Gotham Gazette http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/114 Thu, 21 Jun 2018 14:03:00 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) City Planning Director Previews ‘Geography of Jobs’ Report http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7752:planning-chief-previews-geography-of-jobs-report http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7752:planning-chief-previews-geography-of-jobs-report lago cbc

Marisa Lago (photo: Citizens Budget Commission)


Urban planning wonks and other interested parties gathered Tuesday morning for a Citizens Budget Commission trustee breakfast featuring Marisa Lago, the director of the city’s Department of City Planning (DCP) and the chair of the City Planning Commission.

At the event, Lago granted attendees a preview of DCP’s forthcoming “Geography of Jobs” report, due for release later this summer.

“Geography of Jobs” is a product of the Department of City Planning’s first foray into regionalism, led by DCP’s relatively new regional planning unit, launched under former Chair Carl Weisbrod. The report is the product of a collaboration among leaders of cities throughout the metropolitan region, defined by DCP as inclusive of New York City and 26 neighboring counties in Northern New Jersey, Southern Connecticut, the Hudson Valley, and Long Island.

Lago spoke of the report’s affirmation of the region’s economic strength. As a whole, New York City and its surrounding counties have a gross domestic product (GDP) of $1.7 trillion, one-tenth of the national GDP. If the region were its own country, its economy would rank squarely between South Korea’s and Russia’s.

Twenty-three million people live in the region, of whom 8.6 million live in New York City, though nearly 30% of the city’s workforce lives beyond its limits.

“Geography of Jobs” reveals deep disparities between New York City and its environs. Sixty percent of the region’s jobs are outside of New York City, and, over the two-decade stretch before 2008, New York City accounted for roughly 33% of job growth in the region. Since the recession, however, 75% of regional job gains have been in the city.

Lago said that the city’s planning officials worked hard to not be insular when collaborating with officials from outlying areas, and that they did not want New York City to be perceived as “that evil empire across the Hudson.”

The report also shows that New York City is gaining younger workers, defined as those aged 25-54, at a rate three times higher than the national average. The rest of the region, however, has an aging workforce.

The final conclusion of “Geography of Jobs” that Lago shared on Tuesday morning relates to employment categories: the bulk of New York City’s employment growth has been in professional office jobs, while markets beyond the city are increasingly filled with healthcare and local service workers.

The Department of City Planning’s recent emphasis on regional planning reflects its belief, Lago said, in “the commonality of our challenges” on topics ranging from climate change to housing stock.  

This theme was prominent in her discussion of the city’s resilience against climate change. With 520 miles of shoreline, 400,000 residents in a FEMA-designated flood plain, and all but a single community district at least partially in danger of flooding, New York City is threatened by sea level rises and future Superstorm Sandy-type events.

According to the OneNYC city resilience plan distributed at the event, sea levels in New York City have already risen a foot over the past 100 years, and are expected to increase by between 8 and 30 inches by the 2050s, and by between 15 and 75 inches by the century’s end.

“Sandy showed us that Mother Nature knows no boundaries, and she certainly doesn’t adhere to political boundaries,” Lago remarked.

By reforming flood insurance standards, enhancing and making permanent the emergency flood resilience zoning measures of October 2013, and modifying zoning regulations, among other measures, Lago said that the DCP hopes to “future-proof” New York.

She also emphasized the role zoning can play in facilitating job growth. Though every borough has benefited from recent job growth, outdated zoning regulations that “evidence a love of the car” constrain new development, Lago said.

Zoning in New York City, much of which was developed in the 1960s, favors a suburban vision of an economy dominated by office parks surrounded by seas of cars. This makes it difficult to find locations in the city for life sciences facilities and, oddly, microbreweries, which are prohibited in all but industrial zones. Commercial buildings are burdened by outdated density limits, Lago said, and parking and loading requirements near transit centers should be “rationalized.”

But crucial to any future city plan, Lago warned, is the 2020 Census, which she described as an “existential issue for our city.”

The census is important on numerous fronts. New York State is already slated to lose one seat in the House of Representatives due to its shrinking population, and undercounting in the city could lose it two. New York City receives $7 billion annually in government funding that’s dependent on the city’s size.

The city’s population has grown by 5.5% since the previous census, in 2010, and most of this increase is due to immigration. Thirty-eight percent of New Yorkers are foreign-born, and an additional 22% were born in the United States to at least one immigrant parent. Half of Queens residents were born outside the country.

But the proposed addition of a citizenship question to the census threatens to depress turnout in a city where one in seven households contains a person without legal immigration status. Lago called on the attendees to “look to your community” and spread the word that the Census Bureau would not share citizenship information with other governmental organizations, like Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Patrol.

She described participation in the census as “everyone’s right.”

Lago also encouraged the audience to reach out to her department with information on onerous or nonsensical regulations, zoning standards, and “bottlenecks” in development.

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by Daniel Yadin for Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Note: this article has been corrected to reflect that New York City is home to 8.6 not 8.5 million; that the region includes New York City and 26 other counties, not 31 (31 would include New York City's five); that the region is home to 31 million people; and that nearly 30% of the city's workforce live beyond its borders.

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City Planning Director Previews ‘Geography of Jobs’ Report Tue, 19 Jun 2018 04:00:00 +0000
New York City Doesn’t Have a Comprehensive Plan; Does It Need One? http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7674:new-york-city-doesn-t-have-a-comprehensive-plan-does-it-need-one http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7674:new-york-city-doesn-t-have-a-comprehensive-plan-does-it-need-one De Blasio city planning

Mayor de Blasio (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)


New York City is the only major city in the country that has never had a comprehensive development plan, according to Tom Angotti, professor of urban policy at Hunter College.

Facing major, city-wide challenges now and into the coming decades, the city’s approach to development and planning is byzantine, narrow, and somewhat haphazard. The vast, diverse city of 8.5 million residents and millions more visitors every day is often looked at by neighborhood, legislative district, or borough. At the same time, infrastructure investment decisions and project implementation lack transparency and efficiency.

City government has no coherent, overarching plan for growth and the challenges that come with it -- housing, transportation, climate resiliency, school seats, garbage collection, and more -- and city officials don’t believe that one is necessary.

As the administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio continues to implement a 12-year affordable housing plan and a 10-year jobs plan, it is also adding to its transportation agenda in piecemeal fashion, and adjusting a wide variety of other policies in at least partial silos of agency planning. The administration is slowly moving down its list of neighborhood rezonings in an effort to create more affordable housing and improve community services, which include infrastructure investments, job training programs, and more -- but they do not fit into a larger connected vision of where the city is heading, leaving those invested in the city’s future with little more than projected numbers of new housing units and jobs, among other numerical goals like lifting hundreds of thousands of people out of poverty and reducing carbon emissions, and largely disparate local projects.

The Department of City Planning, which helps craft the neighborhood rezoning plans, would be the logical place for the creation of a city plan, but none is being drafted there, and top City Planning officials dismiss the notion that one is needed.

In its efforts, DCP works with the Economic Development Corporation (EDC), a city-run nonprofit, the Mayor’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB), the City Council, community boards, and other agencies and entities, including elected officials like borough presidents and City Council members. While some current and former city officials believe the ongoing approach is more than adequate, other experts believe the city should and could be doing better planning that is more coherent, inclusive, and transparent.

On a recent episode of What’s The [Data] Point?, a podcast from Gotham Gazette and Citizens Budget Commission, guest Anita Laremont, the general counsel and chief data officer at the Department of City Planning, was asked about the lack of a comprehensive city plan. “We are charged by state law that we must have a well-considered land use plan,” Laremont said, “and what we have maintained historically is that the city zoning framework at any given time is the city’s well-considered plan.”

Laremont was referring to the city’s land use rules, its zoning regulations that, generally speaking, dictate what types of building are allowed to be built where, and to what size. For example, whether an area of the city is zoned for commercial, residential, or manufacturing use, and how big the buildings can be, from small homes to large apartment buildings, for instance. The city’s 100-year-old zoning text has been amended many times, including in sweeping fashion during de Blasio’s first term in order to mandate affordable housing when a developer receives permission to build more densely on a plot of land or during a neighborhood-wide change to the land use rules that allows more height.

According to Laremont, this approach offers a pragmatic, incremental strategy that suits the city. “This is such a dynamic city, in terms of where people live, where they work, we actually believe that it would not be productive to try to sit down and come up with a plan, because that dynamism really leads to a need to be responsive and nimble,” she said when asked why the city doesn’t have a comprehensive master plan.

“The other thing is that our process --...ULURP -- is ultimately a very political process, and we have, I think, at City Planning, some of the smartest people that work in city government, but we don’t have the ability to implement just what we think is appropriate,” Larement continued. “You know there are pushes and pulls and other considerations that go into ultimately what is the land use and zoning resolutions.”

A Regional Plan
Meanwhile, the Regional Planning Association (RPA), a non-profit planning association founded in 1922, recently released its fourth regional plan, which cites significant difficulties currently or soon to be faced by the tri-state region encompassing New York City, and recommends a long series of ambitious infrastructure investments, institutional reforms, and policies. What the RPA produces every generation may be as close as there is to a master plan for the New York City area, but it takes a much wider lens and is not something that city officials endorse, though many of its recommendations are likely to influence government decision-making.

RPA’s new plan aims to combat forces that could undermine the growth and health of the region, including overwhelming population additions, wealth inequality, climate change, crumbling infrastructure, and inadequate public institutions.

It reports a number of alarming figures about the future of the area: based on current trends, the tri-state region is expected to gain 1.8 million inhabitants but only 850,000 more jobs by 2040; for the bottom three-fifths of households, incomes have stagnated since 2000, and more people live in poverty today than a generation ago; in the NY-NJ-CT metropolitan region, a total of 46% of households spend more than 30% of their incomes on rent; and, today, more than a million people and 650,000 jobs are at risk from flooding, along with critical infrastructure such as power plants, rail yards, and water-treatment facilities.

How well prepared the region and, specifically, New York City, are to deal with these difficulties remains an open question.

The latest RPA plan includes recommendations from expanding the subway in New York City to implementing congestion pricing to unclog Manhattan streets to increasing access to healthy, affordable food in every community.

When asked about the feasibility of RPA’s fourth regional plan, Laremont of DCP replied, “I wouldn’t say that it’s not realistic. I would say those kinds of things are very aspirational, and they have the luxury of not having to be responsive to the realpolitik that we live within...we welcome those sort of thought exercises that people do and they give us food for thought.”

City Planning, But No City Plan
The city’s Zoning Resolution was first adopted in 1916 to limit the bulk of skyscrapers because of widespread anxieties that they would block air and light from the streets below. Over the last century, it has been incrementally altered, in part to respond to population growth, technological advancements, and changing industries and trends. Its text establishes the zoning districts for the city and the regulations governing land use and development. Any change to the zoning resolution has to be ratified by the City Council as well as the City Planning Commission, a 13-member body, with seven members appointed by the mayor, five appointed by the borough presidents, and one by the public advocate. The commission is different from the Department of City Planning, though they interact constantly, with the commission voting on many proposals that originate with or come through DCP.

