Monthly Archives

March 2015

News

COUNCIL MEMBER JOHNSON, COLLEAGUES INTRODUCE BILL TO PREVENT UNEQUAL ACCESS TO BUILDING AMENITIES

March 31, 2015

**FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE**

MARCH 31, 2015

COUNCIL MEMBER JOHNSON, COLLEAGUES INTRODUCE BILL TO PREVENT UNEQUAL ACCESS TO BUILDING AMENITIES

Legislation would bar discrimination against tenants in affordable units

New York, NY – Council Member Corey Johnson and colleagues today introduced legislation that would bar building managers from discriminating against affordable housing tenants in the use of building amenities.

Following instances in which tenants in affordable units were prohibited from accessing gyms, green spaces, play rooms, pools and other building amenities; this legislation would require developers and building managers to provide equal access to such facilities.  If building amenities are made available to market-rate tenants for a fee, the same opportunity must be offered to affordable housing tenants.

The legislation, introduced at today’s Stated Meeting, would make it illegal to discriminate against any person or group of persons in the use or enjoyment of any building amenity because of the actual or perceived race, creed, color, national origin, gender, age, disability, sexual orientation, marital status, partnership status, or alienage or citizenship status of such person or persons, or because of any lawful source of income of such person or persons,or because such person or persons occupy an affordable dwelling unit or because children are, may be or would be residing with such person.

“Many New Yorkers were shocked to learn that it is perfectly legal for a developer to hoist a sign saying that affordable housing tenants are not welcome to enter a gym, pool or green space in their own building,” said Council Member Corey Johnson. “Every person should be treated with respect and dignity. Developers cannot deny equal access to an amenity on the basis of race, gender, national origin or sexual orientation, and they should not be able to deny access to a person simply because he or she occupies an affordable apartment. This legislation would address this critical issue and prevent New Yorkers from being discriminated against within their own homes. I thank Public Advocate Tish James and Council Members Mark Levine, Helen Rosenthal, Ritchie Torres and Antonio Reynoso for co-sponsoring this important legislation.

“When a building in my district opened a gym and put up a sign that said “market-rate only,” hundreds of rent stabilized tenants were denied access. The deliberate exclusion of rent stabilized tenants, many of whom come from low income and minority communities, smacked of the kind of elitism and prejudice that goes against the spirit of New York City. As shocking as the “market rate only” sign was to the sensibilities of most New Yorkers, it was an even bigger shock to learn that it was legal. This legislation corrects that injustice and guarantees critical protections against discrimination for tenants under New York City’s Human Rights Code,” said Council Member Mark Levine.

“The type of discrimination we have seen against rent-regulated tenants is unconscionable,” said Public Advocate Letitia James. “All New Yorkers – regardless of income, race, gender, ethnicity, language, disability, or sexual orientation – are equal, and should be treated as such. Although it’s disheartening that a law is necessary to prohibit this practice, this legislation will ensure that all New Yorkers are treated fairly when accessing their building amenities.”

“No one should be made to feel ashamed of living in a affordable housing apartment,” said Council Member Antonio Reynoso. “Denying tenants the right to use onsite amenities does just that. The owners of these buildings are reverting back to the days of segregation, which has no place in our progressive city.‎”

“Almost half of New York City rental units are rent-regulated, and these tenants can be denied access to shared amenities in their own apartment buildings with no consequences to the landlord” said Council Member Helen Rosenthal. “The practice is offensive and discriminatory, and I am proud to support this bill amending the law to prevent affordable housing status from being a legal basis for discrimination.”

###

 

News

Chelsea Now: Projects Vie at Participatory Budgeting Expo

March 26, 2015

Part_Budget_2-1

Photo by Zach Williams
Aidan Collins, 10, stepped into the role of point man for the proposal to renovate the library at PS3 — item #6 on your Participatory Budgeting ballot.

BY ZACH WILLIAMS  |  With election time fast approaching, residents of Chelsea and Hell’s Kitchen gathered at a March 24 Expo to present beautification, repair and upgrade projects set to appear on the Participatory Budgeting ballot.

Seventeen projects will vie for support in voting to be held from April 11-19, with the top vote-getters receiving funding until the cumulative amount reaches the $1 million allocated by Councilmember Corey Johnson’s office.

There was no clear front-runner among the proposals seen at the Andrew Heiskell Braille and Talking Book Library (40 W. 20th St.) — but certain advantages and strategies were apparent at the event, which attracted about 100 potential voters.

This is the first time District 3 has taken part in the process since Participatory Budgeting was established in 2011, as an option of how to spend discretionary funding distributed from the city’s capital budget (Johnson’s office was given approximately $5 million).

Current City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito was one of the four who opted in during that first year. Currently, 24 districts are taking part. Matt Green, a legislative aide to Councilmember Johnson who also serves as the office’s Participatory Budget Director, told Chelsea Now that the jump happened in part because the process has become “more institutionalized, with more resources and staff.”

Johnson told Expo attendees that he hopes several thousand people will participate in voting, which is open to anyone who lives Council District 3 and is at least 14 years old. “I don’t have all the answers and I shouldn’t be the only person in charge of determining what is important and what needs to be funded,” said Johnson. “This is democratizing the budget process.”

Part_Budget_12_Corey

Photos by Zach Williams
This is the first year that District 3 residents have voted for how $1 million in funding from the office of Councilmember Corey Johnson (left, addressing crowd) could be used to further community interests.

There was no shortage of ideas in response. Parks, schools, streets, libraries, bus stops and composting received attention in the process. Two proposals set their sites on the most private of public spaces: bathrooms. Different approaches to campaigning at the event included touting streetscape innovations, the involvement of young people in proposals and even a bit of candy to entice prospective voters to one display.

One proposal seemed to benefit when its delegate was unable to attend the meeting. Ten-year-old Aidan Collins stepped into the role of point man for a $100,000 plan to renovate bathrooms at PS3 as well as a $35,000 idea to bring computers to the school located at 490 Hudson Street. Boys’ bathrooms at the school lack mirrors, he added.

Across the room, 14-year-old Liam Buckley stumped for restroom renovations and a new public address system at the Lab School (333 W. 17th St.). Participatory budgets gave the ideas a fresh chance for funding after other options failed, he said, a situation similar to other proposals.

Part_Budget_9-2

One goal of Participatory Budgeting was to involve young people in the democratic process. Liam Buckley, 14 (above) stumped for renovations to a local school at the March 24 Expo.

“The bathrooms are definitely dirty and outdated. The floors are slanted. There’s urinals missing and there are no locks on the door. We hope this is the last time that we have to address this for years to come,” said Buckley.

However, the money game has its own role to play in persuading voters.

The lowest proposal on the ballot requests $35,000 with the highest at $560,000. Representatives of proposals with higher costs expressed concern that estimates were set too high and might jeopardize their chances in the upcoming election if voters think such a large project would crowd out multiple cheaper options.

