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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Rally and City Council Hearing on Monday on Rent Stabilization Laws

The Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association, via an email blast sent out late Thursday, is urging residents to attend a rally at City Hall on Monday at 9 a.m. Read on for details.

Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association Chair Susan Steinberg (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association Chair Susan Steinberg with politicians including Council Member Dan Garodnick, Comptroller Scott Stringer and Senator Charles Schumer, at a rally at City Hall in June (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

Is your rent more than $4,000 . . . less than $2,500 . . . or anywhere in between?

THIS AFFECTS YOU

On June 15–less than four months from now–all rent protections will end unless renewed by the state legislature and the governor. By March 11, New York City needs to renew the rent laws too. Without renewal, you may not be able to afford your rent. Every one of us is affected.

Ambushed by a massive rent increase on renewal?
Tired of paying MCIs forever?
Want this to change?

Kickoff event: Monday, March 2, at 9 a.m.
Rally on the steps of City Hall.
Attend hearing afterward, City Council chambers, 2nd floor.

Next step: Pressure the state legislature, the new Speaker of the Assembly, and the Governor:

  • write letters (by hand, if you can-it shows politicians you care)
  • sign postcards
  • complete online and hand-signed petitions
  • attend rallies and hearings

We’ll be sending you more information soon.

If you don’t act . . .

  • Without rent stabilization, there will be no limits on rent increases and no automatic right to a lease renewal. We could all face eviction at the landlord’s whim.
  • Without renewal of rent stabilization, Roberts means nothing and SCRIE/DRIE will disappear.

We can win only if you participate. Want to do even more? Let us know by phone or email.

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Have you considered volunteering with us? If you have special skills or want to help distribute flyers and talk to neighbors in your building, let us know by calling the Message Center at (866) 290-9036 or signing up at: http://stpcvta.org/neighbor.network.

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Please consider additional financial support to help bolster our legal fund by donating at http://stpcvta.org/donate

Stringer’s Wall Street opponent — Burnett says he’d reform city’s pension plans

John Burnett

John Burnett

By Sabina Mollot

On Primary Day, Scott Stringer bested his opponent, former Governor Eliot Spitzer, following a contentious race for comptroller, but Stringer, the Manhattan borough president, isn’t completely out of the water just yet.

In November, he’ll face off against John Burnett, a Harlem-based Republican with a background in finance. Though Burnett has none of the name recognition Stringer’s been building up, via celebrity endorsements as well as a contentious primary race against a man who had his political career derailed over a hooker scandal, he insisted he’s up for the challenge.

During an interview following a recent morning campaign stop in Stuyvesant Town, Burnett told Town & Village he’s running because he wants to make sure “bureaucracy doesn’t stranglehold things.”

He added, “In corporate America, if a corporation doesn’t change in a way to shift and adapt, then they go out of business. So I’m used to change.”

Burnett doesn’t feel Stringer’s qualified for the job of comptroller, saying, “I don’t think Scott Stringer is going to change anything when he’s been inside for 25 years.” He also blasted Stringer’s past attempt at running two bars. He asked why voters should trust him to manage the city’s books when “he couldn’t sell wings and beer in a city of millions?”

The corporate candidate had even harsher words for former opponent Spitzer, blasting him more than once on his website for the former governor’s dalliances with prostitutes and use of taxpayer dollars to fund his travel expenses during those times.

Burnett said if elected to the position of comptroller, which oversees the city’s pensions, he would reform the pension plans by combining them. This, he said, would save its earners millions in administrative fees and costs.

“We have to get to pensions to where they’re self-sustaining” for retirees, he said.

Burnett’s other goal is job creation through economic incentives to help small businesses grow and tax abatements for developers.

“Tax abatements spur real estate growth in New York City,” he said. To help small businesses, he said he would fight the city’s “harassment” of its owners aimed at collecting fines and taxes.

While politicking at Stuy Town early in the morning, he said most of the questions he got were about jobs or housing. He noted that even with the unemployment rate dipping slightly, it’s still “double digit with blacks and Hispanics.”

As for housing, he knows the city needs more of it and is in favor of more “combination housing,” a mix of affordable and market rate development. “We have to do it in a way that is timely and doesn’t cost a lot of money.” In this case, he wasn’t sure that reducing real estate taxes was the answer, since a reduction in landlords’ own costs wouldn’t necessarily lead to them feeling the need to pass the discount on to tenants.

