Council approves Waterside affordability deal

jan31watersidefromstuyvesantcove

Waterside Plaza as seen from Stuyvesant Cove Park (Pictured last August) Photos by Sabina Mollot

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

The City Council voted last Thursday to approve an agreement that will protect longtime Waterside Plaza tenants against substantial rent increases as part of a lease extension between the property and Housing Preservation and Development.

The agreement will allow tenants who have been living at the property since before Waterside left the Mitchell-Lama program and will be retiring soon to receive rent protections. City Council Member Keith Powers, who has been working with Assembly Member Harvey Epstein and the Department of Housing, Preservation and Development on negotiations for the deal for over a year, was able to negotiate an additional year with HPD so that tenants have until 2020 to retire and qualify for the rent protections, compared to 2019 when the plan was first announced.

“It’s not huge but it at least gives people who might be affected a better idea of how they should plan,” Powers said after the Council vote of the additional year.

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Rents will go up by 1.5, 2.5 percent

Tenants protest the dearth and death of affordable housing at the final vote of the Rent Guidelines Board. (Photos by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

The Rent Guidelines Board approved 1.5 and 2.5 percent increases for rent-stabilized tenants in the board’s final vote at Cooper Union’s Great Hall last Tuesday evening. The event attracted the usual crowd of chanting tenants, most calling for a rent freeze at the vote and pre-event rally and some even hoping for a rollback, but the increases proposed by RGB chair Kathleen Roberts passed in a narrow 5 to 4 vote.

While the annual vote usually ends with a proposal that is a compromise between high increases from the board’s landlord representatives and low increases, or often a rent freeze, from the tenant representatives, a public member voted differently than members in the same position have in the past.

Rodrigo Camarena, who Mayor Bill de Blasio appointed this year, voted with the tenant representatives for a rent freeze while the other public members, as well as the owner members and the chair, voted against the measure.

“For the vulnerable, for the displaced, for fairness, I vote yes,” Camarena said when casting his vote.

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Tenants rally for rent rollback before first RGB meeting

Tenants rallied outside 1 Centre Street on Thursday (Photos by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Rent stabilized tenants geared up for the upcoming Rent Guidelines Board vote at a rally before the board’s first public meeting of the year this past Thursday morning. Encouraged by a recent ruling by the New York Supreme Court, tenant advocates pushed for a rent rollback.

“As Judge Debra James ruled in her courtroom on Tuesday, the RGB must consider tenant affordability, along with landlord expenses, income and profit,” said Anne Cunningham, a tenant of a residential hotel on the Upper West Side who has been coming to RGB-related housings rights protests for more than 30 years. “And when the RGB votes, they must consider a rent rollback for tenants as a fair and reasonable rent adjustment.”

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McMillan planning citywide rent strike

UPDATE: Jimmy McMillan, early today, announced he was calling off the strike in light of a judge’s decision on Tuesday to keep the rent freeze in place.

June27 jimmy mcmillan

Jimmy McMillan is now running for Rosie Mendez’s Council seat.  (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Sabina Mollot

Jimmy “The Rent is Too Damn High” McMillan, now a Republican City Council candidate, is calling on the tenants of New York City to join him in a rent strike this October.

McMillan, an East Village resident who’s been in and out of court with his own landlord for years, said the plan is inspired by what he’s blasting as conflicting interests in the New York City Housing Court.

“The attorneys that sit on a committee that appoint New York City Housing Court (judges), stand before that same judge against the tenant representing the landlord,” he stated in a press release.

The 70-year-old Vietnam vet also believes this setup has impacted his own case.

According to current information on the New York Courts website, the advisory committee that helps appoint judges to the Housing Part of the Civil Court includes three representatives of the real estate industry, including the chair of the NYC Housing Authority, three members from tenants’ organizations, two members representing civic groups, two bar association members, two public members, one mayoral appointee and the commissioner of the state housing agency, Housing and Community Renewal.

McMillan’s plan to strike, meanwhile, is also aimed at raising awareness of his campaign platform — affordability. His goal is to see rents slashed across the board.

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Rent freeze stays

Tenants protest the lawsuit last September. (Photos by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

On Tuesday, a judge ruled against a landlord group that had sued to undo the rent freeze for over a million stabilized tenants in New York City.

