Homes and Rights Highlighted at CB4 Meeting

Photo by Eileen Stukane Presentation of City Councilmember Corey Johnson’s Council Proclamation honoring the exit of “inscrutable” CB4 District Manager Bob Benfatto. Foreground, L to R: Benfatto, Johnson, Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal, NY State Senator Brad Hoylman.
Photo by Eileen Stukane
Presentation of City Councilmember Corey Johnson’s Council Proclamation honoring the exit of “inscrutable” CB4 District Manager Bob Benfatto. Foreground, L to R: Benfatto, Johnson, Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal, NY State Senator Brad Hoylman.

BY EILEEN STUKANE  |  After a brief summer hiatus, much of the news at last Wednesday’s full board meeting of Community Board 4 (CB4) revolved around housing issues, tenants’ rights and illegal hotels in apartment buildings — in other words, the many ways New Yorkers have to stand up for their rights to live peacefully in their own homes. Before elected officials and community residents zeroed in on these causes dear to their hearts however, there was an interlude for levity.

Bob Benfatto, CB4’s departing district manager, now the newly-installed executive director of the Hudson Yards/Hell’s Kitchen Business Improvement District (BID), was honored by two proclamations — one from City Councilmember Corey Johnson, and another from State Senator Brad Hoylman with Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal. An amused Benfatto looked on as Johnson read the Proclamation’s words that Benfatto’s “distinct New York City accent was exotic music to the ears of West Siders.” Hoylman’s proclamation was equally witty, stating that “Next to the definition of ‘inscrutable’ in the dictionary, there’s a picture of Bob Benfatto.” Elected officials gave Benfatto well wishes throughout the meeting.

The search for a new district manager for CB4 is underway. Information can be found by clicking on “Job Opportunities” on the CB4 website: nyc.gov/html/mancb4/html/home/home.shtml. Applications must be received by Sept. 15. This full-time job requires good managerial, organizational and communication skills, as the district manager works with elected officials, governmental agencies, residents and service providers. The website states that salary is “commensurate with experience.”

In answer to an email inquiry to CB4 chair Christine Berthet about whether a district manager had to reside in the CB4 district, she replied: “We would prefer the most qualified candidate. If that person comes from the community, even better.” CB4’s search committee, headed by Berthet, will go through a process of reviewing the resumes and conducting interviews with candidates. The final candidate will be presented to the executive committee two months from now.

Andrea Bernard, a new board member, was introduced by Berthet. Bernard, a resident of the CB4 district for almost five years, has been a member of the Hudson Yards/Hell’s Kitchen Alliance, which has worked to create the BID for that area. Berthet also announced that CB4 was at the beginning of the election process for CB4’s 2015 slate of officers, and a nominating committee headed by CB4’s Betty Mackintosh was in place. During her report from Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer’s office, Diane Howard noted that beginning Nov. 3, new community board applications will be available online at manhattanbp.nyc.gov/html/community-boards/community-boards.shtml — and this year, 16- and-17-year-olds will be able to apply to become board members.

Photo by Eileen Stukane Pamela Wolff, of the Chelsea West 200 Block Association, calls attention to situations in which tenants’ rights are violated during the renovation process.
Photo by Eileen Stukane
Pamela Wolff, of the Chelsea West 200 Block Association, calls attention to situations in which tenants’ rights are violated during the renovation process.

This summer, Chelsea Now has brought extensive coverage of how elected officials Hoylman, Johnson, and Assemblymember Richard Gottfried worked together with help from Housing Conservation Coordinators to protect the remaining seven (out of 23) tenants at 222-224 W. 21st St. from being pushed out of their home, as Slate Property Group demolishes interior floors and walls and cuts off utilities to develop new apartments around them. Hoylman spoke of continuing the legal battle against tenant harassment. During the public session, Pamela Wolff of the Chelsea West 200 Block Association reiterated that the W. 21st building “is under a blitz” and must remain in the public eye. She also noted that the same situation is taking place at 216-218 W. 22nd, in a slightly larger building where a developer is beginning to renovate around existing tenants, disregarding the fact that the building is occupied.