Some projects could receive funding even if they do not prevail in voting. What matters is that ideas with strong community support receive attention, said Johnson. He added in an interview that no final decisions have been made yet on how his office will spend $4 million in other discretionary funding.

Local transportation safety advocacy group Clinton Hell’s Kitchen Coalition for Pedestrian Safety (CHEKPEDS) has hopes that they could install a prototype of a raised pedestrian crossing in Hell’s Kitchen at the intersection of W. 45th St. and Ninth Ave. The crossing would increase visibility for pedestrians, slow down traffic as well as maintaining water drainage. But the CHEKPEDS proposal has competition among transportation-minded voters in the form of a $200,000 proposal to install countdown clocks for the M11 and M12 buses.

Estimates from the city put the cost of the CHEKPEDS project at $250,000 though research showed that costs could be significantly less, according to Christine Berthet, co-founder of CHEKPEDS and chair of Community Board 4.

Part_Budget_6-1Galvanizing voters to include a project among their five permitted choices on the ballot will be key to securing funding, but some people wondered if voting beyond one proposal might undermine its potential to win.

Higher price tags could also prevent other worthy projects from acquiring funding, said Patrick Shields, a South Village resident who wants a new turf soccer field in Fulton Houses on W. 17th St. Costs could be minimized should the proposal win, allowing funds to be used elsewhere, he added while expressing a concern about just how the cost of the proposal was determined to be $500,000.

“Whether it was purposely over-budgeted I don’t know. I don’t think so. I hope not, but I’m going to assume not and lobby like crazy,” he said. Supporters of professional soccer will come out to canvas in support, he added. The site is the only place available in District 3 able to accommodate such a sports field for local youth, according to Shields.

“It’s off the street. It’s in between buildings. It’s sandwiched where they aren’t going to be running into the street chasing balls,” he said.

Voters can support up to five projects which will be given equal weight in tallying results. This could help second and third choices emerge victorious if voters are more split about their top choice. Marking just one or two choices for projects on the ballot might help boost their chances, suggested Bill Borock, president of the Council of Chelsea Block Associations. He indicated support for a proposal which would fund both demolition and an environmental impact study for a new park on W. 20th St.

That effort has been ongoing for five years, said Pamela Wolff, a member of Chelsea’s West 200 Block Association.

“There’s some real stick-to-it-iveness among the people who very much have their hearts in it,” she said.

Another idea for local public spaces is revitalizing Chelsea Waterside Park. Not only would the installation of an interactive garden benefit local children, but the space also serves as an important physical link between the High Line and Hudson River Park, said Zazel Loven who is on the board for Chelsea Waterside Park.

The biggest factor in determining the winners of the Participatory Budgeting election could be voter turn-out in support of each of the 17 proposals. With tens of thousands of potential voters, delegates said they would focus on mobilizing their own supporters through community groups, canvassing and phone banking rather than contesting the merits of other projects.

Negotiating the Participatory Budgeting process takes time and organization. With voting just weeks away, delegates said that they have to shift gears and focus on the campaign for votes, but many expressed confidence that their own coalitions of block associations and other civic groups would help them win, but their work is cut out for them.

“We were a little freaked out about that. We didn’t realize that there has to be concerted effort to get people out to vote,” Loven said.

A workshop held the week before by Friends of the High Line helped prepare project proponents for the campaign, according to Erycka Montoya, community engagement coordinator. She, along with all participants at the event interviewed by Chelsea Now, praised the Participatory Budgeting process for not only allocating money for community capital projects, but also catalyzing new forms of civic engagement among all ages.

Undecided voters — including Johnson — said at the event that they will have to think more about the relative merits of each proposal before casting their ballots. The March 24 event, though, gave guidance to Gabrielle Dann-Allel on narrowing down her choices, she said.

“I’ve learned a lot about the needs of the library, which are major, and a lot about the funding process and about the needs of Fulton Housing, which I found very interesting. I think I’m torn between the needs of those two spheres,” said Dann-Allel.

VOTING LOCATIONS

Voting takes place April 11 – 19
Text “VOTE” to 212-676-8384
for your closest poll site.

Councilmember Johnson’s District Office
224 W. 30th Street, Suite 1206
April 13-17 | 10 a.m.-5 p.m.

Tony Dapolito Recreation Center
1 Clarkson St.
April 11, 12, 18, 19 | 9 a.m.–6 p.m.

The Fulton Houses Tenants Association Office
419A W. 17th St.
April 11, 12, 18 and 19 | 9 a.m.–6 p.m.

Hartley House
413 W.46th St.
April 11, 12, 18, 19 | 9 a.m.–5:30 p.m.

Hudson Guild (Dan Carpenter Room, 2nd Fl.)
441 W. 26th St.
April 12 & 19 | 9 a.m.–6 p.m.

The LGBT Community Center
208 W. 13th St.
April 18 & 19, 9 a.m.–6 p.m.

Pop-up voting sites will also appear throughout the district. Text “PBNYC” to 212-676-8384 for more info.

ON THE BALLOT

#1 Cooling System for Muhlenberg Library ($500,000)
Funding would replace the building’s HVAC cooling unit (the library serves as an official NYC Cooling Center)

#2 Renovations for Jefferson Market Library ($500,000)
Funding would go towards renovating the lobby bathroom to make it ADA-compliant.

#3 O. Henry Learning Campus Renovations ($290,000)
Hudson Guild, Lab High School, Lab Middle School and Museum School will benefit from new gym bleachers, gym scoreboard and locker room bathroom renovations.

#4 Bathroom Renovations at Lab School ($560,000)
Project would renovate two student bathrooms on each floor and bathrooms adjacent to the cafeteria.

#5 Bathroom Renovations for PS3 ($100,000)
Renovation of existing bathroom facilities to promote a more sanitary environment for students, faculty and school visitors.

#6 PS3 Library Renovations ($35,000)
With the technological advances of the last decade, modernizing the library is important in meeting the educational needs of today’s students.

#7 Public Address System Upgrade ($500,000)
PA system repair and upgrades to support the needs of three separate schools in the building, as well as building-wide announcements.

#8 New Park for the Community ($200,000)
Transform the vacant lot on W. 20th St. into a public park for the community. Project would go towards demolishing the former Department of Sanitation building and environmental cleanup.

#9 Revitalization of Chelsea Waterside Park ($85,000)
The project would bring residents into this underused park by creating an interactive garden for local children, focusing on ethnobotany and native plants.

#10 Downing Playground & Fountain Upgrades ($200,000)
Playground upgrades with new play equipment for children, as well as a safer, more child-friendly drinking fountain to replace the aging concrete structure that is currently falling apart.

#11 Community Composting Center ($35,000)
A year-round solar-powered, forced air composting system for residents of Hell’s Kitchen would have the capacity for at least two compost drop-off days per week.

#12 New Soccer Turf Field  at Fulton Houses ($500,000)
New soccer turf, including physical safety and ball-strike safety fence or netting for neighboring window safety, marked field and durable permanent mini-goals.

