Keith Powers is the clear choice for City Council. Like me, Keith is a third-generation resident of Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village. Keith is uniquely qualified to tackle the issues facing tenants.
His work as a member of the Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association, as well as his commitment to affordability, has been demonstrated time and time again. On the campaign trail, Keith rolled out a platform that would expand affordability through opposing rent increases at the Rent Guidelines Board and permanent MCI increases, protecting and increasing access to the Senior Citizen Rent Increase Exemption (SCRIE) program, as well as committing to exploring legal options to protect Robert’s tenants, who are slated to lose vital protection in 2020.
Keith grew up in a rent-stabilized apartment, so issues of affordability hit home for him. He knows the impact that affordable housing has on people’s lives and our community. Keith doesn’t just talk the talk, he walks the walk. He has been endorsed by organizations, like Tenants PAC, for his commitment to protecting affordable housing.
For all these reasons and more, I hope you will join me in voting for Keith Powers for City Council on November 7.
It appears that all we ever hear about these days are politicians named Trump, Clinton and occasionally some of the other contenders. More locally it seems that the media is preoccupied with the ongoing (and really silly) political feud and attention grabbing between Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio. They all seem so preoccupied with themselves and their own ambitions. Fame breeds self-absorption and the notion that the world truly revolves around your every move and remark.
This week I prefer to call attention to a few local unsung heroes whose names are not so well known but whose actions over the years have had a real impact on our community. These people have lived here and have worked here and have made our local world a better place without fanfare.
John Marsh and Susan Steinberg at a tenant rally in May (Photo by Rebecca Dumais)
By Sabina Mollot
John Marsh, who’s been president of the ST-PCV Tenants Association since 2013, and previously was vice president, has stepped down from the organization, and the new president will be the TA’s former chair, Susan Steinberg.
Steinberg said this week that Marsh’s decision was due to needing to focus on other aspects of his life, which was the same reason cited by his predecessor, Al Doyle. Doyle held the position for around two decades.
This week, Marsh was out of the country on vacation and couldn’t be reached but Steinberg said the decision was announced at a TA meeting held on Wednesday, June 24.
Kevin Farrelly is now the chair and John J. Sheehy is vice president. Margaret Salacan, treasurer, and Kirstin Aadahl, secretary, will continue in those posts.
Around 150 residents of Stuyvesant Town/Peter Cooper Village along with tenants from other communities headed to Albany on Tuesday to call for stronger rent laws. (Pictured) Tenants Association Chair Susan Steinberg and President John Marsh with another resident (left) and Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh on the Assembly floor (Photos by Maria Rocha Buschel)
By Maria Rocha-Buschel
Hundreds of tenants gathered in Albany on Tuesday to call on the state legislature about renewing and strengthening the housing laws that are set to expire next Monday. The ST-PCV Tenants Association sent three buses full of tenants (around 150 in total) to the rally. The Stuy Town and Peter Cooper Village residents also made sure that they were seen, standing out from the crowd with their neon yellow-green TA shirts. Dozens of other tenant groups made the trip to the state’s capital this week, all easy to tell apart in the rainbow of signature colored shirts.
“It was great, the way the shirts worked out,” TA treasurer Margaret Salacan said. “It’s like all the groups coordinated to wear different colors but it wasn’t even planned.”
Other groups to make the trip included the Cooper Square Committee and the Met Council on Housing, along with Rent Guidelines Board tenant representative Harvey Epstein, on a fourth bus that also left from First Avenue and East 19th Street on Tuesday morning.
Former TA President and Stuyvesant Town resident Al Doyle said that the last Albany trip that the TA took was in 2011 but that the last time tenants came out in such high numbers for the trip to Albany was in 1997.
Councilmember Dan Garodnick was also in attendance, after hopping from bus to bus throughout the trip to give residents updates on the situation with the rent laws and answer any other concerns they had in what he called his “rolling town hall.”
“The reason that we need to renew the laws is obvious,” he said. “Rents could go through the stratosphere. The rent for a one bedroom in Stuy Town is already $3,500 and it’s $6,000 for a two-bedroom in Peter Cooper. It’s why you see so many students crammed into single apartments. How else do you afford five to six thousand a month without cramming in as many people as possible?”
Garodnick also said that he is cautiously optimistic after reading an op-ed from Governor Andrew Cuomo that was published in the Daily News last weekend. Garodnick had previously sent Governor Cuomo a letter (which ran in this newspaper last week) urging him to end vacancy decontrol and reform MCIs and preferential rents.
“The tenor from the governor appears to have changed,” he said. “Initially I was reading they were talking about a straight extender. To my great pleasure, it was like he took my letter and emphasized those three things. All these questions are now on the table.”
