Pols pushing mayor to sign Commercial Rent Tax reform bill

Council Member Dan Garodnick, standing next to the bill’s co-sponsor Council Member Helen Rosenthal (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

On Monday, Manhattan politicians and small business advocates gathered on the steps of City Hall to push the Commercial Rent Tax reform bill sponsored by Council Members Dan Garodnick and Helen Rosenthal.

This was the third public announcement in recent months about the bill, which so far the mayor hasn’t committed to supporting.

Garodnick said at this point, the Council has had a hearing on the CRT bill and although there’s been no vote yet, 38 of his colleagues have signed on as co-sponsors. Asked why there hasn’t been a vote, Garodnick said Council members usually first want to know if the mayor “will support it rather than veto it.”

Rosenthal later said, “We are optimistic that he will embrace it.”

Continue reading

See Dan run for mayor… maybe

sept29-garodnick-in-st

Council Member Dan Garodnick (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

For months now, Councilman Dan Garodnick would only say he’s exploring his options when asked what position he’s now fundraising for. But according to a Saturday item in the New York Post, Garodnick is “seriously considering” running for mayor. Citing unnamed sources, the paper said he is “50-50” about running. Garodnick didn’t return our call requesting comment, nor did Waterside Plaza owner/former lieutenant governor Richard Ravitch, who the Post said Garodnick had spoken to about his thoughts about running. In February, Politico also ran a story about how he’d been speaking with donors, consultants and others about possibly throwing his hat in the ring.

It’s been expected that Comptroller Scott Stringer will run for mayor at some point, when and if charges are brought against Mayor Bill de Blasio for his fundraising tactics. Former mayoral candidate Christine Quinn has also been a rumored candidate. However, at this time, de Blasio’s most serious opponent seems to be Republican developer Paul Massey.

Continue reading

Letters to the Editor, Oct. 13

Cartoon by Jim Meadows

Cartoon by Jim Meadows

No option to downsize for the stabilized

Re: “800 ST/PCV residents who qualify for SCRIE/DRIE haven’t enrolled,” T&V, Sept. 29

Despite being many months away from being eligible, I write to commend all of the people involved in publicizing the DRIE and SCRIE rent exemption programs.

But first I want to mention something that’s troublesome. The New York Observer editorialized on behalf of an option that seniors in rent stabilized multi-bedroom apartments be able to downsize to rent stabilized studios, as my grandmother did decades ago, to save chunks of rent. Having one’s rent cut in half is better than having one’s rent frozen. But that is not an option either in PCV-ST or anywhere anymore.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

Community celebrates National Night Out

Genesis Parra gets behind the wheel of a police car at the 13th Precinct’s National Night Out Against Crime event on Tuesday. (Photos by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

Genesis Parra gets behind the wheel of a police car at the 13th Precinct’s National Night Out Against Crime event on Tuesday. (Photos by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

National Night Out Against Crime, an annual event aimed at growing relationships between law enforcement agencies and the communities they serve, took place on Tuesday night.

The event organized by the 13th Precinct and the precinct’s Community Council, went off without a hitch at the M.S. 104 Playground, despite some blustery wind and clouds that looked to be threatening rain. Fortunately, after two weeks of scorching heat and rain, many attendees from the neighborhood commented that they enjoyed the rare breeze. Families from the surrounding neighborhoods mingled with the local cops and business owners who had booths at the event while chowing down on chicken and rice from the Halal Guys, as well as burgers and dogs cooked up on the grill by officers from the precinct.

Continue reading

Pols ask Blackstone’s intentions on ST air rights

Comptroller Scott Stringer Photo by Sabina Mollot)

Comptroller Scott Stringer (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Local elected officials, while generally enthusiastic about the deal that the city has struck with Blackstone for Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village, still have some concerns about the details of the agreement, specifically regarding air rights.

Those four officials — Comptroller Scott Stringer, State Senator Brad Hoylman, Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh and Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney — addressed some of these issues in a letter to Jonathan Gray, the global head of real estate for the company, on Monday.

According to the Department of City Planning, “air rights” refers to the difference between the maximum amount of floor area that is allowed on a zoning lot and the actual built floor area. A transfer of air rights, sometimes known as unused development rights, allows that space to be transferred from one zoning lot to another, usually used to preserve historic buildings or open space. Air rights can usually be shifted from one adjacent lot to another but in the cases where historic buildings or open spaces are at stake, a transfer to a different location farther away is sometimes permitted.

