Landmark Metro Theater in Manhattan Will Be Reborn as a Planet Fitness

nytimes.pngBy Julie Satow

Since the Metro Theater showed its last movie in 2005, numerous deals have been announced for the Art Deco gem on the Upper West Side. It was supposed to become an Urban Outfitters clothing store, the home of a nonprofit arts education group, an outpost of the revival-style Alamo Drafthouse Cinema chain. But through it all, the Metro has stood vacant, its landmark marquee announcing nothing more than the phone numbers of various real estate brokers hoping to pull in a tenant.

Now, the broken-down, 82-year-old theater is about to be reborn, but not as a cultural institution as many in the neighborhood had wished. It will become the location of a Planet Fitness, a $10-a-month gym.

Many in the neighborhood had hoped the eventual tenant would be akin to Symphony Space, the cultural center located just to the south on Broadway and 95th Street. When Councilman Mark D. Levine was elected to represent the neighborhood in 2013, he vowed to make such a deal. “Sadly, we weren’t able to find a workable deal for a cultural institution and I’m bitterly disappointed about it,” Mr. Levine said in a phone interview. “But having said that, I think any tenant is better than abandonment. And while it is a chain, at least it isn’t a Duane Reade.”

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Intro 214 “Right to Counsel” Bill Garners Citywide Support

CityLand.jpgBy Jessica Soultanian-Braunstein

If enacted into law, Intro 214 would make New York City the first municipality in the nation to provide free legal representation to low-income tenants in Housing Court.  On March 26, 2014, the “Right to Counsel” bill was introduced in the New York City Council by co-sponsors Council members Mark Levine and Vanessa Gibson.  The proposed law would provide free legal representation to low-income City tenants and homeowners earning income that is not in excess of 125% of the federal poverty line and facing eviction and foreclosure proceedings in Housing Court.

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AM New York: Hamilton Heights: The invasion of the millennials has begun

By Marjorie Cohen

October 7, 2015

While still home to generations of Hispanic and African American families, Hamilton Heights is experiencing a shift: Millennials are moving in.

And with Columbia University's Manhattanville campus being built just south of the neighborhood and its Medical School campus expanding to the north of it, it's no wonder that students are also flocking to the northwestern Manhattan neighborhood.

Adding to the appeal is the gothic-style campus of the City College of New York (built from Manhattan schist stone recycled from the excavation of the subway) at its southern end. The school attracts a particularly diverse population of students.

The local parks, Riverside, Riverbank State and St. Nicholas, seal the deal for young people.

To cater to the influx of young residents, cafes and boutiques are opening in the basement level of the neighborhood's brownstones.

Local City Councilman Mark Levine said the situation is both positive and negative.

"On the one hand new restaurants and bars opening here have provided a much-needed economic boost to the neighborhood," he said. "On the other hand, long-time local businesses -- many Latino-owned -- are closing at an alarming rate in the face of soaring rents."

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Daily News: City Council’s Jewish Caucus calls on Obama to let more Syrian refugees into U.S.

By Erin Durkin

October 5, 2015

NYC Councilman Mark Levine is one of the City Council members urging Obama to let more Syrian refugees into the United States.

The City’s Council’s Jewish Caucus is pushing for President Obama to let more Syrian refugees into the United States...

“Many of us grew up with or have family members who were forced to flee persecution. All of us are keenly aware of the countless times in history in which Jews have been refugees. The ongoing humanitarian catastrophe in Syria thus has particular poignancy for us, and we are profoundly concerned for the plight of the millions fleeing the war there,” said the group, chaired by Councilman Mark Levine (D-Manhattan).

Some advocacy groups say the United States should accept 100,000 refugees. The Jewish Caucus did not specify a number, but Levine said it should be close to that target.

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NY1: Noticias: NY proveerá ayuda a familias con problemas de desalojo

By Rosarina Bretón

September 30, 2015

Si has recibido una notificación de desalojo presta atención, el gobierno municipal lanzó una iniciativa que da asistencia a los inquilinos que actualmente enfrentan casos de desalojo en los tribunales de vivienda de la ciudad.

"Convertise en desamparado es algo que le puede pasar a cualquiera, tenemos el deber moral de ayudar a los mas necesitados de nuestra ciudad", dijo de Blasio.

El alcalde anunció que la ciudad esta invirtiendo mas de 12 millones de dólares en la implementacion de programa. Califica cualquier familia de cuatro miembros con un ingreso de menos de 46 mil dólares al año.

