BALCONY - Business and Labor Coalition of New York

High Stakes

November 18th, 2014

City and state

Albany leaders. Tenant groups. Landlord lobbyists. And an ironclad deadline for key housing laws.

By Jarrett Murphy | Nov 17, 2014 |

Mayor Bill de Blasio’s battle to build or preserve 200,000 units of affordable housing—the ambitious, $41.1 billion goal he announced in May that will likely be the signature policy initiative of his administration—will be fought over the next decade, neighborhood by neighborhood, even lot by lot.

Yet a more important battle will take place much sooner, 140 miles north.

On June 15, New York’s rent regulation laws and other key real estate measures are due to sunset. The revised laws that emerge will shape the market in which de Blasio’s housing initiatives play out and determine whether the city’s new housing truly adds to the stock of affordable apartments or merely replaces rent-stabilized units leaving the system.

During the run-up to Election Day, tenant groups responded to that looming deadline by sending volunteers to upstate Senate races, while lobbyists representing landlords cut massive campaign checks to party accounts. Now the fight moves to Albany, where Republican control of the Senate changes the drama, but doesn’t end it. The issue of who won control of the upper house on Nov. 4 does not alter the essential questions facing tenant advocates: Can the Assembly be counted on to push hard for stronger regulations? What role, if any, will Gov. Andrew Cuomo play? And does de Blasio have any leverage left for this all-important lift in the State Capitol?

What is certain is this: Years down the road, experts will look back on what happened in Albany in the late spring of 2015 as a hugely important—maybe even deciding—factor in determining whether New York carves out a place for the working class, or permits lower- and moderate-income people to continue getting priced out of the five boroughs.

Shoring up the rent laws is “absolutely essential to the future of affordable housing in New York City,” said Benjamin Dulchin, executive director of the Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development. “The mayor is not going to achieve his goal of a more affordable city unless he is effective at strengthening rent regulations. It’s the thing that matters most.”

Just over two-thirds of New York City’s 3 million housing units are rentals, and 46 percent of those—some 960,000—are rent stabilized, collectively home to 2.3 million people. Among the poorest 40 percent of city residents, nearly half live in stabilized housing.

Restrictions on rents began in New York City amid a housing shortage during World War I. That system, known as “rent control,” would wax and wane over the next 50 years, eventually covering more than 1 million units. In 1969 the city enacted a separate system of rent stabilization to cover newer apartments. Both of these rounds of regulations were weakened during the 1970s by a measure that allowed vacant units to be deregulated. Then, in 1974, the laws were again strengthened when the Emergency Tenant Protection Act ended so-called vacancy decontrol.

Two decades later, rent regulations would swing dramatically in landlords’ favor. Legislators in 1993 instituted what is known as high-rent vacancy decontrol, allowing property owners to take an apartment off the regulated list once it reached a legal rent of $2,000 or more and went vacant. They also approved high-income decontrol, which permitted landlords to remove an occupied unit from stabilization if it surpassed the $2,000 rent threshold and its tenants’ income was $250,000 or more.

Again taking on rent regulations, in 1997 Albany saw what one analysis characterized as “one of the most bitter state legislative battles of the 20th century.” The Legislature briefly let rent laws expire, then gutted the rules, lowering the threshold for high-income decontrol, making high-rent decontrol easier and creating a “vacancy bonus” that permits landlords to jack up rent 20 percent when a stabilized tenant leaves. Another round of changes in 2003 further strengthened the landlords’ hand—though in 2011 tenants won stricter limits on which apartments could be deregulated.

The net effect of these shifts has been a considerable decline in the number of regulated apartments. From 1994 to 2003, the city lost a net 50,000 regulated units. In the past 10 years, a net 54,000 units have left the system—slightly more than the number of new affordable units built over that period under Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s affordable housing initiative.

Of course, not every deregulated apartment can be considered “affordable.” An apartment renting at $2,500, the current threshold for vacancy decontrol, would only be deemed affordable for households earning $100,000 or more. Indeed, vacancy bonuses, and other changes that permit landlords to raise rents beyond the annual increases approved by the city’s Rent Guidelines Board, can push an apartment out of affordability even if it remains in the stabilization system. Owners can raise rents to cover building-wide expenses through major capital improvements (MCIs), or pass on the cost of unit-specific repairs to renters through “individual apartment improvements.” Each increase moves an apartment closer to the exit door.

And that, tenants say, is the root of the problem. The option of vacancy decontrol creates an extra incentive for landlords to use those other mechanisms to push rents higher. “What they want is vacancy decontrol,” said Dulchin of the landlords’ motivations. “The individual apartment improvements are the way to get there.”

The Rent Stabilization Association (RSA), which represents landlords, argues that MCIs and individual apartment improvements reflect the real costs property owners face. Compelling owners to eat those costs while dealing with the record-low 1 percent one-year rent hike approved in June by the Rent Guidelines Board only encourages them to defer maintenance, RSA argues. “It’s just this myth that you’re going to preserve those units at that level,” said RSA’s director of government affairs, Frank Ricci. “It’s an artificial preservation.” Better to have well-maintained units with rising rents than to let the housing stock deteriorate, Ricci contends. After all, he notes, affordable housing programs may produce tens of thousands of units, but rent stabilization encompasses hundreds of thousands.

“Nothing’s going to limit increases in water and sewer charges, which together account for about a third of your operating costs,” said RSA vice president Jack Freund. Pointing out that about a quarter of rent-stabilized units rent for less than their legal rent, Freund sees a growing tension between bare-bones costs and what tenants can afford. “If wages and incomes don’t increase, you can’t collect more from your tenants to counter those increases in operating costs. Somewhere down the road, if those trends keep on track, there’s real trouble brewing.”