Continue reading

Hundreds head out for tenant rally

Tenants carry signs at a rally for stronger rent laws. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

Tenants carry signs at a rally for stronger rent laws. (Photos by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

On Thursday night, hundreds of tenants and housing activists and numerous politicians gathered to rally for stronger rent laws, with the laws expected to be renewed in Albany on June 15.

The rally took place downtown in Foley Square, followed by a march over the Brooklyn Bridge.

During the rally, politicians spoke on the theme of needing to end vacancy decontrol and end 20 percent vacancy bonuses and to reform MCI (major capital improvement) rent increases to make them temporary as well as reforming IAI (individual apartment improvement) increases.

City Council Housing Chair Jumaane Williams was one of the speakers, eliciting cheers when he told the crowd if the rent laws weren’t strengthened it would be the fault of one person — “Governor Andrew Cuomo.” He then led a chant of “We will remember!” that reverberated through the street.

Other speakers at the event included Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, Public Advocate Letitia James, Comptroller Scott Stringer and Assembly Housing Chair Keith Wright. Local attendees included State Senator Brad Hoylman, Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh and Council Member Dan Garodnick.

The real stars of the event, however, were the many creative signs brandished by tenants, including a bunch that depicted building windows with spaces for their holders’ faces to show through with the slogan “Not moving.” Some tenants carried signs or wore boxes designed to look like buildings. Even more signs included, “Blood sucking landlords call for stronger rent laws” with a graphic of a giant bedbug, a banner with landlords depicted as dragons shootings flames onto a building, and the ST-PCV Tenants Association’s graphic of a vulture overlooking Stuyvesant Town.

One of the Stuy Town residents marching, Nancy Arons, commented on statements recently made by Cuomo about how the rent laws could just be extended as they are or tweaked slightly. The reason for this, the governor had explained, was all the turmoil in Albany.

“Well,” commented Arons in response. “That’s not our fault, is it? He wants to run for president, but if you don’t support the people who vote for you, I’m not going to vote for you for president. He thinks he’s his dad, I guess.”

Another marcher was Kavanagh, who, while heading across the bridge, discussed the fact that the “LLC loophole” has been getting some attention in Albany. The loophole has allowed developers to funnel enormous amounts of campaign cash to elected officials through numerous limited liability companies.

Legislation authored by Kavanagh would cap contributions from corporations to a total of $5,000 per calendar year to candidates and/or committees. The legislation passed the Assembly on Tuesday. “Now it’s up to the Senate,” said Kavanagh, although he added that new Senate leader John Flanagan has been dragging his feet on bringing it up.

As for whether or not the legislation will be voted on in the Senate before session ends in five weeks Kavanagh said he doesn’t know. But, he added, “I want to say this is about doing the right thing because people are watching and people are realizing the corruption both in legal and illegal forms.”

One of the rally’s organizers was the healthcare workers’ union, with an 1199SEIU speaker explaining that 70,000 healthcare worker members live in rent regulated housing.

Garodnick: Bondholders say they’re owed $4.7 B

Dec11 TA crowd

Tenants pack the auditorium of the Simon Baruch Middle School for the Tenants Association meeting on Saturday. (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buchel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel
While the future of Stuyvesant Town/Peter Cooper Village remains as uncertain as ever, at a meeting held on Saturday, tenants got walked through what some of the legalese concerning the foreclosure that had been planned for earlier this year and then canceled means for the community.

This was one of the topics covered at the meeting, which was held by the ST-PCV Tenants Association and attended by around 500 residents who packed the auditorium of the Simon Baruch Middle School.

Council Member Dan Garodnick discussed how when the foreclosure was canceled, the deed of property was transferred to the senior level of the trust. He said that this means the bondholders now own the property but CWCapital continues to represent their interests. He noted that the agreement put in place means that CWCapital could represent the bondholders for a term of three years, which is renewable for a second three-year term. He added that they originally acquired the property for $3 billion and are open to the possibility of conversion but only if they get back the $4.7 billion they are owed.

When a resident asked later in the meeting why the amount had increased so much, Garodnick noted that it was due to interest and fees.
“A whole list of junk,” he said. “‘Special servicing fees,’ that’s what they claim to be owed.”

Garodnick also addressed a question from a resident about CWCapital’s parent company, Fortress. While Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have pledged to not approve of any deal that reduced affordable housing, Garodnick noted that it was possible to cut Fannie and Freddie out of the process if CWCapital hands the property over to Fortress, although he noted that this scenario is unlikely.

