Letters to the Editor, June 4

Cartoon by Jim Meadows

Cartoon by Jim Meadows

Garodnick: How rent laws in current state have been used to raise rents in ST/PCV

The following is an open letter to Governor Andrew Cuomo from Council Member Dan Garodnick.

Dear Governor Cuomo:

Many New Yorker City residents are looking to you to help us strengthen the rent laws in the coming weeks. While there are many ways in which these laws need revision, I wanted to point out two areas of the law that have been particularly destructive within Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village (ST/PCV) – a community of 25,000 renters, all rent-stabilized, which make up a portion of my Council District.

 The areas of particular concern have been: vacancy decontrol, preferential rents, and Major Capital Improvements (MCIs).

 Vacancy Decontrol: Vacancy decontrol creates some of the most perverse incentives that lay within our rent laws, and it has already done a great deal of damage in ST/PCV.  When the law allows a landlord to jack up rents upon vacancy, there is a very strong push for them to achieve a vacancy – almost at any cost.  In the case of ST/PCV, the property was sold in 2006 to an owner whose entire business plan only penciled out if they pushed rent-stabilized tenants out of their homes, quickly. The result was that tenants were pursued ruthlessly on a variety of bases to get them to leave.

Senate bill S1167 and Assembly bill A1585 would end vacancy decontrol, and would re-regulate many of the units that were deregulated over the last 15 years. I hope you will support it.

Preferential rents: Because of the “Roberts v. Tishman Speyer” case, many tenants in ST/PCV have legal rent-stabilized rents that are thousands of dollars more than the market rate rents for their apartments.  These tenants are paying market rates, but well below what the law allows. The result is that on lease renewal, the landlord is hitting tenants with increases of $250, $500 or even up to $700 per month. Many tenants find themselves suddenly, and without any ability to plan, unable to afford these increases.

There are smart proposals that would give much more certainty to tenants in this position, such as S1775/A5473, which would only allow Rent Guidelines Board (RGB) increases on preferential rents, and keep them from rising to the legal rent until the end of the current occupant’s tenancy.

MCI Reform: I also hope you will support efforts to reform MCIs. MCIs were created so that landlords would have an incentive to improve the property, and to have the ability to recoup their investment. The law today allows them to add the cost of the MCI onto tenants’ rents, and leave it there forever – and long after the investment has been paid for in full by the tenants. S1493/A5373 would make these MCI’s temporary, ensuring that owners are compensated for investing in their properties, but in a way that fair to tenants.

These are only three ways in which our rent laws are broken. I have, however, seen how vacancy decontrol, preferential rents without protections, and MCI loopholes have burdened my own district, and I am certain that your efforts to reform those laws would make a difference. Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Sincerely,

Daniel R. Garodnick

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OP-ED: The rent laws need teeth, so tenants will need to show theirs

By Susan Steinberg, Board Chair, Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association

Sometimes in the life of our community, I feel like a barker at a carnival. Two of those times are upon us: a June 8 public hearing of the Rent Guidelines Board and a June 9 major tenant rally in Albany to demand stronger rent laws.

I’m not selling you a ticket to a freak show where your pocket may be picked once you’re inside. On the other hand, thinking about it, both Albany and the RGB are freak shows, and the real estate industry does pick your pocket.

The June 8 RGB public hearing is the one opportunity tenants have to tell their stories about why rents should be rolled back or frozen. We need tenants to counteract the piteous cries of the landlords about how they can’t cover their costs (while ignoring their ever-increasing profits). Tenants need to let the RGB know that they can’t continue to be burdened to the point of spending 50 percent of their income on rent.

Getting on a bus to Albany is critical because rent laws expire on June 15 – but we need them strengthened, not just renewed. Everyone living in Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village stands to benefit from stronger rent laws. Without the laws having more teeth, the number of regulated units will dwindle to the point where tenants have no political clout, and we can all look forward to rents that are totally beyond our pocketbooks.

Experience has shown us that masses of tenants being seen and making their voices heard does have a chilling effect on the forces of darkness. That’s why showing up in numbers is important.

So here I go “barking.”

