Also votes on tenant harassment bill, providing greater protection for New York City’s renters

City Hall, February 27th, 2008 – At today’s Stated Council meeting, the members of the City Council will vote on legislation to create 1,000 new permits for street vendors who exclusively sell fresh fruits and vegetables. In conjunction with this legislation, the Council announced a package of collaborative initiatives with the Administration to increase New Yorkers’ access to healthy foods. The Council will also vote today on landmark tenant harassment legislation that allows tenants to fight harassment against landlords trying to force them out of their apartments. Additionally, the Council will vote to make several technical improvements to the City building code.

As part of an ongoing effort to increase access to healthy foods, the Council will vote on legislation that would create 1,000 new permits for street vendors who exclusively sell fresh fruits and vegetables. These permits can be used only in neighborhoods where 15% or more of the population reported having consumed zero servings of fruits or vegetables in the previous 24 hours, according to a recent Health Department study.

Individuals who consume fruits and vegetables at least three times a day are 42% less likely to die of stroke and 24% less likely to die of heart disease than those who eat them less than once a day. Yet in many lower income New York City neighborhoods, fresh produce can be very difficult to obtain. A recent study by the Department of Health found that supermarkets in Harlem are 30 percent less common than on the Upper East Side, and that while 20 percent of Upper East Side bodegas carried leafy green vegetables, only 3 percent of those in Harlem could say the same.

“The communities in our city where obesity and diabetes continue to skyrocket are the same communities that lack even the most basic access to fresh fruits and vegetables,” said Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn. “By putting green carts into neighborhoods with the lowest access to healthy foods, our bill will make fresh produce more available and help to save lives.”

“I want to congratulate the administration and my colleagues in the City Council for their leadership on this issue,” said Consumer Affairs Committee Chair Leroy Comrie. “This legislation is but one part of an effort to increase fruit and vegetable consumption in areas where poor diets are endemic. I’d also like to extend my sincere gratitude to those supermarkets, small grocery stores, and all other food retail stores that set up shop in areas and neighborhoods others business often neglected. I want to communicate to those food retailers that we are committed to pursuing initiatives that will help them to better serve their community.”

“Too many New Yorkers don’t eat enough fresh fruits and vegetables simply because its not available in their neighborhood stores. The city is trying to change that sad reality with this legislation,” said Health Committee Chair Joel Rivera. “If more healthy foods are made available, New Yorkers would likely purchase and consume more of them. This idea has the potential to be an important tool against obesity.”

“The Green Cart legislation is an important first step in the work of the Food Policy Taskforce to ensure that affordable, convenient, healthy food is available – by this summer – in all of New York’s neighborhoods,” said Deputy Mayor Linda Gibbs. “I want to thank the Speaker and the Council for their leadership and close cooperation with our Food Policy Taskforce to make this legislation a reality.”

The legislation requires that the Health Department produce a study 15 months after the law goes into effect, allowing the Council to examine its effectiveness, and determine whether amendments are necessary or if the program should be expanded. Additionally, if green carts are vending in areas not authorized by the legislation or selling something other than fruits and vegetables, the City can refuse to issue, refuse to renew, suspend, or revoke permits, and in some cases can even seize vendors’ carts.

Statewide Supermarket Commission
Speaker Quinn announced a new initiative of the City Council and the Administration – a new Statewide Supermarket Commission led by the Food Trust and the Food Bank for New York City, in partnership with the City’s Food Policy Coordinator and the Food Industry Alliance. The Commission, supported by both City Council and foundation funding, will identify State and local policy solutions to encourage new supermarket development and to prevent badly needed supermarkets from closing.

The Commission will include representatives from City and State government agencies, including the Council, as well as advocates, industry leaders and labor organizations. The Commission will have its first meeting at the end of April and will release its recommendations by the end of 2008.

“Retaining and encouraging food stores in our neighborhoods with all they offer to consumers and communities is a critically important food policy objective,” said Pat Brodhagen, Vice President of Public Affairs for the Food Industry Alliance of NY State. “We appreciate the leadership of the Council and the administration in supporting the Supermarket Commission to begin to address this compelling issue, and we look forward to our work together over the coming months.”

