Gotham Gazette Gotham Gazette is an online publication covering New York policy and politics as well as news on public safety, transportation, education, finance and more. http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/affordable-housing 2019-02-23T11:08:56+00:00 Webmaster webmaster@gothamgazette.com How New York Can Become a Real Democracy: Re-Center Race as Legislative Progress Continues 2019-02-13T05:00:00+00:00 2019-02-13T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8280-how-new-york-can-become-a-real-democracy-re-center-race-as-legislative-progress-continues Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/gov-cuomo-dna.jpg" alt="gov cuomo dna" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>(photo: Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>For decades, the phrase “three men in a room” has been used to capture how the leadership of New York state government (the governor, the state Assembly speaker and the state Senate majority leader) in Albany decides in back-room negotiations what legislation lives or dies. Finally, this year, state government can remake itself much closer to the image of true democracy. Leaders in the Assembly and Senate, Carl Heastie and Andrea Stewart-Cousins, are for the first time both African-American, and one is a woman.</p> <p>This is an undeniably exciting moment, but it is also a moment fraught with uncertainty and real questions about what it means to have a truly inclusive democracy, one that reflects a multiracial society and advances solutions to benefit all, not just a select few.</p> <p>While it is Democrats who are leading the charge on voting and campaign finance reforms – issues at the very heart of democracy – both parties have participated in, and benefited from, a system run on corporate money and machine politics. That system consists of a very small, very wealthy, and very white donor class that occupies the place that democracy should.</p> <p>Recently passed reforms such as early voting and changes to the “LLC loophole,” which limits the amount of money powerful individuals and companies can contribute to candidates, are game-changers for New York. Still, much of the hard work of disentangling the deep, white roots of money from politics remains, work that must be done in order to have a true democracy in New York. In particular, automatic voter registration and public financing of elections are essential to achieving this goal. But there’s more.</p> <p>In the public discourse on many issues, the flag of economic equality flies high. What has been less talked about is the systematic exclusion and oppression of communities of color as a direct result of our current system. Democracy reforms are not just about good governance, they are about giving people of color access to the political power from which they are all too often excluded. Race has become a footnote in a discussion when it should be the headline, for the simple reason that we cannot achieve a truly inclusive democracy if we do not start by acknowledging who has been excluded and why.</p> <p>A <a href="https://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/ny-oped-fight-for-lower-rents-by-fixing-campaign-finance-20190114-story.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">recent column</a> on the housing crisis by State Senator Zellnor Myrie and Jonathan Westin, executive director of New York Communities for Change, centers the impact of money on the most basic and essential of goods – shelter. &nbsp;</p> <p>“For the real estate industry, these donations [to candidates] are a calculated investment to protect and expand their soaring profits,” they wrote in The Daily News. “Albany returns the favor by granting favorable tax breaks for developers and blocking meaningful action on the rent laws, which protect millions of tenants and families.”</p> <p>At Community Voices Heard, a member-led, multiracial organization working to secure racial, social, and economic justice for all New Yorkers, we know the consequences of this relationship are far too real. In 2018, we organized tenants in Ossining, New York, to enact the Emergency Tenant Protection Act (ETPA). ETPA provided tenant protections for more than 2,000 residents. Just a year later, the mayor and village council have proposed repealing ETPA without offering an alternative proposal, a troubling development for the residents fighting against a profit-driven industry to stay in their homes. Without strong leadership in Albany to protect tenants, battles like these will become an endless war.</p> <p>Legislation to mitigate climate change tells a similar story. As is well known, the <a href="https://www.opensecrets.org/industries/indus.php?ind=E01" target="_blank" rel="noopener">fossil fuel industry ranks</a> among the top political campaign contributors and spends enormously on lobbying as well. The impact of a toxic environment is not being borne equally. According to <a href="https://www.thenation.com/article/race-best-predicts-whether-you-live-near-pollution/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">The Nation</a>, studies show that the majority of people living near hazardous waste sites are people of color. According to the same article, in cases where communities filed complaints with the Environmental Protection Agency alleging a violation of their civil rights, 95 percent of the claims were denied. In New York, one can see similar trends in the decades of negligence and mismanagement of public housing under the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) or the city’s response to Hurricane Sandy.</p> <p>In recognition of this, the <a href="https://nyassembly.gov/leg/?term=2017&amp;bn=A08270" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Climate and Community Protection Act</a>, re-introduced this session by Assemblymember Steven Englebright and Senator Todd Kaminsky, contains provisions aimed specifically at ensuring an <a href="https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B2b4sxM265uZNUlDakpBdUFUY0VQWnlPdjYtdnViZFdBQU9R/view" target="_blank" rel="noopener">equitable transition</a> to renewable energy, including allocating 40 percent of funding to frontline and historically disadvantaged communities. This approach, which both acknowledges racial inequity and ensures that it informs policy-making, is an important step in the fight for an inclusive democracy and should serve as an example for advocates and lawmakers alike.</p> <p>Business as usual in Albany has often meant that lawmakers, lobbyists, experts, and advocates are quick to embrace a “race-neutral” dialogue when talking about the momentous issues at stake: voting, climate, housing, healthcare, jobs, and more. But it is worth remembering that these issues were core tenets of the Civil Rights Movement. The weeks ahead present both a challenge and an opportunity: to disrupt the normal discourse, to be explicit about racial inequities, and to fight for policies that can build a truly inclusive democracy.</p> <p>***<br /> Afua Atta-Mensah is Executive Director of Community Voices Heard. On Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/afuaattamensah" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@AfuaAttaMensah</a> &amp; <a href="https://twitter.com/cvhaction" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@CVHaction</a>.</p> <p>

***
Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/gov-cuomo-dna.jpg" alt="gov cuomo dna" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>(photo: Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>For decades, the phrase “three men in a room” has been used to capture how the leadership of New York state government (the governor, the state Assembly speaker and the state Senate majority leader) in Albany decides in back-room negotiations what legislation lives or dies. Finally, this year, state government can remake itself much closer to the image of true democracy. Leaders in the Assembly and Senate, Carl Heastie and Andrea Stewart-Cousins, are for the first time both African-American, and one is a woman.</p> <p>This is an undeniably exciting moment, but it is also a moment fraught with uncertainty and real questions about what it means to have a truly inclusive democracy, one that reflects a multiracial society and advances solutions to benefit all, not just a select few.</p> <p>While it is Democrats who are leading the charge on voting and campaign finance reforms – issues at the very heart of democracy – both parties have participated in, and benefited from, a system run on corporate money and machine politics. That system consists of a very small, very wealthy, and very white donor class that occupies the place that democracy should.</p> <p>Recently passed reforms such as early voting and changes to the “LLC loophole,” which limits the amount of money powerful individuals and companies can contribute to candidates, are game-changers for New York. Still, much of the hard work of disentangling the deep, white roots of money from politics remains, work that must be done in order to have a true democracy in New York. In particular, automatic voter registration and public financing of elections are essential to achieving this goal. But there’s more.</p> <p>In the public discourse on many issues, the flag of economic equality flies high. What has been less talked about is the systematic exclusion and oppression of communities of color as a direct result of our current system. Democracy reforms are not just about good governance, they are about giving people of color access to the political power from which they are all too often excluded. Race has become a footnote in a discussion when it should be the headline, for the simple reason that we cannot achieve a truly inclusive democracy if we do not start by acknowledging who has been excluded and why.</p> <p>A <a href="https://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/ny-oped-fight-for-lower-rents-by-fixing-campaign-finance-20190114-story.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">recent column</a> on the housing crisis by State Senator Zellnor Myrie and Jonathan Westin, executive director of New York Communities for Change, centers the impact of money on the most basic and essential of goods – shelter. &nbsp;</p> <p>“For the real estate industry, these donations [to candidates] are a calculated investment to protect and expand their soaring profits,” they wrote in The Daily News. “Albany returns the favor by granting favorable tax breaks for developers and blocking meaningful action on the rent laws, which protect millions of tenants and families.”</p> <p>At Community Voices Heard, a member-led, multiracial organization working to secure racial, social, and economic justice for all New Yorkers, we know the consequences of this relationship are far too real. In 2018, we organized tenants in Ossining, New York, to enact the Emergency Tenant Protection Act (ETPA). ETPA provided tenant protections for more than 2,000 residents. Just a year later, the mayor and village council have proposed repealing ETPA without offering an alternative proposal, a troubling development for the residents fighting against a profit-driven industry to stay in their homes. Without strong leadership in Albany to protect tenants, battles like these will become an endless war.</p> <p>Legislation to mitigate climate change tells a similar story. As is well known, the <a href="https://www.opensecrets.org/industries/indus.php?ind=E01" target="_blank" rel="noopener">fossil fuel industry ranks</a> among the top political campaign contributors and spends enormously on lobbying as well. The impact of a toxic environment is not being borne equally. According to <a href="https://www.thenation.com/article/race-best-predicts-whether-you-live-near-pollution/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">The Nation</a>, studies show that the majority of people living near hazardous waste sites are people of color. According to the same article, in cases where communities filed complaints with the Environmental Protection Agency alleging a violation of their civil rights, 95 percent of the claims were denied. In New York, one can see similar trends in the decades of negligence and mismanagement of public housing under the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) or the city’s response to Hurricane Sandy.</p> <p>In recognition of this, the <a href="https://nyassembly.gov/leg/?term=2017&amp;bn=A08270" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Climate and Community Protection Act</a>, re-introduced this session by Assemblymember Steven Englebright and Senator Todd Kaminsky, contains provisions aimed specifically at ensuring an <a href="https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B2b4sxM265uZNUlDakpBdUFUY0VQWnlPdjYtdnViZFdBQU9R/view" target="_blank" rel="noopener">equitable transition</a> to renewable energy, including allocating 40 percent of funding to frontline and historically disadvantaged communities. This approach, which both acknowledges racial inequity and ensures that it informs policy-making, is an important step in the fight for an inclusive democracy and should serve as an example for advocates and lawmakers alike.</p> <p>Business as usual in Albany has often meant that lawmakers, lobbyists, experts, and advocates are quick to embrace a “race-neutral” dialogue when talking about the momentous issues at stake: voting, climate, housing, healthcare, jobs, and more. But it is worth remembering that these issues were core tenets of the Civil Rights Movement. The weeks ahead present both a challenge and an opportunity: to disrupt the normal discourse, to be explicit about racial inequities, and to fight for policies that can build a truly inclusive democracy.</p> <p>***<br /> Afua Atta-Mensah is Executive Director of Community Voices Heard. On Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/afuaattamensah" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@AfuaAttaMensah</a> &amp; <a href="https://twitter.com/cvhaction" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@CVHaction</a>.</p> <p>

***
Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

</p>
Despite Need, Gaining More State Support for Affordable Housing Remains Major Challenge for De Blasio 2019-02-04T05:00:00+00:00 2019-02-04T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8252-despite-need-gaining-more-state-support-for-affordable-housing-remains-major-challenge-for-de-blasio Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/cuomo-gov-housing.jpg" alt="cuomo gov housing" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>(photo: the governor's office)</p> <hr /> <p>Right now, New York City’s government should be taking advantage of the Democratic majority in both houses of the New York State Legislature to make progress addressing the affordable housing and homelessness crisis affecting city residents. But success requires a skillful effort since the political challenge is daunting, despite overwhelming public concern.</p> <p>Why now? We have a new Democratic majority in the state Senate elected in 2018. The state Assembly, controlled by Democrats since 1975, has been a liberal body limited by Republican power virtually the entire time, until now.</p> <p>But there is no immediate consensus on what the housing solutions might be, how much money might be available, whether the new Senate Democrats would be willing to vote for a new tax, even if just levied in New York City, or the extent to which the Cuomo administration is willing to spend more money. The population in need is large and diverse, and the resources to address any particular segment of the needy population are severely limited.</p> <p>What’s the city been doing up until now? City government has made major investments in affordable housing and used its resources to stabilize evictions and step up emergency assistance -- to prevent the crisis from getting worse. But there is little let-up in a cycle of rapid growth, gentrification, and development, rising rents and prices, and the inability of large segments of the city’s population to afford higher rents on limited incomes as low rent apartments have grown scarce.</p> <p>Housing data show us exactly where New York City stands. The dimensions of the housing crisis are staggering:</p> <p>-There are more than 2 million rental apartments in the City of New York, with about 1 million in the private rent-stabilized or controlled system, according to <a href="https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/rentguidelinesboard/pdf/18HSR.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Housing NYC 2018, the annual Rent Guidelines Board</a> report. Median household incomes in rent-stabilized apartments are about $45,000 a year in 2016, and median rent stabilized rents were $1,270 in 2017.</p> <p>-A report by <a href="https://comptroller.nyc.gov/reports/nyc-for-all-the-housing-we-need/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Comptroller Scott Stringer (Nov. 2018), entitled The Housing We Need</a>, identified 396,000 households in the City with incomes of less than $28,000 a year as severely rent-burdened, meaning their rent was 50% or more of their income. Additional households are also severely rent-burdened but their incomes are higher.</p> <p>-There are 61,000 persons in the shelter system right now, not counting people living on the street (<a href="https://data.cityofnewyork.us/Social-Services/DHS-Daily-Report/k46n-sa2m" target="_blank" rel="noopener">DHS Daily Report</a>).</p> <p>-There are 208,000 households on the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) waiting list, and 148,000 households on the Section 8 waiting list, with new applications closed (<a href="https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/nycha/downloads/pdf/NYCHA-Fact-Sheet_2018_Final.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">NYCHA Fact Sheet</a>).</p> <p>-Only about 18% of rental households live in a subsidized situation, like NYCHA, Section 8, or the Mitchell-Lama program, which has privately-owned but regulated units with low-cost financing and tax abatements to make them affordable (<a href="http://furmancenter.org/research/sonychan" target="_blank" rel="noopener">NYU Furman Center, 2017, Changes in NYC Housing Stock</a>).</p> <p>-About 19% of New York City residents, or 1.7 million people, lives in poverty.</p> <p>The federal government added to the crisis by curtailing new subsidized housing in the 1980s and ‘90s. &nbsp;</p> <p>But, by 1994, New York City became governed for 20 years by Mayors Giuliani and Bloomberg, for whom low-income housing was not a major priority. The shelter population was 24,000 in 1993, 28,000 in 2001, and 49,000 in 2013, the end of Mayor Bloomberg’s tenure. Mayor Bloomberg developed a program called Advantage to help residents exit the shelter system, which had a two-year cap on a voucher-like subsidy to encourage recipient families to become independent. The cap was criticized for its lack of permanency and the state eliminated its share of the cost in 2011, whereupon the mayor refused to pick up the state share and the program lapsed.</p> <p>State Senate Republicans, in power during Mayor de Blasio’s tenure up until now, were not interested in proposals from the mayor like the “mansion tax,” a surcharge on real property transfers above $2 million, with the new money dedicated to housing vouchers for the elderly. Aside from the universal pre-kindergarten victory in his first year, the city has spent much of its political energy in Albany trying to limit damage to the city budget from proposals by the Cuomo administration to shift social service, higher education, Medicaid, criminal justice, and transportation costs from the state to the city, winning on some issues but losing others, rather than obtaining major new resources from the state for housing.</p> <p>There are a few programs in place right now that attempt, with varied levels of success, to help ease the housing crisis: &nbsp;</p> <p>Supportive Housing: Since the 1990s, both the state and city have committed more resources to supportive housing, which assists persons with serious addiction or mental illness, the frail elderly, and others, and recently have embarked on new programs in this area. The state has committed to 6,000 more units of supportive housing over five years (not all of which will be in New York City), starting around 2016, and the city has made a commitment to 15/15, meaning 15,000 more supportive housing units over the next 15 years, beginning around 2016. But these units will be available not just to persons with psychiatric disabilities in the shelter system, but to persons leaving psychiatric hospitals, prisons and jails, adult homes, or just coming from their own homes and families but diagnosed with severe illnesses. There are 16,000 single adults in the shelter system now. 21,000 single adults entered the shelter system in Fiscal Year 2018, while fewer than 9,000 exited in that year (<a href="https://council.nyc.gov/budget/wp-content/uploads/sites/54/2018/03/FY19-Department-of-Homeless-Services.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">DHS Management Report, FY18</a>). The capacity of new supportive housing units to rapidly absorb single adults from the shelter system is limited.</p> <p>Affordable Housing: The large city affordable housing program, now called Housing New York 2.0, initiated by the de Blasio administration in 2014, has created or preserved 122,000 units since inception; the full plan calls for 300,00 units by 2026; 39,000 of the 122,000 units are new construction; the remainder preservation. Preserved units are also vital to long-term affordability because owners are agreeing to retain their building in regulated status in exchange for low-cost financing for repairs and large percentages of their residents are low- and moderate-income.</p> <p>The new units are created through capital grants and low-cost financing to private developers to reduce the cost of construction, allowing some units to be marketed to low- and moderate-income tenants. Other units are rented at market rates and are not counted in the affordable classifications. Some projects are 100% affordable, meaning they have heavier subsidies and are not offered to higher-income households. Affordability relates to income levels; more than 50% of the affordable units have been slated for households making between $47,000 and $75,000 a year for a family of three. About 25% of the units have been slated for incomes below $47,000 a year.</p> <p>But there is concern that not enough of the units are for very low-income households. A change for lower-income households would, however, require more subsidies, assuming the number-of-units goal remains the same. Without more money overall, the city would have to forsake some moderate-income units for lower-income units. Nonetheless the city has made a major commitment to getting more housing units built, in addition to the resources to reduce homelessness. The State of New York produces some affordable housing through its own programs, or sometimes in combination with city programs, but the scale of the state’s effort does not match the city’s.</p> <p>There are several other significant proposals to address the affordable housing crisis that do require state involvement:</p> <p>-Comptroller Scott Stringer proposed to change property transfer taxes to raise more revenue and concentrate the capital grant subsidies of the Housing New York program to the low-income population and the homeless.</p> <p>The mortgage recording tax in the city would be eliminated while the real property transfer tax would become more progressive. The change would raise $400 million a year and the funds used to provide deeper subsides to help the city’s neediest population. But planned Housing New York units for the moderate-income group between $47,000 and $75,000 a year, and those above that level, would be switched over to the lower-income group and thus be displaced.</p> <p>A modification to the Stringer proposal might be to use the $400 million a year as a targeted add-on for the lower-income population, rather than a substitution away from the moderate-income group. After all, both groups, the moderate-income, and the very low-income, need housing. Mayor de Blasio’s proposal, the Mansion Tax, and the comptroller’s plan both require a tax increase. But can the mayor persuade some of these new suburban Senate Democrats to agree to a tax increase for a housing purpose, when they are also being asked by the governor to support congestion pricing?</p> <p>-Assemblymember Andrew Hevesi’s legislative proposal, named Home Stability Support, creates a Section 8-like voucher for the shelter population, as well as the at-risk of eviction population, funded at 14,000 vouchers a year. Cost estimates have ranged from $450 million a year to close to $1 billion a year (<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7377-renewed-push-to-pass-state-homelessness-subsidy-in-2018" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Renewed Push for Homeless Subsidy</a>, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7377-renewed-push-to-pass-state-homelessness-subsidy-in-2018" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Gotham Gazette, Dec. 2017</a>). An effort by the Assembly and Senate last year in budget negotiations to fund even a start-up at $15 million a year was rejected by the governor’s Division of the Budget.</p> <p>The Mansion Tax, the Hevesi proposal, the cancelled Advantage program, and current city emergency rehousing assistance efforts, which cost $200 million a year (<a href="https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/omb/downloads/pdf/mm4-17.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">NYC OMB, Mayor’s Message, 2018</a>), all involve Section 8-like vouchers concept to help residents pay for rental apartments. New vouchers are very expensive. Section 8 usually pays a landlord up to $1,500 a month, or $18,000 a year, to cover one household. Each new 1,000 vouchers thus cost up to a new $18 million a year. Who should get the priority for new vouchers? The homeless? The elderly? The 148,000 households who are on the current Section 8 waiting lists, who have also been vetted as in need?</p> <p>Some serious coalition building is in order to make progress. Gaining a political consensus about where to put new funds, and where the money will come from, means Mayor de Blasio must pull together support among housing advocates, the Assembly and the Senate, and run the gauntlet of Governor Cuomo and the state Division of the Budget. Is there sufficient political will to address this intractable problem?</p> <p>***<br />Jim Brennan was a member of the New York State Assembly for 32 years, where he chaired four committees. On Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/JimBrennanNY" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@JimBrennanNY</a>.</p> <p>

***
Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/cuomo-gov-housing.jpg" alt="cuomo gov housing" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>(photo: the governor's office)</p> <hr /> <p>Right now, New York City’s government should be taking advantage of the Democratic majority in both houses of the New York State Legislature to make progress addressing the affordable housing and homelessness crisis affecting city residents. But success requires a skillful effort since the political challenge is daunting, despite overwhelming public concern.</p> <p>Why now? We have a new Democratic majority in the state Senate elected in 2018. The state Assembly, controlled by Democrats since 1975, has been a liberal body limited by Republican power virtually the entire time, until now.</p> <p>But there is no immediate consensus on what the housing solutions might be, how much money might be available, whether the new Senate Democrats would be willing to vote for a new tax, even if just levied in New York City, or the extent to which the Cuomo administration is willing to spend more money. The population in need is large and diverse, and the resources to address any particular segment of the needy population are severely limited.</p> <p>What’s the city been doing up until now? City government has made major investments in affordable housing and used its resources to stabilize evictions and step up emergency assistance -- to prevent the crisis from getting worse. But there is little let-up in a cycle of rapid growth, gentrification, and development, rising rents and prices, and the inability of large segments of the city’s population to afford higher rents on limited incomes as low rent apartments have grown scarce.</p> <p>Housing data show us exactly where New York City stands. The dimensions of the housing crisis are staggering:</p> <p>-There are more than 2 million rental apartments in the City of New York, with about 1 million in the private rent-stabilized or controlled system, according to <a href="https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/rentguidelinesboard/pdf/18HSR.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Housing NYC 2018, the annual Rent Guidelines Board</a> report. Median household incomes in rent-stabilized apartments are about $45,000 a year in 2016, and median rent stabilized rents were $1,270 in 2017.</p> <p>-A report by <a href="https://comptroller.nyc.gov/reports/nyc-for-all-the-housing-we-need/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Comptroller Scott Stringer (Nov. 2018), entitled The Housing We Need</a>, identified 396,000 households in the City with incomes of less than $28,000 a year as severely rent-burdened, meaning their rent was 50% or more of their income. Additional households are also severely rent-burdened but their incomes are higher.</p> <p>-There are 61,000 persons in the shelter system right now, not counting people living on the street (<a href="https://data.cityofnewyork.us/Social-Services/DHS-Daily-Report/k46n-sa2m" target="_blank" rel="noopener">DHS Daily Report</a>).</p> <p>-There are 208,000 households on the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) waiting list, and 148,000 households on the Section 8 waiting list, with new applications closed (<a href="https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/nycha/downloads/pdf/NYCHA-Fact-Sheet_2018_Final.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">NYCHA Fact Sheet</a>).</p> <p>-Only about 18% of rental households live in a subsidized situation, like NYCHA, Section 8, or the Mitchell-Lama program, which has privately-owned but regulated units with low-cost financing and tax abatements to make them affordable (<a href="http://furmancenter.org/research/sonychan" target="_blank" rel="noopener">NYU Furman Center, 2017, Changes in NYC Housing Stock</a>).</p> <p>-About 19% of New York City residents, or 1.7 million people, lives in poverty.</p> <p>The federal government added to the crisis by curtailing new subsidized housing in the 1980s and ‘90s. &nbsp;</p> <p>But, by 1994, New York City became governed for 20 years by Mayors Giuliani and Bloomberg, for whom low-income housing was not a major priority. The shelter population was 24,000 in 1993, 28,000 in 2001, and 49,000 in 2013, the end of Mayor Bloomberg’s tenure. Mayor Bloomberg developed a program called Advantage to help residents exit the shelter system, which had a two-year cap on a voucher-like subsidy to encourage recipient families to become independent. The cap was criticized for its lack of permanency and the state eliminated its share of the cost in 2011, whereupon the mayor refused to pick up the state share and the program lapsed.</p> <p>State Senate Republicans, in power during Mayor de Blasio’s tenure up until now, were not interested in proposals from the mayor like the “mansion tax,” a surcharge on real property transfers above $2 million, with the new money dedicated to housing vouchers for the elderly. Aside from the universal pre-kindergarten victory in his first year, the city has spent much of its political energy in Albany trying to limit damage to the city budget from proposals by the Cuomo administration to shift social service, higher education, Medicaid, criminal justice, and transportation costs from the state to the city, winning on some issues but losing others, rather than obtaining major new resources from the state for housing.</p> <p>There are a few programs in place right now that attempt, with varied levels of success, to help ease the housing crisis: &nbsp;</p> <p>Supportive Housing: Since the 1990s, both the state and city have committed more resources to supportive housing, which assists persons with serious addiction or mental illness, the frail elderly, and others, and recently have embarked on new programs in this area. The state has committed to 6,000 more units of supportive housing over five years (not all of which will be in New York City), starting around 2016, and the city has made a commitment to 15/15, meaning 15,000 more supportive housing units over the next 15 years, beginning around 2016. But these units will be available not just to persons with psychiatric disabilities in the shelter system, but to persons leaving psychiatric hospitals, prisons and jails, adult homes, or just coming from their own homes and families but diagnosed with severe illnesses. There are 16,000 single adults in the shelter system now. 21,000 single adults entered the shelter system in Fiscal Year 2018, while fewer than 9,000 exited in that year (<a href="https://council.nyc.gov/budget/wp-content/uploads/sites/54/2018/03/FY19-Department-of-Homeless-Services.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">DHS Management Report, FY18</a>). The capacity of new supportive housing units to rapidly absorb single adults from the shelter system is limited.</p> <p>Affordable Housing: The large city affordable housing program, now called Housing New York 2.0, initiated by the de Blasio administration in 2014, has created or preserved 122,000 units since inception; the full plan calls for 300,00 units by 2026; 39,000 of the 122,000 units are new construction; the remainder preservation. Preserved units are also vital to long-term affordability because owners are agreeing to retain their building in regulated status in exchange for low-cost financing for repairs and large percentages of their residents are low- and moderate-income.</p> <p>The new units are created through capital grants and low-cost financing to private developers to reduce the cost of construction, allowing some units to be marketed to low- and moderate-income tenants. Other units are rented at market rates and are not counted in the affordable classifications. Some projects are 100% affordable, meaning they have heavier subsidies and are not offered to higher-income households. Affordability relates to income levels; more than 50% of the affordable units have been slated for households making between $47,000 and $75,000 a year for a family of three. About 25% of the units have been slated for incomes below $47,000 a year.</p> <p>But there is concern that not enough of the units are for very low-income households. A change for lower-income households would, however, require more subsidies, assuming the number-of-units goal remains the same. Without more money overall, the city would have to forsake some moderate-income units for lower-income units. Nonetheless the city has made a major commitment to getting more housing units built, in addition to the resources to reduce homelessness. The State of New York produces some affordable housing through its own programs, or sometimes in combination with city programs, but the scale of the state’s effort does not match the city’s.</p> <p>There are several other significant proposals to address the affordable housing crisis that do require state involvement:</p> <p>-Comptroller Scott Stringer proposed to change property transfer taxes to raise more revenue and concentrate the capital grant subsidies of the Housing New York program to the low-income population and the homeless.</p> <p>The mortgage recording tax in the city would be eliminated while the real property transfer tax would become more progressive. The change would raise $400 million a year and the funds used to provide deeper subsides to help the city’s neediest population. But planned Housing New York units for the moderate-income group between $47,000 and $75,000 a year, and those above that level, would be switched over to the lower-income group and thus be displaced.</p> <p>A modification to the Stringer proposal might be to use the $400 million a year as a targeted add-on for the lower-income population, rather than a substitution away from the moderate-income group. After all, both groups, the moderate-income, and the very low-income, need housing. Mayor de Blasio’s proposal, the Mansion Tax, and the comptroller’s plan both require a tax increase. But can the mayor persuade some of these new suburban Senate Democrats to agree to a tax increase for a housing purpose, when they are also being asked by the governor to support congestion pricing?</p> <p>-Assemblymember Andrew Hevesi’s legislative proposal, named Home Stability Support, creates a Section 8-like voucher for the shelter population, as well as the at-risk of eviction population, funded at 14,000 vouchers a year. Cost estimates have ranged from $450 million a year to close to $1 billion a year (<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7377-renewed-push-to-pass-state-homelessness-subsidy-in-2018" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Renewed Push for Homeless Subsidy</a>, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7377-renewed-push-to-pass-state-homelessness-subsidy-in-2018" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Gotham Gazette, Dec. 2017</a>). An effort by the Assembly and Senate last year in budget negotiations to fund even a start-up at $15 million a year was rejected by the governor’s Division of the Budget.</p> <p>The Mansion Tax, the Hevesi proposal, the cancelled Advantage program, and current city emergency rehousing assistance efforts, which cost $200 million a year (<a href="https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/omb/downloads/pdf/mm4-17.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">NYC OMB, Mayor’s Message, 2018</a>), all involve Section 8-like vouchers concept to help residents pay for rental apartments. New vouchers are very expensive. Section 8 usually pays a landlord up to $1,500 a month, or $18,000 a year, to cover one household. Each new 1,000 vouchers thus cost up to a new $18 million a year. Who should get the priority for new vouchers? The homeless? The elderly? The 148,000 households who are on the current Section 8 waiting lists, who have also been vetted as in need?</p> <p>Some serious coalition building is in order to make progress. Gaining a political consensus about where to put new funds, and where the money will come from, means Mayor de Blasio must pull together support among housing advocates, the Assembly and the Senate, and run the gauntlet of Governor Cuomo and the state Division of the Budget. Is there sufficient political will to address this intractable problem?</p> <p>***<br />Jim Brennan was a member of the New York State Assembly for 32 years, where he chaired four committees. On Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/JimBrennanNY" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@JimBrennanNY</a>.</p> <p>

