Tenants lose bargaining power under new state budget

State Senator Brad Hoylman (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

On Sunday night, when the New York State budget was passed by the Senate, landlords won an extension of the 421 tax break for new developments while tenants lost some leverage in the ongoing effort to renew and strengthen the rent laws.

The combined budget bills had totaled nearly 2,000 pages, as noted by State Senator Brad Hoylman last week. He’d voted no as a protest to being expected to review a Bible-sized stack in a matter of hours.

However, with the voting now over in the Senate as well as the Assembly, Hoylman gave Town & Village a recap.

The 421a tax break for developers, which was included in the budget, will no longer sunset at the same time as the rent negotiations. The timeline had previously been seen by tenants as an opportunity to bargain for stronger rent laws.

“The fact that the 421a real estate tax exemption was negotiated behind closed doors is scandalous,” said Hoylman, “but what is also extremely scandalous is that it was not linked to renewal of the rent laws. Albany made a colossal mistake in de-coupling the renewal of 421a with rent laws. That was a major leverage point.”

Additionally, ethics reforms, including the closure of the LLC Loophole (which allows donors to give nearly limitless campaign cash to politicians through LLCs), were not included.

“There was no mention of ethics reform in any part of the budget,” said Hoylman, “which is extremely disappointing. Not an iota. They blocked the LLC Loophole (closure), they blocked measures to limit outside income. Once again the Senate majority refused to take action. The budget process itself was dysfunctional.”

Continue reading

Advertisements

NY Senate Democrats’ future unclear as results come in

By Sabina Mollot

The New York State Senate, which is where tenant-friendly legislation goes to die, may remain that way for at least a couple of years longer, though some district results are still unclear.

Local Democrats had hoped to “ride Hillary Clinton’s pantsuit tails,” as State Senator Brad Hoylman recently put it, and gain a majority, but as of Town & Village’s Wednesday press time, two races were so close that there is a possibility of challenges and changes due to paper ballots.

In the 8th senatorial district, Democrat John Brooks got 45.47 percent of the vote compared with Republican Michael Venditto who got 45.44 percent, according to the unofficial results posted on the State Board of Elections website. In the 5th district, Republican Carl Marcelino was leading slightly with 46.73 percent, compared with Democrat James Gaughgran with 45.03, also according to the BOE’s unofficial results.

“There might be legal challenges,” said Hoylman, adding, “Sometimes these things take weeks to resolve.”

Hoylman, who easily won reelection against an Independent candidate, Rabbi Stephen Roberts, said he was trying to remain positive about the rest of the state. He didn’t want to speculate on the outcome of the close races, admitting attaining majority status “may take a cycle more than Democrats had hoped.”

Continue reading

Hoylman: Picture of New York Senate isn’t a pretty one for tenants

State Sen. Brad Hoylman

State Sen. Brad Hoylman

By Sabina Mollot

New York voters kept power in the hands of the State Senate’s Republicans on Tuesday with the Republicans winning a a 32-31 majority. Additionally, a Democrat who has caucused with Republicans, Simcha Felder, may continue to do so, City & State reported, which would solidify Republicans’ position to 33 in the 63-seat chamber.

As a result, State Senator Brad Hoylman said he suspects that any hope of strengthening the rent laws as well as passing other Democrat legislation will now be up to the Assembly and the governor.

“You’re not going to have Senate Democrats being able to exact much leverage,” he said. But, he added, of course he is still going to try to get the rent laws strengthened when they’re up for renewal in 2015. “We have to keep trying,” Hoylman said. “There is no alternative.”

Hoylman, who was reelected with over 85 percent of the vote in an inactive campaign, said that he thought the more closely contested state races were affected by nation-wide trends as well as a lot of real estate and hedge fund money being poured into the coffers of candidates in those races. One million dollars was spent on TV ads this weekend alone, he noted, from supporters of charter schools. This “seemed to have made the difference in the Wagner and Gipson races,” he said. Justin Wagner and Terry Gipson were upstate Democratic candidates who lost to Republicans Terrence Murphy and Sue Serino, respectively. Another upstate Democrat, CeCe Tkaczyk, who’d won with a mere 18 votes last time, lost her seat on Tuesday.

“The amount of money that’s been spent was unexpected and unprecedented,” Hoylman added. “This is a terrific example of why we need campaign finance reform.” Previously, it appeared as though Democrats control of the State Senate following the election would be likely, with a plan by a breakaway group of Democrats who’d been caucusing with Republicans, to once again ally with more mainline Democrats. The plan, announced in June, had been cheered by Governor Cuomo.

On the turn of events, Hoylman said he wasn’t going to blame anyone.

“It’s up to Senate Democrats to win their own races,” he said. “You can’t rely on the governor or the mayor to win our local districts. I’m not pointing fingers the day after on who’s responsible.” He added, “I’m sure there’ll be a lot of finger pointing in the weeks and months to come.”

Teachout: I’d repeal Urstadt Law, support retail diversity

Zephyr Teachout  (Photo courtesy of campaign)

Zephyr Teachout
(Photo courtesy of campaign)

By Sabina Mollot

Despite allegations that the Cuomo administration compromised the governor’s own corruption watchdog panel and despite the fact that Cuomo’s opponent in the primary has been interviewing non-stop — thanks to an unusually interested press in a longshot candidate — that opponent has still retained her title of just that, a longshot.

Still, there’s no doubt at this point that Zephyr Teachout is gaining momentum. Cuomo recently attempted, unsuccessfully, to have her tossed off the ballot over allegations she didn’t live in New York for the past five years. Meanwhile, the move to keep her from running may have backfired. Along with pointing out that Teachout, a Fordham law professor, was an underdog candidate, it also alerted New Yorkers to a fact many weren’t aware of previously, which was that there was even a primary election at all.

