Stuyvesant Town resident producing hip-hop musical film

Jason Stefaniak

Jason Stefaniak

By Sabina Mollot

When the typical New Yorker spends the majority of his or her time just trying to earn enough to make the rent, how is it even possible to do what people actually come to this city for, like pursue a life in the arts and maybe even fall in love?

This is the question that dominates the story in a musical film being produced by a Stuyvesant Town resident and recent NYU graduate called “But Not for Me.” The resident, Jason Stefaniak, like the writer and director of the film, Ryan Carmichael, is an alum of New York University’s graduate film program and the two 27-year-olds are currently trying to shop the project for production in the spring of 2014. Described as a “philosophical hip hop musical love story” with a hard-to-miss message about the lack of local affordable housing, the story focuses on Will, a disillusioned millennial copywriter and his love for a neighbor, Hope.

“Twenty-somethings come here to pursue anything, especially creative endeavors, and then they’re struggling to eat and do basic things like pay the rent,” said Stefaniak.

For Stefaniak, who’s lived in Stuyvesant Town for two years, the story resonates on a personal level, since he’s not sure how much longer he can afford to live in the complex.

“I love Stuyvesant Town, but I don’t know if it’s going to be sustainable, anymore,” he said, following a recent rent hike.

Back in June, though not affected personally, Stefaniak attempted to protest the round of mid-lease increases issued to 1,100 of his neighbors by starting an online petition. Eventually, he got 450 signatures, and each time a new person signed, an alert would be sent to around 20 management email addresses.

Stefaniak said he “tried to make some racket about the situation as best I could.” However, he never got a response from CWCapital.

“I thought I’d at least get a terse email by someone asking me to remove their address, but I got nothing,” said Stefaniak.

For Carmichael, who lives in Astoria, the situation also hits pretty close to home, since he was recently

Ryan Carmichael

Ryan Carmichael

priced out of Manhattan.

“When you get there, it’s a constant struggle, and you wonder when you can start enjoying what the city has to offer,” said Carmichael. Still, he noted the movie is still an overall positive one with a focus on the musical score. “I don’t want people to think that I’m trying to do a soapbox stand on any issues.”

To make the feature-length film a reality, he and Stefaniak are currently pouring all their energy into a Kickstarter campaign that as of Monday, raised over $20,000 for its production. The goal however is much more ambitious at $100,000, with the partners hoping to raise an additional $25,000 through other means.

“After many years of making student films, we’re trying to do this is a more professional way,” said Stefaniak.

The pro budget is a gamble though considering that the way Kickstarter works, if the full goal isn’t met by a deadline of November 2, the partners don’t end up getting a dime of the pledged money.

If they’re successful, the money would go towards hiring crew, renting studio space for the recording of the music (also written by Carmichael), buying equipment and renting space to shoot at. As the “But Not for Me” team has already learned, such foresight is necessary, as they’ve already once experienced losing a place to shoot due to a property owner changing his mind at the last minute. Rather than waste the day though, since the crew and actors were already there, Stefaniak suggested filming the scene in front of his Stuy Town building instead. Not surprisingly, he and the crew were eventually told to scram by public safety officers, but, he noted, “They were really nice about it.”

Fortunately for the film, the scene was mostly shot anyway at that point, and the remaining bits were filmed by the East River.

Additionally, at this time, most of the casting is complete, and Stefaniak and Carmichael consider the inclusion of concert violinist Elena Urioste to be one of the highlights of the film. She’ll be making her acting debut as Hope in “But Not for Me.”

To learn more about the film, visit Stefaniak’s blog at jasonstefaniak.com. To contribute to the Kickstarter campaign, visit http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1157078283/but-not-for-me?ref=live.

 

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Notary services available for residents exempt from mid-lease rent increases

Letter issued by CompassRock

Letter issued by CompassRock

The Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association has announced that notary services will be available on several different days for the tenants who were led to believe by leasing agents that there would be no mid-lease increases and then got them, anyway.

On Monday, Town & Village Blog reported that following an investigation by Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, an agreement was reached with management so that those residents will not have to pay their new, higher rents.

Residents in this situation have until June 30 to fill out an affidavit that was slipped under their doors on Friday by CompassRock and have it notarized. Otherwise, they’ll have to start paying their increased rent in July. In related news, the agreement reached by the attorney general and CompassRock means there will be no additional mid-lease increases.

