Assembly members at a hearing on rent regulations (Photos by Sabina Mollot)
By Sabina Mollot
A hearing on Thursday about the rent regulations that are sunsetting this June in Albany at times got heated with a speaker representing the real estate industry being accused of racism by the crowd and even a couple of Assembly members.
After a few New York City tenant leaders and advocates spoke favorably about a package of tenant-friendly bills aimed at, among other things, ending vacancy decontrol and major capital improvement rent increases, Joseph Strasburg, the president of the Rent Stabilization Association, told the Assembly housing committee members not to “NYCHA-tize the private sector.”
The Rent Stabilization Association represents roughly 25,000 New York City landlords.
In response to his comment, a couple of audience members shouted out “Racist!”
Strasburg disagreed, but one black Assembly member, Latrice Walker, responded that as someone who had grown up in a NYCHA development, only to later lose that apartment and become homeless, she didn’t appreciate his comment.
This was echoed by another black Assembly member, Walter Mosley, who said, “I think the term used with regards to NYCHA, it’s not up to the person who doesn’t know what racism is to determine what racism is. To say it is disrespectful to the members here who are of color as well as those who live in NYCHA, who are a number of my constituents.”
State Senator Brad Hoylman blamed his own chamber for the camera shutoffs. (Photos by Maria Rocha-Buschel)
By Maria Rocha-Buschel
Surgeons and local elected officials gathered at Bellevue Hospital last Thursday, urging the State Senate to pass legislation that would preserve speed cameras around schools.
Speed cameras in 120 school zones lost their ability to issue speeding violations last month because the State Senate did not extend the program by the July 25th deadline. Advocates at Bellevue were pushing Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan to call a special session so Senators could vote on legislation that has already passed in the Assembly, where it was sponsored by Assemblymember Deborah Glick.
Glick’s bill in the Assembly allows for speed cameras in 50 additional school zones a year for the next three years and extends the program through 2022. Democrats had originally proposed expanding the program to 750 school zones but said they reduced the number to appease Republicans.
“We reduced the number of cameras and reduced the radius the cameras cover,” Glick said. “We added signage so people know that there are cameras. We’ve given so much deference to speeders. We could give at least a modicum of the same concern for school children.”
Jerry Alperstein, of the Jewish War Veterans Post 1, had sent out a memo to legislators urging them to expand opportunities for veteran pension buybacks over a decade ago and has since seen a bill signed into law. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)
By Sabina Mollot
New York’s veterans who will soon be eligible for a new pension buyback, through legislation recently signed by Governor Andrew Cuomo, can thank a Stuyvesant Town veteran for the opportunity.
Jerry Alperstein, a Vietnam War Navy veteran, 72, and original Stuyvesant Town resident, had been pushing the legislation since 2005. This is when he, then serving as the legislative chair of the Jewish War Veterans of New York Post 1, sent a proposal memo to members of the state Assembly. A year later, Assembly Member Amy Paulin, of Scarsdale, signed on as a sponsor of a bill and in 2007, then-State Senator Vincent Leibel became a sponsor in that chamber.
During a recent interview, Alperstein explained that this bill will allow all veterans who served honorably and are employed by the State of New York, its municipalities or its school districts in perpetuity to buy back up to three years of military time toward their pension while still employed.
According to Alperstein, the law brings New York State more in line with most other states in their consideration for veterans who are public employees. Prior to its signing, which happened on May 31, there were other pension buyback opportunities, but they were time-limited to the point that many people they were intended for found themselves unable to collect.
A 1976 law gave the buyback only to World War II veterans; but those who were public employees on 20-year retirement had already retired and were no longer eligible to buy back. A 2000 law only applied to those who served during specified periods of armed conflict. This meant that virtually all Korean War veterans had already retired as were the Vietnam War veterans on 20-year retirements.
“That’s a reprehensible history of buybacks,” said Alperstein. “They called the Korean War the forgotten war and that’s exactly what it was.”
A plastic-bag toting resident of Peter Cooper, Donald Meyers, welcomed the City Council bill, but still had concerns. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)
By Sabina Mollot
Last week, the City Council passed a bill that would impose a five cent fee on anyone who wants a plastic or paper bag to put their groceries in. New Yorkers on food stamps would be exempted, but otherwise the fee would be paid by consumers to the stores, rather than the city. The mayor is expected to sign off on the bill soon, which supporters have claimed will reduce plastic waste in the Big Apple by 90 tons a year.
Meanwhile, T&V polled residents of Peter Cooper Village and Stuyvesant Town on the issue, finding no shortage of arguments for and against the legislation (Intro 209-a).
