Speaker Johnson introduces $12 billion relief plan

By Maria Rocha-Buschel 

Councilmember Keith Powers came out in support of City Council Speaker Corey Johnson’s relief plan for workers and businesses throughout the city that are impacted by COVID-19 that was introduced last week.

Johnson’s $12 billion relief plan, proposed last Thursday, includes a temporary universal basic income for all New Yorkers, unemployment protections for hourly and freelance workers, up to $250,000 to cover costs for impacted businesses, temporarily deferring fees for businesses and refunding business taxes.

“We’re calling on the city to take action to help our restaurant and bar industry,” Powers said of the proposal. “We mandated they had to close. It’s already a struggling industry and it’s the lifeblood of NYC. They’re dependent on that paycheck.”

According to City Council estimate, more than 500,000 workers and more than 40,000 businesses generated $40 billion in taxable sales last year and are among the hardest-hit industries so far in the COVID-19 crisis. These businesses include the hospitality industry as well as retail shops, performance venues, salons and other businesses.

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Mount Sinai Beth Israel offering space for COVID-19 patients

Mount Sinai Beth Israel (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Mount Sinai Beth Israel will be making space available in the First Avenue hospital in order to provide additional capacity for New Yorkers during the COVID-19 pandemic, the hospital system confirmed this week. Governor Andrew Cuomo also signed an executive order on Monday requiring all hospitals in the state to increase their capacity by 50%, with the goal of increasing capacity by 100%.

Mount Sinai would not specify exactly how many beds can be made available because that determination is made by the state’s Department of Health, but the hospital system confirmed that it is making space available in the unused portions of Beth Israel on First Avenue and the new Rivington facility, which is a former nursing home that Mount Sinai intends to convert into a mental health facility that will include services currently available at the Bernstein Pavilion. The hospital system has been in contact with the state since the pandemic began and the Department of Health is in the process of evaluating all of the options for creating additional hospital beds.

“In the past few weeks and in the weeks ahead, our sole focus is helping the communities we serve prepare for and address the COVID-19 crisis,” a spokesperson for Mount Sinai said. “These are extremely unique and challenging times and we are doing everything in our power and utilizing every resource possible, including, but not limited to, offering the city and state usage of our Rivington facility and unused portions of Mount Sinai Beth Israel to help fight this growing crisis.”

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NY Waterway cancels giant SantaCon boat party

SantaCon (seen here in 2016) has long faced ire from neighborhood residents because of the public drunkenness often displayed by the event’s participants. (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Shortly after announcing last Friday that the infamous SantaCon bar crawl would be sponsoring a handful of party yachts in the East River as part of the event scheduled for this Saturday, the event was canceled on Tuesday.

Councilmember Keith Powers shared a letter to Donald Liloia, Senior Vice President of NY Waterway, on Twitter this Tuesday afternoon also signed by State Senator Brad Hoylman and Assemblymember Harvey Epstein expressing a number of concerns about the event. Mere hours later, the Councilmember confirmed that NY Waterway, which operates the Skyport Marina where the boats would have docked, had canceled the event.

Gothamist reported on Tuesday that Liloia also confirmed the event’s cancellation, noting that the group organizing the event had only started planning recently and acknowledged that it was too complicated to pull off on such short notice.

The letter signed by Powers, Hoylman and Epstein (which can be read in full here) argued that a free event of that size, attracting people who are likely to be intoxicated, would cause substantial disturbance to tenants in the nearby residential developments of Waterside Plaza and Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village.

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Letters to the editor, Dec. 12

Cartoon by Jim Meadows

Charged for new door

Recently I had to call 911 for a medical emergency. NYPD also came with them and proceeded to breakdown down my door, even after my telling them I could answer the door. Stuyvesant Town then made me pay $1,700 for the new door. That was my tuition money for Baruch College for a year. I am trying to finish my degree, even though I am elderly and disabled now. I couldn’t believe I had to pay for the door. Technically I didn’t break it. And you know Stuyvesant Town charges you for any damage you cause in the apartment. I did not cause this damage. I should have never been charged for this. Can anybody help?

Name withheld

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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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Tenants Association hosts housing forum

Tim Collins, an attorney for the Tenants Association, at the housing forum last month (Photos by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

The Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association held a forum on Saturday, October 19 for residents to have their specific housing-related questions addressed by experts, local elected officials and representatives from the Division of Housing and Community Renewal.

Attorney Tim Collins, who represents the ST-PCV Tenants Association, said that tenants should be moderately concerned about the lawsuit landlords have filed to challenge the rent laws that passed over the summer.

As the New York Times reported in July, the lawsuit filed by landlords intended to completely dismantle the rent regulation system, claiming that the new laws would cripple the industry and that they violate the 14th Amendment’s due process clause, as well as the takings clause of the Fifth Amendment, which says that private property can’t be taken for public use without proper compensation.

“I am actually less concerned about the legal challenge than I am about the public relations challenge,” Collins said of the lawsuit. “I want you to understand the stakes are a very high and go way to the top, not only for New York City or the State of New York but potentially to the US Supreme Court. The real estate industry’s lawsuit says, [State Senator] Brad [Hoylman], [Councilmember] Keith [Powers], [Assemblymember] Harvey [Epstein]: You don’t matter. You don’t matter because baked within the Constitution is a trump card, which is actually two words: due process.”

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Maloney named interim chair of House Oversight and Reform Committee

Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, seen here celebrating the passage of the 9/11 Victims Compensation Fund earlier this year with US Senator Charles Schumer (left) and Congressman Jerrold Nadler (right), has been named interim chair of the House Oversight and Reform Committee. (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Democrats have named Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney as the interim chair for the House Oversight and Reform Committee last Thursday following the death of Representative Elijah Cummings, who played an active role in the impeachment inquiry as the committee’s chair.

Maloney is a senior Democrat on the panel and the New York Times noted last week that her appointment as acting chairwoman is in line with House rules. A permanent leader of the committee is expected to be elected at a later time, a senior Democratic leadership aide said.

Local elected officials lauded the news of Maloney’s appointment while paying tribute to Cummings.

“While we all mourn the loss of Congressmember Cummings, I am reassured by Congressmember Maloney’s appointment as interim Chair,” Assemblymember Harvey Epstein said. “Congresswoman Maloney is dedicated to protecting our democracy and I am confident that she will carry out what is necessary to move forward with impeachment inquiries.”

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New workplace sexual harassment protections now in effect

By Maria Rocha-Buschel 

Governor Andrew Cuomo announced last Friday that new workplace anti-discrimination and sexual harassment protections have gone into effect. Provisions of the new law, which was signed in August, eliminate the restriction that sexual harassment be “severe or pervasive” for it to be legally actionable and prohibit confidentiality agreements in employment discrimination cases. 

The provisions officially went into effect last Friday and make it clear that workplace harassment, including sexual harassment, need not be pervasive or severe for workers to file suit against an employer. The law also expands protections to include all forms of workplace discrimination for domestic workers and all contractors, subcontractors, consultants, vendors or others offering services in the workplace. 

“The ongoing culture of sexual harassment in the workplace is unacceptable and has held employees back for far too long,” Cuomo said. “This critical measure finally ends the absurd legal standard for victims to prove sexual harassment in the workplace and makes it easier for those who have been subjected to this disgusting behavior to bring claims forward. Now it’s time for employers across the state to step up and review their internal policies to ensure their employees are protected from harassment or discrimination and abusers who violate these standards are held accountable.”

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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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