Re: “TA not scared off by $4.7B debt figure,” T&V, Jan. 8
To the Editor:
Here we go again! T&V states, “The mayor has so far not taken a position on the TA’s goal of a non-eviction condo conversion, though he’s focused on preserving affordability at the approximately 6,000 apartments in ST/PCV that are still in fact affordable.”
How can Town & Village or any other newspaper or media state this as fact when the evidence is to the contrary? What proof is T&V using to make this statement? Using basic 1+1=2 math any child should be able to understand that raising the rent every year is going to make once-affordable apartments UNaffordable. And this, unfortunately, is the truth. Like his Republican predecessors, our mayor has appointed all nine members of the current landlord-friendly Rent Guidelines Board which has just given tenants another annual rent increase by a vote of 5-4. And unless the mayor changes the composition of his personally-selected Rent Guidelines Board to one favoring tenants instead of landlords, as it has for the past 24 years, we can look forward to more and more rent increases for as long as de Blasio is in office.
When I moved to Stuy Town I was using 20 percent of my salary to pay rent. Now, as a result of yearly rent increases, I’m paying 50 percent. So would someone explain to me how this supports the statement that the mayor is “focused on preserving affordability at the approximately 6,000 apartments in ST/PCV”? I will not believe that de Blasio cares one bit about affordable housing in Stuy Town until he appoints five members to his board that will vote in favor of tenants. Anything less is just more political malarkey and newspapers should not assist in its dissemination.
John Cappelletti, ST
Editor’s note: John Cappelletti makes a fair point. The mayor’s talk about preserving affordability in Stuy Town is encouraging, but some action would be nice, too.
Susan Steinberg, pictured at a June Tenants Association rally (Photo by Sabina Mollot)
By Sabina Mollot
They want how much?
At a recent meeting of the Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association, tenants were told by Council Member Dan Garodnick about how the property’s bondholders say they’re owed $4.7 billion. A far cry from the roughly $3 billion in senior debt that was initially believed to be the amount CWCapital would have to recoup on the disastrous Stuy Town deal of ’06, the comment by Garodnick drew a collective gasp from the audience.
As Town & Village previously reported after the meeting, the $4.7 billion figure was explained as being due to interest and fees.
“A whole list of junk,” Garodnick informed neighbors. “Special servicing fees, that’s what they claim to be owed.”
The figure is also the same amount that Fortress, CW’s parent company, planned earlier in the year to bid on the complex.
While this amount would be reflected in the price of individual units in the event of a conversion, the TA maintained last week that it is still interested in bidding and a conversion, and that the TA’s partner, Brookfield Asset Management, is also still on board.
“It’s not a wonderful position (to be in),” Susan Steinberg, chair of the Tenants Association, said this week, while reflecting how at one point the property had been valuated at around $2 billion. “It’s creeped up more than twice that. The insider price is not going to be as appealing.”
But, she added that the TA’s talks with the mayor’s office on preserving affordability were still ongoing. “I’m hoping a structure for a sale will be reached that is palatable for everybody,” she said. “The 4.7 billion reflects a lot of interests, but I’m not giving up. I’m not being discouraged. It’s not over until the gavel bangs down and you hear the word ‘sold.’”
The mayor has so far not taken a position on the TA’s goal of a non-eviction condo conversion, though he’s focused on preserving affordability at the approximately 6,000 apartments in ST/PCV that are still in fact affordable.
Meanwhile, Garodnick said he too still believes a condo conversion is the best way to maintain stability at the property, where the smallest units, five newly built studios, currently range in rent from $3,162-$3,420.
“I think giving people that choice has great value for the deal and for people who live in the community,” said Garodnick.
This week, this Town & Village reporter quizzed a few residents to see if they thought purchasing their apartment would be in the cards for them – should an actual offer ever be made.
In response, one resident of five years answered, “hell yeah.
“I’d buy my apartment and my neighbor’s apartment,” he said.
