A larger-than-expected audience attended a Town Hall Meeting jointly sponsored by Assemblyman Farrell and City Council Member Mark Levine, which featured a number of top housing officials who were invited to the District to meet with members of the public and discuss housing issues of local concern.
During the meeting, which ran for more than three hours, about 150 members of the community had the opportunity to speak directly with these housing experts about their concerns over problems like illegal deregulation of affordable housing, the shortage of affordable apartments, and other issues. The meeting room at Church of Intercession is able to hold 100 people, meaning that the audience spilled out into the hallway.
Because of the many important issues that were raised during the meeting, Assemblyman Farrell and the other participants are working to develop in-depth answers to questions raised by the community and offer help to those who need it.
Assemblyman Farrell recently joined Mayor de Blasio, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, City Council member Ydanis Rodriguez, former City Council Member Robert Jackson, Manhattan Borough President Gail Brewer and other officials to mark the near-completion of a new affordable housing project at 155th Street and St. Nicholas Avenue.
The mixed-use project, called the Sugar Hill Development, brings together a preschool, on-site museum, and 124 units of affordable housing. The project began in 2008 with support from Assemblyman Farrell and other officials, and was completed by Broadway Housing Communities using a mix of public and private funds.
"The opening of the Sugar Hill Development is hugely important for this community," Assemblyman Farrell said. "Broadway Housing Communities has created a unique space for residents and neighbors alike. I am proud to be here today."
According to Mayor de Blasio, the Sugar Hill development is an example of rejuvenation, renewal, community involvement and community leadership. Both the affordable housing component and the early education component tie in with his administration's plans to improve the quality of life in New York City, the mayor remarked.
Assemblyman Farrell joined Mayor Bloomberg and other elected officials Thursday, July 19, for a groundbreaking ceremony at the site of the future Sugar Hill Development, a 124-unit affordable housing complex and youth museum at West 155th Street and St. Nicholas Avenue.
The 13-story, $80 million Broadway Housing Communities project, which was partially funded by New York State, replaces an aged parking garage. Construction on the Development is slated to end in spring 2014.
"Finding safe, decent housing has always been a problem in Manhattan and throughout New York City, but finding safe and affordable housing can feel impossible. Just recently, a study was released that showed the median monthly rent in Manhattan is $3,125, up 8 percent from last year alone. These affordable apartments are an important step in the right direction, and I am happy to see the progress being made here today," Assemblyman Farrell said.
Aside from the affordable housing component, which includes 25 units of supported housing, the project will include an early childhood education center and the Sugar Hill Children's Museum of Art and Storytelling, which will seek to chronicle the history of the neighborhood.
Legislative Office Building
Albany, NY 12248
(518) 455-5776 FAX
Black & Puerto Rican Caucus
The Honorable Sheldon Silver
Speaker, New York State Assembly
Legislative Office Building Room 932
Albany, NY 12248
Dear Speaker Silver,
I am writing to support the continued negotiations pertaining to Assembly bill A10798, of which I am a co-sponsor and which is presently in my Ways and Means Committee.
This bill, as you know, pertains to crucial tax abatements for capital improvements that are intended to reduce fire and safety hazards in multi-unit buildings. A10798 is related to your earlier housing bill, A10071, which would extend tax abatements for co-op and condo owners.
As you may know, I agreed to co-sponsor A10798 in order to demonstrate my support of provisions in this bill which protect co-operatives in my district and throughout New York City.
But, at the time I agreed to sign on to A10798, I was not fully aware that when provisions of A10071 were incorporated into A10798, including language to extend tax benefits for real estate developers through the J-51 program, the language of A10798 neglected to include any additional protections for the many tenants in my district and around New York City. I recall that protections for tenants were discussed, but I was surprised when I received the finished product, which did not include any additional language protecting tenants.
I believe that it is imperative that this tenant protection language must be added to the bill. Possible additions may include reforms of the Rent Guidelines Board to make this body more accountable to tenants, inclusion of rent controlled tenants under the Rent Guidelines Board for lease renewal increases, protection for tenants with "preferential rents" from large rent increases, and a significant readjustment for how Major Capital Improvement Increases are dealt with, as has been proposed by our colleague, Daniel O'Donnell, in a new bill.
As much as I would like to support and protect co-op owners, I may be forced to withdraw my support of A10798 and remove my name from the bill if we are not able to fulfill our promise to better protect tenants.
Herman D. Farrell, Jr.
Assemblyman Farrell joined tenant advocates and 40 members of the NYS Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Legislative Caucus today to express strong support for renewing the rent laws, strengthening tenant protections and ending vacancy decontrol, the process by which apartments are priced out of the rent regulation system by the landlords.
