Week In Review: October 24

Andres Pazmino from Chelsea/Greenwich Village Chamber of Commerce, Anwar Khoder from Li-Lac Chocolates, State Senator Brad Hoylman, Assembly Member Deborah J. Glick and Christopher Taylor from Li-Lac Chocolates at the award ceremony over the weekend.

State Senator Brad Hoylman celebrated the opening of Li-Lac Chocolate’s sixth location at Greenwich Avenue and Seventh Avenue on Saturday. At a weekend ceremony, Hoylman presented Li-Lac Chocolates with the New York Senate Empire Award to honor this local small business. The Empire Award is the New York State Senate’s highest award for local businesses, honoring them for excellence and community involvement. Li-Lac Chocolates was given this award in recognition as Manhattan’s oldest chocolate house, and for making their community a sweeter place to live. At the award presentation on Saturday, October 19, Hoylman was joined by Assembly Member Deborah J. Glick; Erik Bottcher, Chief of Staff to City Council Speaker Corey Johnson; Anthony Cirone, Anwar Khoder and Christopher Taylor.

“Small businesses are the lifeblood of our neighborhoods,” Hoylman said. “At a time when multinational corporations and big landlords are making it difficult for small businesses to survive, it’s wonderful to see this local Greenwich Village small business thriving. I’m proud to present Li-Lac Chocolates with the New York Senate Empire Business Award to honor their years of success and sixth location. What could be sweeter than that?”

In response to the increased use of “smart key” systems in residential buildings throughout New York City, City Councilmember Mark Levine introduced legislation in the City Council last Thursday to prevent landlords from improperly using personal data collected by these systems to harass or evict tenants or to monitor their individual apartments. In recent years residential landlords in the city have increasingly been replacing traditional key locks with new keyless access to buildings – often referred to as “smart access systems.” These new entry systems replace physical keys with several new technological components like biometrics identifiers (i.e. fingerprints, eye scans, facial recognition technology), smartphone apps, and personalized key fobs. The ability of “smart access systems” to collect a broad range of personal data on tenants and their apartments has created serious concerns over where these systems can be used, what data can be collected, and who has access to that data.

“With the rapid conversion to electronic access in residential buildings across New York City, we have to make sure tenants are safeguarded from landlords who may try to use the information collected by these systems to harass or evict tenants from their homes,” Levine said. “Most renters in the city are probably unaware that every time they use a keyless access system in their building or in their apartment that information is electronically logged and can be seen by their landlords. We need to have strong regulations in place to protect tenants from the misuse of this data by their landlords. Every tenant has the right to know what data is being collected by their landlords and should feel secure that that data cannot be used against them.”

The de Blasio Administration launched a campaign on Monday to educate tenants on their new rights under the Housing Stability and Tenant Protection Act of 2019. The ads, designed by The Mayor’s Office to Protect Tenants, give New York City renters the information they need to hold their landlords accountable. The ads will run from October 21 to December 15 and will be displayed in subways, bus shelters, small businesses, Staten Island ferry terminals, community newspapers, Link kiosks and online. The city’s Public Engagement Unit will be going door to door to make sure tenants know about the new protections and how to advocate for themselves.

Tenants across New York City won new protections this summer due to new State legislation. The new laws make it harder for landlords to evict tenants and strengthened protections for New Yorkers living in rent regulated apartments. These laws are enforced by the State’s Division of Homes and Community Renewal (DHCR). These protections include protection from large security deposits, onerous application fees, limits on how rent can increase, and limits how much landlords can charge regulated tenants for building improvements. Anyone with questions about their rights or concerns that they are being illegally harassed can find more information at the Mayor’s Office to Protect Tenants’ new website or by calling 311.

“The State Legislature passed some of the most progressive rent reforms we’ve seen in decades, but if New Yorkers don’t know their rights, it will all be for nothing,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said. “This campaign will arm New Yorkers with the knowledge to fight harassment and stay in their homes.”

