City Council members on April 12 introduced two bills that would create a system to provide more rigorous inspection and more extensive repairs for buildings with flagrant housing violations. Council members took advantage of the meeting to denounce controversial radio host Don Imus, but at the same time, they ignited a furor of their own when a routine bill to change the names of a number of city streets included an avenue named after activist Sonny Carson.
The two housing bills would increase the city's power to inspect and repair neglected buildings at the landlords' expense.
560, introduced by Councilmembers Vincent Gentile, Melinda Katz and Erik
Dilan, would help city inspectors gain access to buildings with violations.
According to Eric Kuo of Councilmember Vincent Gentile's office, housing inspectors
currently lack clear guidelines to gain access to buildings when property owners
refuse to let them in. The bill sets forth a procedure for inspectors to document
their unsuccessful visits and secure warrants from the court.
Under the proposed Safe
Housing Act (Intro 561), introduced by Councilmembers Letitia James, Gale
Brewer and Erik Dilan, and Speaker Christine Quinn, the city's Department of
Housing Preservation and Development would force repairs of residential buildings
with the most egregious safety violations. The city currently has the power
to make emergency repairs, but Kate Suisman, James' chief of staff, explained
that these repairs are not applied systematically and often only address immediate
problems, such as a leaking pipe. Additionally, landlords avoid completing repairs
and sometimes have to be taken to court.
Ray Brescia of the Urban Justice Center said of the current difficulties in
enforcing housing safety, "More than half the battle is to first get HPD interested
in a building." In addition to activating enforcement of the city's worst buildings,
the bill would compel
landlords to carry out repairs.
With the act's increased authority, the city would target 200 buildings a year for rigorous inspections and "top to bottom" repairs - for instance, beyond fixing a leak, the city could require new pipes throughout the structure.
Under the proposed law, if a landlord refuses to comply with required building work within four months, the city would complete the repairs and charge the owner. According to Housing Commissioner Shaun Donovan, the program would cost $10 million a year, some of which would be recovered from landlords and building liens.
Many New York City buildings chronically fall into hazardous conditions. Repeat
violations are common with 46 percent of the 10,000 buildings that received
emergency repairs in 2006 also having received them in 2005, and 22 percent
having such repairs in 2004 too.
Opportunistic landlords may prefer to neglect rent stabilized units until the tenants leave rather than make the repairs, a trend which Councilmember James summarizes as "displacement by neglect."
number of building violations increasing and the demand for affordable housing
in the city remaining high, the program seeks to protect vulnerable tenants
and to maintain the condition of affordable housing.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the New York Immigrant Coalition, property owners
and agents all support the measures. Frank Ricci of the Rent Stabilization Association
the bills would help "target the really irresponsible owners â€¦ who give everyone
else a bad name."
Street Naming Controversy
Sonny Abubadika Carson Avenue was one of 53 lanes, ways, corners, plazas and
other streets to be renamed in Into
556, Council Speaker Christine Quinn conceded
that the council's fondness for renaming streets is often ridiculed, but she
urged her fellow members to separate out the consideration of the Carson
renaming because of his anti-white statements and "divisiveness."
Sonny Carson, who died in 2003, was a Korean War veteran and active in several
Brooklyn movements including the Republic of New Afrika, the African Burial
Ground project, securing voting rights for ex-prisoners, the Black Men's Movement
Against Crack, protests of police brutality and boycotts of Korean groceries.
He also helped
to establish Medgar Evers College. Councilmember Councilman Al Vann, who
proposed the name change at the recommendation of the local communyt board,
cited Carson's civic work in Bedford-Stuyvesant as grounds for the honor.
recent New York Post editorial agreed with Quinn. And the divisiveness over
Carson Avenue was evident at a meeting of the Council parks committee last week
as members voted
along racial lines to remove the name from the bill. Several protestors
were removed from the meeting room.
Though Carson's name will not grace an honorary avenue, at least for the time
being, Jerry Orbach Way named for the Broadway and Law & Order star will make
the cut after a few setbacks during the community
board recommendations process earlier this year.
Councilmember Charles Barron stated that if Carson Avenue were removed from
the bill package, he would demand
to know the background of all individuals who have street names proposed
Defacement of Religious Items
Also at the meeting, Councilmembers Vincent Gentile and Peter Vallone introduced
a bill to protect religious items and displays on private property. Intro 559
would extend the law against damaging houses of religious worship and their
contents to private property. Under the proposed bill, such a crime would constitute
a misdemeanor and carry punishments of imprisonment for up to a year or a fine
between $500 and $2,500, as well as possible civil penalties. In neighborhoods
such as Bensonhurst in Gentile's district, numerous religious
displays outside of people's homes have been defaced.
Councilmember Vallone also introduced a
bill to institute criminal penalties for public lewdness.
Councilmember James was planning to introduce a resolution calling for the firing of Don Imus at the next council meeting, but now that CBS has already dismissed him, the resolution will likely be tabled or modified.
allowing council to sign onto amicus brief
requiring paint and other markings to be removed by contractors upon completion
of construction projects
calling for new zoning considerations of small single family homes
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