Kathryn Wylde, president and CEO of the Partnership for New York City, wonders if the rent laws fight might become linked with the growing debate over the structure of city property taxes. Some research indicates property taxes disproportionately burden multi-family buildings, adding to the costs landlords face regardless of what rent regulations look like.

Tenant leaders acknowledge that income is part—but only part—of the affordability problem, and insist that stronger rent laws are essential to alleviating it.

City Hall draws a distinction between the rent regulations battle in Albany and the affordable housing plan taking shape in the Big Apple. “In terms of our specific goal of 200,000 units built and preserved, reauthorization [of rent regulations] doesn’t necessarily impact our ability to reach that figure,” a spokesperson said. “But obviously what we shed in terms of affordability over the next 10 years has a very consequential impact on the affordability of the city and the lives of families, so that matters to us in and of itself.”
“[Mayor Bill de Blasio] is not going to achieve his goal of a more affordable city unless he is effective at strengthening rent regulations,” says Benjamin Dulchin of the Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development.

Tenant advocates, however, see the looming fight in very stark terms. “If things keep going the way that they’re going and we don’t close these loopholes and repeal vacancy deregulation, in five or 10 years there will be nothing left,” said Delsenia Glover, campaign manager of Alliance for Tenant Power. “As far as rent-regulated housing is concerned, this is a crisis situation. This year is pretty much do-or-die.”

Glover and her allies are pushing for a transformative set of changes. They want to end vacancy bonuses, turn MCIs into temporary surcharges rather than permanent bumps in rent and require more oversight of individual apartment increases. They are also pressing to align rent increases for the rent control system—which now covers only 38,000 apartments— with the hikes the RGB approves for stabilized units.

Preferential rents present another issue. When landlords charge less than the legal rent on a stabilized apartment, the fact that they can impose the legal rent on a new lease creates an opportunity for massive one-time rent increases, a possibility tenant advocates want to curtail.

One item conspicuously absent from the tenant organizations’ wish list is repeal of the Urstadt Law, which prevents the city from running its own rent-regulation system. De Blasio has called for scrapping the measure. But for tenant proponents, repeal—which is highly unlikely—is “not a priority,” according to Katie Goldstein, executive director of the advocacy group Tenants & Neighbors.

Landlords have their own priorities, including pushing back at the regulations imposed by the state Division of Housing and Community Renewal after the 2011 rent law renewal, which they say impose onerous burdens on owners. The RSA’s Ricci is also concerned about a “lack of standards” for Gov. Cuomo’s Tenant Protection Unit, which Ricci said pursues landlords arbitrarily and has failed to make clear what it expects of property owners.

But while each side has its wish list, vacancy decontrol is what most concerns both. The RSA wants to preserve or even extend decontrol, lowering the threshold at which apartments leave the system. Anyone who can afford $2,500 a month does not need stabilization, they argue. Tenant groups want to repeal vacancy decontrol and reregulate units lost to vacancy deregulation. Tenants PAC treasurer Michael McKee said he and his allies are still researching legal constraints on how far back in time the reregulation mechanism could go.

As the debate over rent regulations accelerates, developers and advocates will also be keeping an eye on other laws that expire either with the rent regulations or later in 2015. June 15 is also the sunset date for the 421-a tax break, a property tax abatement given to residential developers. Critics say 421-a is enormously expensive and ineffective at producing affordable housing. Meanwhile, the J-51 tax exemption, which gives owners who are renovating their properties a tax break if they enroll in rent stabilization, sunsets June 29, while the co-op and condo tax abatement, which allows owners of those properties a rebate on their property taxes, needs to be renewed by June 30. Reform and renewal of these programs could get linked to rent stabilization.

It should be a busy spring.

In fact, the city’s housing advocates are already busy. Tenants & Neighbors’ Goldstein said the group has been meeting with allies in the housing movement and the Legislature for months. It has also held preliminary discussions with upstate affordable housing organizations on banding together to increase pressure on legislators. Even if every New York City-based legislator backed the tenant position, advocates would not be able to get their agenda passed without help from suburban or upstate districts.

The city is currently experiencing a reinvigorated tenant movement, according to Goldstein, who said the successful campaign last spring to get the RGB to hold down rent increases for stabilized units helped to energize people who are increasingly concerned about affordability. “This is translating into more of a citywide movement. In neighborhoods in the West Bronx, in Elmhurst in Queens, in Crown Heights, in Bushwick—all of these neighborhoods that actually weren’t getting anywhere close to the vacancy decontrol threshold are now hovering right around it,” she said. Median stabilized rents in the outer boroughs may still be well shy of the decontrol threshold, but the outer-borough share of units lost to vacancy decontrol has doubled in the past 10 years.

As for the landlords’ side, RSA PAC spent about $422,500 from January through Election Day on campaign donations, much of it in huge contributions to the Senate Republicans and the Independence Party. McKee’s Tenants PAC reported $47,550 in spending, primarily directed to six key state Senate races.

Historically dominated by upstate Republicans, the Senate tends to be a landlord ally in fights over rent regulations. In 1997 Republican Majority Leader Joe Bruno gave Democratic Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver a choice between letting the rent regulations die altogether or accepting a slew of pro-landlord changes. To preserve the stabilization system, Silver swallowed the expansion of decontrol, along with other bitter pills. Four years later Bruno quietly passed a bill at the end of the legislative session that further eroded regulations—then left town, again forcing Silver to choose between a sunset or a rather gloomy dawn. The Speaker picked daylight.

