Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Survey of Candidates for Public Office

Tenants & Neighbors
New York State Tenants & Neighbors
Coalition Survey of Candidates for Public Office

Tenants & Neighbors is a grassroots organization that harnesses tenant power to preserve at-risk affordable housing in neighborhoods throughout New York, and to strengthen tenants’ rights and the local, state, and federal level. Their members compiled a list of questions about housing and tenants’ rights that they want [city council] candidates for public office to answer.

The following are the questions and my answers. This is as good a time as any to let the voters know where I stand on housing issues and how I can best solve housing problems.

Q - In many developments constructed throughout the city, the "affordable" housing is not actually affordable for many poor and working class residents. At the same time, we are losing a great deal of Mitchell-Lama and Section 8 housing, which is more affordable to a lower income population. What should be done about this?

A - Diane Richards, Dr. Kathy Samuels and I were working on a concept that would address the lack of true affordable housing in the Harlem community. We came up with the term Income Targeted Housing. This term means that the housing development coming into a specific community must target the income brackets that are within such community. In Harlem the AMI is less than 25K. That median does incorporate families with a higher income, but certainly lower. Thus, the housing development that we want to see first in our community should primarily target such range rather than building housing that's affordable to just anybody, which could be families of high income and not indigenous to such community.

If you are only having development that caters to high income then eventually you are going to have displacement and gentrification. Gentrification by its meaning is illegal. You cannot build housing that will cause displacement of the underlying group of such district and bring in a different class or ethnic group replacing such group. Summing this portion up, we need legislators that know what the Fair Housing Act is all about and making laws (resolutions included) that are not repugnant to the Constitution.

The laws controlling Mitchell-Lama and Section 8 housing have been misunderstood. These laws or court rulings settling many of the problems associated with ML and S8 need to be disseminated much better than how they are currently being circulated. Most people don't know that if a ML building was built before 1974 when it leaves the ML program it falls under the Rent Stabilization laws. The last ML rent a tenant was paying now becomes the base rent regulated by the Rent Stabilization laws. Regarding Section 8, if a landlord accepts Section 8 and that apartment is under Rent Stabilization the landlord must continue accepting Section 8 when a lease expires for as long as that person receives Section 8 or the apartment is under Rent Stabilization. In a nutshell the community has to be better informed and our elected officials, especially in the legislative department, must have this information to give people when they seek them for help.

Q - What is your opinion about vacancy decontrol and what would you do on this issue?

A - We have had vacancy decontrol in the past. It becomes a necessary tool to bringing housing chaos under control and to rope in affordable housing stock. Right now the power to enact some type of vancancy control lies with the state. I don't oppose the state keeping control. We have some city control pertaining to housing now and look what happens. Our rents go up every year when they shouldn't be. If I get into office I will try to be on a housing committee that takes a proactive role and try to bring into creation a decontrol law that doesn't offend any state law.

There is housing stock that doesn't fall under rent stabilization and could be controlled by the city. We could even create such housing. It can happen. The city just has to want it to happen.

Q - Do you believe that all buildings leaving the Mitchell Lama and Section 8 programs should be protected by rent stabilization? If so, what would you do on this issue?

A - Well some of them are already, as I explained above. But the answer is yes. It is hard to believe that someone entered into a Mitchell- Lama lease agreement knowing that after so many years the rent could go market rent. I believe that the laws controling ML are not being properly interpreted. The city council would be within its right to study such laws and search for a solution on its end. Pushing for such study is where I would start if I get elected.

Q - What is the best way to solve the funding crisis that NYCHA is facing?

A - I would explore co-oping city and state owned NYCHA properties. If not fully co-oping them I would come up with a system that puts more caretaking power with the tenants. In exchange for such service the tenant would get a discount on rent or some worthy benefit. But the people must have more stake in these properties than what they have now.

Q - Do you believe the RGB needs to be reformed? If so, how?

