Wednesday, July 29, 2015

WBAI Avella interview on Willets Point; TakeBackNYC interview; Reflections on the Rent Laws Battle & RGB

UPDATE: This is a segment I produced for WBAI radio with Queens State Senator Tony Avella discussing their successful lawsuit vs. NYC over the Willets Point giant (private) development plan, questionable practices by the NYCEDC, and how the city treats its small businesses. 

More extinct NYC as seen on Seinfeld: The Reggae Lounge, Metro movie theater....

TakeBackNYC is holding a small biz forum tonight night, Wednesday 7/22/17, @ the Malcolm X Ballroom, Broadway & 165th Street, 7-9 pm, this time in Washington Heights. This is a neighborhood that's been hard hit by escalating rents as evidenced by the countless number of vacant storefronts. It's also a heavily immigrant-populated community, who are the primary owners of the city's small businesses and therefore the primary employers of NYC's jobs. They are also notoriously vulnerable to illegal extortion by landlords.

Here's another WBAI radio segment I produced with Steve Null, who wrote the original SBJSA language with then-CM Ruth Messinger. He's currently an advisor to TakeBackNYC.

For those who don't already know, TakeBackNYC is a 
"direct action political lobbying organization" comprised of a coalition of actual small business owners, residents and advocacy groups who are trying to stop the mass closings that have been ongoing over the last twenty years, aided and abetted by city and state governmental policies. I have several prior EAP entries explaining the history. They supplement the work of SaveNYC, which now concentrates less on the political process.

The TakeBackNYC forums are meant to present an alternative to the official government response of assorted roundtables to promote the status quo (ie the real estate industry) under the guise of saving small businesses, according to many small business advocates. Their primary proposal--referred to as the 'landlords' bill when it originated during the Koch days--is considered misguided and incomplete: it only covers retail establishments, mediation is non-binding, the lease term is for one year only, and it does nothing to prevent extortion.

One of the main elected officials touting this approach initially proposed to get Albany--already a questionable proposition--to pass a law PAYING landlords not to rent gouge commercial tenants. As if owners don't already benefit from an array of incentives, abatements and actual subsidies not including programs like the perpetual increase of an MCI, j51 and the notoriously corrupt 421a......and as opposed to rent regulations, which too many in the press still refer to as some form of subsidy program when in fact no money is ever exchanged. 

Let's also not ignore willfully lax enforcement by prosecutors and the relevant underfunded government agencies, ultimately permitting harassment of tenants (sometimes to the point of them being forced out), sub par living conditions and unlimited examples of illegally decontrolled regulated apartments. 

While I was writing my rent regulation series in June, more than a few tenant organizers confided in me on background that while Gov. Cuomo should be blamed for the way everything unfolded and for the lack of success, there is no shortage of culprits.

Specifically, Mayor de Blasio was singled out for beginning his 'renew and strengthen' the rent regs campaign much too late. Though the laws were set to expire mid June 2015--a date that was commonly knows for several years--the mayor really didn't start his discussion in earnest until this May--just a month before they would sunset. If he had been as committed to bolstering tenant protections as he has been to his universal pre-K policy, they noted for example, he would have started much sooner, the City Council would have been much more coordinated and organized, and more resources would have been dedicated to the cause.

Albany Democrats--especially in the Assembly including new Speaker Heastie--must also receive their share as they totally capitulated. Rather than digging in their heels and calling the Senate Republicans' bluff--especially given how badly the GOP wanted a 421a renewal--in the end, all those months of tough talk and rhetoric was seemingly all bluster. 

Honorable mention must also be given to those non-profits who provided elected officials with political cover for either political cowardice, expedience, or outright dishonesty. The fact that many of these organizations receive funding through these offices makes it impossible to ignore a potential ethical conflict-of-interest.

Regarding the recent RGB's final vote, two things I think are of note. The first is how everyone appeared to ignore the fact the Board approved two percent increases on two-year lease renewals, because this news was overshadowed by the first ever rent freeze.

Keep in mind, the RGB's own data revealed landlords' operating costs were estimated to increase by only about 0.5 percent. If one were to be generous, an increase of 1.5 percent would have been appropriate. So, already, the Board has given owners yet another gift, after so many years of disproportionately high increases. It's followed by last year's 2.75% increase for two-year leases, also excessively high and ignored by the press.

The other thing of note is the way the vote came down. Out of nine members, all but the two owner reps voted in favor. This includes the public members, who are supposed to be independent--except it has rarely worked out that way. This is an article I wrote about a former public member who was punished for actually being independent.

What the vote implies is that City Hall maneuvered everything before the members actually voted, perhaps in reaction to way things unfolded last year. 

But this represents an inherent problem with the RGB and the system itself, and it's not exclusive to any single administration. Because all the members are appointed by the mayor, there are no checks and balances, no oversight and no accountability. Just because the numbers were not as egregious as in past years doesn't mean the process itself is a good one.