Over the years the Assembly has consistently supported pro-tenant legislation. Recently, however, the RSA feels it has been gaining more traction in the lower house. “Over the past couple years what we’ve noticed is, yeah, whatever the Speaker’s agenda is ultimately going to pass,” said Ricci. “But the votes are much, much closer because a lot of Democrats in the Assembly realize that when you start talking about MCIs or individual apartment improvements, these are jobs for people who actually live in their districts and vote for them.”

Speaking with City & State on the sidelines of the SOMOS conference earlier this month in Puerto Rico, Assemblyman Keith Wright of Harlem, the chair of the Assembly’s Housing Committee, said the Assembly had always stood up for tenants. But he acknowledged that this year the rent fight is a high-risk affair.

“Housing advocates should always have a degree of trepidation. We should all have a degree of trepidation,” Wright said. “And we should all go into that room knowing that we are fighting for our lives at this moment—and the lives of the middle class and the lives of working people and the lives of low-income New Yorkers who are just trying to live in New York City.”

Any way you slice it, however, the Senate is the house that really matters in the rent regulations fight. If the Democrats had won control of the chamber, McKee was planning to push to get the Senate to pass Tenants PAC’s bills early in the year to ease the way toward favorable negotiations with the Assembly and governor. A Republican victory, McKee said in late October, would mean “we need to activate 15 or 20 of Shelly Silver’s members to put pressure on him to actually deliver something.” Otherwise Silver might be too likely to compromise, he said.

The strategy will shift now that advocates know who is in charge—but they insist the goal will not. Goldstein said last month that regardless of who controlled the Senate, her group would still push for full repeal of vacancy decontrol.

The fact is, even in a Democratic Senate, stiffer rent regs were not going to be a “gimme.” “It’s an issue that even in the best of circumstances will still be a hell of a fight,” Dulchin said.

And while it is less likely that tenants will get what they want from a Republican Senate, tenants find hope in the fact that almost all Albany endings involve horse-trading among the Assembly, Senate and governor. In the end, what happens when the three men enter the room might be more important than whose caucus is bigger.

One area of confusion in the wake of Election Day is whether the Independent Democratic Caucus will still wield clout on this issue. Two IDC members, state Sens. Diane Savino and Tony Avella, are considered allies by tenant groups, but tenant advocates do not trust Sen. Jeff Klein. A Klein spokeswoman said he “has a strong voting record on tenants’ rights.” Yet when asked about repealing the Urstadt Law during a debate this summer, Klein punted. “I will weigh every issue as [it comes],” hedged Klein, according to The New York Observer. “I support rent stabilization, I support everything that protects tenants. I think we need to take a good hard look at the MCI law. There’s a lot of things that are out there.”

There is no doubt that the governor’s position is now an even more critical variable, however.

Cuomo received enormous sums from real estate interests for his re-election campaign. But the 2011 rent laws renewal occurred on his watch, delivering the first strengthening of regs since the ’70s. The Cuomo administration would go on to promulgate new tenant-friendly rules for administering rent stabilization, launch the Tenant Protection Unit, which has served subpoenas on landlords and management companies, and reregulate at least 25,000 units that had illegally been taken off the stabilization rolls.

Those changes infuriated landlords, who found hypocritical the move to push the threshold for high-income decontrol from $175,000 to $200,000. “At the same time you’re hearing all these invocations of affordable housing,” laments RSA general counsel Mitch Posilkin, “they turned around and they protected the wealthiest, which is really kind of striking.”

Yet vacancy decontrol, vacancy bonuses and other elements of the three previous rounds of rent law renewals were left unchanged in 2011. Tenant organizations were hoping then—and hope now—for more. “This is a real test for him,” said Goldstein of Cuomo. “This year, we want something a lot bigger.”

Some wonder if de Blasio’s affordable housing aims have left him between a rock and a hard place. He wants stronger rent regulations to preserve existing affordability, but he also needs to create new affordable housing by leveraging private sector money, and investors might see permanent rent regulations as a disincentive to committing equity to projects.

Nonetheless, City Hall says in addition to seeking repeal of the Urstadt Law—so unlikely as to be a meaningless goal—the mayor supports repealing vacancy decontrol. But can a mayor who struggled to get Albany to deliver progressive policies last winter expect to fare better now that the Democrats are an outright minority and Cuomo is safely re-elected? Can de Blasio and tenant advocates even win a defensive battle to prevent further weakening of the rent laws?

One school of thought among political insiders is that, for all the dramatic talk, little is going to change in June—that a closely divided upper chamber is unlikely to deliver big wins for either tenants or landlords. In light of Republicans gaining an outright majority in the Senate, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer told City & State in an interview at SOMOS, “We all hope to have vacancy decontrol done away with.” But she adds: “I am realistic. I think we are just going to be able to get a continuation of the current rent regulations—let’s hope to God we get that—over a million units are at stake.”

Even as a best-case scenario, the status quo, with vacancy decontrol still in place, is troubling to tenant advocates. Still, these groups may have reason to hope they will find a more receptive audience in Albany than they have in the past—not because they have great political cards to play but because of the underlying policy reality.

“I think that the mayor’s arguments for preservation of affordable units are going to be compelling, on both sides of the aisle, just because of their understanding of how deep the housing crisis runs in the city just now,” Wylde said. “I think the housing crisis is such that there’s going to be a broad constituency looking to protect and expand rent laws and regulations.”

