Friday, April 19, 2019

Forest Hills tenants get a million dollars worth of rent restitutions following class action lawsuit 

The mammoth private equity firm that bought a rent-stabilized Queens housing complex last year has agreed to pay $1.1 million in refunds to tenants after it found they were entitled to rent reductions, the Housing Rights Initiative revealed Friday.

The Blackstone Group, which acquired the 1,327-unit Parker Towers in Forest Hills last November, conceded that 110 units there should have been getting reductions, according to the non-profit housing watchdog, which is embroiled in a lawsuit with the Manhattan-based, multinational company.

The Housing Rights Initiative, being represented by the Newman Ferrara law firm, said the average rent reduction will come out to $230 a month.

It filed a class-action lawsuit over rent stabilization practices against the complex’s former owner, the Jack Parker Corporation, alleging the company illegally deregulated apartments despite getting tax breaks under the J-51 exemption and abatement program, which requires owners maintain rent-stabilization.

When Blackstone took control of the property, it assumed responsibility. Blackstone did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Housing Rights Initiative lauded the victory Friday, but said more needs to be done to rectify the situation.

“The goal here is not to get back some of what was stolen, but to get back all of what was stolen,” said Aaron Carr, executive director of the non-profit HRI, which did the research leading to the lawsuit. “Stay tuned.”

Congratulations to the tenants of Parker Towers and great job by HRI and the persistent Aaron Carr. And even to Blackstone, as is wont of these equity firms to continue frivolous and tormenting court battles to squeeze every penny and crush every soul trying to hold on to their residences, that saw the criminal machinations of the last company and paid up. Very rare good news regarding the housing crisis still festering in the five boroughs.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Mayor de Blasio illegally solicited developer donor money by himself for Campaign For One New York fund against advisement from aides

The City

Mayor Bill de Blasio violated conflict of interest rules after being warned repeatedly not to solicit donations from individuals actively seeking tax breaks, deed transfers and other favors from his administration, according to a Department of Investigation report obtained by THE CITY.

The finding followed a two-and-a-half year DOI probe that ended in October but was never made public. THE CITY secured the 15-page “closing memo” — which the DOI heavily censored — via the Freedom of Information Law.

During the probe, DOI investigators questioned de Blasio about warnings by both the city Conflict of Interest Board (COIB) and his own counsel. The mayor claimed he wasn’t aware of such warnings – and said he couldn’t recall any details of conversations he had with several developers who recounted his personal requests for checks.

The report reveals DOI substantiated the allegation that de Blasio sought checks for the now-defunct Campaign for One New York fund from individuals “who had or whose organization had a matter pending or about to be pending before any executive branch of the city.”

The nonprofit formed as de Blasio arrived at City Hall in 2014 and hired consultants to press for support for his pet programs, such as universal Pre-K and affordable housing.

The closing memo was heavily censored by DOI, which cited protecting the privacy of witnesses and not wanting to reveal unsubstantiated allegations. The entire section marked “Conclusion and Recommendations” was blacked out.

The revelation of the DOI conflict-of-interest finding comes as de Blasio toys with a run for the White House. The mayor told WNYC’s Brian Lehrer last week he has “not ruled it out,” and his advisors have made clear he intends to make up his mind soon.

The mayor’s office, which has had the DOI report since Friday morning, did not respond to detailed questions submitted by THE CITY Wednesday morning.

Instead, a spokesperson released a brief statement: “These questions are asked and answered. Fundraising for the now-defunct Campaign for One New York was thoroughly reviewed by multiple parties and it was determined there was no wrongdoing. It’s been said a million times: the Mayor acted lawfully and ethically.”

In its report, DOI questioned the competence of de Blasio’s system for vetting possible donors for conflicts, stating “how the system was overseen remained unclear, as did whether the vetting research was conducted thoroughly and completely.”

The report noted that “there does not appear to have been any particular individual who exercised supervision over the vetting process.” And it revealed aides couldn’t agree on who was supposed to be doing the vetting to avoid conflicts.

De Blasio, for example, told DOI his then-general counsel, Maya Wiley, and another aide “owned” the vetting process. But Wiley told DOI investigators she had “no significant involvement” in that process after issuing an April 2014 memo spelling out specific areas of conflict that would constitute a violation of city ethics rules.

Another unnamed aide told DOI that a colleague was responsible for vetting potential donors – but that colleague then “denied any significant role in the vetting process.” That aide “did not know who was responsible for overseeing the vetting process.”

The DOI inquiry began April 13, 2016, shortly after de Blasio shut down Campaign for One New York.

Investigators interviewed dozens of witnesses, including the mayor, multiple donors, attorneys and lobbyists who helped raise funds for Campaign for One New York, and public relations and political consultants hired by the mayor’s group: SKDK Knickerbocker, AKPD Message & Media, Berlin Rosen and Hilltop Public Solutions.

The investigation wasn’t formally closed until Oct. 22, 2018. Four weeks later, de Blasio fired DOI Commissioner Mark Peters

 Then there's this:

 Despite the agency’s censorship efforts, the report obtained by THE CITY provides the most extensive portrayal yet of de Blasio’s fundraising tactics as he sought out five- and six-figure checks for the Campaign for One New York.

The mayor set aside weekly “call times” in which he “walked around the block as he called potential donors on his cell phone.” By the summer of 2015, he was making six to 10 such calls each week. Aides would instruct him on which donors he could request money from. With some he’d simply seek “support,” and an aide would follow up soon after with a specific money request.

That visual I highlighted reminded me of the video where that homeless woman caught the Blaz doing his yoga exercises at the Park Slope Y where he daily wastes 4 hours of civic service time commuting with a police escort to and then to the City Hall. 

In a post I wrote on Impunity City, I thought the most interesting thing about that confrontation was not only that Ms. Adegusun brought up the fact that he broke his promise to house homeless people but that she caught him while he was holding a Blackberry. 

While she was politely trying to get through to him, he told her he was working out and it wasn't the time and place to discuss this issue. Even though he had enough time to text as she was speaking to him.

 For an exercise that takes concentration and discipline, why is he with diddling with his Blackberry and texting people. This gives the impression that he was still soliciting donors and doling favors.

As we all know now, he got up and speedwalked away.

