Gotham Gazette Gotham Gazette is an online publication covering New York policy and politics as well as news on public safety, transportation, education, finance and more. http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/affordable-housing 2017-12-12T08:35:33+00:00 Webmaster webmaster@gothamgazette.com Federal Tax Reform Could Turn City’s Housing Crisis into a Humanitarian Disaster 2017-12-11T05:00:00+00:00 2017-12-11T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7364:federal-tax-reform-could-turn-city-s-housing-crisis-into-a-humanitarian-disaster Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/picture_the_homeless_vacant_lots.jpg" alt="picture the homeless vacant lots" width="600px" /></p> <p>protesting unused vacant property (via @pthny)</p> <hr /> <p>In New York City, the demand for affordable housing<a href="https://www1.nyc.gov/site/housing/about/problem.page" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> far exceeds supply</a>.<a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/assets/hra/downloads/pdf/news/publications/Turning_the_Tide_on_Homelessness.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> Seventy percent</a> of the city’s homeless shelter residents are families. Families who should be in homes.</p> <p>Now, as the United States House of Representatives and Senate look to the conference committee to reconcile their respective<a href="https://www.novoco.com/comparison-house-and-senate-finance-committee-approved-tax-reform-bills" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> tax reform bills</a>, the housing crisis that began in the 1980s will become a catastrophe unless we, the people, intervene.</p> <p>On paper, both the House and Senate plans retain the Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) — which funds<a href="https://www.reis.com/cre-news-and-resources/bisnow-lihtc-program-now-funds-about-90-percent-of-us-affordable-housing-projects" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> 90 percent</a> of the nation’s affordable housing developments. However, the House tax bill<a href="https://www.novoco.com/notes-from-novogradac/tax-reform-bill-would-eliminate-future-supply-nearly-1-million-affordable-rental-housing-units" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> eliminates tax-exempt private activity bonds</a> (PABs) that fund half of all LIHTC projects.</p> <p>Although the<a href="https://www.novoco.com/notes-from-novogradac/senate-tax-reform-bill-would-reduce-affordable-rental-housing-production-nearly-300000-homes" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> Senate bill</a> retains PABs, both bills cut the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 20 percent, dramatically<a href="https://www.novoco.com/notes-from-novogradac/tax-reform-bill-would-eliminate-future-supply-nearly-1-million-affordable-rental-housing-units" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> reducing the value of tax credits</a> that fund the remainder of LIHTC projects.</p> <p>Also included in the Senate bill is an amendment that imposes what amounts to an<a href="https://www.novoco.com/notes-from-novogradac/senate-approves-tax-cuts-and-jobs-act-some-changes-committee-passed-version" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> international alternative minimum tax</a> on any corporation with significant foreign operations. As a result, some large corporate investors might be deterred from claiming the LIHTC.</p> <p>No matter how the reconciliation pans out, it is clear that, if passed, federal tax reform will devastate<a href="https://www1.nyc.gov/site/housing/about/problem.page" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> more than a million low-income New Yorkers</a> searching for homes. And this isn’t the first federal policy to squeeze out affordable housing.</p> <p>Under President Reagan, government spending on subsidized housing was slashed from<a href="http://www.sfweekly.com/news/the-great-eliminator-how-ronald-reagan-made-homelessness-permanent/" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> $26 billion to $8 billion</a>, contributing to a<a href="https://www.thenation.com/article/reagans-real-legacy/" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> dramatic spike in homelessness</a>. As a private sector solution, Reagan signed the LIHTC into law in 1986 to counterbalance the cuts to direct federal spending.</p> <p>LIHTC’s market-based answer to affordable housing was<a href="https://ncsha.org/advocacy-issues/housing-credit" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> successful enough</a> that subsequent administrations maintained the program while<a href="http://www.sfweekly.com/news/the-great-eliminator-how-ronald-reagan-made-homelessness-permanent/" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> continuing to whittle away at Housing and Urban Development (HUD) funds</a>. LIHTC became the best — or rather, only — hope for Americans in need. But in cities like New York, LIHTC wasn’t enough to mitigate the surge and suffering of homelessness.</p> <p>Although<a href="http://www.nychdc.com/content/pdf/ProjectAdvertisements/NY%20LIHTC%20and%20Homelessness%20Report%20final.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> LIHTC helped develop or preserve approximately 122,000 affordable properties</a> in New York City from 1994 to 2014, the city still endured a<a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/assets/hra/downloads/pdf/news/publications/Turning_the_Tide_on_Homelessness.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> net loss of 150,000</a> rent stabilized apartments, leaving tens of thousands of New Yorkers with nowhere to go but the street or a shelter. &nbsp;</p> <p>Mayor Bill de Blasio responded to this crisis with a<a href="https://www.amny.com/news/politics/affordable-housing-plan-1.14990989" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> pledge to add 100,000 affordable units</a> by 2020. But experts at Novogradac &amp; Company estimate that, if the House tax bill passes, that number could<a href="https://www.novoco.com/notes-from-novogradac/tax-reform-bill-would-eliminate-future-supply-nearly-1-million-affordable-rental-housing-units" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> fall by two thirds</a>.</p> <p>Even if PABs are retained in the reconciled bill, the corporate tax rate reduction alone will result in the loss of around<a href="https://www.novoco.com/notes-from-novogradac/senate-tax-reform-bill-would-reduce-affordable-rental-housing-production-nearly-300000-homes" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> 300,000 affordable units</a> nationally.</p> <p>By squeezing the funding pipeline for affordable housing tighter than ever before, both bills crush the supply of affordable housing and the low-income families that rely on it.</p> <p>This cannot happen — not on our watch, not in our city, and not in our country. This isn’t a partisan issue, it’s a moral one. We have a duty, to our city and our neighbors, to speak out against any provision that would threaten the supply of affordable housing at this most critical time in our country’s history.</p> <p>Although the House and Senate have approved their respective bills, the final version has yet to be agreed upon. Now is the time to urge our representatives to reject any final bill that removes the tax-exempt status of PABs and cuts the corporate tax rate.</p> <p>***<br /> George McDonald is founder and president of The Doe Fund. On Twitter at <a href="https://twitter.com/georgetmcdonald?lang=en" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@GeorgeTMcDonald</a> and <a href="https://twitter.com/thedoefund?lang=en" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@TheDoeFund</a>.</p> <p>

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<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/picture_the_homeless_vacant_lots.jpg" alt="picture the homeless vacant lots" width="600px" /></p> <p>protesting unused vacant property (via @pthny)</p> <hr /> <p>In New York City, the demand for affordable housing<a href="https://www1.nyc.gov/site/housing/about/problem.page" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> far exceeds supply</a>.<a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/assets/hra/downloads/pdf/news/publications/Turning_the_Tide_on_Homelessness.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> Seventy percent</a> of the city’s homeless shelter residents are families. Families who should be in homes.</p> <p>Now, as the United States House of Representatives and Senate look to the conference committee to reconcile their respective<a href="https://www.novoco.com/comparison-house-and-senate-finance-committee-approved-tax-reform-bills" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> tax reform bills</a>, the housing crisis that began in the 1980s will become a catastrophe unless we, the people, intervene.</p> <p>On paper, both the House and Senate plans retain the Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) — which funds<a href="https://www.reis.com/cre-news-and-resources/bisnow-lihtc-program-now-funds-about-90-percent-of-us-affordable-housing-projects" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> 90 percent</a> of the nation’s affordable housing developments. However, the House tax bill<a href="https://www.novoco.com/notes-from-novogradac/tax-reform-bill-would-eliminate-future-supply-nearly-1-million-affordable-rental-housing-units" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> eliminates tax-exempt private activity bonds</a> (PABs) that fund half of all LIHTC projects.</p> <p>Although the<a href="https://www.novoco.com/notes-from-novogradac/senate-tax-reform-bill-would-reduce-affordable-rental-housing-production-nearly-300000-homes" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> Senate bill</a> retains PABs, both bills cut the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 20 percent, dramatically<a href="https://www.novoco.com/notes-from-novogradac/tax-reform-bill-would-eliminate-future-supply-nearly-1-million-affordable-rental-housing-units" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> reducing the value of tax credits</a> that fund the remainder of LIHTC projects.</p> <p>Also included in the Senate bill is an amendment that imposes what amounts to an<a href="https://www.novoco.com/notes-from-novogradac/senate-approves-tax-cuts-and-jobs-act-some-changes-committee-passed-version" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> international alternative minimum tax</a> on any corporation with significant foreign operations. As a result, some large corporate investors might be deterred from claiming the LIHTC.</p> <p>No matter how the reconciliation pans out, it is clear that, if passed, federal tax reform will devastate<a href="https://www1.nyc.gov/site/housing/about/problem.page" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> more than a million low-income New Yorkers</a> searching for homes. And this isn’t the first federal policy to squeeze out affordable housing.</p> <p>Under President Reagan, government spending on subsidized housing was slashed from<a href="http://www.sfweekly.com/news/the-great-eliminator-how-ronald-reagan-made-homelessness-permanent/" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> $26 billion to $8 billion</a>, contributing to a<a href="https://www.thenation.com/article/reagans-real-legacy/" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> dramatic spike in homelessness</a>. As a private sector solution, Reagan signed the LIHTC into law in 1986 to counterbalance the cuts to direct federal spending.</p> <p>LIHTC’s market-based answer to affordable housing was<a href="https://ncsha.org/advocacy-issues/housing-credit" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> successful enough</a> that subsequent administrations maintained the program while<a href="http://www.sfweekly.com/news/the-great-eliminator-how-ronald-reagan-made-homelessness-permanent/" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> continuing to whittle away at Housing and Urban Development (HUD) funds</a>. LIHTC became the best — or rather, only — hope for Americans in need. But in cities like New York, LIHTC wasn’t enough to mitigate the surge and suffering of homelessness.</p> <p>Although<a href="http://www.nychdc.com/content/pdf/ProjectAdvertisements/NY%20LIHTC%20and%20Homelessness%20Report%20final.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> LIHTC helped develop or preserve approximately 122,000 affordable properties</a> in New York City from 1994 to 2014, the city still endured a<a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/assets/hra/downloads/pdf/news/publications/Turning_the_Tide_on_Homelessness.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> net loss of 150,000</a> rent stabilized apartments, leaving tens of thousands of New Yorkers with nowhere to go but the street or a shelter. &nbsp;</p> <p>Mayor Bill de Blasio responded to this crisis with a<a href="https://www.amny.com/news/politics/affordable-housing-plan-1.14990989" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> pledge to add 100,000 affordable units</a> by 2020. But experts at Novogradac &amp; Company estimate that, if the House tax bill passes, that number could<a href="https://www.novoco.com/notes-from-novogradac/tax-reform-bill-would-eliminate-future-supply-nearly-1-million-affordable-rental-housing-units" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> fall by two thirds</a>.</p> <p>Even if PABs are retained in the reconciled bill, the corporate tax rate reduction alone will result in the loss of around<a href="https://www.novoco.com/notes-from-novogradac/senate-tax-reform-bill-would-reduce-affordable-rental-housing-production-nearly-300000-homes" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> 300,000 affordable units</a> nationally.</p> <p>By squeezing the funding pipeline for affordable housing tighter than ever before, both bills crush the supply of affordable housing and the low-income families that rely on it.</p> <p>This cannot happen — not on our watch, not in our city, and not in our country. This isn’t a partisan issue, it’s a moral one. We have a duty, to our city and our neighbors, to speak out against any provision that would threaten the supply of affordable housing at this most critical time in our country’s history.</p> <p>Although the House and Senate have approved their respective bills, the final version has yet to be agreed upon. Now is the time to urge our representatives to reject any final bill that removes the tax-exempt status of PABs and cuts the corporate tax rate.</p> <p>***<br /> George McDonald is founder and president of The Doe Fund. On Twitter at <a href="https://twitter.com/georgetmcdonald?lang=en" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@GeorgeTMcDonald</a> and <a href="https://twitter.com/thedoefund?lang=en" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@TheDoeFund</a>.</p> <p>

