221 West 16th Street Update
Last November, my office was notified that tenants in five apartments at 221 W. 16 St. were being evicted from their long-time homes by the owner of the building under the "owner occupancy" loophole.
The rent laws allow a landlord to evict most tenants on grounds that the landlord wants to use the apartment for "personal use." A landlord can evict as many tenants in a building as he or she wants based on this claim. It is a major loophole that has taken thousands of apartments away from tenants and rent protection.
My office, along with State Senator Tom Duane and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, quickly organized a press conference and rally appealing to the landlord to halt the evictions. Unfortunately, we were brought into the case very late, and we could not stop the evictions for those tenants.
Now, the landlord is at it again, trying to remove the remaining elderly tenants. Seniors and people with disabilities cannot be evicted under the owner occupancy loophole without first making an effort to offer them another apartment. The law says the apartment must be equivalent or superior, at the same or lower rent, and 'near' where the tenant lives now. This all sounds good, but the law fails to guarantee that the new apartment will be rent stabilized, and an apartment, even a cheaper one, that isn't rent stabilized may quickly become unaffordable for a senior on a fixed income.
My office has been working with Senator Tom Duane and Chelsea Coalition on Housing to make sure the remaining elderly tenants know their rights and have our support throughout this difficult process.
In February, we organized for a roof-to-basement inspection of the building after hearing from the tenants that there were numerous maintenance issues that they wanted to document. That inspection resulted in sixteen HPD violations and one DOB violation.
The owner occupancy loophole is wrong. But it is particularly offensive when applied to people with disabilities and senior citizens. Bills pending in Albany seek to end this loophole. Assembly Housing Committee chair Vito Lopez and Senators Daniel Squadron and Adriano Espaillat have bills to require a landlord to show a compelling, immediate need for the housing, and limit the landlord to only one unit for personal use, among other restrictions. My bill would repeal the "personal use" loophole entirely.
Landlords who try to use this provision usually have owned the building for much less time than the families they are evicting have lived there. I believe the law should protect people's right to their homes.
For a complete text of the bill, click here.
Proposed Chelsea Market Expansion
Jamestown Properties, the owner of Chelsea Market, has proposed additional development of the current property to be included in the Special West Chelsea District. The property covers the full block between Ninth and Tenth Avenues, from West 15th to 16th Streets.
The West Chelsea zoning district was created in 2005; at the time, Chelsea Market asked to be exempt from the zoning expansion. While I understand that property owners generally want to maximize development, I believe the plan, as it currently stands, is too large an expansion. This plan would dramatically alter an important historic building, with little guarantee of long-term job creation. If Jamestown is to expand atop Chelsea Market, the proposal ought to be contextually appropriate and reduced to a more reasonable size.
The proposal, which is being worked on with the Department of City Planning, will go through the Uniform Land Use Review Process. There will be many opportunities for members of the community, the community board, and elected officials to make recommendations, state their opinions - in favor or in opposition - to ensure that this development, no matter what comes of it, is appropriate for our community.
New York Dream Act
Each year, thousands of undocumented students in New York, and across the country, graduate from public high school with no hope of further pursuing higher education because no financial aid is available to them. This undermines our workforce and relegates dedicated individuals to the sidelines.
The New York Dream Act, which I am co-sponsoring, would extend eligibility for the state's Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) and SUNY and CUNY scholarships to all students who graduate from a New York high school, regardless of immigration status. Opening doors to a brighter future for these undocumented students will help create a more globally competitive workforce.
With the Federal DREAM legislation stalled, New York must join states like California, Illinois, Texas, and New Mexico, and pass this sensible opportunity-creating and job-producing legislation.
For a full text of the New York Dream Act, click here.
Violence Against Women Act
Domestic Violence is one of the leading causes of homelessness nationwide and repairing the damage that domestic violence causes to families and individuals costs approximately $8 billion.
I am a co-sponsor of Assembly Member Ellen Jaffee's resolution urging the New York State Congressional delegation to support reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). VAWA will provide funding for law enforcement efforts as well as educational and social programs to prevent crime. In New York State, VAWA grants fund most local domestic violence programs and direct services provided by district attorneys, police departments, courts, and victim service organizations.
See complete text of the Violence Against Women Act here.
Javits Convention Center
Governor Cuomo has proposed replacing the Jacob K. Javits Center with a new convention center in southeastern Queens and developing the Javits site with commercial and residential buildings. He recently said he also believes there is a need for a smaller convention and exhibition space in Manhattan.
In 1978, when the Javits Center was proposed, the area was certainly not considered valuable land for development. Today, it is some of the most valuable real estate in the world. Many Hell's Kitchen residents consider the convention center an eyesore on the edge of the Hudson River and an impediment to waterfront access. If the Javits site is re-developed, the street grid and access to the River must be restored. Green space should be created by expanding the Hudson River Park into part of the site, and Pier 76 must be a part of the overall development site.
The Javits Community Advisory Committee (JCAC), chaired by Lee Compton, which was the vehicle for community input about the renovations of the convention center, met recently to discuss the proposal. While the renovations at Javits will continue, the JCAC is now focusing on the future of the Javits site and working to make sure the community is part of the planning process. I am a member of the JCAC, along with other members of the Hell's Kitchen community, the community board, and other elected officials.
We know our neighborhoods best. I am fully committed to working for a full community role. We have had great success when we work together and make our voice heard.
High Line Park Design Concept of Final Phase
The High Line Park, the enormously successful elevated park running along Tenth Avenue on Manhattan's Westside, has now been operating for three years. The first and second phases have been open to the public and the Friends of the High Line is working to begin the final phase of the project, running from 30th Street west to Route 9A, and north to 34th Street, in the soon-to-be-developed Hudson Yards.
Community input is very important to projects like this, and Friends of the High Line has continually reached out to the Chelsea community.
On Monday, March 12, 2012 the High Line will be displaying the first design concepts for the final section of the Park, at PS 11, 320 W 21st Street from 7:00-8:30pm. I encourage you to attend and make your opinion heard on how you want our green space to look and feel.
MegaBus Needs to Lose Weight
The proliferation of discount inter-city buses has added another traffic problem to our community. These buses are now legally allowed to stop in MTA bus stops to load and unload passengers, with the approval of City DOT and proper signage. Because there is no space inside the Port Authority for these buses, City DOT is charged with approving where discount carriers can unload.
There are many reasons to object to MegaBus's curbside operation. It also appears that the vehicles MegaBus uses are illegal. The maximum allowable weight under state rules is 36,000 lbs; according to a recent study, a fully-loaded MegaBus can weigh 40,000 lbs or more.
I have signed on to a letter to the Commissioner of the State Dept. of Transportation asking for state DOT to enforce and monitor the MegaBus vehicles and ensure they are complying with applicable weight limitation law. The additional weight is bad for our infrastructure and poses great danger to the passengers on board and to those around the bus.
SAGE Opens LGBT Senior Center
In February, SAGE (Services and Advocacy for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Elders) opened the first LGBT-specific senior center at 305 Seventh Avenue, 15th Floor.
The senior center has a library, a computer resource center with training programs and internet access, dinner served daily Monday - Friday, as well as other resources for elderly LGBT New Yorkers.
Two of my staff members attended the ribbon cutting (I was in Albany). I wish SAGE success with the new senior center and am happy to have it as a resource in our community!
For more information, visit their Web site.
214 West 29th Street
New York, NY 10001
Albany, NY 12248