Monthly Archives

April 2015

News

Met Council on Housing Weekly Spotlight: Corey Johnson

April 22, 2015

corey johnson

 

By Mia McDonald | April 22, 2015

It’s not difficult to understand why City Council Member Corey Johnson, of Manhattan’s District 3, is a favorite among both housing advocates and tenants. He has made housing a priority during his time in the council, sponsoring a number of tenants’ rights bills and supporting the housing movement’s fight to strengthen the state rent laws in June of 2015.

District 3, which encompasses Chelsea, the West Village, and Hell’s Kitchen, has a reputation for being unaffordable. (The average one bedroom apartment in Chelsea rents for $4,090/month). However, before these neighborhoods became trendy and expensive, they were considered an ideal location for low-income and moderate-income housing. Now, the district has both high property values and a wide range of incomes, resulting in increased pressure (often in the form of harassment) for landlords, who prioritize profit over people and push out their regulated tenants. Johnson has been active in addressing this issue, both in his district and across the city.

In response to blatant discrimination by landlords of mixed-income buildings, Johnson introduced Intro 731 to prevent landlords from harassing rent regulated tenants by banning their access to amenities. “An unfortunate – and legal – trend we’ve seen as of late by New York City developers is the unequal treatment of tenants in terms of access to building amenities such as pools, lobbies, green spaces and gyms.” Johnson explains, “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,” he said.

Johnson has also been active in the movement to reform the Rent Guidelines Board and to fight for a rent rollback. In January, he proposed legislation that would eliminate the Rent Guidelines Board use of the price index, an outdated system that is widely believed to unfairly favor landlords. “After a decade of onerous and unwarranted rent increases premised upon a faulty metric,” Johnson said, “this year represents our greatest opportunity to achieve a rent rollback.”

As the chair of the council’s health committee, one of the more ambitious policy goals on Johnson’s agenda is expanding HASA benefits to cover all HIV-positive New Yorkers. (It currently only covers those who have been diagnosed with AIDS or a symptomatic HIV infection.) HASA provides many types of assistance, but housing is an important benefit. “As adequate housing is the most critical aspect of maintaining good health, improved housing status has been linked to better rates of viral suppression, lower mortality rates, and lower HIV infection rates,” the Council Member said.

Like Helen Rosenthal, Council Member Johnson sees vacancy regulation as the biggest threat to affordable housing and has supported legislation to repeal it. The dedicated efforts of elected officials like Corey Johnson are essential in our fight for fair and affordable housing.

 Mia is an intern at Met Council on Housing from Houston, Texas. She has previously worked with the nonprofits Accion Texas and the Queens Economic Development Corporation and is vice president of College Democrats at St. John’s University, where she studies Economics and Government & Politics.
News, Uncategorized

Statement from JoAnne Page, CEO & President of The Fortune Society

April 20, 2015

JoAnne Page, CEO & President of The Fortune Society, issued the following statement in response to New York City Councilmember Corey Johnson’s proposal to create a drug-policy agency that would approach drug-related issues from a public health perspective:

“The Fortune Society applauds City Council Health Committee Chairman Corey Johnson for his leadership and vision in proposing a public health care approach to tackling the issue of drug abuse.

“With almost five decades of experience in the area, The Fortune Society knows first-hand that treatment options – and not prison – provide substance users a true path to recovery. Subjecting those who suffer from substance abuse and mental health problems to arrest, prosecution and imprisonment is unjust and unwise. The collateral consequences of a conviction are devastating and often make it impossible for a person to find housing, to land a job, to get an education, and to build a stable family life.  The impact can be especially devastating for immigrants, who face deportation and a ripping apart of their families and lives.

“Getting to the root of individuals’ substance abuse and approaching the solution from a public health and safety context will save countless lives, will help build strong communities and will ensure that scarce resources are being spent in the most effective way possible. The Fortune Society is eager to work with CM Johnson to make his vision a reality.”