State Senator Brad Hoylman praised Governor Cuomo last Thursday for signing legislation to end the double jeopardy loophole and enable requesting Congressional committees to obtain a President’s state tax information. As President Trump continues his abuses of power and conflicts of interest, Senator Hoylman and the New York State Senate are taking action to protect our democracy and constitution against abuses by this and future presidential administrations. Hoylman’s TRUST Act, which allows New York State to share tax return information with Congressional investigations, was passed by the New York State Legislature and signed into law by Governor Cuomo earlier this year. Governor Cuomo signed additional legislation last Wednesday to close the ‘double jeopardy’ loophole and reduce Trump’s power to pardon his corrupt associates; this legislation was advanced by Attorney General Letitia James, sponsored by Senator Todd Kaminsky and co-sponsored by Senator Hoylman.

“Combined with our new law to require Trump hand over his state tax returns to Congress, the new law closing double jeopardy loophole is New York’s ‘one-two punch’ against the lawlessness perpetrated by Donald Trump,” Hoylman said. “While the Trump Administration tramples on the constitution and the rule of law, New York is acting responsibly to hold the president accountable. I’m grateful to Governor Cuomo for signing these important bills into law and to Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Senator Todd Kaminsky for passing this legislation.”

The City Council Subcommittee on Landmarks, Public Sitings and Dispositions and the Committee on Land Use voted last Wednesday to approve the plan to close the jails on Rikers Island and build four new borough-based facilities, and the plan passed at a full vote in City Council last Thursday, culminating a years-long effort propelled by the strong advocacy of the formerly incarcerated to shutter Rikers Island. The vote occurred as Mayor de Blasio, Speaker Johnson and Council leadership agree to a wide-range of investments tied to the closure of Rikers totaling $391 million dollars, including $126 million in previously planned investments and $265 million in new programming that will address the root causes of incarceration and help fundamentally reshape New York City’s criminal justice system going forward. These investments are being announced in detail for the first time today.

“Throughout this process I have stressed the importance of investing in communities most impacted by the criminal justice system,” said City Councilmember Keith Powers, chair of the Criminal Justice Committee. “These targeted, citywide investments further indicate that closing Rikers Island is not only a land-use action, but an urgent moment to overhaul the criminal justice system.”

MTA New York City Transit announced last Thursday that more than 1,500 vehicles have been captured blocking bus lanes on the M15 Select Bus Service route since a new bus-mounted camera enforcement began on Oct. 7. The MTA’s newly implemented forward-facing mobile camera system is part of a multi-agency approach to keep bus lanes clear, speed up rides and prioritize transit on high-volume corridors throughout the city. NYC Transit is using an Automated Bus Lane Enforcement (ABLE) system on 51 buses that travel on the M15 Select Bus Service route, which uses dedicated bus lanes implemented by the New York City Department of Transportation. ABLE camera systems capture evidence such as license plate information, photos and videos, as well location and timestamp information, of vehicles obstructing bus lanes to document clear cases of bus lane violation. The system collects multiple pieces of evidence from multiples buses traveling in the bus lanes to ensure that vehicles making permitted turns from bus lanes are not ticketed. The package of evidence is transmitted to NYCDOT for review and processing, and the program is administered in partnership with NYCDOT and the NYC Department of Finance.

“Under Mayor de Blasio’s Better Buses Action Plan, we have committed to increase citywide bus speeds 25 percent by the end of 2020, and to get there, we will need to step up enforcement to keep vehicles out of the more than 100 miles of dedicated bus lanes we have built around the city,” Department of Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg said. “For years, we had overhead cameras along routes like the M15, but adding enforcement cameras to the buses themselves will help us further keep bus lanes clear, allowing tens of thousands of commuters to keep moving.  And we know that improvement in bus travel times consistently lead to increased ridership. We thank our state elected officials in Albany who successfully pushed for this change as well as NYCT President Andy Byford and the team at the MTA for their partnership as we strengthen this essential enforcement program, serving the New Yorkers who take more than 2 million daily bus trips.”

Editorial: Council bills will make a difference

Last week, the City Council passed a slew of bills aimed at tenant protection, and while not yet law, the mayor has indicated he’ll support them.