Burnett last worked at McGraw-Hill Financial in risk and compliance before leaving in March to focus on his campaign, and he’s worked Wall Street money management jobs throughout a 20-year career. Previous places of employment include Citigroup, Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley and Smith Barney. In his official bio online, the candidate describes himself as a “natural entrepreneur” who started selling candy to classmates at age six. (He would later recruit his family to help him shill homemade cookies.) After graduating from high school, he got a job as a cashier at Pathmark, which was also his introduction to the world of unions. By the age of 20, he was working as a margin analyst for Dean Witter Reynolds, which later became Morgan Stanley. He later, while working, finished college at New York University and got an MBA at Cornell.

Now a father of two daughters, Burnett was born in a public housing development in East New York and his family later moved to Queens Village, where he grew up. He’s lived in Harlem for the past nine years.

As a former NYCHA resident, Burnett weighed in the agency’s current plan to lease existing, open space on eight public housing projects to outside developers, to say he thought it was a good idea.

“I think we need to explore all options,” he said, in contrast to local elected officials who want to make sure current residents are okay with it and that the plan includes affordable housing.

Burnett however, again stressed he liked the idea of a mix of lower-income and market rate housing. “We have to be a city for all demographics,” he said.

He wasn’t initially interested in getting into politics, he said, but was encouraged by the Republican County leadership. He added that he feels that due to the recent sex and bribery scandals involving politicians and candidates such as Spitzer and Anthony Weiner, “it’s really given New York a black eye” and that it’s time for someone with “a higher level of integrity” to step up.

Like any other Republican running for office in New York City, Burnett knows he’s facing a steep, uphill battle in trying to convince democrats to vote for him ― or even not dismiss him on sight. However, he said he hopes to appeal to voters who are “getting sick of the same old thing. The definition of insanity is to do the same old thing over and over again and expect a different result.”

Waterside celebrates 40th anniversary

By Sabina Mollot

On Thursday night, hundreds gathered at Waterside Plaza for a celebration of the complex’s 40th anniversary that included a concert by the George G. Orchestra, dancing under the stars and a fireworks display over the East River.

Waterside owner Richard Ravitch, between schmoozing with tenants and local politicians, said he never could have imagined the evening’s landmark celebration when, close to 50 years ago, he was trying to convince city officials that the building of a four-tower complex east of the FDR Drive would be a good thing.

“Never in the world,” he said. But he kept pushing for the plans and eventually succeeded in getting federal legislation passed so that Waterside’s buildings could be constructed directly over the water.

“(Mayor) Lindsay was excited about this,” recalled Ravitch. For a while, he noted, Waterside also rented apartments to the FBI “so they could eavesdrop on North Korea.” These days, Waterside is home to 4,000 people, including 200 employees of the United Nations, and there are also two onsite private schools, United Nations International School and British International School of New York.

Over the years, Ravitch said the biggest challenge of running the property is staying on top of its upkeep.

“If you do this responsibly, you have to preserve the infrastructure, even if it means less money in your pocket.”

Ravitch lives uptown rather than at Waterside, explaining, “Every time I raise the rent, some tenants get… unhappy. So it’s never a good idea.” Tenants seemed receptive to the landlord on Thursday though, even greeting him with cheers when he addressed the crowd briefly to discuss the history of the complex and the land it was built on.

He noted the fact that Waterside, the first property to be built east of the FDR Drive, was designed by Lewis Davis, whose son Peter Davis is today the general manager of the property. When introducing him, Ravitch said, “When I was dabbling significantly in public service, I knew I’d have to find an extraordinary person who could raise tenants’ rents, but remain beloved by tenants. That person turned out to be the son of the genius who designed Waterside.”

Ravitch also had words of praise for Waterside Tenants Association President Janet Handal. Though he admitted she “gives me agita several times a year,” he also called her a tough leader for tenants.

He then went on to discuss how long before Waterside was even a concept, the area that now houses the four-tower complex was an important part of international history. In the 1940s, when the United States was trying to help the British with supplies, the ships they were delivered in, which could not return to the U.S. empty, used rubble from the ground in English city of Bristol as ballast. That rubble was then emptied in the area that now houses Waterside before the ships would take on more supplies. Waterside management was made aware of this bit of history a couple of years ago through the English Speaking Union and now has a plaque on the Plaza to commemorate it.

Also joining Ravitch to discuss the history were a couple of special guests, Edwina Sandys, the granddaughter of Winston Churchill, and Ava Roosevelt, the widow of William Roosevelt, David Roosevelt’s half-brother. Local politicians also appeared at the event, including Borough President Scott Stringer, State Senator Brad Hoylman, Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh, Council Member Dan Garodnick and Council Member (and borough president Democratic primary winner) Gale Brewer.