The fight might not be over though since the Rent Stabilization Association, which represents over 25,000 property owners in the city, later tweeted that it would review Judge Debra James’ decision and “seek grounds for appeal.”

Mayor Bill de Blasio, meanwhile, cheered the news, and while discussing it on Tuesday, also brought up the mansion tax, saying this would create affordable housing for 25,000 more New Yorkers.

“Everyone who has struggled to pay the rent ― here’s the good news ― the people won and the landlords lost,” de Blasio said.

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Editorial: Rents are frozen, landlords need to cool it

While landlords in the city of New York were understandably upset about the Rent Guidelines Board issuing its second rent freeze in a row last year, the fact that an organization has sued the board on their behalf is laughable. Or it might be if it weren’t so sad.

As Town & Village reported last week, the landlord group Rent Stabilization Association has claimed that the board erred by taking into account what tenants could afford to pay as opposed to only what landlords’ operating costs and conditions were. But that completely one-side argument makes no sense. Of course tenants’ overall financial state matters. When you charge a price for a service that’s also one of life’s basic necessities, if that price is beyond what anyone can actually reasonably afford then that’s called price gouging. And this kind of gouging has been going on in New York City, openly and shamelessly, for far too long. The RGB finally recognized this and made its decision accordingly.

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Tenants protest landlord lawsuit aimed at undoing rent freeze

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Council Member Dan Garodnick outside the courthouse where arguments were being heard over the Rent Stabilization Association’s lawsuit (Photos by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

Lawyers for a landlord group were met by an angry crowd of protesters as they arrived in court to argue against a citywide rent freeze Tuesday.

Despite freezing temperatures and snow, the sign-waving group of renters, made up mostly of seniors, led chants that at times called for either a rent freeze or a rollback.

Among their supporters was Council Member Dan Garodnick, who said, “We have seen what happens year after year, even in years when costs went down. Rents only seemed to go in one direction and that was up. As a result, evictions go up. Homelessness goes up. The Rent Guidelines Board acted totally appropriately in making that determination.”

Judge Debra James was hearing arguments from the Rent Stabilization Association, the plaintiff, and those seeking to intervene in the lawsuit, including a coalition of tenant groups, legal service organizations and 18 City Council members.

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Landlord lawsuit over rent freeze delayed

Tenants hold a rally protesting the lawsuit in September. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

Tenants hold a rally protesting the lawsuit in September. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

Back in September, a tenant and civic group-led coalition sought to intervene in a lawsuit that was aimed at blocking the Rent Guidelines Board’s decision in June to issue a rent freeze. The lawsuit had been filed by the Rent Stabilization Association, a group representing 25,000 New York City landlords who own rent regulated properties.

Two months later, while a decision still had not yet been made, the tenant group planned — but then abruptly canceled — a protest on the matter. This was after Supreme Court Justice Debra James, in mid-November, adjourned the case to January 31, 2017.

Harvey Epstein, attorney with the Urban Justice Center, which was one of the groups trying to intervene in the lawsuit, said the judge adjourned after a landlord group also attempted to intervene. This group, he said, is SPONY (Small Property Owners on New York Inc.) But while this means having to wait longer for a decision, Epstein said the delay isn’t a bad thing for tenants.

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Landlord group files suit to stop city rent freeze

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The Rent Guidelines Board (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

 

By Christian Bautista

The city’s biggest landlord organization is looking to build a winning streak in the courts as it sues the Rent Guidelines Board over its decision to enact a rent freeze.

The Rent Stabilization Association, which represents 25,000 landlords of one million rent-stabilized apartments across the city, has lodged a lawsuit in Manhattan State Supreme Court, arguing that the RGB acted outside the scope of the Rent Stabilization Law when it voted 7-0 to freeze rents on one-year leases.

“Nowhere does the law provide that the RGB is supposed to consider the subject of affordability when determining rent guidelines. Affordability is an issue that should be addressed not by the RGB, but through government-sponsored rent relief subsidies to tenants actually in need,” said Joseph Strasburg, the president of the RSA.