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Brooklyn Armory Deal, and Larger De Blasio Development Debate, Move Toward Term Two 2017-12-10T05:00:00+00:00 2017-12-10T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7360:brooklyn-armory-deal-and-larger-de-blasio-development-debate-move-toward-term-two Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/bedford-union-armory-rendering-via-bfc.jpg" alt="bedford union armory rendering via bfc" width="600" height="354" /></p> <p>(Armory rendering via BFC) (photos within piece by Rachel Holliday Smith)</p> <hr /> <p>Following years of ferocious debate, negotiation, protests and anguish, City Council Member Laurie Cumbo was finally ready to vote “yes” on the redevelopment of the publicly-owned, vacant Bedford-Union Armory.</p> <p>At very nearly the last minute, she and the administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio worked out a deal for the Crown Heights building with the city’s chosen developer, BFC Partners, the night before a crucial City Council land use committee vote on the controversial redevelopment. A week later, Cumbo stood amid the full Council, ready to approve the project.</p> <p>But before that could happen, chanting interrupted the meeting.</p> <p>“The city is not for sale! Kill the deal!”</p> <p>In the balcony of the Council chambers, a small crowd of activists, housing advocates, and Crown Heights residents shouted as security escorted them out.</p> <p>“Laurie lies!”</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/reset_1/img0126.jpg" alt="City Council Bedford Armory protest vote" width="400" height="263" style="margin-right: 15px; float: left;" />Among the protesters were the fiercest and most frequent critics of the armory project: members of New York Communities for Change (NYCC), the Crown Heights Tenant Union and their allies, who have pushed the city to scrap the plan for nearly two years, leading dozens of protests and supporting anti-armory plan challengers to Cumbo during her successful yet contentious reelection campaign this summer and fall.</p> <p>From the beginning, the coalition of activists saw the vacant armory and the publicly-owned land beneath it as an incredibly valuable resource that should be used to improve a rapidly gentrifying community, with deeply affordable housing to help stem the tide of displacement.</p> <p>By all accounts, the pressure moved the needle significantly. When it was announced in late 2015, the redevelopment included plans for 330 market-rate and affordable rentals, two dozen luxury condominiums, and a 45,000-square-foot recreation center. Following months of protests by NYCC, CHTU and others against any and all market-rate housing on the site, with particular ire directed at the condominiums, a new deal took shape.</p> <p>In the last-minute agreement, BFC cut out the condos as the city promised $50 million to subsidize more affordable — and more deeply affordable — rental housing on the site. In addition, the planned state-of-the-art recreation center would remain, with its own affordability requirements, supported financially by 150 market-rate apartments, officials said.</p> <p>To the casual observer, the armory agreement may appear to be a major feat for all sides. But as the project cleared the last hurdle in its public approval process, its detractors see it as a failure, emblematic of problems with the de Blasio administration’s approach to affordable housing citywide: doing too little for those who need it most, failing to slow gentrification, and relying too heavily on for-profit development. In particular, critics found fault with income restrictions at the project, which originally set aside a majority of affordable apartments at the site for households making above the area median income.</p> <p>To the mayor and his team, the armory is a solid compromise and exactly what the administration is aiming for with much of its ambitious housing plan — leveraging public resources to spur the construction of mixed-income housing by private developers.</p> <p>As Housing Preservation and Development Commissioner Maria Torres-Springer put it to Gotham Gazette, the city worked hard to meet the needs of the community while “ensuring we have a financially feasible project.”</p> <p>“That’s always a complicated balancing act,” she said.</p> <p>The project passed the Council on November 30 with 43 in favor, two against, and one abstention. As she cast her vote, Cumbo said the concerns of the project’s critics “have been taken into account” while underscoring all the good the project will bring: affordable housing, recreation space, jobs.</p> <p>“This is progress. This is an opportunity. This is getting something done in our term,” she said.</p> <p>The mayor echoed that sentiment when speaking about the project this summer, saying that “ultimately, it’s something that could do a lot of good for the community.”</p> <p>“Right now that armory is doing no good for the community,” he said at an unrelated press conference.</p> <p>But “getting something done” isn’t good enough for some in the neighborhood, including Crown Heights resident Esteban Giron, a local tenant organizer and member of the neighborhood community board’s land use committee, who was one of those escorted out of City Hall when the Council approved the deal.</p> <p>A day after the vote, Giron said he’d rather see the armory remain vacant than be rebuilt under the new terms.</p> <p>“What did we do, from the very beginning, except say we want 100 percent affordable housing?” he asked.</p> <p style="text-align: center;">**********</p> <p>For critics of the project, the sticking point on the redevelopment has always been this: the sprawling former military complex on Bedford Avenue sits on an extremely precious commodity — public land — and that limited resource, especially in gentrifying neighborhoods like Crown Heights, must be used to most effectively combat the city’s housing affordability crisis.</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/reset_1/img207.jpg" alt="Bedford Union Armory December 2017" width="400" height="266" style="margin-right: 15px; float: left;" />&nbsp;The 1904 building was used by the state as a training facility (complete with horse stables, a drill hall and rifle range) until its decommissioning in 2011, when then-Borough President Marty Markowitz, upon the urging of Crown Heights locals, began an effort to study what could be done with the hulking, 122,000-square-foot structure and its large lot.</p> <p>Markowitz’s chief of staff at the time, Carlo Scissura, now the president of the New York Building Congress, said the idea “was going to be similar to the Park Slope Armory,” the large YMCA-run recreational facility on 15th Street.</p> <p>“The plan here was recreation space, community space, maybe education, maybe seniors,” he said of the Bedford-Union Armory. “But housing was never part of it.”</p> <p>In 2013, at the end of the Bloomberg administration, the city’s Economic Development Corporation put out a request for proposals (RFP) for the site. Housing officially became part of the armory plan when, in late 2015, the EDC under de Blasio chose BFC and Slate Properties to redevelop the vacant building.</p> <p>When the city announced the chosen plan for the site, officials from EDC and HPD as well as the developer stressed the proposal was a jumping-off point, subject to negotiation and local input. <a href="https://www.dnainfo.com/new-york/20151217/crown-heights/city-unveils-design-for-bedford-union-armory-redevelopment-crown-heights" target="_blank" rel="noopener">At the announcement</a>, BFC Partners principal Don Capoccia promised to “continue to engage the community” to ensure that “at the end of the day, this project is responsive to the needs of this community.”</p> <p>Within months, protests began, led by nearby tenants and residents with a big assist by NYCC, a group with a long history of activism — and ties to de Blasio. Formerly, NYCC was known as Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, or ACORN, before a national controversy surrounding the group in 2009 prompted a rebranding. The group has backed progressive causes for decades and, in 2013, put their weight <a href="http://observer.com/2014/03/reincarnated-acorn-calling-the-shots-in-bill-de-blasios-new-york/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">behind a longshot progressive candidate for mayor</a>: Bill de Blasio.</p> <p>But that close relationship with the then-candidate has cooled through his years at City Hall, largely based on de Blasio’s approach to development and housing, and NYCC pulled no punches as it revved up to fight the armory plan.</p> <p>The group went after Slate Property for their dealings<a href="https://www.dnainfo.com/new-york/20160714/lower-east-side/city-agency-knew-of-possible-condo-conversion-before-rivington-sale-report" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> in the controversial 2015 sale </a>of a Lower East Side home for seniors. They <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/brooklyn/activists-call-foul-carmelo-backed-brooklyn-development-article-1.2744655" target="_blank" rel="noopener">called out then-Knicks player Carmelo Anthony</a> — whose foundation had signed on to help with the recreation center — for getting involved with a project that would “further exacerbate the gentrification of Crown Heights,” according to a published letter written to the basketball star by activist Bertha Lewis, former leader of NYCC when it was known as ACORN.</p> <p>Soon afterward, both Slate and Anthony dropped out of the project.</p> <p>In rallies, open letters and editorials, the groups fought against the armory plan with a consistent message: Scrap the deal completely, start from scratch, and build only affordable housing on the site, with no market-rate units. They called for the property to be moved to a community land trust.</p> <p>As the months dragged on, the project became a central issue in Cumbo’s re-election campaign, with two challengers — Democrat Ede Fox and Green Party candidate Jabari Brisport — promising to start from square one on the armory if elected. In May, facing Fox’s primary challenge, Cumbo <a href="http://gothamist.com/2017/05/19/crown_heights_armory_cumbo.php" target="_blank" rel="noopener">backed away from the armory plan</a>, announcing she would not support it if it included luxury condominiums.</p> <p>As Fox, Brisport, and other critics of the project continued to hammer her, Cumbo’s campaign touted her opposition to the plan, at times using misleading language. An independent expenditure by the hotel workers’ union paid for pro-Cumbo flyers and robo-calls indicating she would support the armory plan only if it included 100 percent affordable housing, a claim Cumbo said she never made, was aware of, or approved.</p> <p>“It wouldn’t even make logical sense for me to do that because I know going into [negotiations] that you’re not going to get 100 percent,” she told Gotham Gazette. “So it wouldn’t be beneficial for me to promise something that I can’t deliver.” Cumbo did not, however, disavow the independent expenditure or ask the hotel workers’ union to stop its mailers.</p> <p>Cumbo beat Fox by more than 16 percentage points in the September primary and won reelection with 67 percent of the vote in the general election (Brisport did exceptionally well for a Green Party candidate, seemingly buouyed by armory resentment). In an interview, Cumbo said after the election she stuck to her line in the sand about the condominiums until the end, even when “the administration continued to negotiate other aspects of the project without dealing with the 800-pound gorilla in the room.”</p> <p>“I, the community, the local stakeholders, the elected officials, said that they did not want any sale of the armory to happen,” Cumbo said. “I knew I wasn’t going to support a project that had luxury condominiums.”</p> <p>Even with a win on that aspect, the Council member acknowledges that, as with any great compromise, no party leaves the table with everything they want, herself included.</p> <p>“I’m not walking away completely happy, but I am walking away satisfied,” she said. “I’m walking away with a project that I know is going to benefit this community for generations to come.”</p> <p style="text-align: center;">**********</p> <p>To the de Blasio administration, the plan is a “win, win, win,” according to housing Commissioner Torres-Springer, who formerly led EDC.</p> <p>“We’re generating the types of opportunities that really address many sides of the complex affordability question in this city — certainly affordable housing, but also access to services, recreation, community, and jobs,” she said.</p> <p>The city is making that happen in partnership with BFC, a for-profit developer, which will pay $2 million per year in ground rent for the armory site, both in cash and in at least $1.25 million in “community benefits,” calculated as discounts on classes, memberships, space for nonprofits, and rentals to community groups within the newly built armory.</p> <p>For the city’s part, the $50 million in public funds will pay for 250 units of subsidized housing, set aside for households making between about $25,000 and $51,000 per year for a family of three, HPD said. In the deal, BFC will use income from the 150 market-rate rentals on the site to operate and maintain the recreation center. The company is projected to make an annual profit. A spokesperson did not return multiple requests for that projected amount.</p> <p>To Torres-Springer, the city’s job in a deal such as the armory is “making sure that we are stretching every public dollar as much as we can.”</p> <p>The philosophy — of partnering with and relying on private, for-profit developers to build affordable housing — is foundational to the de Blasio administration’s overall housing goal of building and preserving 300,000 affordable units by 2026.</p> <p>In an <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/05/nyregion/de-blasio-affordable-housing-new-york-city.html?_r=0" target="_blank" rel="noopener">interview with The New York Times</a> in October, Alicia Glen, de Blasio’s powerful deputy mayor for housing and economic development, said “there’s no such thing” as housing built by the city alone.</p> <p>“It’s all about, to what extent can you use the resources of the private sector, and the resources the public sector has, to put together the best deals you can possibly do,” she said.</p> <p>To advocates who fought the armory plan, some of whom fight de Blasio administration plans around the city, that idea is anathema to the goal of solving the housing crisis, particularly for low-income and homeless New Yorkers. To NYCC Executive Director Jonathan Westin, it’s a “failure of imagination” by the administration.</p> <p>“They’ve shown that they very clearly do not prioritize public housing,” or housing built and operated by the city, he said. “They do not actually believe in it. And it’s hugely problematic.”</p> <p>Particularly at the armory site, where 150 market-rate apartments will be built on the publicly-held property, the administration’s plan is “completely egregious,” according to Katie Goldstein, executive director of the statewide housing group Tenants and Neighbors, which has played an active role with NYCC to fight the armory plan.</p> <p>“When the city owns the land, to give that away to a for-profit developer? It’s such punch in the face to the community who was organizing around this,” she said.</p> <p>Lewis of the Black Institute said “not one iota” of the deal is satisfactory, and trying to deal with the de Blasio administration was worse than “all of the other fights that we’ve had,” including in the Bloomberg and Giuliani administrations.</p> <p>“You meet the new mayor, he’s the same as the other old mayors,” she said. “It’s really disgraceful that they should even utter the word ‘progressive.’”</p> <p>“To privatize something means that it has to make a profit,” said Giron, the Crown Heights resident and tenant advocate. “To me, that’s never going to be an appropriate approach for people of color, for low-income people, for New York, period.”</p> <p style="text-align: center;">***********</p> <p>The mayor and his team don’t necessarily disagree much with their critics, at least in terms of describing the city’s approach to housing and development. To de Blasio, Glen, Torres-Springer, and others, the number one thing the city needs is more housing, at various levels of affordability. The mayor stressed that goal when speaking about the armory project in July.</p> <p>“We need both – we need market and we need affordable housing. That’s our mission. Every time we do it, we’re looking to maximize the amount of affordability and to make the affordable housing as consistent with the community as possible,” he said, speaking to a caller on WNYC radio's The Brian Lehrer Show.</p> <p>And de Blasio regularly argues that it is essential to create more affordable housing for middle-income families, while, after pushback, he has also repeatedly adjusted his larger housing plan and more localized projects, like the armory redevelopment, to create deeper affordability.</p> <p>Pending a final approval from Brooklyn’s Borough Board — a last step in rezoning that will almost certainly pass, given the City Council’s overwhelming support — the armory deal is headed for a closing, a spokesperson for HPD said, and the city expects construction to begin in 2018.</p> <p>At the same time, housing advocates are still planning to fight the project any way they can.</p> <p>The day before the full City Council vote on the redevelopment, the Legal Aid Society filed a lawsuit challenging the city’s measurement of the project’s potential effect on displacement of rent-stabilized tenants. In arguing that the city is not taking into account displacement outside a 400-foot area surrounding the site, the plaintiffs hope to convince a judge to compel the city to adjust the project or, if nothing else, set a new standard for similar projects in the future.</p> <p>Last week, a judge denied the group’s request for a temporary restraining order on the armory project. The next hearing date in the suit is set for February 8, according to an EDC representative.</p> <p>For Giron, who lives two blocks from the armory, finding any way to stop the project — even “the hard way,” with a lawsuit, he said — is the only option. In the space of three or four years, he estimates about “half the people have been emptied out” of rent-regulated buildings between his home on Franklin Avenue and the armory on Bedford Avenue, he said, victims of an already super-heated housing market in Crown Heights.</p> <p>“I walk over there and I feel that void,” he said.</p> <p>For him, the armory was an opportunity to reverse, or at least slow, the displacement brought by gentrification, not accelerate it; the fact that any market-rate apartments will be built there, and without union labor, are unacceptable to him. So, he and the rest of the coalition will continue to fight, into the next four years&nbsp;— or longer, if necessary.</p> <p>“I can see a path…where there’s not even a shovel put in the ground before Laurie’s out of office,” he said, referring to Council Member Cumbo, whose second and last term ends in 2021.</p> <p>“We’re going to fight until we can’t anymore, until we’re gone or they’re gone,” he promised. “But we’re not going to stop.”</p> <p>***<br />by Rachel Holliday Smith for Gotham Gazette<br /><a href="https://twitter.com/rachelholliday" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@rachelholliday<br /></a><a href="https://twitter.com/GothamGazette" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@GothamGazette</a></p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/bedford-union-armory-rendering-via-bfc.jpg" alt="bedford union armory rendering via bfc" width="600" height="354" /></p> <p>(Armory rendering via BFC) (photos within piece by Rachel Holliday Smith)</p> <hr /> <p>Following years of ferocious debate, negotiation, protests and anguish, City Council Member Laurie Cumbo was finally ready to vote “yes” on the redevelopment of the publicly-owned, vacant Bedford-Union Armory.</p> <p>At very nearly the last minute, she and the administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio worked out a deal for the Crown Heights building with the city’s chosen developer, BFC Partners, the night before a crucial City Council land use committee vote on the controversial redevelopment. A week later, Cumbo stood amid the full Council, ready to approve the project.</p> <p>But before that could happen, chanting interrupted the meeting.</p> <p>“The city is not for sale! Kill the deal!”</p> <p>In the balcony of the Council chambers, a small crowd of activists, housing advocates, and Crown Heights residents shouted as security escorted them out.</p> <p>“Laurie lies!”</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/reset_1/img0126.jpg" alt="City Council Bedford Armory protest vote" width="400" height="263" style="margin-right: 15px; float: left;" />Among the protesters were the fiercest and most frequent critics of the armory project: members of New York Communities for Change (NYCC), the Crown Heights Tenant Union and their allies, who have pushed the city to scrap the plan for nearly two years, leading dozens of protests and supporting anti-armory plan challengers to Cumbo during her successful yet contentious reelection campaign this summer and fall.</p> <p>From the beginning, the coalition of activists saw the vacant armory and the publicly-owned land beneath it as an incredibly valuable resource that should be used to improve a rapidly gentrifying community, with deeply affordable housing to help stem the tide of displacement.</p> <p>By all accounts, the pressure moved the needle significantly. When it was announced in late 2015, the redevelopment included plans for 330 market-rate and affordable rentals, two dozen luxury condominiums, and a 45,000-square-foot recreation center. Following months of protests by NYCC, CHTU and others against any and all market-rate housing on the site, with particular ire directed at the condominiums, a new deal took shape.</p> <p>In the last-minute agreement, BFC cut out the condos as the city promised $50 million to subsidize more affordable — and more deeply affordable — rental housing on the site. In addition, the planned state-of-the-art recreation center would remain, with its own affordability requirements, supported financially by 150 market-rate apartments, officials said.</p> <p>To the casual observer, the armory agreement may appear to be a major feat for all sides. But as the project cleared the last hurdle in its public approval process, its detractors see it as a failure, emblematic of problems with the de Blasio administration’s approach to affordable housing citywide: doing too little for those who need it most, failing to slow gentrification, and relying too heavily on for-profit development. In particular, critics found fault with income restrictions at the project, which originally set aside a majority of affordable apartments at the site for households making above the area median income.</p> <p>To the mayor and his team, the armory is a solid compromise and exactly what the administration is aiming for with much of its ambitious housing plan — leveraging public resources to spur the construction of mixed-income housing by private developers.</p> <p>As Housing Preservation and Development Commissioner Maria Torres-Springer put it to Gotham Gazette, the city worked hard to meet the needs of the community while “ensuring we have a financially feasible project.”</p> <p>“That’s always a complicated balancing act,” she said.</p> <p>The project passed the Council on November 30 with 43 in favor, two against, and one abstention. As she cast her vote, Cumbo said the concerns of the project’s critics “have been taken into account” while underscoring all the good the project will bring: affordable housing, recreation space, jobs.</p> <p>“This is progress. This is an opportunity. This is getting something done in our term,” she said.</p> <p>The mayor echoed that sentiment when speaking about the project this summer, saying that “ultimately, it’s something that could do a lot of good for the community.”</p> <p>“Right now that armory is doing no good for the community,” he said at an unrelated press conference.</p> <p>But “getting something done” isn’t good enough for some in the neighborhood, including Crown Heights resident Esteban Giron, a local tenant organizer and member of the neighborhood community board’s land use committee, who was one of those escorted out of City Hall when the Council approved the deal.</p> <p>A day after the vote, Giron said he’d rather see the armory remain vacant than be rebuilt under the new terms.</p> <p>“What did we do, from the very beginning, except say we want 100 percent affordable housing?” he asked.</p> <p style="text-align: center;">**********</p> <p>For critics of the project, the sticking point on the redevelopment has always been this: the sprawling former military complex on Bedford Avenue sits on an extremely precious commodity — public land — and that limited resource, especially in gentrifying neighborhoods like Crown Heights, must be used to most effectively combat the city’s housing affordability crisis.</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/reset_1/img207.jpg" alt="Bedford Union Armory December 2017" width="400" height="266" style="margin-right: 15px; float: left;" />&nbsp;The 1904 building was used by the state as a training facility (complete with horse stables, a drill hall and rifle range) until its decommissioning in 2011, when then-Borough President Marty Markowitz, upon the urging of Crown Heights locals, began an effort to study what could be done with the hulking, 122,000-square-foot structure and its large lot.</p> <p>Markowitz’s chief of staff at the time, Carlo Scissura, now the president of the New York Building Congress, said the idea “was going to be similar to the Park Slope Armory,” the large YMCA-run recreational facility on 15th Street.</p> <p>“The plan here was recreation space, community space, maybe education, maybe seniors,” he said of the Bedford-Union Armory. “But housing was never part of it.”</p> <p>In 2013, at the end of the Bloomberg administration, the city’s Economic Development Corporation put out a request for proposals (RFP) for the site. Housing officially became part of the armory plan when, in late 2015, the EDC under de Blasio chose BFC and Slate Properties to redevelop the vacant building.</p> <p>When the city announced the chosen plan for the site, officials from EDC and HPD as well as the developer stressed the proposal was a jumping-off point, subject to negotiation and local input. <a href="https://www.dnainfo.com/new-york/20151217/crown-heights/city-unveils-design-for-bedford-union-armory-redevelopment-crown-heights" target="_blank" rel="noopener">At the announcement</a>, BFC Partners principal Don Capoccia promised to “continue to engage the community” to ensure that “at the end of the day, this project is responsive to the needs of this community.”</p> <p>Within months, protests began, led by nearby tenants and residents with a big assist by NYCC, a group with a long history of activism — and ties to de Blasio. Formerly, NYCC was known as Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, or ACORN, before a national controversy surrounding the group in 2009 prompted a rebranding. The group has backed progressive causes for decades and, in 2013, put their weight <a href="http://observer.com/2014/03/reincarnated-acorn-calling-the-shots-in-bill-de-blasios-new-york/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">behind a longshot progressive candidate for mayor</a>: Bill de Blasio.</p> <p>But that close relationship with the then-candidate has cooled through his years at City Hall, largely based on de Blasio’s approach to development and housing, and NYCC pulled no punches as it revved up to fight the armory plan.</p> <p>The group went after Slate Property for their dealings<a href="https://www.dnainfo.com/new-york/20160714/lower-east-side/city-agency-knew-of-possible-condo-conversion-before-rivington-sale-report" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> in the controversial 2015 sale </a>of a Lower East Side home for seniors. They <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/brooklyn/activists-call-foul-carmelo-backed-brooklyn-development-article-1.2744655" target="_blank" rel="noopener">called out then-Knicks player Carmelo Anthony</a> — whose foundation had signed on to help with the recreation center — for getting involved with a project that would “further exacerbate the gentrification of Crown Heights,” according to a published letter written to the basketball star by activist Bertha Lewis, former leader of NYCC when it was known as ACORN.</p> <p>Soon afterward, both Slate and Anthony dropped out of the project.</p> <p>In rallies, open letters and editorials, the groups fought against the armory plan with a consistent message: Scrap the deal completely, start from scratch, and build only affordable housing on the site, with no market-rate units. They called for the property to be moved to a community land trust.</p> <p>As the months dragged on, the project became a central issue in Cumbo’s re-election campaign, with two challengers — Democrat Ede Fox and Green Party candidate Jabari Brisport — promising to start from square one on the armory if elected. In May, facing Fox’s primary challenge, Cumbo <a href="http://gothamist.com/2017/05/19/crown_heights_armory_cumbo.php" target="_blank" rel="noopener">backed away from the armory plan</a>, announcing she would not support it if it included luxury condominiums.</p> <p>As Fox, Brisport, and other critics of the project continued to hammer her, Cumbo’s campaign touted her opposition to the plan, at times using misleading language. An independent expenditure by the hotel workers’ union paid for pro-Cumbo flyers and robo-calls indicating she would support the armory plan only if it included 100 percent affordable housing, a claim Cumbo said she never made, was aware of, or approved.</p> <p>“It wouldn’t even make logical sense for me to do that because I know going into [negotiations] that you’re not going to get 100 percent,” she told Gotham Gazette. “So it wouldn’t be beneficial for me to promise something that I can’t deliver.” Cumbo did not, however, disavow the independent expenditure or ask the hotel workers’ union to stop its mailers.</p> <p>Cumbo beat Fox by more than 16 percentage points in the September primary and won reelection with 67 percent of the vote in the general election (Brisport did exceptionally well for a Green Party candidate, seemingly buouyed by armory resentment). In an interview, Cumbo said after the election she stuck to her line in the sand about the condominiums until the end, even when “the administration continued to negotiate other aspects of the project without dealing with the 800-pound gorilla in the room.”</p> <p>“I, the community, the local stakeholders, the elected officials, said that they did not want any sale of the armory to happen,” Cumbo said. “I knew I wasn’t going to support a project that had luxury condominiums.”</p> <p>Even with a win on that aspect, the Council member acknowledges that, as with any great compromise, no party leaves the table with everything they want, herself included.</p> <p>“I’m not walking away completely happy, but I am walking away satisfied,” she said. “I’m walking away with a project that I know is going to benefit this community for generations to come.”</p> <p style="text-align: center;">**********</p> <p>To the de Blasio administration, the plan is a “win, win, win,” according to housing Commissioner Torres-Springer, who formerly led EDC.</p> <p>“We’re generating the types of opportunities that really address many sides of the complex affordability question in this city — certainly affordable housing, but also access to services, recreation, community, and jobs,” she said.</p> <p>The city is making that happen in partnership with BFC, a for-profit developer, which will pay $2 million per year in ground rent for the armory site, both in cash and in at least $1.25 million in “community benefits,” calculated as discounts on classes, memberships, space for nonprofits, and rentals to community groups within the newly built armory.</p> <p>For the city’s part, the $50 million in public funds will pay for 250 units of subsidized housing, set aside for households making between about $25,000 and $51,000 per year for a family of three, HPD said. In the deal, BFC will use income from the 150 market-rate rentals on the site to operate and maintain the recreation center. The company is projected to make an annual profit. A spokesperson did not return multiple requests for that projected amount.</p> <p>To Torres-Springer, the city’s job in a deal such as the armory is “making sure that we are stretching every public dollar as much as we can.”</p> <p>The philosophy — of partnering with and relying on private, for-profit developers to build affordable housing — is foundational to the de Blasio administration’s overall housing goal of building and preserving 300,000 affordable units by 2026.</p> <p>In an <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/05/nyregion/de-blasio-affordable-housing-new-york-city.html?_r=0" target="_blank" rel="noopener">interview with The New York Times</a> in October, Alicia Glen, de Blasio’s powerful deputy mayor for housing and economic development, said “there’s no such thing” as housing built by the city alone.</p> <p>“It’s all about, to what extent can you use the resources of the private sector, and the resources the public sector has, to put together the best deals you can possibly do,” she said.</p> <p>To advocates who fought the armory plan, some of whom fight de Blasio administration plans around the city, that idea is anathema to the goal of solving the housing crisis, particularly for low-income and homeless New Yorkers. To NYCC Executive Director Jonathan Westin, it’s a “failure of imagination” by the administration.</p> <p>“They’ve shown that they very clearly do not prioritize public housing,” or housing built and operated by the city, he said. “They do not actually believe in it. And it’s hugely problematic.”</p> <p>Particularly at the armory site, where 150 market-rate apartments will be built on the publicly-held property, the administration’s plan is “completely egregious,” according to Katie Goldstein, executive director of the statewide housing group Tenants and Neighbors, which has played an active role with NYCC to fight the armory plan.</p> <p>“When the city owns the land, to give that away to a for-profit developer? It’s such punch in the face to the community who was organizing around this,” she said.</p> <p>Lewis of the Black Institute said “not one iota” of the deal is satisfactory, and trying to deal with the de Blasio administration was worse than “all of the other fights that we’ve had,” including in the Bloomberg and Giuliani administrations.</p> <p>“You meet the new mayor, he’s the same as the other old mayors,” she said. “It’s really disgraceful that they should even utter the word ‘progressive.’”</p> <p>“To privatize something means that it has to make a profit,” said Giron, the Crown Heights resident and tenant advocate. “To me, that’s never going to be an appropriate approach for people of color, for low-income people, for New York, period.”</p> <p style="text-align: center;">***********</p> <p>The mayor and his team don’t necessarily disagree much with their critics, at least in terms of describing the city’s approach to housing and development. To de Blasio, Glen, Torres-Springer, and others, the number one thing the city needs is more housing, at various levels of affordability. The mayor stressed that goal when speaking about the armory project in July.</p> <p>“We need both – we need market and we need affordable housing. That’s our mission. Every time we do it, we’re looking to maximize the amount of affordability and to make the affordable housing as consistent with the community as possible,” he said, speaking to a caller on WNYC radio's The Brian Lehrer Show.</p> <p>And de Blasio regularly argues that it is essential to create more affordable housing for middle-income families, while, after pushback, he has also repeatedly adjusted his larger housing plan and more localized projects, like the armory redevelopment, to create deeper affordability.</p> <p>Pending a final approval from Brooklyn’s Borough Board — a last step in rezoning that will almost certainly pass, given the City Council’s overwhelming support — the armory deal is headed for a closing, a spokesperson for HPD said, and the city expects construction to begin in 2018.</p> <p>At the same time, housing advocates are still planning to fight the project any way they can.</p> <p>The day before the full City Council vote on the redevelopment, the Legal Aid Society filed a lawsuit challenging the city’s measurement of the project’s potential effect on displacement of rent-stabilized tenants. In arguing that the city is not taking into account displacement outside a 400-foot area surrounding the site, the plaintiffs hope to convince a judge to compel the city to adjust the project or, if nothing else, set a new standard for similar projects in the future.</p> <p>Last week, a judge denied the group’s request for a temporary restraining order on the armory project. The next hearing date in the suit is set for February 8, according to an EDC representative.</p> <p>For Giron, who lives two blocks from the armory, finding any way to stop the project — even “the hard way,” with a lawsuit, he said — is the only option. In the space of three or four years, he estimates about “half the people have been emptied out” of rent-regulated buildings between his home on Franklin Avenue and the armory on Bedford Avenue, he said, victims of an already super-heated housing market in Crown Heights.</p> <p>“I walk over there and I feel that void,” he said.</p> <p>For him, the armory was an opportunity to reverse, or at least slow, the displacement brought by gentrification, not accelerate it; the fact that any market-rate apartments will be built there, and without union labor, are unacceptable to him. So, he and the rest of the coalition will continue to fight, into the next four years&nbsp;— or longer, if necessary.</p> <p>“I can see a path…where there’s not even a shovel put in the ground before Laurie’s out of office,” he said, referring to Council Member Cumbo, whose second and last term ends in 2021.</p> <p>“We’re going to fight until we can’t anymore, until we’re gone or they’re gone,” he promised. “But we’re not going to stop.”</p> <p>***<br />by Rachel Holliday Smith for Gotham Gazette<br /><a href="https://twitter.com/rachelholliday" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@rachelholliday<br /></a><a href="https://twitter.com/GothamGazette" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@GothamGazette</a></p> High Stakes for Affordable Housing in City Council Speaker Race 2017-12-05T05:00:00+00:00 2017-12-05T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7352:high-stakes-for-affordable-housing-in-city-council-speaker-race Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/reset_1/cornegy_speaker_forum_crop.jpg" alt="cornegy speaker forum crop" width="600" height="363" /></p> <p>Robert Cornegy (far right) at a City Council Speaker forum (photo: @RobertCornegyJr)</p> <hr /> <p>Eight members of the New York City Council are asking their colleagues to elect them as the new Speaker after the new legislative body is seated January 1.</p> <p>Seven of the candidates oppose allowing Airbnb and other on-line platforms to continue their assault on our scarce affordable rental housing. But one of them, Robert Cornegy, Jr. of Brooklyn, does not.</p> <p>In <a href="http://cityandstateny.com/articles/opinion/why-albany-should-reject-the-flawed-airbnb-bill.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">a June 2016 opinion piece</a>&nbsp;for City &amp; State, Council Member Cornegy argued that Airbnb brings extra income to his struggling constituents in Crown Heights and Bedford-Stuyvesant, ensuring that they can continue to live in the rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods. This column was straight out of the Airbnb playbook, and contradicted by the fact that roughly 75 percent of Airbnb revenue in New York City is generated by commercial hosts with multiple listings, not “regular folks” renting their own place.</p> <p>North and Central Brooklyn are the epicenter of gentrification in New York City, and Airbnb has played a destructive role. In Council Member Cornegy’s district, there were some 3,400 listings for Airbnb in October. Of these, almost 1,300 were for entire homes. If these “entire homes” are in apartment buildings, then they are illegal, as short-term rentals are against the law if the tenant is not present. (Renting out a room while the tenant is living in the apartment is not illegal, although tenants who do so risk eviction if the landlord finds out.)</p> <p>Airbnb’s negative impact on Council Member Cornegy’s district is merely one part of a larger trend in the borough. Four City Council districts stretching from Williamsburg to Crown Heights are represented by Steve Levin, Antonio Reynoso, Laurie Cumbo, and Cornegy. These four districts combined had Airbnb listings for more than 16,000 units in October. By contrast, the top four Council districts in Manhattan combined had 10,800 listings.</p> <p><a href="http://insideairbnb.com/face-of-airbnb-nyc/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">A study last March</a> by Inside Airbnb tallied the host photographs in the 72 predominately African-American neighborhoods in the city. The Airbnb host population in these communities was 74 percent white, while the white resident population was only 13.9 percent. White hosts in these neighborhoods earned 73.7 percent of the income from Airbnb rentals. Despite Airbnb’s claim that they make it possible for people of color to supplement their incomes, it is clear that the newer, white residents in these gentrifying neighborhoods are the main beneficiaries of the “sharing economy.”</p> <p>So, who suffers? These units have been withdrawn from the rental market because short-term rentals are more profitable. Long-term residents therefore face a tighter market, and are subject to harassment and rent gouging.</p> <p>This is not only a Brooklyn or even a New York problem. From Vancouver to London, local governments are taking action to curb short-term rentals. Airbnb’s response is to stonewall, and enlist surrogates to spin its public relations web.</p> <p>I have a friend whose family owns a restaurant in a year-round resort town in the northeastern United States. He told me recently that until a couple of years ago, the cooks and waiters could share a house for $700 to $800 per month. Now there are no such rentals available, because owners can make that much in a weekend through Airbnb.</p> <p>The sheer scope of this crisis makes the future of New York City’s government all the more critical. The rest of the nation and even the world look to us as a model for policy and politics, and we must do everything we can to make our housing market more affordable.</p> <p>Ensuring that the next Speaker of the City Council is a true advocate for tenants, and for preserving our threatened stock of affordable rental housing, is the first next step in addressing the host of problems we face: weakened rent laws, lax enforcement by state and city, predatory speculators paying excessive prices for apartment buildings with an eye to driving out the rent-regulated tenants, constant upward pressure on rents, construction as harassment, and more.</p> <p>We cannot afford to have in our house of government a Speaker who will not fight to protect the homes of its citizens. I urge Council Member Cornegy’s colleagues to take a look at this before casting their votes, and show that they stand with tenants, not the companies that are forcing them out.</p> <p>***<br /> Michael McKee is treasurer of Tenants Political Action Committee. On Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/tenantspacny" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@TenantsPACNY</a>.</p> <p>