One woman who said she uses a lot of plastic bags said she didn’t mind the bill. “If it’s good for the environment,” said Sondra Dagessar, as she sat with neighbors on a bench in Peter Cooper, “I’ll buy one of those special strong bags.”
Next to her was Ronnie Messer, who said she also didn’t mind the bill, pointing out that she carried around a tote bag that folded up to the size of a travel tissue pack. She’d bought it in Europe, where similar legislation discouraging the use of plastic bags has already been in effect. The only problem with this, Messer noted, is, “I forget about it and then I get a plastic bag (at the store).” Still, she added, “I guess I support it. We recycle.”
Another neighbor, Sophie Green, chimed in, “It’s expensive, but if it helps the environment, I don’t think it’s a bad idea.”
A few yards away from them, on the other side of the Peter Cooper fountain was a man who, as he sat reading, had several bags from Morton Williams on the bench next to him.
Council Member Dan Garodnick with Anita Chanko, widow of Mark Chanko, a former Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper resident whose medical treatment and death was filmed for a reality show without permission, Mark’s daughter Pamela, his son Kenneth, Kenneth’s wife Barbara, State Senators Brad Hoylman and Liz Krueger and Assembly Member Edward Braunstein of Queens (Photo by Sabina Mollot)
By Sabina Mollot
Over 30 members of the City Council are calling on hospitals to respect patients’ privacy, in response to the stunning case of a man who was struck by a truck only to then have his medical treatment and death filmed for an ABC reality show, “NY Med.”
The man was Mark Chanko, at one time a resident of Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village. His family, who never authorized any filming of his treatment, has sued the hospital, New York Presbyterian, and ABC. Arguments for the case are expected to be heard in September at the Court of Appeals.
While there is currently legislation pending at the state level that would prohibit hospitals filming patients without obtaining prior consent, the Council said it was asking hospitals to take that step voluntarily. The Council members wrote a letter that was sent to all New York hospitals asking them not to film patients or allow third parties to film patients for entertainment purposes. Or, if they do, the Council members said hospitals should at least make sure they get prior permission to do so.
The letter was also written in response to news that a reality show similar to “NY Med” would soon begin filming at a Boston hospital.
Mark Chanko with son Ken on a family cruise in 2006
In the “NY Med” episode, Chanko’s face was blurred and his voice altered but those who knew him, including his widow Anita, recognized him immediately when she watched the show.
At a press conference at City Hall, she recalled how he’d asked, “Does my wife know I’m here?’ Whoever answered him said, ‘I don’t know.’” Since then, Anita said she’s had the segment featuring her husband pop up in her mind at unexpected moments. At these times, all of the evening’s events play out, starting from when her husband mentions wanting to run to the deli to pick up milk and bananas, to shortly afterwards, when the doorman at the couple’s building in Yorkville told Anita she needed to come downstairs, to then seeing Chanko lying in a gurney that she wasn’t allowed to get near.
“It’s a PTSD (experience),” Anita said. “It comes in unprompted. Watch a man die, now we’re going to sell you a car. Now we’re going to sell you some soap.”
When viewing the episode, which she said no one from the network or hospital warned her would be aired, she felt like she was reliving his death all over again. When the doctor told her and other family members that attempts to save Chanko were unsuccessful, he hadn’t told them he was wearing a microphone or that the conversation would be part of a show.
“We don’t want for this to happen to other people,” said Ken Chanko, Mark’s son, a teacher, who’s also a former film critic for Town & Village.
Council Member Dan Garodnick called shows like “NY Med” and its Boston spinoff, “Save My Life: Boston Trauma,” a “crude window into people’s medical care.
“Patients in our hospitals deserve to know that their sensitive moments will not be used for entertainment,” he said. “We deserve better from our medical institutions.”
Garodnick added that the Council will soon be issuing a report card for hospitals, “so you’ll know which hospitals will protect your privacy and which won’t.”
Last Thursday, Garodnick posted a petition on change.org calling on hospitals to not film patients. As of Monday it was signed over 500 times.
At the press conference, Council members also expressed their support for state legislation that would prevent future incidents like the one experienced by the Chankos.
Legislation that was authored by Assembly Member Edward Braunstein would create a private right of action for the unauthorized filming and broadcasting of hospital patients. It’s in the midst of some revising, though, with Braunstein explaining that the revisions were in response to broadcast associations’ concerns that some of the language was too vague. “But we’re confident we’ll be able to complete it next year,” said Braunstein, whose district is in Queens.
State Senator Liz Krueger, who’s co-sponsoring the bill in the Senate, said there’s no way the presence of a TV camera wouldn’t impact the quality of patient care.
