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/rent-regulations 2017-12-17T19:42:14+00:00 Webmaster webmaster@gothamgazette.com The IDC Leaves Tenants Out in the Cold 2017-12-12T05:00:00+00:00 2017-12-12T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7366:the-idc-leaves-tenants-out-in-the-cold Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/idc-unions-presser-crop2.jpg" alt="idc unions presser crop2" width="600" height="311" /></p> <p>IDC members (photo: @IDC4NY)</p> <hr /> <p>For years, dysfunction and real estate power brokers have prevented Albany from strengthening tenant protections in New York, and the result of these failures has been devastating for our neighborhoods: we continue to suffer from record homelessness and increasing displacement across the state.</p> <p>The Independent Democratic Conference — a group of eight breakaway state senators elected as Democrats — has been a leading force of obstruction since 2011, partnering with Senate Republicans to shut out tenant voices in policy-making.</p> <p>Recently, things began to look like they were changing in the Senate for the first time in years. The mainline Democrats and the IDC took up serious discussion about how to unify the conference. During the course of negotiations, the IDC claimed that its focus is “policies, not politics,” and outlined a series of key priorities for the conference.</p> <p>We were extremely disappointed to learn that strengthening tenant protections was not one of them — especially since several members of the conference have both privately and publicly stated to us that this would be their top issue in 2018.</p> <p>We are tenants and we are constituents of three IDC members: Senators Marisol Alcantara, Jose Peralta, and Jesse Hamilton. Joined together, these State Senators have the highest concentration of rent-regulated units in New York City.</p> <p>We are fighting every day to be able to stay in our homes. Our neighborhoods are facing gentrification, and our landlords know loopholes in the rent laws mean they can raise our rents to market rate as soon as we leave. As a result, we face harassment, reduced services, and deplorable living conditions – all in an attempt to get us out of our homes. We have called on our state-level elected leaders to prioritize strengthening the rent laws through closing two major loopholes: the 20% eviction bonus and preferential rent. Our communities are experiencing increased rents, speculative landlords, and mass gentrification.</p> <p>Over and over, Senators Alcantara, Hamilton, and Peralta told us that the IDC is the best vehicle to meet so-called progressive priorities. After serious pressure, they had committed to prioritizing these issues for the overwhelming number of tenants who live in their districts.</p> <p>But once it came time to deliver, these senators and the IDC once again proved that they are the conference of the real estate industry. This is devastating for the tenants who are suffering in their districts daily because of laws that favor landlords.</p> <p>In Peralta’s district, families at LeFrak City are sacrificing their savings, pulling their kids out of after-school programs, getting second jobs, and moving into smaller cramped apartments just to make ends meet. Many of us are seeing large rent hikes. At the end of every month, moving trucks haul the belongings of yet another family that has lost its apartment due to the preferential rent scam that Senator Peralta could fix next year.</p> <p>In Brooklyn, just a few weeks ago, Senator Hamilton joined the Flatbush Tenants Coalition to tell the story of an 85-year-old grandmother recently evicted and now forced to live with friends on their couches, with her belongings in storage. Housing court in Brooklyn often has lines stretched around the block because the state ludicrously rewards landlords for evictions by allowing management to collect a 20% increase in rent — an eviction bonus.</p> <p>The eviction bonus is the largest contributor to rent increases in rent-stabilized apartments.&nbsp;It doesn’t matter if the tenant moved out willingly or because the landlord refused to provide basic services to keep the apartment livable. The landlord can take that 20% increase, even if it raises the rent above market value.</p> <p>Preferential rent is a bait-and-switch scam to get tenants out and collect the 20% eviction bonus. When a tenant first moves into an apartment, the landlord offers them a “discounted” rent. But when the lease is up, tenants can see increases of hundreds of dollars on their monthly rent.</p> <p>This is simply a tactic used to get the eviction bonus and keep rents skyrocketing.</p> <p>Preferential rents are causing tenants in Alcantara’s district to face potential increases of $1,000 or more when their lease expires, causing tenants to move and disrupting communities.</p> <p>To be very clear, this can be changed through legislation in Albany.</p> <p>Senators Alcantara, Hamilton, and Peralta could help change this next year. They have spent the past years and months promising tenants in their districts that this is a top priority. Alcantara and Peralta went as far as publishing their promises in an <a href="https://eldiariony.com/2017/09/26/nuestra-principal-prioridad-proteger-a-los-inquilinos/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">op-ed</a>. But we have since seen that like so many things with IDC senators, these promises ring hollow, as the IDC did not list rent regulations as a priority area in its negotiations to realign with mainline Democrats.</p> <p>There are only a few months left for the members of the IDC to deliver for tenants. If they fail to do so, we will remember in September.</p> <p>***<br />Aisha Gomez is a resident of LeFrak City in Senator Jose Peralta’s district in Queens<br />Sherryann Bain is a resident of Flatbush in Senator Jesse Hamilton’s district in Brooklyn<br />Lauren Nye is a resident of Washington Heights in Senator Marisol Alcantara’s district in Manhattan</p> <p>