Along with the brief ceremony, the evening included complimentary hot dogs and burgers grilled outside on the Plaza, music, dancing as well as dance performances by the Syncopated City Dance Company, a video tribute to the complex and entertainment for kids.

Effort to protest mid-lease rent increases continues

May30 sign

The ST-PCV Tenants Association’s signs, like the one pictured, have been popping up at local stores.

By Sabina Mollot

Two weeks after CWCapital announced that mid-lease rent hikes would be issued to around 1,300 residents of Stuyvesant Town/Peter Cooper Village, the Tenants Association and local elected officials are still hoping to get the special servicer to change its mind.

On Tuesday, several East Side elected officials asked Andrew MacArthur, vice president of CWCapital Asset Management, for a sit-down aimed at “holding off on any increases until leases expire.” The request was made via letter signed by State Senator Charles Schumer, Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Public Advocate Bill De Blasio, Council Member Dan Garodnick, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, State Senator Brad Hoylman, Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh and Borough President Scott Stringer.

In the letter, the pols noted that leasing agents had been telling renters that it was highly unlikely CW would raise rents mid-lease.

“Since there is regular sharing of information within the community, it is very likely that many more residents believed they would be free of rent hikes mid-term,” they wrote.

The Tenants Association also continued to encourage neighbors to picket outside the leasing office. Though initially the intent was to have “sustained” protesting outside, the association was unable to have a continued presence mid-week, and has instead, since early this week, been focused on a flyer door dropoff campaign. Additionally, John Marsh, the president of the TA, said another plan has been to approach local businesses to ask if they’d agree to keep protest signs and flyers on sight. That way residents could drop by, pick up flyers, protest and then return the sign.

“Even if they can only give a half hour, if we can get 500 people to do a half hour, we’d be fully covered,” said Marsh. “To make it meaningful, you have to have a sustained effort, so now we have self-service protests.”

One volunteer, who didn’t want his name used, mentioned that he and his wife had already gotten a bunch of local retailers to participate. Those include Adam’s Deli and the Associated supermarket on East 14th Street and Duane Reade, CVS, Zeichner’s, Ess-A-Bagel and Nature’s First Pharmacy, Frank’s Trattoria, Duro Carpet and Johnny Mozzarella on First Avenue. The volunteer added that he was one of a handful of tenants who’d picketed over Memorial Day weekend, scaring off a few potential renters with tales of bedbugs and mid-lease rent hikes.

CWCapital increased the rents following the “Roberts v. Tishman Speyer” settlement. Fine print in the leases had mentioned the rents could be raised, even mid-lease.

As reported by T&V last week, tenants had protested in front of the leasing office to tell prospective renters about the mid-lease increases as well as other problems such as continued lack of basic services in Sandy-battered buildings. Management responded by having leasing agents meet clients in the back of the leasing office or at the model apartments.

Additionally, in a newsletter emailed to residents last Wednesday, CWCapital said,

“In accordance with certain residents’ leases and in accordance with the court order approving the settlement agreement, some residents have received a rent adjustment. Some rents have gone down and some rents have gone up. If your rent has been adjusted, you already received a notice on May 14th.  

“We respect the fact that adjusting rents mid-lease term is disruptive and can be confusing… We look forward to resolving these last uncertainties and restoring stability to our community.”

In related news, since Tuesday, the Tenants Association has also been hearing from residents who received unusually high June rent bills. Those were not the same tenants who received the mid-lease increases, who’ve all been members of the “Roberts” class action, but tenants living in “Roberts” affected apartments, said Marsh.

However, according to a CW spokesperson, this turned out to be a clerical error. There was no comment on the continued effort to overturn the mid-lease increases.

In other news, residents have also been concerned about CW’s recently begun campaign to inspect all apartments for “unsafe conditions, unregistered dogs and compliance with the 80 percent carpet rule.” Tenants have told Town & Village via Facebook that in some instances, inspectors have looked inside their closets and Marsh said he’s heard the same, “which is disconcerting.”

In light of the recent spate of no-forced-entry burglaries, the TA has advised residents to comply with the inspections but make sure they can be present.

Marsh said the TA was successful in getting management to agree to take requests for appointments for an inspection via email. Previously it had only been by phone, which Marsh said concerned some tenants who weren’t sure there would be follow-through after leaving a message. The notice period may also be getting extended to 7-10 days.

This article was updated from the print version to include a response from CWCapital on the June rent bills.

