Sunday, March 13, 2022

Edu Hermelyn, District Leader and Husband of Brooklyn Dems Boss Resigns From Mayor Adams' Administration

 

Mayor Eric Adams makes a housing-related announcement at City Hall on Jan 30.

Adams Advisor Resigns New City Job After Questions About Democratic Party Post
Edu Hermelyn, husband of Brooklyn Democratic Party chair Rodneyse Bichotte and a party leader himself, quits his paid position after THE CITY asked about rules forbidding dual government and political roles. Another top mayoral aide is taking leave to run against a Bichotte foe.
The husband of a top Brooklyn Democratic party leader resigned from his newly appointed position in the administration of Mayor Eric Adams on Friday — the same day THE CITY asked about rules that appear to prohibit his simultaneously maintaining a key political party role.

Edu Hermelyn, a district leader for the Brooklyn Democrats in Crown Heights, was only recently appointed as “senior advisor for strategic initiatives” at the Department of Social Services, City Limits reported.

He’s married to party leader Rodneyse Bichotte, who’s also a Brooklyn Assembly member. She was a staunch supporter of Adams in his campaign for mayor, and Hermelyn’s consulting firm earned more than $80,000 in fees on Adams’ mayoral campaign.

Bichotte speaks at the New York State Democratic Convention in Midtown, Feb. 17, 2022.
 
Hiram Alejandro Durán/ THE CITY


His resignation was revealed by a City Hall spokesperson after THE CITY posed questions about city rules that prohibit high-level administration appointees from holding political roles, including district leader.

The officials said Hermelyn was cleared by the Conflicts of Interest Board to serve specifically in the senior advisor role at the Department of Social Services. They said that because of an error in processing his paperwork, he was put on a different employment line — and that when the error was identified, he decided to resign effective Friday.


They did not offer further clarifications in response to additional questions.

Earlier in the day, Hermelyn didn't respond to requests for comment from THE CITY about his position or on the apparent prohibition of his holding onto the district leader role.

Brooklyn district leaders, who are unpaid, serve on the executive committee of the Kings County Democratic Party and are involved in a host of decisions that include voting on highly valued party endorsements of candidates for judicial seats.

The party chair's control over decision-making is based largely on the support of district leaders — making allies like Bichotte's husband essential to doing business.

Before Hermelyn's resignation became public, a spokesperson for a dissident group of Brooklyn Democrats was arguing that his dual government-and-political roles don't wash.

"The conflicts of interest are clear. A district leader appointed by the Party Chair — his spouse — now gets a government job from an elected official that he supported," said Tony Melone, communications director for the New Kings Democrats.

"Party leaders should put the voters in their district first. This June, voters will have a chance to elect district leaders who can bring integrity and transparency back to our party."

At an unrelated press conference on Saturday, Mayor Adams blamed unnamed “HR personnel” for the “error” of placing Hermelyn in a managerial position in city government. “Once that was identified, we rectified,” he said. “When things are brought to me, you know me, I get stuff done. No reason to act like, ‘Let’s see if we can cover something up.’ No. It was wrong.”

Leave of Absence

Another high-ranking official in the Adams administration, Pinchas "Pinny" Ringel, is meanwhile taking a leave of absence from his government job after THE CITY asked about his declared candidacy for Democratic district leader in Brooklyn.

A City Hall spokesperson said Ringel had been planning to take leave after forming a candidate committee, as required by city rules, but that out of an abundance of caution he would start the leave next week.

Ringel, an influential liaison between City Hall and Jewish communities, announced earlier this week he's running to serve as district leader — with the reported backing of party leader Bichotte Hermelyn — in a bid to dislodge an incumbent who supported Andrew Yang for mayor instead of Adams.

City records show Ringel, a longtime senior aide to former Mayor Bill de Blasio, was appointed on Dec. 26 in the final days of Mayor Bill de Blasio's administration as an $150,000-per-year executive assistant to the commissioner of the Department of Sanitation, after years on the payroll of the city's child welfare agency.

The publication Hamodia, which first reported on Ringel's bid for district leader in the 48th Assembly district covering Borough Park and Midwood in Brooklyn, said his actual role was assistant commissioner in the mayor's Community Affairs Unit, following a promotion under de Blasio last May.

