Tenants blast ‘framework’ deal for rent regulations

June25 Cuomo Heastie Flanagan

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.

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Why it’s in Cuomo’s best interest politically to strengthen the rent laws

Note: the governor on Saturday made statements indicating he was interested in strengthening the rent laws further than his previous position of simply slightly raising the threshold at which apartments can be deregulated.

With Albany in a state of chaos brought on by allegations of bribery and corruption of two of the infamous three men in a room, the governor has stated that due to said chaos, the rent laws could just be renewed as is or maybe slightly tweaked. For instance, according to a Daily News article this week, he’s suggested raising the $2,500 rent threshold at which a unit can be destabilized by a whopping $200 to $2,700.

A minor change like this seems to be in sharp contrast to four years ago when the rent laws were somewhat strengthened for the first time in 18 years. This strengthening was due, at least in part, to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s influence. Clearly, the man has the power to make a difference if he wants to.

So the question is, does he want to now? It doesn’t really look that way. But hopefully, Cuomo, who is nobody’s fool, will see that with it being out in the open that legislators have essentially been for sale in Albany, it really is time for lawmakers to distance themselves from their deep-pocketed benefactors. After all, this isn’t just about bribery and kickback schemes. There is also the matter of the huge amounts of cash that have been steered to key players, including Cuomo, legally, from real estate interests.

Obviously all these elected officials want to get reelected and having the campaign cash helps, but with the state’s pay-for-play politics finally having been exposed due to ongoing federal investigations, this just isn’t a situation that’s going to be fixed with dollar bills. While we believe Cuomo damaged his credibility irreparably by shutting down his own anti-corruption watchdog panel, with the rent laws, he still has an opportunity to redeem himself in the eyes of voters. That is, if he can prove that it’s the citizens and not the powers that be he cares about protecting.

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Skelos arrest could help in rent regs fight: TenantsPAC

Dean Skelos

State Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos

By Sabina Mollot

For tenants, who’d been facing an uphill battle in Albany with the June expiration of the rent laws, the second arrest of a major Albany power player this year — Republican Majority Leader Dean Skelos — and strong statements made by Mayor Bill de Blasio this week in favor of strengthening the rent laws, may prove to be helpful when negotiations begin. While exactly how much it may help is still anyone’s guess, Mike McKee, treasurer of TenantsPAC, expressed optimism at both turns of events.

On Monday, after Skelos and his son Adam were arrested on federal charges of bribery and extortion, McKee said, “I think Skelos’ arrest helps us somewhat. It’s not a game changer. It helps that the Senate leadership is in a state of disarray.”

Skelos has insisted he is innocent and plans to fight the charges. But, said McKee, it also helps to have the support of the mayor.

On Tuesday, de Blasio announced in detailed statements that he wanted to end vacancy decontrol, end vacancy bonuses and make major capital improvement (MCI) and individual apartment improvement (IAI) rent increases temporary.

Specifically, he suggested that costs related to increased services or improvements to individual apartments be spread over 10 years, while building-wide or system improvements could be spread over seven years. Long-term rent would be unaffected, and would reset after the improvements have been paid.

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Pols tell tenants their stories are needed in rent law fight

 

Over 400 people listen as local state elected officials brief them on the uphill battle over the rent laws coming in June. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

Over 400 people listen as local state elected officials brief them on the uphill battle over the rent laws coming in June. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot
On Saturday, over 400 residents of Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village gathered for a meeting held by the Tenants Association that focused on the upcoming expiration of rent laws and the uphill battle tenants would have in trying to get them strengthened.

Speakers briefed the audience on the current power dynamic in Albany, while also telling those in attendance that without tenants writing to Albany lawmakers, especially the governor, the effort is a lot less likely to succeed.

“If I go to Albany and say (to Governor Cuomo) two and half million people are going to be very upset with you, if that’s not clear in the streets and not in the mail in his email inbox, it’s very hard to believe,” said Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh.

Kavanagh was one of the speakers of the event, which was held at Simon Baruch Middle School, along with State Senator Brad Hoylman and TenantsPAC treasurer Mike McKee.