With homeless shelter numbers approaching 60,000, rising concern over housing the city’s aging population, and Section 8 and public housing under constant pressure, there is ample public clamor de Blasio can leverage in Albany to help make his case.

“You assume the real estate industry is going to call in its chits, that the tenants will be active and aggressive. But ultimately [elected officials] are going to be looking to editorial coverage, press coverage, what the broad sentiment seems to be,” said Wylde. “It depends, at the point in time next spring [when the renewal vote occurs], where the pressure points are. It’s not something that can be orchestrated.”

“Ultimately,” she said, “it’s going to depend on the crisis.”

Jarrett Murphy is executive editor and publisher of City Limits.

M.T.A. Issues Plans on Higher Fares and Tolls

November 18th, 2014

NOV. 17, 2014

Fares for subways and buses and tolls for bridges and tunnels are scheduled to rise by 4 percent in March as part of the authority’s long-term revenue plans. The proposals detail the options the board is considering for how to carry out the increase. It will vote in January after a series of public hearings.

Calling the increases “modest,” the authority’s chairman, Thomas F. Prendergast, said they were needed to balance the agency’s budget against the rising costs of providing services.

“The M.T.A. is keeping its promise to ensure fare and toll increases are as low as possible, and these options are designed to minimize their impact on our customers,” Mr. Prendergast said in a statement.

Two proposals for subways and buses would raise the price of a weekly MetroCard to $31, from $30, and a monthly pass to $116.50, from $112. But the trickier question is how to handle increases for pay-per-ride MetroCards, which are used on about 40 percent of trips and now have a 5 percent bonus for riders who put at least $5 on a card.

One proposal would raise the base fare by 25 cents to $2.75 and increase the bonus to 11 percent when a rider puts at least $5.50 on a card. A second proposal would keep the base fare at $2.50, but eliminate the bonus. The price of pay-per-ride trips would effectively increase 4.1 percent under the first option and 5 percent under the second option, the authority said.

The authority has scheduled eight public hearings in the city and the suburbs in December to hear from riders and drivers about its plans. The 4 percent increase was lower than planned because of an improved financial outlook for the authority, which registered record ridership on subways in September.

Two years ago, the chairman of the authority at the time, Joseph J. Lhota, suggested eliminating the pay-per-ride bonus but dropped the idea when many riders objected. Transportation advocates have argued that the authority should keep the bonus because the discounts are especially valuable for the many low-income riders who rely on the transit system.

Gene Russianoff, the staff lawyer for the Straphangers Campaign, a rider advocacy group, said he supported the proposal that expands the bonus to 11 percent.

“Chairman Lhota made the same argument in 2012, and he got an earful,” Mr. Russianoff said of prior plans to eliminate the bonus. “They want to press the case again, but getting rid of the bonus has proved to be unpopular.”

Fares for the Long Island Rail Road and the Metro-North Railroad, which are based on time of day and distance traveled, will generally increase by about 4 percent, the authority said.

For bridges and tunnels, car tolls for E-ZPass drivers will increase by 4 percent, or by about 21 cents at major crossings like the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge and the Queens-Midtown Tunnel, the authority said. A proposal would keep the cash tolls for cars at its current level, while a second proposal would raise the tolls for cars paying with cash. Tolls for trucks will increase as well.

The authority projected that changes to fares and tolls would generate $234 million

Pension funds can rattle boardrooms

November 18th, 2014

The city controller tackles CEOs and corporate culture
BY Scott Stringer

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

At the polls last week, Americans elected 69 new representatives and senators with a range of personal histories and political philosophies. Indeed, despite the deep political divisions running through our political system, our democracy still leaves open the door — and a place on the ballot — to challengers of diverse backgrounds.

Unfortunately the same cannot be said of many U.S. companies, where the election of directors remains a predetermined coronation run by insiders, often with disastrous effects. In recent years, we have witnessed entrenched, conflicted or poorly qualified directors fail to prevent massive accounting fraud at Enron and WorldCom, or rein in the excessive, short-term risk-taking that led to the financial crisis.

Investors — from our public pension funds to individuals saving for retirement — deserve genuinely independent, diverse and accountable directors.

As the city’s controller, I am investment adviser and a trustee of the city’s $160 billion pension funds. These funds own shares in nearly 3,500 U.S. companies, and we have a stake in ensuring that each one of them is making decisions that promote long-term, sustainable value.

That’s why I, in partnership with the city’s pension funds, recently launched the Boardroom Accountability Project, a national initiative designed to improve the long-term performance of American companies by giving shareowners the right to nominate directors using the corporate ballot — also known as proxy access.

Proxy access promises to transform corporate elections from rubber-stamp affairs, where one slate of candidates is listed on an official ballot determined entirely by current officeholders, to true tests of merit and independence.

Bringing accountability to the boardroom will have real benefits for the retirement security of millions of Americans, including the 700,000 municipal workers , retirees and their beneficiaries who rely on city pension funds.

A recent report by the CFA Institute, the world’s largest association of investment professionals, concluded that on a marketwide basis, bringing more democracy to the boardroom could increase U.S. market capitalization by up to $140 billion.

We have focused our initial list of 75 companies being targeted around three core issues: those with excessive CEO pay, those with little or no gender or racial diversity on their board, and many of our most carbon-intensive energy companies. They include Urban Outfitters, ExxonMobil, Abercrombie & Fitch and Netflix.