On the first bus at the start of the trip, TA chair Susan Steinberg outlined the plans for the day, which included a rally at the ornate steps at the Capitol known as the Million Dollar Staircase, which actually cost $1.5 million to build when it was constructed in 1894. She added that ST-PCV tenants would then be heading to the gallery at the Assembly to participate in a non-disruptive protest.
“Members of the Assembly will look up and be greeted by a sea of neon,” she said.
By Sabina Mollot
A Stuyvesant Town policy that limits the time guest keycards can be active to up to three months has been challenged by Council Member Dan Garodnick and the Tenants Association President John Marsh, who say it’s inconstant with a 2006 order from the state housing agency.
“According to the HCR (New York State Housing and Community Renewal) Order, keycards for guests should not have an end date,” they wrote in a letter to CWCapital Managing Director Andrew MacArthur last Wednesday.
In the letter, they also questioned a separate policy in which apartment occupants have been made to pay a $150 fee, and submit to a background check. Garodnick and Marsh said that the policy appears to violate the Real Property Law.
“It appears that charging $150, and subjecting people to background checks, functionally serve to restrict occupancy of these units to tenants of record,” they said. “Even if the background check is never used to deny an occupant, is it acting as a roommate charge, which is not permitted under the law.”
Occupants are residents who haven’t signed leases and are therefore not tenants of record.
CWCapital Managing Director Andrew MacArthur
However, CWCapital responded on Wednesday to say the owner strongly disagrees with Marsh and Garodnick on both points.
In CW’s response, which also came as a letter, MacArthur stated, “We are fully in compliance with the law and are acting in the best interest of Peter Cooper Village Stuyvesant Town.”
As for the occupant charge, MacArthur said that as long as the tenant wishes to have a roommate within the limits of the law there is no charge and as far as he knew there had never been a charge. It is only when a resident wants an occupant added “in excess of the number of roommates required by the law, we do so at our sole discretion,” said MacArthur. This helps management recoup costs that include a background check, he added.
On the topic of guest key-cards, MacArthur said permanent guests cards are issued to close friends and family members expected to visit on a regular basis, especially if they’re needed to care for a resident.
But, he added, “We do not believe the DHCR (HCR’s Division of Housing and Community Renewal) ever intended to create a permanent guest status for anyone who ever visits PCVST.” He went on to say if a guest needs continuous access to an apartment for more than three months, “then that guest is clearly an occupant… Restricting the duration of our visitor cards ensures that we won’t have thousands of ‘blank keys’ circulating around the city.”
The idea, he said, is to keep the community safe and prevent illegal hotels.
After seeing CWCapital’s letter, Garodnick said that he still believes the policy isn’t consistent with the HCR order.
“Their reading of the law for guests is not correct in my view,” said Garodnick. “The DHCR allows permanent, unrestricted keycards for families and friends who visit on a regular basis. Guest is defined as family members and friends who can be expected to visit on a regular basis. They’re narrowing the definition in a way that is not consistent with the DHCR order.”
As for the occupancy charge, the Council member said he and the Tenants Association would be reviewing their interpretation of it with CWCapital directly. Garodnick explained that the instance he and the Tenants Association had heard about involved a man having to pay a $150 charge to add his girlfriend as an occupant.
“The situation we heard about was not consistent with that. We’ll try to find out what happened,” he said.
The Tenants Association also responded to the letter.
“The Tenants Association has always believed that the decision of who has access to a tenant’s home and building is solely that of the lawfully abiding Tenant of Record, and not that of the Owner or Manager,” the TA said in a written statement.
“We firmly believe that access permitted by a key card should not be revoked until the Tenant of Record explicitly directs the Owner or Manager to do so, or as otherwise directed by a court or law enforcement official – and only after due process has been served.”
The TA went on to say it understands management’s challenges in dealing with short-term rentals and “over-occupancy… or what some characterize as student apartments. However, we feel that these issues should never impede access to a tenant’s home.”
On the occupancy fee, the TA said it had encountered two tenants who reporting being the sole tenant of record, and were still charged the fee when registering a single occupant.
The Tenants Association said it also welcomed the response from CWCapital.
Over 400 people listen as local state elected officials brief them on the uphill battle over the rent laws coming in June. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)
By Sabina Mollot
On Saturday, over 400 residents of Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village gathered for a meeting held by the Tenants Association that focused on the upcoming expiration of rent laws and the uphill battle tenants would have in trying to get them strengthened.
Speakers briefed the audience on the current power dynamic in Albany, while also telling those in attendance that without tenants writing to Albany lawmakers, especially the governor, the effort is a lot less likely to succeed.
“If I go to Albany and say (to Governor Cuomo) two and half million people are going to be very upset with you, if that’s not clear in the streets and not in the mail in his email inbox, it’s very hard to believe,” said Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh.