#13 Resurfacing Sprinklers at Fulton Houses ($345,000)
The toddler sprinkler area is used extensively but needs to be excavated and resurfaced with the right materials so children can continue to enjoy it and play safely.

#14 Upgrading Fulton Houses Basketball Court ($425,000)
This project will offer all residents access to a modern basketball court. Court requires pavement to be leveled, drainage correction, proper landscaping and court markings.

#15 Pedestrian Safety:  Raised Crosswalks ($250,000)
Help prevent further crashes, deaths and injuries for pedestrians by installing a speed table at the notoriously dangerous crosswalk at W. 45th St. & 9th Ave.

#16 Bus Time Clocks  for the M11 & M12 ($200,000)
Installation of clocks that will provide waiting passengers with time information and bus arrival times (along M11 & M12 routes).

#17 Sidewalk Repair/Replacement ($50,000)
The sidewalk on W. 26th St. (btw. 9th & 10th Aves.) is in desperate need of repair. It has become difficult to walk, push carriages and wheelchairs on the sidewalk.

News

Chelsea Now: Rezoning Plan to Build Housing Could Deconstruct Local Efforts

March 26, 2015

BY ZACH WILLIAMS  |  The New York City Department of City Planning (DCP) held a March 25 “public scoping meeting,” to consider what matters should be covered in an Environment Impact Statement — a preliminary step to enact Mayor Bill de Blasio’s citywide rezoning proposal, known as “Zoning for Quality and Affordability.”

Concerned that such changes would drastically overhaul regulations on the height, size and shape of new residential developments, more than 100 people attended the “public scoping meeting” to comment. Critics — including members of Community Board 4 — told DCP officials that the process was moving too fast, neglected neighborhood nuance, and could jeopardize their efforts to balance development with neighborhood character and needs.

A rally was held on the steps of City Hall just prior to the DCP hearing, at which critics of the plan asserted that the potential zoning changes, which are intended to boost affordable housing in the city, would instead benefit luxury, market-rate development.

Current restrictions of 70 feet in West Chelsea and Greenwich Village were the results of negotiations made years ago during a prior rezoning effort with the expectation that they would remain in place, according to Councilmember Corey Johnson.

“Those rezonings took place because people said ‘OK give us the cap here and we will trade you somewhere else and give you an upzoning’ This would wipe all of this away in many instances,” he said at the rally which drew about 50 supporters and elected officials from throughout the city.

Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, also spoke against the Impact Study.

“Just to be clear, this plan that has been proposed by the city would change rules that communities fought for years and years and years to get to help protect the scale and character of their neighborhoods and in a lot of cases these proposed changes by the city are really for nothing but market-rate luxury condo development,” said Berman.

The DCP wants to expand affordable housing by updating zoning regulations, which developers say stymie construction and unduly limit the maximization of building sizes within current restrictions. But critics of the effort worry that changes could lead to more high-rises in city neighborhoods while not effectively addressing the need for more affordable housing. Approval of zoning changes could also impose a “one-size-fits-all” approach at the expense of neighborhood character, critics said at the March 25 rally (and soon after, at the hearing).

A draft scope of the study was made public a month beforehand, but members of city community boards said that they really only had a week to prepare their own analysis of the 166-page, Feb. 2015 DCP document (which, when completed, will address issues pertaining to potential changes to contextual zoning regulations).

Contextual zoning regulates the height, bulk, setback from street, and frontage width in new buildings — with the purpose of maintaining the architectural character of neighborhoods, according to a City definition.

“Commenting on the draft scope of work is very challenging since we don’t have the actually zoning text to view so far it appears that a number of proposed goals are very sound but of course the devil is in the details,” Elizabeth Mackintosh — co-chair of the CB4 Land Use Committee (CLU) — told DCP officials at the meeting.

Mackintosh also offered suggestions to DCP on the scope of the environmental review. DCP needs to study the impact zoning changes would have on special districts in Chelsea as well as how increased building heights could affect views, shadows, light, air quality and affordable housing tenants. More research is also needed into just how many market-rate and affordable units exist now and would in the future.

Fellow committee co-chair Lee Compton added that study is also needed into a proposed increase in commercial ground floor heights — especially in how they might affect local businesses and neighborhood character. Loosening restrictions on backyard spaces to create more room for residential units necessitates scrutiny as well, he said, because they could increase the use of other open spaces in Chelsea and elsewhere.

Borough President Gale Brewer, along with 26 other elected officials from Manhattan, sent a letter to Carl Weisbrod, chair of the City Planning Commission expressing their own concerns about the current trajectory of zoning changes. Community Board representatives told Brewer at a Borough Board meeting on March 19 that the process was moving too fast and undermined their prior zoning work, according to Christine Berthet, CB4 chair.

“By increasing height limits across the board, this administration is undermining these agreements made between previous administrations and neighborhood residents,” reads the March 25 letter. “While it may be true that the constraints of the contextual building envelope are stifling the production of housing, we are not convinced that the proposed adjustments are the perfect solution.”

The current rules on zoning came into effect in 1987. Changes are needed in order to meet the demands of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s affordable housing push, according to representatives of the Citizens Housing and Planning Council (CHPC), who presented their own research to the CLU on March 16. The non-profit group represents the perspectives of a board including nearly 100 architects, developers and lawyers.

Of particular concern to the CHPC is how the limitations on building dimensions (called “the envelope”) reduce the amount of residential units in a new development. A 2014 CHPC study examined the experiences of 17 projects in the city — none of which were in Manhattan south of 99th St. Only one out of that sampling was able to maximize floor space under current restrictions, according to the report.

In the 28 years since the changes, average floor-to-floor heights have increased from about eight feet, eight inches to nine or more feet. Pre-war buildings typically feature even higher ceilings. But building practices require more infrastructure between floors — such as fire sprinklers and soundproofing materials. As a result, this limits the amount of floors permitted by what the CHPC called “rigid” building height limits.

The result is that architects and developers have to maximize floor area as much as possible while keeping construction costs down, according to CHPC president Mark E. Ginsberg.

“We’ve created this straitjacket where if you look at a lot of the buildings there’s very little variation besides the color of the brick because (developers are) trying to take all the floor area and fit it into the building,” he said to the CLU at their regularly scheduled monthly meeting.

Limiting a building’s height by floors rather than feet is one way to inject more residential units into a development, according to the CHCP report.

“Many CHPC board members believe that New York City should begin to move away from such prescribed requirements for our built environment and make a shift toward performance zoning — an alternative system to traditional land use planning that uses performance-based, or goal-oriented criteria,” reads the report.

Removing obstacles to housing production and reducing construction costs are key strategies of de Blasio’s affordable housing plan, which has the ambition of preserving or creating 200,000 units of affordable housing by 2024.