Among other tasks, DCP is responsible for making sure that new development conforms to the Zoning Resolution, reviewing applications for land use, and producing Environmental Impact Reviews to assess how development might affect its surroundings. These represent the first stages of the Uniform Land Use Process (ULURP), which is triggered on a variety of circumstances including significant proposed changes to a plot of land or neighborhood. While local community boards and the borough presidents have formal opportunities to publish recommendations on land-use decisions in their districts, they are only advisory, and the City Planning Commission ultimately has the power to approve or deny each new development, followed by the City Council, which has final say on land use matters. As City Limits reported in 2017, the City Planning Commission rarely stops major developments.

Carl Weisbrod was chair of the City Planning Commission and Director of the Department of City Planning from 2014 to 2017, as appointed by Mayor de Blasio. Like Laremont, who worked for Weisbrod before he retired from city government, Weisbrod told Gotham Gazette that a city-wide plan is undesirable. He pointed out that such a plan would be a lengthy and costly exercise, and discussed the last time the city tried to make such a plan, the 1969 Plan for New York City, which was never adopted. Weisbrod said the proposed plan took so long to complete that it was outdated by the time it was finished.

Under Weisbrod DCP made a number of reforms: including adding the Mandatory Inclusionary Housing policy to the zoning code; creating the Department of Regional Planning, directed by Carolyn Grossman Meagher, in order to connect New York City’s planning process to the wider region; creating a capital budget division to establish cooperation between DCP and the Mayor’s Office of Management and Budget; and creating a $1 billion neighborhood development fund to support growth with public investments in parks, transportation, streets and sidewalks, and other improvements.

Weisbrod stressed that a city-wide development plan would be incompatible with the city’s dynamic economy. The problem with making such a plan, he said, is that “the market has to wait to see what the plan is going to be, or it will go in a different direction,” thus disrupting the plan. Laremont said similarly on the podcast. “If, for example, the city were going to get Amazon[‘s second headquarters], anything we were thinking previously about what might be appropriate in various places might be proven completely wrong,” she said, in reference to the notion that big plans can quickly become obsolete.

The city’s approach to development has been to “react to market forces and take advantage of market forces,” said Weisbrod. When asked, he added that the city doesn’t just wait for opportunities presented to it, but also takes a proactive role in shaping development. He pointed to planning initiatives at Hudson Yards, Times Square, Battery Park City, and Willets Point as examples of successful interventions.

A master plan, he said, “suggests a top-down approach to neighborhood development, and it ought to be a bottom-up process...that has been the approach of the de Blasio administration.” Weisbrod stressed that the city’s planning efforts were done with close attention to communities. DCP uses a wealth of detailed information about the demographics of neighborhoods, consults local stakeholders, and collaborates with other governmental entities, such as the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) and the New York Housing Authority, in order to make planning decisions. “It may seem chaotic from the outside, but planning is a very thoughtful process,” Weisbrod said.

Who’s Really Doing the Planning - And Where
Some community advocates do not share Weisbrod’s confidence in the process. The de Blasio administration, like others before it, has been criticized for not being proactive enough in engaging communities where significant change is being eyed, for not taking enough community input into consideration, and for implementing policies that enhance negative effects of gentrification rather than ameliorate them. Michelle de la Uz -- appointed to the City Planning Commission by de Blasio when he was public advocate, and reappointed by current Public Advocate Letitia James -- has become one of the de Blasio administration’s most ardent critics, often voting against the city’s housing and development proposals because she believes they do more harm than good and that the housing is not at the levels of affordability it should be.

It is a sentiment shared by Chris Walters, the Rezoning Technical Assistance Coordinator for the Association for Neighborhood & Housing Development (ANHD), an umbrella organization of around 100 non-profit affordable housing and economic development groups serving low- and moderate-income New Yorkers. Walters has been involved with some of the campaigns opposing the recent neighborhood rezonings, for example the Bronx Coalition for a Community Vision, providing technical assistance and helping draft policy counter-proposals to those offered by City Planning.

As Gotham Gazette has reported, the rezonings that have passed -- in East New York, Downtown Far Rockaway, East Harlem, and the Jerome Avenue corridor in the Bronx -- will create more residential districts and allow for higher-density development, a crucial part of de Blasio’s plan to create or preserve 300,000 affordable housing units by 2026. As part of the rezoning plans, these neighborhoods are also slated to receive substantial infrastructure investments in public housing, transit, parks, schools, and other community benefits. However, community advocacy groups and some elected officials and outside experts have expressed frustration at the fact that the rezoned neighborhoods are primarily low- and moderate-income communities of color, that these neighborhoods have had to accept higher density in order to receive investment, and they have voiced concerns that the rezonings will spur displacement.

DCP maintains that the neighborhoods, often led by the local City Council member, volunteered for the rezonings, with Laremont saying that each rezoning is a “collaborative process between the city, members of the City Council, and neighborhoods, in terms of neighborhoods themselves raising their hands and saying, ‘we would welcome a rezoning,’ because they thought there were opportunities in that.” Ultimately, the City Council as a body does defer to the local member, and, after negotiations, each local member has proudly ushered through the neighborhood rezonings that have passed.

But Walters criticized the city’s process for choosing which neighborhoods to rezone as being opportunistic, saying there “was no rationale as to why these neighborhoods have been chosen.” Walters pointed out that neighborhoods like Forest Hills and Bay Ridge are similarly low-density and have good transit access -- reasons given by DCP for rezoning neighborhoods.

“If you had a comprehensive plan, which included projections of population increase and the amount of new housing needed, saying, ‘this is what the future will look like,’” Walters said, “[the rezoning process] would be more accountable.” Advocacy groups have not focused on the issue of a city-wide development plan, he said, because “pragmatically, that’s not where groups want to put their energy,” given that there are more pressing matters on their agenda.

Walters’ main criticism is that the planning process is not adequately inclusive. He pointed out that members of community boards (CB) are not elected, but are appointed by the borough president and by the City Council, and that they disproportionately represent homeowners and business-owners, who don’t necessarily live in the neighborhood. Community boards do have some influence, drafting a “need statement” for the community, which is then examined by DCP to help it draft plans, and it has an advisory vote in ULURP. Walters said that, despite outreach efforts by DCP, people feel as if plans are already determined before they are presented to the community.

He also criticized the methodology of Environmental Impact Reviews. For example, Walters is skeptical of the figures published in the Jerome Avenue rezoning construction report: in the “Reasonable Worst-Case Development Scenario,” the report estimates that 3,228 new dwelling units will be added to the neighborhood. However, Walters said this estimate was arrived at by using the city’s classic lot size of 2,500 square feet, but lots are commonly 5,000 square feet around Jerome Avenue. He also takes issue with the report claiming that the development enabled by the rezoning will not contribute to any rise in rents, on the grounds that market pressures were already driving rent costs up in the area. The executive summary (p. 52) says that, “The Proposed Actions’ contributions to rent pressures in the study areas would be limited by the supply of market-rate and affordable housing resulting from the Proposed Actions, which could serve to offset existing housing demand and rent pressures.”

“The point is often made in communities that they are not saying ‘no’ to increased density, but they are saying ‘no’ to an unregulated market rate that is going to drive displacement,” Walters argued.

From PlaNYC to OneNYC
While the city’s land-use decisions are mediated through ULURP and the zoning resolution, the past two mayoral administrations have published a version of a long-term strategic plan. On Earth Day in 2007, then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg released “PlaNYC,” which aimed to address climate change and the city’s fast-growing population, putting in one place a series of strategies, but not forming a comprehensive city plan. Mayor de Blasio has since rebranded it as OneNYC, adding equity to the list of major concerns.

Weisbrod stressed that OneNYC, which he helped write, is not a development plan, but rather “a set of longer-term strategic priorities - a strategic plan.”

Angotti, the urban policy and planning professor at Hunter College and CUNY Graduate Center, has mixed feelings about these plans. On the one hand, he has seen them as a welcome step towards a more coherent approach to the city’s long-term development, and he praised both Bloomberg for having brought up climate change and de Blasio for having raised equity as primary policy concerns.

OneNYC reports that the city has committed to spending $20 billion on a city-wide resiliency program, which includes helping local businesses prepare for flooding risks, helping building-owners with flood-insurance, and addressing risks to infrastructure. Moreover, following Hurricane Sandy, the city introduced a flood resilience zoning update to the zoning resolution, which allowed for development of flood-resistant construction to occur in areas deemed at risk of flooding.

However, Angotti is critical of the way in which PlaNYC was drafted and said that OneNYC shared the same flaws. He expressed frustration at the speed with which the plans were drawn up, saying that the discussions with local communities were not adequately participatory and “flawed.” Bloomberg hired McKinsey, the international consulting firm, to carry out much of the plan’s analysis. (Angotti has previously written several critiques of PlaNYC for Gotham Gazette, summarized here.)

OneNYC’s original plan, as well as the 2017 Progress Report, show much of it is a summary of various initiatives and achievements of de Blasio’s administration, organized around the themes of growth, equity, resiliency, and sustainability.

The OneNYC website refers the reader to the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability and the Mayor’s Office for Recovery and Resiliency. Angotti remarked that “the plan is not known by the vast majority of the public, including most politically active people. Perhaps it’s a guidance document used inside City Hall but it’s not a public plan.”

Calls for Broader Planning
City Council Member Brad Lander of Brooklyn (de Blasio’s successor in the City Council) is an unequivocal advocate for a city-wide development plan and a trained urban planner himself. Lander contributed an essay titled “Rediscovering City Planning and Community Development, Together,” to the volume, Toward a Twenty First Century For All (2013), a compilation of policy recommendations for the incoming mayoral administration. Lander said that it was still relevant, as “not much has changed.”

With regards to Bloomberg’s PlaNYC, Lander pointed out that Bloomberg had initially hired urban planner Alex Garvin to analyze the city’s future population growth and propose appropriate measures. When Garvin’s report found that the city’s population would reach 9 million by 2030, if not sooner, Bloomberg dropped Garvin from the process, fearing the controversy such a number would provoke, Lander said. The report was leaked to Streetsblog before Garvin was dismissed.

Of the lack of a comprehensive plan, Lander said, “I think it is a major failing in the city’s planning process. You can’t connect long-term infrastructure planning, managing the city’s growth, and community equity without a plan.” Lander thinks of “a city-wide plan as being in favor of growth, with equity and sustainability.”

He remarked that NIMBYism -- or people not wanting to see significant development in their communities -- represents an almost inevitable obstacle, saying that, “in the vast majority of neighborhoods, people like their neighborhoods, and they don’t want them to change.” In his essay, Lander writes that planning and development in the city are made more difficult by assumptions that people have about the planning process:

“Developers and administration officials generally believe neighborhoods will oppose  development, so they gird for battle. Rather than creating space for dialogue about shaping  growth or the infrastructure necessary to support it early in the process, they grit their teeth, fight  through opposition, and negotiate concessions at the last minute.
“With good reason, communities believe that the City will ultimately approve plans with little attention to their core concerns about neighborhood preservation, quality of life, amenities,  or infrastructure – so they oppose proposals with a fatalist fervor.”