The resident wouldn’t provide his name, explaining that his company represents the property’s lenders. But, he added, he thought any such possibilities were far in the future. “It’s going to be a long time. It’s not just a matter of being able to buy or not. It’s getting the necessary permits and in terms of upgrading the place, all of this is complicated. People are in rent stabilized apartments that haven’t been renovated since the 50s. Do you charge rent stabilized people equally? What if you’re paying $5,000 a month? I pay three times what my neighbors are paying. Two of my neighbors pay less than $1,000.”
He also said he tenants those in unrenovated apartments would find ways to buy, too. “You can always find someone to lend you money like family,” he said, “and then you can turn around and sell. I’ll lend my neighbor the money so she can sell to me in six months.”
Another resident, a woman who lived in Stuy Town for over 50 years, said she couldn’t answer the question without knowing the price.
“You can’t ask people if they could afford it if they don’t know what the price is,” she said. Still, she was open to the idea. “I would consider it because this is a very ideal place to live in New York. Even though I’m a senior, I would think of it more for my daughter more so than to live here. A lot of seniors would do it for their children.”
Another senior, however, felt differently.
John Pertusi, who’s been a resident for 47 years, said, “I’m 85 years old. I have no prospects for the next 15 or 20 years. So I certainly would be personally opposed to it.”
Lance Levitt, an 18-year resident who works for a small software company, said he was interested if the price was within the realm of reality.
“It’s always been a thought,” said Levitt, who lives in an unrenovated apartment. “They’ve been talking about it since the first sale. If it’s affordable we can do it, if not we can’t. It’s pretty black and white.”
He added that his stepmother also lives in Stuy Town and if he could, he would want to help her buy as well.
One resident for over 30 years told T&V he wouldn’t even consider buying until a policy is put into place that would “get rid of the transients.” However, he doesn’t think that will happen, nor does he believe CW is in any rush to sell, anyway.
“They’re waiting for the 1947-1953 people to pass on to increase the percentage of (vacant) apartments. It’s a business. It’s a waiting game. They’ve waiting this long. Can they wait another year?”
Re: “CB6 to vote on sanit. garage alternatives,” T&V, Dec. 18
To the editor:
On December 10, my wife and I attended an open meeting of Community Board 6. Our chief interest was the report given by BFJ Planning — a private consultation firm — outlining two options for the construction of a sanitation garage in CB6. One plan would place the garage at 25th Street and First Avenue (Brookdale) as an underground facility with other as yet-to-be-determined structures above it. The other plan would place the plant on Avenue C between 15th and 16th Streets — a flat site currently owned by Con Ed and used for employee parking fronting a huge baseball/soccer field used by our community’s children in the spring, summer and fall seasons.
Both options would put the garage in a flood zone. In the case of the Brookdale option, with the garage underground, a flood from a storm of the Sandy type would not merely flood the garage with salt water, it would create a submerged structure — as in swimming pool — with indeterminate consequences for the garage itself, overlying structures and the immediate intersection — not a promising option.
In the second option, the one on Avenue C between 15th and 16th Streets, a flood of the Sandy type would clearly impact on the garage, as it impacted on everything in our area in 2012, but here is the significant difference: the flood waters would recede. Of course there would be damage, but in this simplified scenario once the salt water recedes the area would dry and repairs would begin.
This raises the obvious question: for whom is the first plan, the Brookdale option, a consideration? We have heard some strong and firm objections to it, and in contrast, reasoned favorable remarks about the option on Avenue C — if Con Ed sells/rents/ transfers the property to the city, which I am sure the city and Con Ed will “work-out.” So… do we have two options? If you think, as I do (with the limited information available to us ordinary not-yet-apathetic-voters) you will conclude that in reality we have been given one real option.
It is the multiple story site on Avenue C between 15th and 16th Streets. To be sure, the decision making process will appear open, above board, well-reasoned, and in the end wholly predetermined. The result will be a two, three, four, five story maintenance/cleaning facility right smack in a flood zone.