State Senator Brad Hoylman speaks to the crowd, while Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh and Council Member Dan Garodnick listen. (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

State Senator Brad Hoylman speaks to the crowd, while Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh and Council Member Dan Garodnick listen. (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

Along with Garodnick, other local elected officials were in attendance to address the TA’s conversion effort, the state of affordable housing and other topics.
Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney and Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh were also at the meeting and were joined later in the afternoon by City Comptroller Scott Stringer, State Senator Brad Hoylman and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer.

Stringer assured the crowd his office is committed to preserving affordable housing, especially given the recent Democratic losses in Albany.

“Our office is ready to partner with whatever plan this Tenants Association puts forward,” he said. “Even the most important and ambitious housing plan can’t make up the loss if Stuyvesant Towns and Peter Cooper Villages of the world are lost.”
Stringer added that it was his son’s third birthday, eliciting cheers from the crowd. But when State Senator Brad Hoylman, who spoke next, made sure everyone was aware that it was also Governor Cuomo’s birthday, the room was silent.

“It’s just a fact. We’re gonna need him,” Hoylman said apologetically among laughs from the crowd after the negative reaction.

Holyman then discussed the Democrats’ current fate in Albany.
“Unfortunately it’s not very different from what you see out the window: cold, dreary and windy,” he remarked.

Hoylman blamed poor voter turnout in the recent midterm elections for Democratic losses in the state. With the rent laws up for renewal next year, he said that the Republicans’ new operational majority will make protecting tenants more difficult.

“Some Republicans live closer to Cleveland than to Manhattan,” he said. “But physically making yourself known makes a difference. We have numbers on our side and a lot of smart people on our side.”

He added that legislation protecting tenants did get passed in 2011 when Republicans also had a majority so he encouraged residents to remain optimistic.

TA attorney Tim Collins also spoke to address specific questions and concerns about rent and MCIs.

Collins discussed rent and MCI concerns at the beginning of the meeting. Residents of 431 East 20th Street in Peter Cooper Village said that they had received MCIs for façade work at the end of November and residents from 601 East 20th Street and 2 Peter Cooper Road also received docket letters from DHCR about MCIs for façade work.

“How is it restoration and improvement?” one tenant asked, prompting laughter from neighbors. Collins agreed with the assessment, noting, “It’s not an improvement, it’s a repair.”

A notice from the TA that was released on Monday said that more buildings will likely be hit with the MCI for façade work. The statement encouraged residents to keep the docket letters they receive about MCIs from DHCR and send copies to the TA so it can keep track of which buildings have received them and help tenants fight the rent increases.

Another issue discussed was apartment inspections with tenants skeptical that management only needs to give a day’s notice to come in for inspections. However, Collins confirmed that this is correct. If management needs to get into an apartment to do any work or make repairs, the tenants need to be informed a week in advance but if they need to get in just for inspections, they only need to inform tenants 24 hours before.

Collins also addressed late fees that some tenants have been charged with, including tenants who have been charged but said they don’t have a provision for late fees in their lease.

“If you have been charged a late fee, talk to management because there is no legal recourse for the fee,” he said, adding that tenants with such a provision who have been charged more than five percent should be getting a refund. He noted that there is also some leniency for tenants who are late on their rent the first time and he recommended talking to management about the fee.

TA chair Susan Steinberg noted that the TA will be meeting with management on December 16 and would be able to address questions from residents raised at the meeting, including the lack of action from public safety concerning speeding electronic bikes, disruptive NYU students and residents who are in non-compliance with the floor covering rules.

Conversion, legal issues, rent regulations to be discussed at TA meeting

Brewer, Stringer support TA’s conversion effort

ST-PCV Tenants Association President John Marsh speaking at meeting on Saturday (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

ST-PCV Tenants Association President John Marsh at a previous meeting (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

The Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association will be holding its next general meeting on Saturday, December 6 at 1 p.m.

Topics will include recent legal issues, the annual review of Tenant Association activities, a conversion update, the Fannie Mae–Freddie Mac commitment to ST/PCV, what lies ahead in Albany post-election with respect to tenant issues and how New York City’s Comptroller’s Office and the Manhattan Borough President’s office will support the TA’s conversion effort.

Speakers will include TA attorney Tim Collins, Councilman Dan Garodnick, Congress Member Carolyn Maloney, NYS Senator Brad Hoylman, NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer.

