Meet the Manhattan Assemblyman Who Is Fighting Albany for Rent Reform

Categories: Housing, Rent

Photo courtesy of Brian Kavanagh's office
With the most recent budget fight behind them, legislators in Albany are getting ready to turn their attention to the state's expiring rent regulation laws. It's a fight that Brian Kavanagh knows well.

The Democratic state assemblyman from Manhattan has emerged as a leader on the side of strengthening the laws, a position rarely shared by Albany's more landlord-friendly Republicans, who control the Senate. Kavanagh won an early victory during the budget fight, restoring funding for the Tenant Protection Unit, which senate Republicans had zeroed out in their version of the budget.

More »

Public Housing Rapidly Deteriorating, But Better Than Tenements of Yore, Stringer Says

Categories: Housing

Jacob Riis
A still from Jacob Riis' How the Other Half Lives
Comptroller Scott Stringer released a report of the city's public housing conditions on Monday. The good news? "Nearly 125 years after Jacob Riis published How the Other Half Lives, exposing conditions in New York City's crowded tenement buildings, the state of the city's housing stock has dramatically improved."

More »

Tenants in New York Observer Publisher's Building Say 'Nonstop Construction' Is Meant to Drive Them Out [Updated]

Image via Google Maps
170 and 174 E. 2nd Street, with adjacent psychic
In December 2013, New York Observer publisher and real estate magnate Jared Kushner bought two connected buildings, 170-174 East 2nd Street. (The buildings are laden with some serious New York history: Allen Ginsberg lived at 170 for three years and wrote "Kaddish" there.) In the intervening nine months, landlord-tenant relations have gone swiftly and steadily south. First, Kushner's company distributed eviction notices to many of the current tenants, with an eye toward converting the apartments into higher-end versions of themselves, according to DNAInfo. That resulted in a nasty and, in some cases, ongoing fight in Housing Court. Now the remaining tenants, many of them living in rent-stabilized apartments, say the constant construction in the building is causing broken tiles, eroding floors, collapsing ceilings and weeks in which their mail has gone undelivered. They allege the chaos is deliberate, part of an attempt to force them out to attract newer, fancier tenants, the kind who don't mind paying $2,658 for a one-bedroom. A group of the remaining tenants are planning a protest today in front of their own buildings.

More »

NYC Will Finally Finish Installing Public Housing Security Cameras, Two Years and Two Horrific Stabbings Later

Image via
Mayor de Blasio announcing the new cameras at a press conference Wednesday.
It's only taken two years and the brutal stabbings of two children for New York to get serious about installing security cameras in its public housing facilities. At a press conference today, Mayor Bill de Blasio and a number of other city officials announced that they'll install cameras at dozens of New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) developments by the end of 2014. That includes the Boulevard Houses in East New York, where Mikayla Capers, 7, and Prince Joshua Avitto, 6, were stabbed in an elevator on the evening of Sunday, June 1. Avitto died of his injuries. Capers was in critical condition for ten days; de Blasio said at this afternoon's press conference that she'll be released from the hospital today. A 27-year-old man, Daniel St. Hubert, has been charged in the attack.

The city has earmarked $27 million for the project, including $500,000 to install 17 cameras at nine Boulevard buildings. The rest of the money will go towards installing cameras at 48 other NYCHA housing developments citywide. That includes 18 facilities where NYCHA said security camera installation had been completed nearly two years ago, in July of 2012.

More »

Police Shooting at 60 Clarkson Followed Years of Complaints About Building

Google Maps
60 Clarkson Avenue in Flatbush.
On Sunday night, police responded to a report of a stabbing at 60 Clarkson Avenue in Flatbush. Two officers found the victim in the building's lobby, where he laid bleeding from the chest. Then they went into a second-floor apartment. Inside, both officers shot and killed 39-year-old Osbourne Broadie. They said that he lunged at them with scissors.

Citywide, the incident was particularly notable because it was one of three police shootings over the weekend. Neighborhood locals, though, may have been most interested in a different detail: this was a familiar address.

More »

Public Advocate Tish James Is Very Unhappy About the MTA Taking Ads From "Unlawful, Illegal" Airbnb

Image via Public Advocate's office
A scandalous Airbnb ad in Penn Station.
Once again, rental site Airbnb was back in court yesterday with New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman's office, fighting allegations that the site is running illegal hotels (and, by extension, not paying its cut to the state in taxes). The company won a mini-victory yesterday, after a federal judge ruled that the AG's subpoena for information on all Airbnb hosts in New York state was overly broad. According to the Washington Post, though, the AG is not to be deterred, and plans to simply rewrite the request in a more legal way.

