Monday, February 29, 2016

Avella invited to de Blasio town hall meeting at the last minute

Zillow agents proudly selling 1-family as a 3-family

Nice house.
Official classification? 1-family dwelling
Don't worry about that, you have at least 3 units here.
And here are the people willing to sell it to you.

Underwater homes that have nothing to do with climate change

From DNA Info:

While much of the city has recovered from the 2008 housing crisis, a disproportionate number black homeowners in southeast Queens are still struggling, according to data analyzed by the Center for New York City Neighborhoods.

“Black homeowners in particular are facing a crushing reality: many often owe more on their mortgages than their property is worth,” the report said.

"For home-owners who bought in the early 2000s, white home values have recovered while black home-owners have lost net wealth in that time," said Leo Goldberg, a senior policy analyst at the Center for New York City Neighborhoods.

The hardest hit area of all is southeast Queens, particularly Jamaica.

“Jamaica is one of the only parts of the city where home values are lower than they were before the recession,” Goldberg said.

The data focuses on areas of the city where the majority of homeowners are black and where more than 10 percent of homes with a mortgage are underwater, meaning value of the loan exceeds the market value of the house. Large swaths of the Bronx and Queens, as well as parts of Staten Island are highlighted.

Factory operated as hotel vacated

From the Daily News:

The city raided an apartment in hipster Brooklyn last week that had been operating as an illegal hotel through Airbnb and other websites, sending several unlucky out-of-towners scrambling for places to stay.

The Mayor’s Office of Special Enforcement — which just had its budget nearly doubled in order to crack down on illegal hotels — busted 210 Cook St. in East Williamsburg on Tuesday after receiving complaints about it through 311.

Inspectors found a brightly colored loft space — complete with wall murals, Ikea-style furniture and tons of potted plants — that had been converted into an eight-room hotel.

Guests would punch a code into a keypad at the door to get into the space, which was divided into cubbyholes marked 1 through 8.

Rates started at $31 a night on Airbnb, where it had a 4.5-star rating.

Visitors shared one of two bathrooms, had access to a kitchen and received free Wi-Fi, according to the listing on Airbnb.

It's amazing the lengths that the city will go to in order to keep tourists safe, but doesn't care much about illegal conversion of permanent residences.

Affordable housing disaster was a waste of time and money

From the Daily News:

A city program to convert deteriorating Brooklyn tenements into rehabbed affordable apartments failed big-time, with most of the buildings now abandoned and controlled by a convicted felon, a stunning new report has found.

The report by Public Advocate Letitia James, to be released Monday, found that after 13 years, 17 of the targeted 26 Crown Heights buildings remain a decrepit mess. Pigeons roost in doorways. Windows remain bricked over. Graffiti-scarred doors are boarded up. Squatters have moved in.

The current owner of these squalid eyesores, a for-profit entity called Heights Houses, is run by George Armstrong, a developer who participated in the biggest bribery scandal of the Bloomberg administration.

Armstrong pleaded guilty to bribery charges in October 2011, admitting that to win work with the city Department of Housing Preservation and Development, he paid off top department official Wendell Walters. Walters is the highest-ranking member of the Bloomberg team convicted of corruption, and Armstrong’s involvement in that case has been public for more than four years.

Nevertheless, Housing Preservation and Development has yet to take any steps to cut off ties to Heights Houses, which continues to own 17 buildings meant for rehab, James’ report revealed.

All of this has occurred as the value of properties in the surrounding neighborhood has skyrocketed, buffeted by a wave of gentrification spreading east over the past decade across Brooklyn.

NYC is lobbyist nirvana

From the NY Post:

Pay-to-play is the order of the day at Bill de Blasio’s City Hall. And the mayor’s lobbyist buddies are cashing in — big time.

The Wall Street Journal reports that overall lobbying receipts in New York have jumped 15 percent since de Blasio took office, to an all-time high of $71.9 million.

Indeed, the ease with which lobbyists access the mayor is so notorious that the top 10 firms’ client list has grown by more than 40 percent since de Blasio took office.

Let’s face it: Under the mayor who vowed to drive the special interests from power, lobbyists have not only taken up residence at City Hall, they’re running the place.

That’s especially true for three of de Blasio’s closest lobbyist pals — James Capalino, Harold Ickes and Sid Davidoff — and his PR buddy, Jonathan Rosen.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Will council allow illegal aliens to vote in city elections?

From the Queens Chronicle:

This bill, first reported by the New York Post on Monday, would grant illegal immigrants the right to vote in city elections. And that’s where a crystal clear line in the sand has to be drawn: absolutely not. No way. Never.

The bill has not been introduced yet; no record of it exists in the City Council’s online legislative database. According to the Post report, it is expected to be laid on the table in the spring. And it was recently discussed at a gathering of the Black and Latino Caucus.

Bertha Lewis, the former head of the leftist group ACORN, which was disbanded over its shady practices, is among those lobbying for the measure.