 

News

Drug Policy Alliance: New York City Turns a Corner on Drug Policy

April 17, 2015

PRESS RELEASE  | 04/17/2015

First of its Kind City Council Bill Would Create a National Model to Harmonize Drug Strategy Between Dozens of Departments and the Community

Bill Emphasizes Research-based Approaches to Promote Public Health and Safety and Reduce Negative Impact of Past and Current Policies

New York, NY – Building on debates that helped shape the last mayoral election, NYC Council Members Corey Johnson, Andrew Cohen, and Vanessa Gibson introduced legislation yesterday to create an Office of Drug Strategy. Placed in city hall, the new office would be empowered to convene city agencies, outside experts, and communities impacted by drug use to develop a city-wide, health-focused plan for a coordinated approach in addressing issues related to drug use.

“Past and present ineffective drug policy has contributed to tragic and preventable mortality, crime and inequity here in New York City,” said Council Member Corey Johnson, Chair of the Health Committee. “The Office of Drug Strategy will combat these problems by enhancing evidence-based drug education and public health intervention efforts and the availability of medical, psychological and social services to those struggling with drug use. Through the coordination of the many agencies and offices that address the numerous facets of illicit and non-medical drug use, we can develop a forward-looking policy to stem overdoses and enhance rehabilitation.”

The office would be the first of its kind in the nation, and advocates say that it could be a model for how American cities can begin to unwind devastating drug war policies. New York lags far behind dozens of other cities, notably in Europe and Canada, that began developing coordinated municipal drug strategies in the late 1980s. That approach has led to significantly lower rates of drug use, crime, and public disorder and improved public health outcomes, such as reducing rates of HIV/AIDS and overdose deaths, compared to New York.

“This bill is an important step in adopting a more rational approach to drug policy in this City – one grounded in science, health, human rights, and principles of harm reduction,” said gabriel sayegh, managing director of policy and campaigns at the Drug Policy Alliance. “We know the war on drugs has failed, and it’s time for a new plan. With a comprehensive and coordinated municipal drug strategy, NYC can lead the nation in improving public health and safety by reducing the morbidity, mortality, crime, and racial disparities stemming from failed practices.”

After 40 years of the war on drugs, drugs are cheaper, more pure, and easier to obtain than ever, contributing to growing problems like mass incarceration and the 100% increase in heroin overdose deaths in recent years. Under current policies, city agencies often work at cross-purposes to address drug related issues, with conflicts arising between public health and law enforcement policies. Agencies also often miss opportunities to provide support to people in housing programs, the welfare system, family and homeless services, and the courts who have problematic drug use. Meanwhile, current enforcement strategies have led to gross racial disparities and eroded the trust between communities and law enforcement.

Advocates stress the de Blasio administration has already taken some important steps in the right direction, including major reforms to low-level marijuana policing and the summons system, and initiatives to pilot criminal justice diversion for people with mental illness and other conditions. The creation of the Office of Drug Strategy is the next logical step in ensuring further coordination among city agencies.

The Office of Drug Strategy would be responsible for convening multiple stakeholders – including community groups – to evaluate past and current drug strategies and develop a new, coordinated approach. By examining the harms caused by both drugs and our policy responses to drugs – like the drug war – NYC’s Office of Drug Strategy will develop a 21st century drug policy that enhances both health and safety.

“We’ve learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t during the past 40 years,” said Matt Curtis, policy director at VOCAL New York, a grassroots political group. “Innovation based on rigorous evaluation is already happening as cities recognize that an overwhelmingly law enforcement focused approach is only making drug related problems worse, but reform has been slow and piecemeal. A NYC drug strategy office would be a path toward long-lasting improvements in individual and community health, as well as smarter policing strategies.”

The proposed Office reflects calls in the last few years from New Yorkers for a new approach. In 2013,  The New York Academy of Medicine and the Drug Policy Alliance co-published a groundbreaking report, Blueprint for a Public Health and Safety Approach to Drug Policy, based on consultations with 500 New Yorkers, which called for a coordinated approach grounded in science. And in 2014, as part of the Talking Transition open tent process, VOCAL-NY and DPA led a town-hall assembly about drugs with 200 New Yorkers, where a primary recommendation was an Office of Drug Strategy.