Lander understands these adversarial assumptions as a cause and a symptom of the flaws of the planning process.

The essay also included a quote from Hope Cohen, an urban planner working at the Manhattan Institute think tank, delivering a harsh indictment of DCP’s environmental review process:

“[it] has lost its connection to good planning. Instead it has become an expensive and time-consuming annoyance to large projects, and a potentially project-ending burden to small ones. Environmental review today is a wide-ranging effort to identify “impacts” for the purpose of legal disclosure only. It is not the planning activity that people commonly assume it to be, nor is it the one that New York desperately needs as its aging infrastructure struggles to meet the demands of an ever-increasing population and citizens move into previously underdeveloped areas of the city - areas that require new access to transportation, sewage treatment, electricity, and schools” (2007)

In his essay, Lander proposes a host of reforms that are aimed at promoting community planning in conjunction with city-wide planning. During the recent interview with Gotham Gazette, Lander highlighted that he supports reforms to community boards, as well as reforms to the city’s “fair share” system, which is supposed to distribute helpful services and infrastructural burdens evenly across the city. Last year the City Council released a report with recommendations for reform of the fair share system. Several of Lander’s preferred reforms would require a change in the city’s charter. There will soon be two charter revision commissions preparing to recommend changes to the charter for approval or disapproval by voters: one is sponsored by the mayor, with recommendations due this fall, and the other by the City Council in partnership with Public Advocate James and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, with proposals due in 2019.

Lander said that one “tension in planning is balancing the needs of the city with the needs of a neighborhood,” but that “it needs to be a system which yields to our shared needs.” He expressed his reservations about the fact that under the current system, “we trust the DCP and the Mayor’s Office to represent those needs,” referring to infrastructural needs such as schools or preparations to mitigate the risks of climate change. But in his view, in the current process, “you can’t see the direct connection between our long-term infrastructure planning and our land-use planning.”

Separate from its fourth regional plan, the Regional Plan Association (RPA) in January published a report, "Inclusive City: Strategies to achieve more equitable and predictable land use in New York City."

The report, put together after meetings of a working group that included dozens of individuals from inside and outside government, is focused less on broader planning and more on changing the ways in which the mayoral administration is doing its planning now to make sure that more stakeholders are involved and that community input is more central to the planning process, especially for the neighborhood rezonings that are being proposed and implemented.

However, of the four central recommendations in the report, the first is "dramatically increase the amount o proactive planning in New York City." Noting that "the public remains in the dark" about why certain neighborhoods have been chosen for rezonings and the major changes therein, the report calls for "a comprehensive citywide planning framework" that does not currently exist.

"PlaNYC and OneNYC demonstrate the City’s ability to think long term and holistically, and a citywide comprehensive planning framework would go a step further by including community district level targets, including those for housing creation and public facilities," the report states. "A comprehensive planning framework would greatly ease public concerns around disproportionate impacts by ensuring proposed zoning changes and other actions analyze and disclose how they further or undermine adherence to the comprehensive planning framework, which would in turn have been produced with strong, meaningful public participation."

Capital Spending and Planning
The city’s infrastructure spending is determined by the capital budget, which is drafted by the Mayor’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB). The City Council has to vote to approve this budget as well as the annual expense or operating budget. According to the OMB website, the city’s capital budget in the current fiscal year, FY2018, is $16.2 billion, which is funded through a variety of sources, including from the New York City Municipal Water Finance Authority, the New York City Transitional Finance Authority, grants from federal, state, and private sources, and city general obligation bonds. The city’s capital expenditures for the current year and the next three years are programmed in the Capital Commitment Plan, and longer-term capital expenditures are scheduled by the Ten-Year Capital Plan, which outlines $95.8 billion in spending, according to the 2017 plan.

Prior to 1975, the Ten-Year Capital Plan was jointly published by DCP and OMB. Following the fiscal crisis of 1975, the City Charter was changed and OMB became solely responsible for drafting the Ten-Year Capital Plan. Under Carl Weisbrod, however, DCP created a Capital Planning Division, whose website is still in “beta,” in order to once again give DCP more say in how the city determines its infrastructure spending. The most recent plan, published in 2017, was co-signed by Marisa Lago, the director of DCP, who succeeded Weisbrod when he decided to leave city government.

Maria Doulis, vice president of Citizens Budget Commission (CBC), a non-profit fiscal watchdog, said the current process for deciding the capital budget is misguided.

Primarily, Doulis is concerned about the lack of transparency around the major investments involved. “We have no insight into the projects that agencies are undertaking -- if they meet the city’s most critical needs, or if they are the easiest to undertake,” Doulis said in an interview. She added that this was not the case for all the city’s agencies, pointing out the Department of Education and the Department of Transportation both have satisfactory levels of transparency. On the other hand, the Department of Environmental Protection, for example, “could post better reports,” she said. The current report lacks specificity -- “what are their goals?” Doulis asks.

Earlier this year, CBC published a report, “Rightsizing and Right Timing New York City’s Capital Plan,” which describes how the city has consistently drawn up capital commitment plans that are “overly ambitious” for the city’s agencies, forecasting much more spending than is executed and sowing unnecessary confusion. According to the report, the city’s agencies only attained 54% of their capital commitments. The report concluded that:

“The inability of agencies to meet their commitment targets suggests that their capital plans are either overly ambitious or fail to reflect actual priorities. This overly ambitious schedule leaves the City vulnerable to taking on more capital projects than it has capacity to manage, which has led in the past to delays and increased costs. A 2017 analysis by the City Council found that more than half of city capital projects with budgets greater than $25 million are behind schedule, over budget, or both.”

In the interview, Doulis said that the issues are a result of the fact that those determining the budget have little reason to curb the growth of the capital budget. “[OMB’s] incentive is to improve these [agencies’] projects, the City Council has little incentive to not pass the budget because the short-term effects of debt-servicing are small.” While politically expedient for the time being, Doulis said, the city’s “big outstanding debt liability is a problem because it is paid through the operating budget, and is a fixed cost.” When the next inevitable economic-downturn occurs, “there will be cuts to services,” she said.

Doulis is critical of the general lack of strategic forethought in the city’s capital planning. “There is no eye on what the city can do and what they should do, and in what order,” she said. On the de Blasio administration’s priorities, as reflected in OneNYC, she said, “there’s a specificity that’s lacking.”

To Plan or Not To Plan
Meanwhile, the Regional Planning Association said investments needed to meet the city’s coming challenges are even more far-reaching than the “overly-ambitious” budgeting that is currently occurring. But, the RPA takes a regional frame and includes New York State and other non-city governmental entities like the MTA and Port Authority.

The RPA suggests changing this structure anyway, with a fourth plan call for establishing a new Subway Reconstruction Public Benefit Corporation to overhaul and modernize the subway system within 15 years. RPA also wants to see transformation of the Port Authority into a infrastructure bank that finances large-scale transit infrastructure projects; expansion of the existing carbon pricing system, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, to include emissions from transportation, residential, commercial, and industrial sectors; consolidation of the region’s three existing commuter rail systems into one integrated system; expansion of JFK and Newark airports, and more.

Chris Jones, vice president and chief planner at the Regional Planning Association, joined What’s the [DATA] Point? soon after the Fourth Plan was released.

“Each of the plans that we’ve done has really tried to start a conversation about the difficult questions that people don’t think that we can really address because they’re just too hard,” he said.

Acknowledging that many proposals in the plan are extremely ambitious and require a lot of political will, he said, “we put out, ‘here’s what we think the ideal is,’ and in the real political world, it doesn’t end up being that ideal, but you can move towards that in a number of ways.”

In that real political world, Mayor de Blasio recently said that "each element of our mass transit planning has to be seen individually," when asked a question at a May 3 press conference where he was highlighting the city’s ferry service, which he has focused on expanding.

The comment made planners, urbanists, and transit experts groan, further evidence to some that de Blasio does not value real urban planning and that he does not have a vision for integrated transit options in his expansive city where many struggle to get around efficiently. If de Blasio does not have a cohesive transportation plan, he certainly cannot begin to have a comprehensive city plan, though he has not expressed that as a goal.

De Blasio has described his transportation vision as being about providing more options and reaching new people. A more extensive subway system would be nice, he said, but given the challenges with such a goal, he is working on other modes of transportation, including ferries, bikes, and a planned light-rail streetcar for the Brooklyn-Queens waterfront, the BQX.

“We’ve got to do more than one thing to create a 21st century city with multiple mass transit options that are convenient and that work for people,” he said in response to a question about his focus on ferries.

“If we were planning for a city that wasn’t changing you could have one conversation, but we’re about to pick up an additional population in the next 10, 20 years about the size of the population of Staten Island,” de Blasio later said. “We’re going to add that into New York City. And we need more and better options for people to get around.”

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by Gabriel Slaughter and Ben Max

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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New York City Doesn’t Have a Comprehensive Plan; Does It Need One? Tue, 15 May 2018 04:00:00 +0000
De Blasio Planning Appointee Becomes Ardent Foe http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7577:de-blasio-planning-appointee-becomes-ardent-foe http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7577:de-blasio-planning-appointee-becomes-ardent-foe Mayor de Blasio afforable housing

Mayor de Blasio unveils his housing plan (photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)


Michelle de la Uz was first appointed to the powerful City Planning Commission in 2012, by then-Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, then re-appointed in 2017 by the current Public Advocate, Letitia James. Over the course of time, and with de Blasio now in his fifth year as mayor, de la Uz has become the most consistent and often lone dissenter on the 13-member commission, voting against a variety of de Blasio’s land use plans.

During a recent appearance on the Max & Murphy podcast from Gotham Gazette and City Limits, de la Uz gave her perspective on the city’s housing crisis and de Blasio’s approach to affordable housing and changing land use rules for various swaths of the city, often known as neighborhood rezonings, which have so far occurred in low-income communities of color like East New York, East Harlem, and the Jerome Avenue corridor in the Bronx.

The City Planning Commission is responsible for reviewing land-use applications across the city, ranging from small projects on individual plots of land to the redevelopment of the Hudson Yards, community-wide plans, and more. Several hundred applications come through the Commission each year, most of them not controversial, but there are typically at least a handful of great significance.

Seven of the CPC members are appointed by the mayor, five by the individual borough presidents, and one by the public advocate. De la Uz described working on the Commission as a privilege, and said of the different land review processes that, “some of them are quite technical and relatively minor, honestly, and others really call into question what are broader public policy questions around planning.”

Also the executive director of the Fifth Avenue Committee, a non-profit community development organization in Brooklyn that seeks to promote economic and social justice through a wide range of local initiatives, de la Uz has a particular philosophy about city planning and land use that not only comes from a social justice and equity lens, but also starts with “do no harm.”

“One of the reasons why I was appointed by Public Advocate de Blasio and Public Advocate Tish James, was not only my knowledge and expertise, but also quite honestly my independence,” she said, “at the time I think he was enamored with it.”

