Advocates call to freeze, cancel rent for April

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

City and state affordable housing advocates have proposed suspending this year’s Rent Guidelines Board vote, effectively freezing the rent for rent-stabilized units until June of next year, although the move would have to be enacted by the governor, who had not responded to the proposal by the end of March.

Despite the lack of an official response from Governor Andrew Cuomo, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced last Friday that the city government would be working with the state to suspend the Rent Guidelines Board process for the upcoming year, which would maintain all regulated rents at this year’s level until next year’s vote. The change would affect 2.3 million tenants in almost one million rent-stabilized apartments throughout the city.

“I think if ever there was a time there should be a rent freeze, it is now,” de Blasio said. “So for the millions of New Yorkers who live in rent-stabilized housing in this city, normally you wait until later in the spring for the Rent Guidelines Board to make its decision on what rent levels should be for the upcoming leases. What we’ve seen here, to me, makes clear that we need a rent freeze for everyone who’s rent-stabilized.”

Continue reading

Mayor provides updates about coronavirus at Bellevue

Mayor Bill de Blasio hands out fliers regarding COVID-19 preparedness in Union Square last Monday. (Photo by Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Mayor Bill de Blasio and health officials provided updates about the city’s response and approach to the coronavirus at Bellevue Hospital on Tuesday, with the mayor noting that the city is working to keep the public informed but emphasizing that information has been changing rapidly.

“I think we can all say with coronavirus we have rarely seen a situation that started with people not even understanding the disease to begin with because it was brand new – that’s been the whole international community, the medical community,” de Blasio said. “We’ve all had to learn by doing and our understanding of the best approaches keeps evolving, so you will hear change because the information is changing. But we are still in the middle of a fight right now.”

The mayor also emphasized that while the government is working to protect New Yorkers and prevent the spread of the virus, residents can help with their own actions.

“Everyone has to participate from those basic things, washing your hands, hand sanitizer, covering your mouth when you cough or sneeze onto the kinds of decisions we make in our life, starting with being very sensitive to the vulnerable people,” he said. “We have seen this over and over again. It’s very consistent all over the world.”

Continue reading

Residential evictions decreasing, mayor says

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Mayor Bill de Blasio announced on Monday that residential evictions by marshals have decreased by more than 40% since 2013 and just in 2019, declined by 15%. The decrease in 2019 was the largest single-year decrease since the mayor signed the Right to Counsel law in 2017 and launched the city’s Universal Access to Counsel program.

More than 100,000 tenants who might have otherwise faced eviction have been able to stay in their homes since 2013 and residential evictions have been steadily decreasing in every borough.

“If we’re going to save our city, we must do everything we can to help people stay in the homes they love,” de Blasio said. “With evictions down over 40% citywide, the unprecedented investments we’ve made in tenant legal services have helped 100,000 people stay in their homes and off the street.”

More than 350,000 tenants have received assistance in evictions or other housing-related matters during the de Blasio Administration through legal services programs, including Right to Counsel, which provides tenants facing eviction in Housing Court with access to free legal services. More than 84% of tenants that received counsel in cases where they faced eviction were able to keep their apartments.

Continue reading

Mayor announces additional outreach for homeless New Yorkers

Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the new initiative to provide additional outreach services for homeless New Yorkers and introduced new Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services, Dr. Raul Perea-Henze, at the 14th Street Y. (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Mayor Bill de Blasio was at the 14th Street Y last Thursday, November 14 to introduce new Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services, Dr. Raul Perea-Henze, and announce the launch of a new program to combat homelessness in the city called Outreach NYC, which has since been criticized by other local elected officials and advocates.

The administration said on Thursday that the initiative will mobilize thousands of staff members from various city agencies who will be accessible for outreach assistance via 311. The city is encouraging New Yorkers to alert 311 when they see unsheltered individuals with the aim of helping those homeless New Yorkers transition off the streets and subways into more permanent, stable settings.