McKee told the crowd if the laws are renewed in their current state, “It would be a terrible defeat for tenants.” Referring to a recent Daily News article that quoted Cuomo as saying the laws and the controversial 421-a tax abatement for developers could possibly just be renewed and not changed, due to the federal investigations being conducted in Albany, McKee added, “I’m sorry, but that is crap.” McKee has said that 421-a is expected to be used as leverage during the rent law negotiations.

Both Hoylman and Kavanagh spoke about Albany’s power system and how with the Senate in the hands of Republicans whose campaigns are financed largely by real estate, the only hope for tenants is in swaying the Assembly, led by Carl Heastie, and the governor.

Meanwhile, Kavanagh has said he wants to close the “LLC loophole” that makes New York one of the few states where each LLC created counts as a separate campaign contributor, but, he admitted, “I’m not sure we’re going to do that this year.”

However, he added that recent media attention on the issue may prove helpful anyway.
“There may an opportunity to shame people into backing off,” he said.

Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh, ST-PCV Tenants Association Chair Susan Steinberg and State Senator Brad Hoylman (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh, ST-PCV Tenants Association Chair Susan Steinberg and State Senator Brad Hoylman (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

McKee said that while in the past, major decisions in Albany have been made behind closed doors by the “three men in a room” (the governor, the Assembly speaker and Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos) this year there might be four — if Jeff Klein is allowed to participate. Klein is the head of the State Senate’s Independent Democratic Conference, a breakaway group that caucuses with Republicans. McKee, who’s often blasted Klein as being a tool of the real estate industry, commented that his participation would only be to tenants’ disadvantage.

As for Skelos, McKee added, “Dean Skelos will not do anything voluntarily to help tenants or to hurt landlords. The Assembly has to do what’s called taking hostages. There are dozens of things everybody wants at the last minute. Some of it is minor stuff, nothing to do with housing even.”

One advantage of tenants, he added, is that with Heastie being new as speaker, “he has to prove himself. He has to be accountable not only to us but the members that elected him speaker.” Heastie has said he considers strengthening the rent laws a priority. That said, McKee warned, there’s still always the possibility a tough talking pol will “wimp out” at the eleventh hour. “There is always a wimp factor in Albany,” he sighed.

As for what tenants could do, he urged people to write to the aforementioned three men (letters rather than postcards), and get three neighbors to do the same as well as turn out, if possible for any upcoming rallies. One rally, organized by the Real Rent Reform campaign and the union 1199SEIU, which is aimed at strengthening the rent laws, is scheduled for Thursday, May 14 at 5 p.m. at Foley Square (corner of Centre and Worth Streets). The group will then march over the Brooklyn Bridge.

“We need a very big turnout,” said McKee.

Another rally is on Wednesday, May 6 in front of Cuomo’s Manhattan office at 633 Third Avenue (between 40th and 41st Streets) from 10 a.m.-noon.

He then claimed to have a plan aimed at shaming Cuomo into helping tenants. McKee declined to discuss this further. “That’s all I’m prepared to say,” he said later.

When taking his turn at the podium, Tenants Association President John Marsh echoed the sentiment of the other speakers, calling on neighbors to get involved. “If everyone takes a small step, we can have a very loud voice,” said Marsh.

He also mentioned a door-knocking campaign that he and Council Member Dan Garodnick led through ST/PCV the following day, with Garodnick’s two young sons in tow. Garodnick later said the building walk-throughs resulted in many tenants being appreciative of the reminder of the looming rent negotiations in June.

Kavanagh, when addressing the audience, said that while he realizes many new residents at ST/PCV probably feel the rent laws have no teeth when they look at the numbers on their rent bills, being rent regulated still offers New Yorkers protections they wouldn’t have otherwise.

“It prevents landlords from arbitrarily evicting tenants and that doesn’t exist for most tenants in the city,” he said.
Because of the outcome of the “Roberts v. Tishman Speyer” lawsuit, all units in ST/PCV will be regulated until the property’s J-51 tax abatement expires in 2020.

Kavanagh reiterated the goals for strengthening the rent laws, which include repealing vacancy deregulation and other policies that give incentive to owners to vacate units such as vacancy bonuses and reforming the way individual apartment improvement (IAI) rent increases are issued. Reform of major capital increases (MCIs) is another goal.

Kavanagh also got a round of applause after saying he wanted to close the preferential rent loophole. Due to preferential rents, which are given to most new residents in renovated apartments in ST/PCV, rent increases can be far higher than those issued by the Rent Guidelines Board, if the tenants’ legal rents are higher than what they’ve been paying (the preferential rent).

