Gotham Gazette Sat, 21 Oct 2017 02:48:53 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb (Webmaster) Don’t Forget: Cumbo Won with Promise of 100% Affordability at Armory ahome3

Bedford Union Armory rendering

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.

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.

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.  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.

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.

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.

But in a recent New York Times article on the mayor’s housing plan, Cumbo declared that “the community put the line in the sand: no luxury condominiums.”

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.

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.

Cumbo won promising a much better deal, and now she just wants to scrap the condos.

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.

If Cumbo doesn’t kill the deal, she will have allowed her supporters to openly lie to the electorate during her primary campaign.

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.

What is the mayor doing with these “socialist” powers? Making a conscious decision to privatize land and “harness” gentrification, rather than fight it.

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.

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.

It really is still a tale of two cities out here.

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.

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.

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.

But make no mistake, we won’t let the wool be pulled over our eyes.

Monique “Mo” George is the Executive Director of Picture the Homeless. On Twitter @pthny.

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Don’t Forget: Cumbo Won with Promise of 100% Affordability at Armory Tue, 17 Oct 2017 04:00:00 +0000
Key to Affordable Housing Development, Vacant Lots Remain Source of Controversy vacant lot

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.”

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 “false and misleading.

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.

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 in The Daily News 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.

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 an August op-ed in City and State.

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 What’s the [Data] Point?, a podcast from Gotham Gazette and Citizens Budget Commission.

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.”

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.

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.

Why Vacant Lots?
When he announced his intention to run for mayor, de Blasio made affordable housing a centerpiece of his campaign, promising to create and preserve 200,000 affordable housing units 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 in a late 2013 campaign speech.

Shortly after he assumed office, he released Housing New York, 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.

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).

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.

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, reported the existence 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.

How Many Public Lots?
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.

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, during a hearing on vacant properties in 2014.

Nonprofits like Picture the Homeless and city agencies have tried to fill the gap, with varying results. In a report released in 2016, 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.

“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.

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 interactive map, 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.

Finally, the comptroller’s office waded into the fray with its 2016 audit of the Department of Housing and Preservation. 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.

Debate Kicks Up a Notch
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.

“This is generations of inaction,” he said.

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.  

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.

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 on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show in September 2016.

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 in an interview with the Observer.

The ‘Housing Not Warehousing Act’
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.

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 Intro. 1039, 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.”

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.

“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, according to City Limits.

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.

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, according to Crain’s New York.

Trying for Clarity
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.

“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.”

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?”

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.

“HPD failed to respond as they are required by state law,” she explained. “There’s no accountability.”

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.”

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."

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."

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.

Going Forward
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, City Limits recently reported 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.

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.

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.”

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.”

by Ben Weiss, Gotham Gazette

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Key to Affordable Housing Development, Vacant Lots Remain Source of Controversy Mon, 16 Oct 2017 04:00:00 +0000
City Hall Pushes Back on Proposal that Hits Core Tension of Housing Plan housing rally sign via nyccomptroller

City Hall ralliers with Metro-IAF-NY (photo: @NYCComptroller)

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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).

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.

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.”

“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.

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.

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.”

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.

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.

“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.”

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).

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.

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. 

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.

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.

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.

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.”

by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette

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Note - this article has been updated.

City Hall Pushes Back on Proposal that Hits Core Tension of Housing Plan Thu, 12 Oct 2017 04:00:00 +0000
Pushing New Affordable Housing Plan, Activists Plan Massive City Hall Rally affordable housing

 De Blasio unveils his housing plan (photo: Ed Reed)

As elected officials and candidates march in the annual Columbus Day parade on Monday, a separate gathering of members of church congregations, senior centers, schools, and homeowners associations will convene outside City Hall to present an affordable housing plan that they believe is a viable alternative to Mayor Bill de Blasio’s current program.

The coalition of Metro Industrial Areas Foundation and East Brooklyn Congregations plans to lead 5,000 people in the rally on Monday to push the mayor to adopt their proposal. “Monday is about a plan that we have vetted and that we think is the right plan for the city,” said coalition leader Reverend David Brawley, the pastor of St. Paul Community Baptist Church, in a phone interview Friday.

Brawley and his partners recently confronted de Blasio about their plan at a town hall in East New York, just after having presented the plan to him three days prior, at which time the mayor said he had already said he hoped to have an answer by the time of their Columbus Day rally and was sticking to that answer. The proposal hits on key criticisms of the de Blasio administration’s approach to affordable housing: that it doesn’t go far enough, especially with regard to the poorest and neediest New Yorkers.

