Independence Plaza North residents who built the community hope to stay in it
By Paul Bisceglio
“When you see banners that say ‘luxury housing,’ you know something has gone wrong.”
City Council member Dan Garodnick delivered this message in a news conference last week to a crowd of tenants in front of Independence Plaza North (IPN), a three-tower apartment complex along Greenwich Street in Tribeca. Garodnick was one of several city officials gathered to confirm their support of the tenants’ struggle to keep rents stabilized at the plaza, which was built as affordable housing in 1973 but now is leasing one- and two-bedroom apartments for up to $4,500 and $6,500 per month.
“We want the people who have made this neighborhood great to be able to stay in this neighborhood,” Council Speaker Christine Quinn told the crowd.
The long-term tenants cheered in agreement. After decades of petitioning for paved streets, traffic lights and schools in a neighborhood once full of empty factories, these residents say they ended up with a community so vibrant and popular that they can no longer afford to live in it.
The officials—who also included Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, state Sen. Daniel Squadron, Councilwoman Jessica Lappin, former Community Board 1 Chair Julie Menin and others—announced their filing of three amicus briefs (unsolicited court documents) to convince the state’s Court of Appeals to consider the request by the Independence Plaza North Tenants’ Association (IPNTA) to return the complex’s 1,349 units to rent stabilization.
The Tenants’ Association has battled the complex’s landlord, Laurence Gluck of Stellar Management, for years. Gluck removed the buildings from the state-subsidizing housing initiative Mitchell-Lama in 2004 to pursue market rates for some apartments, but received tax breaks from the Department of Finance’s J-51 affordable housing program for two more years. He eventually repaid the amount he received in tax cuts plus interest, but the tenants argued that he could not forsake their rents’ stability after he had received benefits to secure them.
A lower-court judge ruled in the tenants’ favor in 2010, but the State Supreme Court’s Appellate Division reversed the decision last May on the grounds that Gluck actually should not have received J-51 tax breaks in the first place. The benefits were “merely the erroneous result of the [Department of Finance’s] failure to adjust IPN’s tax liability,” the judges said. “That error did not create rent stabilized status for a development that was not otherwise subject to the rent stabilization law.”
IPN’s tenants and the politicians supporting them see a dangerous precedent in this reversal. “By essentially making rent regulation optional for J-51 landlords,” said a conference press release, “[the court’s decision] may jeopardize the tens of thousands of New York City residents living in post-1973 buildings that receive J-51 benefits and are currently in any temporary, income-based program.”
Stephen B. Meister, a lawyer for the plaza, though, argues that this worry is unfounded. “The Appellate Division correctly held that IPN became ineligible for J-51 benefits upon exiting the Mitchell-Lama program, and therefore never became rent stabilized,” he told DNAinfo in a recent article.
If the Court of Appeals agrees to consider the tenants’ case, it would be their last chance to change the ruling. While some tenants will be affected differently than others if they fail, because some pay market rates while others’ rents remain protected, all would benefit from stabilized rents, argued the tenants’ lawyer Seth Miller at the conference.
IPNTA President Diane Lapson, a longtime resident of the complex, encouraged her fellow residents to be strong. “We built Tribeca. And we’re still building Tribeca,” she said. “Every great story has a great struggle.”
She said in an interview, “We made the neighborhood so great that other people wanted to move in, but now IPN is the diversity of Tribeca. Without it, this would be white-bread land. Without it, young people no longer have a choice of where to live [in the city] like I did.”
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