“We want to expand the right to vote for everybody, not suppress the vote,” the Post quoted Lewis as saying at the ethnic caucus event. “What a radical idea.”

Yes, it sure is a radical idea — when you want to expand the vote to people who either broke the law as soon as they arrived in the country, or did it when they violated the terms of their visas by not leaving when they agreed to leave.

That’s going to be a bridge too far for all but the most radical members of the Council, and seeing who supports the bill will be a good measure of determining who really is radical. According to the Post report, Lewis has discussed it with members including Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, Councilman Jumaane Williams of Brooklyn and Dromm. Among those three, only Williams has said he supports it so far. Dromm’s office declined to comment on it when asked this week by the Chronicle.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Contractors pretend to inspect

From the Daily News:

In 2011, 54-year-old Ukrainian laborer Ivan Lendel died and four others were injured when several floors of a 14-unit condo building under construction in Brighton Beach collapsed on them.

The Buildings Department quickly concluded that concrete was poured improperly and the steel structure was unstable. Schneider was hired by the contractor there as a “special inspector” to make sure everything was done safely.

On Friday, the Buildings Department announced it had yanked his license, declaring that he couldn’t demonstrate that he’d performed crucial safety inspections at the site of the fatal collapse and at other jobs citywide.

Schneider, for instance, wasn’t present for the installation and testing of the pile foundation at the site and “never received or reviewed any testing reports for the installation,” the department found.

Schneider also couldn’t document inspections at “numerous sites over the past few years,” officials said.

Boats will be needed more than streetcars

From DNA Info:

A 20-foot rise in sea level would submerge large tracts of land in all five New York City boroughs. A 20-foot rise in sea level would submerge large tracts of land in all five New York City boroughs.

While New Yorkers worry about the ways in which residential and commercial developments, and streetcars, will affect the city's waterfront in the short term, they have rising sea levels to obsess about over the next few decades.

Oceans around the globe will rise as much as 4.3 feet by 2100, at a rate faster than they have in the past 2,800 years, according to two different studies published Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The researchers attribute the increase in sea levels to rising temperatures driven by the burning of fossil fuels, which most scientist agree emits heat-trapping gases.

One study, led by Rutgers earth and planetary sciences professor Robert Kopp, estimated that sea levels will rise 22 to 52 inches by 2100 if they continue at their current rate. A second study, overseen by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany, arrived at a similar conclusion: sea levels will climb three to four feet. (Until the world industrialized in the 1880s, oceans rose no more than 1 to 1.5 inches a century, and they would cycle between rising and falling.)

Those estimates aren't quite as extreme as one published last summer by Science Magazine, which examined the impact that 2 degrees of global warming would have on coastlines worldwide. The planet's warming was predicted to raise sea levels by at least 20 feet as early as 2200. Its effect on New York City shores can be seen in a map below, map built by the group Climate Control.

Woodside crap developer seeks variance extension

From Sunnyside Post:

Developers who had a Woodside Avenue project approved against the community’s wishes several years ago are now asking for help to push back their construction deadline.

The Board of Standards and Appeals gave the go-ahead to a development company to construct a seven-story, 27-unit apartment complex at 64-01 Woodside Ave. in 2011, overcoming the objections of Community Board 2 and Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer.

Joe Conley, who was chairman of Community Board 2 at the time, said that a one-family house was torn down in order for the seven-story development to proceed.

Last week, a representative for the developer went before CB 2’s Land Use Committee and said the builder ran out of time completing the project and is seeking the approval of the BSA to grant it an extension so it could get a certificate of occupancy.

The Board was not sympathetic given the project’s storied history.

It actually was a warehouse-turned-church that was torn down. This crap sits right on top of what may be the historic Shaw Hotel, which surprisingly has been renovated and not demolished.

Friday, February 26, 2016

He's doing it for his donors

From the NY Post:

Hundreds of businesses that own land near the proposed Brooklyn-Queens trolley line stand to benefit from the project, but at least 10 have something else in common — they all contributed to a nonprofit promoting Mayor de Blasio’s “progressive” agenda.

The estimated $2.5 billion rail project, which would connect Astoria to Sunset Park and promises to send property values along its route soaring, is being pushed by the Friends of Brooklyn Queens Connector.

Developers such as Two Trees Management, Forest City Ratner and the Durst Organization all have representatives in the group and have either directed money to de Blasio’s re-election campaign or to the Campaign for One New York, which critics have derided as a mayoral slush fund.

Bayside 2-family house marketed as 5-family

Zillow ad for this legal 2-family home is here.

Interestingly, the DOB's website reveals that they applied for a permit to correct the illegal conversion, yet they apparently didn't complete it and decided to sell it as is.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Flushing SRO vacated

33-07 153rd Street MLSLI Listing

And the beat goes on.

Elmhurst building facade peels away

From PIX11:

A portion of a Verizon building in Queens came crashing to the ground during a powerful overnight storm that downed trees and power lines across the area.

It happened at Vietor Avenue and Broadway in the Elmhurst section of Queens.