The proposal envisions creating 15,000 units of senior housing on underutilized NYCHA land and vacant city-owned lots within four years. That, in turn, would free up space in NYCHA developments to house 50,000 people who currently sit on waitlists or live in shelters, according to the plan, which includes detailed development costs and financing mechanisms for deeply affordable housing, including more city subsidies. Aside from the housing plan, the advocates will also push the city to criminally prosecute predatory landlords.

The coalition is also calling for “top-to-bottom rehabilitation” of NYCHA developments to ensure that public housing residents live in quality homes. NYCHA has faced decades of underinvestment, at the city, state, and federal levels, and currently has a nearly $18 billion capital need for infrastructure upgrades. Under de Blasio, the city has invested much more in NYCHA and is implementing a turnaround plan that has helped stabilize its operating budget, though astronomical capital costs remain.

“We’re not naive,” said Brawley, “We know its an $18 billion need. But the feds won’t do it, the state won’t do it. We need city leadership. We’re gonna have to be far more creative and imaginative.”

The de Blasio administration has, to a degree, turned around the public housing authority’s abysmal operations and financing through the NextGeneration NYCHA program, under the leadership of NYCHA Chair and CEO Shola Olatoye. For the first time in years, the authority cleared its operating deficit, and has been breaking ground on public-private partnerships to build new developments, referred to as “infill,” on NYCHA land. The administration has announced plans to create 100 percent affordable housing on underutilized property on nine NYCHA sites and 50 percent affordable housing on four sites. A separate nonprofit called the Fund for Public Housing has also been raising private philanthropic donations to support the cash-strapped agency and recently launched an online crowdfunding portal to supplement sustainability projects.

But Brawley believes these efforts have been insufficient. “The current plan, as well intentioned as it might be, is too slow, it’s too little and very shortly it’s gonna be too late,” he said.

He also said the mayor’s affordable housing plan -- which involves creating and preserving 200,000 units of affordable housing in ten years -- does not benefit those communities and populations that face the most dire need for housing. “It’s not reaching people who need it the most,” he said. “Not much has happened so far at all. So they can scrap it and put all options on the table.”

Since 2014, the administration touts having created or preserved 77,651 affordable homes, with 24,293 financed in fiscal year 2017, which ended June 30. Of those 24,293 homes, 40 percent were for a family of three with an annual income of less than $43,000, while 4,014 were for the lowest tier, a family making less than $26,000, and advocates have been pushing the city to create more units at these levels of deep affordability.

Brawley’s church is located in East New York, one of the few neighborhoods where the administration has managed to pass a comprehensive rezoning plan that involves changing land use rules to allow more density and encourage the creation of affordable housing, along with other economic development objectives. The plan was met with significant criticism from community groups that argued it did not reach the deep affordability needed for one of the poorest districts in the city. “A lot of times, it feels like plans are done to the community,” said Brawley, raising an oft-repeated criticism that the administration does little to incorporate community voices in such rezonings (the current East Harlem rezoning proposal faces opposition for much the same reason).

[Related: Nonprofit Linked To NYCHA Creates Crowdfunding Portal For Sustainability Projects]

Brawley and other leaders met with Mayor de Blasio last week at Gracie Mansion to present their plan. On Monday, at the mayor’s town hall in East New York, Brawley asked the mayor for an answer, standing with about 20 coalition members. De Blasio joked that the wheels of government did not move that fast but promised to have a response before the rally.

By Friday afternoon, the mayor had yet to provide one. 

“We’re hopeful that he’ll be a man of his word,” Brawley said. “We’re hoping for a thoughtful and serious response to a serious plan. We’re expecting a commitment to affordability, to our seniors, to our community.”

And if the mayor’s answer in unsatisfactory? “We’ll do what we have to do to change his mind,” he said.

Mayoral spokesperson Melissa Grace said in an email Saturday, "We are big supporters of building affordable housing, including senior housing on underutilized NYCHA property. We’ve taken that fight on across the city and welcome the organizing and partnership of this and any group pressing to deepen those efforts. We look forward to working together.”

Rev. Shaun Lee, pastor of Mt. Lebanon Baptist Church in Bedford-Stuyvesant, hopes Monday’s rally will impress upon the mayor the need to prioritize deeper levels of affordability. “Time has proven, when the mayor is passionate about something, he does what he needs to do to get it done, we saw that with universal pre-kindergarten,” he said. “We want him to be just as passionate about real affordable housing.”

