BY JAMES FARRELL
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio stopped by the Clearview Senior Center in Bayside to promote his water credit plan, which would give a one-time $183 credit to homeowners to help cover their rising water bills.
The plan has been held up in court after a lawsuit by the Rent Stabilization Association (RSA), a trade organization representing landlords and property owners. The lawsuit alleged that the Water Board had no authority to increase rates and fund the credit, arguing that the Water Board was only furthering de Blasio’s political agenda by benefiting a certain class of people. A State Supreme Court judge sided with the RSA back in June, but the city is appealing the decision.
At the Clearview Senior Center on Thursday, Dec. 8, de Blasio restated his resolve.
“We’re going to fight back in court. We want all New Yorkers to be a part of supporting us in this because it’s just not fair,” he told a room filled with community members. “We’re going to keep going to court for as long as it takes, and we expect to prevail.”
De Blasio explained to those in attendance that the credit came from eliminating what he called “a hidden tax” in the water bill—a rental fee that the Water Board paid to the city for city infrastructure.
“People were spending money on the water bill; it was going to things that had nothing to do with water,” he said. “So what we decided to do this year was no longer have the hidden tax, cancel the hidden tax, no longer burden the homeowners, and give money back.”
Local Queens council members were also in attendance, including Costa Constantinides (D-Astoria) and the Clearview Center’s local lawmaker, Councilman Paul Vallone (D-Bayside).
“We’re all homeowners out here in northeast Queens, and when we hear about getting money back, that’s what we want to hear because we’re paying so much in taxes,” said Vallone. “So now we need to keep that fight going and make sure the courts hear us.”
De Blasio also slammed the RSA as the “landlord lobby” unfairly fighting the credit.
“A bunch of powerful, wealthy landlords who could afford all the lawyers in the world sued your city to stop 600,000 people from getting money back and they’re tying us up in court,” he said.
But Joseph Strasburg, president of the RSA, pointed out that by exclusively benefiting homeowners, the credit unfairly excluded co-op and condo owners as well as apartment owners. He also added that the Water Board’s rate increase was unjustified, serving only to fund the water credit, when rate increases are supposed to be directly related to the water system.
“Our position is, I think the Water Board didn’t have the authority to do it,” he said. “We went to court, the judge immediately issued an order against the city, and in addition, she said that this was really in furtherance of a political ploy by the mayor to protect a certain constituency,” said Strasburg.
“If this mayor really cares about people, he should make an attempt not to increase real estate taxes, not increase any water rates for everybody, rather than pick one class of people against another,” he added.
But at the Clearview Senior Center, the crowd applauded along with de Blasio’s statements. One woman, Olga Torres, who lives down the block from the center, asked the mayor if the credit was only for seniors. When he responded it was for all homeowners, she was grateful.
“Thank you, because my water bill is astronomical,” she said. “I know my neighbors and everybody, we’ve been complaining.”
Reach James Farrell at (718) 357-7400 x 127, firstname.lastname@example.org or @farrellj329.