Gotham Gazette Gotham Gazette is an online publication covering New York policy and politics as well as news on public safety, transportation, education, finance and more. http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/department-of-buildings 2017-10-22T15:51:47+00:00 Webmaster webmaster@gothamgazette.com City Council Tenant Advocate Bill Met with Resistance 2017-04-20T22:04:05+00:00 2017-04-20T22:04:05+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6884:city-council-tenant-advocate-bill-met-with-resistance Samar Khurshid <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/32212877203_635c2c312c_k.jpg" alt="Councilmember Helen Rosenthal" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Council Member Helen Rosenthal (photo: Samar Khurshid/Gotham Gazette)</p> <hr /> <p>The City Council’s Committee on Housing and Buildings on Wednesday heard more than a dozen bills that would enhance tenant protections and combat abuses by landlords. Among those proposals was one that would create a new ombudsman within the Department of Buildings whose responsibility would be to prioritize the welfare of tenants when property owners and builders apply for construction permits.</p> <p>The bill, <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=2984646&amp;GUID=D8E10F34-2500-481A-B58C-28E3BA5669B1&amp;Options=&amp;Search=" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Intro. 1523</a>, was introduced by Council Member Helen Rosenthal last month and heard for the first time Wednesday. It would create an Office of the Tenant Advocate, charged with approving and monitoring tenant protection and site safety plans submitted to the Department of Buildings for construction work on occupied multiple dwellings.</p> <p>The OTA would receive and redress complaints from tenants and would be required to publish quarterly reports on its work, including data on the number of complaints received, time taken to respond to complaints, and the number of tenant protection and site safety plans reviewed.</p> <p>Rosenthal, a Democrat from the Upper West Side, said the OTA is a crucial tool to fight tenant harassment by landlords, particularly those who may use legally approved construction work to continually hassle and drive out rent-stabilized tenants. “Dealing with building owners who operate unscrupulously can be a Sisyphean task,” Rosenthal said in a phone interview, “and having more eyes on the ball can only help. Having an office or deputy commissioner on equal footing with other deputy commissioners at DOB will allow tenant voices to be heard.”</p> <p>But her bill received push back from the de Blasio administration as well as the real estate industry, both of which argue that the OTA would be redundant. “While we generally support the bills discussed at yesterday’s hearing, we’re concerned that this particular legislation would duplicate work the Department already performs,” said Joseph Soldevere, a DOB spokesperson, in an email.</p> <p>Soldevere said the department’s experts thoroughly examine tenant-protection and site-safety plans and, along with other agencies like Housing Preservation and Development (HPD), have a “robust system” for responding to tenant complaints. DOB also partners with HPD and law enforcement agencies, Soldevere added, in a joint city-state Tenant Harassment Task Force which has conducted more than 2,000 inspections since 2016.</p> <p>Council Member Stephen Levin, a Brooklyn Democrat, is a co-sponsor on Rosenthal’s bill. He criticized the DOB’s often-delayed response time to complaints, calling them “totally ineffective” and insisting that the raft of proposals, dubbed the “Stand For Tenant Safety” <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/MeetingDetail.aspx?ID=539361&amp;GUID=5A278FCF-8C83-43AC-86E5-EF3C3998D566&amp;Options=info&amp;Search=" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">package</a>, was essential. “It’s important that agencies coordinate their actions in working with tenants,” he said.</p> <p>The Real Estate Board of New York, the trade association that represents more than 16,000 members, including developers, property owners, managers and brokers, filed a <a href="https://www.rebny.com/content/rebny/en/newsroom/testimony/2017_Testimony/Legislative_Memorandum_Tenant_Harassment.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">legislative memo</a> with the City Council committee on Wednesday, stating its outright opposition to the OTA bill and generally to the larger package of proposals.</p> <p>“The creation of the Office of the Tenant Advocate within DoB might be a worthy endeavor,” the REBNY memo reads, “if the Office is devoted not only to protecting the interests of the tenant during construction, but also to assisting tenants with their responsibilities during such times.” It goes on to argue, similar to the administration’s stance on the bill, that other units within the DOB already cover the office’s proposed duties. They also insist that the bill should drop any references to site safety plans which are “technical documents requiring high-level expertise and developed to safeguard the general public and workers on-site, not specifically tenants.”