Op-Ed: The East River Blueway: A model for all five boroughs

By Manhattan Borough President Scott M. Stringer and State Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh

Plans for the East River Blueway include a footbridge that would also serve as a seawall. (Rendering by  WXY Architecture + Urban Design)

Plans for the East River Blueway include a footbridge that would also serve as a seawall. (Rendering by WXY Architecture + Urban Design)

As New York City recovers from Hurricane Sandy, communities in all five boroughs are understandably focused on repairing waterfront neighborhoods that were hit by historic flooding. But we must also ensure that these recovery efforts protect our city against the next big storm and other threats to our coastal communities as the climate changes and sea levels rise.

That’s the philosophy and overriding goal of the recently unveiled East River Blueway Plan, which our offices began developing in 2010. We hoped to redesign an often forgotten stretch of our East Side waterfront, from the Brooklyn Bridge to East 38th Street. Our objective was to open up the long-neglected area, creating beachfront access, recreational activities, tree-lined walkways, and other amenities that would bring people closer to the water. But we also knew that we had to protect this low-lying area from storms and flooding.

When Hurricane Sandy hit, it confirmed our worst fears about the need to plan differently for the future. And it strengthened our resolve, because New York City cannot be a place where people’s lives and livelihoods are threatened by a storm, no matter how powerful. Now that the winds have died and the waters have receded, we must get down to the job of making our coastal communities more resilient, through better infrastructure and ecological features that provide natural protection from flooding.

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Letters to the Editor, Feb. 14

Barriers blocked access on East 20th Street

To the Editor:

On the fifteenth of January when I went downstairs to find my car, parked in its usual place, the loading zone in front of 430 and 440 East 20th Street with my handicapped permit prominently displayed, it was all alone in the always full area and adorned with a notice giving the usual threats, towing etc. Large wooden blocks had been placed along with metal gates the whole length of the area from the parking garage to the corner Loop exit.

Since I am in my eighties and use a walker, having my car so available is extremely important for the conduct of my life. The barriers have forced me to park at some distance and to struggle along, sometimes with a shopping bag to get into my building.

Finally, since no sort of work is being visibly conducted I called the management office and was told that something or other will be done to my building at some future date. The supervisor I spoke to seemed rather confused about the project. I asked why they have taken the space two weeks ahead of the actual work, causing myself and other residents, some in wheelchairs, extraordinary problems. The five or six doctors’ offices in my building are surely receiving complaints from patients keeping their appointments while family members wait in cars. As for the delivery trucks, including the USPS one can easily imagine a lot of strong language in reaction to the loss of loading zone.

How long will this outrage go on until it gets worse?

H. Zwerling, ST

This letter was forwarded by T&V to a rep for management last Tuesday and the author said work began on 440 E. 20th later that day. CWCapital spokesperson Kara Krippen said the work was being done on the 20th Street Loop to stay in compliance with Local Law 11, which relates to facade inspections.

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Letters to the Editor, Jan. 3

Some downtown areas still need Sandy aid

The following is a letter from State Senator Daniel Squadron, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, Assembly Member Deborah Glick, Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh, Council Member Margaret Chin and Council Member Rosie Mendez to Robert Doar, Commissioner of the Human Resources Administration in mid-December.

We write regarding the federal government’s approval of the City’s request to bring the Hurricane Sandy Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (D-SNAP) to areas of New York City impacted by the storm.

The approval of D-SNAP for residents throughout the city means that more New Yorkers in more places will get food assistance they need in the wake of the storm. Many New York City families continue to struggle in Sandy’s aftermath and D-SNAP is one way to help them through this difficult time. We are particularly pleased that residents from the 10002 zip code are eligible for the program. However, we do have concerns about the accessibility and eligibility of the program for Manhattan residents.

Of the twelve full and partial zip codes approved for D-SNAP in New York City, only one, 10002, is in Manhattan. In Lower Manhattan a large area was devastated by the storm, crossing a number of zip codes with a high proportion of low-income, elderly and vulnerable constituents. We urge the inclusion of additional full and partial zip codes to allow more Manhattan residents impacted by the storm to apply.

Additionally, for such a large program that is complex to administer, just two application centers (in Staten Island and Brooklyn), however large, will deter many eligible New Yorkers from applying. If there were additional application centers closer to more affected zip codes, open for a significant amount of time, it would spread the volume of applicants, reduce pressure on the existing centers, particularly in Brooklyn, and make applications more realistic for those who need it. In light of this, we recommend establishing an application center in Lower Manhattan.