Who’s coming to the June 8 RGB hearing? Elebash Recital Hall, CUNY Graduate Center, 365 Fifth Avenue (between 34th and 35th Streets). The hearing will be held 2-6 p.m. Pre-register to testify either by email (ask@nycrgb.org) or by phone (212-385-2934), or register in person at the start of the hearing. Keep your spoken remarks to three minutes. You may submit your views in writing by addressing them to the chair or any board member, c/o NYC Rent Guidelines Board, 51 Chambers St., Suite 202, New York, NY 10007 or by email: chair@nycrgb.org.

Who’s coming with me to Albany on June 9? The TA has hired three buses. Sign up now, while your seat is still available. Internet: http://stpcvta.org/albany2015. For neighbors without Internet access, call (917) 338-7860.

Letters to the Editor, Apr. 30

Apr9 Toon Cyclone

Why was mail dumped in wrong building?

Today, Saturday, April 25, dozens (literally dozens) of pieces of mail addressed to tenants of 435 East 14th Street were dumped in the lobby of 445 East 14th Street. Most of the mail was rent bills.

I took all of it over to the lobby of 435, though I didn’t take all the magazines because I was running late for an appointment and there were a lot of magazines, too!

Anybody at 435 should regularly check the lobby of 445 because we get their mail quite frequently, though not usually as much as today.

Obviously, it was not our regular letter carrier working today because she is very careful. I wonder why the Postal Service is going down the toilet?

Maybe it’s time that PCVST set up some way of electronic rent payment (if it doesn’t already) because I’m sure this is not an isolated incident and some tenants may be late with their rent because the Postal Service (if you can call it “service”) is so bad around here.

Frances Clarke, ST

Town & Village called the Peter Stuyvesant Post Office three times on Monday and again on Wednesday to ask about this but the phone wasn’t picked up any of those times. An employee at a window said he’d heard about it and thought someone had forgotten to lock the mailboxes. An official spokesperson for the USPS didn’t respond to an email from T&V requesting a comment. A rep for CWCapital said it was a USPS issue and referred any questions to the aforemenioned agency. T&V also contacted Congress Member Carolyn Maloney whose case worker for postal issues, Sarah Belleas, asked that tenants who experience any mail problems contact her at sarah.belleas@mail.house.gov.

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Mayor signs legislation extending rent regulation for 3 years

Mayor de Blasio, surrounded by other elected officials, signs legislation that renews the rent laws for another three years. (Photo by Anne Greenberg)

Mayor de Blasio, surrounded by other elected officials, signs legislation that renews the rent laws for another three years. (Photo by Anne Greenberg)

On Monday, Mayor Bill de Blasio signed into law Intro. 685, which extends the Rent Stabilization laws in New York City until April 1, 2018. The 2014 Housing Survey shows that New York City currently has a rental vacancy rate of 3.45 percent, which constitutes a housing emergency, and this legislation, the mayor said, is necessary to restrict rent increases and prevent evictions. This bill was approved by the City Council during a meeting on March 11.

“Rent regulations are vital to protecting New Yorkers from displacement and keeping our communities whole,” the mayor said in an official statement. “Renewing and strengthening rent rules is a top priority for us in Albany this session, and we will fight alongside our partners in the City Council and our delegation in the State Legislature to ensure we have the tools we need to preserve more than a million rent stabilized apartments.”

A spokesperson for the mayor noted that the legislation in no way shapes what the outcome will be in Albany in terms of parameters of the law when it comes up for renewal this June. In other words, an extension of the law in the city wouldn’t mean changes to the law potentially made later this year at the state level.

ST-PCV Tenants Association’s Al Doyle gives testimony at rent regulation extension signing

Apr2 TA Al Doyle

Al Doyle, board member of ST-PCV TA (Photo by Anne Greenberg)

The following is testimony given by Alvin Doyle in favor of enacting Intro 685, renewal of the NYC rent regulation laws for another three years, on Monday, March 30.

Good afternoon. I’m Alvin Doyle, a member of the board of directors of the Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association and a lifelong rent-stabilized tenant. I’m here to speak in support of Intro 685.

Our united developments contain over 11,000 apartments, and we have been ravaged by rapacious owners and others. We see our once-peaceful, stable, and affordable middle-class community being destroyed.