“Drug use, addiction, mental health, and public safety are problems that are too complicated for any one city agency to solve,” said Council Member Andrew Cohen, chair of the Committee on Mental Health. “Creating an Office of Drug Strategy gives New York City an opportunity to make sure that every part of the system – from the health department, to homeless services, to the NYPD – is doing what it can to support people struggling with addiction.”

“Through the creation of an Office of Drug Strategy, we will develop a unified drug strategy that provides New York with a coordinated effort to develop best practices for those who cycle in and out of prison on drug charges,” said Chair of the Committee on Public Safety, Council Member Vanessa L. Gibson. “By drawing on the expertise of diverse city agencies and community groups, we will build safer, healthier communities and allow the police the opportunity to focus on violence and other major crimes. I look forward to the innovative policies this office will bring to New York and the good it will do for our citizens.”

Contact:

Matt Curtis 646-234-9062
gabriel sayegh, 646-335-2264

News

Gotham Gazette: Time for City to Overhaul Drug Strategy

April 17, 2015

johnson_flyer

 

Council Member Corey Johnson (photo: William Alatriste)

By Alex S. Vitale & Matt Curtis

On Thursday, April 16, City Council Member Corey Johnson introduced legislation to create an Office of Drug Strategy to oversee New York City’s myriad and sometimes contradictory approaches to the problems associated with drug use. This new office could play an important role in coordinating dozens of agencies that deal with relevant issues. Moreover, it could move the city away from a primarily punitive approach to drugs and toward one based on research and best practices – increasing the health and safety of individuals and communities while saving the city money.

Despite decades of a relentless War on Drugs, drugs are cheaper, of higher quality, and more easily available than ever. While concerted police action has helped remove much of the most visible drug dealing, drugs are widely available to anyone who wants them. Surveys indicate that high school students have almost universal access to drugs – though most choose not to use them. And relying on police and prisons to try to stomp out drug use has been a failure for people who use drugs and their families.

In recent years deaths from heroin overdoses have increased by 100%, killing more people than homicides. Too often people experiencing drug use problems are given few options. Existing voluntary drug treatment programs are overwhelmed by demand. Even those with good insurance have difficulty accessing high quality care. And stigma is widespread, in part because we continue to criminalize people who use drugs

The criminalization of drug users and dealers has fallen primarily on communities of color. In New York State 90 percent of those incarcerated on drug charges are black and Latino; similarly, about 85 percent of those arrested or ticketed for marijuana in New York City are people of color—despite the fact the drug use rates are similar across racial groups. This suggests that drug enforcement looks different in white communities than it does in communities of color. Police claim that this is because it is low-income communities of color that request their help. But this ignores the fact that for decades these communities have also pleaded without success for the jobs and health care services that would be more effective in reducing the illegal drug trade in their neighborhoods.

Meanwhile, large-scale drug trafficking continues without interruption because almost all of the law enforcement focus is on low level street dealing. Even when a higher level dealer is arrested, it merely results in a shifting of the players with no measurable effect on the basic functioning of the illegal drug trade.

New York City has already taken important steps to change course. Stop-and-frisk policing has been curtailed. Radically fewer people are being arrested for low-level marijuana offenses after a new policy adopted by the de Blasio administration last fall (though, troublingly, people of color remain the overwhelming targets of the thousands of arrests that still happen). And the city is developing new behavioral and mental health initiatives that prioritize health and social assistance instead of incarceration for people struggling with substance use or mental illness.

Increasingly, police officials themselves are speaking out. Houston Police Chief Charles McLelland has called the War on Drugs a “miserable failure.” Recent books by former Baltimore police officer turned John Jay College professor Peter Moskos and former Seattle Chief of Police Norm Stamper have outlined in detail the utter futility of controlling drugs through traditional policing.

The new New York City Office of Drug Strategy would be tasked with bringing together numerous local agencies – from the health department to the police, homeless services, welfare, and more – to assess existing approaches and develop new ones based on systematic evaluation of what works to make individuals and communities healthier and safer. The office would produce annual progress reports and work closely with an advisory board made up of public officials, academic experts, service providers, and people with personal experience of drug use.