Brooklyn election lawyer Howard Graubard — a frequent critic of the party committee — told THE CITY that given Ringel's duties, a district leader post should in fact be off limits under city personnel rules.

"It does not look to me like he's prohibited from running. It seems more likely that he's prohibited from serving," said Graubard, who tweeted about the restrictions Thursday.

"Back when I worked in the Mayor's Office, in a somewhat lower position than Pinny's, they forced me to resign from the Democratic County Committee," he wrote of his time in the administration of former Mayor David Dinkins.

Another high-ranking member of the Adams administration, former City Council member Mark Treyger, decided to step down from his Brooklyn Democratic district leader post as he took on his newly appointed role as director of intergovernmental affairs at the Department of Education in January, a source close to the Brooklyn party told THE CITY.

Reached by phone, Ringel did not respond to questions from THE CITY, and Treyger didn't immediately respond to a message-seeking comment.

Typically Ignored

A 2009 memo by the city Law Department details stringent rules governing political behavior by municipal workers, including the 1988 mayoral personnel order highlighted by Graubard.

It reads: "Management employees in mayoral agencies serving in un-classified, exempt or non-competitive titles or serving provisionally in competitive titles are not permitted to serve as officers of any political party or political organization or serve as members of any political party committee, including political party district leader."

The memo also highlights a section of the city charter that similarly prohibits city officials with substantial policy-making power from serving in political roles, including district leader.

The determination of which workers have policy-making duties is determined by agency heads, who are required to file a list of such employees with the city conflicts of interest board annually. Ringel wasn't named in the most recent list, according to COIB records.

Bob Croghan, president of the civil service union the Organization of Staff Analysts, said the rules prohibiting political roles for those appointed to high level positions in government have typically been ignored by mayoral administrations over the years.

"If you're a district leader, you're going to be deeply involved in politics," he said. "Does that mean you shouldn't be given an appointed job? An argument could be made either way."

Party Warfare

Ringel's attempt to become a district leader and Hermelyn's choice to remain one could spark further turmoil within Brooklyn's Democratic organization.

Political operatives have contended that Ringel is running at the urging of Bichotte and other Adams allies in order to take down current district leader David Schwartz — who has been at odds with party leaders on a number of issues, and endorsed former mayoral candidate Andrew Yang in the race for City Hall against Adams.

This week, a high-ranking Adams administration official reportedly called three City Council members asking them to rescind their publicly tweeted support for Schwartz, according to the New York Daily News.

All three newly elected Council members took down their tweets, the publication said.

Reached by phone, Schwartz declined comment.

Hermelyn, meanwhile, has faced public calls to resign from his district leader position after an incident late last year during a Democratic Party Zoom meeting in which he allegedly recited a sexist, raunchy song lyric in Spanish, which critics say was directed at a party rival. Hermelyn later claimed he didn't understand the words he had spouted off.

THE CITY is an independent, nonprofit news organization dedicated to hard-hitting reporting that serves the people of New York.


District Leader, Husband of Brooklyn Dems Boss Lands New Job in Adams Administration
David Brand, City Limits, March 1, 2022

Edu Hermelyn, a Democratic district leader married to party leader and Assemblymember Rodneyse Bichotte Hermelyn, has been named “Senior Advisor for Strategic Initiatives” in the city’s Department of Social Services (DSS)—a position tasked with smoothing relations with local elected officials, according to job listings.

The husband of Brooklyn’s Democratic Party boss is the latest campaign aide to land a gig in Mayor Eric Adams’ administration.

Edu Hermelyn, a Democratic district leader married to party leader and Assemblymember Rodneyse Bichotte Hermelyn, has been named “Senior Advisor for Strategic Initiatives” in the city’s Department of Social Services (DSS)—a position tasked with smoothing relations with local elected officials, according to job listings. He may have his work cut out for him in some pockets of his home borough after he ignited intraparty tensions by reciting a vulgar Spanish-language song that seemed to target another elected official at a meeting last year.