De la Uz has been an outspoken critic of the mayor’s planning policies, and recently voted against the major rezoning plans in East Harlem, East New York, Jerome Avenue, downtown Far Rockaway, and Inwood, often as the only dissenter on the Commission. This slate of rezonings would allow for more development in these neighborhoods and is central to the de Blasio’s affordable housing policy and community development efforts.

According to the his plan, Housing New York 2.0, the city aims to build or preserve 300,000 affordable homes by 2026. Neighborhood rezonings typically include new land use rules to allow more housing with greater density, and a variety of neighborhood investments, such as new schools, transportation improvements, park land, and more. De Blasio has defended his administration’s rezoning of only low-income communities of color, indicating that the city has gone where there has been interest from local officials and opportunity to add housing.

While de la Uz agrees that the mayor’s policies are headed in the right direction, she emphasizes the need to provide deeper affordability and for more careful zoning. She thinks there is significant room for improvement to the approach, including how the city leverages private investment to create affordable housing and how it uses other subsidies at its disposal.

On the podcast, de la Uz spoke about the New York Housing and Vacancy Survey of 2017 (HVS), and the upcoming HVS of 2018, which indicate that apartment vacancy rates in the city are extremely low, at 3.63% citywide, which qualifies as a housing crisis (below 5%). This has been a consistent problem for more than 20 years. Low vacancy rates give leverage to landlords over tenants in rent negotiations. The city addresses this imbalance with rent stabilization, among other programs.

According to a city official, in 2017 there were 966,000 rent-stabilized units (occupied and vacant available), comprising 44 percent of the total rental stock. De la Uz described rent-stabilized housing as one the city’s most valuable assets, together with public housing.

Giving some credit to the de Blasio administration’s efforts, de la Uz pointed out that “the city produced more [housing] units in the last few years than it’s had in decades, and I think that certainly is an endorsement of Mayor de Blasio’s affordable housing plan.” She also mentioned other measures that de Blasio has instituted to help tenants keep their rents affordable or stay in their homes.

As of November, landlords in certain areas need to provide “certificates of no harassment” signed by tenants, if they want to make significant alterations to their building. And, as of August 2017, the city has promised legal counsel to many low-income tenants facing eviction. De la Uz also expressed cautious optimism about the new “Neighborhood Pillars” program, which will pledge capital to help non-profit organizations acquire and preserve affordability in existing, unregulated, and rent-stabilized buildings.

“What’s interesting is that rents, especially at the upper income levels, are actually coming down,” she said, “the problem is that the rents really aren’t coming down for the folks that are most in need, and the people the Fifth Avenue Committee serves, and other non-profit community development corporations serve.” This pattern corresponds with the vacancy rates of different affordability brackets: according to the HVS, for units with rents less than $800 a month, the vacancy rate is 1.15%, while for units with rents more than $2,000 a month, the vacancy rate is 7.42%, and above $2,500 asking rent, the vacancy rate was reported at 8.74% in 2017.

A key part of de Blasio’s housing plan is the Mandatory Inclusionary Housing policy (MIH), which, through zoning actions, forces residential developers to build a certain percentage of units that are affordable to households in different income brackets, measured as a percentage of Area Median Income.

De la Uz expressed dissatisfaction with the MIH targets -- she voted against MIH at the Commission -- which underlies many of the neighborhood rezonings and land use measures the city backs to help create affordable housing through new development. “We know it’s the most aggressive mandatory inclusion policy in the country, but the need is much, much greater than that,” de la Uz said of how the MIH income targets play out in low-income communities.

Asked to respond to de la Uz’s critiques, a spokesperson for the de Blasio administration noted that the city added $2 billion to its affordable housing budget last year, specifically to preserve and build more deeply-affordable units, with nearly half allocated for families living on less than $43,000 per year. The city official also reported that the share of households that are rent burdened is still high, but it is stable with about half of renter households rent-burdened, and one-third severely burdened. A household is defined as rent-burdened if it spends 30% or more of its income on rent, and severely rent-burdened if that percentage hits 50.

De la Uz made a connection between the MIH targets and the strong local opposition to the major rezonings: “you have nearly 27% of New York City’s population that is not benefitting, whose incomes are so low that they are not benefiting from any of the new development that's happening in a community, right, so that's part of the problem -- MIH doesn't reach below 40% AMI, and yet in a number of the neighborhoods that have been rezoned or are targeted for rezoning, that’s the majority of residents in that community. So no wonder people are opposing it...none of the new housing is going to be for them. People want to see themselves in what is happening.”

While that is not entirely true, there has been some community opposition to the rezonings, with some people feeling that development will exacerbate market pressures, accelerate gentrification, and displace local businesses and residents. Although these rezonings have come in packages which include major investments in the neighborhoods, one critic, Emily Goldstein of the Association for Neighborhood & Housing Development, has pointed out that wealthier neighborhoods have been able to receive city resources “without having to “trade” for something City Hall wants.”

De la Uz explained where her skepticism comes from, saying, “I think [it’s] because I run a non-profit community development corporation, one that has seen all the mistakes of past rezonings.” Citing significant losses of rent-stabilized housing in North Park Slope, South Park Slope, and Sunset Park following their respective rezonings in 2003, 2007, and 2009, during Mayor Bloomberg’s tenure, she emphasized the need for caution. “Zoning can be too broad, you need a scalpel...It could be more targeted.”

De la Uz also expressed frustration with the environmental impact review process employed by the City Planning Department. At the moment, rent-stabilized housing is not viewed as at risk of demolition, but following the rezonings in Park Slope and Sunset Park, she said “certainly Fifth Avenue Committee and I, personally, have seen that that's just not the case.” More broadly, they don’t take into account risks of displacement of rent-stabilized tenants. “We have no data, or no data that’s being shared. That’s really critical, that the city and state’s information around rent stabilization is not publicly accessible,” she said, “If you don’t measure it how could you possibly know what the impact is?”

In the Jerome Avenue corridor rezoning process, for example, a neighborhood where the real-estate market is relatively weak, the Department of City Planning predicts that all of the residential development in the short-term will be subsidized and 100% will be income-targeted, according to Abigail Savitch-Lew from City Limits. Even in such cases, de la Uz wants to ask the question, “what was there before? - because in a number of these communities, there were naturally occurring affordable communities that had no subsidy from government to create the affordability, and often times the income level of the folks were lower than the new housing that's being created, especially in East New York. You know, that's a community that's moderate income that has a lot of homeowners.”

“What's being lost at what AMI level, and what’s being gained at what AMI level?” de la Uz asked. She also raised the concern that the rezonings displace undocumented immigrants. “We’re talking about people who are not eligible for the new affordable housing programs,” she said.

“You really need multiple strategies, and the city now, with the tenant right to counsel, and the certificate of no harassment, with MIH, these are the things -- and many more things -- that you have to put together in order to have the desired outcome of really increasing economic diversity and preserving not just buildings, but neighborhoods and the people that have lived in them,” de la Uz said, giving the de Blasio administration and other officials some credit.

She raised the possibility of using another strategy, saying, “none of the land use actions have thought about using value capture to help preserve public housing. NYCHA is talked about as if it’s a totally different universe despite the fact that it is all in these communities.”

The Gowanus rezoning process, occurring right in de la Uz’s backyard, could be a welcome break with the pattern of only rezoning poorer neighborhoods, as some have called for rezonings in more prosperous areas. The process is being led by City Council Member Brad Lander, who succeeded de Blasio in the City Council representing the area, and who was de la Uz’s predecessor at Fifth Avenue Committee.

De la Uz discussed her work with the Gowanus Neighborhood Coalition for Justice, a coalition of public housing residents, industrial business advocates, nonprofits, religious groups, and civic members, who are currently advocating for the community’s interests in four separate rezoning processes, including the larger Gowanus plan.

GNCJ is pushing for even deeper affordability than in MIH, investment in NYCHA through value capture, and the creation of the city’s first eco-district; close-by are three manufactured gas sites, and the neighborhood has lived with the environmental impacts for decades, not to mention the polluted Gowanus Canal. Additionally, there is a large industrial-business zone in the area, “that really needs much more attention and really should be leveraged, and should be thought of as part the mayor’s 100,000 jobs plan.”

Since de la Uz and Fifth Avenue Committee are involved in the local processes, she will have to recuse herself on the City Planning Commission.

On the city’s larger battle to create affordable housing, de la Uz also touched on the large number of vacant apartments in the city, according to the HVS.

“I think the other interesting number is the number of apartments that are vacant, but not for rent. So, pied-a-terres. There are over 70,000 apartments in the city of New York that are vacant or not really available, because someone is using them as investment properties. That number is more than the homeless population that we have in the city of New York. We don’t tax those units differently, for instance. To have an affordable housing crisis, and to have a public housing authority crisis, to have the highest number of pied-a-terres in the city’s history, not looked at, in my mind, as something that should be taxed or should be regulated more directly. They're not contributing to relieving the city’s housing crisis basically, they’re sitting there as investment property,” De la Uz said.

Mayor de Blasio has repeatedly advocated for a pied-a-terre tax and a mansion tax, which would additionally tax sales of expensive properties to support more affordable housing subsidies. Any tax legislation would have to pass through the State Legislature.

“We support wealthy out of towners paying their fair share through a pied-à-terre tax,” said de Blasio spokesperson Melissa Grace. “As we continue to explore our options in this challenging legal area, the Mayor is pushing hard for a mansion tax targeting a similar ultra-high-income group. Meanwhile, the Mayor’s Office of Special Enforcement is aggressively enforcing laws that bar property owners from taking permanent housing off the market to create illegal hotels.”

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by Gabriel Slaughter and Ben Max

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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De Blasio Planning Appointee Becomes Ardent Foe Wed, 28 Mar 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy Podcast: City Planning Commissioner Michelle de la Uz http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7548:max-murphy-podcast-michelle-de-la-uz http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7548:max-murphy-podcast-michelle-de-la-uz

Jarrett Murphy, left, of City Limits, and Ben Max, right, of Gotham Gazette


March 19, 2018 - Max & Murphy Podcast: Michelle de la Uz

michelle de la uz 277

Michelle de la Uz is a commissioner on the City Planning Commission, where she was originally appointed by then-Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, and Executive Director of Fifth Avenue Committee, a Brooklyn-based nonprofit that manages affordable housing projects and provides other services to low- and moderate-income New Yorkers. De la Uz has been an independent voice on the City Planning Commission, regularly voting "no" on major proposals coming from de Blasio's administration. She joined the podcast to discuss the current housing crisis in New York City, the mayor's approach to development, and more.

Listen to the full conversation and let us know what you think -- we're on Twitter @TweetBenMax and @JarrettMurphy and guest Michelle de la Uz. You can listen to the episode through the embedded audio below or download the episode wherever you get your podcasts.

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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Max & Murphy Podcast: City Planning Commissioner Michelle de la Uz Mon, 19 Mar 2018 04:00:00 +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."

