News Briefs (March 7)

Attorney General James Sues Large-Scale Predatory Lending Operation Targeting Small Businesses

New York Attorney General Letitia James filed a lawsuit on Tuesday against major operation of over 40 companies and individuals, alleging they exploited small businesses through fraudulent loans with exhorbitantly high interest rates disguised as merchant cash advances. The parties being sued include Yellowstone Capital and its founder David Glass, Delta Bridge Funding, along with several other individuals involved in negotiating the loans. 

The Office of the Attorney General is seeking at least $1.4 billion in interest and fraudulent fees and a court order for the businesses to stop their illegal operations. 

AG James alleges that Yellowstone Capital and other businesses used a string of different company names, meaning that each is part of the same predatory lending scheme. Yellowstone’s aliases include  Fundry, Green Capital Funding, High Speed Capital, Capital Advance Services, and Delta Bridge. 

City Bakery, a Manhattan restaurant in Union Square, is one of the impacted small businesses. The bakery, which once employed 30-50 full-time staffers, was forced to close in 2019 after facing skyrocketing debt to Yellowstone which required them to pay more than $2,000 per day. 

“Small businesses are the foundation of our economy, and they face severe challenges without also having predatory lenders taking advantage of them,” said Attorney General James. “Yellowstone Capital, Delta Bridge, and the other companies pretended to offer a helping hand, but instead provided only illegal, ultra-high-interest loans. Numerous small business owners struggled because of the outrageous loans issued by Yellowstone Capital and other predatory lenders. My office will not allow any scheme to harm small businesses, their owners or employees, or the millions of New Yorkers who rely on them each and every day.”


Forest Hills to host monthly community cleanups on Metropolitan Avenue

A group of elected officials, local business owners, and nonprofit organizations announced on Tuesday a new collaborative series of monthly cleanups on Metropolitan Avenue in Forest Hills, set to take place from March until at least the end of the school year. 

Included in the group are Metro Village of Forest Hills, Community Board 6, Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi, Council Member Lynn Schulman, Senator Joe Addabbo, the Forest Hills Green Team, and Forest Hills Stadium. This grouping formed at the culmination of a 2023 series of local cleanups organized by separate groups. 

“Metro Village of Forest Hills is so grateful to be part of a neighborhood where community members, leaders, and elected officials are dedicated to working together to improve the community. We look forward to participating in this ongoing beautification project and are hopeful that community members of all ages will get involved, including my 5 year-old son, Jacob. We want the streets of Metropolitan Avenue to reflect the beauty inside the shops,” said Rachel Kellner, founder of Metro Village of Forest Hills.

The first cleanup is scheduled for Saturday, March 9 at 10 a.m. Volunteers will meet outside Aigner Chocolates at 103-02 Metropolitan Avenue in Forest Hills. For those looking for additional information, email or contact the district offices of Assemblyman Hevesi, Council Member Schulman, or Senator Addabbo. 

 “Forest Hills Green Team looks forward to working with all our partners on this community clean up event series. Metropolitan Avenue is heavily traveled, so clean up efforts here are especially needed, and will have significant visual benefits for neighbors. It’s a good complement to our landscape planting and beautification project at the nearby LIRR overpass area nearby on Yellowstone Blvd,” said Dan Miner, co-chair of the Forest Hills Green Team.


City Sued For Open Streets Program, Plaintiffs Claim Discrimination Against Elderly & Disabled

By Alicia Venter


A collection of New Yorkers filed a lawsuit against the city on Monday, expressing concerns that it discriminates against those protected with the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the elderly.

The 12 plaintiffs in Charles v. City of New York share that they are disabled New York City residents, and argue that the Open Streets Program, managed by the DOT and third-party partners, discriminates against seniors and people with disabilities.

“Only the City of New York could come up with a program that promises to eventually choke off 100 miles of public roadways (representing 1.6% of the City’s total street mileage) and 20 miles of public bus lanes, and which robs tens of thousands of disabled City residents of their independence by turning them into shut-ins, and assign it such an Orwellian “Newspeak” name as it has done here: the “Open Streets Program,” the lawsuit begins.

Many of the plaintiffs suffer from disabilities that impair mobility, strength and mobility,  the lawsuit states, and they are reliant on cars for errands, medical appointments and “to generally live their lives independently and with dignity.”

The lawsuit claims that the Open Street Program runs afoul of the ADA and Rehabilitation Act, citing Title II of the ADA which provides that “no qualified individual with a disability shall, by reason of such disability, be excluded from participation in or be denied the benefits of the services, programs, or activities of a public entity, or be subjected to discrimination by any such entity.”