Public Advocate Letitia James and Comptroller Scott Stringer are expected to attend the rally as well. James recently suggested that the administration needs to reexamine options for building new affordable housing on a larger scale. At an October 3 news conference, Gotham Gazette asked Mayor de Blasio if his administration had considered doing so. “We look for every opportunity and we are constantly asking ourselves, ‘Can we in some way improve upon the existing effort?’” he said. But he expressed skepticism about implementing a new building program in the absence of state or federal aid.

“Let’s be honest about this...We’re probably stuck right now through 2020 with effectively no new housing aid from Washington,” de Blasio said. “And then the state really hasn’t delivered on any of the programs they said they were going to create for us. So we’re on our own, anxious to do more but I don’t know where the resources would be for something really big at this point. We’ll keep looking for them though.”

Asked about the housing plan from Metro Industrial Areas Foundation and East Brooklyn Congregations, Stringer said in a statement, “We're no doubt facing a crisis, and we need to use every tool in the kit to provide relief. We need housing that's actually affordable — and we need to protect those long-time residents who raised their families, played by the rules, and helped build their communities to stay in them. That means protecting our seniors, modernizing NYCHA, and ensuring that we deliver a city that is fair to all.”

by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette

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Note - this article has been updated to include comment from a mayoral spokesperson.

Pushing New Affordable Housing Plan, Activists Plan Massive City Hall Rally Fri, 06 Oct 2017 04:00:00 +0000
What’s The [DATA] Point? 77,651, with the City Housing Commissioner whats the data point

What's The Data Point? Episode 12 - 77,651 with Maria Torres-Springer, housing commissioner in the de Blasio administration [You can download What's The [Data] Point? wherever you get your podcasts, including on iTunes]

For this episode of the podcast, we bring you excerpts of a speech the city's housing commissioner, Maria Torres-Springer, gave at a Citizens Budget Commission event on Wednesday, September 20, followed by 15 minutes of Q-and-A with the commissioner. You'll hear a brief introduction of the episode's data point, followed by portions of Torres-Springer's speech, which was focused on the de Blasio administration's affordable housing program, and then Torres-Springer answering questions from Gotham Gazette and CBC. Make sure to stay tuned for the Q-and-A, which includes several interesting exchanges.

Throughout both parts, Torres-Springer explains progress being made on one of the administration's most ambitious goals, building or preserving 200,000 units of affordable housing over 10 years, discusses challenges the city is facing, including potential federal funding cuts, and much more. She discusses the administration's plans to rezone neighborhoods in order to add more housing, what the city needs from the state, and much more.

Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think: Ben Max of GG (@TweetBenMax) & CBC (@cbcny) & guest Maria Torres-Springer (@MTorresSpringer of @NYCHousing). Listen below or download wherever you get your podcasts!

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

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What’s The [DATA] Point? 77,651, with the City Housing Commissioner Thu, 21 Sep 2017 04:00:00 +0000
Protecting Tenants from Construction Harassment sts op ed

photo, including three of the authors, via the Progressive Caucus

We’ve seen it in our districts. A new landlord takes ownership of a building and starts a construction project that never finishes in order to evict long-term residents. They may turn off the cooking gas indefinitely; they may even knock out the boiler with no explanation.

For too many New Yorkers, this nightmare is their reality. The stories are plentiful: heat and gas shutoffs in the middle of winter, jackhammering causing cracks in apartment walls, loss of power, and lead dust in the air lasting for months on end. For years, city and borough officials and community advocates have encountered a critical mass of stories like these, detailing the unscrupulous conduct of landlords as well as the insufficient response from the City of New York.

We, as members of the City Council members and its Progressive Caucus, see the writing on the walls: our city needs more protections in place for tenants facing construction harassment.

Understanding the need to strengthen the ability of the Department of Buildings (DOB) to protect tenants from construction as harassment, the grassroots Stand for Tenant Safety Coalition (STS) has partnered with the Progressive Caucus to put forth a package of legislation aimed at achieving just that.

These 12 STS bills, most of which are sponsored by members of the Progressive Caucus, with strong support in the Council, will put in place much tougher penalties against abusive landlords for illegal construction practices and enact preventative measures to help tenants protect their homes.  