This is a tremendous relief. We believe these bills would go a long way in protecting tenants from landlords who flout the law, from making aggressive buyout offers to using construction as a form of harassment to blatantly lying on applications.

Additionally, the fact that so many housing bills were introduced shows how badly this intervention was needed in the first place. A perfect example is Council Member Keith Powers’ bill to crack down on landlords who lie in construction documents about whether or not their buildings have rent regulated tenants. This legislation was inspired by behavior by the Kushner Companies, who failed to disclose the presence of such tenants in 17 buildings a total of 42 times when filing applications to the Department of Buildings.

Another helpful bill will improve communication between city agencies with oversight of housing, making it easier to catch these inaccuracies.

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City Council passes 17 tenant bills

The City Council Housing and Buildings Committee holds a vote on anti-displacement bills the day before they were passed by the full Council on Wednesday, May 8. (Photo courtesy of City Council)

By Sabina Mollot

Last fall, the City Council introduced a package of 18 bills aimed at preventing tenants from being displaced due to aggressive tactics from landlords like exploitative buyout agreements or nuisance construction. On Wednesday, May 8, all but one passed. They still require the mayor’s signature, but he has indicated his support for them.

A spokesperson for Mayor Bill de Blasio, Jane Meyer said, “From free access to legal services in housing court to the new Mayor’s Office to Protect Tenants, this administration has been fighting for tenants from day one. These bills will help bolster our efforts to protect all New Yorkers.”

Here is a rundown of what each of the City Council bills will do:

Property owners will be required to share certain information about the terms of a buyout agreement a tenant is entering into with the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) within 90 days. The bill’s sponsor is Mark Levine.

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Editorial: Another store closing, don’t blame Amazon

May4 Garodnick presser Amott

Natasha Amott, owner of Whisk

Earlier this month, Town & Village interviewed three local business owners to ask their thoughts on a package of legislation aimed at helping mom-and-pops.

One of those business owners was Natasha Amott, whose business, kitchen supply shop Whisk has three locations, one on Broadway in Flatiron, and two in Brooklyn, one in Williamsburg and the other in Brooklyn Heights. While the three shops have no shortage of loyal customers, Amott told Town & Village on Friday that the Williamsburg location on Bedford will be closing at the end of the month after 10 years due to an astronomical rise in rent. Currently $18,452, the landlord asked for a 44 percent increase that would have brought it up to $26,500. Such asking rents have become the norm in a neighborhood that, like so many others in the city, have been zeroed in on by chains.

Amott explained her decision to close in a “love letter” to customers, while also telling T&V via email, “This is NOT a story of a small business that could not survive the growth of online retailers. This is a story of a tremendously successful little business in a neighborhood that has become overrun with national and multinational chains, often supported by private equity, who choose to pay high rents as an advertising investment to grow their brand. The commercial banking system to underwrite mortgages on this land has often demanded these high rent rolls. And the small landlords – like Whisk’s – are now able to benefit too from these inflated market rents.”

In addition to the Brooklyn closure, there has also been a “For Rent” sign in the window of the Manhattan store.

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A ferry costly commute? Council debates subsidies

Council Member Keith Powers, pictured at left with Stuyvesant Town General Manager Rick Hayduk on the maiden voyage of the Lower East Side ferry last August (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

Earlier this month, the news that the city’s ferry system was costing taxpayers nearly $11 in subsidies has raised concerns about the value of the service and if the ferries are serving commuters in an equitable way.

The City Council held a hearing on the subject last Wednesday, although an attending representative for the Economic Development Corporation, which operates the ferries along with Hornblower, offered little in the way of information about demographics of ferry riders and just how much they’re using the system.

Later, Council Member Keith Powers, whose East Side district residents utilize two of the new ferry stops along the Lower East Side route (20th and 34th Street) said there are still many questions that need answering. However, for him, it’s not a question of whether the ferries are worth the investment — he believes they are — but how money can be saved in the future and how the system can be tweaked to better serve commuters with the most need.

The current $10.73 per person subsidy, he noted, is in part due to the cost of buying the fleet of ferries upfront as opposed to having rented them, which over the long term, is estimated to save the city $150 million.