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<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/idc-unions-presser-crop2.jpg" alt="idc unions presser crop2" width="600" height="311" /></p> <p>IDC members (photo: @IDC4NY)</p> <hr /> <p>For years, dysfunction and real estate power brokers have prevented Albany from strengthening tenant protections in New York, and the result of these failures has been devastating for our neighborhoods: we continue to suffer from record homelessness and increasing displacement across the state.</p> <p>The Independent Democratic Conference — a group of eight breakaway state senators elected as Democrats — has been a leading force of obstruction since 2011, partnering with Senate Republicans to shut out tenant voices in policy-making.</p> <p>Recently, things began to look like they were changing in the Senate for the first time in years. The mainline Democrats and the IDC took up serious discussion about how to unify the conference. During the course of negotiations, the IDC claimed that its focus is “policies, not politics,” and outlined a series of key priorities for the conference.</p> <p>We were extremely disappointed to learn that strengthening tenant protections was not one of them — especially since several members of the conference have both privately and publicly stated to us that this would be their top issue in 2018.</p> <p>We are tenants and we are constituents of three IDC members: Senators Marisol Alcantara, Jose Peralta, and Jesse Hamilton. Joined together, these State Senators have the highest concentration of rent-regulated units in New York City.</p> <p>We are fighting every day to be able to stay in our homes. Our neighborhoods are facing gentrification, and our landlords know loopholes in the rent laws mean they can raise our rents to market rate as soon as we leave. As a result, we face harassment, reduced services, and deplorable living conditions – all in an attempt to get us out of our homes. We have called on our state-level elected leaders to prioritize strengthening the rent laws through closing two major loopholes: the 20% eviction bonus and preferential rent. Our communities are experiencing increased rents, speculative landlords, and mass gentrification.</p> <p>Over and over, Senators Alcantara, Hamilton, and Peralta told us that the IDC is the best vehicle to meet so-called progressive priorities. After serious pressure, they had committed to prioritizing these issues for the overwhelming number of tenants who live in their districts.</p> <p>But once it came time to deliver, these senators and the IDC once again proved that they are the conference of the real estate industry. This is devastating for the tenants who are suffering in their districts daily because of laws that favor landlords.</p> <p>In Peralta’s district, families at LeFrak City are sacrificing their savings, pulling their kids out of after-school programs, getting second jobs, and moving into smaller cramped apartments just to make ends meet. Many of us are seeing large rent hikes. At the end of every month, moving trucks haul the belongings of yet another family that has lost its apartment due to the preferential rent scam that Senator Peralta could fix next year.</p> <p>In Brooklyn, just a few weeks ago, Senator Hamilton joined the Flatbush Tenants Coalition to tell the story of an 85-year-old grandmother recently evicted and now forced to live with friends on their couches, with her belongings in storage. Housing court in Brooklyn often has lines stretched around the block because the state ludicrously rewards landlords for evictions by allowing management to collect a 20% increase in rent — an eviction bonus.</p> <p>The eviction bonus is the largest contributor to rent increases in rent-stabilized apartments.&nbsp;It doesn’t matter if the tenant moved out willingly or because the landlord refused to provide basic services to keep the apartment livable. The landlord can take that 20% increase, even if it raises the rent above market value.</p> <p>Preferential rent is a bait-and-switch scam to get tenants out and collect the 20% eviction bonus. When a tenant first moves into an apartment, the landlord offers them a “discounted” rent. But when the lease is up, tenants can see increases of hundreds of dollars on their monthly rent.</p> <p>This is simply a tactic used to get the eviction bonus and keep rents skyrocketing.</p> <p>Preferential rents are causing tenants in Alcantara’s district to face potential increases of $1,000 or more when their lease expires, causing tenants to move and disrupting communities.</p> <p>To be very clear, this can be changed through legislation in Albany.</p> <p>Senators Alcantara, Hamilton, and Peralta could help change this next year. They have spent the past years and months promising tenants in their districts that this is a top priority. Alcantara and Peralta went as far as publishing their promises in an <a href="https://eldiariony.com/2017/09/26/nuestra-principal-prioridad-proteger-a-los-inquilinos/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">op-ed</a>. But we have since seen that like so many things with IDC senators, these promises ring hollow, as the IDC did not list rent regulations as a priority area in its negotiations to realign with mainline Democrats.</p> <p>There are only a few months left for the members of the IDC to deliver for tenants. If they fail to do so, we will remember in September.</p> <p>***<br />Aisha Gomez is a resident of LeFrak City in Senator Jose Peralta’s district in Queens<br />Sherryann Bain is a resident of Flatbush in Senator Jesse Hamilton’s district in Brooklyn<br />Lauren Nye is a resident of Washington Heights in Senator Marisol Alcantara’s district in Manhattan</p> <p>

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Why Tenants Should Vote Against a Constitutional Convention 2017-11-05T04:00:00+00:00 2017-11-05T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7298:why-tenants-should-vote-against-a-constitutional-convention Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/reset_1/32233501626_7398eb9b93_z.jpg" alt="seniors affordable housing" width="600" height="401" /></p> <p>(photo via The Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Every 20 years, the New York State Constitution mandates a statewide vote on whether to convene a convention to consider amending it. On Tuesday, Election Day, New Yorkers will vote “yes” or “no.” This measure, question one of three on the back of the ballot, is more important than anything on the front.</p> <p>Tenants Political Action Committee debated this question at length, and despite many arguments in favor, we voted unanimously to oppose a “con con” this time around.</p> <p>This was not a decision we took lightly. With a state government that is a model of dysfunction and gridlock, it is tempting to try an end-run around the governor and state Legislature to attempt necessary reforms they have refused to enact despite the stunning number of politicians who have been convicted of corruption and gone to prison.</p> <p>Many New Yorkers of good will believe that a constitutional convention could force such reforms into being, and indeed that is a theoretical outcome. But the risk of a negative result for tenants and other constituencies that do not have access to piles of cash is very real.</p> <p>One negative is that delegates are chosen based on the 63 state Senate districts. Because Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo allowed the state Senate Republicans to draw hyper-partisan district lines to preserve their shrinking majority, this could result in Republican delegates to a convention having a majority.</p> <p>There is every reason to believe that the very politicians we now criticize for refusing to enact progressive reforms would control the convention. Current and former elected officials, and even lobbyists, are eligible to run, and legislators could use their superior name recognition and campaign funds to outgun grassroots candidates. Anyone who understands how Albany really works sees the probable composition of a convention as inclined to do the bidding of special interests.