But Hermelyn has remained a steadfast ally of the new mayor, who has close ties to the Brooklyn Democrats. Adams paid Hermelyn nearly $81,000 for consulting work during his successful campaign, according to financial records first reported by the New York Post.

City Hall officials declined to share Hermelyn’s new salary information, which will be available in the City Record in March.

“[DSS] Commissioner [Gary] Jenkins, just like Mayor Adams, is focused on hiring the best people to serve the best city in the world,” a City Hall spokesperson said. “Edu has been a tireless champion for New Yorkers during his time as a community organizer and will bring fresh insight to the Department of Social Services.”

A DSS spokesperson directed questions to Adams’ press office. Hermelyn did not respond to phone calls and text messages seeking comment. 

City Hall provided little information about Hermelyn’s responsibilities, but job listings posted online last month describe an intergovernmental affairs role focused on building relationships with elected officials—a key concern for DSS, which encounters chronic “Not-In-My-Backyard” posturing from lawmakers over where to open homeless shelters and other decisions. DSS is comprised of the Human Resources Administration (HRA) and the Department of Homeless Services (DHS).

READ MORE: Carrión Takes Helm at NYC Housing Agency After Stint as ‘Worst Evictor’ Consultant

The responsibilities include “supporting the DSS Commissioner and HRA and DHS Administrators in the development and maintenance of strong political relationships that benefit the agency,” a job listing posted online in early February states.

Hermelyn could start close to home. His wife, Bichotte Hermelyn spoke out against a proposed family shelter in Flatbush last year. She opposed a plan to turn an unused Brooklyn College dorm into a shelter for families with children in January 2021, and urged the city to instead prioritize senior and student housing at the site, according to a statement reported by Bklyner.

“The most immediate needs of the district are affordable housing for CUNY students and seniors as well as supportive services,” Bichotte Hermelyn said in a joint statement with Councilmember Farah Louis and State Sen. Kevin Parker at the time.

The trio also ripped CAMBA, the Flatbush-based nonprofit service provider initially tapped to operate the shelter, calling the organization “ill-equipped to manage any proposed shelter based upon its poor track record with two other sites in the community that has demonstrated little to no progress with delivering critical services on-site.”

The city has since adjusted the plan so that the shelter will now house 200 women, with services provided by the organization Children’s Rescue Fund. The facility is scheduled to open this spring. 

Bichotte Hermelyn addressed the shelter again during a Community Board 14 hearing Feb. 7, telling participants she would be “immediately impacted” because the shelter would be located near her home. She said she did not outright reject the plan, however.

“We’re not anti-shelter, but we do have safety and security concerns,” she said, adding that she feared the facility would one day be converted to a men’s shelter. 

Department of Homeless Services Administrator Joslyn Carter responded to that concern: “I am [un]equivocally saying that we are not going to change the shelter to men,” she said during the virtual meeting.

Bichotte Hermelyn did not respond to calls or texts seeking comment for this story.

She certainly isn’t alone in her shelter skepticism. 

Elected officials routinely oppose the facilities in their districts, despite a right-to-shelter mandate in New York City and an entrenched homelessness crisis affecting every corner of the five boroughs. About 47,000 people, including roughly 8,400 families with children, spend each night in a DHS-contracted shelters, according to daily data tracked by City Limits. More than 60,000 individuals stayed in one of the city’s shelters in December 2021, the most recent data compiled by City Limits shows.

Hermelyn, who is of Haitian and Guyanese descent, could foster strong ties with the West Indian community, especially in Central Brooklyn’s 43rd Assembly District, where he serves a Democratic district leader. 

The role may also force him to work closely with Brooklyn lawmakers who have sharply criticized him and his wife.

In November 2021, U.S. Rep. Nydia Velazquez, Brooklyn Borough President Antonio Reynoso, State Sen. Julia Salazar, Assemblymember Martiza Davila and Hermelyn’s former boss, Assemblymember Diana Richardson, demanded that Bichotte Hermelyn step down as party boss and Hermelyn to leave his post as district leader after he recited a crass, sexist song during a party meeting held on Zoom. Davila and other attendees said the song seemed directed at her and inflamed longstanding tensions between progressives and more moderate members of the county party. Hermelyn has said he did not fully understand the song’s meaning.