Council Member Johnson’s bill makes clear that this new office would adopt a harm reduction approach to protecting health and public safety with the goal of reducing the morbidity, mortality, and crime, as well as inequities, stemming from past or current policies. This means that part of the office’s work will be to overcome the negative effects of criminalization in poor communities of color, which too often drive people away from education and opportunity and toward violence, criminality, and prison.

Individuals, families, and communities need help dealing with very real problems stemming from drug use. It’s time that the city takes seriously the need for a broad range of strategies based on research and experience. We know that these harms can be addressed if we have the political will and resources. A new Office of Drug Strategy could go a long way toward generating both.

***
Alex S. Vitale is Associate Professor of Sociology at Brooklyn College and author of City of Disorder: How the Quality of Life Campaign Transformed New York Politics.

Matt Curtis is Policy Director at VOCAL New York.

News

NY Times: Under Deal, Living Wage for Workers at a Tower in Hudson Yards

April 16, 2015

By

New York City officials said on Thursday that all of the workers in a proposed office tower in the Hudson Yards project in Midtown Manhattan will be paid at least $13.30 an hour, the first broad application of MayorBill de Blasio’s executive order mandating a living wage.

The deal, struck with Brookfield Property Partners, is the first involving a construction project that has applied for significant tax breaks from the city since the mayor signed the order last fall. It called for a living wage for all workers, including employees of retail stores and other tenants, in projects that receive subsidies from the city.

Developers have argued that they cannot dictate to tenants, especially those that are part of a national chain of stores or restaurants, how much to pay their employees. Mr. de Blasio’s predecessor, Michael R. Bloomberg, sided with them in opposing the City Council’s efforts to impose a living-wage law.

But the de Blasio administration has embraced the idea as a way to reduce income inequality.

“This is really the template for the future,” said Alicia Glen, the deputy mayor for housing and economic development. “This is not just some theoretical debate on a Sunday morning talk show.”

Ms. Glen said the agreement with Brookfield proved that developers receiving big tax breaks will accept the burden of finding tenants who will pay all of their workers more than the minimum wage. She said she expected two more big developments to apply for subsidies this year, and she indicated that they, too, would have to accept the rules for their tenants.

The living wage in the city is now $13.30 an hour and will rise with inflation.

The minimum wage in New York State is $8.75 an hour, but Mr. de Blasio has been pushing for a higher minimum in the city. Ultimately, he would like the minimum wage to match the living wage, Ms. Glen said.

Asked if the nationwide campaign for pay of $15 an hour had provided a tailwind for what the administration wants to achieve, Ms. Glen replied, “I think we are the wind.”

The direct impact of the agreement with Brookfield will be limited because most of the construction workers on the project and the employees of the companies that will fill the office tower would earn more than $15 an hour. Ms. Glen estimated that the agreement would boost the pay of at least a few hundred workers, including those employed in cafeterias and the parking garages.

In a statement, Ric Clark, chief executive of Brookfield, said, “We are pleased to have worked with the de Blasio administration on this initiative to help support the mayor in achieving his goal.”

The deal sets a precedent for other companies that might seek tax breaks and other forms of subsidy from the city, said Corey Johnson, a city councilman whose district includes Hudson Yards.

“This does start to set the standard that if there is city money involved, a hard bargain is going to be driven,” Mr. Johnson said.

He said the deal showed that the Council erred three years ago when it exempted the 26-acre Hudson Yards territory from the original living wage bill. “Living wage was supposed to make the sky fall,” Mr. Johnson said.

That exemption paved the way for a discrepancy in pay rates in his district, Mr. Johnson said. The main developer of Hudson Yards, the Related Companies, had already received authorization for much of its plans before the mayor’s executive order overrode the exemption.

Related has agreed to have the original living wage rules apply to its employees and those who work for Equinox, a fitness-club chain owned by Related. But the higher living wage that Mr. de Blasio ordered will not apply to Related’s tenants in Hudson Yards.

