

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The Soapbox: Many questions remain on East Midtown Rezoning

Town & Village is proud to present “The Soapbox,” a column featuring a different voice from the neighborhood in each one. All are welcome to submit columns on the topic of the author’s choice, preferably not longer than 650 words, to editor@townvillage.net.

By Barry Shapiro

For those not aware, East Midtown Rezoning is a city initiative to rezone roughly from 39th Street to 57th Street from Fifth Avenue to Third Avenue.
The proposed changes in the area will allow real estate developers to build higher and increase overall free space for development by about 6.5 percent. There will also be development of some public spaces and improvements to subway stations.

This along with the LIRR terminal at Grand Central planned to open in 2022 will significantly add to the area’s population density.

Major rezoning has to go through the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP), which requires pertinent community boards to have their say. Negative votes by community board reps on the project’s Borough Council would have a somewhat damaging effect.

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Kips Bay residents ask for temporary dog run

At a Community Board 6 meeting, delays on getting the funding for the dog run for Bellevue South Park were explained. (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Dog owners in Kips Bay are pushing the Parks Department to consider a temporary solution for the lack of a dog run in Bellevue South Park. Members of multiple neighborhood groups made their case at a recent Parks Committee meeting of Community Board 6, arguing that a temporary run near the basketball courts would give residents an immediate place to play with Fido instead of having to wait at least five years while the Parks Department completes additional renovations on the park.

Kips Bay Neighborhood Association member Karen Lee said at the meeting that there is an area north of the basketball courts that is already fenced in and the group has submitted an application for a grant for $280,000 from Borough President Gale Brewer’s office to make changes to the space, such as an access ramp, a nonskid surface and automatic openers for the entrance gates. Lee said that the funding is mainly necessary to make the space accessible for residents with disabilities, which she said is one of the main motivations for pushing for the dog run in the first place.

“Dog runs in the city aren’t ADA compliant,” she explained prior to the meeting. “This would be the first dog run in the city that is ADA compliant. Hospital row is right there and there’s a huge community of disabled people in this neighborhood who already use this park.”

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City holds off on plan to diversify street fairs after community groups fight local vendor rule

Community organizations who rely on revenue from street fairs had opposed the proposal to make it mandatory to have 50 percent of the vendors be local. (Photo via Wikipedia)

Community organizations who rely on revenue from street fairs had opposed the proposal to make it mandatory to have 50 percent of the vendors be local. (Photo via Wikipedia)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

To the relief of a number of community organizations, the Mayor’s Office decided not to approve proposed new rules for street fairs for the upcoming year that would have required increased participation from local businesses. The proposal was aimed at sprinkling some local flavor into street fairs, which, despite where in the city they’re taking place, are often practically identical. The Street Activity Permit Office (SAPO) of the Office of Citywide Event Coordination and Management (OCECM) announced on October 28 that it would be extending the existing moratorium on street fair applications through 2017. A public hearing on the proposed rule will be held this Friday.

The city had previously proposed new rules that, among other requirements, would require 50 percent of vendors participating in street fairs to be from within the community district boundaries of where the fairs were taking place. Another proposed rule would have decreased the number of fairs allowed in each community district per year from 18 to 10.

Community organizers were worried that the new regulation requiring increased participation from local vendors would affect their revenue because not enough local businesses would want to take part.

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Neighbors concerned about hotels used as shelters

Representatives from the Department of Homeless Services, the Human Resources Administration and non-profit organizations focusing on homelessness participated in the panel, which was facilitated by Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer (far right). Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

Representatives from the Department of Homeless Services, the Human Resources Administration and non-profit organizations focusing on homelessness participated in the panel, which was facilitated by Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer (far right). (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Recently, the city has begun using hotels in Flatiron and NoMad as temporary homeless shelters, and the practice has area residents outraged.

New shelter neighbors gathered at the American Sign Language School last Tuesday evening to voice their concerns about the shelters as well as the homeless population in general.

A number of residents at the meeting insisted that they were empathetic to the homeless and acknowledged that it is a small percentage of the population that is causing problems, but many who spoke said that safety was a serious concern.

“The risk doesn’t come from the 70 percent of the homeless population who are working poor, who are just trying to get by,” Third Avenue resident Thandi Gordon-Stein said. “We’re worried about the other 30 percent who are convicted criminals and sex offenders. When you add so many facilities in one neighborhood, it becomes a danger. They say we should call 311 or the police but that’s not working.”

Many at the meeting said they were worried that the neighborhood could become oversaturated with homeless facilities. Matt Borden, Assistant Deputy Commissioner for the Department of Homeless Services, argued that the decision to use hotels in Flatiron and NoMad was based on the so-called “Fair Share Criteria,” which is supposed to prevent neighborhoods from getting saturated with shelters and making sure other areas are home to some. According to the data from DHS, which examines the homeless population within community district lines, Community Board 5 is under the city average of 1,016.

