Credit Union Holding Taxi Medallion Loans Shutters, Leaving Drivers in Limbo

By Felipe De La Hoz

For years, taxi drivers in New York City, many of them immigrants, have taken out loans against their taxi medallions, the treasured city documents that allow drivers to legally operate a taxicab. A taxi medallion was viewed as safe and secure collateral for those loans.

Since 2013, however, and the arrival of app-based ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft, the value of those medallions has plummeted and along with it the fate of the biggest holder of medallion loans, Queens-based Melrose Credit Union. Paired with a history of mismanagement, the downturn shoved Melrose to the brink of collapse, and in February of last year, it was officially placed into NCUA stewardship, the federal agency that oversees credit unions.

In a little-noticed statement last month, the NCUA announced that it had “made the decision to liquidate Melrose and discontinue its operations after determining the credit union was insolvent and had no prospect for restoring viable operations.” Many of Melrose’s assets and liabilities were transferred to the Teachers Federal Credit Union (TFCU). But an NCUA spokesman John Fairbanks confirmed that the medallion loans had not. Instead, they have remained with the federal government for servicing and collection.

That has left the future of perhaps as much as $833 million in loans in doubt as well as that of the often desperate drivers who borrowed against their medallions. 

“The NCUA’s Asset Management and Assistance Center is managing the portfolio of taxi-medallion-secured loans, which includes servicing,” Fairbanks wrote in an email to Documented. He said that Melrose members had been notified about the liquidation, but declined to discuss whether the terms of any loans had changed, saying the information was confidential.

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Drivers waiting for financial help hear new Council reforms

By Dan Rivoli

Anxious and struggling drivers waiting for relief from the city heard lawmakers on Monday discuss a package of bills that aim to help them financially, emotionally and physically.

The bills follow a successful effort to cap the number of app-based cars that had flooded the market, driving down wages and yellow taxi medallion values.

“We have an interest in making sure that there’s an economic model that works so drivers and owners are out on the street providing service,” Taxi and Limousine Commission Chair Meera Joshi said.

Industrywide, lawmakers want the TLC to educate drivers who want to enter the business and set up driver assistance centers that can offer mental health services. The Council would also prevent drivers from losing money when credit cards fail or get rejected.

The TLC would look at ways to set up a health and benefits system.

For Uber and app-drivers, the TLC could cap how much they would pay on lease or rental agreements, and stop app companies from deducting those payments right out of their fares.

For yellow cabs, the bills would make the TLC study ways to raise medallion values and potentially bail out medallion owners under water.

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Sales Drop At Trump-Branded City Concessions, Report Says

By Brendan Krisel

NEW YORK, NY — New York City has no love for President Donald Trump. New Yorkers showed their disdain for Trump in 2016 when more than two million residents voted against him in the presidential election, and new reports suggest that New Yorkers are staying away from anything connected to Trump.

Profits and visits at Trump-branded city concessions have dropped or flatlined since the president's campaign for the presidency in 2016, the New York Times first reported. The Trump Organization, Trump's real estate business, has four contracts with the city to operate Wollman and Lasker rinks in Central Park, the Central Park Carousel and the Ferry Point Landing golf course in the Bronx.

Revenues at the Wollman Rink and Lasker Rink in Central Park have plummeted as much as five percent in the years following Trump's election, the Times reported. The Central Park Carousel logged a profit of a little more than $30,000 in 2017 compared to $188,000 in 2015, according to the report.

The numbers don't lie, and the anecdotal evidence may be worse. Tour guides told the Times that visitors have even come to blows over their views on Trump, and now have to warn groups before visiting Trump-linked concessions.

The Trump Organization denied to the Times that the drop in profits is tied to politics.

"There is no connection to politics and usership at our facilities here in NYC," Ronald C. Lieberman, a Trump Organization executive, told the Times.

The drop in profits at Trump-branded concession may embolden a push for the city to sever ties with the president's company. City Councilman Mark Levine has argued that the city has legal precedent to terminate its contracts with the Trump Organization following Trump's personal attorney Michael Cohen's recent guilty plea to eight felony counts stemming from hush money payments.

Levine — who represents parts of the Upper West Side, Harlem and Washington Heights — said that Cohen's plea deal represents "evidence that the Trump Organization has been deeply entangled in a criminal conspiracy."