Excessive CEO pay is a problem in itself and can create perverse incentives for management to focus on short-term profits at the expense of long-term value creation. It is also often a sign of a captive board that puts the interests of management ahead of the interests of shareholders.

And while most agree that more diverse boards make better decisions, the pace of change is glacial. In 2006, women made up 11% of S&P 1500 board seats. By last year, that number had barely budged (to 15%), and also as of last year, 56% of S&P 100 companies had no women or minority-group members in their highest-paid senior executive positions.

That’s bad for business, investors and our economy, and we will use our leverage to change it.

Lastly, we know that transitioning the world’s energy production to low-carbon sources is essential if we are to stem the most extreme effects of climate change. But the CEOs of the world’s major energy companies have little incentive to make investments that may reduce earnings today to protect their companies’ long-term prosperity.

In corporate America, the buck stops with the board. As a result, the right of shareowners to nominate and elect truly independent directors that reflect a diversity of viewpoints is critical to ensuring that the interests of long-term shareowners triumph over the pressure for short-term gains that all too often drives decisions at our largest corporations.

Stringer is controller of the City of New York.

Join Doctors Council SEIU doctors, community members, and elected leaders for a rally at noon on Wednesday, October 29, at Woodhull Hospital in Brooklyn to demand respect for doctors and patients

October 21st, 2014

Doctors in New York City’s public hospital system (HHC) are on the frontline fighting to keep our communities safe and healthy. But HHC and its affiliates, Mt. Sinai, NYU, and PAGNY, are ignoring our concerns at a time when communities need a unified public healthcare system. Join Doctors Council SEIU doctors, community members, and elected leaders for a rally at noon on Wednesday, October 29, at Woodhull Hospital in Brooklyn to demand respect for doctors and patients.

NYSUT Allowed to Intervene in Tenure Case

October 14th, 2014

leg. gazette

By KEITH J. FERRANTE, Gazette staff writer

October 14, 2014
State Supreme Court Justice Philip Minardo has granted a motion by the New York State United Teachers to intervene in a lawsuit challenging the state’s tenure law.

NYSUT’s motion gives teachers the opportunity to defend the state’s tenure law by allowing seven teachers from upstate school districts to serve as defendants in the case. The legal filing states the plaintiffs want to “eviscerate laws” that protect teachers from arbitrary dismissal.

The lawsuit is a consolidation of two separate cases filed earlier this year: Davids v. New York and Wright v. New York.

Both cases are related to a landmark court decision handed down in June by California state Judge Rolf Treu in the case Vergara v. California. He decided that California’s tenure rules impacted how teachers were hired and fired in a disproportionate manner, and this ultimately affected how poor students and minority students performed, thus depriving them of their right to an equal education under state law.

Shortly after the decision, two similar lawsuits was filed in New York. Before their consolidation, the two cases made similar arguments against ineffective teachers.

In Davids v. New York, New York City Parents Union President Mona Davids and Vice President Sam Pirozzolo are plaintiffs against the state, effectively making the same argument as Vergara v. California, that students are being negatively affected by statutes preventing the removal of ineffective teachers from the classroom.

In Wright v. New York, seven families are plaintiffs including Keoni Wright. Wright, the father of twin daughters, noticed a difference in the way his daughters were being educated by different teachers in the same school. The lawsuit challenges statutes that “confer permanent employment, prevent the removal of ineffective teachers from the classroom, and mandate that layoffs be based on seniority alone, rather than effectiveness.” The case was supported by the advocacy organization, Partnership for Educational Justice, which was founded by former CNN correspondent Campbell Brown.

NYSUT President Karen Magee said “Tenure is an important safeguard to ensuring children receive a quality education by enabling teachers to speak out in the best interest of their students. Tenure is also a critical safeguard to ensuring all students have an effective teacher, protecting academic freedom and providing educators an environment in which they do not have to be in constant fear of unfair firing.”

The group of seven teachers defending the tenure laws include past and present winners of the state’s Teachers of the Year award. Ashli Skura Dreher, who was the 2014 winner, said “My students are the beneficiaries of my many years of hard work and professional development. I could not have attained this mastery without the job security afforded by the tenure and seniority laws.”

The state is represented by Attorney General Eric Schneiderman in the case.

NYSUT is a statewide union with more than 600,000 members in education, human services and health care. NYSUT is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers, the National Education Association and the AFL-CIO.

AQE Is Setting the Record Straight on School Funding

October 10th, 2014

Report Finds State Democrats Fought and Won More Aid for Schools
Tell Senator Skelos to Stop Republican Claims that They are the Champions for Schools

AQE is setting the record straight on upstate school funding aid.

Senate Republicans have been caught sending campaign flyers to voters claiming to deliver school aid funding. The mailings also imply that Senate Democrats are ignoring the needs of upstate schools.

Nothing could be farther from the truth.

A new report released by the Alliance for Quality Education, Upstate School Aid: Setting the Record Straight, shows that Senate Democrats actually fought for and won more than two and a half times as much school aid as the Republicans proposed.
To read the report, click here.

The truth is that the Senate Democrats fought and won an additional $312 million for art and music classes, school libraries, guidance counselors and kindergarten. These programs were actually saved from the chopping block this year.

Tell Senate Majority Leader Dean Skellos to stop claiming that Republicans are the champions for public schools.

Because of chronic underfunding, New York State now owes its public schools $5.9 billion. Schools in every region — upstate and downstate — are owed substantial amounts of state aid.

But in the last state budget, the Republican-led Senate Majority coalition still tried to undercut public schools and funnel money to privately run charter schools.

