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Little-Used Community Land Trust Model for Affordable Housing May See Big Boost


Carlina Rivera City Council rally housing

Council Member Rivera (photo: John McCarten/City Council)


Manhattan City Council Member Carlina Rivera is part of a growing coalition of Council members pushing for city government's first major commitment to a seldom-utilized affordable housing model. In the face of rapid gentrification, they say, the city should invest $850,000 in Community Land Trusts, or CLTs, in the city budget currently being negotiated.

Doing so could help advocates and nonprofits acquire land to operate deeply affordable housing and amenities -- albeit on a small scale -- in perpetuity.

“They're not a silver bullet but should be a major component of any affordable housing plan,” Rivera told Gotham Gazette. Other allies include Queens Council Member Donovan Richards and Manhattan Council Member Margaret Chin.

A Community Land Trust is a nonprofit that acquires and manages land, either one continuous plot or scattered sites. People who live and work on the land collectively set the terms of use, and can mix residential and commercial space with community centers and gardens. Most CLTs prohibit their properties from ever being sold for profit, ensuring affordability in the long term.

There are currently 11 community-based organizations with CLT projects underway across the five boroughs. Though several are still in early planning stages, groups hope to ultimately control thousands of housing units and hundreds of small businesses citywide.

A new $8 million bank settlement from Attorney General Letitia James is also being parceled out this spring to land trust projects across the state. Municipalities can apply for up to $2.5 million each. “The interest in CLTs has expanded a lot,” said Elizabeth Zeldin, director of Enterprise Community Partners, which is distributing the funds.

New York City’s oldest CLT model, the Cooper Square Mutual Housing Association, is in Council Member Rivera’s district. It has grown to nearly 400 apartments and 20 small businesses since its formation in 1994 (including one of Rivera’s personal favorites, Pageant Print Shop, which sells antique prints and maps). “I think we have to plant seeds for these CLTs to grow,” she said. “They can ward off mass speculation of developers, like happened in Cooper Square.”

With citywide elections on the horizon in 2021, “Every front-runner in every office race should be discussing this as part of their affordable housing platform,” Rivera said.

Rivera’s spokesperson, Jeremy Unger, told Gotham Gazette that “the Councilwoman is planning a Council briefing on CLTs” and will be discussing the model during internal deliberations as the Council prepares to negotiate with the mayor’s office.

“We look forward to working with the City Council throughout the budget process and will evaluate the proposal from CLTs,” de Blasio spokesperson Raul Contreras said in a statement to Gotham Gazette. (The Council recently held a month of preliminary budget hearings, then issued its official response to the mayor’s initial budget plan for fiscal year 2020, which begins July 1.)

Barriers to CLT expansion include limited funding for housing development and renovation, and limited access to viable land. The model stands in contrast to de Blasio's 300,000-unit affordable housing plan, which predominantly enlists large for-profit developers to construct and preserve mixed-income housing on a large scale.

Council members have contributed to individual land trusts in their districts over the years. But the $850,000 ask would contribute to a broader project, organizers say, covering hiring costs for one staff member for each community group currently developing a land trust, plus technical and legal assistance.

With this funding, says Deyanira Del Rio, co-director of the New Economy Project and board chair of the New York City Community Land Initiative, CLTs can "deepen the organizing, education, and partnership development," so they can acquire and rehab properties down the road.

Del Rio draws a comparison to the city’s Worker Cooperative Business Development Initiative, which has seen worker-run businesses more than double from 21 to 48 since the City Council started funding it four years ago.

The East Harlem El Barrio CLT, one of the more established in the bunch, is currently closing on a portfolio of four residential buildings in East Harlem with 36 apartments among them. The buildings are in poor condition, and the CLT is negotiating additional preservation assistance from the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD).

“With the Second Avenue Subway coming through,” says El Barrio project coordinator Athena Bernkopf, “there are concerns about what that will do to the housing and economic landscape.” Ultimately, the CLT hopes to add more buildings “facing immediate gentrification pressure.”

Other CLTS are in earlier planning stages. Chhaya CDC, a non-profit serving the city’s South Asian Community in Queens, hopes to establish a land trust in Jackson Heights to manage affordable community space and shops. While CAAAV Organizing Asian Communities envisions a land trust in Chinatown with affordable senior housing and storefronts for immigrant-owned businesses.