So… in light of what scientists have been long-warning about climate change and the certain flooding of lowlands — witness this area in 2012 — can a paid consulting firm and city fathers do no better than propose building a garage in an area that government itself has designated a flood zone? (A suggestion: in view of climate certainties, find an elevated part of the island.)
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)
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.
The following open letter was written by Stuyvesant town resident Sherman Sussman, who had been getting routinely woken up by vehicles entering and exiting the Con Ed property during the wee hours of the morning.
Why??? You guys were doing so good. Not perfect by far but good.
So why is it that the neighborhood needs to be awakened at 6:45 a.m. on a Saturday morning?
Con Ed has decided that the big orange bucket truck with its noisy movement alarm (which is unnecesesary in a non-construction site, in fact the only noise that is being made is by the alarm) is necessary to move at this time in the morning.
A. Is it because there is an emergency? I don’t see one.
B. Is it because people like myself like to get a little more sleep on a Saturday morning?
C. Or is it because Con Ed really doesn’t care what they do at whatever time they feel like doing it?
Sherman Sussan, ST
Did you say… too much heat?
To the Editor:
I must admit to being flabbergasted by a letter in this week’s paper (“Can’t take the heat,” T&V, Dec. 4) complaining about too much heat in his/her apartment. Wish I could say the same.
In my building heat has been at a minimum. I always thought that when it is under 50 degrees outside, heat is required.
Oh well, maybe 20th Street has a different climate from 14th!
H. Zwerling, 430 E. 20th St.
Appreciative of T&V’s de-cluttering tips
Dear Town & Village,
I know I’ve written you in the past about how useful and informative and interesting AJ Miller’s column is, and I’m doing so again.
For example, her “De-cluttering problems and solutions” in your October 30 issue, as an example, was a simply written yet eloquently stated column.
Well-written and practical. She’s a gem as are many of your fine writers, reporters and columnists.
Richard Luksin, Minneapolis, MN
What happened to going to the bondholders?
To the Editor:
On October 20, 2012, to great fanfare, press releases, and news conferences, local elected officials and the STPCV Tenants Association said that they were taking our case directly to the bondholders. TA leaders said the time had come to “cut out the middleman.”
If CW Capital would not give us a seat at the table, they said, then CW should step aside and we would “talk directly to the bondholders.”
Two years later, we have heard nothing. Apparently, the TA prefers to have press conferences. Perhaps despite their promises, they did not really contact the bondholders. If they did, then we the tenants deserve to know what did the bondholders say.
The TA repeatedly says that it wants a seat at the table to allow the 11,000 tenants to take charge of their destiny and ensure middle class affordability through a non-eviction condo conversion. But now Mayor de Blasio feels that STPCV should remain a rental complex forever, and the TA refuses to challenge him on it.
The TA apparently prefers to trumpet “affordability!” like a voice crying in the wilderness, rather than tell us what the bondholders said – and require the mayor to be responsive to 30,000 residents of our community.
Mayor de Blasio needs to stand with tenants, not with the developers of affordable housing and the landlords.
The time has come to go directly to the bondholders, as the TA promised us two years ago.
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.
Giving thanks came early last week at Associated thanks to Pat, the lady behind me on line, who insisted on paying my grocery bill when the cashier informed me I had only three cents left in my food stamp account.
It was November 12, my usual day to start receiving food stamps for the month, and I had only a small change purse with me that had nowhere near enough to cover the bill.
What I didn’t know was that the federal government wasn’t working on Veterans Day so all those who usually get their allotment on the 11th had to wait til the next day and those on the 12th still another day. Don’t know how long it takes for everyone to get back on schedule.
This most generous woman lives in Stuyvesant Town but refused to give me her last name so we could eventually pay her back. She’s somewhere in the SW quadrant near Playground 7, maybe 455 or 453 East 14th St. And we can’t thank her enough!