New Yorkers can no longer wait for a state government that fully and fairly funds our schools. Good schools are in jeopardy.

Thank you,

Billy Easton
Executive Director
Alliance for Quality Education

About AQE
The Alliance for Quality Education is a coalition mobilizing communities across the state to keep New York true to its promise of ensuring a high quality public education to all students regardless of zip code, income or race. Combining its legislative and policy expertise with grassroots organizing, AQE advances proven-to-work strategies that lead to student success and echo a powerful public demand for a high quality education.

Experts Address Concerns Of City Small Business Owners

July 16th, 2014

By Azure Gilman

Aiming to raise awareness about various business growth strategies and how to navigate potentially onerous new regulations, a panel of experts at City & State’s “On Small Business” event Tuesday weighed in on the concerns of small business owners fighting to stay relevant in a competitive climate.

The event, co-sponsored by CAN Capital, focused specifically on the challenges facing New York City’s small business community, and the panel reflected a mix of representatives from the city and state government, as well as the private sector: Steve Cohen, the executive vice president and deputy commissioner of Empire State Development; City Councilman Robert Cornegy, the chair of the Council’s Small Business Committee; Julie Menin, commissioner of the city’s Department of Consumer Affairs; and Andrew Rigie, executive director of the New York City Hospitality Alliance.

Maria Torres-Springer, the commissioner of the city’s Department of Small Business Services kicked off the event with brief remarks, pointing out that small businesses represent nearly 95 percent of all businesses in the city, and employ nearly half of the private sector workforce. Torres-Springer also ran through a list of new initiatives from the de Blasio administration that included a new tech talent pipeline, the creation of the Jobs for New Yorkers task force, a business mentorship program, and a craft entrepreneur program in Spanish, as well as more aggressive outreach to immigrant communities.

The subject of outreach to small business owners came up again during the panel discussion, with Cornegy explaining that despite the renewed engagement efforts from the city, he has found anecdotally that some small businesses are still left in the dark.

“What I found in my tenure is that there are great services, including access to capital, that businesses don’t know about because they don’t have the capacity to attend all the workshops,” Cornegy said.

Menin, perhaps trying to create distance from the policies of the Bloomberg administration, often criticized as burdensome the myriad regulations pertaining to small businesses, touted the de Blasio administration’s announcement last week of 24 reforms aimed at reducing fines for business violations, and lauded its move to put 41 inspector checklists online so that people can see what is expected of them.

But fines are not the only concern small businesses have to worry about. The panel was asked whether major legislative initiatives such as the Affordable Care Act and the city’s recently passed Paid Sick Leave, while well-intentioned, might negatively impact the health of small businesses. Cornegy, who voted in favor of Paid Sick Leave in the Council, was careful to qualify his enthusiastic support for the bill by communicating the concerns that he has heard from businesses owners.

“In and of itself [Paid Sick Leave] is a great opportunity to support workers,” Cornegy said. “But also coupled with the Affordable Care Act, [it] can potentially put a constraint on businesses for growth and development. We want to make sure there is not an unintended consequence for these great programs.”

Cornegy added that the particular concerns he heard from business owners were regarding accounting and record keeping for sick days. Addressing that apprehension, Menin said that mediation would be the first resort for any sick leave disputes between business owners and employees.

The prospect of an additional increase to the city’s minimum wage, potentially to as high as $13 an hour, is another legislative change that unnerves some small business owners. While Menin stood steadfastly behind the de Blasio administration’s call for higher wages to tackle a widening income equality gap, her co-panelists said that such a sudden, major change could be harmful to businesses.

“There’s only so much that business can afford,” Rigie said. “We did not support the recent increase in minimum wage,” he added, using the restaurant business as an example of an industry where wage scales are applied differently because of tips.

Cornegy supported the idea of an increase in minimum wage but only if it is done responsibly, and incrementally, over a period of time, and cited a fact that reflected a sobering reality in a city that is becoming more costly for the ordinary consumer.

“Even $13 an hour, if someone told you that allowed them to survive in this city, that would not be true,” he said.


The Women’s Equality Act Is Not Forgotten

May 7th, 2014

When I think about the 10-point Women’s Equality Act, I find it hard to understand why it is difficult to pass these common sense bills in a progressive state like New York. The women of this state deserve to have their basic, fundamental rights recognized and confirmed by the state government and not treated as just political issues.

In the past, Albany has tackled 10-point Women’s Equality Act (WEA), I controversial legislation by tying multiple, often unrelated initiatives together in a comprehensive package sometimes labeled the “Big Ugly.” Policies ranging from the property tax cap to rent control regulations have all been deemed important enough to be included in these omnibus bills, ensuring that they’ll pass by giving politicians on both sides of the aisle something they want.

The governor and the Assembly embraced this often successful strategy with the Women’s Equality Act. However, the Republican/IDC leadership refused to follow this pattern and broke the WEA apart—ultimately failing to pass what the governor had presented and the Assembly approved.

The failure to pass the entire 10-point package is particularly troubling because the people of New York State overwhelmingly support all 10 of the issues addressed in the Women’s Equality Act. This legislation includes provisions that ensure women will receive equal pay for equal work and recognizes that pay inequality continues to hold New York’s economy back. The WEA would end multiple forms of inequity that women face, including family status, pregnancy discrimination and source-of-income discrimination.

The Women’s Equality Act would also combat sexual harassment in the workplace, strengthen human trafficking laws and provide greater protections for victims of domestic violence. But what has held up the entire package is a political fight over the last point of the WEA, a simple codification of the federal choice provisions into New York State law.

