Housing, transit major issues at District 4 town hall

Councilmember Keith Powers and City Council Speaker Corey Johnson at the town hall on Tuesday. (Photos by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Top priority for residents at a City Council District 4 town hall this week was affordable housing and transportation issues, in addition to addressing homelessness.

The town hall, hosted by Councilmember Keith Powers and City Council Speaker Corey Johnson this Tuesday, was held at CUNY’s Graduate Center and was attended by more than 300 residents.

Susan Steinberg, president of the Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association, brought up the issue of affordable housing and the new rent laws for the first question of the night.

“Right away landlords went into a tailspin,” she said of the strengthened rent laws. “Blackstone who are the owners of Stuyvesant Town, have decided that they had to regroup and re-strategize because their business model no longer worked. And the way they did this was to hit the pause button on renovating vacant apartments and making them unavailable, so it’s tantamount to warehousing. And we were very concerned about that.”

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Restraining order on 14th Street busway lifted

The DOT is planning to launch the pilot program on 14th Street by next Monday, August 12. (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

A judge has lifted the temporary restraining order and denied the petition filed that put a halt to the busway on 14th Street this week. The judge felt the city had thoroughly examined the impact that the busway would have on traffic and they have the authority to implement the project, amNewYork reporter Vincent Barone noted on Twitter this past Tuesday.

A spokesperson for the Department of Transportation told Town & Village on Tuesday that the agency has started work to implement the busway on Monday, August 12.

Attorney and West Village resident Arthur Schwartz, who originally filed the lawsuit, said that he felt the judge made a number of errors when deciding the case.

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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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Citi Bike docks in Playground 9 to be moved

The new Citi Bike docking station in Playground 9 was installed at the end of last month, resulting in numerous complaints from residents about space from the playground being taken away. (Photos by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Stuy Town residents were surprised and not entirely thrilled to see dozens of new Citi Bike docks inside Playground 9 installed at the end of June. After a number of complaints were sent to management, STPCV general manager Rick Hayduk announced last week that Citi Bike would be making adjustments to the docks later this month so that the water feature in the playground would be accessible.

Management had previously announced the arrival of the new docking stations in a June rent insert but residents on local Facebook groups expressed surprise about how much space on the playground that the new docks occupy.

The announcement from Hayduk, which came in the form of a notice posted in buildings throughout the property, said that Citi Bike was on-site last week and that they would soon be moving the docking stations to provide access to the water feature. Management expects this realignment to be completed by the third week of July. As of this week, the docks continue to block the water feature.

Councilmember Keith Powers met with Hayduk after he learned about the installation of the docks and his office has also coordinated with the STPCV Tenants Association, Citi Bike and the Department of Transportation. The DOT usually specifies station siting for Citi Bike but since the placement of these docks is on private property, STPCV and Citi Bike had more authority to pick a location. Powers’ office said that the selection of the site was done without their knowledge or that of the TA.

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Letters to the editor, June 20

Cartoon by Jim Meadows

Bikes not the only danger to pedestrians

To the Editor:

In advance of the Tenants Association meeting covered by the recent article “Bikes still a primary concern for ST/PCV residents” (Town & Village, June 6), I consulted NYC’s Open Data concerning collisions and injuries; this data is available to anyone. I used what I found to inform my remarks at the meeting, and I was disappointed that the article didn’t mention those remarks.

The data available on that website comes from NYPD and reaches back in time as far as July 1, 2012.

I conducted two searches covering all of zip codes 10003, 10009, and 10010 from that date through the latest date for which there is data available, April 30, 2019. I found 48 instances involving one or more bikes and no other vehicles, in which instances at least one pedestrian was at least injured. (There were no fatalities, only two instances on First Avenue, and no instances on 20th Street.)

Then I completely removed bikes from the formula, leaving in other types of vehicles, and ran the same search. I found over 1,400 instances in which at least one pedestrian was at least injured. (I encourage anyone interested to check and critique the quality of my analysis.  And as anyone using the site will see, there are ambiguities in the data.)