Vacancy deregulation is the worm within, slowly, painfully, inexorably eating away at our affordable housing stock.
As our neighbors have died or moved out, apartments have been renovated, chopped up to add so-called bedrooms, and stuffed with more adult occupants than they were designed to accommodate or that the infrastructure can support. The rest of the city will soon see this as real estate types seek to add value, as they say, to existing buildings.

By manipulating existing regulations, our owners have jacked rents up so high that they are well above market rate. I’m talking about as much as $7,000 for a one-bedroom apartment in a building that doesn’t even have a doorman. Families trying to put down roots regularly find themselves priced out of their homes and their school district. Young people have to submit to dorm-like living just to get a toehold in this town.

Mayor de Blasio, you have committed to adding 200,000 affordable units, and we applaud that. We have over 11,000 such units, and it’s far easier to preserve than to build. But we need strong laws to do this. We deeply appreciate your making the case in Albany recently. We need your political and moral leadership now to repeal vacancy deregulation, which makes apartments and communities unaffordable and New York City untenable.
We need to keep rent-stabilized apartments stabilized. No taking them out of the program by jacking up the rents and churning the tenants — no more automatic 20 percent increase every time the apartment turns over because with current landlord practices, they turn over frequently.

No more perpetual Major Capital Improvement costs. They should be surcharges, not part of the base rent. Once something is paid for, the cost should go away. It’s outrageous that tenants have to pay in perpetuity for what the landlord can depreciate. Who made that deal?

And we need to stop the landlords’ practice of renting apartments for hundreds of dollars less than the legal rent and then ambushing tenants with renewal increases of double-digit percentages. That underhanded tactic is destabilizing our community.

There should be room in every borough for New Yorkers at every income level. We can’t allow greedy real estate operators to buy off upstate officials to support their plan to turn Manhattan in particular into an enclave for the rich and absent. We want to keep the lights turned on for everyone so that we can continue to attract the young, the energetic, the creative — and house them. And we want those who have lived here all their lives to know they can stay in their homes in the city they have worked hard in and to which they have contributed so much.

Kavanagh rips State Senate effort to defund Tenant Protection Unit

Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh

Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh

By Sabina Mollot

The Assembly will be fighting back against a push from the State Senate to defund the Tenant Protection Unit (TPU), Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh said this week.

The TPU is a division of the state housing agency, Homes and Community Renewal, along with others like the Division of Housing and Community Renewal.

And according to Kavanagh, the plan to strip the TPU of its funding was in the State Senate’s budget proposal.

However, the TPU, he noted, has been helpful to tenants in fighting landlords who’ve improperly deregulated properties by getting the units reregulated and getting back rent paid to tenants.

“Unfortunately, the Senate Republicans do not want the rent laws to be enforced,” said Kavanagh about the effort, which was first reported by the Daily News. “So they’re trying to remove the funding.”

The Assembly has already put forth its own budget proposal as has the governor, with both supporting the agency. But Kavanagh said since the governor and both houses have to support it, the Assembly is bracing for a fight.

“We’re going to fight this and we expect that they’re going to fight back,” he said.

The Senate’s Housing Chair Catherine Young, a Republican from upstate Olean, did not respond to a request for comment from T&V. However, according to the Daily News, she believes the TPU has been operating with a lack of transparency.

While the focus is still on the budget, as well as school reforms and ethics reforms, renewal or expiration of the Rent Stabilization Laws (the latter of which is not expected) is set to take place in June.

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Tenant groups, pols rally for stronger rent laws

Mayor’s office pledges support but is short on details at Council hearing

Council Member Dan Garodnick and other city politicians called on Albany to repeal vacancy decontrol and further strengthen the laws governing rent stabilization. (Photo by William Alatriste)

Council Member Dan Garodnick and other city politicians called on Albany to repeal vacancy decontrol and further strengthen the laws governing rent stabilization. (Photo by William Alatriste)

By Sabina Mollot

With the Rent Stabilization Laws up for renewal in June, several city politicians and dozens of tenants gathered at City Hall on Monday to call on state lawmakers to strengthen the laws, most importantly by repealing vacancy decontrol.

Most of the comments were directed at Governor Cuomo, with speakers like Comptroller Scott Stringer putting the blame on Albany for “rewarding greedy speculators.”

