City pouring $250M into Mitchell-Lamas if they stay in program

East Midtown Plaza (Photo via Wikipedia)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

The mayor’s office has announced a plan to protect affordability at remaining Mitchell-Lama developments throughout the city through additional financing of $250 million.

A representative from the Department of Housing Preservation and Development confirmed that the funding will be available for all Mitchell-Lama developments, meaning that the East Midtown Plaza complex west of First Avenue and East 24th Street will be getting some of the funds. The specific needs of individual developments will determine how the resources are used, but information on the exact amounts is not yet clear.

“The Mitchell-Lama Reinvestment Program will focus on preserving the long-term affordability of all residences currently enrolled in the program,” HPD representative Matthew Creegan said. “It will utilize an array of financing tools, determined by the individual needs of each project, as an incentive for these properties to remain in the program as stable, sustainable and affordable homes for years to come.”

The mayor’s office noted that the new program will target 15,000 homes over the next eight years. Known as the Mitchell-Lama Reinvestment Program, the initiative is part of the mayor’s plan to create and preserve affordable housing throughout the city by financing 200,000 affordable home and expanding to 300,000 affordable homes by 2026.

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Progressives weigh pros and cons on vote for Con-Con

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

New Yorkers will have to turn over their ballots on Election Day next Tuesday to vote on a question that only comes up once every 20 years: whether or not to hold a Constitutional Convention. If the measure passes, voters would elect three delegates for each of the 63 State Senate districts and 15 statewide, for a total of 204 representatives in all. The convention itself, or Con-Con as it is sometimes affectionately abbreviated, would open up the state constitution for amendments proposed by the delegates and voted on by New Yorkers.

The measure didn’t pass the last time the question came up in 1997, and the last time there was a convention was 1967. The question was also put on the ballots that year as well. According to the State Archives, Convention leadership had hoped that the popular proposals would carry the unpopular sections and put the changes on the ballot as a single package instead of by individual proposal, but the tactic failed, since the entire document was voted down that year.

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Select Bus Service planned for 14th St. and 20 other city routes

Mayor Bill de Blasio was all smiles on the M23 on the way to announce an expansion to Select Bus Service (SBS) throughout the five boroughs. (Pictured) Assembly Member Dick Gottfried, State Senator Brad Hoylman, de Blasio and straphangers (Photos by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

On Friday, Mayor Bill de Blasio unveiled a plan to speed up bus rides citywide by adding 21 new Select Bus Service (SBS) routes. The new routes will be in all five boroughs with Manhattan getting new crosstown routes, so far unspecified except for 14th Street.

De Blasio cheered the plan after boarding an M23 (twice the winner of the Straphangers Campaign’s Pokey award for being the slowest route) on Ninth Avenue. He was joined by local elected officials including State Senator Brad Hoylman — who noted that the bus has been nicknamed “the turtle” — as well as a gaggle of reporters. From there the pols rode to Chelsea Piers, where the mayor announced details over nearby construction noise.

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Hoylman: Restaurants are taking the heat for delayed gas service

Frank’s Trattoria went without gas for eight weeks earlier this year following a gas leak at a nearby building. It is still in business, though others that have gone through lengthy periods without gas were less fortunate. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

Earlier this year, Frank’s Trattoria, a pizzeria and restaurant across from Peter Cooper Village, went eight weeks without gas to cook with following a gas leak at a neighboring building. The roughly two months spent without gas was due to delays in getting inspections from Con Ed as well as getting all the necessary paperwork from Department of Buildings. The owners at the time told Town & Village they were trying to stay afloat by cooking what menu items they could using electric stoves they purchased. However, they still lost a lot of business since they couldn’t make pizza that way and because the portable stoves took longer to cook with, some customers would choose not to wait.

The owners told us they didn’t even know how much they lost, but it’s possible the amount was $140,000.

Apparently, this is the average loss to Manhattan businesses that had the same problem in recent years, who also had an average wait of 68 days for the gas to go back on. Those figures are the result of a study conducted by the office of state Senator Brad Hoylman, with owners of businesses being interviewed through a survey.

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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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Hoylman hopes to unmask LLCs

State Senator Brad Hoylman

By Sabina Mollot

State Senator Brad Hoylman is hoping to shine some light into the shadowy world of limited liability corporations which, under current New York law, do not have to provide names or addresses of their owners when the companies are registered. Because of the mysterious nature of LLCs, they can be used to give seemingly endless campaign contributions as well as hide illegal activities like tax evasion and money laundering. To combat the money laundering issue, which has also been linked to terror funding, legislation has already been introduced at the federal level by Congress Member Carolyn Maloney, and Hoylman said his own bill is modeled after that one.

Hoylman’s legislation, announced, on Monday, would:

  • Make it mandatory for LLCs organized in New York or that do business in the state to disclose who their owners as well as provide a current residential or business address
  • Require the creation and maintenance of a publicly available database of those LLCs and their owners
  • Impose penalties that range from ten thousand dollars in fines to three years in prison for LLC owners who knowingly provide false, incomplete or outdated information.

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Hoylman rescues injured bat

On Tuesday, State Senator Brad Hoylman met his battiest constituent yet.