The reform group New Kings Democrats has led the resistance to the current county party leadership and criticized Hermelyn’s appointment at DSS.

Despite Hermelyn’s disrespectful conduct towards fellow District Leader and Assembly Member Davila, current party leadership continues to reward connections and loyalty over all else,” said New Kings Democrats President Caitlin Kawaguchi.

Those intraparty disputes aside, Adams has remained loyal to the team that helped him narrowly win the Democratic primary before a landslide general election victory. He has hired a number of aides to work in his administration since taking office Jan. 1, including Jose Bayona as head of the mayor’s office of Community and Ethnic Media, Menashe Shapiro as deputy chief of staff, Tiffany Raspberry as senior advisor for external affairs and Stefan Ringel as a senior advisor. 

Adams’ chief of staff, Frank Carone, was formerly counsel to the Brooklyn Democratic Party. 

Tuesday, March 1, 2022

New York State Lieutenant Governor Brian Benjamin Used Campaign Funds To Fully Reimburse His Travel Expenses

 

New York Lt. Gov. Brian Benjamin delivers remarks to NY Conference of Mayors at a winter legislative meeting in Colonie in February.

Lori Van Buren/Times Union

Lt. gov.'s campaign expenses show conflicts with taxpayer refunds

Records indicate former state senator used campaign cards on trips covered by taxpayers

Photo of Chris Bragg

ALBANY – On Jan. 8, 2020, then-state Sen Brian Benjamin drove to Albany for official business, left the next day, and later sought a $174, taxpayer-funded reimbursement for his traveling expenses.

That reimbursement was supposed to cover all of Benjamin's expenses for the drive to Albany and back, including gas. And in seeking the reimbursement, Benjamin signed a voucher certifying that he'd personally borne the costs of the trip.

Yet records show that on Jan. 9, 2020, the day Benjamin drove home from Albany, his state Senate campaign spent $54 at a Sunoco gas station in Lake Katrine, directly off I-87 along Benjamin’s route back to New York City.

The Times Union found a dozen instances where Benjamin submitted vouchers claiming the full, taxpayer-funded reimbursement for traveling from New York City to Albany; during those same trips, a campaign-issued debit card was used to pay for gasoline. Each time he'd sought full taxpayer reimbursement for the 12 trips, Benjamin stated he was the one bearing the costs.

Benjamin has since risen to prominence: In August, two days after she was sworn in, Gov. Kathy Hochul named Benjamin as lieutenant governor, making him second-in-line. In a state with a history of scandal, it’s not uncommon for the lieutenant governor to ascend further: David Paterson became governor when Eliot Spitzer resigned in 2007; Hochul became governor when Cuomo resigned while facing likely impeachment.

Albany politicians collecting taxpayer-funded reimbursement for costs already covered by their campaigns — known as “double-dipping” — has at times proven controversial, and was the subject of the 2006 trial of the former Assemblyman Clarence Norman. He was charged with submitting more than 70 false travel vouchers and pocketing over $3,000 in unwarranted taxpayer payments but was acquitted. In Norman’s case, all of his vehicle-related charges were covered by the Brooklyn Democratic Party he chaired. 

Benjamin did personally pay for some of his car-related expenses while serving in the state Senate between 2017 and 2021. He sought and received about $11,000 in reimbursements for the drive to Albany and back over four years, and spent more than $30,000 in campaign funds on vehicle-related expenses.

Benjamin's lieutenant governor campaign did not dispute that he'd used Senate campaign funds to buy gas on Albany trips. But his campaign spokesman, Kevin Groh, said the "notion that Lt. Gov. Benjamin profited off of things like gas and car maintenance costs while in the state Senate is absurd."

"With his own money, then-state Sen. Benjamin made a down payment on his car, paid for insurance and paid for most maintenance and gas charges," Groh said.

On the dozen trips to Albany and back examined by the Times Union, Benjamin received $2,100 in mileage reimbursements; during days overlapping with those trips, his campaign made 14 gas-related payments, ranging from $50 to $69.