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Bronx Rezoning Moves to City Council as Negotiations Enter Final Stages Sun, 28 Jan 2018 05:00:00 +0000
Crucial Weeks Ahead for Potential Rezoning of East Harlem http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7132:crucial-weeks-ahead-for-potential-rezoning-of-east-harlem http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7132:crucial-weeks-ahead-for-potential-rezoning-of-east-harlem mark viverito at east harlem planning session

Mark-Viverito at East Harlem planning session (photo: Samar Khurshid)


The de Blasio administration’s plan to significantly alter a large section of East Harlem is in the middle of a contentious process, with its fate unclear. The proposed changes to land use rules and infusion of community development resources -- part of the administration’s larger efforts to build more housing, some of it with affordability requirements, and improve neighborhoods -- have not been to the liking of key elected officials and the window for negotiations will close before the end of the year.

The East Harlem rezoning plan has hit several bumps in the road as it moves through the city’s process for designing and approving changes to the type of development that is permitted and resources the city will bring into a particular area. Namely, the city’s current proposal faces disapproval by City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who represents East Harlem, and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer.

The City Planning Commission formally began the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) process for the East Harlem rezoning plan when the proposal was released April 24, followed by the Borough President’s recommendation earlier this month, in which Brewer put forth her non-binding vote of no confidence.

Next, the City Planning Commission will hold a hearing August 23, followed by a City Planning Commission review due by October 2. Afterwards, the City Council has 50 days to vote on the proposal, which can be tweaked within certain parameters acceptable to the City Planning Commission.   

East Harlem is one of 15 neighborhoods that the administration identified early in 2015 as potential areas where the city could build significant amounts of new housing, some of it with affordability requirements, with the goal of boosting local communities through other means as well, including retail and open space, job creation, new school seats, and better transportation infrastructure. The rezonings are a part of de Blasio’s goal of creating and preserving 200,000 units of affordable housing across the city over 10 years. Along with the rezoning of parts of East New York, in Brooklyn, a plan to rezone East Midtown just passed, though it is largely focused on creating new and modern office and commercial spaces.

East Harlem could be the second major neighborhood rezoning of de Blasio’s tenure, but, like in East New York, the administration must negotiate with local stakeholders, especially Mark-Viverito, the local Council rep whose opinion is the most important in the process.

Mark-Viverito will negotiate with the de Blasio administration until there is a plan to her liking, or she will kill the rezoning. The speaker is term-limited out of office at the end of this year (two leading candidates vying to succeed her have also criticized the de Blasio administration’s plan) and has the opportunity to pass the rezoning before she departs.

Mark-Viverito wants to make a deal work. She has seen the rezoning of East Harlem -- especially the affordable housing and community development that would come with it -- as key to her legacy as she prepares to leave the City Council. She helped lead the development of a community-based blueprint, East Harlem Neighborhood Plan, that she and others believe the city has not hewed close enough to in its proposal.

At a recent news conference, Mark-Viverito expressed her displeasure with the city’s process, and criticized the administration for ignoring the East Harlem community voice. “We all took ownership for that process so we stand very strongly behind the recommendations of the steering committee of the neighborhood plan,” she said August 9, when asked by Gotham Gazette about Brewer’s recent opposition and negotiations about the plan.

“What City Planning presented flew in the face of all of that, and it was very disrespectful to all of the thought and workings of the community, and I think Gale [Brewer] strongly spoke to that in her statement,” Mark-Viverito said. “We had thousands of people that participated in that process,” she said. “It was nothing to really sneeze at. And I’m really, really proud of that effort.”  

Mark-Viverito made mention of the numerous community representatives were involved in the planning process with the City Planning Department, and that the community has made its needs and wants clear. The Neighborhood Plan, a joint effort involving CB11, Brewer, Mark-Viverito, and advocacy group Community Voices Heard, is a more wide-reaching document than a rezoning proposal, including recommendations on everything spanning NYCHA repairs, public safety reforms, tenant protection and park space. The comprehensive 138-page analysis also includes specific models for ratios of market-rate to affordable housing for newly developed buildings. Undergirding the report and the entire conversation is an estimate of 12,000 East Harlem households that the report classifies as in need of affordable housing.

East Harlem rezoning, whatever form it winds up taking, will create additional housing, both affordable and market-rate, as well as commercial space, by upzoning much of the Upper Manhattan neighborhood, often referred to as El Barrio.

By its current design, the rezoning would allow buildings to stretch up to 30 stories between 104th and 126th Streets in the eastern part of the area and between 126th and 132nd in the western portions. Currently, there is a 120 foot, or ten-to-twelve stories, height restrictions on parts of 125th street and surrounding areas while the rest of East Harlem are not subject to specific height limits. According to the City Planning Department, the upzoning would create approximately 3,500 rental apartment units under the Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH) program, which set asides a quarter of new housing for affordable housing in any new development approved by the city in a rezoned area. The commission estimates the upzoning would spawn 122,000 square feet of commercial space along with 27,500 square feet of office and industrial space.The proposal also includes height restrictions on units built on parts of Lexington Avenue and mandatory apportioning of more affordable housing units in the densest of new developments.     

Still, elected officials representing the area, in agreement with Manhattan Community Board 11’s stance, fear the upzoning will not sufficiently benefit low-income residents of the area, which has a high poverty rate, and will adversely affect mom-and-pop stores, accelerate gentrification, increase property prices, without enough affordable housing to meet the area’s needs.

On August 3, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer came out against the administration’s current proposal. While she reaffirmed support for the general idea of rezoning East Harlem, she explained she is not convinced of the merits of what the city put forward. "A rezoning done the right way offers the opportunity to create many new affordable units, including units affordable to low-income East Harlem residents, while actually reducing the effects of gentrification and reinvigorating neighborhood small businesses and retail,” she said in a statement announcing her opposition. "What the administration has put in front of us, however, is rezoning done the wrong way.”  

Brewer went on to cite concerns about gentrification, affordability and building heights, all of which she believes are better addressed in recommendations put forward by Community Board 11. Community Board 11 rejected the proposal, though, like Brewer’s, the vote is not binding -- ultimately, the decision is up to the City Council, which almost universally follows the lead of the local Council member, in this case Mark-Viverito.

Mark-Viverito has worked to convene a “Rezoning Task Force” which has met periodically from January to April of this year.  

"This proposal concentrates new development in too small an area with too much density, likely worsening the effects of gentrification,” Brewer said, echoing CB11’s criticism. “This proposal lacks a meaningful preservation plan and sufficient up-front commitments to save existing affordable housing units,” the borough president added.

Brewer also issued a list of recommendations for the city to adopt to make the plan more palatable to the community. The list includes reclaiming lost affordable housing units, lowering the density of potential buildings to preserve neighborhood character, and providing more affordable housing units to low-income residents of the area, particularly those making less than 30 percent of the area median income, which amounts to $23,350 for a household of three.  

Despite Mark-Viverito’s frustration and Brewer’s disapproval, the effort to rezone East Harlem is far from dead, with negotiations to tweak the plan ongoing.

Mark-Viverito, taking note of the time she has remaining in the Council, said she would continue to advocate for the community’s recommendations. “So that’s what I’m going to be doing in the months that I have to discuss and analyze this rezoning, is to really advocate for the recommendations the community put together,” she said. “We’re in the process of working through that, and I take that plan as a guide in terms of my negotiations with the city. So I’ve been pushing them on a lot of the things that are outlined in that plan.”

But Mark-Viverito’s opposition, should it persist, would effectively serve as a death knell for approving the current plan, or something close to it, any time soon.

At a news conference on August 7, Mayor de Blasio acknowledged that dynamic when asked by Gotham Gazette about the status of rezoning talks and Brewer’s opposition to the East Harlem plan. “This rezoning is unusual compared to all the others because it’s the Speaker’s own district,” de Blasio said. “I think what’s good is when you then hear those concerns and try to work them through and try to find a solution that you both feel pretty good about. And certainly, most importantly, the person who matters the most is the representative of that district in the Council.”

De Blasio said there is still time to iron out the differences in order to craft a plan that meets both the administration’s preferences and the community’s needs. “We’ve had vocal conversations about the rezoning and will continue to…And there’s plenty of time to do that,” de Blasio added. “So we’ll continue having those conversations.”

The process for approving a rezoning is long and multifaceted. Each proposal must go through ULURP, a process that involves a mixture of behind-the-scenes machinations and public hearings with the aim of creating an upzoning blueprint which includes input from city planners, elected officials, and relevant communities. Rezonings typically take several months, if not longer, to make their way through ULURP. The East Midtown rezoning, for instance, was in the pipeline in different iterations for several years before being approved by the City Council on August 9th.

A spokesperson for the City Planning Department said the process has already incorporated additional community input.

On August 7, the CPC issued a technical memorandum, called an “A-Text,” or amended text, which addressed concerns coming from the local community board and elected leaders. This particular iteration of the rezoning plan includes height restrictions on buildings on 3rd Avenue, the Park Avenue Corridor and Lexington Avenue -- provisions not included in the original plan.

“Adding this ‘A-text’ alternative allows for consideration of additional options on shaping the future of East Harlem,” said the CPD spokesperson in an email. “Together with the certified application, the A-text enables deliberation on a wide array of options to protect neighborhood character, increase affordable housing and spur job-generating development in East Harlem. We hope that this provides an environment for a more robust public discussion on the development of the final rezoning plan.”

The East New York rezoning, passed in 2016 and seen as a model for others to follow, like East Harlem, includes infrastructure investment, a new school, and a career center to help those seeking jobs, along with the central goal of paving the way towards creating more housing units.   

The rezoning has also become a key issue in the race for Mark-Viverito’s seat. If the proposal is not enacted this year, the issue will be passed along to the next Council member to represent the district.

Two leading District 8 candidates -- State Assemblymember Robert Rodriguez and Diana Ayala, the speaker’s former Constituent Services Director and Deputy Chief of Staff -- also oppose the administration’s plan.

Rodriguez and Ayala, both Democrats, feel the city did not adequately adhere to the community’s input, which Rodriguez insisted was a difficult and crucial component to the process.

“I remember how long those meetings go and how hard it is to get consensus on these things and in this case they spoke very clearly,” Rodriguez said at an August 8 candidate forum in an East Harlem community center. “They’re against it and they provided some reasonable conditions. So I stand with the community board against the plan.”

Rodriguez was not convinced the plan would have much benefit for lower and middle-income residents, a very large combined chunk of the neighborhood, which has seen early waves of gentrification. “[I]t’s an aspirational goal that you’ll be able to get some affordability out of the percentage that is affordable in the new developments,” he said. “So what we’re saying is that we hope that the developers take this incentive after we’ve created wealth for them and then go through the lottery process and hope that our residents get in there? Where’s the mom and pop stores?” Rodriguez wondered.

He voiced concern about what new developments would do to help low-income residents, such as those who earn less than 30 percent of AMI. “What’s in it for them? Nothing!” Rodriguez said. “What is the benefit for residents of East Harlem?” he continued. “Are we just going to hope that we’re going to be able to get affordability?”

Ayala, who has been endorsed by Mark-Viverito, explained her opposition to the city’s plan at a candidate forum. “I think the city’s proposal is very upscale,” she said. “I would like to see deeper affordability as part of the plan. I would like to see more long-term affordability than in the current plan,” she said. “I want to see smaller buildings, I’m not a fan of huge towers,” Ayala said, voicing similar criticism when the topic again came up at the August 8 forum.