No wonder he wears sneakers while doing yoga.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Foreclosure stats remain the highest in Southeast Queens

Queens Chronicle

More than a decade after the mortgage bubble burst in the United States, Queens continues to be ground zero for foreclosures in the city.

In its latest report, PropertyShark, a website that chronicles residential and commercial real estate in major U.S. markets, said the borough’s numbers were up for the first quarter of 2019.

The report, written by Robert Demeter, states that first-time foreclosures in the city totaled 870 from Jan. 1 through the end of March, a decrease of five percent over the first three months of 2018.

But in Queens, the borough had 315 new foreclosures to begin 2019, a 4-percent increase over the 303 in the first quarter of 2018, and a 25 percent hike from the 252 registered in the final quarter of 2018, which includes October, November and December.

“The 11434 zip code encompassing Jamaica, South Jamaica, Rochdale and St. Albans neighborhoods had the most foreclosures in the borough: 28,” according to the report.

MTA arranges one-year plan to rearrange bus routes in Queens


 Queens' sprawling bus network will get a massive overhaul.

The MTA on Monday announced a yearlong project to redesign the network of 107 bus lines that move more than 714,000 weekday riders throughout Queens.

The transit authority will work with the NYC Department of Transportation to alter redundant or indirect bus routes and change the spacing between bus stops, according to a presentation shown to the Queens Borough Cabinet on Monday.

The MTA will also collect public feedback on Queens' current bus service and ideas for changes they'd like to see through an online form and a series of open houses, which kick off in May.
The agency aims to finish a draft of the redesign in November 2019 and release the final plan in April 2020.

 "The Queens bus network has not substantially changed in decades and the people of Queens deserve better. I'm immensely proud to begin the process of bus network modernization in the city's largest borough," New York City Transit President Andy Byford said. "Bus network modernization is absolutely critical to the continued success of Queens and I look forward to being a part of it."

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

After three men got killed on construction sites in the last week, City Council reacts by fast tracking new saftey bill.

Crain's New York

Following a week in which three construction workers died in separate workplace accidents, a city councilman is renewing a push for the implementation of a construction safety training law passed in 2017.

City officials put out a statement Saturday that Gregory Echevarria, 34, died around 3 a.m. after being crushed by part of a crane he was helping assemble at a construction site at 570 Broome Street, in SoHo, as reported in the Daily News.

Brooklyn Councilman Robert E. Cornegy Jr. later that day released a statement calling Echevarria's death a "reminder of the importance of implementing the construction site safety training mandates of Local Law 196 of 2017, which will be a vitally important way to prevent future fatalities like these."

Cornegy called the string of construction deaths in the past week a "chilling reminder of the danger the men and women who build our city are subjected to day in and day out." Before the SoHo accident, a window washer was killed by a falling piece of stone last Monday in Midtown, and a construction worker fell to his death on Wednesday while placing bricks on a work site in Brooklyn Heights.

The private construction industry was responsible for the largest number of workplace fatalities in the city in 2017, according to a January report from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. There were 20 fatal injuries on private construction sites, representing about a quarter of the city's workplace deaths. There were 21 construction worker deaths in 2016. Construction-related injuries on job sites in the city have increased from 526 in 2016 to 744 in 2018, according to the 2019 mayor's management report.

Ridgewood citizens assemble protest against recidivist slumlord

Dozens of Ridgewood renters marched through their neighborhood Saturday to denounce a property owner routinely featured on the New York City public advocate’s annual Worst Landlord List. Their chants of “Fight Fight Fight, Housing is Right” prompted nods from passersby, supportive honks from an FDNY fire truck driving along Myrtle Avenue and words of encouragement from local elected officials.

The Ridgewood Tenants Union’s demonstration against Silvershore Properties attracted renters from Ridgewood and neighboring Bushwick who said they have been harassed by landlords who go to extreme measures to evict or wear down their tenants in order to jack up rents, especially in rent-stabilized apartments.

Silvershore’s former owner, Jonathan Cohen, was named the city’s worst landlord in 2017 by former Public Advocate Letitia James. The company owns nearly 100 buildings and continues the conduct that Cohen instituted, tenants say.

Gloria Nieves, a tenant leader at 1708 Summerfield St., described how Silvershore neglected tenants who went without heat or hot water and had to perform their own building maintenance.

“The people who run Silvershore Properties will say that they are good people and that we are the bad guys but to leave an entire building without any heat and oftentimes hot water during some of the coldest days of winter is not something a good person does,” Nieves said. “They have made our lives impossible and that is why we need landlords like them and all the other landlords in our neighborhood to understand that they cannot take advantage of us in this way.”

The demonstration began in front of 61-20 Madison Ave., a Silvershore Properties building, before community members marched down Fresh Pond Road and Myrtle Avenue, the neighborhood’s two bustling commercial strips. The event ended in front of 1708 Summerfield St., where at least one senior tenant watched from her apartment before heading outside to join the rally.

Several tenants told the Eagle about the bad experiences they have had with landlords — abusive companies with large property portfolios as well as opportunistic single building owners — who tried to drive long-term tenants out of their buildings.

Eugenio Vasquez said the owner of his Bushwick apartment building sold the property to a new landlord who immediately raised rent and took him to housing court to try to evict him.
Ahtziri Campos, a 15-year-old volunteer organizer, said her landlord has tried to drive her immigrant family out of the building for five years so that he can raise the rent and attract wealthier tenants amid Ridgewood’s gentrification.

“He only bothered us,” Campos said. “We are the minority in the building and he made us afraid of getting displaced.”  

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Borough President candidate Crowley proposes resuscitation of LIRR passenger train line


A little-used stretch of train tracks in Queens could be the key to filling transit deserts in the borough, community leaders say.

The Long Island Railroad’s Lower Montauk branch, which runs 8.5 miles between Long Island City and Jamaica, could be used to bring new passenger rail service to communities like Maspeth and Glendale, which do not have subway stops.

The LIRR ran commuter trains along the line until 1998, when the Metropolitan Transportation Authority closed its stops due in part to low ridership. Now, the tracks service freight trains and are used as an extra storage space for Sunnyside Yard.

The chief advocate of the project, dubbed the QNS, is former Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Queens). She commissioned an independent feasibility study in 2017, which was completed shortly after she left office in early 2018.

