Letters to the Editor, July 10

July10 Toon subway busker

One percent increase a positive step

The recently announced one percent RGB increase is a small step toward putting the “stable” back in rent stabilization.
As tenants, we all need to support this action by selecting the one-year option when we renew our leases. This will send a clear message to the RGB and Albany that we want to preserve our community and affordable housing for all New Yorkers.
It will also reject the risky business model followed by the equity predators. This business model is named for its last two words: “It doesn’t matter how much you pay, you can always sell it later to a bigger fool.”  The problem with this model is who is going to be the next bigger fool?
Not the current tenants. We realize that the choice of a 2.75 percent two-year increase is the equivalent of selecting a 1 percent increase this year and a 3.5 percent increase next year! While landlords deserve to cover realistic cost increases, we will not pay for yet another round of replanting because the previous round was done wrong.
Not the future tenants. The equity predators are all targeting recent graduates and other newcomers to the housing market to fill current and future vacancies. But saddled with large student loans and entry-level salaries, the only vacancies they can fill are the empty bedrooms in their parents’ homes.
Not the equity lenders. They have been burned once by the Tishman Speyer default and other failed large real estate deals. They will be following the model established by Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac. (Thank you, Senator Schumer.) The equity predators will have to prove the viability of their projections with more than just an “I said so.”
In other words, the times they are a-changin’ (with apologies to Bob Dylan.) Gone are the days where equity predators can entice bigger fools with frivolous, self-congratulatory costs like the vanity plates on the PCVST security vehicles.
Gone too are the days when the mayor turns a blind eye because, “It’s a private matter.” If the equity predators continue to believe their own hype (the cardinal sin committed by Tishman Speyer), they will find that they are the biggest fools.
Responsible parties within the real estate industry have already shown signs that they are adjusting to accept a different business model based on realistic income forecasts and controlled operating costs.
Let us all give our support to these leaders by overwhelmingly accepting the one-year, one percent increase and rejecting all rent increases that exceed true cost increases.
Bill Huebsch,
ST Resident for 36 years

 

Mayor didn’t deliver on rent freeze

To the Editor:
Mayor de Blasio is now batting with two strikes against him here in Stuyvesant Town.
First, he sandbagged Councilmember Dan Garodnick, by actively campaigning for Dan’s opponent for City Council speaker.
Then, the mayor capitulated to the real estate industry and disavowed his supposedly ironclad campaign pledge of a rent freeze.
Sandbagging tenants like this has a real cost. A rent increase of one percent will cost ST/PCV residents a total of $3,236,680 every year – calculated as an average rent of $2,000 over 11,235 apartments. Plus, everyone’s base rent is now raised in perpetuity.
This $3,236,680 is money that tenants could have used to support our local community. Or, tenants could have strengthened their retirement savings. Instead, it will go to line the pockets of the hedge fund that controls the property.
The mayor needs to decide whether he is on the side of tenants or the side of hedge funds.
Name Withheld, ST

 

Can we give Citi Bike hogs the boot?

June26 Marsh Citibike2 June26 Marsh CitibikeThe following is an email sent to Citi Bike by John Marsh, president of the ST-PCV Tenants Association, shared with T&V.
Subject: “Reserving” or Booting a Citi Bike By For Your Exclusive Use
I wanted to formally bring to your attention the following unfair practice of reserving your own Citi Bike by putting a lock on it, or effectively booting it so other riders can’t take it out.
I came along at 8:20 a.m. on Thursday, June 19th delighted to see a lone bike at the E. 20th and FDR station in Dock #34.  After inserting my Citi Bike key in I was surprised to see that a U-Lock had been placed around the back wheel of bike number 06656. I immediately re-docked the bike, took these photos and called the incident into Citibike Customer Support number.
Whomever (whichever member) successfully undocked and rode this bike next to another Citi Bike station should be warned or disciplined in some manner for this inappropriate behavior.