The DCP is in the midst of a yearlong process, preparing recommendations to the City Planning Commission and City Council on zoning changes. In addition to hearing public comment, the March 25 meeting was meant to refine content for its Environmental Impact Statement, a draft of which is scheduled to be completed this spring. The public land use review process will likely commence at about that time and conclude in the fall, according to the department.

Members of the CLU expressed concern that altering current zoning regulations would lead to higher buildings and questioned whether developers truly need to maximize floor area as much as possible in order to build affordable housing while still making money. But more than anything at the meeting, the biggest worry was that 16 years of development of the community board’s own housing plan could quickly become irrelevant by the city’s plan.

A balance needs to be struck between high rises and maintaining New York City’s most historic neighborhoods, according to Kathleen Treat, chair of the Hell’s Kitchen Neighborhood Association.

“Skyscrapers have their place maybe it’s West 42nd St., but not there, not Chelsea, not the Village,” she said on the steps of City Hall just prior to attending the March 25 DCP meeting.

News

The Villager: Pushing for rent rollback, Johnson rolls into Year 2

March 26, 2015

Corey Johnson is loving being in the City Council.  Photos by Tequila Minsky

 

Corey Johnson is loving being in the City Council. Photos by Tequila Minsky

BY LINCOLN ANDERSON   |  Not a freeze — but a rollback!

City Councilmember Corey Johnson said he’s hoping for nothing less than that from the Rent Guidelines Board when it decides in three months on lease-renewal terms for rent-regulated apartments for the next two years.

A rent freeze is unprecedented in the history of New York City rent regulation. But a rollback — an actual rent reduction for tenants — is simply unheard of.

Yet, this is something that’s achievable, Johnson firmly believes. He’s part of the Real Rent Reform Campaign, which is working hard to turn back the tide of landlord wins.

Rent-regulation laws protect the affordability of 1 million apartments in New York City.

“I think there should be a rent rollback,” Johnson said. “For years, landlords have gotten — depending on the year — what were unwarranted increases. Even if you look at this last winter, heating prices are way down because the cost of heating oil is way down.”

Johnson made his remarks last Friday during an interview with The Villager at the Good Stuff Diner, on W. 14th St. near Sixth Ave. The eatery is fittingly on the border between the Village and Chelsea, the two neighborhoods at the heart of Johnson’s West Side Council District 3.

Last year, six months into Mayor Bill de Blasio’s first term in office, the R.G.B. passed historically low increases of 1 percent for one-year lease renewals, and 2.75 percent for 2-year leases. De Blasio had vowed to push for a freeze, but couldn’t quite pull it off.

Since its creation in 1969, the R.G.B. had never passed increases of less than 2 percent and 4 percent.

In an encouraging sign, Johnson noted, de Blasio recently appointed three new members to the guidelines board, which could help sway the vote.

“Two of them are public members who look pretty promising,” Johnson said, “that they would support a rent freeze or a rent rollback. The other is a landlord.”

And rent freezes, in fact, have happened before — in Westchester and Nassau County — the councilmember noted.

Holds panel on R.G.B.

Two weeks ago, the R.G.B. held its first meeting, one of a series that will culminate in their final vote — before the usual raucous crowd of tenants and landlords — at a date in June to be determined. The evening before, Johnson had convened a panel discussion at P.S. 3 in the Village entitled, “Reforming the Rent Guidelines Board.”

Among the four tenant activists on Johnson’s panel was attorney Tim Collins, who was executive director of the R.G.B. from 1987 through 1994.

Last May, Collins testified before the R.G.B., that from 2008 to 2013, the board “indefensibly inflated” the projected operating costs for landlords, leading to excessive rent hikes each year.

“Between 2008 and 2011 the average amount of rent paid by stabilized tenants jumped from 31.6 percent to 34.9 percent of household income — the highest rent burdens ever recorded,” Collins testified. “More than one in three stabilized households now devote more than half of their income to rent.”

Collins told the guidelines board that there is only one way to “get things back on track.”

“The board must act boldly and without hesitation to roll back rents,” he declared. “The needless burdens imposed on tenants over the past five years must be lifted as quickly and as fully as possible.”

In short, Collins said what is warranted is an “across-the-board rollback” of 4 percent on all leases — or, alternatively, a rollback of 6 percent on one-year lease renewals and 2 percent on two-year renewals.

‘Look at the data’

“The R.G.B. has to look at the data in terms of landlords’ expenses,” Johnson stressed. “But in the past, the R.G.B. didn’t care what the numbers said — ‘Just put in the increase.’ They favored landlords over tenants.

“I think we have the best possibility that ever existed to get a rollback,” he said. “And it would be a real disappointment and a lost opportunity, if we don’t.”

Similarly, in his State of the City speech in February, Mayor de Blasio said it’s not tenable that so many New Yorkers are paying from 30 percent to 50 percent of their income toward rent.

Johnson, 32, is feeling the crunch, too, in his studio apartment — and not just because it’s such a tight space.

“I live in a 319-square-foot apartment — it’s tiny,” he said. “And my rent just went up to $2,700 a month, which is outrageous.

“It’s emblematic of what’s happening all over the city,” he said. “Which is why I feel the most important thing that can happen in Albany is the repeal of vacancy decontrol. We’ve lost too many rent-regulated apartments.”

Currently, apartments can be decontrolled when the rent hits $2,500 if they become vacant or the tenant earns more than $200,000 annually.

Corey Johnson with residents at the Westbeth artists’ affordable housing complex, at West and Bethune Sts. The councilmember warned that the place’s board of directors better “stop hiding the documents” from residents.  Photos by Tequila Minsky

 

Corey Johnson with residents at the Westbeth artists’ affordable housing complex, at West and Bethune Sts. The councilmember warned that the place’s board of directors better “stop hiding the documents” from residents.

Works with Westbeth

Also on housing, Johnson said, he’s incensed at what’s going on at the Westbeth artists’ housing complex, where the board of directors has sued to stop the residents from getting access to public records from the state Attorney General’s Office.

“The corporation and the board at Westbeth should stop hiding the documents and be transparent,” Johnson stated. “And they should stop warehousing apartments and start occupying them with artists who need affordable housing.

“The board should listen to the Westbeth Artists Residents Council’s recommendations. They should listen to the people who live in the building — the will of the population that lives at Westbeth.”

Clearly, rent regulation and affordable housing are among the issues on the front burner for Johnson. But the interview at the diner was broader, about Johnson’s first year — plus a couple of months — in office, and the full range of issues he and his constituents have worked on and will be working on.

Contextual zoning

A major concern, for example, is the mayor’s new “Zoning for Quality and Affordability” plan, which has blindsided many communities. The plan would allow for taller buildings in so-called “contextual zones.” If developers include affordable housing this would garner a square-footage bonus — but they could also build higher even with 100 percent market-rate housing.

“I am a huge proponent of affordable housing,” Johnson said. “But we cannot undermine years of negotiation, compromise, tradeoffs that created certain contextual zoning districts in pursuit of an affordable housing plan. It needs to be tailored to the neighborhoods.

