Gotham Gazette http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/22 Tue, 20 Feb 2018 23:23:04 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) Comptroller Again Calls Out City on Vacant Land; City Again Punches Back http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7475:comptroller-again-calls-out-city-on-vacant-land-city-again-punches-back http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7475:comptroller-again-calls-out-city-on-vacant-land-city-again-punches-back stringer vacant lot presser raskin

Comptroller Stringer press conference at a vacant lot (photo: Sam Raskin)


Comptroller Scott Stringer held a press conference Monday morning in front of a vacant lot on West 115th Street to criticize the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) for “dragging its feet” on creating affordable housing on empty city-owned land.

Stringer released an update to his 2016 audit on vacant lots, which initiated a reshashing of a yearslong dispute between the comptroller and the de Blasio administration over the latter’s use of such land, or lack thereof. There are several points of conflict between Stringer’s office and HPD, and both sides continue to dispute the other’s numbers, intent, and competency. An escalating war of words and different presentations of data continue to cloud the reality of the city’s use of its vacant land, an essential piece of creating more affordable housing in a city desperate for it.

Stringer’s office maintains that HPD’s efforts to create affordable housing on vacant lots has been lacking and it has not been open to the public about their practices. HPD, for its part, says that the city has achieved far more on the vacant lot front since 2016 than the audit suggests, and that any setbacks and slowness is par for the course, not due to ineptitude or an unwillingness to act.

The comptroller’s analysis shows that as of late 2017 the city has not built upon over 1,000 parcels of undeveloped land in its possession. Since the initial audit was conducted two years ago, little progress has been made on filling these empty lots with affordable housing, according to Stringer’s follow-up report. The comptroller’s report claims that almost 90 percent of the land identified in the 2016 audit had yet to be utilized for affordable housing. What’s more, according to the report, HPD has fallen short of the progress it had promised in moving lots through the development process, only transferring 26 percent of its projected total to developers.

“What the audit that we’re releasing today shows, they’ve done nothing. Nada,” Stringer said of HPD.

According to Stringer, HPD’s failure to build on vacant city-owned land only helps to cement the city's affordable housing crisis. “We’re no longer just a tale of two cities -- were becoming a tale of two blocks, with luxury towers on one corner and struggling families on another,” he said.

Stringer urged HPD to build on its vacant lots through non-profit developers to ensure the housing reflects the community's’ needs and to do so in a timely manner, while disclosing timelines on impending projects.

In recent years, HPD has pushed back against the comptroller’s criticism, both in terms of its statistics and on whether it has been slow to act on building affordable housing on vacant lots, and did so following the press conference in a statement to Gotham Gazette, though it does acknowledge some delays in the pipeline.

“HPD is aggressively developing its 1,000 remaining public sites for affordable housing, almost all of them small and hard to develop lots,” said HPD Commissioner Maria Torres-Springer, through a spokesperson.

“The comptroller’s report misrepresents the facts and denies the very real progress made by HPD over the last four years from Seward Park, which now has housing after decades of neglect, to the hundreds of small sites where affordable homes and apartments are in the works,” Torres-Spring continued.  

Similarly, in the agency’s written response to Stringer’s new report, HPD casted doubt on the significance of Stringer’s claim north of 1,000 parcels had not been utilized for affordable housing; many of these lots were not meant to be converted into affordable housing units to begin with, HPD said, because they lack the requisite size or infrastructure.

HPD also argued it had achieved more in the two years since the first report than the audit had revealed. “HPD has conveyed or transferred more than 200 tax lots since the beginning of the audit,” HPD’s response reads. “Your special report fails to acknowledge this fact.”

The written response went on explain that HPD had designated 450 of the 1,000 vacant lots for either Requests for Proposal or Request for Qualifications, while also noting that the number of buildable lots is actually closer to 600.

HPD spokesperson Elizabeth Rohlfing explained that along with the misleading number of 1,000 empty lots the comptroller uses, Stringer’s report failed to appreciate the complications that arise and how many lots are unsuitable for housing development. Some of the empty parcels, HPD says, don’t have enough space for a residential building. “Maybe they’d be a good community garden or something,” Rohlfing said. “There are definitely lots like that.”

Others are located in flood zones or had already been damaged by weather events in recent years. And according to HPD, the comptroller’s request that the agency allocate bids to non-profit developers is not compatible with the comptroller’s insistence they build housing as quickly as possible.

In addition, Rohlfing explained why some projects run behind schedule.