“In our community it’s a particular problem due to the way ‘Roberts’ played out,” said Kavanagh. “(Tenants) are facing enormous increases.”

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, who’d been sitting in the audience at the meeting, along with Garodnick, at one point, popped up to comment about preferential rents, which she said was happening all around the city.

“We go case by case and try to fight it but there is no great answer,” she admitted.

The meeting then concluded with a Q&A period, with most of the questions from the audience—which were limited to the topic of rent—being on the theme of MCIs. Tenants mainly asked why they were being forced to pay them. Hoylman and Kavanagh suggested that tenants’ use their frustration and personal experiences as inspiration to write to the governor.

When a woman asked where the mayor was in this fight, saying, “He seems to have had a low profile lately,” Kavanagh responded to say he thought the mayor would be more visible soon. “This is the time we roll out this fight and I think you’ll see the mayor rolling out this fight,” he said. Hoylman added that a lot is done “behind the scenes,” going on to note that this is part of Albany’s dysfunction.

When a man asked if strengthening of the rent laws would help a conversion effort, Kavanagh said he thought it would in that it would help thwart predatory bidders.

Another tenant then asked if it could work to tenants’ advantage if Skelos, who’s being investigated by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, were to be indicted. The answer, however, was that it wasn’t likely to have any impact during rent negotiations.

“If he’s indicted and forced to step down, it’s unlikely that he’d go to trial before June and you don’t have to leave office until you’re convicted,” said Hoylman. “It would have a greater impact next year than this year.”

Town & Village later contacted the office of the governor to ask his position on strengthening the rent laws. In response, a spokesperson emailed prepared statements made by Cuomo at the Association for a Better New York breakfast on rent laws and 421-a.
Included in the written statement was a comment that “At a maximum maybe we can make some fine modifications in both of them.”

“The 421-a, first I believe has to be extended and I believe that’s essential,” the statement read. On changes to it, which he said he believed were needed, he said, “If it was a different time in Albany, frankly, and Albany was a little bit more of a stable situation I would normally take those negotiations to Albany and try to work it out among the parties. Albany has a lot going on right now let’s say, so I’m hoping and I’m asking the parties to work out the disagreements among themselves or their desires for modifications. If they can great, in any event 421-a has to be extended.”

He went on to say, “Rent has to be extended. It is a New York City issue. If we don’t extend rent you would have chaos in the real estate market, these are rent regulations, rent stabilization etc. You would have chaos in the real estate market unlike anything we have seen because it regulates the private industry not another government. It lapses one day you will see real estate entities and landlords start rising rents and evicting tenants. I mean it would be immediate mass mayhem.

“So at a minimum we have to extend those protections but in truth, because everyone has been watching the situation, to have these final negotiations on these delicate points is going to be problematic this year. So, at a minimum rents extended 421-a, is extended. At a maximum maybe we can make some fine modifications in both of them. The democratic assembly is going to be more aggressive on extending rent than the senate Republicans. 421-a, both houses want.”

A spokesperson, Frank Sobrino, when asked if the governor could clarify what was meant by “fine modifications,” said this was a general statement in response to suggested changes. He also denied that the statements were an attempt to remain neutral.

“He said that ‘at a minimum,’ both rent regulations and 421-a must be extended,” said Sobrino. “That’s not neutral.”

RGB: Owner costs lowest they’ve been in 13 years

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

On Thursday, The Rent Guidelines Board released its annual report on landlord operating costs, which revealed that landlords only experienced a 0.5 percent increase last year, making it the smallest increase since 2002.

Mike McKee

Mike McKee

Mike McKee of TenantsPAC pointed out that in that year, operating costs were actually in the negatives but the chair at the time had been appointed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

“He said that he didn’t care what the price index showed and that we couldn’t have rent increases below 2 and 4,” McKee said. “And that’s what the increases were that year.”

In contrast, the current board that will vote this year was appointed entirely by Mayor Bill de Blasio, who made getting a rent freeze for rent stabilized tenants one of his campaign promises.

The study released last year reported that operating costs had increased by 5.7 percent in 2013, but the board had five new tenant-friendly members and set record-low increase of one percent for one-year leases and 2.75 percent for two-year leases.