In response, the DOT issued the following statement: “Open Streets enhances safety, accessibility, and equity for a large number of New Yorkers using the roads, including seniors and people with disabilities. The City will review the case.”

Matthew Berman, a civil rights class-action attorney representing the plaintiffs in this case and a partner in the law firm of Valli Kane & Vagnini LLP, shared how the city has not considered the disabled or the elderly in any of their planning. Studies need to be conducted to see if there is a viable solution to have open streets — a term he finds ironic — while not inhibiting the basic needs of some citizens.

“[The city] has closed these streets without giving any thought whatsoever to the negative impact that it has on the disabled,” he said in a phone interview. “What’s happening here is that the disabled who live in our communities are being turned into shut-ins because they are relying on automobile transit to live their daily lives.”

A main concern that Berman describes is that of getting a ride to a doctor’s appointment — an able-bodied person would not think anything of walking two blocks to take a car service, such as Access-A-Ride, Uber or Lyft. However, that is not always an option for the disabled or elderly.

“If you are a disabled person, you can’t walk. You can’t get there. They have to come to your doorstep where you are stuck and stranded where you are,” Berman stated. He also expressed issues with the inability for emergency services, including an ambulance, to have access to these streets.

The city’s “Open Streets 2021 Application” states that, to prevent such issues, there must be a 15 foot emergency lane at all times. If this is not possible, the Open Streets applicant must work with the DOT and FDNY to ensure emergency access at all times.

The 34th Avenue Coalition, which is named as a defendant, submitted their proposal to the city with a graphic representation of how the open street would maintain a 15 foot emergency lane. The lawsuit counters this with an image of the supposed emergency lane inhibited due to immovable concrete blocks and planters.

The Open Streets Program, which the lawsuit repeatedly refers to as the “Closed Streets Program,” was a temporary program during the COVID-19 pandemic to provide safe outdoor spaces for people to gather. It was made permanent by the City Council in 2021.

While the lawsuit works to highlight inequities in Open Streets, there are notable social, economic and environmental benefits.

According to an October 2022 study by the DOT, Open Streets corridors were an average of 19% above their pre-pandemic baseline while control corridors were 29% below — a difference of nearly 50%.

Studies by Transportation Alternatives, a nonprofit that works to reduce the number of cars in the city to promote sustainability and safety, found benefits including redacted traffic violence to accessible public space in deprived communities.

As of April 22, the DOT plans to feature 160 locations, stretching nearly 300 blocks, in the 2023 Open Streets program. This includes 25 new locations and plans to deliver permanent redesigns to prioritize pedestrians and cyclists.

These new locations will be in Bushwick and Brownsville in Brooklyn, and South Jamaica in Queens. There are currently applications for seven new Queens Opens Streets and five new Brooklyn Open Streets.

Berman claims that some cyclists have harassed drivers — the lawyer shared that his office has a video of a cyclist yelling at a paratransit driver pulled to the curb trying to drop off a disabled person.

“The city didn’t spend any time thinking about this issue before they went ahead and said, ‘Nope, the bikers want it. We are going to give it to them. We are going to make these beautiful pedestrian plazas,’” Berman said. “It’s great if you are an able-bodied person to be able to enjoy that space, but the disabled are not provided any accommodations so that they can enjoy those spaces either.”

Accommodations for the elderly and disabled, he expressed, can be compared to the accommodations made for children heading to school. They have been ensured crossing guards — no thought to this kind of solution, or any, has been provided to the disabled and elderly who live along these open streets.

Council scrambles to stop education cuts

Education advocates, public school teachers and parents have filed a lawsuit against the city, alleging that New York lawmakers improperly approved the controversial education budget.

The suit, filed on July 17 with the New York Supreme Court, alleges that DOE Chancellor David Banks improperly utilized an emergency declaration to circumnavigate public hearings and failed to provide sufficient evidence about the size of the cuts.

The New York City Council voted for the budget on June 13, ten days before the Panel for Education Policy—the governing body for the Department of Education—voted on June 23. The lawsuit seeks to place an injunction on the current budget allowing for a revote on the budget in August.

“In at least twelve out of the past thirteen years, since at least June 2, 2010, several different New York City Schools Chancellors have invoked a similar ‘emergency’ using the same boilerplate language in order to immediately adopt a budget prior to a vote of the City Board (Panel for Education Policy) and prior to the City Council vote,” the complaint reads.

A large part of the city’s education budget is determined by the Fair Student Funding formula, which allocates resources based off of enrollments and disenrollments. Former Mayor Bill de Blasio prevented cuts to schools over the last two years by utilizing federal funds to cover the fluctuations in enrollments.