“We want to work with non-profits who are in the community who can bring something to the table,” Rohlfing said. “Sometimes that takes longer because they don’t necessarily have the capacity that some of these big, private developers have.”

“We could just say, ‘We’ll give it to the person who could do it fastest.’ You could take that approach, but we’re not taking that approach,” she continued.

Furthermore, in some cases, Rohlfing explained, progress has been stalled due to matters beyond the city’s control. Rohlfing cited Broadway Triangle, an area in Brooklyn where the Bloomberg administration planned to build affordable housing in 2009 but construction has been delayed due to a housing discrimination suit, as an example. “That’s been in litigation for almost a decade,” she said. “It would have been senseless to put a timeline for plots like that.”  

While HPD said the comptroller had painted with too broad a brush and didn’t acknowledge the challenges the city faces, Stringer’s office accused the agency of dishonesty and engaging in misdirection.

“Here’s HPD’s track record. They distort numbers, twist the truth, and deflect attention from their inaction,” said Tyrone Stevens, press secretary for Comptroller Stringer, in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “At a time when New Yorkers are suffering, the agency is giving intentionally misleading answers to questions it doesn’t want to answer.”

He went on to accuse the agency of misrepresenting the numbers in the report, and shifting its reference points in terms of buildable lots and lots in the development pipeline. “HPD isn’t comparing apples and oranges — it's comparing apples and twinkies. Their claims are a repeat of the same baseless arguments they made two years ago.”

Stevens characterized HPD’s pushback as “Groundhog Day for excuse-making” and urged the agency to “come clean” and address its issues.

In a similar vein, Stringer said at the Monday press conference he believed the agency is opaque and slow-moving, albeit in less dramatic fashion.  

“The Housing and Preservation Department isn’t being straight with the public,” Stringer said.

Stringer said that if HPD would act in accordance with his recommendations, it could help to ameliorate the affordability and homelessness crises in New York.

To that end, the City Council passed a set of bills during the final days of the 2017 session -- two pieces of the Housing Not Warehousing Act -- which Mayor de Blasio signed into law and mandate that HPD conduct an assessment of the number of vacant lots it controls and the city establish a list of vacant properties throughout the city, respectively. Picture the Homeless, an advocacy group instrumental in pushing the legislation in the Council, was represented at Stringer’s press conference, which was centered around the connection between HPD’s use of city-owned vacant land and the housing and homelessness crises.

“Many New Yorkers who have been living in the city for decades and who have helped revitalize New York’s economy and made it the city we enjoy today are being forced out because of high rent,” said Jose Rodriguez of Picture the Homeless. “No one should be forced out of community that they work in.”

Stringer also delivered a larger critique of the city's affordable housing plan, arguing that the housing being built through de Blasio’s 300,000-unit, 12-year plan is too often not affordable to the residents of communities where it is being built. The mayor has defended his plan, which relies heavily on for-profit developers, increasing housing density, and mandating a certain percentage, usually around 25 percent, of newly-built housing developments include units with affordability requirements alongside many new market-rate rentals. The housing plan also utilizes nonprofit developers and HPD finances a variety of fully-affordable developments.

Some, including Stringer, don't believe the approach is calibrated correctly, spawning gentrification and displacement instead of truly affordable housing. Some critics have said de Blasio is too focused on a larger number of overall units but not the level of affordability he would be able to create through more deeply subsidized housing.

“At the end of the day, a lot of these rezonings are basically about building luxury development with smattering of temporary affordable housing,” Stringer said Monday, referring to areas where the de Blasio administration is allowing increased density, “that, unfortunately, is not affordable to the people in the communities.’

“Sometimes there’s a disconnect between the housing that we’re building and the people who can access that affordable housing,” he added.

Still, Stringer commended de Blasio. “I praise the mayor for making affordable housing a signature issue. He’s certainly elevated the debate,” Stringer said.

But, Stringer argued, an affordable housing plan without making full use of city-owned empty lots would be an incomplete one. “I believe we need more tools in the toolbox,” he said. “Vacant land is a critical tool in that toolbox.”

