Editorial: Rent-stabilized story tellers wanted

Tenants at this year’s preliminary vote for the Rent Guidelines Board (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

You know spring has sprung when the stories start coming out about jet-setting tenants who Airbnb their rent-stabilized apartments while only paying a few hundred dollars in rent or less.

Just one example is the recent tale in the New York Post about a woman paying $100 for her stabilized digs that she inherited after moving in on an older, dying man.

She convinced the elderly gent, the tenant of record, to adopt her as his daughter despite being close to retirement age herself.
It’s an intriguing tale that makes one feel sorry for the poor landlords of stabilized properties.

Meanwhile, these stories about unicorn-rare rents are, we suspect, planted by groups representing landlords as the Rent Guidelines Board gears up to decide how high of an increase the city’s tenants in roughly one million rent-stabilized units will be hit with. And it will be an increase rather than a freeze, based on last month’s preliminary vote.

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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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Opinion: Why we’re pushing for stronger rent laws early

(Pictured after returning from Albany, left to right) Tom Kuhn, Peter Sullivan, Judy Miller (back row), Mary Garvey, Sherryl Kirschenbaum, Michael Madonia (back row), Susan Steinberg, Patrice Michaels, Anne Greenberg, Alex Lee, Regina Shane and Chandra Patel. (Photo by Harvey Epstein)

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

Here we go again.  New York State’s rent laws expire in June 2019 and tenant groups are already taking action to renew and strengthen them.

The 2019 date was deliberately set at the time of the 2015 rent law renewal so it would occur in a non-election year, saving incumbents from the danger of losing their seats as a result of a strong, forceful tenant lobby. 2018 is, of course, an election year which means that now is the time to start putting the pressure on state legislators who want tenant support for their election or re-election runs. Since bills to strengthen rent laws can be passed any time prior to the June 2019 expiration, the challenge is to get them to the floor of the Senate for a vote. They are now languishing in the Senate’s Housing Committee. (The State Assembly has already passed two bills and will easily pass a third but the Senate has yet to act.)

What is the tenants’ game plan? We are pushing for passage of three bills to strengthen regulations by repealing two laws most responsible for the loss of rent-regulated units — vacancy deregulation and vacancy bonus — and for closing the preferential rent loophole.  Vacancy decontrol is responsible for the loss of 250,000 rent-regulated units over the past decade; the vacancy bonus gives landlords a 20 percent rent increase each time an apartment turns over; preferential rents are a discount from the legal rent that can be taken away at lease renewal leading to a sudden increase of hundreds of dollars.

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No rent freeze this year, RGB decides in preliminary vote

Tenants react to the board voting down a rent freeze (Photos by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

The possibility of a rent freeze was quashed last Thursday at the Rent Guidelines Board’s preliminary vote, held at Cooper Union’s Great Hall. As is the case in most previous years, the proposal that ultimately passed was from the board’s chair, Kathleen Roberts, with ranges from 0.75 to 2.75 percent increases for one-year leases and 1.75 to 3.75 percent increases for two-year leases for rent-stabilized tenants.

Tenant representatives Sheila Garcia and newly-appointed Leah Goodridge offered a proposal that would have included a rent freeze for one-year and two-year lease renewals but the chair, the board’s four public members and the two owner members voted against the measure.

The owner representatives attempted to offer their own proposal but were shouted down by tenants who started chanting and yelling once the proposal for a rent freeze failed. Roberts read her proposal and held a vote amidst the yelling and the board walked off the stage with most tenants in the crowd unaware that anything had been decided. The chair’s proposal passed in a vote of five to four, with the owner and tenant representatives voting against the measure and the public members and chair voting for it.

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Council calls for stronger rent regs

Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association President Susan Steinberg (at right) waits to give testimony about why rent regulations are needed. (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

The City Council Housing and Buildings committee held a hearing on legislation aimed at maintaining rent stabilization in the city this past Monday, with city elected officials also expressing strong support for the repeal of various policies at the state level that allow landlords to increase rents and move apartments out of the program, such as vacancy decontrol, preferential rent and vacancy bonuses.

Although the state controls rent regulation, the legislation heard in the Council this week proposed the extension of rent stabilization in the city and includes a resolution determining that a public emergency requiring rent control continues to exist and will continue to exist on and after April 1.