Kavanagh was one of the speakers of the event, which was held at Simon Baruch Middle School, along with State Senator Brad Hoylman and TenantsPAC treasurer Mike McKee.
McKee told the crowd if the laws are renewed in their current state, “It would be a terrible defeat for tenants.” Referring to a recent Daily News article that quoted Cuomo as saying the laws and the controversial 421-a tax abatement for developers could possibly just be renewed and not changed, due to the federal investigations being conducted in Albany, McKee added, “I’m sorry, but that is crap.” McKee has said that 421-a is expected to be used as leverage during the rent law negotiations.
Both Hoylman and Kavanagh spoke about Albany’s power system and how with the Senate in the hands of Republicans whose campaigns are financed largely by real estate, the only hope for tenants is in swaying the Assembly, led by Carl Heastie, and the governor.
Meanwhile, Kavanagh has said he wants to close the “LLC loophole” that makes New York one of the few states where each LLC created counts as a separate campaign contributor, but, he admitted, “I’m not sure we’re going to do that this year.”
However, he added that recent media attention on the issue may prove helpful anyway.
“There may an opportunity to shame people into backing off,” he said.
Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh, ST-PCV Tenants Association Chair Susan Steinberg and State Senator Brad Hoylman (Photo by Sabina Mollot)
McKee said that while in the past, major decisions in Albany have been made behind closed doors by the “three men in a room” (the governor, the Assembly speaker and Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos) this year there might be four — if Jeff Klein is allowed to participate. Klein is the head of the State Senate’s Independent Democratic Conference, a breakaway group that caucuses with Republicans. McKee, who’s often blasted Klein as being a tool of the real estate industry, commented that his participation would only be to tenants’ disadvantage.
As for Skelos, McKee added, “Dean Skelos will not do anything voluntarily to help tenants or to hurt landlords. The Assembly has to do what’s called taking hostages. There are dozens of things everybody wants at the last minute. Some of it is minor stuff, nothing to do with housing even.”
One advantage of tenants, he added, is that with Heastie being new as speaker, “he has to prove himself. He has to be accountable not only to us but the members that elected him speaker.” Heastie has said he considers strengthening the rent laws a priority. That said, McKee warned, there’s still always the possibility a tough talking pol will “wimp out” at the eleventh hour. “There is always a wimp factor in Albany,” he sighed.
As for what tenants could do, he urged people to write to the aforementioned three men (letters rather than postcards), and get three neighbors to do the same as well as turn out, if possible for any upcoming rallies. One rally, organized by the Real Rent Reform campaign and the union 1199SEIU, which is aimed at strengthening the rent laws, is scheduled for Thursday, May 14 at 5 p.m. at Foley Square (corner of Centre and Worth Streets). The group will then march over the Brooklyn Bridge.
“We need a very big turnout,” said McKee.
Another rally is on Wednesday, May 6 in front of Cuomo’s Manhattan office at 633 Third Avenue (between 40th and 41st Streets) from 10 a.m.-noon.
He then claimed to have a plan aimed at shaming Cuomo into helping tenants. McKee declined to discuss this further. “That’s all I’m prepared to say,” he said later.
When taking his turn at the podium, Tenants Association President John Marsh echoed the sentiment of the other speakers, calling on neighbors to get involved. “If everyone takes a small step, we can have a very loud voice,” said Marsh.
He also mentioned a door-knocking campaign that he and Council Member Dan Garodnick led through ST/PCV the following day, with Garodnick’s two young sons in tow. Garodnick later said the building walk-throughs resulted in many tenants being appreciative of the reminder of the looming rent negotiations in June.
Kavanagh, when addressing the audience, said that while he realizes many new residents at ST/PCV probably feel the rent laws have no teeth when they look at the numbers on their rent bills, being rent regulated still offers New Yorkers protections they wouldn’t have otherwise.
“It prevents landlords from arbitrarily evicting tenants and that doesn’t exist for most tenants in the city,” he said.
Because of the outcome of the “Roberts v. Tishman Speyer” lawsuit, all units in ST/PCV will be regulated until the property’s J-51 tax abatement expires in 2020.
Kavanagh reiterated the goals for strengthening the rent laws, which include repealing vacancy deregulation and other policies that give incentive to owners to vacate units such as vacancy bonuses and reforming the way individual apartment improvement (IAI) rent increases are issued. Reform of major capital increases (MCIs) is another goal.
Kavanagh also got a round of applause after saying he wanted to close the preferential rent loophole. Due to preferential rents, which are given to most new residents in renovated apartments in ST/PCV, rent increases can be far higher than those issued by the Rent Guidelines Board, if the tenants’ legal rents are higher than what they’ve been paying (the preferential rent).