Touching on a different aspect of tenancy, Hoylman and Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal have partnered in filing an amicus curiae brief with the New York State Court of Appeals to end what Rosenthal called “a pernicious trend going on in bankruptcy court.” When filing for bankruptcy, trustees have been selling their rent-regulated leases to their landlords as an asset, to help pay debtors. The brief states that the lease is not the tenant’s to sell, and Rosenthal explained that when the landlord buys the lease, the tenant is homeless and the landlord can take the apartment out of rent regulation. “Hopefully, we will be successful in having the bill declare that a rent-regulated lease is not an asset of the tenant,” said Rosenthal.

Then there is the issue of Airbnb. Apartments are rented online as if they were hotels, and tourists disrupt residential buildings. Johnson and Assemblymember Richard Gottfried asked for participation at a rally on the steps of City Hall on Fri., Sept. 12, 11 a.m., to launch the Coalition to Combat Illegal Hotels. Lily Pollack, a resident at W. 52nd St. and 11th Ave., spoke at the public session about new buildings turning into illegal hotels, “including Archstone in my neighborhood that have at least 30 percent of apartments rented to tourists,” she said and added, “instead of chasing Airbnb individuals who might need money, we should chase the big guys who develop these buildings with the purpose of renting to tourists.”

Good news has arrived for those who are eligible for Senior Citizen Rent Increase Exemption (SCRIE) and Disability Rent Increase Exemption (DRIE). New legislation has raised the income eligibility limits to $50,000, an increase of $20,000 (for SCRIE) and $30,000 (for DRIE). More rent-regulated tenants will now be freed from rent hikes, but many who are eligible for these programs are unaware. To learn more about applying, Hoylman and Gottfried encouraged attendance at the SCRIE /DRIE Clinic, Wed,, Sept, 17, 6-8 p.m., at Hudson Guild (441 W. 26th St., 2nd Flr.).

During the public comment session, what appears to be another tenant victory was described by David Glasser. The resident of 194 11th Ave. reported that after two years of complaining to CB4 about overcrowding within his building — and getting no satisfaction from writing letters to the NYC Department of Buildings (DOB) and the Clinton Housing Development Company (CHDC), which oversees the building — the DOB finally came to the premises. Feeling vindicated, Glasser said that a partial vacate order was issued by the DOB. Apartments intended for one resident were being illegally occupied by four or more people. Joe Restuccia, executive director of CHDC and co-chair of CB4’s Housing, Health and Human Services Committee, was not in attendance at the meeting, and due to a family health issue, was unavailable for comment.

The Climate Group and Carbon Disclosure Project are sponsoring Climate Week in NYC, Sept. 22-28. There will be many events promoting the need to take a stand in saving the planet. Speakers announced events kicking off the week.

Angela Fox, founder of The Mothers Project, invited all to attend the educational forum, “Today’s Fossil Fuels and The Future of Our Children’s Health,” on Fri., Sep. 19, 6-8:45 p.m. at John Jay College of Criminal Justice (Aud. L63), 524 W. 59th St. Three panels will focus on science, mothers from various chemically-impacted areas, and policy (this panel includes Assemblymember Rosenthal, who has a deep interest in protecting residents from the elevated radon levels found in hydrofracked natural gas). Register at childhealthforum.brownpapertickets.com.

Marilyn Vasta, working with the environmental group 350NYC, called for everyone to join the People’s Climate March on Sun., Sept. 21, 11:30 a.m., at Columbus Circle. Many environmental organizations are participating. A group of about 50 people is walking cross-country to join in, and a request was made for floor space in a community center or church for them. “We can have a serious impact on the course of our lives and our children’s lives. This is a historic March,” said Vasta. For info: peoplesclimatemarch.org.

Also leading up to the Climate March: On Sept. 16, the film “The Future of Energy: Lateral Power to the People” will be shown, with opening remarks by Assemblymember Rosenthal ($10 suggested donation; 7 p.m. at the NY Society for Ethical Culture; 2 W. 64 St., btw. Broadway & Central Park W.).