By Sabina Mollot

On Primary Day, the scores of candidates on the ballot for citywide races briefly had their thunder stolen by an injured bat and its rescuer, State Senator Brad Hoylman.

Hoylman said he found the creature, which appeared to be in distress, near a tree pit on East 10th Street.

“I almost stepped on it,” confessed Hoylman, who’d been walking down the street with Bob Gormley, the chair of Community Board 2, at the time. But when looking down, “I saw this furry creature with wings. I’ve never seen anything like it so close.”

He could see it was still alive though, albeit struggling to right itself by flapping around. The copper-colored bat, Hoylman observed, had a wingspan of about seven inches, although the body was comparatively small. It also had, tiny razor sharp teeth, “so I made sure to stay away,” he added.

Concerned that the bat might expire under the hot sun, Hoylman and Gormley got a box from a nearby restaurant, gently scooped up the bat and put it inside. They then brought it to the Wild Bird Fund, which is headquartered on the Upper West Side.

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Powers and Rivera crush competition in primary

Unlike the sun, Council candidate Keith Powers was up bright and early, along with Council Member Dan Garodnick, to cast his vote in Peter Cooper Village. (Photo by Chris Carroll)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Peter Cooper Village resident Keith Powers and Lower East Side resident Carlina Rivera each won their respective primary races for City Council on Tuesday, following major endorsements for the candidates in the days leading up to voting.

With about 93 percent of the votes counted on Wednesday morning, Powers was declared the winner in the District 4 race with 41.24 percent of the vote and Rivera won the primary for District 2 by a wide margin, receiving 60.76 percent of the vote.

Powers’ closest competitor, Upper East Sider Marti Speranza, received 22.78 percent of the vote. None of the other seven candidates received more than 10 percent of the vote but Rachel Honig and Bessie Schachter came the closest, receiving 8.59 and 8.26 respectively. Vanessa Aronson received 6.68 percent and Maria Castro got 4.74 percent of the vote. Peter Cooper Village resident Barry Shapiro received 2.10 percent and Alec Hartman got 1.04 percent.

Kips Bay resident Mary Silver was Rivera’s closest competitor but still only received 16.41 percent of the vote. Former Obama staffer Ronnie Cho received 8.5 percent of the vote, community organizer Jasmin Sanchez got 5 percent and attorney Jorge Vasquez received 7.58 percent. East Village resident Erin Hussein technically dropped out of the race prior to the election but still received 1.9 percent of the vote.

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Garodnick finally makes an endorsement for his Council seat

Keith Powers with Council Member Dan Garodnick (Photo via Dan Garodnick’s Twitter account)

A day before the primary, outgoing Council Member Dan Garodnick announced an endorsement for his Peter Cooper Village neighbor, Keith Powers, for his council seat.

“I am enthusiastically endorsing Keith Powers to continue my work in the City Council,” said Garodnick. “As a third generation East Sider, Keith will be a fighter to protect and expand affordable housing. He also has strong experience in government – working for State Senator Liz Krueger and Assembly Member Jonathan Bing, where we worked together to address school overcrowding, to assist small businesses affected by the Second Avenue Subway, and to prevent overdevelopment.”

Powers also recently received the endorsement of other local elected officials (Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh, State Senator Brad Hoylman and Comptroller Scott Stringer).

In response to Garodnick’s support, Powers said, “I’m honored to receive the endorsement of Council Member Dan Garodnick. For the past twelve years he’s been a champion for our community. I look forward to continuing his leadership in the district on good government, affordable housing, and public education.”

Council Member Dan Garodnick has served the 4th Council District since 2006. The 4th Council District includes Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village, Waterside Plaza, Tudor City, East Midtown, Midtown West and the Upper East Side.

Kavanagh, Hoylman, Stringer all endorsing Powers

Keith Powers

Keith Powers

By Sabina Mollot

 

With the primary less than a week away, Council candidate Keith Powers got a major boost with the endorsements of the people he hopes to soon be working with: State Senator Brad Hoylman, Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh and Comptroller Scott Stringer. (So far Council Member Dan Garodnick has not announced an endorsement.)

“I am honored to have the support of four great leaders in the city,” said Powers. “All of them have well-earned reputations as strong reformers. They will be key partners in implementing our shared agenda of building affordable housing, improving city government, and strengthening our public schools.”

Stringer praised Powers for his progressive values, while Hoylman said he’d be a strong advocate for tenants. Kavanagh added that Powers has ideas for combating climate change and government reform.

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Hoylman: J-51 tenants need info from HCR

State Senator Brad Hoylman (Photo courtesy of Brad Hoylman)

By Sabina Mollot

With the exception of residents of Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village, for most New Yorkers, the letter J followed by number 51 has no meaning whatsoever. And consequently, this could mean they are living in an illegally deregulated apartment without even knowing it.

However, State Senator Brad Hoylman said he wants to make sure New York’s renters know what their rights are if they’re living in buildings where the landlords have benefitted from the J-51 tax break.