“We believe that this kind of outreach effort is the key,” de Blasio said at the announcement on Thursday. “We believe that constantly engaging folks is the answer. And I want everyone understand, I’m not talking about a few times and not talking about a few dozen times. Sometimes we were talking about hundreds of times before it works. But it is worth it because every time, and we heard from the outreach workers today, the sense of victory they felt when someone did come in and they were talking about literally in the last days getting someone in off the streets, who had been on the streets for years and years. What a profound victory that is.”

Continue reading

City announces changes to NYC Rent Freeze Program

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

The de Blasio administration announced last Wednesday that the city will now be able to freeze rents at the preferential level for tenants eligible for the Senior Citizen Rent Increase Exemption (SCRIE) and Disabled Rent Increase Exemption (DRIE).

“For far too long, thousands of low-income older adults and people with disabilities with preferential were unable to benefit from NYC’s Rent Freeze Programs,” said State Senator Liz Kruger, who is also the prime sponsor of preferential rent legislation. “I am extremely happy that New York State’s new rent laws finally eliminated the preferential rent loophole, making it possible for tenants with preferential rents to benefit from SCRIE and DRIE.”

The legal rent of a rent-stabilized apartment is based on the unique history of the unit and is the maximum legal rent for each apartment. Preferential rent is rent that a landlord charged to a rent-regulated tenant that is lower than the legal rent.

SCRIE and DRIE, known collectively as the NYC Rent Freeze Program, is administered by the Department of Finance and helps eligible seniors and New Yorkers with disabilities stay in affordable housing by freezing their rent. The programs are available to eligible tenants living in rent-regulated apartments. To qualify for SCRIE, residents must be at least 62 years old, the head of household on the lease, have a combined household income of $50,000 or less and spend more than one-third of their monthly household income on rent. DRIE is available to tenants who are  at least 18 years old, are named on the lease, have a combined household income of $50,000 or less and must be awarded one of the following: Federal Supplemental Security Income (SSI); Federal Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI); U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs disability pension or disability compensation; disability-related Medicaid if the applicant has received either SSI or SSDI in the past; or the United States Postal Service (USPS) disability pension or disability compensation.

Continue reading

Opinion: De Blasio’s Delusion

By former Assemblymember Steven Sanders 

Last week I saw Mayor Bill de Blasio on a local newscast giving an interview from the Iowa State Fair. He looked very relaxed in his shirtsleeves with no tie or jacket. I think he had just eaten a corndog, a local favorite. He seemed a million miles away from the daily cares of his actual job as chief executive of New York City. To be precise, he was about eleven hundred miles away from home.

Hizzoner was enjoying himself free from the problems of the disgraceful public housing conditions, the mass transit infrastructure woes, another police suicide, the worry about a terrorist attack in Chelsea with the discovery of what appeared at first to be improvised explosive devices. You know, some of the stuff that requires a Mayor to be on the job 24/7. But Bill de Blasio assures us that he is in communication with his staff every hour. That sort of makes him New York’s first Skype Mayor.

To be sure, everyone deserves a vacation and respite from their job. But Bill de Blasio has been spending chunks of time out of the city on a regular basis for the better part of 2019. His venue of choice has been Iowa because that is the first state which will be holding a Presidential nominee contest in just five months.

Continue reading

Opinion: The rent gamble

By former Assemblymember Steven Sanders

With all the changes made last month by the State Legislature in tenant protections and rent regulations, the nine-member New York City Rent Guidelines Board (RGB) appointed by the mayor remains intact. That is the entity which sets rent increases for leases expiring in any given year.

For hundreds of thousands of tenants facing lease renewals between October 1, 2019, through September 30, 2020, the RGB has set the increases at 1.5% for a one-year lease renewal and 2.5% for a two-year lease renewal.

The question for tenants is, which one is best? It’s all about short-term and long-term dollars and cents. But it is not that simple.

To some extent clairvoyance is required, but that function does not appear on any calculator. What do I mean?