The goal is to change the way DOB handles construction harassment so that the agency is empowered to become more proactive with regard to issuing construction permits and facilitating communication among tenants, landlords, and city agencies. Such renewed tenant protections are intended to quicken and fortify the City’s response to construction harassment so vulnerable residents in rapidly changing neighborhoods are able to stay in their homes and communities.

As policymakers, we know that construction harassment by unscrupulous landlords only exacerbates the affordable housing crisis already facing residents of New York City. In recent years, the average rents in some city neighborhoods have risen by 20%; in such neighborhoods especially, unethical landlords can use construction as a way of cashing in on rising rents instead of protecting the existing tenants. Calls the City has been receiving from New Yorkers reflect this; construction-related complaints number in the thousands each year.

Even as preserving and creating affordable housing has remained a focus of both the City Council and Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration, the myriad loopholes landlords use in existing laws allow the number of rent-regulated apartments to dwindle. With both the cost of living in the city and rent continuing to rise, protecting the health and safety of tenants through legislation is the minimum of what can be done, the least of how this city can maintain a fair and just society. With the city losing affordable housing every year, we cannot afford to ignore any way in which tenants are threatened by eviction from their homes.

As the clock ticks toward the end of the current City Council session, we need the Council to pass this Stand for Tenant Safety package of legislation as soon as possible. The New York City Council just made history by passing the city’s first ever Right to Counsel legislation, which will provide legal assistance to tenants facing eviction in housing court. We urgently need to continue making progress on tenant rights in New York City by strengthening preventative measures that will help keep tenants from facing eviction in the first place.

It is time that the City renew its commitment, through strengthening the enforcement power of the Department of Buildings, to standing up for residents living under adverse conditions and protect our communities from abusive, unethical landlords. As long as economic inequality and hazardous building conditions threaten health and safety, the City must continue to strengthen every person’s opportunity for a livable and affordable place to call home. As progressive City Council members, we hope our colleagues and the de Blasio administration will work together with us to ensure that our city’s most vulnerable tenants are protected.

Antonio Reynoso, Donovan Richards, Helen Rosenthal & Ben Kallos are all members of the City Council and leaders of its Progressive Caucus. On Twitter @CMReynoso34 & @DRichards13 & @HelenRosenthal & @BenKallos, & @NYCProgressives.

Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email

Protecting Tenants from Construction Harassment Sun, 30 Jul 2017 04:00:00 +0000
What’s The [DATA] Point? 100,000, with Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen whats the data point

What's The Data Point? Episode 6 -- 100,000, with Alicia Glen, Deputy Mayor for Housing and Economic Development.  [You can download What's The Data Point? wherever you get your podcasts, including on iTunes]

For this episode of What's The [Data] Point?, a podcast from Citizens Budget Commission and Gotham Gazette, we were joined by Alicia Glen, New York City Deputy Mayor for Housing and Economic Development, who discussed the rezoning of East Midtown, the de Blasio administration's new jobs plan, and the recent tweaks to the administration's housing plan. Glen explains the significance of the East Midtown deal, which just came together and passed through City Council committee, and discusses key aspects of the jobs plan, which seeks to create 100,000 jobs that pay at least $50,000 annually over ten years.

Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think: Ben Max of GG (@TweetBenMax), Maria Doulis (@MariaDoulis) of CBC, and guest Alicia Glen (@DMAliciaGlen).

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

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What’s The [DATA] Point? 100,000, with Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen Thu, 27 Jul 2017 04:00:00 +0000
Pacific Park Developer's Deceptive Affordable Housing Spin 535 carlton pacific park

Part of the 535 Carlton Pacific Park lottery ad

Ashley Cotton's June 22 Gotham Gazette op-ed “Tackling New York’s Housing Affordability Crisis” is deeply deceptive, part of the long-running spin from the developer of the Pacific Park (formerly Atlantic Yards) project.

It's on par with the misleading mayoral press release June 13 for the "100% affordable" 535 Carlton, which I analyzed in City & State.

Cotton, the External Affairs Executive VP for Forest City New York (and thus the spokesperson for the joint venture Greenland Forest City Partners), writes of that new building, "It’s 100 percent affordable, and proof positive that our public-private affordable housing model delivers great results."

Really? Half of 535 Carlton is dedicated to middle-income households earning up to 165% of Area Median Income, or AMI. Translation: studios cost $2,137, one-bedrooms $2,680; two-bedrooms $3,223, and three-bedrooms $3,716.