During a recent interview over the phone, Teachout shared her thoughts with Town & Village on why voters are starting to pay attention to this race. She also spoke about her ideas on what can be done to keep New York affordable for tenants (including small businesses) and why developers like Extell are part of the problem. (The interview has been edited for length.)

Why do you think people are finally noticing your campaign? Do you think it’s just the Moreland Commission?

There’s a latent, deep frustration about our economy, about how New York State has the most segregated schools; it’s the most unequal state. It’s a closed all-boys club in Albany. It’s supposed to be an egalitarian state. I’m anti-corruption. Extell gives $100,000 in campaign donations — and this is Extell of the poor door fame — and Extell is getting subsidies that other New York businesses aren’t. What I think people are starting to see is that Extell is not just a developer. They’re spending so much money on developing political power and connections. One thing about me. You’ll always know where I stand. Andrew Cuomo is hiding from the issues. He’s hiding from a debate right now. He’s scared of bringing more attention to the campaign. I won’t tell you that the reason people are (paying attention) is any one thing, but Moreland is pretty shocking. I think he’s governing like an ad man. He’s putting on a lot of ads, but he doesn’t engage reporters. We like to say that Andrew Cuomo is my biggest campaign donor. That (Cuomo has taken me to court) has perked up a lot of reporters’ ears.

As a political outsider, how do you feel about political alliances, like the recent announcement that the Independent Democratic Conference was breaking away from the Republicans, and the expectation of a Democrat-led Senate as a result?

Not to toot my own horn, but Andrew Cuomo only started fighting for a Democratic Senate when I entered the race. I entered the race at the end of May and within three days Cuomo was making all kinds of concessions that he hadn’t agreed to in years. He could have made a Democratic Senate years ago if he vetoed the redrawn districts, which had been a campaign promise. There’s no excuse for not having a Democratic Senate in New York. The reason we don’t is Andrew Cuomo. If it was in Democrat control we’d be a lot better off in terms of affordable housing.

As a political outsider, how would you handle the actual politics of governing? Dealing with the various alliances in order to get things accomplished?

I think the job is leadership. You’re not going to win every fight. My vision of leadership is hiring great people and respecting people who work for the state.

In Stuyvesant Town/Peter Cooper Village, everyone’s rent-stabilized, so there’s concern over the fact that the Rent Stabilization Law is coming up for renewal in 2015. What would you do to strengthen it?

I’m very familiar with Stuyvesant Town. I used to live near there on East 7th Street and I would go up there to go swimming at Asser Levy. (On Rent Stabilization Law), there is precisely a role for the city to play. We need to repeal the Urstadt Law. At a minimum the city should be free to directly do things. It’s a crisis of people living in expensive housing. It’s a crisis for our economy.

In ST/PCV, some people pay affordable rents, while others pay double for the same apartments. A big concern is all the legal ways owners can raise rents from major capital improvements (MCIs), to individual apartment improvements (IAIs) to vacancy bonuses.

Rent stabilization is still one of the best sources of housing for low income people in the city. We have to make sure affordable means affordable, not unaffordable.

Zephyr Teachout with running mate Tim Wu, candidate for lieutenant governor (Photo courtesy of campaign)

Zephyr Teachout with running mate Tim Wu, candidate for lieutenant governor (Photo courtesy of campaign)

It seems that more and more small businesses are being priced out of their locations and being replaced with chain stores. What do you think of the idea of rent regulation for commercial tenants?

We have two different visions. One is commercial rent control for small businesses. The other is making sure big box stores aren’t getting an unfair advantage. We have to make sure our lending system is accessible to entrepreneurs who need it. You have to have a blend of strategies. We also have to make sure for retail diversity that there’s a range of minority owned businesses.

What made you write a book about corruption?

I began writing it years ago. I began writing in 2008 because the New York Supreme Court’s vision of corruption was narrow and cramped. They said it was only about illegal bribery, so it wasn’t about Extell. If you’re giving $100,000 in donations and getting tens of millions in subsidies, it is a violation of democratic principles. I think the core of it is if you want to be a public servant, you have to serve the public and not just serve yourself.

When you meet with voters, what are their top concerns?

Housing is one of the top concerns. People just don’t have the money to meet the basics. Another concern is people feel there aren’t enough (services) for people with psychiatric disabilities, but the more mainstream (concern) is housing. Upstate it’s property taxes and schools are central. With schools, it’s high stakes testing and over-crowding.

What would you do to alleviate classroom crowding?

There needs to be smaller classes, no more than 20 in a class. I used to be a special ed teacher’s aide, and you can’t give each child the attention they need when there are 33 kids in a classroom. There needs to be art and music for every child. They’re not extras. They’re essentials. We should be the best public school system in the country.

What’s your opinion of charter schools?

Charters have a role, but a very small role. Eva Moskowitz’s assault on education is not what charters are supposed to do. I am opposed to colocations and I don’t think charter schools should get money that was intended for our public schools.

What would you do to create jobs?

I’m a traditional Democrat. One (idea) is investing in the infrastructure, in the MTA, in transit. Upstate it’s in renewable energy. All of these create jobs in the short term and enable jobs in the long term, and affordable higher education.

If elected, what is your first priority?

My first priority is taking on the old boys’ network that allows corruption to continue. The school system is unequal and there’s immigration. Andrew Cuomo has a running mate who’s anti-immigrant. Every child at the border should see New York as a sanctuary.