Images from the scene show a chunk of the building as tall as an SUV crumpled in the middle of Vietor Avenue. Debris could be seen on top of several cars parked along the side of the road, and at least three vehicles appeared to sustain severe damage.

Residents reported hearing a loud crash in the middle of the night, then seeing a portion of the building -- about 20 feet by 60 feet sheet of bricks -- on the ground. No one was hurt.

How landlords cheat tenants

From WNYC:

69% of New Yorkers – over 5½ million people – live in rented housing. Landlords and developers capitalize on that enormous demand, and some break the law while doing so. Last November, ProPublica began an investigation into how some New York City developers and landlords illegally overcharge tenants and cheat taxpayers. ProPublica reporter Cezary Podkul discusses his ongoing series “The Rent Racket” which examines New York City’s ineffective rent stabilization system and investigates how tax breaks for developers and careless regulatory agencies affect the lives of tenants.

Steinway Mansion debacle gets even more embarrassing

From George the Atheist

City wants huge LIC parcel developed

From Politico NY:

In an effort to spark development along the Queens waterfront, New York City is looking for a developers to build up to 1.2 million square feet of offices, manufacturing space and apartments in Long Island City.

On Thursday morning, the de Blasio administration’s economic development arm will put out to bid two city-owned sites across the inlet from Gantry Plaza State Park.

Right now, they are occupied by a restaurant whose lease expires in 2017 and may or may not be included in the developer's plans, what the request for proposals describes as a "parking lot abutting lands underwater and a dilapidated over-water platform" and a one-story Department of Transportation building that might have to be relocated as part of any project.

The land would also likely have to be rezoned for uses other than manufacturing.

Why do we need to "spark" development along the Queens waterfront? Have they taken a look at what's there now? Why not just put it on the open market?

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Assembly Member Barbara Clark has died

From the Times Ledger:

State Assemblywoman Barbara Clark (D-Queens Village), who represented parts of southeast Queens, died at the age of 76 Monday night, a representative from her district office said. The cause of death was not immediately known.

Clark had been serving the 33rd Assembly District since 1986. The district includes Cambria Heights, St. Albans, Queens Village, Hollis and Bellerose.

She played a key role in converting Andrew Jackson HS into four small magnet high schools and served as a primary sponsor of the 1996 New York City Governance Law, which mandated parental involvement in school policy decision-making.

Clark also supported the plaintiff in the Campaign for Fiscal Equity vs. State of New York lawsuit, which resulted in a $5.5 billion increase in funding for city public schools and authored a bill to establish the age of 6 as the statutory age for full-time attendance in school.

Deed fraud is quite easy

From CBS 2:

Con artists are easily stealing homes in New York City through “dirty deeds.”

As CBS2’s Steve Langford reported Monday night, scam artists are accessing homeowners’ deeds online and then putting these homes up for sale, entering into contracts with several unsuspecting buyers, and flipping it for a profit.

“As long as you have the address, that’s all you need,” Jason Reddish, real estate expert and chief executive officer of Total Merchant Resources, told CBS2.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

DOB shuts down attached Bayside McMansion

From NY1:

The Department of Buildings has recently placed a stop work order on the construction site. A DOB spokesperson says inspectors found the construction work was contrary to the approved plans.

4 Queens nabes are very overcrowded

From NY1:

We all know the streets surge with people. They file onto packed busses and crowded subway trains. But nearly one in 10 New Yorkers comes home to a crowd as well.

Hassan Amafuzel shares a four room apartment with eight people.

"Sleep is the main problem," Amafuzel said. "We cannot sleep. The sound sleep, we cannot sound sleep. That is the problem."

The website StreetEasy reports that 8.9 percent of all city households meet the definition of "crowded," with more than one person per room. That's nearly three times the national average.

The Bronx has the highest percentage of packed households, at 12.4 percent. Staten Island has the lowest.

However, four Queens neighborhoods have the most crowded households in the city. 23 percent of all Corona housing units are crowded. North Corona, East Elmhurst and Jackson Heights are close behind at about 20 percent.

Mega hotel will sit next to YMCA

From the LIC Post:

A hotel is likely to go up at 32-45 Queens Blvd. significantly higher than zoning permits, due to a planned deal with the adjacent YMCA.

The hotel will be constructed on a 10,000-square-foot lot, which would ordinarily permit only 20,000 square feet of building space for a hotel. When interviewed by the Sunnyside Post in December, developers said plans were only for a 12-story hotel.

However, the YMCA, located on a 40,000-square-foot property at 32-23 Queens Blvd., plans to merge its zoning lot with the adjacent hotel site.

This maneuver would allow the hotel to stand 17 stories as of right – or 100,000 square feet of building space – according to Jessica Rubenstein, an attorney with Eric Palatnik, representing the YMCA.

Rubinstein also said that the YMCA could transfer its air rights to the hotel, which could bring the total building space up to 140,000 square feet.