A - Maybe we don't need an RGB. I would entertain the idea that maybe rents shouldn't increase, maintain or decrease across the board. Yearly increases should be on an individual basis. Rent increases based on rising maintenance costs or cost of living should be done the way Major Capital Improvements increases are done. The books are opened and the tenants in a building can challenge their landlord in a more fair fashion.

Q - In 2009, many rent stabilized tenants throughout the city called for a rent freeze. Would you have joined tenants in their call for a rent freeze? Why or why not?

A - Well I don't know if I would've pushed for not paying rent. If rent freeze just meant not paying the increase from the RGB then yes. But keeping the total rent money from the landlord just outright would cause a rippling effect that would be negative.

Q - Predatory equity investing, the practice of private equity groups buying subsidized housing for an unsupportable purchase price, has put many multi-family affordable rental properties at risk of financial failure. What should be done about this issue?

A - The financial failure of a property doesn't change the status of a building or certain laws that control real property. The predatory equity investor is not who we should be focused on. Whoever whinds up taking over the building is still responsible for certain things. If that entity or person cannot meet the upkeep demands of that property or deliver required services then someone has to do it. It could be the tenants. The more they put in the property the more interest they aquire in the property. In other words they are buying interest in the property. Local laws could be enacted that legislatively creates this power or right.

Q - How would you ensure that rent-controlled tenants are protected from unfair rent increases?

A - Rent Control is under state jurisdiction but it doesn't mean that local government can't have some type of oversight. City Council's housing committee must become more proactive. As an elected official I would be more involved with my district's community boards' housing committees or their equivalent and work on solutions that can solve any abuse of rent increases inflicted on rent-controlled apartments.

Q - How would you work to protect Single Room Occupancy (SRO) housing?

A - I didn't know it was in jeopardy. But now that I'm presented with the question I would imagine that the same way illegal SROs are created you have the illegal elimination of SROs. This falls under the jurisdiction of the Department of Buildings. City council needs to explore more innovative ways to eliminate or greatly reduce illegal construction. This is a start.

One idea I have is to create an illegal construction task force that is community based. These agents would be compensated from a commission of the fines that violators would receive. They would inspect properties that look suspicious. They wouldn't do sophisticated inspections. It would be more paper work oriented and clear cut violations. And they wouldn't necessarily go out of their way.

Q - Do you support the Asthma Free Housing Act introduced by Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum and Council member Rosie Mendez to create fines, best practices, and educational materials to deal with rats, mold, mice, and cockroaches and asthma? If so, what would you do to help ensure this bill becomes law?

A - I haven't read it. But in principle I support it. I would definitely circulate the proposed bill to all the community boards in my council district and seek their endorsements. I would encourage my peers to do likewise. I would still do this even if i weren't a councilman.

Q - Are there any development or land-use proposals where you would support eminent domain? If so, what land-use restrictions would you attach to the use of eminent domain, if any?

A - There are none presently that I would support. I certainly wouldn't support a proposal based on the argument that the area is blighted and the entity desiring the use of eminent domain is responsible for the blighted condition, e.g., Columbia University.

But there is a condition that I would support ED aside from a public use. If the area is economically deprived and is causing other economic problems that are devastating to a wider community, then those public benefits appropriately replace the public use. The property couldn't be conveyed to a new owner unless all of the benefits to the public continue the same way that a public use purpose continues.

Q - How would you pressure the Department of Buildings to force landlords to cure illegal living situations without evicting tenants?

A - A landlord can't benefit on a scam. In other words, if a landlord won't do necessary work unless the tenant leaves after tons of violations and somehow the original tenant doesn't return after the work is completed if that tenant later found out that s/he was tricked out of the apartment then there would have to be some kind of consequences for the landlord's unscrupulous actions. As a councilman I would work on creating laws that would protect tenants' property interests from such scams. There are other ways to get laws enforced without the use of the DOB. This practice would be explored.

For more information and donations contact

and don't forget to VOTE on TUESDAY, November 3, 2009

Bill Thompson - Mayor

John Lui - Comptroller

Bill de Blasio - Public Advocate

Julius Tajiddin - City Council, 7th District

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