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<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/reset_1/cornegy_speaker_forum_crop.jpg" alt="cornegy speaker forum crop" width="600" height="363" /></p> <p>Robert Cornegy (far right) at a City Council Speaker forum (photo: @RobertCornegyJr)</p> <hr /> <p>Eight members of the New York City Council are asking their colleagues to elect them as the new Speaker after the new legislative body is seated January 1.</p> <p>Seven of the candidates oppose allowing Airbnb and other on-line platforms to continue their assault on our scarce affordable rental housing. But one of them, Robert Cornegy, Jr. of Brooklyn, does not.</p> <p>In <a href="http://cityandstateny.com/articles/opinion/why-albany-should-reject-the-flawed-airbnb-bill.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">a June 2016 opinion piece</a>&nbsp;for City &amp; State, Council Member Cornegy argued that Airbnb brings extra income to his struggling constituents in Crown Heights and Bedford-Stuyvesant, ensuring that they can continue to live in the rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods. This column was straight out of the Airbnb playbook, and contradicted by the fact that roughly 75 percent of Airbnb revenue in New York City is generated by commercial hosts with multiple listings, not “regular folks” renting their own place.</p> <p>North and Central Brooklyn are the epicenter of gentrification in New York City, and Airbnb has played a destructive role. In Council Member Cornegy’s district, there were some 3,400 listings for Airbnb in October. Of these, almost 1,300 were for entire homes. If these “entire homes” are in apartment buildings, then they are illegal, as short-term rentals are against the law if the tenant is not present. (Renting out a room while the tenant is living in the apartment is not illegal, although tenants who do so risk eviction if the landlord finds out.)</p> <p>Airbnb’s negative impact on Council Member Cornegy’s district is merely one part of a larger trend in the borough. Four City Council districts stretching from Williamsburg to Crown Heights are represented by Steve Levin, Antonio Reynoso, Laurie Cumbo, and Cornegy. These four districts combined had Airbnb listings for more than 16,000 units in October. By contrast, the top four Council districts in Manhattan combined had 10,800 listings.</p> <p><a href="http://insideairbnb.com/face-of-airbnb-nyc/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">A study last March</a> by Inside Airbnb tallied the host photographs in the 72 predominately African-American neighborhoods in the city. The Airbnb host population in these communities was 74 percent white, while the white resident population was only 13.9 percent. White hosts in these neighborhoods earned 73.7 percent of the income from Airbnb rentals. Despite Airbnb’s claim that they make it possible for people of color to supplement their incomes, it is clear that the newer, white residents in these gentrifying neighborhoods are the main beneficiaries of the “sharing economy.”</p> <p>So, who suffers? These units have been withdrawn from the rental market because short-term rentals are more profitable. Long-term residents therefore face a tighter market, and are subject to harassment and rent gouging.</p> <p>This is not only a Brooklyn or even a New York problem. From Vancouver to London, local governments are taking action to curb short-term rentals. Airbnb’s response is to stonewall, and enlist surrogates to spin its public relations web.</p> <p>I have a friend whose family owns a restaurant in a year-round resort town in the northeastern United States. He told me recently that until a couple of years ago, the cooks and waiters could share a house for $700 to $800 per month. Now there are no such rentals available, because owners can make that much in a weekend through Airbnb.</p> <p>The sheer scope of this crisis makes the future of New York City’s government all the more critical. The rest of the nation and even the world look to us as a model for policy and politics, and we must do everything we can to make our housing market more affordable.</p> <p>Ensuring that the next Speaker of the City Council is a true advocate for tenants, and for preserving our threatened stock of affordable rental housing, is the first next step in addressing the host of problems we face: weakened rent laws, lax enforcement by state and city, predatory speculators paying excessive prices for apartment buildings with an eye to driving out the rent-regulated tenants, constant upward pressure on rents, construction as harassment, and more.</p> <p>We cannot afford to have in our house of government a Speaker who will not fight to protect the homes of its citizens. I urge Council Member Cornegy’s colleagues to take a look at this before casting their votes, and show that they stand with tenants, not the companies that are forcing them out.</p> <p>***<br /> Michael McKee is treasurer of Tenants Political Action Committee. On Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/tenantspacny" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@TenantsPACNY</a>.</p> <p>

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Where the Mayor Opposes Affordable Housing and Neighborhood Character 2017-11-09T05:00:00+00:00 2017-11-09T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7312:where-the-mayor-opposes-affordable-housing-and-neighborhood-character Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/reset_1/union_square_tech_hub_rendering1.jpg" alt="union square tech hub rendering1" width="600" height="548" /></p> <p>Union Square tech hub image rendering via EDC</p> <hr /> <p>Mayor de Blasio claims that creating and preserving affordable housing in our city is a top priority for his administration. But in Greenwich Village and the East Village, he has consistently blocked rezoning plans that would help create and preserve affordable housing where little exists, and opposed eliminating loopholes that aid developers, including his campaign fundraisers, in getting around existing affordable housing provisions.</p> <p>For over three years, we have asked the mayor to change zoning rules for the University Place and Broadway corridors in our neighborhood, where intense development is rapidly accelerating. Current zoning only allows luxury condos, hotels, and office buildings to be built there. As a result, a 300-foot-tall luxury condo tower has just topped out on 12th Street, with no affordable housing (under our rezoning plan, that development could have included 29,000 square feet or more of affordable housing). A slew of office towers catering to high-end firms are going up or being planned in the area at a similar scale, along with other luxury condo projects; we can only expect more of the same under the existing zoning.</p> <p>Our plan calls for switching to zoning of the type that exist in other neighborhoods which incentivizes the inclusion of affordable housing in new developments, or to make that inclusion mandatory. Our zoning plan would not fundamentally change the allowable overall size of new development, but would cap new building heights at about half that of these new out-of-scale towers, preserving neighborhood scale and character.</p> <p>Next door, along 3rd and 4th Avenues, we are seeking to close a loophole in the zoning for these blocks that allows developers to sidestep the existing incentives for creating affordable housing by building purely commercial buildings. That loophole recently resulted in the demolition of five modest walk-up apartment buildings with scores of housing units, many of them rent-regulated, to make way for a 300-room hotel being built by David Lichtenstein (founder and CEO of the Lightstone Group), who raised funds for the mayor and was appointed by the mayor to the Economic Development Corporation. Our zoning plan would cut the size of commercial developments in this predominantly residential neighborhood, so new development would almost certainly be residential and subject to the affordable housing incentives. Here too, those incentives could be made mandatory.</p> <p>The mayor’s response? A resounding “no.” In fact, until publicly confronted about this at a recent town hall, the mayor’s planning officials even refused to meet with us. The situation is made even more urgent by the plan by the mayor and his Economic Development Corporation to rezone a nearby site to create an enormous “tech hub.” Lacking the zoning protections we are calling for, this will only accelerate the rate of high-rise condo and commercial development in the nearby residential area, with no affordable housing (the proposed tech hub site had been earmarked for affordable housing years ago to boot).</p> <p>The mayor has a policy of only allowing rezonings that mandate affordable housing, for which there are strong arguments. What lacks any justification is the mayor’s insistence that such rezonings also allow vast increases in the allowable size and amount of new market-rate housing. Because our proposed rezoning does not, the mayor opposes it. But his way not only undermines the entire purpose of including affordable housing, by also flooding the area with much more high-end housing than would otherwise be built, but destroys the scale and character of neighborhoods at the same time. This is why so many communities across the city have resisted the mayor’s rezoning plans, while putting forward their own, much more reasonable ones.</p> <p>If the mayor has his way, this part of the Village and East Village will retain zoning that will only lead to a vast flood of out-of-scale condos, hotels, and upscale office towers, and miss opportunities to create or preserve affordable housing where it is sorely lacking.</p> <p>Under our plan, supported by every local elected official and community group, new development would have strong incentives or requirements to include affordable housing, and would remain in scale with the neighborhood without unduly taking building rights away from the developers.</p> <p>So, which side are you on, Mr. Mayor?</p> <p>***<br /> Andrew Berman is Executive Director of <a href="http://www.gvshp.org/_gvshp/index.htm" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation</a>. On Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/GVSHP" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@GVSHP</a>.</p> <p>

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<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/reset_1/union_square_tech_hub_rendering1.jpg" alt="union square tech hub rendering1" width="600" height="548" /></p> <p>Union Square tech hub image rendering via EDC</p> <hr /> <p>Mayor de Blasio claims that creating and preserving affordable housing in our city is a top priority for his administration. But in Greenwich Village and the East Village, he has consistently blocked rezoning plans that would help create and preserve affordable housing where little exists, and opposed eliminating loopholes that aid developers, including his campaign fundraisers, in getting around existing affordable housing provisions.</p> <p>For over three years, we have asked the mayor to change zoning rules for the University Place and Broadway corridors in our neighborhood, where intense development is rapidly accelerating. Current zoning only allows luxury condos, hotels, and office buildings to be built there. As a result, a 300-foot-tall luxury condo tower has just topped out on 12th Street, with no affordable housing (under our rezoning plan, that development could have included 29,000 square feet or more of affordable housing). A slew of office towers catering to high-end firms are going up or being planned in the area at a similar scale, along with other luxury condo projects; we can only expect more of the same under the existing zoning.</p> <p>Our plan calls for switching to zoning of the type that exist in other neighborhoods which incentivizes the inclusion of affordable housing in new developments, or to make that inclusion mandatory. Our zoning plan would not fundamentally change the allowable overall size of new development, but would cap new building heights at about half that of these new out-of-scale towers, preserving neighborhood scale and character.</p> <p>Next door, along 3rd and 4th Avenues, we are seeking to close a loophole in the zoning for these blocks that allows developers to sidestep the existing incentives for creating affordable housing by building purely commercial buildings. That loophole recently resulted in the demolition of five modest walk-up apartment buildings with scores of housing units, many of them rent-regulated, to make way for a 300-room hotel being built by David Lichtenstein (founder and CEO of the Lightstone Group), who raised funds for the mayor and was appointed by the mayor to the Economic Development Corporation. Our zoning plan would cut the size of commercial developments in this predominantly residential neighborhood, so new development would almost certainly be residential and subject to the affordable housing incentives. Here too, those incentives could be made mandatory.</p> <p>The mayor’s response? A resounding “no.” In fact, until publicly confronted about this at a recent town hall, the mayor’s planning officials even refused to meet with us. The situation is made even more urgent by the plan by the mayor and his Economic Development Corporation to rezone a nearby site to create an enormous “tech hub.” Lacking the zoning protections we are calling for, this will only accelerate the rate of high-rise condo and commercial development in the nearby residential area, with no affordable housing (the proposed tech hub site had been earmarked for affordable housing years ago to boot).</p> <p>The mayor has a policy of only allowing rezonings that mandate affordable housing, for which there are strong arguments. What lacks any justification is the mayor’s insistence that such rezonings also allow vast increases in the allowable size and amount of new market-rate housing. Because our proposed rezoning does not, the mayor opposes it. But his way not only undermines the entire purpose of including affordable housing, by also flooding the area with much more high-end housing than would otherwise be built, but destroys the scale and character of neighborhoods at the same time. This is why so many communities across the city have resisted the mayor’s rezoning plans, while putting forward their own, much more reasonable ones.</p> <p>If the mayor has his way, this part of the Village and East Village will retain zoning that will only lead to a vast flood of out-of-scale condos, hotels, and upscale office towers, and miss opportunities to create or preserve affordable housing where it is sorely lacking.</p> <p>Under our plan, supported by every local elected official and community group, new development would have strong incentives or requirements to include affordable housing, and would remain in scale with the neighborhood without unduly taking building rights away from the developers.</p> <p>So, which side are you on, Mr. Mayor?</p> <p>***<br /> Andrew Berman is Executive Director of <a href="http://www.gvshp.org/_gvshp/index.htm" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation</a>. On Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/GVSHP" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@GVSHP</a>.</p> <p>

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Dissecting Mayor De Blasio's Record As He Seeks Reelection 2017-11-01T23:26:00+00:00 2017-11-01T23:26:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7221:dissecting-mayor-de-blasio-s-record-as-he-seeks-reelection Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/reset_1/37117856722_b1e7513769_z.jpg" alt="Mayor de Blasio Chirlane McCray City Hall Reelection Parade" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Mayor Bill de Blasio &amp; First Lady Chirlane McCray (photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>As Mayor Bill de Blasio, a first-term Democrat, seeks reelection this fall, a close examination of his record is essential. De Blasio came into power promising to address inequlality in a variety of forms, including income, educational, policing, racial, and opportunity inequities he identified during his 2013 campaign. In this year's election de Blasio is running in part on his record, which is headlined by the implementation of his campaign promise to provide universal pre-kindergarten for the city's four-year-olds. But, there is much more to the mayor's record than UPK, which has clearly been <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/city-hall/story/2017/10/17/de-blasios-win-on-pre-k-is-making-an-easy-campaign-even-easier-115084" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">his biggest success</a>.</p> <p>In this series, Gotham Gazette, with election coverage partners City Limits and WNYC radio, examines de Blasio's record on a variety of important issues. While this is not completely exhaustive, it should be helpful to voters and others seeking to evaluate de Blasio this fall. With our partners, Gotham Gazette will release articles and audio pieces on the following aspects of de Blasio's record -- those already published are linked below.</p> <p>Election Day is Tuesday, November 7.</p> <ul> <li>Ethics &amp; Transparency: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7258-de-blasio-s-record-on-ethics-and-transparency" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Mayor De Blasio's Record on Ethics and Transparency</a> (Gotham Gazette, October 2017)</li> <li>Discussion on WNYC, with Ben Max of GG: <a href="http://www.wnyc.org/story/how-ethic-and-transparent-has-bill-de-blasios-term-been" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">De Blasio's Big Lesson: Transparency Matters</a></li> </ul> <ul> <li>Economy &amp; Jobs: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7270-de-blasio-s-record-on-jobs-and-the-economy" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Mayor De Blasio's Record on Jobs and The Economy</a> (Gotham Gazette, October 2017)</li> </ul> <ul> <li>Poverty &amp; Inequality: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7280-de-blasio-s-record-on-poverty-and-inequality" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Mayor De Blasio's Record on Poverty and Inequality</a> (Gotham Gazette, November 2017)</li> </ul> <ul> <li>Budgeting &amp; Fiscal Health: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7300-de-blasio-s-record-on-budgeting-and-fiscal-health" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Mayor De Blasio's Record on Budgeting and Fiscal Health</a> (Gotham Gazette, November 2017)</li> </ul> <ul> <li>NYCHA: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7299-de-blasio-s-record-on-nycha" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Mayor De Blasio's Record on NYCHA</a> (Gotham Gazette, November 2017)</li> </ul> <ul> <li>Environment: <a href="https://citylimits.org/2017/11/02/on-the-environment-de-blasio-defied-expectations-with-bold-goals-but-now-must-deliver/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">On the Environment, De Blasio Defied Expectations with Bold Goals, But Now Must Deliver</a> (City Limits, November 2017)</li> </ul> <ul> <li>Policing: <a href="https://citylimits.org/2017/10/16/bill-de-blasios-police-reform-agenda-has-achieved-much-and-disappointed-many/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Bill de Blasio's Police Reform Record Has Achieved Much and Disappointed Many</a> (City Limits, October 2017)</li> <li>Discussion on WNYC, with Jarrett Murphy of CL: <a href="http://www.wnyc.org/story/analyzing-bill-de-blasios-record-crime-and-policing/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">A Rocky Blue Line Divides De Blasio and Police</a></li> </ul> <ul> <li>Housing: <a href="https://citylimits.org/2017/10/04/bill-de-blasio-is-still-in-his-first-term-and-were-already-debating-his-housing-legacy/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Bill de Blasio is Still in His First Term and We're Already Debating His Housing Legacy</a> (City Limits, October 2017)</li> <li>Discussion on WNYC, with Jarrett Murphy of CL: <a href="http://www.wnyc.org/story/analyzing-housing-after-four-years-bill-de-blasio" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Analyzing Housing After Four De Blasio Years</a></li> </ul> <ul> <li>Homelessness: <a href="http://www.wnyc.org/story/de-blasios-homelessness-struggle/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">De Blasio's Homelessness Struggle</a> (WNYC, October 2017)</li> </ul> <ul> <li>Transit: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6855-de-blasio-s-piecemeal-transportation-agenda" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">De Blasio's 'Piecemeal' Transportation Agenda</a> (Gotham Gazette, April 2017)</li> </ul> <ul> <li>Homelessness: <a href="http://www.thedailybeast.com/bill-de-blasios-big-homelessness-problem" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Bill de Blasio's Big Homelessness Problem</a> (Gotham Gazette/The Daily Beast, July 2017)</li> </ul> <p>More to read/view/hear:</p> <ul> <li><a href="http://www.ny1.com/nyc/all-boroughs/politics/2017/10/19/a-look-at-mayor-de-blasio-s-record-on-nyc-transportation" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">A look at Mayor de Blasio's record on transportion</a> (NY1)&nbsp;</li> <li><a href="http://www.ny1.com/nyc/all-boroughs/politics/2017/10/03/bill-de-blasio-record-on-crime-as-mayor-nyc-nypd" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">A look at Mayor de Blasio's record on policing</a> (NY1)</li> </ul> <p>