HPD began working with affordable housing groups and nonprofit developers to study the viability of CLTs in the summer of 2017, distributing a $1.65 million grant from a $3.5 million bank settlement from then-Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. Part of that initial funding covered a two-year program called the NYC CLT Learning Exchange, organized by the New Economy Project, where community groups met regularly to learn about the model.

Now, says City College of New York Political Science Professor John Krinsky, groups will begin to delve into the inevitable challenges of working together to decide how a piece of land will be used and operated. For example, “What are the tradeoffs when we are thinking about financing and affordability, and what that means in the long term?”

Down the road, advocates are hopeful that New York City will establish a pipeline of land for CLTs, and more long-term financing tools to support extremely low-income households. “I think we have to be looking at vacant lots,” Council Member Rivera told Gotham Gazette. While the city’s reserve of such lots has been dwindling over decades, there are still dozens that can be utilized for housing, with many in the pipeline for development through HPD.

Oksana Mironova is a housing policy analyst at the Community Service Society, and helps facilitate the New York City Community Land Initiative's policy work. She’s hopeful that the ongoing collaboration between various CLTs will help ensure that they don’t become affordable islands in gentrifying neighborhoods. Cooper Square, for example, organizes with neighboring tenants at risk of displacement.

“There’s a way to do CLTs where they become a sort of oasis that only benefits the people who live on the CLT,” she said. “But then there’s a way to make CLTs that are benefiting not just the people who live on the CLTs…that take a bigger look.”

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by Emma Whitford, Gotham Gazette
@emma_a_whitford

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Max & Murphy Podcast: The City Council Takes on Climate Change


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Council Member Constantinides (photo: Jeff Reed/City Council)


April 17, 2019 - Max & Murphy Podcast: The City Council Takes on Climate Change

costa const 150City Council Member Costa Constantinides joined the show to discuss a package of legislation he's shepherding through the City Council that aim to fight climate change, including by major requirements for reducing building carbon emissions, as well as his vision for the future of Rikers Island, and more.

Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think -- we're on Twitter @TweetBenMax and @JarrettMurphy. You can listen to the show through the embedded audio below or download the episode wherever you get your podcasts, under "Max & Murphy," and listen to Max & Murphy live on Wednesdays at 5 p.m. on WBAI radio, 99.5FM or wbai.org

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Super-Fast 5G is Coming to the Five Boroughs, But City Officials Aren’t Sure When


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(photo: Lisette Voytko)


As new lightning-fast networks are launching around the country, New Yorkers are looking at how “5G” technology may impact the city.

Government officials, technologists, academics, activists, and others are grappling with the pros and cons of implementing 5G, which includes download speeds 10 times faster than current smartphone connections and has the potential to allow many more devices to communicate simultaneously, greatly reducing lags in service. The overall effect would be a speedier, more seamless experience while using the internet on smartphones and other 5G-compatible devices.

Last week, at a conference co-sponsored by City & State and Verizon, titled “The Fourth Industrial Revolution,” one panel of experts delved into the 5G discussion as it relates to New York City’s connectivity, public health, and safety. Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer along with Joshua Breitbart of the mayor’s office of the chief technology officer, LeRoy Reese, associate professor of health at the Morehouse School of Medicine, and Jerome Hauer, a senior advisor for the Teneo Risk consulting firm, spoke about the potential of 5G networks to improve New Yorkers’ lives, as well as some of the concerns around the technology.

From a technology perspective, 5G (“G” stands for generation) is promising in sheer speed. It’s 10 times faster than the current 4G connections available in New York City, according to Leecia Eve, Verizon’s vice president of public policy (and a 2018 candidate for New York Attorney General). Latency, or delay in sending data across a network, is practically non-existent in 5G compared to 4G, the latter being the current “generation” of wireless networking. 4G connectivity is still being rolled out across the city, said Samir Saini, commissioner of the city’s Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications (DoITT), during a March 7 City Council budget hearing.

Last month, Verizon was the first telecommunications company to launch 5G networks in Houston, Los Angeles, and Sacramento, among other cities, according to Eve. Michael Pastor, general counsel for DoITT, said during the March budget hearing that it is currently reviewing submissions from mobile telecommunications franchises, with an eye towards 5G.