***
Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

</p>
A Closer Look at ‘Vital Brooklyn,’ Cuomo’s Plan for ‘One of the Greatest Areas of Need in the Entire State’ 2018-12-13T05:00:00+00:00 2018-12-13T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8144-a-closer-look-at-vital-brooklyn-cuomo-s-plan-for-one-of-the-greatest-areas-of-need-in-the-entire-state Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/billion-vital-bk.jpg" alt="billion vital bk" width="600" height="498" /></p> <p>Cuomo &amp; Vital Brooklyn (photo: Mike Groll/Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>In March of 2017, Governor Andrew Cuomo <a href="https://www.governor.ny.gov/news/governor-cuomo-announces-14-billion-vital-brooklyn-initiative-transform-central-brooklyn" target="_blank" rel="noopener">unveiled</a> what he described as a groundbreaking initiative to “bring health and wellness to one of the most disadvantaged parts of the state.” That place was Central Brooklyn, where roubling health indicators of all types plague residents, from diabetes rates to poverty levels to inadequate access to quality health care.</p> <p>Cuomo said the plan, named Vital Brooklyn, came with $1.4 billion in state funds to pay for a long list of items across the borough, from playground renovations to job training to resiliency projects — all with the aim of fighting “entrenched pockets of poverty” in a comprehensive way, he said <a href="https://www.dnainfo.com/new-york/20170309/crown-heights/vital-brooklyn-cuomo-funding-healthcare-affordable-housing/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">at the time</a>.</p> <p>“What is the area in this state that has the greatest social need? If you look at unemployment rates, food stamps, physical inactivity, number of murders, one of the greatest areas of need in the entire state is Central Brooklyn. And it’s not even close,” Cuomo said.</p> <p>Since then, the governor has made nearly a dozen announcements related to Vital Brooklyn, six of them taking place from June to September in the lead-up to this year’s gubernatorial primary in which candidates for statewide offices heavily courted Central Brooklyn voters. At those events, Cuomo emphasized state funding for an oyster reef restoration project ($400,000), 22 community gardens ($3.1 million), fresh food programs ($1.8 million) and a new 407-acre state park to be named after iconic Brooklyn Congressional Rep. Shirley Chisholm — an announcement made eight days before the primary.</p> <p>In total, the governor’s office says there are 8,800 projects funded under the Vital Brooklyn umbrella, funded by the $1.4 billion (a dollar amount unchanged since spring of 2017, according to the state budget office). However, it’s important to note that those touted by the governor — such as those gardens, farmers markets and state park — make up a small slice of the total funding. The much larger pieces of the pie fall into just two (albeit very big) categories: housing and health care.</p> <p>In fact, nine out of every 10 dollars spent through Vital Brooklyn fall into the housing and health care columns: $578 million for subsidized housing in rapidly gentrifying areas (for example, a 2,400-unit project <a href="https://www.governor.ny.gov/news/governor-cuomo-announces-vital-brooklyns-100-percent-affordable-housing-rfp-winners-releases" target="_blank" rel="noopener">just announced</a> in East New York) and $700 million, allocated in 2015, for a new health care system that aims to restructure and revive three of Brooklyn's struggling hospitals.</p> <p>While some aspects of Vital Brooklyn are quickly taking shape, others will take months or years to materialize. Some officials, including several who have excitedly joined Cuomo at celebratory announcements, are lauding the investments, but critics of the project worry it’s not enough — and take issue with how Vital Brooklyn was rolled out, and how the money is divvied up.</p> <p>Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams said in a recent interview that his office wasn’t asked to give input on the project (the state instead took comments from advisory boards convened through the area’s elected state Assembly members) and he feels the funding is too small in scope and dollar amount, even if the governor’s frequent appearances make it appear otherwise.</p> <p>“We have to have a re-examination of the state allocations and are we doing what’s right by Brooklyn,” he said, particularly in relation to the Bronx, which Adams feels has gotten significantly more financial help from the state; Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. is a close ally of the governor.</p> <p>Earlier this year, he put it more bluntly earlier in an interview on the <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7648-max-murphy-podcast-brooklyn-borough-president-eric-adams" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Max &amp; Murphy podcast</a>.</p> <p>“You can’t keep brushing off and rolling out the same billion-dollar project,” he said in May.</p> <p>When asked to respond to that claim — and whether or not the Vital Brooklyn announcements were made in relation to this year’s primary — Cuomo spokesperson Tyrone Stevens’ comment was brief: “Bogus.”</p> <p>“This is simple: Our significant new investment in Brooklyn is based on a multi-pronged strategy to uplift communities that have been ignored for too long,” Stevens said in an email. “We’re proud of this effort, and we will not be shy about talking to local residents about the important work we’re doing to make their neighborhoods a better place to live.”</p> <p><strong>Big Spending: Health Care</strong><br />Of Vital Brooklyn’s $1.4 billion, fully half is dedicated to a new health care system for Brooklyn. That funding comes from a $700 million capital grant made through the Health Care Facilities Transformation Program included in the 2015-2016 state budget, allocated two years before it was announced as part of Vital Brooklyn.</p> <p>The funding will go to One Brooklyn Health System (OBHS), a newly formed operator that will combine the management of three previously separate Central Brooklyn hospitals — Kingsbrook Jewish Medical Center in East Flatbush, Interfaith Medical Center in Bedford-Stuyvesant, and Brookdale University Hospital Medical Center serving Brownsville and East New York — into one not-for-profit corporation.</p> <p>LaRay Brown, previously the president and CEO of Interfaith, is heading up the new venture. She says she’s been pushing for years for the “incredibly impactful” amount of state funding that will support dozens of major projects throughout the new health care system.</p> <p>Inside the buildings, the $700 million will pay for “boring things, but essential things,” Brown said, like replacing elevators, repairing HVAC systems and updating an outdated fire alarm system.</p> <p>“I say they’re boring, but they’re critical to providing safe and comfortable patient care,” she said.</p> <p>The medical centers will get major upgrades to their patient facilities, too. According to Request for Proposal documents from OBHS, Brookdale will build out a new 33-bed intensive care unit, renovate a 40-year-old operating room suite and upgrade all of the facility’s inpatient psychiatric units among others improvements. At Interfaith, the medical center’s emergency room will be upgraded and expanded, inpatient medical units will be renovated and new equipment such as MRI and x-ray machines will be installed. Major medical equipment will be replaced at Kingsbrook, as well, the documents show.</p> <p>Overall, the idea for the restructuring and redesign is to merge services among the three hospitals in order to form a more streamlined organization — and hopefully, in the end, become more financially stable.</p> <p>That’s according to state officials from the Public Health and Health Planning Council who approved the creation of OBHS in December of 2016. A report to the council at the time concluded that, operating separately, the hospitals require hundreds of millions of dollars in operating subsidies from the state every year “and are otherwise not financially sustainable.” (According to budget data from a PHHPC report, operating funds given to the three hospitals from the state totaled $169 million in 2015-16, then rose to $245 million in 2016-17 and $250 million in 2017-18.)</p> <p>“They've come together … in an effort to try to restructure and become more efficient and reduce its dependence on specialty subsidies,” state health department official Charles Abel told the council before it approved the OBHS application.</p> <p>To achieve those efficiencies, OBHS will reorganize how certain operations run within the three hospitals. For example, Brown said, Kingsbrook will no longer have inpatient medical-surgical beds and, though it will still have an emergency room, patients in need of ongoing acute or complex care will be transferred elsewhere, likely to Brookdale, which Brown said will become the system’s “center of excellence.”</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/41412467220_754c37b860_z.jpg" alt="LaRay Brown Brooklyn" width="250" height="161" style="margin-right: 12px; float: left;" />“As the inpatient acute care role diminishes at Kingsbrook, that role increases at Brookdale,” said Brown (pictured).</p> <p>But Brown is careful to note the restructuring effort should not be considered a consolidation. Current assessments by OBHS show no material difference between the number of current beds and projected beds in the system, according to OBHS’ Dona Green. In the end, Brown says the quality and quantity of services will expand.</p> <p>“Because these hospitals are coming together and because of the state’s commitment to invest in these hospitals, the Central Brooklyn community served by these hospitals will get more services, and not less,” Brown said.</p> <p>That sentiment was echoed by Assemblymember Latrice Walker of District 55 in Brownsville, who has been waiting for years to see this funding come through for the hospital system, particularly at Brookdale, where many of her constituents go for care — and where her own brother died of gunshot wounds when he was 19, she said.</p> <p>“I’m confident the services will be reinvigorated and enumerated. I don’t think we’re going to lose anything here,” she said. “Quite the contrary — we’re actually gaining.”</p> <p>By the totality of the health facilities in the works under Vital Brooklyn, that appears to be the case. A chunk of the initiative’s healthcare funding — $210 million in all — is allocated to create 32 new ambulatory care facilities, or community health centers, under the OBHS umbrella. The goal there is to create more medical offices, outpatient surgical facilities and urgent care options with a more long-term goal of reducing unnecessary trips to emergency rooms.</p> <p>“We need to start moving toward people having primary care physicians so that the emergency room isn’t their doctor office,” Walker said.</p> <p>Cuomo put it this way when announcing some of the 32 ambulatory care locations <a href="https://www.governor.ny.gov/news/governor-cuomo-announces-locations-expanded-services-and-partnerships-vital-brooklyns-210" target="_blank" rel="noopener">in July</a> of this year: “It's not just about a hospital where you go when you're very sick.”</p> <p>“Prevent the illness in the first place,” he continued. “Have more community-based healthcare systems that are focused on wellness, and health, as opposed to waiting for a person to get sick, and then be in acute need.”</p> <p>These new ambulatory centers are meant to handle a diverse slate of same-day health services, including diagnostic work, rehabilitation, or even major procedures such as hip replacements, according to Bill Hammond, the Director of Health Policy at the Empire Center think tank.</p> <p>Ambulatory centers have a lot of benefits, he said. For the patient, it’s generally a more comfortable experience to avoid spending a night at a hospital, and there’s less risk of infection. For hospitals, increasing outpatient services makes a lot of financial sense.</p> <p>“It’s less expensive,” he said. “Hospitals come with a lot of overhead.”</p> <p>That idea is in line with a healthcare trend more generally to move patients out of traditional inpatient hospitals and toward ambulatory centers for all kinds of services, from preventative doctor visits all the way up to certain surgeries. The move from “reliance on hospital-based services” to more outpatient services “is a major policy shift,” said Brown of OBHS. And it takes place within the context of years of financial struggle, and at times closure, for many hospitals, particularly those serving low-income communities, as costs have continued to rise.</p> <p>To combat that, the Vital Brooklyn plan puts a priority on the financial viability of health care projects funded under the plan. Included in guidelines for evaluating applicants to Vital Brooklyn, the state’s <a href="https://www.ny.gov/transforming-central-brooklyn/vital-brooklyn-initiative-0" target="_blank" rel="noopener">website</a> says it will consider “the extent to which the proposed projects further the development of primary care and other outpatient services; the extent to which the proposed projects contribute to the long-term sustainability of the applicant or preservation of essential health services; and the extent to which the proposed projects involve partnerships with community-based health care providers,” among other criteria.</p> <p>With the funding for the new 32 health facilities, the state hopes to roughly double the number of ambulatory care visits in Central Brooklyn, increasing capacity for 742,000 more visits every year, according to the governor’s office.</p> <p>Exactly where all that new health care capacity will be built is unknown; all 32 locations have not yet been finalized. But Cuomo <a href="https://www.governor.ny.gov/news/governor-cuomo-announces-locations-expanded-services-and-partnerships-vital-brooklyns-210" target="_blank" rel="noopener">announced</a> plans in July for renovations and the expansion of several existing health care centers, including the Bishop Walker Health Care Center in Prospect Heights, the Pierre Toussaint Health Center in Crown Heights and the Brownsville Multi-Service Center. In addition to those locations, several health care providers including the Bed-Stuy Family Health Center, Community Health Network, and ODA Primary Health Care Network have been chosen by the state to build new health centers in Brooklyn, providing both primary and specialty care.</p> <p>Some of the 32 new ambulatory health centers will be built within new developments underwritten by the second largest piece of the Vital Brooklyn funding: affordable housing.</p> <p><strong>Housing on State and Hospital Sites</strong><br /> In all, the state will spend $578 million — or more than 40 percent of the total Vital Brooklyn package — on subsidized housing, with a goal to build 4,000 new units over several years.</p> <p>The governor has repeatedly linked overall health goals of Vital Brooklyn to housing, particularly in rapidly gentrifying areas such as East New York where speculative buying and building, combined with a 2016 rezoning, has put pressure on poor residents.</p> <p>“It starts in the home, having the right housing, having the right environment, having the right support. And that's where we're going to start. We need afford affordable housing because out people are being displaced. Gentrification is everywhere,” the governor said at a Vital Brooklyn event <a href="https://www.governor.ny.gov/news/governor-cuomo-launches-phase-two-14-billion-vital-brooklyn-initiative-0" target="_blank" rel="noopener">earlier this year</a>.</p> <p>How all those units will be constructed is still up in the air, but details on some of the development sites are beginning to emerge. Late last month, the state announced four winning bids to develop housing on land owned by the three OBHS hospitals or on state-controlled land, including one complex in East New York that’s set to deliver the bulk of the subsidized housing funded under Vital Brooklyn.</p> <p>On Nov. 29, the state chose Westchester-based L+M Development Partners, Harlem-based construction group Apex Building, and two social services organizations — RiseBoro Community Partnership and Services for the Underserved — to bring a massive, 2,400-unit development to the site of the former Brooklyn Developmental Center, a home for developmentally delayed adults that closed in 2015. The three other chosen projects — two to be built on land owned by Interfaith hospital and another on land owned by Brookdale Hospital — will bring another 328 subsidized units to the borough.</p> <p>At the same time the state announced those projects, it rolled out another set of request for proposals (RFPs) on eight state-controlled sites around the borough, including several hospital parking lots set to be replaced by new buildings. Proposals for five of the sites are due by February 28, 2019 and the three others are due by April 30, according to the RFP documents.</p> <p>A majority of the affordable housing will be funded by $568 million allocated through the state’s Homes and Community Renewal agency, with a goal of creating 3,000 units. In addition, the governor said <a href="https://www.governor.ny.gov/news/governor-cuomo-announces-1000-affordable-homes-targeted-nycha-seniors-central-brooklyn" target="_blank" rel="noopener">in August</a> $15 million in federal tax credits have been allocated by the state for future housing developments on land controlled by the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA). In his announcement on that initiative, the governor said he hopes to support the creation of 1,000 units of housing. However, no specific sites for those developments have been announced and will be “reviewed on a rolling basis by HCR as NYCHA makes properties available through its disposition process,” according to a press release.</p> <p>The need for housing is the number one priority for Brooklyn residents, Borough President Adams said, and he gave credit to Vital Brooklyn for addressing the issue. He also acknowledged the plans would bring much-needed resources — including park space and options for healthy food — to the area. But he thinks it doesn’t go far enough.</p> <p>“We’re dealing with historical inequities. People who were denied food access before —&nbsp;OK, let’s give them more farmer’s market,” he said. “Those things are great. But if we’re going to invest, let’s be visionaries in our investment.”</p> <p>He would have liked to see more funding allocated to grandparent housing, which is set aside for grandparents who are the primary caregivers to young children, and even more resources given to the hospital network, he said.</p> <p>More criticism of the governor’s Vital Brooklyn plan came from the East New York district where the large Brooklyn Developmental Center site is set to be rebuilt under the initiative. The complex will have 100 percent subsidized apartments set aside for a combination of formerly homeless New Yorkers, households earning less than 50 percent of the area median income (AMI) — a federal guideline for determining the cost of affordable housing — and the rest for households earning less than 80 percent of the AMI. Currently for a family of three, 80 percent of AMI equals $62,150 a year.</p> <p>That may sound like a win in a low-income area like East New York. But with the median household income of East New York at $34,512 per year (according to data from the city’s Housing Preservation and Development agency), the development doesn’t satisfy one of the neighborhood’s longtime leaders.</p> <p>Assemblymember Charles Barron says his district needs even more low-cost units because only a fraction of its residents are in the 80-percent income range. And, overall, he thinks Vital Brooklyn doesn’t go far enough in a state with a $168 billion budget, and billions more in capital spending.</p> <p>“You see $600, $700 million and think it’s wonderful and a lot of money,” he said. “That is peanuts.”</p> <p>In particular, he wants to see more support for the healthcare system.</p> <p>“It’s simply not enough money for three hospitals,” he said.</p> <p>In response, Cuomo spokesperson Stevens said in a statement that the Vital Brooklyn investment is “delivering substantial resources and coordinated services to support neighborhoods that have long been neglected.”</p> <p>“We believe this massive commitment is something to celebrate, not politicize with cheap attacks that are untethered to reality,” he said.</p> <p><strong>Looking for Results</strong><br />The governor has often said, for him, Vital Brooklyn is a project that brings his own career full circle, from when he was working on housing in East New York as a young man, to now. In speaking about it, he says he has wanted to help turn Brooklyn around for years.</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/28352892617_4fa1267f26_z.jpg" alt="Cuomo Brooklyn" width="250" height="176" style="margin-right: 12px; float: left;" />“I never lost the inspiration, and the hope, and the optimism, of what you can do when you do it right,” he said in a speech on the project in April, nearly half-way through his eighth year in office. “For me, this is something special. This is something that is long overdue. It's an investment in people who desperately have needed help, and have been ignored for too long.”</p> <p>But it may take quite a while to see all of the Vital Brooklyn projects come to life. Some of the smaller pieces of the puzzle, like a pilot program for youth-run food markets and construction on new playgrounds, are beginning this year and next, the governor has said. For the larger, more complicated parts, however, it could take years; for example, some of the first units of housing are estimated to come online in 2021 and others — like the East New York project — is not slated for completion until 2026, the governor’s office said.</p> <p>The health center restructuring, too, will takes years to finish. When it’s finally complete, it remains to be seen whether the largest part of Vital Brooklyn — the $700 million in health care capital funding — will make a substantive difference to financially shore up the three Central Brooklyn hospitals.</p> <p>Hammond of the Empire Center said if the plan is a good one that reconfigures the facilities’ operations significantly, it “could put them in a different position to succeed,” though he was hesitant to say whether he believes the restructuring will prove successful long-term.</p> <p>But the health funding is not peanuts, as Barron said, nor is it a groundbreaking amount, as one may think from the governor’s announcements. The reality is somewhere in the middle.</p> <p>“The state routinely spends billions and billions of dollars on health care all over the state,” both in discretionary grants and capital allocations, Hammond said. “On any given day, you could go to a different community and announce a very large-sounding dollar amount…and it would be absolutely routine.”</p> <p>However, on a per-resident basis, Brooklyn is getting more than the average — while falling far below the state’s most generous allocations. Hammond found the state spent $190 per resident in capital health care spending in the last five years in New York State. In Kings County, the per-resident breakdown equaled $264 per resident, which is “significantly more than the state average,” he said. But that figure is dwarfed by another capital grant also given in 2015 to a hospital system in Oneida County, where spending totaled $1,297 per resident.</p> <p>For all those funding plans, however, the dollars have not yet started to flow, according to Brown of OBHS. Before that happens, several bureaucratic steps must take place, including complying with transparency regulations approved by the state comptroller’s office. She hopes that will be complete in the new year.</p> <p>“Everyone is endeavouring to get [approval]…by early 2019,” she said, while emphasizing it’s hard to make an exact estimate, as she and her team are figuring out the complexities of the project as they go along.</p> <p>“We’re all entering a new journey here,” she said.</p> <p>***<br />by Rachel Holliday Smith for Gotham Gazette<br /> <a href="https://twitter.com/rachelholliday"> @rachelholliday</a><br /> <a href="https://twitter.com/GothamGazette">@GothamGazette</a></p> <p>All photos via the Governor's Office on flickr.</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/billion-vital-bk.jpg" alt="billion vital bk" width="600" height="498" /></p> <p>Cuomo &amp; Vital Brooklyn (photo: Mike Groll/Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>In March of 2017, Governor Andrew Cuomo <a href="https://www.governor.ny.gov/news/governor-cuomo-announces-14-billion-vital-brooklyn-initiative-transform-central-brooklyn" target="_blank" rel="noopener">unveiled</a> what he described as a groundbreaking initiative to “bring health and wellness to one of the most disadvantaged parts of the state.” That place was Central Brooklyn, where roubling health indicators of all types plague residents, from diabetes rates to poverty levels to inadequate access to quality health care.</p> <p>Cuomo said the plan, named Vital Brooklyn, came with $1.4 billion in state funds to pay for a long list of items across the borough, from playground renovations to job training to resiliency projects — all with the aim of fighting “entrenched pockets of poverty” in a comprehensive way, he said <a href="https://www.dnainfo.com/new-york/20170309/crown-heights/vital-brooklyn-cuomo-funding-healthcare-affordable-housing/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">at the time</a>.</p> <p>“What is the area in this state that has the greatest social need? If you look at unemployment rates, food stamps, physical inactivity, number of murders, one of the greatest areas of need in the entire state is Central Brooklyn. And it’s not even close,” Cuomo said.</p> <p>Since then, the governor has made nearly a dozen announcements related to Vital Brooklyn, six of them taking place from June to September in the lead-up to this year’s gubernatorial primary in which candidates for statewide offices heavily courted Central Brooklyn voters. At those events, Cuomo emphasized state funding for an oyster reef restoration project ($400,000), 22 community gardens ($3.1 million), fresh food programs ($1.8 million) and a new 407-acre state park to be named after iconic Brooklyn Congressional Rep. Shirley Chisholm — an announcement made eight days before the primary.</p> <p>In total, the governor’s office says there are 8,800 projects funded under the Vital Brooklyn umbrella, funded by the $1.4 billion (a dollar amount unchanged since spring of 2017, according to the state budget office). However, it’s important to note that those touted by the governor — such as those gardens, farmers markets and state park — make up a small slice of the total funding. The much larger pieces of the pie fall into just two (albeit very big) categories: housing and health care.</p> <p>In fact, nine out of every 10 dollars spent through Vital Brooklyn fall into the housing and health care columns: $578 million for subsidized housing in rapidly gentrifying areas (for example, a 2,400-unit project <a href="https://www.governor.ny.gov/news/governor-cuomo-announces-vital-brooklyns-100-percent-affordable-housing-rfp-winners-releases" target="_blank" rel="noopener">just announced</a> in East New York) and $700 million, allocated in 2015, for a new health care system that aims to restructure and revive three of Brooklyn's struggling hospitals.</p> <p>While some aspects of Vital Brooklyn are quickly taking shape, others will take months or years to materialize. Some officials, including several who have excitedly joined Cuomo at celebratory announcements, are lauding the investments, but critics of the project worry it’s not enough — and take issue with how Vital Brooklyn was rolled out, and how the money is divvied up.</p> <p>Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams said in a recent interview that his office wasn’t asked to give input on the project (the state instead took comments from advisory boards convened through the area’s elected state Assembly members) and he feels the funding is too small in scope and dollar amount, even if the governor’s frequent appearances make it appear otherwise.</p> <p>“We have to have a re-examination of the state allocations and are we doing what’s right by Brooklyn,” he said, particularly in relation to the Bronx, which Adams feels has gotten significantly more financial help from the state; Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. is a close ally of the governor.</p> <p>Earlier this year, he put it more bluntly earlier in an interview on the <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7648-max-murphy-podcast-brooklyn-borough-president-eric-adams" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Max &amp; Murphy podcast</a>.</p> <p>“You can’t keep brushing off and rolling out the same billion-dollar project,” he said in May.</p> <p>When asked to respond to that claim — and whether or not the Vital Brooklyn announcements were made in relation to this year’s primary — Cuomo spokesperson Tyrone Stevens’ comment was brief: “Bogus.”</p> <p>“This is simple: Our significant new investment in Brooklyn is based on a multi-pronged strategy to uplift communities that have been ignored for too long,” Stevens said in an email. “We’re proud of this effort, and we will not be shy about talking to local residents about the important work we’re doing to make their neighborhoods a better place to live.”</p> <p><strong>Big Spending: Health Care</strong><br />Of Vital Brooklyn’s $1.4 billion, fully half is dedicated to a new health care system for Brooklyn. That funding comes from a $700 million capital grant made through the Health Care Facilities Transformation Program included in the 2015-2016 state budget, allocated two years before it was announced as part of Vital Brooklyn.</p> <p>The funding will go to One Brooklyn Health System (OBHS), a newly formed operator that will combine the management of three previously separate Central Brooklyn hospitals — Kingsbrook Jewish Medical Center in East Flatbush, Interfaith Medical Center in Bedford-Stuyvesant, and Brookdale University Hospital Medical Center serving Brownsville and East New York — into one not-for-profit corporation.</p> <p>LaRay Brown, previously the president and CEO of Interfaith, is heading up the new venture. She says she’s been pushing for years for the “incredibly impactful” amount of state funding that will support dozens of major projects throughout the new health care system.</p> <p>Inside the buildings, the $700 million will pay for “boring things, but essential things,” Brown said, like replacing elevators, repairing HVAC systems and updating an outdated fire alarm system.</p> <p>“I say they’re boring, but they’re critical to providing safe and comfortable patient care,” she said.</p> <p>The medical centers will get major upgrades to their patient facilities, too. According to Request for Proposal documents from OBHS, Brookdale will build out a new 33-bed intensive care unit, renovate a 40-year-old operating room suite and upgrade all of the facility’s inpatient psychiatric units among others improvements. At Interfaith, the medical center’s emergency room will be upgraded and expanded, inpatient medical units will be renovated and new equipment such as MRI and x-ray machines will be installed. Major medical equipment will be replaced at Kingsbrook, as well, the documents show.</p> <p>Overall, the idea for the restructuring and redesign is to merge services among the three hospitals in order to form a more streamlined organization — and hopefully, in the end, become more financially stable.</p> <p>That’s according to state officials from the Public Health and Health Planning Council who approved the creation of OBHS in December of 2016. A report to the council at the time concluded that, operating separately, the hospitals require hundreds of millions of dollars in operating subsidies from the state every year “and are otherwise not financially sustainable.” (According to budget data from a PHHPC report, operating funds given to the three hospitals from the state totaled $169 million in 2015-16, then rose to $245 million in 2016-17 and $250 million in 2017-18.)</p> <p>“They've come together … in an effort to try to restructure and become more efficient and reduce its dependence on specialty subsidies,” state health department official Charles Abel told the council before it approved the OBHS application.</p> <p>To achieve those efficiencies, OBHS will reorganize how certain operations run within the three hospitals. For example, Brown said, Kingsbrook will no longer have inpatient medical-surgical beds and, though it will still have an emergency room, patients in need of ongoing acute or complex care will be transferred elsewhere, likely to Brookdale, which Brown said will become the system’s “center of excellence.”</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/41412467220_754c37b860_z.jpg" alt="LaRay Brown Brooklyn" width="250" height="161" style="margin-right: 12px; float: left;" />“As the inpatient acute care role diminishes at Kingsbrook, that role increases at Brookdale,” said Brown (pictured).</p> <p>But Brown is careful to note the restructuring effort should not be considered a consolidation. Current assessments by OBHS show no material difference between the number of current beds and projected beds in the system, according to OBHS’ Dona Green. In the end, Brown says the quality and quantity of services will expand.</p> <p>“Because these hospitals are coming together and because of the state’s commitment to invest in these hospitals, the Central Brooklyn community served by these hospitals will get more services, and not less,” Brown said.</p> <p>That sentiment was echoed by Assemblymember Latrice Walker of District 55 in Brownsville, who has been waiting for years to see this funding come through for the hospital system, particularly at Brookdale, where many of her constituents go for care — and where her own brother died of gunshot wounds when he was 19, she said.</p> <p>“I’m confident the services will be reinvigorated and enumerated. I don’t think we’re going to lose anything here,” she said. “Quite the contrary — we’re actually gaining.”</p> <p>By the totality of the health facilities in the works under Vital Brooklyn, that appears to be the case. A chunk of the initiative’s healthcare funding — $210 million in all — is allocated to create 32 new ambulatory care facilities, or community health centers, under the OBHS umbrella. The goal there is to create more medical offices, outpatient surgical facilities and urgent care options with a more long-term goal of reducing unnecessary trips to emergency rooms.</p> <p>“We need to start moving toward people having primary care physicians so that the emergency room isn’t their doctor office,” Walker said.</p> <p>Cuomo put it this way when announcing some of the 32 ambulatory care locations <a href="https://www.governor.ny.gov/news/governor-cuomo-announces-locations-expanded-services-and-partnerships-vital-brooklyns-210" target="_blank" rel="noopener">in July</a> of this year: “It's not just about a hospital where you go when you're very sick.”</p> <p>“Prevent the illness in the first place,” he continued. “Have more community-based healthcare systems that are focused on wellness, and health, as opposed to waiting for a person to get sick, and then be in acute need.”</p> <p>These new ambulatory centers are meant to handle a diverse slate of same-day health services, including diagnostic work, rehabilitation, or even major procedures such as hip replacements, according to Bill Hammond, the Director of Health Policy at the Empire Center think tank.</p> <p>Ambulatory centers have a lot of benefits, he said. For the patient, it’s generally a more comfortable experience to avoid spending a night at a hospital, and there’s less risk of infection. For hospitals, increasing outpatient services makes a lot of financial sense.</p> <p>“It’s less expensive,” he said. “Hospitals come with a lot of overhead.”</p> <p>That idea is in line with a healthcare trend more generally to move patients out of traditional inpatient hospitals and toward ambulatory centers for all kinds of services, from preventative doctor visits all the way up to certain surgeries. The move from “reliance on hospital-based services” to more outpatient services “is a major policy shift,” said Brown of OBHS. And it takes place within the context of years of financial struggle, and at times closure, for many hospitals, particularly those serving low-income communities, as costs have continued to rise.</p> <p>To combat that, the Vital Brooklyn plan puts a priority on the financial viability of health care projects funded under the plan. Included in guidelines for evaluating applicants to Vital Brooklyn, the state’s <a href="https://www.ny.gov/transforming-central-brooklyn/vital-brooklyn-initiative-0" target="_blank" rel="noopener">website</a> says it will consider “the extent to which the proposed projects further the development of primary care and other outpatient services; the extent to which the proposed projects contribute to the long-term sustainability of the applicant or preservation of essential health services; and the extent to which the proposed projects involve partnerships with community-based health care providers,” among other criteria.</p> <p>With the funding for the new 32 health facilities, the state hopes to roughly double the number of ambulatory care visits in Central Brooklyn, increasing capacity for 742,000 more visits every year, according to the governor’s office.</p> <p>Exactly where all that new health care capacity will be built is unknown; all 32 locations have not yet been finalized. But Cuomo <a href="https://www.governor.ny.gov/news/governor-cuomo-announces-locations-expanded-services-and-partnerships-vital-brooklyns-210" target="_blank" rel="noopener">announced</a> plans in July for renovations and the expansion of several existing health care centers, including the Bishop Walker Health Care Center in Prospect Heights, the Pierre Toussaint Health Center in Crown Heights and the Brownsville Multi-Service Center. In addition to those locations, several health care providers including the Bed-Stuy Family Health Center, Community Health Network, and ODA Primary Health Care Network have been chosen by the state to build new health centers in Brooklyn, providing both primary and specialty care.</p> <p>Some of the 32 new ambulatory health centers will be built within new developments underwritten by the second largest piece of the Vital Brooklyn funding: affordable housing.</p> <p><strong>Housing on State and Hospital Sites</strong><br /> In all, the state will spend $578 million — or more than 40 percent of the total Vital Brooklyn package — on subsidized housing, with a goal to build 4,000 new units over several years.</p> <p>The governor has repeatedly linked overall health goals of Vital Brooklyn to housing, particularly in rapidly gentrifying areas such as East New York where speculative buying and building, combined with a 2016 rezoning, has put pressure on poor residents.</p> <p>“It starts in the home, having the right housing, having the right environment, having the right support. And that's where we're going to start. We need afford affordable housing because out people are being displaced. Gentrification is everywhere,” the governor said at a Vital Brooklyn event <a href="https://www.governor.ny.gov/news/governor-cuomo-launches-phase-two-14-billion-vital-brooklyn-initiative-0" target="_blank" rel="noopener">earlier this year</a>.</p> <p>How all those units will be constructed is still up in the air, but details on some of the development sites are beginning to emerge. Late last month, the state announced four winning bids to develop housing on land owned by the three OBHS hospitals or on state-controlled land, including one complex in East New York that’s set to deliver the bulk of the subsidized housing funded under Vital Brooklyn.</p> <p>On Nov. 29, the state chose Westchester-based L+M Development Partners, Harlem-based construction group Apex Building, and two social services organizations — RiseBoro Community Partnership and Services for the Underserved — to bring a massive, 2,400-unit development to the site of the former Brooklyn Developmental Center, a home for developmentally delayed adults that closed in 2015. The three other chosen projects — two to be built on land owned by Interfaith hospital and another on land owned by Brookdale Hospital — will bring another 328 subsidized units to the borough.</p> <p>At the same time the state announced those projects, it rolled out another set of request for proposals (RFPs) on eight state-controlled sites around the borough, including several hospital parking lots set to be replaced by new buildings. Proposals for five of the sites are due by February 28, 2019 and the three others are due by April 30, according to the RFP documents.</p> <p>A majority of the affordable housing will be funded by $568 million allocated through the state’s Homes and Community Renewal agency, with a goal of creating 3,000 units. In addition, the governor said <a href="https://www.governor.ny.gov/news/governor-cuomo-announces-1000-affordable-homes-targeted-nycha-seniors-central-brooklyn" target="_blank" rel="noopener">in August</a> $15 million in federal tax credits have been allocated by the state for future housing developments on land controlled by the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA). In his announcement on that initiative, the governor said he hopes to support the creation of 1,000 units of housing. However, no specific sites for those developments have been announced and will be “reviewed on a rolling basis by HCR as NYCHA makes properties available through its disposition process,” according to a press release.</p> <p>The need for housing is the number one priority for Brooklyn residents, Borough President Adams said, and he gave credit to Vital Brooklyn for addressing the issue. He also acknowledged the plans would bring much-needed resources — including park space and options for healthy food — to the area. But he thinks it doesn’t go far enough.</p> <p>“We’re dealing with historical inequities. People who were denied food access before —&nbsp;OK, let’s give them more farmer’s market,” he said. “Those things are great. But if we’re going to invest, let’s be visionaries in our investment.”</p> <p>He would have liked to see more funding allocated to grandparent housing, which is set aside for grandparents who are the primary caregivers to young children, and even more resources given to the hospital network, he said.</p> <p>More criticism of the governor’s Vital Brooklyn plan came from the East New York district where the large Brooklyn Developmental Center site is set to be rebuilt under the initiative. The complex will have 100 percent subsidized apartments set aside for a combination of formerly homeless New Yorkers, households earning less than 50 percent of the area median income (AMI) — a federal guideline for determining the cost of affordable housing — and the rest for households earning less than 80 percent of the AMI. Currently for a family of three, 80 percent of AMI equals $62,150 a year.</p> <p>That may sound like a win in a low-income area like East New York. But with the median household income of East New York at $34,512 per year (according to data from the city’s Housing Preservation and Development agency), the development doesn’t satisfy one of the neighborhood’s longtime leaders.</p> <p>Assemblymember Charles Barron says his district needs even more low-cost units because only a fraction of its residents are in the 80-percent income range. And, overall, he thinks Vital Brooklyn doesn’t go far enough in a state with a $168 billion budget, and billions more in capital spending.</p> <p>“You see $600, $700 million and think it’s wonderful and a lot of money,” he said. “That is peanuts.”</p> <p>In particular, he wants to see more support for the healthcare system.</p> <p>“It’s simply not enough money for three hospitals,” he said.</p> <p>In response, Cuomo spokesperson Stevens said in a statement that the Vital Brooklyn investment is “delivering substantial resources and coordinated services to support neighborhoods that have long been neglected.”</p> <p>“We believe this massive commitment is something to celebrate, not politicize with cheap attacks that are untethered to reality,” he said.</p> <p><strong>Looking for Results</strong><br />The governor has often said, for him, Vital Brooklyn is a project that brings his own career full circle, from when he was working on housing in East New York as a young man, to now. In speaking about it, he says he has wanted to help turn Brooklyn around for years.</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/28352892617_4fa1267f26_z.jpg" alt="Cuomo Brooklyn" width="250" height="176" style="margin-right: 12px; float: left;" />“I never lost the inspiration, and the hope, and the optimism, of what you can do when you do it right,” he said in a speech on the project in April, nearly half-way through his eighth year in office. “For me, this is something special. This is something that is long overdue. It's an investment in people who desperately have needed help, and have been ignored for too long.”</p> <p>But it may take quite a while to see all of the Vital Brooklyn projects come to life. Some of the smaller pieces of the puzzle, like a pilot program for youth-run food markets and construction on new playgrounds, are beginning this year and next, the governor has said. For the larger, more complicated parts, however, it could take years; for example, some of the first units of housing are estimated to come online in 2021 and others — like the East New York project — is not slated for completion until 2026, the governor’s office said.</p> <p>The health center restructuring, too, will takes years to finish. When it’s finally complete, it remains to be seen whether the largest part of Vital Brooklyn — the $700 million in health care capital funding — will make a substantive difference to financially shore up the three Central Brooklyn hospitals.</p> <p>Hammond of the Empire Center said if the plan is a good one that reconfigures the facilities’ operations significantly, it “could put them in a different position to succeed,” though he was hesitant to say whether he believes the restructuring will prove successful long-term.</p> <p>But the health funding is not peanuts, as Barron said, nor is it a groundbreaking amount, as one may think from the governor’s announcements. The reality is somewhere in the middle.</p> <p>“The state routinely spends billions and billions of dollars on health care all over the state,” both in discretionary grants and capital allocations, Hammond said. “On any given day, you could go to a different community and announce a very large-sounding dollar amount…and it would be absolutely routine.”</p> <p>However, on a per-resident basis, Brooklyn is getting more than the average — while falling far below the state’s most generous allocations. Hammond found the state spent $190 per resident in capital health care spending in the last five years in New York State. In Kings County, the per-resident breakdown equaled $264 per resident, which is “significantly more than the state average,” he said. But that figure is dwarfed by another capital grant also given in 2015 to a hospital system in Oneida County, where spending totaled $1,297 per resident.</p> <p>For all those funding plans, however, the dollars have not yet started to flow, according to Brown of OBHS. Before that happens, several bureaucratic steps must take place, including complying with transparency regulations approved by the state comptroller’s office. She hopes that will be complete in the new year.</p> <p>“Everyone is endeavouring to get [approval]…by early 2019,” she said, while emphasizing it’s hard to make an exact estimate, as she and her team are figuring out the complexities of the project as they go along.</p> <p>“We’re all entering a new journey here,” she said.</p> <p>***<br />by Rachel Holliday Smith for Gotham Gazette<br /> <a href="https://twitter.com/rachelholliday"> @rachelholliday</a><br /> <a href="https://twitter.com/GothamGazette">@GothamGazette</a></p> <p>All photos via the Governor's Office on flickr.</p> Setting the Record Straight: Mayor de Blasio’s Housing Plan Can and Should Do More for the Homeless 2018-12-10T05:00:00+00:00 2018-12-10T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8135-setting-the-record-straight-mayor-de-blasio-s-housing-plan-can-and-should-do-more-for-the-homeless Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/cluster-apartments-convert.jpg" alt="cluster apartments convert" width="600" height="401" /></p> <p>(photo: Edwin J. Torres/Mayoral Photography Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Mayor de Blasio has been under constant fire for offering homeless New Yorkers access to just 5 percent of the units created and preserved by his 12-year, 300,000-unit affordable housing plan, even as homelessness has reached a new all-time record high. He has been confronted at his home, at the gym in Park Slope, and on the steps of City Hall, with a growing coalition of advocates, experts, elected officials, and homeless families demanding that the mayor increase that figure to 10 percent of the total, including 20 percent of all new construction. This would result in 30,000 units of affordable, permanent housing for homeless New Yorkers, with 24,000 units to be created through new construction, by 2026.</p> <p>The progressive mayor who campaigned to end the “tale of two cities” has responded dismissively, sometimes with anger – and always with a series of excuses that don’t hold up to closer examination. Let’s take a look:</p> <p>The mayor says his <em>Housing New York 2.0</em> plan addresses the affordable housing crisis for everyone, and adding more homeless units would take access to housing away from other New Yorkers who need it. But here’s the thing: New York City’s affordability crisis disparately impacts those with the lowest incomes. There is no shortage of private market apartments affordable to higher-income households: the vacancy rate for units renting above $2,500 per month is in fact a whopping 8.74 percent, while the vacancy rate for apartments renting for less than $800 per month is only about 1 percent.</p> <p>Yet a full <em>20 percent</em> of the mayor’s housing plan is for households making between $70,000 and $142,000 annually, at rents ranging from $1,700 to $3,500 per month, while at the same time dedicating a mere 5 percent to help homeless New Yorkers. Fully 10 percent of the apartments created through the mayor’s plan will have rents at or above $2,500 per month, a level at which there is currently a glut of vacant units. The mayor’s housing plan should target its help for those who need it most.</p> <p>The mayor says his housing plan is just a small part of what the city is doing to address homelessness. That much is true, but it is not a fact to be proud of. Mayor de Blasio plans to build only 200 new apartments per year for homeless New Yorkers out of the 10,500 apartments per year to be constructed between now and 2026. Other programs implemented by the city that serve homeless people with disabilities, help pay off rent arrears, or provide subsidies for market-rate apartments can’t meaningfully reduce homelessness unless the city also sets aside far more newly-constructed housing for the homeless. The numbers bear this out: homelessness continues at record levels five years into de Blasio's New York, with more than 63,500 people sleeping in city shelters each night, including over 23,000 children. They are paying an extraordinary price for bad policy, as is our city as a whole.</p> <p>And finally, the mayor says that adding more homeless housing to his plan is not financially feasible. But the House Our Future NY Campaign is urging Mayor de Blasio to designate just 10 percent of his overall housing plan, including 20 percent of the new construction target, for homeless New Yorkers: 30,000 units overall, with 24,000 to be created through new construction. Funds the mayor has already committed to the plan, including over $1.3 billion in city funds each year for the next eight years, show that the mayor has the resources to significantly reduce homelessness. He simply lacks the will.</p> <p>The mayor’s obstinacy in the face of record homelessness and an ongoing housing crisis for low-income New Yorkers belies his professed values as a progressive leader. Without swift course correction, this wrong-headed approach will lock the City of New York in a state of ever-expanding homelessness for the foreseeable future. The only way out is with bold solutions. Mayor de Blasio must immediately dedicate 10 percent of his housing plan, including 20 percent of all new construction, to house homeless New Yorkers. Tens of thousands of our neighbors languishing in shelters and on the streets – indeed all New Yorkers – deserve a housing plan that offers a responsive and robust answer to record homelessness, not more equivocation in the false promise of fairness for all.</p> <p>A full examination of the Mayor’s claims can be read in a new policy brief released by the Coalition for the Homeless <a href="http://www.coalitionforthehomeless.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/HousingDisconnectReport.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">here</a>.</p> <p>***<br />Giselle Routhier is Policy Director for Coalition for the Homeless.</p> <p>