"La causa número uno por la que la gente se queda sin casa, desamparado no tiene que ver con las drogas, no tiene que ver con problemas mentales, es el desalojo, asi es que si podemos prevenir desalojos estamos previniendo que la gente se quede sin casa", dijo Concejal Mark Levine.

La iniciativa lleva el nombre "IMAGINE" y ademas de asesoria legal ofrece asistencia para obtener beneficios públicos como la ayuda para el alquiler de emergencia y asistencia financiera.

Autoridades municipales dicen que esta representación legal está disponible para todos los neoyorquinos sin important su estatus migratorio.

"No enfrenten un posible desalojo en una corte de vivienda sin ayuda, llamen al 311, pidan ayuda legal, la ciudad esta ofreciendo cada vez mas, con ayuda de un abogado usted tiene mas posibilidades de quedarse en su casa", dijo Levine.

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NY Times: Bills Aim to Protect Renters During Construction Work

By Mireya Navarro

September 29, 2015

New York City Council members will introduce a package of bills on Wednesday intended to prevent landlords from pressuring tenants to move out by making their apartments unlivable through construction work.

The proposed legislation, a total of a dozen bills, follows accounts of residents’ enduring late-night noise, harmful levels of dust and damage to their apartments, which some of the tenants said were efforts to get them to leave their rent-stabilized apartments. Landlords are supposed to provide tenant-protection plans when they do renovations in occupied buildings. But in many cases, the landlords tell the city that their buildings are vacant, and the city grants the construction permits without verifying the claims.

The bills seek to have the city’s Buildings Department play a more aggressive role by responding to construction complaints faster and increasing inspections to confirm landlords’ compliance with safety requirements...

Council members sponsoring the bills are Margaret Chin, Rafael Espinal, Daniel R. Garodnick, Corey Johnson, Ben J. Kallos, Mark Levine, Carlos Menchaca, Rosie Mendez, Antonio Reynoso and Helen Rosenthal, all Democrats.

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DNAinfo: New Bill Aims to Protect Small Businesses From Landlord Harassment

By Gustavo Solis

September 29, 2015

City legislators are trying to protect small business owners from negligent landlords by crafting a bill that gives them similar protections as residential tenants.

The new law would amend the city code by adding protection against landlord harassment of non-residential tenants, according to the bill.

“As bad as things are for residents of NYC seeking to keep their apartments, at least there is a fairly robust system of protection,” said City Councilman Mark Levine, during a hearing on the bill Friday. “On the commercial side, it’s really the Wild West.”

Landlords can harass commercial tenants by denying services, like water and electricity, cutting off heat in the winter, doing unnecessary repair work during business hours, and demanding under-the-table payments to enter into lease negotiations, Levine added...

Levine hopes this legislation is the beginning of stronger protections against small businesses, many of which have been forced out of Hamilton Heights in the last couple of years, he said.

“Frankly, until now there haven’t been strong enough sanctions against this kind of behavior,” he said.

“This bill seeks to provide some penalties with teeth so that tenants who are subjected to this type of harassment can resort to the court and win damages to compensate for lost business and to compensate for lost legal fees.”

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Observer: De Blasio Says Right to Counsel in Civil Court ‘on the Horizon’—But Only if Feds Pay

By Will Bredderman

September 29, 2015

Mayor Bill de Blasio today told the state’s top judge that he believe the day is approaching when government will guarantee all citizens a lawyer in civil court cases—but said that the funding for the attorneys will have to come from the federal level.

Appearing before New York State Court of Appeals Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, Mr. de Blasio gave an affirmative answer to Mr. Lippman’s question of whether defendants would one day enjoy the same promise of a lawyer in civil court as they currently do in criminal court. Yesterday, the mayor announced a new $12.3 million investment in free attorneys for tenants facing eviction under an abusive landlords—but bristled when the Observer asked about the his possibly supporting a Council bill that would create a “right to counsel” in housing court, which would come with an estimated $100 million price tag for the city.

Despite balking yesterday at the Observer’s query about the city right to counsel bill, Mr. de Blasio argued then that the city’s total investment in tenant services—expected to hit $60 million in the 2017 fiscal year—”pays for itself” by reducing strain on city homeless shelters and hospitals, and today argued that such spending has a “huge multiplier effect.” Mr. Lippman estimated that investment in legal representation has a six-to-one return rate.