“The RGB, through the rent freeze, is inappropriately and unlawfully providing a rent subsidy to all tenants regardless of need. The rent freeze is not based on need, but rather on the perceived inability of tenants to pay, and to accommodate de Blasio’s political agenda of gaining favor with a large segment of the city’s voting block. “

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Tenants get 2nd rent freeze

Freeze is for 1-year leases, 2% hike for 2 years

Members of the Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association participate in a pre-vote rally. (Photos by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

Members of the Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association participate in a pre-vote rally. (Photos by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Tenant advocates didn’t get the rent rollback they were hoping for but the Rent Guidelines Board did offer some relief with a freeze for one-year leases in their vote at Cooper Union’s Great Hall this past Monday night. Tenants signing two year leases will be getting a two-percent increase as a result of the vote.

The proposal, which Board Chair Kathleen Roberts presented after motions from both the tenant and landlord representatives failed, passed with a vote of 7-0, with the two owner representatives abstaining. The two percent increase and the freeze is the same proposal that passed at last year’s vote.

Prior to offering a proposal, owner representative Scott Walsh acknowledged the significance of the housing crisis in New York but suggested that there were other solutions, like rent credits for tenants paying more than half of their income in rent and the expansion of rent subsidy programs.

Walsh got the approval of the crowd, rare for an owner representative on the board, at the suggestion of increasing the income threshold on SCRIE and DRIE to $72,000 for two-person households and $63,000 for one-person households, but he was drowned out again by the yelling of protesters when he ultimately offered a proposal to increase one-year leases by three percent and two-year leases by five percent.

“This attempts to balance the needs of landlords and tenants,” he said. “Rent stabilization is not an official affordable housing program. Owners still need to account for costs.”

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Letters to the editor, May 12

Cartoon by Jim Meadows

Cartoon by Jim Meadows

Landlords are not hurting for money

Re: “Tenants may get rent freeze,” T&V, May 5

To Whom it May Concern:

So the landlords want more money. Surprise, surprise, as they say once again they can’t make a living.  Let me tell you a secret.

I personally know one owner who has over fifty apartment buildings in New York City whose net worth is over $300 million dollars. Money is not a problem. I know another owner who is worth more than a billion dollars from residential real estate owned throughout the country.

So to those real estate owners who need more money? Let me tell them, either they don’t know how to make money in real estate or they should find another business. Don’t quote me, but there is probably less than one-half of one percent of real estate owners who are somehow suffering. That is not enough to give them an increase.

So please, call whomever you can. Tell them that apartment owners don’t need a raise.

They are doing pretty well with the way things are.

Larry Edwards, ST

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Tenants may get rent freeze

Tenant activists  interrupt the Rent Guidelines Board meeting to demand a rollback. (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

Tenant activists interrupt the Rent Guidelines Board meeting to demand a rollback. (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

After the historic rent freeze for one-year leases the Rent Guidelines Board approved last year, tenants were hoping for another reprieve in the form of a rollback this year, which they didn’t get.

However, the range of possible hikes for the city’s rent-stabilized tenants approved at the preliminary vote on Tuesday evening did leave the possibility of a second rent freeze for one-year leases. After proposals from both the tenant and owner representatives, as well as one from a public member, were voted down, new board chair Kathleen Roberts’s proposal passed for a range of 0 to 2 percent increase for one-year leases and 0.5 to 3.5 percent for two-year leases. The suggested increases are the same range presented at last year’s preliminary vote, a proposal that was also presented by the chair at the time, Rachel Godsil.

The proposal passed 5 to 4 thanks to the votes from the chair and the public members, but both the tenant and owner representatives voted against the ranges.

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Week In Review, Jan. 21

State Senator Brad Hoylman called on telecommunications giant Time Warner Cable on Monday to improve access for blind and visually impaired customers by voluntarily instituting basic product standards, including television guides and documents written in Braille, font size options for on-screen menus, as well as “talking menus” and “talking guides.” In a letter to Chairman and CEO Robert Marcus, Hoylman noted that while “Comcast has already set an example with its simple to use and accessible technology,” Time Warner has yet to implement similar programs for its share of New York’s 400,000 visually impaired residents.
Hoylman learned of the issue from a constituent while visiting VISIONS, a nonprofit that offers rehabilitation and social services to the visually impaired, in his senate district with NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer.