***
Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/cluster-apartments-convert.jpg" alt="cluster apartments convert" width="600" height="401" /></p> <p>(photo: Edwin J. Torres/Mayoral Photography Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Mayor de Blasio has been under constant fire for offering homeless New Yorkers access to just 5 percent of the units created and preserved by his 12-year, 300,000-unit affordable housing plan, even as homelessness has reached a new all-time record high. He has been confronted at his home, at the gym in Park Slope, and on the steps of City Hall, with a growing coalition of advocates, experts, elected officials, and homeless families demanding that the mayor increase that figure to 10 percent of the total, including 20 percent of all new construction. This would result in 30,000 units of affordable, permanent housing for homeless New Yorkers, with 24,000 units to be created through new construction, by 2026.</p> <p>The progressive mayor who campaigned to end the “tale of two cities” has responded dismissively, sometimes with anger – and always with a series of excuses that don’t hold up to closer examination. Let’s take a look:</p> <p>The mayor says his <em>Housing New York 2.0</em> plan addresses the affordable housing crisis for everyone, and adding more homeless units would take access to housing away from other New Yorkers who need it. But here’s the thing: New York City’s affordability crisis disparately impacts those with the lowest incomes. There is no shortage of private market apartments affordable to higher-income households: the vacancy rate for units renting above $2,500 per month is in fact a whopping 8.74 percent, while the vacancy rate for apartments renting for less than $800 per month is only about 1 percent.</p> <p>Yet a full <em>20 percent</em> of the mayor’s housing plan is for households making between $70,000 and $142,000 annually, at rents ranging from $1,700 to $3,500 per month, while at the same time dedicating a mere 5 percent to help homeless New Yorkers. Fully 10 percent of the apartments created through the mayor’s plan will have rents at or above $2,500 per month, a level at which there is currently a glut of vacant units. The mayor’s housing plan should target its help for those who need it most.</p> <p>The mayor says his housing plan is just a small part of what the city is doing to address homelessness. That much is true, but it is not a fact to be proud of. Mayor de Blasio plans to build only 200 new apartments per year for homeless New Yorkers out of the 10,500 apartments per year to be constructed between now and 2026. Other programs implemented by the city that serve homeless people with disabilities, help pay off rent arrears, or provide subsidies for market-rate apartments can’t meaningfully reduce homelessness unless the city also sets aside far more newly-constructed housing for the homeless. The numbers bear this out: homelessness continues at record levels five years into de Blasio's New York, with more than 63,500 people sleeping in city shelters each night, including over 23,000 children. They are paying an extraordinary price for bad policy, as is our city as a whole.</p> <p>And finally, the mayor says that adding more homeless housing to his plan is not financially feasible. But the House Our Future NY Campaign is urging Mayor de Blasio to designate just 10 percent of his overall housing plan, including 20 percent of the new construction target, for homeless New Yorkers: 30,000 units overall, with 24,000 to be created through new construction. Funds the mayor has already committed to the plan, including over $1.3 billion in city funds each year for the next eight years, show that the mayor has the resources to significantly reduce homelessness. He simply lacks the will.</p> <p>The mayor’s obstinacy in the face of record homelessness and an ongoing housing crisis for low-income New Yorkers belies his professed values as a progressive leader. Without swift course correction, this wrong-headed approach will lock the City of New York in a state of ever-expanding homelessness for the foreseeable future. The only way out is with bold solutions. Mayor de Blasio must immediately dedicate 10 percent of his housing plan, including 20 percent of all new construction, to house homeless New Yorkers. Tens of thousands of our neighbors languishing in shelters and on the streets – indeed all New Yorkers – deserve a housing plan that offers a responsive and robust answer to record homelessness, not more equivocation in the false promise of fairness for all.</p> <p>A full examination of the Mayor’s claims can be read in a new policy brief released by the Coalition for the Homeless <a href="http://www.coalitionforthehomeless.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/HousingDisconnectReport.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">here</a>.</p> <p>***<br />Giselle Routhier is Policy Director for Coalition for the Homeless.</p> <p>

***
Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

</p>
Criticizing De Blasio's Approach, Stringer Releases Alternative Affordable Housing Plan 2018-11-29T05:00:00+00:00 2018-11-29T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8111-criticizing-de-blasio-s-approach-stringer-releases-alternative-affordable-housing-plan Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/stringer_housing_presser1.jpg" alt="stringer housing presser1" width="600" height="390" /></p> <p>Comptroller Stringer (photo: @NYCComptroller)</p> <hr /> <p>City Comptroller Scott Stringer unveiled an ambitious plan on Thursday to address New York’s affordable housing crisis, criticizing Mayor Bill de Blasio for not doing enough and calling for investment of hundreds of millions of dollars in additional funds, increasing the share of affordable housing units for homeless and very low income people, and funding it by shifting tax burdens towards the wealthiest New York homeowners.</p> <p>The plan, entitled “<a href="https://comptroller.nyc.gov/reports/nyc-for-all-the-housing-we-need/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">NYC For All: The Housing We Need</a>,” is intended, Stringer said, to address issues with the affordable housing program embraced by not only the de Blasio administration, but administrations going back to the days of Mayor Ed Koch. Stringer characterized the proposal as a “war on poverty.”</p> <p>“I believe it's time to change our approach,” Stringer said at a press conference announcing the plan. “We need to break the mold.”</p> <p>Stringer noted that despite New York’s record number of jobs, low unemployment, and high population, the city’s aging housing stock has not kept up with demand, and rents have consequently risen in price dramatically, particularly in the past ten years. Most left behind, Stringer explained, are extremely and very low-income New Yorkers who face severe housing pressure, numbering 515,000 people, according to an analysis by his office, who are severely rent-burdened, meaning they pay more than 50 percent of their income in rent.</p> <p>“Behind the numbers are real people,” Stringer said. “They’re actually working New Yorkers. The home health aides for our aging parents, the cashier at the local supermarket, the person who empties the trash and vacuums the office floors late at night. People we see and rely on every day.”</p> <p>According to the report released on Thursday, the majority of units under de Blasio’s 300,000-unit affordable housing plan are being allocated for households with incomes of up to $75,120, which is categorized as “low-income” by the Stringer report, while far fewer units are allocated to very low and extremely low-income households. Extremely low-income households, which are characterized as those making less than $28,170 per year, are allocated about the same number of units under the plan as “middle-income” households, where household income reaches up to $154,935.</p> <p>The report notes that this allocation does not accurately represent those who are actually in need of affordable housing, the main thrust of Stringer’s argument that the city’s plan is not appropriately calibrated to need, a point he and a variety of other elected officials and advocates have stressed for years but de Blasio has regularly challenged, saying he believes the plan must include segments for a broad spectrum of New Yorkers looking for affordable places to live.</p> <p>The 515,000 extremely and very low-income households who are severely rent-burdened represent the vast majority of the 580,000 households citywide that are severely rent burdened or living long term in a shelter. However, only 75,000 units, or 25 percent of the proposed units under the de Blasio plan, are intended for those households.</p> <p>“The current plan is simply out of line with where we need to build,” Stringer said.</p> <p>To ameliorate the problem, Stringer’s plan calls for $500 million in additional annual funding for extremely and very low-income housing, including $375 million in capital costs and $125 million in operating subsidies. This would support the construction and maintenance of affordable units for the poorest New Yorkers, for whom construction is more expensive if landlords are going to charge lower rents.</p> <p>The number of units would remain the same as under de Blasio’s Housing New York 2.0 Plan, which calls for building 120,000 new affordable units as part of the larger plan for 300,000 affordable units, most of which are those being “preserved” under affordable rent regulations. Stringer’s report noted that 34,000 apartments were already completed or are underway, and 85,000 remain to be built. Under the Stringer plan, 98 percent of those 85,000 units would be constructed as deeply affordable.</p> <p>The plan also calls for tripling the number of units set aside in the Housing New York plan for homeless New Yorkers, from 5 percent to 15 percent, echoing a push by homeless advocates and a recent City Council bill introduced by Council Member Rafael Salamanca of the Bronx; and applying that percentage to both new construction and preserved units. Stringer cited statistics from the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD), stating that the city has not even met its 5 percent stated goal, with only 1 percent of units allocated to homeless families.</p> <p>“Mayor Koch, as our research showed, set aside just 10 percent of units in his housing plan for the homeless,” Stringer said. “And the shelter population went down by more than a third in just three years. We can do that again.”</p> <p>De Blasio has repeatedly opposed such calls, including when recently challenged by a homeless woman, who is an activist with Vocal New York, at his gym and on the radio.</p> <p>Stringer’s plan also calls for at least 20,000 additional units to be developed on 600 plots of vacant, city-owned land by community land trusts or land banks controlled by non-profit entities.</p> <p>To pay for these reforms, Stringer is proposing a sweeping change to the city’s property tax system that he says would increase annual city tax revenues by $400 million, through a more progressive tax system that raises rates on wealthy homeowners and eliminates a “double tax” on the middle class.</p> <p>His plan would involve scrapping the “mortgage recording tax,” which Stringer characterized as being an extra tax on middle class homeowners.</p> <p>“This system is patently unfair,” Stringer said. “It’s a penalty on the middle class who can’t pay all cash to buy a home.”</p> <p>The current property tax scheme provides for both a tax on the cost of the transaction, and a tax on the value of the mortgage, with three brackets: under $500,000, between $500,000 and $1 million, and over $1 million. This system favors those who purchase apartments in cash, who tend to be wealthier and buy more expensive units, and do not have to pay the mortgage tax. Under the system, middle class homeowners often pay more than wealthy condo owners.</p> <p>Stringer noted that in 2016, 80 percent of condo sales and 90 percent of townhouse sales in Manhattan were all-cash deals. Those cash deals escaped being subject to the MRT. The greater percentage of a transaction that is financed with borrowed money, the higher the tax incidence, putting a greater burden on buyers without the resources to do a cash deal.</p> <p>While ditching the MRT, Stringer proposes creating a more graduated, progressive taxation system based only on the value of the transaction, taking into account high prices of some real estate by upping the top echelon from $1 million to $10 million. For properties over $10 million, the tax rate would be increased to 8 percent. Below $500,000, the rate would be 1 percent. Stringer hopes that, beyond funding affordable housing, the reformed tax structure could help encourage more middle- and working-class homeownership in the city.</p> <p>The tax reforms would have to be approved by Albany. Stringer, who is widely expected to run for mayor in 2021, said that the new Democratic majority of the state Senate set to take power in January means that the tax reform is, for the first time in a long time, a possibility.</p> <p>“We are beginning the conversation with legislators,” he said in response to a question. “And they are going well. Again, I want to stress that the state of play has fundamentally changed, we all know it’s changed. I believe that, obviously there are priorities like renewing and strengthening the rent laws, and they have a lot on their plate, but this can get done now because we have like-minded people who understand the housing crisis.”</p> <p>Getting the mayor on board with the plan may be a different story. Stringer said that de Blasio has recognized some issues with the housing plan, but noted that City Hall has not given a firm answer on certain things.</p> <p>“He has recognized that the plan originally put forth was not meeting the needs of the people who need the housing the most,” Stringer said, referring to the fact that de Blasio has made some tweaks to the plan, even while resisting some of the other calls for more sweeping changes.</p> <p>

