By Bill Parry
Originally published by the Times Ledger on December 17, 2015
City Councilman Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights) has an Airbnb problem in hisdistrict and he’s not happy about it.
One of his constituents, Eddie Shiew, owns a three-story home in Elmhurst. Shiew recently rented the third floor, a three-bedroom apartment to Burak Firik and Dogan Kimilli for $2,500 a month, according to WPIX. Shiew found that the two renters renovated the unit without his knowledge.
“I went in the next day and found they had turned a three-bedroom into a 10-bedroom apartment,” Shiew told WPIX. Using sheetrock, a construction crew had subdivided each bedroom and then listed the micro-rooms for rent for $35 a night on Airbnb, the house-sharing website.
Shiew brought in workmen to remove the sheetrock, changed the locks on the doors and demanded the two renters leave.
“They went to court and got a court order against me,” Shiew told WPIX. “They said I illegally locked them out.”
Once back on the third floor, the two recreated the spaces for rent on Airbnb using curtains instead of sheetrock. Shiew hired an attorney and is trying to evict them.
“I am deeply disturbed by recent allegations as reported by WPIX of the illegal conversion of a three-bedroom apartment at 88-23 53rd Ave. in Elmhurst into 10 cramped rooms, which were then listed on Airbnb’s website by the renters of the apartment,” Dromm said. “This is yet another example of how Airbnb incentivizes the depletion of affordable housing stock in New York City, exacerbating our already severe housing crisis.”Dromm called on Airbnb to immediately remove the listings for Shiew’s home and other similar listings. Then he called on the Mayor’s Office of Special Enforcement to launch an investigation of the owner’s complaint.
“We have suspended listings we believe are associated with this story while we investigate and we will take appropriate action,” an Airbnb spokesman said. “Situations like these are rare and we strongly oppose illegal hotels.”
Neither Firik nor Kimilli could be reached for comment.
Read more here.
NY1 VIDEO: The Road to City Hall’s Errol Louis visited City Councilman Daniel Dromm’s 25th city council district in Queens.
Some residents in a rent-controlled Queens building say the superintendent has been harassing them in an attempt to force them to move out.
Smoke-free co-ops lower health risks, but they’re also better for the bottom line, officials said at a forum in Jackson Heights to promote a borough-wide drive for cigarette-free buildings.
The toxins from nicotine cause wear and tear on buildings, increasing maintenance costs and lowering property values, according to the Coalition for a Smoke-Free City, a health advocacy group.
The non-profit sponsored the forum with State Senator Jose Peralta and Councilman Daniel Dromm. “This is an important health issue and financial concern for any co-op owner,” Peralta said.
“Implementing smoke-free policies will not only make buildings healthier and safer,” said Dromm, “it’ll also drive up property values.”
The coalition, working with the Queens Smoke-Free Partnership, has pushed landlords, property owners, and tenants to establish smoke-free policies in co-op and other multi-unit buildings.
Across the country, states are seeking similar reforms.
In Oregon, landlords are required to advise renters of smoke-free policy options in leases. Maine has smoke-free policies in 18 of its 20 public housing developments.
The cost of rehabbing a heavy smoker’s apartment is $3,515, compared to $560 for a non-smoker, according to a study done by Smoke-Free New England.
The numbers make sense to New York City residents: a 2009 Zogby International poll found that 66 percent want smoke-free apartments, if they can find one.
That shouldn’t be so difficult, said Yvette Jackson-Buckner, of the Queens Smoke-Free Partnership.
“Every Queens resident has the right to breathe clean, tobacco-free air where they live and work,” she said.
Councilwoman Margaret Chin expressed what she sees as an urgent need for rent law reform from the steps of City Hall on Wednesday. Council members Ydanis Rodriguez, Daniel Dromm, and Brad Lander, among others, joined Chin.
Elected officials and tenant-advocacy groups decried “loopholes” that allow landlords to raise the rent of rent-controlled apartments. Landlords can charge 20 percent more for a unit after each vacancy. If a rent-controlled apartment creeps up over the $2,000-a-month threshold, it is then free of rent control for good.
“If it is allowed to continue to become unregulated, we’re going to continue to see more and more of this type of gentrification in our communities,” remarked Councilman Dromm. “New York City is already a city between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots,’ and we’re going to see it become more and more a city only for the ‘haves,’” he asserted.
After saying he would include increased rent control laws in his budget proposal, Gov. Andrew Cuomo rescinded his decision Tuesday. While he supports the laws, he says they are too “complex” to be introduced with the budget, according to the New York Observer.
The council members declared the matter urgent, as each unit lost to deregulation is precious in a city where affordable housing is hard to come by. They argued that with the loss of so many rent-controlled units, the only way to provide the city’s middle- and lower-income families with a home will be to build more, which would be a pricey venture on the taxpayers’ buck.
“The private market in New York City will not, on its own, build new affordable housing,” argued Benjamin Dulchin, executive director of the Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development.
Industry insider, Vernon Jones of real estate promotion company Live Open House LLC, disagrees.
“The private market thrives on the benefits of affordable housing,” he stated in an e-mail. “For many luxury rental developers, affordable housing is an absolute necessity because of the tax benefits.”
