Tenants push for stronger rent regulations

Tenants board a bus to Albany for a day of lobbying ahead of the rent laws expiring in June. (Photos by Sidney Goldberg)

By Sabina Mollot

Last Wednesday, over 30 tenants from different organizations, including 11 from the Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association, headed to Albany to lobby for stronger rent laws. The rent regulations that keep over a million apartments in New York City stabilized will expire this June. While they are expected to be renewed, tenants always hope to get them strengthened, which seems more likely to happen this year with Democrats having a majority in the State Senate.

At the Wednesday event, Anne Greenberg, vice president of the ST-PCV Tenants Association, led one of the groups of tenants who came from Manhattan. Another group had come from Brooklyn. The Cooper Square Committee was also participating. Greenberg’s group met up with an aide of State Senator Kevin Thomas and there was also another meeting with freshman Assembly Member Simcha Eichenstein. Tenants also eventually ran into local Assembly Member Harvey Epstein, which Greenberg noted, happened by chance because the capitol was so crowded with people.

Greenberg in particular said she thought it was important for tenants to tell personal stories like about how rents can go up drastically upon lease renewal because of preferential rents. Tenant activists are also hoping for vacancy decontrol and reform on rent increases for major capital improvements, individual apartment improvements and vacancy bonuses.

“Part of the mission is to put a story and a put a face to the issue of why we need rent reform,” Greenberg said. “The legislators aren’t always up to speed on all the issues. Now there’s a foundation where we could follow up.”

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Residents of Kips Bay NYCHA building worried about privatization

Tenants at 344 East 28th Street say there’s been no communication from NYCHA about the agency’s plans. (Photo via Google Maps)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Residents of the New York City Housing Authority development at 344 East 28th Street are demanding transparency after the city agency announced that a new program would be implemented for tenants in the building to privatize ownership.

NYCHA hosted a meeting at Bellevue Hospital last week to give tenants information about the Permanent Affordability Commitment Together (PACT) Unfunded Units program but tenants said prior to the meeting that they weren’t given any information about the program previously or been allowed to give any input about whether or not they want to join.

The program is part of a push by NYCHA to increase revenue for repairs in developments throughout the city that have long been neglected. The plan involves shifting management of NYCHA complexes to private developers through PACT as well as the Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD).

A flyer distributed to residents claims that the program will provide funding for necessary repairs, upgrades and renovations, ensure affordability and protect tenant rights.

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Meet the Rent Guidelines Board’s new tenant member

Rent Guidelines Board’s two tenant members Sheila Garcia and the newly-appointed Leah Goodridge (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

New Rent Guidelines Board tenant representative Leah Goodridge is, first and foremost, a native New Yorker.

“Because I’ve seen the changes in the city over a number of decades, (joining the board) was definitely something I was interested in,” she said. “Being a native New Yorker has allowed me to really see the city and be connected to it where I care deeply about its future and its past.”

Goodridge, a supervising attorney at Mobilization for Justice, told Town & Village that tenant advocacy in her career impacted her decision to join the board as well but seeing so many changes for tenants throughout her life emphasized for her the importance of the work that the board does.

“(The RGB) plays a huge role in affordability, which is one of the main issues in New York,” she said. “I’m from Brownsville, I live in Bed-Stuy now and I’ve seen the neighborhoods change dramatically. People are being priced out.”

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Rivera talks SBJSA, homelessness, L train shutdown and 14th St. tech hub

Council Member Carlina Rivera speaks about a “21st century” version of the SBJSA as well as other issues at an event at Almond in Flatiron, hosted by the Union Square and Flatiron BIDs. (Pictured) Rivera with NY1 reporter Michael Scotto (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

New Councilmember Carlina Rivera spoke with NY1 reporter Michael Scotto in an event at Almond Restaurant in Flatiron at the end of March, focusing on small businesses, the upcoming L train shutdown, homelessness and the planned tech hub for Union Square.

The event was a community breakfast hosted by two neighborhood BIDs, the Union Square Partnership and the Flatiron/23rd Street Partnership.

As she previously mentioned in a roundtable with Town & Village, Rivera said that she supports a “21st-century version” of the Small Business Jobs and Survival Act, clarifying further at the recent breakfast that she partially meant taking online shopping into consideration.

“We need to consider how we shop, but we also need to consider that the piece of legislation we introduce, as of last term, was 20 years old,” she said. “The way we’ve shopped has changed dramatically in 20 years so I think giving the small business owner the ability to negotiate is important. (The 21st-century version) is taking into consideration mixed-use buildings, and making sure that Small Business Services does a better job at marketing the resources they have available, along with the Department of Consumer Affairs.”

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Green Party candidate running for now vacant Assembly seat

Adrienne Craig-Williams hopes to make rent more affordable for stabilized as well as market-rate tenants. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

On April 24, four candidates will be on the ballot in the hope of winning the now-vacant Assembly seat previously occupied by State Senator Brian Kavanagh.

