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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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.
Re: “800 ST/PCV residents who qualify for SCRIE/DRIE haven’t enrolled,” T&V, Sept. 29
Despite being many months away from being eligible, I write to commend all of the people involved in publicizing the DRIE and SCRIE rent exemption programs.
But first I want to mention something that’s troublesome. The New York Observer editorialized on behalf of an option that seniors in rent stabilized multi-bedroom apartments be able to downsize to rent stabilized studios, as my grandmother did decades ago, to save chunks of rent. Having one’s rent cut in half is better than having one’s rent frozen. But that is not an option either in PCV-ST or anywhere anymore.
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. “
Re: Letter, “’Entitled’ to affordability?”, T&V Nov. 26
I hope that the comments that I made on a Blackstone survey might keep Associated, an affordable and well-run supermarket, in our community. This would save the jobs of its many employees and prevent them from being among the “proud-to-be poor” that Benita Therock described in her letter.
In her letter, Therock also bitterly and benightedly refers to ST-PCV rent-stabilized tenants as being “proud to be poor.” She claimed that we “lack the pride and dignity to carry our own weight.”
I suspect that most stabilized tenants are like me. We came to ST-PCV as young couples and young singles with careers decades ago. We have carried our weight as residents of this community. We worked, paid our taxes, voted, raised families, participated in a variety of ST-PCV events, donated and volunteered at local schools, religious institutions, and at community-based charities. We spent our weekends cheering on our kids at Little League and soccer games, just like other Americans across this country.
Some of us long-time residents have gown older. We retired, and despite our savings, our money doesn’t go quite as far as before. But through rent-stabilization, we are fortunate to be residents in the ST-PCV community and in New York, the city that we’ve worked for, lived in and loved. This is home.
Standing in the front of a crowded 14th Street bus on the way to my physical therapy, I looked with envy at all the teens and twenty-somethings packing the seats and thought: “This is the future of America.” But I wasn’t envious because they were young but because they were sitting.
Next to me on this bumpy bus, a frail lady clutched a pole for dear life and an elderly man with a cane struggled to keep his balance. Other white-haired passengers looked on as the laughing youngsters competed for attention, shouting and sharing their latest selfies with their techno-savvy friends who were also busy on their phones, texting or talking animatedly or just staring at something on the screen, oblivious to the reality around them.
I found myself imagining these youngsters as adults standing behind podiums at a televised debate for the President of the United States, competing to get the attention of the TV moderators so they could talk about their many virtues and their life’s goal of helping and caring for the poor and middle class, indeed for all humanity — a verbal selfie, if you will, albeit a bit Dorian Grayish.
When the bus stopped at Union Square, the Future of America finally got up and got off, leaving their warm seats.
Then the elderly and disabled people moved slowly and shakily to the newly-vacant seats, eased their tired bodies down and sighed with relief.
Ah, the future of America!
I hope I’m alive to watch those candidates in a future debate which I think will be exactly like the current debates, just with different faces. I could use a little comedy before my final ride where I’m sure to get a seat or, more exactly, a bed.
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.
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.
“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.
To begin to understand the machination of Albany politics especially with the state legislature, a basic understanding of chess is necessary. For they are based on the very same principles.
Chess is a game of strategy. Unlike other games, the moves made in chess are often times disguised and not always what they appear to be. First of all, in chess each player starts with 16 pieces. The pieces are of different values and are capable of making different moves across the 64 squared checkerboard. The goal in chess is to navigate across the board using your pieces in different ways to ultimately capture the opposing player’s “King.” Each player knows that in spite of starting out with 16 pieces they will lose some pieces along the way and even sacrifice some pieces in order to position themselves for victory.
To some extent that explains why Senator John Flanagan, the newly minted Senate (Republican) Majority Leader from Long Island, is so interested in New York City rent regulations. There are many more important local issues to Senator Flanagan’s constituents and fellow legislators from Nassau, Suffolk or upstate districts. But Flanagan is deftly holding on to the rent regulation issue near and dear to virtually every city legislator in the hopes of trading it or sacrificing it for something more important to his constituents and colleagues in the Senate. Each issue is like a chess piece. Each has a relative importance and each has a value if it is to be given up for something else.
No issue stands alone in Albany. Each issue is part of the bigger picture of what can be gained or lost in negotiations. This is probably also true of New York City mayoral control of the public schools which like New York City rent regulations must be renewed. It is very important to New York City politicians. But Flanagan and his mostly suburban and rural colleagues are holding on to both of those issues like a dog and its favorite bone.
Senator Flanagan cares much more about upstate property taxes and even some changes to the state’s restrictive gun laws (although that may now be a nonstarter following yet another gun tragedy, this time in a church in South Carolina). Flanagan also cares about upstate economic revitalization issues and even tax cuts to underwrite private and parochial school costs for parents who send their children to those schools or individuals who donate funds to those schools.
So the leaders in the Democratic Assembly led by Speaker Carl Heastie and the Senate leaders will move those issues along the checkerboard of negotiations knowing that to achieve their ultimate goals they will sacrifice some of those less important issue to gain more important issues for each of them. As for the governor, He will try to broker a deal that satisfies his political priorities by cobbling together issues that are of importance to the Assembly and the Senate that satisfies his political needs. In this case the governor is using the rent
regulation issue as leverage to procure approval from the Assembly on issues that it is less interested in, but ones that the governor has a great interest.
This is the traditional horse trading that has always been part of the Albany legislative culture of getting things done. But this gamesmanship causes great anxiety to ordinary citizens who feel like pawns in the game, especially one million New York City tenants.
Rent regulations and protections against eviction or huge increases in rents is a matter of life and death for many apartment dwellers.
So my advice to the leadership of Albany is to get this done this week and allow the people of the State of New York to proceed with their lives without the uncertainty and intrigue of Albany machinations.
Really, Mr. Cuomo, Mr. Heastie and Mr. Flanagan… this is not a game!
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.