Farrell pointed out that the last time the rent laws were renewed, then-Gov. Pataki worked on behalf of the landlords, not the tenants. Current Governor Andrew M. Cuomo is working to make sure that a bill that will protect tenants' rights is passed into law, Farrell said.
Lawmakers and advocates say improvements to the rent laws must be made before the laws expire June 15, which could place tenants who live in rent-regulated apartments in jeopardy and remove many apartments from the system.
Over two million New Yorkers live in about one million rent regulated apartments throughout the City. Nearly one quarter of those renters live below the poverty line. Northern Manhattan in particular has seen rents skyrocket, pricing renters out of homes they have lived in for years or decades.
"Renewing our rent laws is one of the most important actions the New York State Legislature must take this year," Farrell said. "Thousands of tenants will be at risk of sky-high rents and eviction without the protection of the rent laws.
"Tenants matter. Their rights matter. And housing permanency matters to the ongoing stability of our City and State. The rent laws are a perfect example of why government and laws exist: to protect the poor and weak from the strong and powerful.
As reflected in the 2010 Federal Census, the people who live in my district struggle with some of the lowest incomes in our City, while living in what is arguably its' most expensive borough. Just three years ago, these people, who are already burdened with high rents that consume a large portion of their income, were told that landlords would be allowed to raise their rents. Now is not the time to raise the rents again.
More must be done to keep housing affordable, not allow it to grow more expensive as cuts to the City's budget endanger the future of housing support programs, shelters, and other resources low-income New Yorkers need to avoid ending up on the street. Again and again, during these already trying times, New Yorkers who rent their homes are forced to dig a little deeper. Those who cannot are forced to uproot their families and upend their lives in the search for a new home, while the supply of vacant apartments remains critically low. The most unfortunate lose their homes altogether and are cast out onto the streets.
Since the 2008 rent increase, we have seen the economy improve without creating a significant number of good jobs or raising people's incomes. We have seen the price of food and other necessities rise, driven by exploding energy costs. And, most disturbingly, we have seen video in the media of a meeting of landlords, during which one of these landlords boasts of "emptying our piggy bank" to support candidates who would help landlords make more money, hurting the tenants who must pay up or become homeless.
Today, you have before you a proposal to raise the rents again, at a time when working New Yorkers are only beginning to find their feet after the end of the recent recession. This is wrong. It is not the time to bleed more money from tenants. We should be moving in the exact opposite direction. Along with my Assembly colleagues in Albany, I am fighting to not only renew the rent laws that expire next month, but strengthen them. Our legislation would make it harder for landlords to remove apartments from the pool of affordable housing, and give tenants stronger and sharper legal tools to use if their rights are trampled upon in search of greater profit. It would also stop bad landlords from hiding questionable fees in the rent.
Across our City and State, New Yorkers are finding ways to cut corners and live within their means to cope with the economy. Albany and City Hall have made deep budget cuts. And again, the landlords ask you, the Commissioners, to raise the rents. Enough. Give tenants a break and leave the rents as they are.
Herman D. Farrell, Jr.
HERMAN D. FARRELL, JR
Assemblymember 71st District
2541-55 Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. Blvd.
New York, NY 10039
TEL (212) 568-2828
FAX (212) 928-4177
Many of us live in buildings that the landlords had walked away from many years ago. At that time, our city and our neighborhoods were going through a hard time and money was tight all around. Rather than fixing their buildings it was easier for the landlords to walk away from their problem buildings when the roof sprung a leak or the boiler went bad and leave the tenants to fend for themselves.
With no one around to fix these problems after the landlords walked away, the tenants had to make the repairs themselves, but had no legal authority to do so. I helped tenants suffering from landlord neglect and abuse by organizing tenants to take control of their buildings and passing a law in Albany called the Neighborhood Preservation Act. Under this law, tenants could form not-for-profit management associations and bring court action to take control of their buildings. Some of the buildings were bought by new owners while others became tenant co-ops. These management associations helped tenants begin rebuilding their apartments and their lives, and our neighborhoods began to prosper again. One of the reasons for this prosperity is the affordable housing that was created when tenants came together to fend for themselves, without the landlord taking rents as their profit. The Neighborhood Preservation Act was so successful throughout our city that it was copied in cities across the country.
Today, landlords like Pinnacle have bought many of the buildings that were saved by the tenants, washed the windows, painted the front door, and demanded higher rents. Some landlords began to convert their buildings to co-ops or condos, which bring the landlords greater profits. The more aggressive landlords harass tenants by filing false court claims charging that the tenant actually lives in another state or otherwise has no legal right to keep the apartment. I think that some of these landlords spend more on lawyers than they do on superintendents to do repairs. This is done in hopes that the tenants will move out of their apartments, which may mean that the rent laws no longer apply to that apartment. While these landlords may claim that they are only checking up on their tenants and making sure that tenants are following the rules, it is believed that they are trying to harass tenants out of their apartments to make more money.