]]>
Comptroller Again Calls Out City on Vacant Land; City Again Punches Back Tue, 13 Feb 2018 05:00:00 +0000
Bronx Rezoning Moves to City Council as Negotiations Enter Final Stages http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7446:bronx-rezoning-moves-to-city-council-as-negotiations-enter-final-stages http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7446:bronx-rezoning-moves-to-city-council-as-negotiations-enter-final-stages

Jerome Ave corridor rezoning, via City Planning


The City Planning Commission voted January 17 to approve a comprehensive rezoning plan for the Jerome Avenue corridor in the Bronx, putting the proposal before the City Council for scrutiny in the final stretch of the lengthy land use review process. The rezoning would follow four others ushered through by the de Blasio administration as it somewhat controversially seeks to add housing density, including thousands of new affordable units, and make other investments in mostly low-income communities across the five boroughs.

The Jerome Avenue Neighborhood Plan put forth by the administration with local input envisions changing land use regulations in a 92-block area along Jerome Avenue, from East 165th Street to 184th Street, which currently comprises a mix of commercial, industrial, and residential space. The proposed plan would allow mixed-use development along the corridor with the intent of creating more affordable housing, while also funding new infrastructure, quality-of-life improvements, job creation, and economic development initiatives for the community.  

While a deal appears imminent and the clock is ticking, negotiations are ongoing between the administration and City Council Members Vanessa Gibson and Fernando Cabrera, whose districts span the proposed rezoning and who will have the final say in whether the rezoning is approved. Gibson, Cabrera, and Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. met recently to discuss the changes to the plan that they want to see before it is passed by the Council.

The City Planning Commission’s approval of the plan started the 50-day clock for the Council to accept or reject the proposal. The entire body typically votes with the local Council member(s) on land use issues and has rarely overridden a member’s position. The Council’s subcommittee on zoning and franchises is expected to hold a public hearing on the rezoning on Wednesday, February 7.  

“It is and has been very fruitful,” Gibson said of the negotiation process, in a phone interview on Thursday. But there remain a few big ticket items that have yet to be resolved, she said, including preserving more affordable housing and expanding school capacity to deal with the expected increase in population from new housing created under the plan.

jerome ave verticalThe city has promised to create 4,000 new housing units in the rezoned area, which will include affordable units set aside for different income bands under the city’s Mandatory Inclusionary Housing policy. The administration is also planning a Certificate of No Harassment pilot program to prevent tenant harassment and displacement, and will guarantee that half of new housing units created by the Department of Housing Preservation and Development will go to existing residents. Additionally, it has committed millions of dollars for infrastructure improvements -- including $4.6 million to revamp Corporal Fischer Park; $4 million to rebuild the Morton Playground; sidewalk lighting; and security upgrades -- and jobs and business development plans through the Department of Small Business Services

As is, the plan will also preserve 1,500 affordable units, a number that Gibson wants to see increased to 2,500 to cope with the gentrification pressures that neighborhoods targeted for rezoning have come to expect. She emphasized that many affordable units currently in those neighborhoods will see their city rent subsidies expire in less than a decade, and that the administration should take preemptive action.

“The city has a very good opportunity to engage those landlords on new programs and tax incentives so they can remain in the affordability program and access some of our resources for the next 30 or 40 years,” she said. “Now if we go over 2,500, I’m not mad. But I think 2,500 should be the floor.”

As with other rezonings that have been approved in the last three years, Gibson expressed larger concerns about displacement of existing residents as zoning changes bring additional density and improvements to the communities along Jerome Avenue. But she maintained that, unlike other areas that have seen luxury developers quickly move in to capitalize on a proposed rezoning, Jerome Avenue will likely not see market-rate housing being built in the short term.

“People are fearful, they have a right to be fearful, but the market in Jerome does not propel luxury housing right now,” she said.

Gibson predicted that recent increases in the minimum wage and residents getting prevailing-wage and union-wage jobs will eventually lead them to be ineligible for deeply affordable housing as they start to earn more than 30 percent of the Area Median Income (AMI), a federal measure that includes surrounding suburban counties and the city. The New York City region’s AMI in 2017 was $85,900 for a family of three. Gibson insisted that the MIH set-asides should therefore include additional moderate and middle-income housing.

“It has to be a diverse mixture of incomes, obviously with the majority of those incomes being on the lower end at 30 and 40 percent of AMI as well as set asides for formerly homeless families coming directly from the shelter,” she said.

Jerome Avenue is the latest proving ground for the administration’s neighborhood rezoning efforts, which are part of achieving the mayor’s target of creating and preserving 300,000 units of affordable housing across the city by 2026. The first such rezoning, in East New York, largely set the tone, with the local Council Member, Rafael Espinal, having extracted a slew of concessions from the administration including a new 1,000-seat school and about $267 million in capital investments. Diaz Jr. and the two Bronx Council members are working off of a similar script, as was the case with rezonings in East Harlem and Far Rockaway.