In 2011, the Parks Department terminated the contract of a company called East Coast Golf, Inc. — which operated a golf course in Marine Park, Brooklyn — due to links to organized crime, Levine said. Levine, a former chair of the council's parks and recreation committee, called on the city to terminated Trump's contracts in 2015 due to the President's vitriolic rhetoric on the campaign trail, but there was no legal precedent to do so.


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Tennants' Right to Counsel May Be Expanded With Levine's Legislationn

By Sarina Trangle

Councilman Mark Levine plans to introduce legislation Wednesday that would expand the scope of the nascent Right to Counsel measure, which is getting underway in housing court.

Last August, Mayor Bill de Blasio signed the Right to Counsel, which gives the government five years to begin providing free, legal representation to anyone facing an eviction in housing court and earning no more than twice the federal poverty level; those who earn more are entitled to a legal consultation.

About a year into the Right to Counsel’s implementation, Levine said several updates are needed to ensure the measure is truly universal.

“We’re really excited to be introducing a 2.0 legislation that we think will further expand and strengthen what has already been game-changing legislation,” said Levine, who co-sponsored the original Right to Counsel measure with City Councilwoman Vanessa Gibson. “It’s pretty clear that people who are unquestionably struggling economically today aren’t eligible for representation because of how low the cut-off is.”

The new legislation would increase the income cap from two to four times the federal poverty level, which would ensure that a person working 40 hours a week for $15 an hour — which minimum wage is slated to reach in 2019 — could access the service.

The bill would also add representation at several non-housing court venues, including during administrative hearings at the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development and the state’s Homes and Community Renewal agency — as well as for cases that are appealed and a portion that land in state Supreme Court.

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Councilman Wants to Evict Trump Organization from Central Park Attractions

By Carol Tannenhauser

Local City Council Member Mark Levine has been determined to get The Trump Organization out of Central Park ever since Donald Trump launched his presidential campaign on July 16, 2015, with a speech saying Mexico was sending “rapists” to the U.S.

“Mr. Trump’s racist comments are despicable even by his already low standards,” said Levine, who has a substantial Hispanic constituency, at the time. “Our parks are public spaces where everyone should feel welcome and an association with Mr. Trump directly contradicts this spirit.”

Back then, Levine, then chairman of the Council’s parks committee, was stymied in his attempt to break the city’s contracts with The Trump Organization to run three cherished Central Park concessions — the Carousel and Wollman and Lasker Rinks — by the First Amendment.

“They can’t do it,” prominent civil rights lawyer Norman Siegel weighed in. “There’s a thing called the First Amendment, and the city of New York can’t cancel a binding contract because they don’t like the political views of Donald Trump.”

But they can cancel one if The Trump Organization is found to be involved in criminal activities — as it was by Michael Cohen’s recent plea deal, Levine says.

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Shuttered UWS Subway Station To Reopen Labor Day Weekend: MTA

By Brendan Krisel

UPPER WEST SIDE, NY — A subway stop on the border of the Upper West Side and Harlem that has been closed since April for renovations will reopen on Labor Day weekend, transit officials announced.

The West 110th Street B/C station will feature new railings, digital signs, information dashboards, way-finding signs and a turnstile area with brighter lighting, MTA officials said. The MTA also completed structural fixes to the station's steel and concrete structure, mezzanine, walls, stairs and platforms.

The five-month renovation was part of the MTA's Enhanced Stations Initiative.

"We're thrilled to be returning this station to the community in better condition than it's been in for decades, with critical structural repairs performed and brand new features that will make planning and taking trips with us easier and more convenient than ever," NYC Transit President Andy Byford said in a statement.

Despite the new features — which include an extension of Chris Wynter's glass mosaic artwork "Migration," — the new station was not upgraded in accordance with the Americans With Disabilities Act. The lack of a new accessible entrance to the station prompted elected officials and accessibility advocates to call the renovation a "blown opportunity" when the station closed in April.

The three other B/C line stations to be shut down for the Enhanced Stations Initiative — located at West 163rd Street, West 86th Street and West 72nd Streets — will also remain inaccessible to riders in wheelchairs. Currently, not one station on the B/C line between Columbus Circle and West 125th Street is accessible to people in wheelchairs.

"This kind of renovation is done once a generation if you're lucky," City Councilman Mark Levine said in April. "And we're blowing this opportunity to do it right."