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Council approves Waterside affordability deal

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Waterside Plaza as seen from Stuyvesant Cove Park (Pictured last August) Photos by Sabina Mollot

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

The City Council voted last Thursday to approve an agreement that will protect longtime Waterside Plaza tenants against substantial rent increases as part of a lease extension between the property and Housing Preservation and Development.

The agreement will allow tenants who have been living at the property since before Waterside left the Mitchell-Lama program and will be retiring soon to receive rent protections. City Council Member Keith Powers, who has been working with Assembly Member Harvey Epstein and the Department of Housing, Preservation and Development on negotiations for the deal for over a year, was able to negotiate an additional year with HPD so that tenants have until 2020 to retire and qualify for the rent protections, compared to 2019 when the plan was first announced.

“It’s not huge but it at least gives people who might be affected a better idea of how they should plan,” Powers said after the Council vote of the additional year.

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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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SBJSA will finally get Council hearing

Sept27 closed Loop

Loop restaurant on Third Avenue in Gramercy closed over the summer. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

The Small Business Jobs Survival Act, which has existed in some for over 30 years, will finally be getting the hearing its advocates have been pushing for.

According to the Small Business Congress, possibly the bill’s most vocal supporter, the City Council’s Small Business Committee will be holding a hearing on October 22 at 1 p.m.

Meanwhile, the SBC and others who’ve been pushing for the bill’s passage, as well as its opponents in the real estate industry, have expressed some pessimism over how the bill will be debated. In the case of the former, it’s over a belief that the bill is just going to get watered down, and in the case of the latter, over the argument that the bill is illegal.

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Garodnick now head of the Riverside Park Conservancy

Dan Garodnick, pictured at the Peter Cooper Village Starbucks (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

After a nearly five-month break since he left the City Council, where he represented Manhattan’s fourth district for 12 years, Peter Cooper Village resident Dan Garodnick now has a new job.

On Tuesday, the Riverside Park Conservancy’s board of trustees announced that Garodnick was appointed the conservancy’s new chief executive officer and president. Additionally, the new role involves quite a bit of fundraising for the park, which runs for six miles along the Hudson River on Manhattan’s western edge.

According to the official announcement, Garodnick has been tasked with leading a multi-year fundraising campaign. The goal is to double the size of the conservancy’s program of horticultural care in targeted geographic zones of the park, in particular in the northern half of the park, which runs up to the George Washington Bridge.

Additionally, the 79th Street Boat Basin and the popular riverfront restaurant facility located there are in need of upgrades and the renovation of a community field house at 102nd Street is still unfinished. The conservancy also hopes to get government and philanthropic funding for a major repair of the Soldiers & Sailors Monument at 91st Street at some point.

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SBJSA advocates rally for hearing

Council Member Carlina Rivera with with the bill’s supporters and its prime sponsor Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez at her left (Photo courtesy of Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez)

By Sabina Mollot

Small business activists are actively pushing for a hearing of the Small Business Jobs and Survival Act, which was reintroduced in the City Council in March under a new prime sponsor, Ydanis Rodriguez.

Representatives from various pro-SBJSA groups attended a hearing on the steps of City Hall last Wednesday, along with Rodriguez and fellow Council Member Carlina Rivera. Additionally, the coalition has continued to reach out to small businesses across the five boroughs as well as those who enjoy patronizing them, encouraging email to their local member of Council.

Harry Bubbins, East Village and special projects director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, said hundreds of email forms to council members were sent through the GVSHP’s website. Additionally, since the bill was reintroduced, 12 council members have signed on as sponsors.

“They are responding to their local constituents as well as the needs of the city, the obvious crisis of retail spaces in the city,” Bubbins said.

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Maybe next year for participatory budgeting

By Sabina Mollot

Over the past week, many City Council members, including Speaker Corey Johnson, have been cheering the fact that this past week, April 7-15, was a window of community voting on how to spend $1 million.

The money, part of allocated funds for different districts, was included in a program called “participatory budgeting,” in which constituents, including children, get a say in how the money gets spent, like improvements to parks, libraries or senior centers.