The YMCA was granted a zoning variance in the 1990s to open this Queens Boulevard location in the middle of a manufacturing/hotel zone.

Therefore, in order for its deal with the hotel developers to go through, the YMCA needs approval from the Board of Standards and Appeals to modify that variance.

Neither Rubenstein nor the BSA were able to explain exactly how the air rights transfer would work in conjunction with the zoning lots merger.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Unions want living wage included in citywide upzoning

From City & State:

A construction union trade group that wants the de Blasio administration to include new hiring and training requirements as part of its rezoning efforts is doubling down on its argument.

The Greater New York Laborers-Employers Cooperation and Education Trust released a memo this week from attorney Albert Butzel arguing that there is legal precedent in New York and other states for zoning that aims to provide jobs to local residents or includes living wage provisions.

The latest move comes after New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration dismissed construction unions’ calls for the inclusion of training and hiring provisions in the city’s rezoning proposals, saying that the job standards are beyond the legal scope of the zoning code.

Getting building classification correct gets city more money

From the Daily News:

The city risks losing out on $2 million in property tax money because of mistakes by the Finance Department in classifying buildings, an audit by city Controller Scott Stringer charges.

The audit found that 197 buildings in Brooklyn were wrongly classified as residential when most of their space was used for commercial purposes — so most of them should have been taxed at a higher rate.

If the buildings aren’t reclassified, the city will miss out on $2.09 million in potential tax earnings over five years, Stringer claims.

Next go after the 2-family homes rented as 3 or more units.

Pols think money grows on trees

From Crains:

It was fitting that the governor came to the council speaker's defense, because Cuomo has become a big advocate of the “propose now, worry later” style of governing. Consider his much-ballyhooed promise in July to overhaul the despised LaGuardia Airport. At the time, his administration said the Central Terminal would be replaced, as would Delta's newly refurbished Terminals C and D, and a new link to the subway would be completed—all for something like $4 billion.

Last week, The Wall Street Journal reported the cost of the Central Terminal alone had soared past $4 billion.

Mayor Bill de Blasio was the voice of reason this month in casting doubts on the Rikers plan, but he too has been guilty of this approach—if on a smaller scale. The $25 million cost of a new barn for carriage horses in Central Park was apparently pulled from thin air. His $2.5 billion streetcar scheme for the Queens-Brooklyn waterfront has more than a few question marks, too.

Why care about this? Because projects like these put pressure on governors and mayors to deliver something. Because they don't like to raise taxes and because both the city and state have such high debt loads, they will be tempted to make fiscally irresponsible moves to push the costs into future years.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

De Blasio wants to turn churches into developers

From DNA Info:

Mayor Bill de Blasio's administration is reaching out to clergy members across the city to see if they want to partner with private developers to convert underused parking lots, buildings and other church properties into affordable housing.

"There may be some houses of worship that may be in a position to help," with the mayor's housing plan that promises to create or preserve 200,000 units of affordable housing by 2024, said Jonathan Soto who works specifically with clergy across the city on behalf of the mayor.

"It could be any house of worship interested in developing their property," Soto said.

The effort might involve wrangling non-profit developers, helping direct funding toward projects, getting involvement from local politicians and helping churches navigate the city's land use process, mayoral spokesman Wiley Norvell said.

"We’re taking every opportunity to build more affordable housing, and many of our faith communities have been deeply involved in affordable housing for decades," Norvell said, adding that though there's currently no specific formula for how the administration plans on working with churches.

While the administration has begun to look at church-owned property for affordable development, an audit released Thursday by Comptroller Scott Stringer found that the city owns more than 1,100 vacant lots that it could be using for housing.

Eyesore McMansion almost finished

From the Queens Chronicle:

Construction on the castle-like house at 179-16 Grand Central Pkwy. is moving steadily along, after more than a decade of oft-stalled construction and thousands of dollars in fines from the Department of Buildings.

Stakeholders are pleased that the building is no longer stuck mid-development. Though Community Board 8 District Manager Marie Adam-Ovide used to receive complaints about the house, she said that they stopped since construction resumed.

“Nobody likes to see those empty shells of houses and no one living there,” Jamaica Estates Association President Martha Taylor, who also serves on the community board, told the Queens Chronicle.
The property had been purchased in 2001; a DOB permit was applied for in 2003; construction began in 2005.

Boondoggle streetcar line will require that new bridges be built

From the NY Times:

The Brooklyn-Queens streetcar proposed by Mayor Bill de Blasio could require the construction of two new bridges, one over Newtown Creek and a second over the Gowanus Canal, a top administration official said on Friday.

At a briefing for reporters, the official, Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen, and other administration leaders made public new details about the streetcar proposal, with the potential need for the two bridges among the most notable and expensive elements of the planned system, which would run between Sunset Park, Brooklyn, and Astoria, Queens.

While the exact route has not been finalized, Ms. Glen said, planners have determined that the Pulaski Bridge, between Greenpoint, Brooklyn, and Long Island City, Queens, and the bridge that traverses the Gowanus Canal at Hamilton Avenue near Red Hook, Brooklyn, may not be able to accommodate streetcars.