</p> <p>Beyond the potential to water down critical protections for poor people, workers, civil rights, and wilderness, there is one possible “reform” of special importance to tenants: allowing special interests to place legislation directly on the ballot by petition. Many states allow this already. New York does not.</p> <p>If such a referendum process was added to the state constitution, it is not hard to imagine the real estate lobby initiating a statewide referendum to terminate rent control laws, which only exist in New York City and the downstate suburbs. In fact, this is exactly how Massachusetts ended rent controls in 1994, passing a statewide referendum 52 to 48 percent. Only three cities in the eastern part of the state had rent control – Boston, Cambridge and Brookline – and the landlords’ multi-million-dollar media campaign in central and western Massachusetts made much of the fact that the mayor of Cambridge lived in a rent-controlled apartment.</p> <p>The analogy with New York is clear. New York City landlords would spend any amount to get rid of rent regulations via statewide ballot initiative. And if they failed the first time, they would keep trying.</p> <p>Some progressive groups take the position that this would be a good change in New York. They should consider the downside. Ballot initiatives are easier to mount by groups with superior resources, and easier for them to win for the same reason.</p> <p>We think there is a better way: in the last year, thousands of New Yorkers have become involved in organizations that work to raise political awareness and seek to hold politicians accountable, with a focus on swing districts and turncoat Democrats. The energy coming out of these efforts is inspiring. Let’s harness it to elect better legislators and change our laws at last.</p> <p>***<br />Michael McKee is treasurer of the Tenants Political Action Committee. On Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/tenantspacny" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@TenantsPACNY</a>.</p> <p>

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<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/reset_1/32233501626_7398eb9b93_z.jpg" alt="seniors affordable housing" width="600" height="401" /></p> <p>(photo via The Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Every 20 years, the New York State Constitution mandates a statewide vote on whether to convene a convention to consider amending it. On Tuesday, Election Day, New Yorkers will vote “yes” or “no.” This measure, question one of three on the back of the ballot, is more important than anything on the front.</p> <p>Tenants Political Action Committee debated this question at length, and despite many arguments in favor, we voted unanimously to oppose a “con con” this time around.</p> <p>This was not a decision we took lightly. With a state government that is a model of dysfunction and gridlock, it is tempting to try an end-run around the governor and state Legislature to attempt necessary reforms they have refused to enact despite the stunning number of politicians who have been convicted of corruption and gone to prison.</p> <p>Many New Yorkers of good will believe that a constitutional convention could force such reforms into being, and indeed that is a theoretical outcome. But the risk of a negative result for tenants and other constituencies that do not have access to piles of cash is very real.</p> <p>One negative is that delegates are chosen based on the 63 state Senate districts. Because Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo allowed the state Senate Republicans to draw hyper-partisan district lines to preserve their shrinking majority, this could result in Republican delegates to a convention having a majority.</p> <p>There is every reason to believe that the very politicians we now criticize for refusing to enact progressive reforms would control the convention. Current and former elected officials, and even lobbyists, are eligible to run, and legislators could use their superior name recognition and campaign funds to outgun grassroots candidates. Anyone who understands how Albany really works sees the probable composition of a convention as inclined to do the bidding of special interests.</p> <p>Beyond the potential to water down critical protections for poor people, workers, civil rights, and wilderness, there is one possible “reform” of special importance to tenants: allowing special interests to place legislation directly on the ballot by petition. Many states allow this already. New York does not.</p> <p>If such a referendum process was added to the state constitution, it is not hard to imagine the real estate lobby initiating a statewide referendum to terminate rent control laws, which only exist in New York City and the downstate suburbs. In fact, this is exactly how Massachusetts ended rent controls in 1994, passing a statewide referendum 52 to 48 percent. Only three cities in the eastern part of the state had rent control – Boston, Cambridge and Brookline – and the landlords’ multi-million-dollar media campaign in central and western Massachusetts made much of the fact that the mayor of Cambridge lived in a rent-controlled apartment.</p> <p>The analogy with New York is clear. New York City landlords would spend any amount to get rid of rent regulations via statewide ballot initiative. And if they failed the first time, they would keep trying.</p> <p>Some progressive groups take the position that this would be a good change in New York. They should consider the downside. Ballot initiatives are easier to mount by groups with superior resources, and easier for them to win for the same reason.</p> <p>We think there is a better way: in the last year, thousands of New Yorkers have become involved in organizations that work to raise political awareness and seek to hold politicians accountable, with a focus on swing districts and turncoat Democrats. The energy coming out of these efforts is inspiring. Let’s harness it to elect better legislators and change our laws at last.</p> <p>***<br />Michael McKee is treasurer of the Tenants Political Action Committee. On Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/tenantspacny" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@TenantsPACNY</a>.</p> <p>