Re: “The Soapbox: Why the mayor won’t support a conversion,” T&V, Oct. 9
To the Editor:
Iggy Reilly argues that the mayor won’t support a conversion because it would reduce the number of affordable housing units; since the mayor supports “affordable housing,” whatever that means, he can’t appear to contradict himself by advocating both.
This argument assumes that the mayor really supports affordable housing because he has said so. But his actions say otherwise. He has followed in the footsteps of Bloomberg and Giuliani and appointed a Rent Guidelines Board that has just increased rents again. If the mayor is not aware of the obvious, let me point out that increasing rents more and more every year results in less and less apartments that could be, at least “considered,” affordable.
But in truth with rent hikes every year for the past 20 years and more and more MCIs, affordable rents are approaching levels that could change a stabilized apartment to one subject to the free market. Affordability is a joke.
When I was working as a New York City teacher, my rent ate just 16 percent of my salary. Now retired, my “affordable” rent devours 47 percent of my pension, so I have less money to pay more rent. So I doubt the mayor is interested in affordable housing, at least not in Stuy Town where he undermined the efforts of our tenant-friendly neighbor and councilman, Dan Garodnick. Seems the mayor didn’t want a tenant advocate to head the City Council.
We live in a city, state and country where Greed is God, er, good. So if conversion is the goal, it will be necessary to stuff the ravenous jaws of that obese monster Greed with more green stuff than the other guy. Or, if the other guy has more cash (most likely), tenant groups around the city could wage a city-wide education campaign to inform millions of tenants that their rent hikes are the result of the mayor’s actions and urge them to write so many letters to the mayor that all the offices at City Hall will be stuffed.
The mayor must be made to realize that he will not be re-elected unless he reduces rents, not allow them to continuing increasing like the monster Greed.
Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association Chair Susan Steinberg, pictured at a June rally (Photo by Sabina Mollot)
By Sabina Mollot
Nearly four months after Stuyvesant Town tenants rallied on the steps of City Hall to demand a seat at the table and continued affordability in the event of a sale, the ST-PCV Tenants Association said on Monday that Mayor de Blasio has still not taken a position on the TA’s condo conversion plan. However, the TA said that it still believes its non-eviction plan is the best way to preserve affordability at ST/PCV and tenant protections and is still hoping to sway the mayor.
This was mentioned as one of several points in a notice the Tenants Association put online on its website on Monday. While there was nothing new regarding the ongoing talks with the mayor’s office, which are aimed at preserving affordability at roughly 6,000 apartments, Susan Steinberg, chair of the Tenants Association said the TA just wanted to let tenants know the effort is still ongoing.
“It takes so long for anything to happen,” said Steinberg, “and when things are slow we want to make sure people understand that it doesn’t mean that nothing is happening.”
The notice follows many letters in this newspaper as well as countless comments made by tenants via blogs and social media speculating as to whether a conversion will ever take place and if it would even be able to pave the way for a return to stability in the community.
At this time, the TA admitted that there are still more questions than answers on the subject, and that its attorneys were also helping to explore alternative ideas.
Meanwhile, the TA noted its hope that CW and the city will “define the level and method of long-term affordability, including a potential conversion — before ST/PCV goes up for sale.”
“What we would define as affordable would depend to some degree on median income, what is considered middle class,” Steinberg said. “Three thousand for a one-bedroom, five thousand for a two bedroom is not affordable. I’m of the mind that affordable is not market rate, so a fireman could live here, a nurse could live here, a teacher could live here. Not five students crammed into a one-bedroom apartment.”
Reps for the mayor have previously said tax incentives or subsidies were a possible solution to keep affordable apartments affordable while also admitting there’s no turning back the clock for “Roberts” tenants and others paying the higher rents.
The TA also said in its release that it didn’t expect the recently filed litigation by Stuy Town’s lenders, represented by the hedge fund Centerbridge, to affect a sale other than possibly by slowing it down.