***
by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/stringer_housing_presser1.jpg" alt="stringer housing presser1" width="600" height="390" /></p> <p>Comptroller Stringer (photo: @NYCComptroller)</p> <hr /> <p>City Comptroller Scott Stringer unveiled an ambitious plan on Thursday to address New York’s affordable housing crisis, criticizing Mayor Bill de Blasio for not doing enough and calling for investment of hundreds of millions of dollars in additional funds, increasing the share of affordable housing units for homeless and very low income people, and funding it by shifting tax burdens towards the wealthiest New York homeowners.</p> <p>The plan, entitled “<a href="https://comptroller.nyc.gov/reports/nyc-for-all-the-housing-we-need/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">NYC For All: The Housing We Need</a>,” is intended, Stringer said, to address issues with the affordable housing program embraced by not only the de Blasio administration, but administrations going back to the days of Mayor Ed Koch. Stringer characterized the proposal as a “war on poverty.”</p> <p>“I believe it's time to change our approach,” Stringer said at a press conference announcing the plan. “We need to break the mold.”</p> <p>Stringer noted that despite New York’s record number of jobs, low unemployment, and high population, the city’s aging housing stock has not kept up with demand, and rents have consequently risen in price dramatically, particularly in the past ten years. Most left behind, Stringer explained, are extremely and very low-income New Yorkers who face severe housing pressure, numbering 515,000 people, according to an analysis by his office, who are severely rent-burdened, meaning they pay more than 50 percent of their income in rent.</p> <p>“Behind the numbers are real people,” Stringer said. “They’re actually working New Yorkers. The home health aides for our aging parents, the cashier at the local supermarket, the person who empties the trash and vacuums the office floors late at night. People we see and rely on every day.”</p> <p>According to the report released on Thursday, the majority of units under de Blasio’s 300,000-unit affordable housing plan are being allocated for households with incomes of up to $75,120, which is categorized as “low-income” by the Stringer report, while far fewer units are allocated to very low and extremely low-income households. Extremely low-income households, which are characterized as those making less than $28,170 per year, are allocated about the same number of units under the plan as “middle-income” households, where household income reaches up to $154,935.</p> <p>The report notes that this allocation does not accurately represent those who are actually in need of affordable housing, the main thrust of Stringer’s argument that the city’s plan is not appropriately calibrated to need, a point he and a variety of other elected officials and advocates have stressed for years but de Blasio has regularly challenged, saying he believes the plan must include segments for a broad spectrum of New Yorkers looking for affordable places to live.</p> <p>The 515,000 extremely and very low-income households who are severely rent-burdened represent the vast majority of the 580,000 households citywide that are severely rent burdened or living long term in a shelter. However, only 75,000 units, or 25 percent of the proposed units under the de Blasio plan, are intended for those households.</p> <p>“The current plan is simply out of line with where we need to build,” Stringer said.</p> <p>To ameliorate the problem, Stringer’s plan calls for $500 million in additional annual funding for extremely and very low-income housing, including $375 million in capital costs and $125 million in operating subsidies. This would support the construction and maintenance of affordable units for the poorest New Yorkers, for whom construction is more expensive if landlords are going to charge lower rents.</p> <p>The number of units would remain the same as under de Blasio’s Housing New York 2.0 Plan, which calls for building 120,000 new affordable units as part of the larger plan for 300,000 affordable units, most of which are those being “preserved” under affordable rent regulations. Stringer’s report noted that 34,000 apartments were already completed or are underway, and 85,000 remain to be built. Under the Stringer plan, 98 percent of those 85,000 units would be constructed as deeply affordable.</p> <p>The plan also calls for tripling the number of units set aside in the Housing New York plan for homeless New Yorkers, from 5 percent to 15 percent, echoing a push by homeless advocates and a recent City Council bill introduced by Council Member Rafael Salamanca of the Bronx; and applying that percentage to both new construction and preserved units. Stringer cited statistics from the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD), stating that the city has not even met its 5 percent stated goal, with only 1 percent of units allocated to homeless families.</p> <p>“Mayor Koch, as our research showed, set aside just 10 percent of units in his housing plan for the homeless,” Stringer said. “And the shelter population went down by more than a third in just three years. We can do that again.”</p> <p>De Blasio has repeatedly opposed such calls, including when recently challenged by a homeless woman, who is an activist with Vocal New York, at his gym and on the radio.</p> <p>Stringer’s plan also calls for at least 20,000 additional units to be developed on 600 plots of vacant, city-owned land by community land trusts or land banks controlled by non-profit entities.</p> <p>To pay for these reforms, Stringer is proposing a sweeping change to the city’s property tax system that he says would increase annual city tax revenues by $400 million, through a more progressive tax system that raises rates on wealthy homeowners and eliminates a “double tax” on the middle class.</p> <p>His plan would involve scrapping the “mortgage recording tax,” which Stringer characterized as being an extra tax on middle class homeowners.</p> <p>“This system is patently unfair,” Stringer said. “It’s a penalty on the middle class who can’t pay all cash to buy a home.”</p> <p>The current property tax scheme provides for both a tax on the cost of the transaction, and a tax on the value of the mortgage, with three brackets: under $500,000, between $500,000 and $1 million, and over $1 million. This system favors those who purchase apartments in cash, who tend to be wealthier and buy more expensive units, and do not have to pay the mortgage tax. Under the system, middle class homeowners often pay more than wealthy condo owners.</p> <p>Stringer noted that in 2016, 80 percent of condo sales and 90 percent of townhouse sales in Manhattan were all-cash deals. Those cash deals escaped being subject to the MRT. The greater percentage of a transaction that is financed with borrowed money, the higher the tax incidence, putting a greater burden on buyers without the resources to do a cash deal.</p> <p>While ditching the MRT, Stringer proposes creating a more graduated, progressive taxation system based only on the value of the transaction, taking into account high prices of some real estate by upping the top echelon from $1 million to $10 million. For properties over $10 million, the tax rate would be increased to 8 percent. Below $500,000, the rate would be 1 percent. Stringer hopes that, beyond funding affordable housing, the reformed tax structure could help encourage more middle- and working-class homeownership in the city.</p> <p>The tax reforms would have to be approved by Albany. Stringer, who is widely expected to run for mayor in 2021, said that the new Democratic majority of the state Senate set to take power in January means that the tax reform is, for the first time in a long time, a possibility.</p> <p>“We are beginning the conversation with legislators,” he said in response to a question. “And they are going well. Again, I want to stress that the state of play has fundamentally changed, we all know it’s changed. I believe that, obviously there are priorities like renewing and strengthening the rent laws, and they have a lot on their plate, but this can get done now because we have like-minded people who understand the housing crisis.”</p> <p>Getting the mayor on board with the plan may be a different story. Stringer said that de Blasio has recognized some issues with the housing plan, but noted that City Hall has not given a firm answer on certain things.</p> <p>“He has recognized that the plan originally put forth was not meeting the needs of the people who need the housing the most,” Stringer said, referring to the fact that de Blasio has made some tweaks to the plan, even while resisting some of the other calls for more sweeping changes.</p> <p>

***
by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

</p>
As Affordability Crisis Becomes More Acute, Real Estate Donations Emerge as Litmus Test for Some Democrats 2018-11-29T05:00:00+00:00 2018-11-29T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8112-as-affordability-crisis-becomes-more-acute-real-estate-donations-emerge-as-litmus-test-for-some-democrats Ben Max <p>&nbsp;<img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/aoc_and_zt.jpg" alt="Ocasio-Cortez Teachout" width="600" height="467" /></p> <p>Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez &amp; Zephyr Teachout (photo: Gotham Gazette)</p> <hr /> <p style="text-align: center;"><em>This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project<br /><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019" data-saferedirecturl="https://www.google.com/url?q=http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019&amp;source=gmail&amp;ust=1542727012992000&amp;usg=AFQjCNFY2bJ6BA6AesUwakCrfkUOqoU35A">Find the rest of the series here</a></em></p> <p>Queens City Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer <a href="https://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/ny-pol-van-bramer-borough-president-real-estate-donations-20181029-story.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">has said</a> he will refuse donations from wealthy landlords and the real estate industry as he runs for borough president. Julia Salazar, a democratic socialist in Brooklyn, defeated an eight-term incumbent state senator using her rejection of real estate donors as a rallying cry. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez did the same when she toppled Democratic Rep. Joe Crowley and became the youngest woman elected to the United States House of Representatives. Zephyr Teachout sought the Democratic nomination for attorney general while eschewing real estate contributions and making it a core plank of her campaign. Nomiki Konst, an investigative reporter, recently launched her campaign for New York City public advocate with the same promise.</p> <p>New York’s real estate industry, most of it concentrated in the dense confines of New York City, &nbsp;has long played a significant role in funding candidates for elected office up and down the ballot across the state and beyond, a role that candidates of both major parties and political insiders have always recognized. But as voters, particularly energized, activist Democrats, focus on the affordable housing crisis and take heed of the state’s broken campaign finance laws, including loopholes that donors, especially those in real estate, have exploited to pad the coffers of legislators and executives, some progressive Democrats have begun to reject campaign contributions from the real estate industry.</p> <p>Affordable housing policy, including the already-begun debate over rent regulations decided in Albany that will be a significant issue in 2019, is at or toward the top of many activists’ lists, and housing justice advocates increasingly see campaign finance pledges as a litmus test for candidates. Increasing numbers of Democrats eschewing real estate money, or at least any given through the so-called LLC loophole, has given those activists and advocates cause for optimism that real estate’s role in state elections may be on the decline and that their elected representatives will heed the clarion call to protect tenants and listen to small donors over wealthy special interests.</p> <p>“I think that it’s clearly a concern amongst a growing number of voters,” Van Bramer told Gotham Gazette. “I think it’s increasingly one of those issues that people want a response on from their elected officials and candidates. And I think that they’re right to be concerned about the influence of big money, generally speaking.”</p> <p>“Money still plays a huge role in our elections and real estate is a good way to raise money in New York City and New York State,” said Celia Weaver, research and policy director at New York Communities for Change, a leading housing and economic justice advocacy group pushing campaign finance reform, strengthened rent regulations, and deeper affordable housing development. “It’s like oil in Texas.”</p> <p>Though questions about the influence of real estate money have swirled for decades, Weaver traced the budding trend of declarations against taking any of it to Diana Richardson’s election to the state Assembly in 2015, in a district that includes rapidly gentrifying Crown Heights and at a time when state rent regulation laws were up for renewal in the state Legislature. “Her decision to refuse real estate money in that election turned what would ordinarily be a pretty boring special election where the Democratic machine just gets to anoint the person who’s going to run and take the line to a widely covered exciting race that was really a referendum on the real estate industry and its role in politics,” Weaver said. “That became a huge touchstone for voters in the district.”</p> <p>It’s common knowledge that the real estate industry has been a staple in electoral politics for decades and its members’ donations have been part of the picture across the political spectrum. Democrats and Republicans have benefited from them, none more so than Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat recently re-elected to a third term. But the recent election cycle, the first since Donald Trump was elected president, saw greater awareness among voters about the power of state government and the special interests that fund campaigns. Actor and education activist Cynthia Nixon also used that backdrop to run a competitive primary challenge against Cuomo. She refused donations from real estate and issued a scathing indictment of the governor’s reliance on big donors in the industry, while calling for sweeping housing justice reforms.</p> <p>Weaver also pointed to the high-profile corruption convictions of former State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Democrat, and former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, a Republican, in trials that exposed how a real estate firm, Glenwood Management, attempted to wield influence over legislation. Glenwood, an enormous donor to Cuomo and many legislators, <a href="https://www.timesunion.com/news/article/Controversial-real-estate-giant-backs-Senate-13355446.php" target="_blank" rel="noopener">recently made</a> massive contributions to Senate Democratic candidates ahead of the November election where it appeared likely they would become part of a new majority in the chamber.</p> <p>The primary mechanism for real estate donations has been the gaping loophole in state campaign finance law that allows limited liability companies with opaque ownership -- a common instrument in the real estate business -- to circumvent contribution limits. <a href="https://citylimits.org/2018/09/07/coming-to-grips-with-the-two-decade-deluge-of-llc-money-into-new-yorks-democracy/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">City Limits reported </a>in September that LLCs had been used to donate more than $188 million to political campaigns since the late 1990s, with about $31 million given to gubernatorial candidates alone, including Cuomo. “Combining his campaign for attorney general in 2006 and his three runs for governor, Cuomo has received roughly one of every eight dollars donated by LLCs,” City Limits found. Those donations are largely dominated by the real estate industry.</p> <p>Mayor Bill de Blasio has also come under scrutiny for accepting significant real estate donations, especially to a political nonprofit he established to push his agenda that became the subject of law enforcement investigations related to whether City Hall did favors for its donors.</p> <p>A <a href="https://therealdeal.com/2016/12/30/real-estates-political-payoff/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">collaborative report in 2016 by ProPublica, The Real Deal and the National Institute on Money in State Politics</a> tracked how real estate developers who benefitted from a prominent tax incentive called the 421-a program gave about $21 million to party committees and candidates since 2000, out of $83 million that the real estate industry donated in the same time.</p> <p>“I think people are very much aware that rich donors including real estate developers and landlords are distorting our election system,” said Michael McKee, treasurer of Tenants PAC, a political action committee dedicated to affordable housing. “I think that’s the growing awareness. There’s no question about it.”</p> <p>It was in that context that a slew of progressive Democrats ousted their more moderate and real estate-tied partymates from office with the support of smaller donors and by rejecting corporate backers. “The housing crisis in this city is out of control and going into a year when candidates are going to be debating rent regulations in Albany, voters wanted candidates that are gonna act with integrity and widely believed that candidates who work for the real estate industry won’t,” said Weaver.</p> <p>Besides Salazar, Zellnor Myrie and Alessandra Biaggi similarly ran for and won Democratic primaries in the state Senate in opposition to wealthy real estate interests. Each of the three represents a district, much like a lot of the city, grappling with a deep affordability crisis and pockets of gentrification displacing low-income residents of color. Their opponents all received significant contributions from real estate.</p> <p>The decision to reject real estate seems based in both principle and pragmatism. Biaggi made housing justice a prominent campaign issue as she successfully dethroned Senator Jeff Klein, once the powerful leader of the Independent Democratic Conference, a breakaway faction of eight senators that propped up Republican control of the Senate. Democratic voters rejected six of the IDC members, blaming them for preventing the passage of many bills, including stronger rent regulations, and replaced them with progressive Democrats, including Biaggi and Myrie.</p> <p>“It’s not necessarily that taking real estate money makes you a bad legislator or a bad person...but for me, it’s very clear that it’s a slippery slope,” Biaggi said in a phone interview.</p> <p>Even as she acknowledged how difficult it can be to run for office without wealthy donors, Biaggi said it was important to her to retain her independence and answer to everyday constituents, not just those who can write big checks. “The winning can’t take precedence over the fact that, once you’ve won, the people who have helped get you there are the people who are going to come knocking on the door and that’s really a very challenging thing to come to terms with,” she said. Biaggi <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7973-klein-filing-late-post-primary-shows-over-3-million-in-senate-campaign-spending" target="_blank">spent about</a> $330,000 on her campaign and won with 53.1 percent of the vote, while Klein disbursed more than $3 million to try to keep his seat and got 44.5 percent.</p> <p>Salazar said her commitment, and Myrie’s and Biaggi’s, to refuse real estate donations proved that it’s possible to run a viable campaign with small donors, and build grassroots support and trust in communities by doing so.</p> <p>“I think advocates have long recognized the correlation between the amount of real estate money that many electeds have taken and their failure to advocate vigorously for tenants,” she said. “When other candidates see those campaigns being successful and they see this growing and increasingly loud demand from advocates, I think that is what is translating to them paying more attention.”</p> <p>Those in the real estate industry push back against being made the boogeymen of state politics. Real estate is, without a doubt, central to New York City’s fortunes and the industry comprises a large part of the city’s tax base. The sector is scapegoated more so than other industries and groups, like those in health care, finance, or education, that also employ somewhat similar tactics in state elections. And of course, many candidates regularly pursue real estate donors when running for office.</p> <p>“There are people who are willing to accept our contributions because our philosophies or the ideas that we are espousing are aligned with their philosophies,” said John Banks, president of the Real Estate Board of New York, in an interview. “There are people who don’t want to accept real estate money because their philosophies don’t align with the work that the real estate industry does and there are people who move back and forth across that continuum.”</p> <p>Banks pushed back against any notion that his industry has used the LLC loophole to improperly sway the political landscape to its benefit. “The real estate industry respects and follows both the letter and the intent of the law and to say that someone who follows the letter of the law is in someway undermining the legitimacy of the political process is a naive statement,” he said.</p> <p>And, he noted, the real estate industry is intrinsically a part of New York’s landscape, more than any other, even finance, or technology. “Unlike some of the other industries, mobility is not something that is an option for us,” he said.</p> <p>There are also Democrats, even those who call themselves progressives, for whom real estate donations are far from an insurmountable liability, even if they are unpopular with the party’s left wing. Cuomo sailed to reelection, in part by taking millions combined from LLCs and the real estate industry that he then used to overwhelm his less-funded primary and general election opponents over the airwaves. New York City Public Advocate Letitia James, not a close friend to real estate, accepted similar donations and was resoundingly elected the next attorney general of New York State. In the attorney general primary, for instance, James ran on a platform that included criticism of bad landlords and yet received $10,000 from an LLC linked to the Durst Organization, one of the largest real estate developers in the city. That LLC and seven others under the Durst umbrella also gave a combined $150,000 to one of James’ opponents, Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, which became a line of attack from Teachout.</p> <p>“The real estate industry is pretty broad and diverse,” said Jordan Barowitz, spokesperson for the Durst Organization. “I work in it, as do members of 32BJ and the super in your building and the residential broker who leased you your apartment.” He said “painting all these people with a pretty broad brush” is problematic. “Unfortunately there’s a lot of blaming in politics these days and it’s easy to point to one group or person or industry and say they’re responsible for everything that’s bad in this world and that’s pretty simplistic and wrong.”</p> <p>“Honest politicians don’t take bribes and reputable donors don’t request quid pro quos,” he added.</p> <p>There is a distance between bribes and quid pro quos on one hand, of course, and donations having some influence on policy-making, even if simply by virtue of how donations help candidates get elected.</p> <p>McKee of Tenants PAC noted, for instance, that <a href="https://therealdeal.com/2018/10/31/rebny-quadruples-donations-to-democrats-ahead-of-elections/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">REBNY had begun donating</a> larger sums in this election cycle to Democratic candidates once it seemed apparent that the party was going to regain control of the state Senate and, by result, the entire Legislature.</p> <p>“REBNY saw the handwriting on the wall. They’re equal-opportunity opportunists. They don’t care who’s in the majority. They’ll try to buy influence with them by giving them money,” McKee said. “I’m not suggesting in any way that the mere fact that REBNY has started giving money to Democratic senators means that those Democratic senators are going to sell tenants out. That’s not my point. My point is that this is how they try to win friends and influence people, with big money.”</p> <p>The influence of such donations can come down to seemingly small changes in policy, like the exact threshold at which an apartment leaves rent regulation, not necessarily major new legislation that would raise flags as donor-favors.</p> <p><strong><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019"><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/agenda19v2-a.jpg" alt="Gotham Gazette: " width="220" height="110" style="margin-right: 10px; float: left;" /></a></strong>Myrie wanted to avoid even the perception of corruption when he took his pledge, he said. “The number one reason that I did it was because...when we were gonna be facing the fight in Albany on whether or not we’re gonna protect tenants, I wanted there to be no confusion about which side I was on,” he said.</p> <p>It would be hard to argue, he said, that real estate hasn’t had a corrupting influence on politics. “Albany for the longest time has passed watered down legislation,” Myrie added. “We have not protected tenants the way that we’ve needed to and that, you can draw the direct correlation to the increase in the amount of real estate donations to the Legislature. I think anyone looking at that objectively could say that it has had a corrosive effect on how we pass policy affecting our tenants.”</p> <p>“Once you take that money, of course it influences how you legislate,” Biaggi said. “Now I think there are ways to protect against that, and that goes into campaign finance reform.”</p> <p>Biaggi asserted that the path to stronger rent regulations runs directly through reforming the state’s campaign finance system, primarily through closing the LLC loophole, but also through lowering individual donation limits, where New York has some of the highest in the country. Closing the LLC loophole alone, advocates say, would take away real estate’s biggest weapon of political influence, and they insist it should be accompanied by a public campaign financing program, like the one currently used in New York City, to boost the voices of ordinary New Yorkers who only give $25 or $100 to a candidate.</p> <p>Democrats in the Assembly have repeatedly attempted to reform campaign finance law but have been roadblocked for years by Republicans in the Senate, who have been major beneficiaries of real estate donations. Many, Cuomo included, have emphasized that ending the LLC loophole is among their priorities in the upcoming legislative session in January.</p> <p>“If you had these kinds of reforms, candidates wouldn’t have to spend so much time cultivating rich people to make big donations,” McKee said.</p> <p>On the other hand, Republicans have long-argued that labor unions often use campaign contributions to support and influence Democrats, and that any LLC reform should also institute limits on how local chapters of unions are classified in campaign finance law.</p> <p>Weaver, from Communities for Change, said, “Not only are rent laws coming up in 2019 but I think there’s gonna be a big referendum on the role of money in politics generally…and the campaign finance stuff is also gonna be a referendum on tenant issues and real estate money in politics specifically.”</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><em>This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project<br /><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019" data-saferedirecturl="https://www.google.com/url?q=http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019&amp;source=gmail&amp;ust=1542727012992000&amp;usg=AFQjCNFY2bJ6BA6AesUwakCrfkUOqoU35A">Find the rest of the series here</a></em></p> <p>