Crowley has recently renewed her push for the line — she hosted an event Friday to begin assembling a non-profit to stump for the project.

 Her proposal would bring nine stops to the stretch, and would cost an estimated $2.2 billion to pull off. The 2018 study projects that it would serve roughly 21,000 weekday riders.

Community leaders and advocates of the project disagree with that assessment, noting that the areas it will serve expect to boom in the coming years.

“Look at the growth in Long Island City and the growth in the Jamaica downtown area and at JFK Airport,” said longtime transportation consultant Philippa Karteron, an advocate of the project. “If we could put something like this together, the corridor could be an economic development corridor, bringing in businesses, bringing in jobs.”

Unlike the BQX, another Queens-oriented transit project, Crowley’s idea isn’t supported by real estate developers — she says she’s working to form a grassroots campaign that has community boards involved from the get-go.

This actually isn't a bad idea considering the severe and desperate need for transit in this overcrowded and overburdened city but that rendering of Hillside Ave. in Richmond Hill is a hysterically inaccurate depiction of the citizenry in that area. And very racist in it's prescience of what the designers think it will look like if the station is built there.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Hudson Yards was made possible with pilfered EB-5 funding that was meant for public housing developments through enabled cirvumvention and crooked gerrymandering

City Lab

Since its official unveiling last month, critics have been teeing off on Hudson Yards, the $25 billion office-and-apartment megaproject on Manhattan’s West Side. The Guardian’s Oliver Wainwright calls it “bargain-basement building-by-the-yard stuff that would feel more at home in the second-tier city of a developing economy.” In Curbed, Alexandra Lange writes that it suffers from “no contrast. No weirdness, no wildness, nothing off book.” The New York Times’ Michael Kimmelman describes it as a “vast neoliberal Zion.”

“New York politics and real estate are notoriously akin to Rashomon,” reads Kimmelman’s review. 

“Any verdict on an undertaking as costly and complex as Hudson Yards depends on one’s perspective.”

Views abound, sure, but so far, nobody seems to like what they see when they look at Hudson Yards. 

The project has managed to do something unique: unite all New Yorkers in a vernal equinox of acid contempt. Early reviews offer a litany of contrasts, with the development’s garish geometry and dull placelessness earning rebuke in equal measure. That’s before considering how certain features, particularly Thomas Heatherwick’s oft-derided shawarma-shaped bucket, square with other projects as “bellwethers pointing to exactly where our cities are going awry.”

However, among all the many reasons to feel salty about Hudson Yards, one perspective may deserve a place of privilege: the view from Harlem. Without their knowledge, the residents of a number of public housing developments helped to make Hudson Yards possible. The mega-luxury of this mini-Dubai was financed in part through a program that was supposed to help alleviate urban poverty. Hudson Yards ate Harlem’s lunch.

Specifically, the project raised at least $1.2 billion of its financing through a controversial investor visa program known as EB-5. This program enables immigrants to secure visas in exchange for real estate investments. Foreigners who pump between $500,000 and $1 million into U.S. real estate projects can purchase visas for their families, making it a favorite for wealthy families abroad, namely in China. EB-5 is supposed to be a way to jumpstart investment in remote rural areas, or distressed urban ones.

Hudson Yards, of course, is nobody’s idea of distressed. Located at the source of New York’s High Line, it’s the most expensive real-estate project in U.S. history. It could not possibly qualify as distressed under the terms of the program, or any understanding of the word. In order to buy EB-5 visas at the lower rate ($500,000), immigrant investors must put their money behind projects in areas with high unemployment—a proxy for need.

 Manhattan’s West Side may not suffer for lack of opportunity, but, as Kimmelman notes, New York real estate is a realm for Kurosawa-esque visionaries. The Related Companies, the developer behind Hudson Yards, raked in at least $1.2 billion in EB-5 funds for this project. To qualify, Related needed a work-around to bypass the distressed-area requirements—a pass that New York authorities were happy to issue.

Here’s how these requirement works: EB-5 visa applicants must invest a minimum of $500,000 in a project within a designated geographic area called a targeted employment area, or TEA. To be eligible for this financing, a project needs to qualify as falling within a TEA—which is going to be either a rural area or a distressed urban area. For an urban area to count as a TEA, it has to meet a certain unemployment threshold (150 percent of national unemployment).

 Lower Manhattan doesn’t meet this unemployment threshold, so Hudson Yards, on its own, can’t qualify as a distressed urban area. However, when Congress created the EB-5 visa as a part of immigration reform legislation in 1990, lawmakers did not specify how states should draw up the geographic boundaries for a TEA.

New York takes a rather liberal approach to drawing these lines. Empire State Development, the economic development agency for the New York state government, determines the boundaries for qualifying TEAs. Under state law, the agency has the authority to string together an unlimited number of census tracts in order to achieve the desired aggregate unemployment standard. Think of it as a form of creative financial gerrymandering.  

As I reported back in 2017, records obtained by CityLab under the Freedom of Information Act reveal the gerrymandered map that Empire State used to qualify Hudson Yards for EB-5 financing. This particular TEA snakes up from the West Side and includes Central Park. (Think about that: a map of Manhattan that claims Central Park as an economically troubled area.) Beyond the park, the qualifying zone for Hudson Yards captures several census tracts in Harlem, where public housing projects boost the overall unemployment figure.   

 These funds might have financed alternative developments in Harlem directly. Other developers have successfully raised EB-5 funds for projects in actually distressed areas of New York. For example, Asian Americans for Equality, a nonprofit organization, once pursued EB-5 funding to finance a food hub and university project in northeast Kansas City, a grocery store destroyed by Hurricane Sandy in the Far Rockaways, and an affordable housing complex in Queens’ Flushing neighborhood.  

Instead, Related sopped up hundreds of millions in funds never intended to finance luxury projects. 

The developer has successfully leveraged Harlem unemployment to raise more in EB-5 financing than any other developer in the nation. Related recently sought a third tranche of EB-5 funds for Hudson Yards, targeting $380 million—bringing the total as high as $1.6 billion, according to New York University’s Stern Center for Real Estate Finance Research.