Hypothetical and planned uses of the ultra-fast connection are numerous. Hauer, the former commissioner of homeland security for New York State, discussed how 5G could make triage more efficient in the event of a mass casualty incident. “Let’s say there is a shooting in one of the boroughs,” said Hauer. “That activates and sends messages to track license plates, turns security cameras on, starts facial recognition, if a car moves and is detected, that can be tracked. And you have a network moving [gigabytes of data] in milliseconds.”

The public health benefits of 5G could be enormous, according to Reese, citing its use for telemedicine in areas underserved by primary care doctors. Smartphones collecting personal health data could also be used in telemedicine, he said, through the devices’ diagnostic information. “It’s less about speculation and opportunity to improve quality of health in communities. 5G helps us level-set, and move in the direction of health equity,” said Reese.

City officials, however, have a more immediate perspective on how 5G would affect New Yorkers.

“It’s a potentially powerful way to serve more people,” said Breitbart, whose responsibilities include developing the city’s broadband strategy to provide internet to all. “But I have yet to see how 5G will connect people who are under-connected here in the city, that’s the real question.”

Under-connection is still a significant issue in some parts of the five boroughs. Democratizing internet access has been a goal for the de Blasio administration, which in 2015 made a $70 million commitment to covering the city with broadband access. As of 2018, according to an annual report by OneNYC (the city’s broad roadmap to address social, economic, and environmental issues), 69% of New Yorkers have a broadband subscription, while 28% have free wireless internet access within an eighth of a mile from their homes.

Advocates share concerns around equal distribution of internet resources. Members of NYC Mesh, an organization that provides cheaper wireless internet through a group of volunteers who place routers on their windowsills and rooftops, believes the city should work with residents to ensure an even rollout of 5G and any new technology.

Scott Rasmussen, director of business development and partnerships for NYC Mesh, said in a phone interview that local groups should be “working with the city to make sure [5G] is distributed in an equitable way, not just as a fast track to the highway for the wealthy of the city.”

In order to be launched, new 5G-capable sensors would need to be installed across the city. New York City’s dense infrastructure adds to the difficulty of deploying 5G for residents. Brewer,  who prior to being elected Manhattan borough president chaired the technology committee in the City Council, and helped pass the city’s open data law, pointed to the issue of the sensors’ inability to penetrate the walls of some buildings, notably ones owned by the city’s public housing authority, which in turn affects residents living there.

The timeline for sensor installation, said Brewer, is quite a while. Saini of DoITT said similarly at the March hearing. “When you have a multi-family complex, and you have small cells deployed around the perimeter, the 5G signal, and all the benefits of the gigabit-plus speed, actually aren’t realized within the home,” Saini said.

In addition to the challenges facing any deployment of 5G, residents are concerned about potential health risks of radiation exposure to the new network’s frequencies. According to Brewer, her office had received approximately 30 phone calls over the prior three weeks from Manhattan residents concerned about the related health impacts. “The scientists say it’s not an issue, but then you’ll see some scientists who say it is. I don’t know,” said Brewer. According to the latest guidance from the National Cancer Institute, studies on the relationship between radiation from cell phone use and cancer have not found a correlation between the two.

“What most people call and are concerned about are the radiation emitted from shorter millimeter wavelengths could impact cancer survivors, or cause cancer,” said Daniel Alam, Brewer’s technology and policy analyst. “5G hasn’t really been around long enough for us to have definitive data on it.”

Rasmussen also cited privacy as a concern with 5G, as its fast speed is suited to what is known as the Internet of Things (IoT). With IoT, everything from coffee makers to light switches can be connected to the internet, which can in turn gather data from those connected devices. “People should be concerned. Their data will go into algorithms and artificial intelligence decision-making, impacting their lives, and it exercises opportunities for corporate control [of their data],” he said.

While the potential health and privacy impacts of 5G are still being understood, Brewer said that historically, New Yorkers have had misgivings about other technologies that are now a given in daily life. “You know, I’ve been around a long time. So it was the same problem with cable [TV],” she said. “Because the cable has to go up and down buildings and streets, so people were concerned.”

The timeline to roll out 5G in the five boroughs is hard to define, according to Pastor, citing the sensors’ penetration issues at the March budget hearing. Saini said there is no deadline currently for a 5G launch.

Brewer’s final comment last week summed up the immediate future of New York City and 5G. “I still think it needs discussion,” she said.



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