After the speakers, there will be an open mike question-and-answer session. Tenants will have an opportunity to line up before a floor microphone and ask about critical issues.

The meeting will be held at Middle School 104, East 20th Street between First and Second Avenues. Doors open at 12:30 p.m.

Repair of Stuyvesant Square Park’s historic fence to start soon, city says

Money was raised to fix the fence outside of Stuyvesant Square Park in 2012. (Photo by Michael Alcamo)

Money was raised to fix the fence outside of Stuyvesant Square Park in 2012. (Photo by Michael Alcamo)

By Sabina Mollot

It was almost two and half years ago, in June of 2012 when the last $600,000 needed for the restoration of Stuyvesant Square Park’s historic, cast iron fence and the surrounding sidewalk was finally allocated after years of fundraising. The project, which had been pushed by the Stuyvesant Park Neighborhood Association, eventually had a total price tag of $5.5 million, funded by local elected officials.

But today, work on the fence on the park’s east section, which needs some of its rotted pieces recreated, still hasn’t begun. A separate project to fix the park’s west section fence had been completed earlier. Work to accompany the fence project, such as fixing the damaged bluestone sidewalk, has also still not been done. Yet another long awaited and related project, to install a curb cut or ramp at the park’s eastern gate to allow access to wheelchair users, has also still not happened.

But fortunately for those whose who’ve been following the progress, or rather lack of it, change does finally appear to be on the horizon.

Community Board 6’s Parks Committee has been assured by the Parks Department that work will begin soon. Or rather, that it already has. Mark Thompson, who heads Community Board 6’s Parks Committee, said he’s been told the official start date of the project was October 20. However, he was also warned that this wouldn’t mean shovels would hit the ground on that date although work would begin internally on the project.

As for when the actual repairs will start, there still doesn’t seem to be a set date for that, and one local tree-planting and park activist, Michael Alcamo, has said he’ll believe it when he sees it.

Alcamo, a Stuyvesant Town resident, had spearheaded a letter writing campaign in 2012 that was instrumental in securing the last of the funds for the project from then-Borough President Scott Stringer. Though he conceded some of the blame for the delay on getting started was finding artisans capable of repairing the landmarked fence, which apparently there aren’t too many of, he said he is now concerned the project is no longer even considered a priority by the city. Alcamo referred to the mayor’s recently announced initiative to focus on the needs of parks in outer boroughs, particularly in poorer areas.

“Has the money been allocated to outer boroughs? That would be useful for the community to know,” said Alcamo.

He added that the fence isn’t even his main concern, but the cracked sidewalk is since that could pose a danger to pedestrians, as is the lack of of a wheelchair ramp.

Tree and park activist Michael Alcamo has been pushing the city to install a ramp for disabled park goers at the park’s entrance. (Photo by Michael Alcamo)

Tree and park activist Michael Alcamo has been pushing the city to install a ramp for disabled park goers at the park’s entrance. (Photo by Michael Alcamo)

“In 1990, the Americans With Disabilities Act required that public facilities, including parks, must be accessible to persons with disabilities,” said Alcamo. “The eastern side of Stuyvesant Square Park, which faces Stuyvesant Town, has not been in compliance for 24 years. We have been asking for four years for a curb cut in order to make the park accessible to persons of limited mobility.”

Alcamo, who recently founded an organization called Friends of Stuyvesant Square Park, had hoped to speed up the curb cut installation by asking Community Board 6 to pass a resolution calling for the work to be done, but, he said, the board’s Parks Committee declined. As for why the committee didn’t want to take that step, Thompson told Town & Village he didn’t think a resolution would be necessary since the community board has already had assurances from the Parks Department that the project will begin soon, including the installation of a ramp.

Thompson added that he did understand Alcamo’s concerns since early on the fundraising process, $500,000 of the project’s funds were reallocated to another Parks Department need.

“It shouldn’t have happened, but it did,” said Thompson. Because of this, CB6 has been “politely” nudging the city about the park from time to time. “We’re all concerned,” he said. But he added, “the money is allocated. It is happening.”

A rep for Parks echoed Thompson in saying the city is not redirecting the project’s cash elsewhere.

“No funds have been reallocated from Manhattan to the other boroughs and all the funds allocated for this project are intact,” Philip Abramson, a Parks Department spokesperson told T&V.

The contractor on the project is UA Construction, who was selected after the initially chosen vendor (chosen for being the lowest bidder) ended up not working out. UA Construction was the second lowest bidder. The lowest bidder, Abramson said, “was not successful in going through the pre-qualification process.”