The 80/20 program gives developers a tax break if they allot 20 percent of their units as affordable housing.
“With traditional real estate taxes reaching 20–22 percent of the total income, the developer would suffer if it were not for these programs,” Jones concluded.
Even if public policy provides incentives for affordable housing development, landlords continue to move toward deregulation and raise the rent in existing buildings. In her State of the City address, Council Speaker Christine Quinn pointed out that 1,300 rent-controlled units were lost in one Tribeca development alone last year.
Although Cuomo has dropped rent control law from budget negotiations, the issue is still a hot one in Albany; the current laws near their expiry date this June.
While bills promoting increased regulation have been introduced in both the state Assembly and the state Senate, Chin says Republican state senators are unlikely to pass such legislation.
“A lot of the Republican senators do not represent districts that have rent-regulated apartments,” she observed. “But, they get donations from landlords.”
Chin plans to focus on convincing the Republicans who have rent-controlled buildings in their district, such as Martin J. Golden of Bayridge, Brooklyn.
Golden and several other Republican state senators did not respond to inquiry as of press deadline.
State Sen. David Weprin laments that the uncertainty disrupts the sense of community felt by New Yorkers. Without the certainty that they will be able to afford the same apartment from year to year, he says families cannot really put down roots.
“Don’t we want people to feel a part of their community? Don’t we want people to know that if they move into an apartment, their kids can go to school there and not be subject to the whim of a landlord?” Weprin asked.
Residents of Jackson Heights are making an 11th-hour attempt to prevent an athletic field owned by a private school from being taken over by a developer.
The Garden School, which runs from nursery school through 12th grade, has been struggling financially and was in talks with the city to sell its 29,000-square-foot athletic field situated across from Travers Park on 78th Street.
However, trustees of the 87-year-old Queens school voted last week to reject the city’s offer, choosing instead to consider bids from developers. The city wasn’t offered the opportunity to make a counterbid.
According to local City Council Member Daniel Dromm, who was facilitating sale talks with the city, the Department of Parks & Recreation made an offer of $4.7 million for 20,000 square feet of land or $4.8 million for the entire field, with a clause allowing the Garden School to use the property during school hours.
At an emergency community meeting Wednesday night attended by about 150 residents, school officials said they wanted to work with the city but they were facing financial pressures to move quickly.
“Our first choice has always been a deal with the city with a park, but we don’t want to put the Garden School at risk,” said Arthur Gruen, president of the school’s board of trustees.
Mr. Gruen said the school had received a bid of $5.4 million for a plan to build apartments on the field. He didn’t identify the bidder, but said there was no deal yet. Other developers are also interested, he said.
Michael Rakosi, vice president of the school’s trustees, said a recession-driven decrease in enrollment was one reason the school was in need of cash to cover operating costs and stay afloat. “Our students are children of working class families, not from families with unlimited money,” he said.
In addition, Mr. Rakosi said “it can take a long time to get that money from the city” in land deals. The process of acquiring the field could take as long as two years, according to Philip Abramson, a parks department spokesman.
But Mr. Dromm’s office calls that time estimate pessimistic and said there are volunteers who are willing to speed up the process.
“I don’t know if the parents are going to tolerate having a four- to six-story building in their school yard and put up with construction and a shrunken school yard,” Mr. Dromm said.
In a city district that ranks among the lowest in park space per resident, the idea has angered many residents, many of whom see this as a scarce opportunity to increase green space in the area.
“We cannot afford to have another apartment building getting rid of some of the last park space left in this area,” said Dudley Stewart, president of Jackson Heights Green Alliance.
Parents of some students at the Garden School also object to the loss of the property to developers.
“There is no way I’ll continue paying that kind of money to a private school that doesn’t provide something so basic—a school yard,” said Susan Collins, whose 9-year-old daughter has been attending the school for two years.
Others were surprised to learn about the potential sale of the field. “I had no idea this was going on,” said Martha Rodriguez, whose granddaughter attends the Garden School. “I grew up here and for the school to not care about the community’s needs is unacceptable,” she said.
Because the athletic field is situated just across from Travers Park, 78th Street is closed off and used as additional play space for kids during the summer. The acquisition of the athletic field would have allowed the creation of a much larger contiguous public space, backers say.
The Garden School has class sizes of 10 to 12 students and subsidizes the cost of tuition by as much as $600,000 annually so needy students can attend, said Richard Marotta, headmaster of Garden School.
The Wednesday meeting concluded with community members saying they would approach banks and foundations in an attempt to forestall an immediate sale of the property.
“The city has the money and it’s just a matter of finding the money to cover the school’s expenses in the short term,” said Mr. Stewart.
One of the first garden communities in the U.S. could be the site of a new six-story, mixed-use building whose current design, if approved by the city Landmarks Preservation Commission, won’t include any green space at all.
Phoenix Manor, the proposed apartment building, is planned as a Georgian-style structure with 45 units and street-level retail property. The project’s planned site is at the corner of 37th Avenue and 84th Street in the Jackson Heights Historic District in Queens.