“In our community it’s a particular problem due to the way ‘Roberts’ played out,” said Kavanagh. “(Tenants) are facing enormous increases.”
Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, who’d been sitting in the audience at the meeting, along with Garodnick, at one point, popped up to comment about preferential rents, which she said was happening all around the city.
“We go case by case and try to fight it but there is no great answer,” she admitted.
The meeting then concluded with a Q&A period, with most of the questions from the audience—which were limited to the topic of rent—being on the theme of MCIs. Tenants mainly asked why they were being forced to pay them. Hoylman and Kavanagh suggested that tenants’ use their frustration and personal experiences as inspiration to write to the governor.
When a woman asked where the mayor was in this fight, saying, “He seems to have had a low profile lately,” Kavanagh responded to say he thought the mayor would be more visible soon. “This is the time we roll out this fight and I think you’ll see the mayor rolling out this fight,” he said. Hoylman added that a lot is done “behind the scenes,” going on to note that this is part of Albany’s dysfunction.
When a man asked if strengthening of the rent laws would help a conversion effort, Kavanagh said he thought it would in that it would help thwart predatory bidders.
Another tenant then asked if it could work to tenants’ advantage if Skelos, who’s being investigated by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, were to be indicted. The answer, however, was that it wasn’t likely to have any impact during rent negotiations.
“If he’s indicted and forced to step down, it’s unlikely that he’d go to trial before June and you don’t have to leave office until you’re convicted,” said Hoylman. “It would have a greater impact next year than this year.”
Town & Village later contacted the office of the governor to ask his position on strengthening the rent laws. In response, a spokesperson emailed prepared statements made by Cuomo at the Association for a Better New York breakfast on rent laws and 421-a.
Included in the written statement was a comment that “At a maximum maybe we can make some fine modifications in both of them.”
“The 421-a, first I believe has to be extended and I believe that’s essential,” the statement read. On changes to it, which he said he believed were needed, he said, “If it was a different time in Albany, frankly, and Albany was a little bit more of a stable situation I would normally take those negotiations to Albany and try to work it out among the parties. Albany has a lot going on right now let’s say, so I’m hoping and I’m asking the parties to work out the disagreements among themselves or their desires for modifications. If they can great, in any event 421-a has to be extended.”
He went on to say, “Rent has to be extended. It is a New York City issue. If we don’t extend rent you would have chaos in the real estate market, these are rent regulations, rent stabilization etc. You would have chaos in the real estate market unlike anything we have seen because it regulates the private industry not another government. It lapses one day you will see real estate entities and landlords start rising rents and evicting tenants. I mean it would be immediate mass mayhem.
“So at a minimum we have to extend those protections but in truth, because everyone has been watching the situation, to have these final negotiations on these delicate points is going to be problematic this year. So, at a minimum rents extended 421-a, is extended. At a maximum maybe we can make some fine modifications in both of them. The democratic assembly is going to be more aggressive on extending rent than the senate Republicans. 421-a, both houses want.”
A spokesperson, Frank Sobrino, when asked if the governor could clarify what was meant by “fine modifications,” said this was a general statement in response to suggested changes. He also denied that the statements were an attempt to remain neutral.
“He said that ‘at a minimum,’ both rent regulations and 421-a must be extended,” said Sobrino. “That’s not neutral.”
The ST-PCV Tenants Association said this week that it has heard from tenants in four buildings in Peter Cooper Village and one in Stuyvesant Town who have received notices in the mail of pending major capital improvement rent increases.
The pending MCI is for building exterior restorations and, if approved by the state housing agency, is a permanent increase that will cost tenants a little over $13 per room per month. (Costs could vary from building to building.)
For one tenant at 601 East 20th Street who’d gotten such an official notice, the owner’s total claimed cost for the work, including exterior restoration, a sidewalk shed and consultant services, was $462,000.
The Tenants Association had heard about the MCI from neighbors in three of the buildings last fall (441, 541 and 2 Peter Cooper Road last fall), but just this month, heard about it at 601 and 3 Stuyvesant Oval.
John Marsh, president of the TA, said he expects there will be more so he is asking residents at other buildings to contact the association if they get the notices.
Whenever the owner files an application for an MCI, the Tenants Association also asks tenants to request a 60-day extension to respond, so the TA’s attorney can analyze the charges.
“It is lawful for the owner to apply for an MCI, but we will thoroughly review it for appropriateness of the costs,” said Marsh.
For more information on the TA’s recommended way to respond to MCIs, check here.
The Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association is holding an election for three seats on its Board of Directors in May, 2015. Residents who believe they can commit time and skills to the community can petition for a place on the ballot starting Saturday, February 28.