Schneiderman, Council Member Dan Garodnick and the Tenants Association have been working together over the past few weeks to identify 39 tenants who were misled.

Commenting on the settlement, Tenants Association President John Marsh said, “We appreciate the Attorney General’s taking the important action that he did. The allegations of misrepresentations were serious and numerous. We urge all those who received either written or verbal assurances that their rent would not be increased mid-lease to sign and return the affidavit.”

The TA also issued instructions, via email to residents, who need to get their paperwork notarized:

Complete the affidavit and sign it in front of a notary public.  If you have an e-mail or other correspondence with a renting agent, attach it.  If you simply recall a conversation on the matter of the mid-lease clause, write about it in the space provided.

Take the affidavit and any supporting material to be notarized. You must appear in person to sign and show photo ID. To facilitate this process, Tenants Association volunteers with a notary’s license will be available, at no charge, at the Community Center Tuesday, June 18, Thursday, June 20, and Tuesday, June 25, between 6:00 and 8:00 pm., and Saturday, June 22 and Sunday June 23, between 2:00 and 4:00 pm.  Please note that a notary only affirms your signature, not the content of the document.

(If you have discarded the material that came under your door, thinking it was a ruse, you can pick up a new affidavit at the Community Center at those hours) or you can print out the letter and affidavit linked here.

Return the notarized affidavit and support material, if any, by June 30th to:

Office of the Attorney General of the State of New York
Attn: Elissa Rossi
Real Estate Finance Bureau
120 Broadway, 23rd Floor
New York, NY 10271

Send a copy of this affidavit to:

PCVST Legal Department
Attention:  Roberts Administrator
317 Avenue C
New York, NY 10009

Important:  Your response must be postmarked no later than June 30, 2013

Letters to the Editor, June 13

Tell Governor Cuomo: No fracking in NY

Hydraulic fracturing is a process that forces millions of gallons of fresh water, sand, and toxic chemicals, under high pressure, into shale rock to release natural gas.

Recently, Wendy Byrne, Kathy Reynolds, Anne Lazarus and I, all Stuyvesant Town residents, distributed information about fracking and gathered signatures on a petition to Governor Cuomo to ban the process in New York State.

If the present moratorium is removed, our water, land and air can become polluted as has happened in other states where fracking is used. Documentaries like “Gasland,” “Gasland II,” “Split Estate” and others reveal what the oil and gas industry has tried to cover up by refusing to name the chemicals in the toxic mix that Halliburton and others got exempt from the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts in 2005. Once the chemicals such as benzene get into the water, no filtering mechanism can get them out. The industry claims that if done correctly there is no danger of leaking chemicals or explosions. We know that accidents happen and with budget crunches there are not enough inspectors in New York State to monitor the drilling operations.

The bottom line is that natural gas (methane) is a fossil fuel affecting climate changes that trigger storms like Hurricane Sandy. Scientists and the United Nations Environment Program are urging us to develop renewable energy from the sun, wind, tidal water and geothermal sources and train people for these green jobs.

We should not leave our children and grandchildren a polluted planet but make every effort to restore the natural world and save it from those who seek its resources to enrich themselves.

Please consider joining us in Albany on Monday, June 17, where a demonstration will take place from 1 to 3 p.m. on the mall. Register for the bus from New York City here. Round trip tickets are $25 and available on line. Some full financial subsidies are available. Bus leaves at 8 a.m. from 460 8th Avenue (34th St. and 8th Avenue) and returns to New York City by 6 p.m.

Joy Garland, ST

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Editorial: Rent hikes aren’t just bad news for tenants

In a recent Town & Village editorial, the topic was how the mid-lease rent hikes given to 1,300 residents was bad business. The reason was that it would cause hundreds of vacancies and end up replacing more stable residents like families with less stable ones like students and others living in roommate situations.

However, there is another reason why we think the mid-lease increases (which have been as high as over $2,000) are bad business and bad for the community.

The other reason is that an exodus of tenants means a sharp drop in business for local retailers, many of whom have already been hurting since Sandy and the temporary closure of the VA Medical Center. Obviously, eventually new tenants will replace the departing ones as customers of local shops, but with a large chunk of apartments being vacated, this is a process that’s going to take some time. Meanwhile, since apartment buildings around here for years now have had revolving doors due to steadily increasing rents, the challenge of regularly trying to attract – and to keep – clients is one that local businesses have already, on a gradual level, been struggling with.