City wireless network went haywire and was inoperable for a week
NY Post

City Hall’ s tech czar ignored a federal warning about a looming, Y2K-like software bug last year — allowing a crash of the city’s official wireless network that has been down since the weekend, sources told The Post.

As a result, transit officials can’t remotely control the Big Apple’s 12,000-plus traffic lights, and many of the city’s traffic cameras and NYPD license-plate readers are down, sources said.

“This is a big screw-up, even for the de Blasio administration,” said a source familiar with the matter.

The New York City Wireless Network, known as “NYCWiN,” crashed on Saturday, affecting the operations of city agencies that rely on it to transmit high-speed voice, video and data communications.

Workers have been scrambling around the clock to fix the entirely preventable problem, but the network remained down Wednesday — five days into the outage.

NYCWiN is overseen by the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications, whose commissioner, Samir Saini, was appointed by Mayor de Blasio in January 2018.

DoITT pays the Northrop Grumman Corp. about $40 million a year to run the network, which cost $500 million to build and went into service citywide in 2009.

It was unclear when it would be back up and running. But what is reasonably certain is that the technology snafu could have been prevented.

Exactly one year ago Wednesday, the Department of Homeland Security issued a warning that GPS-enabled devices could be affected by a time counter “rollover event” set to occur this past Saturday.
DHS noted that testing showed some devices could not “correctly handle” the rollover and urged “federal, state, local, and private sector organizations” to take preventive measures.

Sources said the biggest impact has been on the Department of Transportation, which lost its digital connection to the traffic lights at intersections across the city — leaving officials unable to know if a signal stops working unless someone reports it.

In addition, the clocks that time the lights are subject to going out of sync, which could wreck the carefully timed patterns that keep traffic flowing, sources said.

“I don’t know how the city could become more congested, but that would be a concern,” one law enforcement source said.

 This doesn't bode well for the coming congestion pricing tolling system the city is going to implement next year.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Landlords continue to inflate rents based on dubious reconstruction costs and city loopholes

Crain's New York

In the fall of 2013, when apartment 1E at 171 W. 81st St. was vacated, the owner did what landlords have done with tens of thousands of other rent-regulated units in the city. Stellar Management claimed it had spent a bundle on renovations, which—combined with the 20% rent increase permitted when a tenant leaves—allowed it to push the $647 regulated monthly rent above $2,500—to the threshold at the time to make it a market-rate unit. A few months later Stellar rented the Upper West Side pad to massage therapist Jonathan Saballos for $3,300 a month.

It seemed like a routine example of the steady exodus of such units from the city's pool of about 900,000 rent-regulated apartments. Except that in January, after Saballos lost his roommate and then his job and was taken to housing court by Stellar for failing to pay rent, a judge ruled that apartment 1E shouldn't have been deregulated at all.

In the written ruling, Judge Sabrina Kraus of Manhattan Civil Court determined that Stellar had inflated its renovation costs of more than $71,600 by almost $45,000—including $3,500 for a bathtub that was never installed—and had overcharged Saballos at least $41,193. The judge ordered the owner of the 20-unit building to pay triple damages—$123,578—and place the apartment back into regulation with a monthly rent of $1,524.

Housing advocates say such episodes are common in a system where loopholes and lax oversight practically invite owners to pull units out of regulation. A review of several lawsuits against Stellar reveals how expensive or dubious renovations enabled the owner to convert rents to market-rate.

"The city or the state doesn't even know how many illegally deregulated apartments are out there, because they're only really examined when cases like this come up in court," said Mark Hess, an attorney who represented Saballos in the eviction proceeding. "Stellar thought it was going to be business as usual and they were going to throw my client out of his apartment. Instead we called them out."

Stellar is appealing and will not comment on ongoing litigation, said a spokeswoman for the company, which owns roughly 100 buildings, most of which are in the city.

Allegations of abuses by landlords are not new. In one high-profile case last year, the Associated Press reported, the family business of White House adviser Jared Kushner failed to disclose rent-regulated units in buildings it owned, then began disruptive renovations that some of those tenants saw as an effort to push them out. Kushner Cos. blamed a third-party document preparer for the erroneous filing and said its renovations were proper, but the episode led to a fine, a lawsuit by tenants and City Council legislation to deter harassment by construction.

Less focus, however, has been given to the method used in Saballos' case, which may have allowed landlords to improperly deregulate tens of thousands of city apartments—and even more of them legally.


Sunday, April 7, 2019

Mayor de Blasio used city government workers for electioneering during re-election campaign

NY Daily News

A city-run tenant outreach program led by one of Mayor de Blasio’s top political operatives is strongly believed to have doubled as an arm of his 2017 reelection bid, according to sources who worked for the program.

The Public Engagement Unit, which falls under the city’s Human Resources Administration, had workers knock on “thousands” of tenants’ doors to gather personal information, including names and addresses — in what former staffers described as an effort to lay the groundwork for 2017.

David Andrade, a former PEU tenant support specialist, described the unit as “very shady” and said he has no doubt the data it gathered was directed to de Blasio’s political operation.

"This wasn't kosher," he said. "It wasn't talked about ... but you could connect the dots. I knew it would be migrated."

Andrade said a connection to the campaign wasn’t spoken about openly, but was laid out to him by co-workers with ties to Rick Fromberg, who worked as de Blasio’s 2017 campaign manager and the PEU’s senior adviser from January 2015 to May 2016.

“It was wink wink, like this is going to be helpful in 2017 — that’s the way the senior adviser [Fromberg] would talk about it,” said another former PEU staffer. “Everybody could smell that it was sketchy.”

Public records confirm Fromberg was politically active at the time.

A March 2015 email obtained by the Daily News shows that while working at the unit, Fromberg wrote to former de Blasio adviser Peter Ragone about devising political strategy at the behest of City Hall.

“Emma/Boss gave me point on putting together a suburbs/upstate political strategy,” Fromberg wrote, referring to top de Blasio advisor Emma Wolfe. “She lets me know you’ve (very generously, of course) offered some guidance here. Got some time to connect on it?”

A month later, Fromberg followed up with Ragone about "suburban strategy."

“Boss is meeting with [former Nassau County Executive] Ed Mangano next week, and a couple other elements are in play for some regional partnerships,” he wrote. “Would love to wrap this all together. What do you think?”