Diaz Jr. signed off on the city’s plan in November, granted the city meet certain conditions that he laid out in his non-binding formal approval in the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP), a multi-step process that also involves non-binding votes by the affected community boards, which also approved it with conditions.

The borough president said in his response that the city had “acted in good faith” in listening to the community’s concerns. But he maintained, “There is still more work to be done.” He called on the city to put in place a minimum of their monetary commitments before the rezoning is approved, an increase in the number of affordable housing units preserved to at least 2,000, enhanced enforcement of housing codes, the establishment of a new community center in Highbridge, and additional funding for improvement of parks and transit infrastructure.

Jerome Avenue is also home to a large automotive industry, and Diaz Jr. urged the city to identify locations where displaced facilities could relocate as well as fund relocation, training, and certification for those businesses. Gibson has made similar demands. The city’s plan would only retain about 20 percent of the 151 auto businesses in the neighborhood, she recently told Gotham Gazette at City Hall, and she is pushing to retain at least 50 percent.  

Diaz Jr. also insisted that the city must address the school seat shortage in the district -- roughly 3,248 seats -- by identifying potential sites for new facilities. That is one of the biggest priorities for Gibson and Cabrera as well. Gibson said she and her Council colleague are pushing for two new elementary schools in school districts 9 and 10.

“The challenge we face is we don’t have large parcels of city-owned land,” she said, emphasizing that the administration will have to work with private landowners to find suitable locations for new schools, while also expanding capacity at existing facilities that can bear it.

“A school that we build of 500 seats is going to help us now but it wont help us in the future if we’re looking at potentially 4,000 units of housing,” she said. “So there has to be some give and take.”

Gibson is confident about securing that pledge from the city before the Council votes on the project. “We’ve been very consistent on what our priorities are and, at the end of the day, we are working as hard as we can to achieve that. I do know that the admin in the past typically waits until the very end to make all of their commitments and announcements and to the best extent that I can, I’m trying to avoid that because I don’t like to operate last minute.”

Asked about the final stages of negotiations, a spokesperson for the Department of City Planning said in a statement, "We continue to work hand-in-hand with local elected officials and community leaders to build and protect affordable housing while also boosting economic vitality along the Jerome corridor."

***
by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

]]>
Bronx Rezoning Moves to City Council as Negotiations Enter Final Stages Sun, 28 Jan 2018 05:00:00 +0000
Renewed Push to Pass State Homelessness Subsidy in 2018 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7377:renewed-push-to-pass-state-homelessness-subsidy-in-2018 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7377:renewed-push-to-pass-state-homelessness-subsidy-in-2018 hevesi albany photo mkink

Assemblymember Hevesi and activists (photo: @mkink)


Legislation to create a statewide rental supplement to curtail the growth of homelessness in New York, while generating savings for local social service agencies, is the focus of a renewed campaign ahead of the 2018 budget and legislative session.

Despite support from the Democratic Assembly majority, as well minority state Senate Democrats, and the Independent Democratic Conference, which forms a ruling coalition with Senate Republicans, Assemblymember Andrew Hevesi’s Home Stability Support plan fell off the negotiating table during 2017 budget talks.

The bill, which would close the rental gap for low-income families and individuals who already receive housing subsidies, gained strong momentum from lawmakers and advocates at the start of the year, but disagreement over how much the program would cost ultimately derailed its inclusion in the budget that passed in early April, according to those familiar with negotiations.

Independent Democratic Conference (IDC) leader Senator Jeff Klein, of the Bronx, wrote at least two op-eds and issued a report promoting the legislation, but he and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie failed to persuade their colleagues in the negotiating room -- Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan and Governor Andrew Cuomo -- of the program’s efficacy.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio endorsed the idea in public comments to state lawmakers, provided it would not be accompanied by unfunded local mandates; and the city’s four Democratic borough presidents participated in a last-minute push for its inclusion in the budget. In recent years, homelessness in the city has reached record numbers. There are about 63,000 homeless people in New York City, and thousands more around the state.

New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer, who has also endorsed the bill, produced a report evaluating the costs and benefits of the program. Noting that projecting the growth of homelessness and future eligibility for and utilization of the program is not an exact science, Stringer estimated that over a decade Hevesi’s proposed investment of $450 million a year from the state could reduce the city’s shelter population by 80 percent among families with children and 40 percent among single adults, and save the city millions of dollars.