The notably small increase in landlord costs in this year’s study is due primarily to a 21 percent decrease in fuel costs throughout last year. The study also noted that there was a 4.2 percent increase in taxes, 7.2 percent increase in insurance costs and 1.2 percent increase in utilities, but these were still outweighed by the drastic decrease in fuel costs.

While the report looks promising for tenants, advocates are still fighting to change the process because they say that the price index is deceptive and shouldn’t even be used as part of the RGB’s process.

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Bill would change how RGB calculates landlords’ costs

Rent Guidelines Board tenant members Sheila Garcia and Harvey Epstein (at podium) with Council Member Corey Johnson (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

Rent Guidelines Board tenant members Sheila Garcia and Harvey Epstein (at podium) with Council Member Corey Johnson (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

The City Council member representing Greenwich Village, Corey Johnson, has called on the mayor to reform the Rent Guidelines Board and eliminate the price index from the calculations used to determine the annual rent adjustments for stabilized tenants. Elected officials and tenant advocates joined Johnson at City Hall last Thursday to support his legislation on the matter because they say that the Price Index of Operating Costs (PIOC) does not accurately reflect the costs and revenues accrued by landlords, causing unfair increases for tenants.

The price index doesn’t measure what owners actually spend running buildings but instead estimates their costs based on changes in prices for goods and services, like utilities, without taking changes into account, like the weather. The price index also doesn’t measure any of the income received on the properties.

“The PIOC overestimates landlords’ expenses by as much as one third and doesn’t measure income,” Johnson said. “Tenants deserve a fair shot. The 2.5 million rent-stabilized tenants in New York deserve a metric that accounts for actual income and expenses.”

Mike McKee of TenantsPAC said that the price index study is “an enormous amount of work” and that there is nothing in the law that requires the board to use the data from the study in their decision.

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Reform a possibility with Silver no longer Assembly speaker, TenantsPAC wary of potential distractions from rent laws

TeantsPAC Treasurer Mike McKee (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

TeantsPAC Treasurer Mike McKee (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

After a whirlwind week that began with an arrest of one of Albany’s most powerful men and is ending with Sheldon Silver no longer having the title of Assembly speaker, what has remained up in the air is just how much actual legislation will get done as Albany is distracted by the implementation of a new speaker, and possible implementation of a new, more egalitarian power structure.

While not one to complain about reforms in Albany, the timing is naturally a concern for tenant advocates like Mike McKee, treasurer of TenantsPAC, considering the rent laws are scheduled to sunset this June.

Two weeks ago, when news of an investigation into an alleged long-running bribery and kickback scheme perpetuated by Silver started to surface, McKee said it was too soon to predict how it would affect one of Albany’s “three men in a room” – or tenants.

But as of Monday evening, some of Silver’s fellow Assembly Democrats were calling on him to resign and an idea that had been floated a day earlier to appoint five Assembly members to act as speaker while he worked to beat the rap against him had fizzled.

Democrat legislators calling for him to resign early on included Comptroller Scott Stringer, State Senator Brad Hoylman and in the Assembly, Democrats Brian Kavanagh and Keith Wright.

“He should understand that he’s lost the confidence of a majority of our conference,” the New York Times quoted Assemblyman Brian Kavanagh as saying of Sheldon Silver after a closed-door meeting on Monday night. Kavanagh did not respond to calls for comment from Town & Village.

However, by Tuesday night, Silver’s ouster (or resigning) as speaker along with an announcement that a replacement would be coming soon was pretty much a done deal, according to published reports. Assembly Majority Leader Joe Morelle will be interim speaker until an election is held on February 10, according to City & State.

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TenantsPAC: It’s time for tenants to step up the pressure in Albany

TeantsPAC Treasurer Mike McKee (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

TeantsPAC Treasurer Mike McKee (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot
As is well known by tenant activists, the State Senate has long been the realm where any tenant-friendly legislation, from MCI limitations to elimination of preferential rents, has gone to die. While it did seem likely that the Democrats would be controlling the Senate after Election Day, following a decision by rogue Democrat group, the Independent Democratic Coalition, to end an alliance with Republicans, the Republicans then managed to win a narrow, but still clear majority, making an alliance with the IDC unnecessary.