One thing is a certainty: you will save money in the first year if you opt for a one year renewal. But what about the following year? Well, if the guidelines remain the same next year, then a tenant will be spending more money in the second year if they opt for consecutive one-year renewals as opposed to a two-year lease renewal at 2.5%.

Continue reading

Opinion: Double-edged Sword

By former Assemblymember Steven Sanders

So it’s official: Bill de Blasio is running… away from New York City. He is seeking the nomination for president in a crowded field of nearly two dozen Democrats. His chances of success range from nearly impossible to absurd.

That would be ok if he were doing this on his own time. But he is virtually abdicating his responsibilities as mayor. That is the part that is really arrogant and offensive.

Blame term limitations at least in part.

You see, de Blasio is a politician with no path to future office but nothing to lose thumbing his nose at his current constituents. He can’t run for mayor again and when his current term ends in 2021, there is no other viable office for him to seek.

Continue reading

Editorial: Council bills will make a difference

Last week, the City Council passed a slew of bills aimed at tenant protection, and while not yet law, the mayor has indicated he’ll support them.

This is a tremendous relief. We believe these bills would go a long way in protecting tenants from landlords who flout the law, from making aggressive buyout offers to using construction as a form of harassment to blatantly lying on applications.

Additionally, the fact that so many housing bills were introduced shows how badly this intervention was needed in the first place. A perfect example is Council Member Keith Powers’ bill to crack down on landlords who lie in construction documents about whether or not their buildings have rent regulated tenants. This legislation was inspired by behavior by the Kushner Companies, who failed to disclose the presence of such tenants in 17 buildings a total of 42 times when filing applications to the Department of Buildings.

Another helpful bill will improve communication between city agencies with oversight of housing, making it easier to catch these inaccuracies.

Continue reading

City Council passes 17 tenant bills

The City Council Housing and Buildings Committee holds a vote on anti-displacement bills the day before they were passed by the full Council on Wednesday, May 8. (Photo courtesy of City Council)

By Sabina Mollot

Last fall, the City Council introduced a package of 18 bills aimed at preventing tenants from being displaced due to aggressive tactics from landlords like exploitative buyout agreements or nuisance construction. On Wednesday, May 8, all but one passed. They still require the mayor’s signature, but he has indicated his support for them.

A spokesperson for Mayor Bill de Blasio, Jane Meyer said, “From free access to legal services in housing court to the new Mayor’s Office to Protect Tenants, this administration has been fighting for tenants from day one. These bills will help bolster our efforts to protect all New Yorkers.”

Here is a rundown of what each of the City Council bills will do:

Property owners will be required to share certain information about the terms of a buyout agreement a tenant is entering into with the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) within 90 days. The bill’s sponsor is Mark Levine.

Continue reading

Opinion: The politics of giving

By former Assemblymember Steven Sanders

Several weeks ago, I wrote a column describing the utter futility of Bill de Blasio’s flirtation with a race for president and his frequent trips out of town in pursuit of that office. An avid Town & Village reader emailed us this week to ask why persons would contribute to such a campaign with little or no hope of victory. The answers are varied.

Yes, there are some political donors who truly believe in a particular candidate come hell or high water or ones who are close friends or relatives. Some candidates run for higher office thinking like those who play the lottery. Even though the probability of success is near zero, as the Power Ball slogan exclaims, “Hey, you never know” or “You can’t win it if you are not in it.” The chances of winning the jackpot and the odds of a nondescript candidate winning the presidency is about the same.

In the case of Donald Trump, he at least had a celebrity following from his business ventures, tabloid exposure, and his television show “The Apprentice.” None of those experiences qualified him to be president, but it did give him universal name recognition and political momentum as a candidate.

But back to Bill de Blasio and other office seekers who are not counted amongst the rich and the famous.

Continue reading

Opinion: The long and short of it

By former Assemblymember Steven Sanders

Two American mayors both with one ambition, to defeat President Trump and become the 46th president of the United States. That is where the similarity ends and the disparity begins.

