On Roosevelt Island

Rebecca Seawright Comes Out Strong for Tenants in Manhattan Park Dispute

Updated 3 years ago David Stone
Rebecca Seawright At Work in Albany Last Year
Rebecca Seawright At Work in Albany Last Year
Photo used with permission

As Manhattan Park's management stalls tenants on electrical sub metering questions, State Assembly Member for Roosevelt Island Rebecca Seawright had heard enough by week's end.

"Over the years, my constituents have expressed serious concerns over sub metering and its costs," Seawright wrote in a letter to Paul Kahn, director of asset management at the Starrett Corporation, Manhattan Park's owner. Her constituents, she continued "complained that Manhattan Park failed to create, maintain and/or implement an approved grievance procedure as required pursuant to its ground lease with the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation.

"I request that you address the concerns of my constituents relating to sub metering at Manhattan Park immediately."

In a series of articles, The Roosevelt Island Daily has outlined objections to Manhattan Park's handing of many complaints about sub metering:

Simultaneously, as a long time resident, I went directly to local management with details from my own experience that strongly suggest violations.

Meeting the usual evasiveness and resistance, I turned to RIOC as well as our elected officials, in addition to State Assembly Member Seawright, State Senator José Serrano and City Council Member Ben Kallos. The response from each was rapid and concerned. 

Why Fight Manhattan Park's Processes Now?

After spending too much time we couldn't afford to waste trying to shake responsible or satisfactory answers out of Manhattan Park, as so many of our friends have, we were ready to give up and get past it.

Then, something interesting happened.

One afternoon after a meeting on Main Street, I bumped in Frank Farance. Frank is an old friend who is never at a loss for provocative insights and observations. He has also been willing to serve as a resource for articles I wrote as a freelancer for The Main Street WIRE.

But not one for casual chit chat, Frank told me, immediately after "Hello," that "Manhattan Park isn't allowed to make a profit on electric bills."

Having gone through the ins and outs of sub metering with then State Assembly Member Micah Kellner, two years ago, I was sure Farance was wrong but soon got a lesson in not trying to outsmart this guy.

"I'm not talking about the law," he countered. "It's in the ground lease. With RIOC."

Not much later, Farance emailed me a copy of the ground lease Manhattan Park agreed to in 1986. He took it a step farther and pointed me to the appropriate paragraphs about sub metering.

Restrictions on profit weren't the most startling thing, though. Topping that was a requirement that Manhattan Park establish an approved grievance procedure before charging anyone for sub metered electricity. 

I couldn't believe what I read. If a ground lease was ever approved, why didn't any of us know about it?

In twenty-five years of watching Manhattan Park deteriorate to near public housing levels in some areas, of approaching them numerous times about electric charges, never once had I heard about, let alone been offered, any grievance procedure.

I asked friends still living here and others who'd reluctantly left apartments in a community they loved. To a person, each had complained about electric bills, but not one had ever heard of a grievance procedure.

So many people had been hurt and frustrated as tenants of Manhattan Park, I decided to get a hold of that story and take it wherever it lead.

The Progress So Far

Assembly Member Seawright's tough letter to Starrett is the leading edge of a concerted effort to break through the barriers of delay and evasion Manhattan Park has pushed back at us for years... well, decades. She was chosen to spearhead the efforts of our elected officials because of her relationship with RIOC along with a strong reputation for helping tenants.

Not that Seawright or anyone else has told us that we are right and that Manhattan Park/Starrett owes anything for all the years we believe they have been in violation.

What bothers Seawright, as you can see in her letter, is the stonewalling, the refusals to answer or enter into honest discussions about where, why and how the wheels came off between tenants and management in Manhattan Park.

RIOC's Acting President/CEO Susan Rosenthal has been helpful, even when she and staffer Arthur Eliav have had to correct a mistake on my part, and in coordinating with Seawright as are Kallos and Serrano.

It has been gratifying to find public officials, in an age of cynicism, acting quickly and affirmatively in support of a constituent issue. Anyone believing the standard complaint that our elective officials have been bought out by real estate developers have been shown to be wrong.

I'm not gloating, but I feel good about seeing that good government is still alive and kicking.

This is an ongoing story that may have some twists and turns ahead. But stay tuned. We're in for the long haul.

For a full version of Assembly Member Seawright's letter, click here: 

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