Out of those four, two are Third Party candidates, Juan Pagan of the Reform Party and Adrienne Craig-Williams of the Green Party. They will face off against Democrat Harvey Epstein and Republican Bryan Cooper.

Craig-Williams, a resident of the East Village (formerly Peter Cooper Village), is running on a platform of justice system reform and affordable housing.

Prior to the holiday weekend, she discussed her campaign with Town & Village over coffee at Ninth Street Espresso (which is actually on East 10th Street).

Craig-Williams, 37, officially launched her campaign at the beginning of March. She would have started sooner, but didn’t know she was running until February when an expected party candidate decided to back out.

However, Craig-Williams, who’s been active in her party since 2004, usually to help champion its candidates, insisted she’s in it to win it.

Responses to her candidacy have been encouraging, she said, and no one has attempted to talk her out of it. “I don’t think people consider the Green Party a threat,” she admitted, “unless they want to blame the party for something.”

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Police Watch: Man charged in hit-and-run, ‘Bag snatcher’ arrested at Gramercy Park Hotel

MAN CHARGED WITH HIT-AND-RUN
Police arrested 40-year-old Robert Maltese for allegedly leaving the scene of an accident causing personal injury in front of 132 West 31st Street on a previous date. Police said that Maltese struck a 25-year-old woman with his car, causing an injury, then left the scene. Maltese was arrested last Tuesday at 10:45 a.m. inside the 13th Precinct.

TEEN CON ARTIST ARRESTED FOR KNIFE IN UNION SQUARE
Police arrested a teenager for weapons possession inside the Union Square subway station last Sunday at 8:58 p.m. Police said that the teen had strolled into a handful of businesses attempting to raise money for a fraudulent youth football team, then entered the subway station by jumping over the turnstile. When he was searched, police said that a knife was recovered from his backpack. Police said that the teen was not connected to the group wanted for committing robberies while soliciting donations for a fake local sports team.

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Republican runs for Kavanagh’s old Assembly seat

Assembly candidate Bryan Cooper believes it’s unfair Republicans are blamed for the lack of affordable housing. (Photo courtesy of Bryan Cooper)

By Sabina Mollot

In New York City, it’s generally understood that whichever Democrat candidate is on the ballot in a general election is going to win, regardless of who the Republican or third party candidate is. And Bryan Cooper, the Republican hoping to fill the Assembly seat vacated by State Senator Brian Kavanagh, knows this.

Nevertheless, he is hoping three time’s the charm. This will, after all, be the third time he’s run for the 74th District Assembly seat. Cooper, now 51, ran against Kavanagh in 2008 and again in 2014. He also ran against then-City Council Member Rosie Mendez in 2009.

While both incumbents were easily re-elected, Cooper said he’s more hopeful this time since the special election on April 24 is an open one.

He’ll be on the ballot along with Democrat Harvey Epstein who last Monday got the nomination from the Democratic County Committee. That same evening, the Manhattan Republican Party announced it was supporting Cooper.

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Opinion: Living in NYC isn’t a privilege

By Harvey Epstein

Maria has lived in her apartment for more than 40 years. However, a few years ago, a new landlord purchased the building. The landlord started a lot of work in the building and filed for Major Capital Improvements (MCIs). The rent has gone up over 30 percent in the last 5 years. Maria is getting ready to retire and now really worries whether she will be able to afford to live in her rent stabilized apartment for the rest of her life. There are thousands of Marias living in our city today unsure what their future holds.

It all starts with a stable home. Opportunities for better employment, our children’s success in school, and the ability to lead healthier lives. But when being able to stay in our homes in New York City is a day-to-day struggle, so is everything else. Affordable housing is the cornerstone of a thriving society, but for far too long it has been under threat in our city.

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Opinion: See no evil

By former Assemblyman Steven Sanders

As you drive into New York City across the George Washington Bridge and then south down the West Side Highway you can see huge cranes and glittering new buildings being built. You can be sure that these constructions are for the very well off and not middle income residents.

A tale of two cities indeed.

In part, Bill de Blasio was elected mayor because he promised to do better than his recent predecessors on the matter of decent affordable housing. During his 2013 campaign de Blasio vowed to create some 200,000 units during his two terms. He is way behind schedule. In fact when one calculates the loss of rent-regulated housing each year at about 10,000 units, NYC has made little progress during the mayor’s entire first term of office.

And then there is the New York City federally funded Housing Authority.

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CB6 reso. calls for orientation program for residents of NYCHA who’ve been victims of domestic violence

At Straus Houses, a man was arrested in October for allegedly killing his girlfriend, who had recently moved in. (Photo via Google Maps)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

A resident of the Straus Houses on East 28th Street is pushing NYCHA to re-implement a program that he feels could have helped a victim of domestic violence who was killed in the building at the end of October.

Aaron Humphrey, who is also a member of the Housing, Homeless and Human Rights committee of Community Board 6, helped to research and write a resolution for the committee in 2015 that would create an orientation program offering meetings for tenants who are new to the building who have also been victims of domestic violence. However, the Residents Association hasn’t yet been able to coordinate with the Housing Authority to implement the program.