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Opinion: Time to end runaway MCIs

ST buildings

Stuyvesant Town

By Council Member Keith Powers, Assembly Member Harvey Epstein and State Senator Brad Hoylman

As tenants in Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village know all too well, there’s nothing minor about a Major Capital Improvement (MCI). That’s why we’re pushing for the elimination of MCIs in Albany this June.

Almost weekly, we hear from tenants about new MCIs being added to their rent, costs that never disappear, and the unfairness of a system that transforms sometimes dubious improvements into permanent revenue streams for landlords. These costs push rents higher and only exacerbate annual rent increases.

In theory, MCIs are designed to incentivize landlords to continually keep up and improve properties with rent stabilized tenants. For example, a landlord might pay to replace a boiler or install new windows with the ability to pass a portion of the costs onto the tenants. MCIs allow owners of residential buildings to apply to New York State Homes and Community Renewal (HCR) for permanent rent increases after completing improvements or installations — not repairs — to rent regulated buildings. Part of the problem is that HCR almost always automatically approves these requests, leaving tenants bearing the burden. In fact, we have been helping the Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association contest 39 MCIs dating back over a decade.

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British International School of New York celebrates Red Nose Day

Students at the British International School of New York at Waterside Plaza don red noses as part of a campaign aimed at fighting children’s poverty. (Photos by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Students at the British International School of New York celebrated Red Nose Day at the Lewis Davis Pavilion in Waterside Plaza last Thursday with a jokeathon to raise awareness for child poverty.

Brave 10, 11 and 12-year-olds took the stage in front of their classmates to make them giggle for the event, which is part of a national fundraiser that collects donations for various organizations that benefit children throughout the US and the world. Red Nose Day started as a charity event in the UK through the organization Comic Relief, which started holding live fundraising comedy shows in the 1980s to address famine in Ethiopia. The highlight of the fundraising efforts was Red Nose Day, during which comedians participated in a telethon to raise money to address worldwide poverty.

Comic Relief USA is a sister organization to the charity in the UK and primarily raises funds specifically to tackle child poverty, while the UK focuses on poverty, as well as mental health issues and refugees. Walgreens sells the noses for $2, with $1.30 going to the fundraising effort, and Walgreens doesn’t make a profit on the noses.

Abigail Greystoke, director of BISNY, said that this is the first year the school held a jokeathon for Red Nose Day but students did still get involved in the event last year by hosting a bake-off to raise money for the cause.

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A ferry costly commute? Council debates subsidies

Council Member Keith Powers, pictured at left with Stuyvesant Town General Manager Rick Hayduk on the maiden voyage of the Lower East Side ferry last August (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

Earlier this month, the news that the city’s ferry system was costing taxpayers nearly $11 in subsidies has raised concerns about the value of the service and if the ferries are serving commuters in an equitable way.

The City Council held a hearing on the subject last Wednesday, although an attending representative for the Economic Development Corporation, which operates the ferries along with Hornblower, offered little in the way of information about demographics of ferry riders and just how much they’re using the system.

Later, Council Member Keith Powers, whose East Side district residents utilize two of the new ferry stops along the Lower East Side route (20th and 34th Street) said there are still many questions that need answering. However, for him, it’s not a question of whether the ferries are worth the investment — he believes they are — but how money can be saved in the future and how the system can be tweaked to better serve commuters with the most need.

The current $10.73 per person subsidy, he noted, is in part due to the cost of buying the fleet of ferries upfront as opposed to having rented them, which over the long term, is estimated to save the city $150 million.

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Powers concerned about Peter Cooper Village and Stuyvesant Town being marketed separately

Apr18 Leasing office 2 closeup

A new leasing office is under construction in Peter Cooper Village. (Photo by Thomas Rochford)

By Sabina Mollot

In response to the latest branding efforts by StuyTown Property Services, which have included new logos for Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village and a new leasing office now being built in Peter Cooper, some residents have been worried this was an attempt to treat the two complexes differently.

Council Member Keith Powers, who said he’d been hearing from neighbors on this issue, sent a letter to ST/PCV general manager Hayduk last Wednesday, asking him to clarify that the branding wouldn’t mean Stuy Town and Peter Cooper Village would no longer have access to the same amenities.