“We believe that Centerbridge is interested only in winning money damages from CW and not in owning the property,” the TA said. The TA also noted how in a recent report, CWCapital indicated that it would likely begin to “evaluate disposition alternatives toward the end of 2014/2015, subject to the ongoing litigation.”
Meanwhile, the TA realizes that in the event of a sale, Stuy Town will likely have other suitors besides the TA.
“I think that 80 acres in Manhattan is a magnet for probably all of the big name developers,” said Steinberg. “I’m sure all the big names in real estate are just eyeballing us.”
This week, Garodnick said he’s remained in frequent contact with de Blasio’s office as the financials of the property are examined.
“I am encouraged that the mayor is as engaged as he is,” said Garodnick. But, he added, “It is still very early in the process towards a resolution.”
De Blasio spokesperson Wiley Norvell, who confirmed the mayor hadn’t taken a position on a condo conversion, also said while the “good faith discussions” were ongoing, CW has said it wouldn’t take any action with regards to a sale.
A spokesperson for CWCapital declined to comment on the talks.
Black-throated Green Warbler that collided with a window in Stuyvesant Town
Today a sizable number of migrating birds visited Stuyvesant Town. Unfortunately, I found a deceased Black-throated Green Warbler. The bird had collided with a glass window.
We are losing billions of birds to glass fatalities. Many of the birds are insectivores and also consume other invertebrates such as ticks. They serve us well by eating vast numbers of mosquitoes and other insects we try to control with toxic pesticides.
Their numbers are declining because of habitat loss, pollution, including pesticides, feral cats, incorrect lighting on cell-phone towers, deforestation and glass collisions.
Is this acceptable? People were looking sadly at the beautiful bird.
We can help by keeping our shades drawn whenever we can and keeping our screens on our windows. If you see a deceased bird you can take a picture and send it to: email@example.com. Please include the location.
A letter in your Sept. 18 edition says conversion of PCVST to condos can serve to end dormitory living here by NYU undergraduates. The opposite could happen. In a conversion, existing leaseholders have the right of first refusal to buy the apartments they are leasing.
If NYU holds leases on the apartments occupied by students, NYU would have the right to buy those apartments in a conversion. Also, NYU would be able to buy any apartments not purchased by other leaseholders. NYU obviously needs student housing in this area. A conversion could result in an increase in the number of apartments occupied by undergraduate students.
There are efforts to keep, or make, PCVST affordable housing. That’s consistent with having undergraduate students as neighbors. Students need affordable housing. NYU undergraduates will disappear from PCVST when NYU builds more dormitories, or when rents rise to a level where the owner finds it more attractive to rent to someone other than students.
Another letter in the same issue wonders what happened to the concept of converting PCVST to condominiums. The beginning point of a conversion is either a purchase of PCVST by a new owner who will pursue conversion, or a decision by the present owner to do a conversion. If the property isn’t for sale, there can’t be a new owner. So the basic question is: How likely is it that the existing owner will sell, or convert, the property?
PCVST was built and owned by MetLife as an income producing property, because MetLife wanted a reliable source of income. When MetLife sold the property, the largest source of financing for the buyer was first mortgage bonds purchased by large institutions. They bought those bonds, because they wanted a reliable source of income, and the bonds provided that.
When the owners of the bonds took over ownership of PCVST, they acquired a property that provides the reliable source of income they want. Ownership of PCVST meets their investment objective.
The amount of income the owners can earn from the property is limited by rent stabilization, until the low interest rate J-51 financing on the property matures in June 2020 (or earlier if the J-51 financing is prepaid). Then apartments can move to market rents as provided by New York law. Thus, in six years the owners will be able to start increasing their rental income.
The owners are large, deep pocket, institutions. For them, six years is a reasonable wait.
