The Lease You Can Do

The annual membership meeting of the Gateway Plaza Tenants Associationwill be held tomorrow (Wednesday, October 17), in the auditorium of P.S./I.S. 276 (55 Battery Place, near the corner of First Place). The doors will open at 6:00, and the meeting will begin at 6:45 pm.

There will be presentations by multiple elected officials — among those who have confirmed at U.S. Congressman Jerry Nadler, City Comptroller Scott Stringer, State Senator Brian Kavanagh, and City Council member Margaret Chin — as well as Battery Park City Authority (BPCA) senior management, including Authority president Benjamin Jones. The agenda also includes an election for the Association’s board of directors, an update on negotiations to preserve rent stabilization at Gateway, and a question-and-answer session.

Many of these questions are likely to focus on the push to preserve affordability at Gateway, through a continuation of the rent stabilization program in effect there for decades, which is slated to expire in 2020. “Obviously, the big issue that confronts all of us here is the continuation of stabilization,” notes GPTA president Karlene Wiese.

“Our focus now is to advocate for stabilization for every current tenant, rather than just those who lived here in 2009, when the last deal was signed,” explains Rosalie Joseph, the GPTA’s first vice president. This was a reference to the unusual nature of rent stabilization protections at Gateway. Starting in the 1980s, these provisions limited rent increases (for all tenants) to those approved by the City’s Rent Guidelines Board (RGB), even though that agency’s jurisdiction does not extend to Battery Park City’s largest rental complex. Under this arrangement, a tenant was protected from drastic increases for as long as he or she lived in Gateway. When that resident moved out, however, the landlord was permitted to raise the rent on the apartment however high the market would bear. Once a new tenant moved in, this higher rent became the new baseline, above which the landlord was permitted increases only by the percentages authorized by the RGB.

Several members of the GPTA’s current board of directors, including Marc Gorman, Steve Kessler, Sarah Cassell, Gail Vinisky, president Karlene Wiese, and Rosalie Joseph

But those terms always contained “sunset” clauses, which envisioned an end to such protections. Each time the deal neared expiration, however, community leaders, elected officials, and BPCA executives negotiated to extend it, always in exchange for rich financial incentives for Gateway’s landlord. Every iteration of this deal (it was renewed in 1987, 1993, 2005, and 2009) contained slightly different terms, however. And the most recent version (for the first time) applied only to people who lived there on the date the deal went into effect, rather than to all residents. As tenants moved out in the years that followed, many Gateway apartments reverted to unregulated, market-rate increases in rent. For such tenants, it has not been uncommon in recent years to see their rent increase by more than $1,000 per month upon lease renewal. This gradual process of attrition has now resulted in more than half of all households in the complex having no affordability protection whatsoever. And if the current agreement is allowed to expire in 2020, even the minority of Gateway resident who are still covered by rent stabilization will see this protection stripped away.

“It’s vital for residents to show solidarity by coming out in large numbers to meetings like this,” observes GTPA board secretary Robin Forst. “It demonstrates to elected officials that this is a priority for large numbers of voters.”

“We need and want residents to join this effort,” adds Ms. Joseph, “because this will affect all of us. This matters not only to long-term residents, but also for newer tenants, who will also benefit. So we’re trying to mobilize and work collectively to accomplish common goals.”

“Our voices, our efforts, and our unity will play an important part in the outcome of this process,” reflects Ms. Forst.”

Gateway residents at a summer gathering

This uncertainty comes against the backdrop of many other one-time rental buildings in Battery Park City converting to condominium ownership, which has the indirect effect of driving people of modest means out of the community they helped to build. “Preserving affordability here results in helping to stabilize the neighborhood as a whole,” Ms. Forst adds, “because Gateway is so large.” This was a reference to the fact that the six buildings in the complex contain a total of more than 1,700 apartments.

“Even if people can’t come on Wednesday night,” says Ms. Joseph, “they should go to our website, GPTA.org, and become members of the Association. We urge every resident to participate, regardless of whether they can attend the meeting.”

The website, among many other resources, contains sample letters that residents can email to elected officials, and an online petition calling for preserving affordability protections.

Admission to Wednesday’s meeting is open to all Gateway residents. Only those who are current members of the GPTA may vote in the election or run for board positions, however. (Any resident is welcome to sign up as a GPTA member, for a fee of $25 per household, at the meeting.) For information, email GatewayPlazaTA@gmail.com, or browse GPTA.org.

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