Powers also asked if apartments in both complexes would still be available through the lottery system for reduced rents. He also wanted to know if all the marketing would mean existing tenants should now expect diminished benefits and if management planned to reduce staff levels at either complex. Powers also had a question on apartment finishes, asking if Stuyvesant Town apartments would end up looking different from those in Peter Cooper.

“As a lifelong resident who has lived in both Peter Cooper Village and Stuyvesant Town, I am concerned that current plans are to put the two properties on a separate path in the short-term and long-term,” Powers wrote.

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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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MTA agrees to end late night L construction

The MTA has committed to stopping work at the East 14th Street construction zone at 7 p.m. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

While many of the details of the L train alternative repair project are still being decided, the MTA has committed to reducing the number of hours currently worked to six days a week at the East 14th Street construction zone.

Neighbors have said work often ends at 11 p.m. on weekdays and Saturdays, although the MTA has said it tries to stop any noisy work by 10 p.m. But on Tuesday night, the MTA’s chief development officer overseeing the project, Janno Lieber, committed to stopping work by 7 p.m. at a meeting held by Community Board 3’s Transportation Committee.

“We’re constantly looking for ways to minimalize the impact of our work on neighbors, and they understandably have been asking for shorter hours,” Shams Tarek, a spokesperson for the MTA, told Town & Village.

Tarek added that the MTA wanted to first consult the contractor to make sure doing this wouldn’t lengthen the duration of the project, which includes the creation of an Avenue A entrance to the First Avenue L station. The new schedule of 7 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday to Friday, with possibly shorter hours on Saturday is effective immediately.

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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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MTA announces open houses on revised L train plan

L train at First Avenue (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Sabina Mollot

The MTA has announced it will hold a series of open houses starting in March to address any concerns related to the revised L train plan. Representatives from the Department of Transportation and NYC Transit will also be available to discuss planned street treatments and M14 Select Bus Service.

The four open houses, two in Manhattan, two in Brooklyn, are scheduled for:

Thursday, March 7: Our Lady of Guadalupe at St. Bernard, 328 West 14th Street (between 8th and 9th Avenues)
Wednesday, March 13: Williamsburg Northside School, 299 N. 7th Street (at Meeker Avenue)
Tuesday, March 19: Grand Street Campus High School, 850 Grand Street (between Bushwick Avenue and Waterbury Street)
Monday, April 8: 14th Street Y, 344 East 14th Street (between 1st and 2nd Avenues)

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Council approves Waterside affordability deal

jan31watersidefromstuyvesantcove

Waterside Plaza as seen from Stuyvesant Cove Park (Pictured last August) Photos by Sabina Mollot

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

The City Council voted last Thursday to approve an agreement that will protect longtime Waterside Plaza tenants against substantial rent increases as part of a lease extension between the property and Housing Preservation and Development.

The agreement will allow tenants who have been living at the property since before Waterside left the Mitchell-Lama program and will be retiring soon to receive rent protections. City Council Member Keith Powers, who has been working with Assembly Member Harvey Epstein and the Department of Housing, Preservation and Development on negotiations for the deal for over a year, was able to negotiate an additional year with HPD so that tenants have until 2020 to retire and qualify for the rent protections, compared to 2019 when the plan was first announced.

“It’s not huge but it at least gives people who might be affected a better idea of how they should plan,” Powers said after the Council vote of the additional year.

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City Council bill blitz takes aim at lying landlords

Council Member Keith Powers and other members of the Council (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

The City Council has introduced a package of 18 bills that take aim at landlords who use shady tactics to empty their buildings on lower-rent paying tenants.

To crack down on the practices, which include lying on permits and denying access to building inspectors, the legislation’s sponsors are hoping to hit back with denials of permits and doubling of fines for violating existing laws.

Keith Powers was one of the 12 council members who introduced a bill. His legislation would deny building permits to property owners for one year if they are caught lying about the number of occupied units in their buildings.

Powers told Town & Village the bills are intended to crack down on bad actors and improve coordination between oversight agencies. They were, in part, inspired by the revelation that the Kushner Companies failed to note the presence of rent-stabilized tenants in 17 buildings 42 times when filing applications with the Department of Buildings.

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