The West 110th Street Station services 7,500 customers per day from the nearby Upper West Side and Harlem neighborhoods, transit officials said.

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Trump contracts with city parks should be terminated, Councilman Levine says


By Lauren Cook

City Councilman Mark Levine is urging the city Parks Department to terminate its contracts with businesses owned by President Donald Trump in light of recent guilty pleas from his former personal attorney Michael Cohen.

Levine, whose district includes the Upper West Side and Washington Heights, said on Friday that documents released as part of Cohen’s plea deal prove the Trump Organization is “deeply entangled in a criminal conspiracy,” and provide the city with the opportunity to cut ties with the Trump-owned companies.

“This is exactly the pretext used for cancellation of a similar concession agreement with another company in 2011, when the Parks Departments terminated the contract of East Coast Golf, Inc., to run a golf course in Marine Park, Brooklyn, because of alleged ties to organized crime,” Levine said in an emailed statement on Friday.

Levine argued the city’s contracts with Trump’s businesses have long been problematic, with promises of public benefits unrealized, exorbitant pricing to users and falling city revenue.

The city has three contracts with Trump businesses — Wollman Rink LLC, Central Park Carousel LLC and Trump Ferry Point LLC — that are expected to last at least through 2020, The Washington Post reported in May.

While the city projected in 2017 that it would receive about $2.1 million from its contract with Wollman Rink Operations, which also runs Lasker Rink at the northern tip of Central Park, Trump received nearly $9.3 million from the same deal, The Washington Post reported.

“It’s time for the city Parks Department to sever ties with the Trump Organization once and for all. We must free Wollman Rink, Lasker Rink, the Central Park Carousel, and the Ferry Point Landing golf course from the grip of a company which harms the interest of New Yorkers and violates the law,” the councilman said. “The precedent for taking such action is clear. The Trump Organization’s parks concessions contracts should be terminated immediately.”

A spokeswoman for the mayor's office said they are monitoring the events surrounding Cohen's plea deal to, "determine whether or not they provide grounds to take action."

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Councilman calls for canceling Trump Organization contracts with city over Michael Cohen plea deal


By Jillian Jorgensen

A city councilman is re-upping calls for the city to cut ties with the Trump Organization following guilty pleas by President Trump’s personal lawyer.

Councilman Mark Levine (D-Manhattan) said Michael Cohen’s plea — and his relationship to the Trump Organization — give the city the legal opening it needs to scuttle its Trump Organization contracts in city parks.

“Revelations in the Michael Cohen plea deal make the case for termination of these contracts stronger than ever, with evidence that the Trump Organization has been deeply entangled in a criminal conspiracy,” Levine said.

And there’s precedent for getting out of such deals, he argued: The city previously nixed a contract for a Marine Park golf course with East Coast Golf, Inc., in 2011 because of the company’s alleged ties to organized crime.

“There was no claim that they were not fulfilling the terms of service in the park — it was because they were involved in illegal activities,” Levine told The News. “And we’re at the same place now with the Trump Organization.”

The Trump Organization currently operates Wollman Rink and Lasker Rink in Central Park, the Central Park Carousel, and the Ferry Point Landing golf course in the Bronx. Various city officials have called for the cancellation of those contracts for years — dating backing to Trump’s campaign and his disparaging comments about Mexicans. But city officials had said they couldn’t legally cancel the deals just because they disagreed with Trump’s speech.

Levine argued the organization’s connections to Cohen offered a “compelling legal rationale for getting out of these contracts.”

The contracts are also hurting the city’s reputation and its bottom line, Levine argued.

“There also are really compelling interests in the city to get out of this relationship because of financial interests, and reputational factors as well,” Levine said. “We have declining usage at Trump-branded facilities, which means that we get less revenue.”

Levine also argued the amount of money the Trump Organization is charging to operate a golf course on city land — city residents pay $154 during the week or $185 on the weekends for 18 holes of golf— is “far beyond what the average Bronx resident can afford.”

The Trump Organization did not immediately respond to a request for comment.


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Why Local Council Members Voted to Freeze the Number of App-Based, For-Hire Vehicles For One Year

By Carol Tannenhauser

The number of app-based, for-hire cars licensed in New York City has more than quadrupled in the past three years to 63,000. Last Wednesday, the City Council voted to freeze that number for one year, mandating the Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC) to study the impacts of the explosive growth of Uber, Lyft and Via on both drivers and the city, to determine if and how the industry should be regulated going forward.