He didn’t respond to a question about why the first company didn’t qualify though he did say that at this time UA Construction is working with the Department of Transportation on getting a permit for a street closure so work can begin.

Rosalee Isaly, the president of the Stuyvesant Park Neighborhood Association, said she’s had a recent discussion with Parks reps to make sure the dog walkers who come to use the park’s dog run will be able to access it while work is ongoing.

“They’ll be aware of them,” she said of the dog walkers. She added that come springtime, the park’s west side will also get some attention with the installation of an irrigation system. “All that planting that gets done needs water and the watering this past summer was torturous,” she said. “They had to drag in hoses.”

The labor-intensive act of planting should pay off in the spring though. Dozens of volunteers, mainly high school and college students, have been participating in monthly gardening days at the park to plant, paint benches and rake leaves. On a volunteer day in October, around 11,500 bulbs for tulips, daffodils and bluebells were planted.

“It’s really warming,” said Isaly. “I think it’s going to be spectacular spring in the park.”

A DOT spokesperson did not respond to a request from T&V asking about the status of the permit and where the street closures would be exactly.

Nation’s veterans are remembered

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

By Sabina Mollot
New York City’s 95th Veterans Day Parade, also known as America’s Parade, took place on Tuesday, attracting crowds of spectators, who, for nearly the entire route along Fifth Avenue, were at least three rows deep.
Many waved flags and all seemed to have as many cheers for the countless stream of veterans and current servicemen and women marching by as for the more high-profile guests.
Those included Mets player Jacob deGrom, who had just been named Rookie of the Year, and former Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, a parade grand marshal. DeGrom marched alongside his wife Stacey, and Kelly, a former Marine, marched with his wife Veronica, a veteran of the U.S. Coast Guard reserves. Others marching including Amanda Wirtz, Miss Veteran America 2014, members of different military organizations from around the country and numerous marching bands.
As always, the parade kicked off at Madison Square Park with a memorial ceremony, a wreath laying and shots fired in the air, before heading off to 56th Street.
At the park, several elected officials spoke about veterans issues, including U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, who said more needs to be done to prevent suicide among veterans.
“The rate of suicide is far too high. We need better screenings,” he said, noting that a bill by an Indiana senator, which he’s pushing, is aimed at providing mental health screenings on an annual basis for all military service members. Mayor Bill de Blasio, who marched in the parade but didn’t attend the opening ceremony, spoke at a breakfast event.
He said more was being done to help veterans find jobs with special Workforce1 centers around the city which have placed over 1,000 veterans and spouses of veterans in jobs since January.
Additionally, he said, “They’ve helped more than 3,800 veterans with career counseling and workshops, and they’re expanding services to be available all over the city.”
Other elected officials to attend the parade included Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, Public Advocate Letitia James and Comptroller Scott Stringer. Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney was also there, marching arm in arm with World War II veteran Frederick Carrier, who fought in the invasion of Normandy.
Among the spectators were countless people who held homemade signs saying “Thank you.” Others came bearing photos of deceased veteran family members, like Peter Cooper Village resident Linda Wray.
Wray held a recent photo of her husband, Korean War veteran and U.S. Air Force Colonel Bernard Wray, posing with Mayor Bloomberg. Upon seeing some other Korean War vets milling around the street in the their signature blue jackets, Wray noted, “There are fewer and fewer of them every year. Like the World War II veterans who are in their 90s, the Korean War vets are in their 80s.”
While not a veteran herself, Wray attended wearing a hat that identified her as a member of the local post of the Jewish War Veterans.
The Stuyvesant Town area post, which has marched in the parade in previous years, has opted out for the past couple of years to hold its own, private ceremony in front of the VA Medical Center.

Tenants rally to demand affordability, involvement in any deal

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

By Sabina Mollot
Despite on and off downpours, a crowd of around 300 tenants rallied on the steps of City Hall on Friday morning to demand more involvement in any future deal surrounding Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village.
Originally the rally was set for the day of a foreclosure sale by CWCapital but was since turned into an opportunity to promote the fact that negotiations are currently taking place between CW, the de Blasio administration and local politicians on finding ways to maintain affordability at the complex. The goal is to satisfy the senior bondholders while also preserving the thousands of units for the middle class.