</p> <p>For Rosenthal, those concerns aren’t unfounded and she said she’s not looking to duplicate efforts already underway. Rather, she wants to streamline existing resources and prioritize the city’s response to tenant concerns. “Simply organize it in a fashion that would be more supportive for people going through construction, where construction is used for harassment,” she said. “What I’m trying to do is level the playing field within the DOB so that a tenant’s voice is heard as well as a building owners.”</p> <p>The broader package of bills addresses a number of issues, with proposals including oversight of contractors that work without a permit; added requirements for information in tenant protection plans; a safe construction bill of rights for tenants; a rebuttable presumption of harassment for certain landlord actions; increased civil penalties for harassment and enhanced definitions of acts that constitute harassment; among others.</p> <p>The package is also keeping in line with the City Council and Mayor Bill de Blasio’s increased focus on tenant protections, including the recently agreed upon “Right to Counsel,” which provides free legal representation or advice to tenants facing eviction. The mayor has pointedly cited his anti-eviction and pro-tenant policies as a significant part of his overall agenda to combat the city’s record levels of homelessness and affordable housing crisis.</p> <p>Kerri White, director of organizing and policy at the Urban Homesteading Assistance Board, a tenant advocacy group, said the Office of Tenant Advocate would be a step towards addressing systemic issues that tenants face. “DOB still perceives each problem as its own island and that’s not the reality,” she said, emphasizing that the city needs a comprehensive approach that recognizes the larger context of tenant issues. She said HPD has in part embraced this need, after years of advocacy, but DOB lags behind. “Right now there’s no centralized person you can talk to,” she said. “You call 311 and put in complaints but those are not always effective.”</p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/32212877203_635c2c312c_k.jpg" alt="Councilmember Helen Rosenthal" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Council Member Helen Rosenthal (photo: Samar Khurshid/Gotham Gazette)</p> <hr /> <p>The City Council’s Committee on Housing and Buildings on Wednesday heard more than a dozen bills that would enhance tenant protections and combat abuses by landlords. Among those proposals was one that would create a new ombudsman within the Department of Buildings whose responsibility would be to prioritize the welfare of tenants when property owners and builders apply for construction permits.</p> <p>The bill, <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=2984646&amp;GUID=D8E10F34-2500-481A-B58C-28E3BA5669B1&amp;Options=&amp;Search=" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Intro. 1523</a>, was introduced by Council Member Helen Rosenthal last month and heard for the first time Wednesday. It would create an Office of the Tenant Advocate, charged with approving and monitoring tenant protection and site safety plans submitted to the Department of Buildings for construction work on occupied multiple dwellings.</p> <p>The OTA would receive and redress complaints from tenants and would be required to publish quarterly reports on its work, including data on the number of complaints received, time taken to respond to complaints, and the number of tenant protection and site safety plans reviewed.</p> <p>Rosenthal, a Democrat from the Upper West Side, said the OTA is a crucial tool to fight tenant harassment by landlords, particularly those who may use legally approved construction work to continually hassle and drive out rent-stabilized tenants. “Dealing with building owners who operate unscrupulously can be a Sisyphean task,” Rosenthal said in a phone interview, “and having more eyes on the ball can only help. Having an office or deputy commissioner on equal footing with other deputy commissioners at DOB will allow tenant voices to be heard.”</p> <p>But her bill received push back from the de Blasio administration as well as the real estate industry, both of which argue that the OTA would be redundant. “While we generally support the bills discussed at yesterday’s hearing, we’re concerned that this particular legislation would duplicate work the Department already performs,” said Joseph Soldevere, a DOB spokesperson, in an email.</p> <p>Soldevere said the department’s experts thoroughly examine tenant-protection and site-safety plans and, along with other agencies like Housing Preservation and Development (HPD), have a “robust system” for responding to tenant complaints. DOB also partners with HPD and law enforcement agencies, Soldevere added, in a joint city-state Tenant Harassment Task Force which has conducted more than 2,000 inspections since 2016.