Following rules that were posted in all ST and PCV buildings, the application process for interviews by the Nominating Committee and Board endorsement ended on Friday, February 20, 2015. Residents who are current in their Tenants Association dues as of April 4, 2015, and are 18 years of age or older are eligible to seek a place on the Board and to vote in the election.
Petition forms will be available on the Tenants Association website the morning of February 28. Interested members must submit a petition signed by at least 45 members of the TA. (For the purpose of the petition process, any resident of an apartment that is current in its dues as of April 4, 2015, is a TA member.) No more than one candidate’s name can be on any one petition.
Completed petitions may be sent by mail to: Nominating Committee, ST/PCV Tenants Association, P.O. Box 1202, New York, NY 10009-1202. Petitions are due in the TA post office box no later than Saturday, March 14, 2015. They may also be delivered in person to the Community Center at 449 East 14th Street (First Avenue Loop) between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. on Saturday, March 14, 2015. The petition should be accompanied by the petitioner’s name, full address, telephone, and email, along with a statement that he or she is 18 years of age or older. Petitioners should also include a 100-word summary of their qualifications.
Tenants Association President John Marsh advised would-be directors, “Anyone seeking a place on the Board should understand that these are not honorary positions. Directors must be willing to devote at least 20 and up to 50 or more hours each month to TA business. They are expected to attend monthly meetings, participate in ad hoc phone or in-person meetings as needed, serve on committees that utilize their skills, and to participate actively in all TA public activities.”
The auditorium of the High School for Health Professions and Human Services was packed with people, many from Stuyvesant Town/Peter Cooper Village, to be trained in emergency preparedness from the New York National Guard. (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)
By Maria Rocha-Buschel
Over 700 community residents, many from Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village, received training in emergency preparedness from the New York National Guard last Thursday evening, courtesy of a program initiated by Governor Cuomo and designed by the Department of Homeland Security.
The training was led by Captain Glenford Rose, who advised area residents to be aware of different kinds of emergencies, including fires and gas leaks, and not just Sandy-like disasters. Rose reminded residents, who had packed the auditorium at the High School for Health Professions and Human Services, to stock up on supplies and to have a kit ready with everything needed in an emergency. Participants at the training received a knapsack full of necessities, but Rose emphasized that this kit was just a starting point and noted that individuals should make sure to customize their kit for their needs, such as accounting for pets, special medications and adding in various important documents.
Councilwoman Rosie Mendez was at the event and had a tip of her own: fill the bathtub with water.
“But make sure the lock works,” she added. “I put water in mine and two hours later it was gone!”
A number of other local elected officials were involved in the event, including Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney. City Councilman Dan Garodnick and State Senator Brad Hoylman also made appearances at the event, with both offering opening remarks for the training.
Garodnick recounted his experience with a group National Guard troops during the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, in which he led about 50 servicemen and women all the way through Stuyvesant Town, on a chilly November night while the power was still out, in an attempt to reach Waterside Plaza before they were met with a locked gate at the northeast corner of Peter Cooper Village.
“That was the end of my military career,” Garodnick joked.
The Manhattan CERT team also collaborated on the event with the governor’s office, in addition to New York State Community Affairs, the PCVST Management office and the ST-PCV Tenants Association.
Ready New York liaison Virginia Rosario had put together 950 packets of materials to hand out at the event and ST-PCV Tenants Association president and Ready New York member John Marsh put together a flier that was posted in all Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village buildings, courtesy of management.
Alexandria Wiedenbaum and Sergeant Major Armando Lopez, helping people sign in and register for the training. (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)
There were 739 people at the training meeting, which wound up being the highest number of people that have been trained at a single event. Following the training last Thursday, there was an additional event in Lower Manhattan last weekend where 455 people were trained. Since the program was launched in February, the New York State National Guard has held 205 of these events and trained 27,245 people.
Erik Bottcher, a representative from Governor Cuomo’s office, said that he was thrilled with the turnout and said it probably won’t be the last opportunity for residents to find out about emergency preparedness.
“This is an ongoing project,” he said. “As a storm-affected area, there will definitely be more events here in the future.”
Garodnick noted after the event that the chaos following Hurricane Sandy increased awareness for emergency preparedness and since then the number of these kinds of events has increased.
“It is really important for people to be prepared for the unexpected and the expected in New York,” he said. “We’re no strangers to natural disasters or other emergencies but the time to focus on this issue is in a moment of calm. I think because of the number of people it affected and the duration of time that they were affected, (Hurricane Sandy) opened a lot of eyes toward emergency preparedness.”
Alexandria Wiedenbaum, who has been in the Army National Guard for over two years, usually leads trainings in Staten Island with Sergeant Major Armando Lopez. There are eight teams of throughout the state and each team is responsible for a different region, but Wiedenbaum said that she and Lopez, as well as others from teams throughout the state, had congregated at the Thursday training, because it was such a big event.