Tenants rally to demand affordability, involvement in any deal

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By Sabina Mollot
Despite on and off downpours, a crowd of around 300 tenants rallied on the steps of City Hall on Friday morning to demand more involvement in any future deal surrounding Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village.
Originally the rally was set for the day of a foreclosure sale by CWCapital but was since turned into an opportunity to promote the fact that negotiations are currently taking place between CW, the de Blasio administration and local politicians on finding ways to maintain affordability at the complex. The goal is to satisfy the senior bondholders while also preserving the thousands of units for the middle class.

While CW said it is committed to the talks with the city for the next two months at least, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal, speeches at the podium centered around tenants having a say in any sales process as well as a guarantee, secured by U.S. Sen. Schumer earlier this week, that lenders Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac would not finance any deal at ST/PCV that didn’t have the backing of the tenants or the city.

“I said, ‘No if, ands or buts?’ They said, ‘no ifs, ands or buts,’” Schumer told the crowd.
He added that it would be “very hard” for any would-be buyer without Fannie and Freddie’s participation.
Schumer went on to say he’s always enjoyed visiting Stuy Town where his cousins lived.
“It’s always been a place for average folks to actually still be in Manhattan,” he said.

Other politicians at the event — Comptroller Scott Stringer, Council Member Dan Garodnick, Council Member Rosie Mendez, Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh, State Senator Brad Hoylman and Congress Member Carolyn Maloney — also spoke along those lines, saying no would-be owner should bank on being able to oust current tenants or jack up the rents. They also said ST/PCV should officially be considered part of de Blasio’s housing plan that’s aimed at creating or preserving 200,000 units of affordable housing.

Mayor De Blasio didn’t show, but a rep for Governor Andrew Cuomo was present. Though the governor wasn’t at the rally, he issued a statement in support of the tenants.
“Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village are critical to keeping New York affordable,” Cuomo said. “My office, along with the office of New York State Homes and Community Renewal, will be monitoring the sale closely and we will continue to work to ensure that the rights of thousands of rent-regulated tenants are maintained and preserved for generations to come.”

Maloney brought up legislation she recently reintroduced, aimed at ensuring Fannie and Freddie wouldn’t be able to provide liquidity to any deal that reduces rather than creates affordable housing. (However, she recently told Town & Village that the bill isn’t likely to get through Congress as is.)

During a Q&A period (made brief due to a downpour), Council Member Dan Garodnick was asked if CW had made any commitments regarding a housing plan. In response, Garodnick said no details had been determined yet because the discussions have just begun.
When asked if the de Blasio administration was aware that, despite talk of maintaining affordability at ST/PCV, many newer tenants’ rents are already at levels that they don’t consider affordable, the answer was yes.

“We are making that clear to the administration and to CW that there are many tenants barely hanging on but would stay if the ship was set right,” said Garodnick.
He added that he didn’t think CW was just paying lip service to tenants or the city at this point because the company had actually retained “a variety of professionals for the purpose of these discussions.”
(A spokesperson for CWCapital declined to comment on the rally or the talks.)

As for the tenants who came to the event, most were those who’d lived in the community for many years. Along with seniors, there were also children and their parents who’d taken the morning off from work.
Some carried signs, reading: “Hey Wall Street hedge funds: Don’t be predators!,” “No middle class housing means no middle class” and “Fannie and Freddie, we bailed you out. Don’t bail on us!”

Tenants Association board member Kirstin Aadahl, one of the newer tenants, discussed how she, her husband and then one-month-old baby moved to Stuy Town six years ago. Since then, she’s become involved in the PTA at her daughter’s school, PS 40, but is concerned about how much longer her family can afford to stick around. Aadahl was one of the “Roberts v. Tishman Speyer” tenants to get socked with a mid-lease increase last year. After hearing about the foreclosure, “The future looks even more bleak,” she said.

Tenants Association Chair Susan Steinberg noted how when CW took over operations at the property in 2010, “Remaining a stable middle class community was not in their business plan. The apartments were renovated at an incredible rate and at startling speed.” But, she added, “We’re changing that business plan. They’re going to have us there when they make their decisions.”

Following the event, a couple of tenants told Town & Village they were mostly worried about the stability of the community.
“I can afford it, but I’ve been there 25 years,” said Mark Thompson, the former chair of Community Board 6. He said he was concerned for seniors, parents and “people who do not have huge bank accounts.”

