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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Powers named criminal justice chair

Council Member Keith Powers (Photo courtesy of Keith Powers)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

City Councilmember Keith Powers is getting in the swing of things in the Council, having been appointed chair of the Criminal Justice Services committee by City Council Speaker Corey Johnson last Thursday.

Powers said that the committee will likely meet about once a month and one of the major issues will be on the possible closure of Riker’s Island. The committee will be discussing how the city should deal with the long-term future of the facility and whether it should be closed or transformed.

“In closing one of the largest jails in the country, we would have to make sure we have alternatives and options for folks afterwards when they get out,” he said. “The point is to rehabilitate people so they’re prepared for the real world, for the workforce or offer literacy, and want to make sure people have a menu of options and so they can have a peaceful life.”

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