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'Enormous' Rent Hike Proposed for Clinton Towers Sparks Outrage

By Maya Rajamani | December 18, 2015 3:45pm | Updated on December 21, 2015 9:05am
 Residents at Clinton Towers, a Mitchell-Lama complex on West 54th Street, are facing an approximately 20 percent rent increase.
Residents at Clinton Towers, a Mitchell-Lama complex on West 54th Street, are facing an approximately 20 percent rent increase.
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DNAinfo/Gwynne Hogan

HELL'S KITCHEN — Tenants at a Hell's Kitchen apartment complex for middle-class residents are fighting an "enormous" proposed rent increase they say grew out of the landlord's poor spending habits.

Residents of the Clinton Towers complex on West 54th Street and 11th Avenue, which is part of the city's Mitchell-Lama program that provides affordable housing to moderate- and middle-income families, are facing a 20 percent rent hike over the next two years.

Tenants and politicians claim the proposed hikes — which could increase some tenants' rents by more than $300 per month — are unreasonable and stem from bad money management by the owners.

“Clinton Towers houses a working-and middle-class population that cannot afford a 20 percent increase over the next two years, as proposed by the owners,” Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer wrote in a Nov. 30 letter urging the city's department of Housing Preservation and Development not to approve the increase.

“They are tenants that have a wide range of needs, yet have managed to find stable housing through Clinton Towers.”

The hike proposed in a letter sent to residents by Clinton Towers Housing Company Inc., the nonprofit that owns the apartment complex, would see rents increase by 15 percent in the first year and 5 percent in the second year.

The complex includes studio, one-, two-, three- and four-bedroom apartment ranging in price based on a tenant's income.

For a studio apartment, residents currently pay either a basic rate ranging from $577 to $628 per month or a market rate ranging from $765 to $833 per month. Under the proposed increase, studio rents would jump to between $691 and $751 for the basic rate and between $915 to $996 for the market rate after two years.

For four-bedroom apartments, which renters currently pay up to $1,624 for at the market rate, the hike could see their rents rise by more than $300 per month under the plan.

An HPD spokesperson said the last time Clinton Towers' management raised rents was in 2010, when tenants saw a 7 percent increase.

Much of the consternation over the hikes stems from what tenant organizer Betsy Eichel referred to as a lack of “smart allocation of resources,” as well as transparency on the part of Clinton Towers Housing Company Inc., the nonprofit that owns the complex.

Along with failing to fill what many tenants say have been years-long vacancies at Clinton Towers, residents believe the management could have sought better rates for heating and other utilities to help cut costs, Eichel said.

With the cost of fuel at “the lowest it’s been in years,” Eichel said management’s projected need for additional rent intake “doesn’t make sense.”

Brewer’s letter stated that residents believe “as many as 17 units have been intentionally left vacant” in the complex.

City Councilwoman Helen Rosenthal also sent a letter to HPD assistant commissioner Julie Walpert opposing the proposed increases.

“People have a lot of reasons to… be unhappy with the management,” Eichel said. “It seems to the tenants [management is] just going straight to them, as if raising the rent is the only way they can pay off their mortgage.”

Michael Piantadosi, who has managed the building for more than 15 years, said Thursday he was “not at liberty to speak” about the issue, pointing out that HPD held a formal hearing on the proposal on Nov. 4.

An HPD spokeswoman said Wednesday that the department is “currently preparing an analysis that considers all of the comments received and the financial and physical needs of the corporation.”

“At this time, we do not have a certain date by which the analysis will be concluded but expect to have preliminary numbers at the beginning of next calendar year,” the HPD spokeswoman said.

But residents like Mary Somoza — president of the Clinton Towers Tenants Association, who lives at the complex with her husband and 31-year-old twin daughters, both of whom have cerebral palsy — said the proposed increase would place a burden on her family.

“During a time of stagnant wage increases, and costs rising everywhere, when in Manhattan the mayor is freezing rent increases, our families are faced with an enormous rent increase,” Somoza wrote in her testimony on the proposed rent increases presented to HPD in November.

Somoza also pointed an ongoing controversy involving a retail space on the building’s ground floor that has been unoccupied for two years, and which the management is supposed to rent to a business tenants would frequent.

Many residents, including Somoza, are opposed to a lease agreement Clinton Towers management recently entered into with restaurateur Kurt Kalm, who is planning to open a Mexican eatery and bar in the space.

Brewer’s letter projected the vacant commercial space could have been taking in $67,524 per year for the management, but added that she would “prefer a business with more utility for the residents,” like a laundromat or day care center.

In the meantime, tenants concerned about the hikes must wait for HPD to make the final call.

“Everything is now in the hands of HPD Assistant Commissioner Julie Walpert,” Somoza said in an email.