A spokeswoman for Related declined to comment.

News

Capital NY: Accessibility advocates and taxi agents unite against Uber

April 16, 2015

By Dana Rubinstein
Finding common cause in their opposition to Uber, advocates for the disabled and taxi industry players gathered in front of City Hall on Thursday to back a bill that would require all for-hire vehicles to be wheelchair-accessible.

“Accessibility must be universal, not just required by one sector of the industry, while other companies skirt the rules and leave this segment of our city out in the street,” said Councilman Corey Johnson, who sponsored the bill.

Taxi app companies, Uber foremost among them, are making ever bigger inroads into New York City’s taxi market.

At the same time, the city and the yellow taxi industry have, slowly, been making strides toward accessibility.

Last year, in accordance with a late-Bloomberg-era court settlement, the administration agreed to make at least 50 percent of its yellow taxis accessible by 2020. The agreement also imposed accessibility requirements on green taxis.

It did not, however, address black cars, many of which are now affiliated with bases run by Uber.

The Committee for Taxi Safety, which represents yellow taxi leasing agents, thinks that’s unfair.

“Every single vehicle” that the Taxi and Limousine Commission licenses “should be accessible for all,” said Tweeps Phillips Woods, the group’s executive director.

“This is incredibly progressive legislation and forward thinking,” agreed Jim Weisman, the general counsel for the United Spinal Association.

The bill would also require wheelchair-accessible cabs to be side-entry rather than rear-entry vehicles.

Rear-entry vehicles have caused some dismay among wheelchair users, who say it forces them to brave traffic to enter the vehicle.

“It’s extremely scary,” said Jean Ryan, a disability rights advocate.

The wheelchair-accessible version of the Taxi of Tomorrow, the vehicle the city will soon require medallion owners to buy, is rear-entry.

Ydanis Rodriguez, the Democrat from Upper Manhattan who chairs the Council’s transportation committee, used to work as a livery driver, and is close to the livery car industry.

He gave Capital a noncommittal comment.

“We will continue working with advocates, my colleagues and the administration to continue identifying ways to improve services,” he said, in an email. “As chair of the committee I will continue to also look at the changing taxi industry and emerging app companies to ensure they to are serving the disabled community in the same way that for hire and yellow, green taxis are require to do.”

T.L.C. spokesman Allan Fromberg provided the following statement: “We will review the bill, but it is important to note that the comprehensive plans we have currently in motion will give New York City the largest accessible fleet in the nation, reflecting our resolute commitment to enhancing transportation options for persons with disabilities.”

Uber had no immediate comment.

News

NY Daily News: Taxis would be required to be wheelchair-accessible under city councilman’s proposed bill

April 16, 2015
NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Thursday, April 16, 2015, 7:41 PM

Councilman Corey Johnson introduced a bill Thursday that would require all cabs to be wheelchair-accessible – and banish the so-called Taxi of Tomorrow.

Under current plans, half of the yellow taxi fleet would be wheelchair-friendly by 2020. The legislation would up that number to 100%, and would also apply to black cars including e-hail services like Uber.

And after complaints by disability advocates who want the city to revisit its Taxi of Tomorrow deal with Nissan, the bill would require the cabs to load wheelchairs from the side, rather than from the back like the current Nissan model.

“People with disabilities were kind of an afterthought in this process,” Johnson (D-Manhattan) said. “The whole thing was a mess. It’s embarrassing we are where we are in 2015.

Taxi and Limousine Commission Allan Fromberg said officials will review the bill but added, “The comprehensive plans we have currently in motion will give New York City the largest accessible fleet in the nation, reflecting our resolute commitment to enhancing transportation options for persons with disabilities.”