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ST teen activist gets things done

Sarah Shamoon, at 17, is the youngest member of Community Board 6. She’s also interned for three women politicians and has even made use of her political muscle to help get new bathrooms for her high school. (Pictured) Shamoon gives a speech on Women’s Equality Day alongside elected officials including Public Advocate Letitia James and Assemblywoman  Linda Rosenthal. (Photo courtesy of Sarah Shamoon)

Sarah Shamoon, at 17, is the youngest member of Community Board 6. She’s also interned for three women politicians and has even made use of her political muscle to help get new bathrooms for her high school. (Pictured) Shamoon gives a speech on Women’s Equality Day alongside elected officials including Public Advocate Letitia James and Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal. (Photo courtesy of Sarah Shamoon)

By Sabina Mollot

Last year, the bathrooms at one local public high school were so worn apart from years of overuse that the toilets overflowed daily, the pipes regularly leaked and the ceilings were full of asbestos. However, they’re finally getting renovated, and a civic-minded resident of Stuyvesant Town is partially to thank for it.

That would be Sarah Shamoon, a resident of Stuyvesant Town and a 17-year-old senior at the Lab School in Chelsea, who’s basically addicted to public service.

In 2014, when New York State law was changed so that teenagers as young as 16 could serve their community boards, one of the first individuals to apply was then 15-year-old Shamoon. She’s been serving as a member of Community Board 6 for as long as she was legally allowed to as she mulls a future career in government.

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Union pickets at NYU Langone Medical Center

Caregivers picketing last week (Photo courtesy of 1199 SIEU)

Caregivers picketing last week (Photo courtesy of 1199SEIU)

This story has been updated.

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Unionized healthcare workers represented by 1199SEIU at NYU Langone last Wednesday formed a picket line, telling passersby about the medical center pulling out of the League of Voluntary Hospitals. The League acts as a bargaining agent for negotiations with various unions, including 1199.

Healthcare workers claim that the action is an attempt by NYU to cut benefits and that the hospital will eventually cut payments to the 1199 Health and Benefits Fund.

“NYU has put on the table that they want us to pay for our dependent healthcare,” pharmacy technician Jasmine Jeffrey said. “Being that I have five dependents, I won’t be able to pay for that healthcare, so I have to fight for that. I can’t let it go.”

The union insisted that the picket wasn’t a strike but was an “informational” picket to raise awareness about NYU’s attempts to change health benefits for workers.

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Week In Review, Jan. 21

State Senator Brad Hoylman called on telecommunications giant Time Warner Cable on Monday to improve access for blind and visually impaired customers by voluntarily instituting basic product standards, including television guides and documents written in Braille, font size options for on-screen menus, as well as “talking menus” and “talking guides.” In a letter to Chairman and CEO Robert Marcus, Hoylman noted that while “Comcast has already set an example with its simple to use and accessible technology,” Time Warner has yet to implement similar programs for its share of New York’s 400,000 visually impaired residents.
Hoylman learned of the issue from a constituent while visiting VISIONS, a nonprofit that offers rehabilitation and social services to the visually impaired, in his senate district with NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer.

Council Member Robert Cornegy (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

Council Member Robert Cornegy (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

The City Council voted unanimously in support of legislation to change the way that the city communicates with New Yorkers who qualify for the city’s Rent Freeze Program on Tuesday.
The legislation, sponsored by Council Member Robert Cornegy, requires the Department of Finance to include a notice regarding legal and preferential rents on certain documents related to the NYC Rent Freeze Program.
Specifically, the notice must include the rent amount on which the benefit calculation was based, an explanation of why that amount was used in the calculation, an explanation that the tenant may continue to pay a preferential rent even once enrolled in the program, A statement that the tenant can obtain a rent registration history and file a complaint with the State Division of Housing and Community Renewal and a telephone number and email address for that agency. In addition, by 2018, the legislation would require the Department of Finance to include both the preferential and legal regulated rents of applicants to the NYC Rent Freeze Program in its database and include the preferential rent amount in the notice described above.

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Residents not enrolling for SCRIE/DRIE benefits

State Senator Brad Hoylman

State Senator Brad Hoylman

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.