Republican opposition to the 10th point of the Women’s Equality Act is all the more shocking when we recognize that New York actually decriminalized abortion in 1970, prior to federal law, passing choice legislation through the Republican-controlled Senate with 12 Republican senators joining most of their Democratic colleagues in favor of this initiative.

That today not a single Senate Republican would vote for a simple codification of federal choice provisions is distressing. But the fact that this attitude is supported by the Senate Leadership, allowing the entire 10-point Women’s Equality Act to be held up in the State Senate, is inexcusable.

The fact remains that the majority of New Yorkers are women, even though the leadership in Albany does not reflect that. Clearly women’s rights, health and equality transcends the boundaries of partisan politics.

State Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins is the leader of the state Senate Democratic Conference.


Ask the Expert: Coffee and Health

April 29th, 2014

by Dr. Rob van Dam

Assistant Professor in the Department of Nutrition, Harvard School of Public Health

The Summary

  • Drinking up to six cups a day of coffee is not associated with increased risk of death from any cause, or death from cancer or cardiovascular disease.
  • Some people may still want to consider avoiding coffee or switching to decaf, especially women who are pregnant, or people who have a hard time controlling their blood pressure or blood sugar.
  • It’s best to brew coffee with a paper filter, to remove a substance that causes increases in LDL cholesterol.
  • Coffee may have potential health benefits, but more research needs to be done.
  • Read more about coffee and tea compared to other beverages.

1. The latest Harvard study on coffee and health seems to offer good news for coffee drinkers. What did the research find?

We looked at the relationship between coffee consumption and overall mortality in the Nurses’ Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study, which together included about 130,000 study volunteers. (1) At the start of the study, these healthy men and women were in their 40s and 50s. We followed them for 18 to 24 years, to see who died during that period, and to track their diet and lifestyle habits, including coffee consumption. We did not find any relationship between coffee consumption and increased risk of death from any cause, death from cancer, or death from cardiovascular disease. Even people who drank up to six cups of coffee per day were at no higher risk of death. This finding fits into the research picture that has been emerging over the past few years. For the general population, the evidence suggests that coffee drinking doesn’t have any serious detrimental health effects.

2. So for coffee drinkers, no news is good news? Why is this finding so important?

It’s an important message because people have seen coffee drinking as an unhealthy habit, along the lines of smoking and excessive drinking, and they may make a lot of effort to reduce their coffee consumption or quit drinking it altogether, even if they really enjoy it. Our findings suggest that if you want to improve your health, it’s better to focus on other lifestyle factors, such as increasing your physical activity, quitting smoking, or eating more whole grains.

3. Is there an upper limit for the amount of coffee that is healthy to drink each day?

If you’re drinking so much coffee that you get tremors, have sleeping problems, or feel stressed and uncomfortable, then obviously you’re drinking too much coffee. But in terms of effects on mortality or other health factors, for example, we don’t see any negative effects of consuming up to six cups of coffee a day. Keep in mind that our study and in most studies of coffee, a “cup” of coffee is an 8-ounce cup with 100 mg of caffeine, not the 16 ounces you would get in a grande coffee at a Starbucks, which has about 330 mg of caffeine.

Also keep in mind that the research is typically based on coffee that’s black or with a little milk or sugar, but not with the kind of high-calorie coffeehouse beverages that have become popular over the past few years. A 24-ounce mocha Frappachino at Starbucks with whipped cream has almost 500 calories—that’s 25 percent of the daily calorie intake for someone who requires 2,000 calories a day. People may not realize that having a beverage like that adds so much to their energy intake, and they may not compensate adequately by eating less over the course of the day. This could lead to weight gain over time, which could in turn increase the risk of type 2 diabetes, and that’s a major concern.

4. Is there any research that suggests coffee may have some beneficial health effects?

Yes, research over the past few years suggests that coffee consumption may protect against type 2 diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, liver cancer, and liver cirrhosis. And our latest study on coffee and mortality found that people who regularly drank coffee actually had a somewhat lower risk of death from cardiovascular disease than those who rarely drank coffee; this result needs to be confirmed in further studies, however. This is a pretty active area of research right now, and it’s not at the stage where we would say, “Start drinking coffee to increase your health even if you don’t like it.” But I think the evidence is good that for people in general—outside of a few populations, such as pregnant women, or people who have trouble controlling their blood pressure or blood sugar—coffee is one of the good, healthy beverage choices.

5. Why does it seem like scientists keep flip-flopping on whether coffee is bad for you or good for you?

Often people think of coffee just as a vehicle for caffeine. But it’s actually a very complex beverage with hundreds and hundreds of different compounds in it. Since coffee contains so many different compounds, drinking coffee can lead to very diverse health outcomes. It can be good for some things and bad for some things, and that’s not necessarily flip-flopping or inconsistent. Few foods are good for everything. That’s why we do studies on very specific health effects—for example, studies of how coffee affects the risk of diabetes—but we also conduct studies such as this most recent one looking at coffee consumption and mortality over a long period of time, which better reflects the overall health effect.

Coffee is also a bit more complex to study than some other food items. Drinking coffee often goes along together with cigarette smoking, and with a lifestyle that’s not very health conscious. For example, people who drink lots of coffee tend to exercise less. They are less likely to use dietary supplements, and they tend to have a less healthful diet. So in the early studies on coffee and health, it was hard to separate the effects of coffee from the effects of smoking or other lifestyle choices.