***
by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p>&nbsp;<img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/aoc_and_zt.jpg" alt="Ocasio-Cortez Teachout" width="600" height="467" /></p> <p>Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez &amp; Zephyr Teachout (photo: Gotham Gazette)</p> <hr /> <p style="text-align: center;"><em>This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project<br /><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019" data-saferedirecturl="https://www.google.com/url?q=http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019&amp;source=gmail&amp;ust=1542727012992000&amp;usg=AFQjCNFY2bJ6BA6AesUwakCrfkUOqoU35A">Find the rest of the series here</a></em></p> <p>Queens City Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer <a href="https://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/ny-pol-van-bramer-borough-president-real-estate-donations-20181029-story.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">has said</a> he will refuse donations from wealthy landlords and the real estate industry as he runs for borough president. Julia Salazar, a democratic socialist in Brooklyn, defeated an eight-term incumbent state senator using her rejection of real estate donors as a rallying cry. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez did the same when she toppled Democratic Rep. Joe Crowley and became the youngest woman elected to the United States House of Representatives. Zephyr Teachout sought the Democratic nomination for attorney general while eschewing real estate contributions and making it a core plank of her campaign. Nomiki Konst, an investigative reporter, recently launched her campaign for New York City public advocate with the same promise.</p> <p>New York’s real estate industry, most of it concentrated in the dense confines of New York City, &nbsp;has long played a significant role in funding candidates for elected office up and down the ballot across the state and beyond, a role that candidates of both major parties and political insiders have always recognized. But as voters, particularly energized, activist Democrats, focus on the affordable housing crisis and take heed of the state’s broken campaign finance laws, including loopholes that donors, especially those in real estate, have exploited to pad the coffers of legislators and executives, some progressive Democrats have begun to reject campaign contributions from the real estate industry.</p> <p>Affordable housing policy, including the already-begun debate over rent regulations decided in Albany that will be a significant issue in 2019, is at or toward the top of many activists’ lists, and housing justice advocates increasingly see campaign finance pledges as a litmus test for candidates. Increasing numbers of Democrats eschewing real estate money, or at least any given through the so-called LLC loophole, has given those activists and advocates cause for optimism that real estate’s role in state elections may be on the decline and that their elected representatives will heed the clarion call to protect tenants and listen to small donors over wealthy special interests.</p> <p>“I think that it’s clearly a concern amongst a growing number of voters,” Van Bramer told Gotham Gazette. “I think it’s increasingly one of those issues that people want a response on from their elected officials and candidates. And I think that they’re right to be concerned about the influence of big money, generally speaking.”</p> <p>“Money still plays a huge role in our elections and real estate is a good way to raise money in New York City and New York State,” said Celia Weaver, research and policy director at New York Communities for Change, a leading housing and economic justice advocacy group pushing campaign finance reform, strengthened rent regulations, and deeper affordable housing development. “It’s like oil in Texas.”</p> <p>Though questions about the influence of real estate money have swirled for decades, Weaver traced the budding trend of declarations against taking any of it to Diana Richardson’s election to the state Assembly in 2015, in a district that includes rapidly gentrifying Crown Heights and at a time when state rent regulation laws were up for renewal in the state Legislature. “Her decision to refuse real estate money in that election turned what would ordinarily be a pretty boring special election where the Democratic machine just gets to anoint the person who’s going to run and take the line to a widely covered exciting race that was really a referendum on the real estate industry and its role in politics,” Weaver said. “That became a huge touchstone for voters in the district.”</p> <p>It’s common knowledge that the real estate industry has been a staple in electoral politics for decades and its members’ donations have been part of the picture across the political spectrum. Democrats and Republicans have benefited from them, none more so than Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat recently re-elected to a third term. But the recent election cycle, the first since Donald Trump was elected president, saw greater awareness among voters about the power of state government and the special interests that fund campaigns. Actor and education activist Cynthia Nixon also used that backdrop to run a competitive primary challenge against Cuomo. She refused donations from real estate and issued a scathing indictment of the governor’s reliance on big donors in the industry, while calling for sweeping housing justice reforms.</p> <p>Weaver also pointed to the high-profile corruption convictions of former State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Democrat, and former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, a Republican, in trials that exposed how a real estate firm, Glenwood Management, attempted to wield influence over legislation. Glenwood, an enormous donor to Cuomo and many legislators, <a href="https://www.timesunion.com/news/article/Controversial-real-estate-giant-backs-Senate-13355446.php" target="_blank" rel="noopener">recently made</a> massive contributions to Senate Democratic candidates ahead of the November election where it appeared likely they would become part of a new majority in the chamber.</p> <p>The primary mechanism for real estate donations has been the gaping loophole in state campaign finance law that allows limited liability companies with opaque ownership -- a common instrument in the real estate business -- to circumvent contribution limits. <a href="https://citylimits.org/2018/09/07/coming-to-grips-with-the-two-decade-deluge-of-llc-money-into-new-yorks-democracy/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">City Limits reported </a>in September that LLCs had been used to donate more than $188 million to political campaigns since the late 1990s, with about $31 million given to gubernatorial candidates alone, including Cuomo. “Combining his campaign for attorney general in 2006 and his three runs for governor, Cuomo has received roughly one of every eight dollars donated by LLCs,” City Limits found. Those donations are largely dominated by the real estate industry.</p> <p>Mayor Bill de Blasio has also come under scrutiny for accepting significant real estate donations, especially to a political nonprofit he established to push his agenda that became the subject of law enforcement investigations related to whether City Hall did favors for its donors.</p> <p>A <a href="https://therealdeal.com/2016/12/30/real-estates-political-payoff/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">collaborative report in 2016 by ProPublica, The Real Deal and the National Institute on Money in State Politics</a> tracked how real estate developers who benefitted from a prominent tax incentive called the 421-a program gave about $21 million to party committees and candidates since 2000, out of $83 million that the real estate industry donated in the same time.</p> <p>“I think people are very much aware that rich donors including real estate developers and landlords are distorting our election system,” said Michael McKee, treasurer of Tenants PAC, a political action committee dedicated to affordable housing. “I think that’s the growing awareness. There’s no question about it.”</p> <p>It was in that context that a slew of progressive Democrats ousted their more moderate and real estate-tied partymates from office with the support of smaller donors and by rejecting corporate backers. “The housing crisis in this city is out of control and going into a year when candidates are going to be debating rent regulations in Albany, voters wanted candidates that are gonna act with integrity and widely believed that candidates who work for the real estate industry won’t,” said Weaver.</p> <p>Besides Salazar, Zellnor Myrie and Alessandra Biaggi similarly ran for and won Democratic primaries in the state Senate in opposition to wealthy real estate interests. Each of the three represents a district, much like a lot of the city, grappling with a deep affordability crisis and pockets of gentrification displacing low-income residents of color. Their opponents all received significant contributions from real estate.</p> <p>The decision to reject real estate seems based in both principle and pragmatism. Biaggi made housing justice a prominent campaign issue as she successfully dethroned Senator Jeff Klein, once the powerful leader of the Independent Democratic Conference, a breakaway faction of eight senators that propped up Republican control of the Senate. Democratic voters rejected six of the IDC members, blaming them for preventing the passage of many bills, including stronger rent regulations, and replaced them with progressive Democrats, including Biaggi and Myrie.</p> <p>“It’s not necessarily that taking real estate money makes you a bad legislator or a bad person...but for me, it’s very clear that it’s a slippery slope,” Biaggi said in a phone interview.</p> <p>Even as she acknowledged how difficult it can be to run for office without wealthy donors, Biaggi said it was important to her to retain her independence and answer to everyday constituents, not just those who can write big checks. “The winning can’t take precedence over the fact that, once you’ve won, the people who have helped get you there are the people who are going to come knocking on the door and that’s really a very challenging thing to come to terms with,” she said. Biaggi <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7973-klein-filing-late-post-primary-shows-over-3-million-in-senate-campaign-spending" target="_blank">spent about</a> $330,000 on her campaign and won with 53.1 percent of the vote, while Klein disbursed more than $3 million to try to keep his seat and got 44.5 percent.</p> <p>Salazar said her commitment, and Myrie’s and Biaggi’s, to refuse real estate donations proved that it’s possible to run a viable campaign with small donors, and build grassroots support and trust in communities by doing so.</p> <p>“I think advocates have long recognized the correlation between the amount of real estate money that many electeds have taken and their failure to advocate vigorously for tenants,” she said. “When other candidates see those campaigns being successful and they see this growing and increasingly loud demand from advocates, I think that is what is translating to them paying more attention.”</p> <p>Those in the real estate industry push back against being made the boogeymen of state politics. Real estate is, without a doubt, central to New York City’s fortunes and the industry comprises a large part of the city’s tax base. The sector is scapegoated more so than other industries and groups, like those in health care, finance, or education, that also employ somewhat similar tactics in state elections. And of course, many candidates regularly pursue real estate donors when running for office.</p> <p>“There are people who are willing to accept our contributions because our philosophies or the ideas that we are espousing are aligned with their philosophies,” said John Banks, president of the Real Estate Board of New York, in an interview. “There are people who don’t want to accept real estate money because their philosophies don’t align with the work that the real estate industry does and there are people who move back and forth across that continuum.”</p> <p>Banks pushed back against any notion that his industry has used the LLC loophole to improperly sway the political landscape to its benefit. “The real estate industry respects and follows both the letter and the intent of the law and to say that someone who follows the letter of the law is in someway undermining the legitimacy of the political process is a naive statement,” he said.</p> <p>And, he noted, the real estate industry is intrinsically a part of New York’s landscape, more than any other, even finance, or technology. “Unlike some of the other industries, mobility is not something that is an option for us,” he said.</p> <p>There are also Democrats, even those who call themselves progressives, for whom real estate donations are far from an insurmountable liability, even if they are unpopular with the party’s left wing. Cuomo sailed to reelection, in part by taking millions combined from LLCs and the real estate industry that he then used to overwhelm his less-funded primary and general election opponents over the airwaves. New York City Public Advocate Letitia James, not a close friend to real estate, accepted similar donations and was resoundingly elected the next attorney general of New York State. In the attorney general primary, for instance, James ran on a platform that included criticism of bad landlords and yet received $10,000 from an LLC linked to the Durst Organization, one of the largest real estate developers in the city. That LLC and seven others under the Durst umbrella also gave a combined $150,000 to one of James’ opponents, Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, which became a line of attack from Teachout.</p> <p>“The real estate industry is pretty broad and diverse,” said Jordan Barowitz, spokesperson for the Durst Organization. “I work in it, as do members of 32BJ and the super in your building and the residential broker who leased you your apartment.” He said “painting all these people with a pretty broad brush” is problematic. “Unfortunately there’s a lot of blaming in politics these days and it’s easy to point to one group or person or industry and say they’re responsible for everything that’s bad in this world and that’s pretty simplistic and wrong.”</p> <p>“Honest politicians don’t take bribes and reputable donors don’t request quid pro quos,” he added.</p> <p>There is a distance between bribes and quid pro quos on one hand, of course, and donations having some influence on policy-making, even if simply by virtue of how donations help candidates get elected.</p> <p>McKee of Tenants PAC noted, for instance, that <a href="https://therealdeal.com/2018/10/31/rebny-quadruples-donations-to-democrats-ahead-of-elections/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">REBNY had begun donating</a> larger sums in this election cycle to Democratic candidates once it seemed apparent that the party was going to regain control of the state Senate and, by result, the entire Legislature.</p> <p>“REBNY saw the handwriting on the wall. They’re equal-opportunity opportunists. They don’t care who’s in the majority. They’ll try to buy influence with them by giving them money,” McKee said. “I’m not suggesting in any way that the mere fact that REBNY has started giving money to Democratic senators means that those Democratic senators are going to sell tenants out. That’s not my point. My point is that this is how they try to win friends and influence people, with big money.”</p> <p>The influence of such donations can come down to seemingly small changes in policy, like the exact threshold at which an apartment leaves rent regulation, not necessarily major new legislation that would raise flags as donor-favors.</p> <p><strong><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019"><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/agenda19v2-a.jpg" alt="Gotham Gazette: " width="220" height="110" style="margin-right: 10px; float: left;" /></a></strong>Myrie wanted to avoid even the perception of corruption when he took his pledge, he said. “The number one reason that I did it was because...when we were gonna be facing the fight in Albany on whether or not we’re gonna protect tenants, I wanted there to be no confusion about which side I was on,” he said.</p> <p>It would be hard to argue, he said, that real estate hasn’t had a corrupting influence on politics. “Albany for the longest time has passed watered down legislation,” Myrie added. “We have not protected tenants the way that we’ve needed to and that, you can draw the direct correlation to the increase in the amount of real estate donations to the Legislature. I think anyone looking at that objectively could say that it has had a corrosive effect on how we pass policy affecting our tenants.”</p> <p>“Once you take that money, of course it influences how you legislate,” Biaggi said. “Now I think there are ways to protect against that, and that goes into campaign finance reform.”</p> <p>Biaggi asserted that the path to stronger rent regulations runs directly through reforming the state’s campaign finance system, primarily through closing the LLC loophole, but also through lowering individual donation limits, where New York has some of the highest in the country. Closing the LLC loophole alone, advocates say, would take away real estate’s biggest weapon of political influence, and they insist it should be accompanied by a public campaign financing program, like the one currently used in New York City, to boost the voices of ordinary New Yorkers who only give $25 or $100 to a candidate.</p> <p>Democrats in the Assembly have repeatedly attempted to reform campaign finance law but have been roadblocked for years by Republicans in the Senate, who have been major beneficiaries of real estate donations. Many, Cuomo included, have emphasized that ending the LLC loophole is among their priorities in the upcoming legislative session in January.</p> <p>“If you had these kinds of reforms, candidates wouldn’t have to spend so much time cultivating rich people to make big donations,” McKee said.</p> <p>On the other hand, Republicans have long-argued that labor unions often use campaign contributions to support and influence Democrats, and that any LLC reform should also institute limits on how local chapters of unions are classified in campaign finance law.</p> <p>Weaver, from Communities for Change, said, “Not only are rent laws coming up in 2019 but I think there’s gonna be a big referendum on the role of money in politics generally…and the campaign finance stuff is also gonna be a referendum on tenant issues and real estate money in politics specifically.”</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><em>This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project<br /><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019" data-saferedirecturl="https://www.google.com/url?q=http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019&amp;source=gmail&amp;ust=1542727012992000&amp;usg=AFQjCNFY2bJ6BA6AesUwakCrfkUOqoU35A">Find the rest of the series here</a></em></p> <p>

***
by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
WATCH: Agenda 2019: Rent Regulations & Affordable Housing 2018-11-28T05:00:00+00:00 2018-11-28T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8109-watch-agenda-2019-rent-regulations-affordable-housing Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/agenda-backup3.jpg" alt="agenda backup3" width="600" height="300" /></p> <p>MNN discussion</p> <hr /> <p style="text-align: center;"><em>This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project<br /><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019">Find the rest of the series here</a></em></p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/podcast18/dg-eg-agenda.jpg" alt="dg eg agenda" width="156" height="144" style="margin-right: 10px; float: left;" />As part of Agenda 2019, Gotham Gazette and City Limits are partnering with Manhattan Neighborhood Network (MNN) on a series of television shows. The first show is part of Agenda 2019 housing week: hosts Ben Max and Jarrett Murphy were joined by two leading non-profit advocates to discuss key elements of housing policy that will be on the agenda in the year ahead: Delsenia Glover, Executive Director of Tenants &amp; Neighbors and Emily Goldstein, Director of Organizing and Advocacy at the Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development (ANHD). The four focused much of the discussion on state-level rent regulations that affect about 1 million New York City apartments and the de Blasio administration's affordable housing plan. Watch the full program below:</p> <p><iframe src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/xp92AyqDUZQ" width="560" height="315" style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen"></iframe></p> <p style="text-align: center;">&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019" target="_blank" rel="noopener"><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/agenda19v2-a.jpg" alt="Gotham Gazette: " width="261" height="131" style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;" /></a><em></em></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><em>This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project<br /><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019">Find the rest of the series here</a></em></p> <p>

***
by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/agenda-backup3.jpg" alt="agenda backup3" width="600" height="300" /></p> <p>MNN discussion</p> <hr /> <p style="text-align: center;"><em>This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project<br /><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019">Find the rest of the series here</a></em></p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/podcast18/dg-eg-agenda.jpg" alt="dg eg agenda" width="156" height="144" style="margin-right: 10px; float: left;" />As part of Agenda 2019, Gotham Gazette and City Limits are partnering with Manhattan Neighborhood Network (MNN) on a series of television shows. The first show is part of Agenda 2019 housing week: hosts Ben Max and Jarrett Murphy were joined by two leading non-profit advocates to discuss key elements of housing policy that will be on the agenda in the year ahead: Delsenia Glover, Executive Director of Tenants &amp; Neighbors and Emily Goldstein, Director of Organizing and Advocacy at the Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development (ANHD). The four focused much of the discussion on state-level rent regulations that affect about 1 million New York City apartments and the de Blasio administration's affordable housing plan. Watch the full program below:</p> <p><iframe src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/xp92AyqDUZQ" width="560" height="315" style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen"></iframe></p> <p style="text-align: center;">&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019" target="_blank" rel="noopener"><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/agenda19v2-a.jpg" alt="Gotham Gazette: " width="261" height="131" style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;" /></a><em></em></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><em>This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project<br /><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019">Find the rest of the series here</a></em></p> <p>

***
by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Pushing the Envelope on Rent Reform in Albany 2019 2018-11-28T05:00:00+00:00 2018-11-28T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8107-pushing-the-envelope-on-rent-reform-in-albany-2019 Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/podcast18/mayorsoffice-chirlane-mccray-fac.jpg" alt="mayorsoffice chirlane mccray fac" width="600" height="401" /></p> <p>(photo: Edwin J. Torres/Mayoral Photo Office)</p> <hr /> <p style="text-align: center;"><em>This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project<br /><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019" data-saferedirecturl="https://www.google.com/url?q=http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019&amp;source=gmail&amp;ust=1542727012992000&amp;usg=AFQjCNFY2bJ6BA6AesUwakCrfkUOqoU35A">Find the rest of the series here</a></em></p> <p>Today, New Yorkers are living in an era of mass displacement <a href="https://www.citylab.com/equity/2017/03/new-yorks-battle-against-displacement-gentrification/518937/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">due to</a> the skyrocketing cost of rent. This makes it absolutely imperative for rent-stabilized tenants to maintain their rights and for these rights to be extended to tenants currently living without them. We must act swiftly to implement the bold policy of universal rent-control in order to protect tenants from market forces.</p> <p>Close to half of the nearly 2.2 million housing rental units that exist in New York City <a href="http://furmancenter.org/files/FurmanCenter_FactBrief_RentStabilization_June2014.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">are rent-stabilized</a>. Tenants living in rent-stabilized units benefit from having the right to a renewal lease once their current lease expires, plus legal limits on how much their rents can be raised annually or biannually. Additionally, rent-stabilized tenants have succession rights, granting them the right to pass their unit on to a family member living in the unit.</p> <p>All of these tenant protections provided under New York state law, however, are set to expire on June 15, 2019. In the upcoming legislative session, New York state legislators will be tasked with ensuring that we pass stronger rent laws before the June deadline. With the State Senate now having the largest Democratic majority we’ve seen since 1912, state legislators have a responsibility to not only extend the rent laws to protect all New York tenants, but to also eliminate the harmful loopholes that exist in the current laws.</p> <p><strong>The Flaws with our Rent Regulated System</strong><br />Although certain tenants are protected under New York’s rent-regulated system, there are loopholes that exist within the system that landlords take advantage of in order to deregulate units and to push low-income tenants out. Currently, if a rent-regulated tenant’s monthly rent reaches above $2,733.75, the landlord becomes entitled with the right to deregulate the unit and subsequently raise the tenant’s rent to any amount they see fit or simply not renew the tenant’s lease. This phenomena—known as vacancy decontrol—is responsible for the loss of at least 155,664 rent-regulated units from the years of 1994 through 2017, <a href="https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/rentguidelinesboard/pdf/changes18.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">according to</a> the New York City Rent Guidelines Board.</p> <p>Vacancy bonuses <a href="http://www.nyshcr.org/Rent/FactSheets/orafac26.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">allow</a> landlords of rent-regulated units to increase rents up to 20 percent to incoming tenants once an apartment is made vacant. This is an amount that is seven times more than any rent increase approved by the Rent Guidelines Board – the appointed board that determines yearly increases for rent-regulated tenants – in the previous five years.</p> <p>The other two loopholes that landlords take advantage of to generate more profit through the rent laws are preferential rents and major capital improvements (MCIs).</p> <p>Many tenants across the city are paying preferential rents, which are below the legal margin that landlords can mandate to be paid. Why is this a flaw within the rent-regulated system considering that tenants would benefit from paying lower rent? Unfortunately, it’s been widely proven that landlords provide these lower rents while simultaneously registering a higher, fraudulent legal rent to the state. Once a tenant’s lease is up for renewal the landlord could increase the tenant’s rent to the higher, fraudulent registered amount.</p> <p>Landlords also use MCIs, building-wide improvements made through the landlord’s finances, to increase rents up to 6 percent. These increases all too often surpass the 6 percent margin and are permanent increases. Landlords also game the system by fraudulently claiming improvements they don’t make or more expensive improvements than they actually make.</p> <p>Vacancy bonuses, MCIs, and preferential rents are all loopholes and tactics that landlords legally and illegally utilize to raise rents and eventually deregulate a unit through vacancy decontrol.</p> <p><strong>Housing Justice for All: the Platform</strong><br /> Bills to repeal the loopholes in our rent-regulated system have already been written and have been stalled from passing mostly because of the Republican-led state Senate and their outgoing allies (mostly in the former Independent Democratic Conference).</p> <p>A bill to end vacancy decontrol has been introduced in the past by Linda B. Rosenthal in the Assembly (A433) and by soon-to-be Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins in the Senate (S3482). Bills to eliminate vacancy bonuses have been introduced by Assembly Member Daniel J. O’ Donnell (A9815) and Senator Jose M. Serrano (S1593). Bills to prohibit landlords from adjusting the amount of preferential rent upon the renewal of a lease have been introduced by Assembly Member Steven Cymbrowitz (A6285) and Senator Liz Krueger (S6527). The offices of Senator Michael Gianaris and Assembly Member Brian Barnwell are working with the Housing Justice for All Coalition (HJFA) to write bills that would ban landlords from passing the costs of MCIs onto tenants forever (MCI costs would rather last to the end of each tenant’s lease from the moment the MCI officially took place). &nbsp;</p> <p>HJFA is a coalition of tenant advocates, tenant unions, and housing organizations from across the state that are demanding the passage of the bills cited above. On November 15, 2018, over 700 members of the coalition showed up to downtown Manhattan on a snowy and icy night to march for these demands and then some.</p> <p>HJFA is fighting to extend current protections under our rent laws to tenants that live in buildings that are five units or fewer, including 1- to 2- family homes (with exception to those where landlords reside). This concept is known as universal rent control, a policy proposal that recent gubernatorial candidate Cynthia Nixon and Lieutenant-Governor candidate Jumaane Williams, and Senator-elect Julia Salazar campaigned for.</p> <p>Fifty-four counties across New York are not able to opt into having the rent-regulated protections that New York City tenants currently have, making them all vulnerable to predatory housing companies that use lax or non-existent rent regulations to push people out of their housing. HJFA is also demanding that renters across the state be granted the opportunity to bring rent controls to their communities through the expansion of the Emergency Tenant Protection Act (ETPA).</p> <p>It is vitally important to point out that these demands have not yet taken the shape or form of a bill. And it is these additional demands that figures with authority, like Governor Cuomo, must deliver in 2019. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p><strong>Going Beyond: Truly Delivering for Tenants</strong><br /> Democrats were able to take full control of state government by flipping eight Republican-held Senate seats. As of January, they will hold a majority in the Assembly and in the Senate, and the Governor’s Office. The change in the political landscape in Albany grants a window of opportunity for our leaders to strengthen our rent laws to the degree that HJFA is outlining. Unfortunately, the Democratic leadership might not be too keen on setting the bar higher and delivering universal rent control, but may rather just flirt with the idea of eliminating loopholes.</p> <p>Governor Cuomo recently <a href="https://nypost.com/2018/11/19/cuomo-wants-to-end-landlord-friendly-rent-hiking-policy/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">came out</a> in public support of ending vacancy decontrol. Although we may all applaud this statement, the fact of the matter is that this, along with ending MCIs, preferential rents, and vacancy bonuses, should be relatively easily accomplished as soon as we enter the next legislative session.</p> <p>In 2015, when the rent laws were renewed only after facing a near two-week expiration, Cuomo coined an op-ed in the Daily News and expressed his full support for passing these basic reforms. <a href="https://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/andrew-cuomo-affordable-housing-agenda-article-1.2248288" target="_blank" rel="noopener">He wrote</a>, “We must eliminate vacancy decontrol or at the very least significantly raise vacancy decontrol thresholds; further limit vacancy bonuses to ensure landlords aren't rewarded financially for schemes to force tenants out; make major capital improvements and individual apartment improvement surcharges that go away once recovered by landlords, instead of ways of artificially raising a unit's monthly rent; and make the preferential rent operate as the legal rent for the life of the tenancy. These should be foundational elements of any new rent regulation legislation.” These were the words of our governor on June 6, 2015.</p> <p><strong><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019"><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/agenda19v2-a.jpg" alt="Gotham Gazette: " width="220" height="110" style="margin-right: 10px; float: left;" /></a></strong>Ending the various loopholes pertaining to our rent laws should be a given considering the blue wave that just occured. Leaders like Governor Cuomo with the power to push the rent regulation envelope further should not exclude from the discussion universal rent control and their support (or lack thereof) of the concept. Tenants in New York needed loopholes closed in 2015, and in 2019 the tenant movement requires protections for all tenants. Swiftly passing long-needed reform measures is important, while also tackling the challenges of today.</p> <p>There will be no excuse for Governor Cuomo and other leaders if the Legislature simply passes the set of reforms the governor was calling for almost three years ago. The Republican majority is no more, the opportunity for real reform is there for the taking in 2019.</p> <p>And let’s be clear: universal rent control is not a radical idea. In response to high inflation rates in 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt instituted Federal Rent Control through the Emergency Price Control Act (EPCA), which allowed for “a universal, nationwide price regulatory system.” By 1950, we had 2.5 million units that were rent-regulated in New York, more than double the stock we have today.</p> <p>New York City today faces an affordability crisis that it has not seen since the Great Depression and 89,000 people across the state live in homeless shelters, while tens of thousands of children sleep in insecure housing. Communities like Williamsburg, Brooklyn has seen over a quarter of their communities of color displaced. So-called economic development projects like bringing Amazon to Queens will only exacerbate the city’s affordability crisis, though stronger rent regulations would help stem the tide.</p> <p>As Governor Cuomo wrote in 2015, “the crisis of affordability is back with a vengeance,” and it will continue unless we boldly act to provide protections for all of our tenants. Our task is simple and it requires the moral courage from our elected officials to stand up to real estate interests. We must prove to tenants that at a time when we have a corporate politician leading us awry in the White House that we don’t need a corporate Democrat doing so in Albany as well.</p> <p>In 2019, there is no room for political posturing. We must act to not just end the loopholes within our current rent laws but also to extend protections to all renters. We must finally deliver for the largest constituency in New York, the tenant-renter constituency. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><em>This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project<br /><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019" data-saferedirecturl="https://www.google.com/url?q=http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019&amp;source=gmail&amp;ust=1542727012992000&amp;usg=AFQjCNFY2bJ6BA6AesUwakCrfkUOqoU35A">Find the rest of the series here</a></em></p> <p>***<br />Boris Santos is a former public school teacher, DSA member, and soon-to-be Chief of Staff to Senator-elect Julia Salazar.</p> <p>