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Wright Runs for Congress as Tenants Champion, to Mixed Reviews 2016-05-15T04:00:00+00:00 2016-05-15T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6335:wright-runs-for-congress-as-tenants-champion-to-mixed-reviews Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/wright_rangel.jpg" width="600" height="450" alt="wright rangel" /></p> <p>Keith Wright, Charles Rangel, and others (photo via Wright's campaign)</p> <hr /> <p>New York Assemblymember Keith Wright’s congressional campaign has flooded inboxes declaring him a “champion” for tenants. Many see it as an appropriate description for the housing committee chair - his campaign touts the support of “100 tenant leaders” and he has a long history of advocating for renters, starting in the 1980s as the head of the tenant association in Harlem’s Riverton Houses, where he still lives. Wright and his fellow tenants recently settled a lawsuit with their landlord for $2 million after alleging they were charged improper rent and other misdeeds.</p> <p>One of several campaign emails to supporters seeking donations based on Wright’s tenant advocacy reads: “Keith has been a voice for our neighborhoods for decades. His leadership has made sure that NYC protects and expands affordable housing. He pushes to stand up for tenants and hold NYCHA management accountable.”</p> <p>Wright is a leader in the crowded Democratic primary to replace retiring Rep. Charles Rangel, who has endorsed him, and he’s very much running on his housing record.</p> <p>There is another view of Wright held by some tenant advocates and legislators, though, who&nbsp;see him as being an outspoken advocate on housing issues who has failed to turn his bully pulpit and considerable power and influence in Albany into actual results.</p> <p>These critics maintain that Wright failed to buck former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Governor Andrew Cuomo and fight for drastic changes to the rent laws that would do away with what they see as incentives for landlords to increase rent and drive out rent-controlled tenants.</p> <p>In the 13th Congressional District largely made up of Harlem and Washington Heights, Wright is facing state Senator Adriano Espaillat; Clyde Williams, a former adviser to President Bill Clinton; Assemblymember Guillermo Linares; and former Assemblymember Adam Clayton Powell. Appearing the favored establishment candidate, Wright - along with Espaillat and Linares - has faced criticism from Williams and others for connections to Albany and its notorious corruption and dysfunction.</p> <p>Several tenant groups were excited when Wright took over the housing committee from disgraced Assemblymember Vito Lopez in 2013, but a number of them were quickly disillusioned, representatives say. They believe Wright has simply maintained the status quo and amassed power in anticipation for his run for Congress. They point to Wright’s fundraising records that show he’s taken significant donations from real estate interests and question his loyalty to tenant issues such as doing away with the process by which landlords can deregulate affordable units or ending the 421-a subsidy they call a giveaway to developers.</p> <p>“The problem with Keith is that he says all the right things but then follows orders, resulting in the ongoing destruction of our rent-regulated housing. And I am disturbed by the staggering amount of real estate money he has amassed for his congressional race,” said Michael McKee of Tenants PAC, which organizes around affordable housing issues and backs like-minded candidates. Tenants PAC does not endorse in national races.</p> <p>A 2014 study by the Community Service Society, an advocacy group for low-income New Yorkers, <a href="http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052702303393804579310832380848024" target="_blank">found</a> that the city lost 40 percent of apartments for low-income residents over the prior decade.</p> <p>Wright defended his record in an interview: “As chair of the housing committee we’ve had to work against a very conservative state Senate,” Wright said, referring to the Republican-controlled upper house of the New York Legislature. “Listen, no matter what you do you are not going to be able to please everyone. Sure you get folks who want me to hold up the budget and this that, but I’ve been through those days before and it didn't quite work. If I thought it would work I would do it again. You can’t please everyone.”</p> <p>As for his major wins, Wright counts his “greatest achievement” as a 2014 lawsuit he filed with his fellow tenants at Riverton Square accusing the landlords of illegally inflating rent, improperly evicting tenants, and overstating the value of the improvements made to apartments. In February the landlord, CWCapital and CompassRock, agreed to a $2 million settlement that will be paid in rent credits (they admitted no wrongdoing).</p> <p>Wright was also a key player in negotiations of the recent sale of Riverton to A&amp;E Real Estate. Part of the sale included an agreement that A&amp;E would repair homes and include 975 apartments, including Wright’s, in a 30-year affordability agreement.</p> <p>Two of Wright’s major wins didn’t come legislatively, but instead in actions he took to protect his own housing complex.</p> <p>Wright rejected the idea that contributions from real estate influenced his fight for stronger rent laws. “Ask him why he’s taken so much Wall Street money and D.C. money,” Wright said, apparently referencing his opponent Clyde Williams, who brought up donations Wright has taken from real estate interests in recent debates. “We’ve all taken real estate money. It has nothing to do with my commitment to the tenants of New York City. I think my record is plain on its face.”</p> <p>Filings with the State Board of Elections and Federal Elections Commission dating back to 2013 show that Wright has taken tens of thousands of dollars in donations from major real estate and construction interests and their subsidiaries. Real estate groups are known for donating to many state politicians in hopes of influencing policy.</p> <p>Major donations to Wright from real estate interests include $2,050 from the Real Estate Board PAC; $4,100 from JSignal LLC, which is connected to Cayuga Capital, a real estate management and development firm; $500 from John Banks, president of the Real Estate Board of NY; $2,700 from Eliot Spitzer, the former governor who now focuses on real estate; $5,000 from Empire PAC, which represents real estate interests; $2,500 from REBNY member Daniel Zucker; and a total of $4,200 over three contributions from Donald Capoccia, head of BFC Partners, a development firm that specializes in affordable housing.</p> <p>Wright’s first action as housing chair in 2013 was to introduce a package of housing bills that included a surprise: renewal of the lapsed J-51 program. The program is intended to provide tax breaks to landlords who make improvements to affordable housing, but tenant groups asserted it was abused by landlords. A study found half of the tax breaks went to owners of market-rate buildings.</p> <p>“I was named housing chair on a Friday and we had a very large bill that was somewhat controversial that had to be done on Monday," Wright told Gotham Gazette during an interview in February 2013. "I know folks in the tenant movement were upset, they wanted that bill to be used as leverage, but it was a bill for coops, condos, and lofts, and those type of people do live in New York City. We had to do this bill.”