A graduate of Brown University and Harvard Business School, Benjamin has worked in affordable housing development. He has recently begun to face greater scrutiny, and a series of controversies have emerged.

In January 2021, when Benjamin was running unsuccessfully for New York City comptroller, The City reported that several people listed as campaign donors had never heard of him; Benjamin returned nearly two dozen donations. In November, a Harlem real estate entrepreneur was charged in an alleged scheme to illegally secure public campaign matching funds for Benjamin, who did not face charges of wrongdoing.

In March 2021, the Daily News raised questions about whether Benjamin was using campaign funds to pay personal expenses, which would be illegal. They included $6,700 Benjamin spent from his Senate campaign account on "constituent services" at a Harlem jazz club where he’d held his wedding celebration, and $1,200 at a Norfolk, Va., auto body shop, days after his father-in-law’s nearby funeral.

The Daily News also reported that Benjamin spent approximately $1,000 at a Shell gas station in Providence, R.I. Benjamin has been a trustee at Brown University since 2015, and at least two of the meeting dates lined up with the gas station expenses, though the trustee position seemed unrelated to Benjamin’s political campaign activities.

At the time, Benjamin said the spending was legally appropriate. But the state Board of Elections began investigating. 

In mid-August, when Benjamin was being vetted for the lieutenant governor post, he stated on a State Police background-check form that he’d never been contacted by a "regulatory body" concerning a possible campaign finance violation or investigation. Yet by that time, both the state Board of Elections and New York City Campaign Finance Board had contacted him in their respective inquiries.

In January, after working out a deal with the Board of Elections, Benjamin repaid his state Senate campaign account nearly $26,000, including for the Virginia car repair and the Harlem jazz club. Benjamin repaid about half of the $28,000 his Senate campaign had paid for his auto lease. And Benjamin repaid his campaign about $3,500 for gas between 2017 and 2021, but $500 short of the total his campaign spent at gas stations.

"Following a thorough review of historical filings and expenditures in conjunction with the New York State Board of Elections, ... Benjamin personally refunded his Senate campaign account for certain expenditures such as car payments, all gas charges, and other related expenses," Groh said. "He has always sought to comply with relevant governmental reimbursement guidelines. Let’s be clear: This is a settled matter. There is no action needed."

But Benjamin only made the repayments after the issues were raised in the media and the Board of Elections began investigating. Before any of that occurred, Benjamin signed the dozen, certified travel vouchers seeking the taxpayer reimbursements.

Thursday, February 24, 2022

The NYC Medicare Advantage Plus Plan Loses Support Among Retirees

 

Mayor Bill de Blasio, shakes hands with Uniformed Sanitationmen's Local 831 President Harry Nespoli during a press conference announcing the city of New York and the Uniformed Sanitationmen's Association, Local 831, have reached a tentative contract agreement in the Blue Room in City Hall Tuesday, May 19, 2015, in Manhattan. (Barry Williams/for New York Daily News)

On February 6, 2022, NYC's new Mayor Eric Adams put his stamp of approval on the disastrous new Medicare Advantage Plus Plan that is disliked by every retiree I know.

Adams says, "We assure you that the city has had, and will continue to have, your best interests at heart."

Mayor Adams' Statement on City's Medicare Advantage Plus Plan

February 6, 2022

NEW YORK – New York City Mayor Eric Adams today issued the following statement on the NYC Medicare Advantage Plus Plan: 

“City retirees have earned their benefits, and, as mayor, I’m committed to delivering for them. The NYC Medicare Advantage Plus Plan unveiled last year — the product of many months of negotiations between the city and the Municipal Labor Committee, representing more than 100 unions — will continue to offer premium-free health coverage to retirees, along with new and enhanced benefits. That is why after a careful and thorough review by my administration, I am announcing my support for this plan. I believe the new program will be in the best interest of retirees and the city’s taxpayers, who stand to save $600 million annually. 

“As a blue-collar mayor and someone who himself will collect municipal retiree benefits, I am sympathetic to those who have voiced concerns about how this plan will affect their coverage. Our administration will continue to work to assuage these concerns before and after the plan is implemented. To all retirees: We assure you that the city has had, and will continue to have, your best interests at heart.” 

