TenantPAC’s top 3 priorities for 2018

Mike McKee of TenantsPAC (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

When it comes to resolutions for tenants in the coming year, TenantsPAC treasurer and spokesperson Mike McKee says time is of the essence.

“They have to pass some of our reform bills this year, not 2019,” the activist said.

McKee is adamant about the timing of a growing, organized effort to strengthen the rent laws, explaining that the following year when the rent regulations are up for renewal or expiration, tenants will no longer have leverage that exists this year. The reason for this is simple. Elected officials, including Governor Andrew Cuomo, will be up for reelection in 2018, and, explained McKee, six months after the new term, “he’ll have no interest in June 2019 of doing anything for the tenants” nor will the Republican-aligned members of the Independent Democratic Conference.

McKee, who was reached on the phone last Friday, added that he was planning, along with dozens of other activists, to protest outside Cuomo’s State of the State speech. A number of participants, he added, had committed ahead of time to getting arrested for blocking the entrance to the capitol.

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OP-ED: Why renewal of Rent Law is not enough

Stuyvesant Town tenants Arlene Dabreo and Marina Metalios were among hundreds protesting Airbnb outside City Hall before  a legnthy hearing attended by Airbnb execs, hosts who use the service, tenants and politicians. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

Stuyvesant Town resident Marina Metalios (right) with neighbor Arlene Dabreo pictured at an anti-Airbnb rally earlier this year (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Marina Metalios

Our rent laws expire on June 15, 2015. At the last ST/PCV Building Leader meeting in February, we discussed what is at stake. Guest speaker Michael McKee (treasurer, Tenants PAC) explained that if we cannot reduce the phase-out of protections this year it may be too late to do so at the next renewal. The real estate lobby is quite content on a “straight extender” this June because the rent laws as currently written are doing exactly what the real estate lobby scripted.

The combo in the current laws of legal rent increases from individual apartment improvements and MCIs and vacancy destabilization are doing yeoman’s work for the real estate lobby. Simply put: Our current laws contain the seeds of their own destruction. Consider this proof: In our last renewal in 2011 the tenant movement wanted a three-year extender only (to get a renewal in the politically advantageous election year of 2014).

But the real estate lobby wanted a 14-year extender, to 2025! A 14-year extender would have rewarded the real estate lobby richly with minimal exertion. During this time the landlords would have waited patiently, their deregulation plans successfully on auto-pilot. By 2025, so few units would have remained rent-protected that the lobby would have won just by waiting it out. If not “won” outright they would be close enough to order champagne.

Strengthening our rental protections is detailed in the nine-point “Tenant Legislative Platform” of the Real Rent Reform (R3) Campaign and Alliance for Tenant Power (ATP). For more information visit the website.

Of them, the first and #1 most important demand is to repeal vacancy destabilization. (Of the others, the ones which are compelling to our community are repealing the automatic 20 percent vacancy bonus, making MCIs temporary, making preferential rents the base for a rent increase and tightening individual apartment improvement increase calculations.)

You may say this list is familiar. Yes, we still need to expand tenant protections, despite the 2011 renewal. I say “despite” because the 2011 renewal was technically the first since the 80s (approximately) during which the rent laws were not shrunk further. Cuomo made a huge gigantic broo-ha-ha deal about his (puny) expansions to our tenant protections in 2011. He strutted about the improvements he engineered that year. But let them be cautionary: the 2011 expansions to the rent laws are almost imperceptible and Cuomo prodigiously fund-raised from real estate during both his elections. In his 2014 re-election he raised more money from landlords than even the Senate Republicans and seven of his 10 biggest donors were landlords or developers.

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What does investigation of Silver mean for tenants?

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver

By Sabina Mollot

Following the news that last week that Sheldon Silver, the longtime speaker of the Assembly, is being investigated for mysterious payments received for his non-legislative work as an attorney, what effect this may have, if any, on tenants, remains to be seen. Silver and the Democrat-led Assembly have been supporters of the rent laws, which are up for renewal this year.

Last Monday, the New York Times reported how Silver is being investigated by federal authorities over substantial payments he received from a small law firm, Goldberg & Iryami that seeks tax reductions for different properties in the city. The investigation over the payments, made over a period of a decade, is to determine precisely what kind of work Silver, a personal injury attorney, did since he isn’t known to have experience in challenging real estate tax assessments, the Times said. The payments weren’t listed on his annual financial disclosure forms. The investigation began out of work done by the governor’s now defunct Moreland Commission.

A spokesperson for Silver did not respond to a request for comment from Town & Village on the investigation. There was also no response to our question of what, if anything, the speaker plans to do to strengthen the rent stabilization laws that are up for renewal this June.

Meanwhile, Mike McKee, treasurer of TenantsPAC (Political Action Committee), said he thinks it’s too soon to predict if an investigation of Silver could weaken the position of Assembly Democrats.

“It’s hard to say; Shelly’s been investigated before many times,” said McKee.

Silver, who made it through a coup attempt in 2000, was also more recently under scrutiny for authorizing hush money payments to staffers of former Assemblyman Vito Lopez, who said he sexually harassed them.

“I have no reason to believe he won’t be elected speaker (again). At the moment, this is simply newspaper stories. If something major comes out of this investigation, if he’s indicted, that’s another matter.” (On Wednesday morning, Silver was re-elected as speaker.)

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Op-Ed: De Blasio: City has an obligation to ST/PCV

In a press conference proudly accepting the Tenants PAC endorsement last week, I expressed my deeply-held belief that, while Peter Cooper Village-Stuyvesant Town is privately owned, the city has an obligation to keep its homes affordable for hardworking New Yorkers and their families.

PCV/ST was created through the power of the city and its use of eminent domain – therefore, it’s the responsibility of the city to ensure that these homes and other affordability housing are never beyond the reach of middle class New Yorkers.

This community and others like it are precious and rare assets in New York.

That is why I believe the next mayor should play a key role in helping to foster the next generation of affordable housing — in PCV/ST and around the city — while also tackling concerns of current residents.
Tenants at Stuy Town have lived in limbo for too long and deserve a say in the future of their community.

Residents need stability in their lives again, not endless speculation by real estate developers who are only concerned about their bottom line.  PCV/ ST needs to be preserved as a community where middle class New Yorkers can afford to live and raise their families, and as mayor I will work to make sure that this community and other affordable housing units are protected and preserved.