Local Council Member Mark Levine (District 7), who voted for the legislation, explained in a telephone interview why he felt it was so important.

“One of the effects of the dramatic increase in licenses is that we have more and more drivers competing for fares, and, therefore, longer and longer wait times for the drivers between passengers,” he said. “It’s estimated that 40% of the time of the average driver is spent cruising around with no passengers. That affects their income, obviously; they’re not being paid for that time, even though they’re burning gas. So many of the vehicles you see crowding the streets of midtown and the Upper West Side don’t have passengers. They’re not performing a function and they’re costing us in terms of congestion and the environment.”

Levine stressed that “they’ll be a pause for a year, but there will be no reduction in vehicles. And we’re going to allow additional licenses for wheelchair-accessible vehicles, so there will be growth in that category, which is very important.

“As of now,” he said, “only about 400 app-based, for-hire vehicles are wheelchair accessible, out of 63,000.”

Council Member Helen Rosenthal (District 6), a co-sponsor, praised the legislation.

“Ensuring every driver in New York City earns a decent wage, tackling the nuances of congestion, and properly regulating app-based vehicles is a fair, evidence-based, and comprehensive approach,” she wrote in an email to WSR. “Even better, the 12-month moratorium on new licenses exempts wheelchair-accessible vehicles – a powerful incentive to finally start adding accessible vehicles to the road. It also stresses that if an area of the city is under-served by for-hire vehicles, the TLC is authorized to issue new licenses.”

The mayor has already announced that he will sign the bill into law. It will take effect 120 days after signing. Vehicles in the process of applying will be grandfathered in.

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Queens officials slam NYCHA for water tank contamination and call for unannounced inspections


By Jenna Bagcal

Elected officials and community advocates gathered at the Astoria Houses on Friday to push for increased monitoring of New York City Water tanks, especially in lower-income communities.

Councilman Costa Constantinides, who chairs the Council’s Committee on Environmental Protection, spoke in support of Intro. 1056, which calls for the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) to conduct unannounced inspections of drinking water tanks on buildings.

Constantinides was joined at Friday’s press conference by Deputy Bronx Borough President Marricka Scott-McFadden on behalf of Bronx Borough President Diaz Jr., Astoria Houses Tenants Association President Claudia Coger and Bethany Goldszer, Senior Director of Programs & Development at Urban Upbound.

The push for cleaner water came after disturbing reports in City and State which showed that harmful materials including dead pigeons, squirrels and cockroaches, were not included on NYCHA and Department of Health and Mental Hygiene records. According to the article, water tank inspections are often performed after they have been cleaned, which does not give residents a clear picture of the potentially hazardous material they’re ingesting.

In recent years, poor water quality in public housing complexes in Queens and the Bronx has resulted in an increase in Legionnaires Disease, a type of pneumonia caused by Legionella bacteria that grow in warm water.

As a response to these reports, Intro. 1056 was introduced by Constantinides in partnership with Councilmen Mark Levine, Chair of the Committee on Health, and Ritchie Torres, Chair of the Committee on Oversight and Investigation, along with Borough President Diaz.

“New Yorkers shouldn’t have to worry about what will come out of the faucet when they get a glass of water,” Constantinides said. “Unfortunately, that appears to be the case for many, especially our low-income residents, as loopholes are exploited to misrepresent what’s in these water tanks. I am thankful for Speaker Corey Johnson’s call to action on this crisis, and proud to partner with Council members Levine and Torres as well as Bronx Borough President Diaz Jr. to make a step forward in addressing this issue.”

DOHMH inspections under Intro. 1056 would occur periodically and spontaneously without prior notice to the landlord. Following the inspections, the results would be posted online to increase transparency to residents and all other involved parties.

Water tanks are used in over 10,000 New York City buildings that are taller than six stories, according to the DOHMH. Landlords of these buildings are required to submit annual reports that confirm these tanks are free of sediments or harmful bacteria, but few than half did so between 2015 and 2017, according to City and State. The report added that NYCHA buildings had some of the worst-kept tanks, with residents complaining about “murky water being fed from tanks that were falling apart.”

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