“In West Chelsea, there’s a 70-foot height limit,” he said. “That took years and years of compromise and negotiation. The one-size-fits-all solution undermines all that community activism and neighborhood planning.”

‘Today’s defining issue’

However, the biggest issue the city is grappling with right now is income inequality, in Johnson’s opinion.

“Forty percent of New Yorkers are living near or below the poverty line,” he said. “Rents are going up, food costs are going up, subway fares are going up and wages have remained either stagnant or gone down. This is the defining issue of our time — as a city and as a country. The rich are getting richer as everyone else falls behind.”

To help address this situation, de Blasio and the Council passed the paid sick-leave bill, which covers an additional 400,000 New Yorkers, and the city is building more affordable housing.

In addition, Johnson firmly believes that the city’s minimum wage should be raised to $15 an hour, which is what the mayor also supports. However, Governor Andrew Cuomo only wants to raise it to $11.50 in the city and $10.50 for the rest of the state.

“De Blasio wants local control, where the city sets its own minimum wage,” Johnson noted. “And, if that happens, I would support $15 an hour — like they just passed in Seattle. Families can’t support themselves on $11.50 an hour — it’s basic,” he stressed.

Busy passing bills

Johnson — who chairs the Council’s Health Committee — is proud that he passed five bills last year, the most of any councilmember other than the Finance Committee chairperson, whose position lends itself to bill passing.

One of his bills protects domestic-violence survivors by cutting through multi-agency bureaucracy and making it easier for them to get placed in shelters. 

Another bill Johnson got through requires pet shops to spay / neuter and microchip their dogs and cats.

Another piece of Johnson legislation now allows people to change their birth certificates to accurately reflect their gender identity.

“It’s a big deal for transgender people,” he noted. “You used to need surgery certificates.”

Johnson co-chairs the Council’s Manhattan delegation with Margaret Chin.

No contact with Quinn

Asked about the once-powerful Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who previously represented District 3, Johnson said, no, he is not in contact with her at all.

“She’s at Harvard, at the Kennedy government school, and she works for the governor, so she’s in Albany,” he said.

Facing term limits, Quinn ran for mayor in 2013, and finished a disappointing third, with 15.5 percent of the vote, behind de Blasio and Bill Thompson.

On the other hand, Johnson said, he is tight with former state Senator Tom Duane, who held the Council seat before Quinn and was her political mentor — and apparently now is Johnson’s, too, to an extent.

“I’m very close with Tom Duane,” Johnson said. “We talk all the time. He’s the definition of a mensch. I rely on him for advice all the time. There’s no one with a bigger or better heart.”

For his part, Duane is doing nonprofit consulting these days.

Johnson is proud to have introduced a bill, called HASA for All, that would extend H.I.V./AIDS Service Administration benefits — notably housing — to all low-income, H.I.V.-positive New Yorkers. HASA was created by Duane in the 1990s.

Of course, a huge issue anywhere in the southern half of Manhattan is development. District 3 sports the Hudson Yards mega-project, among others, which is creating an entire new neighborhood in the far West 30s.

“I have more development in my district than anyone else,” Johnson said.

Corey Johnson makes a point while talking with residents at Westbeth in the West Village.

 

Corey Johnson makes a point while talking with residents at Westbeth in the West Village.

On the waterfront

A lot of that development is actually in Hudson River Park. For starters, Barry Diller and Diane von Furstenberg have committed to funding the construction of Pier55, a glitzy new landscaped “performing-arts pier” at W. 13th St. A nonprofit headed by Diller has gotten a lease from the Hudson River Park Trust to run the pier for 20 years.

“There needs to be community input on Pier55,” Johnson stressed, “and it needs to be accessible and open to people who live in the community. … And they also have to preserve the historic archway there, which is where the Titanic’s survivors were brought.”

Meanwhile, a few blocks north, construction is slated to start this year on Pier 57 to transform it into an artisanal-foods market and shopping destination. The pier will also be home to the Tribeca Film Festival, plus feature small playing fields for kids.

Pier 76, at W. 36th St., the city’s tow pound, will also be redeveloped as part of the park.

And things are finally getting rolling on Gansevoort Peninsula. The Department of Sanitation recently relocated its garbage trucks from Gansevoort to a newly completed mega-garage for three sanitation districts at Spring and Washington Sts. Meanwhile, at the peninsula, demolition has started on what’s left of the old incinerator building, which served as the trucks’ garage.

A nine-member community advisory group, or “CAG,” has been set up to weigh in on Gansevoort’s redevelopment into a park. The mayor, borough president and Johnson each have three appointees on the CAG. Johnson recently appointed Adam Weinberg, the president of the Whitney Museum, and George Cominskie, president of the Westbeth Artists Residents Council.

Marine waste transfer

A big issue concerning Gansevoort will be the marine waste-transfer station that is still planned to share space with the park on the peninsula. The recyclables would be barged from Gansevoort to the city’s new recycling facility in Sunset Park. The plan was for the state and city each to give $25 million to the Trust in return for “alienating” part of the peninsula’s parkland for use for the transfer station. However, Assemblymember Deborah Glick has previously told The Villager that the state feels it shouldn’t pay anything since the waste plan is a city issue.

Johnson noted that the volume of garbage trucks going to Gansevoort — since it would only be for recyclables — at least would be less than that expected at the garbage transfer station on the Upper East Side.

Scoping out Pier 40

And then, of course, there is Pier 40, at W. Houston St. — the Lower West Side’s crumbling “sports pier” — and the issue of development-rights transfers from the pier across the highway to the St. John’s Center site. The funds from the sale would then be funneled back into Pier 40, to fix the badly corroded metal piles that hold up the massive, 14-acre structure.

“We are still not close to certification of the ULURP,” Johnson reported of the city’s seven-month-long review process. “The ULURP is for two things: the mechanism that allows for transfer of air rights from Pier 40 to the St. John’s Building, that’s a zoning text amendment; and a zoning map change, to change the St. John’s site’s use from manufacturing to residential.

“We’re working with the Trust and City Planning,” he continued. “There’s got to be a scoping process — that’s pre-ULURP. The scoping will determine the size of the project and what the environmental impact is going to be, and which type of environmental study will be done, an E.I.S. or an E.A.S.; and the Trust has to have an appraisal of the air rights.”

Is the ‘rights price’ right?

Earlier reports said that Atlas Capital Group had committed to buying  $100 million worth of unused development rights from Pier 40. The pier apparently has 250,000 square feet of unused air rights, which would then translate to $400 per square foot, which some say is low considering surrounding real estate prices.

Asked his thoughts on that figure, Johnson said, “I would hope that whatever the air rights will be sold for will cover the whole cost of rehabilitating Pier 40. That is why the legislation was passed.

“Forty percent of the revenue for the whole park — from Chambers to 59th Sts. — comes from the parking on Pier 40,” he emphasized.