As the total rental income increases, the value of the PCVST will increase. The increase in rental income will occur gradually over a considerable number of years, and the property’s value will continue to rise during those years. At some point, the owners may want to cash out, either by sale or conversion. But right now the property is meeting the owners’ investment objectives, and future of the property is positive. It will be a lot of years before the present owners sell or convert.
I fully support Larry Edwards’ demand for a conversion “that is affordable to all the tenants who live here today and to those who have been living here for 30 to 40 years or more.” (Town & Village, Sept. 4).
However, assuming that owning an apartment will prevent transient college students from noisy partying at all hours is unrealistic in today’s real estate market. The neighboring universities will merely buy up blocks of apartment condos or co-ops as investments and turn them into student dorms with the same “howling in the courtyards,” and “waking up their neighbors at 3 or 4 in the morning.”
As for affordability, only stronger rent stabilization laws can keep apartments within the middle class, not “ownership.” Today’s “market rate” for two-bedroom Manhattan co-ops ranges from $750,000 to over a million. Families earning under $300,000 a year will be shut out.
This has nothing to do with building owners, the Tenants Association, or elected officials – all are powerless against the so-called “free market.”
And for wealthier people who can afford to “own,” they might still find themselves living next door to howling students. They might as well join the party.
By Sabina Mollot
Developer Gerald Guterman, who recently expressed his desire to see Stuyvesant Town tenants organize to demand a conversion and re-settle the “Roberts” and MCI settlements, while also hiring him as a consultant to help with the effort, has continued to pursue tenants as clients by drawing up a contract over the weekend.
However, he wants to see at least 5,000 tenants participate in such an effort. Otherwise, he warned, his LLC company, West Palm Beach-based Guterman Partners, won’t take the job.
“Before we can accept an ST/PCV assignment, it will be necessary for at least five thousand (5,000) separate residents families to sign a Consulting Agreement with a consulting subsidiary of Guterman Partners, LLC,” he said.
In exchange for his services as an independent contractor, he’d get $10 per participant (a total of at least $50,000).
His statement was part of a letter he wrote directed to tenants (though so far unmailed) asking them a number of questions such as whether tenants were told they’d be charged for the MCIs they received and for the “Roberts” tenants, if they received “the full dollar recovery” in damages for all the rent they overpaid. The letter also went into quality of life issues.
“ST/PCV residents, were you told (when you signed your lease) that the building you lived in was being converted to ‘high population’ student/dormitory housing?” He also blasted the recent concerts in the Oval as a scheme to attract students.
He also said, after the news that CW’s parent company Fortress was preparing a bid of $4.7 billion, that he wasn’t sure he was still interested in preparing a bid of his own, preferring instead to be a consultant in a tenant-led effort.
The contract itself, while saying Guterman would provide consulting services, makes no mention of the re-settlement of litigation, student housing or other issues he wants tenants to fight. Those issues are instead mentioned in the letter. Questions include asking if tenants were told, upon signing their leases, that the Oval would be rented out for commercial purposes or that businesses would come “alive” right on the Oval or that the quiet of tenants’ apartments would be disrupted “because the landlord is using mass-entertainment to attract students to the recently converted dormitory housing?”
He also invited tenants to contact him through the email address: firstname.lastname@example.org.
A spokesperson for CWCapital declined to comment on Guterman’s letter.
As for the odds of Guterman being able to secure all the signatures he wants, it may prove a challenge. In May, 2013, attorneys representing tenants in the “Roberts” suit had a tough time just getting tenants to file their paperwork authorizing them to receive their damages checks. So much so that the Tenants Association and local elected officials stepped in to go door to door in ST/PCV in an effort to get tenants to file. This, recalled lead “Roberts” attorney Alex Schmidt, was even after all the “Roberts” tenants received documents in the mail with application forms.
Schmidt declined to comment on Guterman’s letter.
In previous statements directed at tenants, Guterman urged a “gloves off” fight in court against CWCapital in order to renegotiate “Roberts” and the MCI settlement and force a conversion and the end to student housing and apartments with pressurized walls.
