Greater Goods and Lessor Evils
Gateway Affordability Rally Draws Large Crowd; Multiple Elected Officials Pledge Support
Hundreds of Gateway Plaza residents braved ominous weather to attend a tenants’ rally along the esplanade on Sunday evening, and hear a succession of elected officials pledge their support to the campaign for extended and expanded affordability protections at Battery Park City’s largest apartment complex. The event was organized and hosted by the Gateway Plaza Tenants Association(GPTA), which represents the 1,700-plus households in the community’s first residential development.
GPTA president Rosalie Joseph began by asking, “why are we here today? To fight for our homes, plain and simple! A year from now, the rent stabilization agreement of 2009 will expire.” This was a reference to the most recent in a series of accords between Gateway’s developer and landlord, the LeFrak Organization, and the Battery Park City Authority (BPCA), which owns the land on which the complex is located. These agreements have historically limited rent increases at Gateway to those approved by the City’s Rent Guidelines Board for rent-stabilized apartments elsewhere in the City.
“Together with you and our elected officials, the GPTA is demanding the preservation of rent stabilization for all of Gateway, no matter when you moved in,” Ms. Joseph continued. This was a reference to the fact that the 2009 affordability agreement protected only tenants living at Gateway on the date that accord went into affect. All of the earlier pacts had mandated limits on increases for all Gateway residents for the duration of each agreement, regardless of when they moved in. This difference has resulted, in the years since 2009, in more than half of all Gateway households receiving no rent protection whatever.
“For those of us who lived here before 2009, we are at risk of not being able to afford to live where we have built our lives and built our community,” Ms. Joseph observed. “So the GPTA is working with the Battery Park City Authority, and our elected officials to secure a renewal and expansion of rent stabilization. We want the agreement expanded to cover all Gateway residents. And we want the agreement extended to 2040.” Such a 20-year term would mark a crucial difference from the four previous Gateways rent accords, the shortest of which lasted four years, and the longest of which endured for 12.
GPTA vice president Robin Forstthen introduced U.S. Congressman Jerry Nadler, who began by saying, “the struggle here is really part of a struggle to keep affordability in Lower Manhattan.” Noting that two other nearby large developments, Independence Plaza and Southbridge Towers, have lost affordability protections in recent years, he added, “the only redoubt of affordability in Lower Manhattan, the only place where there are rent protections other than individual buildings where they have some stabilized apartments, is Gateway Plaza.”
“That must be maintained,” he stated emphatically. “We must insist on an agreement that is negotiated to extend through the entire lifetime of the ground lease, which is the year 2040.” This was a reference to the fact that LeFrak’s lease with the Battery Park City Authority theoretically could end in that year, although this agreement contains optional renewal periods extending through the year 2069.
“Secondly,” Mr. Nadler continued, “all apartments must have stabilization, and they must not be destabilized upon a turnover of tenancy.” This was a reference to the clause in the current affordability agreement that allows rent-stabilized apartments to revert to market rents once a tenant moves out. “Every time a turnover happens, that means one less affordable apartment,” he noted.
Mr. Nadler recalled that, “Battery Park City was a State project, and part of the understanding was that we could have middle-class, affordable housing. That was part of the deal. We didn’t mean for that to be temporary.”
“So it is essential that negotiations between Lefrak and the Battery Park City Authority and the State honor that commitment to affordability,” he insisted. “And that means permanent affordability, which means continuous rent stabilization, for every apartment.”
Next, Ms. Forst introduced City Comptroller Scott Stringer, who began by insisting that, “failure is not an option. This was the first residential development in Battery Park City, and it was always envisioned as a middle-class building, a place where you could come and raise families and build the surrounding community. That is what the people of Gateway have always represented.”
“And we know the real story,” he recalled. After the devastation of September 11, 2001, “there was a group of people who said, ‘this is our City. This is our Lower Manhattan. And we’re not going to surrender to terrorists, or developers.'”
“Look what you did,” Mr. Stringer exhorted the cheering crowd. “You rebuilt Lower Manhattan. You built the stores back and you built the schools. And you made sure that future generations of New Yorkers can enjoy this amazing community. And that is what this fight is all about. And I say to Lefrak very clearly, ‘look what’s happening in Albany. There is now a recognition that we do not build any more fake affordable housing. We build permanent affordable housing. That’s what this is about.”
“Permanency means you can claim your future,” he continued. “That you have an equity stake in communities. We will march with you. We will fight with you. We will negotiate with you. But this fight cannot be lost. We need permanency and we need it now.”
Ms. Forst then called to the stage Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, who said to the audience, “You are our heroes. There are many things happening in the world. But nothing is more important than affordable housing at Gateway. We need to preserve the existing rent stabilization. But we need a new rent stabilization agreement that covers all Gateway Plaza tenants. All of them. And it has to be long term — 2040 and more. It’s not just about affordable rents, because rent stabilization also gives tenants the right to a lease renewal and to succession, and to SCRIE and to DRIE.” This was a reference to ancillary protections conferred by rent stabilization elsewhere in the City (but not currently at Gateway Plaza), such as the Senior Citizen Rent Increase Exemption and the Disabled Rent Increase Exemption programs.
“These are all needed to make sure that we have long-term tenancy in Gateway — period!” Ms. Brewer insisted. She concluded by honoring BPCA president Benjamin Jones, saying, “he and the Authority are terrific partners.”
Ms. Forst then brought to the podium City Council member Margaret Chin, who noted that, “a lot of you were here in the beginning and helped to build Battery Park City. This would not be a beautiful neighborhood that everyone wants to come to, if it weren’t for the residents of Gateway. You helped build two public schools. You helped build the library. You saved the staircase.” (This was a reference to the successful, community-led campaign to prevent Brookfield Properties from demolishing the iconic steps in the Winter Garden.) “And we have to make sure that you get to stay. That’s why we’re fighting so hard for rent regulations to protect Gateway.”
“But we’re not fighting for just any kind of rent stabilization,” she continued. “It has to be the real one, which will help seniors and people with disabilities. Because right now, you don’t have that. So we have to got tell LeFrak, ‘enough with this. Get back to the negotiating table. You’ve made a lot of money. Get back to the table. And we want to encourage BPCA – we’re behind you. Make sure we get the protection that we need.”
“And let’s get real rent stabilization that covers all the buildings in Battery Park City,” Ms. Chin added. “So the fight continues. We will not give up and we will not let it expire next year.”
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