News

Vocal NY: NEW YORK CITY COUNCIL INTRODUCES BILL TO EXPAND LIFE-SAVING BENEFITS TO POOR PEOPLE WITH HIV

April 10, 2015

Contact: Alyssa Aguilera, alyssa@vocal-ny.org, 917-200-1446

COUNCIL MEMBER COREY JOHNSON, ADVOCATES, PEOPLE LIVING WITH AIDS INTRODUCE BILL TO EXPAND LIFE-SAVING BENEFITS TO HELP END AIDS IN NEW YORK

“HASA FOR ALL” LEGISLATION WOULD EXPAND HOUSING AND ANTI-POVERTY PROGRAM TO ALL LOW-INCOME HIV+ NEW YORKERS

New York, NY: A broad coalition of leading HIV/AIDS and LGBT organizations, along with elected officials, called for an expansion of welfare benefits to all low-income, HIV+ individuals, not just those with an AIDS diagnosis. The expanded benefits, which include enhanced housing, nutrition, and transportation support, are critical to promoting health and stopping the spread of HIV.

Led by Health committee chair Council Member Corey Johnson, the only openly HIV+ elected official in the state, and Council Member Stephen Levin, chair of the General Welfare committee, the coalition pointed to a wealth of scientific data showing homelessness and poverty as the primary driver of the AIDS epidemic. By expanding life-saving benefits, HIV+ people will be in a better position to take their medication, attend regular doctor visits, and stay “virally suppressed”, meaning healthy and virtually unable to transmit the virus.

The campaign is pushing to expand eligibility requirements so that all low-income HIV+ New Yorkers are able to receive enhanced rental assistance, increased food and transportation allowances and seamless support services. Currently, these benefits are only available to NYC residents with an “AIDS” diagnosis according to the NYS AIDS Institute. However, this medically outdated eligibility requirement leaves out thousands of poor, HIV+ New Yorkers who have not yet developed AIDS, many whom are homeless youth of color, but still need support before their health deteriorates further.

“HIV/AIDS is a disease of inequities,” said Council Member Corey Johnson, Chair of the Council’s Health Committee. “Poverty, homelessness and a lack of access to healthcare are conditions that fuel the epidemic. The inability to meet housing, food and other basic subsistence needs results in disconnection from HIV care, failure to achieve and maintain viral suppression, an increased risk of transmitting HIV to others. Our shared vision of ending the AIDS epidemic in our State by 2020 will remain out of reach if we do not provide persons living with HIV access to proven intervention strategies.”

“HASA for all takes the important next step of expanding HASA benefits to all people with HIV before they get sick,” said Council Member Steve Levin, Chair of Committee on General Welfare. “Providing life-saving services to New Yorkers in need is the right thing to do and I’m proud to support HASA for all. Thank you to Council Member Corey Johnson for introducing this legislation.”

“Expanding HIV/AIDS Services Administration (HASA) benefits for all low income New Yorkers living with HIV is essential in our struggle towards containing–and eventually eradicating–this epidemic,” saidCouncil Member Annabel Palma. “HASA’s medical eligibility requirements need to illustrate that individuals with HIV are increasingly seeking treatment earlier, to prevent the development of AIDS. I have been a diligent proponent of this eligibility expansion since 2008, and it’s time to update the eligibility requirements to include the thousands of New Yorkers who are in need of housing and vital services, and who are unable to receive full benefits. The city needs to make investments that keep these individuals in their own homes, and out of expensive HASA emergency shelters.”

“The science is way ahead of us. We know that getting people into stable housing is one of the best ways to keep people healthy and to outpace new infections. If New York State is serious about ending AIDS we must invest in ending the homelessness crisis among poor HIV+ New Yorkers, especially LGBT youth,”said Jason Walker, HIV/AIDS Organizer, VOCAL-NY.

“We can only end the AIDS epidemic through bold leadership from local government representatives like NYC Council Member Corey Johnson,” said Charles King, CEO/President of Housing Works. “People with HIV need access to housing and essential services, and we look forward to our leaders in Albany‎ working with local elected officials across the state to end AIDS.”

“The impact of HIV is not limited to the medical aspects of the disease; they are in fact much greater and more complicated, and powerfully influence basic human needs like housing,” said Carrie Davis, Chief Programs and Policy Officer at New York City’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center. “By expanding HASA’s medical eligibility to include asymptomatic HIV, Council Member Johnson is helping New Yorkers who live with HIV gain the equal footing they need to address the disease and be productive, healthy citizens.”