Council Member Robert Cornegy (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

Council Member Robert Cornegy (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

The City Council voted unanimously in support of legislation to change the way that the city communicates with New Yorkers who qualify for the city’s Rent Freeze Program on Tuesday.
The legislation, sponsored by Council Member Robert Cornegy, requires the Department of Finance to include a notice regarding legal and preferential rents on certain documents related to the NYC Rent Freeze Program.
Specifically, the notice must include the rent amount on which the benefit calculation was based, an explanation of why that amount was used in the calculation, an explanation that the tenant may continue to pay a preferential rent even once enrolled in the program, A statement that the tenant can obtain a rent registration history and file a complaint with the State Division of Housing and Community Renewal and a telephone number and email address for that agency. In addition, by 2018, the legislation would require the Department of Finance to include both the preferential and legal regulated rents of applicants to the NYC Rent Freeze Program in its database and include the preferential rent amount in the notice described above.

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2015: A look back

A coyote (not the one pictured) was spotted in Stuyvesant Town in January.

A coyote (not the one pictured) was spotted in Stuyvesant Town in January.

By Sabina Mollot

Capped with yet another sale of Stuyvesant Town — this time with the highest price tag ever at $5.45 billion — 2015 was certainly an eventful year for the community.

Town & Village has taken a look back to find the top ten local events of the year.

1. The highly anticipated sale of course was a big one, with the deal being cheered as part of Mayor de Blasio’s campaign platform promise to preserve or build 200,000 units of affordable housing. The sale to new owners The Blackstone Group came as welcome news to many tenants due to its representatives’ willingness to listen to tenant concerns as well as a commitment to preserve 5,000 units of affordable housing. While for others — specifically, tenants in the other 6,200-plus units, the deal simply maintains the status quo of stabilized status with market rate tents. Blackstone has promised additional announcements early in the New Year, which hopefully will include a decision, made in cooperation with the city, of how people can get a lease to the affordable units as they become available.

2. Stuyvesant Town/Peter Cooper Village, while always known as a bird sanctuary and a habitat for the world’s most well-fed squirrels, also managed to attract the attention of a coyote. The young female coyote, named Stella by Parks reps who rescued her, had been found wandering around the Avenue C side of the property near the Con Ed plant. She was captured by police officers, and then later released by the Parks department into a wooded area in the Bronx.

A Parks official T&V interviewed about the incident said that coyote sightings in the city are becoming more common, and she expected that this trend would only continue. Just a couple of weeks prior to the Stuy Town sighting, another coyote was found in Riverside Park, and in 2011, another coyote had wandered into Tribeca.

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Tenants finally get that rent freeze

Tenants packed the Cooper Union auditorium on Monday for a brief vote that resulted in a historic rent freeze. (Photos by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

Tenants packed the Cooper Union auditorium on Monday for a brief vote that resulted in a historic rent freeze. (Photos by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

The Rent Guidelines Board voted for a rent freeze for the first time since the board was established in 1969 on Monday night. However, the historic freeze is only a partial victory for tenants since it applies only to one-year leases. Two-year leases will see a two percent increase.

This was the first year that all nine members of the board were appointed by Mayor Bill de Blasio, who last year echoed tenant calls for a rent freeze. This year he refrained from making any comments on the rollback advocated for by tenants, although he praised the board’s decision following the vote.

“This was the right call,” de Blasio said. “We know tenants have been forced to make painful choices that pitted ever-rising rent against necessities like groceries, childcare and medical bills. Today’s decision means relief.”

Despite the jubilant atmosphere in the auditorium of the Cooper Union directly following the vote, some tenant advocates felt that a freeze only on one-year leases was not far enough.

“I knew they wouldn’t vote for zero and zero but in my mind, a rent freeze isn’t zero and two,” TenantsPAC treasurer Mike McKee said. “Anyone who just signed a two-year lease (before the vote) won’t get a chance to take advantage of the zero percent increase. The fix was in as usual. The tenant members realized they couldn’t get anything better so they just settled for what passed.”

ST-PCV Tenants Association members attended the vote, including new president Susan Steinberg.

ST-PCV Tenants Association members attended the vote, including new president Susan Steinberg.

Susan Steinberg, who was elected as the new president for the STPCV Tenants Association last week, was also cautiously optimistic.

“It’s a partial victory,” she said. “It was certainly historic. Tenants will breathe easier tonight, but I just wish the increase for the two-year leases was a little less.”