Creating Economic Development Opportunities for Food Retailers
Helping food retailers maintain a healthy balance of options in underserved communities, the Council, through the Mayor’s Food Policy Task Force, has worked with the City’s Economic Development Corporation to create a new Director of Retail position at EDC. The Director of Retail will provide assistance to new and existing food retailers on subjects such as understanding legal requirements, obtaining permits and licenses and identifying government assistance programs.

Healthy Bodegas
Speaker Quinn also announced that the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, working with the Council and the Food Policy Task Force, is expanding their Healthy Bodegas initiative to include fresh fruits and vegetables. Last August, DOHMH began outreach to bodegas to encourage them to carry low fat milk. 1,000 bodegas are currently participating in the initiative and DOHMH will have completed 2 visits to each by the end of February.

Starting in March, the Healthy Bodegas initiative will be working to help more than 400 interested bodegas to identify, stock, and promote fruits and vegetables that are in demand in their communities. Work will also be done with a subset of these bodegas to help them carry local farm-fresh produce from their neighborhood farmers’ market.

The Council will vote on legislation that creates a violation for harassment, in and of itself, providing a new layer of protection for renters in New York City. Some of the actions that qualify as harassment under this legislation include; using repeated force or making repeated threats against a lawful occupant, repeated or prolonged interruptions of essential services, using frivolous court proceedings to disrupt a tenant’s life or force an eviction, removing the possessions of a lawful tenant, removing doors or damaging locks to a unit, or any other repeated acts intended to cause the tenant to vacate the apartment. The law will also prevent similar actions by third parties working the landlord’s behalf.

“Today we are taking another step in our fight to protect New York City tenants and preserve affordable housing,” said Speaker Quinn. “Tenant harassment can come in many forms, and once we pass this legislation, we’ll have the legal framework to cover them all. This law will ensure no tenant is powerless when faced with an unscrupulous slumlord intent on getting them out of their home. With this bill, we give tenants a direct line to confront their harasser.”

“This law will finally give tenants overdue protections against unscrupulous landlords,” said Council Member Dan Garodnick, co-sponsor of the bill. “It will empower tenants to fight back against a pattern of abuse, and will help tackle the increasing problem of housing-related harassment in New York City.”

“This legislation serves as a life jacket for our most vulnerable New York City tenants,” said Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito, co-sponsor of the bill. “Unfortunately, our system has not provided adequate protection for tenants whose landlords systematically harass them. With the amount of development going on in this city, we are seeing that the incidents of landlords harassing tenants are on the rise. This legislation will serve to assist in the preservation of existing affordable housing and will serve to ensure tenants have standing in housing court with respect to harassment issues.”

Under the current legal framework, tenants are limited in taking their landlord to Housing Court only for violations relating to the physical condition of the apartment or failures to provide essential services. For instance, if a unit lacks hot water for prolonged duration, a tenant can take their landlord to court and get their hot water turned back on. However, if turning off the hot water is the latest episode in a long period of repeated violations, the only recourse currently allowed is to challenge the landlord on each and every violation.

The bill responsibly balances protections for tenants with safeguards for landlords. If a landlord has three harassment allegations dismissed by judicial proceedings over a period of ten years, a tenant will then have to receive approval from a judge to file another harassment claim. Landlords may also qualify for a reimbursement of attorney’s fees if a claim is deemed to be frivolous. Under this legislation, civil penalties for judicial findings of harassment range from $1000 to $5000.

In the City Council’s ongoing effort to ensure that local government is operating as efficiently and resourcefully as possible, the Council will vote to make technical corrections to the new Building Code, which was passed last summer.

Additions to the new Building Code include incorporating legislation that was passed after the new code was signed into law. These incorporations include laws relating to:
• Residential contractor licensing (Local Law 36 of 2007);
• Increased fines for illegal conversions from industrial to residential uses (Local Law 37 of 2007);
• Enforcement of cabarets, dance clubs and other establishments that employ security guards (Local Law 35 of 2006).