“(If a doctor says) ‘we need to get over there,’ and the director says, ‘We need a better shot over there’ — we’re not supposed to have that situation,” she said.
State Senator Brad Hoylman, another bill co-sponsor, added, “Shame on Dr. Oz and others for violating their Hippocratic Oath to do no harm.” Dr. Mehmet Oz is featured on “NY Med.”
A spokesperson for New York Presbyterian previously declined to comment on the Chankos’ litigation. A request for comment on the Council’s letter was referred to the Greater New York Hospital Association, whose president, Kenneth E. Raske, issued a statement indicating his agreement with the Council’s suggestions.
“Greater New York Hospital Association and its member hospitals agree that hospitals should not allow patients to be filmed for entertainment purposes without their prior consent,” Raske said. “Further, all New York hospitals take their legal obligations concerning patient privacy very seriously. Both New York State and federal law prohibit the use or disclosure of identifiable patient information without the prior consent of the patient or a suitable patient representative. New York’s hospitals will continue to vigorously safeguard the privacy of patients and their families.”
Susan Steinberg, Al Doyle, Margaret Salacan, Anne Greenberg and Kirstin Aadahl, Margaret Salacan and a resident of the Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association protest outside a fundraiser for Governor Cuomo. (Photo courtesy of the ST-PCV Tenants Association)
By Sabina Mollot
Days after the deadline to renew the Rent Stabilization Laws, with no resolution in sight, the state legislature worked to extend the laws for another five days.
In a joint statement, Albany’s three men in a room, Governor Andrew Cuomo, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, confirmed the governor’s signing of the bill, and claimed to be “moving in a positive direction toward a resolution.”
But rather than offer any detail, the statement then went on to tout the legislature’s passage of unrelated bills such as protections against sexual assault on college campuses and investments in infrastructure.
Heastie, however, issued a statement of his own, stressing that the Assembly wouldn’t bend on its efforts to win stronger protections for tenants.
“We have agreed on a short term extender bill with the Governor and the Senate which will allow for more time to come to a final agreement,” said Heastie. “But one thing is clear – the Assembly Majority will not compromise its principles and agree to a package that does not provide critical rent protections for the millions of New Yorkers who depend on these laws.”
The rent law legislation the Democrat-controlled Assembly hopes to pass is wildly different from the package put forth more recently by the Republican-controlled Senate. The Senate hopes to create a database in which tenants would have to verify their incomes. Tenant friendly measures are codifying the Tenant Protection Unit and imposing stiffer penalties on landlords who harass tenants. The Assembly hopes to repeal vacancy decontrol, reform preferential rents, MCIs (major capital improvements) and IAIs (individual apartment improvements) and lower vacancy bonuses.
ST-PCV Tenants Association Chair Susan Steinberg and other tenants at a vigil on Sunday outside the midtown Manhattan office of Governor Cuomo. (Photo by Anne Greenberg)
By Sabina Mollot
It wasn’t quite the climactic end to another four years tenants were hoping for when at midnight on June 15, the laws regulating rents in New York expired without being renewed or strengthened.
The following morning, the talks continued in Albany, though there was no sign that that they’d be concluded any time soon.
Part of the reason was that Governor Andrew Cuomo has been hoping to include the passage of an education tax credit in the negotiations, while Senate Republicans also last week passed a set of rent regulation legislation that’s wildly different from the package the Assembly passed in May. The much hyped 421-a tax abatement for developers who include some affordable housing in their projects has also been a factor, but hasn’t been given as much attention as it was expected to get, according to State Senator Brad Hoylman.
Hoylman described the tax program, which also expired on Monday, as being “radioactive” to many of his colleagues because of its being “at the heart of the investigations” into corruption in Albany by U.S. attorney Preet Bharara.
“It’s understandable that it wouldn’t be a front burner issue,” said Hoylman, adding he wouldn’t be mourning the program’s loss if it isn’t ultimately renewed and that he thinks it ought to be negotiated separately.
Stuyvesant Town tenants Arlene Dabreo and Marina Metalios were among hundreds protesting Airbnb outside City Hall before a legnthy hearing attended by Airbnb execs, hosts who use the service, tenants and politicians. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)
By Sabina Mollot
Airbnb, the controversial home sharing listings site, was the subject of a lengthy and contentious hearing on Tuesday that consisted mainly of accusations being traded between politicians and the company’s director of global policy.