While CW said it is committed to the talks with the city for the next two months at least, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal, speeches at the podium centered around tenants having a say in any sales process as well as a guarantee, secured by U.S. Sen. Schumer earlier this week, that lenders Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac would not finance any deal at ST/PCV that didn’t have the backing of the tenants or the city.

“I said, ‘No if, ands or buts?’ They said, ‘no ifs, ands or buts,’” Schumer told the crowd.
He added that it would be “very hard” for any would-be buyer without Fannie and Freddie’s participation.
Schumer went on to say he’s always enjoyed visiting Stuy Town where his cousins lived.
“It’s always been a place for average folks to actually still be in Manhattan,” he said.

Other politicians at the event — Comptroller Scott Stringer, Council Member Dan Garodnick, Council Member Rosie Mendez, Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh, State Senator Brad Hoylman and Congress Member Carolyn Maloney — also spoke along those lines, saying no would-be owner should bank on being able to oust current tenants or jack up the rents. They also said ST/PCV should officially be considered part of de Blasio’s housing plan that’s aimed at creating or preserving 200,000 units of affordable housing.

Mayor De Blasio didn’t show, but a rep for Governor Andrew Cuomo was present. Though the governor wasn’t at the rally, he issued a statement in support of the tenants.
“Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village are critical to keeping New York affordable,” Cuomo said. “My office, along with the office of New York State Homes and Community Renewal, will be monitoring the sale closely and we will continue to work to ensure that the rights of thousands of rent-regulated tenants are maintained and preserved for generations to come.”

Maloney brought up legislation she recently reintroduced, aimed at ensuring Fannie and Freddie wouldn’t be able to provide liquidity to any deal that reduces rather than creates affordable housing. (However, she recently told Town & Village that the bill isn’t likely to get through Congress as is.)

During a Q&A period (made brief due to a downpour), Council Member Dan Garodnick was asked if CW had made any commitments regarding a housing plan. In response, Garodnick said no details had been determined yet because the discussions have just begun.
When asked if the de Blasio administration was aware that, despite talk of maintaining affordability at ST/PCV, many newer tenants’ rents are already at levels that they don’t consider affordable, the answer was yes.

“We are making that clear to the administration and to CW that there are many tenants barely hanging on but would stay if the ship was set right,” said Garodnick.
He added that he didn’t think CW was just paying lip service to tenants or the city at this point because the company had actually retained “a variety of professionals for the purpose of these discussions.”
(A spokesperson for CWCapital declined to comment on the rally or the talks.)

As for the tenants who came to the event, most were those who’d lived in the community for many years. Along with seniors, there were also children and their parents who’d taken the morning off from work.
Some carried signs, reading: “Hey Wall Street hedge funds: Don’t be predators!,” “No middle class housing means no middle class” and “Fannie and Freddie, we bailed you out. Don’t bail on us!”

Tenants Association board member Kirstin Aadahl, one of the newer tenants, discussed how she, her husband and then one-month-old baby moved to Stuy Town six years ago. Since then, she’s become involved in the PTA at her daughter’s school, PS 40, but is concerned about how much longer her family can afford to stick around. Aadahl was one of the “Roberts v. Tishman Speyer” tenants to get socked with a mid-lease increase last year. After hearing about the foreclosure, “The future looks even more bleak,” she said.

Tenants Association Chair Susan Steinberg noted how when CW took over operations at the property in 2010, “Remaining a stable middle class community was not in their business plan. The apartments were renovated at an incredible rate and at startling speed.” But, she added, “We’re changing that business plan. They’re going to have us there when they make their decisions.”

Following the event, a couple of tenants told Town & Village they were mostly worried about the stability of the community.
“I can afford it, but I’ve been there 25 years,” said Mark Thompson, the former chair of Community Board 6. He said he was concerned for seniors, parents and “people who do not have huge bank accounts.”

Another longterm resident of Stuy Town, Gary Ireland, was there with his daughter Sydney.
When Tishman Speyer was the owner, Ireland’s family had faced a primary residence challenge. This was after his mother-in-law, who lived in New Jersey, died, and his wife was accused of not being a resident. “It was really aggressive behavior. She had to prove she lived here.”