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/reset_1/37117856722_b1e7513769_z.jpg" alt="Mayor de Blasio Chirlane McCray City Hall Reelection Parade" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Mayor Bill de Blasio &amp; First Lady Chirlane McCray (photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>As Mayor Bill de Blasio, a first-term Democrat, seeks reelection this fall, a close examination of his record is essential. De Blasio came into power promising to address inequlality in a variety of forms, including income, educational, policing, racial, and opportunity inequities he identified during his 2013 campaign. In this year's election de Blasio is running in part on his record, which is headlined by the implementation of his campaign promise to provide universal pre-kindergarten for the city's four-year-olds. But, there is much more to the mayor's record than UPK, which has clearly been <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/city-hall/story/2017/10/17/de-blasios-win-on-pre-k-is-making-an-easy-campaign-even-easier-115084" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">his biggest success</a>.</p> <p>In this series, Gotham Gazette, with election coverage partners City Limits and WNYC radio, examines de Blasio's record on a variety of important issues. While this is not completely exhaustive, it should be helpful to voters and others seeking to evaluate de Blasio this fall. With our partners, Gotham Gazette will release articles and audio pieces on the following aspects of de Blasio's record -- those already published are linked below.</p> <p>Election Day is Tuesday, November 7.</p> <ul> <li>Ethics &amp; Transparency: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7258-de-blasio-s-record-on-ethics-and-transparency" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Mayor De Blasio's Record on Ethics and Transparency</a> (Gotham Gazette, October 2017)</li> <li>Discussion on WNYC, with Ben Max of GG: <a href="http://www.wnyc.org/story/how-ethic-and-transparent-has-bill-de-blasios-term-been" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">De Blasio's Big Lesson: Transparency Matters</a></li> </ul> <ul> <li>Economy &amp; Jobs: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7270-de-blasio-s-record-on-jobs-and-the-economy" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Mayor De Blasio's Record on Jobs and The Economy</a> (Gotham Gazette, October 2017)</li> </ul> <ul> <li>Poverty &amp; Inequality: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7280-de-blasio-s-record-on-poverty-and-inequality" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Mayor De Blasio's Record on Poverty and Inequality</a> (Gotham Gazette, November 2017)</li> </ul> <ul> <li>Budgeting &amp; Fiscal Health: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7300-de-blasio-s-record-on-budgeting-and-fiscal-health" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Mayor De Blasio's Record on Budgeting and Fiscal Health</a> (Gotham Gazette, November 2017)</li> </ul> <ul> <li>NYCHA: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7299-de-blasio-s-record-on-nycha" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Mayor De Blasio's Record on NYCHA</a> (Gotham Gazette, November 2017)</li> </ul> <ul> <li>Environment: <a href="https://citylimits.org/2017/11/02/on-the-environment-de-blasio-defied-expectations-with-bold-goals-but-now-must-deliver/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">On the Environment, De Blasio Defied Expectations with Bold Goals, But Now Must Deliver</a> (City Limits, November 2017)</li> </ul> <ul> <li>Policing: <a href="https://citylimits.org/2017/10/16/bill-de-blasios-police-reform-agenda-has-achieved-much-and-disappointed-many/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Bill de Blasio's Police Reform Record Has Achieved Much and Disappointed Many</a> (City Limits, October 2017)</li> <li>Discussion on WNYC, with Jarrett Murphy of CL: <a href="http://www.wnyc.org/story/analyzing-bill-de-blasios-record-crime-and-policing/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">A Rocky Blue Line Divides De Blasio and Police</a></li> </ul> <ul> <li>Housing: <a href="https://citylimits.org/2017/10/04/bill-de-blasio-is-still-in-his-first-term-and-were-already-debating-his-housing-legacy/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Bill de Blasio is Still in His First Term and We're Already Debating His Housing Legacy</a> (City Limits, October 2017)</li> <li>Discussion on WNYC, with Jarrett Murphy of CL: <a href="http://www.wnyc.org/story/analyzing-housing-after-four-years-bill-de-blasio" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Analyzing Housing After Four De Blasio Years</a></li> </ul> <ul> <li>Homelessness: <a href="http://www.wnyc.org/story/de-blasios-homelessness-struggle/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">De Blasio's Homelessness Struggle</a> (WNYC, October 2017)</li> </ul> <ul> <li>Transit: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6855-de-blasio-s-piecemeal-transportation-agenda" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">De Blasio's 'Piecemeal' Transportation Agenda</a> (Gotham Gazette, April 2017)</li> </ul> <ul> <li>Homelessness: <a href="http://www.thedailybeast.com/bill-de-blasios-big-homelessness-problem" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Bill de Blasio's Big Homelessness Problem</a> (Gotham Gazette/The Daily Beast, July 2017)</li> </ul> <p>More to read/view/hear:</p> <ul> <li><a href="http://www.ny1.com/nyc/all-boroughs/politics/2017/10/19/a-look-at-mayor-de-blasio-s-record-on-nyc-transportation" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">A look at Mayor de Blasio's record on transportion</a> (NY1)&nbsp;</li> <li><a href="http://www.ny1.com/nyc/all-boroughs/politics/2017/10/03/bill-de-blasio-record-on-crime-as-mayor-nyc-nypd" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">A look at Mayor de Blasio's record on policing</a> (NY1)</li> </ul> <p>

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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</p>
Following Up with Comptroller Stringer on Several Debate Moments 2017-10-26T04:00:00+00:00 2017-10-26T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7279:following-up-with-comptroller-stringer-on-several-debate-moments Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/reset_1/faulkner_stringer_nyc_votes_crop.jpg" alt="faulkner stringer comptroller debate election" width="600" height="458" /></p> <p>Faulkner, left, and Stringer, at the Comptroller debate (photo via @NYCVotes)</p> <hr /> <p>It appears that a relatively small number of people watched <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7260-comptroller-debate-focuses-on-stringer-s-record" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the lone debate</a> in the election for New York City Comptroller, which occurred on Tuesday, October 17 between incumbent Democrat Scott Stringer and his Republican challenger, Michel Faulkner. It is one of three citywide races, along with those for Mayor and Public Advocate, happening this fall.</p> <p>Conventional wisdom is that Stringer will handily win a second term on November 7, as he has the full backing of the Democratic establishment and significant fundraising and name recognition advantages over Faulkner and the other candidates who will be on the ballot: Libertarian Party nominee Alex Merced and Green Party nominee Julia Willebrand.</p> <p>During the hourlong debate, broadcast <a href="http://www.ny1.com/nyc/all-boroughs/politics/2017/10/18/ny1-city-comptroller-debate-michel-faulkner-scott-stringer-nyc-manhattan" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">on NY1 television</a> and WNYC radio, Stringer mostly played it safe and defended his record, at times, especially early on, barely reacting as Faulkner criticized him from an adjacent podium. But in a handful of moments Stringer said especially newsworthy or curious things, taking positions or making statements worthy of follow-up. Gotham Gazette sent a short series of inquiries to the comptroller’s office for more information.</p> <p><strong>Closing Rikers Island</strong><br />The debate moment that got the most attention was Stringer declaring that the Rikers Island jail complex should be closed in three years, far short of the ten-year timeline announced by Mayor Bill de Blasio, a fellow Democrat also favored to win reelection this year. Stringer was well ahead of de Blasio is backing the notion of closing the notorious jail complex, but had not made such a splashy public declaration of his desired timeframe.</p> <p>“Let’s do it in three years,” Stringer said at the debate, when asked about closing Rikers by WNYC’s Brigid Bergin, one of the panelists asking questions, and raising more than a few eyebrows of those who follow city politics closely. “It is inhumane. I’ve walked those corridors, I’ve talked to inmates. I’ve done the data analysis. And it is inhumane.”</p> <p>Asked for more detail on how Stringer got to the three-year goal and what that “data analysis” looked like, the comptroller’s office told Gotham Gazette that the ten-year timeline is simply too long, that if New York wants to be a leader in criminal justice reform, it must move faster. A Stringer spokesperson said the comptroller has floated the three-year timeline at community events, but offered no specifics for how the comptroller got there.</p> <p><strong>NYCHA Home Ownership</strong><br />At the comptroller debate, Faulkner explained his call for allowing some NYCHA residents an opportunity to own their apartments. Stringer expressed surprising support for the idea, which his office then walked back.</p> <p>“I believe that the NYCHA residents, the long-term residents should have an equity stake in NYCHA right now,” Faulkner said at the debate.</p> <p>Asked by moderator Errol Louis of NY1 whether NYCHA residents should indeed have a path to ownership, Stringer said, “I think that’s a wonderful idea, but let’s also figure out a way to actually make that happen. It’s easy to talk about it, but look, we have to get more access to loans, to credit, if we’re really going to change the landscape of home ownership for the people who struggle in our city but are building and investing their sweat equity in our communities. That is something that we have to look at, and I would definitely look towards that.”</p> <p>In a follow-up to the debate, Gotham Gazette asked Stringer’s office about his apparent openness to some home ownership among NYCHA tenants and what that might mean for a privatization of the nation’s largest public housing system. A spokesperson tried to make it abundantly clear that the comptroller does not believe in privatization of NYCHA in any way. The spokesperson said that Stringer didn’t want to shut the door in principle on encouraging homeownership if there is a viable path that does not eliminate much affordable housing. The details of such a plan would be essential, the spokesperson stressed.</p> <p>During the NYCHA discussion at the debate, Stringer touted his many audits of the housing authority and called for new funding streams, including his push for tens of millions of dollars in Battery Park City Authority proceeds to go toward NYCHA fixes.</p> <p><strong>A Specific Affordable Housing Plan</strong><br />A large group of churchgoers, NYCHA residents, senior citizens, and advocates recently rallied near City Hall to push for <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7249-city-hall-pushes-back-on-proposal-that-hits-core-tension-of-housing-plan" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">an affordable housing plan</a> from the Metro-IAF coalition led by two Brooklyn pastors and affordable housing builders. The plan, which has been <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7249-city-hall-pushes-back-on-proposal-that-hits-core-tension-of-housing-plan" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">rebuffed by the de Blasio administration</a>, calls for major additional investments in NYCHA repairs, 15,000 new units of senior housing on NYCHA land, and more.</p> <p>Stringer spoke at the City Hall rally, expressing his support for the plan, and reiterated it at the comptroller debate, referencing it without being specifically asked about it.</p> <p>“There is a broad coalition of churches that have come together to build, within NYCHA, 15,000 senior housing units,” Stringer said during the debate. “My office is looking at those numbers, I think it’s a realistic plan. I think that anything we do to build within NYCHA developments has to be with the community -- to go back to something that we don’t do a lot of anymore, which is community-based planning.”</p> <p>Asked why Stringer had come out in support of the plan to then say that his office is still looking at the numbers, the comptroller’s office said Stringer reviewed the Metro-IAF plan and believes it is viable, partly because it requires increased housing subsidies from the city that would allow for deeper levels of affordability, a desirable outcome the comptroller has been calling for more broadly as he has consistently criticized the de Blasio administration’s housing plan. More review is needed on the specifics, including how much more in subsidy the city can afford, the Stringer spokesperson said.</p> <p>Stringer looks forward to continuing the conversation, Gotham Gazette was told.</p> <p><strong>The Mayor’s Affordable Housing Plan More Broadly</strong><br />Including with regard to the Metro-IAF plan, Stringer has repeatedly said that de Blasio’s larger affordable housing plan is not affordable enough, that it is not reaching enough New Yorkers most in need. It has been part of his push to see the city build more affordable housing on city-owned vacant lots, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7251-key-to-affordable-housing-development-vacant-lots-remain-source-of-controversy" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the source of much controversy and back-and-forth with the de Blasio administration</a>.</p> <p>Stringer said at the debate that “right now” the city is “building luxury developments with some affordable housing that is not affordable.” Apartments being built in East New York, for example, are not affordable to families currently living there, he said, in apparent reference to the neighborhood rezoning plan passed by the de Blasio administration with the City Council. “[I]t’s not adequate,” Stringer said of the overall approach, adding, “we have to be bigger in thinking about housing.”</p> <p>In response to a follow-up question from Gotham Gazette, Stringer’s spokesperson said that the current city housing plan is not geared enough toward those in deeper poverty and with current subsidies favoring low-income households, those with extremely low-income or virtually no income face even more pressure, especially when the rezonings are taken into consideration, given that they can risk furthering the threats of displacement.</p> <p>Stringer wants to see more work done with not-for-profit developers, the spokesperson said, and to add anti-displacement zoning to undercut tenant harassment.</p> <p style="text-align: center;">[Read: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7260-comptroller-debate-focuses-on-stringer-s-record" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Comptroller Debate Focuses on Stringer's Record</a>]</p> <p>

***
by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/reset_1/faulkner_stringer_nyc_votes_crop.jpg" alt="faulkner stringer comptroller debate election" width="600" height="458" /></p> <p>Faulkner, left, and Stringer, at the Comptroller debate (photo via @NYCVotes)</p> <hr /> <p>It appears that a relatively small number of people watched <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7260-comptroller-debate-focuses-on-stringer-s-record" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the lone debate</a> in the election for New York City Comptroller, which occurred on Tuesday, October 17 between incumbent Democrat Scott Stringer and his Republican challenger, Michel Faulkner. It is one of three citywide races, along with those for Mayor and Public Advocate, happening this fall.</p> <p>Conventional wisdom is that Stringer will handily win a second term on November 7, as he has the full backing of the Democratic establishment and significant fundraising and name recognition advantages over Faulkner and the other candidates who will be on the ballot: Libertarian Party nominee Alex Merced and Green Party nominee Julia Willebrand.</p> <p>During the hourlong debate, broadcast <a href="http://www.ny1.com/nyc/all-boroughs/politics/2017/10/18/ny1-city-comptroller-debate-michel-faulkner-scott-stringer-nyc-manhattan" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">on NY1 television</a> and WNYC radio, Stringer mostly played it safe and defended his record, at times, especially early on, barely reacting as Faulkner criticized him from an adjacent podium. But in a handful of moments Stringer said especially newsworthy or curious things, taking positions or making statements worthy of follow-up. Gotham Gazette sent a short series of inquiries to the comptroller’s office for more information.</p> <p><strong>Closing Rikers Island</strong><br />The debate moment that got the most attention was Stringer declaring that the Rikers Island jail complex should be closed in three years, far short of the ten-year timeline announced by Mayor Bill de Blasio, a fellow Democrat also favored to win reelection this year. Stringer was well ahead of de Blasio is backing the notion of closing the notorious jail complex, but had not made such a splashy public declaration of his desired timeframe.</p> <p>“Let’s do it in three years,” Stringer said at the debate, when asked about closing Rikers by WNYC’s Brigid Bergin, one of the panelists asking questions, and raising more than a few eyebrows of those who follow city politics closely. “It is inhumane. I’ve walked those corridors, I’ve talked to inmates. I’ve done the data analysis. And it is inhumane.”</p> <p>Asked for more detail on how Stringer got to the three-year goal and what that “data analysis” looked like, the comptroller’s office told Gotham Gazette that the ten-year timeline is simply too long, that if New York wants to be a leader in criminal justice reform, it must move faster. A Stringer spokesperson said the comptroller has floated the three-year timeline at community events, but offered no specifics for how the comptroller got there.</p> <p><strong>NYCHA Home Ownership</strong><br />At the comptroller debate, Faulkner explained his call for allowing some NYCHA residents an opportunity to own their apartments. Stringer expressed surprising support for the idea, which his office then walked back.</p> <p>“I believe that the NYCHA residents, the long-term residents should have an equity stake in NYCHA right now,” Faulkner said at the debate.</p> <p>Asked by moderator Errol Louis of NY1 whether NYCHA residents should indeed have a path to ownership, Stringer said, “I think that’s a wonderful idea, but let’s also figure out a way to actually make that happen. It’s easy to talk about it, but look, we have to get more access to loans, to credit, if we’re really going to change the landscape of home ownership for the people who struggle in our city but are building and investing their sweat equity in our communities. That is something that we have to look at, and I would definitely look towards that.”</p> <p>In a follow-up to the debate, Gotham Gazette asked Stringer’s office about his apparent openness to some home ownership among NYCHA tenants and what that might mean for a privatization of the nation’s largest public housing system. A spokesperson tried to make it abundantly clear that the comptroller does not believe in privatization of NYCHA in any way. The spokesperson said that Stringer didn’t want to shut the door in principle on encouraging homeownership if there is a viable path that does not eliminate much affordable housing. The details of such a plan would be essential, the spokesperson stressed.</p> <p>During the NYCHA discussion at the debate, Stringer touted his many audits of the housing authority and called for new funding streams, including his push for tens of millions of dollars in Battery Park City Authority proceeds to go toward NYCHA fixes.</p> <p><strong>A Specific Affordable Housing Plan</strong><br />A large group of churchgoers, NYCHA residents, senior citizens, and advocates recently rallied near City Hall to push for <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7249-city-hall-pushes-back-on-proposal-that-hits-core-tension-of-housing-plan" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">an affordable housing plan</a> from the Metro-IAF coalition led by two Brooklyn pastors and affordable housing builders. The plan, which has been <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7249-city-hall-pushes-back-on-proposal-that-hits-core-tension-of-housing-plan" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">rebuffed by the de Blasio administration</a>, calls for major additional investments in NYCHA repairs, 15,000 new units of senior housing on NYCHA land, and more.</p> <p>Stringer spoke at the City Hall rally, expressing his support for the plan, and reiterated it at the comptroller debate, referencing it without being specifically asked about it.</p> <p>“There is a broad coalition of churches that have come together to build, within NYCHA, 15,000 senior housing units,” Stringer said during the debate. “My office is looking at those numbers, I think it’s a realistic plan. I think that anything we do to build within NYCHA developments has to be with the community -- to go back to something that we don’t do a lot of anymore, which is community-based planning.”</p> <p>Asked why Stringer had come out in support of the plan to then say that his office is still looking at the numbers, the comptroller’s office said Stringer reviewed the Metro-IAF plan and believes it is viable, partly because it requires increased housing subsidies from the city that would allow for deeper levels of affordability, a desirable outcome the comptroller has been calling for more broadly as he has consistently criticized the de Blasio administration’s housing plan. More review is needed on the specifics, including how much more in subsidy the city can afford, the Stringer spokesperson said.</p> <p>Stringer looks forward to continuing the conversation, Gotham Gazette was told.</p> <p><strong>The Mayor’s Affordable Housing Plan More Broadly</strong><br />Including with regard to the Metro-IAF plan, Stringer has repeatedly said that de Blasio’s larger affordable housing plan is not affordable enough, that it is not reaching enough New Yorkers most in need. It has been part of his push to see the city build more affordable housing on city-owned vacant lots, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7251-key-to-affordable-housing-development-vacant-lots-remain-source-of-controversy" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the source of much controversy and back-and-forth with the de Blasio administration</a>.</p> <p>Stringer said at the debate that “right now” the city is “building luxury developments with some affordable housing that is not affordable.” Apartments being built in East New York, for example, are not affordable to families currently living there, he said, in apparent reference to the neighborhood rezoning plan passed by the de Blasio administration with the City Council. “[I]t’s not adequate,” Stringer said of the overall approach, adding, “we have to be bigger in thinking about housing.”</p> <p>In response to a follow-up question from Gotham Gazette, Stringer’s spokesperson said that the current city housing plan is not geared enough toward those in deeper poverty and with current subsidies favoring low-income households, those with extremely low-income or virtually no income face even more pressure, especially when the rezonings are taken into consideration, given that they can risk furthering the threats of displacement.</p> <p>Stringer wants to see more work done with not-for-profit developers, the spokesperson said, and to add anti-displacement zoning to undercut tenant harassment.</p> <p style="text-align: center;">[Read: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7260-comptroller-debate-focuses-on-stringer-s-record" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Comptroller Debate Focuses on Stringer's Record</a>]</p> <p>