</p> <p>Council Member Stephen Levin, a Brooklyn Democrat, is a co-sponsor on Rosenthal’s bill. He criticized the DOB’s often-delayed response time to complaints, calling them “totally ineffective” and insisting that the raft of proposals, dubbed the “Stand For Tenant Safety” <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/MeetingDetail.aspx?ID=539361&amp;GUID=5A278FCF-8C83-43AC-86E5-EF3C3998D566&amp;Options=info&amp;Search=" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">package</a>, was essential. “It’s important that agencies coordinate their actions in working with tenants,” he said.</p> <p>The Real Estate Board of New York, the trade association that represents more than 16,000 members, including developers, property owners, managers and brokers, filed a <a href="https://www.rebny.com/content/rebny/en/newsroom/testimony/2017_Testimony/Legislative_Memorandum_Tenant_Harassment.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">legislative memo</a> with the City Council committee on Wednesday, stating its outright opposition to the OTA bill and generally to the larger package of proposals.</p> <p>“The creation of the Office of the Tenant Advocate within DoB might be a worthy endeavor,” the REBNY memo reads, “if the Office is devoted not only to protecting the interests of the tenant during construction, but also to assisting tenants with their responsibilities during such times.” It goes on to argue, similar to the administration’s stance on the bill, that other units within the DOB already cover the office’s proposed duties. They also insist that the bill should drop any references to site safety plans which are “technical documents requiring high-level expertise and developed to safeguard the general public and workers on-site, not specifically tenants.”</p> <p>For Rosenthal, those concerns aren’t unfounded and she said she’s not looking to duplicate efforts already underway. Rather, she wants to streamline existing resources and prioritize the city’s response to tenant concerns. “Simply organize it in a fashion that would be more supportive for people going through construction, where construction is used for harassment,” she said. “What I’m trying to do is level the playing field within the DOB so that a tenant’s voice is heard as well as a building owners.”</p> <p>The broader package of bills addresses a number of issues, with proposals including oversight of contractors that work without a permit; added requirements for information in tenant protection plans; a safe construction bill of rights for tenants; a rebuttable presumption of harassment for certain landlord actions; increased civil penalties for harassment and enhanced definitions of acts that constitute harassment; among others.</p> <p>The package is also keeping in line with the City Council and Mayor Bill de Blasio’s increased focus on tenant protections, including the recently agreed upon “Right to Counsel,” which provides free legal representation or advice to tenants facing eviction. The mayor has pointedly cited his anti-eviction and pro-tenant policies as a significant part of his overall agenda to combat the city’s record levels of homelessness and affordable housing crisis.</p> <p>Kerri White, director of organizing and policy at the Urban Homesteading Assistance Board, a tenant advocacy group, said the Office of Tenant Advocate would be a step towards addressing systemic issues that tenants face. “DOB still perceives each problem as its own island and that’s not the reality,” she said, emphasizing that the city needs a comprehensive approach that recognizes the larger context of tenant issues. She said HPD has in part embraced this need, after years of advocacy, but DOB lags behind. “Right now there’s no centralized person you can talk to,” she said. “You call 311 and put in complaints but those are not always effective.”</p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Illegal Conversions and South Brooklyn’s Affordable Housing Crisis 2016-09-18T04:00:00+00:00 2016-09-18T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6532:illegal-conversions-and-south-brooklyn-s-affordable-housing-crisis Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2016/south-brooklyn-illegal-conversions-affordable-housing.jpg" alt="south brooklyn illegal conversions affordable housing" width="600" height="450" />&nbsp;</p> <p dir="ltr">A home that has been illegally converted (photo: Tarry Hum)</p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">Described as &ldquo;<a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/23/nyregion/23partitions.html" target="_blank">a secret world of New York City housing</a>&rdquo; by The New York Times, several actions by the Department of Buildings (DOB) this summer exposed the ubiquity of illegal subdivisions in South Brooklyn&rsquo;s immigrant neighborhoods.