***
Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/podcast18/mayorsoffice-chirlane-mccray-fac.jpg" alt="mayorsoffice chirlane mccray fac" width="600" height="401" /></p> <p>(photo: Edwin J. Torres/Mayoral Photo Office)</p> <hr /> <p style="text-align: center;"><em>This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project<br /><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019" data-saferedirecturl="https://www.google.com/url?q=http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019&amp;source=gmail&amp;ust=1542727012992000&amp;usg=AFQjCNFY2bJ6BA6AesUwakCrfkUOqoU35A">Find the rest of the series here</a></em></p> <p>Today, New Yorkers are living in an era of mass displacement <a href="https://www.citylab.com/equity/2017/03/new-yorks-battle-against-displacement-gentrification/518937/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">due to</a> the skyrocketing cost of rent. This makes it absolutely imperative for rent-stabilized tenants to maintain their rights and for these rights to be extended to tenants currently living without them. We must act swiftly to implement the bold policy of universal rent-control in order to protect tenants from market forces.</p> <p>Close to half of the nearly 2.2 million housing rental units that exist in New York City <a href="http://furmancenter.org/files/FurmanCenter_FactBrief_RentStabilization_June2014.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">are rent-stabilized</a>. Tenants living in rent-stabilized units benefit from having the right to a renewal lease once their current lease expires, plus legal limits on how much their rents can be raised annually or biannually. Additionally, rent-stabilized tenants have succession rights, granting them the right to pass their unit on to a family member living in the unit.</p> <p>All of these tenant protections provided under New York state law, however, are set to expire on June 15, 2019. In the upcoming legislative session, New York state legislators will be tasked with ensuring that we pass stronger rent laws before the June deadline. With the State Senate now having the largest Democratic majority we’ve seen since 1912, state legislators have a responsibility to not only extend the rent laws to protect all New York tenants, but to also eliminate the harmful loopholes that exist in the current laws.</p> <p><strong>The Flaws with our Rent Regulated System</strong><br />Although certain tenants are protected under New York’s rent-regulated system, there are loopholes that exist within the system that landlords take advantage of in order to deregulate units and to push low-income tenants out. Currently, if a rent-regulated tenant’s monthly rent reaches above $2,733.75, the landlord becomes entitled with the right to deregulate the unit and subsequently raise the tenant’s rent to any amount they see fit or simply not renew the tenant’s lease. This phenomena—known as vacancy decontrol—is responsible for the loss of at least 155,664 rent-regulated units from the years of 1994 through 2017, <a href="https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/rentguidelinesboard/pdf/changes18.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">according to</a> the New York City Rent Guidelines Board.</p> <p>Vacancy bonuses <a href="http://www.nyshcr.org/Rent/FactSheets/orafac26.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">allow</a> landlords of rent-regulated units to increase rents up to 20 percent to incoming tenants once an apartment is made vacant. This is an amount that is seven times more than any rent increase approved by the Rent Guidelines Board – the appointed board that determines yearly increases for rent-regulated tenants – in the previous five years.</p> <p>The other two loopholes that landlords take advantage of to generate more profit through the rent laws are preferential rents and major capital improvements (MCIs).</p> <p>Many tenants across the city are paying preferential rents, which are below the legal margin that landlords can mandate to be paid. Why is this a flaw within the rent-regulated system considering that tenants would benefit from paying lower rent? Unfortunately, it’s been widely proven that landlords provide these lower rents while simultaneously registering a higher, fraudulent legal rent to the state. Once a tenant’s lease is up for renewal the landlord could increase the tenant’s rent to the higher, fraudulent registered amount.</p> <p>Landlords also use MCIs, building-wide improvements made through the landlord’s finances, to increase rents up to 6 percent. These increases all too often surpass the 6 percent margin and are permanent increases. Landlords also game the system by fraudulently claiming improvements they don’t make or more expensive improvements than they actually make.</p> <p>Vacancy bonuses, MCIs, and preferential rents are all loopholes and tactics that landlords legally and illegally utilize to raise rents and eventually deregulate a unit through vacancy decontrol.</p> <p><strong>Housing Justice for All: the Platform</strong><br /> Bills to repeal the loopholes in our rent-regulated system have already been written and have been stalled from passing mostly because of the Republican-led state Senate and their outgoing allies (mostly in the former Independent Democratic Conference).</p> <p>A bill to end vacancy decontrol has been introduced in the past by Linda B. Rosenthal in the Assembly (A433) and by soon-to-be Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins in the Senate (S3482). Bills to eliminate vacancy bonuses have been introduced by Assembly Member Daniel J. O’ Donnell (A9815) and Senator Jose M. Serrano (S1593). Bills to prohibit landlords from adjusting the amount of preferential rent upon the renewal of a lease have been introduced by Assembly Member Steven Cymbrowitz (A6285) and Senator Liz Krueger (S6527). The offices of Senator Michael Gianaris and Assembly Member Brian Barnwell are working with the Housing Justice for All Coalition (HJFA) to write bills that would ban landlords from passing the costs of MCIs onto tenants forever (MCI costs would rather last to the end of each tenant’s lease from the moment the MCI officially took place). &nbsp;</p> <p>HJFA is a coalition of tenant advocates, tenant unions, and housing organizations from across the state that are demanding the passage of the bills cited above. On November 15, 2018, over 700 members of the coalition showed up to downtown Manhattan on a snowy and icy night to march for these demands and then some.</p> <p>HJFA is fighting to extend current protections under our rent laws to tenants that live in buildings that are five units or fewer, including 1- to 2- family homes (with exception to those where landlords reside). This concept is known as universal rent control, a policy proposal that recent gubernatorial candidate Cynthia Nixon and Lieutenant-Governor candidate Jumaane Williams, and Senator-elect Julia Salazar campaigned for.</p> <p>Fifty-four counties across New York are not able to opt into having the rent-regulated protections that New York City tenants currently have, making them all vulnerable to predatory housing companies that use lax or non-existent rent regulations to push people out of their housing. HJFA is also demanding that renters across the state be granted the opportunity to bring rent controls to their communities through the expansion of the Emergency Tenant Protection Act (ETPA).</p> <p>It is vitally important to point out that these demands have not yet taken the shape or form of a bill. And it is these additional demands that figures with authority, like Governor Cuomo, must deliver in 2019. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p><strong>Going Beyond: Truly Delivering for Tenants</strong><br /> Democrats were able to take full control of state government by flipping eight Republican-held Senate seats. As of January, they will hold a majority in the Assembly and in the Senate, and the Governor’s Office. The change in the political landscape in Albany grants a window of opportunity for our leaders to strengthen our rent laws to the degree that HJFA is outlining. Unfortunately, the Democratic leadership might not be too keen on setting the bar higher and delivering universal rent control, but may rather just flirt with the idea of eliminating loopholes.</p> <p>Governor Cuomo recently <a href="https://nypost.com/2018/11/19/cuomo-wants-to-end-landlord-friendly-rent-hiking-policy/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">came out</a> in public support of ending vacancy decontrol. Although we may all applaud this statement, the fact of the matter is that this, along with ending MCIs, preferential rents, and vacancy bonuses, should be relatively easily accomplished as soon as we enter the next legislative session.</p> <p>In 2015, when the rent laws were renewed only after facing a near two-week expiration, Cuomo coined an op-ed in the Daily News and expressed his full support for passing these basic reforms. <a href="https://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/andrew-cuomo-affordable-housing-agenda-article-1.2248288" target="_blank" rel="noopener">He wrote</a>, “We must eliminate vacancy decontrol or at the very least significantly raise vacancy decontrol thresholds; further limit vacancy bonuses to ensure landlords aren't rewarded financially for schemes to force tenants out; make major capital improvements and individual apartment improvement surcharges that go away once recovered by landlords, instead of ways of artificially raising a unit's monthly rent; and make the preferential rent operate as the legal rent for the life of the tenancy. These should be foundational elements of any new rent regulation legislation.” These were the words of our governor on June 6, 2015.</p> <p><strong><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019"><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/agenda19v2-a.jpg" alt="Gotham Gazette: " width="220" height="110" style="margin-right: 10px; float: left;" /></a></strong>Ending the various loopholes pertaining to our rent laws should be a given considering the blue wave that just occured. Leaders like Governor Cuomo with the power to push the rent regulation envelope further should not exclude from the discussion universal rent control and their support (or lack thereof) of the concept. Tenants in New York needed loopholes closed in 2015, and in 2019 the tenant movement requires protections for all tenants. Swiftly passing long-needed reform measures is important, while also tackling the challenges of today.</p> <p>There will be no excuse for Governor Cuomo and other leaders if the Legislature simply passes the set of reforms the governor was calling for almost three years ago. The Republican majority is no more, the opportunity for real reform is there for the taking in 2019.</p> <p>And let’s be clear: universal rent control is not a radical idea. In response to high inflation rates in 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt instituted Federal Rent Control through the Emergency Price Control Act (EPCA), which allowed for “a universal, nationwide price regulatory system.” By 1950, we had 2.5 million units that were rent-regulated in New York, more than double the stock we have today.</p> <p>New York City today faces an affordability crisis that it has not seen since the Great Depression and 89,000 people across the state live in homeless shelters, while tens of thousands of children sleep in insecure housing. Communities like Williamsburg, Brooklyn has seen over a quarter of their communities of color displaced. So-called economic development projects like bringing Amazon to Queens will only exacerbate the city’s affordability crisis, though stronger rent regulations would help stem the tide.</p> <p>As Governor Cuomo wrote in 2015, “the crisis of affordability is back with a vengeance,” and it will continue unless we boldly act to provide protections for all of our tenants. Our task is simple and it requires the moral courage from our elected officials to stand up to real estate interests. We must prove to tenants that at a time when we have a corporate politician leading us awry in the White House that we don’t need a corporate Democrat doing so in Albany as well.</p> <p>In 2019, there is no room for political posturing. We must act to not just end the loopholes within our current rent laws but also to extend protections to all renters. We must finally deliver for the largest constituency in New York, the tenant-renter constituency. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><em>This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project<br /><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019" data-saferedirecturl="https://www.google.com/url?q=http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019&amp;source=gmail&amp;ust=1542727012992000&amp;usg=AFQjCNFY2bJ6BA6AesUwakCrfkUOqoU35A">Find the rest of the series here</a></em></p> <p>***<br />Boris Santos is a former public school teacher, DSA member, and soon-to-be Chief of Staff to Senator-elect Julia Salazar.</p> <p>

***
Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

</p>
Max & Murphy Podcast: Homelessness & Affordable Housing Development 2018-11-28T05:00:00+00:00 2018-11-28T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8108-max-murphy-podcast-homelessness-affordable-housing-development Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/podcast18/mxm-logo.jpg" alt="mxm logo" width="600" height="239" /></p> <p>Ben Max, left, of Gotham Gazette,&nbsp;and Jarrett Murphy, right, of City Limits</p> <hr /> <p><strong>November 28, 2018 - Max &amp; Murphy Podcast: Homelessness &amp; Affordable Housing Development<br /></strong></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><em>This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project<br /><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019" data-saferedirecturl="https://www.google.com/url?q=http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019&amp;source=gmail&amp;ust=1542727012992000&amp;usg=AFQjCNFY2bJ6BA6AesUwakCrfkUOqoU35A">Find the rest of the series here</a></em></p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/podcast18/gr-mp-400px.jpg" alt="gr mp 400px" width="274" height="114" style="margin: 10px; float: left;" />This week's Max &amp; Murphy is part of housing week for the Agenda 2019 project, which is setting the stage for next year in New York City and State government and politics. Giselle Routhier, Policy Director at Coalition for the Homeless, joined the show to discuss homelessness in New York City, evaluating Mayor de Blasio's approach and what the State should do to address the issue. Then, Molly Park, Deputy Commissioner for Development at the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD), joined the show to discuss the city's affordable housing plan, HPD's approach to development, changes to the plan that have occurred over time, and more.</p> <p>Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think -- we're on Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/TweetBenMax" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@TweetBenMax </a>and <a href="https://twitter.com/jarrettmurphy" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@JarrettMurphy</a>. You can listen to the show through the embedded audio below or download the episode wherever you get your podcasts, under "Max &amp; Murphy," and listen to Max &amp; Murphy live on Wednesdays at 5 p.m. on WBAI radio, 99.5FM or wbai.org</p> <p><iframe src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/536973510&amp;color=%23ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false&amp;show_teaser=true" width="100%" height="180" frameborder="no" scrolling="no"></iframe></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019"><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/agenda19v2-a.jpg" alt="agenda19v2 a" width="250" height="127" /></a></strong></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><em>This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project<br /><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019" data-saferedirecturl="https://www.google.com/url?q=http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019&amp;source=gmail&amp;ust=1542727012992000&amp;usg=AFQjCNFY2bJ6BA6AesUwakCrfkUOqoU35A">Find the rest of the series here</a></em></p> <p>

***
by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/podcast18/mxm-logo.jpg" alt="mxm logo" width="600" height="239" /></p> <p>Ben Max, left, of Gotham Gazette,&nbsp;and Jarrett Murphy, right, of City Limits</p> <hr /> <p><strong>November 28, 2018 - Max &amp; Murphy Podcast: Homelessness &amp; Affordable Housing Development<br /></strong></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><em>This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project<br /><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019" data-saferedirecturl="https://www.google.com/url?q=http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019&amp;source=gmail&amp;ust=1542727012992000&amp;usg=AFQjCNFY2bJ6BA6AesUwakCrfkUOqoU35A">Find the rest of the series here</a></em></p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/podcast18/gr-mp-400px.jpg" alt="gr mp 400px" width="274" height="114" style="margin: 10px; float: left;" />This week's Max &amp; Murphy is part of housing week for the Agenda 2019 project, which is setting the stage for next year in New York City and State government and politics. Giselle Routhier, Policy Director at Coalition for the Homeless, joined the show to discuss homelessness in New York City, evaluating Mayor de Blasio's approach and what the State should do to address the issue. Then, Molly Park, Deputy Commissioner for Development at the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD), joined the show to discuss the city's affordable housing plan, HPD's approach to development, changes to the plan that have occurred over time, and more.</p> <p>Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think -- we're on Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/TweetBenMax" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@TweetBenMax </a>and <a href="https://twitter.com/jarrettmurphy" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@JarrettMurphy</a>. You can listen to the show through the embedded audio below or download the episode wherever you get your podcasts, under "Max &amp; Murphy," and listen to Max &amp; Murphy live on Wednesdays at 5 p.m. on WBAI radio, 99.5FM or wbai.org</p> <p><iframe src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/536973510&amp;color=%23ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false&amp;show_teaser=true" width="100%" height="180" frameborder="no" scrolling="no"></iframe></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><strong><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019"><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/agenda19v2-a.jpg" alt="agenda19v2 a" width="250" height="127" /></a></strong></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><em>This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project<br /><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019" data-saferedirecturl="https://www.google.com/url?q=http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019&amp;source=gmail&amp;ust=1542727012992000&amp;usg=AFQjCNFY2bJ6BA6AesUwakCrfkUOqoU35A">Find the rest of the series here</a></em></p> <p>

