Local Councilmembers get commitments from city on resiliency

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Councilmembers Keith Powers, Carlina Rivera and Margaret Chin announced an agreement with Mayor Bill de Blasio for a number of community investments tied to the East Side Coastal Resiliency Project on Tuesday.

The negotiations from the Councilmembers were the result of feedback from multiple advocates in the community, including state and local elected officials, Community Boards 3 and 6, local park and stewardship organizations and NYCHA residents.

“By providing these flood protections, my neighbors and constituents in Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village and the surrounding community will no longer have to dread forecasts of hurricanes and severe weather,” Powers said. “The significant commitments the city has made as a part of this historic project will not only provide short-term alternatives and mitigation, but also serve as long-term investments in our community.”

City Council will be voting on the land use actions for the project this Thursday, while these are commitments that the administration has agreed to incorporate as part of the plan as a result of the negotiations from the Councilmembers.

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Opinion: Rethink the approach to help small businesses

By Carlina Rivera and Jennifer Sun

When Tamika Gabaroum decided she finally wanted to open her restaurant, Green Garden in the East Village, she understood it wouldn’t be an easy task. But Tamika, a former public health advocate with the Peace Corps who served in UN Peacekeeping Missions in the Democratic Republic of Congo, was used to a challenge. What she couldn’t expect was her landlord, Raphael Toledano, disappearing months after signing her lease, and a new landlord arriving with demands of higher rent. And she could have never guessed that Toledano had harassed the previous long-time tenants out of their stores as well.

The challenges facing Tamika and other small business owners in New York City are well known. Rising commercial rents, competition from corporate franchises, and the growth of online shopping have forced an alarming number of mom and pop stores to close their doors.

In many community districts, vacant storefronts have become a common sight, turning once-thriving retail corridors into ghost towns. When a small business closes, it is not only a loss for their neighborhood’s local economy, but also for its vibrancy and character.

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Controversy over anti-Mormon rhetoric nixes street co-naming

The phrases “The W.M. Evarts” and “The U.S. Senate” are engraved above the doorways of these Second Avenue apartment buildings. A resolution to co-name the street corner was rescinded after the 19th century legislator’s history of anti-Mormon rhetoric was uncovered upon further vetting. (Photo by Ryan Songalia)

By Ryan Songalia

Community Board 6 has reversed its decision to approve a street co-naming in honor of a former New York U.S. Senator and U.S. Attorney General after City Council uncovered anti-Mormon rhetoric in his writings.

After initially approving a co-naming for William Evarts on Second Avenue between East 14th and 15th Streets at a full board meeting last April, the board rescinded the resolution on September 11 when the full board reconvened after the summer recess after the general counsel for City Council had uncovered the parts of Evarts’ history that had not aged well.

The proposal was first brought forward last November by Upper East Side resident Bob Pigott, who used to walk past the apartment buildings located at 231 and 235 Second Avenue on his way to Stuyvesant High School in the mid-1970s.

Above the doorways reads “The W.M. Evarts” and “The U.S. Senate,” and it wasn’t until decades later when Pigott began researching his 2014 book, “New York’s Legal Landmarks: A Guide to Legal Edifices, Institutions, Lore, History, and Curiosities on the City’s Streets,” that he realized who “W.M. Evarts” was.

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Opinion: Lawmakers: stand up to real estate

By Sung Soo Kim
Founder, Small Business Congress

For 10 years, small business owners have been denied economic justice and fair treatment by our government. The decade-long collusion between the powerful lobby REBNY and the Speaker’s Office successfully blocked a vote on the Small Business Jobs Survival Act (Jobs Act), the only real solution to stop the closing of our small businesses and to end their crisis. The Jobs Act is a bill giving rights to business owners when their leases expire, rights needed to negotiate fair lease terms.

Finally in October 2018, the Jobs Act was given a public hearing by the Small Business Committee, chaired by Councilmember Mark Gjonaj. He was hand-picked by REBNY because Gjonaj owns his own real estate company and is the most pro-landlord and anti-tenant lawmaker in the council, and on record as opposed to the Jobs Act.

Unlike the last hearing on the Jobs Act in June 2009 by then-Chairman David Yassky, Gjonaj’s hearing did not focus solely upon the root cause of businesses closings, the one-sided commercial lease renewal process, which is what the Jobs Act addresses. Instead, Gjonaj’s hearing focused upon the empty storefronts on every main street and trying to sell the same old distracting false narrative that fines and over regulations were more pressing problems.