Some critics have been quick to put the blame on the Election Day results on nation-wide voting trends as well as low turnout during a non-presidential election year. Others have said the blame is Governor Cuomo’s for not making an effort to help the Democrat candidates.
Mike McKee, treasurer of Tenants Political Action Committee, is in the latter camp, saying he believes Cuomo would rather have Republicans running the Senate.

“I’m very cynical about whether we will get any help from the governor,” he said. “On the one hand it’s better to have a governor who wants the rent laws on the books unlike George Pataki, but to keep them the way they are — containing the seeds of their own destruction — is not the answer.”

As for what all of this will mean for tenants with the rent regulation laws up for renewal or expiration next year, McKee said while the real estate industry clearly has the edge with a Republican-controlled Senate, tenants may still have a shot at getting some meaningful reform. That is, if they’re willing to fight for it.

“We have some leverage we didn’t have three years ago if Shelly Silver chooses to use it,” said McKee, “things that can be traded.”

The leverage, he believes, is in the 421-a and J-51 tax breaks, which owners want to be passed and property tax caps, “which the governor very much wants.”
McKee made a point to note that he personally abhors the 421-a tax abatement since it subsidizes “billionaires buying condos.” But developers want it as well as J-51, with McKee saying they hadn’t been scared off by “Roberts v. Tishman Speyer,” which ruled that owners accepting those breaks couldn’t deregulate apartments in those properties. “Those programs are extremely lucrative,” he said. And, said McKee, tenants should keep their eyes on the prize, which is vacancy deregulation.

“We mean full repeal. Not simply raising the threshold like they did three years ago. They raised the threshold and called it a great victory and they’re still trying to spin it as a victory when it was a cosmetic change.” This was in reference to the amendment of the law that allowed landlords to de-regulate an apartment if the rent was $2,000 and the tenant’s income was $175,000 for two years, by increasing that amount to $2,500 or more and $200,000.

“We have rent stabilized apartments in Stuyvesant Town renting for $5,000 or more because politicians allowed the rent laws to be trampled,” McKee added.

What tenants can do, he said, is ask their Assembly members to put pressure on Speaker Sheldon Silver to get tenant-friendly legislation to become more than just one-house bills.

“Do I think Shelly Silver is likely to do this on his own initiative? No. He’s going to have to be pushed,” said McKee. “If he’s going to just posture and introduce bills that die in the Senate, and put out press releases saying how pro-tenant the Assembly is, we’re in trouble. The question is whether or not the governor and the speaker will use that leverage.”

What doesn’t need to be fought for, said McKee, is repeal of the Urstadt Law, which would return home rule on housing to the city. Focusing on that this year, he believes is a trap, since the odds of the Senate agreeing to to it are too slim.

“We need a lot of things,” he said. “We need MCI reform so MCI increases aren’t permanent and compounded into the base rent and reform of the Rent Guidelines Board and stopping the 20 percent vacancy bonuses. But without vacancy deregulation, none of those changes are going to mean anything, because without the rent regulation system, in a few years there won’t be anything left.”

McKee believes that close to 400,000 units of affordable housing have been lost in the past 20 years due to erosion of the rent laws. In 1996, 56 percent of rental units in the city were rent controlled or rent stabilized, based on figures from a city housing and vacancy survey that’s done every three years. Fifteen years later, in 2011, that number had been whittled down to 47 percent, based on the same source. “That should tell you something about the rate of loss,” he said. In some cases, this is due to condo or co-op conversion, but the majority of those cases are vacancy deregulation.

And as always, said McKee, tenants should also keep their mouths open — not to mention their wallets —in the effort to help TenantsPAC.
“I’m talking about money, I’m talking about bodies,” he said. “We have all volunteers so 95 percent of all we raise goes directly to the candidates we support.” (The other 5 percent goes to the organization’s phone, internet, and office rent expenses.) The money, however, never comes close to what the real estate industry spends to elect Republicans. (As of October 20, the Real Estate Board of New York had spent $1.9 million and owner group the Rent Stabilization Association spent $500,000.) Additionally, unlike REBNY, the RSA did this quietly, funneling the funds to a Washington, D.C.-based Republican State Leadership Committee which then gave an even larger amount to a New York group which spent heavily to elect Republicans, Crain’s reported on Friday.