Hope for a hospital

During his primary campaign against Yetta Kurland in 2013, the two candidates engaged in a debate sponsored by The Villager and its sister papers, Gay City News and Chelsea Now. At the debate, Johnson and Kurland both pledged that, no matter who won, they would work together to try to restore a full-service hospital to the Lower West Side. They shook hands on it.

Asked last Friday where that effort stands today, Johnson said, “We still need a full-service hospital on the Lower West Side — no ifs, ands or buts.”

At the same time, he said, “There are hospitals being closed down all over New York City. We’ve lost 13 hospitals in the last 10 years. This is a public-health crisis. Unfortunately, New York City does not control our own fate when it comes to hospital services — the state Department of Health does, and they’re the ones that shamefully allowed St. Vincent’s Hospital to close.”

Plus, he added of getting a new hospital, “Even if you put cost aside, you need to find real estate for it. 

“They should have been forced to put a full-service hospital with a Level 1 trauma center on that site,” he said.

Horse sense

On another health issue — but affecting animals — how about the carriage horses? Their stables are in Johnson’s district.

“I think the horses should be moved to Central Park,” he said, reiterating the position he has held for a while now.

“The current bill is a ban,” he explained. “I think we should seek a compromise, to get them off the street and confine them to Central Park. The horses would never leave Central Park.”

What about the claim, though, by Allie Feldman of NYCLASS — the anti-carriage horse group — that if the horses are put in the park they would need a lot of space — about 70 acres of the famed 800-acre greensward — for a stable and pasture? This would effectively transform a large chunk of the park into the O.K. Corral. Feldman argues that, as a result, the idea would never fly.

Unblinking, Johnson simply repeated that he thinks the urban equines should be put in the park.

Participatory budgeting

Finally, he mentioned that he’s very excited about participatory budgeting. His district’s constituents — anyone over age 14 — can vote on how they think $1 million in City Council funding should be allocated among 12 projects in District 3. Voters can support giving all the money to one project, or split it up among several.

Twenty-three Council districts are currently doing this, and it’s the first time it’s being done in District 3.

The projects include adding a bathroom for the first time ever in the Jefferson Market Public Library, countdown clocks at bus stations and other various improvements for parks, schools and streets.

Voting will take place April 11-19 at several locations throughout the district, including the Tony Dapolito Recreation Center, the L.G.B.T. Center, Hudson Guild, Fulton Houses and Johnson’s office. Check http://council.nyc.gov/d3/html/members/pb3.shtml#vote for details.

The Natural

The son of a Teamster, Johnson famously came out as gay while he was captaining his high school football team in Massachusetts, which landed him on the cover of The New York Times.

With an impressive grasp of the issues and a firm bead on the political landscape, he certainly has the air of a natural politician. In that vein, when he was running for City Council, he earnestly told The Villager, “This is what I’ve always wanted to do.”

Paving the way to his Council campaign, he had previously boldly leapfrogged a more-veteran contender to win the chairpersonship of Community Board 4.

Asked how he likes being an elected official now, he said, “I love the Council. I love it. I say this with every fiber, every ounce. Sure, there are days that are difficult. It is a complete and total honor to serve these neighborhoods and this community as a whole.”

And, at the end of the day, a councilmember has to have fun, too. A song came on the diner’s sound system, and Johnson suddenly was lightly singing along to the lyrics as he bopped a bit in his seat.

“Kelly Clarkson,” he said, beaming a smile.

Corrections: Earlier versions of this article incorrectly stated that both the city and state would need to pay $50 million to “alienate” part of Gansevoort Peninsula for the marine waste transfer station. In fact, the total payment to the Hudson River Park Trust would be $50 million — with the city and state theoretically each paying $25 million. In addition, the article stated that the price Atlas Capital Group would pay for Pier 40’s unused development rights would be $100 per square foot. In fact, it would be $400 per square foot. Also, the article stated that Tom Duane passed HASA in the 1980s, but he did this in the ’90s.

News

Crain’s NY: Mayor is heckled at City Hall zoning rally

March 26, 2015

AR-150329903

 

Councilman Corey Johnson participated in a rally criticizing Mayor Bill de Blasio’s zoning proposals.

Photo: Courtesy of William Alatriste

Mayor Bill de Blasio happened to stroll by as about 30 people rallied at City Hall Wednesday afternoon against his proposed zoning changes, and was given a rude welcome.

A handful of rabble-rousers in the crowd booed and chanted “recall de Blasio,” according to several sources. Four City Council members were in attendance: Corey Johnson, Inez Barron, Rosie Mendez and Ben Kallos. It’s unclear whether any of the council members—all Democrats like the mayor—attempted to admonish the more vocal critics, or even heard the offending comments.

One of the organizers of the rally said such reactions are hard to manage when passions run high.

“At a public outdoor event you can’t control who will or won’t show up in the crowd,” said Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Historic Preservation Society. “Speakers at our press conference, which included four City Council members, community board chairs, and representatives of literally scores of community groups across the city, stayed focused on our message.”

But other activists say such occurrences can draw attention away from the message.

“Booing de Blasio is unproductive and doesn’t help advance any credible narrative about how impacted city residents think the mayor can make these rezonings successful,” said one operative not involved in Wednesday’s rally. “Look, there are real anxieties and legitimate concerns about the rezonings and the housing affordability crisis, but the way to get the administration to listen is through smart and effective organizing that builds real support for a progressive vision of rezoning.”

Mayors of New York are no strangers to booing. Mr. de Blasio has encountered his share in the first 15 months of his administration.

A spokesman for the mayor called it an overreaction to a “modest” set of proposals.

“The rhetoric here is just heated and inaccurate,” he said. “These are modest changes that respect what works in our contextual rezonings, and mends what doesn’t so that we can deliver the affordable housing communities need. That’s why the only noticeable changes to height apply solely to buildings with affordable and senior housing—and to suggest otherwise is just untrue.”

Mr. Kallos, who spoke immediately prior to the booing and had no opportunity to address it, sent a statement expressing his concerns about the mayor’s zoning policies.

“I am concerned that the administration’s plan will incentivize landlords to warehouse then raze affordable housing in favor of new buildings with a fraction of the affordable housing units at monthly rents double or triple what any New Yorker can afford,” he said. “I look forward to an open, transparent and civil conversation about how we can make New York City affordable and livable for everyone.”

Spokespersons for the other council members could not be reached for comment.

The intent of the rally was to raise concerns about zoning changes proposed by the mayor to allow the construction of taller buildings and more density facilitate the creation of 80,000 units of affordable housing and 160,000 market-rate apartments.

Critics argue that the administration is moving too swiftly. The initial plan was released at the end of February and the first public hearing was held Wednesday by the Department of City Planning. The city says it wants to complete the public review process by the end of fall 2015.

Current zoning regulations present barriers to the mayor’s housing goals, as many are “outdated and don’t reflect today’s housing needs or construction practices,” says the Department of City Planning’s website, which includes a “Frequently Asked Questions” page about the proposed changes. The administration is seeking changes to add 5 to 15 feet of height for market-rate developments, and 15 to 50 feet for mixed-income and senior housing, according to a chart on the site.

