Tenants blast ‘framework’ deal for rent regulations

June25 Cuomo Heastie Flanagan

Assembly Member Carl Heastie, Governor Andrew Cuomo and Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan (Photo via Governor Andrew Cuomo Flickr)

By Sabina Mollot

On Tuesday afternoon, the rent regulations, over a week after their expiration, were discussed in what was called “the framework of an agreement” that was immediately blasted by tenant advocates for not repealing vacancy decontrol or reforming preferential rents. The plan was announced by Governor Andrew Cuomo, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan in an Albany press conference.

The plan, which, as of Town & Village’s press time, was still being discussed by both legislative houses in conference, calls for a four-year extension of the rent laws, reforming major capital improvements (MCIs) so that tenants’ payments are lower though they will still have to be paid in perpetuity. Other changes include increasing penalties on landlords who harass tenants and raising the threshold at which an apartment can be subject to vacancy deregulation. Additionally, according to a press release put out by Cuomo, the state housing agency’s Tenants Protection Unit will be put into statute and vacancy bonuses and will be limited for tenants paying preferential rent, although how much or in what way it would be limited wasn’t explained. Cuomo’s office did not respond to a request for clarification by Town & Village’s deadline.

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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.

‘CAPE’ crusade aims to fight predatory equity

Council Member Dan Garodnick, with other elected officials at City Hall, discusses the “CAPE” coalition. (Photo by Ilona Kramer)

Council Member Dan Garodnick, with other elected officials at City Hall, discusses the “CAPE” coalition. (Photo by Ilona Kramer)

By Sabina Mollot
On Wednesday, Council Members Dan Garodnick, Jumaane Williams and Ritchie Torres announced the formation of a coalition of over 40 elected officials who are committed to keeping affordable housing from turning into overleveraged housing.
Specifically, the Coalition Against Predatory Equity (CAPE) was organized in an effort to avoid the type of massive debt deals that have led to the loss of affordable housing like at Stuyvesant Town.
“We have a wide-ranging, diverse group and together we have some powerful principles,” said Garodnick, adding that the coalition is “strength in numbers.”

The four goals of the group are:
To get Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to commit to not lending to any owner in a deal that puts affordable housing at risk.
Avoid investment of city and state pension funds in deals that harm tenants.
Stop offering tax abatements or subsidies to development deals that would lead to the loss of affordable units.
Come up with legislation aimed at limiting “the abuses of predatory equity, and assists tenants in over-leveraged buildings.”

Garodnick, who released a report about the dangers of predatory equity in April, said the coalition is also concerned about the Stuyvesant Town foreclosure and the reports of a bid by CWCapital’s parent company Fortress.
“We are looking into the appropriateness of all that activity,” said Garodnick, adding that all of the coalition’s four principles are relevant to a post-predatory equity Stuyvesant Town.

Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, who’s previously authored legislation that if passed, would ensure more responsible lending by Fannie and Freddie, said she’d reintroduce that bill this week.
“Nothing was more shocking about the Tishman Speyer/Stuy Town/Peter Cooper transaction than finding out that the federally-chartered Government-Sponsored-Enterprises tasked with expanding affordable housing were actually investing in a deal that could only succeed by converting as many affordable units as possible into luxury rent apartments,” said Maloney. The congresswoman said she hoped the bill would “send a message that these GSEs cannot game the system and fail to comply with their affordable housing responsibilities.”

Along with politicians, over a dozen organizations, including the ST-PCV Tenants Association, Tenants and Neighbors and the Urban Justice Center, have joined the coalition.