But don’t take our word for it. Hear what a couple of merchants had to say.
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Effort to protest mid-lease rent increases continues

May30 sign

The ST-PCV Tenants Association’s signs, like the one pictured, have been popping up at local stores.

By Sabina Mollot

Two weeks after CWCapital announced that mid-lease rent hikes would be issued to around 1,300 residents of Stuyvesant Town/Peter Cooper Village, the Tenants Association and local elected officials are still hoping to get the special servicer to change its mind.

On Tuesday, several East Side elected officials asked Andrew MacArthur, vice president of CWCapital Asset Management, for a sit-down aimed at “holding off on any increases until leases expire.” The request was made via letter signed by State Senator Charles Schumer, Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Public Advocate Bill De Blasio, Council Member Dan Garodnick, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, State Senator Brad Hoylman, Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh and Borough President Scott Stringer.

In the letter, the pols noted that leasing agents had been telling renters that it was highly unlikely CW would raise rents mid-lease.

“Since there is regular sharing of information within the community, it is very likely that many more residents believed they would be free of rent hikes mid-term,” they wrote.

The Tenants Association also continued to encourage neighbors to picket outside the leasing office. Though initially the intent was to have “sustained” protesting outside, the association was unable to have a continued presence mid-week, and has instead, since early this week, been focused on a flyer door dropoff campaign. Additionally, John Marsh, the president of the TA, said another plan has been to approach local businesses to ask if they’d agree to keep protest signs and flyers on sight. That way residents could drop by, pick up flyers, protest and then return the sign.

“Even if they can only give a half hour, if we can get 500 people to do a half hour, we’d be fully covered,” said Marsh. “To make it meaningful, you have to have a sustained effort, so now we have self-service protests.”

One volunteer, who didn’t want his name used, mentioned that he and his wife had already gotten a bunch of local retailers to participate. Those include Adam’s Deli and the Associated supermarket on East 14th Street and Duane Reade, CVS, Zeichner’s, Ess-A-Bagel and Nature’s First Pharmacy, Frank’s Trattoria, Duro Carpet and Johnny Mozzarella on First Avenue. The volunteer added that he was one of a handful of tenants who’d picketed over Memorial Day weekend, scaring off a few potential renters with tales of bedbugs and mid-lease rent hikes.

CWCapital increased the rents following the “Roberts v. Tishman Speyer” settlement. Fine print in the leases had mentioned the rents could be raised, even mid-lease.

As reported by T&V last week, tenants had protested in front of the leasing office to tell prospective renters about the mid-lease increases as well as other problems such as continued lack of basic services in Sandy-battered buildings. Management responded by having leasing agents meet clients in the back of the leasing office or at the model apartments.

Additionally, in a newsletter emailed to residents last Wednesday, CWCapital said,

“In accordance with certain residents’ leases and in accordance with the court order approving the settlement agreement, some residents have received a rent adjustment. Some rents have gone down and some rents have gone up. If your rent has been adjusted, you already received a notice on May 14th.  

“We respect the fact that adjusting rents mid-lease term is disruptive and can be confusing… We look forward to resolving these last uncertainties and restoring stability to our community.”

In related news, since Tuesday, the Tenants Association has also been hearing from residents who received unusually high June rent bills. Those were not the same tenants who received the mid-lease increases, who’ve all been members of the “Roberts” class action, but tenants living in “Roberts” affected apartments, said Marsh.

However, according to a CW spokesperson, this turned out to be a clerical error. There was no comment on the continued effort to overturn the mid-lease increases.

In other news, residents have also been concerned about CW’s recently begun campaign to inspect all apartments for “unsafe conditions, unregistered dogs and compliance with the 80 percent carpet rule.” Tenants have told Town & Village via Facebook that in some instances, inspectors have looked inside their closets and Marsh said he’s heard the same, “which is disconcerting.”

In light of the recent spate of no-forced-entry burglaries, the TA has advised residents to comply with the inspections but make sure they can be present.

Marsh said the TA was successful in getting management to agree to take requests for appointments for an inspection via email. Previously it had only been by phone, which Marsh said concerned some tenants who weren’t sure there would be follow-through after leaving a message. The notice period may also be getting extended to 7-10 days.

This article was updated from the print version to include a response from CWCapital on the June rent bills.

