Affordable Housing Updates
"The exploitation of vulnerable New Yorkers at transitional homes is an issue we must solve quickly and decisively,” said Council Member Ben Kallos, Vice Chair for Policy of the Progressive Caucus. "By requiring reporting from the agencies tasked, New Yorkers will all have a better idea of how serious this issue is, who the bad actors are and what progress is being made. This package of bills forces more transparency that will better our chances at finally getting finding a solution to this issue."
A consortium of community members and elected officials continue to rally against a skyscraper proposed for a low-rise residential block on East 58th Street. The East River Fifties Alliance, which includes officials like City Council Members Dan Garodnick and Ben Kallos, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, and neighborhood stakeholders, are not letting up on their fight against Bauhouse Group’s proposed 950-foot tower at 426-432 East 58th Street despite last week’s court ordered auction of the site due to the developer’s mounting fiscal troubles.
The Department of Buildings (DOB) issued an order to stop work on the demolition of three existing 5-story buildings at 428, 430 and 432 East 58th Street because safety measures have not been put in place to protect tenants living in the adjacent 426 East 58th Street, according to DOB files.
The stop work order was issued following an audit request from City Councilman Ben Kallos, the Wall Street Journal reported. Kallos told the Journal that the developers had requested an application to stabilize 426 East 58th Street in order to complete demolition on the adjacent three-buildings.
The plan, which the groups and officials said they were ready to formally propose to the City Planning Commission as early as this week, calls for buildings in the neighborhood to be no taller than 260 feet.
“I want to stop the march of 1,000-foot towers into residential neighborhoods,” said Councilman Ben Kallos, a Manhattan Democrat who is supporting the zoning change.
The groups hope it is approved before development work begins at the site. The proposed change also could discourage bidders at the auction, which was ordered by the court following a dispute between Bauhouse Group and its lenders, led by N. Richard Kalikow.
The zoning change isn’t the only hurdle the project faces. On Wednesday, the Department of Buildings blocked a permit needed to complete demolition of the site, after conducting an audit requested by Mr. Kallos.
The delay is a further setback, since the demolition was intended to enhance the site’s value to potential bidders.
The permit application, submitted as a result of a bankruptcy court order, was for stabilizing a building next door to the tower site, so demolition could proceed. But the buildings department blocked it.
Mr. Kallos said he was told that plans to protect tenants of the building, 426 E. 58th St., weren’t adequate.
On Halloween, dozens of tenants holding spooky signs rallied at City Hall to bash landlords as vampires if they engage in predatory equity.
The event was held prior to a City Council hearing on a package of bills that were aimed at stopping the practice.
Predatory equity is generally defined as when a landlord purchases a property with a high level of debt that could only be expected to be paid if the owner aggressively tries to get rid of rent-regulated tenants and replace them with higher paying ones.
Tactics that could be considered aggressive by landlords include harassment via frivolous lawsuits, a lack of basic maintenance, illegal fees, constant buyout offers or construction that’s unsafe or seems gratuitously disruptive.
One of the City Council members pushing legislation, Dan Garodnick, gave the example of Stuyvesant Town’s sale to Tishman Speyer a decade ago as a prime example of predatory equity.
“This is when landlords overpay for buildings with the speculation that they will be able to deregulate units and drive out tenants,” he said. “You’re not making them enough money, so they will try anything to get you out of there. This is harassment.”
The other council members pushing bills were Ben Kallos, Ritchie Torres, Vincent Gentile, Helen Rosenthal and Jumaane Willians, who’s also chair of the council Housing Committee. One of the bills would require the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) to create and maintain a watch list of owners who’ve engaged in predatory activity.
Under another law, introduced by Councilman Ben Kallos, HPD’s third-party transfer program — which allows the city to foreclose and sell distressed buildings to pre-qualified third parties — would be expanded to include buildings whose owners have incurred large numbers of unsatisfied building violations.
The legislation aims to put pressure on landlords who fail to address recurring building problems and fail to pay the fines incurred on those violations.
HPD officials have been working with the Council as part of a task force on how to reform the sales of distressed properties and said they hope to study the issue further based on the group’s findings.
The tenants have gained the backing of Gale Brewer, the Manhattan Borough President and Ben Kallos, the City Councilman. Brewer said that the NYCHA’s promises have not been specific in telling residents what they stand to gain from the project.
The NYCHA formally requested proposals from developers for the project on June 30. They said that they have tenant support for their plan to build 300 units, half at market rate and half affordable, in the public site of the playground. NYCHA officials, see the plan as a great way to raise desperately needed funds. The Housing Authority says it will use revenue from the new leases to fix the currently deteriorating apartments. NYCHA says the playground will be replaced in a different, yet-to-be-named location. They insist there has been plenty of communication with tenants.
In a letter delivered to NYCHA Chair and CEO Shola Olatoye on September 1st, the Holmes Stakeholder Committee—which includes City Council Member Ben Kallos, Borough President Gale Brewer, and Holmes Tower residents—outlined their concerns with the selected site.