“This is our tax dollars invested,” Lopez said of the training sessions. “Sandy told us that there’s a problem. Sandy showed how many people weren’t prepared so we’re trying to change that.”
ST-PCV Tenants Association President John Marsh, pictured in May, 2013 with local elected officials and tenants, protests a mid-lease increase. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)
By Sabina Mollot
Following reports that Stuyvesant Town/Peter Cooper Village’s special debt servicer, CWCapital’s own parent company, Fortress, intends to bid on the property on the day of a foreclosure sale, the ST-PCV Tenants Association has organized a rally to protest the way business is being quietly conducted.
Because the Fortress bid has been reported to be $4.7 billion, according to Bloomberg, TA President John Marsh said at that price, the pressure to make a profit is likely to create a repeat scenario of the Tishman Speyer purchase with its business plan of evicting tenants paying lower rents.
“Right this instant we all need to start talking about what we are going to do about Fortress and the other sharks circling us,” TA President John Marsh told neighbors on Facebook. “The writing is on the wall. It’s about to happen again. Tishman Speyer redux. The financial press is speculating, full of scenarios providing detailed financial road maps to our demise.
Another issue is the debate over whether a purchase by Fortress is a conflict of interest, which Susan Steinberg, chair of the Tenants Association, said is difficult to answer without looking at a contract that’s confidential.
“So nobody can read the clauses, and I think that would have been very helpful if some attorneys would have been able to take a look at it,” she said.
“To me,” Steinberg added, “it looks like insider trading. That’s my perception. But without having access to a basic document, it’s really hard to make a judgment call.”
She also said she thought it was disingenuous of the special servicer to refuse to talk business with the TA, after initially saying the company just wanted to wait until the “Roberts v. Tishman Speyer” negotiations were concluded. “They were stringing us along,” said Steinberg.
The Tenants Association announced its own intention to bid, with partner Brookfield Asset Management, in 2011. The TA/Brookfield bid has never had a dollar amount attached to it and that has not changed. However, the TA has stressed that the bondholders would be made whole.
A spokesperson for CWCapital has previously declined to comment on the reported Fortress bid and was not immediately available for comment on the upcoming rally.
The purpose of the rally, the TA said, is to show any potential owner the political might of the tenants.
“It’s to let them know if they think we’re going to sit down and let them roll over us, they’re wrong,” said Steinberg. “If they think we can’t create trouble for them, they’re wrong. We expect the elected officials to continue to support us.”
Marsh added, “We need a responsible owner, who takes the long view and not just someone looking to make a quick buck, getting in and getting out.”
On May 13, CWCapital announced it would begin foreclosure proceedings on a chunk of the mezzanine debt that’s reportedly worth $300 million and set a sale for June 13. By doing so it will be able to take over the property, at least temporarily.
The TA’s rally will begin that day, a Friday at 10 a.m. on the steps on City Hall. Local elected officials are expected to attend and the TA is asking tenants to show up as well.
Tenants Association attorney Tim Collins at a meeting on Saturday (Photo by Sabina Mollot)
By Sabina Mollot
On the heels of the MCI settlement between CWCapital and the ST-PCV Tenants Association, around 250 tenants attended a meeting on Saturday to learn more about what the deal meant for them.
As usual almost all in attendance at the TA meeting, held at the Simon Baruch Middle School, were seniors. A bunch came armed with questions regarding the MCIs as well as quality of life and general affordability issues. However, those with unique circumstances were herded into another room at the school where there were tables to set up to help people understand the figures on their leases and with other problems.
Meanwhile, Tim Collins, the attorney for the ST-PCV Tenants Association addressed the crowd. First, he responded to some “grumbling” the deal has gotten since for most non-“Roberts” tenants, there’s only five percent removed from their monthly payments. Collins argued that as with any settlement, “you have to make deals. You have to trade something.” “Roberts” tenants wound up getting the higher reductions or full eliminations of the monthly payments because, said Collins, “they’re already paying very high rents.”
As a result of the deal, all tenants have had the retroactive portion of their MCIs (major capital improvements) eliminated. As for the monthly or permanent portion, “Roberts” tenants paying the full legal rent get a 5 percent credit. “Roberts’ tenants paying either the maximum modified legal rent or the maximum “Roberts” preferential rent get a 50 percent credit (as determined by the class action settlement). “Roberts” tenants paying less than the modified legal rent or “Roberts” preferential rent get a credit of 100 percent.
SCRIE/DRIE tenants are also exempt from having to pay the MCIs at all.
