Gateway Tenant Leaders Plan Sunday Rally to Build Support for Affordability
The Gateway Plaza Tenants Association (GPTA) is building support and momentum for a renewal and possible expansion of affordability protections at the community’s largest residential complex. This campaign is taking place both publicly, and in private consultations with elected officials and Battery Park City Authority (BPCA) leadership.
On the public front, GPTA will host a rally this Sunday (June 2), starting at 5pm, on the Esplanade Plaza, near the volleyball courts, along side North Cove Marina. This rally is expected to draw hundreds of residents, as well as numerous elected officials, including U.S. Congressman Jerry Nadler, City Comptroller Scott Stringer, Borough President Gale Brewer, State Senator Brian Kavanagh, State Assembly member Yuh-Line Niou, and City Council member Margaret Chin.
Other aspects of the campaign’s overt face have included a series of tabling events recently held in the lobbies of the six Gateway buildings, at which the Association’s new board members have introduced themselves to residents, signed up new members, and “built up a sense of community,” explains GPTA board member Robin Forst. “This is part of our new emphasis on inclusion, participation and transparency.” These events have also driven letter-writing campaigns to elected officials, and gathered signatures for a petition on Change.org, supporting a renewal of rent stabilization at the complex.
“Our central priority 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 GPTA president Rosalie Joseph. 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. Under this arrangement, a tenant was protected from drastic increases for as long as they lived in Gateway. When that resident moved out, however, the landlord was permitted to raise the rent to 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.
These protections were curtailed in the 2009 renewal of Gateway rent stabilization. Under the terms of that revised agreement, tenants in residence at the time the pact was signed still received protection. But once they moved out, their apartments reverted to market-rate rents not only at the start of the new lease, but were also unencumbered by any limits on future rent increases. As a result of this change, more than half of all Gateway households are now market-rate units, with no affordability protections whatsoever. And even this limited form of protection is slated to expire in 2020.
“As we have researched the history,” observes Ms. Forst, “we have come to realize that the 2009 agreement was an aberration. Each deal before gave some protection to tenants who moved in after the deal was signed. Even though they began their leases at market rate, they were protected by limits on increases after that, for as long as they lived here.”
“So our goal,” explains GPTA board member Karlene Wiese, “is an agreement that restores this previous, higher level of protection. We want a deal that limits increases not only for people who live here on the day it is signed, but also for people who arrive later, for as long as this agreement is in effect.”
Another change sought by the GPTA, notes Ms. Joseph, “is that we are seeking a longer term. The previous agreement lasted only for 11 years. We think 20 years would be a more appropriate duration.”
“And we want the length of this deal to be concurrent with the length of whatever benefits the LeFrak Organization gets in exchange,” adds Ms. Forst. This was a reference to owner and developer of Gateway Plaza, who has received financial benefits worth hundreds of millions of dollars from the BPCA since the 1980s, in exchange for extending affordability protections to tenants.
This effort comes against the backdrop of vanishing affordability throughout Lower Manhattan. In the 1980s and 1990s, Gateway was one of three local citadels of affordable housing, alongside Tribeca’s Independence Plaza and Southbridge Towers, in the South Street Seaport neighborhood. But the latter complexes, both comparable in size to Gateway, converted to market rate rents (at Independence Plaza) and cooperative ownership (at Southbridge) in recent years. Elsewhere Downtown, the 1990s-era 421-g tax abatement program, which imposed rent stabilization on former office buildings in Lower Manhattan converted to residential use, has also lapsed, with the last protected apartments falling out of status in 2019 and 2020.
This leaves Gateway as one of the few remaining holdouts of affordability anywhere Downtown. But the impact extends beyond the six buildings of the complex. “Historically, Gateway residents formed the core of community that fought for things that benefitted all of Battery Park City and all of Lower Manhattan,” recalls Ms. Forst. As examples, she cites, “schools like P.S. 89 and P.S. 276, the Battery Park City branch of the New York Public Library, and the ballfields.”
Ms. Wiese adds, “they were able to do these things because rent stabilization
assured them that they could remain in the neighborhood. As long-term residents, rather than transients, they put down roots and invested their time in building social infrastructure, which helped make this a genuine community.”
“This kind of continuity is vital to maintaining a vibrant neighborhood,” agrees Ms. Joseph. “But it is possible only when people have a reasonable assurance that they can remain.”
The preservation of rent protections through an extension of the stabilization agreement is necessary because, unlike the “full” rent stabilization found elsewhere in New York City (which has no end date), affordability protections at Gateway have always contained “sunset” clauses, which envisioned an end to such benefits. Each time the deal neared expiration (in 1993, 2005 and 2009), however, community leaders, elected officials, and BPCA executives negotiated to extend it, always in exchange for rich financial incentives for Gateway’s landlord. However, the most recent version (for the first time) applied only to people who lived there on the date the deal went into effect, and excluded subsequent residents. As tenants moved out in the years that followed, hundreds of 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 residents who are still covered by rent stabilization will see this protection stripped away.
While working publicly to build support for renewed rent protections at Gateway, the GPTA board has also moved ahead on a less visible (but similarly vital) track, recently meeting in private with elected officials, including Mr. Stringer, Mr. Nadler, Ms. Chin, and Ms. Niou. Upcoming sessions are also slated with Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and State Senator Brian Kavanagh. “They have all been enormously supportive,” says Ms. Joseph, “and they have all demonstrated a detailed, hands-on understanding of the issues we’re confronting.”
The GPTA board has also been meeting regularly with BPCA president Benjamin (“BJ”) Jones to assure the Authority is apprised of the tenants’ priorities as it moves the negotiations with the LeFrak Organization toward a conclusion. “BJ has been a hugely helpful partner throughout this process,” Ms. Forst notes, “showing over and over again that affordability is a top priority for him and his team at the Authority.”
But private discussions must be backed up with public demonstrations of support, such as the rally planned for this Sunday. “It’s vital for residents to show solidarity by coming out in large numbers to meetings like this,” observes Ms. Wiese. “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,” concludes Ms. Forst.
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