“Assemblymember Hevesi has put forward a bold new plan that deserves your serious consideration,” Stringer testified at a joint legislative budget hearing in January. “Home Stability Support is a potential long-term solution to this crisis that could offer a real path out of the shelter system for thousands of New Yorkers and save the city millions in shelter costs.”

The subsidy would be made available to households or individuals “eligible for public assistance benefits and who are facing eviction, homelessness, or loss of housing due to domestic violence or hazardous living conditions.” Hevesi estimates that approximately 80,000 households are at-risk of homelessness, and that each year 19,000 more individuals become homeless than move to permanent housing from shelter. The program would replace all existing optional rent supplements and cover up to 85 percent of the fair market rent determined by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Localities would have the option to further raise the supplement up to 100 percent of the fair market rent at local expense.

During budget talks, the state’s budget division produced its own estimate of what a fully utilized statewide homelessness prevention program, such as the one proposed by Hevesi, would cost and pegged it as $1 billion annually -- a figure it said the state could not afford. Citing the analysis by Stringer’s office, which, based on data from the Department of Homeless Services, predicted that only 30 percent of city residents who qualify for HSS would utilize the program, proponents of the plan soon returned to the table with a new number. By the time the proposal made it into the Assembly’s one-house budget, it had been whittled down to a $200 million investment that would be phased in over five years, or $40 million a year, essentially piloting the program.

Ultimately, state budget officials, assuming full utilization of the program, determined that the program would be too costly and rejected the proposal, according to a spokesperson for the IDC.

"Once we couldn't get it in the budget, it didn't even make sense to try," Hevesi said of the legislation, which he allowed to sit in the ways and means committee.

Klein never introduced a “same as” bill in the Senate because the financial component made it impossible to introduce outside of budget negotiations, his spokesperson said.

Housing advocates, including those who were involved in the negotiations, also expressed disappointment that the Assembly proposal didn’t make it into the state budget, which covers the current fiscal year that ends March 31, 2018.

“Every year goes by we hit new records, and sheltering homeless people costs even more,” said Shelly Nortz, deputy executive director of policy for Coalition for the Homeless, part of a coalition of social service advocates who helped devise the legislation.

Nortz said Hevesi’s bill represents a critical shift in homelessness policy towards prevention, while also resolving homelessness rapidly with adequate rent subsidies. “This will lower the demand for shelter dramatically and ultimately generate savings to offset the much lower cost of keeping people in their own homes,” said Nortz.

This winter, Hevesi says he is visiting Republican and Democratic lawmakers in their districts hoping to drum up support for the bill the old fashioned way, by highlighting how the bill could directly impact their constituents. He says the list of supporters has grown, including every member of the IDC and Senate Democratic conference and at least three Republican senators.

“This is the way they used to do it 30 years ago,” said Hevesi. “I believe that by the time the budget comes along, we will have a huge number of senators that will sign on to the legislation.” The bill is virtually guaranteed to pass through the Assembly, which is dominated by New York City Democrats, including Heastie, of the Bronx, and Hevesi, of Queens.

Cuomo, who is believed to strongly oppose Hevesi’s housing subsidy, has been criticized for failing to adequately address the city’s homelessness crisis. His 2011 decision to end the state’s $85 million share for the Advantage subsidy program led to the program’s closure and has been widely criticized as contributing to the city’s record homelessness numbers. The conditional subsidy program, which started in 2007 and was a joint city-state effort, helped people in shelters pay for permanent housing for up to two years, as long as they worked or participated in job training.

While Cuomo has historically resisted calls for a new state-funded subsidy to fight homelessness, advocates were buoyed by the governor’s 2016-17 Homelessness Action Plan, in which he committed to building 20,000 supportive housing units over 15 years. A new statewide coalition of community and advocacy organizations that formed this fall, called the Upstate Downstate Housing Alliance, is pushing for Cuomo to make housing a priority in 2018, speeding up these investments and taking other steps to address homelessness, including supporting Hevesi’s legislation.

Meanwhile, the IDC says it continues to support Home Stability Support and is looking into how to address funding concerns for the coming session.

Spokespersons for Cuomo and Flanagan, the Senate majority leader, did not respond to requests for comment about whether they would support a state homelessness-fighting subsidy program in 2018.