When asked about this, an attorney very familiar with “Roberts,” Leonard Grunstein, said he thought that a court agreeing to re-consider the case was highly unlikely. After Stuy Town was put up for sale by Met Life, Grunstein was hired by the Tenants Association to help with a tenant-led bid. It was then that he discovered that landlords benefiting from J-51 tax abatements could not deregulate apartments, which is what ultimately led to the “Roberts” lawsuit.
“I don’t think that can change,” said Grunstein. “Anything is possible, but it doesn’t sound realistic. You would have to prove that they are overcharging new tenants.”
Another attorney, Jeffrey Turkel, who represents owners and groups representing the real estate industry, told Town & Village that generally, courts don’t like to overturn cases.
Turkel, along with a partner at his firm, Rosenberg & Estis, represented the Rent Stabilization Association, an owners’ organization, in “Roberts” when the RSA submitted an amicus brief, or document in support of Tishman Speyer.
Although he didn’t want to comment on “Roberts” specifically, Turkel said, “If someone wanted to undo or overturn a stipulation, they would have to establish fraud or mistakes or overreaching or something like that. Once a stipulation of a settlement is signed by two parties it is binding. What courts don’t like is for people to sign a stipulation and then come back and say, ‘We didn’t mean it.’ That’s basic, settled New York law. Otherwise, you’d have chaos.”
The Tenants Association, meanwhile, responded to the letter by defending its own conversion plan and partnership with Brookfield Asset Management.
“Now that our property is in play again, we expect old and new players to surface from time to time,” TA Chair Susan Steinberg said. “We are committed to delivering on our goals of long term affordability and stability for this community, and believe we have the right advisors and partners to accomplish that goal.”
Kathy Hochul gets an earful from tenants and local elected officials during a walk through the complex. (Pictured) Council Member Dan Garonick introduces her to Public Safety Chief Bill McClellan. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)
By Sabina Mollot
The Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association, which has recently enlisted the aid of the de Blasio administration in an effort to maintain some affordability in the complex, is also now hoping it will have an ally in Kathy Hochul, Governor Cuomo’s choice for the next lieutenant governor.
On Thursday afternoon, Hochul joined Tenants Association Chair Susan Steinberg along with a handful of TA volunteers on a stroll through Stuy Town, and got filled in on tenants’ more pressing concerns. She’d come at the request of Council Member Dan Garodnick, who was also there with Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh. Prior to the walk through the grounds, Hochul, a former Congresswoman asked the small group, “What’s on your mind?”
“You got a whole afternoon?” was Steinberg’s answer.
Tenants then began chiming in about the dormification of the community with students packing into apartments in order to make the rent affordable, major capital improvements (MCI) for what often seems like unnecessary work — and tenants’ frustration at having to pay for those improvements in perpetuity — and the fear of both longterm and newer tenants of getting priced out. Other topics brought up included more longterm tenants’ fear of harassment, increased transience and questions about what will happen to the rents when the J-51 tax abatement expires in the year 2020. Steinberg also briefed Hochul on the TA’s partnership with developer Brookfield aimed at a condo conversion as well as CW’s lack of interest in talking business with them. Al Doyle, the former president of the Tenants Association, brought up the ongoing issue of predatory equity throughout the city, with Stuy Town, of course, being the poster child for the practice.
Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh and Kathy Hochul (Photo by Sabina Mollot)
Kavanagh and Garodnick brought up that they wanted to see the rent laws get strengthened, but the State Senate hasn’t exactly been friendly to tenants. While refraining from making any promises, Hochul said she thought the community is “worth fighting for.” If she becomes lieutenant governor, she pointed out, she’d have the tie-breaking vote in the event of a deadlock in Albany. From 2011-2013, Hochul represented New York’s 26th District, which includes the areas of Buffalo and Niagara Falls.
During her time in Congress, she lived with colleague Carolyn Maloney in Washington.