Over the several decades that coffee has been studied, there have been some reports that coffee may increase the risk of certain cancers or the risk of heart disease. But in better conducted studies, such as the one we just published—larger studies that have a lot of information about all other lifestyle factors and make a real effort to control for these lifestyle factors—we do not find many of these health effects that people were afraid of.

6. What is the latest research on the risks of coffee or caffeine during pregnancy?

For pregnant women, there has been quite a bit of controversy over whether high intake of coffee or caffeine may increase the risk of miscarriage. The jury is still out. But we know that the caffeine goes through the placenta and reaches the fetus, and that the fetus is very sensitive to caffeine; it metabolizes it very slowly. So for pregnant women it seems prudent to reduce coffee consumption to a low level, for example one cup a day.

7. Should people with high blood pressure consider reducing their coffee or caffeine intake? What about people with diabetes?

We know that if people are not used to using any caffeine, and they start to use caffeine, their blood pressure goes up substantially. Within a week of caffeine consumption, however, we see that the effect is less pronounced—there is less of an increase in blood pressure. After several weeks of continued caffeine consumption, however, a little bit of increase in blood pressure remains. In studies that look at the incidence of hypertension in the general population, drinking caffeinated coffee is not associated with a substantial increase in risk. But if people have hypertension, and are having a hard time controlling their hypertension, they could try switching from caffeinated coffee to decaffeinated coffee, to see if it has a beneficial effect.

With diabetes, it’s a bit of a paradox. Studies around the world consistently show that high consumption of caffeinated or decaffeinated coffee is associated with low risk of type 2 diabetes. But if you look at acute studies that just give people caffeine or caffeinated coffee, and then have them eat something rich in glucose, their sensitivity to insulin drops and their blood glucose levels are higher than expected. There isn’t any long-term data on coffee consumption and glucose control. But if people have diabetes and have trouble controlling their blood glucose, it may be beneficial for them to try switching from caffeinated to decaffeinated coffee. Making the switch from caffeinated to decaf may be better than quitting coffee altogether, because some research suggests that decaffeinated coffee actually reduces the glucose response.

8. How do you explain the paradoxical findings on coffee and caffeine consumption and diabetes?

It’s possible that there are simply different effects for short-term and long-term intake of coffee and caffeine. And, as I mentioned before, it’s becoming increasingly clear that coffee is much more than caffeine, and the health effects that you see for caffeinated coffee are often different than what you would expect based on its caffeine content.

For example, if you look at exercise performance, it seems that caffeine can be somewhat beneficial, but caffeinated coffee is not. Or if you look at blood pressure and compare the effects of caffeinated coffee to the effects of caffeine, you’ll find that caffeinated coffee causes blood pressure increases that are substantially weaker than what one would expect for the amount of caffeine it contains. The same is true for the relationship between coffee, caffeine, and blood glucose after a meal. It’s possible that there are compounds in coffee that may counteract the effect of caffeine, but more research needs to be done.

9.  Is drinking coffee made with a paper filter healthier than drinking boiled coffee or other types of coffee?

Coffee contains a substance called cafestol that is a potent stimulator of LDL cholesterol levels. Cafestol is found in the oily fraction of coffee, and when you brew coffee with a paper filter, the cafestol gets left behind in the filter. Other methods of coffee preparation, such as the boiled coffee common in Scandinavian countries, French press coffee, or Turkish coffee, are much higher in cafestol. So for people who have high cholesterol levels or who want to prevent having high cholesterol levels, it is better to choose paper filtered coffee or instant coffee, since they have much lower levels of cafestol than boiled or French press coffee. Espresso is somewhere in the middle; it has less cafestol than boiled or French press coffee, but more than paper filtered coffee.

10. Do tea and coffee have similar beneficial effects?

One could expect some of the beneficial effects of coffee to be similar for tea, since some of the compounds are similar. A study in China has found that drinking large quantities of Oolongtea—a liter a day—is beneficial for glycemic control in people with diabetes. But research on tea in the U.S. has not shown the type of beneficial effect we see for coffee, probably because people in the U.S.tend to drink tea that is weaker in strength and tend to drink less of it.


1. Lopez-Garcia E, van Dam RM, Li TY,Rodriguez-Artalejo F, Hu FB. The Relationship of Coffee Consumption with Mortality. Ann Intern Med. 2008;148:904-914. Summary for patients.


New Rental Housing Landscape Illustrates NYC Rental Housing Trends

April 25th, 2014

More than one million households in New York City are rent-burdened, which means they are paying 30 percent or more of household income on rent, and nearly 600,000 of those households are severely rent-burdened, or paying more than 50 percent of their income on rent, according to the newly released NYU Furman Center/Capital One Affordable Housing Landscape.

The Landscape, an infographic released today by the NYU Furman Center and Capital One, provides a detailed look into rental housing affordability trends in New York City from 2000 to 2012 and illustrates how trends in affordable rental housing affected New Yorkers as rents continued to increase, incomes stagnated, and the share of renters paying a high percentage of their income rose.

The Furman Center’s past research has shown that over half of renter households in New York City are rent burdened, paying more than 30 percent of their gross income on rent and utilities. This study delves more deeply into recent trends in rent levels, rent burdens, affordable units, and the gap between the number of low-income households in need of affordable housing and the number of existing affordable units. This analysis is based on data from the U.S. Census Bureau, including data from the American Community Survey from 2005 through 2012.

To learn more about the Affordable Rental Housing Landscape, please see the infographic and press release.