Media Contact

pressoffice@cityhall.nyc.gov
(212) 788-2958

I do not know many New Yorkers who would agree with him at this point.

See:

NYC Retirees website nycretirees.org has current events, FAQs, etc.

Their website posts the following entries and more (I have re-posted just a few, there are many more. Well worth reading!

#1 - 11/12/2021

The City filed their documents with the Court. Our Attorney filed our response.
To read the filing click the button below, go to Page 2, scroll to the bottom for the filings.

-or-

Download the documents:

Letter to the Judge

Objection to the Revised Plan

Attorney Affirmation

Read the Filing

#17 - 01/18/2022
Letters To and From The Court!

As Letters are Sent To or Received From the Court by either our and/or opposing council we will post them here, in case some are unable to navigate the Court Web Site.

To view the associated Affidavits and Exhibits please visit the Court Website

** New **
02/23/2022 - Document 208 - Memorandum of Law Filed by Steve Cohen

02/18/2022 - Letter 207 - from OLR to the Court
02/16/2022 - Document 206 - Memorandum of Law OLR to Court
02/15/2022 - Document 205 - Memorandum of Law OLR to Court
02/07/2022 - Letter 202 From Steve Cohen to the Court
02/04/2022 - Document 201 MEMORANDUM OF LAW IN REPLY OLR Filed
02/04/2022 - Letter 200 From OLR to the Court
02/01/2022 - Letter 199 From Steve Cohen to the Court
02/01/2022 - Letter 198 From OLR to the Court

01/30/2022 - Document 189 - MEMORANDUM OF LAW Filed with the Court
01/28/2022 - Letter 184 From Steve Cohen to the Court
01/28/2022 - Letter 183 From OLR to the Court
01/21/2022 - Letter 182 From OLR to the Court
01/21/2022 - Letter 180 From Steve Cohen to the Court
01/18/2022 - Letter From Steve Cohen to the Court

Betsy Combier

NYC’s retiree health plan lays an egg

By MARCIA BIEDERMAN, NEW YORK DAILY NEWS |

FEB 23, 2022 AT 5:00 AM

The city’s plan to move municipal retirees off their current health coverage into a jerry-rigged Medicare Advantage plan has yet to begin. But the show has been in previews, the word has gotten around, and the audience is heading for the exits.

By crowdsourcing standards, the plan has failed even before its projected April 1 launch date. As of last week, more than 45,000 retirees had opted out of the plan. They chose to keep their current coverage even though it will cost them thousands of dollars annually to do so.

That number is likely to mount fast. Thousands of retirees in many states and Puerto Rico have been watching videos made by three former emergency-service workers. The trio patiently answers questions about opting out, by phone or online. Lines to the plan’s so-called welcome center seem jammed with goodbyes. On a recent day, one caller was twice placed on hold and disconnected

Municipal Labor Committee Chair Harry Nespoli has dismissed opponents as ”only a small fraction of the retiree community,” insisting that “the vast majority of retirees understand the benefits of the new plan.” But of the quarter-million people set to be moved into Medicare Advantage, nearly one in five are willing to pay the high price of rejecting it. Nespoli needs to do the math, this time with a calculator.

Among the refusers are the hundreds of retirees who rallied near City Hall on Valentine’s Day, asking Mayor Adams to halt the impending health care switch. And the 1,800 who signed their names to a “Wall of Broken Hearts,” displayed at the event.

Nespoli is partly right, however: Most retirees will land in the new plan, like it or not. Many can’t pay the stiff new premiums to keep their current coverage, which for most is traditional Medicare and a supplement. Others could be trapped while searching for an escape. If, as expected, a court-ordered stay on the plan’s launch is lifted next month, the city will toggle masses of former firefighters, teachers, cops and clerks into the brand-new NYC Medicare Advantage Plus plan.

Some won’t know what hit them until their Medicare Advantage cards are turned down by the doctor’s office. Those wanting out of the new plan will find it’s like a Roach Motel: easy to check into but tough to check out of. That may be why the city, under the guise of a “trial period,” is offering a second opt-out deadline of June 30. Unwitting enrollees could be mired for months.