</p> <p dir="ltr"><a href="http://brooklynreporter.com/story/second-immediate-vacate-order-eight-days-issued-dyker/" target="_blank">Two August incidences</a> within a two-block area near 70th Street and 7th Avenue in Dyker Heights received local media coverage while the raid of 818 55th Street in Sunset Park was reported only in the <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/about:blank" target="_blank">Chinese language press</a>. In each case, a two family home was illegally subdivided to house multiple families including those with children.</p> <p dir="ltr">The Sunset Park property was divided into 25 single room occupancy (SRO) units. According to one media outlet, Kings County Politics, these incidences &ldquo;<a href="http://www.kingscountypolitics.com/huge-illegal-conversion-bust-lends-credence-gentile-proposed-legislation/" target="_blank">lend credence</a>&rdquo; to City Council Member Vincent Gentile&rsquo;s ongoing efforts to pass legislation to impose severe civil penalties on &ldquo;<a href="http://www.citylandnyc.org/new-bill-council-member-gentile-takes-aim-illegal-home-conversions/" target="_blank">unscrupulous landlords</a>&rdquo; and expand the authority of DOB and the Environmental Control Board to inspect properties and issue fines and other penalties.</p> <p dir="ltr">Earlier this summer, Council Member Gentile introduced his most recent bill, <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=2764886&amp;GUID=EF92B99F-832C-4095-B258-698F026A88CA" target="_blank">Intro 1218</a>, co-sponsored by Council Members Williams and Grodenchik with the strong support of Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams and members of the New York State Assembly and Senate.</p> <p dir="ltr"><a href="http://newyorkyimby.com/2015/05/mapping-illegal-conversions-a-look-at-new-york-citys-hidden-affordable-housing.html" target="_blank">Illegal subdivisions</a> are long standing and fairly pervasive in immigrant neighborhoods. &nbsp;While there is no question that illegal conversions create substandard, unsafe, and overcrowded conditions that strain public infrastructure including transportation, utilities, and local schools, illegal SROs and basement units are often housing options of last resort for the city&rsquo;s working poor.</p> <p dir="ltr">A <a href="http://prattcenter.net/sites/default/files/housing_underground_0.pdf" target="_blank">2008 Pratt Center and Chhaya CDC study</a> estimated that hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers live in illegal subdivisions or &ldquo;phantom apartments.&rdquo; In fact, <a href="http://www.mfy.org/wp-content/uploads/CNY109_Sullivan-Burke.pdf" target="_blank">MFY Legal Services attorneys</a> argue, &ldquo;the City depends on illegal SROs to ward off a homeless crisis that would &lsquo;dwarf&rsquo; anything seen before.&rdquo; Council Member Gentile and his co-sponsors seek to punish landlords who construct illegal and unsafe subdivisions and the provisions of Intro 1218 may be more effective in protecting and preserving the residential character of low-density neighborhoods than addressing the housing crisis faced by working poor New Yorkers.</p> <p dir="ltr">Leading the charge for greater DOB enforcement and civil penalties for offending property owners are Community Board 10, Dyker Heights Civic Association, and Brooklyn Housing Preservation Alliance. Their <a href="http://www.bensonhurstbean.com/2015/03/anger-frustration-spill-illegal-home-conversions-town-hall/#.V9Dn1zt3bol" target="_blank">well-attended town hall</a> in February 2015 held at the Bay Ridge Knights of Columbus provided an opportunity for numerous residents to vent their long-standing anger and frustration. Most recently, these groups participated in a <a href="http://www.ntdtv.com/xtr/b5/2016/08/19/a1282018.html" target="_blank">three-part informational series</a> on illegal conversions produced by a <a href="http://www.ntdtv.com/xtr/b5/2016/08/19/a1282059.html" target="_blank">Chinese language media outlet</a>.</p> <p dir="ltr">While the rationale for legislative action is framed around public safety due to potential hazards for emergency responders and tenants, and concerns about strained public services and infrastructure, Brooklyn Housing Preservation Alliance&rsquo;s Bob Cassara made clear that the grievances are not just about public welfare and overcrowded schools. <a href="http://www.ntdtv.com/xtr/b5/2016/08/20/a1282211.html" target="_blank">He asks</a>, &ldquo;Why do people want to live here? Why are those houses multi-million dollar homes? Because they&rsquo;re maintaining the look of the neighborhood and that&rsquo;s what we want to maintain over here as well. &nbsp;So people are welcome here but they gotta play by the same rules. If they&rsquo;re not playing by the same rules, they&rsquo;re really not welcome in this community.