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Teen charged with raping girl, 14, in building on E. 28th

Straus Houses (Photo via Google Maps)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Police arrested an 18-year-old man for allegedly raping a teenage girl inside a stairwell at the Straus Houses. Elijah Mclendon, 18, allegedly forced himself on a girl while they were inside the building at 344 East 28th Street on Nov. 10. He was arrested there on Nov. 15 at 3 a.m.

The district attorney’s office said that Mclendon held down the victim and pulled off her pants. He allegedly began to have sex with her while she repeatedly told him to stop, the victim told police.

The victim said that she told Mclendon that she had a sexually transmitted disease in an effort to get him to stop raping her.

According to the district attorney’s office, the victim was 14 years old at the time of the incident and Mclendon was also charged with endangering the welfare of a child.

Police said that neither the victim nor Mclendon live in the NYCHA complex and it was unclear how they got inside. Mclendon’s attorney did not respond to a call for comment on the case.

Kips Bay shelter resident charged with murdering girlfriend

By Maria Rocha-Buschel 

Police arrested 33-year-old Charles Pratt, a resident of the 30th Street Men’s Shelter, for allegedly murdering his girlfriend, 38-year-old Latisha Fowler, inside 344 East 28th Street last Sunday.

The New York Daily News reported that two NYCHA handymen found Fowler’s body around 9:30 a.m. that day after the victim’s six-year-old son let them inside. The workers had been dispatched to her apartment to fix a clogged pipe and when the child opened the door, he reportedly told them that his mom was hurt and needed help.

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Council votes to support low-income tenants’ right to counsel

Council Member Vanessa Gibson, Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and Council Member Mark Levine at the vote on the legislation (Photo via Mark Levine’s Twitter page)

By Sabina Mollot

On Thursday, the City Council voted overwhelmingly to support the right of tenants facing eviction to access free legal representation. In support were 42 Council members with three opposed and one abstention.

The mayor has already indicated his support for the bill, which was sponsored by Council Members Mark Levine and Vanessa Gibson. The legislation, introduced in 2014, has since been pushed along by the Right to Counsel NYC Coalition, which is made up of dozens of civic, tenant and legal assistance organizations.

The legislation likely took three years to get voted on due to the cost, which is estimated at $155 million a year. That figure is based on $93 million to be added to city money that’s already budgeted for similar services, around $62 million, according to Andrew Scherer, the policy director of Impact Center for Public Interest Law at New York Law School, who’s been deeply involved in the coalition’s efforts. Continue reading

Council candidate focused on housing, mental health services

Jasmin Sanchez (Photo courtesy of Jasmin Sanchez)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Lifelong Lower East Side resident Jasmin Sanchez had already been working in public service for most of her career when she decided to try to transfer those skills to the City Council.

Sanchez, who still lives in Baruch Houses in the Lower East Side where she grew up, has experience in the nonprofit sector, working with community leaders at Good Old Lower East Side (GOLES) and in State Senator Daniel Squadron’s office, which is where she said she learned how to be a community advocate. She is running for the Council seat in District 2, with City Councilwoman Rosie Mendez being term-limited out next year.

A major focus of Sanchez’s campaign is mental health services, primarily because it’s an issue that ties into not only healthcare, but can affect housing and education as well, and has an impact on homelessness. She added that she feels having affordable housing can sometimes be the lynchpin for communities and families, and that it can be especially detrimental for students if they have a tenuous living situation.

“If you don’t have housing, you don’t focus as much on everything else and your performance suffers,” she said.

“It’s not a stable life for kids from shelters. It can be very stressful for them not to have a stable place to live. Schools have mental health services but they have to be holistic and make sure that families are receiving those services as well.”

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Man who fatally shot teen at Campos Plaza gets 40 years

By Sabina Mollot

A man who fatally gunned down a teenager in Campos Plaza five years ago was finally sentenced to 40 years behind bars last Wednesday.

Hockeem Smith got a 25-year sentence for manslaughter and an additional 15 for criminal possession of a weapon, according to the district attorney’s office. Both terms are to run concurrently.

On the evening of October 16 in 2011, Smith, then 25, shot Donovan “Keith” Salgado, a 17-year-old resident of the NYCHA complex. Salgado, a senior at Washington Irving High School, was hanging out with his friends outside when shots rang out on East 12th Street and Avenue C.

At the time, the victim’s death spurred community outcry about ongoing violence and gang activity in the community. In response, youth programs were introduced onsite and promises made to enhance security at NYCHA complexes. But things didn’t go that smoothly. There was another shooting the night of the youth center’s opening. Security upgrades took a long time to come to Campos Plaza and the youth programs were discontinued by 2013, according to The Lo Down. The local blog also reported at the time that Smith’s trial had been delayed again and again due to teenagers with knowledge of the situation refusing to talk.