While a developer-driven yuppie connector streetcar is being planned for neighborhoods that already have subway lines running through them, residents of southeastern Queens will still require multiple bus transfers to get to a subway or the LIRR, and no one at City Hall cares.

Foreclosure floods elderly woman's home

From WPIX:

In front of her home on Poplar Street, the gutter had a deep and wide sheet of ice. It extends to the house next door, which has sat empty since 2014, according to Lama's family and their neighbors.

Cascading down the far wall of the house next door are 15-foot long, 3-inch thick icicles. All of the ice on a cold Friday gives a strong indication of what went wrong here.

"Water from the bathroom pipe broke," said Joseph Lama, 72, Fanny Lama's son. "It leaked down into the basement."

He then showed PIX11 News what the result of possibly five days of water leakage looks like. He opened up the cellar door of the foreclosed home next door to show that the crawl space underneath was filed with close to three feet of water.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

W train coming back

From NY1:

The MTA is pulling the W train off the shelf and returning it to service — all part of the route changes announced Friday in anticipation of the Second Avenue subway opening.

The line was shelved in 2010 as part of a massive slate of cuts, which also included the elimination of the V train and several bus routes.

But the local line that once ran express from Astoria to Lower Manhattan could resume running in the fall, along the local weekday route now served by the Q train.

The Q would be rerouted along Second Avenue when three new stations open, something the MTA said could happen by the end of the year.

The agency said the return of the W train would ensure no loss of service for straphangers in Queens.

Hallet's Point a bust

From DNA Info:

The $1.5 billion Hallets Point project broke ground last month promising Astoria a new mini-neighborhood with 2,000 apartments — 483 of them affordable — along with a supermarket, school and waterfront esplanade to rise over the next 7 years.

A day later, key pieces of the project stalled.

With the expiration of the state’s 421-a tax abatement program the day after the Hallets Point groundbreaking, the project’s developer, the Durst Organization, said it would cost too much to build.

“Without a new 421-a or a replacement program, we can't continue with the project. Nothing can be done,” Durst Organization spokesman Jordan Barowitz said. “Without the abatement, the economics for the project collapse and we couldn’t get a construction loan.”

The first building in the multi-phase project started construction before the tax abatement program expired, so that component — which will include roughly 400 units with more than 80 affordable units, as well as the supermarket — will move forward as planned, Barowitz said.

National Trust holds pavilion contest

From DNA Info:

If you have an idea for the historic New York State Pavilion, here's your chance to share it.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation is hosting an "anything goes" competition to solicit suggestions for the Flushing Meadows-Corona Park landmark — no matter how far-flung they may seem.

Then they'll pick a winner and...nothing will happen.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Jamaica Estates squatters are finally out

From WPIX:

Ex-NYPD cop Winston Bailey and his family finally got the boot from the Jamaica Estates home where they’d been living for more than two years without paying rent.

...On Tuesday afternoon, Feb. 16, the clock finally struck midnight. Time ran out for the Baileys. A city marshal and five NYPD cops showed up to get them out. They were evicted.

Byrne is grateful, but .. there’s always a “but” with these people.

The Baileys went back to court the next day. And according to Byrne, civil court Judge Louis Vilella gave them one hour a day for a week to get the rest of their belongings out of Byrne's house.

Judge Vilella will consult with the judge handling the federal bankruptcy action to make sure he’s not missing anything. And then he’s due to issue a ruling on Feb. 29, presumably a final ruling.

1-family home turned into 16 unit SRO

33-07 153rd Street MLSLI Listing

"Hi Crappie,

Check out the attached MLSLI listing for a house for sale in Flushing in which the owner has made 15 bedrooms and if you rent out the owner’s bedroom you could make $7,295/month in rent, and as an added bonus if you pave over the front yard you could park two cars there. WTF??? Last I heard that was an SRO and paving over a front yard for parking is illegal. This house is also in an R2 zone, which means only single family homes. How is Success Team Realty located at 41-60 Main Street, (718)888-9115 getting away with this? The life and safety factor alone in this type of living situation is extremely dangerous and criminal. Who is going to stand up to these liars who are selling out our neighborhood?"