At that same venue, on Sept. 20, “A Global Climate Treaty: Why the United States Must Lead” is a panel discussion featuring 350.org founder Bill McKibben and Earth Policy Institute founder Lester Brown. Tickets are $10, via climate-treaty-event.eventbrite.com. City Councilmember Helen Rosenthal provides the opening remarks.

In the area of new openings, Wayne Kawadler, public relations manager for the new Lenox Hill HealthPlex, which opened in July at 30 Seventh Ave. in the former St. Vincent’s O’Toole Building, offered a tour. If interested, call Kawadler at 646-665-6000. The HealthPlex is a free-standing emergency center that welcomes all who come, whether or not they have insurance. If hospital care is needed, an ambulance is standing by for transport.

Photo by Eileen Stukane Jenny Gersten will depart as executive director of the High Line, after overseeing Sept. 21’s opening of Section III.
Photo by Eileen Stukane
Jenny Gersten will depart as executive director of the High Line, after overseeing Sept. 21’s opening of Section III.

Jenny Gersten, departing executive director of Friends of the High Line, reported  that all elevators to the High Line are now fully operational. Although announced the day after the meeting, the last segment of the High Line will open on Sept. 21, allowing an uninterrupted walk from Gansevoort St. to W. 34th St. Gersten, who will have resigned as of Oct. 1, introduced Jerome Barth, the new COO of Friends of the High Line, who will now be working with CB4.

Kristen Lasky, executive director of paid sick leave division, NY Department of Consumer Affairs, was a guest speaker aiming to spread awareness of the new paid sick leave law. All types of employees (part time, undocumented, per diem, etc.) must have access to sick leave from their employers. Sick leave can be not only for the employee, but for care of a family member, a child or a spouse, sibling, or grandchild. It’s estimated that one million workers will now have the right to sick leave who did not have it before.

Councilmember Johnson announced that the summertime fresh fruits and vegetables program in District 3 would be expanded into the fall. Anyone who pays $8 per bag in advance, every two weeks will be able to pick up from a local senior center, a five-pound bag of assorted organic fruits and vegetables (such as corn, blueberries, lettuce, zucchini, tomatoes). To participate, visit Johnson’s office, at 224 W. 30th St, Suite 1206, and place your order ($8 cash only) on Mon, or Tues., for the following Wed. delivery. For more information, call 212-564-7757.

The full Sept., reports from elected officials are available online on the home page of CB4’s website: nyc.gov/html/mancb4/html/home/home.shtml.

As part of Berthet’s chair report, she called on CB4 member Eric Lasky to update everyone on the work the Communication and Outreach Working Group has done this year. Lasky reported on three essential areas where ideas had been brainstormed: direct communications, visibility of CB4, and social media. The expansion of CB4’s database is the top priority. Efforts are being made to have direct links with people connected to housing organizations, businesses in the district, and elected officials. It was even suggested that if every board member, with approval, submit the names of five district residents for the database, with 50 members the base would already increase by 250. Among other ideas, for more visibility, it was thought that a CB4 badge directly linking to a CB4 sign-up might be offered on websites of local businesses and individuals.

After votes to approve eight letters to the State Liquor Authority (SLA) in regard to eating and drinking establishments, the board tackled the last agenda item: The Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to begin the formation of the Meatpacking District Business Improvement District (BID).

The MOU, which was on deadline to be sent to the NYC Department of Small Business Services, had already been shaped by Councilmember Johnson and CB2. However, primarily due to CB2 residents’ concerns, two impact areas outside the BID — the southern area bounded by Horatio, West St., W. 12th Sts., Eighth Ave., and the northern area affecting CB4, bounded by W. 17th, West St., W. 18th Sts., Eighth Ave. —  had created a need for an Impact Area Advisory Committee. This Advisory Committee would have two representatives on the BID Board of Directors. CB4 was asked to sign off on the MOU. Board members were taken aback by the need for speed in signing something they had not examined carefully. After much discussion, a resolution was passed to sign the MOU with the inclusion of the resolution’s terms: that Advisory representatives to the BID’s board include one from each impact area.

And so, this post-summer full board meeting adjourned. The next full board meeting takes place at 6:30 p.m. on Wed., Oct. 1, at Fulton Auditorium (119 Ninth Ave., btw. 17th & 18th Sts.).