But years later, the stability of the community doesn’t appear to be any less shaky. On Ireland’s floor, there are three apartments that have turned over as many times in the past three years. His next door neighbor is a longterm tenant and a senior citizen. “A nice guy who wants to live there without getting harassed.” Then there’s another apartment Ireland suspects is being used as an illegal hotel. “There are a lot of people with suitcases coming in,” he said. “It happens all the time.”
As an attorney, whose wife is a teacher, Ireland said he’s able to make the rent in Stuy Town and his daughter attends Friends Seminary, a tuition-based school.
“We make some difficult financial decisions,” he said. “We have a two-bedroom and two kids with a makeshift bedroom in the living room out of bookshelves. We live the way a lot of people in Stuyvesant Town live.”

Note: The article has been updated to reflect the head count that was provided to Tenants Association President John Marsh by police.

MCI settlement was best possible deal for tenants, TA attorney says

Tenants Association attorney Tim Collins at a meeting on Saturday (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

Tenants Association attorney Tim Collins at a meeting on Saturday (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot
On the heels of the MCI settlement between CWCapital and the ST-PCV Tenants Association, around 250 tenants attended a meeting on Saturday to learn more about what the deal meant for them.
As usual almost all in attendance at the TA meeting, held at the Simon Baruch Middle School, were seniors. A bunch came armed with questions regarding the MCIs as well as quality of life and general affordability issues. However, those with unique circumstances were herded into another room at the school where there were tables to set up to help people understand the figures on their leases and with other problems.
Meanwhile, Tim Collins, the attorney for the ST-PCV Tenants Association addressed the crowd. First, he responded to some “grumbling” the deal has gotten since for most non-“Roberts” tenants, there’s only five percent removed from their monthly payments. Collins argued that as with any settlement, “you have to make deals. You have to trade something.” “Roberts” tenants wound up getting the higher reductions or full eliminations of the monthly payments because, said Collins, “they’re already paying very high rents.”
As a result of the deal, all tenants have had the retroactive portion of their MCIs (major capital improvements) eliminated. As for the monthly or permanent portion, “Roberts” tenants paying the full legal rent get a 5 percent credit. “Roberts’ tenants paying either the maximum modified legal rent or the maximum “Roberts” preferential rent get a 50 percent credit (as determined by the class action settlement). “Roberts” tenants paying less than the modified legal rent or “Roberts” preferential rent get a credit of 100 percent.
SCRIE/DRIE tenants are also exempt from having to pay the MCIs at all.
Non-“Roberts” tenants paying the full legal rent get a 5 percent credit. Non-“Roberts” tenants paying less than the full legal rent get a credit of 100 percent.  The credits are retroactive to January of this year and appear as two separate credits on tenants’ rent bill from May (one for May, one for the other four months).
While discussing the settlement, Collins tried to discourage residents from filing individual PARs (petitions for administrative review) since that could unravel the settlement for all tenants, a clause CW insisted on. Those hoping to score a better deal, warned Collins, would have less standing as individuals with the Division of Housing and Community Renewal (DHCR) than a coalition like the TA has. He also pointed out that the TA had been at work for months in the hope of getting the best possible deal.
“I think we accomplished that,” said Collins.
He also shared with tenants that the settlement almost didn’t happen, with the talks breaking down twice. He declined to explain why, but admitted he wasn’t happy about having to agree that tenants would have to give up the option to file PARs.
But in trying to see it from the owner’s side, Collins said, “They wanted there to be finality. They wanted to have peace. They don’t want to fight 500 or 1,000 PARs that disrupt the deal.”
The deal does however make exceptions for tenants who want to file a PAR in unusual circumstances, such as the room count of their apartments being incorrect, since MCI costs vary based on the number of rooms in a unit.
Collins also reminded tenants that even before the negotiations, the TA had managed to convince the DHCR to knock 23 percent off the amount then-owner Tishman Speyer asked for in 2009. The challenge that followed came about after tenants received notices of the approved MCIs last fall and Collins saw that none of his arguments made in 2012 against the improvements, such as shoddy workmanship, had been considered.
The attorney also echoed the sentiment often made by local politicians that MCIs are not just a problem for tenants in Stuy Town, but a result of a law that favors landlords by allowing them to charge in perpetuity for building improvements.
“The main problem is in Albany,” he said.