He added that the city’s plan to build more affordable housing meant nothing if it kept hemorrhaging units at the same pace. “We’re losing affordable housing bastions like Stuyvesant Town,” he said.

The comptroller, who recently released a report saying that 400,000 apartments renting for $1,000 have disappeared from the radar, said at the podium that vacancy decontrol alone has cost the city 153,000 units of affordable housing. Currently, around 2.3 million New Yorkers live in 1.1 million rent stabilized units.

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer voiced a suggestion that rent laws include a provision that every new development must include affordable housing, and, she added, “We need to get rid of MCIs (major capital improvements) that go on for 100 years.”

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Reform a possibility with Silver no longer Assembly speaker, TenantsPAC wary of potential distractions from rent laws

TeantsPAC Treasurer Mike McKee (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

TeantsPAC Treasurer Mike McKee (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

After a whirlwind week that began with an arrest of one of Albany’s most powerful men and is ending with Sheldon Silver no longer having the title of Assembly speaker, what has remained up in the air is just how much actual legislation will get done as Albany is distracted by the implementation of a new speaker, and possible implementation of a new, more egalitarian power structure.

While not one to complain about reforms in Albany, the timing is naturally a concern for tenant advocates like Mike McKee, treasurer of TenantsPAC, considering the rent laws are scheduled to sunset this June.

Two weeks ago, when news of an investigation into an alleged long-running bribery and kickback scheme perpetuated by Silver started to surface, McKee said it was too soon to predict how it would affect one of Albany’s “three men in a room” – or tenants.

But as of Monday evening, some of Silver’s fellow Assembly Democrats were calling on him to resign and an idea that had been floated a day earlier to appoint five Assembly members to act as speaker while he worked to beat the rap against him had fizzled.

Democrat legislators calling for him to resign early on included Comptroller Scott Stringer, State Senator Brad Hoylman and in the Assembly, Democrats Brian Kavanagh and Keith Wright.

“He should understand that he’s lost the confidence of a majority of our conference,” the New York Times quoted Assemblyman Brian Kavanagh as saying of Sheldon Silver after a closed-door meeting on Monday night. Kavanagh did not respond to calls for comment from Town & Village.

However, by Tuesday night, Silver’s ouster (or resigning) as speaker along with an announcement that a replacement would be coming soon was pretty much a done deal, according to published reports. Assembly Majority Leader Joe Morelle will be interim speaker until an election is held on February 10, according to City & State.

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Conversion, legal issues, rent regulations to be discussed at TA meeting

Brewer, Stringer support TA’s conversion effort

ST-PCV Tenants Association President John Marsh speaking at meeting on Saturday (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

ST-PCV Tenants Association President John Marsh at a previous meeting (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

The Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association will be holding its next general meeting on Saturday, December 6 at 1 p.m.

Topics will include recent legal issues, the annual review of Tenant Association activities, a conversion update, the Fannie Mae–Freddie Mac commitment to ST/PCV, what lies ahead in Albany post-election with respect to tenant issues and how New York City’s Comptroller’s Office and the Manhattan Borough President’s office will support the TA’s conversion effort.

Speakers will include TA attorney Tim Collins, Councilman Dan Garodnick, Congress Member Carolyn Maloney, NYS Senator Brad Hoylman, NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer.

After the speakers, there will be an open mike question-and-answer session. Tenants will have an opportunity to line up before a floor microphone and ask about critical issues.

The meeting will be held at Middle School 104, East 20th Street between First and Second Avenues. Doors open at 12:30 p.m.

TenantsPAC: It’s time for tenants to step up the pressure in Albany

TeantsPAC Treasurer Mike McKee (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

TeantsPAC Treasurer Mike McKee (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot
As is well known by tenant activists, the State Senate has long been the realm where any tenant-friendly legislation, from MCI limitations to elimination of preferential rents, has gone to die. While it did seem likely that the Democrats would be controlling the Senate after Election Day, following a decision by rogue Democrat group, the Independent Democratic Coalition, to end an alliance with Republicans, the Republicans then managed to win a narrow, but still clear majority, making an alliance with the IDC unnecessary.

Some critics have been quick to put the blame on the Election Day results on nation-wide voting trends as well as low turnout during a non-presidential election year. Others have said the blame is Governor Cuomo’s for not making an effort to help the Democrat candidates.
Mike McKee, treasurer of Tenants Political Action Committee, is in the latter camp, saying he believes Cuomo would rather have Republicans running the Senate.