***
by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

]]>
Renewed Push to Pass State Homelessness Subsidy in 2018 Tue, 19 Dec 2017 05:00:00 +0000
City Council to Pass Bills Mandating Assessment of Vacant Lots http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7373:city-council-to-pass-bills-mandating-assessment-of-vacant-lots http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7373:city-council-to-pass-bills-mandating-assessment-of-vacant-lots vacant bldg via hpd

(photo via @NYCHousing)


Two years ago, Public Advocate Letitia James and City Council Members Jumaane Williams and Ydanis Rodriguez each introduced a bill under a set called the Housing Not Warehousing Act, a package aimed at reducing homelessness and increasing the city’s affordable housing stock. The bills seek to mandate an annual tally of the number of vacant lots and buildings in the city, determining which of those under city jurisdiction could be developed for affordable housing, while also requiring landlords with vacant properties to register them with the city.

Two of those bills, sponsored by the Council members, are set to be voted on by the Committee on Housing and Buildings, chaired by Williams, at a hearing on Monday. Following that, the bills are expected to head to the Council floor for a vote and approval on Tuesday at the last full meeting of the body in the current four-year session. They would then head to the desk of Mayor Bill de Blasio, whose administration has not supported the legislation.

The bills have strong support from housing advocates who have decried rising homelessness in the city as buildings remain unoccupied and lots remain undeveloped. The de Blasio administration continues to insist the city is doing everything in its power to utilize city-owned vacant lots for affordable housing, and have pushed back against a February 2016 report by City Comptroller Scott Stringer that indicated more than 1,100 lots that the city owns but were vacant.

[Related: Key to Affordable Housing Development, Vacant Lots Remain Source of Controversy]

Rodriguez’s bill would require the city to conduct an annual census and compile a list of vacant properties in the city, coordinating with numerous city agencies and departments, while Williams’ bill would mandate reporting by the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) on the vacant lots and buildings under its jurisdiction, along with the potential for those properties to be used for creating affordable housing.

In a statement to Gotham Gazette, Williams said he was “proud” of his tenure as committee chair, “and what better way to end this term than by passing this legislation which puts in place additional tools we need to combat the urgent affordable housing and homelessness crisis we face in this city.” Williams also thanked James, Rodriguez, and “all of the activists who helped get us to this pivotal moment of progress.”

Rodriguez, in a statement, called the act an "important step" in tackling the city's affordable housing crisis. "By identifying vacant properties, we can turn them into permanent affordable housing units for our working families and our neediest New Yorkers, and prevent homelessness." he said.

James’ bill, which is not on the schedule for Monday’s hearing, takes aim at private landlords and the property they keep empty. The bill would have required landlords to register with the city buildings that have been vacant longer than a year. It mandates fines - between $100 and $500 every week - for those landlords that fail to renew those registrations every year.

Williams did not address the exclusion of the public advocate’s bill from the package, but Kevin Fagan, a spokesperson for the Council member, said it was a “pretty common situation” for a bill to be left out of a legislative package when it goes to a vote. All three of the bills have at least 30 sponsors in the 51-seat Council. Fagan pointed to the recent Construction Safety Act, also sponsored by Williams, as an instance where bills in the final approved package did not all pass at the same time.

“While we're disappointed the entire Housing Not Warehousing Act will not be voted upon, it is promising that two bills that seek to address our affordable crisis are coming to the floor for a vote,” said James, in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “We must leave no stone unturned when it comes to building affordable housing, and that includes utilizing our vacant lots and properties. We are hopeful that Int. 1034 will pass quickly in the next session.”

Charmel Lucas, a member of Picture the Homeless, an advocacy group that has pushed for these bills, said in a statement that the group was glad the two bills will be voted on and that the group would continue to work with the public advocate to help pass her bill in 2018. “We're grateful to all the council members who had our back on bringing this important issue to a vote, including the current speaker candidates,” Lucas said. “These bills will help homeless people get the housing they need. By identifying vacant property that landlords are sitting on for decades, we can take steps to develop them into extremely-low-income housing."

There was some good news for the public advocate, however. A separate bill she sponsors -- requiring HPD to provide more information on owners of buildings and the violations and complaints they face -- will be approved at the same Monday committee hearing. “Transparency is critical for New Yorkers seeking to hold unscrupulous landlords accountable,” James said, touting the Worst Landlords Watchlist published by her office every year. “This bill will create an easy-to-use database that allows tenants to identify patterns of abuse and harassment by landlords across buildings, further empowering and protecting tenants.”

***
by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Note - This article has been updated to include comment from Council Member Rodriguez and to clarify Fagan's comments on the Construction Safety bill. 