</p> <p>Last year, as rent regulations that govern affordable housing in the city and across the state came up for renewal, tenant groups were hoping Wright and newly sworn-in Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, a Bronx Democrat, would be able to win significant changes to the rent laws to do away with what they call incentives for landlords to take apartments off of the affordable housing rolls. Instead they say they got tweaks.</p> <p>The threshold for rent at which a vacant apartment can be deregulated was increased from $2,500 to $2,700. The deal also required landlords stretch out the period they increase tenants’ rent after making major capital improvements. Landlords were also limited in how much they can increase rent between tenants. The wins were seen as small, minimal in comparison to what Cuomo and the Assembly publicly pushed for. Wright said he was nevertheless proud of the changes that were made.</p> <p>Last year was a not a typical year - both legislative leaders Dean Skelos and Sheldon Silver were indicted during budget season (and later convicted). Rather than a traditional negotiation of the expiring rent laws and 421-a program that gives tax breaks to developers for including affordable housing in their projects, Cuomo allowed real estate and labor interests to negotiate 421-a renewal on their own, outside the Legislature.</p> <p>Tenant groups say 421-a is a “tax suck” that has been demonstrated to produce very few affordable units and been the subject to major abuse and fraud by developers. Investigations, like one <a href="https://www.propublica.org/article/nyc-landlords-flout-rent-limits-but-still-rake-in-lucrative-tax-breaks" target="_blank">by ProPublica</a>, have proven those claims to be true. Still, Mayor Bill de Blasio and others want to see a new, strengthened 421-a program enacted.</p> <p>Cuomo attributed giving real estate and labor control of negotiations to the sensitivity of legislators towards the Silver and Skelos scandals that included revelations about the political influence of Glenwood Management, a real estate company that was the state’s largest campaign donor.</p> <p>Labor and real estate failed to reach an agreement on renewing 421-a, so the program lapsed. Still, Cuomo and other stakeholders <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/6267-major-city-issues-at-play-in-politically-charged-post-budget-legislative-session" target="_blank">appear loathe to let it go</a>, to the dismay of some tenant groups.</p> <p>Results of the legislative negotiations on rent laws last year were hailed as “historic” by Cuomo, but tenant groups found it lacking. They say it basically cemented the status quo allowing landlords to steadily raise rents and move apartments off the affordable housing rolls.</p> <p>"We pretty much got nothing," said Delsenia Glover, director of Alliance for Tenant Power, said at a press conference in Albany in early April. "At the time Governor Cuomo said they were the 'strongest rent laws in history.' It's not true, we got nothing."</p> <p>Glover, who is from Harlem, does not blame Wright for the rent law negotiations. “Keith is extremely supportive,” Glover told Gotham Gazette in a recent interview. “He was one of our lead champions last year along with Speaker Heastie. He worked as hard as he could on the rent laws.”</p> <p>The focus of Alliance for Tenant Power’s April press conference was demanding that if Albany does decide to find a replacement for 421-a that they must also reopen negotiations on rent laws. Glover says lawmakers should end current rules that incentivize landlords to make apartments unaffordable.</p> <p>“Instead of discussing benefits for rich developers, all attention should be on fixing the major loopholes in the rent regulation system that houses 2.5 million tenants in approximately 1 million units with no cost whatsoever to the taxpayer,” Glover wrote in an April op-ed at Gotham Gazette.</p> <p>Glover and other tenant groups deride the idea of any replacement for 421-a. Wright attended the press conference and appeared to agree, despite the fact he introduced what many tenant advocates saw as a direct replacement. Wright proposed a program that would provide $100,000 to developers per affordable unit they build that would be funded by the state abandoned property fund.</p> <p>Wright said at the time that the bill was negotiated with the Real Estate Board of New York the NYS Association for Affordable Housing, and the Building &amp; Construction Trades Council. All three groups indicated <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/wright-proposes-replacement-expired-421-a-tax-break-article-1.2567341" target="_blank">to the Daily News</a> at the time that they didn’t actually support the plan.</p> <p>“I’m sorry the press picked it up as a replacement for 421-a,” Wright told Gotham Gazette, implying that his plan was not aimed to be such and that a lack of enthusiasm for it was the result of that mistaken characterization.</p> <p>Asked for her take on Wright’s plan, Glover demurred, saying, “You’d have to ask someone who was in the room.”</p> <p>Barika Williams, deputy director of the Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development (ANHD), praised Wright for bringing together disparate groups to discuss the creation of “a tool” to spur the creation of affordable housing. “It was a unique table that brought together different parts of the for-profit and nonprofit set. You saw a lot of people who don’t normally sit at the same table. We were looking at achieving the deepest affordability and trying to target resources to those buckets of the population that are desperately in need.”</p> <p>Williams said that in the end all of the groups may not have been on the same page because not all the groups involved were present for the entire process. “It was a long process that took commitment and being consistently involved for over two months.”</p> <p>Wright has been criticized by advocates and fellow legislators for not being properly versed in the bills he supports. He’s also been criticized for being too close to Governor Cuomo.</p> <p>Wright said he would love to see the rent laws reopened for negotiation this year.</p> <p>City &amp; State NY <a href="http://cityandstateny.com/articles/politics/new-york-city/tenant-rights-group-criticizes-wright%E2%80%99s-illegal-hotel-legislation.html#.VypnlIQrLGI" target="_blank">recently reported</a> that Tom Cayler, chair of the West Side Neighborhood Alliance’s Illegal Hotel Committee, was unhappy with a bill Wright carries that is technically designed to deal with illegal hotels.</p> <p>Wright’s bill would create a process by which permanent residents of certain apartment buildings could register to rent their apartments in the short term - similar to how Airbnb functions.</p> <p>Cayler said the bill would simply allow residents to rent their apartments as “illegal hotels,” rather than ending the practice. There is a good deal of pushback against Airbnb <a href="https://www.dnainfo.com/new-york/20151208/greenpoint/heres-how-landlords-are-striking-back-against-airbnb" target="_blank">in Manhattan</a>. The group met with Wright and were asked to send him a memo with their concerns. They say they never heard back.