Therefore, we urge the inclusion of additional full and partial zip codes that would allow more New Yorkers in Lower Manhattan impacted by the storm to apply, the opening of additional application centers closer to more affected zip codes, and an extension of the December 18th deadline for applications so that the program is as inclusive as possible for New Yorkers in need. Continue reading

It’s official: Garodnick out of comptroller race

Borough President Scott Stringer and Council Member Dan Garodnick at a Stuyvesant Town press conference in 2009

By Sabina Mollot

On Wednesday afternoon, Council Member Dan Garodnick officially dropped out of the race for city comptroller, a little over a week after Borough President Scott Stringer said he would be throwing his own hat in the ring.

Political insiders are saying they didn’t see the move by Stringer, who’d previously been running for mayor, as a surprise, and initially Garodnick said he’d continue to run. However, he changed his tune this week when he decided to throw his support behind Stringer and instead run for a third term in the Council.

“The challenges (facing the city) are significant,” Garodnick said shortly before his official announcement, “and I didn’t want to distract from those issues with a contentious campaign for comptroller against a friend.”

According to Garodnick, when he decided to run for the position, it was because he thought the city was in need of “independent leadership,” but now, “with Scott we have that opportunity,” he said. At that time, Comptroller John Liu, who is running for mayor, was caught in a scandal relating to his campaign employees and improper fundraising.

Getting reelected shouldn’t prove too tough for the popular Democrat, and Mark Thompson, a Stuyvesant Town resident who’d previously announced he was running to fill Garodnick’s seat, said on Wednesday that his own campaign has been put on hold.

“It’s Dan, so I’m okay with it,” said Thompson, who said he’ll just try again for the 4th Council District seat in another four years.  “Dan Garodnick has been great in the City Council and I support his run for reelection,” he added.

Stringer has so far managed to raise more in his campaign war chest than Garodnick, and has been campaigning longer. Garodnick amassed about $1.25 million at the time of his last filing in July. He said he has raised more since then though and hasn’t changed plans, made prior to his announcement, to hold another fundraising event on Saturday morning at Percy’s Tavern.

Garodnick also commented on unfinished business in his district he’d like to work on in the Council, such as the “continuing challenges in Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper and Waterside.”

There and in other areas, he noted, “There are land use challenges like flooding of our infrastructure. We’ve got the East Side rezoning that’s coming up. These are some top priorities.”

In published reports on Tuesday about his then-rumored dropping out of the comptroller race, it was mentioned that Garodnick was eyeing the Council’s speaker position.

However, in response, Garodnick said that while, “I’ve read that too, I haven’t looked at it.”

That position is now occupied by mayoral hopeful Christine Quinn, who many believe to be the frontrunner, especially now, according to a recent New York Post report.

A spokesperson for Stringer’s campaign didn’t respond to a request for comment by Town & Village’s press time.

Where to vote today

Today is Election Day, and along with voting for the next U.S. president and veep, community residents will also have the opportunity to vote for their rep in Congress, the State Senate and the Assembly, as well as Manhattan’s Surrogate’s Court.

For residents in the Stuyvesant Town/Waterside/Gramercy area, the choices are, for Congress, the longtime incumbent Carolyn Maloney, a Democrat, or Christopher Wight, a Republican.

For State Senate, Democrat Brad Hoylman, who won the primary, is running unchallenged after an opponent stepped down.

For Assembly, Democrat and incumbent Brian Kavanagh is also running unchallenged after beating Juan Pagan in the primary.

Judge Rita Mella, a Democrat living in Stuyvesant Town, won the primary for Manhattan Surrogate, and is also running unchallenged in the general election.

As for where all the Republicans went, party insiders this fall seemed to agree there wasn’t any point in trying to win in this district.

Council Member Dan Garodnick, who is running for city comptroller (in 2013) has said he has inspected all seven Stuyvesant Town/Peter Cooper Village polling places and found that there was no damage to the voting rooms. Additionally, they all have power and will be used today.

However, he noted in an email to residents yesterday, “There is no heat at any of the locations, and it remains to be seen  whether the Board of Elections will take additional steps to warm them up.”

Additionally, due to a lack of power at Waterside Plaza, residents of Waterside  will be voting at the Asser Levy  Recreation Center along with many Peter Cooper residents.  So, the councilman warned, voters should be prepared for longer lines than usual.

ST/PCV poll sites:
360 First Avenue
Asser Levy Recreation Center
525 East 14th Street
3 Stuyvesant Oval
272 First Avenue
10 Stuyvesant Oval
283 Avenue C

Residents displaced by Hurricane Sandy are allowed to vote at any polling place, Borough President Scott Stringer announced yesterday.