Of three proposed sites, the stakeholders claim, the playground was chosen "amid widespread resistance from the community to development that would take away the park from the children."
"The entirety of the Stakeholder Committee is not in favor [of the site], so there are a lot of questions about whether it really represents what residents chose," Paul Westrick, Kallos's Legislative Director, told Gothamist. Westrick added that although NYCHA held community engagement meetings this past February, they "were not well attended, and the public outreach they did wasn't really extensive." Because of a lack of community engagement, the stakeholders are requesting that the agency extend the proposal deadline from September 30th to November 30th.
The Housing Authority insists that tenants of Holmes Towers on the Upper East Side have embraced its ambitious plan to raise cash by building luxury apartments on what’s now their playground.
That’s news to them.
The tenant “stakeholder committee” organized by NYCHA to vet the plan — along with Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and City Councilman Ben Kallos — made clear in a recent letter obtained by the Daily News that they never signed off on it.
"This is a major victory for our coalition and for countless New Yorkers. Through intense advocacy and organizing, we demanded a better plan with deeper affordability, and that’s what the New York City Council has secured. We are very grateful to City Council Members Jumaane Williams, Ritchie Torres, Donovan Richards, and Ben Kallos for their tireless leadership on behalf of the most vulnerable low-income New Yorkers. They played a crucial role in securing a stronger, more robust affordable housing and rezoning plan,” said Maritza Silva-Farrell, Campaign Director of Real Affordability for All.
New proposed legislation aims to help tenants blacklisted for their history in housing court.
Councilman Benjamin Kallos on Tuesday introduced legislation to the council’s Consumer Affairs Committee that would force screening companies to provide landlords with fuller descriptions of housing court cases. The measure is intended to combat overzealous tenant blacklists, which are compiled by tenant-screening data companies based on housing court records.
Housing attorneys argue that the blacklist is riddled with errors and fails to show when a tenant won a case, the New York Times reported. After two years of being homeless, Margot Miller, 68, recently was denied housing at an apartment for low-income seniors when the owner discovered that she had been sued by her previous landlord.
'Tenant Blacklist' firms could be regulated under proposed City Council legislation.View Full CaptionDNAinfo/Dartunorro Clark
NEW YORK CITY — Companies that create so-called "tenant blacklists" — used by landlords to deny prospective renters from getting apartments — could become regulated under a new piece of City Council legislation.
The "blacklists" are created using housing court cases but the reason for the court case and its outcome are often not included in the reports, officials said. The lists are sold to landlords along with credit reports.
Fair and Complete Tenant Screening Reports Would Protect Renters Who Have Been in Court from Being Targeted by Landlords and Refused Apartments
New York, NY – Tenant screening companies which create so called “tenant blacklists” would be regulated to ensure they provide fair and complete information, including court records that show when tenants were in the right. This added level of scrutiny will lessen the number of prospective tenants who in many cases are repeatedly denied a place to live merely because they were involved in a housing court case. This legislation is authored by Council Members Ben Kallos, introduced with Public Advocate Leticia James and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, with support from Assembly Member Daniel O’Donnell and State Senator Liz Krueger.
Hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers named in housing court cases every year are reported to be on “tenant blacklists.” These “blacklists” are created by screening reports sold by companies along with credit reports and are often used to deny applications to renters. Tenant screening companies who provide a list of those named in housing court cases without any indication of the particulars or outcome of the case include: CoreLogic SafeRent, TransUnion Rental Screening Solution, On-Site, and ALM. This legislation would license these companies and require them to provide the necessary details of housing court cases such as the outcome and who initiated the proceedings in order to protect tenants who were in the right from being “blacklisted,” a frightening prospect for anyone looking for an apartment in an already tough renters market.
The legislation requires anyone who assembles or evaluates screening reports which contain court histories to register and obtain a license from the Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) and requires the following:
- Each housing court case mentioned must contain the names of all parties involved, the claims alleged, the current status or outcome of the case, and which party initiated the case;
- Tenant screening companies will have to state the defenses asserted by the tenant and the specific outcome of the case, including any rent abatement awarded.
- The Department of Consumers Affairs is tasked with enforcement with civil penalties of $500 per report inaccurate report and fines for non-compliance up to $5,000.
- Anyone who believes they have been harmed by an inaccurate screening report could bring their own case in court.
“No one should face discrimination for having exercised their constitutional right to seek justice in the courts. Tenant screening companies have a responsibility to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but truth about house court cases,” said Council Member Ben Kallos. “We can't have a legal system where someone can be vindicated in housing court against a bad landlord and then repeatedly denied a place to live. Tenant blacklists degrade housing court and create a system where even if you win, you lose.”
CreditMichelle V. Agins/The New York Times
After two years of being homeless, napping in stores open all night and more recently staying in a convent in Harlem, Margot Miller found out in March that her luck was about to change: She had qualified for an apartment for low-income older adults.
