Monday, November 17, 2014

Summary of the Nov. 14, 2014 General Tenants Meeting

In the Neighborhood
Community Board 7’s Landmark Planning Committee voted against permitting the church on Central Park West between 97th and 96th Streets to be converted to condos. The whole Community Board must vote next, as will the City’s Landmarks Preservation Committee.  Contact Paul Fisher in Apt. 10E if you have a comment: he’s on the Community BoardCommunity Board 7’s Landmark Planning Committee voted against permitting the church on Central Park West between 97th and 96th Streets to be converted to condos. The whole Community Board must vote next, as will the City’s Landmarks Preservation Committee.  Contact Paul Fisher in Apt. 10E if you have a comment: he’s on the Community Board.

In the Building
The Renovations
The lobby renovations are finished.   

Stellar has erected 3 wooden screen barriers (in slalom fashion) between the front door and the fire exit doors.  This makes movement more difficult along the front terrace and poses several problems:
·      It impedes movement to the front steps from the fire doors
·     It requires several more steps and two turns for those walking between either ramp and the front door
·     It creates a screen and possible climbing access for burglars
·      For the visually impaired, it may seem to be an impassable barrier and a tripping hazard.

Stellar also plans to narrow the walkway on either side of the front door to the barriers by laying paving stones with a rough surface (such as cedar chips or gravel) on either side.  That means that tenants who use the building’s wall or pillars for support will not have them, and tenants will not be able to go under the first floor balconies for shelter from the rain as they come up the ramp.

Stellar has offered to give every tenant a free key to the side doors and to install cameras near the barriers.  The keys help those tenants who can manage the side doors (not all can), and the cameras will be useful for identifying muggers after the event.

Sue Susman and Glenn and Lenore Richter met with assistant building manager Cesar Mosquera to let him know of our specific concerns and our preference for removing the north-most wooden screen.  He reported later that Stellar decided to complete the installation as originally planned.  We are considering both legal and political action.

If you haven’t sent in your apartment dues ($10/year) or contributed to our tenant association legal fund, please do.   Please give the contribution directly to your floor captain or to our treasurer, Joan Browne in Apt. 12F.

THANKS THANKS THANKS to Rosa Delgado for organizing the Halloween table and to all the tenants who contributed and the tenants who helped Rosa at the table.  We raised about $3000!

How to get Albany to protect us

Betsy Eichel of HousingConservation Coordinators and the West Side Neighborhood Alliance spoke.  She noted that tenants make the difference.  This year, with a Republican-dominated (and therefore anti-tenant) State Senate, we are still in a better position than we were in 2011, the last time the laws came up for renewal.  In 2011, Mayor Bloomberg was advocating strongly against several tenant bills.  This year, Mayor DeBlasio said he would support tenants and even come up to Albany with us.

The tenant protections we need from Albany are:

Repealing the vacancy deregulation that lets landlords like Stellar de-regulate (take out of rent stabilization) empty apartments by raising the rents to $2500 or more.
Re-regulating apartments that were taken out of rent stabilization when they were empty, as long as their current rents are under $5000.
Ending loopholes that raise the rents and give owners unwarranted windfalls, such as permanent Major Capital Improvement and Individual Apartment Improvement increases.  Our MCI rent increases pay Stellar several times over for what Stellar spent on renovating the elevators.  Several tenants are paying extra money monthly for a new refrigerator or stove – long after the item has been paid for.  Those increases should be temporary and not permanent.

The state tenant laws are determined, ultimately, by three men in a room:  Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, and Governor Andrew Cuomo.
(Individual legislators give up their power to their body’s leader often in exchange for committee positions, extra money for those positions, and redistricting to keep them in office - and sometimes for one special bill they want.)

The three men in that Albany room are influenced by
·         strong groups of legislators
·         their constituents who let them know what’s needed, and  
·         the media. 

So we need a caucus of Assembly Members,  lots of tenant letters and phone calls to Speaker Silver and Governor Cuomo, and trips to Albany.  Working with larger tenant advocacy groups like Tenants & Neighbors, Met Council on Housing, and Housing Conservation Coordinators, all of us can help afford media to help change the conversation.  We’re not asking for special privileges:  We’re asking for affordable housing for all!

New York City Council Member Mark Levine came after our coffee-and-cake-break, and talked about what the City can do to prevent landlord harassment and level the playing field a bit.  He is working on laws to:

  • Provide a lawyer in Housing Court for tenants earning under 200% of the poverty level
  • Make “rental status” a category for the City’s Human Rights Commission so that landlords cannot bar rent- regulated tenants from a building amenity just because they are not market rate. (In Stonehenge on 97th St. between Columbus and Amsterdam, the owners built a gym using part of the Community Room and barred rent regulated tenants even when they offered to pay.)
  • Track buyout offers from landlords. (We all know that if Stellar offers you $40,000 (an amount he could make back in under 10 months at the going rate of $4600 for a two-bedroom apartment in this building), you would have no affordable place to live.  Should that happen, don’t try to talk to Stellar’s lawyer yourself! Tell him to call your lawyer.)

Meanwhile, Council Member Helen Rosenthal (the district running south from 96th Street) has also proposed some bills, such as stopping owners from adding illegal fees to rent bills.  And the City already has laws making harassment more expensive for tenants.

The second thing the City can do is to call for a rent freeze from the Rent Guidelines Board.  The RGB determines rent adjustments each June for leases that will be renewed anytime from the following Oct. 1st through Sept. 30th .  The total of percentage increases over the last decade far exceeded cost increases – so owners should not get another increase until those are on a par.  (And owners making under an 8% profit can always go to the state’s housing agency, DHCR, and ask for an increase if they open their books.)  There is a wide coalition of tenant groups asking for this rent freeze too.


Got questions or suggestions?  Contact a member of the Executive Committee:
- Sue Susman, sue [ type the symbol for "at"]
- Na'ava Ades, na'ava [use an "at" sign]
- Joan Browne, jbbrownefaison [follow with the "at" symbol]
- Denis Hayward, hayden [ @   ] nyc (dot) rr (dot) com 
- Rich Jordan, richj214 [ use the at symbol]
- Steve Koulish, eskoolman [ use the "at" character]
- Ray Von Dohren, vondohren [ the "at" sign] comcast [ . ] net