 Fromberg denied sending PEU data to the campaign.

“We unequivocally did not move data between the PEU and the de Blasio campaign,” he said. 

“Anyone insinuating that we did is both misinformed and uninformed.”

Before working for the city, Fromberg worked for the Global Strategy Group, a public affairs firm that specializes in political campaigns.

Melinda Katz vows crackdown on construction sites while conflicted with developer campaign donations

The City

When Queens Borough President Melinda Katz announced her candidacy for district attorney in December, she sought to stand out as an advocate for workers injured or ripped off on the job – especially on construction sites.

“Developers and construction companies will be held accountable if they fail to follow the law and keep their workers safe,” reads a Katz for DA campaign platform in which she promised to assign an investigator to every workplace accident that results in serious injury.

That hasn’t deterred real estate developers from donating to her campaign, leading up to a likely decisive June 25 Democratic primary vote in the race to succeed longtime Queens DA Richard Brown.

Katz’s fundraising filings with the state Board of Elections show that more than $250,000 of the roughly $1 million her two campaign funds had collected through Jan. 11 came from real estate developers and other industry interests. That makes her the seven-way contest’s top recipient so far of real estate-related contributions.

Her donors represent a who’s who of New York City real estate – including David Walentas of Two Trees Management, Winston Fisher of Fisher Brothers and John Catsimatidis of the Red Apple Group.

The earliest contributions, dating back to January 2018, went to a committee Katz established to run for an unspecified citywide office in 2021. Funds were later transferred to her DA race committee, the Katz campaign confirmed.

Some of those donors have supported Katz for years, including in her two runs for Queens borough president, a seat she’s held since 2014. Borough presidents give advisory recommendations on developers’ land use applications.

And as a Council member from 2002 to 2009, Katz served as chair of the City Council’s Land Use Committee, which casts decisive votes on such applications.

In between those elected positions, she worked as a lobbyist with the law firm Greenberg Traurig. Among her clients was a company associated with Forest Hills-based Muss Development. Principal Joshua Muss and an associated firm have donated $5,400 to Katz campaign funds since 2018, and Muss family members donated nearly $14,000 to past campaigns.

Katz told THE CITY she will “absolutely” prosecute developers who are at fault, and not just contractors implicated in construction fatalities or injuries.

“You have to make an atmosphere in the development world where rushing is no longer an excuse,” said Katz, 53. “You want to make sure that they understand that the atmosphere of Queens is changing.”

Saturday, April 6, 2019

State Corrections Department drops a bunch of sex offenders in a Bayside motel


Following the alarming news of eight registered sex offenders allegedly placed at a Bayside motel, local elected officials on Thursday called for immediate removal of the individuals by the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS).
Standing in front of the Anchor Inn Motel, located at 215-34 Northern Blvd, state Senator John Liu joined by Assemblymembers Nily Rozic and Ed Braunstein and City Councilman Paul Vallone addressed concerned residents at the site, where families take their children to a day care center across the street.
“We are extremely concerned to learn about the eight registered sex offenders placed in the Anchor Motor Inn last week by the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision,” said Rozic. “The Inn, located on Northern Boulevard is diagonally across the street from an Academy of Early Education. As the safety of our community and our children is paramount, we urge DOCCS to find immediate alternative housing for these individuals.”
The eight registered sex offenders are listed on the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services sex offender registry. They are men who range in age from 33 to 66. Four of the individuals were said to be level 3, sexually violent offenders.
It’s always a cause for concern when sex offenders are placed in a community, but it becomes truly alarming when their crimes are particularly heinous and violent,” said Vallone, whose office has been receiving phone calls about the issue. “Several of the offenders placed at the Anchor Inn have been convicted of sex crimes against children and the elderly, and placing them in direct proximity to a Pre-K and elementary schools in unacceptable.”
According to the Department of Criminal Justice, the Sex Offender Registration Act does not restrict where a registered sex offender may live. However, if the offender is under parole or probation supervision, other New York State laws may limit the offender from living within 1,000 feet of a school or other facility caring for children.
In a statement to QNS, a DOCCS spokesman confirmed that the men were recently re-located to the Anchor Inn, which is compliant with the state’s Sexual Assault Reform Act (SARA) restrictions, following the closure of their previous transitional housing by New York City agencies.
“To date, the individuals have abided by their conditions of supervision, which include reporting any change in residence. The Department’s parole officers will continue to actively supervise these individuals and impose any special conditions required, in accordance with the law and agency policy,” the DOCCS said. 

 Can't help but notice that the motel looks like a post office and is also AAA certified if that helps anyone.

Mayor de Blasio is exploiting a city PAC fund to finance his farcical presidential exploration and for pay to play deals with greedy developers

Image result for deblasio scared


  A new ethical firestorm is engulfing Mayor de Blasio as questions are being raised about where he’s getting all the money to fund his cross-country presidential campaign trips.

It’s deja vu all over again for “On The Road Bill,” the mail-it-in mayor of New York City who has been galloping all over the country to test the presidential waters with a suspicious campaign cash box that’s raising lots of eyebrows.

“To me, that’s a real no-no,” Betsy Gotbaum of the Citizens Union said.

Gotbaum is questioning how de Blasio is raising money for his “Fairness PAC” – the political action committee that is allowing the mayor to dream about running the country.

“Is it the appearance of something wrong?” CBS2’s Marcia Kramer asked the government watchdog’s executive.

“I think it is something wrong. I think you do not take money from people who are doing business with or who want to do business with the city. I’m shocked,” Gotbaum replied.

The mayor, who has already been the subject of an investigation into an earlier political action committee, is now being asked to explain two new issues.

 One is a fundraiser held in Boston on Friday by John Fish of Suffolk Construction.

The company is apparently so keen to expand into New York City that it hired disgraced former NYCHA chair Shola Olatoye, who de Blasio shockingly kept praising even after she was forced out in the agency’s lead paint scandal.

City Comptroller Scott Stringer subpoenaed the records because the buildings were first appraised at just $50 million – less than a third of the deal’s final price tag.

“When I feel that things are being done in secret, that we don’t get the data, when you have a huge purchase of $173 million… we use the power of subpoena to get the documents,” Stringer explained.