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">A hyper-speculative real estate market has elevated and sustains the multi-million dollar value of South Brooklyn&rsquo;s housing stock largely comprised of one- and two-family properties. However, these same market conditions are also the driving force for predatory equity and the practice of illegal conversions.</p> <p dir="ltr">Sunset Park&rsquo;s 818 55th Street is a particularly egregious example of greed and exploitation. Tracing the ownership of this property provides a genealogy of Sunset Park&rsquo;s demography as the modest, two-family rowhouse passed from an Irish owner to a Norwegian owner, in 1973, and then, a series of Chinese owners beginning in 1987. Most significantly, when the property was sold in March 2015 to 818 Inc., it ceased to be a family home and became an investment vehicle.</p> <p dir="ltr">Given Sunset Park&rsquo;s speculative real estate market, within six months of 818 Inc.&rsquo;s $1.45 million purchase, the investor group flipped the property for a mere $100,000 profit in the sale to Access 818 LLC in September 2015. A short month later, the <a href="http://a810-bisweb.nyc.gov/bisweb/ComplaintsByAddressServlet?requestid=1&amp;allbin=3139494" target="_blank">first of several complaints</a> that the two-family building was illegally subdivided into a SRO hotel with 25 rooms was registered with DOB. Although a full vacate order was issued in May, the <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/about:blank" target="_blank">Chinese press reported</a> that at least 13 tenants were still living at the property, each paying a monthly rent of $400 for a closet-sized room, when the Mayor&rsquo;s Office of Special Enforcement took action July 14. Access 818 LLC has since been issued <a href="http://a810-bisweb.nyc.gov/bisweb/ECBQueryByLocationServlet?requestid=1&amp;allbin=3139494" target="_blank">six Class 1 violations</a> indicating immediately hazardous conditions and incurred $69,000 in penalties.</p> <p dir="ltr">Right around the corner from this illegal SRO hotel is a huge construction site for the future <a href="http://newyorkyimby.com/2014/10/revealed-5515-eighth-avenue-sunset-park-medical-office-building.html" target="_blank">Winley Plaza Condominium</a>, a modern, glassy six-story commercial condominium building with ground level retail. Financed, in part, with a Cathay Bank mortgage and EB-5 investments, the developers seek an unprecedented total sellout of $76.3 million which, according to <a href="http://therealdeal.com/2016/01/29/sunset-park-medical-condo-building-seeks-76m-sellout/" target="_blank">The Real Deal</a>, &ldquo;would be the most expensive condo offering of any kind to date&rdquo; in Sunset Park.</p> <p dir="ltr">Developer confidence in the lucrative profitability of the neighborhood&rsquo;s commercial real estate is evidenced further south on 8th Avenue near the Dyker Heights border, where a &ldquo;<a href="http://ny.curbed.com/2014/10/2/10040486/ginormous-mixed-use-development-coming-to-sunset-park" target="_blank">ginormous</a>&rdquo; mixed use development is proposed. Purchased for $51.5 million in 2014, the developer and investment partners plan to build an office tower, two luxury residential towers and a hotel anchored by a Chelsea Market-style retail base. Nearby, a third place-making project called the <a href="http://brooklyn.news12.com/news/new-arch-to-welcome-visitors-to-brooklyn-s-chinatown-in-sunset-park-1.5103707" target="_blank">Brooklyn Friendship Archway</a>, an ornate traditional Chinese pagoda gateway, is expected to receive Public Design Commission approval later this month.</p> <p dir="ltr">Some community leaders have deemed Council Member Gentile&rsquo;s bill a form of &ldquo;tough love&rdquo; &ndash; unpopular but necessary. They also call for more residential development to alleviate the outstanding need for affordable housing. Given the current market climate, more development will not only fail to address the housing gap but will further exacerbate the affordability crisis faced by the working poor. As long as real estate properties are viewed as investment vehicles with tremendous untapped value, predatory activities such as illegal conversions will continue to shape the residential landscape of the city&rsquo;s neighborhoods.</p> <p dir="ltr">***<br />Tarry Hum is a professor at The City University of New York (CUNY) and author of <a href="http://www.temple.edu/tempress/titles/2299_reg.html" target="_blank">Making a Global Immigrant Neighborhood</a>. On Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/TarryHum" target="_blank">@TarryHum</a>.</p> <p>

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