Council Speaker Corey Johnson pressed representatives from the Department of Housing Preservation and Development at the hearing about whether or not the de Blasio administration supports the repeal of vacancy decontrol.

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TA member recalls first conversation with Blackstone

The ST-PCV Tenants Association’s John Sheehy (pictured) and Blackstone’s AJ Argarwal have neighboring properties in the Hamptons.

By Sabina Mollot

John Sheehy, treasurer of the ST-PCV Tenants Association, recalls exactly the moment when he learned of The Blackstone Group’s interest in Stuyvesant Town.

Sheehy, who has a summer home in East Hampton, has a neighbor in Blackstone’s AJ Argarwal, a senior managing director in real estate. Though they didn’t know each other particularly well, one day they happened to see each other as Argarwal was pulling into his driveway with his wife and Sheehy asked Argarwal if he had any interest in Stuyvesant Town.

His response: “Of course,” recalled Sheehy. It wouldn’t be until a year later, though, when the two men actually met again on the subject of Stuyvesant Town.

This was when he’d arranged for Agarwal, whom he called “a pleasant fellow,” to meet with then-Council Member Dan Garodnick at his midtown office. This was in October 2014, and the Tenants Association still had hopes of going condo.

But CWCapital hadn’t yet shown any interest in that plan.

“CW was saying, ‘We’re not ready to sell, and what’s all this talk about selling?’”

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Tenants asked to speak at Council hearing on rent stabilization

The Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association is asking neighbors to share their stories about why rent stabilization is needed at an upcoming hearing.

On Monday, March 19 at 1 p.m. the City Council Housing and Buildings Committee has scheduled a public hearing on two measures introduced by City Council Speaker Corey Johnson. One is to renew the city rent control law (which doesn’t apply to ST/PCV), and the other (Intro 600-A) is to renew the NYC Rent Stabilization Law of 1969 (which does), for three more years.

In an email to residents on Friday, the TA stated, “As long as the city vacancy rate is below 5 percent the city can renew a declaration of housing emergency. The vacancy rate is currently 3.63 percent, according to the Census Bureau.”

Tenants will have the opportunity to give testimony or simply attend the hearing to support neighbors.

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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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‘Bernie Madoff of landlords’ gets one year in jail

Steve Croman

By Kyle Campbell

One of the cityʼs most notorious landlords has been jailed for a year in a rare move by State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to sound a warning bell to unscrupulous New York building owners.

Steven Croman, who has been dubbed “The Bernie Madoff of Landlords,” was sentenced to one year at Rikers Island on Tuesday after pleading guilty to grand larceny and tax fraud.

Croman was also fined $5 million in a plea deal that saw him admit to third-degree grand larceny, first-degree falsifying business records and fourth-degree criminal tax fraud.

Between 2012 and 2014, Croman acquired $45 million in refinancing loans by submitting applications with phony rent rolls that showed market rate rents for units held by rent-stabilized tenants. He also inflated commercial rent payments to pad his on-paper profits and obtain larger loans, according to Schneiderman.

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Letters to the editor, June 15

It’s a playground, not a bark park

I honestly do not mind people in Stuyvesant Town owning dogs. For the most part, so far, our walks and playgrounds are still fairly clean. I don’t even mind neighbors’ dogs barking every time I enter and leave my apartment. I acknowledge this is a shared building, and not a private home.

What I do mind is this preposterous idea of a Saturday morning dog “get together” in playground 6. I could not believe my ears June third when sitting in my living room reading the New York Times, there were at least twenty dogs all barking at each other. This continued from 9 a.m. to 12 noon. It was excessively noisy and extremely annoying that on Saturday, when most people and I have off from work, we were accosted by incessant dog barking for three hours.

I would like to know who thought up this crazy, offensive (to non-dog owners) idea. The owners thought this was great fun– 20 barking dogs for three hours. Do they not hear how loud this is? Obviously they put dog rights above human quality of life.

I hope there is not a next time for all of us whose apartments face Playground 6.

Until this practice is stopped, I have prepared myself with Advil and earplugs. I was thinking about standing outside a dog owner’s apartment and barking for three hours straight when he was trying to relax and his dog was no longer barking, but my husband reminded me that Bellevue was right up the block.