“We used to say that we should have a reality show, ‘The Real Women in Congress,’” said Hochul. When asked how Maloney was as a roommate, Hochul admitted, “She’s a lot cleaner than I am.” As for the current state of the Congress, Hochul casually remarked that it’s “the most dysfunctional government on the planet.” However, she added quickly, “There are still a lot of good people out there.”
Hochul also touted her experience, claiming she’d helped make the Department of Motor Vehicles “a more positive experience” when she served as county clerk and when in Congress, fought with other Democrats “like pit bulls” to get more cash for restoration after Hurricane Sandy than Republicans wanted to allocate. During the walk through the grounds, Hochul said that from what she’s seen, “Everybody wants the same thing. A safe house, a job, their kids to get a good education. It’s universal. It’s not downstate or upstate. This is what the governor and I are focused on.”
Steinberg pointed out some positive aspects of the community like the playgrounds, a few of which recently got new water features, and the hayrides for kids that take place each Halloween. When passing by the Oval Café/Playground 9 area, Hochul remarked, “I’d like to live here.”
When the group walked past the Public Safety office, Garodnick, realizing officers might think tenants were about to rally, made a point to say hello and introduce Hochul to Public Safety Chief Bill McClellan. Soon afterwards, Hochul left the complex at First Avenue and the crowd dispersed.
Hochul (right) listens to tenants, including Tenants Association Chair Susan Steinberg and Council Member Dan Garodnick, discuss quality of life issues and dwindling affordability in Stuy Town. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)
Steinberg then said that she did feel Hochul was genuinely listening to tenants. “I think she got it,” Steinberg said. Kavanagh also said he thought she’d make “a strong partner in the executive branch,” and support tenants, while Garodnick also said he believed Hochul would be in tenants’ corner. “She is clearly a serious and thoughtful person who was willing to take the time to understand our unique challenges,” Garodnick said.
Doyle, meanwhile, just seemed happy that the would-be lieutenant governor got to hear firsthand from tenants how all the different types of rent increases were impacting the community.
“Homeowners outside the city, when we tell them how (an MCI) is a permanent increase, they don’t believe us,” he said.
Following the stroll, T&V asked what Hochul’s thoughts were on the Cuomo administration doing something to preserve dwindling stability and affordability in the community.
Responding in a written statement, she said, “Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village are critical to keeping New York affordable. I will work closely with the governor, along with the office of New York State Homes and Community Renewal, to ensure that the rights of thousands of rent-regulated tenants are maintained and preserved for generations to come.”
There was no response, though, when T&V asked Hochul’s campaign reps if she wanted to comment on investigation over corruption in the governor’s Moreland Commission. However, in an interview this week with Buffalo-based NBC news outlet WGRZ, she defended the commission, saying, “they had the independence to do what they needed to do.”
I recently witnessed an early morning scuffle between a neighboring tenant and the Security personnel of PCVST over incessant noise issues driving her to lose sleep and becoming extremely frustrated over the lack of response from management. The problem here was the upstairs “neighbor.”
But the root cause of the problem is the local universities, NYU and the New School to name a few, who have entered into an “arrangement” with PCVST management to house students in a traditional urban residential setting.
The dormitory atmosphere that has been created is not compatible with the notion of decent affordable housing for families and working New Yorkers. It has eroded the original intent of the developments’ creation.
Those of us who remember dorm life recall it was a great time of discovery and freedom – responsibility only came after graduation when reality set in.
As tenants, we have a right to know what this arrangement with the schools consists of. First, is it legal under NYS laws, which protect these housing units? Are there rules for students in other dorms under their direction and what are they? Has PCVST management given leniency on noise and rowdiness issues due to a seeming endless lucrative arrangement with these schools? Are there separate rules for the students and non-student tenants? As tenants, what recourse do we have against the nuisance?
Perhaps the Tenants Association and our state legislators can get some answers for us so we can better understand what is being created here.