At the heart of the conversation was whether Airbnb was making efforts to comply with state law that forbids short-term rentals in most residential buildings, which the hearing’s chair, City Council Member Jumaane Williams, said he doubted. Meanwhile, Airbnb’s representative, David Hantman, threw in — at every chance he could get — a chance to defend Airbnb users who rent their homes out infrequently, who he said make up the bulk of the service’s users — and asked repeatedly why the law couldn’t be changed to exempt them. Instead, he argued, the law should just focus on “bad actors,” tenants or landlords who regularly rent apartments to tourists for short-term stays, making life hell for neighbors.
Most of the people in attendance were tenants opposed to Airbnb, due to illegal hotel activity in their own buildings, but there were also a few dozen supporters of the company, including hosts, with both groups demonstrating outside before the hearing. Those against the company carried signs with slogans like “I don’t want strangers for neighbors” and “sharing = selfish.”
A couple of demonstrators in that camp were Stuyvesant Town residents Arlene Dabreo and Marina Metalios.
Both said they’d seen suspected illegal activity in the community.
“We’ve seen it for sure, definitely in the past year,” said Metalios. “A lot of people coming in with suitcases and garbage being kept in the wrong place.”
Also at the event was ST-PCV Tenants Association Chair Susan Steinberg, who’d hoped to speak about illegal hotel operations in Stuy Town, but finally gave up at around 5 p.m. since she had a meeting to go to. At this time the hearing, which began at around 11 a.m., was still going on. Since the City Council chambers were filled with around 200 people, some of them standing, the rest of the attendees, like Steinberg, had gotten herded into an overflow room.
Had she been able to give testimony, Steinberg said she would have focused on how, when residents’ use of Airbnb started to take off in 2011, it coincided with an uptick in bedbug infestations in Stuy Town buildings where short-term rentals were taking place. Following meetings with company reps alongside reps from CWCapital, illegal hotel activity in the complex has decreased, though it hasn’t ended completely.
Steinberg also had included in her testimony how the TA had heard concerns from neighbors about their safety when they challenged short-term renters who wanted to gain entry into buildings. In one case, an irate guest “just pushed their way into the building.”
One tenant who did get to testify at the hearing was West Side resident Audrey Smaltz, who said she’d lived in a penthouse apartment in her building since 1977, always feeling safe with the same neighbors for many years. But in recent years, this changed, with the owner renting vacant units as hotel rooms. “The entire fourth floor is for short-term rentals and (there are) many units on other floors,” she said.
As for Airbnb supporters, not too many had signed up to testify at the hearing, which Hantman had explained as being because they’re working people who can’t afford to wait around five hours.
“They have jobs; they have no voice right now,” he said.
However, politicians seemed less than sympathetic about the plight of New Yorkers resorting to home-sharing to help pay their own rent.
Council Member Corey Johnson, who represents Greenwich Village, said he lives in a tiny studio apartment for which “the rent is too damn high,” but added with what New Yorkers pay in rent, they should have the right to not be surrounded by transients.
Another Council Member, Robert Cornegy of Brooklyn, asked Airbnb for their revenue in 2014 and projected revenue for this year, which Hantman said he wouldn’t be allowed to provide. “I’ve got to FOIL that?” Cornegy asked him. “You’ve got to go to our finance people,” Hantman responded.
When questioned about how the attorney general had found that 72 percent of Airbnb rentals to be illegal, Hantman said this was “inaccurate,” especially since Airbnb has since removed thousands of listings by users who don’t provide a “quality” experience.
In response, Williams blasted Hantman for mentioning the word “quality” more than once when discussing hosts’ renting practices.
“You keep mentioning quality — you never once mention following the law,” said Williams. “I’m sure you have lobbyists that can try to change the law, but I don’t know how you can be a business person and never mention state or federal law. You only mention quality of experience. That’s not an effective business model in the City of New York.”
Hantman had argued that very few Airbnb rentals turned out negatively out of two million people using the service to stay in New York over the past few years. He also said 1400 of those people had found places to stay when they were impacted by Hurricane Sandy.
Council Member Helen Rosenthal, who represents the Upper West Side, asked about quality of life issues related to short-term rentals, when Hantman mentioned Airbnb has a neighbor hotline that can be called if a resident wants to report problems with an Airbnb guest or host. Rosenthal challenged this, asking “How would they know?” if a neighbor is in fact an Airbnb user as opposed to a client of some other home-sharing service or that the number even exists for the reporting of such issues.
When accused of putting tenants at risk for eviction for hosting, Hantman said the company does have a pop-up on its site for New York City users warning them hosting may not be legal in their buildings or allowed in their leases.
“We know how much they earn, but we don’t know what their lease is,” he said. “We ask our hosts to obey the law.”