Collins’ advice: Sign a one-year lease, not two.
Collins concluded his talk by urging tenants who have lease renewals coming up before October to take a one-year lease rather than a two-year one.
The reason, said Collins, who served as the executive director/counsel for the Rent Guidelines Board from 1987-1994, is that the RGB is expected to vote for a lower increase this year than what was handed down in previous years. Even a rent freeze is possible based on the preliminary vote last week. However, the increase voted on won’t go into effect until October.
Collins added that in recent years, the board’s increases amount to “nothing less than a scandal.”
The reason, he said, is that arguments made in support of owners involved projected operating cost increases that were much higher than what they actually turned out to be. At the same time, household incomes were dropping. Collins admitted that when he worked for the board, he took a somewhat hands-off approach, telling its members, “It’s not your job to make every apartment affordable or every building profitable for owners.” But over time, he started to feel like landlords were being given too much and advised the board to implement a rent freeze.
“This year I’m asking for a rollback,” he added.
Following his comments, TA President John Marsh chimed in to say Collins was speaking for himself and not on behalf of the TA, since what kind of lease to sign is always a gamble.
Council Member Dan Garodnick also spoke about the RGB, to recommend that tenants to participate in this year’s vote process by speaking at public hearings about their MCIs. With a new chair and new mayor, Garodnick pointed out that tenants have a better shot at swaying the board this year than they’ve had in the last 20 years. “I would encourage you to make your voices heard,” he said. “It’s quite an opportunity for tenants in this city.”
(Editor’s note: In a recent editorial, T&V also recommended that tenants tell the RGB about their MCIs, in the hope that hearing about unexpected increases tenants are made to pay mid-lease will have an impact on the board’s decision on the annual increase.)
The next public hearing in Manhattan takes place on June 16 at the Emigrant Savings Bank at 49-51 Chambers Street from 2-6 p.m.

ST-PCV Tenants Association President John Marsh speaking at a Tenants Association meeting on Saturday, with Assemblyman Brian Kavanagh, Comptroller Scott Stringer, State Senator Brad Hoylman and Council Member Dan Garodnick (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

ST-PCV Tenants Association President John Marsh speaking at a Tenants Association meeting on Saturday, with Assemblyman Brian Kavanagh, Comptroller Scott Stringer, State Senator Brad Hoylman and Council Member Dan Garodnick (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

Support for tenant-led purchase of ST/PCV
Another issue discussed at the meeting was the future sale of ST/PCV, with Garodnick saying a tenant-led deal has the support of the city’s housing commissioner.
Later, he told Town & Village that along with HPD (Department of Housing Preservation and Development) Commissioner Vicki Been, he’d also spoken with the deputy mayor for economic development, Alicia Glen.
“My sense from them was that they wanted to find a way to be supportive of tenants in our initiative if they can,” he said.
On the other hand, CWCapital has remained unwilling to talk business.
“Not just with us but with anybody,” Garodnick said at the meeting. “We all suspect that a sale is somewhere on the horizon, but we’re not sure when.”
(Three days after the meeting, the plan to foreclose on the Stuy Town’s mezzanine was made public.)

Tenants at the meeting at Simon Baruch Middle School (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

Tenants at the meeting at Simon Baruch Middle School (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

Why tenants are pretty much doomed thanks to Albany and City Hall
As always, there was also much depressing talk about the politics governing rent laws at the event. Local elected officials took turns at the podium explaining why tenant-friendly bills never get anywhere.
State Senator Brad Hoylman reiterated a point he’s made before, saying that until there’s campaign finance reform, the State Senate, which is controlled by Republicans, will remain a place that’s more friendly to landlords than tenants. He noted that many of the Republicans get millions in campaign contributions from real estate interests and also often live in upstate districts where there are few renters. The Olean, NY-based Cathy Young, who chairs the Senate Standing Committee on Housing, Construction and Community Development, has blocked campaign finance reform from even being discussed on the Senate floor, Hoylman said. This, he explained, is why Senate members have been reduced to arguing about yogurt.
“Her district is closer to Detroit than Manhattan,” said Hoylman of Young, who’s also legislatively tried to undo “Roberts v. Tishman Speyer.” “We need to continue to fight for campaign finance reform,” Hoylman added. “It is fundamental to changing the power dynamic in Albany.”
Assemblyman Brian Kavanagh then spoke about how the state housing agency’s new Tenants Protection Unit was in danger of being de-funded by the State Senate.
Also at the meeting was Comptroller Scott Stringer who said that the mayor’s housing plan aimed at building or preserving 200,000 units of affordable housing won’t be enough to make up for the amount of affordable units that are getting lost each year. In the last 12 years,
Stringer said, “rent have skyrocketed by 75 percent,” while in the past 16 years, 400,000 apartments that rented for $1,000 or less disappeared. “Two hundred thousand (units), it’s just not enough to deal with the crisis,” Stringer said.