At the conclusion of David Yassky’s 2009 hearing on the Jobs Act, he and his entire committee selected the Jobs Act as the best solution to stop the closing of small businesses and save jobs. Every member of the committee became sponsors, making 32 sponsors of the bill ready to vote it into law. There were no legal challenges to the bill and the outcome of hearing disproves the REBNY narrative that the Jobs Act has been collecting dust for 30 years and going nowhere.

On July 23, Gjonaj presented his five solutions, which were a collection of REBNY-created bills that would not save a single small business or job and kept the status quo. All avoided completely addressing the cause of business closings: the lease renewal process.

One example of the disgraceful act of lawmakers’ failure to seriously address the small business crisis with a real solution was a bill from Councilmember Carlina Rivera. Her bill called for Department of Small Business Services to assess the state of storefronts in 20 communities every three years, code for counting empty storefronts and do nothing. Rivera should be ashamed to present this useless legislation while a real solution, the Jobs Act with 29 sponsors sits in committee and would save her district’s businesses. Why in the face of a growing crisis would any lawmaker insult small businesses owners with such a scandalous worthless bill that gave them no rights and would keep the status quo making landlords rich?

There are 75 Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) in New York City. It would take one hour for SBS to require each BID to count their empty storefronts and how long they were empty. Why wouldn’t every council member that is a board member on a BID also know the state of the empty stores? When long established businesses were forced to close in record numbers and storefronts remained empty for years, why didn’t they do something to stop the closings?

The time for disingenuous supporting the Jobs Act while at the same time being complicit to the rigging by special interests to stop it is over. New Yorkers who demand good government and want an end to the closing of their favorite mom-and-pop businesses must demand their lawmakers address the small business crisis with a real solution that gives rights to the long established business owners when their leases expire.

If former City Council Speaker Christine Quinn had allowed democracy to work, the Jobs Act would have easily passed long ago and we would not have the crisis or empty stores today. Will Speaker Johnson allow democracy to return to City Hall? Or will the norm at City Hall be total control of economic policy by REBNY and lawmakers continue to do nothing? The delay and distractions will continue until the 2019 fully-vetted and legally-sound Jobs Act is passed.

Rivera announces tools for small businesses

Councilmember Carlina Rivera announced the new tools for small businesses in front of vacant storefronts on East 9th Street last week. (Photos courtesy of Councilmember Rivera’s office)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

City Councilmember Carlina Rivera joined neighborhood organizations outside vacant storefronts on East 9th Street on Tuesday, July 30 to announce new initiatives to help small businesses in the East Village, including an app that connects residents to local businesses in the neighborhood.

Renaissance EDC, Asian Americans for Equality, Village Alliance, Cooper Square Committee, East Village Community Coalition and the East Village Independent Merchants Association joined Rivera for the announcement that the East Village Revitalization Loan Fund will be offering East Village business owners the opportunity to borrow up to $50,000 with fixed interest rates lower than what small business owners would be able to secure through a normal loan provider. Renaissance EDC is an affiliate of Asian Americans for Equality.

The loans can be used for restocking inventory, purchasing new equipment or furniture, payroll, storefront improvements or renovations, marketing and other typical high-cost capital needs.

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Questions answered at housing forum

Assemblymember Deborah Glick, Councilmember Keith Powers, Assemblymember Harvey Epstein, Cooper Square Committee director of organizing and policy Brandon Kielbasa, State Senator Liz Krueger and Legal Aid housing attorney Ellen Davidson at the forum last week. (Photos by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Assemblymember Harvey Epstein’s office sponsored a forum on Thursday at the NYU Dental School on East 24th Street regarding the rent laws that passed in June to answer questions that tenants have about rent regulation and affordable housing protections.

State Senators Brad Hoylman and Liz Krueger, as well as Assemblymember Deborah Glick, Councilmembers Keith Powers, Carlina Rivera and Ben Kallos, were also in attendance, and Legal Aid housing attorney Ellen Davidson was available to answer questions about the complex aspects of the new laws.

“The MCI section [of the rent laws] is just like MCIs: very complicated,” Davidson said of one of the parts of the law most difficult to understand. “[The Division of Housing and Community Renewal] will have to set a schedule of reasonable costs of what can be recovered but they have to do it quickly because they can’t do any work until it’s approved.”