It was the same argument Manhattan Councilman Mark Levine has repeatedly made in favor of the right to counsel measure, which he co-sponsored with Bronx Councilwoman Vanessa Gibson. Mr. Levine argued that, on top of reducing pressure on the shelter system and on public hospitals, the city would be able to spend less on everything from extra educational attention to troubled homeless children in schools to new affordable housing construction to mental health services—and that landlords would be less likely to engage in abusive practices, causing the need for attorneys to taper off as the city phases the program in.

“Over time the number of cases will drop. So it has kind of a virtuous cycle effect,” he said. “There’s tons of research showing that homelessness costs government money on countless other fronts.”

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Daily News Op-Ed: Help city kids speak Mandarin, Arabic and more: Foreign language education is shamefully bad in this global city

By Mark Levine & Daniel Dromm

September 24, 2015

Mayor de Blasio’s announcement that within 10 years all New York City public school students will take computer science classes is welcome news. But Java, Python and C++ are not the only languages critical for 21st century success. Spanish, Mandarin, Arabic and French are vital, too.

Learning human languages other than English is not only a major career asset, it opens the door to cross-cultural understanding, boosts self-esteem and expands horizons in so many ways.

Sadly, in the nation’s most diverse and global city, home to the United Nations, the benefits that come with learning a foreign language are being acquired by far too few public school students.

The era of intense focus on (and standardized testing in) math and English has taken a heavy toll on foreign language instruction in New York City. Our young people learn in schools where foreign languages have been pushed to the margins.

Only about 5% of our elementary school students receive regular instruction in world languages. Most young people don’t take their first course in another language until high school. And increasingly critical non-European languages are rarely taught.

The city’s Department of Education has no senior leader focused exclusively on world languages, and no goals for principals or for the system as a whole for achievement in this area.

We know what works in foreign language instruction: early learning and immersion. Young minds absorb new languages with ease, including the ability to achieve native-speaker fluency. This facility is lost once children pass puberty.

But even at an early age, fluency can only truly be attained through immersion. An hour a week of language instruction can help children acquire basic vocabulary or learn select phrases or songs — but not much more.

Cutting-edge schools around the globe, and here, smartly teach children general content (social studies, math, etc.) in a foreign language for several periods a day. The State of Utah has reoriented its entire school system around this immersion strategy.

New York City has a series of a dual-language programs, in both private and public schools, that offer a glimpse of the potential of early immersion here. In some, native English speakers and English-language learners spend half of their days in classes taught in English, and half in classes taught in a foreign language.

Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña, who has said she wants every New York City student to speak at least two languages, significantly expanded the number of dual-language programs this year. But in total, these programs still reach only about 2% of elementary school students — and virtually none continue into middle and high school.

New York City needs to set ambitious but achievable goals for its young people to attain the language skills critical for success in the 21st century.

Every family who wants it should have the option of a foreign language immersion track for their children. And every student not on that track should get at least two periods per week of foreign language instruction, beginning in kindergarten. Yes, kindergarten.

We should expand our offerings in the languages most demanded by employers, including non-Western European languages like Mandarin, Arabic, Russian and Japanese.

To achieve these ambitious goals, we will need to ramp up recruitment of foreign language teachers. We must revise the certification rules to ease entry of new teachers, including those from abroad. And we need to ensure that every foreign language teacher has access to high-quality professional development.

Only through bold action can New York City succeed in preparing our children to compete for jobs in a polyglot world.

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DNAinfo: Tenants Forced Out by Fire Say Landlord Is Trying to Destabilize Building

By Gustavo Solis

September 22, 2015

Families living in homeless shelters after being displaced by a deadly fire are taking their landlord to court for failing to make building repairs for more than a year.

In December, tenants sued the landlord for not making repairs at 512 W. 136th St. In March, the court ordered the landlord to follow a strict timeline for making repairs, according to housing court records.

Now that the landlord has missed several deadlines, the residents want the judge to hold the landlord in contempt. They also claim the landlord is deliberately delaying the repairs to destabilize affordable units...

City Councilman Mark Levine stepped in and wrote a letter to HPD commissioner Vicki Been to try to help the residents.

“To date, more than a year since the fire, the landlord has breached the order by failing to meet its stipulations,” Levine wrote.

“Displaced tenants have been forced to find temporary accommodation for over a year, while repairs have stalled. I am extremely concerned that the delay in completing the repairs will eventually outlast the tenants’ ability to remain in temporary locations, leading them to relocate elsewhere.”

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