 This time, instead of obfuscating his spirit of the law breaking, this dumbass and his greedy benefactors are doing all this in plain sight.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

The biggest and ugliest state budget bill of all includes congestion pricing, plastic bag ban, and more authoritarian powers and an undeserved fat raise for Mario's son Governor Cuomo

New York Times

 After weeks of intraparty bickering, the New York State Legislature and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Sunday signed off on a $175 billion budget that was wreathed with progressive initiatives, including changes to the cash bail system, a new tax on high-end homes and a groundbreaking plan to charge motorists to drive into Manhattan’s busiest stretches.

The budget deal was immediately hailed as “transformative” by Mr. Cuomo, and it will clearly have an impact felt far beyond taxpayers’ wallets. The agreement included deals that will likely change the way millions of New Yorkers shop, commute and vote: bans on plastic bags from retail stores, billions in new funds for New York’s troubled subway system and a new paid three-hour break on Election Day.

The budget’s progressive theme was a victory for Mr. Cuomo and the newly elected Democratic majority in the State Legislature, most notably Democrats who helped give the party control of the State Senate for the first time in a decade. They largely lived up to pledges to address big money in politics, raise taxes on the wealthy and overhaul a criminal justice system that disproportionately targets minority communities.

But the deal announced in the wee hours of Sunday morning also showed the limits of those 
campaign promises. Activists criticized a plan to empower small campaign donors as halfhearted. A measure to tax luxury homes was refashioned at the last minute after the powerful real-estate industry intervened. And, perhaps most significant, hopes for legalizing the recreational use of marijuana were dashed, though lawmakers could still approve that later in the legislative session.

Still, for veteran observers of Albany, the sheer variety of issues settled since January — from infrastructure to the environment, from voting rights to transgender rights — was a relief from years of divided government, when interests of Republicans in the Senate often stood in contrast to the state’s overwhelmingly Democratic electorate.

“The process seems very similar,” said Blair Horner, the executive director of the New York Public Interest Research Group, and a former aide to Mr. Cuomo. “But the product is obviously very different because you have a new majority in the Senate.”

Most of the deals announced on Sunday were largely made behind closed doors, and left to the 11th hour: Voting was likely to push right up to, and perhaps past, the midnight deadline.

Chief among the new policies was congestion pricing, which is likely to affect the habits of anyone who works or plays in Manhattan. Under the plan, the first of its type in the nation, vehicles traveling below 60th Street will be subject to a toll, revenue that will be funneled into the city’s beleaguered subways and other regional transportation needs.

Another saw a proposed pied-à-terre tax, an annual recurring tax on second homes that were valued at $5 million or more, eliminated. Although the tax had the backing of state leaders, it evaporated under pressure from real estate interests and legal concerns.

In its place, lawmakers and Mr. Cuomo agreed to a “mansion tax” coupled with a real estate transfer tax, two one-time levies that would be charged at the point of sale on multimillion-dollar homes. The tax rate would top out at 4.15 percent on the sale of properties worth $25 million or more.

A plan to ban plastic bags in the state was also included in the budget, but it makes a fee on paper bags optional, which some environmentalists worry will lessen the popularity of reusable bags. New York would be the second state, after California, to ban plastic bags. (Hawaii also effectively has a ban in place, since all the state’s counties bar such single-use bags.)

New York Post

 Gov. Cuomo just scored a 40 percent pay hike — and it’s not even the Legislature’s biggest gift to him in the new budget.
The late-night vote to increase the gov’s compensation — making New York’s chief executive the nation’s highest-paid — was just icing on a very fatty cake:

A six-member Traffic Mobility Review Board will fill in all the devilish details on the new tolls for driving in Manhattan below 60th Street — and it’s clear that Cuomo will dominate that panel while preserving his deniability.
 The Cuomo-controlled MTA board will get final say over the tolls, as well as how the revenues are used, new MTA Chairman Pat Foye announced. That guarantees the gov will get his way.
New rules boost Cuomo’s power by making it easier to replace MTA board members.
Mayor de Blasio and the City Council thus wind up with zero power over the new tolls in the town they supposedly run — and no say in how those funds, or the take from new “mansion taxes,” get spent. Yet these are all revenue sources that city agencies, not state ones, should control.

The gov also won the ability to remove unruly members from the state’s Public Authorities Control Board — further increasing his power over millions in state grants.
 A new commission will draw up the framework for public financing of state campaigns. Bet that Cuomo will either call the shots, or see that the whole thing blows up if he doesn’t like the results.

With the passage of this budget, Albany has created a gubernatorial monster.

Tar balls found on the sands on Riis Park beach caused by oil tanker spill


On Thursday, the Dublin Express spilled an unknown quantity of fuel from its 300,000 gallon tank into Arthur Kill waterway, thanks to a 15-square-inch hole in its hull. Watchstanders caught the leak while the ship was moored at the Global Marine New York Container Terminal off Staten Island; responders hauled the wounded vessel up onto a containment boom and temporarily closed down the port so they could skim the surrounding waters. As of Friday evening, the Coast Guard said it had sent "60 responders, 10 vessels, four skimmers, two vacuum trucks, two vacuum trailers for recovered oil product, and 15,000 feet of containment boom" to deal with the incident.

By Saturday, however, the Coast Guard had received reports of "oil sheen and tar balls" in the waters off of Coney Island and Long Island, from Norton Point to Atlantic Beach. The Coast Guard deployed flight crews to survey the situation from the air, along with its Shoreline Cleanup and Assessment Technique (SCAT) teams to investigate on the ground. They spotted a swath of tar balls about 400 feet long and 2 feet wide on Jacob Riis beach in the Rockaways on Sunday, and today, Unified Command will send out "crews proficient in the cleanup of tar balls" to tackle the infestation once "the tide is favorable," according to a news release.

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Another report on how unaffordable it is to buy a home in New York City


Many New Yorkers may dream of buying a home, whether it's a Brooklyn Heights brownstone or an almost suburban house in eastern Queens. But a new report suggests housing is unaffordable for the typical worker in all five boroughs.

