More than 120 tenants of Knickerbocker Village crammed into a fifth-floor room in lower Manhattan yesterday to protest a rent increase calculated at more than 13 percent over the next two years, contending that owners of the complex — and not they — should pay for a shortfall in their operating expenses.
But the public hearing was adjourned before it began because the owners of the massive LES development were unable to secure a translator who could speak Fujianese, said Kurt Seidman, an attorney for the State Division of Housing and Community Renewal, which hosted the hearing at its building on 25 Beaver Street.
The announcement, translated into Mandarin and Cantonese, stirred shouts of “No!” from the mostly Chinese tenants, many of them carrying placards saying the proposed rent hike was unfair.
New York City Council member Margaret Chin tried to calm members of the crowd, telling them that their strong turnout “sends a strong message to the state.”
Vincent Callagy, manager of Knickerbocker Village Inc., declined to comment, telling B+B earlier that he had nothing to say “on the advice of counsel.”
About 50 tenants had signed up to speak, according to Mary Keating, chair of the ad hoc group of KV residents that formed three months ago shortly after officers of the Knickerbocker Village Tenants Association resigned. Several were expected to express their view that Gov. Andrew Cuomo should step in and see to it that the DHCR lower the proposed rent to “a just amount,” according to a prepared statement by her group.Some tenants reportedly would accept a 6 percent increase, or about 3 percent over two years, on each room they occupy.
Keating said a typical rent for a one-bedroom unit on the upper floors of the complex, which covers a dozen 13-story buildings on one city block, is about $860 a month including electricity. A rent hike of more than 13 percent would bring the rent to about $985 — a price, she noted, that not all of the mostly lower middle class tenants could take in stride. “And if you have a landlord who’s flagrantly mismanaging money, then the landlord should suffer and not the tenants.” She said the group’s accountant had documented the owners keeping apartments, including penthouses, empty for years.
The accountant, Henry Singer, provided B+B a copy of a letter he wrote September 4 to a DHCR official, claiming that the owners had “deliberately” kept certain luxury apartments off the market to further a plan to turn Knickerbocker Village “from a limited profit rental project into a private market coop, to the detriment of most of the tenants.” He said the state was aware of the vacancies.An estimated 4,000 to 5,000 tenants live in 1,590 units at KV, an 80-year-old development that is privately owned with state oversight. All of them received notices from the DHCR about the owners’ proposed rent increase on May 14. A public hearing was set for July 1, but Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez won the tenants an extension of 60 days after the Knickerbocker Village Tenants Association disbanded.
Velazquez and four other elected officials—State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, State Senator Daniel Squadron, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and Council Member Chin—wrote a letter dated Sept. 8 to Darryl C. Towns, commissioner of New York Homes and Community Renewal, noting that Singer believed that the owners projection of water and sewer costs over the next five years were based on “incomplete” information– that other costs could be more than $400,000 less than anticipated because of vacant and “desirable” apartments left open at the complex.
Their letter noted Knickerbocker Village was created to provide affordable housing under Article 4 of state housing laws. It requested that the HCR delay any rent increase until it determines if a violation by management had occurred at the complex.
Yesterday, Chin noted that plans were underway to get space “near Knickerbocker Village”—probably a public school—for an evening hearing within two weeks.