While those dip below market rates, they hardly supply housing to those who need it most. According to the Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development's Affordable Housing "Cheat Sheet," only 7.4% of New York households even fall within 140% and 170% of AMI, above which is clearly market rate.

I recall the 2009 public hearing, where a member of the housing group ACORN urged approval of Atlantic Yards because "[t]he people in my building cannot afford $2,000 a month rent." They still can't.

The word "affordable" sounds good, but vagueness about actual affordability obscures how affordability differs significantly from that originally promised, which got advocates like ACORN on board.

Cotton writes, "We committed to delivering 2,250 units of below market-rate housing by 2025." Yes, but that obscures how the developer, with compliant public officials and cowed advocates, has delivered apartments for households in the top quartile of city incomes.

The 2005 ACORN agreement was supposed to deliver 2,250 units of affordable housing, with only 20% of them -- 450 total -- going to the best-off middle-income cohort. Not only has AMI floated up significantly, this building has 50% of the units assigned to the best-off cohort.

No wonder that I discovered, after analyzing the raw spreadsheet of applicants for City Limits, that while 92,743 households applied for 297 lottery units, only 2,203 applicants even fell within income eligibility for the 148 middle-income apartments among them.

"For lottery winners, these units are life-changing," Cotton writes. Sure, for the woman Cotton features in her essay, who had been trying desperately to get good housing, and luckily won the lottery.

For the relatively small number of those seeking the middle-income units, as well as the significant number of middle-income households who've actually turned down the housing after winning the lottery, it's not so life-changing.

"Pacific Park Brooklyn," writes Cotton, "is already proof that putting affordability first can reap great rewards for the citizens of New York." Actually, it's proof that "affordability" is a great selling point when few look closely.

The unfortunate but deeply important lesson of Atlantic Yards -- 13-plus years in -- is that the developer is always spinning.

Those of us with long memories recall past deceptive essays by the developer. In May 2008, Bruce Ratner, CEO of Forest City Ratner (since renamed Forest City New York), penned an op-ed for the Daily News, contending, "for the first time, I am offering an updated construction timetable for the project...We anticipate finishing all of Atlantic Yards by 2018."

Well, we know how that turned out. The timetable stretched to 2035, and then was said to be 2025, at least for the affordable housing, though officials at Ratner's parent company now hint at well past 2030.

"We're still building the iconic Miss Brooklyn tower," Ratner wrote, regarding the Frank Gehry-designed flagship building at the intersection of Atlantic and Flatbush avenues, which would loom over the Barclays Center and contain an atrium in which arena attendees could gather.

Now, of course, Gehry is long gone, and the Greenland Forest City joint venture -- surely wary of construction over a regularly used arena -- now plans to seek state permission to shift the bulk of Miss Brooklyn across the street. That would transform an already large approved tower -- replacing the current big-box stores Modell's and P.C. Richard -- into an enormous two-tower project.

Consider the Feb 2010 op-ed from Ratner's deputy, MaryAnne Gilmartin, in the Commercial Observer. Atlantic Yards, Gilmartin wrote, "has been about jobs and housing and an historic community-benefits agreement that ensures that the project’s economic and social benefits help the folks who live here and need it most."

Well, it's clear today that much of the "affordable housing," not to mention the market-rate housing, doesn't help those who need it most.

What about that much-ballyhooed Community Benefits Agreement, or CBA? It was a huge part of project promotion, earning a press release from Mayor Bloomberg's office when it was signed in 2005.

One significant part of the CBA, a pre-apprenticeship training program that was supposed to vault struggling Brooklynites into coveted union jobs, dissolved, leading to a bitter lawsuit. Other elements remained vague, unenforceable aspirations.

Who oversees the CBA? Because it's not a government document -- Bloomberg was just a witness -- it's left up to the compromised signatories, which had neither the expertise nor the incentive to challenge the developer. As a consultant Forest City itself hired to evaluate the CBA concluded, the developer financially compensated the organizations for their potential to secure community support for the project, but not for their capacity to fulfill the CBA's programmatic goals.

The CBA required an independent monitor. "Atlantic Yards is setting a new standard," Ratner asserted in March 2007, "and the ICM [Independent Compliance Monitor] will be everyone's watchdog to ensure we reach all of the goals and benefits we have agreed to." The monitor was never hired, despite a Request for Proposals. The developer saved at least $100,000 a year, and the CBA evaded scrutiny.