In an interview with Gotham Gazette, Ayala said many residents in her community are unhappy with the plan. “Well, they fear that they’re going to be pushed out,” she said. “And they fear that, y’know, we’re going to have all these luxury, tall buildings that are going to change the character of the community and the culture is going to evaporate, [and the neighborhood is] not going to be Harlem anymore,” Ayala said. “I can sympathize because I live in the community, too, and that’s the last thing I want to see.”

With reporting by Felipe De La Hoz

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Crucial Weeks Ahead for Potential Rezoning of East Harlem Tue, 15 Aug 2017 04:00:00 +0000
With Clock Ticking, East New York Negotiations to Heat Up http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6262:with-clock-ticking-east-new-york-negotiations-to-heat-up http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6262:with-clock-ticking-east-new-york-negotiations-to-heat-up espinal east new york hearing

City Council Member Espinal (photo: William Alatriste) 


With only two weeks left for the City Council to vote on the proposed rezoning of East New York, all eyes are on City Council Member Rafael Espinal, who is leading negotiations with the de Blasio administration and whose approval of a revised plan will determine its fate. Espinal has promised significant improvements to the plan put forward by the city and community organizers and advocates are calling on him to reject the rezoning if it does not deliver what they see as adequate affordable housing, local hiring, and other provisions.

Meanwhile, Espinal's colleagues and many others are looking to him as the East New York negotiations with the de Blasio administration will set the precedent for rezonings across the five boroughs.

The city's proposal to rezone East New York was passed almost unanimously by the City Planning Commission on February 24, giving the City Council the next fifty days to vote on it as part of the city's Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP). The neighborhood is the first of 15 the city plans to rezone as part of Mayor Bill de Blasio's ambitious plan to create and preserve 200,000 units of affordable housing. The plan aims to change land use rules and implement community improvements in order to make East New York more desirable and liveable, while fostering development that will include thousands of new units of housing, many of them with rent regulations.

Negotiations so far have been slow going, leading to a series of news reports this past week indicating that Espinal and others on the City Council side of the bargaining table are frustrated with the de Blasio administration. The parties are set to hold another meeting on Monday afternoon at City Hall, which participants hope will yield progress.

"There's a lot of frustration because we've proposed changes to the plan and we've been waiting for [the administration] to come back to us," said Espinal, whose district covers a vast swathe of the area in the plan - the City Council traditionally defers to the local Council member to approve or disapprove land use deals.

Espinal has made his priorities clear: "serious anti-displacement measures, a strong jobs plan and truly affordable housing." While he insists there has been no push back from the administration against his demands, the lack of movement seems to be testing his patience.

"The clock is ticking," he said. "We've been working on this for over a year. It's time to talk turkey." Espinal did say that one cause for delay was that both the administration and Council had been preoccupied until last week with the Mandatory Inclusionary Housing and Zoning for Quality and Affordability proposals, two citywide zoning amendments that lay the groundwork for the neighborhood rezonings that are set to go from East New York to Flushing, corridors in the Bronx and on Staten Island, East Harlem, and beyond.

The de Blasio administration has reiterated its commitment to the process. "The city is currently having very productive conversations with Council Member Espinal on the East New York rezoning plan," said Austin Finan, a spokesperson for the mayor, in a statement. "Since the beginning of the East New York planning process, we have been and remain committed to ensuring that the final proposal to be voted on by the City Council meets the affordable housing and community infrastructure needs of East New York residents."

Espinal will meet with city officials on Monday to hammer out the details of the East New York plan. On the Council side of the table, he'll be joined by Council Member Donovan Richards, chair of the Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises, and Council Member David Greenfield, chair of the land use committee. Also expected to participate are the Council's land use director, Raju Mann, and the chief of staff to Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, Ramon Martinez.

According to a source with knowledge of the discussions around the rezoning, key sticking points include not only ensuring deeper levels of affordability in new housing, but also extending affordability for about 1,000 current residents whose rent-regulated apartments are nearing expiration of their terms; details of the city's commitment to a Workforce1 job training center; and progress around adding school seats and day-care slots - two areas of need in the administration's final environmental impact assessment of the rezoning plan.

"We have an opportunity to show that we are attacking inequality head on in East New York and the administration needs to take this issue seriously as we negotiate the first rezoning under MIH and ZQA," said Council Member Richards in a statement. "The lack of progress thus far on these negotiations is deeply concerning and we need to see legitimate movement soon to ensure that the needs of the community and Council Member Espinal are met."

All the stakeholders -- Espinal, his colleagues, community leaders, housing advocates, de Blasio administration officials, real estate developers, and others -- recognize that these rezoning negotiations will set the tone for the next fourteen and determine the future of housing and development in the city for decades to come.

"What I'm doing in East New York is the reason I ran for office," Espinal said. "It's an opportunity to create the strongest affordable housing plan in the city and set a precedent for how the rest of the city approaches rezoning." He has received strong support from his colleagues who, he said, "feel that whatever deal I'm able to reach with the administration, they can work off of when their neighborhoods are up for rezoning."

Council Member Peter Koo from Queens is likely to be next in the hot-seat as the Flushing West rezoning proposal moves through the ULURP process.

"We're certainly watching what happens in East New York closely," Koo said in an email, "but the Flushing West rezoning proposal is significantly different. Our rezoning area is on the waterfront which limits depth, and the LaGuardia flight path limits height. Flushing also has serious infrastructure needs that a large-scale rezoning of this nature would need to address. So we're watching East New York to see how the city responds to the community because Flushing also has a long list of needs."

Housing advocates also recognize the immense pressure that Espinal is facing, although different groups have taken varied approaches to respond.

"The guy's in a difficult spot," said Jonathan Furlong, zoning technical assistance coordinator, Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development. "What he decides in East New York has vast and far reaching implications for the Bronx, East Harlem, Flushing, Upper Manhattan."

ANHD has provided technical assistance to the Coalition for Community Advancement, a collaborative effort by housing advocates to address issues of rezoning across the city, communicating with administration officials, elected representatives, and residents. Members have met with Espinal numerous times to air their concerns and will also be meeting with Council Speaker Mark-Viverito.

The CCA has called for a scaling back of the East New York plan and has proposed its own alternative community plan. Besides more affordability for current residents, they want manufacturing sites removed from the plan to protect manufacturing jobs, a $15-million small homes preservation fund, the preservation of the Arlington Village development as affordable housing, and mechanisms to set aside space for community facilities.

On Sunday, the coalition held a rally outside City Hall to tell the Council to vote against the rezoning plan unless these proposals are embraced. The group said Sunday night that about 120 people rallied, including community members, State Senator Martin Dilan and Assembly Member Latrice Walker.

Furlong commended Espinal for being firm with the administration, but faulted him for not being more vocal on specific proposals. "It's tough to get a read on him," he said of the Council member.

New York Communities for Change, a grassroots advocacy group, has been more critical. NYCC released a report titled "Educating Espinal: How to Deepen Affordability for Thousands of Apartments in East New York and Protect Low-Income Residents" in which they directly called on Espinal to fight for more affordability in the plan.

"The Council member has not yet come out in support of a growing cry in the community for deeper affordability for low-income families," said Jonathan Westin, NYCC executive director. The group, which claims about 1,000 members, has two demands: 50 percent of units in new developments affordable for families making about 40 percent of the $77,000 annual area median income (AMI), and union jobs for workers in any new construction along upzoned areas. AMI is a federally-calculated number for all of New York City and surrounding counties. The area median income in East New York is significantly lower - about $35,000 per year for a family of four, about the same as 40% of AMI.

"We're pushing that if that's not part of the plan, he should vote "no,"" said Westin. "He should not vote against the interests of his constituents."

Asked recently about the East New York rezoning and the pushback it has received, Mayor de Blasio said that development and gentrification are taking place all over the city and that the city must take action to harness it. On WNYC's The Brian Lehrer Show, the mayor said on March 18 that "the worst thing in the world is to do nothing about" gentrification. "And bluntly," he said, "that was the broad approach of the previous administration and I point to neighborhoods like Bushwick and Bed-Stuy as classic examples where there was no rezoning" to offer developers more in exchange for community benefits.

Saying that there needs to be "a coherent governmental response" to gentrification and displacement, de Blasio said that "rezonings are absolutely necessary to create that affordability...if we don't do it, you'll see displacement with no countervailing action by the government." The mayor indicated that the East New York plan will include many affordable units for both lower- and middle-income residents.

It is negotiations on the plan that will yield the full details of what that government response is, in East New York and elsewhere.

On Thursday, New York Communities for Change led a rally in East New York, blocking traffic along Atlantic Avenue to draw attention to their demands. "Along Atlantic Avenue is where lots of developers have bought property and stand to make a windfall of profits from the rezoning," said Westin. "We need to ensure that with the increase in density that they get from the rezoning, there are deep affordability standards and real job standards for workers building these buildings."

Espinal was blunt about NYCC's efforts. "I don't need any educating," he said of their report. "I was born and raised there. I know exactly the struggles my constituents are going through."

Insisting that he prefers a "pragmatic approach," Espinal said he wants a holistic plan that covers all constituents and their needs, and that the administration has been receptive.

"To be fair, they've been listening," Espinal said. "But the time to listen is over. It's time to take action."

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

Read more by this writer.

Note: this article has been updated with details of the Sunday rally.

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With Clock Ticking, East New York Negotiations to Heat Up Mon, 04 Apr 2016 00:52:30 +0000
Sides Near Deal on Major Zoning Changes Aimed at Creating Affordable Housing http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6222:sides-near-a-deal-on-major-zoning-changes-aimed-at-creating-affordable-housing http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6222:sides-near-a-deal-on-major-zoning-changes-aimed-at-creating-affordable-housing de blasio rally

De Blasio rallies for his housing plans (photo: Demetrius Freeman, Mayor's Office)


After months of public discussion and weeks of private negotiation, the City Council is on the verge of passing, with tweaks, two sweeping changes to the city's land use rules that are key to Mayor Bill de Blasio's housing plan.

Sources familiar with negotiations say that some details are still being worked through, but that the major tenets of the controversial changes to city zoning text are all but set. A deal may be announced as early as Monday afternoon.

With several alterations to the original proposals by the de Blasio administration, the Council is likely to vote Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH) and Zoning for Quality and Affordability (ZQA) through committee this week. Then, the City Planning Commission will be asked to sign off on the changes to the plans that it passed earlier this year, stamping them as "within scope" and sending them back to the Council for a full vote on March 22.

Council votes in the zoning subcommittee and land use committee are likely to take place on Wednesday, though they could be moved if deemed necessary. But, indications are that discussions between de Blasio administration and City Council representatives are close to finalized. In news that signaled the end of what has at times been a contentious process, the de Blasio administration announced on Sunday that the coalition making the most noise in opposition to the structure of the plans had come around in support given new developments.