“The proposed changes are designed to give architects the ability to design more varied and interesting buildings, and to even the playing field for the construction of affordable housing, with limited increases to maximum heights,” a spokesman for City Planning said. “The proposal does this by allowing features like ceiling heights that better reflect historic building types, and ensuring that builders using cost-effective construction techniques can fit all the permitted floor area within the permitted limits.”

But Mr. Berman says the city is trying to impose a “one-size-fits-all” approach that will damage the character of many neighborhoods. He claims the mayor’s proposal will benefit the development of mostly luxury condos.

“It’s questionable what the public benefits of this will be,” he said. “But what’s unquestionable is that as currently structured it will result in a pretty serious loss of light and air and neighborhood character.”

News

DNAinfo: New Park, Solar-Powered Composting Proposed for Chelsea and Hell’s Kitchen

March 25, 2015

By Rosa Goldensohn

CHELSEA — Cracked sidewalks, slippery playgrounds and solar-powered composting stations went head-to-head at Chelsea and Hell’s Kitchen’s participatory budgetingexpo Tuesday night.

Proposals include a plan to turn a vacant lot at 136 W. 20th St. into a public park, resurfacing the sprinkler area at the Fulton Houses to make it safe for children, raised crosswalks, and bathroom renovations for public schools. Project proponents introduced their ideas to the public at the event at the Haskell Library on West 20th Street.

Fulton Houses resident Elaine Williams envisions a refinished basketball court at the NYCHA residence.

“We want to make it a multi-purpose court,” Williams said, “and also a venue for artists.” She also imagines it could be covered with ice for skating in the winter.

This is the first year that Council District 3 has tried participatory budgeting, a process that lets residents propose and vote on how to use $1 million or more in capital funds. City capital funds can be spent on infrastructure like construction and maintenance projects.

Volunteers developed proposals for 17 projects, improvements for libraries, schools, parks and playgrounds, and streets and sidewalks.

Voting will be held the week of April 11 through 19 at six community locations.

At the expo, Johnson said that if great ideas didn’t make the cut, he would try to make them happen anyway out of his own $5 million budget.

“I basically am saying I don’t have all the answers,” he said. “This is democratizing the budget process.”

Patricia Whitfield, 62, has lived in the neighborhood for a 27 years, said she liked the park plan and things for the schools, but also felt the pull of loyalty to the Muhlenberg Library, which wants a new HVAC system.

“I go there to get my movies,” she said.

But Whitfield wondered why the city hadn’t already made some of the suggested fixes.

“They were supposed to be taking care of these problems,” she said.

News

Capital NY: Mark-Viverito meets with Irish New Yorkers

March 20, 2015

City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito met with a group of Irish New Yorkers Friday afternoon for a part meet-and-greet, part grievance-airing session, according to multiple attendees.

The hour-long, closed-door session at City Hall focused on the Speaker’s push to ban horse-drawn carriages, funding for Irish organizations, immigration issues and the possibility of hiring an Irish liaison within the Council.

The meeting also comes on the heels of a series of recent stumbles Mayor Bill de Blasio had with the same community—his tardiness to a St. Patrick’s Day Parade in the Rockaways, a scheduling snafu with his holiday breakfast at Gracie Mansion this week, and a 15-minute delay in getting to Timothy Cardinal Dolan’s mass after the celebration on Tuesday.

A spokesman for Mark-Viverito said Friday’s meeting was planned several weeks ago.

“This was a very positive, long-planned get-together with Irish leaders from across New York City. The Speaker regularly holds these meetings and we look forward to working with Irish leaders from across the five boroughs,” spokesman Eric Koch wrote in an email.

He would not make her available for an interview.

Koch also said Mark-Viverito, who has placed an emphasis on immigration during her 15-month tenure, has met with other ethnic groups, including Asian-Americans, Muslims and Jews.

Not everyone left the meeting pleased.

Ciaran Staunton of the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform described it as “stormy.”

Of greatest concern to the Queens resident is Mark-Viverito’s plan to abolish the horse-carriage industry, which predominantly employs Irish immigrants.

“That is contradictory or hypocritical for someone to say, this is going to be a pro-immigrant city, and by the way the first thing we are going to do is cut the jobs of over a 100 Irish and Mexican immigrants. That cancels out everything else,” Staunton told Capital after he left the session, which 17 people attended.

The legislation is being done in concert with the mayor, who campaigned on a promise to abolish the industry his first week in office and has yet to deliver on his pledge.

Staunton also asked that Mark-Viverito appoint an Irish liaison—something he said her predecessor, Christine Quinn, had done. (He was referring to former staffer Deirdre Feerick, a deputy director with close ties to the Queens Democratic party that helped get Quinn elected Speaker. Feerick’s official job was not liaison to the Irish community, but Staunton said she took on that role at times. Mark-Viverito let her go when she took over on January 2014.)

And he lamented that she cut funding to one Irish organization, though her staff said she has increased capital funding to another.

He said he does not have an issue with her choice to boycott the annual St. Patrick’s Day parade along Fifth Avenue, due to its policy of excluding homosexual groups from marching under banners depicting their sexual orientation.

Several attendees disputed Staunton’s characterization of the meeting.

Councilman Danny Dromm, a Queens Democrat who helped set it up, described it as a “very positive discussion.”

“The Speaker, to her credit, wants to meet with the Irish folks. She’s taking a proactive stance on this, reaching out to people of all different ideas on different viewpoints and different issues. That has always been the style of this Speaker—she does not squelch discussion,” said Dromm, who is Irish.

He said the horse-carriage legislation was “one small piece of the discussion but overall, it was a very positive discussion about the issues, issues of importance to the Irish and Irish-American community.”

Dromm is the lead sponsor of the horse-carriage ban.

As for the $50,000 reduction in City Council funds to an Irish senior citizen center, Dromm said, “So there have been some changes in the priorities of the Council. We want to address that; we want to make sure that the Irish community is included in all funding decisions.”

And Councilman Corey Johnson, a Manhattan Democrat who attended the meeting, noted Mark-Viverito increased her allocation to an Irish Arts Center.

The other two members of the Council’s Irish caucus, Elizabeth Crowley and Jimmy van Bramer of Queens, also attended the meeting.

Author: Sally Goldenberg and Gloria Pazmino

News

The Indypendent: New Yorkers Urge Cuomo to Veto Port Ambrose LNG Terminal

March 17, 2015

Opponents of the Port Ambrose terminal say the project will increase demand for natural gas, which is extracted through a process called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, that injects a toxic chemical cocktail into the earth and can poison nearby water supplies. Anti-fracking activists scored a major victory in December when Cuomo banned fracking in New York State.

“We have some victories that we can celebrate. We banned fracking,” said City Councilman Donovan Richards, who is chairman of the Committee on Environmental Protection. “I think we have an opportunity to work with the governor once again to get it right. I think that he has a chance to be two for two, instead of one for two.”