“This is to inform you that a rental unit has become available,” the letter from the building’s owner, Prince Hall Plaza, began.
Elated, Ms. Miller, 68, said she immediately went to the building’s office to claim the apartment. But after a background check, she said, the building reversed course.
“I go there, I’m all excited,” Ms. Miller said. “The woman there then does something on the computer. Then she said, ‘You can’t have this.’”
She was disqualified, the woman told her. Not because of her credit score. (At 760, hers was stellar.) And not because of a criminal record. (She had none.)
After last night’s vote, NYC Council Member Ben Kallos stated that, “the Rent Guidelines Board has shown that last year's rent freeze was more than a symbolic gesture, and tenants have the power to be heard. We will continue to fight to make up for years of too-high rent increases.”
The preliminary vote to raise rents for one-year leases between 0 and 2 percent passed 5-4, with the members who represent tenants' and owners' interests all voting against it, the Board's executive director, Andrew McLaughlin, told DNAinfo.
Over the next several weeks, the nine-member board will also consider raising rents on two-year leases between 0.5 to 3.5 percent — following last year's first-ever freeze for rent-stabilized apartments.
The board based its proposal on an RGB study that showed that the price of operating for rent-stabilized apartments decreased 1.2 percent this year, mostly due to the fact that fuel costs decreased 41.2 percent. Another study found that the city's unemployment rate fell in 2015 by 1.5 percent.
The changes would take effect on all lease renewals after Oct. 1, 2016.
Board member Sheila Garcia, who represents tenant's interest, proposed a rent decrease instead of a freeze, which is why she voted against it.
"The data this year merits a [rent] rollback," said Garcia, referring to lowered fuel costs. "I didn't think [the rent freeze proposal] was radical enough. The board has over-compensated landlords over the years."
"We see that we are evicting less people but more people are homeless because they can't afford to live in NYC."
Upper East Side council member Ben Kallos joined advocates calling to lower rent for rent-stabilized apartments.
I am proud to have worked with my colleagues to win these final changes:
Zoning for Quality and Affordability as amended will:
- Reduced height increases in contextual districts, including bringing the maximum R10A increase from 50 feet to 25 feet with different heights for narrow and wide streets.
- Tying additional heights in contextual districts in Manhattan to affordable housing.
- Protecting seniors from being squeezed into 275 square foot micro units, with a new minimum of 325 square feet.
- NYCHA tenants who would have been walled in by new construction 40 feet from their windows will continue to be protected by 60 feet between buildings.
- The Sliver Law has been protected and will remain intact.
Mandatory Inclusionary Housing as amended will:
- Provide housing for lower income New Yorkers at 40% of AMI
- HPD will be required to track, register, and monitor the new affordable units created as would be required by Introduction 1015, legislation I authored and co-prime sponsored by Housing Chair Jumaane Williams and Council Member Rosie Mendez.
- HPD projects will provide funding and incentives for local outreach and hiring.
- Department of Buildings will impose requirements and fines that will make construction safer.
Council Member Kallos gave the below remarks upon voting in favor of both Mandatory Inclusionary Housing and Zoning for Quality and Affordability at today's hearing of the Committee on Land Use. "Thank you to the Speaker, Chair Greenfield, Chair Richards, and the Council Staff for your hard work amending both proposals to reflect the voices and expertise of our communities. I have spent the past year fighting to improve Zoning for Quality and Affordability (ZQA) and Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH) to build affordable housing for all New Yorkers while protecting light and air by limiting building heights.
News of the 80-story, 260,000 square foot proposal broke last April, and sent the comparatively squat and sleepy Sutton Place neighborhood into a panic. Community Board 6 voiced its objections, and Councilmember Ben Kallos came out strongly against the building’s height and social implications.
But it wasn’t just community opposition working against Bauhouse principal Joseph Beninati. Michael Stoler, a managing partner at the investment firm Madison Realty Capital, said Beninati’s background also played a role. Antares Investment Partners, the firm Beninati co-founded with a prep school classmate that at one point boasted $6 billion in assets, was accused of overleveraging investor capital. Beninati and his partner, James Cabrera, were sued for millions after the firm’s collapse, and Antares was stripped of most of its assets in the late-aughts.
Ben Kallos (D-Manhattan) was the sole council member to attend Tuesday’s rally. He pledged to fight for “deeper affordability” and safe labor standards, but did not specify his agenda.
City Council members want a new system and fines to be sure that landlords are complying with rent limits at up to 200,000 unregistered apartments.
Council Member Ben Kallos has proposed a new system requiring landlords to register rent-stabilized apartments with the city or face fines. (Bryan Anselm for ProPublica)
"We are asking for this affordable housing plan to have deeper levels of affordable housing," said Kallos, who also called for workers constructing the buildings to be paid a living wage "so that those who build our affordable housing can live in that affordable housing."