***
by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Allegations of Tenant Harassment in Bushwick Spotlight Issues with City Enforcement, State Rent Laws 2018-11-27T05:00:00+00:00 2018-11-27T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8104-allegations-of-tenant-harassment-in-bushwick-spotlight-issues-with-city-enforcement-state-rent-laws Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/431_bleecker.png" alt="431 bleecker" width="600" height="321" /></p> <p>tenants Hunter &amp; Corchado outside 431 Bleecker (<a href="https://vimeo.com/295067939?ref=tw-share" target="_blank" rel="noopener">via vimeo</a>)</p> <hr /> <p>On a Wednesday last month, a group of community activists and politicians including Assemblymember Maritza Davila and then-State Senate candidate Julia Salazar gathered outside an apartment building in Brooklyn, where they protested a landlord in front of one of several properties he owns.</p> <p>“Our landlord -- terrible, terrible, terrible,” said Ermelinda Corchado, a tenant who was moved to tears as she told the crowd of more than 30 advocates, officials, and residents about issues she and others have faced, standing outside the eight-unit building in Bushwick. “They’ve been offering me buyouts so I could move. I don’t want to move, I can’t afford to move…[the landlord] keeps harassing me all the time.”&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>Corchado is the sole remaining rent-stabilized tenant in the building, encouraged by various means to leave. And while Corchado is the only rent-stabilized tenant left, others believe that their units should be returned to rent-stabilization given that they believe they were removed due to illegal or unscrupulous behavior by the landlord. Multiple tenants have been served with nonpayments — a demand for overdue rent — and one with a holdover — an eviction for a resident of an apartment for reasons other than not paying rent.</p> <p>On a rent strike since before the October rally, all of the tenants of 431 Bleecker Street have been embroiled in multiple lawsuits, some still pending, and frustrating efforts to seek help from a variety of governmental entities responsible for oversight of issues they’ve experienced, such as repeated heat and hot water outages and nearly constant repair work in recent months.</p> <p>The landlord, Kerry Danenberg, owns several buildings in Brooklyn jointly with his wife, Sarah Russell. She is listed as the “head officer” for the Bleecker Street building on the city Department of Housing and Preservation (HPD) website, and is ranked number 92 on New York City Public Advocate Letitia James’ “<a href="https://advocate.nyc.gov/landlord-watchlist/worst-landlords">Worst Landlord List,</a>” released nearly a year ago and based on number and severity of open HPD violations and number of units in the landlord’s buildings.</p> <p>The tenants of the Bushwick building, owned by Danenberg’s property management company, Grand Management, say they have experienced deeply unpleasant and challenging, though not unique, types of landlord harassment, including, they allege, racial discrimination. And while they’ve organized, documented, sued, and contacted their elected officials and city agencies, they haven’t received the response they would have liked, especially from HPD.</p> <p>Corchado wasn’t the only one at the rally who said the landlord had pushed them to leave their rent-stabilized apartment. A resident of Grand Management-owned 108 Central Avenue, Luz Virella, told Gotham Gazette before the rally that she had been taken to court for a holdover, though she said it was dismissed.</p> <p>“As soon as he took over the property, he took me to court, sued me for $80,000,” said Virella, who has lived in the building for nearly 17 years with the help of Section 8 federal funding. “I won the case, but then ever since, it’s been one thing after another. When it comes to repairs, he doesn’t do anything.”</p> <p>Assemblymember Davila, a Democrat who represents parts of Bushwick and for years lived on the same block as 431 Bleecker, said conditions in her own apartment is what sprung her entry into community activism. Davila ahead of the demonstration said developments at 431 Bleecker was just one example of a larger pattern in the rapidly gentrifying area in recent years.</p> <p>“This is basically what happens throughout the entire community,” she said in an interview. “We already know what the M.O. is. We understand that the landlords come in, how they work, how they harass the tenants. They commit the most heinous crimes, and they don’t get punished for it, because they have money.”</p> <p>Salazar, who in September upset incumbent Democratic State Senator Martin Dilan in a campaign that heavily featured rent laws, and points to tenant organizing as an experience that propelled her political candidacy, said “practices like this are all too common from Morningside Heights to Bushwick,” but that an increasing number of tenants have begun to stand up against unscrupulous landlords, as well as against rent laws she said lead to displacement. Landlords can take advantage of those laws to remove rent-stabilized tenants and charge market-rate rents, Salazar and others explain, decrying incentives to the type of behavior allegedly taking place at 431 Bleecker and other buildings owned by Danenberg and Russell.</p> <p>“We need to be fighting for stronger rent laws,” Salazar told Gotham Gazette. “We know that, especially in Bushwick, in North Brooklyn, policies like vacancy decontrol, mass deregulation has been the number one cause of the destabilization of rent-stabilized apartments, and, ultimately, forcing people out who have been here for decades.”</p> <p>While city agencies like HPD often hold responsibility for keeping landlords from breaking the law, it is the regulations that apply to rent-stabilized apartments that are created by state government in Albany and the subject of a great deal of controversy, especially as they are again set to expire in 2019, and a crop of candidates in the 2018 cycle put augmenting rent laws at the center of their campaigns. (Governor Andrew Cuomo, for his part, last week responded in the affirmative when asked on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show if he would sign into law a bill repealing vacancy decontrol, though activists doubt his commitment to bolstering rent laws).</p> <p>But only the city’s roughly 1 million rent-stabilized units are subject to those laws, like vacancy decontrol, which limit landlords but also set the path for units to be removed from rent-stabilization. Once units are removed, even through improper behavior by landlords, they seldom return. And tenants paying market-rate rents also often face challenging conditions from landlords with motives of their own beyond providing adequate, comfortable housing and collecting checks every month.</p> <p><strong>431 Bleecker</strong><br />At 431 Bleecker, as of September 14, there were a total of 103 open Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) violations in the building, a number that was then reduced to the low twenties following a flurry of work and multiple inspections as of late October and eight as of this writing; there were 10 open Department of Building (DOB) violations in a building with just eight units, as of October.</p> <p>The challenges facing the building’s tenants shed light onto issues many renters face in New York. Tenants claim a building is run by a landlord who passes operating expenses on to the tenants, but does not keep the building in good condition, and, when renters respond, files lawsuits against residents in an effort to recoup payment and encourage them to leave.</p> <p>The blend of the landlord’s attempts to lure the sole remaining rent-stabilized tenant to leave her unit, where she has lived for nearly 40 years, in a neighborhood home to high levels of displacement, coupled with the loss of other rent-stabilized units in the building, shows how and why long-time, low-income residents often have little choice but to leave their buildings, sometimes neighborhoods. The building, where newcomers to the neighborhood now comprise the majority of the tenants, and pay far more in rent than Corchado, provides microcosm of how displacement and gentrification have been facilitated.</p> <p>And the situation, experts say, is a sign of the extent to which even as the city attempts to protect tenants’ rights via local legislation, oversight, and enforcement — and could clearly be doing more in these regards — the key battleground for protecting tenants from policies that many advocates have long said incentivize landlords to fan the flames of displacement is Albany, not City Hall.</p> <p>Lucy Hunter, a fifth-year graduate student at Yale University, moved into 431 Bleecker in 2016. Hunter says the problems began on November 28, 2017, when she and the other tenants received an email from management about what was planned as a three-day boiler repair, which at first “didn’t raise too many red flags.”</p> <p>“However,” Hunter said during a recent interview in her third-floor apartment, “it was not a three-day project. There would be days when you would come home, without any knowledge they would be in your apartment, and you’d find dust and debris — like actual pieces of drywall on the floor. Sometimes tools were left scattered around."</p> <p>On December 4, 2017, according to Hunter, Grand Management, the managing agent for the building, informed the tenants via email that the boiler installation would need longer than the original timetable indicated. Later that month, on Christmas Day, there was no heat in the building.</p> <p>But that didn’t spur the tenants to take action just yet, Hunter said.</p> <p>“Generally, you have a high tolerance for misbehavior as a tenant of a pretty cheap apartment in Bushwick,” she explained.</p> <p>The breaking point came February 26 of this year when the market-rate tenants received a heating and oil bill of $800—a drastic increase from the roughly $200-300 per month residents of the building normally owed—despite the building going days without heat during the billing period.</p> <p>“It was like we were camping outside, except we were paying $2,700 to live in the building,” remarked one 431 Bleecker tenant, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisal, referring to stretches in which they went without heat and hot water, forced to use hot plates and space heaters and wear layers upon layers of clothing—an experience echoed by numerous tenants in the building.&nbsp; &nbsp;</p> <p>A week later, the building’s tenants received an email informing them the bill was correct. Solonje Burnett-Loucas, Hunter’s neighbor, protested. Grand Management replied that she had to pay it or leave.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>“We went to the manager and said, ‘This is not normal, this is not on us. We didn’t even have heat for many days this month,” Hunter recalled. “And the refrain was ‘Oil prices are a little higher.’”</p> <p>Burnett-Loucas, an entrepreneur and diversity consultant who has lived in the building for six years, told Gotham Gazette she noticed matters had gotten worse over the past year or so.</p> <p>“There would be a trash removal fee for 80 bucks randomly, or there would be a hot water fee or something like that,” she said. “It wasn’t something that was a big deal. It wasn’t until last year that it became astronomical.”</p> <p>Work continued in the building into March, with workers regularly entering apartments without permission or notice, according to Hunter. On March 16, there was no heat in the building. Two days later, an electrical fire broke out in apartment 2R, causing smoke damage to that unit and the one above it. On March 19, according to Hunter, tenants experienced very cold temperatures in the building, either due to a heat outage or open doors and windows from construction. Four days later, Burnett-Loucas and Hunter reported excessive construction noise and excessive debris to 311, the city’s complaint and information phone line. The next day, March 24, a Saturday, illegal weekend construction work took place in the building, according to records kept by the tenants.</p> <p>Three days later, one of the tenants, Alec Holst, had a conversation with Danenberg during which the landlord described his plans to reconfigure the two top-floor units, according to Hunter. Danenberg also made the case why the building shouldn’t be rent-stabilized and said destabilizing units was a common practice for, according to a press release distributed during the October protest.</p> <p>Following complaints from tenants, on March 28 a sweep of the building was conducted by representatives from four government agencies: the state’s Department of Homes and Community Renewal (DHCR), the city Fire Department, the Department of Buildings (DOB), and HPD —the agencies that make up the Tenant Harassment Prevention Task Force— and led to a stop-work order and gas shut-off.</p> <p>The agencies discovered several illegal conditions, prompting them to issue multiple violations. Among them were false filing of construction documents, gas and electrical work conducted in the cellar without a DOB permit, failure to notify the DOB within 72 hours of commencement of work, and an insufficient plan to protect tenants, according to the DOB.</p> <p>Following the inspection, DOB required the landlord to remedy the conditions, which included the landlord submitting an application that correctly notes that the building does in fact currently have tenants living in it, and that there was at least one rent-regulated unit in the building.</p> <p>On April 3, the tenants of the building received an email from the building manager, Jeff Cassara, announcing the Department of Buildings had lifted the stop-work order and that construction would resume, so maintenance would need access to all units.</p> <p>While all tenants received a nearly identical email from Cassara, at the end of the email they received, the white tenants were offered $100 to compensate for the trouble recent construction had caused. The black and Latina tenants did not, according to emails reviewed by Gotham Gazette.</p> <p>“[A]s compensation for construction-related inconveniences, each apartment will be sent $100. Payment will be made by check to each leaseholder, totaling $100 per apartment,” Cassara wrote to tenants in five units.</p> <p>But Burnett-Loucas, who is black, received the email informing them of the stop-work order, but without mention of $100 in compensation. Corchado, who is Latina and is routinely reached by the landlord via phone instead of email, was not offered the money, either.</p> <p>Burnett-Loucas told Gotham Gazette she strongly suspected racism was the reason behind Cassara not offering her the same redress, which also manifested itself in the landlord’s legal actions against her.</p> <p>“I think it’s total discrimination,” she said. “They literally sent that to all of the white tenants in the building…I was the only one in this whole process that was served with eviction papers. Everybody else who’s on the rent strike, they did not take that step to try to kick them out of the building. But in May, I got a letter from them that was just like, ‘You can no longer live here. You have 30 days to get out.’”</p> <p>The eviction papers came after the tenants collectively decided to launch the rent strike, which on May 16 was declared in a letter to Grand Management by a lawyer from <a href="http://bka.org/about-us/">Brooklyn Legal Services Corporation A</a> (BKA), a nonprofit organization that provides legal assistance to low- and moderate-income people in the city.</p> <p>“We had several emergency tenant meetings in late April, when it became clear that our pleas to have work done weren’t working,” Hunter said of the lack of timely repairs of the building’s boilers, which prompted the rent strike.</p> <p>The tenants, along with their BKA lawyer, Yaa Sarpong, engaged in months-long exchanges and negotiations over access to the building for work repairs.</p> <p>On the day the tenants sent the rent strike letter, Tim Bergstr, Hunter’s husband, came home to workers in their apartment with nobody home, without warning. On May 23, Burnett-Loucas was served with a notice of termination of her month-to-month lease.</p> <p>Over the summer, the tenants and landlords underwent a multitude of legal proceedings, alongside continuing troubles in the building.</p> <p>On May 24, the landlord and his legal team filed a New York Supreme Court case against the tenants for entry to the apartments, alleging they had not provided ample access to them to conduct necessary repairs. In July, the landlord, Danenberg, filed an amended complaint, alleging BKA and the tenants were defaming him.</p> <p>On June 18, following a June 4 hearing on the matter, the City of New York issued a civil complaint against Danenberg for filing a “material false statement” to the DOB when the landlord filed forms that indicated the building was unoccupied and not rent-regulated, when in fact at the time six of the units were occupied and one of the tenants resided in a rent-regulated unit. Such faulty paperwork is a common practice by landlords to make it easier to receive a permit to perform construction.</p> <p>According to a <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/23/nyregion/housing-rights-initiative-aaron-carr-nyc-kushner.html">Housing Rights Initiative report</a>, released late September, more than 10,000 building permits filed over the last two years contained incorrect information about rent-regulated tenants in the relevant buildings. “Just as scandalous as the number of falsified permits is the failure of enforcement by the Department of Buildings,” City Council Member Ritchie Torres told the New York Times. This figure, the DOB noted in the story, represented just 3 percent of the permits the departments had approved.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>In this particular case, Danenberg’s lawyers, according to DOB documents, said that this was the fault of an error by an architect. But while an architect expediter is allowed to fill out the relevant PW1 form, the landlord is responsible for ensuring the veracity of section 26 of the form, which indicates whether or not the building is occupied and its rent-stabilization status.</p> <p>On July 3, the tenants of 431 Bleecker began an HP proceeding — a process used to force landlords to correct building violations and make necessary repairs — alleging harassment by the landlord and asking for repairs to be conducted properly. Also on July 3, Burnett-Loucas was served with a holdover, which was dismissed by the judge weeks later without prejudice. This was followed by the landlord’s team on July 9 filing a nonpayment against the tenants in four of the five occupied apartments. (It’s unclear why a tenant of one apartment, 4L, was not served with a nonpayment, as all tenants participated in the rent strike.)</p> <p>On August 1, the two tenants of color and their legal team filed a discrimination case with the city’s Human Rights Commission. They alleged that Burnett-Loucas and Corchado, the two non-white tenants in the building, were subjected to discrimination when the building manager, Cassara, offered the $100 compensation to all tenants but them.</p> <p>The city-state Tenant Harassment Prevention Task Force made its second visit to the building on August 22, when city workers inspecting the building found that while there were no construction-related violations, the gas meter room was illegally being used as a storage area and that there were defective outlets in one of the apartments — a complaint Corchado voiced during her interview with Gotham Gazette.</p> <p>On September 13, the landlord’s LLC Zachmaxie filed a $25,000 court summons against Hunter and her husband for allegedly causing that amount of damage to a kitchen cabinet by painting it a glossy white and removing the wall cabinet doors, for aesthetic purposes.</p> <p>Asked for comment, a lawyer for Danenberg, Antonio Pasquariello, said in an email the questions reflected a lack of understanding of what transpired. “[I]t does not appear you have diligently researched this situation,” he said.</p> <p>He went on to say the tenants had obstructed repairs in the building and that the landlord had acted swiftly to mend the unforeseen problems in the building.</p> <p>“The Supreme Court filings thoroughly detail all the events and include documentation and communications between the parties which corroborate all the owners claims and efforts,” he said, though he did not specify what Gotham Gazette got wrong in its questions. “These documents are publicly available and illustrate how a small number of occupants have unfortunately elected to exploit and capitalize on an unanticipated emergency by actively preventing owner from making repairs.”</p> <p>“Further,” he continued, “If you visit the nyc dob website you will see that, despite tenants attempts to thwart owners efforts, nearly all violations were resolved within two months of receiving notice thereof, a commendable accomplishment.”</p> <p>Asked about the the $100 being offered to the white tenants but not the black and Latina tenants, he said, “There is no need for further elaboration since you can view the actual email exchanges between the parties first hand.”</p> <p>After a follow-up request for comment days later, he responded, “mr and mrs loucas were never named tenants on a lease, it appears they took possession either by an unauthorized sublease or assignment of tenancy,” though he did not explain why that would disqualify Burnett-Loucas from compensation that the other tenants were awarded nor why Corchado, who is named on the lease, was not offered money.</p> <p><strong>Government Response Disappoints</strong><br />In addition to the landlord, tenants say they have been disappointed in HPD’s response to the situation, or lack thereof. Hunter wondered why HPD didn’t have more power itself to sanction the landlord and clear violations. Hunter believes the landlord wanted HPD violations to remain open as he argues tenants were being uncooperative, all in an effort to make their lives difficult, and, some tenants suspect, to get them out of the building.</p> <p>“[T]hey [were] finally clearing the violations. The building manager came in and was arguing to the HPD inspector why the violations should stay open,” she said in October. “In order to fix what is over 100 violations, they’ve demanded extraordinary measures be taken by tenants in order to provide access, because it’s basically a game of how much inconvenience can you cause people to do relatively local work,” Hunter said. “They interpret HPD violations in the broadest possible sense to demand painting, or in some cases repainting, every room in the apartment.”</p> <p>“It felt like this nightmare where we actually were begging for months ‘Please bring in HPD to clear these violations,” she recalled. “As tenants, we can’t have them cleared. So HPD inspectors would come in and check in on other problems, and we’d say ‘Can you look at this. This is fine, right? Can you please lift this, so that they can’t keep claiming that we are denying them the right to fix problems.’ And they’re like ‘Oh, I can’t do that.”</p> <p>A spokesperson for HPD, Juliet Pierre-Antoine, said in a statement that the department “has been aggressive in investigating and taking action as part of the <a href="https://www1.nyc.gov/site/hpd/renters/thpt.page">Tenant Harassment Protection Task Force</a> when allegation[s] of tenant harassment are reported, and will be even more proactive with the Tenant Anti-Harassment Unit.”</p> <p>The Tenant Anti-Harassment Unit was announced in July by Mayor Bill de Blasio, and tasked with litigating against landlords and owners when warranted. Previously, HPD could only inspect 200 buildings annually, and will with the new unit be able to inspect 1,500 buildings per year, according to HPD.</p> <p>“HPD will remain engaged at this property to ensure owner compliance with housing maintenance codes, rules, and regulations,” Pierre-Antoine said. “As part of the THPT, HPD has conducted inspections at this property and based on recent inspections the number of violations has been considerably reduced. Both the tenants and HPD have been active in Housing Court seeking the correction of conditions.”&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p><strong>Pushing Tenants Out</strong><br />Corchado, who was born in Puerto Rico-born and has lived in the building since 1980, says in recent years property management has made attempts at luring her out of the building, presumably with the aim of taking the unit off of rent-stabilization. Corchado said in an interview in her ground floor apartment that she has been offered a buyout of $20,000 three or four times.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>“She came and she said, ‘Ermelinda, are you willing to negotiate again?’ Corchado recalled of an interaction between her and Angela Jones, an office manager at Grand Management. “I said, ‘I don’t want to move. I can’t afford to move.’”</p> <p>Along with the pressure of buyout offers, the landlord has made her life unpleasant in other more significant ways, Corchado said. Danenberg, for example, in October threw her husband’s new wheelchair in the garbage, Corchado said.</p> <p>“Two days ago, the landlord came. When I looked out the window, he had my husband’s wheelchair, which is brand new, in the garbage,” said Corchado. “I had to go outside and drag it back inside. It was in the hallway, because I didn’t have space, [and] he said ‘Anything in the halway is considered garbage.’”</p> <p>Asked for comment, Pasquariello, the landlord’s lawyer, said by email that he was “not aware of any personal property being thrown away, specifically a wheel chair, but we will investigate.”</p> <p>Asked for comment about the incident days later, he replied, “by ‘thrown in the garbage’ do you mean it was removed from the hallway and placed outside?”</p> <p>“I assume you are aware that storing items in the hallway is a violation,” he added.</p> <p>Corchado, who has lived in the building for about 38 years, says she has noticed harassment and poor conditions took hold when Danenberg’s LLC took control of the building.</p> <p>“It used to be an Asian landlord, then when they sold the building to ZackMaxie,” she said, referring to the LLC that in 2010 took control of the building after it was transferred from 431 Bleecker St LLC, of which Danenberg was listed as a member, after the latter entity bought the building in 2007. “That’s when a lot of problems started happening.”</p> <p>Corchado, who takes care of her son and frequently babysits for her grandchild, said she was hardly the only longtime resident that was encouraged in not-so-subtle fashion to leave the building.</p> <p>“The old tenants that left were being harassed,” she said. “They didn’t want to fix nothing for them. They used to tell them ‘If you don’t like being here, you could leave.’”</p> <p>“Three or four years ago, the ones that used to live here before they bought the building, they were being harassed,” Corchado recalled. &nbsp;“There was a Haitian family upstairs that was harassed. They had water coming through their wall. Four couples already that moved out, because they were told they were going to pay this rent and then they came and they told them [to pay] another $600, $800 for the heating system, the water and garbage removal. They told them they can’t afford that.”</p> <p>The building, which currently has just one rent-stabilized tenant, has in recent years lost a number of rent-stabilized units. Corchado, who lives in unit 1L, pays roughly $600 per month in rent. The other tenants pay $1,800-1,900 monthly. The other units were taken out of rent-stabilization because of the “substantial rehabilitation” that, according to the landlord, allowed them to increase the rents and hit the threshold for stabilization, thus removing them from that status. The rules around what rent increases are allowed and how often, how landlords account for improvements they make to apartments, and the rent thresholds at which units can be removed from stabilization are all aspects of the state rent regulations.</p> <p>Apartment 3L, for example, was rent-stabilized with the tenant, who lived in the apartment from 1987 through 2009, paying just over $300 per month, according to state DHCR records. In 2010, the unit underwent “substantial rehabilitation,” according to those records, and by 2012, the unit was no longer rent-regulated. It’s unclear if the tenant remained in the unit during or after this post-2009 period.</p> <p>For roughly 26 years, Corchado lived in apartment 3R, which was rent-stabilized until 2006, when she paid $385 per month that year. Like in the other apartment on the floor, it underwent a “substantial rehabilitation” from 2009-2010, according to DHCR records. In 1984, Corchado paid $238.61 per month.</p> <p>Apartment 4L’s rent in 1984 was $197.50 per month. The rent rose over the years, but remained under rent stabilization until 2015. The rent rose rapidly from 2013-2014, from $674 to $1,650 — a free-market rent. Unlike the other units, no substantial rehabilitation occurred, according to DHCR records, though according to DOB, city records indicate permits for renovations were filed for that unit. In 2015, 4L was no longer subject to rent regulation, with the monthly rent at $1,850 for the unit.&nbsp; &nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p><strong>The Larger Picture</strong><br />431 Bleecker is just one of many buildings that have contributed to the drop in the city’s rent-regulated units. Much of this came as a result of Albany’s loosening of the rent laws in the 1990s. Specifically, the state legislature in 1997 scaled back rent regulations, allowing landlords to raise rents by 20 percent when a unit becomes vacant, and, when a unit becomes vacant with a rent of over $2,000 per month, now $2,733, the unit is not subject to any rent regulation.</p> <p>Since 1993, New York City has lost over 152,000 rent-regulated apartments due to high-rent vacancy deregulation as of May 2017, <a href="https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/rentguidelinesboard/pdf/changes17.pdf">according to the Rent Guidelines Board</a>. More recently, Brooklyn as the second only to Manhattan on loss of rent-regulated units. Between 2007 and 2014, Brooklyn lost 41,500 rent-regulated units, according to an Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development <a href="https://www.dnainfo.com/new-york/20160922/east-harlem/map-where-affordable-housing-is-most-threatened-nyc/">report</a>.</p> <p>This phenomenon has not gone unnoticed in Albany. Formed in 2012 to “act as a proactive law enforcement office” in the DHCR, the state-controlled Tenant Protection Unit (TPU) began investigating improperly deregulated apartments via HCR’s Office of Rent Administration (ORA) registration data. In April 2016, the governor’s office announced <a href="https://www.governor.ny.gov/news/governor-cuomo-highlights-success-tenant-protection-unit">in a press release</a> the unit had identified 50,000 such units, recouping about $2.25 million in rent since the TPU’s inception. According to HCR, the unit has reregistered 70,000 improperly deregulated units since its inception and recovered more than $4.5 million in overcharged rent.</p> <p>Still, the state’s efforts have of course not stopped the loss of rent-regulated units in the city, which becomes particularly problematic in increasingly high-cost area like Bushwick.</p> <p>Indeed, Brooklyn has been home to some of the most extreme gentrification in the country in recent years, and Bushwick has been atop the list of gentrifying neighborhoods in the borough. A 2016 Furman Center <a href="http://furmancenter.org/files/sotc/Part_1_Gentrification_SOCin2015_9JUNE2016.pdf">study</a> showed that from 2000 to 2014 average rent increased by 44.5 percent in Bushwick. Meanwhile, average income of residents rose by 16.4 percent, the share of non-family households increased by 24.9 percent and the adult population with college degrees increased by nearly 20 percent &nbsp;— telltale signs of gentrification. In turn, many black and Hispanic New Yorkers have left or have been pushed out of Bushwick.</p> <p>“That neighborhood is absolutely ground zero for speculation, harassment and displacement in the city,” said Benjamin Dulchin, executive director of ANHD.</p> <p>“It has among the highest concentration of what we think are displacement risks,” he added, referring to an <a href="https://anhd.org/blog/introducing-displacement-alert-map-20">ANHD report</a> on displacement risk in the city.</p> <p>In addition to Bushwick, Dulchin says this phenomenon plays itself out in “low-income neighborhoods of color that are within relatively easy commuting distance from the business centers that for a whole bunch of reasons are subject to gentrification pressures, and where the current residents that are there have relatively little economic and social capital and can’t push back against displacement.” Neighborhoods such as Williamsburg, Crown Heights, Bed Stuy, Astoria, and East Harlem and more have in recent years also followed a similar pattern.</p> <p>In tandem with more well-off newcomers moving into traditionally lower-income areas, one central way gentrification is spawned is by landlords forcing lower-income longtime residents, who are disproportionately black and Latino, from buildings, in many cases from rent-stabilized or rent-controlled apartments, in order to receive higher rents.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>Kevin Worthington, a law student who works with BKA on the 431 Bleecker case, said the story is not atypical in the city’s areas home to an influx of newcomers.</p> <p>“I think it’s very emblematic of speculative investments in gentrifying neighborhoods,” he said. “Traditionally black and brown communities that were plagued with the systems of segregation, lack of investment, city neglect, and all of the sudden there’s a resurgence of real estate interests, which often attract greedy investors who are looking to flip properties and make profits at the expense of mostly black and brown families who have been there the longest.”&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>However, Worthington said landlords do not always throw the kitchen sink at tenants, as he argued was he case with 431 Bleecker. “Usually, you see those strategies implemented, but not all at the same time,” he said, pointing holdover proceedings, eviction proceedings, and offering a buyout to a tenant as the unusual quantity of ways the landlord’s made life difficult for his tenants.</p> <p>City Council Member Rafael Espinal, who represents parts of Bushwick, including 431 Bleecker, told Gotham Gazette the conditions and challenges the tenants in the building have faced are common in his district, particularly the attempts to lure rent-stabilized tenants out of their units.</p> <p>“It's terrible that there are landlords out there preying on vulnerable tenants who depend on these apartments to be able to care for themselves and for their families,” he said. “It’s no secret that rents are rising all throughout Brooklyn, but that doesn’t give landlords a reason to harass and intimidate the tenants that they currently have in their buildings.”</p> <p>In Bushwick, Espinal says, it is unfortunately all too common for landlords that buy buildings and “pull out all the stops to harass tenants out of their rent-regulated apartment” with the aim of deregulating it, and tenants who live in rent-regulated apartments are encouraged to leave so “new owners can rehab the apartments, and make them into more luxury units.”</p> <p>To prevent against these practices, elected officials in the city have moved to put in place local tenant protection measures.</p> <p>Rampant use of construction as harassment — a practice wherein a landlords employs repairs and other work as a means to inconvenience tenants and provoke them to leave — has sparked outcry from tenant rights advocates and prompted legislation aimed at preventing the practice. Specifically, the <a href="https://ny.curbed.com/2017/11/30/16720158/tenant-harassment-landlord-city-council-bill">“Certificate of No Harassment”</a> pilot program, an initiative spearheaded by Brooklyn City Council Member Brad Lander that requires landlords to obtain a certification that shows they have not harassed their tenants in order to be granted construction permits, passed the Council in the fall and recently began implementation in 11 neighborhoods, including Bushwick.</p> <p>The “Right to Counsel” legislation, cosponsored by Council Members members Vanessa Gibson and Mark Levine, which allows low-income tenants facing eviction access to city-funded legal defense in housing court, passed in summer 2017. The bills came amid a larger city push to reduce evictions that in part has paved the way for a 24 percent drop in evictions in the city compared to 2014, as 180,000 New Yorkers benefitted from the expansion since that year, according to the city. In June, Gibson, Levine and a coalition of advocates announced an expansion of the program that gives access to legal defense to those who make slightly higher incomes than the first iteration of the bill.</p> <p>Additionally, HPD in October <a href="https://therealdeal.com/2018/10/30/city-releases-its-first-predatory-landlord-watch-list/">rolled out </a>its “Speculation Watch List,” an account of properties the city deems are at risk of having tenants harassed in them. On the list are rent-regulated multifamily properties sold that have capitalization rates — the expected rate of return on a property based on the revenue its projected to produce &nbsp;— below their respective borough’s median.</p> <p>Brooklyn City Council Member Antonio Reynoso, who represents heavily gentrified and gentrifying neighborhoods including parts of Bushwick and Williamsburg, has helped lead a community-devised rezoning of some of Bushwick, which mostly entails a downzoning of the neighborhood that stakeholders <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7955-hoping-to-dictate-city-rezoning-and-stem-gentrification-locals-put-forth-bushwick-community-plan">hope will help curb development</a> and the floodgates of gentrification and displacement.</p> <p>Ultimately, despite city-led tenant protection efforts, the front lines of the rent regulation battles are in Albany, experts and city officials told Gotham Gazette.</p> <p>“In the City Council, we’ve done everything that we can do,” said Espinal, the Brooklyn Council member. “We’ve increased the budget in getting tenants legal assistance, we’ve passed laws that ensure that any landlord that’s harassing their tenants will not have the ability to construct new buildings. So I think that at the end of the day, we have to look at our state leaders and hope that when rent regs come up for a vote, that we’re not just extending the current protections, but we’re looking to strengthen them to make sure that all New Yorkers are protected.”</p> <p>Levine, the Upper Manhattan Council member who spearheaded the right to counsel, said similarly.</p> <p>"The root of all this evil is vacancy decontrol, which creates these perverse incentives to get tenants out,” he said of the law that allows landlords to hike rents when a unit becomes vacant.</p> <p>“They’re all great,” Cea Weaver, policy director for left-wing activist group New York Communities for Change, said of city-level tenant protection efforts. But, she explained, “they’re all attempts to treat the symptoms of a weak rent regulation system.”</p> <p>The current rent laws, Weaver said, contain loopholes that are “so wide that a truck can drive through it, part of a structure that “encourages and rewards” driving tenants out.</p> <p>“If you really want to stop this,” she said of tenant harassment and rampant displacement, “we need to strengthen rent laws in Albany.”</p> <p>Another shortcoming in the forces that govern rent in the state, according to Weaver, is that DHCR doesn’t verify that the necessary repairs have in fact have been made and mostly takes the landlord’s word for it, allowing landlords to raise the rent.</p> <p>“They just rubber stamp landlords’ applications,” Weaver said.</p> <p>Indeed, DHCR does not vouch for the veracity of rent history documents. “DHCR does not attest to the truthfulness of the owner’s statements or the legality of the rents reported in this document,” reads an “advisory note” on rent history papers.</p> <p>ANHD’s Dulchin also commended city-level efforts, and like Weaver said the extent to which the city can improve matters on this front is limited, saying the de Blasio administration “has done a lot of new and creative things” to help stabilize tenants who are at risk of being pushed out.</p> <p>“The Certificate of No Harassment legislation is an important one coming online,” he said just ahead of the program’s official launch. “There are a bunch of pretty important, and worthwhile things that this administration has done, but the real action is in Albany.”</p> <p>For his part, the mayor agrees bolstering the state’s rent laws are central to better housing policy and are more impactful than other city-level efforts on the front. “It's the single biggest thing we can do to increase affordability,” de Blasio said Monday during his weekly NY1 appearance.</p> <p>But according to Aaron Carr, founder of Housing Rights Initiative, while the City Council has done a good job on bolstering pro-tenant legislation, the mayor made a mistake in pursuing his affordable housing plan to build and preserve 300,000 below-market-rate units without first ensuring with greater intensity that existing rent-regulated units are preserved through stronger enforcement of the laws on the books.</p> <p>“I think that the mayor made a catastrophic error in failing to overhaul our enforcement system prior to launching his $83 billion affordable housing plan,” he said in a phone interview, “because for every unit that's created through that plan, [a unit] is being removed by landlords like Lucy's.” &nbsp;</p> <p>In the absence of “proactive and effective” enforcement of existing laws, the city is forced to a situation in which it is “pursuing affordable housing on a sinking ship," Carr said.</p> <p>Carr went on to say that, though it’s ultimately Governor Andrew Cuomo’s responsibility to reform rent regulations, the city has come up short in playing the role of the “field medic.”</p> <p>“They’re supposed to be stopping the bleeding while Albany gets their stuff together,” he said.&nbsp; &nbsp;</p> <p>In a statement, a spokesperson for the mayor, Jane Meyer, said tenant protection is “a top priority for this Administration.”</p> <p>“We have doubled down on our efforts to keep bad actors in check, and continue to develop new tools to protect New Yorkers,” she said. “The Tenant Anti-Harassment Unit, Speculation Watch List, Certification of No Harassment program, and a new Real Time Enforcement Unit at DOB are just some of the latest examples of our efforts.”</p> <p>‘What I want to come out of this is a change’</p> <p>Moving forward, Hunter says that in the near term, she would like the landlord to stop harassing the tenants and do his job properly by conducting basic, proper upkeep of the property.</p> <p>“Medium term,” she said, “I would like our apartments rent-stabilized again.”</p> <p>In addition to the practices at 431 Bleecker, through canvassing other properties Danenberg owns, she said the tenants of his other residential buildings face “dire conditions.”</p> <p>“I would like see an attorney general investigation triggered,” Hunter added, “because I think this landlord is engaging in criminal activity that goes beyond this building.”</p> <p>Carr said that the landlord’s “mob-like behavior” should trigger either a district attorney or attorney general investigation. It does just so happen that the most recent author of the city’s “Worst Landlords List,” Public Advocate Letitia James, is currently the Attorney General-elect, having won the office earlier this month while promising to crack down on bad landlords.</p> <p>Burnett-Loucas said she hopes her efforts will play a part in taking a stand against bad-acting landlords. She made the case that it's incumbent on privileged newcomers with to neighborhoods to pay heed to what longtime residents face, and to work to hold unscrupulous landlords to account rather than jumping ship, which often isn’t a legitimate option for those at risk of being displaced.&nbsp; &nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>“I could have moved. I could have taken the easy road and been like, ‘You know what, this is way too much of a headache. I don’t want to deal with that,’” she said. “And that’s what most people do in these situations.”</p> <p>“What I want to come out of this is a change, so that these white-collar criminals are actually held accountable for these disgusting practices, so that people who have been living in these communities for years, like Ermelinda, have a home and aren’t pushed out,” she added, referring to the last-remaining rent-stabilized tenant in the building. “Ermelinda could be your grandmother. Would you want your grandmother being harassed by some guy who has all the power and privilege, who owns all these buildings, who doesn’t give a s***?”