“I’m very cynical about whether we will get any help from the governor,” he said. “On the one hand it’s better to have a governor who wants the rent laws on the books unlike George Pataki, but to keep them the way they are — containing the seeds of their own destruction — is not the answer.”

As for what all of this will mean for tenants with the rent regulation laws up for renewal or expiration next year, McKee said while the real estate industry clearly has the edge with a Republican-controlled Senate, tenants may still have a shot at getting some meaningful reform. That is, if they’re willing to fight for it.

“We have some leverage we didn’t have three years ago if Shelly Silver chooses to use it,” said McKee, “things that can be traded.”

The leverage, he believes, is in the 421-a and J-51 tax breaks, which owners want to be passed and property tax caps, “which the governor very much wants.”
McKee made a point to note that he personally abhors the 421-a tax abatement since it subsidizes “billionaires buying condos.” But developers want it as well as J-51, with McKee saying they hadn’t been scared off by “Roberts v. Tishman Speyer,” which ruled that owners accepting those breaks couldn’t deregulate apartments in those properties. “Those programs are extremely lucrative,” he said. And, said McKee, tenants should keep their eyes on the prize, which is vacancy deregulation.

“We mean full repeal. Not simply raising the threshold like they did three years ago. They raised the threshold and called it a great victory and they’re still trying to spin it as a victory when it was a cosmetic change.” This was in reference to the amendment of the law that allowed landlords to de-regulate an apartment if the rent was $2,000 and the tenant’s income was $175,000 for two years, by increasing that amount to $2,500 or more and $200,000.

“We have rent stabilized apartments in Stuyvesant Town renting for $5,000 or more because politicians allowed the rent laws to be trampled,” McKee added.

What tenants can do, he said, is ask their Assembly members to put pressure on Speaker Sheldon Silver to get tenant-friendly legislation to become more than just one-house bills.

“Do I think Shelly Silver is likely to do this on his own initiative? No. He’s going to have to be pushed,” said McKee. “If he’s going to just posture and introduce bills that die in the Senate, and put out press releases saying how pro-tenant the Assembly is, we’re in trouble. The question is whether or not the governor and the speaker will use that leverage.”

What doesn’t need to be fought for, said McKee, is repeal of the Urstadt Law, which would return home rule on housing to the city. Focusing on that this year, he believes is a trap, since the odds of the Senate agreeing to to it are too slim.

“We need a lot of things,” he said. “We need MCI reform so MCI increases aren’t permanent and compounded into the base rent and reform of the Rent Guidelines Board and stopping the 20 percent vacancy bonuses. But without vacancy deregulation, none of those changes are going to mean anything, because without the rent regulation system, in a few years there won’t be anything left.”

McKee believes that close to 400,000 units of affordable housing have been lost in the past 20 years due to erosion of the rent laws. In 1996, 56 percent of rental units in the city were rent controlled or rent stabilized, based on figures from a city housing and vacancy survey that’s done every three years. Fifteen years later, in 2011, that number had been whittled down to 47 percent, based on the same source. “That should tell you something about the rate of loss,” he said. In some cases, this is due to condo or co-op conversion, but the majority of those cases are vacancy deregulation.

And as always, said McKee, tenants should also keep their mouths open — not to mention their wallets —in the effort to help TenantsPAC.
“I’m talking about money, I’m talking about bodies,” he said. “We have all volunteers so 95 percent of all we raise goes directly to the candidates we support.” (The other 5 percent goes to the organization’s phone, internet, and office rent expenses.) The money, however, never comes close to what the real estate industry spends to elect Republicans. (As of October 20, the Real Estate Board of New York had spent $1.9 million and owner group the Rent Stabilization Association spent $500,000.) Additionally, unlike REBNY, the RSA did this quietly, funneling the funds to a Washington, D.C.-based Republican State Leadership Committee which then gave an even larger amount to a New York group which spent heavily to elect Republicans, Crain’s reported on Friday.

The tenants do have one advantage though. “One of the things we bring to the table that the real estate lobby doesn’t is volunteers.”