***
by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
In New Books on Bloomberg and de Blasio, Unreliable Atlantic Yards History 2017-10-24T04:00:00+00:00 2017-10-24T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7271:in-new-books-on-bloomberg-and-de-blasio-unreliable-atlantic-yards-history Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/bloomberg-jay-z-barclays.jpg" alt="bloomberg jay z barclays" width="600" height="412" /></p> <p>(photo: Spencer T Tucker via the Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>"Atlantic Yards down the memory hole" is a phrase I coined to describe how the facts and history of the controversial real estate project -- which was renamed Pacific Park Brooklyn in 2014 -- regularly get mangled by journalists, public officials, and commentators, often buffing away the controversy so that people may eventually wonder why anyone ever cared.</p> <p>Part of that surely relates to the project's complex, twisting path, with at least 11 more towers yet unbuilt, joining the Barclays Center and four apartment buildings. It's tough to get right, even for me, and I write about Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park every day.</p> <p>Also, the documentary record includes newspaper articles and government statements that either were initially flawed or no longer remain correct. Add the pressure of tight deadlines, with little time (or perhaps inclination) to check on, say, whether an old New York Times article was superseded by new information in the mainstream press, or corrected by <a href="https://atlanticyardsreport.blogspot.com/2014/06/how-new-york-times-again-let-itself-get.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a blog</a> they don't read.</p> <p>It's doubly dismaying, though, when book authors err, because they presumably have more time for research and because a hardcover presentation adds gravity. Unfortunately, interesting new books on the Bloomberg and de Blasio administrations get the Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park history wrong, in both small and significant ways.</p> <p>It's understandable that the authors give Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park short shrift, as it's but one controversy within a complex set of governing challenges, and authors have to pick their spots. It doesn't ruin these substantial books. But it suggests they've not given careful attention to this project.</p> <p>Only former Bloomberg Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff, in his <a href="https://www.hachettebookgroup.com/titles/daniel-doctoroff/greater-than-ever/9781610396080/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Greater Than Ever: New York's Big Comeback</a>, adds some new insights, but his triumphant narrative ignores some countervailing evidence.</p> <p>***</p> <p>Some authors make simple, though telling, mistakes, likely from sloppily surveying a clip file. Writes Chris McNickle, in <a href="http://skyhorsepublishing.com/titles/13204-9781510722576-bloomberg" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Bloomberg: A Billionaire's Ambition</a>, "Forest City Ratner, a national real estate firm, built the Barclays Center...on top of gritty MTA-owned railroad tracks." Put aside that Forest City Ratner was the New York arm of a national firm -- then Forest City Enterprises, now Forest City Realty Trust -- the arena was not built fully on (or over) the MTA's Vanderbilt Yard. The arena was built partly on the railyard. The tracks in the way were moved.</p> <p>The other half of the arena footprint involved private (plus city/MTA) property and public streets. Had the arena site been limited to the railyard, Atlantic Yards wouldn't have sparked years of controversy and a battle over eminent domain to deliver some of that private property.</p> <p>This error appeared <a href="https://atlanticyardsreport.blogspot.com/2006/03/atlantic-yards-site-open-railyard.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">frequently</a> in the Times and other media outlets, and was only occasionally <a href="https://atlanticyardsreport.blogspot.com/2009/09/times-corrects-deplascos-railyard.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">corrected</a>. Probably the most egregious example was the enthusiastic appraisal of the original 2003 plan by Times architectural critic Herbert Muschamp, who <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2003/12/11/nyregion/courtside-seats-to-an-urban-garden.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">wrote</a>, "The six-block site...is now an open railyard."</p> <p>Doctoroff similarly writes that Ratner "would build a huge development on the railyard at the convergence of the two major thoroughfares in Brooklyn -- Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues -- right next to the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Brooklyn's premier cultural institution." (Also, Brooklynites know that a huge mall and then the Williamsburgh Savings Bank building stand between the arena site and BAM.)</p> <p>***</p> <p>McNickle, to his credit, locates the Barclays Center "near Downtown Brooklyn." Doctoroff uses "Downtown Brooklyn" without the modifier, as do Joseph P. Viteritti, in his <a href="https://global.oup.com/academic/product/the-pragmatist-9780190679507?cc=ca&amp;lang=en&amp;" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">The Pragmatist: Bill de Blasio’s Quest to Save the Soul of New York</a>, and Juan Gonzalez in his <a href="http://thenewpress.com/books/reclaiming-gotham" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Reclaiming Gotham: Bill de Blasio and the Movement to End America's Tale of Two Cities</a>.</p> <p>The Times used that location a lot, but it also published <a href="https://atlanticyardsreport.blogspot.com/2006/04/times-finally-corrects-downtown.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a correction</a> back in 2006 indicating that almost all the project site was in Prospect Heights. This might be seen as splitting hairs -- today, it could be argued that the Barclays Center extends the boundaries of Downtown Brooklyn, long seen as ending near the Williamsburgh Savings Bank, across Atlantic Avenue.</p> <p>But the key issue is that the Atlantic Yards site was separate from Downtown Brooklyn, which New York City rezoned for high-rise buildings. After all, exiting from the back of the Barclays Center, you see Prospect Heights row houses across the street. Even Gregg Pasquarelli, the architect who redesigned the arena, <a href="https://atlanticyardsreport.blogspot.com/2010/10/in-promotional-brooklyn-tomorrow.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">called it</a> "a big building in a residential neighborhood."</p> <p>***</p> <p>The overall amount of direct and indirect subsidies for Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park remains murky, in part because the project's not finished. But these books don't help.</p> <p>"The city contributed $100 million in cash, infrastructure support, and tax abatements to the private project," writes McNickle, not specifying the value of the latter two categories. The New York City Independent Budget Office (IBO) <a href="https://atlanticyardsreport.blogspot.com/2009/09/net-gain-to-ratner-loss-to-public-ibo.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">estimated</a> a package far more valuable than $100 million.</p> <p>Writes Doctoroff: "When the financials of the deal deteriorated, the city and state upped our [cash] contributions to the project to $100 million apiece."</p> <p>Actually, beyond that $100 million, the city later assigned $105 million to Atlantic Yards. Though city officials <a href="https://atlanticyardsreport.blogspot.com/2010/06/city-provides-325m-cash-for-project.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">protested</a> that a good chunk of that would have been delivered anyway -- and the IBO cautiously assessed a <a href="http://www.ibo.nyc.ny.us/iboreports/AtlanticYards091009.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">$150 million</a> city total -- Forest City itself <a href="https://atlanticyardsreport.blogspot.com/2010/06/city-provides-325m-cash-for-project.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">claimed</a> it had secured $105 million more.</p> <p>Why does that larger figure matter? Because the IBO, which in 2006 <a href="http://www.ibo.nyc.ny.us/iboreports/atlyards_fbsept2005.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">estimated</a> that the arena would represent a net gain for city taxpayers, in 2009 <a href="http://www.ibo.nyc.ny.us/iboreports/AtlanticYards091009.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">projected</a> a loss, based in part on new subsidy numbers. That goes unmentioned in Doctoroff's book, though the city, which embraced the earlier IBO assessment, attacked the later one. The overall impact <a href="https://atlanticyardsreport.blogspot.com/2015/02/does-barclays-center-help-local.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">remains inconclusive</a>.</p> <p>Beyond that, Doctoroff writes that, for the new Yankees and Mets stadiums, and the Brooklyn arena, "the city would fund only infrastructure costs, the stadium had to be financed by the team." Putting aside the controversial financing methods -- PILOTs, or payments in lieu of taxes -- that's not true regarding the Barclays Center.</p> <p>The city's initial $100 million pledge could be used for infrastructure or for land purchases and, ultimately, it was used to buy arena land. In fact, Forest City's seemingly generous buyouts of condo owners -- prompting a front-page 2004 Daily News headline, "<a href="http://atlanticyardsreport.blogspot.com/2008/04/revisiting-that-may-2004-daily-news.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">BONANZA</a>," subtitled, "Brooklyn apt. owners offered $1 million-plus to make way for Nets arena" -- were funded by taxpayers, as I <a href="https://atlanticyardsreport.blogspot.com/2008/04/revisiting-that-may-2004-daily-news.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">reported</a> four years later.</p> <p>***</p> <p>"Because the project stood mostly over state controlled land," writes McNickle, "the city's normal review process did not apply." It's hard to fault him for conveying that typical explanation from public officials, though such state land is actually a plurality, not a majority.</p> <p>Then again, some critics, including former City Planning Commissioner Ron Shiffman, long <a href="https://atlanticyardsreport.blogspot.com/2007/02/spin-city-1-burden-calls-ay-gaping.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">argued</a> that the city could have negotiated with the Empire State Development Corporation, the state authority (since renamed Empire State Development) that wound up overseeing Atlantic Yards, to use the city's more substantial Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP).</p> <p>Indeed, that's one mini-revelation from Doctoroff. "Although we would eventually become masters of ULURP," he writes, "at this point not a single rezoning had been approved and internally we had doubts about pulling off all we were trying to accomplish. Because the state owned much of the land, we decided that for expediency we would skirt ULURP and take advantage of the state's seemingly speedier process. With twenty-twenty hindsight, I am positive we could have placated our opponents in negotiations and gotten the process through ULURP."</p> <p>He's got a point. The Bloomberg administration might not have placated all opponents -- many were opposed to the arena, period -- but likely would have made some concessions, leading to perhaps more legitimacy and more oversight for the project, as well as a voice for then-City Council Member Letitia James, who represented the area.</p> <p>***</p> <p>A more important revelation from Doctoroff is that, while he and the Bloomberg administration were public cheerleaders for Atlantic Yards -- “My role in this was to be as supportive and reassuring as possible,” he writes -- from the start in 2003 he questioned whether such a complex project would work.</p> <p>Noting that developer Bruce Ratner had to buy the money-losing New Jersey Nets and navigate a complex set of approvals, Doctoroff “thought it was a crazy risk, but, hey, it was his money.” Actually, it involved public money too, as well as the opportunity cost of delaying alternative use for the public property at issue.</p> <p>After all, given how much Atlantic Yards was sold to the public as providing solutions to the affordable housing crisis, didn't public officials owe us more candor about the risks of delay and nonperformance?</p> <p>***</p> <p>How long was Atlantic Yards supposed to take? That too goes down the memory hole. Viteritti writes that de Blasio "picked up the ball on real estate projects he inherited...he got Forest City Ratner, the developer of the massive Pacific Park Project...to accelerate the construction of 2,250 affordable apartments by 2025--ten years ahead of schedule."</p> <p>To clarify: by 2014, there was a new developer: Greenland Forest City Partners, the joint venture owned 70% by Greenland USA, with Forest City the junior partner. That's worth noting, because community critics seeking a faster timetable tried to pressure the state before approval of that new majority owner was granted.</p> <p>More importantly, "ten years ahead of schedule," while widely reported and not incorrect, is misleadingly incomplete. That timetable is ten years ahead of the previous <a href="http://bklynr.com/when-affordable-rents-push-3000/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">schedule</a>, which had been extended from ten years to 25 years.</p> <p>So a 2025 completion date remains well behind the long-professed timetable. In fact -- and this was public knowledge before the author's deadline -- that target date is now in jeopardy, given that the developer last November <a href="https://atlanticyardsreport.blogspot.com/2016/11/after-bombshell-about-delays-whats-new.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">paused</a> market-rate development.</p> <p>***</p> <p>Doctoroff looks approvingly at Pacific Park so far, saying the arena opened "to (mostly) rave architectural reviews, with critics praising its proportions and its fit into the neighborhood." True, but critics' praise for the arena's innovative, elevator-based loading dock was followed by neighbors <a href="https://atlanticyardsreport.blogspot.com/2012/11/outside-barclays-center-trucks-wait.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">experiencing noisy truck lineups</a> on residential streets.</p> <p>The former deputy mayor also cites an increase in property values and busy restaurants, and none of the "feared terrible traffic congestion." The latter is true, but he should acknowledge that congestion fears were based on a project that had been built out faster, as well as far more fans driving from New Jersey.</p> <p>Nor does Doctoroff acknowledge that impacts on the nearest residents can be brutal; one resident <a href="https://atlanticyardsreport.blogspot.com/2016/10/shitshow-corner-arena-operations.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">said</a> she lives near "sh--show corner." He fails to mention that extravagant promises of local/minority/women hiring and contracting have never been confirmed.</p> <p>"Thousands of units of desperately needed affordable housing are finally coming online," Doctoroff writes. The total is actually 781, in three towers, with new construction paused, and it's doubtful that all of the units are desperately needed.</p> <p>After all, some 43% of the apartments built so far are aimed at middle-income households earning up to 165% of Area Median Income, far more than the income of the mostly low-income residents who marched enthusiastically for Atlantic Yards affordable housing. That translates, for example, into two-bedroom <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/opinion/7018-pacific-park-developer-s-deceptive-affordable-housing-spin" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">apartments</a> costing <a href="https://a806-housingconnect.nyc.gov/nyclottery/AdvertisementPdf/276.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">well</a> <a href="https://a806-housingconnect.nyc.gov/nyclottery/AdvertisementPdf/324.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">over</a> <a href="https://a806-housingconnect.nyc.gov/nyclottery/AdvertisementPdf/249.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">$3,000</a> a month.</p> <p>In fact, though the two already open buildings drew more than over 176,000 aspirants in the city's housing lottery, the developer <a href="https://atlanticyardsreport.blogspot.com/2017/09/though-huge-numbers-sought-low-income.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">was unable</a> to fill all middle-income "affordable" units, presumably because of cost. So those apartments are now open to anyone who fits in the appropriate income category.</p> <p>***</p> <p>With affordable housing, the devil is in the details, though readers have no way of knowing from these books just how affordable the apartments are. Housing is called affordable if a household pays up to 30% of its income on rent.</p> <p>The Atlantic Yards story deserves more nuanced attention generally. Gonzalez, in a few glancing mentions, does the best job of suggesting something was sketchy; Viteritti and McNickle acknowledge controversy.</p> <p>Doctoroff claims success at a transformational project, scoffing at project opponents as brownstone owners wary of crowding, though he allows that we'll never know if Ratner makes money on the project.</p> <p>What's missing, though, is a sense of the political skullduggery involved. For example, both books about de Blasio cite his relationship with the community group ACORN and its New York leader, Bertha Lewis. But neither mentions how, when the national group faced an internal embezzlement scandal and funders pulled away, Lewis (as ACORN founder Wade Rathke <a href="http://chieforganizer.org/2010/11/08/acorn%E2%80%99s-bankruptcy-not-debts-cash-flow/#sthash.M5kfd1vs.dpuf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">acknowledged</a>) got her Atlantic Yards ally Forest City to deliver a loan and a grant, further cementing their relationship.</p> <p>Also missing are issues of accountability, ones that will dog Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park during its next phases, inevitable twists, and likely requests for more government assistance. As the project's history is still being made, we should see its controversial past more clearly.</p> <p>***<br />Norman Oder is a Brooklyn journalist who writes the daily blog <a href="http://atlanticyardsreport.blogspot.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park Report</a> and is working on a book about the project. On Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/AYReport" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@AYReport</a>.</p> <p>