So Airbnb isn't off the hook by any means, and now, to top things off, the Metropolitan Transit Authority is in a spot of trouble too, merely for running their ads. New York City's Public Advocate Letitia "Tish" James wrote a stern letter on May 12 to Tom Prendergast, who heads the MTA, demanding to know why the authority accepts advertisements for an "unlawful" service. Just to drive the point home, she compared Airbnb to a site that advertises escorts.

More »

Tenants Still Waiting for Judge to Approve NYCHA Mold Removal Settlement

Categories: Housing

Wikimedia Commons
Cooper Park Houses in Brooklyn
In December, the New York City Housing Authority and lawyers representing its tenants reached a settlement intended to cut down the absurdly long wait time for basic repairs. One of the provisions required housing officials to respond to mold complaints within 15 days. Everybody agreed this was good news and we media folks wrote a little something about it. Then many of us moved on.

Three and half months later, after all, the agreement is still on, and the absurdly long wait time will eventually shorten. But the settlement is not yet official. A judge still has to approve it. The legal process is trudging along.

For tenants like Kima Lewis, an agreement between lawyers and city officials doesn't mean much as long as the mold remains on her wall.

More »

Here are Ten Terrifying New York Housing Stories to Mess Up Your Day

Image via The Worst Room
There are so many ways housing in New York can go wrong: a Craigslist scam, a crazed roommate, a radiator that screams like a jet engine without heating the apartment, or, best case scenario, just an enormous rat king that takes up residence beneath the stove. But no matter how bad you think you've got it, this Reddit thread of terrible apartment stories has something worse. There are wolf spiders and screaming junkies and cockroaches. Thousands and thousands of cockroaches.

There are dozens of stories on the thread so far, many of them involving vermin, poop, and various kinds of roommate mental instability. Here's a sampling. Let's start with the ones that are funny in an awful way and descend downwards, ending with the the stories that make us retch with despair and our souls long to leave our bodies. Gird yourselves:

More »

NYCHA Reduces Maintenance Backlog to 106K Work Orders, Almost Reaching 2013 Goal

Categories: Housing

Wikimedia Commons
Queensbridge Houses
In March, the New York City Housing Authority had a maintenance backlog of about 350,000 pending work orders from residents. Officials held a press conference to announce a goal: get the backlog down to about 100,000 by the end of the year.

Given that the agency receives 50,000 new repair requests a week, it seemed a daunting, possibly unfeasible task.

But on Thursday, NYCHA claimed that it got damn close: as of January 1, it had 106,000 open work orders.

More »

NYCHA Mold Removal Settlement Has Wide Scope Thanks to High Asthma Rate

Categories: Housing

Wikimedia Commons
Frederick Douglass Houses in Manhattan.
The absurdly long wait time for basic repairs has seemed to become just another unfortunate but standard inconvenience of living in public housing. Leaking ceilings, broken door locks, dead light sockets: A resident calls to report something in need of fixing and winds up facing a yearlong wait. The maintenance backlog has reached as high as 350,000.

Not enough materials and workers to speed things up, New York City Housing Authority has said. Though there have been lawsuits filed and news articles written, a solution seemed, at best, far off, or perhaps just unfeasible in this time of budgets cuts and deep needs throughout the public sector. In a city where demand for public housing units far exceeds supply, the 400,000 or so residents across the five boroughs can do little more than live with the damage and wait -- placing a bucket under a drip, buying a hot plate to replace a busted stove.

On Tuesday, thousands of those residents got some power. NYCHA and lawyers representing public housing tenants agreed to a settlement that required the housing authority to respond to mold complaints within 15 days. A federal court will oversee the terms for up to three years. But perhaps most importantly, NYCHA must recognize that tenants with asthma qualify for protections under the Americans with Disabilities Acts, meaning housing officials have a legal obligation to ensure that those residents do not live in a moldy apartment.

This is quite a wide scope. According to a 2009 study by the city's Department of Health, nearly a quarter of children living in the city's public housing system suffer from asthma -- around 10 percent higher than the asthma rate among all NYC children.

More »