East Village businesses discuss their struggles at Brewer roundtable

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, pictured during a press conference in March (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, pictured during a press conference in March (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Owners of small businesses in the East Village gathered on Tuesday at Jimmy’s No. 43 bar on East 7th Street for a roundtable discussion that was hosted by Borough President Gale Brewer on the challenges that businesses have been facing. Brewer has faced some criticism lately for not pushing for long-stalled legislation that would protect retailers from exorbitant rent increases, and business owners who were present at the roundtable on Tuesday expressed similar concerns. Owners at the event were enthusiastic about starting a discussion, but said they were frustrated by a range of issues, including endless paperwork from the city whenever they reach out for help.

“The bureaucracy is really hurting us,” one owner said. “When we have to deal with different city agencies, the people in the offices are nice, but there’s so much paperwork that things take forever to get done or don’t get done at all.”

Other businesses have still been struggling to recover from the explosion on Second Avenue this past March. Bernadette Nation, executive director of New York City’s Small Business Services emergency response team, worked in the neighborhood for more than a month and said that it was a struggle for a number of the storefronts near the explosion.

“I was in the city during September 11 but this explosion was a really daunting experience,” she said. “This one was really taxing on the body and the mind.”

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Legal clinic to be held on nonrenewal notices, succession

Council Member Dan Garodnick (pictured at a meeting in July)

Council Member Dan Garodnick (pictured at a meeting in July)

By Sabina Mollot

Following a spate of residents being faced with primary residence challenges while some others have recently been denied succession, local elected officials and the Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association have announced they would be hosting a legal clinic on both issues.

The event will take place on Wednesday, August 19 from 6-7:30 p.m. at MS 104 at 330 East 21st Street and will be co-hosted by Council Member Dan Garodnick, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, Borough President Gale Brewer, State Senator Brad Hoylman and Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh. Attorneys from the Urban Justice Center will also be present.

As Town & Village reported in late July, the Tenants Association had noticed an uptick in Golub notices or notices of nonrenewal being issued due to primary residence challenges. As of July 30, TA President Susan Steinberg said she knew of seven new Golubs being issued.

However, she noted, this was nowhere near as many as had been sent out at one time during the Tishman Speyer era of Stuyvesant Town. The former owner eventually managed to serve over 1,000 tenants with Golub notices.

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Garodnick, Brewer propose database for pending and existing landmarks

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Councilmember Dan Garodnick worked with Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer to introduce a bill at the end of June that would require the Landmarks Preservation Commission to create a publicly accessible database.

The database would provide a central location for New Yorkers to search for places that have been designated a landmark, historic district, interior landmark and scenic landmarks, and would also include those that are presently under consideration. Garodnick and the Borough President are working on several other bills that would reform the landmarks process as well.

“It shouldn’t be a mystery what buildings or areas are up for landmark consideration, and we need to open up this process,” Garodnick said.

Stuyvesant Town itself has been the topic of discussion in landmarking conversations as long ago as 2001 when the Historic Districts Council announced support for designating the property a landmark.

Residents re-launched a campaign for landmarking in 2008, two years after Tishman Speyer purchased the property, with long-time residents reasoning at the time that there was some concern about big changes the new owner might make and landmarking was seen as a form of protection.

Today, the property is still under consideration.

Brewer said the proposed database will ensure a smoother landmarks process.

“A single, central, searchable database will make the landmarks process work better for everyone – property owners, preservationists, and the Landmarks Preservation Commission itself,” she said .

Garodnick bill would end commercial rent tax for some Manhattan storefronts

Petite Abeille co-owner Yves Jadot (pictured in 2011) said the tax break, if passed, would help at a larger restaurant he owns in midtown. Photo by Sabina Mollot)

Petite Abeille co-owner Yves Jadot (pictured in 2011) said the tax break, if passed, would help at a larger restaurant he owns in midtown. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

In an effort to help Manhattan’s mom-and-pop shops, Council Members Dan Garodnick and Helen Rosenthal have introduced legislation to relieve many small businesses of their commercial rent tax.

Since 1963, any business in Manhattan below 96th Street paying over $250,000 a year in rent (or nearly $21,000 a month) has been made to pay the tax, which is a 3.9 percent surcharge on the rent. The legislation, introduced last Wednesday, would make the tax applicable only to businesses paying $500,000 or more. To make up for the loss in city revenue, businesses paying over $3 million would get a small increase. That increase would rise slowly as businesses pay more in rent, but at its highest would be an additional one third of one percent on businesses paying over $4 million.

While the mayor has not made his point of view known on the bill, Garodnick said his colleagues in the Council have been fully in support of it with the entire Manhattan delegation having signed on as co-sponsors.

“This bill is motivated by a desire to cut a break to small businesses who are getting hit in every direction,” said Garodnick. “This is a way to grant them some relief.”

He noted that while business owners haven’t told him that the taxes alone are killing them, the cost, he said, adds up for small retailers and restaurants, who’ve faced the citywide problem of getting booted out in favor of banks and other chains.

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