</p> <p> </p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/431_bleecker.png" alt="431 bleecker" width="600" height="321" /></p> <p>tenants Hunter &amp; Corchado outside 431 Bleecker (<a href="https://vimeo.com/295067939?ref=tw-share" target="_blank" rel="noopener">via vimeo</a>)</p> <hr /> <p>On a Wednesday last month, a group of community activists and politicians including Assemblymember Maritza Davila and then-State Senate candidate Julia Salazar gathered outside an apartment building in Brooklyn, where they protested a landlord in front of one of several properties he owns.</p> <p>“Our landlord -- terrible, terrible, terrible,” said Ermelinda Corchado, a tenant who was moved to tears as she told the crowd of more than 30 advocates, officials, and residents about issues she and others have faced, standing outside the eight-unit building in Bushwick. “They’ve been offering me buyouts so I could move. I don’t want to move, I can’t afford to move…[the landlord] keeps harassing me all the time.”&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>Corchado is the sole remaining rent-stabilized tenant in the building, encouraged by various means to leave. And while Corchado is the only rent-stabilized tenant left, others believe that their units should be returned to rent-stabilization given that they believe they were removed due to illegal or unscrupulous behavior by the landlord. Multiple tenants have been served with nonpayments — a demand for overdue rent — and one with a holdover — an eviction for a resident of an apartment for reasons other than not paying rent.</p> <p>On a rent strike since before the October rally, all of the tenants of 431 Bleecker Street have been embroiled in multiple lawsuits, some still pending, and frustrating efforts to seek help from a variety of governmental entities responsible for oversight of issues they’ve experienced, such as repeated heat and hot water outages and nearly constant repair work in recent months.</p> <p>The landlord, Kerry Danenberg, owns several buildings in Brooklyn jointly with his wife, Sarah Russell. She is listed as the “head officer” for the Bleecker Street building on the city Department of Housing and Preservation (HPD) website, and is ranked number 92 on New York City Public Advocate Letitia James’ “<a href="https://advocate.nyc.gov/landlord-watchlist/worst-landlords">Worst Landlord List,</a>” released nearly a year ago and based on number and severity of open HPD violations and number of units in the landlord’s buildings.</p> <p>The tenants of the Bushwick building, owned by Danenberg’s property management company, Grand Management, say they have experienced deeply unpleasant and challenging, though not unique, types of landlord harassment, including, they allege, racial discrimination. And while they’ve organized, documented, sued, and contacted their elected officials and city agencies, they haven’t received the response they would have liked, especially from HPD.</p> <p>Corchado wasn’t the only one at the rally who said the landlord had pushed them to leave their rent-stabilized apartment. A resident of Grand Management-owned 108 Central Avenue, Luz Virella, told Gotham Gazette before the rally that she had been taken to court for a holdover, though she said it was dismissed.</p> <p>“As soon as he took over the property, he took me to court, sued me for $80,000,” said Virella, who has lived in the building for nearly 17 years with the help of Section 8 federal funding. “I won the case, but then ever since, it’s been one thing after another. When it comes to repairs, he doesn’t do anything.”</p> <p>Assemblymember Davila, a Democrat who represents parts of Bushwick and for years lived on the same block as 431 Bleecker, said conditions in her own apartment is what sprung her entry into community activism. Davila ahead of the demonstration said developments at 431 Bleecker was just one example of a larger pattern in the rapidly gentrifying area in recent years.</p> <p>“This is basically what happens throughout the entire community,” she said in an interview. “We already know what the M.O. is. We understand that the landlords come in, how they work, how they harass the tenants. They commit the most heinous crimes, and they don’t get punished for it, because they have money.”</p> <p>Salazar, who in September upset incumbent Democratic State Senator Martin Dilan in a campaign that heavily featured rent laws, and points to tenant organizing as an experience that propelled her political candidacy, said “practices like this are all too common from Morningside Heights to Bushwick,” but that an increasing number of tenants have begun to stand up against unscrupulous landlords, as well as against rent laws she said lead to displacement. Landlords can take advantage of those laws to remove rent-stabilized tenants and charge market-rate rents, Salazar and others explain, decrying incentives to the type of behavior allegedly taking place at 431 Bleecker and other buildings owned by Danenberg and Russell.</p> <p>“We need to be fighting for stronger rent laws,” Salazar told Gotham Gazette. “We know that, especially in Bushwick, in North Brooklyn, policies like vacancy decontrol, mass deregulation has been the number one cause of the destabilization of rent-stabilized apartments, and, ultimately, forcing people out who have been here for decades.”</p> <p>While city agencies like HPD often hold responsibility for keeping landlords from breaking the law, it is the regulations that apply to rent-stabilized apartments that are created by state government in Albany and the subject of a great deal of controversy, especially as they are again set to expire in 2019, and a crop of candidates in the 2018 cycle put augmenting rent laws at the center of their campaigns. (Governor Andrew Cuomo, for his part, last week responded in the affirmative when asked on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show if he would sign into law a bill repealing vacancy decontrol, though activists doubt his commitment to bolstering rent laws).</p> <p>But only the city’s roughly 1 million rent-stabilized units are subject to those laws, like vacancy decontrol, which limit landlords but also set the path for units to be removed from rent-stabilization. Once units are removed, even through improper behavior by landlords, they seldom return. And tenants paying market-rate rents also often face challenging conditions from landlords with motives of their own beyond providing adequate, comfortable housing and collecting checks every month.</p> <p><strong>431 Bleecker</strong><br />At 431 Bleecker, as of September 14, there were a total of 103 open Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) violations in the building, a number that was then reduced to the low twenties following a flurry of work and multiple inspections as of late October and eight as of this writing; there were 10 open Department of Building (DOB) violations in a building with just eight units, as of October.</p> <p>The challenges facing the building’s tenants shed light onto issues many renters face in New York. Tenants claim a building is run by a landlord who passes operating expenses on to the tenants, but does not keep the building in good condition, and, when renters respond, files lawsuits against residents in an effort to recoup payment and encourage them to leave.</p> <p>The blend of the landlord’s attempts to lure the sole remaining rent-stabilized tenant to leave her unit, where she has lived for nearly 40 years, in a neighborhood home to high levels of displacement, coupled with the loss of other rent-stabilized units in the building, shows how and why long-time, low-income residents often have little choice but to leave their buildings, sometimes neighborhoods. The building, where newcomers to the neighborhood now comprise the majority of the tenants, and pay far more in rent than Corchado, provides microcosm of how displacement and gentrification have been facilitated.</p> <p>And the situation, experts say, is a sign of the extent to which even as the city attempts to protect tenants’ rights via local legislation, oversight, and enforcement — and could clearly be doing more in these regards — the key battleground for protecting tenants from policies that many advocates have long said incentivize landlords to fan the flames of displacement is Albany, not City Hall.</p> <p>Lucy Hunter, a fifth-year graduate student at Yale University, moved into 431 Bleecker in 2016. Hunter says the problems began on November 28, 2017, when she and the other tenants received an email from management about what was planned as a three-day boiler repair, which at first “didn’t raise too many red flags.”</p> <p>“However,” Hunter said during a recent interview in her third-floor apartment, “it was not a three-day project. There would be days when you would come home, without any knowledge they would be in your apartment, and you’d find dust and debris — like actual pieces of drywall on the floor. Sometimes tools were left scattered around."</p> <p>On December 4, 2017, according to Hunter, Grand Management, the managing agent for the building, informed the tenants via email that the boiler installation would need longer than the original timetable indicated. Later that month, on Christmas Day, there was no heat in the building.</p> <p>But that didn’t spur the tenants to take action just yet, Hunter said.</p> <p>“Generally, you have a high tolerance for misbehavior as a tenant of a pretty cheap apartment in Bushwick,” she explained.</p> <p>The breaking point came February 26 of this year when the market-rate tenants received a heating and oil bill of $800—a drastic increase from the roughly $200-300 per month residents of the building normally owed—despite the building going days without heat during the billing period.</p> <p>“It was like we were camping outside, except we were paying $2,700 to live in the building,” remarked one 431 Bleecker tenant, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisal, referring to stretches in which they went without heat and hot water, forced to use hot plates and space heaters and wear layers upon layers of clothing—an experience echoed by numerous tenants in the building.&nbsp; &nbsp;</p> <p>A week later, the building’s tenants received an email informing them the bill was correct. Solonje Burnett-Loucas, Hunter’s neighbor, protested. Grand Management replied that she had to pay it or leave.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>“We went to the manager and said, ‘This is not normal, this is not on us. We didn’t even have heat for many days this month,” Hunter recalled. “And the refrain was ‘Oil prices are a little higher.’”</p> <p>Burnett-Loucas, an entrepreneur and diversity consultant who has lived in the building for six years, told Gotham Gazette she noticed matters had gotten worse over the past year or so.</p> <p>“There would be a trash removal fee for 80 bucks randomly, or there would be a hot water fee or something like that,” she said. “It wasn’t something that was a big deal. It wasn’t until last year that it became astronomical.”</p> <p>Work continued in the building into March, with workers regularly entering apartments without permission or notice, according to Hunter. On March 16, there was no heat in the building. Two days later, an electrical fire broke out in apartment 2R, causing smoke damage to that unit and the one above it. On March 19, according to Hunter, tenants experienced very cold temperatures in the building, either due to a heat outage or open doors and windows from construction. Four days later, Burnett-Loucas and Hunter reported excessive construction noise and excessive debris to 311, the city’s complaint and information phone line. The next day, March 24, a Saturday, illegal weekend construction work took place in the building, according to records kept by the tenants.</p> <p>Three days later, one of the tenants, Alec Holst, had a conversation with Danenberg during which the landlord described his plans to reconfigure the two top-floor units, according to Hunter. Danenberg also made the case why the building shouldn’t be rent-stabilized and said destabilizing units was a common practice for, according to a press release distributed during the October protest.</p> <p>Following complaints from tenants, on March 28 a sweep of the building was conducted by representatives from four government agencies: the state’s Department of Homes and Community Renewal (DHCR), the city Fire Department, the Department of Buildings (DOB), and HPD —the agencies that make up the Tenant Harassment Prevention Task Force— and led to a stop-work order and gas shut-off.</p> <p>The agencies discovered several illegal conditions, prompting them to issue multiple violations. Among them were false filing of construction documents, gas and electrical work conducted in the cellar without a DOB permit, failure to notify the DOB within 72 hours of commencement of work, and an insufficient plan to protect tenants, according to the DOB.</p> <p>Following the inspection, DOB required the landlord to remedy the conditions, which included the landlord submitting an application that correctly notes that the building does in fact currently have tenants living in it, and that there was at least one rent-regulated unit in the building.</p> <p>On April 3, the tenants of the building received an email from the building manager, Jeff Cassara, announcing the Department of Buildings had lifted the stop-work order and that construction would resume, so maintenance would need access to all units.</p> <p>While all tenants received a nearly identical email from Cassara, at the end of the email they received, the white tenants were offered $100 to compensate for the trouble recent construction had caused. The black and Latina tenants did not, according to emails reviewed by Gotham Gazette.</p> <p>“[A]s compensation for construction-related inconveniences, each apartment will be sent $100. Payment will be made by check to each leaseholder, totaling $100 per apartment,” Cassara wrote to tenants in five units.</p> <p>But Burnett-Loucas, who is black, received the email informing them of the stop-work order, but without mention of $100 in compensation. Corchado, who is Latina and is routinely reached by the landlord via phone instead of email, was not offered the money, either.</p> <p>Burnett-Loucas told Gotham Gazette she strongly suspected racism was the reason behind Cassara not offering her the same redress, which also manifested itself in the landlord’s legal actions against her.</p> <p>“I think it’s total discrimination,” she said. “They literally sent that to all of the white tenants in the building…I was the only one in this whole process that was served with eviction papers. Everybody else who’s on the rent strike, they did not take that step to try to kick them out of the building. But in May, I got a letter from them that was just like, ‘You can no longer live here. You have 30 days to get out.’”</p> <p>The eviction papers came after the tenants collectively decided to launch the rent strike, which on May 16 was declared in a letter to Grand Management by a lawyer from <a href="http://bka.org/about-us/">Brooklyn Legal Services Corporation A</a> (BKA), a nonprofit organization that provides legal assistance to low- and moderate-income people in the city.</p> <p>“We had several emergency tenant meetings in late April, when it became clear that our pleas to have work done weren’t working,” Hunter said of the lack of timely repairs of the building’s boilers, which prompted the rent strike.</p> <p>The tenants, along with their BKA lawyer, Yaa Sarpong, engaged in months-long exchanges and negotiations over access to the building for work repairs.</p> <p>On the day the tenants sent the rent strike letter, Tim Bergstr, Hunter’s husband, came home to workers in their apartment with nobody home, without warning. On May 23, Burnett-Loucas was served with a notice of termination of her month-to-month lease.</p> <p>Over the summer, the tenants and landlords underwent a multitude of legal proceedings, alongside continuing troubles in the building.</p> <p>On May 24, the landlord and his legal team filed a New York Supreme Court case against the tenants for entry to the apartments, alleging they had not provided ample access to them to conduct necessary repairs. In July, the landlord, Danenberg, filed an amended complaint, alleging BKA and the tenants were defaming him.</p> <p>On June 18, following a June 4 hearing on the matter, the City of New York issued a civil complaint against Danenberg for filing a “material false statement” to the DOB when the landlord filed forms that indicated the building was unoccupied and not rent-regulated, when in fact at the time six of the units were occupied and one of the tenants resided in a rent-regulated unit. Such faulty paperwork is a common practice by landlords to make it easier to receive a permit to perform construction.</p> <p>According to a <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/23/nyregion/housing-rights-initiative-aaron-carr-nyc-kushner.html">Housing Rights Initiative report</a>, released late September, more than 10,000 building permits filed over the last two years contained incorrect information about rent-regulated tenants in the relevant buildings. “Just as scandalous as the number of falsified permits is the failure of enforcement by the Department of Buildings,” City Council Member Ritchie Torres told the New York Times. This figure, the DOB noted in the story, represented just 3 percent of the permits the departments had approved.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>In this particular case, Danenberg’s lawyers, according to DOB documents, said that this was the fault of an error by an architect. But while an architect expediter is allowed to fill out the relevant PW1 form, the landlord is responsible for ensuring the veracity of section 26 of the form, which indicates whether or not the building is occupied and its rent-stabilization status.</p> <p>On July 3, the tenants of 431 Bleecker began an HP proceeding — a process used to force landlords to correct building violations and make necessary repairs — alleging harassment by the landlord and asking for repairs to be conducted properly. Also on July 3, Burnett-Loucas was served with a holdover, which was dismissed by the judge weeks later without prejudice. This was followed by the landlord’s team on July 9 filing a nonpayment against the tenants in four of the five occupied apartments. (It’s unclear why a tenant of one apartment, 4L, was not served with a nonpayment, as all tenants participated in the rent strike.)</p> <p>On August 1, the two tenants of color and their legal team filed a discrimination case with the city’s Human Rights Commission. They alleged that Burnett-Loucas and Corchado, the two non-white tenants in the building, were subjected to discrimination when the building manager, Cassara, offered the $100 compensation to all tenants but them.</p> <p>The city-state Tenant Harassment Prevention Task Force made its second visit to the building on August 22, when city workers inspecting the building found that while there were no construction-related violations, the gas meter room was illegally being used as a storage area and that there were defective outlets in one of the apartments — a complaint Corchado voiced during her interview with Gotham Gazette.</p> <p>On September 13, the landlord’s LLC Zachmaxie filed a $25,000 court summons against Hunter and her husband for allegedly causing that amount of damage to a kitchen cabinet by painting it a glossy white and removing the wall cabinet doors, for aesthetic purposes.</p> <p>Asked for comment, a lawyer for Danenberg, Antonio Pasquariello, said in an email the questions reflected a lack of understanding of what transpired. “[I]t does not appear you have diligently researched this situation,” he said.</p> <p>He went on to say the tenants had obstructed repairs in the building and that the landlord had acted swiftly to mend the unforeseen problems in the building.</p> <p>“The Supreme Court filings thoroughly detail all the events and include documentation and communications between the parties which corroborate all the owners claims and efforts,” he said, though he did not specify what Gotham Gazette got wrong in its questions. “These documents are publicly available and illustrate how a small number of occupants have unfortunately elected to exploit and capitalize on an unanticipated emergency by actively preventing owner from making repairs.”</p> <p>“Further,” he continued, “If you visit the nyc dob website you will see that, despite tenants attempts to thwart owners efforts, nearly all violations were resolved within two months of receiving notice thereof, a commendable accomplishment.”</p> <p>Asked about the the $100 being offered to the white tenants but not the black and Latina tenants, he said, “There is no need for further elaboration since you can view the actual email exchanges between the parties first hand.”</p> <p>After a follow-up request for comment days later, he responded, “mr and mrs loucas were never named tenants on a lease, it appears they took possession either by an unauthorized sublease or assignment of tenancy,” though he did not explain why that would disqualify Burnett-Loucas from compensation that the other tenants were awarded nor why Corchado, who is named on the lease, was not offered money.</p> <p><strong>Government Response Disappoints</strong><br />In addition to the landlord, tenants say they have been disappointed in HPD’s response to the situation, or lack thereof. Hunter wondered why HPD didn’t have more power itself to sanction the landlord and clear violations. Hunter believes the landlord wanted HPD violations to remain open as he argues tenants were being uncooperative, all in an effort to make their lives difficult, and, some tenants suspect, to get them out of the building.</p> <p>“[T]hey [were] finally clearing the violations. The building manager came in and was arguing to the HPD inspector why the violations should stay open,” she said in October. “In order to fix what is over 100 violations, they’ve demanded extraordinary measures be taken by tenants in order to provide access, because it’s basically a game of how much inconvenience can you cause people to do relatively local work,” Hunter said. “They interpret HPD violations in the broadest possible sense to demand painting, or in some cases repainting, every room in the apartment.”</p> <p>“It felt like this nightmare where we actually were begging for months ‘Please bring in HPD to clear these violations,” she recalled. “As tenants, we can’t have them cleared. So HPD inspectors would come in and check in on other problems, and we’d say ‘Can you look at this. This is fine, right? Can you please lift this, so that they can’t keep claiming that we are denying them the right to fix problems.’ And they’re like ‘Oh, I can’t do that.”</p> <p>A spokesperson for HPD, Juliet Pierre-Antoine, said in a statement that the department “has been aggressive in investigating and taking action as part of the <a href="https://www1.nyc.gov/site/hpd/renters/thpt.page">Tenant Harassment Protection Task Force</a> when allegation[s] of tenant harassment are reported, and will be even more proactive with the Tenant Anti-Harassment Unit.”</p> <p>The Tenant Anti-Harassment Unit was announced in July by Mayor Bill de Blasio, and tasked with litigating against landlords and owners when warranted. Previously, HPD could only inspect 200 buildings annually, and will with the new unit be able to inspect 1,500 buildings per year, according to HPD.</p> <p>“HPD will remain engaged at this property to ensure owner compliance with housing maintenance codes, rules, and regulations,” Pierre-Antoine said. “As part of the THPT, HPD has conducted inspections at this property and based on recent inspections the number of violations has been considerably reduced. Both the tenants and HPD have been active in Housing Court seeking the correction of conditions.”&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p><strong>Pushing Tenants Out</strong><br />Corchado, who was born in Puerto Rico-born and has lived in the building since 1980, says in recent years property management has made attempts at luring her out of the building, presumably with the aim of taking the unit off of rent-stabilization. Corchado said in an interview in her ground floor apartment that she has been offered a buyout of $20,000 three or four times.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>“She came and she said, ‘Ermelinda, are you willing to negotiate again?’ Corchado recalled of an interaction between her and Angela Jones, an office manager at Grand Management. “I said, ‘I don’t want to move. I can’t afford to move.’”</p> <p>Along with the pressure of buyout offers, the landlord has made her life unpleasant in other more significant ways, Corchado said. Danenberg, for example, in October threw her husband’s new wheelchair in the garbage, Corchado said.</p> <p>“Two days ago, the landlord came. When I looked out the window, he had my husband’s wheelchair, which is brand new, in the garbage,” said Corchado. “I had to go outside and drag it back inside. It was in the hallway, because I didn’t have space, [and] he said ‘Anything in the halway is considered garbage.’”</p> <p>Asked for comment, Pasquariello, the landlord’s lawyer, said by email that he was “not aware of any personal property being thrown away, specifically a wheel chair, but we will investigate.”</p> <p>Asked for comment about the incident days later, he replied, “by ‘thrown in the garbage’ do you mean it was removed from the hallway and placed outside?”</p> <p>“I assume you are aware that storing items in the hallway is a violation,” he added.</p> <p>Corchado, who has lived in the building for about 38 years, says she has noticed harassment and poor conditions took hold when Danenberg’s LLC took control of the building.</p> <p>“It used to be an Asian landlord, then when they sold the building to ZackMaxie,” she said, referring to the LLC that in 2010 took control of the building after it was transferred from 431 Bleecker St LLC, of which Danenberg was listed as a member, after the latter entity bought the building in 2007. “That’s when a lot of problems started happening.”</p> <p>Corchado, who takes care of her son and frequently babysits for her grandchild, said she was hardly the only longtime resident that was encouraged in not-so-subtle fashion to leave the building.</p> <p>“The old tenants that left were being harassed,” she said. “They didn’t want to fix nothing for them. They used to tell them ‘If you don’t like being here, you could leave.’”</p> <p>“Three or four years ago, the ones that used to live here before they bought the building, they were being harassed,” Corchado recalled. &nbsp;“There was a Haitian family upstairs that was harassed. They had water coming through their wall. Four couples already that moved out, because they were told they were going to pay this rent and then they came and they told them [to pay] another $600, $800 for the heating system, the water and garbage removal. They told them they can’t afford that.”</p> <p>The building, which currently has just one rent-stabilized tenant, has in recent years lost a number of rent-stabilized units. Corchado, who lives in unit 1L, pays roughly $600 per month in rent. The other tenants pay $1,800-1,900 monthly. The other units were taken out of rent-stabilization because of the “substantial rehabilitation” that, according to the landlord, allowed them to increase the rents and hit the threshold for stabilization, thus removing them from that status. The rules around what rent increases are allowed and how often, how landlords account for improvements they make to apartments, and the rent thresholds at which units can be removed from stabilization are all aspects of the state rent regulations.</p> <p>Apartment 3L, for example, was rent-stabilized with the tenant, who lived in the apartment from 1987 through 2009, paying just over $300 per month, according to state DHCR records. In 2010, the unit underwent “substantial rehabilitation,” according to those records, and by 2012, the unit was no longer rent-regulated. It’s unclear if the tenant remained in the unit during or after this post-2009 period.</p> <p>For roughly 26 years, Corchado lived in apartment 3R, which was rent-stabilized until 2006, when she paid $385 per month that year. Like in the other apartment on the floor, it underwent a “substantial rehabilitation” from 2009-2010, according to DHCR records. In 1984, Corchado paid $238.61 per month.</p> <p>Apartment 4L’s rent in 1984 was $197.50 per month. The rent rose over the years, but remained under rent stabilization until 2015. The rent rose rapidly from 2013-2014, from $674 to $1,650 — a free-market rent. Unlike the other units, no substantial rehabilitation occurred, according to DHCR records, though according to DOB, city records indicate permits for renovations were filed for that unit. In 2015, 4L was no longer subject to rent regulation, with the monthly rent at $1,850 for the unit.&nbsp; &nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p><strong>The Larger Picture</strong><br />431 Bleecker is just one of many buildings that have contributed to the drop in the city’s rent-regulated units. Much of this came as a result of Albany’s loosening of the rent laws in the 1990s. Specifically, the state legislature in 1997 scaled back rent regulations, allowing landlords to raise rents by 20 percent when a unit becomes vacant, and, when a unit becomes vacant with a rent of over $2,000 per month, now $2,733, the unit is not subject to any rent regulation.</p> <p>Since 1993, New York City has lost over 152,000 rent-regulated apartments due to high-rent vacancy deregulation as of May 2017, <a href="https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/rentguidelinesboard/pdf/changes17.pdf">according to the Rent Guidelines Board</a>. More recently, Brooklyn as the second only to Manhattan on loss of rent-regulated units. Between 2007 and 2014, Brooklyn lost 41,500 rent-regulated units, according to an Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development <a href="https://www.dnainfo.com/new-york/20160922/east-harlem/map-where-affordable-housing-is-most-threatened-nyc/">report</a>.</p> <p>This phenomenon has not gone unnoticed in Albany. Formed in 2012 to “act as a proactive law enforcement office” in the DHCR, the state-controlled Tenant Protection Unit (TPU) began investigating improperly deregulated apartments via HCR’s Office of Rent Administration (ORA) registration data. In April 2016, the governor’s office announced <a href="https://www.governor.ny.gov/news/governor-cuomo-highlights-success-tenant-protection-unit">in a press release</a> the unit had identified 50,000 such units, recouping about $2.25 million in rent since the TPU’s inception. According to HCR, the unit has reregistered 70,000 improperly deregulated units since its inception and recovered more than $4.5 million in overcharged rent.</p> <p>Still, the state’s efforts have of course not stopped the loss of rent-regulated units in the city, which becomes particularly problematic in increasingly high-cost area like Bushwick.</p> <p>Indeed, Brooklyn has been home to some of the most extreme gentrification in the country in recent years, and Bushwick has been atop the list of gentrifying neighborhoods in the borough. A 2016 Furman Center <a href="http://furmancenter.org/files/sotc/Part_1_Gentrification_SOCin2015_9JUNE2016.pdf">study</a> showed that from 2000 to 2014 average rent increased by 44.5 percent in Bushwick. Meanwhile, average income of residents rose by 16.4 percent, the share of non-family households increased by 24.9 percent and the adult population with college degrees increased by nearly 20 percent &nbsp;— telltale signs of gentrification. In turn, many black and Hispanic New Yorkers have left or have been pushed out of Bushwick.</p> <p>“That neighborhood is absolutely ground zero for speculation, harassment and displacement in the city,” said Benjamin Dulchin, executive director of ANHD.</p> <p>“It has among the highest concentration of what we think are displacement risks,” he added, referring to an <a href="https://anhd.org/blog/introducing-displacement-alert-map-20">ANHD report</a> on displacement risk in the city.</p> <p>In addition to Bushwick, Dulchin says this phenomenon plays itself out in “low-income neighborhoods of color that are within relatively easy commuting distance from the business centers that for a whole bunch of reasons are subject to gentrification pressures, and where the current residents that are there have relatively little economic and social capital and can’t push back against displacement.” Neighborhoods such as Williamsburg, Crown Heights, Bed Stuy, Astoria, and East Harlem and more have in recent years also followed a similar pattern.</p> <p>In tandem with more well-off newcomers moving into traditionally lower-income areas, one central way gentrification is spawned is by landlords forcing lower-income longtime residents, who are disproportionately black and Latino, from buildings, in many cases from rent-stabilized or rent-controlled apartments, in order to receive higher rents.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>Kevin Worthington, a law student who works with BKA on the 431 Bleecker case, said the story is not atypical in the city’s areas home to an influx of newcomers.</p> <p>“I think it’s very emblematic of speculative investments in gentrifying neighborhoods,” he said. “Traditionally black and brown communities that were plagued with the systems of segregation, lack of investment, city neglect, and all of the sudden there’s a resurgence of real estate interests, which often attract greedy investors who are looking to flip properties and make profits at the expense of mostly black and brown families who have been there the longest.”&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>However, Worthington said landlords do not always throw the kitchen sink at tenants, as he argued was he case with 431 Bleecker. “Usually, you see those strategies implemented, but not all at the same time,” he said, pointing holdover proceedings, eviction proceedings, and offering a buyout to a tenant as the unusual quantity of ways the landlord’s made life difficult for his tenants.</p> <p>City Council Member Rafael Espinal, who represents parts of Bushwick, including 431 Bleecker, told Gotham Gazette the conditions and challenges the tenants in the building have faced are common in his district, particularly the attempts to lure rent-stabilized tenants out of their units.</p> <p>“It's terrible that there are landlords out there preying on vulnerable tenants who depend on these apartments to be able to care for themselves and for their families,” he said. “It’s no secret that rents are rising all throughout Brooklyn, but that doesn’t give landlords a reason to harass and intimidate the tenants that they currently have in their buildings.”</p> <p>In Bushwick, Espinal says, it is unfortunately all too common for landlords that buy buildings and “pull out all the stops to harass tenants out of their rent-regulated apartment” with the aim of deregulating it, and tenants who live in rent-regulated apartments are encouraged to leave so “new owners can rehab the apartments, and make them into more luxury units.”</p> <p>To prevent against these practices, elected officials in the city have moved to put in place local tenant protection measures.</p> <p>Rampant use of construction as harassment — a practice wherein a landlords employs repairs and other work as a means to inconvenience tenants and provoke them to leave — has sparked outcry from tenant rights advocates and prompted legislation aimed at preventing the practice. Specifically, the <a href="https://ny.curbed.com/2017/11/30/16720158/tenant-harassment-landlord-city-council-bill">“Certificate of No Harassment”</a> pilot program, an initiative spearheaded by Brooklyn City Council Member Brad Lander that requires landlords to obtain a certification that shows they have not harassed their tenants in order to be granted construction permits, passed the Council in the fall and recently began implementation in 11 neighborhoods, including Bushwick.</p> <p>The “Right to Counsel” legislation, cosponsored by Council Members members Vanessa Gibson and Mark Levine, which allows low-income tenants facing eviction access to city-funded legal defense in housing court, passed in summer 2017. The bills came amid a larger city push to reduce evictions that in part has paved the way for a 24 percent drop in evictions in the city compared to 2014, as 180,000 New Yorkers benefitted from the expansion since that year, according to the city. In June, Gibson, Levine and a coalition of advocates announced an expansion of the program that gives access to legal defense to those who make slightly higher incomes than the first iteration of the bill.</p> <p>Additionally, HPD in October <a href="https://therealdeal.com/2018/10/30/city-releases-its-first-predatory-landlord-watch-list/">rolled out </a>its “Speculation Watch List,” an account of properties the city deems are at risk of having tenants harassed in them. On the list are rent-regulated multifamily properties sold that have capitalization rates — the expected rate of return on a property based on the revenue its projected to produce &nbsp;— below their respective borough’s median.</p> <p>Brooklyn City Council Member Antonio Reynoso, who represents heavily gentrified and gentrifying neighborhoods including parts of Bushwick and Williamsburg, has helped lead a community-devised rezoning of some of Bushwick, which mostly entails a downzoning of the neighborhood that stakeholders <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7955-hoping-to-dictate-city-rezoning-and-stem-gentrification-locals-put-forth-bushwick-community-plan">hope will help curb development</a> and the floodgates of gentrification and displacement.</p> <p>Ultimately, despite city-led tenant protection efforts, the front lines of the rent regulation battles are in Albany, experts and city officials told Gotham Gazette.</p> <p>“In the City Council, we’ve done everything that we can do,” said Espinal, the Brooklyn Council member. “We’ve increased the budget in getting tenants legal assistance, we’ve passed laws that ensure that any landlord that’s harassing their tenants will not have the ability to construct new buildings. So I think that at the end of the day, we have to look at our state leaders and hope that when rent regs come up for a vote, that we’re not just extending the current protections, but we’re looking to strengthen them to make sure that all New Yorkers are protected.”</p> <p>Levine, the Upper Manhattan Council member who spearheaded the right to counsel, said similarly.</p> <p>"The root of all this evil is vacancy decontrol, which creates these perverse incentives to get tenants out,” he said of the law that allows landlords to hike rents when a unit becomes vacant.</p> <p>“They’re all great,” Cea Weaver, policy director for left-wing activist group New York Communities for Change, said of city-level tenant protection efforts. But, she explained, “they’re all attempts to treat the symptoms of a weak rent regulation system.”</p> <p>The current rent laws, Weaver said, contain loopholes that are “so wide that a truck can drive through it, part of a structure that “encourages and rewards” driving tenants out.</p> <p>“If you really want to stop this,” she said of tenant harassment and rampant displacement, “we need to strengthen rent laws in Albany.”</p> <p>Another shortcoming in the forces that govern rent in the state, according to Weaver, is that DHCR doesn’t verify that the necessary repairs have in fact have been made and mostly takes the landlord’s word for it, allowing landlords to raise the rent.</p> <p>“They just rubber stamp landlords’ applications,” Weaver said.</p> <p>Indeed, DHCR does not vouch for the veracity of rent history documents. “DHCR does not attest to the truthfulness of the owner’s statements or the legality of the rents reported in this document,” reads an “advisory note” on rent history papers.</p> <p>ANHD’s Dulchin also commended city-level efforts, and like Weaver said the extent to which the city can improve matters on this front is limited, saying the de Blasio administration “has done a lot of new and creative things” to help stabilize tenants who are at risk of being pushed out.</p> <p>“The Certificate of No Harassment legislation is an important one coming online,” he said just ahead of the program’s official launch. “There are a bunch of pretty important, and worthwhile things that this administration has done, but the real action is in Albany.”</p> <p>For his part, the mayor agrees bolstering the state’s rent laws are central to better housing policy and are more impactful than other city-level efforts on the front. “It's the single biggest thing we can do to increase affordability,” de Blasio said Monday during his weekly NY1 appearance.</p> <p>But according to Aaron Carr, founder of Housing Rights Initiative, while the City Council has done a good job on bolstering pro-tenant legislation, the mayor made a mistake in pursuing his affordable housing plan to build and preserve 300,000 below-market-rate units without first ensuring with greater intensity that existing rent-regulated units are preserved through stronger enforcement of the laws on the books.</p> <p>“I think that the mayor made a catastrophic error in failing to overhaul our enforcement system prior to launching his $83 billion affordable housing plan,” he said in a phone interview, “because for every unit that's created through that plan, [a unit] is being removed by landlords like Lucy's.” &nbsp;</p> <p>In the absence of “proactive and effective” enforcement of existing laws, the city is forced to a situation in which it is “pursuing affordable housing on a sinking ship," Carr said.</p> <p>Carr went on to say that, though it’s ultimately Governor Andrew Cuomo’s responsibility to reform rent regulations, the city has come up short in playing the role of the “field medic.”</p> <p>“They’re supposed to be stopping the bleeding while Albany gets their stuff together,” he said.&nbsp; &nbsp;</p> <p>In a statement, a spokesperson for the mayor, Jane Meyer, said tenant protection is “a top priority for this Administration.”</p> <p>“We have doubled down on our efforts to keep bad actors in check, and continue to develop new tools to protect New Yorkers,” she said. “The Tenant Anti-Harassment Unit, Speculation Watch List, Certification of No Harassment program, and a new Real Time Enforcement Unit at DOB are just some of the latest examples of our efforts.”</p> <p>‘What I want to come out of this is a change’</p> <p>Moving forward, Hunter says that in the near term, she would like the landlord to stop harassing the tenants and do his job properly by conducting basic, proper upkeep of the property.</p> <p>“Medium term,” she said, “I would like our apartments rent-stabilized again.”</p> <p>In addition to the practices at 431 Bleecker, through canvassing other properties Danenberg owns, she said the tenants of his other residential buildings face “dire conditions.”</p> <p>“I would like see an attorney general investigation triggered,” Hunter added, “because I think this landlord is engaging in criminal activity that goes beyond this building.”</p> <p>Carr said that the landlord’s “mob-like behavior” should trigger either a district attorney or attorney general investigation. It does just so happen that the most recent author of the city’s “Worst Landlords List,” Public Advocate Letitia James, is currently the Attorney General-elect, having won the office earlier this month while promising to crack down on bad landlords.</p> <p>Burnett-Loucas said she hopes her efforts will play a part in taking a stand against bad-acting landlords. She made the case that it's incumbent on privileged newcomers with to neighborhoods to pay heed to what longtime residents face, and to work to hold unscrupulous landlords to account rather than jumping ship, which often isn’t a legitimate option for those at risk of being displaced.&nbsp; &nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>“I could have moved. I could have taken the easy road and been like, ‘You know what, this is way too much of a headache. I don’t want to deal with that,’” she said. “And that’s what most people do in these situations.”</p> <p>“What I want to come out of this is a change, so that these white-collar criminals are actually held accountable for these disgusting practices, so that people who have been living in these communities for years, like Ermelinda, have a home and aren’t pushed out,” she added, referring to the last-remaining rent-stabilized tenant in the building. “Ermelinda could be your grandmother. Would you want your grandmother being harassed by some guy who has all the power and privilege, who owns all these buildings, who doesn’t give a s***?”</p> <p> </p>