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Christine Quinn's Fake Tenant Credentials

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Christine Quinn's Fake Tenant Credentials

Postby TenantNet » Sat Aug 15, 2009 5:47 am

as posted on www.christinequinn.com

Michael McKee Has Some Explaining to Do
originally posted on Bloomberg Watch
by Neil Fabricant

Tenant "leader" Michael McKee urges tenants: "HELP RE-ELECT CHRIS QUINN: A Strong Tenant Advocate in the City Council."

McKee claims that Quinn has "enhanced tenants' rights and the cause of preserving affordable housing." We have written elsewhere of our experience with McKee, a self-anointed tenant leader whose knowledge of housing laws and regulations appears to be unrivaled as are the decades he has spent leading tenants off a cliff with bad political judgments.

But the endorsement of Quinn as a tenant "advocate" is truly a case of putting lipstick on a pig. For those who have not watched Quinn make meaningless gestures on behalf of tenants while she takes the real estate money, and who take at face value the idea of Michael McKee as a tenant leader, there is I suppose a need to examine McKee's stated reasons and measure them against the damage she has done and will continue to do if an inattentive public allows her to continue "serving." We'll just focus on tenants­never mind the slush fund and her betrayal of the public trust by overturning term limits for herself and her city council co-conspirators.

First, McKee cites the Safe Housing Act, which, he says, "established a systematic way to repair and preserve apartment buildings that are in deplorable condition."

The press conference generated by this 200 buildings-a-year program in a city of 8 million people was something to behold. The manufactured hoopla over its passage made it appear that Quinn had cast off the golden real estate handcuffs, and would now hurl her paymasters into the hell of what? Complying with the housing code.

Stripped of the photo-ops and housing agency acronyms, essentially the law says, ‘we're going to authorize HPD to tell a few of the worst slumlords in the city what the law already says, namely, comply with it (or at least 80% of it).' Or else? ‘Or else we'll fix up the building and charge you for it.' Granted it enables HPD to go in and instead of fixing the leak, change the pipes, but it's aimed at the lowest end of the real estate food chain-­the street dealers and what it ultimately demands of them is that they comply with the law-­this time we really mean it -- and they take an HPD-approved management training program! That is something like forcing Ted Bundy into an anger management program: Slumlords know that tenants need water and heat. It isn't about management; it's about a zero sum game in which landlords and politicians win and everyone else loses.

McKee next cites the Tenant Protection Act, which gave tenants the right to sue their landlords for things like using force or making threats against a lawful occupant, repeated or prolonged interruptions of essential services, using frivolous court proceedings to disrupt a tenant's life or force an eviction, removing the possessions of a lawful tenant, removing doors or damaging locks to a unit, or any other acts designed to disturb a lawful occupant's residence.

The law reflects the reality of tenants' lives under the landlord-friendly Bloomberg-Quinn regime. At one extreme, the goons at the door setting fires in the hallway or throwing acid-in-your face is the stuff of criminal law. It doesn't happen often and fortunately when it does it still makes headlines. The gentler approach - your apartment or your life in ruins - that so many tenants have experienced should also bring down the full force of the law. Landlords need to be made fearful that if they step over the line -- these are our homes, after all -- they will be severely punished.

Quinn was quick to note, however, that this law "responsibly balanced protections for tenants with safeguards for landlords." As though the latter needed assurances that she wasn't going too far off the reservation. It's only civil penalties, and the maximum is $5,000. Since its enactment, there have been about 33 claims decided in the tenant's favor and 113 for the landlord.

And finally, there was the Source of Income Discrimination Act, in which New York City joined at least 17 others in making it illegal for owners to discriminate against tenants whose incomes are derived from government programs.

These important-sounding things may even have helped a few tenants resist the worst of the worst landlords, but they are purely cosmetic meant to cover Quinn's obeisance to the real estate lobby that finances her career. It works. So long as the core interests of her patrons aren't damaged, the real estate lobby doesn't mind. Quinn is worth more as a tenant advocate than she is as just another in-the-tank Democrat. And what are those core interests? That's easy -- unrestricted and unregulated rents, the right to build wherever, whenever, and whatever they please, tax-advantaged, non-recourse financing, and direct subsidies when they can get them.

Not only would Quinn be less useful to the real estate lobby if she didn't pass an occasional bill or testify and march with tenants, but the endorsement of a tenant "leader" would be even harder to defend. Still, the vaunted accomplishments are thin gruel. So McKee also pointed out that Quinn has "called on the NYC Rent Guidelines Board to enact a rent freeze, and urged the State Legislature to repeal the Urstadt Law and to repeal vacancy decontrol."

"Calling on and urging" are the operative words. Whenever an elected official with leverage­and the speaker has leverage­"calls and urges" other politicians to fix a problem that s/he can do something about, you can be sure that the caller and urger is full of baloney. Trust me on that one. It's a time-honored legislative scam, a variant of the one-house bill. Politicians need Quinn to do things for them, give them the taxpayer's money especially, and so she has plenty of persuasive power outside the spotlight of passing some tenant-light legislation. She doesn't have to call and urge publicly.

I've already written about our experience with Quinn's co-sponsorship of Mitchell-Lama tenant legislation that we had drafted and that she, along with her predecessor, Gifford Miller, had sponsored. Had it passed it would have forced landlords who wanted to exit the program to negotiate in good faith with tenants or go to court to try to overturn a law that would have a presumption of validity. Going to court would have thrown into doubt the financing on which these deals depend. Good faith negotiations were a far safer and thus more likely route.

The Real Estate Board of New York claimed that the city council didn't have the authority to pass it. Others, including an NYU law professor who holds an endowed chair on the subject, testified that it was well within the council's authority. Although we had enough votes to override a mayoral veto, Miller and Quinn buried the bill, took the real estate money, and ran.

Since Quinn's ascension, neither that legislation, or any part of it, or any other action that gets in the way of the real estate lobby's core interests has ever seen the light of day.

Meanwhile, stabilized rents have skyrocketed; well over a hundred thousand affordable apartments have been lost to the private market, and, until the fiscal crises slowed things down, the predatory equity crowd was running amok. We are living in increasingly unaffordable city for anyone earning less than a six-figure income, and that hardly buys a family a middle-class life.

For years, Albany Democrats have been blaming it on the Senate Republicans, and the city council has been blaming it on Albany. Now that the Democrats control all three branches of government, they are casting about for other reasons not to do anything real for tenants while raising more money than ever from landlords and developers.

But that's just polibiz. Unlike McKee, we never believed the Democrats would do anything for tenants that seriously threatened the dominance of big real estate in New York politics­until voters were educated to the skimming and scamming game. But with the Democrats controlling everything, who is there to blame? You guessed it­Michael Bloomberg.

Michael Bloomberg is the man who appoints the Rent Guidelines Board, who finances the Republican Party, and who controls much more of what happens in New York than most people understand, something we will write about in the near future. Presumably, a Democratic mayor would at least slow things down a bit, appoint some tenant-oriented folks to HPD and RGB. Getting rid of Michael Bloomberg would do more to help tenants survive in New York City than any legislation that will emerge from the city council or Albany. In this case, the devil we don't know would be far better than the one we do. That much is certain. But lo and behold, we hardly hear a peep from Democratic politicians that he must be beaten.

And here is our question for McKee: How can someone who presumes to speak for tenants, urge tenants to vote for the one person who has done more to ensure Bloomberg's continued mayoralty than anyone else­Christine Quinn? I won't speculate on McKee's motives, but many of us would like to hear the explanation.
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