- Anonymous

Kissena Blvd stores have no entrances on street

From Citizen of the Month:

[In 2008] I wrote a blog post titled, “The Slummification of Kissena Boulevard,” where I talked about the decline of the street’s shopping district. I couldn’t understand the logic behind all these stores left empty. The neighborhood wasn’t fancy, but it wasn’t impoverished. Surely a Dunkin’ Donuts franchise would do OK. Was it possible that a landlord could make more money NOT renting the property, under some sort of tax loophole reminiscent of “The Producers?” To this day, I still get comments on that post from people who used to live in the neighborhood.
I’m glad to say that a lot has changed since then. Not long after I wrote that post, there was movement on the street, and workmen began making repairs to the infrastructure. Rather than the structure being demolished, it was strengthened, and smaller storefronts were consolidated. While no Target or Kmart ever moved in, new stores DID arrive. Today, 95% of the original Kissena Boulevard shopping area is back in use, the centerpieces being a supermarket, a National Wholesale Liquidators, and an established electronics/computer store. I enjoy each store and shop there often.
One aspect of this neighborhood revival disappoints me, and that is the suburban mentality that is foisted on our urban folk. While the once empty parking lot is now busy with shoppers filling up the trunks with purchases, Kissena Boulevard is still a ghost town. All entrances that were once directly on Kissena Boulevard have been locked, boarded over, or bricked over. The only way to enter the stores is through the parking lot. It feels as if the stores have open arms to visitors driving in from other parts of Queens, while sending a message of distrust to the actual residents of the neighborhood.

Police can't seem to find derelict vehicle in plain sight

"I've complained about it before a few months ago and nothing was done, so I'm giving it another shot. On the block outside my apartment building at 65-77 Parsons Boulevard, there is an old Chevy SS covered in a tarp that has been parked at the same spot for nearly half a year.

On February 2 at 10:07 pm, I made a 311 service request to have the vehicle inspected. The SRN is C1-1-1208512861.

At 11:56 pm on that same evening, I received an email stating that "The Police Department responded to the complaint and with the information available observed no evidence of the violation at that time."

Having gone through this runaround before, I inspected the vehicle personally on Monday and looking under the tarp, found an outdated license plate, a missing registration sticker, and an outdated inspection sticker. Please see the attached photos.

I have yet to hear back on whether covering a vehicle with a tarp is legal, as it enables the owner to cover up things like expired registrations and contraband. Furthermore, in a neighborhood where parking is difficult to find, I do not like having to circle around my block searching for a space while this scofflaw driver treats a public street as his own permanent plot.

I am beginning to think that this driver must have a connection that enables him/her to openly flout the law. I've complained to the 107th Precinct in October of last year, and to any passing traffic agent that I've seen since then, but so far, nothing has been done."

-Your loyal reader

Flushing West being studied

From City Limits:

Two years ago, Mayor Bill de Blasio chose this unusual area named Flushing West as one of the first three neighborhoods (along with Brooklyn's East New York and the Jerome Avenue corridor in the Bronx) to undergo comprehensive studies for likely rezonings under his affordable housing plan.

Like other neighborhoods that are set to be rezoned, the proposal for Flushing has drawn some criticism—although there are also forces in Flushing that support a redrawing of the map for the area.

Before a rezoning could be contemplated, a study of the area was needed first, and the Department of City Planning’s Queens Borough Office began one last year. It focused on an areas below Northern Boulevard (on its north side) running west from Prince Street to Flushing Creek north of Roosevelt Avenue, and from College Point Boulevard west to the creek from Roosevelt down to 40th Road and the LIRR tracks. A sliver of undeveloped land on the west side of the creek, pinched between the water and the Van Wyck Expressway, is also included.

The DCP is not the first to study the area. The Flushing – Willets Point – Corona Local Development Corporation, led by former Queens Borough President Claire Shulman, received a $1.5 million grant from the state’s Department of State to redevelop the waterfront. The area is a brownfield site, one of many contaminated areas the city noted for redevelopment in 2011.

Alexandra Rosa, project consultant for the LDC, says the mayor's announcement complimented LDC’s goals for the waterfront.

There are so many conflicts of interest here, and so little time to expose them all... Suffice it to say that all the usual suspects have their fingers in this pie.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Drive at 5 talks illegal conversions

Go to 17:15 where Curtis Sliwa interviews Paul Graziano about illegal conversions. It's quite entertaining.

Fraudulent company head going to the pokey

From Crains:

The head of a consulting company that faked safety inspections on dozens of construction sites in the city will spend up to three years in state prison, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. announced Tuesday.

Richard Marini, 62, ran a company called Avanti Building Consultants, which was supposedly staffed with licensed safety managers who could inspect building sites. But not only were Marini's inspectors unlicensed, according to Vance, they also had no experience in construction safety at all, in most cases.

Marini scoured Craigslist and paid bellhops, musicians and short-order cooks to simply sign off on safety logs in their own names, or forge the names of licensed safety inspectors—one of whom was dead. Avanti Building Consultants inspected about 40 sites.

RKO on the market again

From Crains:

The long-vacant RKO Keith's Theatre in Flushing, Queens, is up for sale—again.

The 1920s-era cinema at 135-35 Northern Blvd. has been gathering dust for 30 years as a series of developers have bought and sold the property without completing plans to convert it to apartments or hotel rooms. On Feb. 17, the latest firm to take a crack at redeveloping the property, JK Equities, announced that it is putting the former movie house up for sale. RKO Keith's Theatre is being marketed by Cushman & Wakefield.

"In the past six months, we have received several unsolicited offers to purchase the site at attractive pricing," said Jerry Karlik, head of JK Equities.