One of the victories that state legislators claimed in the passage of the rent laws was an annual cap on MCIs, or major capital improvements, at 2%. The previous cap was 6%. The new law also caps the amount that a landlord can pass on to tenants after a vacant apartment is renovated at $89, while also eliminating the previous 20% vacancy bonus that landlords could add after tenants moved out.

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Anti-vaxxers protest local politicians at forum

Anti-vax protesters attended the housing forum to voice their concerns to state legislators, primarily State Senators Brad Hoylman and Liz Krueger, as well as Assemblymember Deborah Glick, about a law that eliminated religious exemptions for vaccines. (Photos by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Anti-vax protesters disrupted a housing forum held at the NYU Dental School last Thursday, frustrating tenants who wanted to learn details about the new rent laws.

State Senators Brad Hoylman and Liz Krueger were two of the elected officials at the event and the two that received the most ire from the protesters, primarily because they were both sponsors legislation in the State Senate repealing religious exemptions for vaccinations.

The law requires that all students in public and private schools be vaccinated to attend, with no exceptions made for those with religious objections to vaccines, and many of the protesters at the event had signs arguing that thousands of children, including those with special needs, were being kicked out of their schools because of their parents’ religious beliefs.

The protest surprised elected officials attending, in part because local politicians who appear at community events in the neighborhood rarely have such vehement opposition to their policies, especially where the topic at hand is entirely unrelated to the subject being protested, but also because the legislation passed more than a month ago in mid-June.

Even as he was arriving at the event, Hoylman was challenged in the elevator by a man who argued that politicians shouldn’t be dictating how parents provide healthcare to their children, while Hoylman shot back, “You’re right, doctors should, and they have.”

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Letters to the editor, Aug. 1

Cartoon by Jim Meadows

Broken promises in Tech Hub planning 

The following is a letter from Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, sent to Mayor Bill de Blasio and Councilmember Carlina Rivera on June 28 regarding zoning changes and protections for the neighborhood ahead of the development for the Tech Hub planned for East 14th Street.

Dear Mayor de Blasio and Councilmember Rivera,

I write regarding commitments that were made following the approval of the upzoning for the planned Tech Hub at 124 East 14th Street. That zoning change was approved by the City Planning Commission over a year ago, on June 27, 2018. Yet as of today, most of the extremely modest commitments made to provide protections or mitigations to the surrounding neighborhood for the negative impact of the planned development have neither been implemented nor even proposed. And several key commitments made by the developer and the city regarding protecting the surrounding community from the impacts of the construction have already been broken.

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Pols slam plan to cut stops on M14A and D

Council Member Carlina Rivera discusses the M14 at a Friday rally. (Photo via @CarlinaRivera Twitter)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Lower East Side elected officials and residents rallied last Friday for the MTA to reconsider a proposal that would eliminate local bus stops on the M14A and D with the advent of select bus service on the route, while also advocating for the removal of some of the SBS stops in the plan.

Council Member Carlina Rivera, whose district covers areas in the East Village where stops would be removed, and other elected officials also argued that some of the proposed SBS stops should be removed.

The new SBS route proposes to remove a number of stops that provide public transportation near senior centers and NYCHA developments in the Lower East Side, Rivera said, while also not eliminating enough stops to actually speed up service. This, she added, highlights a need for both local buses and an even more pared down SBS route.

“Our M14 bus is the second-busiest bus route in Manhattan and sadly also the second slowest,” Rivera said. “We need solutions for both those who need faster transit options and those will be forced to walk over half a mile between the proposed new bus stops and their homes, with no other affordable options. The current M14 SBS plan not only fails seniors and low-income New Yorkers, but it also diminishes how transformative an SBS route could be for the area.”

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For one week, New Yorkers get a vote on how $1M in city money gets spent through participatory budgeting

Mar28 Asser_Levy_Recreation_Center

One of the possible projects is $250,000 in enhancements to the Asser Levy Recreation Center.

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Residents in City Council Districts 2 and 4 will get a chance to vote on improvements in their neighborhood during participatory budgeting vote week starting on March 30.

Councilmembers Keith Powers of District 4 and Carlina Rivera of District 2 solicited ideas for “capital” projects this past fall and volunteers went through the suggestions and picked roughly a dozen ideas per district that residents can vote on through April 7.

Powers, who represents Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village, Waterside, Midtown East, Central Park South and the Upper East Side, has a handful of district-wide improvements that residents can vote on. One project, which would cost $200,000, would bring countdown clocks with real-time passenger information to bus stops throughout the district. Another project would resurface distressed roads for one mile of Council District 4 and would require $250,000 in funding. New plantings and tree guards throughout the district would cost $150,000.