He noted that many volunteers as well as donors have been residents of Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village. But for those whose rent demands don’t allow for large donations or work schedules don’t leave time for trips upstate to go door-knocking, McKee recommends phone banking as a good alternative for would-be volunteers. This can be done at home, usually in the evenings, and even after elections, since TenantsPAC phone banks in support of legislation.

As for why Election Day was such a dismal one for Democrat legislators and candidates, McKee believes Democrat voter apathy is partially to blame. While he was in upstate Kingston going door to door to campaign for Democrat Senator CeCe Tkaczyk, who ended up losing, he saw it firsthand.

“In non-presidential election years, Republican voters show up and Democrats tend to stay home,” he said.

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.

Lieutenant governor hopeful takes tour of Stuy Town

Kathy Hochul gets an earful from tenants and local elected officials during a walk through the complex. (Pictured) Council Member Dan Garonick introduces her to Public Safety Chief Bill McClellan. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

Kathy Hochul gets an earful from tenants and local elected officials during a walk through the complex. (Pictured) Council Member Dan Garonick introduces her to Public Safety Chief Bill McClellan. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

The Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association, which has recently enlisted the aid of the de Blasio administration in an effort to maintain some affordability in the complex, is also now hoping it will have an ally in Kathy Hochul, Governor Cuomo’s choice for the next lieutenant governor.

On Thursday afternoon, Hochul joined Tenants Association Chair Susan Steinberg along with a handful of TA volunteers on a stroll through Stuy Town, and got filled in on tenants’ more pressing concerns. She’d come at the request of Council Member Dan Garodnick, who was also there with Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh. Prior to the walk through the grounds, Hochul, a former Congresswoman asked the small group, “What’s on your mind?”

“You got a whole afternoon?” was Steinberg’s answer.

Tenants then began chiming in about the dormification of the community with students packing into apartments in order to make the rent affordable, major capital improvements (MCI) for what often seems like unnecessary work — and tenants’ frustration at having to pay for those improvements in perpetuity — and the fear of both longterm and newer tenants of getting priced out. Other topics brought up included more longterm tenants’ fear of harassment, increased transience and questions about what will happen to the rents when the J-51 tax abatement expires in the year 2020. Steinberg also briefed Hochul on the TA’s partnership with developer Brookfield aimed at a condo conversion as well as CW’s lack of interest in talking business with them. Al Doyle, the former president of the Tenants Association, brought up the ongoing issue of predatory equity throughout the city, with Stuy Town, of course, being the poster child for the practice.

Aug7 Kathy Playground10

Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh and Kathy Hochul (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

Kavanagh and Garodnick brought up that they wanted to see the rent laws get strengthened, but the State Senate hasn’t exactly been friendly to tenants. While refraining from making any promises, Hochul said she thought the community is “worth fighting for.” If she becomes lieutenant governor, she pointed out, she’d have the tie-breaking vote in the event of a deadlock in Albany. From 2011-2013, Hochul represented New York’s 26th District, which includes the areas of Buffalo and Niagara Falls.

During her time in Congress, she lived with colleague Carolyn Maloney in Washington.

“We used to say that we should have a reality show, ‘The Real Women in Congress,’” said Hochul. When asked how Maloney was as a roommate, Hochul admitted, “She’s a lot cleaner than I am.” As for the current state of the Congress, Hochul casually remarked that it’s “the most dysfunctional government on the planet.” However, she added quickly, “There are still a lot of good people out there.”

Hochul also touted her experience, claiming she’d helped make the Department of Motor Vehicles “a more positive experience” when she served as county clerk and when in Congress, fought with other Democrats “like pit bulls” to get more cash for restoration after Hurricane Sandy than Republicans wanted to allocate. During the walk through the grounds, Hochul said that from what she’s seen, “Everybody wants the same thing. A safe house, a job, their kids to get a good education. It’s universal. It’s not downstate or upstate. This is what the governor and I are focused on.”

Steinberg pointed out some positive aspects of the community like the playgrounds, a few of which recently got new water features, and the hayrides for kids that take place each Halloween. When passing by the Oval Café/Playground 9 area, Hochul remarked, “I’d like to live here.”

When the group walked past the Public Safety office, Garodnick, realizing officers might think tenants were about to rally, made a point to say hello and introduce Hochul to Public Safety Chief Bill McClellan. Soon afterwards, Hochul left the complex at First Avenue and the crowd dispersed.