Editorial: Rent hikes are a bad business move

Young resident Karry Kane stands outside the leasing office on Saturday. Photo by Sabina Mollot

Young resident Karry Kane stands outside the leasing office on Saturday.
Photo by Sabina Mollot

After Tishman Speyer’s disastrous four-year reign as landlord of Stuyvesant Town/Peter Cooper Village, the commonly held belief was that no one could possibly be worse for the community than that company, with its now infamous business model based around goals that were both greedy and delusional.
However, now it seems that the property’s occupying force, CWCapital, is more than willing to be known as the company that’s worse for tenants than the one that lost its investors billions and scared countless tenants out of their homes. By raising the rents at over a thousand units, in most cases by hundreds of dollars and in others more than a thousand or even two, the suits at CW make it clear that they have learned nothing from the historic mistakes of the past.
Never mind that the move is just plain cruel ― as noted by Council Member Dan Garodnick last week ― “a mid-lease rent increase of $900 is nothing less than an eviction notice” ― it is also, quite simply, bad business. By issuing these steep increases on such short notice (the extension of one additional month for tenants to decide whether to stay or go is still short notice), CW has essentially said it doesn’t care whether their tenants stay or go.
But at these newly inflated prices, who can afford to replace these people (who are already paying for the privilege of living in renovated apartments) other than those who are crammed into subdivided apartments or the very rich? And why would the very rich opt to move into a building without a doorman with an owner who feels entitled to raise the rents at any time?
In other words, CWCapital is prepared to deal with a very high vacancy rate, generating no income for a while until the place becomes, officially or unofficially, a hub for students and other transients. Who hopefully for the leasing office agents, don’t read the news.
In the past, the owner has offered $500 gift cards as incentives to residents who refer people to sign leases. Interestingly, last week, an offer made by Stuyvesant Town via its official Twitter page for new referrals was for $500-$2,500. So apparently, getting tenants to recommend the place to their friends and loved ones isn’t as easy as it used to be.
CW has pointed out, correctly, that it is perfectly legal to be doing this. But so what? Back when Tishman Speyer took over ST/PCV, market rate residents almost immediately began seeing double digit increases. Stabilized renters got primary residence challenges. Tishman did this believing a) that it was legal and b) that the sky was the limit and so what if tenants left, because there was more where that came from. But as we all know now, Tishman was dead wrong. It turned out that as desperate as New Yorkers are for housing, most people simply didn’t have the salaries that would allow them to agree to pay through the nose, nor did they want to live under a landlord who was well-known for giving high rent hikes.
Our recommendation: Instead of offering money to tenants to get their friends and families into these renovated units, CWCapital should tell the bondholders to hold their horses. They’ll be paid in full, even if it takes a while longer by charging tenants the rents they actually agreed to pay. It isn’t tenants’ fault that the bondholders signed on to become part of the biggest residential real estate flop in history and therefore, tenants are not who should be made to suffer here.
Not that they’re suffering in silence. Last weekend, the Tenants Association began organizing protests

Tenants Association Chair  Susan Steinberg talks to a neighbor outside the leasing office on Saturday. Photo by Sabina Mollot

Tenants Association Chair Susan Steinberg talks to a neighbor outside the leasing office on Saturday.
Photo by Sabina Mollot

outside the leasing office, in which they shared with passersby and prospective renters, what problems they’ve faced after signing on the dotted line (noisy neighbors, broken elevators, etc.).
Tenants are also confronting management directly. On the Stuy Town Facebook page, a recent post cheered the reopening of the Oval lawn. The response? One comment seemed to sum things up.
One Facebook user wrote: “You want people to look through floored glasses we the tenants are being treated like dirt no services no laundry room elevators and intercoms that work half of the time and a 30% rent increase that you have fifteen days to comply with or get out shame on you.”
In a post promoting a carnival for kids on the Oval, Facebook user Carla Webb O’Connor had this to say.
“How about the kids that are being kicked out of their homes because their parents can’t afford the ridiculous rent increases?? Not doing anything for them, are you?”
(Those comments have since been deleted.)
The Tenants Association, local elected officials and now Town & Village are calling on CWCapital to reverse course on the rent hikes. CW should, at the very least, give tenants some warning that after ― and only after ― their leases expire, their rents will go up.
Then, CW should charge a rent that isn’t far higher than what’s currently being charged so tenants can actually consider staying.