I remember a November 2004 public meeting in which Forest City's initial Atlantic Yards point man Jim Stuckey, asked how the project would be overseen, replied, "The CBA we have in negotiation calls for an independent officer. Probably more than one." He even told the New York Times in July 2005 that the full project -- which was supposed to take 10 years when announced in 2003 -- might be completed as soon as 2011.

That's the developer's record. Their statements, including claims of "Tackling New York’s Housing Affordability Crisis," always deserve skepticism.

Norman Oder is a Brooklyn journalist who writes the daily blog Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park Report and is working on a book about the project. On Twitter @AYReport.

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Pacific Park Developer's Deceptive Affordable Housing Spin Thu, 22 Jun 2017 04:00:00 +0000
Tackling New York’s Housing Affordability Crisis pacific park bk

Pacific Park Brooklyn (photo: Max Touhey)

Crystal Patterson is a fourth-generation New Yorker whose city roots run deep: she was raised in East Flatbush, has family in Bedford-Stuyvesant and works in Midtown. Yet, even though Crystal calls New York home, for years she had no home to go to; she was one of the hundreds of thousands of city residents who struggled to find safe, affordable housing.

Today, New York is experiencing an unprecedented affordability crisis. In all five boroughs, from Williamsbridge in the Bronx to Williamsburg in Brooklyn, the cost of housing has become increasingly out of reach for low, moderate, and middle income New Yorkers. In many ways, we have become victims of our own success: while the city has become safer, more vibrant, and more welcoming than ever before, it has also become more expensive to live here. The simple economic principle of supply and demand has caused this emergency, but it will take an innovative, multifaceted solution to get us out of it.

One creative solution has already proven to be successful in Brooklyn: public-private partnerships. Last week, Greenland Forest City Partners was proud to open 535 Carlton, our COOKFOX-designed, 298-unit building in one of the most desirable parts of the city. The best part? It’s 100 percent affordable, and proof positive that our public-private affordable housing model delivers great results. This pioneering partnership ensures that Pacific Park Brooklyn, our 22-acre project in downtown Brooklyn, enhances the area’s diversity, vibrancy, and accessibility.

Working in conjunction with the city and the state, we at Greenland Forest City developed a plan to accelerate the timetable for affordable housing coming online. We committed to delivering 2,250 units of below market-rate housing by 2025. In exchange, the city’s Housing Development Corporation (HDC) provided financial resources to guarantee two 100 percent affordable buildings, 535 Carlton and 38 Sixth Avenue, would start construction earlier than planned. These buildings wouldn’t just be for low-income New Yorkers; they would also include housing for moderate and middle income New Yorkers who have been increasingly priced out of their neighborhoods.

Moreover, Greenland Forest City committed to building affordable housing designed by the city’s top architects. COOKFOX, the architect behind 535 Carlton, is a pioneer of sustainable, environmentally-responsible design, which permeates throughout the property. The building sits adjacent to what will become the eight-acre, publicly accessible Pacific Park. It includes resident gardens on the rooftop and a green wall in the lobby. Many of the sundrenched apartments have views of the neighborhood, nearby Prospect Park, and New York Harbor.

For lottery winners, these units are life-changing. For years, Crystal lived in AirBnB rentals, spending a few short months in different neighborhoods throughout New York and beyond. She applied to 60 affordable housing lotteries throughout the five boroughs, each time praying that she would finally get a lucky break and a place to call home.

Late last year, that break came: Crystal opened her email to find out she had won the affordable housing lottery for 535 Carlton. She now lives in a two-bedroom apartment with her 15-year-old son, Trey. The building has a fitness center, children’s play area and resident lounge, amenities more likely to be found in a luxury building than a 100 percent affordable one. But for Crystal, the best part is building a new, stable life in the city she loves.

“The joy we felt was indescribable,” said Crystal on securing her apartment in 535 Carlton. “Today, I feel like my son and I are part of the growing community in both the building and the neighborhood.”

Ultimately, we want more New Yorkers like Crystal to feel that they are part of our shared future, and that there will be enough affordable housing supply for generations to come. Pacific Park Brooklyn aims to meet this vision, and is already proof that putting affordability first can reap great rewards for the citizens of New York.

Ashley Cotton is Executive Vice President, External Affairs at Forest City New York.