What happens when a shelter opens in an area

From LIC Post:

The Commanding Officer of the 114 Precinct has called on the community board for help in combating crime at a women’s homeless shelter in Long Island City, following two violent incidents that broke out at the shelter last week.

Captain Peter Fortune addressed Community Board 1 at its monthly meeting Tuesday and asked the Board to reach out to the City regarding the women’s shelter in the former Verve Hotel, located at 40-03 29th Street.

Fortune informed the Board of two incidents where residents of the shelter had to be arrested, with one resident assaulting police officers.

The first incident occurred on Feb. 11, where police responded to a dispute between two roommates. As police arrived, one roommate struck the other in the head with a metal object, Fortune said.

The suspect was arrested and taken to Cornell Hospital’s psychiatric center for evaluation. Upon arrival, as the suspect was being taken out of the ambulance, she assaulted an officer.

“She head butted the officer,” Fortune said. “That officer has been out with injuries.”

While in the hospital, the suspect struck an officer numerous times with a metal IV pole and kicked him. That officer has needed treatment as well.

Then on Feb. 12, a resident refused to go through the shelter’s metal detectors and began to act aggressively, Fortune said. She broke the metal detectors and then began throwing chairs and bottles around the lobby.

She was arrested and brought to Cornell Hospital for a psychiatric exam, Fortune said.

Fortune said he subsequently spoke to the shelter contractor, the Acacia Network, and they were not aware of these incidents or arrests.

He added that the Precinct has received complaints from neighboring business owners, primarily bodega owners, who say residents from the shelter harass them.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

"Was licensed" contractor scammed old lady

From PIX11:

Joseph Battaglia claimed to be a licensed home improvement contractor when Virginia James hired him to renovate her small bathroom and replace a number of doors in her Queens home.

But a spokesperson for the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs says “Battaglia and Sons Contracting license was revoked in 2013.” His new company, JAB Home Improvement, is also “not licensed” and is “under investigation,” says the Consumer Affairs Department.

We recently confronted Battaglia about a court judgment he lost to Virginia James for $4854.00 for failing to complete the bathroom renovations and not delivering the replacement doors.

“How come you haven’t paid the judgment?” I asked Battaglia. He claimed to be unaware the court case had taken place six months ago and that he lost by default when he failed to show up.

“You take advantage of the elderly. My mother was 80-years-old”, said Eileen James. It was Eileen’s mother who sued Battaglia. Tragically, she died just one week after filing suit, and Eileen continued the court fight on her mother’s behalf. “He made commitments to me that he was going to refund the money and fix what needed to be fixed. And of course, months went on. He never did anything”, said Eileen.

Way too much money going to shelter operators

From the Daily News:

Ponder Mayor de Blasio’s priorities — and the goods he is buying with spiraling outlays on serving the homeless. The rapidly rising figures are astonishing.

All together, the mayor will spend $1.7 billion on homelessness this year, a whopping 46% more than just two years ago.

For context, $1.7 billion is more than the city spends annually to pick up and dispose garbage, run the fire department or keep the city’s drinking water clean.

That amount includes $1.3 billion to run shelters, an outlay larger than the city spends on parks, senior centers, libraries and cultural institutions combined.

Wills a no show council member

From NY1:

City Councilman Ruben Wills' seat has been empty a lot lately. The indicted Queens Councilman has not been to City Hall since December, and he has not been to his court appearances, either.

Wills is on medical leave, and that illness is the latest hiccup delaying his corruption trial.

It was nearly two years ago that the Queens Councilman was charged by the state attorney general with grand larceny and filing false business records. He is accused of stealing public tax dollars from a nonprofit group he founded.

"I am not resigning on charges," Wills said in May 2014. "This is America, people. We are presumed innocent before you are proven guilty."

Sounds like he expects to go down. The phrase is "innocent until proven guilty".

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Woman dies in cellar fire

From the NY Post:

A 30-year-old woman was killed in a Brooklyn blaze Sunday morning, police said.

The flames broke out in an apartment building at 2227 Homecrest Ave. in Sheepshead Bay about 6:30 a.m.

Sixty firefighters from 12 units battled the fire for about an hour before it was extinguished.

The woman, whose identity wasn’t released, was taken to Coney Island Hospital, where she died, cops said.

The fire started in the basement, and the Fire Marshall’s Office is investigating, fire officials said.

I hope they can figure this one out. It's baffling.

Monday, February 15, 2016

AirBnB dumped illegal rental data

From Curbed:

Back in November, in an attempt to prove that it's okay with transparency (and that its users are all above board, despite evidence/criticism to the contrary), Airbnb released a year's worth of data that it had accrued on listings in New York City. The data revealed many things about NYC hosts—including that many of them are operating illegal listings—but a team of independent researchers is now alleging that those facts weren't entirely accurate. The website Inside Airbnb (founded by Murray Cox) released a report alleging that Airbnb tampered with the data that was made publicly available, deleting as many as 1,000 listings in an attempt to "paint a misleading picture" of its NYC operations.