The tenants do have one advantage though. “One of the things we bring to the table that the real estate lobby doesn’t is volunteers.”

He noted that many volunteers as well as donors have been residents of Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village. But for those whose rent demands don’t allow for large donations or work schedules don’t leave time for trips upstate to go door-knocking, McKee recommends phone banking as a good alternative for would-be volunteers. This can be done at home, usually in the evenings, and even after elections, since TenantsPAC phone banks in support of legislation.

As for why Election Day was such a dismal one for Democrat legislators and candidates, McKee believes Democrat voter apathy is partially to blame. While he was in upstate Kingston going door to door to campaign for Democrat Senator CeCe Tkaczyk, who ended up losing, he saw it firsthand.

“In non-presidential election years, Republican voters show up and Democrats tend to stay home,” he said.

Democrat control of Senate is likely

TenantsPAC wary of Klein’s leadership

State Senator Jeff Klein

State Senator Jeff Klein

By Sabina Mollot
On Wednesday, June 25, a group of breakaway Democrats in the State Senate, called the Independent Democrats Conference, formed an alliance more mainline Democrats. As a result of this cooperation, which would begin after the November elections, IDC Senator Jeff Klein, if re-elected, would become a “co-leader” along with Senate Minority Leader Andrea-Stewart Cousins, and the IDC’s alliance with Senate Republicans would end. The IDC was formed in 2012.

The move, while cheered by Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio, is being seen as potentially disastrous by the real estate industry since it’s expected to put Democrats back in control of the Senate. Additionally, Stewart-Cousins is a tenant-friendly Democrat. At the same time, it’s also being eyed with caution by TenantsPAC, which views Klein as a tool for landlords.

TenantsPAC has been actively campaigning to get Klein’s opponent in the primary, former City Council Member Oliver Koppell, elected instead.
The political action committee has even begun phone banking to get close to 700 registered democrats in The Bronx to support him.
“Tenants anywhere should care about this election,” TenantsPAC treasurer Mike McKee said.
TenantsPAC has also given $4,000 to the campaign, and hopes to give the candidate $2,500 more, which would bring the donation to the maximum allowed.

Of the new Senate Democratic coalition, McKee said, “It makes sense for the real Democrats to do this, but we’re raising a note of caution about a major issue which is coming up in the legislature next year.”
This statement was in reference to the law governing rent regulated housing that will be up for renewal, and Klein, noted McKee, has a history of shooting down pro-tenant legislation.

TenantsPAC actually supported Klein a decade ago, because, “his opponent was worse.” The opponent, Steven Kaufman, had said he would caucus with Republicans. And as for Klein, McKee said, “we didn’t know he would be this bad.”
Over the years since then, McKee has had three meetings with the senator, two in his district office and one in Albany, with constituents present, in an effort to get Klein to support a repeal of vacancy decontrol.
“He told us flat out he would vote on it if it comes up, but ‘I will do everything in my power to make sure it doesn’t get to the floor,’” said McKee. “And it never got to the floor. You have to give him some credit for being so honest and not stringing us along.”

A spokesperson for Klein didn’t respond to T&V’s request for comment.

State Senator Brad Hoylman, meanwhile, said the new cooperation should still make a big difference because, as McKee noted, Democrat legislation doesn’t currently tend to make it to the floor for consideration. This would be legislation on issues such as tenant protections, LGBT rights, the DREAM Act and de-criminalizing small amounts of marijuana.
“Everything has been stymied by Republican control of the Senate,” Hoylman said. “It’s at-will legislation, whatever they want. The leaders of the Senate have tremendous strength.”

For this reason, Hoylman said he wants to see more power given to committees.
“I’m hoping that this is the beginning of a new term in the Senate with new leadership that defies the dysfunctional label some have wanted to paint Democrats with,” he added.

This dysfunction was the reason for the formation of the IDC.Following its creation, out of 63 Senate members in New York, 24 are currently Democrat, five are IDC, 30 are Republican, although, noted Hoylman, “One of the Republicans is a Democrat.” That would be Simcha Felder of Brooklyn, who conferences with Republicans “even though he was elected as a Democrat.” Then there are two vacant seats formerly held by Republican Charles Fuschillo of Long Island, who resigned to work for a nonprofit, and Democrat Eric Adams, who’s now the Brooklyn borough president.
There are former Democrats John Sampson (who’s been charged with lying about a liquor store he’s a partner in) and Malcolm Smith (who’s been accused of being involved in a scheme to bribe Republicans) who were “kicked out and floating without a committee,” said Hoylman.