Local residents can also vote for improvements to the Asser Levy Recreation Center across from Peter Cooper Village, which would provide new fitness equipment and flooring in the gym of the rec center and would cost $250,000.

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Drivers push back on congestion pricing

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer (pictured with Council Member Carlina Rivera and State Senator Brad Hoylman) held a town hall on congestion pricing last Thursday. (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Manhattan elected officials argued strongly in favor of congestion pricing at a public hearing last Thursday, but car-owning residents in attendance felt differently about the plan.

“This congestion was caused by the city allowing Uber and Lyft to put hundreds of cars on the streets that were already congested without charging any revenue for the city,” said attendee Sheila Williams. “If they had at least done that, they could have increased revenue and decreased the cars on the street, but now you want all of us to pay for this debacle and it’s already decimated the yellow cab industry.”

Manhattanites got the opportunity to offer their thoughts on the plan at a public hearing hosted by Borough President Gale Brewer at Cooper Union last Thursday evening. Many of the few hundred residents in attendance identified themselves as car-owners and suggested that residents who live in the area shouldn’t be forced to pay a fee just based on where they live.

“I do think that people living in the zone should be exempted from congestion pricing,” Stuy Town resident Lynn Janofsky said. “The only reason I have a car is to drive out of the city. I only go up or down the FDR and don’t drive in the city because I’m too worried about killing somebody, with the bikes, Ubers, pedestrians and phones. I have zero faith in the mayor to think things through before implementing something. For all of us who live in Stuyvesant Town/Peter Cooper Village and our six garages, we should be exempt.”

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Investigation finds no violations at Washington Irving construction site

The construction site outside the Washington Irving High School campus (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

A report on the ongoing construction at the Washington Irving High School campus released by the Department of Investigation last Monday determined that the School Construction Authority has not violated city, state or federal regulations as a result of the work, contrary to complaints from neighbors regarding noise, dust and other safety issues.

The SCA’s Office of the Inspector General received numerous complaints about the project regarding noise and dust but said in the report that the testing of noise levels has not resulted in any violations from the Department of Environmental Protection or the Department of Buildings.

Although the DEP received more than 80 noise complaints between March 24, 2017, and December 17, 2018, and inspectors visited the site more than 80 times, the agency never issued a summons for a noise violation.

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Powers, Rivera trying to reduce renters’ fees

Councilmember Keith Powers at a rally last year (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Sabina Mollot

After hearing from tenants who’ve paid up to six months worth of rent in various fees just to get a lease, Council Members Keith Powers and Carlina Rivera have introduced a package of five bills aimed at giving renters a break.

So far, Powers said 26 members of the Council out of 51 have signed on as co-sponsors.

One bill, sponsored by Powers, would limit broker fees to one month’s rent, which seems to be the typical amount charged. However, in some cases renters are charged up to 15 percent of the annual rent. This bill has already seen some pushback by the Real Estate Board of New York.

REBNY has argued that limiting the amount that can be charged isn’t fair to brokers, because they work solely on commission. In response, Powers said that he intends to listen to any concerns, and isn’t completely opposed to the idea of there being some negotiation between broker and renter, but also says the current business model isn’t fair to renters.

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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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CB6 votes in favor of SBJSA, but with a few suggestions

Katie Loeb, budget director for Council Member Carlina Rivera, discusses the Small Business Jobs Survival Act at a meeting of Community Board 6. (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

The Business Affairs and Street Activities Committee for Community Board 6 voted last Thursday to support the Small Business Jobs Survival Act with a handful of suggestions to narrow the scope of the legislation, encouraging local elected officials to focus the bill even more on mom-and-pop type businesses throughout the city.

The resolution the committee passed on the SBJSA encouraged legislators to define “small business,” which the bill doesn’t explicitly do, and provide stipulations to prohibit formulaic businesses or chains from repeating in small neighborhoods.

The resolution additionally encouraged lawmakers to focus on small businesses instead of all commercial businesses, which can also include larger corporate businesses as well as chains. The committee also urged legislators to create provisions in the bill that would encourage landlords to lease to new businesses, as well as to minority-owned, women-owned and veteran-owned businesses.

Since the bill has been introduced in the City Council and not at the state level, the resolution urged state legislators to create and pass a similar bill with all the same stipulations to solidify the same protections at the state level.

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