Marianne Emanuel, ST

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Opinion: Five tips to testify effectively for fair rent in front of the RGB

Some of the members of the Rent Guidelines Board, pictured at a hearing last year (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Angela Pham, member, Met Council on Housing

At my day job, I’m a professional storyteller — I use words and stories strategically to get executives to buy something. This kind of persuasion is handy not only in a business context, but also to be heard in other areas.

But you don’t have to be a professional storyteller to see impact. With the upcoming Rent Guidelines Board (RGB) vote, we all have the opportunity to use stories for persuasion.

If you’re a rent-stabilized tenant, or are just an everyday citizen concerned about the lack of affordable housing in our city, you can use your voice for good by providing a 2-minute testimony in one of the upcoming public hearings.

The downtown Manhattan Hearing will be Wednesday, June 14 from 2-8 p.m. at Alexander Hamilton U.S. Customs House 1 Bowling Green.

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Baruch professor appointed as a public member of RGB

Hilary Botein said she was surprised to be asked to serve on the board. (Photo courtesy of Hilary Botein)

By Sabina Mollot

Last Thursday, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced two new appointments to the Rent Guidelines Board — the same day the board held its first meeting to help determine this year’s rent increase (or freeze) for over a million households.

One was real estate professor and lawyer David Reiss. The other was Hilary Botein, an attorney and associate professor at Baruch College’s Marxe School of Public and International Affairs, who teaches courses on housing and community development policy. Both she and Reiss are now public members, replacing K. Sabeel Rahman and Steven Flax.

Reached on the phone after Botein attended her first RGB meeting as an active participant, she told Town & Village the call from the mayor’s office came as a surprise. However, saying yes to the unpaid position wasn’t difficult for Botein, who’s been to many RGB hearings and meetings as an observer and has also sent her students to the often raucous forum for assignments.

“It is a lot of work and a big responsibility,” she said, “but I also felt it was an opportunity to bring my experience and knowledge of housing in New York to (impact) millions of people.”

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Stabilized buildings in ST, Gramercy saw highest rent hikes in city from 2014-2015

Harvey Epstein, a tenant member of the Rent Guidelines Board, pictured at last year’s preliminary vote (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Rent-stabilized buildings in the Stuyvesant Town and Gramercy area had the greatest increases in rent in Manhattan from 2014 to 2015, a study released by the Rent Guidelines Board found.

According to the data, announced in the 2017 Income and Expense Study discussed at the RGB’s first public meeting of the year last Thursday, rent went up by 7.6 percent in Community District 6, which includes Stuyvesant Town, Peter Cooper Village, Gramercy Park and Murray Hill.

Rent increased in every community district in the city in that time frame, with only three Brooklyn neighborhoods with higher increases than district 6.

Although rent increases are governed by the guidelines set out by the RGB, variations occur because of vacancy allowances, the termination of preferential rents, individual apartment improvements and building-wide improvements (major capital improvements).

The study, which examines Real Property Income and Expense (RPIE) statements from rent stabilized buildings filed with the Department of Finance, also found that net operating income (NOI) for owners grew by 10.8 percent, marking the 11th consecutive year that the NOI has increased. The study does not break down the NOI increases by community district, but the increase in core Manhattan, which is defined as south of West 110th Street and south of East 96th Street, was 7.8 percent.

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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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Letters to the Editor, Jan. 5

Cartoon by Jim Meadows

Cartoon by Jim Meadows

Hey, T&V, watch your language

Re: “Man drops pants, pees in view of kids across from PS 116,” T&V, Dec. 29, 2016

I was disturbed to read about a homeless man openly urinating in front of school children in the neighborhood this week.

But I was also disturbed to see you characterize this sick person as a “bum.” I don’t think I’ve ever seen that label used by a reputable journalist.

Labels like that reduce the problem to two-dimensional, black and white thinking, them versus us, which does nothing to resolve the problem the community is facing, and only further marginalizes a desperate, untreated population.

I hope in the future you’ll commit to raising our understanding of complex problems in the community through language that more accurately reflects the true nature of the problem, and the people involved.

Name withheld, ST

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