Assembly Member Carl Heastie, Governor Andrew Cuomo and Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan (Photo via Governor Andrew Cuomo Flickr)
By Sabina Mollot
On Tuesday afternoon, the rent regulations, over a week after their expiration, were discussed in what was called “the framework of an agreement” that was immediately blasted by tenant advocates for not repealing vacancy decontrol or reforming preferential rents. The plan was announced by Governor Andrew Cuomo, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan in an Albany press conference.
The plan, which, as of Town & Village’s press time, was still being discussed by both legislative houses in conference, calls for a four-year extension of the rent laws, reforming major capital improvements (MCIs) so that tenants’ payments are lower though they will still have to be paid in perpetuity. Other changes include increasing penalties on landlords who harass tenants and raising the threshold at which an apartment can be subject to vacancy deregulation. Additionally, according to a press release put out by Cuomo, the state housing agency’s Tenants Protection Unit will be put into statute and vacancy bonuses and will be limited for tenants paying preferential rent, although how much or in what way it would be limited wasn’t explained. Cuomo’s office did not respond to a request for clarification by Town & Village’s deadline.
The following letter has been distributed by CompassRock to Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village residents concerning the expiration of the rent laws:
As you may know, the Rent Stabilization Law (“RSL”) is set to expire at midnight tonight, June 15, 2015 and as of this morning no deal has been reached in Albany to extend the RSL. As a reminder, all units in Peter Cooper Village and Stuyvesant Town are subject to Rent Stabilization.
We appreciate that the potential expiration of the RSL may be stressful for some residents and can raise questions about what will happen without the protections of the Law. We want to assure our residents that you have nothing to worry about at PCVST. All leases that are currently in place will remain in full force and effect even if the Law expires tonight. Furthermore, PCVST will continue to adhere to the current rules in place (even if the Law expires) until Albany acts.
We, like you, are watching developments in Albany closely and waiting for a resolution. Unfortunately, we don’t have any additional information to share about what the final resolution may look like or when it will occur. We will act in accordance with the new law as soon as it is passed.
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.
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)
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.