Most importantly, de Blasio will see his Mandatory Inclusionary Housing program enacted; the plan requires that real estate developers who receive an upzoning on a plot of land in order to build more housing than otherwise allowed will have to include a set percentage of units under specific rent thresholds. Negotiating parties are making slight but important changes to the structure of affordability levels within MIH, including set-asides for lower income earners than the plan had previously included.

With a series of recent endorsements and now the backing of Real Affordability for All (RAFA), a collection of community groups and construction unions, along with prior support from a variety of advocacy groups and other unions, de Blasio is set for a big-tent win. The City Council Speaker, Melissa Mark-Viverito, and Council members will also tout the new land use policies as major progress for the city, especially those in danger of being priced out of an increasingly expensive New York. Council negotiations with the de Blasio administration have centered on affordability levels, with the Council apparently able to move the needle in slight, but significant ways.

The two zoning changes are part of the administration's larger housing plan, which aims to build or preserve 200,000 units of affordable housing over ten years. Forty-thousand were secured during de Blasio's first two years in office.

"We're on the verge of implementing the strongest, most progressive requirement for affordable housing of any city in the country," said de Blasio spokesperson Wiley Norvell in a Sunday statement announcing the backing of RAFA. "We welcome this support, and look forward to working with communities across the city to identify even more tools to reach New Yorkers with quality jobs and affordable housing."

The backing from RAFA, which is spearheaded by New York Communities for Change, an organization at one point led by a longtime friend of de Blasio, Jon Kest, who passed away in 2012, comes after concessions by the administration. Not only has RAFA seen encouraging movement on affordability levels within MIH, but the administration also promised to conduct a study of tools it can use to deepen affordability and ensure "job standards in new housing." The coalition, especially its labor component, has been calling for both local hiring and construction safety precautions to be included in the plans.

The affordability levels within MIH have been the source of perhaps the most debate as the zoning amendments have gone through the public review process. Along with Mark-Viverito and Council staff, Council Member Donovan Richards, chair of the Council's zoning subcommittee, has been key in the negotiations. Council Member Jumaane Williams, chair of the housing committee, has been said to be the loudest voice pushing for deeper levels of affordability. It appears that in the final MIH structure, shifts will have been made to ensure some apartments for lower income earners and broader economic diversity within new developments.

Income levels are based on Area Median Income, currently $77,688 for a family of three. AMI is a federal measure that for New York City also includes data from surrounding suburban counties. Average incomes in the city are significantly lower, especially in neighborhoods the de Blasio administration is targeting for added housing density and community improvements. "Affordable" means that a family would not be spending more than 30 percent of its income on rent.

Throughout the public review process, fears of gentrification have been at the forefront. De Blasio, his representatives, and his allies argue that without a new program from the city, gentrification will continue largely unabated as it has in many communities over the past two decades. Some advocates and politicians have been calling for a mandatory inclusionary housing program for many years. As de Blasio moved forward with his plan, the big question became the exact numbers.

As proposed, the administration included three options for builders creating new housing on land rezoned under MIH:
> 25 percent of new units affordable to tenants making an average of 60 percent AMI
> 30 percent of units affordable to tenants making an average of 80 percent AMI
> 30 percent of units affordable to tenants making an average of 120 percent AMI - this third option would not come with added city subsidies; would not be available in most of Manhattan in an effort to create more economic diversity; and is often known as "the workforce" option, meaning that it is targeted more at middle-class households.

Negotiations appear to be yielding a couple of changes to that structure. One change is that instead of simply requiring rents for the affordable units to average 60 or 80 or 120 percent of AMI, there would be clear set-asides for some percentage of units to be affordable for those earning down to 30 percent of AMI. Another change would add a fourth option that gets at deeper affordability, possibly accompanied by a smaller percentage of affordable units, again in an effort to make some new apartments available to tenants with lower incomes. Two sources close to negotiations confirmed the outline of these changes to Gotham Gazette.

City Council members indicated they were looking for these types of tweaks during a February hearing on MIH, as did Council Member Donovan Richards, chair of the zoning subcommittee and one of the Council's lead negotiators on the subject, in an interview with Gotham Gazette. Details of the changes as part of negotiations were first reported by Politico New York earlier this month.

Mark-Viverito, the Council speaker, has, like many of her members, been a supporter of the plans from the start, but also interested in making changes, especially to affordability thresholds. Council Member Williams said he knows Mark-Viverito and Council Member Richards have been negotiating those numbers.

"The speaker and Donovan Richards are in there trying to push what many of us are asking for," Williams said in an interview on Friday. "All of New York has to see itself in this plan. If it doesn't, we haven't achieved what we need to achieve."

Williams referenced the push for a fourth option under MIH and the carving out of a certain percentage of units for those making the most modest incomes. "We want to make sure that there aren't parts of this city that are built with no deeply affordable units," he said. "There shouldn't be a project where some of the units aren't of the deepest affordability - 30 percent or below of AMI must be considered."

Meanwhile, it is still unclear if there will be modifications around other key points of contention, such as the building of affordable units "off site," as in at a different location than new market-rate units. Council members have expressed interest in disincentivizing the practice within the MIH language, perhaps by including language requiring more affordable units if they are built away from the market-rate units.

As for ZQA, which deals with a wide variety of more specific zoning rules, the parties appear to be coming to compromises around modifications to parking requirements that come with senior affordable housing and the distances in so-called transit zones. Details of the ZQA deal are said to be among those still being discussed as City Council members often have neighborhood-level concerns, especially around building heights, parking, senior housing, and retail space.

Much of the discussion around ZQA has related to the ways in which it will help create more affordable housing for seniors. AARP and other advocacy groups have backed the plan, with AARP-NY dedicating significant resources in support, rallying with the mayor, and lobbying Council members.

A spokesperson for Council Member Richards told Gotham Gazette that negotiations have yielded a deal on the minimum size of new affordable housing units for seniors, one point of contention in early negotiations. The de Blasio plan had put the minimum at 275 square feet, which Richards and others called too small, pushing for 400. The sides have agreed on 325 square feet.

The sides are said to be negotiating specific numbers around the number of parking spots that must accompany new senior housing and which areas of the city would still require special permits to build nursing homes, among other finer points. Politico New York has reported on already-decided changes to ZQA.

When a deal on MIH and ZQA is finalized, de Blasio and City Council members are likely to celebrate, these types of changes to city zoning rules do not happen often, and the mandate for affordable housing in any upzoned development is indeed a major win.

How prior critics of the plans, including many local community boards who voted against their initial construction, will react is unclear. While some have seen and will continue to see merit in the plans, fears of new real estate development, added density, and rising rents are very real and unlikely to abate. The de Blasio administration is also moving forward with a series of neighborhood rezonings, starting with East New York, Brooklyn, but soon moving to communities in each borough.

De Blasio is staking his legacy largely on his attempts to make the city more affordable and his housing policies will be a key piece of his 2017 reelection bid.

In endorsing the mayor's plans, the New York Times editorial board recently captured the moment, writing, "This grand plan is a hugely important gamble that the city can build its way to greater housing equality, that it can ignite growth, improve neighborhoods, tame gentrification and protect tenants, all at once. That New York can still be a mixed-income city."

Passing MIH and ZQA doesn't provide the result to that gamble, it pushes more chips on the table.

***
by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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Sides Near Deal on Major Zoning Changes Aimed at Creating Affordable Housing Mon, 14 Mar 2016 14:41:40 +0000
The Week Ahead in New York Politics, March 14 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6220:the-week-ahead-in-new-york-politics-march-14 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6220:the-week-ahead-in-new-york-politics-march-14 New York City Hall

New York City Hall


What to watch for this week in New York politics:

Mayor Bill de Blasio has reason to smile as this week begins. Through negotiations with the City Council and outside critics, de Blasio appears to have gotten just about everyone on board with his citywide zoning changes and they are all-but-certain to be passed through the City Council over the next two weeks - first through committee this week, then the full Council on March 22. The City Planning Commission has to sign off on the tweaks in between. And there are tweaks, but the plans - Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH) and Zoning for Quality and Affordability (ZQA) - will pass in forms close to what the city originally proposed. The two zoning amendments are major pieces of de Blasio's housing plan, which aims for 200,000 units of affordable housing to be built or preserved over ten years.

De Blasio spent part of Sunday speaking at South Bronx and Harlem churches to sell his housing plans. The most significant concerns about the mayor's zoning proposals have come from communities of color worried that the affordability levels of MIH are not deep enough. It appears that some of the tweaks being made to the plan will address these concerns. The de Blasio administration also continues to point to other elements of its housing plan aimed at creating affordable housing for the city's lowest income earners.

The mayor will celebrate movement on his housing plans this week and he'll also hold a town hall on the subject in Brooklyn Monday night, hosted by City Council Member Mathieu Eugene. De Blasio will also travel to Washington, D.C. on Tuesday, responding to proposed federal cuts to anti-terrorism efforts - see below for details. And on Wednesday, de Blasio will speak at the New York City premiere of a new film promoting gun control - details also below.

City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito also spent part of Sunday at two churches, both in Brooklyn, where she discussed her criminal justice reform efforts.
[Read: City Council Bail Fund Moves Through State Process]

Meanwhile, budget business continues this week, with the fiscal year 2017 state budget due by the end of the month. The Assembly and Senate are moving toward passage of their one-house budgets, which will lead to intensified negotiations among Gov. Cuomo and the two majority leaders - Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, a Democrat, and Senate President John Flanagan, a Republican. There are a variety of discrepancies around funding levels and policy priorities. It's unclear if anything will be done in the budget on government ethics reform. Not a necessity to passing a spending plan and with significant pushback from Republicans to what Cuomo and Heastie have proposed, ethics could easily be bumped to further negotiations in the legislative session to follow the budget.

City Council preliminary budget hearings on the mayor's $82 billion plan also continue this week. Catch up on our coverage of budget hearings thus far:
-At First City Council Budget Hearing, Concerns About City Savings and State Cuts
-Government Investigator Explains 43% Budget Bump
-Underfunded Conflicts of Interest Board Struggles to Meet Mandates

Before Gov. Cuomo gets back to budget business in Albany this week, on Sunday Cuomo made his first visit to Hoosick Falls since the town's water contamination crisis broke. Cuomo insisted that the state was not slow to act, pointed the finger at federal regulators and the media, and assured all that the state response is on the right track.

And this week: "Comptroller Stringer will be in Israel along with a delegation of Latino leaders from New York City for a trip organized in partnership with the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York. He will arrive in Israel on Sunday evening and will depart on Thursday evening, arriving back in New York City on Friday, March 18."

As always, there's a great deal happening all over the city, with many events to be aware of - read our day-by-day rundown below.

***Do you have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics?
E-mail Gotham Gazette editor Ben Max: bmax@gothamgazette.com***

The run of the week in detail:

Monday
Both houses of the New York State Legislature are in session on Monday in Albany.

At 7:15 a.m. Monday, Mayor de Blasio will appear on CNN to discuss the presidential race. At 1:30 p.m. Monday, de Blasio will be in upper Manhattan to "host a press conference to discuss the preservation of affordable housing." At 4 p.m. de Blasio will hold a bill-signing ceremony at City Hall. At 7 p.m., de Blasio and City Council Member Mathieu Eugene "will host a town hall meeting with Brooklyn residents to discuss affordable housing" at P.S. 6.

