In the January 9, 2014 issue of Westchester Guardian
Yogi Bera said, "The game's not over till its over." In New Rochelle, the City's agreement with the 35 Maple Avenue senior housing building appeared to be settled, but was it?
The new agreement for this Maple Avenue building was voted upon by the City Council in 2011. The Montco Construction and Development Corporation, according to John Madeo, their Vice President, would renovate the 35 year old building of approximately 109 apartments by installing new bath rooms and kitchens in each apartment. No tenants were to be relocated and "eligible tenants" would pay 30% of their income towards a HUD (Housing and Urban Development) subsidized rent.
In the process, this building would be converted from its non profit ownership to a for profit entity. According to Mayor Noam Bramson at that time, payments such as $60,000 would be made by Montco so that the City could improve the Maple Avenue Parking lot. George Latimer, now a State Senator,, helped Montco to receive a HUD (Housing and Urban Development) tax credit of $9 million dollars. The owner of Montco, Joel B. Monty, gave $1,000 to Mayor Bramson's reelection campaign in 2011 just before Council approved the project. An IDA (Industrial Development Agency) PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) was part of this agreement and it had been stated that when the agreement was signed payments of $60,000 per year, increasing by 2.5% annually would be remitted to the City of New Rochelle. What was not mentioned was the IDA requirement that permanent jobs are supposed to be created when PILOTS are given. Only temporary construction jobs were used here. The December 17, 2013 issue of the Legislative Gazette had an article about a report that questioned the effectiveness of business subsidies. It criticized IDA's saying 72% of their projects did not meet job creation goals.
So it was shocking to hear James O'Toole say at the December 11, 2013 meeting of City Council that the residents of 35 Maple Avenue had been lied to about future rent increases. He said Montco had promised that 52 tenants in the building would see no change in rent unless their income changed, of 24 Section 8 recipients, 23 would have "less rent." No one would face "out of pocket increases" and 32 residents were at market and 25 should have the same rent. Thirteen tenants would have $16 increases, three others: $3, $46 and $80 increases.
He continued that tenants were told by John Madeo, Vice President of Montco, that no one would pay more than 30% of their income for rent. This, he retorted, was a ""false statement." He continued, tenants had been forced to recertify their income with bank statements seven times. Now rents were going up $200-300. His mother has an increase of $165 for December rent. Every tenant is faced with possible large increases in rent. But Councilman Lou Trangucci, because of his personal concern about these rent increases, continued to meet with the tenants. O'Toole suggested that all the Council members should meet with the tenants there. He said there was going to be a meeting at the building and pleaded, "Council has to meet with the tenants."
This meeting took place on December 16 and was chaired by Trangucci. Two City of New Rochelle employees attended the meeting Joan McCallion of the Department of Development, and Deborah Pritchett, the city's Executive Director of Section 8. At this meeting comments were made that the state sets the income levels to be used for rents. Management cannot set rents based on rehabilitation costs. Trangucci asserted that market rate increases would understandably be small increases. He continued that the tenants could understand a small increase, but many tenants are being asked to pay a large increase. Trangucci's position was that the increase should be no more than $30 a month which he claimed Madeo had claimed that would be the maximum increase when asked, and that the rest of the increases should be picked up by the owners. It was also clearly stated that federal money obtained to be put into the building must be put in the building. Trangucci hoped the owners would meet with the tenants and reduce the rents. When called, McCallion told the Westchester Guardian there would be a meeting with Madeo and the Commissioner of Housing management on January 8. Pritchett did not return the phone call made to her.
There were reports a tenant meeting would take place with Trangucci and a lawyer who was a former council member, Richard St. Paul. St. Paul told the Westchester Guardian that when they meet with the tenants on January 6 they will decide whether to proceed with the lawsuit.
Onlookers are taking a dim view of this unpleasant turn of events. In the last Westchester county executive race there were reports that candidate Noam Bramson was given two $5,000 contributions from Montco's owner. Will Bramson take an active role in this highly sensitive situation where tenants may have to choose between paying high rent increases or buying essentials such as food? The City Council approved the conversion of this senior building from nonprofit to profit status and they should not turn their backs on these residents who moved into this building with the assumption of a lower rent. It's unfair to expect them at this time of their lives to have to get a job to pay higher rents which they cannot afford.