]]>
City Council to Pass Bills Mandating Assessment of Vacant Lots Fri, 15 Dec 2017 05:00:00 +0000
Federal Tax Reform Could Turn City’s Housing Crisis into a Humanitarian Disaster http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7364:federal-tax-reform-could-turn-city-s-housing-crisis-into-a-humanitarian-disaster http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7364:federal-tax-reform-could-turn-city-s-housing-crisis-into-a-humanitarian-disaster picture the homeless vacant lots

protesting unused vacant property (via @pthny)


In New York City, the demand for affordable housing far exceeds supply. Seventy percent of the city’s homeless shelter residents are families. Families who should be in homes.

Now, as the United States House of Representatives and Senate look to the conference committee to reconcile their respective tax reform bills, the housing crisis that began in the 1980s will become a catastrophe unless we, the people, intervene.

On paper, both the House and Senate plans retain the Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) — which funds 90 percent of the nation’s affordable housing developments. However, the House tax bill eliminates tax-exempt private activity bonds (PABs) that fund half of all LIHTC projects.

Although the Senate bill retains PABs, both bills cut the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 20 percent, dramatically reducing the value of tax credits that fund the remainder of LIHTC projects.

Also included in the Senate bill is an amendment that imposes what amounts to an international alternative minimum tax on any corporation with significant foreign operations. As a result, some large corporate investors might be deterred from claiming the LIHTC.

No matter how the reconciliation pans out, it is clear that, if passed, federal tax reform will devastate more than a million low-income New Yorkers searching for homes. And this isn’t the first federal policy to squeeze out affordable housing.

Under President Reagan, government spending on subsidized housing was slashed from $26 billion to $8 billion, contributing to a dramatic spike in homelessness. As a private sector solution, Reagan signed the LIHTC into law in 1986 to counterbalance the cuts to direct federal spending.

LIHTC’s market-based answer to affordable housing was successful enough that subsequent administrations maintained the program while continuing to whittle away at Housing and Urban Development (HUD) funds. 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.

Although LIHTC helped develop or preserve approximately 122,000 affordable properties in New York City from 1994 to 2014, the city still endured a net loss of 150,000 rent stabilized apartments, leaving tens of thousands of New Yorkers with nowhere to go but the street or a shelter.  

Mayor Bill de Blasio responded to this crisis with a pledge to add 100,000 affordable units by 2020. But experts at Novogradac & Company estimate that, if the House tax bill passes, that number could fall by two thirds.

Even if PABs are retained in the reconciled bill, the corporate tax rate reduction alone will result in the loss of around 300,000 affordable units nationally.

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.

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.

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.

***
George McDonald is founder and president of The Doe Fund. On Twitter at @GeorgeTMcDonald and @TheDoeFund.

***
Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

]]>
Federal Tax Reform Could Turn City’s Housing Crisis into a Humanitarian Disaster Mon, 11 Dec 2017 05:00:00 +0000
Brooklyn Armory Deal, and Larger De Blasio Development Debate, Move Toward Term Two http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7360:brooklyn-armory-deal-and-larger-de-blasio-development-debate-move-toward-term-two http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7360:brooklyn-armory-deal-and-larger-de-blasio-development-debate-move-toward-term-two bedford union armory rendering via bfc

(Armory rendering via BFC) (photos within piece by Rachel Holliday Smith)


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.

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.

But before that could happen, chanting interrupted the meeting.

“The city is not for sale! Kill the deal!”

In the balcony of the Council chambers, a small crowd of activists, housing advocates, and Crown Heights residents shouted as security escorted them out.

“Laurie lies!”

City Council Bedford Armory protest voteAmong 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.”

“That’s always a complicated balancing act,” she said.

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.

“This is progress. This is an opportunity. This is getting something done in our term,” she said.

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.”

“Right now that armory is doing no good for the community,” he said at an unrelated press conference.

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.

A day after the vote, Giron said he’d rather see the armory remain vacant than be rebuilt under the new terms.

“What did we do, from the very beginning, except say we want 100 percent affordable housing?” he asked.

**********

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.

Bedford Union Armory December 2017 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.

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.

“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.”

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.

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. At the announcement, 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.”

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 behind a longshot progressive candidate for mayor: Bill de Blasio.

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.

The group went after Slate Property for their dealings in the controversial 2015 sale of a Lower East Side home for seniors. They called out then-Knicks player Carmelo Anthony — 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.

Soon afterward, both Slate and Anthony dropped out of the project.

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.