However, not all districts were included in the program and District 4, spanning from Stuyvesant Town to 98th Street, had no participatory budgeting. Note: This isn’t extra money, just funding set aside from a council member’s budget.

We reached out to City Council Keith Powers’ office to ask why his constituents didn’t get a say, and according to a spokesperson, Liz Peters, the reason is that he would have had to enroll in the program last year, and at that time Powers wasn’t in office yet. However, she said, Powers would look into the process for next year, because he thinks it’s an “innovative idea,” one that was started by the Progressive Caucus, of which he is the vice co-chair.

Powers wants to make it easier for candidates to run

Council Member Keith Powers has introduced a package of campaign finance legislation that would ease paperwork burdens on smaller campaigns. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

On Wednesday, freshman Council Member Keith Powers turned some of the more frustrating experiences of being a candidate into a package of campaign finance bills aimed at making it easier for candidates to run for office.

The council member said he expects that tweaking the current regulations will lead to less burdensome paperwork, specifically for first-time candidates who don’t expect to rake in big bucks.

“I discovered while running that you had to jump over a number of hurdles to run for office,” said Powers. “(The legislation) can make it easier without undermining any safeguarding around public dollars. So they don’t have to commit all their rime to fundraising, but actually talking about issues.”

The first bill, which lists Diana Ayala as a co-sponsor, would allow candidates to get matching funds for smaller contributions. Currently, a candidate needs a minimum of 75 donations from donors within the district that are at least $10 each. The bill would change the minimum donation needed to qualify for matching funds to $5.

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Council calls for stronger rent regs

Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association President Susan Steinberg (at right) waits to give testimony about why rent regulations are needed. (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

The City Council Housing and Buildings committee held a hearing on legislation aimed at maintaining rent stabilization in the city this past Monday, with city elected officials also expressing strong support for the repeal of various policies at the state level that allow landlords to increase rents and move apartments out of the program, such as vacancy decontrol, preferential rent and vacancy bonuses.

Although the state controls rent regulation, the legislation heard in the Council this week proposed the extension of rent stabilization in the city and includes a resolution determining that a public emergency requiring rent control continues to exist and will continue to exist on and after April 1.

Council Speaker Corey Johnson pressed representatives from the Department of Housing Preservation and Development at the hearing about whether or not the de Blasio administration supports the repeal of vacancy decontrol.

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Tenants asked to speak at Council hearing on rent stabilization

The Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association is asking neighbors to share their stories about why rent stabilization is needed at an upcoming hearing.

On Monday, March 19 at 1 p.m. the City Council Housing and Buildings Committee has scheduled a public hearing on two measures introduced by City Council Speaker Corey Johnson. One is to renew the city rent control law (which doesn’t apply to ST/PCV), and the other (Intro 600-A) is to renew the NYC Rent Stabilization Law of 1969 (which does), for three more years.

In an email to residents on Friday, the TA stated, “As long as the city vacancy rate is below 5 percent the city can renew a declaration of housing emergency. The vacancy rate is currently 3.63 percent, according to the Census Bureau.”

Tenants will have the opportunity to give testimony or simply attend the hearing to support neighbors.

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Powers’ first bill takes aim at sexual harassment

Council Member Keith Powers earlier this week in committee (Photo by Emil Cohen/City Council)

By Sabina Mollot

For his first bill as a City Council member, Keith Powers is hoping to change language in the city’s Human Rights Law so that employees of very small companies who are facing sexual harassment can file suit against the harassers. Previously the law did not protect employees of companies that employ fewer than four people.

The bill, along with 10 others aiming to fight sexual harassment, will be discussed at a hearing on Thursday. The legislation package, including Powers’ bill, has been heavily inspired by the #MeToo movement, with Powers saying he became aware of the loophole last fall in a conversation about the movement with a friend who’s a civil rights attorney.

The friend had mentioned that state law was tweaked several years ago to end immunities from companies with fewer than four employees, but the city had yet to follow suit.

Powers, who’d just been elected, made a note then to tackle the issue once in office.

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