As this behavior became more and more common, community groups began to form to fight back. Working together, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, Senator Eric Schneiderman, Assemblyman Adriano Espaillat and myself joined with tenants' associations and others in the community. A court case was brought and won that will allow a class action lawsuit against Pinnacle for their harassment of tenants. That was a major victory. I am also working with tenants at 835 Riverside Drive, whose landlord insists on keeping a faulty old boiler that frequently shuts down and can only be restarted by the superintendent. I have been told the superintendent is sometimes gone for days, which can create major problems.
Overall, these problems have become so bad that I have come to believe that it is time to change the law to stop bad landlords from abusing their tenants. Working with Senator Liz Krueger, who is sponsoring the bill in the Senate, we have written a new law that will protect tenants and co-ops from landlord harassment, baseless threats, false court actions and other ongoing problems.
Today, the state Attorney General is responsible for making sure landlords follow the law when they convert their buildings into co-ops. I believe that we must put together a special team in the Attorney General's office, including an ombudsman who will in a way act as a lawyer for the tenants and co-ops to go up against the landlords' lawyers. Too many people have been made to suffer for the sake of profit, and this kind of behavior must stop now. I hope to pass this important law during our next Session.
"Community League of the Heights has, for decades, stepped up to support our community," Assemblyman Farrell said. "It was good to see these volunteers, some of whom had never visited our city before, also doing good deeds for our community."
The volunteers, who traveled from Europe, Asia and points around the globe to participate in this and other exercises, gave an "extreme makeover" to a food pantry and community garden run by CLOTH, replacing shelves and fencing and planting new greenery in the outdoor site.
During the last year 8,000 food packages are distributed from the pantry each month, a notable increase from the 7,000 packages which were handed out each month in 2008, said CLOTH's Executive Director Yvonne Stennett. The 57-year-old community development corporation has run the pantry since the 1970s, she said.
Stennett said the event took shape after CLOTH applied to the Bank's employee participation program, which the organization became aware of during their work with the Bank on housing development financing issues. Over the course of three days, volunteer workers performed an intensive rehabilitation, which was of particular help in the food pantry, which had not been upgraded in five years, Stennett said.
"More and more people are relying on food pantries to help feed their families. By rehabilitating CLOTH's pantry, these volunteers have not only improved an area but will also help improve lives," said Earnestine Bell-Temple, an aide to Assemblyman Farrell who attended the event.
"I think it was rewarding for many of these volunteers," Stennett said, calling these persons "excited to do good" during what was for many their first visit to New York.
I want to thank you for the opportunity to testify on the proposed rent increases.
These are extraordinarily difficult economic times and any increases in rent would impact greatly on my constituents. This hardship would be felt most acutely by senior citizens and the disabled who are already struggling to cope with increases to the cost of their utility bills and food. The thought that seniors might have to once again choose between paying their bills and eating causes me great concern.
With the mission of the RGB to establish rent adjustments for the approximately 1 million dwelling units subject to the rent stabilization law, it seems only fair to use a formula that balances the scale for all, and not to tilt in the direction of the wealthy. While it is true that our neighborhood is not a poor one, it is also true that many of our neighbors are already struggling to get by. I fear that approving a rent increase could result in more evictions and more tenants being forced into shelters or out onto the streets.
In their haste to profit from gentrification, some landlords have tried to remove tenants without just cause and many false eviction cases have been brought based on false information. A number of these cases have been brought against senior citizens, for whom the mere thought of an eviction case is a frightening prospect. These actions and many others make these buildings highly profitable.
The landlords don't need your help to make more money.
But notwithstanding this, the landlords automatically and continuously claim that their operating expenses have risen during the last year while testifying at your annual hearings.
The facts are that owners of rent regulated units have the right to receive hardship increases if they do not receive a certain rate of return on their investments. However, the rent regulated real estate market continues to be one of the most consistently profitable investments in New York City. For many years, up to the present, landlords have disagreed with this assessment. The problem lies in their consistent refusal to open their books, giving them the opportunity to prove their claims. Their refusal leaves me suspicious of the integrity and motive of their claims. The well-being of my constituents is too important to me to believe statements that have been, and continue to be, unproven. It is my hope that you will give substantial consideration to the above-presented facts when you deliberate on this issue of supreme importance to my constituents and to other residents of our great city.
Tenants are already facing the loss of their jobs and increasing prices of energy, food and other necessities. They don't need to you raise their rents as well.