Non-“Roberts” tenants paying the full legal rent get a 5 percent credit. Non-“Roberts” tenants paying less than the full legal rent get a credit of 100 percent. The credits are retroactive to January of this year and appear as two separate credits on tenants’ rent bill from May (one for May, one for the other four months).
While discussing the settlement, Collins tried to discourage residents from filing individual PARs (petitions for administrative review) since that could unravel the settlement for all tenants, a clause CW insisted on. Those hoping to score a better deal, warned Collins, would have less standing as individuals with the Division of Housing and Community Renewal (DHCR) than a coalition like the TA has. He also pointed out that the TA had been at work for months in the hope of getting the best possible deal.
“I think we accomplished that,” said Collins.
He also shared with tenants that the settlement almost didn’t happen, with the talks breaking down twice. He declined to explain why, but admitted he wasn’t happy about having to agree that tenants would have to give up the option to file PARs.
But in trying to see it from the owner’s side, Collins said, “They wanted there to be finality. They wanted to have peace. They don’t want to fight 500 or 1,000 PARs that disrupt the deal.”
The deal does however make exceptions for tenants who want to file a PAR in unusual circumstances, such as the room count of their apartments being incorrect, since MCI costs vary based on the number of rooms in a unit.
Collins also reminded tenants that even before the negotiations, the TA had managed to convince the DHCR to knock 23 percent off the amount then-owner Tishman Speyer asked for in 2009. The challenge that followed came about after tenants received notices of the approved MCIs last fall and Collins saw that none of his arguments made in 2012 against the improvements, such as shoddy workmanship, had been considered.
The attorney also echoed the sentiment often made by local politicians that MCIs are not just a problem for tenants in Stuy Town, but a result of a law that favors landlords by allowing them to charge in perpetuity for building improvements.
“The main problem is in Albany,” he said.
Collins’ advice: Sign a one-year lease, not two.
Collins concluded his talk by urging tenants who have lease renewals coming up before October to take a one-year lease rather than a two-year one.
The reason, said Collins, who served as the executive director/counsel for the Rent Guidelines Board from 1987-1994, is that the RGB is expected to vote for a lower increase this year than what was handed down in previous years. Even a rent freeze is possible based on the preliminary vote last week. However, the increase voted on won’t go into effect until October.
Collins added that in recent years, the board’s increases amount to “nothing less than a scandal.”
The reason, he said, is that arguments made in support of owners involved projected operating cost increases that were much higher than what they actually turned out to be. At the same time, household incomes were dropping. Collins admitted that when he worked for the board, he took a somewhat hands-off approach, telling its members, “It’s not your job to make every apartment affordable or every building profitable for owners.” But over time, he started to feel like landlords were being given too much and advised the board to implement a rent freeze.
“This year I’m asking for a rollback,” he added.
Following his comments, TA President John Marsh chimed in to say Collins was speaking for himself and not on behalf of the TA, since what kind of lease to sign is always a gamble.
Council Member Dan Garodnick also spoke about the RGB, to recommend that tenants to participate in this year’s vote process by speaking at public hearings about their MCIs. With a new chair and new mayor, Garodnick pointed out that tenants have a better shot at swaying the board this year than they’ve had in the last 20 years. “I would encourage you to make your voices heard,” he said. “It’s quite an opportunity for tenants in this city.”
(Editor’s note: In a recent editorial, T&V also recommended that tenants tell the RGB about their MCIs, in the hope that hearing about unexpected increases tenants are made to pay mid-lease will have an impact on the board’s decision on the annual increase.)
The next public hearing in Manhattan takes place on June 16 at the Emigrant Savings Bank at 49-51 Chambers Street from 2-6 p.m.
ST-PCV Tenants Association President John Marsh speaking at a Tenants Association meeting on Saturday, with Assemblyman Brian Kavanagh, Comptroller Scott Stringer, State Senator Brad Hoylman and Council Member Dan Garodnick (Photo by Sabina Mollot)
Support for tenant-led purchase of ST/PCV
Another issue discussed at the meeting was the future sale of ST/PCV, with Garodnick saying a tenant-led deal has the support of the city’s housing commissioner.
Later, he told Town & Village that along with HPD (Department of Housing Preservation and Development) Commissioner Vicki Been, he’d also spoken with the deputy mayor for economic development, Alicia Glen.
“My sense from them was that they wanted to find a way to be supportive of tenants in our initiative if they can,” he said.
On the other hand, CWCapital has remained unwilling to talk business.
“Not just with us but with anybody,” Garodnick said at the meeting. “We all suspect that a sale is somewhere on the horizon, but we’re not sure when.”
(Three days after the meeting, the plan to foreclose on the Stuy Town’s mezzanine was made public.)