The three former emergency-services workers have made videos pointing the way out. They are board members of the NYC Organization of Public Service Retirees, whose lawsuit won a temporary stay on the plan’s rollout, which a Manhattan judge called “irrational.” Next week, lawyers for both sides will argue whether the city has the authority to make this change, with a ruling expected next month.

The group’s leaders are optimistic about the outcome. But given the difficulties of disenrollment, they advise those wanting to opt-out to act now, before the glue sticks.

Like FDR’s fireside chats, these evening advice sessions have calmed retirees in a time of adversity. Some viewers can’t opt out, some are thinking of giving the new plan a whirl, others want to switch to a different Medicare Advantage plan, still offered by the city for a limited time. The chat hosts don’t judge, leaving that decision up to each retiree.

If only the municipal unions took that attitude. Having raided a city fund meant for health benefits to find money for workers’ raises, the unions are desperate to save costs on retiree coverage. Hence, we find Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers, dismissing the worries of the many retirees whose doctors say they won’t accept the new insurance.

“They don’t know what network they’re in. Their billing departments do,” Mulgrew said in an October webinar. Indeed, when one of Mulgrew’s own doctors said he wasn’t in the new plan, Mulgrew refused to believe him. “He had no clue,” the union president said. Why else would the doctor be listed in the plan’s provider directory?

Because mistakes happen, as Memorial Sloan Kettering discovered. After lengthy negotiations, MSK signed a short-term contract with the city’s new plan. Yet it continued to print bills warning that no Medicare Advantage plans were accepted, alarming retirees. As this paper reported, that was a hospital error, since corrected.

That didn’t prevent Mulgrew, so trusting of billing departments, from pointing his finger elsewhere. In an email to UFT retirees, he wrote, “The spreading of misinformation by the plan’s opponents has got to stop. Our retirees are getting hurt.”

Yes, they are. Mr. Mulgrew, Mr. Nespoli, and Mayor Adams. Legions of resisters have sent you a message: This plan has got to stop.

Biederman is a writer and member of the Cross-union Retirees Organizing Committee. In 2016, she retired from teaching for the Department of Education.

Monday, January 31, 2022

How is NYC Dealing With Affordable Housing Issues? It's Complicated

Crain's New York Business picture: David Junkin

Housing in New York City has been a problem for too many years. No plan has been able to bring about the changes needed.

As Matthew Flamm writes in his article below,

"The city has stumbled between rampant growth and well-intended regulation one century after the other—without ever quite succeeding in giving communities a sense of control over their destiny.

The city’s most contentious affordable housing program could be getting a makeover

by Natalie Sachmechi, Crain's New York Business, January 27, 2022

The controversial 421-a program, which uses tax abatements to entice developers to construct affordable housing, will die in its current form June 15. What comes next is very much up for debate.

An outline of a proposed revamp of the program was released earlier this month as part of the state budget proposal. The retooled program would be similar to the current version but ​​eliminate eligibility for higher earners, permanently subject all affordable units to rent stabilization and extend the length of tax benefits for co-ops and condos, among other changes.

The real estate community overall has expressed pleasure that Gov. Kathy Hochul appears committed to replacing the expiring program. Developers maintain that if they don’t have a sufficient financial incentive to construct below-market-rate units, they won’t build them. Still others hope the program will be disbanded altogether and won’t be renewed in any form.

History lesson

When the 421-a tax-incentive program was created in 1971, its purpose was to promote the production of housing. Since then it has been amended several times to mandate that builders include affordable housing units in developments in order to qualify for a rebate.
The tax break ceased for 11 months in 2016, when city and state officials couldn’t agree on its implementation, but a deal between unions, developers and then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo revived it. It was officially renewed in 2017.

The latest rollout of the program has sparked the creation of 9,071 affordable units in the city, according to data from the Department of Housing Preservation and Development. Since 2010 nearly half of all residential units built in the city were created via the program.

But if all the buildings receiving 421-a exemptions in fiscal year 2021 had paid taxes at a non-incentivized rate, the city could have collected $1.7 billion in additional revenue, City Comptroller Brad Lander has said.