In the report published Thursday, ATTOM Data Solutions crunched housing and wage numbers for 473 of the nation's more than 3,000 counties nationwide. It determined affordability by assuming a 28 percent maximum "front-end" debt-to-income ratio. That means a buyer purchasing an affordable home would not be spending more than 28 percent of their income on house payments including insurance, mortgage and property taxes.

Every New York City borough is considered unaffordable, meaning median home prices in the first quarter of this year were too expensive for average wage earners. That was the case in 71 percent of the counties that were analyzed.

 The city's highest shares of income needed to purchase a median home were seen in Brooklyn and Manhattan, where a buyer needs 115.9 and 115 percent of the average annual earnings, respectively, the report shows.

Things weren't as bad — though still pretty dismal — on Staten Island, where the costs of buying a home eats up 72.4 percent of the average annual wages of $51,337, according to the report.

ATTOM's affordability index took median home prices from public sales deed data. Average wage figures came from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. In all, 231 million people live in the counties analyzed by the company.

 Here's what the researchers found for each New York City borough.
  • Affordability index (Under 100 is less affordable than historic average): 76
  • Median sales price: $1,862,500
  • Year over year annualized wage growth: 6.8 percent
  • Year over year median home price growth: 33 percent
  • Affordability index (Under 100 is less affordable than historic average): 92
  • Median sales price: $760,000
  • Year over year annualized wage growth: 5.8 percent
  • Year over year median home price growth: 0 percent
  • Affordability index (Under 100 is less affordable than historic average): 91
  • Median sales price: $630,000
  • Year over year annualized wage growth: 6.9 percent
  • Year over year median home price growth: 7.7 percent
The Bronx
  • Affordability index (Under 100 is less affordable than historic average): 91
  • Median sales price: $445,000
  • Year over year annualized wage growth: 5.7 percent
  • Year over year median home price growth: 11 percent
Staten Island
  • Affordability index (Under 100 is less affordable than historic average): 101
  • Median sales price: $490,000
  • Year over year annualized wage growth: 7.3 percent
  • Year over year median home price growth: 1 percent

Judge rules in favor of Brooklyn homeowners against city's government program TPT plunder scheme.

25 MacDonough St.

Kings County Politics

The city attempted to take all the properties under the Department of Housing Preservation and Development’s (HPD) Third Party Transfer (TPT) program, and in which KCP has been doing an ongoing investigative series. 

Under the TPT program, the city seizes properties they deem “distressed,” and give them to the public/private non-profit Neighborhood Restore, who in turn give the property for a nominal fee to a qualified non-profit or for-profit developer. The program was created in the late 1970s, when the city had a large number of abandoned and neglected buildings.

However, with gentrification, these properties, and others in the same program, are now worth millions of dollars in market value. Almost all were completely paid for with no mortgage and located in traditionally black and brown neighborhoods, which are becoming increasingly gentrified.

When the city takes property under TPT, they give no equity to the property owners, who in many of the cases paid thousands of dollars in back taxes and water bills to the Department of Finance, which was never registered as being paid.

Much of the properties taken by the Third Party Transfer (TPT) program are located in rapidly gentrifyingng neighborhoods in Brooklyn.

Partnow rulings were on six separate property cases that came before his court. Two of the properties – 25 McDonough Street in Bedford-Stuyvesant and 19 Kingsland Avenue in Williamsburg/Bushwick were the subject of several of the KCP stories. The other properties Partnow ruled on were 1055 Bergen Street in Crown Heights, 972 Rutland Road on the Brownsville/Crown Heights border, 315 Harman Street in Bushwick and 463 Classon Avenue in Clinton Hill.

“The City has particularly targeted properties that are owned by minorities. The court recognizes that home ownership is an important means for families to build intergenerational wealth. While the Third Party Transfer Program was intended to be a beneficial program, an overly broad and improper application of it that results in the unfair divestiture of equity in one’s property cannot be permitted,” wrote Partnow in his ruling.

Partnow found several problems with the taking of all these properties including a lack of process in serving property owners that their property was being taken, and that the properties in questions never met the definition of being distressed.
But time and again, in each of the cases Partnow noted the city took properties worth millions of dollars without giving any equity/compensation to the owners.

“The transfer of the Kingsland property to Neighborhood Restore is also unconscionable and shocking in the conscience of the court based on the amount of the City’s lien versus the substantial value of the Kingsland property. In addition, since the Kingsland property is not a distressed property, the taking of it through the Third Party Transfer program would constitute an unlawful taking of private property without just compensation in violation of Kingsland’s HDFC’s constitutional rights under the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment of the United States Consitution and article 1, section 7, of the New York State Constitution,” he wrote.

Anyone seen the former HPD director Alicia Glen lately? Because her dirty vampire calimari hands are all over this. 

Admin note: if anyone is not familiar with her background, she previously worked at Goldman Sachs in their Urban Investment Group dept., which this neighborhood would certainly meet it's qualification for "urban" and it's gentrification as "investment". As for my description, she sardonically replied in a Vanity Fair article about Rolling Stone writer Matt Taibbi's description of GS as a Great Vampire Squid by saying that her former employer are actually nice little calimari.

Long story short, this woman should be indicted and arraigned on punitive charges for what she did to these homeowners while running HPD.

Bronx citizens are frustrated with the lack of response from Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez

Image result for Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

NY Post

Amid her zeal to save the world with the Green New Deal, Rep. ­Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has ­ignored residents in her own Bronx back yard.

“I thought AOC would be our savior, but that’s not the case,” complained Roxanne Delgado, a local activist who said she has tried for months to get in touch with the congresswoman for help saving an animal shelter and to clean up parks in the district.

Delgado, 40, says she has made numerous calls to Ocasio-Cortez’s offices in Washington and Queens and sent a barrage of tweets after the freshman lawmaker encouraged residents during a recent visit to a Bronx public library to hit her up on social media.

But she’s heard nothing back.

“NO email or contact on @AOC’s page except DC number which has full #voicemail and no one picks up,” Delgado tweeted on Monday.

The Post made several calls to both the Washington and Queens offices last week. The same recording at both numbers gives Ocasio-Cortez’s Web site and doesn’t allow a caller to leave a message.

The website includes a “scheduling request” form that visitors can fill out to ask for a meeting.

Another Bronx constituent told a community gathering last month that they needed Ocasio-Cortez for a sitdown with post-office officials to sort out difficulties he was having with mail delivery.