The rally was held on the last day for public comments on an environmental impact study released by the Maritime Administration and the U.S. Coast Guard, the federal agencies tasked with accessing how the project might affect surrounding communities. More than 60,000 comments had been submitted by Monday morning. An overwhelming majority of the comments opposed building Port Ambrose and disputed the study’s conclusion that the project would have a minimal impact on the environment.

The speakers at the rally argued that the Port Ambrose terminal threatened the marine ecosystem and there was a risk the volatile fuel might explode and pollute the waters around coastal communities. They also said that the terminal would interfere with plans to build an offshore wind farm in the same area.

City Councilman Corey Johnson, who was arrested in 2013 along with a dozen anti-fracking activists for protesting the construction of the Spectra pipeline in the West Village, called on the community and environmental groups who fought for the New York fracking ban to bring the same attention to the Port Ambrose terminal.

“I’m very glad and happy that the state health commissioner and Governor Cuomo saw the light of day and did the right thing [by banning fracking]. But they only did the right thing because activists put pressure on them,” said Johnson. “I’m willing to get arrested again. You let me know where and when.”

Liberty Natural Gas, the developer behind Port Ambrose, has said the terminal would only be used to import natural gas and would reduce energy costs during peak consumption periods, such as the recent cold snap this winter.

However, those who oppose the project argue that it doesn’t make sense to import natural gas considering that domestic gas prices are much lower than they are in the rest of world. They believe that once the terminal is built, Liberty will apply for a new license to allow the Port Ambrose facility to export natural gas, which would increase demand for fracked gas.

“It doesn’t make sense economically,” said Jessica Roff, programs manager for the environmental group Catskill Mountainkeeper. She pointed out that 31 permits for liquefied natural gas terminals have been submitted to the federal government. Port Ambrose is the only one to apply only for an import permit.

We’re all confident that this is going to get transitioned over to an export facility if it is indeed passed. This means greater pressure to frack in the Northeast,” she said. “We’re very lucky in New York State that Governor Cuomo started us on the right path by banning fracking in New York. But that means that our neighbors in Pennsylvania pick up the slack and that’s not okay either. We don’t want there to be fracking anywhere.”

Long Island resident and activist George Povell said that opposition to Port Ambrose is almost unanimous in the coastal communities closest to the proposed facility. Many of the area’s elected officials, including Senate Republican majority leader Dean Skelos, have vocally opposed the project.

Aileen Sheil, NYPIRG Board of Directors Chairperson and Queens College student, said that stopping the Port Ambrose Terminal was a chance for New York State to once again show leadership in the global battle against fracking. She said that it would be huge victory for advocates of renewable energy to stop the Port Ambrose terminal and build a wind farm in its place.

“To be a leader in renewable energy is really a great responsibility and one we shouldn’t screw up,” she said.

News

Chelsea Now: Pols Call on Albany to End Vacancy Decontrol

March 12, 2015

rent-johnson

Photo by Gerard Flynn
Corey Johnson, right, encouraged tenants to “get on the bus” and lobby in Albany to close loopholes in the rent laws.

BY GERARD FLYNN  |  Though Mayor de Blasio was notably absent, his progressive voice was resoundingly clear Monday on the frigid steps of City Hall, where Democratic pols and tenant groups repeated their demands that Albany strengthen existing rent laws, which expire in June.

Sounding a bit like Jimmy McMillan, Public Advocate Letitia James called on Governor Cuomo to “step up to the plate and recognize the rent is too damn high” and that the city is in an “affordable housing crisis.”

Councilmember Jumaane Williams, chairperson of the Committee on Housing, which is proposing nine new bills to address the situation, told the crowd that a vote in June can only be considered a victory if the rent laws are strengthened. A mere extension — with its many loopholes — won’t be enough, he said.

Extending the status quo, they said, would merely extend these loopholes, especially vacancy decontrol, which, if not repealed, will continue the trend of illegal evictions, and the oft-told “Tale of Two Cities” — a city for the very rich and the very poor.

Under state law, rent-regulated apartments can become market rate once a tenant moves out or dies, if the rent is above $2,500. However, advocates accuse the state’s Division of Housing and Community Renewal of being lax in enforcement, allowing landlords to illegally deregulate apartments.

Vacancy decontrol, they say, has been a windfall for many landlords and is responsible for deregulating more than 150,000 apartments during the last 10 years.

“First thing he can to do is repeal vacancy decontrol,” James said of Cuomo.

“Too many landlords are exploiting it.”

The rally also called for an end of charges for major capital improvements or “MCI increases,” which allow a landlord to make improvements to a building, then tack the cost onto tenants’ rent in perpetuity. James further called on Cuomo to end the 1971 Urstadt Law, which ended the city’s ability to govern its own rent laws.

“The City Council knows best,” she said, “and are in a position to regulate the rent laws in the city.”

The net effect of these loopholes, the politicians charged, has been to create a city more geared toward the wealthy, who can afford ever-increasing rents.

Speaking to that point, City Comptroller Scott Stringer told the gathering that, according to city data, between the years 2000 to 2012, there was a loss of roughly 400,000 apartments renting for $1,000 or less and a corresponding gain in the number of units renting for more than $1,000 per month. Today, less than 1 percent of the city’s available rental housing stock rents for under $700 a month, he added.

Talking of building hundreds of thousands of new affordable housing units is fine, Stringer said, but he added, “If we are losing the same number of housing units on the other side, we are playing a zero-sum game. We are continuing to plunge people into homelessness.”

Similarly, Councilmember Corey Johnson said, “Merely renewal is not a victory. That would not be a victory for tenants. It would lock in the existing slow-motion disaster that is vacancy decontrol — a loophole so big you can drive a truck through it.

“We must end vacancy decontrol. We need better enforcement about harassment. And we need a revolution in Housing Court,” Johnson said. Otherwise, tenants will only continue to be victimized by predatory landlords, he warned.

“The next three months are game time for tenants,” he declared. “Tenants have got to get on the bus, go to Albany and tell Republican and Democrats there can be no compromise.”

News

NY Daily News: City Council votes to extend expiring rent laws, urges Albany to increase protections for tenants

March 12, 2015

New_York_Daily_News_logo

City Council votes to extend expiring rent laws, urges Albany to increase protections for tenants

BY ERIN DURKIN NEW YORK DAILY NEWS Thursday, March 12, 2015, 12:40 AM

The city council voted Wednesday to extend the city’s expiring rent laws, and is urging Albany to beef up protections for tenants.

The Council passed a bill by a vote of 47-2 to keep rent stabilization in effect for another three years. The rules that keep rent down for a million apartments in the five boroughs will expire this spring unless both the city and state Legislature vote to extend them.

“Too many New Yorkers are being priced out of their homes and out of their communities,” said Councilman Corey Johnson (D-Manhattan), one of the sponsors.