Another longterm resident of Stuy Town, Gary Ireland, was there with his daughter Sydney.
When Tishman Speyer was the owner, Ireland’s family had faced a primary residence challenge. This was after his mother-in-law, who lived in New Jersey, died, and his wife was accused of not being a resident. “It was really aggressive behavior. She had to prove she lived here.”

But years later, the stability of the community doesn’t appear to be any less shaky. On Ireland’s floor, there are three apartments that have turned over as many times in the past three years. His next door neighbor is a longterm tenant and a senior citizen. “A nice guy who wants to live there without getting harassed.” Then there’s another apartment Ireland suspects is being used as an illegal hotel. “There are a lot of people with suitcases coming in,” he said. “It happens all the time.”
As an attorney, whose wife is a teacher, Ireland said he’s able to make the rent in Stuy Town and his daughter attends Friends Seminary, a tuition-based school.
“We make some difficult financial decisions,” he said. “We have a two-bedroom and two kids with a makeshift bedroom in the living room out of bookshelves. We live the way a lot of people in Stuyvesant Town live.”

Note: The article has been updated to reflect the head count that was provided to Tenants Association President John Marsh by police.

City exploring options to maintain affordability in Stuyvesant Town

Senator Chuck Schumer with other elected officials at a rally in Stuyvesant Town in 2010 (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

Senator Chuck Schumer with other elected officials at a rally in Stuyvesant Town in 2010 (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot
One month after CWCapital’s beginning of the foreclosure process of Stuyvesant Town, city officials as well as U.S. Senator Charles Schumer have announced ways they were trying to help tenants in maintaining affordability.
One possibility is offering a tax exemption in which the owner would commit to a 40-year agreement for affordability. That possibility, first reported in the New York Times, could preserve as many as 6,000 apartments for families of four earning between $65,000 and $135,000 a year. This is just one option, however.
A city official confirmed today that there are other government programs that could be explored and there have been good faith discussions with CWCapital as well as Council Member Dan Garodnick in an effort to create more transparency going forward. CWCapital’s decision last week to take ownership of the property is being seen as an opportunity to take the time to explore options in maintaining affordability. More specifically, the idea is to avoid a repeat situation of the 2006 sale to Tishman Speyer when tenant affordability wasn’t even a factor. Because any transaction would be considered private, the city has some but not limitless sway on the outcome and currently, the administration is trying to gauge what tenants’ rents and income levels are to determine what their needs are.
Meanwhile, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, who provided crucial mortgage financing in the Tishman Speyer sale have committed to not financing a deal that would be “unacceptable to tenants and the city,” the Times quoted Schumer as saying.
In response, Mayor de Blasio called this a “positive step.”
In a written statement, he added, “We are aggressively using all the levers we have at our disposal to protect affordability at Stuy Town. Senator Schumer has been a forceful leader in pushing Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to make sure the city and tenants have a better shot at shaping this outcome and protecting this community for middle class New Yorkers.”
The administration has also been quick to note, however, that while most buyers would require help from Fannie and Freddie for such a large transaction, there are others that could possibly make a deal without those agencies’ financing.
Still, the news of their cooperation has been greeted with enthusiasm by the Tenants Association, which still plans to hold a rally in front of City Hall on Friday at 10 a.m. The rally will be attended by elected officials, including Schumer.
Susan Steinberg, chair of the Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association, said the news left the TA “very encouraged. Our voices have been heard and our advocacy on behalf of STPCV tenants is bearing fruit. The need to maintain STPCV as a place where ‘families of moderate means might live in health, comfort and dignity’ is important to New York City, and beyond. Middle class affordability can’t become a thing of the past. We welcome the support and participation of our state and local electeds in helping us protect our homes.”
Garodnick, along with dozens of other local city, state and federal politicians had sent a letter to Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, the Federal Housing Finance Agency and Housing and Urban Development (HID) on June 10 in an effort to get Fannie and Freddie to not invest in deals that put affordable housing at risk.
Today, he praised the commitment made by Fannie and Freddie.
“This commitment from Fannie and Freddie will help us cut off the oxygen to another predatory deal here,” said Garodnick.

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.