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<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/bloomberg-jay-z-barclays.jpg" alt="bloomberg jay z barclays" width="600" height="412" /></p> <p>(photo: Spencer T Tucker via the Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>"Atlantic Yards down the memory hole" is a phrase I coined to describe how the facts and history of the controversial real estate project -- which was renamed Pacific Park Brooklyn in 2014 -- regularly get mangled by journalists, public officials, and commentators, often buffing away the controversy so that people may eventually wonder why anyone ever cared.</p> <p>Part of that surely relates to the project's complex, twisting path, with at least 11 more towers yet unbuilt, joining the Barclays Center and four apartment buildings. It's tough to get right, even for me, and I write about Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park every day.</p> <p>Also, the documentary record includes newspaper articles and government statements that either were initially flawed or no longer remain correct. Add the pressure of tight deadlines, with little time (or perhaps inclination) to check on, say, whether an old New York Times article was superseded by new information in the mainstream press, or corrected by <a href="https://atlanticyardsreport.blogspot.com/2014/06/how-new-york-times-again-let-itself-get.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a blog</a> they don't read.</p> <p>It's doubly dismaying, though, when book authors err, because they presumably have more time for research and because a hardcover presentation adds gravity. Unfortunately, interesting new books on the Bloomberg and de Blasio administrations get the Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park history wrong, in both small and significant ways.</p> <p>It's understandable that the authors give Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park short shrift, as it's but one controversy within a complex set of governing challenges, and authors have to pick their spots. It doesn't ruin these substantial books. But it suggests they've not given careful attention to this project.</p> <p>Only former Bloomberg Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff, in his <a href="https://www.hachettebookgroup.com/titles/daniel-doctoroff/greater-than-ever/9781610396080/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Greater Than Ever: New York's Big Comeback</a>, adds some new insights, but his triumphant narrative ignores some countervailing evidence.</p> <p>***</p> <p>Some authors make simple, though telling, mistakes, likely from sloppily surveying a clip file. Writes Chris McNickle, in <a href="http://skyhorsepublishing.com/titles/13204-9781510722576-bloomberg" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Bloomberg: A Billionaire's Ambition</a>, "Forest City Ratner, a national real estate firm, built the Barclays Center...on top of gritty MTA-owned railroad tracks." Put aside that Forest City Ratner was the New York arm of a national firm -- then Forest City Enterprises, now Forest City Realty Trust -- the arena was not built fully on (or over) the MTA's Vanderbilt Yard. The arena was built partly on the railyard. The tracks in the way were moved.</p> <p>The other half of the arena footprint involved private (plus city/MTA) property and public streets. Had the arena site been limited to the railyard, Atlantic Yards wouldn't have sparked years of controversy and a battle over eminent domain to deliver some of that private property.</p> <p>This error appeared <a href="https://atlanticyardsreport.blogspot.com/2006/03/atlantic-yards-site-open-railyard.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">frequently</a> in the Times and other media outlets, and was only occasionally <a href="https://atlanticyardsreport.blogspot.com/2009/09/times-corrects-deplascos-railyard.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">corrected</a>. Probably the most egregious example was the enthusiastic appraisal of the original 2003 plan by Times architectural critic Herbert Muschamp, who <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2003/12/11/nyregion/courtside-seats-to-an-urban-garden.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">wrote</a>, "The six-block site...is now an open railyard."</p> <p>Doctoroff similarly writes that Ratner "would build a huge development on the railyard at the convergence of the two major thoroughfares in Brooklyn -- Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues -- right next to the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Brooklyn's premier cultural institution." (Also, Brooklynites know that a huge mall and then the Williamsburgh Savings Bank building stand between the arena site and BAM.)</p> <p>***</p> <p>McNickle, to his credit, locates the Barclays Center "near Downtown Brooklyn." Doctoroff uses "Downtown Brooklyn" without the modifier, as do Joseph P. Viteritti, in his <a href="https://global.oup.com/academic/product/the-pragmatist-9780190679507?cc=ca&amp;lang=en&amp;" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">The Pragmatist: Bill de Blasio’s Quest to Save the Soul of New York</a>, and Juan Gonzalez in his <a href="http://thenewpress.com/books/reclaiming-gotham" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Reclaiming Gotham: Bill de Blasio and the Movement to End America's Tale of Two Cities</a>.</p> <p>The Times used that location a lot, but it also published <a href="https://atlanticyardsreport.blogspot.com/2006/04/times-finally-corrects-downtown.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a correction</a> back in 2006 indicating that almost all the project site was in Prospect Heights. This might be seen as splitting hairs -- today, it could be argued that the Barclays Center extends the boundaries of Downtown Brooklyn, long seen as ending near the Williamsburgh Savings Bank, across Atlantic Avenue.</p> <p>But the key issue is that the Atlantic Yards site was separate from Downtown Brooklyn, which New York City rezoned for high-rise buildings. After all, exiting from the back of the Barclays Center, you see Prospect Heights row houses across the street. Even Gregg Pasquarelli, the architect who redesigned the arena, <a href="https://atlanticyardsreport.blogspot.com/2010/10/in-promotional-brooklyn-tomorrow.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">called it</a> "a big building in a residential neighborhood."</p> <p>***</p> <p>The overall amount of direct and indirect subsidies for Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park remains murky, in part because the project's not finished. But these books don't help.</p> <p>"The city contributed $100 million in cash, infrastructure support, and tax abatements to the private project," writes McNickle, not specifying the value of the latter two categories. The New York City Independent Budget Office (IBO) <a href="https://atlanticyardsreport.blogspot.com/2009/09/net-gain-to-ratner-loss-to-public-ibo.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">estimated</a> a package far more valuable than $100 million.</p> <p>Writes Doctoroff: "When the financials of the deal deteriorated, the city and state upped our [cash] contributions to the project to $100 million apiece."</p> <p>Actually, beyond that $100 million, the city later assigned $105 million to Atlantic Yards. Though city officials <a href="https://atlanticyardsreport.blogspot.com/2010/06/city-provides-325m-cash-for-project.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">protested</a> that a good chunk of that would have been delivered anyway -- and the IBO cautiously assessed a <a href="http://www.ibo.nyc.ny.us/iboreports/AtlanticYards091009.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">$150 million</a> city total -- Forest City itself <a href="https://atlanticyardsreport.blogspot.com/2010/06/city-provides-325m-cash-for-project.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">claimed</a> it had secured $105 million more.</p> <p>Why does that larger figure matter? Because the IBO, which in 2006 <a href="http://www.ibo.nyc.ny.us/iboreports/atlyards_fbsept2005.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">estimated</a> that the arena would represent a net gain for city taxpayers, in 2009 <a href="http://www.ibo.nyc.ny.us/iboreports/AtlanticYards091009.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">projected</a> a loss, based in part on new subsidy numbers. That goes unmentioned in Doctoroff's book, though the city, which embraced the earlier IBO assessment, attacked the later one. The overall impact <a href="https://atlanticyardsreport.blogspot.com/2015/02/does-barclays-center-help-local.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">remains inconclusive</a>.</p> <p>Beyond that, Doctoroff writes that, for the new Yankees and Mets stadiums, and the Brooklyn arena, "the city would fund only infrastructure costs, the stadium had to be financed by the team." Putting aside the controversial financing methods -- PILOTs, or payments in lieu of taxes -- that's not true regarding the Barclays Center.</p> <p>The city's initial $100 million pledge could be used for infrastructure or for land purchases and, ultimately, it was used to buy arena land. In fact, Forest City's seemingly generous buyouts of condo owners -- prompting a front-page 2004 Daily News headline, "<a href="http://atlanticyardsreport.blogspot.com/2008/04/revisiting-that-may-2004-daily-news.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">BONANZA</a>," subtitled, "Brooklyn apt. owners offered $1 million-plus to make way for Nets arena" -- were funded by taxpayers, as I <a href="https://atlanticyardsreport.blogspot.com/2008/04/revisiting-that-may-2004-daily-news.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">reported</a> four years later.</p> <p>***</p> <p>"Because the project stood mostly over state controlled land," writes McNickle, "the city's normal review process did not apply." It's hard to fault him for conveying that typical explanation from public officials, though such state land is actually a plurality, not a majority.</p> <p>Then again, some critics, including former City Planning Commissioner Ron Shiffman, long <a href="https://atlanticyardsreport.blogspot.com/2007/02/spin-city-1-burden-calls-ay-gaping.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">argued</a> that the city could have negotiated with the Empire State Development Corporation, the state authority (since renamed Empire State Development) that wound up overseeing Atlantic Yards, to use the city's more substantial Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP).</p> <p>Indeed, that's one mini-revelation from Doctoroff. "Although we would eventually become masters of ULURP," he writes, "at this point not a single rezoning had been approved and internally we had doubts about pulling off all we were trying to accomplish. Because the state owned much of the land, we decided that for expediency we would skirt ULURP and take advantage of the state's seemingly speedier process. With twenty-twenty hindsight, I am positive we could have placated our opponents in negotiations and gotten the process through ULURP."</p> <p>He's got a point. The Bloomberg administration might not have placated all opponents -- many were opposed to the arena, period -- but likely would have made some concessions, leading to perhaps more legitimacy and more oversight for the project, as well as a voice for then-City Council Member Letitia James, who represented the area.</p> <p>***</p> <p>A more important revelation from Doctoroff is that, while he and the Bloomberg administration were public cheerleaders for Atlantic Yards -- “My role in this was to be as supportive and reassuring as possible,” he writes -- from the start in 2003 he questioned whether such a complex project would work.</p> <p>Noting that developer Bruce Ratner had to buy the money-losing New Jersey Nets and navigate a complex set of approvals, Doctoroff “thought it was a crazy risk, but, hey, it was his money.” Actually, it involved public money too, as well as the opportunity cost of delaying alternative use for the public property at issue.</p> <p>After all, given how much Atlantic Yards was sold to the public as providing solutions to the affordable housing crisis, didn't public officials owe us more candor about the risks of delay and nonperformance?</p> <p>***</p> <p>How long was Atlantic Yards supposed to take? That too goes down the memory hole. Viteritti writes that de Blasio "picked up the ball on real estate projects he inherited...he got Forest City Ratner, the developer of the massive Pacific Park Project...to accelerate the construction of 2,250 affordable apartments by 2025--ten years ahead of schedule."</p> <p>To clarify: by 2014, there was a new developer: Greenland Forest City Partners, the joint venture owned 70% by Greenland USA, with Forest City the junior partner. That's worth noting, because community critics seeking a faster timetable tried to pressure the state before approval of that new majority owner was granted.</p> <p>More importantly, "ten years ahead of schedule," while widely reported and not incorrect, is misleadingly incomplete. That timetable is ten years ahead of the previous <a href="http://bklynr.com/when-affordable-rents-push-3000/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">schedule</a>, which had been extended from ten years to 25 years.</p> <p>So a 2025 completion date remains well behind the long-professed timetable. In fact -- and this was public knowledge before the author's deadline -- that target date is now in jeopardy, given that the developer last November <a href="https://atlanticyardsreport.blogspot.com/2016/11/after-bombshell-about-delays-whats-new.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">paused</a> market-rate development.</p> <p>***</p> <p>Doctoroff looks approvingly at Pacific Park so far, saying the arena opened "to (mostly) rave architectural reviews, with critics praising its proportions and its fit into the neighborhood." True, but critics' praise for the arena's innovative, elevator-based loading dock was followed by neighbors <a href="https://atlanticyardsreport.blogspot.com/2012/11/outside-barclays-center-trucks-wait.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">experiencing noisy truck lineups</a> on residential streets.</p> <p>The former deputy mayor also cites an increase in property values and busy restaurants, and none of the "feared terrible traffic congestion." The latter is true, but he should acknowledge that congestion fears were based on a project that had been built out faster, as well as far more fans driving from New Jersey.</p> <p>Nor does Doctoroff acknowledge that impacts on the nearest residents can be brutal; one resident <a href="https://atlanticyardsreport.blogspot.com/2016/10/shitshow-corner-arena-operations.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">said</a> she lives near "sh--show corner." He fails to mention that extravagant promises of local/minority/women hiring and contracting have never been confirmed.</p> <p>"Thousands of units of desperately needed affordable housing are finally coming online," Doctoroff writes. The total is actually 781, in three towers, with new construction paused, and it's doubtful that all of the units are desperately needed.</p> <p>After all, some 43% of the apartments built so far are aimed at middle-income households earning up to 165% of Area Median Income, far more than the income of the mostly low-income residents who marched enthusiastically for Atlantic Yards affordable housing. That translates, for example, into two-bedroom <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/opinion/7018-pacific-park-developer-s-deceptive-affordable-housing-spin" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">apartments</a> costing <a href="https://a806-housingconnect.nyc.gov/nyclottery/AdvertisementPdf/276.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">well</a> <a href="https://a806-housingconnect.nyc.gov/nyclottery/AdvertisementPdf/324.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">over</a> <a href="https://a806-housingconnect.nyc.gov/nyclottery/AdvertisementPdf/249.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">$3,000</a> a month.</p> <p>In fact, though the two already open buildings drew more than over 176,000 aspirants in the city's housing lottery, the developer <a href="https://atlanticyardsreport.blogspot.com/2017/09/though-huge-numbers-sought-low-income.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">was unable</a> to fill all middle-income "affordable" units, presumably because of cost. So those apartments are now open to anyone who fits in the appropriate income category.</p> <p>***</p> <p>With affordable housing, the devil is in the details, though readers have no way of knowing from these books just how affordable the apartments are. Housing is called affordable if a household pays up to 30% of its income on rent.</p> <p>The Atlantic Yards story deserves more nuanced attention generally. Gonzalez, in a few glancing mentions, does the best job of suggesting something was sketchy; Viteritti and McNickle acknowledge controversy.</p> <p>Doctoroff claims success at a transformational project, scoffing at project opponents as brownstone owners wary of crowding, though he allows that we'll never know if Ratner makes money on the project.</p> <p>What's missing, though, is a sense of the political skullduggery involved. For example, both books about de Blasio cite his relationship with the community group ACORN and its New York leader, Bertha Lewis. But neither mentions how, when the national group faced an internal embezzlement scandal and funders pulled away, Lewis (as ACORN founder Wade Rathke <a href="http://chieforganizer.org/2010/11/08/acorn%E2%80%99s-bankruptcy-not-debts-cash-flow/#sthash.M5kfd1vs.dpuf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">acknowledged</a>) got her Atlantic Yards ally Forest City to deliver a loan and a grant, further cementing their relationship.</p> <p>Also missing are issues of accountability, ones that will dog Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park during its next phases, inevitable twists, and likely requests for more government assistance. As the project's history is still being made, we should see its controversial past more clearly.</p> <p>***<br />Norman Oder is a Brooklyn journalist who writes the daily blog <a href="http://atlanticyardsreport.blogspot.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park Report</a> and is working on a book about the project. On Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/AYReport" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@AYReport</a>.</p> <p>

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Don’t Forget: Cumbo Won with Promise of 100% Affordability at Armory 2017-10-17T04:00:00+00:00 2017-10-17T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7255:don-t-forget-cumbo-won-with-promise-of-100-affordability-at-armory Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/ahome3.jpg" alt="ahome3" width="600" height="462" /></p> <p>Bedford Union Armory rendering</p> <hr /> <p>For months, thousands of Crown Heights residents have petitioned, testified, marched, and protested against a proposed redevelopment at the Bedford Union Armory, where the plan backed by the de Blasio administration would take a massive parcel of public land and give it to a private developer to build high-end housing and a recreation facility.</p> <p>The local City Council member, Laurie Cumbo, recently won her Democratic primary for reelection after opposing the deal, promising that she would insist on no luxury condominiums, while her backers promised she’d push for 100% affordable housing at the site. But Cumbo is now moving the goalposts in a dangerous direction.</p> <p>Crown Heights is one of New York City’s most rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods. In 2015, over 20,000 families faced eviction in the three zip codes surrounding the armory, many of whom lived in the community long before it became a “place to be” for those moving into the area. &nbsp;Nearly 30% of shelter entrants in the city are from Brooklyn and if this project proceeds as currently designed, even more longtime community members (many whom are people of color and of West Indian descent), will be displaced from their homes and have to move to a shelter that probably won’t be across the street like the mayor’s plan suggests.</p> <p>From the beginning, the community’s demand has been simple to understand. Kill this deal. Go back to the drawing board to create the truly affordable housing that’s desperately needed.</p> <p>We need a community land trust with local control over the land, and real low-income housing. The only housing to be built should be to protect the victims of gentrification -- displaced homeless families and those at risk of displacement -- not to facilitate more of the same problem. It appeared that Council Member Cumbo had finally listened to her constituents when she opposed the plan currently on the table.</p> <p>But in a recent <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/05/nyregion/de-blasio-affordable-housing-new-york-city.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">New York Times article</a> on the mayor’s housing plan, Cumbo declared that “the community put the line in the sand: no luxury condominiums.”</p> <p>This “line in the sand” signifies a bait-and-switch. In fact, it’s simply where Cumbo has moved the goalposts after winning a competitive election, and the Council member should know that the community sees what’s happening.</p> <p>Redevelopment of the Bedford Armory was the central issue in the recent primary. During the campaign, Cumbo supporters spent $135,846.64 on more than 10 mailers and robocalls in an effort to convince Crown Heights voters to support her. These mailers were clear on Cumbo’s position: shut the deal down without 100% affordability at the armory site.</p> <p>Cumbo won promising a much better deal, and now she just wants to scrap the condos.</p> <p>Let’s be crystal clear: a project that moves forward with any luxury housing – rentals or condos – is still not a project for us. A community land trust with real low-income housing would be a practical solution that could contribute to solving the homelessness crisis in Brooklyn and in New York City overall, especially since this is public land. But a housing plan that moves forward with only 18 units affordable to the average resident of Crown Heights is not just unacceptable, it’s an insult.</p> <p>If Cumbo doesn’t kill the deal, she will have allowed her supporters to openly lie to the electorate during her primary campaign.</p> <p>And to add injury to insult, Mayor de Blasio is busy explaining away his failing housing policies by blaming the constraints of the free market and capitalism. But those restraints don’t exist on public land like they do on private land. The Bedford Union Armory is a wholly socialist enterprise — like the mayor claims he would want.</p> <p>What is the mayor doing with these “socialist” powers? Making a conscious decision to privatize land and “harness” gentrification, rather than fight it.</p> <p>Public land is a vanishing resource in New York City. At a time when we continue to struggle with a record homelessness crisis and massive displacement of low- and moderate-income people, many people of color, it should also be priceless.</p> <p>This is particularly egregious when more and more human beings are being warehoused in shelters, just like the one recently opened a few blocks from the armory, with a number of residents not being from the area, as the mayor claims is his goal. Despite what the mayor and Council Member Cumbo say in their press clippings and campaign advertisements, their policies show exactly where their priorities lie: luxury housing to make developers rich and house people who have no fear of being homeless, and shelters for far too many others.</p> <p>It really is still a tale of two cities out here.</p> <p>But Cumbo still has a chance to live up to the promises she made during her primary campaign, cutting out greedy developers and giving us a community land trust with 100% affordable housing on this precious public land.</p> <p>Or she can get rid of a few luxury condos and tell us that this is some kind of victory, despite the fact that half the units would still be luxury rentals and a pitiful 5 percent would be affordable to the average Crown Heights resident, the same residents who have supported her.</p> <p>We look forward to working with Council Member Cumbo on developing the community land trust this neighborhood needs, especially on public land, as we know she wants to do the right thing. There’s still a chance.</p> <p>But make no mistake, we won’t let the wool be pulled over our eyes.</p> <p>***<br />Monique “Mo” George is the Executive Director of Picture the Homeless. On Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/pthny" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@pthny</a>.</p> <p>

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<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/ahome3.jpg" alt="ahome3" width="600" height="462" /></p> <p>Bedford Union Armory rendering</p> <hr /> <p>For months, thousands of Crown Heights residents have petitioned, testified, marched, and protested against a proposed redevelopment at the Bedford Union Armory, where the plan backed by the de Blasio administration would take a massive parcel of public land and give it to a private developer to build high-end housing and a recreation facility.</p> <p>The local City Council member, Laurie Cumbo, recently won her Democratic primary for reelection after opposing the deal, promising that she would insist on no luxury condominiums, while her backers promised she’d push for 100% affordable housing at the site. But Cumbo is now moving the goalposts in a dangerous direction.</p> <p>Crown Heights is one of New York City’s most rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods. In 2015, over 20,000 families faced eviction in the three zip codes surrounding the armory, many of whom lived in the community long before it became a “place to be” for those moving into the area. &nbsp;Nearly 30% of shelter entrants in the city are from Brooklyn and if this project proceeds as currently designed, even more longtime community members (many whom are people of color and of West Indian descent), will be displaced from their homes and have to move to a shelter that probably won’t be across the street like the mayor’s plan suggests.</p> <p>From the beginning, the community’s demand has been simple to understand. Kill this deal. Go back to the drawing board to create the truly affordable housing that’s desperately needed.</p> <p>We need a community land trust with local control over the land, and real low-income housing. The only housing to be built should be to protect the victims of gentrification -- displaced homeless families and those at risk of displacement -- not to facilitate more of the same problem. It appeared that Council Member Cumbo had finally listened to her constituents when she opposed the plan currently on the table.</p> <p>But in a recent <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/05/nyregion/de-blasio-affordable-housing-new-york-city.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">New York Times article</a> on the mayor’s housing plan, Cumbo declared that “the community put the line in the sand: no luxury condominiums.”</p> <p>This “line in the sand” signifies a bait-and-switch. In fact, it’s simply where Cumbo has moved the goalposts after winning a competitive election, and the Council member should know that the community sees what’s happening.</p> <p>Redevelopment of the Bedford Armory was the central issue in the recent primary. During the campaign, Cumbo supporters spent $135,846.64 on more than 10 mailers and robocalls in an effort to convince Crown Heights voters to support her. These mailers were clear on Cumbo’s position: shut the deal down without 100% affordability at the armory site.</p> <p>Cumbo won promising a much better deal, and now she just wants to scrap the condos.</p> <p>Let’s be crystal clear: a project that moves forward with any luxury housing – rentals or condos – is still not a project for us. A community land trust with real low-income housing would be a practical solution that could contribute to solving the homelessness crisis in Brooklyn and in New York City overall, especially since this is public land. But a housing plan that moves forward with only 18 units affordable to the average resident of Crown Heights is not just unacceptable, it’s an insult.</p> <p>If Cumbo doesn’t kill the deal, she will have allowed her supporters to openly lie to the electorate during her primary campaign.</p> <p>And to add injury to insult, Mayor de Blasio is busy explaining away his failing housing policies by blaming the constraints of the free market and capitalism. But those restraints don’t exist on public land like they do on private land. The Bedford Union Armory is a wholly socialist enterprise — like the mayor claims he would want.</p> <p>What is the mayor doing with these “socialist” powers? Making a conscious decision to privatize land and “harness” gentrification, rather than fight it.</p> <p>Public land is a vanishing resource in New York City. At a time when we continue to struggle with a record homelessness crisis and massive displacement of low- and moderate-income people, many people of color, it should also be priceless.</p> <p>This is particularly egregious when more and more human beings are being warehoused in shelters, just like the one recently opened a few blocks from the armory, with a number of residents not being from the area, as the mayor claims is his goal. Despite what the mayor and Council Member Cumbo say in their press clippings and campaign advertisements, their policies show exactly where their priorities lie: luxury housing to make developers rich and house people who have no fear of being homeless, and shelters for far too many others.</p> <p>It really is still a tale of two cities out here.</p> <p>But Cumbo still has a chance to live up to the promises she made during her primary campaign, cutting out greedy developers and giving us a community land trust with 100% affordable housing on this precious public land.</p> <p>Or she can get rid of a few luxury condos and tell us that this is some kind of victory, despite the fact that half the units would still be luxury rentals and a pitiful 5 percent would be affordable to the average Crown Heights resident, the same residents who have supported her.</p> <p>We look forward to working with Council Member Cumbo on developing the community land trust this neighborhood needs, especially on public land, as we know she wants to do the right thing. There’s still a chance.</p> <p>But make no mistake, we won’t let the wool be pulled over our eyes.</p> <p>***<br />Monique “Mo” George is the Executive Director of Picture the Homeless. On Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/pthny" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@pthny</a>.</p> <p>