Hochul (right) listens to tenants, including Tenants Association Chair Susan Steinberg and Council Member Dan Garodnick, discuss quality of life issues and dwindling affordability in Stuy Town. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

Hochul (right) listens to tenants, including Tenants Association Chair Susan Steinberg and Council Member Dan Garodnick, discuss quality of life issues and dwindling affordability in Stuy Town. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

Steinberg then said that she did feel Hochul was genuinely listening to tenants. “I think she got it,” Steinberg said. Kavanagh also said he thought she’d make “a strong partner in the executive branch,” and support tenants, while Garodnick also said he believed Hochul would be in tenants’ corner. “She is clearly a serious and thoughtful person who was willing to take the time to understand our unique challenges,” Garodnick said.

Doyle, meanwhile, just seemed happy that the would-be lieutenant governor got to hear firsthand from tenants how all the different types of rent increases were impacting the community.

“Homeowners outside the city, when we tell them how (an MCI) is a permanent increase, they don’t believe us,” he said.

Following the stroll, T&V asked what Hochul’s thoughts were on the Cuomo administration doing something to preserve dwindling stability and affordability in the community.

Responding in a written statement, she said, “Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village are critical to keeping New York affordable. I will work closely with the governor, along with the office of New York State Homes and Community Renewal, to ensure that the rights of thousands of rent-regulated tenants are maintained and preserved for generations to come.”

There was no response, though, when T&V asked Hochul’s campaign reps if she wanted to comment on investigation over corruption in the governor’s Moreland Commission. However, in an interview this week with Buffalo-based NBC news outlet WGRZ, she defended the commission, saying, “they had the independence to do what they needed to do.”

Letters to the Editor, June 19

Tenants want details, not vague statements

To the editor:

Ok… so we applaud our political representatives before we hear what they have to say … Ok… so we applaud repeatedly while they speak without knowing the implications of what we hear. Ok… so we leave the rally at our City Hall with the thought that perhaps in unity we are getting closer to our wishes.

We were, after all, assured that Fannie and Freddie will not finance a deal unless the deal guarantees long-term affordability. We hear, in one way or another, that the mayor’s folks are working a deal with CWCapital that would a) satisfy the bondholders and b) guarantee that some apartments would remain affordable.

I hope that I am wrong on all accounts, but does any of that have the sound of what we want? A deal?

Made by whom? Representing whose interests? Long-term affordability? For whom? Affordable apartments? Of those… how many, and for whom? So CWCapital gets to keep the place? “Keep” is rather a firm thing. There is nothing ambiguous or equivocal about “keep”… and we get… what? Well, right now, whatever it is, it is heavy on ambiguity and equivocation (wrapped in emphatic assurances).

As I see it, we really have not squared off against the principle that we are mere tenants living on someone’s property at, quite close to, their pleasure. We haven’t squared off against the prevailing grip that government has no real right to interfere in the running of business. Business is, after all, private.

Nowhere along the line has our side insisted that the private exists within the public, through the will of the public, with the financial (socialism) support of the public. That form of restraint, along with civility has been our self-imposed handicap.

So perhaps, just perhaps, the next time a political leader speaks, we consider holding applause until, by answering our questions, we are shown to what non-generalities that leader is committed. In that way, over time, political leaders may come to speak to us with a focused demonstration of acknowledgement and respect, and we, for our part, more than placards and background to a center that is not us.

John M. Giannone, ST

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Op-Ed: It’s time to reframe the narrative on tenants’ rights

NY State Senator Brad Hoylman

NY State Senator Brad Hoylman

By New York State Senator Brad Hoylman

As T&V recently reported, I had the honor of giving the keynote address at the Eighth Annual West Side Tenants’ Conference. The event may have had “West Side” in its name, but my remarks were just as applicable to tenants from the East Side, or anywhere else in the city for that matter.

I spoke broadly about the challenges tenants and their advocates face in Albany, where Republican State Senators from far flung parts of the state, with weak housing markets and no need for emergency tenant protections, have control over housing legislation. I noted that most members of the Senate Majority Coalition do not have any rent-regulated tenants in their districts, and yet their campaign committees cash big checks from the real estate industry. That’s why the only way to put tenants on a level playing field and get our priority bills – from vacancy control to MCI reform to restoring home rule over our city’s housing laws – through the Senate is to make Campaign Finance Reform the first bill on the tenants’ agenda.