Developers across the board have stressed the need to continue some type of affordable housing tax break—whether Hochul’s version or a different one—arguing that without one, there will be fewer affordable housing projects and higher rents.

“Y​ou can’t have it both ways. If we paid full taxes, you’d have developers need to—or be tempted to—bump up rents to help offset that tax,” said Aaron Koffman, managing principal at Hudson Cos.

Another often-cited issue with the 421-a program as it stands now is the income-eligibility level. Companies can include units that are affordable for households earning as much as 130% of the area median income—which is $155,090 for a family of four—under the current program.
At the Astor LIC, a rental building in Long Island City where a portion of the units are affordable at 130% of the AMI, the monthly rent for a two-bedroom apartment is $3,100. At 111 Varick in Tribeca, the building offered ​​three one-bedrooms with a monthly rent of $2,689 for incomes at 130% of the AMI.

“Everyone knows that is not affordable housing,” Lander said.

Under Hochul’s proposal, rental apartments must be affordable for families earning between 40% and 90% of the area median income. She’s also calling for buildings with 30 or more units to keep their affordable apartments permanently affordable, rather than for just the 35-year period they’re required to maintain now.

The path forward

Eli Weiss, principal at Joy Construction, said Hochul’s proposed changes to the program were good news, as amending 421-a seemed to be a much better solution than letting it expire entirely.
“I think, given the overall difficulty of [the city] right now, not making any major changes to policies that could inhibit housing production is an intelligent move,” he said.

Lander, however, suggests eliminating the program and instead focusing on reducing the tax disparity between condominiums and apartment buildings to encourage developers to build rental housing.

“One problem is that our current tax code gives new condos much more favorable tax treatment than new rentals,” he said. “As a result, if you’re a rental developer, it’s harder to be competitive and buy property for development.”

The city has an array of affordable housing programs that offer tax breaks, subsidies and capital, he added, and those are the programs that provide rents at $700, $800 and $1,100 per month.

Judith Goldiner, who heads the Legal Aid Society’s civil law reform unit, said she also would prefer to see 421-a expire altogether, in part because the program is more beneficial to people selling vacant land than to people who need an affordable place to live.

“We have tried and tried and tried to modify it, to change it, to do different things to make it better, and all of those efforts, frankly, have failed,” Goldiner said. “We don’t see a way around just eliminating the program and using the money that you save to create truly affordable housing.”

Failure to plan: New York is alone among major cities in lacking a comprehensive housing strategy

New York lacks a comprehensive development strategy that requires shared sacrifice for community benefit. Having one could help ease a crisis-level shortage of affordable housing.

by Matthew Flamm, Crain's New York Business

Michele Varian, a designer married to a musician, has run her home-goods business out of the couple's rent-stabilized SoHo loft through two decades of gentrification. She has her share of horror stories, starting in 2013 after she and her husband refused buyout offers from a new landlord.

There were the weekends without heat during a record-cold winter and the time a worker in a hazmat suit popped through the couple's rickety living room floor while doing asbestos abatement below them.

Those low points coincided with the building's transformation into luxury housing—with units priced at $12,000 per month—from lofts filled with artists. Varian and her husband, alt-rock songwriter Brad Roberts, are the building's last rent-stabilized tenants and pay in the range of $3,000.

Now Varian has new worries. In the long tradition of New York development battles, she and other SoHo residents spent the past year in a failed effort to block zoning changes they say threaten the historic character of their neighborhood and the future of their homes. They believe the rezoning could lead to redevelopment that eliminates existing rent-stabilized housing.

The local community board joined the fight along with preservationists, neighborhood coalitions, tenant advocacy organizations, the Sierra Club and good-government groups including the Municipal Art Society. There were echoes of the early 1960s, when urban activist Jane Jacobs stopped a plan by Robert Moses, the so-called Master Builder, to run a new Lower Manhattan Expressway through SoHo and Washington Square Park.

The fight left bitter feelings, but they too are in the New York tradition, dating at least to the Civil War. The city has stumbled between rampant growth and well-intended regulation one century after the other—without ever quite succeeding in giving communities a sense of control over their destiny.