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Key to Affordable Housing Development, Vacant Lots Remain Source of Controversy 2017-10-16T04:00:00+00:00 2017-10-16T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7251:key-to-affordable-housing-development-vacant-lots-remain-source-of-controversy Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/vacant-lot.jpg" alt="vacant lot" /></p> <hr /> <p>On 43rd Street in Far Rockaway, Queens, sit five adjacent, vacant lots. Cordoned off by a chained-link, gray metal fence, the lots—owned by the city’s Department of Housing and Preservation (HPD)—are covered in weeds and garbage. They are “eyesores for the community,” said Alexis Smallwood, a local community organizer, in an interview with Gotham Gazette. “Vacant lots should be used for community spaces or real affordable housing.”</p> <p>These five lots are examples of the hundreds the Department of Housing and Preservation (HPD) could utilize for affordable housing. Since issuing an audit and fuller report in early 2016, Comptroller Scott Stringer’s office has claimed that HPD has let more than 1,000 of these lots stand idle. Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration has contended, however, that Stringer’s conclusions were <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/18/nyregion/audit-proposes-using-vacant-lots-owned-by-new-york-city-for-affordable-housing.html?_r=0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">“false and misleading.</a>”</p> <p>The latest iteration of the decades-old debate over the quantity, quality, and status of New York’s city-owned vacant lots has been raging, with ebbs and flows, for the past year-and-a-half, even making its way into this year’s mayoral election.</p> <p>Sal Albanese, who challenged de Blasio in the Democratic mayoral primary and is now running in the general election on the Reform Party line, cited the Comptroller, writing <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/big-ideas-sal-albanese-article-1.3481366" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">in The Daily News</a> that he “will remove the stranglehold that big developers have on City Hall by taking the vacant properties city government owns - there are more than 1,000 of them - and building truly affordable housing.” Albanese referenced the use of vacant lots during debates as well.</p> <p>Other politicians have taken up the cause, calling for better use of the city’s vacant lots in battling the affordable housing crisis. Public Advocate Letitia James and City Council Members Jumanee Williams and Ydanis Rodriguez—arguing for legislation that includes a yearly, HPD-led census of publicly-owned, vacant lots—cited Stringer in <a href="http://cityandstateny.com/articles/opinion/vacant-properties-could-house-homeless-new-york-city.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">an August op-ed in City and State.</a></p> <p>Meanwhile, HPD and City Hall insist that the de Blasio administration is progressing in its development of lots for new affordable housing and call critics uninformed. “The sites that are available we’ve had a near maniacal focus on making sure that we know where they are and that we are putting them to good use,” said HPD Commissioner Torres-Spring in an interview on <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7206-what-s-the-data-point-77-651-with-the-city-housing-commissioner" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">What’s the [Data] Point?,</a> a podcast from Gotham Gazette and Citizens Budget Commission.</p> <p>The comptroller’s office remains dubious. In response to the commissioner’s comments, Tyrone Stevens, press secretary for Comptroller Stringer, said, “Unfortunately, since our audit, we have not seen any specific plans from HPD about how they are developing vacant city-owned land or how many units they’ve created and where they’re located.”</p> <p>As of now, the facts remain fuzzy. In early 2017, HPD denied several FOIL requests by Paula Segal, attorney with the Community Development Project at the Urban Justice Center, for lists of vacant lots under its jurisdiction. No lists were provided to the comptroller’s office in rebutting its report, and the department did not provide that information to Gotham Gazette when approached recently, after Torres-Springer’s latest comments on the discrepancy.</p> <p>As the debate continues, momentum has been building for pending City Council legislation that would require HPD to perform an annual, citywide census of all publicly-owned, vacant land. However, the de Blasio administration has not yet signaled support for the legislation, which is under negotiation, according to Torres-Springer.</p> <p><strong>Why Vacant Lots?</strong><br />When he announced his intention to run for mayor, de Blasio made affordable housing a centerpiece of his campaign, promising to create and preserve <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/de-blasio-bring-agenda-cuomo-albany-lawmakers-article-1.1508059" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">200,000 affordable housing units</a> over the next ten years. “We need a stronger hand to make sure development will create and preserve places for a diverse range of families to live and raise their kids,” said de Blasio <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2013/10/04/nyregion/deblasio-abny-speech.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">in a late 2013 campaign speech</a>.</p> <p>Shortly after he assumed office, he released <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/199-14/mayor-de-blasio-housing-new-york--five-borough-10-year-housing-plan-protect-and#/0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Housing New York</a>, a plan to flesh out a path to these 200,000 affordable units. At a total cost of $41 billion, not all of which would be city money, it promotes an array of strategies, like expanding housing for seniors and mandating rezonings to require a set portion of affordable units. The plan also includes a call to spur citywide development of small, vacant sites.</p> <p>For privately-owned, vacant sites, Housing New York includes the intention to not only institute taxes to incentivize housing development, but to reach out to real estate owners to foster potential partnerships. For those that are publicly-owned, the plan calls for the clustering of small, city-owned sites through newly-created programs like the Neighborhood Construction Program (NCP) and New Infill Homeownership Opportunities Program (NIHOP).</p> <p>Most notably, Housing New York includes a plan to conduct a citywide survey of all publicly and privately-owned vacant land. The administration has given no public indication that this survey has been performed, though it insists it has a detailed grasp of all its vacant lots.</p> <p>Nonprofits have estimated the total number of vacant sites to be in the thousands. In a 2011 report, Picture the Homeless, a nonprofit advocacy group, <a href="http://picturethehomeless.org/project/banking-on-vacancy-homelessness-real-estate-speculation/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">reported the existence</a> of 3,551 vacant buildings and 2,489 publicly and privately-owned vacant lots citywide. The group projected that these properties could house close to 200,000 people, more than three times the estimated number of homeless people in New York City, which now hovers around 62,000.</p> <p><strong>How Many Public Lots?</strong><br />While the city can incentivize the development of private lots (through vacancy taxes, rezoning density bonuses, and more), it can more quickly turn city-owned lots into affordable housing, as it directly administers these properties, often by working with nonprofit developers.</p> <p>However, the exact number of vacant lots the city owns remains unclear. "It seems like there's no number to start with, even if it's wrong," said City Council Member Jumaane Williams, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/4906-the-mayors-vacant-lots-de-blasio-affordable-housing" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">during a hearing on vacant properties in 2014</a>.</p> <p>Nonprofits like Picture the Homeless and city agencies have tried to fill the gap, with varying results. In <a href="https://www.mas.org/ourwork/colp/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a report released in 2016</a>, The Municipal Arts Society of New York used data from the Department of City Planning and found 2,726 city-owned, vacant sites. Nonetheless, MAS noticed inaccuracies.</p> <p>“There seems to be deficiencies in existing city datasets,” said Marcel Negret, project manager at The Municipal Arts Society, in an interview with Gotham Gazette.</p> <p>596 Acres, a nonprofit that pushes for community access to vacant lots, tried to correct for these errors. It combed through city datasets, removing sites that are gutterspaces, parks, and those that have already been sold to developers. Publishing this data as an <a href="https://livinglotsnyc.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">interactive map</a>, 596 Acres then crowdsourced information from residents and organizers. Its estimate for publicly-owned, vacant land amounts to 1,801 lots as of October 13th.</p> <p>Finally, the comptroller’s office waded into the fray with <a href="https://comptroller.nyc.gov/wp-content/uploads/documents/FM14_112A.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">its 2016 audit of the Department of Housing and Preservation</a>. Auditors used agency records as well as tax lien sales to identify 1,459 city-owned, vacant properties, of which 1,131 are under the jurisdiction of HPD, it said. In a subsequent report, Stringer claimed that these existing properties could produce approximately 53,000 units of affordable housing. Stringer did not assess the usability of the lots.</p> <p><strong>Debate Kicks Up a Notch</strong><br />After the audit’s public release, Comptroller Stringer, a Democrat then considering a possible entrance into the 2017 mayoral race, blasted the administration, HPD, and their predecessors, for an inability to effectively deploy vacant sites under their control.</p> <p>“This is generations of inaction,” he said.</p> <p>Housing officials responded in kind. “Your assertion that HPD allows vacant City-owned properties to languish in the face of the affordable housing crisis is simply wrong,” said Vicki Been, then HPD Commissioner, in a statement included in the original audit, in the section typically reserved for such a response. &nbsp;</p> <p>HPD claimed that the majority of lots cited in Stringer’s audit were accounted for: it said 310 have “major development challenges” (e.g. were in floodplains or near hurricane danger zones); 150 of the properties were better suited for “non-residential projects” (e.g. community gardens); and 670 were suited for residential use, of which 400 were already set aside for development within the next two years.</p> <p>De Blasio himself pushed back when asked about the audit during an interview. “I think it’s breathtaking how little the comptroller understands about this issue,” he said <a href="http://observer.com/2016/09/bill-de-blasio-says-its-breathtaking-how-little-his-top-democratic-rival-knows/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show in September 2016</a>.</p> <p>The comptroller had his own response. “But what the city has said to me is ‘no, no, no, all of these properties are already accounted for.’ Can you believe that? So if they’ve already made deals on the properties, who did they ever consult? They didn’t consult the community boards, they didn’t consult anybody,” Stringer said <a href="http://observer.com/2016/09/pols-advocates-count-citys-vacant-properties-to-solve-homeless-and-housing-crises/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">in an interview with the Observer.</a></p> <p><strong>The ‘Housing Not Warehousing Act’</strong><br />This back-and-forth took place amid City Council discussions on legislation designed to take stock of and push the development of private and city-owned vacant land. Comprised of three bills, the “Housing Not Warehousing Act” aims to create a registry of all landlords holding vacant property; hold an annual, citywide census of all vacant land; and compile a list of publicly-owned vacant sites.</p> <p>Introduced to the Council in December of 2015 by Public Advocate Letitia James and Council Members Jumaane Williams and Ydanis Rodriguez, the act was the focus of a public hearing in September 2016. Despite widespread support from Council members, HPD opposed <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=2537047&amp;GUID=ED82545C-893D-47EE-B5B6-095729CE7C67" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Intro. 1039</a>, the bill that would require the department to “conduct annual surveys of all city-owned properties to identify vacant buildings or lots that may be suitable for affordable housing.”</p> <p>HPD Deputy Commissioner Daniel Hernandez testified that publicly releasing this list would have unintended consequences. It would reveal vacant lots that host key environmental infrastructure, information potentially dangerous in the wrong hands, he said. It would prompt real estate speculation, as companies buy up surrounding lots in hopes of grants by the city, he argued, and it would be costly and unnecessary, as HPD already has much of this information at its fingertips.</p> <p>“Monitoring and collection required by the census would require extensive staff time and a commitment of financial resources without providing the data we really believe is desired,” explained Hernandez, <a href="https://citylimits.org/2017/09/29/is-housing-not-warehousing-next/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">according to City Limits</a>.</p> <p>In order to prove HPD was already making use of vacant lots under its control, Hernandez cited the same statistics released in response to Stringer’s audit, saying the city has identified 670 vacant lots suitable for the construction of affordable housing. HPD did not provide a detailed itemization.</p> <p>The committee balked at the lack of specificity. “How could you come to this hearing and not know the status of each and every one of these sites?” asked Council Member Barry Grodenchik, a Democrat from Queens, <a href="http://www.crainsnewyork.com/article/20160915/REAL_ESTATE/160919925/city-council-mayor-bill-de-blasio-fight-over-vacant-lots" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">according to Crain’s New York</a>.</p> <p><strong>Trying for Clarity</strong><br /> More than a year since the committee hearing on the Housing Not Warehousing Act, HPD has yet to publicly provide a detailed accounting of its vacant sites. Yet, the department reiterates that it is doing everything in its power to manage and deploy lots under its control.</p> <p>“There’s a lot of misconception about this, so I’m happy to clear the air,” Torres-Springer said, when asked about the vacant lots controversy on What’s The [Data] Point?. “To the extent that they are vacant sites, hundreds of those have either already been designated or in the pipeline or will be soon. There’s a good portion of those that are very small lots that have significant issues where you can’t really build. And—to be honest—even for those, we’re looking at ways to cluster so there's an affordable housing project that can be built.”</p> <p>Asked to respond to Torres-Springer’s recent comments, Stringer’s office again demanded details. “Which sites are currently being developed and how many remain undeveloped? In what neighborhoods?,” said Stevens, the press secretary. “Who are the developers and how much total subsidy have they received from the city so far for their work?”</p> <p>Others, too, have lamented that HPD has failed to substantiate its claim that all vacant lots under its control are accounted for. Segal, of the Urban Justice Center, explained in an interview that she filed three Freedom of Information Law requests to HPD on behalf of Picture the Homeless. Asking for lists of the 310 lots that have development challenges, the 150 better suited for non-housing purposes, and the 670 best suited for housing, Segal said that HPD denied one request based on “interference of contracts,” while not replying to the other two.</p> <p>“HPD failed to respond as they are required by state law,” she explained. “There’s no accountability.”</p> <p>Gotham Gazette asked HPD for the same lists Segal requested. Housing officials neither provided the data nor responded to Segal’s allegations. They did, however, push back against Stringer’s criticisms. “The comptroller’s assertion that HPD can create 50,000 units on all vacant city-owned land is simply untrue,” said housing officials. “It is not practical to develop all available sites at one time considering resource demands, and oddly shaped lots, infrastructure and resiliency needs on HPD’s remaining land makes development all the more challenging.”</p> <p>Asked for examples of city-owned vacant lots where housing is currently under construction, HPD provided two. One is "Flushing Municipal Lot 3," which was bid on in 2014 and awarded in 2015. "HPD announced the selection of a joint venture between Asian Americans for Equality (AAFE), HANAC Inc., and Monadnock Development to develop a transit-oriented, mixed-use, and mixed-income development in the Flushing neighborhood of Queens. The team's plan, called One Flushing, will result in the creation of 208 units of very low-income senior housing and multifamily housing that will be affordable to low- and moderate-income families."</p> <p>The second example is "Livonia Avenue Initiative Phase II," which was bid on and awarded in 2014. "HPD announced the selection of BRP Companies, HELP USA, and the Local Development Corporation of East New York (LDC ENY) for Phase II of the Livonia Avenue Initiative in the East New York neighborhood of Brooklyn. The development team's plan includes four new mixed-use buildings with a total of 288 affordable apartments, a commercial kitchen that will provide culinary training, and a Career Exploration center (CEC) that will provide vocational training to students of the New Visions Charter High School."</p> <p>There are various other lots in different stages of development, including some that were put out for bid last year that will be moving forward with selected partners in the near future.</p> <p><strong>Going Forward</strong><br />Perhaps the best hope for a reliable account of city-owned vacant lots remains one bill, Intro. 1039, of the Housing Not Warehousing Act. While the legislation has remained dormant since the 2016 hearing, <a href="https://citylimits.org/2017/09/29/is-housing-not-warehousing-next/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">City Limits recently reported</a> that momentum for the package of bills is increasing. Two have over 30 sponsors in the 51-seat Council, and Intro. 1039 has more than the “veto-proof” majority, with 34 sponsors, as of October 10.</p> <p>In comments given to City Limits, Council Member Williams, the prime sponsor of 1039, said, “I do believe it’s time to get moving.” He explained he might even attempt to push the legislation through without HPD sign-off. The Council virtually never moves legislation that has not reached an amicable compromise point with the de Blasio administration.</p> <p>Williams is hopeful that parlays with the administration will be successful and, according to a spokesperson in a statement to Gotham Gazette, “believes that the administration recognizes the degree of the affordable housing crisis here in the city, and hopes to work with them to address the problem and find meaningful solutions.”</p> <p>Torres-Springer echoed this desire to cooperate, saying on the podcast, “We continue to work with the Council on those bills, because we share the goal of using every square foot of real estate that we possibly can to build affordable housing, but we have to do it, of course, in the most strategic way.”</p> <p>

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by Ben Weiss, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

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<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/vacant-lot.jpg" alt="vacant lot" /></p> <hr /> <p>On 43rd Street in Far Rockaway, Queens, sit five adjacent, vacant lots. Cordoned off by a chained-link, gray metal fence, the lots—owned by the city’s Department of Housing and Preservation (HPD)—are covered in weeds and garbage. They are “eyesores for the community,” said Alexis Smallwood, a local community organizer, in an interview with Gotham Gazette. “Vacant lots should be used for community spaces or real affordable housing.”</p> <p>These five lots are examples of the hundreds the Department of Housing and Preservation (HPD) could utilize for affordable housing. Since issuing an audit and fuller report in early 2016, Comptroller Scott Stringer’s office has claimed that HPD has let more than 1,000 of these lots stand idle. Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration has contended, however, that Stringer’s conclusions were <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/18/nyregion/audit-proposes-using-vacant-lots-owned-by-new-york-city-for-affordable-housing.html?_r=0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">“false and misleading.</a>”</p> <p>The latest iteration of the decades-old debate over the quantity, quality, and status of New York’s city-owned vacant lots has been raging, with ebbs and flows, for the past year-and-a-half, even making its way into this year’s mayoral election.</p> <p>Sal Albanese, who challenged de Blasio in the Democratic mayoral primary and is now running in the general election on the Reform Party line, cited the Comptroller, writing <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/big-ideas-sal-albanese-article-1.3481366" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">in The Daily News</a> that he “will remove the stranglehold that big developers have on City Hall by taking the vacant properties city government owns - there are more than 1,000 of them - and building truly affordable housing.” Albanese referenced the use of vacant lots during debates as well.</p> <p>Other politicians have taken up the cause, calling for better use of the city’s vacant lots in battling the affordable housing crisis. Public Advocate Letitia James and City Council Members Jumanee Williams and Ydanis Rodriguez—arguing for legislation that includes a yearly, HPD-led census of publicly-owned, vacant lots—cited Stringer in <a href="http://cityandstateny.com/articles/opinion/vacant-properties-could-house-homeless-new-york-city.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">an August op-ed in City and State.</a></p> <p>Meanwhile, HPD and City Hall insist that the de Blasio administration is progressing in its development of lots for new affordable housing and call critics uninformed. “The sites that are available we’ve had a near maniacal focus on making sure that we know where they are and that we are putting them to good use,” said HPD Commissioner Torres-Spring in an interview on <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7206-what-s-the-data-point-77-651-with-the-city-housing-commissioner" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">What’s the [Data] Point?,</a> a podcast from Gotham Gazette and Citizens Budget Commission.</p> <p>The comptroller’s office remains dubious. In response to the commissioner’s comments, Tyrone Stevens, press secretary for Comptroller Stringer, said, “Unfortunately, since our audit, we have not seen any specific plans from HPD about how they are developing vacant city-owned land or how many units they’ve created and where they’re located.”</p> <p>As of now, the facts remain fuzzy. In early 2017, HPD denied several FOIL requests by Paula Segal, attorney with the Community Development Project at the Urban Justice Center, for lists of vacant lots under its jurisdiction. No lists were provided to the comptroller’s office in rebutting its report, and the department did not provide that information to Gotham Gazette when approached recently, after Torres-Springer’s latest comments on the discrepancy.</p> <p>As the debate continues, momentum has been building for pending City Council legislation that would require HPD to perform an annual, citywide census of all publicly-owned, vacant land. However, the de Blasio administration has not yet signaled support for the legislation, which is under negotiation, according to Torres-Springer.</p> <p><strong>Why Vacant Lots?</strong><br />When he announced his intention to run for mayor, de Blasio made affordable housing a centerpiece of his campaign, promising to create and preserve <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/de-blasio-bring-agenda-cuomo-albany-lawmakers-article-1.1508059" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">200,000 affordable housing units</a> over the next ten years. “We need a stronger hand to make sure development will create and preserve places for a diverse range of families to live and raise their kids,” said de Blasio <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2013/10/04/nyregion/deblasio-abny-speech.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">in a late 2013 campaign speech</a>.</p> <p>Shortly after he assumed office, he released <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/199-14/mayor-de-blasio-housing-new-york--five-borough-10-year-housing-plan-protect-and#/0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Housing New York</a>, a plan to flesh out a path to these 200,000 affordable units. At a total cost of $41 billion, not all of which would be city money, it promotes an array of strategies, like expanding housing for seniors and mandating rezonings to require a set portion of affordable units. The plan also includes a call to spur citywide development of small, vacant sites.</p> <p>For privately-owned, vacant sites, Housing New York includes the intention to not only institute taxes to incentivize housing development, but to reach out to real estate owners to foster potential partnerships. For those that are publicly-owned, the plan calls for the clustering of small, city-owned sites through newly-created programs like the Neighborhood Construction Program (NCP) and New Infill Homeownership Opportunities Program (NIHOP).</p> <p>Most notably, Housing New York includes a plan to conduct a citywide survey of all publicly and privately-owned vacant land. The administration has given no public indication that this survey has been performed, though it insists it has a detailed grasp of all its vacant lots.</p> <p>Nonprofits have estimated the total number of vacant sites to be in the thousands. In a 2011 report, Picture the Homeless, a nonprofit advocacy group, <a href="http://picturethehomeless.org/project/banking-on-vacancy-homelessness-real-estate-speculation/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">reported the existence</a> of 3,551 vacant buildings and 2,489 publicly and privately-owned vacant lots citywide. The group projected that these properties could house close to 200,000 people, more than three times the estimated number of homeless people in New York City, which now hovers around 62,000.</p> <p><strong>How Many Public Lots?</strong><br />While the city can incentivize the development of private lots (through vacancy taxes, rezoning density bonuses, and more), it can more quickly turn city-owned lots into affordable housing, as it directly administers these properties, often by working with nonprofit developers.</p> <p>However, the exact number of vacant lots the city owns remains unclear. "It seems like there's no number to start with, even if it's wrong," said City Council Member Jumaane Williams, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/4906-the-mayors-vacant-lots-de-blasio-affordable-housing" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">during a hearing on vacant properties in 2014</a>.</p> <p>Nonprofits like Picture the Homeless and city agencies have tried to fill the gap, with varying results. In <a href="https://www.mas.org/ourwork/colp/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a report released in 2016</a>, The Municipal Arts Society of New York used data from the Department of City Planning and found 2,726 city-owned, vacant sites. Nonetheless, MAS noticed inaccuracies.</p> <p>“There seems to be deficiencies in existing city datasets,” said Marcel Negret, project manager at The Municipal Arts Society, in an interview with Gotham Gazette.</p> <p>596 Acres, a nonprofit that pushes for community access to vacant lots, tried to correct for these errors. It combed through city datasets, removing sites that are gutterspaces, parks, and those that have already been sold to developers. Publishing this data as an <a href="https://livinglotsnyc.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">interactive map</a>, 596 Acres then crowdsourced information from residents and organizers. Its estimate for publicly-owned, vacant land amounts to 1,801 lots as of October 13th.</p> <p>Finally, the comptroller’s office waded into the fray with <a href="https://comptroller.nyc.gov/wp-content/uploads/documents/FM14_112A.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">its 2016 audit of the Department of Housing and Preservation</a>. Auditors used agency records as well as tax lien sales to identify 1,459 city-owned, vacant properties, of which 1,131 are under the jurisdiction of HPD, it said. In a subsequent report, Stringer claimed that these existing properties could produce approximately 53,000 units of affordable housing. Stringer did not assess the usability of the lots.</p> <p><strong>Debate Kicks Up a Notch</strong><br />After the audit’s public release, Comptroller Stringer, a Democrat then considering a possible entrance into the 2017 mayoral race, blasted the administration, HPD, and their predecessors, for an inability to effectively deploy vacant sites under their control.</p> <p>“This is generations of inaction,” he said.</p> <p>Housing officials responded in kind. “Your assertion that HPD allows vacant City-owned properties to languish in the face of the affordable housing crisis is simply wrong,” said Vicki Been, then HPD Commissioner, in a statement included in the original audit, in the section typically reserved for such a response. &nbsp;</p> <p>HPD claimed that the majority of lots cited in Stringer’s audit were accounted for: it said 310 have “major development challenges” (e.g. were in floodplains or near hurricane danger zones); 150 of the properties were better suited for “non-residential projects” (e.g. community gardens); and 670 were suited for residential use, of which 400 were already set aside for development within the next two years.</p> <p>De Blasio himself pushed back when asked about the audit during an interview. “I think it’s breathtaking how little the comptroller understands about this issue,” he said <a href="http://observer.com/2016/09/bill-de-blasio-says-its-breathtaking-how-little-his-top-democratic-rival-knows/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show in September 2016</a>.</p> <p>The comptroller had his own response. “But what the city has said to me is ‘no, no, no, all of these properties are already accounted for.’ Can you believe that? So if they’ve already made deals on the properties, who did they ever consult? They didn’t consult the community boards, they didn’t consult anybody,” Stringer said <a href="http://observer.com/2016/09/pols-advocates-count-citys-vacant-properties-to-solve-homeless-and-housing-crises/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">in an interview with the Observer.</a></p> <p><strong>The ‘Housing Not Warehousing Act’</strong><br />This back-and-forth took place amid City Council discussions on legislation designed to take stock of and push the development of private and city-owned vacant land. Comprised of three bills, the “Housing Not Warehousing Act” aims to create a registry of all landlords holding vacant property; hold an annual, citywide census of all vacant land; and compile a list of publicly-owned vacant sites.</p> <p>Introduced to the Council in December of 2015 by Public Advocate Letitia James and Council Members Jumaane Williams and Ydanis Rodriguez, the act was the focus of a public hearing in September 2016. Despite widespread support from Council members, HPD opposed <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=2537047&amp;GUID=ED82545C-893D-47EE-B5B6-095729CE7C67" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Intro. 1039</a>, the bill that would require the department to “conduct annual surveys of all city-owned properties to identify vacant buildings or lots that may be suitable for affordable housing.”</p> <p>HPD Deputy Commissioner Daniel Hernandez testified that publicly releasing this list would have unintended consequences. It would reveal vacant lots that host key environmental infrastructure, information potentially dangerous in the wrong hands, he said. It would prompt real estate speculation, as companies buy up surrounding lots in hopes of grants by the city, he argued, and it would be costly and unnecessary, as HPD already has much of this information at its fingertips.</p> <p>“Monitoring and collection required by the census would require extensive staff time and a commitment of financial resources without providing the data we really believe is desired,” explained Hernandez, <a href="https://citylimits.org/2017/09/29/is-housing-not-warehousing-next/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">according to City Limits</a>.</p> <p>In order to prove HPD was already making use of vacant lots under its control, Hernandez cited the same statistics released in response to Stringer’s audit, saying the city has identified 670 vacant lots suitable for the construction of affordable housing. HPD did not provide a detailed itemization.</p> <p>The committee balked at the lack of specificity. “How could you come to this hearing and not know the status of each and every one of these sites?” asked Council Member Barry Grodenchik, a Democrat from Queens, <a href="http://www.crainsnewyork.com/article/20160915/REAL_ESTATE/160919925/city-council-mayor-bill-de-blasio-fight-over-vacant-lots" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">according to Crain’s New York</a>.</p> <p><strong>Trying for Clarity</strong><br /> More than a year since the committee hearing on the Housing Not Warehousing Act, HPD has yet to publicly provide a detailed accounting of its vacant sites. Yet, the department reiterates that it is doing everything in its power to manage and deploy lots under its control.</p> <p>“There’s a lot of misconception about this, so I’m happy to clear the air,” Torres-Springer said, when asked about the vacant lots controversy on What’s The [Data] Point?. “To the extent that they are vacant sites, hundreds of those have either already been designated or in the pipeline or will be soon. There’s a good portion of those that are very small lots that have significant issues where you can’t really build. And—to be honest—even for those, we’re looking at ways to cluster so there's an affordable housing project that can be built.”</p> <p>Asked to respond to Torres-Springer’s recent comments, Stringer’s office again demanded details. “Which sites are currently being developed and how many remain undeveloped? In what neighborhoods?,” said Stevens, the press secretary. “Who are the developers and how much total subsidy have they received from the city so far for their work?”</p> <p>Others, too, have lamented that HPD has failed to substantiate its claim that all vacant lots under its control are accounted for. Segal, of the Urban Justice Center, explained in an interview that she filed three Freedom of Information Law requests to HPD on behalf of Picture the Homeless. Asking for lists of the 310 lots that have development challenges, the 150 better suited for non-housing purposes, and the 670 best suited for housing, Segal said that HPD denied one request based on “interference of contracts,” while not replying to the other two.</p> <p>“HPD failed to respond as they are required by state law,” she explained. “There’s no accountability.”</p> <p>Gotham Gazette asked HPD for the same lists Segal requested. Housing officials neither provided the data nor responded to Segal’s allegations. They did, however, push back against Stringer’s criticisms. “The comptroller’s assertion that HPD can create 50,000 units on all vacant city-owned land is simply untrue,” said housing officials. “It is not practical to develop all available sites at one time considering resource demands, and oddly shaped lots, infrastructure and resiliency needs on HPD’s remaining land makes development all the more challenging.”</p> <p>Asked for examples of city-owned vacant lots where housing is currently under construction, HPD provided two. One is "Flushing Municipal Lot 3," which was bid on in 2014 and awarded in 2015. "HPD announced the selection of a joint venture between Asian Americans for Equality (AAFE), HANAC Inc., and Monadnock Development to develop a transit-oriented, mixed-use, and mixed-income development in the Flushing neighborhood of Queens. The team's plan, called One Flushing, will result in the creation of 208 units of very low-income senior housing and multifamily housing that will be affordable to low- and moderate-income families."</p> <p>The second example is "Livonia Avenue Initiative Phase II," which was bid on and awarded in 2014. "HPD announced the selection of BRP Companies, HELP USA, and the Local Development Corporation of East New York (LDC ENY) for Phase II of the Livonia Avenue Initiative in the East New York neighborhood of Brooklyn. The development team's plan includes four new mixed-use buildings with a total of 288 affordable apartments, a commercial kitchen that will provide culinary training, and a Career Exploration center (CEC) that will provide vocational training to students of the New Visions Charter High School."</p> <p>There are various other lots in different stages of development, including some that were put out for bid last year that will be moving forward with selected partners in the near future.</p> <p><strong>Going Forward</strong><br />Perhaps the best hope for a reliable account of city-owned vacant lots remains one bill, Intro. 1039, of the Housing Not Warehousing Act. While the legislation has remained dormant since the 2016 hearing, <a href="https://citylimits.org/2017/09/29/is-housing-not-warehousing-next/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">City Limits recently reported</a> that momentum for the package of bills is increasing. Two have over 30 sponsors in the 51-seat Council, and Intro. 1039 has more than the “veto-proof” majority, with 34 sponsors, as of October 10.</p> <p>In comments given to City Limits, Council Member Williams, the prime sponsor of 1039, said, “I do believe it’s time to get moving.” He explained he might even attempt to push the legislation through without HPD sign-off. The Council virtually never moves legislation that has not reached an amicable compromise point with the de Blasio administration.</p> <p>Williams is hopeful that parlays with the administration will be successful and, according to a spokesperson in a statement to Gotham Gazette, “believes that the administration recognizes the degree of the affordable housing crisis here in the city, and hopes to work with them to address the problem and find meaningful solutions.”</p> <p>Torres-Springer echoed this desire to cooperate, saying on the podcast, “We continue to work with the Council on those bills, because we share the goal of using every square foot of real estate that we possibly can to build affordable housing, but we have to do it, of course, in the most strategic way.”</p> <p>