Tenants at the meeting at Simon Baruch Middle School (Photo by Sabina Mollot)
Why tenants are pretty much doomed thanks to Albany and City Hall
As always, there was also much depressing talk about the politics governing rent laws at the event. Local elected officials took turns at the podium explaining why tenant-friendly bills never get anywhere.
State Senator Brad Hoylman reiterated a point he’s made before, saying that until there’s campaign finance reform, the State Senate, which is controlled by Republicans, will remain a place that’s more friendly to landlords than tenants. He noted that many of the Republicans get millions in campaign contributions from real estate interests and also often live in upstate districts where there are few renters. The Olean, NY-based Cathy Young, who chairs the Senate Standing Committee on Housing, Construction and Community Development, has blocked campaign finance reform from even being discussed on the Senate floor, Hoylman said. This, he explained, is why Senate members have been reduced to arguing about yogurt.
“Her district is closer to Detroit than Manhattan,” said Hoylman of Young, who’s also legislatively tried to undo “Roberts v. Tishman Speyer.” “We need to continue to fight for campaign finance reform,” Hoylman added. “It is fundamental to changing the power dynamic in Albany.”
Assemblyman Brian Kavanagh then spoke about how the state housing agency’s new Tenants Protection Unit was in danger of being de-funded by the State Senate.
Also at the meeting was Comptroller Scott Stringer who said that the mayor’s housing plan aimed at building or preserving 200,000 units of affordable housing won’t be enough to make up for the amount of affordable units that are getting lost each year. In the last 12 years,
Stringer said, “rent have skyrocketed by 75 percent,” while in the past 16 years, 400,000 apartments that rented for $1,000 or less disappeared. “Two hundred thousand (units), it’s just not enough to deal with the crisis,” Stringer said.
The ST-PCV Tenants Association (President John Marsh pictured last fall) alerted tenants to the latest delay in “Roberts v. Tishman Speyer” payments. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)
By Sabina Mollot
Residents and former residents of Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village who were waiting for their checks from the “Roberts v. Tishman Speyer” settlement will have to wait a while longer.
The second distribution of payments, this time the damages CWCapital is responsible for paying, has been delayed, the ST-PCV Tenants Association announced on Wednesday.
The Tenants Association, while not a party to the class action lawsuit, alerted neighbors in an email on Wednesday at the request of the “Roberts” attorneys.
“The delay is attributable to complexity in the claims administration process, but is expected to be a short one,” the TA said it was told by attorneys. This is the second delay, with the first one being in the fall for tenants’ payments from Met Life.
Lead attorney Alex Schmidt of the firm Wolf Haldenstein told Town & Village the latest delay was due to a couple of reasons, the first being that CWCapital believes that many tenants owe back rent, which would be taken out of the damages, and the other was that many class members filed claims after the May 15, 2013 deadline.
“If they’ve expressed a good reason for filing late there no reason not to pay them,” said Schmidt. But, he noted, with each new claim, the amount of damages that’s spread among the pool changes.
The portion of damages former owner Met Life was responsible for, which is considered a separate pool from the CW damages, was paid at the end of last December.
Though he wasn’t sure when those owed money by CW would be paid, there “shouldn’t be an extended delay,” Schmidt said. He added, “We’re still ahead of where most class actions are. It’s rare to get distributions done within even a year of a settlement being approved.”
Out of a $173 million settlement for tenants in apartments that were illegally deregulated by former owners MetLife and Tishman Speyer, close to $69 million will be paid out to tenants. The rest of the money is in the form of rent savings.
Unlike the Met Life payments, in which class members received 110 percent of what they owed, there won’t be 110 percent payments for the CW payments for current tenants. There will be 100 percent of the overpayments paid back minus legal fees and expenses. This is because of how many current tenants (or specifically those owed money by CW who still lived in ST/PCV on May 15, 2013) ended up filing. (Current and former tenants are also in separate pools.) Current tenants filed for their damages at a 99 percent rate of eligible class members while over 50 percent of former tenants in the class filed.
Schmidt said for a class action suit, this was a “very good” result. He also noted that current tenants, while getting a smaller payout, also get the settlement’s benefit of rent savings. So, he reasoned, “It’s not inequitable.”
As for the tenants who CW believes owe back rent, there are quite a few out of the 11,800 people who filed claims. Schmidt didn’t have the exact number available, but said, “CW’s calculations turned out to be far more complex than anyone anticipated.”
Those who are not believed to be in arrears with their rent will be paid first, and those who are will still receive a portion of their damages. To get any amount that’s in dispute, the tenant or former tenant will have 45 days to object.
“If they’re not accurate I’m sure there’ll be a lot of objections,” said Schmidt, who says he plans to negotiate any claim of payment owed with CWCapital or if the parties fail to reach an agreement, ask the court to resolve the matter.
A spokesperson for CWCapital did not yet return a request for comment.