At the October 2 annual meeting of the Gateway Plaza Tenants Association (GPTA), more than 200 residents of Battery Park City’s largest rental complex gathered in St. Joseph’s Chapel, overlooking North Cover Marina, to discuss issues of common concern and elect leaders who will represent them at a crucial juncture in the development’s history. Three days after the meeting, longtime GPTA president Glenn Plaskin resigned, bringing to a close a decade-long tenure, the last five years of which he served at the helm of the organization.
The meeting began with a review by Mr. Plaskin of recent progress at Gateway. He cited a series of capital improvements, such as the replacement of windows and heating/air conditioning units throughout the complex, as well as ongoing upgrades to the facades of its six buildings. He then shifted his focus to goals that have not yet been achieved, such as the extension and expansion of affordability protections at Gateway, where a limited form of rent stabilization is set to expire in 2020. Mr. Plaskin said the GPTA’s goal is to extend these protections for another 20 years, and expand them to include all Gateway tenants. (Currently, only those who were living in the complex in 2009, when the most recent agreement about rent protections was signed, are covered by these provisions. All others are market-rate tenants, with no automatic right of lease renewal.) Mr. Plaskin noted that, in the eight years since the last agreement was finalized, the rapid turnover in apartments has led, “to 63 percent of all units within Gateway now being market-rate.” Mr. Plaskin added that, “we also want rent protections to be portable, so that tenants who move from one unit to another within Gateway can take those guarantees with them to their new apartment.”
Mr. Plaskin alluded to ongoing negotiations between Gateway’s owners, the LeFrak Organization, and their ultimate landlord, the Battery Park City Authority (BPCA), and described the role of Authority chairman Dennis Mehiel in these talks as, “heroic.” But he was able to provide few details about the current status of these discussions, which are focused on the preservation of rent stabilization.
After Mr. Plaskin spoke, a parade of elected officials representing Lower Manhattan addressed the assembled crowd. Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer announced goals that appeared to exceed those outlined by Mr. Plaskin, saying, “we need stabilization for the life of these buildings, not just for 20 years.” She also argued for including the City’s Senior Citizen Rent Increase Exemption (SCRIE) program into Gateway’s rent stabilization agreement.
Former State Senator Daniel Squadron, who resigned in August, called Gateway, “the most important bastion of affordability remaining in Lower Manhattan,” and added to Ms. Brewer’s call for SCRIE protections by also advocating for inclusion of the City’s Disabled Rent Increase Exemption (DRIE) program at Gateway.
City Council member Margaret Chin said that, “affordable housing protections should be permanent,” rather than expiring after a limited number of years, “and we were able to get that kind of protection for the new development at Essex Crossing, on the Lower East Side. Sounding a cautionary note, she also compared Gateway Plaza to Tribeca’s Independence Plaza, a onetime stronghold of affordability in Lower Manhattan, where rent protections have been eviscerated in recent years, resulting in the displacement of residents who had lived there for decades. Returning to the need for SCRIE, she added, “we need to let our seniors age with dignity in the community they helped to build.”
State Assembly member Yuh-Line Niou emphasized that, “we need permanent affordable housing Downtown.”
In what may have been a first, a BPCA board member, Catherine McVay Hughes (the former chair of Community Board 1, who lives in Lower Manhattan) also attended the meeting, as an observer.
After the elected officials had concluded their remarks, the meeting turned to electing members of the GPTA board. There were more than 20 candidates for the GPTA’s 12-seat board, including Mr. Plaskin, and several returning board members.
Tabulating these votes took until October 5. When the counting was done, Mr. Plaskin had received more than 100 votes, a higher tally than any other candidate. Among the new members elected to the GPTA board were Rosalie Joseph, Robin Forst, and Honey Berk, all of whom are part of a unified slate that hopes to bring fresh energy and vision to the GPTA.
When these results were revealed, however, Mr. Plaskin announced his resignation as the GPTA’s president. This was a startling change of heart, given that he had said nothing about stepping down while presiding over the hours-long October 2 meeting, and had allowed his name to top the list of candidates seeking election.
In a statement, Mr. Plaskin said, “while I’m honored to have received the largest number of votes cast in our election, upon reflection, due to the inordinate amount of time required, I feel it’s the right time for me to pass the baton, effective immediately. It’s important to foster new leadership in the community, allocating responsibility while utilizing all the talents of the newly-elected board. I wish these members good luck and continued success in advocating for the tenants of Gateway. To all my neighborhood friends, I am deeply grateful for your support.”
The GPTA has yet to announce who will take over as president.