Editorial: It ain’t over til it’s over

As members of the New York State Assembly made very clear last week at a packed hearing, landlords in this city don’t have as many friends as they used to have in Albany. Newly-elected members of the State Senate have also been promising that 2019 will be the year of the tenant.

But New York City renters have had local elected officials whispering sweet nothings about fighting the good fight for affordability for ages, only to see small returns in the past few years. Additionally, while the dymanics of power have unquestionably shifted recently, Albany is still Albany. This means tenants shouldn’t take anything for granted and assume every elected official who claims to care about affordable housing actually does.

If we want to see the end of a system designed to consistently chip away at the city’s remaining stock of affordable housing, than New Yorkers must make their voices heard before the rent regulations expire in June 15. The Assembly is on board but if tenants have a moment, it doesn’t hurt to call state senators and the governor’s office and make a point  of why stronger rent regulations, in particular the repeal of vacancy decontrol, which will decrease the incentive for a landlord to try and push a tenant out, are necessary and urgent.

Landlords grilled at hearing on proposed rent regulations

Linda Rosenthal

Assembly Member Linda Rosenthal discusses the package of bills at a pre-hearing rally. (Photos by Sabina Mollot)

 

By Sabina Mollot

Politicians left no doubt that the balance of power in Albany has unquestionably shifted during a hearing of the New York State Assembly last week.

At the heart of the debate was the understanding that a package of tenant-friendly legislation stands a good chance of being passed in June, following last November’s elections that turned the previously industry-friendly State Senate blue.

At one point, Assembly Member Linda Rosenthal, who represents the Upper West Side, turned her attention to a panel of real estate professionals who were there to give testimony. 

“How much money have you used to influence our laws?”, she asked.

When none answered, Rosenthal told them, “You’ve had a lot of friends in Albany over the years. Now you have fewer friends.”

Earlier in the hearing, Paimaan Lodhi, senior vice president of policy and planning for the Real Estate Board of New York, cautioned that the city’s housing stock would deteriorate as a result of the bills’ passage. 

However, he said the industry is in favor of passing rent regulations that “increase transparency that protects the public from a few bad actors.”

But Rosenthal told the room, “We have many good bills and we are going to pass them. There is no reason why tenants shouldn’t be protected. You guys get tax breaks. In return, you have obligations you have not met. How come so many landlords fail to register their rent-regulated units?”

In response, Joseph Strasburg, president of the Rent Stabilization Association, said the RSA encourages its members to resister their units, warning there are consequences if they don’t. He then said there should be more enforcement mechanisms and countered there wasn’t “an upside” to trying to game the system.

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Accusations of racism fly at rent regs hearing

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.”

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Assembly taking aim at MCIs, IAIs, vacancy de-control

Photo by Sidney Goldberg

Assembly Member Harvey Epstein during a recent tenant lobbying day in Albany (Photo by Sidney Goldberg)

By Sabina Mollot

With the rent regulations set to expire on June 15, the New York State Assembly has set public hearings on May 2 and 9 to discuss a package of proposals aimed at strengthening the current laws.

Among the legislation includes a bill that would end major capital improvement (MCI) rent increases and also require the state housing agency to create a program ensuring property owners maintain a certain level of repair. MCIs are charges tacked on to a tenant’s rent to pay for improvements to the property.

“The major capital improvement rent increase program is a flawed system which has been overly complex for property owners to navigate,” said the bill’s sponsor, Assembly Member Brian Barnwell, “and has been a great disservice in our efforts to preserve the affordable housing stock.”

Another bill would end individual apartment improvements (IAI). Under the current law, landlords are allowed to raise rent after making IAIs, which can range from cosmetic repairs to redoing various rooms.

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Letter to the editor, Nov. 30

Cartoon by Jim Meadows

To-do list for next Assemblymember

To the editor:

This is a comment on Marie Ternes’ “Moving onto the next election,” T&V, Nov. 16, and in a way a comment about the campaign of Keith Powers. Ms. Ternes, like Mr. Powers, has been a member of PCVST for years — likely for longer than I, but her idea of issues (issues that were, I hope, known to Mr. Powers, but tactically absent in his campaign literature) provoke my asking “Is that it?!?!” Ms. Ternes says that she wants to “Preserve and support middle and low-income housing.” I wondered, “Doesn’t everyone these days say they want to preserve middle-class everything?” So, having gone that far, I anticipated that I would soon see the complement of “preserve,” namely “affordable.”

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Opinion: Moving onto the next local election

Nov16 Marie Ternes

Marie Ternes

By Marie Ternes

Suffering a spat of election fatigue? The signs. The phone calls. The mailers. Oh, those mailers. Or maybe you are still in a state of post-Trump election agitation and are extra energized to do everything you can to protect New York? Regardless of your passion or disinterest in local politics, I have news for you: there is another election headed our way and I hope you will embrace it, engage in it and ultimately vote in it.

This past November 7, our Assembly Member, Brian Kavanagh was elected to the State Senate to fill a vacancy created by former Senator Daniel Squadron, leaving our neighborhood without an Assembly Member to represent us in Albany.

While we are fortunate to have great State Senate representatives in Senators Brad Hoylman representing PCVST, and Senators Liz Krueger and Brian Kavanagh nearby, we must take filling the post of Assembly Member for the 74th Assembly District with renewed interest.

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Mendez mulling a run for Kavanagh’s Assembly seat

Councilmember Rosie Mendez (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

With Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh having recently secured the party support he needed to secure the Democratic nomination for Daniel Squadron’s downtown seat, term-limited Council Member Rosie Mendez said she’s looking into the possibility of running for Kavanagh’s Assembly seat.

Prior to the primary for City Council and other citywide races, Mendez said she hadn’t had time to focus on the race. But now, she said, she can.

“It’s something I will look into now that we are through with the primary,” she said on Sunday afternoon, after the unveiling of Children’s Court Way street co-naming in Gramercy.

In September, Kavanagh secured the nod to get on the ballot through support of Brooklyn and Manhattan party bosses, rather than individual county committee members having their votes counted — or even getting to vote at all in Brooklyn, which makes up part of the Senate district. This strong-arm tactic, while criticized by more than a few people, was the legal alternative to a primary, which Squadron’s hasty departure from the legislature left no time for.

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Republican Club president running against Kavanagh

Stuyvesant Town resident Frank Scala, also the president of the Albano Republican Club, at  the barber shop he owns, La Scala Photo by Sabina Mollot)

Stuyvesant Town resident Frank Scala, also the president of the Albano Republican Club, at the barber shop he owns, La Scala (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

For Stuyvesant Town resident Frank Scala, this is not his first time running for office in a race as a longshot candidate. In fact, it was just two years ago when Scala, who’s also the president of the Albano Republican Club, entered a race without even trying to win. He was completely inactive, merely giving Republican voters a chance to enter the name of someone from their own party.

This time, he’s running as a candidate for the New York State Assembly, 74th District, against Brian Kavanagh. In the last state election cycle in 2014, Scala ran against State Senator Brad Hoylman.

“Most of the time, people don’t vote for the person, they vote for the party,” said Scala, a native of Sicily, who, after over half a century living in the United States, still has the accent of his homeland intact.

For the past 40 years he’s been a barber at La Scala, a shop he owns, in an office building on Fifth Avenue. Ryant Serhant, a realtor featured on Bravo’s “Million Dollar Listing New York,” is a weekly client as are a number of others in show business, Scala said, along with more corporate types.

Overwhelming positive Yelp reviews commend his haircutting style and his providing of a “man’s man” environment, complete with racecar art on the walls and a stash of Playboys to peruse through.

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