Taking the money out of politics is absolutely critical, but so is changing the prevailing narrative around rent regulations. We need to fight back against landlords’ domination of the conversation and go on the offensive with the facts.

There are many misperceptions out there about rent regulations – many of which have been purposely fostered by the real estate industry. If you read the New York Post, you can be forgiven for thinking that rent regulated tenants are all wealthy individuals freeloading while putting their landlords in the poor house and stifling new development, but that’s simply not true. The statistics show that the median income of rent-controlled households was only $29,000 in 2010, and the median income of households in rent-stabilized units as a whole was only $37,000. Moreover, one third of renter households in the City (33.6 percent) pay 50 percent or more of their household income for rent. Meanwhile, as our economy recovers from the great recession, we’re seeing unprecedented levels of development in our city. Unfortunately, it is unprecedented levels of luxury housing that is being developed.

Recently even the New York Times has gotten in on the act, running a Sunday Magazine essay claiming that rent regulations force landlords to raise prices for unregulated units to make up for lost income. But if we look at the facts, from 2010-2011 the most recent year data is available, landlords’ income after all operating and maintenance expenses are paid – known as the Net Operating Income (NOI) or “profit” – increased by 5.6 percent. That’s the seventh consecutive year they saw increased profit. So not only are landlords making money, they are making more money year after year.

It is these kinds of distortions – as well as deep pockets when it comes to campaign contributions – that help landlords when they go to Albany. The landlord and real estate lobby have sold many legislators on the notion that the free market can solve our housing shortage. Just suspend rent regulations, the free market argument goes, and the market forces will fix everything. The housing stock will increase. Rents will decline. Well, this was already tried once. And it failed. Miserably. In 1994, rent regulation was ended in Boston and Cambridge, Massachusetts. Within a just a few years of deregulation, rents were way up.  Middle and lower income residents were forced out of the city centers and into the suburbs. Neighborhoods around Boston and Cambridge quickly gentrified. Yes, landlord investment increased in about 20 percent of the buildings, but at what social cost?

As we make our voices heard, we need to remember the Massachusetts example, and also remember the reasoning behind our rent laws. All too often I hear people speak about rent regulations as if they were a subsidy, gift, or charity taken from the hands of landlords and given to a select lucky few. And I also hear the argument that rent regulation should not be tied to individual apartments and should instead only be granted to means-tested tenants. If you know the history of rent regulations, you know these arguments are misguided.

Just to give you some context, the first rent regulations were established during World War II by the Federal government to prevent price gouging during the war. The price controls at that time covered everything from milk to coffee to nylon for stockings. The problem was – and is – not simply high rents, but the profiteering that comes with a shortage of a critical good. We should no more condone price gouging on rents in the midst of our city’s extreme housing shortage than we should condone price gouging on groceries or gasoline in the wake of a hurricane.

In this squeezed real estate market, where everyone is desperately competing for every inch of space, tenants in unregulated units are forced to pay significantly more than that apartment would otherwise be worth. Left unchecked, as high-income families are forced to take homes that would otherwise have gone to middle income families, who take homes that would otherwise have gone to low-income families, we all end up accepting less than we should. This is the race to the bottom that rent regulations stand against, and why rent regulations cover not just price, but housing quality.

We all know unregulated tenants who have had to find a new home after they asked their landlord to repair a ceiling leak, to remove mold or fix a failing boiler – all of which violate the warranty of habitability, which guarantees tenants’ right to a safe and decent home. Unfortunately, it’s a risky proposition to complain about the lack of services or repairs in your building if you don’t have a legal right to a renewal lease or statutory tenancy, which are afforded by rent stabilization and rent control respectively unless the landlord can show cause for eviction.

Next time you hear someone – a neighbor, an elected official, anyone – repeating the lie that rent regulations go to the undeserving, or that those in regulated apartments are raising rents for everybody else, confront them with the facts. Along with campaign finance reform, changing the narrative on rent regulation is key to advancing the tenant agenda.