The report, compiled by Cox and tech writer Tom Slee, is compiled from two different sats of data using Airbnb listings going as far back as 2013. By doing so, they were able to compare the information that Airbnb made available to journalists in November to the site's data on a typical day/week/month, and the results were fairly damning. According to the report, "Airbnb ensured a favorable picture by carrying out a one-time targeted purge of over 1,000 listings," and used the days immediately following that purge as representative of its operations. The listings that were deleted were for "entire home" rentals, which have been targeted by critics as being the biggest source of illegal activity on the site.

Cox and Slee also poked holes in other data that Airbnb made available, including the statistic that "95% of our entire home hosts share only one listing"; according to their findings, that was true for "less than two weeks of the year." They allege that this was all done in order to make the company's dealings look better to journalists, who were presented with a very specific data set to analyze.

Fun in the sun 70 years ago

"Filmed by Gus Martens on June 15, 1946 in College Point, NY. The Kiwanis Club sponsors a Field Day beginning with a parade down College Point's main street. In Part 2 the parade finishes in College Point's waterside park where festivities continue with children's athletic games, appearances by local dignitaries, and plenty of free milk supplied by the church ladies. Filmed on 16mm Kodachrome. I did not apply or enhance the colors in any way - this is exactly how the film appears now, 70 years after it was made." - Robert W. Martens

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Supposedly transparent mayor issued secret shelter order

From the NY Post:

Mayor de Blasio personally banned the opening of new shelters in 2014 because of community backlash — and instead told officials to put homeless families in less secure hotels like the one where a mom and two kids were slaughtered Wednesday on Staten Island, The Post has learned.

De Blasio issued the edict during a meeting with Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services Lilliam Barrios-Paoli and Department of Homeless Services Commissioner Gilbert Taylor — both of whom later resigned amid the growing homeless crisis, a DHS official said.

“They started pushing us to put clients in commercial hotels because they didn’t want to notify the people in the communities,” the DHS source said.

“When you open up a shelter, you have to notify the community, City Council members, officials, and people get upset. [De Blasio] had opened a lot of shelters that fall and was afraid of opening more. So he started opening up these hotels.”

De Blasio sent senior policy adviser Lincoln Restler to work with DHS on the hotel program, but Restler ignored senior staffers’ fears that the hotels could endanger homeless residents, the DHS source said.

“These commercial hotels don’t have adequate security, and [city officials] know that,” the source explained. “Regular shelters do. [Many] have full-body metal detectors. A boyfriend can’t just walk in and go to his girlfriend’s room if he doesn’t live there.”

Landlord of explosion site finally arrested

From the NY Post:

Two building owners and three contractors were arrested Thursday morning on charges including manslaughter​, assault and criminally negligent homicide​ over the East Village blast that destroyed three buildings and killed two people nearly a year ago.

Petty corner-cutting and blatant greed caused the blast, officials said.

Sharing the blame, officials ​accused, are a penny​-​pinching building landlord, ​her son, ​her contractor, and the contractor’s unlicensed plumber, who installed a tangle of dangerous and illegal gas connections that they hid from Con Ed behind a locked basement door.

And check out this case from Michigan:

Federal officials charged a suburban Detroit restaurant owner and his wife Friday with harboring immigrants who were in the U.S. without legal permission after a fire at a house he owned killed five employees about two weeks earlier.

Roger Tam, 55, was arrested Thursday and appeared Friday in U.S. District Court in Detroit. His wife, Ada Lei, 48, also has been charged, but has not been arrested because she is hospitalized for an undisclosed reason.

Five Mexican nationals lived in the basement of the home owned by Tam in an upper middle-class neighborhood in Novi, northwest of Detroit, while working at Tam's restaurant, Kim's Garden. The Jan. 31 fire has been ruled accidental and possibly caused by smoking; a smoke detector in the basement had been disabled. The basement had stairs to the first floor but windows made of glass block, which would prevent any escape in an emergency.

The charge that Tam and Lei face carries a 10-year prison sentence and a $250,000 fine.

Illegal conversions and illegal gas hookups kill. It's time to throw the book at these people.

New safety regs for construction sites

From Crains:

Mayor Bill de Blasio and the city Department of Buildings Commissioner Rick Chandler announced stricter rules for construction sites Friday, including quadrupling fines for serious safety violations.

Despite advances in technology and new laws, working on a New York City construction site has become more dangerous during the past decade. After a string of accidents over the past two years, including a fatal crane collapse last week, the de Blasio administration has come under increasing pressure to address the problems.

"No building is worth a person's life," the mayor said in a statement outlining the new measures, which will be phased in during the next few months.

Penalties for serious safety lapses will quadruple to $10,000 from $2,400. Property owners with projects under 10 stories tall, where 70% of accidents happened in 2015, will be required to hire a construction superintendent for all major work (they already had to have one for new construction). The fine for failing to do so will rise to $25,000 from $5,000.