Affordable Housing Updates
Yesterday’s lawsuit against a company owned by Jared Kushner highlights the City of New York's obligation to ensure tenants are not being cheated by unscrupulous landlords. The allegations are yet more proof of a broken system that allows landlords to charge tenants more than they are legally allowed. After exhaustive research by ProPublica, it is estimated that 50,000-200,000 units in New York City may be illegally rented at market rate. This issue is one of the most serious problems in our fight for affordable housing and why I authored Introduction 1015.
Introduction 1015 requires all owners of any affordable units in New York City to register those units with the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) and disclose the monthly rent. That allows the City to track the locations of these units and verify they are being rented at or below the legally allowable rate and fine bad landlords who flout the law.
While State law requires landlords to register with the Division of Housing and Community Renewal, the penalties for non-compliance were removed in 1993. It is a law without teeth, unable to force or persuade landlords to comply.
I applaud Housing Rights Initiative for their thorough research into these properties. But it should not have taken over a month of painstaking efforts to find this information. It should be as easy as going to HPD’s website. More importantly, the City should be doing this proactively.
We’ve seen it in our districts. A new landlord takes ownership of a building and starts a construction project that never finishes in order to evict long-term residents. They may turn off the cooking gas indefinitely; they may even knock out the boiler with no explanation.
For too many New Yorkers, this nightmare is their reality. The stories are plentiful: heat and gas shutoffs in the middle of winter, jackhammering causing cracks in apartment walls, loss of power, and lead dust in the air lasting for months on end. For years, city and borough officials and community advocates have encountered a critical mass of stories like these, detailing the unscrupulous conduct of landlords as well as the insufficient response from the City of New York.
The New York Supreme Court ruled in favor of tenants at 90 West Street who sued their landlord after their rents were substantially raised, even though their apartments were stabilized through 421(g). In August 2016, Public Advocate James, along with 37 elected officials, filed an amicus brief in support of the tenants who were forced to pay unfair rent increases by their landlord on their rent stabilized apartments. The judge ruled that the tenants will maintain their rent stabilized status and a referee will be appointed to determine damages.
This is the second lawsuit involving 421(g) that tenants have won this month to protect all units of affordable housing that received the 421(g) tax abatement. On July 3, the New York Supreme Court ruled in favor of tenants at 50 Murray Street who also sued their landlord when rents were substantially raised despite being stabilized through 421(g).
“New York City's housing crisis is harming our City one family at a time,” said Council Member Ben Kallos. “This case was clear from the beginning: greedy landlords trying to double dip and cheat the system by cashing in on luxury deregulation exclusions while at the same time getting tax breaks for rent controlled units. The law is clear and it must be followed. Thank you to Tish James for being the advocate and attorney for millions of rent regulated New Yorkers who now more than ever need vigorous, committed defenders.”
I am Council Member Ben Kallos, representing the Upper East Side, Midtown East, Roosevelt Island and El Barrio. That’s @BenKallos on Twitter and Instagram.
Good afternoon to the Rent Guidelines Board Chair Hon. Kathleen A. Roberts, Public Members Botein, Joza, Reiss and Schaub, Owner Members Serafy and Walsh, and Tenant Members Epstein and Garcia.
To New Yorkers here today, and especially tenants, thank you for attending this hearing. I am proud to stand with you today.
This year, I am calling on the Rent Guidelines Board to vote for a rent rollback.
Last year, the Board voted for a second-straight historic rent freeze for one-year leases, continuing to correct for the disproportionately high increases of previous years.
Year after year, as rent goes up, tenants have shouldered an undue burden. Meanwhile, income cannot keep pace, and only crept up by 2.3% between 2005 and 2013 in real terms. The approved rent increases each year were largely based upon the landlord’s operating costs, measured by the price index of operating cost (PIOC). This practice not only failed to consider tenants, but was also proven to be inaccurate: based upon data from the Department of Finance (DOF), the PIOC has overstated landlord costs by 11% since 2005. This miscalculation led to unfairly high rent increases in past years, which must be corrected with a rent rollback.
Intro No. 0931-2015, sponsored by Ben Kallos, would treat unpaid judgments rendered by the Environmental Control Board as tax liens on the property in question, which would potentially subject the building to the City’s tax-lien sale program.
"The rent freezes have begun to correct decades of rent increases given to landlords even when there was no inflation year after year. New York's 1 million rent-stabilized tenants deserve the rent freezes after years of rent increases that outpaced the consumer price index," said Councilmember Ben Kallos.
New York, NY – Supportive housing for seventeen women and children is being welcomed on the Upper East Side at 316 East 91st Street by every local elected official, Community Board 8, faith and non-profit leaders, as well as principals, parents, and children who attend schools across the street from the proposed site.
Win, led by former City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, will lease 17 two-bedroom apartments to be built by RiverOak and Azimuth Development in a seven-story building at 316 East 91st Street. The site will also contain a Sunshine Early Learning Center for children and housing and support for homeless women and their children.
22,973 children and 17,548 parents make up more than two-thirds of New York City’s homeless population which has reached crisis levels. In response Council Members Ben Kallos and Dan Garodnick, Senator Liz Krueger and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer launched the Eastside Taskforce for Homeless Outreach and Services (ETHOS) to connect city agencies with non-profits and faith-based institutions providing direct services to the homeless and to build new supportive housing on the Upper East Side.
“You can’t solve the homeless crisis without providing the transitional services and supports necessary to keep people leaving shelter, out of shelter. Moms and their kids still need our help once they walk out of the shelter doors and permanent supportive housing provides the kind of wraparound services that will help them gain greater skills, more independence, and keep them from sliding back from their gains,” said Christine Quinn, President and CEO of Win. “The support and work of city officials like Councilman Ben Kallos should be an example to everyone. Homelessness isn’t someone else’s problem, it’s all of ours —and we need all hands on deck to help solve it."
“Our city’s homeless women and children need supportive housing that can help them succeed, and that’s what they are getting from Win. New York City needs more supportive housing in every neighborhood to get more than forty thousand parents and children out of shelters and into permanent housing,” said Council Member Ben Kallos, Co-Founder of the Eastside Taskforce for Homeless Outreach and Services (ETHOS). “‘Give me your tired, your poor … Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,’ you are welcomed here on the Upper East Side where we will feed you, clothe you, and build you supportive housing. Thank you to Win for bringing more supportive housing to the Upper East Side, Eastside Taskforce for Homeless Outreach and Services members for their leadership, fellow elected officials, Community Board 8 Manhattan, and to our principals, parents who are teaching us how important it is to welcome and support homeless individuals.”
UPPER EAST SIDE, NY — Upper East Side Politicians, community members and even some compassionate middle schoolers braved chilly weather Friday morning to gather in front of the site of a future supportive housing development to announce their support of the project.
Their message: Woman and children in need of supportive housing are welcome on the Upper East Side.
The building site — located on East 91st Street between First and Second avenues — will eventually be home to a 7-story, 17-unit facility that will also contain office space and a 7,000-square-foot Sunshine Early Learning Center. The supportive housing component will be operated by Women in Need (WIN), a nonprofit that helps house homeless women and their children and get them on their feet, which will lease the 17 two-bedroom apartments.
"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.)