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2016/south-brooklyn-illegal-conversions-affordable-housing.jpg" alt="south brooklyn illegal conversions affordable housing" width="600" height="450" />&nbsp;</p> <p dir="ltr">A home that has been illegally converted (photo: Tarry Hum)</p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">Described as &ldquo;<a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/23/nyregion/23partitions.html" target="_blank">a secret world of New York City housing</a>&rdquo; by The New York Times, several actions by the Department of Buildings (DOB) this summer exposed the ubiquity of illegal subdivisions in South Brooklyn&rsquo;s immigrant neighborhoods.</p> <p dir="ltr"><a href="http://brooklynreporter.com/story/second-immediate-vacate-order-eight-days-issued-dyker/" target="_blank">Two August incidences</a> within a two-block area near 70th Street and 7th Avenue in Dyker Heights received local media coverage while the raid of 818 55th Street in Sunset Park was reported only in the <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/about:blank" target="_blank">Chinese language press</a>. In each case, a two family home was illegally subdivided to house multiple families including those with children.</p> <p dir="ltr">The Sunset Park property was divided into 25 single room occupancy (SRO) units. According to one media outlet, Kings County Politics, these incidences &ldquo;<a href="http://www.kingscountypolitics.com/huge-illegal-conversion-bust-lends-credence-gentile-proposed-legislation/" target="_blank">lend credence</a>&rdquo; to City Council Member Vincent Gentile&rsquo;s ongoing efforts to pass legislation to impose severe civil penalties on &ldquo;<a href="http://www.citylandnyc.org/new-bill-council-member-gentile-takes-aim-illegal-home-conversions/" target="_blank">unscrupulous landlords</a>&rdquo; and expand the authority of DOB and the Environmental Control Board to inspect properties and issue fines and other penalties.</p> <p dir="ltr">Earlier this summer, Council Member Gentile introduced his most recent bill, <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=2764886&amp;GUID=EF92B99F-832C-4095-B258-698F026A88CA" target="_blank">Intro 1218</a>, co-sponsored by Council Members Williams and Grodenchik with the strong support of Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams and members of the New York State Assembly and Senate.</p> <p dir="ltr"><a href="http://newyorkyimby.com/2015/05/mapping-illegal-conversions-a-look-at-new-york-citys-hidden-affordable-housing.html" target="_blank">Illegal subdivisions</a> are long standing and fairly pervasive in immigrant neighborhoods. &nbsp;While there is no question that illegal conversions create substandard, unsafe, and overcrowded conditions that strain public infrastructure including transportation, utilities, and local schools, illegal SROs and basement units are often housing options of last resort for the city&rsquo;s working poor.</p> <p dir="ltr">A <a href="http://prattcenter.net/sites/default/files/housing_underground_0.pdf" target="_blank">2008 Pratt Center and Chhaya CDC study</a> estimated that hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers live in illegal subdivisions or &ldquo;phantom apartments.&rdquo; In fact, <a href="http://www.mfy.org/wp-content/uploads/CNY109_Sullivan-Burke.pdf" target="_blank">MFY Legal Services attorneys</a> argue, &ldquo;the City depends on illegal SROs to ward off a homeless crisis that would &lsquo;dwarf&rsquo; anything seen before.&rdquo; Council Member Gentile and his co-sponsors seek to punish landlords who construct illegal and unsafe subdivisions and the provisions of Intro 1218 may be more effective in protecting and preserving the residential character of low-density neighborhoods than addressing the housing crisis faced by working poor New Yorkers.</p> <p dir="ltr">Leading the charge for greater DOB enforcement and civil penalties for offending property owners are Community Board 10, Dyker Heights Civic Association, and Brooklyn Housing Preservation Alliance. Their <a href="http://www.bensonhurstbean.com/2015/03/anger-frustration-spill-illegal-home-conversions-town-hall/#.V9Dn1zt3bol" target="_blank">well-attended town hall</a> in February 2015 held at the Bay Ridge Knights of Columbus provided an opportunity for numerous residents to vent their long-standing anger and frustration. Most recently, these groups participated in a <a href="http://www.ntdtv.com/xtr/b5/2016/08/19/a1282018.html" target="_blank">three-part informational series</a> on illegal conversions produced by a <a href="http://www.ntdtv.com/xtr/b5/2016/08/19/a1282059.html" target="_blank">Chinese language media outlet</a>.</p> <p dir="ltr">While the rationale for legislative action is framed around public safety due to potential hazards for emergency responders and tenants, and concerns about strained public services and infrastructure, Brooklyn Housing Preservation Alliance&rsquo;s Bob Cassara made clear that the grievances are not just about public welfare and overcrowded schools. <a href="http://www.ntdtv.com/xtr/b5/2016/08/20/a1282211.html" target="_blank">He asks</a>, &ldquo;Why do people want to live here? Why are those houses multi-million dollar homes? Because they&rsquo;re maintaining the look of the neighborhood and that&rsquo;s what we want to maintain over here as well. &nbsp;So people are welcome here but they gotta play by the same rules. If they&rsquo;re not playing by the same rules, they&rsquo;re really not welcome in this community.