Top Subjects Missing From New York's Mayor's Race
Top Issues Not Making It Into The Mayoral Debates
Part 1 Of 2
Now that the New York mayoral primaries are over and, as expected, political rivals have made amends in order to garner future support, it seems obvious that mudslinging and touting of one’s own record on this or that issue seems like a distant memory. Gone to is the three ring circus that was the Anthony Weiner, AKA Carlos Danger sexting scandal.
Then there was the ever present ghost of Council Speaker Christine Quinn’s role in clearing the way for Mayor Michel Bloomberg to run for a third term, violating city voting laws and bringing the ire of city voters. There had been some meat and potato issues as well making it into print or on the television set, such as the controversial practice of Stop And Frisk, in which police are allowed to randomly stop people and search them for weapons. Bloomberg supported this practice as does Police Commissioner Ray Kelly while Bill De Blasio has come out strongly against it. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/08/26/stop-and-frisk-nyc-mayoral-candidates-infographic_n_3817795.html . The Mayor’s office, along with some of the other candidates, have argued that while Stop And Frisk is flawed, it reduces potential violent crimes. According to a report released by the ACLU, however, only 11% of the stops conducted were either connected to or prevented any violent crimes. Moreover the same study also found that the police disproportionately targeted people of color, with black and Spanish young men making up 90% of all stops. Compared to other large cities, New York’s 29% drop in violent crimes between 2001 and 2010, seems a bit paltry. Los Angeles, for example fell 59% while New Orleans saw a decline of 56%. Dallas saw a decline of 49% and Baltimore’s violent crime rate dropped by 37%. The irony here is that of all the mentioned cities, only NYC has stop and frisk in place. You can read about the report in full here: http://www.nyclu.org/node/1598 .
There was also been plenty of talk about education by all of the candidates on what they would do in fixing the failing system. You can read where each candidate stood in dealing with this and other problems plaguing the City here http://www.decidenyc.com/mayor/. But several topics for one reason or another just never made it into the debate, either with the Democratic candidates or the Republicans. Here is a look at just some of the top issues not discussed this election cycle, yet.
Lack OF Trust With The Department Of Buildings:
For those in the housing movement, the lack of confidence in NYC’s Department of Buildings (DOB) comes as no surprise. In fact, when their department is in charge of inspecting a building violation there seems to be little expectations that the problem will ever get fixed, an issue well documented in the press. In one article on Grub Street, at least 3 DOB inspectors were arrested in 2009 for having ties to the Luchese crime family. http://www.grubstreet.com/2009/10/dob_inspectors_arrested_on_bri.html . According to the article, under the watch of these agents, building owners enjoyed expedited Certificates of Occupancy , despite a slew of building code violations. Christine Hauser of the New York Times pointed out that these inspectors were direct associates to the Luchese’s top people and were found to be committing other crimes, such as gambling, drug trafficking, bribery, extortion and loan sharking.
Three other against were arrested for taking bribes while over looking dangerous continues while supposedly heading investigations. But mob ties are not the only areas where some of its staff has been found committing heinous crimes reminiscent of Chicago during the rise of Al Capone. In 2002, 18 of the five city’s 24 plumbing inspectors extorted hundreds of thousands of dollars to approve projects throughout the city. And in 2008 more DOB agents were arrested after two faulty cranes collapsed, killing 9 people. The incident prompted an investigation by district attorney Robert Morgenthau’s office which led to a slew of arrests in the Derrick’s Division. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/02/nyregion/02building.html?_r=0
According to several sources, the names of several inspectors have become well known to tenant’s rights groups along with tenants themselves. These agents are notorious for claiming that no illegal construction is going on at the time of their arrival when scaffolding and drop cloths are clearly present at buildings where work is clearly being done without permits. Also common knowledge to many housing groups is that landlords/building owners often illegally convert buildings. SRO owners who want to convert their buildings need a Certificate of No Harassment (CNH). They must apply to Housing Preservation and Development, and tenants and ex-tenants are then interviewed in a screening process. Tenants have right to place their names on a list which must provided by the build owners, if they want to challenge the request. Often these lists are not made available or the building owners get the certificates anyway, despite numerous challenges.
The issue of illegal hotels had been consciously absent from Council Speaker Christine Quinn’s campaign despite the fact that of all the candidates she was the hero to many rent regulated tenants on this matter. On October 2nd 2012 the New York City Council passed a law, known as 404-A, that raised the fines on landlords and building owners who use residential building for illegal transient use. This practice had become a business model for landlords trying to get rid of their rent stabilized tenants.
The presence of tourists in residential buildings can often lead to various security concerns. This is due to the fact that residents are no longer aware of who is staying next door to them and who is coming and going from their building. Transients are also known for making noise to till the wee hours of the morning and are believed to have contributed to a bedbug epidemic in some buildings. Furthermore, since so many illegal hotels are used as youth hostels where bunk beds are placed in confined areas without proper egress, these operations are fire hazards and violate the city’s overcrowding laws. This is especially true when dealing with SROs (single room occupancies). http://maab30.hubpages.com/hub/The-Fines-Bill-And-Why-It-Is-Needed . Over the past several years, this practice has cost the city 10s of thousands of units of rent regulated housing, most of which are now market rate. These and other conditions led to the 2010 illegal hotels law which clearly defines the use of buildings as originally stated in the original Multiple Dwelling laws. Class (A) buildings are for residential use only while class (B) buildings are governed by laws for transient renters. There are also (A/B) buildings, or mixed use. Since the law passed landlords/building owners are now subject to receiving fines and their units which are illegally occupied by tourists immediately evacuated. The visitors then must find somewhere else to stay.
Despite this victory for tenants, the agency charged with performing these inspections, The Mayor’s Office of Special Enforcement (OSE) is woefully underfunded with only two inspectors for all five boroughs which means that most reported cases usually fall through the cracks and some of the city’s offenders are able operate for years before they feel any heat, and even then it’s just the price of doing business. If working class tenants have any hope of seeing an end to this problem the next mayor will have to increase the budget for this governing agency and add several more inspectors.
As a side note, in order to expedite the clearing out of a building some of the worst operators of illegal hotels turn to other methods of harassment which includes bringing in staff to live in the building in order to degrade the quality of life for full time tenants. The methods of harassment ranges from playing music until all hours in the morning to assault, break ins and sexual harassment. In one case that I’ve become familiar with, the landlord brought in a mentally ill tenant who left streaks of feces along the bathroom walls and in the hallways. In other cases, staff were known to steal mail, often forcing the tenant(s) to wait weeks for expected checks. http://www.t2conline.com/heartbreak-hotels/ While these are just some extreme cases, the run of the mill harassment is usually no easier to take. In many instances, the management will also refuse to accept a tenant’s rent, then take them to court for a non-payment case. Since so many at risk or vulnerable tenants often don’t know their rights they often leave, assuming they have somewhere to go.
While the Mayor’s race has yet to be decided, the working class of New York City could start asking the above mentioned problems have gone largely ignored and unless there is a real push by housing rights groups will probably remain so for the remainder of this year. It is a bit of a surprise that Quinn was mute on the subject of illegal hotels since she was one of the great heroes in combating the problem. Perhaps it would have helped her campaign in keeping some of her now disgruntled former supporters, but it also points to the underlying issue of how the real estate market has taken on an almost God like status, where in which health and fire codes be damned, turning Manhattan and Brooklyn properties into the finest real estate since ancient Rome and forcing the so called working class to the outer boroughs, just beyond the lights of Broadway.
Until next time…