“I want AOC or a representative from AOC to be there,” Anthony Vitaliano, a former cop and Community Board 11 member, said at a Feb. 28 board meeting.
Vitaliano, 78, also wants Ocasio-Cortez to pressure Amtrak to clean up graffiti at property it owns on Tremont Avenue.

“You know, I appreciate what she’s doing, but she has to represent us,” he told the board gathering, where other elected officials — from the city and state but not AOC’s office — sent staffers.

Whether you politically disagree or agree with her, like or loathe her, what this woman has done in three months is amazing and her minutes at congressional hearings are must see T.V. But the one thing Ms. Ocasio-Cortez seems to have forgotten with all the fame and attention she's achieved is that all politics are still local.

Saturday, March 30, 2019

D.A. candidate Katz holds campaign fundraiser at mob connected restaurant

 Image result for melinda katz

NY Post

Aren’t these the guys she’s supposed to be putting away?

Queens Borough President Melinda Katz boosted her campaign for district attorney by holding a fund-raiser at a mobbed-up eatery in Rego Park, The Post has learned.

Sources said Katz partied with supporters Tuesday night at the Barosa Italian restaurant, which is co-owned by reputed Genovese associate Frank Barbone.

Barbone, 47, has twice been convicted in illegal-gambling cases, including one in Queens for which he served a 1 ¹/₂ to 4 ¹/₂- year prison term.

He’s currently on supervised release in the other — in which he admitted to a Manhattan federal judge that gangsters might drop by his place from time to time.

Barone was present at the restaurant during Katz’s fund-raiser, for which tickets cost $150 each, sources said.

“Shouldn’t she know where the owner is a mobster?” a source wondered.

In 2016, Barbone was among 46 reputed gangsters busted in what the feds called a “sprawling and long-running racketeering conspiracy” that involved four of New York’s “Five Families,” as well as the Philly mob run by Joseph “Skinny Joey” Merlino.

Prosecutors said Barbone ran an illegal sports-gambling operation with reputed Genovese member Alex Conigliaro, with whom he was also convicted in 2000 on state gambling charges.
In 2017, Barbone struck a plea bargain that got him a one-day, time-served jail sentence, and three years supervised release.

 Katz campaign spokesman Grant Fox said: “It’s surprising that Melinda’s opponents, who are tripping over themselves claiming to be reformers, are floating this kind of half-baked opposition research to hurt someone who paid his debt to society and now runs a popular restaurant that has hosted events for candidates on both sides of the aisle.”

Kew Gardens LIRR Station has an urban blight street art display.

Hi Crappy,thought you'd like to see the view people get of Kew Gardens from the LIRR.This has been like this for years.

Man's house torn down while he was in Florida

From NBC:

A law in New York’s biggest town allows the town to demolish homes deemed “dangerous” or “abandoned” — and it is affecting hundreds of people.

“This was the lot,” Phil Williams said as he stood in an empty yard in the West Hempstead neighborhood he once called home. “And as you can see, there is nothing left.”

Williams went to Florida in December 2014 for knee surgery. When he returned months later in August, his house was gone.

“I bought the house from my dad in 1974,” Williams recalled. “My wife and I lived there. We had six children that lived in the house.”

The Town of Hempstead tore down Williams’ house according to Chapter 90 of town law.

It’s a law that allows building inspectors to identify and demolish structures that they deem are dangerous or abandoned. Currently, the town is dealing with 850 open Chapter 90 cases.

The town’s definition of dangerous is defined, in part, as something that is "…unsafe structurally, or a fire hazard or a nuisance to the general public."

"The house was not a danger. It’s just a ridiculous statement," Williams said.

It wasn’t just the house that was a loss for Williams, though. Decades worth of personal belongings and memories — all of them, gone.

Now, he is taking the town to court.

Friday, March 29, 2019

NYC Ferry subsidy costs are INSANE

NY Post


The city’s ferry system is taking taxpayers for a ride, with each individual trip costing $10.73 more than passengers pay, according to a government watchdog.
In a report titled “Swimming in Subsidies,” the Citizens Budget Commission said the $2.75 fare covered just about one-fifth of the cost of the waterborne-transit system.
The $10.73 subsidy is 10 times the $1.05 that the government kicks in for each subway trip, which costs the same $2.75.
And it’s nearly twice the $5.46 paid to subsidize each trip on the free Staten Island Ferry.
It was only a few months ago that city officials pegged the ferry subsidy at $7 to $8 a ride.
A planned expansion of the ferry system will hit taxpayers even harder.
A Coney Island line due in 2021 will need an eye-popping $24.75 per passenger from the city to stay afloat, the CBC estimated.
“They have created a ferry network that serves a small number of New Yorkers, is expensive to operate and requires a high subsidy that will only grow higher,” said CBC researcher Sean Campion.
The ferries carried 4.1 million passengers last year, less than the subways did in on an average day.


City Comptroller Scott Stringer’s recent warnings about massive waste at NYC Ferry were alarming enough. But a Citizens Budget Commission report out Thursday truly, uh, rocks the boat.
For every ferry ride, the CBC found, the city kicks in an average of $10.73 of its own funds to meet costs. Every ride!
And, to be clear, that $10-plus is on top of the $2.75 fare.
That’s 10 times the average subsidy for the New York City Transit system. And double the one for the Staten Island Ferry.

And get this: A new route Mayor Bill de Blasio recently announced will run from Coney Island to Wall Street — and cost the taxpayers a mind-numbing $24.75 in subsidies for every ride.

That’s $247.50 for five round trips a week — or $12,375 a year. Is the mayor nuts?
Based on Kelly Blue Book figures, de Blasio could buy each regular commuter a late-model Jaguar XE and save more than $2,000 a year on each one. Or put three riders in an Uber: The cost of that trip at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday was $35. Even with a $10 tip, the city could save $5,000 a pop each year. What in the blue seas is he thinking?

We all know damn well this mayor has no modicum of fiscal sense or is even capable of thinking. But there is something that wasn't mentioned in the CBC report and that is the free shuttle bus service that acts as a transfer to and from the ferries that traverses east and west Rockaway...

...which are also operated by Hornblower