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">A hyper-speculative real estate market has elevated and sustains the multi-million dollar value of South Brooklyn&rsquo;s housing stock largely comprised of one- and two-family properties. However, these same market conditions are also the driving force for predatory equity and the practice of illegal conversions.</p> <p dir="ltr">Sunset Park&rsquo;s 818 55th Street is a particularly egregious example of greed and exploitation. Tracing the ownership of this property provides a genealogy of Sunset Park&rsquo;s demography as the modest, two-family rowhouse passed from an Irish owner to a Norwegian owner, in 1973, and then, a series of Chinese owners beginning in 1987. Most significantly, when the property was sold in March 2015 to 818 Inc., it ceased to be a family home and became an investment vehicle.</p> <p dir="ltr">Given Sunset Park&rsquo;s speculative real estate market, within six months of 818 Inc.&rsquo;s $1.45 million purchase, the investor group flipped the property for a mere $100,000 profit in the sale to Access 818 LLC in September 2015. A short month later, the <a href="http://a810-bisweb.nyc.gov/bisweb/ComplaintsByAddressServlet?requestid=1&amp;allbin=3139494" target="_blank">first of several complaints</a> that the two-family building was illegally subdivided into a SRO hotel with 25 rooms was registered with DOB. Although a full vacate order was issued in May, the <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/about:blank" target="_blank">Chinese press reported</a> that at least 13 tenants were still living at the property, each paying a monthly rent of $400 for a closet-sized room, when the Mayor&rsquo;s Office of Special Enforcement took action July 14. Access 818 LLC has since been issued <a href="http://a810-bisweb.nyc.gov/bisweb/ECBQueryByLocationServlet?requestid=1&amp;allbin=3139494" target="_blank">six Class 1 violations</a> indicating immediately hazardous conditions and incurred $69,000 in penalties.</p> <p dir="ltr">Right around the corner from this illegal SRO hotel is a huge construction site for the future <a href="http://newyorkyimby.com/2014/10/revealed-5515-eighth-avenue-sunset-park-medical-office-building.html" target="_blank">Winley Plaza Condominium</a>, a modern, glassy six-story commercial condominium building with ground level retail. Financed, in part, with a Cathay Bank mortgage and EB-5 investments, the developers seek an unprecedented total sellout of $76.3 million which, according to <a href="http://therealdeal.com/2016/01/29/sunset-park-medical-condo-building-seeks-76m-sellout/" target="_blank">The Real Deal</a>, &ldquo;would be the most expensive condo offering of any kind to date&rdquo; in Sunset Park.</p> <p dir="ltr">Developer confidence in the lucrative profitability of the neighborhood&rsquo;s commercial real estate is evidenced further south on 8th Avenue near the Dyker Heights border, where a &ldquo;<a href="http://ny.curbed.com/2014/10/2/10040486/ginormous-mixed-use-development-coming-to-sunset-park" target="_blank">ginormous</a>&rdquo; mixed use development is proposed. Purchased for $51.5 million in 2014, the developer and investment partners plan to build an office tower, two luxury residential towers and a hotel anchored by a Chelsea Market-style retail base. Nearby, a third place-making project called the <a href="http://brooklyn.news12.com/news/new-arch-to-welcome-visitors-to-brooklyn-s-chinatown-in-sunset-park-1.5103707" target="_blank">Brooklyn Friendship Archway</a>, an ornate traditional Chinese pagoda gateway, is expected to receive Public Design Commission approval later this month.</p> <p dir="ltr">Some community leaders have deemed Council Member Gentile&rsquo;s bill a form of &ldquo;tough love&rdquo; &ndash; unpopular but necessary. They also call for more residential development to alleviate the outstanding need for affordable housing. Given the current market climate, more development will not only fail to address the housing gap but will further exacerbate the affordability crisis faced by the working poor. As long as real estate properties are viewed as investment vehicles with tremendous untapped value, predatory activities such as illegal conversions will continue to shape the residential landscape of the city&rsquo;s neighborhoods.</p> <p dir="ltr">***<br />Tarry Hum is a professor at The City University of New York (CUNY) and author of <a href="http://www.temple.edu/tempress/titles/2299_reg.html" target="_blank">Making a Global Immigrant Neighborhood</a>. On Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/TarryHum" target="_blank">@TarryHum</a>.</p> <p>

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