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Tackling New York’s Housing Affordability Crisis Wed, 21 Jun 2017 04:00:00 +0000
Illegal Conversions Crackdown Could Worsen City’s Housing Crisis  hum listings

(photo: Tarry Hum)

The New York City Council recently passed an “Aggravated Illegal Conversions” bill by a 49-0 vote. The legislation -- sponsored by City Council Members Gentile, Williams, and Grodenchik, and Brooklyn Borough President Adams, and signed into law by Mayor de Blasio -- significantly increases the civil penalties for owners who illegally subdivide their residential property to create three or more dwelling units (typically single rooms) above the number legally permitted by the property’s certificate of occupancy. Unpaid penalties become a tax lien that the city can recoup through a forced property sale.  

Representing the South Brooklyn neighborhoods of Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights, Bath Beach, and Bensonhurst, Council Member Gentile has long argued the high risks and costs of illegal conversions in terms of tenant and emergency responder safety and overburdened public infrastructure. Media coverage of several incidences of illegal conversions in summer 2016 added momentum and renewed urgency to the bill’s passage.

Illegal conversions provide a housing source of last resort and their prevalence in working-class, immigrant enclaves and neighboring areas underscore New York City’s acute housing crisis. The outstanding demand for affordable housing augmented by rising real estate values are the driving forces behind predatory landlord practices. Investor-owners subdivide their property in order to maximize rental profits; homeowners may similarly seek to capture untapped profits, or they may depend on rental income to support a huge mortgage debt.

In either scenario, modest one- to three-family properties have become “modern-day tenements” where working-class New Yorkers are only able to afford a substandard, single room. A common sight in Sunset Park and Flushing are bulletin boards with numerous notices publicizing single rooms for rent. Long discarded as a viable source of housing for low-income tenants, SROs were recently touted as a niche alternative for affluent millennials.

In addition to identifying and punishing predatory landlords who profit by subjecting tenants to substandard housing, Council Member Williams noted, “It is also our responsibility to offer a realistic, affordable housing alternative to the residents.”

There is no question that illegal conversions pose a present danger to the thousands of New Yorkers who rely on this form of shelter. However, this legislation offers no alternatives or protections for tenants whose only source of “affordable” rental housing typically entails risk to personal safety, arbitrary eviction, and hazardous conditions.

The law -- which increases fines, requires the DOB to seek an access warrant and vacate illegal conversions, and potentially, dispossess offending property owners -- has tremendous appeal for middle-class homeowners and civic associations who are, foremost, concerned about a diminished neighborhood quality of life and aesthetic as measured by overcrowdedness, lack of street parking, and front yards converted to parking spaces. Bob Cassara of the Brooklyn Housing Preservation Alliance worries that illegal conversions will tip the balance of a neighborhood’s demography: “Once a home is sold and illegally converted, people refuse to live next to a home with triple the legal occupancy.”  

During an October 2016 City Council hearing, Council Member Williams expressed concern that the aggravated illegal conversions bill may appear to be targeting particular tenant populations such as immigrants and people of color. “I know there were some questions of what this bill was and if we were trying to hurt specific demographics and whether it was Haitians in my district and Chinese in Council Member Gentile’s district,” Williams said.

There is good reason for his concerns. Since Trump’s election, New Yorkers — including community board members representing the city’s celebrated hyper-diverse neighborhoods —feel emboldened to express anti-immigrant sentiments. A longtime member was recently removed from Community Board 4 in Queens for her comment that bicycle lanes will no longer be needed once Trump “removes all the illegals.” According to a DNAinfo map of the November 2016 elections, a large part of Council Member Gentile’s district voted for Trump. Less than a month after the presidential election, a Muslim off-duty NYPD officer and her son were the targets of a racist verbal assault in her Bay Ridge neighborhood. News accounts of escalating fears of detainment and deportation has prompted Congressional Rep. Nydia Velazquez to introduce legislation that prohibits Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents from identifying themselves as local police officers.

Mayor de Blasio has declared our city a sanctuary for immigrants. In this climate, we need to actively ensure that all New Yorkers have safe haven. While this illegal conversions law rightly seeks to punish predatory landlords and their exploitative practices, without the provision of alternative, safe and affordable long-term housing, this law deepens the crisis facing our most vulnerable tenant populations including immigrants, seniors, and the working-poor.

Tarry Hum is a professor at The City University of New York (CUNY) and author of Making a Global Immigrant Neighborhood. On Twitter @TarryHum.

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Illegal Conversions Crackdown Could Worsen City’s Housing Crisis Wed, 14 Jun 2017 04:00:00 +0000