If elected, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio would become the tallest president in history.

If elected, South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg would become the shortest since Harry Truman. Mayor Buttigieg presides over a city of around 100,000 residents. Mayor de Blasio’s city has 80 times that number of residents. Buttigieg is something of a longshot, but de Blasio has no shot whatsoever.

It’s an interesting contrast.

Why has Buttigieg gained momentum and national attention in his presidential quest while de Blasio has about as much traction as a pair of bald tires going down a slippery steep hill to nowhere? Try as he has almost nobody is interested in what de Blasio has to say outside of the five boroughs. Buttigieg on the other hand has more interview requests than he knows what to do with.

So what’s up with this picture?

Continue reading

Ferries cost city nearly $11 a ride

The government kicks in $10.73 for each ride on the city’s ferry system. (Pictured) A ferry along the Lower East Side route pulls into the Stuyvesant Cove stop. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

A report from government watchdog group the Citizens Budget Commission found that subsidies for the city’s ferry system are 10 times what the government pays for subway trips.

The New York Post reported last Thursday that according to the report, the city kicks in $10.73 for each individual ferry trip, compared to the $1.05 subsidy for each subway trip, despite the fact that the fare for both modes of transportation is the same at $2.75. And although the Staten Island ferry is free for riders, the subsidy per trip is almost half that of NYC Ferry’s at $5.46 because the operating costs for the service are lower.

Although the mayor’s office said that ridership for NYC Ferry service is expected to grow to nine million by 2023, its ridership of 4.1 million rides in 2018 is much lower than daily use of the subway. The report found that the subway, on which there were 2.7 billion trips in 2017, serves more people in a single day than the ferry serves all year.

CBC’s report notes that the subsidies are high because the operating costs are high due to the long routes and seasonal ridership, but also because revenue is low since the fare is pegged to the subway and bus fare. NYC Ferry recently announced an expansion that the report said will require even further subsidies, costing as much as $24.75 per ride for the Coney Island route.

Continue reading

Letters to the editor, Apr. 4

Cartoon by Jim Meadows

Losing the battle on bikes (cars, too)

To the editor:

T&V has recently featured articles on residents complaining about cyclists’ behavior and the NYPD’s 13th Precinct enforcement activities towards cyclists. None of these articles point out that the real danger to pedestrians and cyclists are automobiles.

Motor vehicle crashes killed 200 people in NYC in 2018 including 114 pedestrians and 10 cyclists and left 60,000 injured. Between July 2012 and January 2019, 887 pedestrians were killed by automobiles. Generally, when the DOT installs protected bike lanes or other infrastructure to make cycling safer and easier, pedestrian safety also increases.

All too frequently whenever there is a serious crash involving a cyclist being hit a motor vehicle, they initiate ticketing activity against cyclists often at intersections and bike lanes in which little dangerous behavior is exhibited by cyclists rather drivers who block and drive in bike lanes, drivers who cut off cyclists at intersections or drivers that block the box causing cyclists to go out into traffic.

Continue reading

Neighbors say safety first with Bellevue South Park renovations

Bellevue South Park (Photos by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Community organizers and the Parks Department got closer to an agreement about renovations planned for Bellevue South Park in Kips Bay after a Community Board 6 Parks committee meeting last Tuesday. The meeting was scheduled because park advocates were unsatisfied with designs the city had presented to the committee last month.

Manhattan Borough Commissioner Chief of Staff Steven Simon, who expressed frustration at the last meeting when met with resistance about the plans, at first balked at the idea of coming back to the committee next month, saying that it was unusual for Parks to even come back to the community board a second time, but ultimately agreed that the architects could make additional adjustments to the design and return to the committee in March.

Kips Bay residents Aaron Humphrey, Karen Lee, Pauline Yablonski and Courtney Bird offered suggestions to the plans that the Parks Department presented to the committee in January, which includes an ADA-compliant dog run and updated play equipment that will also be moved away from the adult exercise equipment.

Continue reading