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by Ben Weiss, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

</p>
City Hall Pushes Back on Proposal that Hits Core Tension of Housing Plan 2017-10-12T04:00:00+00:00 2017-10-12T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7249:city-hall-pushes-back-on-proposal-that-hits-core-tension-of-housing-plan Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/reset_1/housing_rally_sign_via_nyccomptroller.jpg" alt="housing rally sign via nyccomptroller" width="600" height="450" /></p> <p>City Hall ralliers with Metro-IAF-NY (photo: @NYCComptroller)</p> <hr /> <p>Thousands of New Yorkers, many of them residents of public housing, braved the rain on Monday, October 9, to rally outside City Hall to push Mayor Bill de Blasio to adopt a new direction for his affordable housing plan. Their alternative proposal, which had been presented by the leading advocates to the mayor ten days prior, calls for a radical investment in building new housing for low-income families, especially seniors, which critics say has largely been left out of the mayor’s current housing strategy.</p> <p>But there’s disagreement over whether the plan is feasible and if the city, without state or federal resources, can commit to a sweeping addendum to an already ambitious affordable housing plan.</p> <p>The leaders of the community proposal and rally, reverends from Brooklyn, achieved significant attention for their plan and support from elected officials, in part because their critique of de Blasio’s housing program touched the core tension of what some see as a solid, fairly moderate approach, but others call too timid to address the affordability crisis facing the city and its residents and, in some cases, a catalyst of detrimental gentrification.<br /> <br />De Blasio’s Housing New York plan aims to build about 80,000 new affordable units and preserve another 120,000 by 2024. By June 30, the end of fiscal year 2017, the city had financed 77,651 units -- 25,342 or 33 percent new units and 52,309 or 67 percent preserved. The mayor has declared the plan on time and within budget and earlier this year he also announced an additional $1.9 billion investment to create 10,000 more affordable housing for low-income earners, including 5,000 more dedicated senior housing units, for a total of 15,000 senior units under the plan. There are also projects in the pipeline to build 10,000 new units on underutilized NYCHA property.</p> <p>But the organizers of Monday’s rally -- leaders of the Metro Industrial Areas Foundation and East Brooklyn Congregations, made up of church-going members, homeowners associations, schools, and senior centers -- say the plan isn’t building enough housing quickly enough, particularly for those at the lowest income tiers, and is ignoring the need for more senior housing. Their plan seeks to address these deficiencies, though the de Blasio administration says it is already doing most of what is being sought in the plan, while other aspects are not possible at this time.</p> <p>Of the 77,651 units financed by the administration so far, 11,505 were for families of three making less than $25,770 a year, or 30 percent on the area median income (AMI), and another 13,277 were for families making between $25,771-$42,950 (31-50 percent AMI).</p> <p>The Metro IAF-EBC proposal specifically calls for 15,000 new senior housing units on underutilized NYCHA land, which it foresees would allow 50,000 people on NYCHA waitlists and in homeless shelters to move into apartments vacated by those seniors. The plan also advocates for refurbishing NYCHA developments across the city. Its proponents, while vehemently behind it, note that it is a starting point for discussion with the mayor and his team.</p> <p>Mayor de Blasio, in a letter on October 7 responding to the coalition, wrote that he shares “the same values and goals: to build safe, clean, and affordable housing for all of our families at a faster rate than we have ever done.”</p> <p>“I also agree with you that we have to make tough choices if we’re going to turn a corner in this crisis, and invest in our original affordable housing: NYCHA,” he added, before agreeing to collaborate, in a general sense, on the coalition’s ideas. He made no specific promises.</p> <p>In an appearance on NY1 the night of the rally, Metro IAF-EBC coalition leader Rev. Shaun Lee, pastor of Mt. Lebanon Baptist Church in Brooklyn, said de Blasio’s response had been “disrespectful” so far. “They tried to placate us but they’re not really taking the plan seriously,” he told anchor Errol Louis.</p> <p>Rev. David Brawley, from St. Paul Community Baptist Church, said on the show that the mayor had promised them a “thoughtful response” that did not seem forthcoming. “We don’t consider a form letter, just because it has a seal on it and a signature, a thoughtful response,” he said. “We think a commitment is a thoughtful response. Even a question, a date to meet again, is a thoughtful response. Not simply a form letter.”</p> <p>The coalition has prominent allies, including Comptroller Scott Stringer and Public Advocate Letitia James, both of whom spoke at the group’s City Hall rally. A spokesperson for Stringer told Gotham Gazette that the comptroller believes the coalition proposal is financially feasible in conjunction with the administration’s current plan. The spokesperson did not elaborate when asked for details.</p> <p>The de Blasio administration, although agreeing with the principle behind the plan, disagrees with that notion. Some of the ideas in the plan, said spokesperson Melissa Grace, are currently also being implemented.</p> <p>“We agree with the group’s goals, and are already advancing them in many places across the city,” said Grace, in an email. “Deeper affordability? Those very lowest-income apartments now represent nearly 30 percent of our housing plan. Building on underused NYCHA land for seniors? We’ve closed on two senior projects, with more coming. We welcome the chance to work together to accomplish more.”</p> <p>Among the pitfalls of the plan, the administration points out, are that it would require heavy subsidies from the city -- building only deeply affordable housing is extremely expensive -- and it ignores the need to build middle-income housing, something de Blasio regularly explains he is steadfastly committed to. Indeed, the proposal predicts creating 15,000 new affordable housing units would cost about $3.83 billion, including about $1.875 billion in city subsidies, through the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD).</p> <p>NYCHA also has a $17 billion capital backlog, and the advocates have been vague about how the city could address that without federal or state funding, other than insisting that the mayor must get “creative and imaginative” with funding solutions. “The money is there. The question is, where’s the leadership,” Brawley said in a phone interview. The coalition says the city must make good on NYCHA capital repairs so that, if its plan moves forward, people want to move into the NYCHA apartments that seniors would vacate as they move into the new homes being built, often into smaller units than they may now occupy, allowing larger families to move in.</p> <p>The proposal did identify at least $225 million each year in new revenue sources the city could use -- $40 million in excess revenue from the Battery Park City Authority and $185 million paid by NYCHA to the city for sanitation, water and other services. A Metro IAF spokesperson also emphasized, as have its leaders, that the pace of NYCHA “infill” projects -- like the senior projects Grace referred to -- has been too slow and that four years into the affordable housing program, few have broken ground. Grace later pointed out that the $40 million was already committed to affordable housing projects, including in communities with NYCHA developments.&nbsp;</p> <p>One aspect of the plan also proposes an alternative financing model for new developments through tax credits, tax-exempt bonds and Section 8 vouchers for 100 percent of the units. Using Section 8 vouchers, which are limited, at new projects on NYCHA land is also problematic, according to the administration. If Section 8 vouchers are applied, the city would require a waiver from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development to allocate units to current NYCHA residents. HUD has in the past has approved an allocation of 25 percent for an area the size of a community board, according to City Hall. The Metro IAF spokesperson said, however, that these provisions of the plan are not necessarily red lines and that they are open to change.</p> <p>The crucial point of the plan, said Brawley, is that the city needs to move beyond incremental increases in affordable units. “The city’s gonna have to work to do a critical mass of units. A few hundred units here or there will not do,” he said. He brushed aside the issues built into the system of constructing new housing -- the city’s process for competitive bids and the lengthy review of land use applications.</p> <p>Public Advocate James, who brought Brawley to the general election mayoral debate on Tuesday night as her guest, has also recently started calling for a much more ambitious overall program of building new affordable housing, putting forth ideas like building more over rail yards across the five boroughs.</p> <p>It remains to be seen whether de Blasio will be amenable to implementing some of the ideas from Brawley’s coalition -- Metro IAF has worked with the city to build multiple affordable housing complexes before. In the meantime, Brawley and Lee have vowed a sustained advocacy campaign. “We’ve increased pressure on mayors in the past to make things happen,” Brawley said. “And that’s what we’ll do. We’re going to see this plan through.”</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Note - this article has been updated.</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/reset_1/housing_rally_sign_via_nyccomptroller.jpg" alt="housing rally sign via nyccomptroller" width="600" height="450" /></p> <p>City Hall ralliers with Metro-IAF-NY (photo: @NYCComptroller)</p> <hr /> <p>Thousands of New Yorkers, many of them residents of public housing, braved the rain on Monday, October 9, to rally outside City Hall to push Mayor Bill de Blasio to adopt a new direction for his affordable housing plan. Their alternative proposal, which had been presented by the leading advocates to the mayor ten days prior, calls for a radical investment in building new housing for low-income families, especially seniors, which critics say has largely been left out of the mayor’s current housing strategy.</p> <p>But there’s disagreement over whether the plan is feasible and if the city, without state or federal resources, can commit to a sweeping addendum to an already ambitious affordable housing plan.</p> <p>The leaders of the community proposal and rally, reverends from Brooklyn, achieved significant attention for their plan and support from elected officials, in part because their critique of de Blasio’s housing program touched the core tension of what some see as a solid, fairly moderate approach, but others call too timid to address the affordability crisis facing the city and its residents and, in some cases, a catalyst of detrimental gentrification.<br /> <br />De Blasio’s Housing New York plan aims to build about 80,000 new affordable units and preserve another 120,000 by 2024. By June 30, the end of fiscal year 2017, the city had financed 77,651 units -- 25,342 or 33 percent new units and 52,309 or 67 percent preserved. The mayor has declared the plan on time and within budget and earlier this year he also announced an additional $1.9 billion investment to create 10,000 more affordable housing for low-income earners, including 5,000 more dedicated senior housing units, for a total of 15,000 senior units under the plan. There are also projects in the pipeline to build 10,000 new units on underutilized NYCHA property.</p> <p>But the organizers of Monday’s rally -- leaders of the Metro Industrial Areas Foundation and East Brooklyn Congregations, made up of church-going members, homeowners associations, schools, and senior centers -- say the plan isn’t building enough housing quickly enough, particularly for those at the lowest income tiers, and is ignoring the need for more senior housing. Their plan seeks to address these deficiencies, though the de Blasio administration says it is already doing most of what is being sought in the plan, while other aspects are not possible at this time.</p> <p>Of the 77,651 units financed by the administration so far, 11,505 were for families of three making less than $25,770 a year, or 30 percent on the area median income (AMI), and another 13,277 were for families making between $25,771-$42,950 (31-50 percent AMI).</p> <p>The Metro IAF-EBC proposal specifically calls for 15,000 new senior housing units on underutilized NYCHA land, which it foresees would allow 50,000 people on NYCHA waitlists and in homeless shelters to move into apartments vacated by those seniors. The plan also advocates for refurbishing NYCHA developments across the city. Its proponents, while vehemently behind it, note that it is a starting point for discussion with the mayor and his team.</p> <p>Mayor de Blasio, in a letter on October 7 responding to the coalition, wrote that he shares “the same values and goals: to build safe, clean, and affordable housing for all of our families at a faster rate than we have ever done.”</p> <p>“I also agree with you that we have to make tough choices if we’re going to turn a corner in this crisis, and invest in our original affordable housing: NYCHA,” he added, before agreeing to collaborate, in a general sense, on the coalition’s ideas. He made no specific promises.</p> <p>In an appearance on NY1 the night of the rally, Metro IAF-EBC coalition leader Rev. Shaun Lee, pastor of Mt. Lebanon Baptist Church in Brooklyn, said de Blasio’s response had been “disrespectful” so far. “They tried to placate us but they’re not really taking the plan seriously,” he told anchor Errol Louis.</p> <p>Rev. David Brawley, from St. Paul Community Baptist Church, said on the show that the mayor had promised them a “thoughtful response” that did not seem forthcoming. “We don’t consider a form letter, just because it has a seal on it and a signature, a thoughtful response,” he said. “We think a commitment is a thoughtful response. Even a question, a date to meet again, is a thoughtful response. Not simply a form letter.”</p> <p>The coalition has prominent allies, including Comptroller Scott Stringer and Public Advocate Letitia James, both of whom spoke at the group’s City Hall rally. A spokesperson for Stringer told Gotham Gazette that the comptroller believes the coalition proposal is financially feasible in conjunction with the administration’s current plan. The spokesperson did not elaborate when asked for details.</p> <p>The de Blasio administration, although agreeing with the principle behind the plan, disagrees with that notion. Some of the ideas in the plan, said spokesperson Melissa Grace, are currently also being implemented.</p> <p>“We agree with the group’s goals, and are already advancing them in many places across the city,” said Grace, in an email. “Deeper affordability? Those very lowest-income apartments now represent nearly 30 percent of our housing plan. Building on underused NYCHA land for seniors? We’ve closed on two senior projects, with more coming. We welcome the chance to work together to accomplish more.”</p> <p>Among the pitfalls of the plan, the administration points out, are that it would require heavy subsidies from the city -- building only deeply affordable housing is extremely expensive -- and it ignores the need to build middle-income housing, something de Blasio regularly explains he is steadfastly committed to. Indeed, the proposal predicts creating 15,000 new affordable housing units would cost about $3.83 billion, including about $1.875 billion in city subsidies, through the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD).</p> <p>NYCHA also has a $17 billion capital backlog, and the advocates have been vague about how the city could address that without federal or state funding, other than insisting that the mayor must get “creative and imaginative” with funding solutions. “The money is there. The question is, where’s the leadership,” Brawley said in a phone interview. The coalition says the city must make good on NYCHA capital repairs so that, if its plan moves forward, people want to move into the NYCHA apartments that seniors would vacate as they move into the new homes being built, often into smaller units than they may now occupy, allowing larger families to move in.</p> <p>The proposal did identify at least $225 million each year in new revenue sources the city could use -- $40 million in excess revenue from the Battery Park City Authority and $185 million paid by NYCHA to the city for sanitation, water and other services. A Metro IAF spokesperson also emphasized, as have its leaders, that the pace of NYCHA “infill” projects -- like the senior projects Grace referred to -- has been too slow and that four years into the affordable housing program, few have broken ground. Grace later pointed out that the $40 million was already committed to affordable housing projects, including in communities with NYCHA developments.&nbsp;</p> <p>One aspect of the plan also proposes an alternative financing model for new developments through tax credits, tax-exempt bonds and Section 8 vouchers for 100 percent of the units. Using Section 8 vouchers, which are limited, at new projects on NYCHA land is also problematic, according to the administration. If Section 8 vouchers are applied, the city would require a waiver from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development to allocate units to current NYCHA residents. HUD has in the past has approved an allocation of 25 percent for an area the size of a community board, according to City Hall. The Metro IAF spokesperson said, however, that these provisions of the plan are not necessarily red lines and that they are open to change.</p> <p>The crucial point of the plan, said Brawley, is that the city needs to move beyond incremental increases in affordable units. “The city’s gonna have to work to do a critical mass of units. A few hundred units here or there will not do,” he said. He brushed aside the issues built into the system of constructing new housing -- the city’s process for competitive bids and the lengthy review of land use applications.</p> <p>Public Advocate James, who brought Brawley to the general election mayoral debate on Tuesday night as her guest, has also recently started calling for a much more ambitious overall program of building new affordable housing, putting forth ideas like building more over rail yards across the five boroughs.</p> <p>It remains to be seen whether de Blasio will be amenable to implementing some of the ideas from Brawley’s coalition -- Metro IAF has worked with the city to build multiple affordable housing complexes before. In the meantime, Brawley and Lee have vowed a sustained advocacy campaign. “We’ve increased pressure on mayors in the past to make things happen,” Brawley said. “And that’s what we’ll do. We’re going to see this plan through.”</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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</p> <p>Note - this article has been updated.</p>