As for the shakeup in leadership, Hoylman called it “a good position for the Democrats to be in, but,” he warned, “it is not a done deal.”
There are after all primaries coming up and “tenants were bitterly disappointed the last time Democrats were in control,” said Hoylman.
This was in 2009, a year that was marred by a coup in which two Democrats, Pedro Espada Jr. and Hiram Monserrate, temporarily switched sides. (Both men have since been convicted of crimes, Monserrate of assaulting his girlfriend, and Espada of embezzling from a nonprofit he founded, and are no longer in office.)

As for this year, “Tenant advocates cannot sit on the sidelines,” said Hoylman. “They have to make sure their voices are heard. “This could hopefully do a lot for rent regulated apartments in my district, mainly Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village. This could make a big difference but it could also be a lost opportunity.”

Mayor’s housing plan has tenant protections

By Sabina Mollot

Mayor de Blasio, then a candidate, was endorsed by TenantsPAC in Stuyvesant Town last August. Pictured with de Blasio is Tenants PAC Treasuer Mike McKee on the mayor's right and ST-PCV Tenants Association President John Marsh (also a TenantsPAC member) to his left.

Mayor de Blasio, then a candidate, was endorsed by TenantsPAC in Stuyvesant Town last August. Pictured with de Blasio is Tenants PAC Treasurer Mike McKee on the mayor’s right and ST-PCV Tenants Association President John Marsh (also a TenantsPAC member) to his left. Photo by Sabina Mollot

On Monday, Mayor de Blasio unveiled his long-awaited plan that would create or preserve 200,000 units of affordable housing throughout the city over the next decade. The proposal, with its $41 billion pricetag, would mostly preserve existing affordable units –120,000 — while building 80,000 new ones. There would be a focused effort on city agencies using “every tool at their disposal to protect tenants in both subsidized affordable housing and rent-regulated housing from the tide of deregulation,” the mayor announced.

To accomplish this, the city would work with the state as rent regulation comes up for renewal in 2015 “to prevent abuses of the vacancy and luxury decontrol provisions and capital improvement rules.” The city would also more closely scrutinize situations of landlord harassment or neglect and possibly step in with legal action. There would also be increased support for seniors through Section 8 vouchers if they have declining incomes, working with NYCHA to implement more senior housing in its developments and expanding eligibility for SCRIE (Senior Citizen Rent increase Exemption).

De Blasio also promised to work with communities to develop housing on vacant lots, create “quality” construction jobs and cut down on red tape that would slow down development or raise construction costs. Additionally, any rezoning aimed at building bigger to accommodate more housing would require that some of that housing would be affordable. The city would also launch a mixed-income program where 50 percent of units in these “projects” would be set aside for middle-income households, and the remaining 20 and 30 percent, respectively, set aside for low and moderate income households. The Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) would see its budget doubled.

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TenantsPAC endorses de Blasio at ST

Meanwhile, residents less forgiving of Weiner this week

Mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio and Mike McKee of TenantsPAC at Stuyvesant Town on Monday (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

Mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio and Mike McKee of TenantsPAC at Stuyvesant Town on Monday (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot
On Monday morning, mayoral candidate and Public Advocate Bill de Blasio stopped by Stuyvesant Town, where the Tenants Political Action Committee (TenantsPAC) announced it was endorsing him.

The event was attended by over a dozen neighborhood residents carrying campaign signs as well as ST-PCV Tenants Association President John Marsh. Though the Tenants Association doesn’t endorse candidates, Marsh is also a board member of TenantsPAC, a group aimed at getting tenant-friendly candidates elected.

At the podium, Marsh mentioned the candidate’s commitment to existing affordable housing as well as to getting new units built and mentioned his desire to see the Rent Guidelines Board reformed.

Mike McKee, treasurer for TenantsPAC as well as its spokesman, said that the group had considered five of the Democratic candidates who seemed the most sympathetic to tenant issues, but ultimately went with de Blasio for his promise to “unravel the Bloomberg years and to have a real progressive city government.”

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