</p> <p>“It was really shocking to us that he didn’t actually seem to know much about the bill he had his name on,” Cayler told City &amp; State. “He was not well-informed about it. His chief of staff was the one who knew about this particular bill.”</p> <p>Wright’s spokesperson Emma Forbes told City &amp; State that the bill was designed to increase transparency and that the bill had yet to move because there wasn’t “consensus” from residents and stakeholders.</p> <p>Asked about Cayler’s criticism Wright told Gotham Gazette: “I thought he was somewhat misinformed.”</p> <p>Wright said his door is always open and he is willing to discuss legislation.</p> <p>WIlliams, of ANHD, countered the idea that Wright was ill informed about legislation. “I think from our experience Assemblymember Wright understands the complexity of housing and the complex mix of interests that are involved. With all of that in mind, his goal always seems to be thinking about deep affordability and how to help those folks in New York City who are struggling and who are the most underserved.”</p> <p>Asked if he expects legislation on illegal hotels to move this session, which ends in mid-June, Wright replied, “The bill is in my name in a committee I head and I control the bill and it hasn’t moved.” “So if it quacks like a duck...,” he added, implying there was little chance the bill would advance.</p> <p>Wright said he is proud of his record as a tenant advocate and that despite the overwhelming support he has received from the Democratic establishment, including words of support from former President Bill Clinton and formal endorsements from Gov. Cuomo, Speaker Heastie, and Rep. Rangel, he does not take it for granted that he will be leaving Albany for Washington. “We have a lot to do here,” Wright said, adding that should he be elected to Congress his main focus will be on changing the definition of area median income because of the way it impacts affordable housing in the city.</p> <p>“The reason I’m running is to change the definition of area median income and the way it is put forward with affordable housing,” said Wright. “The housing that is being built is called “affordable,” but it's not affordable to anyone I know or even me.” (Wright, who lives in rent-stabilized housing, has an Assembly salary of $79,500, not including the stipend he receives for heading the housing committee, and he has served for 24 years.)</p> <p>Citing the fact that the AMI used for New York City to determine rent thresholds takes into account Westchester and Rockland counties, greatly increasing the number, Wright said that reform would benefit city residents.</p> <p>“Changing the definition is what I want to do the first day I get to Congress, most definitely,” said Wright.</p> <p>New Yorkers are tired of seeing condos going for millions of dollars while they worry about paying the bills and staying in their neighborhood, Wright said.</p> <p>“The people of Harlem shed blood, sweat, and tears to make their neighborhood a safe place to live,” Wright said. “People are scared to death their children won't be able to afford to live in the neighborhood because it won’t be affordable.”</p> <p>

***
by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/wright_rangel.jpg" width="600" height="450" alt="wright rangel" /></p> <p>Keith Wright, Charles Rangel, and others (photo via Wright's campaign)</p> <hr /> <p>New York Assemblymember Keith Wright’s congressional campaign has flooded inboxes declaring him a “champion” for tenants. Many see it as an appropriate description for the housing committee chair - his campaign touts the support of “100 tenant leaders” and he has a long history of advocating for renters, starting in the 1980s as the head of the tenant association in Harlem’s Riverton Houses, where he still lives. Wright and his fellow tenants recently settled a lawsuit with their landlord for $2 million after alleging they were charged improper rent and other misdeeds.</p> <p>One of several campaign emails to supporters seeking donations based on Wright’s tenant advocacy reads: “Keith has been a voice for our neighborhoods for decades. His leadership has made sure that NYC protects and expands affordable housing. He pushes to stand up for tenants and hold NYCHA management accountable.”</p> <p>Wright is a leader in the crowded Democratic primary to replace retiring Rep. Charles Rangel, who has endorsed him, and he’s very much running on his housing record.</p> <p>There is another view of Wright held by some tenant advocates and legislators, though, who&nbsp;see him as being an outspoken advocate on housing issues who has failed to turn his bully pulpit and considerable power and influence in Albany into actual results.</p> <p>These critics maintain that Wright failed to buck former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Governor Andrew Cuomo and fight for drastic changes to the rent laws that would do away with what they see as incentives for landlords to increase rent and drive out rent-controlled tenants.</p> <p>In the 13th Congressional District largely made up of Harlem and Washington Heights, Wright is facing state Senator Adriano Espaillat; Clyde Williams, a former adviser to President Bill Clinton; Assemblymember Guillermo Linares; and former Assemblymember Adam Clayton Powell. Appearing the favored establishment candidate, Wright - along with Espaillat and Linares - has faced criticism from Williams and others for connections to Albany and its notorious corruption and dysfunction.</p> <p>Several tenant groups were excited when Wright took over the housing committee from disgraced Assemblymember Vito Lopez in 2013, but a number of them were quickly disillusioned, representatives say. They believe Wright has simply maintained the status quo and amassed power in anticipation for his run for Congress. They point to Wright’s fundraising records that show he’s taken significant donations from real estate interests and question his loyalty to tenant issues such as doing away with the process by which landlords can deregulate affordable units or ending the 421-a subsidy they call a giveaway to developers.</p> <p>“The problem with Keith is that he says all the right things but then follows orders, resulting in the ongoing destruction of our rent-regulated housing. And I am disturbed by the staggering amount of real estate money he has amassed for his congressional race,” said Michael McKee of Tenants PAC, which organizes around affordable housing issues and backs like-minded candidates. Tenants PAC does not endorse in national races.</p> <p>A 2014 study by the Community Service Society, an advocacy group for low-income New Yorkers, <a href="http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052702303393804579310832380848024" target="_blank">found</a> that the city lost 40 percent of apartments for low-income residents over the prior decade.