“We commend Council Member Corey Johnson and VOCAL-NY for going one step further in helping to protect New Yorkers and put an end to the HIV/AIDS crisis by introducing legislation that would extend the HASA’s eligibility,” said Empire State Pride Agenda Executive Director Nathan M. Schaefer. “Passage of this life-saving legislation will ensure a healthier New York City.”

“The HIV/AIDS epidemic is one that is fueled by poverty,” said Jim Bolas, Executive Director at Coalition for Homeless Youth. “This legislation, if passed, would allow our homeless HIV positive youth in NYC to finally access the essential, life-saving services that are needed to keep themselves healthy, and reduce the spread of the virus and potential risks to their lives.”

“It is heartbreaking when New Yorkers living with HIV come to GMHC in desperate need for housing and other assistance, only to find out that they are ‘too healthy’ to be eligible for HASA benefits,” said Kelsey Louie, CEO of Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC). “No one should have to wait until they have an AIDS diagnosis to receive the life-saving support proven to not only help them stay healthy, but also prevent new HIV infections. Thank you Council Member Corey Johnson for ensuring equal access to HASA’s housing and support services. This bill is critical to ending the HIV/AIDS epidemic in New York by 2020.”

News

The Real Deal: REBNY, other industry groups battle hotel preservation bill

April 8, 2015

By Tess Hofmann

The Mandarin Oriental in Columbus Circle (inset: REBNY president Steven Spinola and Corey Johnson)

The Real Estate Board of New York and other industry organizations are fighting City Council legislation that would make it trickier to convert existing hotels to residential or other use.

The bill, introduced by Council member Corey Johnson in December, would require owners of hotels with more than 150 rooms to receive a special waiver if they want to convert more than 20 percent of their hotel space to anything else.

At a Council hearing last week, REBNY submitted testimony opposing the bill and claimed that it is unneeded in the face of a “thriving” hotel and tourism industry.

The trade group said the annual number of visitors to New York City leaped to 54.3 million in 2013 from  37.8 million in 2003. It said that 30,000 hotel rooms have been added in the past decade, and another 23,000 are projected by 2017. Any conversion of hotel space, REBNY argued, would be offset by new construction.

REBNY also took issue with a hardship provision of the bill, under which hotel owners could get the restriction waived if they could prove it was not economically feasible to continue operating the space as a hotel.

“No property owner wants an as-of-right use of their property to be subject to a discretionary government review,” REBNY’s testimony states. “The vague standard of a ‘reasonable financial return’ only highlights another of the bill’s flaws and reinforces a view that this proposal lacks a reasonable justification and is of questionable merit.”

The Partnership for New York City, an influential pro-business group, and the Hotel Association of New York City also showed up to fight the measure.

“This bill will have the exact opposite result from what it is trying to achieve — it would only hurt the growth of the hotel industry in NYC by reducing the construction of new hotel rooms and preventing the creation of jobs,” the hotel association said in a statement.

Government proponents, however, said that over the past 11 years, a full 3,600 rooms in 14 hotels have been converted to luxury residential use.

“The loss of such a high number of hotel rooms throughout the city is concerning,” said James Patchett, chief of staff to Deputy Mayor for Housing & Economic Development Alicia Glen. “The strength of New York City’s tourism industry relies greatly on diversity in the hotel marketplace.”

According to Patchett, few full-service luxury hotels have been built in the city since the opening of the Mandarin Oriental at Columbus Circle in 2003.

Jobs are another area of concern for proponents of the bill. Hotels provide one job for every occupied room, while high-end residential developments provide one job for every 10 rooms, according to Patchett. Furthermore, hotel jobs are seen as a stable path to the middle class. A former floor supervisor at Flatotel Hotel in Midtown testified about how she and 100 coworkers lost their jobs as a result of a residential conversion.

The bill has 34 sponsors in the City Council. Johnson was not immediately available to comment.