At the City Council on Monday: At 10 a.m., the Committee on Governmental Operations will hold its preliminary budget hearing.

At 10 a.m. Monday at Newtown High School in Queens, “New York City Council Member Julissa Ferreras-Copeland, Department of Education, Congresswoman Grace Meng and Education Chair Daniel Dromm announce groundbreaking pilot program that will position New York City at the forefront of a national dialogue on access to feminine hygiene products by providing free pads and tampons in select Queens and Bronx public schools restrooms, supporting better educational outcomes and bringing dignity to girls.” Feminine hygiene product dispensers will be placed in 25 public middle schools and high schools.
[Read more: City Council Members Move to Improve Tampon Access]

At noon on Monday in Albany, “as budget bills advance in both the Senate and Assembly during Sunshine Week, good government and reform groups react to proposed ethics legislation.” Participating groups include Brennan Center, Citizens Union, Common Cause NY, League of Women Voters of NYS, NY Public Interest Research Group, and Reinvent Albany.
[Read: Heastie Outlines Assembly Ethics Reform Plan]

At 5:30 p.m. Monday, The New York City Economic Development Corporation (EDC) will deliver a presentation to the Queens Borough Board, chaired by Borough President Melinda Katz, on two of its new economic growth initiatives: NYC Industrial Developer Fund and Futureworks NYC Growth Initiative. The initiatives aim to provide project financing for industrial real estate development projects in New York City and support the growth of promising companies by providing six early stage companies with $30,000 each over a two-year period, respectively.

On Monday evening in Brooklyn, City Council Members Laurie Cumbo and Jumaane Williams will host their annual "Shirley Chisolm Women of Distinction Celebration." Public Advocate Letitia James will deliver keynote remarks. 

Tuesday
Both houses of the New York State Legislature are in session on Tuesday in Albany.

On Tuesday in Washington, D.C., U.S. Rep. Dan Donovan, who represents Staten Island and part of Brooklyn, will chair a hearing on President Barack Obama’s proposed cuts to anti-terrorism funding. Mayor Bill de Blasio, who has strongly criticized the cuts, is expected to testify.

At noon Tuesday, Greater New York City for Change and allies will rally in Albany to raise the minimum wage to $15.

At the City Council on Tuesday:

  • At 9:30 a.m., the Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises will meet to discuss granting special permits in regard to the enlargement of an existing property in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn. The committee will also discuss amendments “concerning the use, bulk, and parking regulations in Brooklyn.”
  • At 9:30 a.m., the Committee on General Welfare will meet for its preliminary budget hearing.
  • At 1 p.m., the Subcommittee on Planning, Dispositions and Concessions will meet to discuss previous amendments to property tax laws and a current urban development project in Manhattan.
  • At 1 p.m., the Committee on Juvenile Justice the Committee on Women’s Issues will meet for their joint preliminary budget hearing.

At 6 p.m. Tuesday, New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and Council Member Daniel Dromm will host a Celebration of Irish Heritage and Culture in Council Chambers at City Hall.

Wednesday
Both houses of the New York State Legislature are in session on Wednesday in Albany.

At 8 a.m. Wednesday, New York Law School will host a breakfast panel covering the future of New York City real estate. The panel will feature experts from Blackstone, Cushman and Wakefield, Related Companies, and Downtown Alliance, and will be moderated by Gerald Korngold, New York Law School Professor and The Center for Real Estate Studies Program Chair.

At 9 a.m. Wednesday, City Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, who chairs the Council transportation committee, will lead the launch of  “Car Free NYC” at New York University’s Kimmel Center, which will lead to a “car-free” Earth Day in April.

At 11 a.m. Wednesday, the South Bronx Leadership Forum will hold a discussion with Vicki Been, Commissioner of New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development.

At the City Council on Wednesday:

  • At 10 a.m., the Committees on Small Business and Economic Development will meet for a joint preliminary budget hearing.
  • At 10 a.m., the Committee on Education will meet for a preliminary budget hearing.
  • At 1:30 p.m., the Committee on Sanitation and Solid Waste Management will meet for a preliminary budget hearing.

At 6 p.m. Wednesday, The Police Reform Organizing Project (PROP) will host a public forum addressing how police reforms “preserve the racist status quo.”

At 6 p.m. Wednesday, Carmen Fariña, New York City Schools Chancellor, “will discuss the changing state of public education” with Pace University President Stephen J. Friedman at the University’s Lower Manhattan campus.

At 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, "Matthew Gordon Lasner and Nicholas Dagen Bloom, the co-authors of Affordable Housing in New York: The People, Places, and Policies that Transformed a City host a free, public panel discussion on the future of a livable New York City for the other 99%."

At 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, “Making a Killing: Guns, Greed, and the NRA,” from Brave New Films, will premiere in New York City. Mayor Bill de Blasio will deliver introductory remarks before the premiere.

Thursday
Both houses of the New York State Legislature are in session on Thursday in Albany.

At 1 p.m. Thursday, The Rockefeller Institute of Government will host “Facing the Global Immigration and Refugee Crisis” in Albany. The forum will reflect on past conflict and violence that has led to mass immigration and feature Maher Nasser, director of the Outreach Division for the United Nations’ Department of Public Information; Jill Peckenpaugh, director of the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants; and Sana Mustafa, Bard College Student and Syrian Refugee.

At the City Council on Thursday:

  • At 11 a.m., the Committee on Land Use will meet on results of subcommittee meetings held recently and conduct other general business.
  • At noon, the Committees on Land Use and Technology will meet for a joint preliminary budget hearing.

Friday
Friday is the second annual Student Voter Registration Day in New York City, which aims to get newly eligible voters registered in time to vote in April’s New York State presidential primary.

At 8:15 a.m. Friday, Chair and CEO of the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) Shola Olatoye will be speaking at a CityLaw Breakfast at New York Law School.

At noon Friday, state Senator Jesse Hamilton, colleagues, and partners will hold a press conference at the Howard Houses Community Center in Brownsville, Brooklyn to announce the “first technology and wellness center at a public housing site in the United States.” The “CAMPUS” will serve as a resource center for technology, health, and career development. Hamilton will be joined by Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, Assembly Members Latrice Walk and Nick Perry, and other officials, residents, partners, and organizations.

At the City Council on Friday:

  • At 10 a.m., the Committee on Youth Services will meet for a preliminary budget hearing.
  • At 1 p.m., the Committee on Health will meet for a preliminary budget hearing.

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Have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics? E-mail Gotham Gazette executive editor Ben Max any time: bmax@gothamgazette.com (please use "For Week Ahead" as email subject).

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by Leanna Carroll and Ben Max
@GothamGazette

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The Week Ahead in New York Politics, March 14 Sun, 13 Mar 2016 06:00:00 +0000
Addressing NYC's School Overcrowding Crisis http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6210:addressing-nycs-school-overcrowding-crisis http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6210:addressing-nycs-school-overcrowding-crisis img2424

Protesting school overcrowding in Queens


All parents in New York City deserve the peace of mind that their children will be able to attend a school where they can thrive and grow. Unfortunately, following years of neglect from the Bloomberg administration, our city's school system is plagued by school overcrowding and excessive class sizes, where hundreds of thousands of our children simply don't have adequate space to learn.

With education a top priority for the city, it's critical that our leaders take strong action to address the chronic underfunding of our city's school infrastructure. Key to addressing this issue is investing sufficient capital resources in the city budget, as well as improving the current school planning process, which is broken.

Recently, we've had some good news. When the city Department of Education (DOE) released its school capital plan, it included a commitment from Mayor de Blasio to invest nearly $900 million in additional resources to build more school seats. In the same plan, the DOE raised its needs assessment to 83,000 additional seats, given enrollment projections and existing overcrowding. This is closer to the 100,000-seat figure that Class Size Matters estimated in its recent report, "Space Crunch." Together, these two adjustments are a welcome acknowledgement of the crisis in school overcrowding, and we applaud them.

But more should be done. The number of new seats in the capital plan is 49,000—only about 59 percent of the DOE's own admitted need—and New York City's population is growing faster than any other large city in the nation. The mayor is now urging the City Council to adopt rezoning plans to accelerate the construction of thousands of new affordable and market-rate housing units, which will increase pressure on our school system. At this critical moment, the city has a real opportunity to address housing and education together.

Right now, more than half a million students are crammed into over-utilized schools, according to DOE data. In many cases, this means excessive class sizes of 30 or more, a loss of art, music, or science rooms, and a lack of dedicated spaces for students to receive counseling or mandated special education services – no less the wraparound services inherent in the community school model.

According to the analysis in a recent report by Make the Road New York—"Where's My Seat?"—immigrant communities have especially egregious overcrowding problems and even greater unmet needs in the DOE capital plan. In many of the schools in these neighborhoods, children are forced to eat their lunch as early as 10 a.m. or are bused to schools far away from their homes. Many do not have adequate opportunity for physical education because there is not enough space in their gyms.

We need to build, lease, and expand more schools. At least the 83,000 seats that the DOE projects are necessary. In addition, the process of school planning and siting must be made more efficient. There are many communities, like Sunset Park, which have suffered from extreme overcrowding for a decade or more, even though funding to build more schools in the neighborhood has existed in the capital plan, because the School Construction Agency has not been able to site a single one.

According to the DOE, only 15 percent of the school seats needed by 2019 have sites identified and are in the process of being designed. In seven districts, that percentage is zero. The city will fall even further behind in creating seats if the mayor's rezoning proposals are adopted, unless much more is done to build and site schools. A recent Environmental Impact Statement for the East New York rezoning proposal found it would exacerbate school overcrowding, and, along with other changes, drive high school overcrowding in the borough to 109 percent of capacity. Yet the DOE capital plan does not include a single Brooklyn high school to be built.

That is why we are urging the City Council, along with the mayor, to create a commission or task force of experts and stakeholder groups, to propose reforms to the school planning process, so that schools must be built along with housing, instead of decades afterwards. Among the issues to be considered would be reforms to the zoning process, including whether the threshold to consider the need for a new school should be lowered – especially when the schools are already overcrowded; whether the formula used by City Planning to estimate the impact of new housing on schools needs to be updated; whether the city should require impact fees from developers and/or use eminent domain more frequently; and how the trends in lost seats, utilization rates, and enrollment could be made more transparent and more accurate through regular reporting by the DOE.

As Mayor de Blasio repeated in his recent State of the City speech, the goal across our city must be to ensure that neighborhoods thrive. There cannot be successful neighborhoods unless there are schools with enough space for the children in every community across the city to learn and prosper. It's time to invest all the necessary resources and improve the school planning process to ensure the bright future that all of our children deserve.

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Leonie Haimson is the Executive Director of Class Size Matters. Javier H. Valdés is the Co-Executive Director of Make the Road New York. On Twitter: @leoniehaimson @javierhvaldes.

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Addressing NYC's School Overcrowding Crisis Mon, 07 Mar 2016 19:27:28 +0000