</p> <p>Wright defended his record in an interview: “As chair of the housing committee we’ve had to work against a very conservative state Senate,” Wright said, referring to the Republican-controlled upper house of the New York Legislature. “Listen, no matter what you do you are not going to be able to please everyone. Sure you get folks who want me to hold up the budget and this that, but I’ve been through those days before and it didn't quite work. If I thought it would work I would do it again. You can’t please everyone.”</p> <p>As for his major wins, Wright counts his “greatest achievement” as a 2014 lawsuit he filed with his fellow tenants at Riverton Square accusing the landlords of illegally inflating rent, improperly evicting tenants, and overstating the value of the improvements made to apartments. In February the landlord, CWCapital and CompassRock, agreed to a $2 million settlement that will be paid in rent credits (they admitted no wrongdoing).</p> <p>Wright was also a key player in negotiations of the recent sale of Riverton to A&amp;E Real Estate. Part of the sale included an agreement that A&amp;E would repair homes and include 975 apartments, including Wright’s, in a 30-year affordability agreement.</p> <p>Two of Wright’s major wins didn’t come legislatively, but instead in actions he took to protect his own housing complex.</p> <p>Wright rejected the idea that contributions from real estate influenced his fight for stronger rent laws. “Ask him why he’s taken so much Wall Street money and D.C. money,” Wright said, apparently referencing his opponent Clyde Williams, who brought up donations Wright has taken from real estate interests in recent debates. “We’ve all taken real estate money. It has nothing to do with my commitment to the tenants of New York City. I think my record is plain on its face.”</p> <p>Filings with the State Board of Elections and Federal Elections Commission dating back to 2013 show that Wright has taken tens of thousands of dollars in donations from major real estate and construction interests and their subsidiaries. Real estate groups are known for donating to many state politicians in hopes of influencing policy.</p> <p>Major donations to Wright from real estate interests include $2,050 from the Real Estate Board PAC; $4,100 from JSignal LLC, which is connected to Cayuga Capital, a real estate management and development firm; $500 from John Banks, president of the Real Estate Board of NY; $2,700 from Eliot Spitzer, the former governor who now focuses on real estate; $5,000 from Empire PAC, which represents real estate interests; $2,500 from REBNY member Daniel Zucker; and a total of $4,200 over three contributions from Donald Capoccia, head of BFC Partners, a development firm that specializes in affordable housing.</p> <p>Wright’s first action as housing chair in 2013 was to introduce a package of housing bills that included a surprise: renewal of the lapsed J-51 program. The program is intended to provide tax breaks to landlords who make improvements to affordable housing, but tenant groups asserted it was abused by landlords. A study found half of the tax breaks went to owners of market-rate buildings.</p> <p>“I was named housing chair on a Friday and we had a very large bill that was somewhat controversial that had to be done on Monday," Wright told Gotham Gazette during an interview in February 2013. "I know folks in the tenant movement were upset, they wanted that bill to be used as leverage, but it was a bill for coops, condos, and lofts, and those type of people do live in New York City. We had to do this bill.”</p> <p>Last year, as rent regulations that govern affordable housing in the city and across the state came up for renewal, tenant groups were hoping Wright and newly sworn-in Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, a Bronx Democrat, would be able to win significant changes to the rent laws to do away with what they call incentives for landlords to take apartments off of the affordable housing rolls. Instead they say they got tweaks.</p> <p>The threshold for rent at which a vacant apartment can be deregulated was increased from $2,500 to $2,700. The deal also required landlords stretch out the period they increase tenants’ rent after making major capital improvements. Landlords were also limited in how much they can increase rent between tenants. The wins were seen as small, minimal in comparison to what Cuomo and the Assembly publicly pushed for. Wright said he was nevertheless proud of the changes that were made.</p> <p>Last year was a not a typical year - both legislative leaders Dean Skelos and Sheldon Silver were indicted during budget season (and later convicted). Rather than a traditional negotiation of the expiring rent laws and 421-a program that gives tax breaks to developers for including affordable housing in their projects, Cuomo allowed real estate and labor interests to negotiate 421-a renewal on their own, outside the Legislature.</p> <p>Tenant groups say 421-a is a “tax suck” that has been demonstrated to produce very few affordable units and been the subject to major abuse and fraud by developers. Investigations, like one <a href="https://www.propublica.org/article/nyc-landlords-flout-rent-limits-but-still-rake-in-lucrative-tax-breaks" target="_blank">by ProPublica</a>, have proven those claims to be true. Still, Mayor Bill de Blasio and others want to see a new, strengthened 421-a program enacted.</p> <p>Cuomo attributed giving real estate and labor control of negotiations to the sensitivity of legislators towards the Silver and Skelos scandals that included revelations about the political influence of Glenwood Management, a real estate company that was the state’s largest campaign donor.</p> <p>Labor and real estate failed to reach an agreement on renewing 421-a, so the program lapsed. Still, Cuomo and other stakeholders <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/6267-major-city-issues-at-play-in-politically-charged-post-budget-legislative-session" target="_blank">appear loathe to let it go</a>, to the dismay of some tenant groups.</p> <p>Results of the legislative negotiations on rent laws last year were hailed as “historic” by Cuomo, but tenant groups found it lacking. They say it basically cemented the status quo allowing landlords to steadily raise rents and move apartments off the affordable housing rolls.</p> <p>"We pretty much got nothing," said Delsenia Glover, director of Alliance for Tenant Power, said at a press conference in Albany in early April. "At the time Governor Cuomo said they were the 'strongest rent laws in history.' It's not true, we got nothing."</p> <p>Glover, who is from Harlem, does not blame Wright for the rent law negotiations. “Keith is extremely supportive,” Glover told Gotham Gazette in a recent interview. “He was one of our lead champions last year along with Speaker Heastie. He worked as hard as he could on the rent laws.”