One host there to support the company, Lee Thomas, told the panel about how after he became ill with cancer, his high-paying career on Wall Street came to an end and the only means he had of supporting himself was by renting out his getaway cottage. In response, Williams told him the illegal hotels law didn’t even apply to him because it applies to multi-family buildings while his property was just a two-family one.
Along with Airbnb, also getting quite a bit of criticism was the city office tasked with investigating illegal hotel activity, with Council members accusing its director of not doing enough or having the resources needed to adequately deal with the ongoing problem.
Elizabeth Glazer, the director of the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice, kept saying she believed her office was doing a good job at keeping up with complaints, but politicians countered that the system shouldn’t just be complaint-driven. Rather, Rosenthal said, it should be proactive enough to keep up with any suspicious short-term rental listing. This was after Glazer had said her office last year had received 1,050 illegal rental complaints, up from 712 in 2013. In response, Rosenthal told her there were over 2,000 listings in Council Member Antonio Reynoso’s district in Brooklyn alone.
“I publicly take issue with what you’re saying,” said Rosenthal.
When asked how the office investigates tips of illegal activity, Glazer said there is “an array of techniques that we use,” but she declined multiple times to say what they were.
This answer didn’t impress Council Member Peter Koo, who threw back, “I don’t see you using them though.”
He told Glazer about how he’d seen an inspector show up at an address where there was suspected illegal activity and knock once. When no one answered, the inspector knocked again. Then, after a few minutes more, when the door remained unanswered, he was gone.
“How come it’s so hard to open a door?” asked Koo. “Pretend you’re a tourist. Send a decoy. Tell them they’re here to give a massage.”
Despite getting some chuckles from the audience, Koo was then cut off by Williams. Koo said he represents an area in Flushing that’s become a “gateway of Asian tourism.”
Also sitting in at the hearing were the authors of the 2010 illegal hotels law, State Senator Liz Krueger and Assembly Member Richard Gottfried. Krueger said what she hoped would come out of the event would be more and not less enforcement of the law at the city level.
“Without enforcement at the local level, it’s as if we didn’t pass it,” she said.
According to Glazer, out of the 1,050 complaints received in 2014, 883 resulted in inspections and 495 violations being issued.
Council Member Dan Garodnick, who was not at the hearing since he is not a member of the housing committee, later said he does support “more aggressive enforcement” of the law.
Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, at a May, 2010 press conference in front of Stuyvesant Town, discusses her Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac legislation. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)
By Sabina Mollot
Two weeks before the scheduled foreclosure sale of Stuyvesant Town’s debt, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney reintroduced legislation that would prevent Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac from investing in future, similar housing deals that lead to the loss of affordable housing rather than the creation of it.
However, she freely admitted that the bill is not likely to get passed any time soon.
“It is very difficult to get a bill through Congress, but I am continuing to build support behind this important bill,” said Maloney, “and I am looking for opportunities to incorporate the reforms it proposes in other legislation.”
The bill was first introduced in 2010 after Fannie and Freddie got affordable housing goals credits for their participation in the Tishman Speyer purchase of Stuyvesant Town.
Maloney reintroduced the bill on Friday, May 30, following the formation of a coalition of over 40 local elected officials aimed at fighting predatory equity. The Coalition Against Predatory Equity (CAPE) was formed by Council Members Dan Garodnick, Jumaane Williams and Ritchie Torres and one of its goals is to ensure responsible lending by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
Both agencies are mandated by the federal government to help increase affordable housing. However, Fannie and Freddie were parties to the Stuy Town deal in 2006, despite the owners’ business plan of ousting stabilized renters and replacing them with market rate paying ones.
Specifically, the agencies invested in a $22 billion commercial mortgage-backed securities transaction that contained the senior debt on the ST/PCV. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac’s participation as senior debt holders of $3 billion was critical, as it represented nearly 60 percent of the total cost of the acquisition.
Maloney’s bill, if passed, would prevent Fannie, Freddie or any other government sponsored enterprise (GSE) from receiving affordable housing goals credits when a project’s debt is disproportionate to its income like the ST/PCV venture.
The bill would also require the GSEs to use the same standards for assessing their investments in the secondary securities market as they would for direct investments for the purposes of affordable housing goals credits.
“Part of Fannie and Freddie’s mission is to encourage affordable housing, but some of the deals in which they have invested have caused the opposite to occur,” said Maloney in an official statement. “Affordable housing credits shouldn’t be awarded for investments when the only conceivable scenario for profitability is for rents to rise. That is what’s happening at Stuyvesant Town/Peter Cooper Village, and that’s what my legislation is designed to prevent.”
A spokesperson for Fannie did not respond to a request for comment. A spokesperson for Freddie said he couldn’t comment on legislation affecting the agency.