Marietta Hawkes, a 38-year resident of Stuyvesant Town, was more disappointed by Albany’s failure to strengthen the rent laws than she was excited about the rent freeze.

“It’s the MCIs that really kill us,” she said. “I’ll never vote for Cuomo again. He and (Assembly Speaker Carl) Heastie are not sticking up for tenants.”

Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh was enthusiastic about the vote, noting that the increase for two-year leases shouldn’t belittle the achievement of a zero percent increase on one-year leases.

“It’s a great victory for tenants,” Kavanagh said. “We had a tough setback last week. We fight these battles on many fronts and we’ll continue to fight for affordable housing in Stuyvesant Town and all over the city. It’s a big thing that tenants can renew their leases with no increases. I think it’s fair to say that we got a rent freeze.”

Tenant representatives Harvey Epstein and Sheila Garcia had originally proposed a rollback of up to -4 and -2 percent for one and two-year leases at the preliminary vote in April. RGB Chair Rachel Godsil had rejected that proposal, saying that there were landlords also struggling, but she also rejected the owner’s suggested increases of up to 4.2 and 6.7 percent.

Epstein and Garcia, who offered their proposal first on Monday night, seemed resigned that their final proposal of zero percent for one-year leases and two percent for two-year leases was the best they were going to get for the moment.

Tenants at the rally call for a rollback.

Tenants at the rally call for a rollback.

“The data supports a rent rollback but we don’t have the votes to make that happen tonight so I am proposing what I think is the best option,” Garcia said. “Think about what kind of city we want to live in.”

Tenants initially jeered at the proposal, reacting to the two percent increases for two-year leases. Epstein himself had criticized Godsil’s proposal at the preliminary vote that called for up to 3.5 percent increases for two-year leases, but in response to the negative reaction of the crowd at the final vote, explained that while it wasn’t what they had been hoping for, it was a small step in the right direction.

“Tonight let’s realize this is a marathon, not a sprint,” he said. “Today we have the opportunity to have a historic rent freeze. There have been 46 years of landlords getting increases, of not following their responsibilities. We take a stand that a zero is a huge victory. If we don’t get a rollback, a freeze is a start so we’ll be back next year to get what we want.”

When asked to cast her vote, owner member Sara Williams Willard called the entire process “biased” and “myopic” before voting “absolutely resounding no.”

The mood in the auditorium was triumphant after six of the nine members cast “yes” votes, with tenants almost drowning out Godsil when it became clear that the vote was in favor of the tenant representatives’ proposal. Godsil called for a lull in the cheers long enough so she could provide an explanation for her affirmative vote.

“The majority of owners are faring well but half of rent stabilized tenants are considered to be rent burdened,” she said. “Rent stabilized housing remains unaffordable for majority of tenants living in these units. Increasing rent burdens lead to increasing numbers of people who can’t stay in their apartment while owners have several other sources of income. In light of this year’s current data, a zero percent increase is appropriate. The two percent increase is to protect owners for costs that may arise. We need a careful balance.”

The Rent Stabilization Association, which represents landlords, was less enthusiastic about the vote. RSA President Joseph Strasburg criticized the decision, saying that the board was pandering to the mayor’s political agenda at the expense of tenants.

“It is despicable that politics prevailed over common sense. There is no basis for a rent freeze. Previous mayors let this independent board do what was necessary to preserve the city’s largest source of affordable housing,” Strasburg said. “Ironically, de Blasio’s mantra has been the preservation of affordable housing, but his support of a rent freeze, coupled with last year’s one percent rent increase, will have the opposite effect, spurring the deterioration and eventual eradication of affordable housing.”

The vote itself was surprisingly short, lasting only half an hour and only requiring the board members to vote once because the first proposal presented was the one that passed. Despite the quick vote, the meeting didn’t start until 7 p.m., an hour after the scheduled time. McKee theorized that this was because the board members were negotiating on a deal, although a representative from the RGB said that the delay was to ensure that everyone who wanted to get in had a chance to see the vote.

The event, attended by about 900 tenants, took place at the Great Hall as it typically does but due to construction taking place at the entrance of the building, the usual place for pre-vote demonstrations was relocated to a too-small spot on Cooper Square next to Bahr Che wine bar, resulting in the group spilling over into the street and cops having to nudge tenants back towards the sidewalk to keep them out of oncoming traffic.