</p> <p>The focus of Alliance for Tenant Power’s April press conference was demanding that if Albany does decide to find a replacement for 421-a that they must also reopen negotiations on rent laws. Glover says lawmakers should end current rules that incentivize landlords to make apartments unaffordable.</p> <p>“Instead of discussing benefits for rich developers, all attention should be on fixing the major loopholes in the rent regulation system that houses 2.5 million tenants in approximately 1 million units with no cost whatsoever to the taxpayer,” Glover wrote in an April op-ed at Gotham Gazette.</p> <p>Glover and other tenant groups deride the idea of any replacement for 421-a. Wright attended the press conference and appeared to agree, despite the fact he introduced what many tenant advocates saw as a direct replacement. Wright proposed a program that would provide $100,000 to developers per affordable unit they build that would be funded by the state abandoned property fund.</p> <p>Wright said at the time that the bill was negotiated with the Real Estate Board of New York the NYS Association for Affordable Housing, and the Building &amp; Construction Trades Council. All three groups indicated <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/wright-proposes-replacement-expired-421-a-tax-break-article-1.2567341" target="_blank">to the Daily News</a> at the time that they didn’t actually support the plan.</p> <p>“I’m sorry the press picked it up as a replacement for 421-a,” Wright told Gotham Gazette, implying that his plan was not aimed to be such and that a lack of enthusiasm for it was the result of that mistaken characterization.</p> <p>Asked for her take on Wright’s plan, Glover demurred, saying, “You’d have to ask someone who was in the room.”</p> <p>Barika Williams, deputy director of the Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development (ANHD), praised Wright for bringing together disparate groups to discuss the creation of “a tool” to spur the creation of affordable housing. “It was a unique table that brought together different parts of the for-profit and nonprofit set. You saw a lot of people who don’t normally sit at the same table. We were looking at achieving the deepest affordability and trying to target resources to those buckets of the population that are desperately in need.”</p> <p>Williams said that in the end all of the groups may not have been on the same page because not all the groups involved were present for the entire process. “It was a long process that took commitment and being consistently involved for over two months.”</p> <p>Wright has been criticized by advocates and fellow legislators for not being properly versed in the bills he supports. He’s also been criticized for being too close to Governor Cuomo.</p> <p>Wright said he would love to see the rent laws reopened for negotiation this year.</p> <p>City &amp; State NY <a href="http://cityandstateny.com/articles/politics/new-york-city/tenant-rights-group-criticizes-wright%E2%80%99s-illegal-hotel-legislation.html#.VypnlIQrLGI" target="_blank">recently reported</a> that Tom Cayler, chair of the West Side Neighborhood Alliance’s Illegal Hotel Committee, was unhappy with a bill Wright carries that is technically designed to deal with illegal hotels.</p> <p>Wright’s bill would create a process by which permanent residents of certain apartment buildings could register to rent their apartments in the short term - similar to how Airbnb functions.</p> <p>Cayler said the bill would simply allow residents to rent their apartments as “illegal hotels,” rather than ending the practice. There is a good deal of pushback against Airbnb <a href="https://www.dnainfo.com/new-york/20151208/greenpoint/heres-how-landlords-are-striking-back-against-airbnb" target="_blank">in Manhattan</a>. The group met with Wright and were asked to send him a memo with their concerns. They say they never heard back.</p> <p>“It was really shocking to us that he didn’t actually seem to know much about the bill he had his name on,” Cayler told City &amp; State. “He was not well-informed about it. His chief of staff was the one who knew about this particular bill.”</p> <p>Wright’s spokesperson Emma Forbes told City &amp; State that the bill was designed to increase transparency and that the bill had yet to move because there wasn’t “consensus” from residents and stakeholders.</p> <p>Asked about Cayler’s criticism Wright told Gotham Gazette: “I thought he was somewhat misinformed.”</p> <p>Wright said his door is always open and he is willing to discuss legislation.</p> <p>WIlliams, of ANHD, countered the idea that Wright was ill informed about legislation. “I think from our experience Assemblymember Wright understands the complexity of housing and the complex mix of interests that are involved. With all of that in mind, his goal always seems to be thinking about deep affordability and how to help those folks in New York City who are struggling and who are the most underserved.”</p> <p>Asked if he expects legislation on illegal hotels to move this session, which ends in mid-June, Wright replied, “The bill is in my name in a committee I head and I control the bill and it hasn’t moved.” “So if it quacks like a duck...,” he added, implying there was little chance the bill would advance.</p> <p>Wright said he is proud of his record as a tenant advocate and that despite the overwhelming support he has received from the Democratic establishment, including words of support from former President Bill Clinton and formal endorsements from Gov. Cuomo, Speaker Heastie, and Rep. Rangel, he does not take it for granted that he will be leaving Albany for Washington. “We have a lot to do here,” Wright said, adding that should he be elected to Congress his main focus will be on changing the definition of area median income because of the way it impacts affordable housing in the city.</p> <p>“The reason I’m running is to change the definition of area median income and the way it is put forward with affordable housing,” said Wright. “The housing that is being built is called “affordable,” but it's not affordable to anyone I know or even me.” (Wright, who lives in rent-stabilized housing, has an Assembly salary of $79,500, not including the stipend he receives for heading the housing committee, and he has served for 24 years.)</p> <p>Citing the fact that the AMI used for New York City to determine rent thresholds takes into account Westchester and Rockland counties, greatly increasing the number, Wright said that reform would benefit city residents.</p> <p>“Changing the definition is what I want to do the first day I get to Congress, most definitely,” said Wright.</p> <p>New Yorkers are tired of seeing condos going for millions of dollars while they worry about paying the bills and staying in their neighborhood, Wright said.</p> <p>“The people of Harlem shed blood, sweat, and tears to make their neighborhood a safe place to live,” Wright said. “People are scared to death their children won't be able to afford to live in the neighborhood because it won’t be affordable.”</p> <p>

***
by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>