In a letter, he called on the state housing agency, Homes and Community Renewal, to inform tenants living in deregulated buildings if their landlords have been enrolled in the tax benefit program. The letter, which was sent to the agency’s commissioner, RuthAnne Visnauskas on August 7, Hoylman noted that the HCR routinely reaches out to the owners of more than 4,000 buildings with information about reregulation. But renters, meanwhile, are left in the dark as to their buildings’ history and may not know if they’re being overcharged.

He called the practice of keeping landlords but not tenants in the loop “baffling.”

Hoylman added, “It’s tenants who don’t know what their rights are and should be informed that their building may have been illegally deregulated because the owners had received J-51. It’s fine to notify landlords so that they will be compliant but they should let the tenants know.”

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Kavanagh to run for NY Senate

Brian Kavanagh

Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

A few hours after State Senator Daniel Squadron announced he’d be leaving Albany, citing special interests and corruption preventing true democracy from taking place as a reason, Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh said he’d be running for the position.

Since state elections aren’t until next year, the election for the Senate seat, which covers downtown Manhattan and parts of Brooklyn, will be a special election. The date would be determined by the governor though it will likely be in November during the general election for citywide races. Prior to that candidates will be nominated by the county committee for each party.

According to State Senator Brad Hoylman, this process tends to be an insider game, which would make it easier for a well-known candidate like a current elected official to get the nod from the party as opposed to an unknown aspiring lawmaker. While Hoylman admitted he thought this process could use some reform to become more egalitarian, he nonetheless praised his colleague, an 11-year veteran of Albany, as a potential senator.

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U-turn on Silver is bad for tenants: Hoylman

State Senator Brad Hoylman

By Sabina Mollot

Following a stunning decision last Thursday by a federal judge to overturn the conviction for corruption against former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, State Senator Brad Hoylman is predicting more of the same bad behavior in Albany.

“I am concerned that the overturning of the Silver verdict might give a green light for some public officials to engage in legal graft,” said Hoylman, who’s been pushing for ethics reforms for years. Those reforms include the closure of the so-called LLC Loophole, limiting outside income for legislators, prohibiting convicted legislators from using campaign cash on their own defense and taking away convicted legislators’ pensions.

Additionally, Hoylman said he believes the court’s decision will hurt tenants in New York City.

“The Silver case props up the status quo and the status quo if left alone will result in the end of rent stabilization as we know it,” said Hoylman.

Hoylman added, “It’s up to the legislature to provide clarification (on what constitutes corruption). It’s up to the state of New York to pass laws that prevent that from happening, but given what we’ve seen, I don’t think the current Senate leadership has any desire to address this disaster, especially since their former leader may get off using the same argument that Sheldon Silver’s attorneys did.”

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Hoylman takes aim at ‘high rent blight’

Various empty storefronts in State Senator Brad Hoylman’s District, the subject of his recent study, “Bleaker on Bleecker” (Photo collage courtesy of Brad Hoylman)

By Sabina Mollot

State Senator Brad Hoylman, whose district includes Stuyvesant Town, Gramercy, Chelsea and Greenwich Village, recently conducted a study that found a high percentage of vacant storefronts in the district, with some retail corridors about 10 percent vacant and on Bleecker Street, a vacancy rate of 18.4 percent.

This is no breaking news to area residents of course; but the senator’s study “Bleaker on Bleecker,” which focuses on what’s been dubbed “high rent blight,” has led to his offering a few proposals to combat the problem.

In particular, the phenomenon of landlords of choosing to keep a space vacant “suggests waiting for Marc Jacobs instead of renting to Jane Jacobs,” the study quotes economist Tim Wu as saying.

The study also mentions the closure last year of the Chelsea Associated Supermarket, which had seen its $32,000 rent jump by $100,000. The now-shuttered store had the same owners as the Associated in Stuyvesant Town, the future of which is still murky.

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Tenants lose bargaining power under new state budget

State Senator Brad Hoylman (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

On Sunday night, when the New York State budget was passed by the Senate, landlords won an extension of the 421 tax break for new developments while tenants lost some leverage in the ongoing effort to renew and strengthen the rent laws.

The combined budget bills had totaled nearly 2,000 pages, as noted by State Senator Brad Hoylman last week. He’d voted no as a protest to being expected to review a Bible-sized stack in a matter of hours.

However, with the voting now over in the Senate as well as the Assembly, Hoylman gave Town & Village a recap.

The 421a tax break for developers, which was included in the budget, will no longer sunset at the same time as the rent negotiations. The timeline had previously been seen by tenants as an opportunity to bargain for stronger rent laws.

“The fact that the 421a real estate tax exemption was negotiated behind closed doors is scandalous,” said Hoylman, “but what is also extremely scandalous is that it was not linked to renewal of the rent laws. Albany made a colossal mistake in de-coupling the renewal of 421a with rent laws. That was a major leverage point.”

Additionally, ethics reforms, including the closure of the LLC Loophole (which allows donors to give nearly limitless campaign cash to politicians through LLCs), were not included.

“There was no mention of ethics reform in any part of the budget,” said Hoylman, “which is extremely disappointing. Not an iota. They blocked the LLC Loophole (closure), they blocked measures to limit outside income. Once again the Senate majority refused to take action. The budget process itself was dysfunctional.”

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