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 backed away from the armory plan, announcing she would not support it if it included luxury condominiums.

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.

“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.

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.”

“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.”

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.

“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.”

**********

To the de Blasio administration, the plan is a “win, win, win,” according to housing Commissioner Torres-Springer, who formerly led EDC.

“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.

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.

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.

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.”

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.

In an interview with The New York Times 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.

“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.

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.

“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.”

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.

“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.

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.

“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.’”

“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.”

***********

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.

“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.

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.

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.

At the same time, housing advocates are still planning to fight the project any way they can.

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.

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.

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.

“I walk over there and I feel that void,” he said.

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 — or longer, if necessary.

“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.

“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.”

***
by Rachel Holliday Smith for Gotham Gazette
@rachelholliday
@GothamGazette

]]>
Brooklyn Armory Deal, and Larger De Blasio Development Debate, Move Toward Term Two Sun, 10 Dec 2017 05:00:00 +0000
High Stakes for Affordable Housing in City Council Speaker Race http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7352:high-stakes-for-affordable-housing-in-city-council-speaker-race http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7352:high-stakes-for-affordable-housing-in-city-council-speaker-race cornegy speaker forum crop

Robert Cornegy (far right) at a City Council Speaker forum (photo: @RobertCornegyJr)


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.

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.

In a June 2016 opinion piece for City & 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.

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.)

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.

A study last March 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.”

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

***
Michael McKee is treasurer of Tenants Political Action Committee. On Twitter @TenantsPACNY.

***
Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

]]>
High Stakes for Affordable Housing in City Council Speaker Race Tue, 05 Dec 2017 05:00:00 +0000
Where the Mayor Opposes Affordable Housing and Neighborhood Character http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7312:where-the-mayor-opposes-affordable-housing-and-neighborhood-character http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7312:where-the-mayor-opposes-affordable-housing-and-neighborhood-character union square tech hub rendering1

Union Square tech hub image rendering via EDC


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.

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.

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.

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.

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).

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.

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.

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.

So, which side are you on, Mr. Mayor?

***
Andrew Berman is Executive Director of Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation. On Twitter @GVSHP.

***
Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

]]>
Where the Mayor Opposes Affordable Housing and Neighborhood Character Thu, 09 Nov 2017 05:00:00 +0000
Dissecting Mayor De Blasio's Record As He Seeks Reelection http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7221:dissecting-mayor-de-blasio-s-record-as-he-seeks-reelection http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7221:dissecting-mayor-de-blasio-s-record-as-he-seeks-reelection Mayor de Blasio Chirlane McCray City Hall Reelection Parade

Mayor Bill de Blasio & First Lady Chirlane McCray (photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)


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 his biggest success.

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.

Election Day is Tuesday, November 7.

More to read/view/hear:

***
by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

]]>
Dissecting Mayor De Blasio's Record As He Seeks Reelection Wed, 01 Nov 2017 23:26:00 +0000
Following Up with Comptroller Stringer on Several Debate Moments http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7279:following-up-with-comptroller-stringer-on-several-debate-moments http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7279:following-up-with-comptroller-stringer-on-several-debate-moments faulkner stringer comptroller debate election

Faulkner, left, and Stringer, at the Comptroller debate (photo via @NYCVotes)


It appears that a relatively small number of people watched the lone debate 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.

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.

During the hourlong debate, broadcast on NY1 television 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.

Closing Rikers Island
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.

“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.”

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.

NYCHA Home Ownership
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.

“I believe that the NYCHA residents, the long-term residents should have an equity stake in NYCHA right now,” Faulkner said at the debate.

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.”

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.

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.

A Specific Affordable Housing Plan
A large group of churchgoers, NYCHA residents, senior citizens, and advocates recently rallied near City Hall to push for an affordable housing plan from the Metro-IAF coalition led by two Brooklyn pastors and affordable housing builders. The plan, which has been rebuffed by the de Blasio administration, calls for major additional investments in NYCHA repairs, 15,000 new units of senior housing on NYCHA land, and more.

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.

“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.”

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.

Stringer looks forward to continuing the conversation, Gotham Gazette was told.

The Mayor’s Affordable Housing Plan More Broadly
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, the source of much controversy and back-and-forth with the de Blasio administration.

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.”

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.

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.

[Read: Comptroller Debate Focuses on Stringer's Record]

***
by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

]]>
Following Up with Comptroller Stringer on Several Debate Moments Thu, 26 Oct 2017 04:00:00 +0000