Overall 1,100 schools are expected to receive cuts from their budget totalling to $469 million, while 354 schools will be receiving increases to their budget, according to an analysis by the Comptroller’s office.

Over the last two years, enrollments in NYC public school have dropped by 80,000. Public school enrollments are expected to drop by 30,000 more students this fall, according to data shared with the New York Post.

Plaintiffs include Sarah Brooks, a special education teacher at P.S. 169 in Sunset Park, Melanie Kottler, a parent with a rising 2nd grader at P.S. 169, Tamara Tucker, a parent of two children at P.S. 125 in Harlem, and Paul Trust, a music teacher at P.S. 39 in Park Slope, where the music education program is under the chopping block.

“I have students who have gone on to the finfest conservatories and those who have formed the loudest of rock bands. All this will go away with these budget cuts,” Trust said in a statement. “I can only hope that this will not be the last year I am able to continue to serve the school community I love.”

On Monday July 18, a day after the suit was filed, members of the New York City Council rallied outside the Department of Education, to protest the cuts with advocates despite a number of the councilmembers previously voting for the budget.

“As more information was released, it became clear that the cuts to school funding were far more overreaching than originally communicated,” Councilwoman Jennifer Gutiérrez, who voted for the budget, said in a statement. “I take responsibility for my vote, and demand the Mayor and the Chancellor also take responsibility for the thousands of students whose education will be diminished by these funding cut, by fully restoring education funding before August 1st in a moment when we need it most.”

“Principals in my district have repeatedly shared that in FY22, COVID stimulus funds enabled them to fully fund academic intervention programs, support for English Language Learners, and music and arts programs for the first time,” Councilwoman Shahana Hanif said in a statement. “These programs are not superfluous, but essential to student’s holistic development.

M.S. 839 Teacher Frank Marino, whose school was slated to lose $226,557 after a 1.66 percent drop in enrollment, echoed similar sentiments in an interview with the Brooklyn Downtown Star last month.

“It’s always the schools [getting cut], we should be at this point, as teachers and students and families demanding more. And yet again, we’re here on the defensive, fighting for the bare minimum fighting for our school to have an art program,” Marino said.

Members at the rally suggested that Mayor Adams could utilize reserve funds to cover the cuts made to the budget.

“Since day one, the Adams administration has been committed to uplifting students throughout the five boroughs. As was reflected during the budget process, there are more city funds in DOE’s FY23 budget than last fiscal year,” City Hall spokesperson Jonah Allon told The Brooklyn Downtown Star. “While enrollment in public schools dropped, the city has maintained the unprecedented commitment to keep every school from every zip code at 100 percent of Fair Student Funding.”

Queensbridge residents sue NYCHA

Residents of Queensbridge Houses in Long Island City filed a lawsuit against the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) this past week.
The suit seeks to force NYCHA to fix hazardous living conditions that plague the public housing complex, including asbestos, lead paint, mold, leaks, and backed-up trash shoots.
Residents argue the conditions became even worse during the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent statewide stay-at-home orders. The suit also charges NYCHA with failing to conduct regular COVID-19 cleanings throughout the buildings in the largest public housing project in the Western Hemisphere.
“Any type of repairs that need to be done in my house, I have to wait forever to get them done,” said Marilyn Keller, a 58-year-old resident. “I put the ticket in, then NYCHA calls me back to tell me the date they are coming.
“So I prepare for the appointment, take everything out of the closet and cabinets, and ask for the day off from work but then they never come,” she continued. “They are a bunch of no-shows.”
Many of the tenants suing are older residents, including 72-year-old Pamela Wheeler.
“I am tired of living with mice, roaches, waterbugs, lack of heat, holes in my walls and sink, waterlogged and rotting cabinets, and many more repair issues that are a threat to my health and safety and an affront to my dignity,” Wheeler said. “NYCHA never repairs anything when I file a ticket, and it is so frustrating.”
The residents are working with the Justice For All Coalition, an organization that offers legal assistance to community groups in Astoria, Long Island City, and other parts of western Queens.
Residents then sought legal representation from Queens Legal Services, which filed the lawsuit on their behalf.
“For too long, NYCHA residents have suffered uninhabitable conditions due to neglect and lack of funding,” said Robert Sanderman, senior staff attorney at the Queens Legal Services Tenant Rights Coalition, who is representing the tenants. “There is little incentive for NYCHA to complete the repairs since the city will not record violations or pursue civil penalties against NYCHA for the numerous violations of the housing maintenance code.
“A great number of NYCHA residents are people of color who are also essential workers and are at high risk of health complications due to COVID-19,” he added. “These NYCHA residents are demanding systemic changes in the way they are neglected and ignored on account of their racial, social and economic status.”

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