Approval by the landmarks commission is needed because the project falls within the historic district, which covers roughly 38 blocks from Northern Boulevard to Roosevelt Avenue and from 76th to 88th streets.
Locals have been circulating petitions opposing the building proposal for several months. Daniel Dromm, a Jackson Heights councilman who opposes the project in its current form, described the design as an “architectural blight” at a landmarks commission hearing this month. Noting it doesn’t include “an inch of green space,” he said it was out of character for the area.
The project’s attorney, Howard Weiss, said that much of the opposition was originating from the proposed building’s immediate neighbors who were used to having a one-story structure next door.
“It’s a fact of life in an urban environment,” said Mr. Weiss. “When development occurs, sometimes people lose their views.”
He added that the design was in compliance with the historic district guidelines, and said he expected the landmarks commission to vote for it. No date has been set for the vote.
The site of the proposed building is currently a vacant lot that formerly housed eight mom-and-pop stores destroyed in a fire earlier this year. Some of the businesses that lost nearly everything in the fire have since found new homes in the area.
Colony Wine and Liquor store, a fixture in the community for decades under different owners, reopened just down the block four months ago, while the former Willo Barber Shop now stands as Marcos Barber Shop.
Others have been less fortunate. Eighty-three-year-old Thomas Kourakos, whose shoe-repair shop on the stretch dated to 1956, is among those who haven’t returned.
Still others are struggling to regain some semblance of stability. Maria Solano, owner of Lalita’s party-favors store, now operates out of a Laundromat on 37th Avenue where she has selling space set up at the front. New businesses also have opened up on 37th Avenue in the past few months, including Slim’s II Bagels and La Gran Uruguaya Bakery.
A steady influx of professionals and young families has boosted the area’s commercial real estate as well as its residential prices in recent years.
The neighborhood is a quick hop (15 minutes) to Manhattan and is one of the best-connected sections in Queens, with the Roosevelt Avenue subway stop linking the 7, E, F, G, M and R lines.
For foodies, there are mainstays like El Chivito D’Oro, an Uruguayan steakhouse on 82nd Street, and Jackson Diner, an Indian restaurant in “Little India” on 74th Street that also just opened an outpost in Greenwich Village. Numerous Colombian bakeries and Mexican food carts have been around for years, along with growing numbers of Nepalese-Tibetan restaurants.
But rising commercial rents are making the area unsustainable for some retailers, especially in light of recent economic woes. Fashion Heights, a clothing store, is slated to close this month, while Primos Discount, just a couple of doors down, hasn’t been able to negotiate new lease terms.
“This is the worst business has been since I opened 36 years ago,” said Sue Lee, owner of the Ho flower shop on the same block as Fashion Heights and Primos. “When times are tough, you don’t need flowers, but you still need to eat.”
Michele Beaudoin, a broker with Beaudoin Realty Group who is a Jackson Heights native, thinks the ownership of the area’s retail spaces makes a difference.
“Unlike the individually owned stores you find in Astoria or Forest Hills,” she said, “many 37th Avenue stores are owned by large building owners, corporations and huge landlords, which makes them less affordable.“
Local business owners, meanwhile, have mixed feelings about the Phoenix Manor proposal and the prospects of having a new apartment building in their midst.
“It’s bittersweet for me because on the one hand there will be more people who need our services,” said Alex Chin, owner of Kelly Cleaners, which stands next to the proposed building on 37th Avenue. “But by the time the new building goes up, my lease will expire and I probably won’t be able to afford the rent anymore.”
Queens Vantage Tenants Council has endorsed Daniel Dromm for the New York City Council, 25th District.
Queens Vantage Tenants Council was formed to help tenants in Vantage buildings that may be the victims of many under-handed and possibly illegal tactics to force tenants from their homes including taking many tenants to court for no reason, harassing tenants who cannot produce a valid lease and trying to evict those tenants even though they have lived in their apartment for many years. Queens Vantage Tenants Council has hundreds of members in the 25th City Council district.
Metropolitan Council on Housing, New York City’s oldest tenant union has endorsed Daniel Dromm for City Council from the 25th District.
In a letter from Metropolitan Council on Housing Chair, Scott Sommer, the organization cited Dromm’s “ongoing advocacy and support of New York City’s tenants” as their main reason for the endorsement.
Sommer said, “We look forward to working with you in the future on measures to improve the quality and affordability of housing in our city.
Dromm thanked the organization and said, “I deeply appreciate the Metropolitan Council on Housing endorsement because tenants rights is an extremely important issue for me and for my constituents. I am committed to fighting against abuse by landlords and to working to increase affordable housing in my district.”
Dromm has also been endorsed by Tenants PAC because of his commitment to affordable housing and tenants rights.
Met Council, founded in 1959, is a membership organization dedicated to preserving and expanding New York City’s supply of decent, affordable housing. Most New Yorkers live in rented apartments—almost all low, moderate, and middle-income people in New York rent their homes—and over 1 million of those apartments are covered by rent regulations. Met Council focuses on preserving rental housing and strengthening tenants’ rights. Rent-regulated tenants have more long-term stability, better services, and lower rents than those who rent on the open market.