Gotham Gazette http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/230 Mon, 18 Dec 2017 10:56:41 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) Brooklyn Armory Deal, and Larger De Blasio Development Debate, Move Toward Term Two http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7360:brooklyn-armory-deal-and-larger-de-blasio-development-debate-move-toward-term-two http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7360:brooklyn-armory-deal-and-larger-de-blasio-development-debate-move-toward-term-two bedford union armory rendering via bfc

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


Following years of ferocious debate, negotiation, protests and anguish, City Council Member Laurie Cumbo was finally ready to vote “yes” on the redevelopment of the publicly-owned, vacant Bedford-Union Armory.

At very nearly the last minute, she and the administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio worked out a deal for the Crown Heights building with the city’s chosen developer, BFC Partners, the night before a crucial City Council land use committee vote on the controversial redevelopment. A week later, Cumbo stood amid the full Council, ready to approve the project.

But before that could happen, chanting interrupted the meeting.

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

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

“Laurie lies!”

City Council Bedford Armory protest voteAmong the protesters were the fiercest and most frequent critics of the armory project: members of New York Communities for Change (NYCC), the Crown Heights Tenant Union and their allies, who have pushed the city to scrap the plan for nearly two years, leading dozens of protests and supporting anti-armory plan challengers to Cumbo during her successful yet contentious reelection campaign this summer and fall.

From the beginning, the coalition of activists saw the vacant armory and the publicly-owned land beneath it as an incredibly valuable resource that should be used to improve a rapidly gentrifying community, with deeply affordable housing to help stem the tide of displacement.

By all accounts, the pressure moved the needle significantly. When it was announced in late 2015, the redevelopment included plans for 330 market-rate and affordable rentals, two dozen luxury condominiums, and a 45,000-square-foot recreation center. Following months of protests by NYCC, CHTU and others against any and all market-rate housing on the site, with particular ire directed at the condominiums, a new deal took shape.

In the last-minute agreement, BFC cut out the condos as the city promised $50 million to subsidize more affordable — and more deeply affordable — rental housing on the site. In addition, the planned state-of-the-art recreation center would remain, with its own affordability requirements, supported financially by 150 market-rate apartments, officials said.

To the casual observer, the armory agreement may appear to be a major feat for all sides. But as the project cleared the last hurdle in its public approval process, its detractors see it as a failure, emblematic of problems with the de Blasio administration’s approach to affordable housing citywide: doing too little for those who need it most, failing to slow gentrification, and relying too heavily on for-profit development. In particular, critics found fault with income restrictions at the project, which originally set aside a majority of affordable apartments at the site for households making above the area median income.

To the mayor and his team, the armory is a solid compromise and exactly what the administration is aiming for with much of its ambitious housing plan — leveraging public resources to spur the construction of mixed-income housing by private developers.

As Housing Preservation and Development Commissioner Maria Torres-Springer put it to Gotham Gazette, the city worked hard to meet the needs of the community while “ensuring we have a financially feasible project.”

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

The project passed the Council on November 30 with 43 in favor, two against, and one abstention. As she cast her vote, Cumbo said the concerns of the project’s critics “have been taken into account” while underscoring all the good the project will bring: affordable housing, recreation space, jobs.

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

The mayor echoed that sentiment when speaking about the project this summer, saying that “ultimately, it’s something that could do a lot of good for the community.”

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

But “getting something done” isn’t good enough for some in the neighborhood, including Crown Heights resident Esteban Giron, a local tenant organizer and member of the neighborhood community board’s land use committee, who was one of those escorted out of City Hall when the Council approved the deal.

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

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

**********

For critics of the project, the sticking point on the redevelopment has always been this: the sprawling former military complex on Bedford Avenue sits on an extremely precious commodity — public land — and that limited resource, especially in gentrifying neighborhoods like Crown Heights, must be used to most effectively combat the city’s housing affordability crisis.

Bedford Union Armory December 2017 The 1904 building was used by the state as a training facility (complete with horse stables, a drill hall and rifle range) until its decommissioning in 2011, when then-Borough President Marty Markowitz, upon the urging of Crown Heights locals, began an effort to study what could be done with the hulking, 122,000-square-foot structure and its large lot.

Markowitz’s chief of staff at the time, Carlo Scissura, now the president of the New York Building Congress, said the idea “was going to be similar to the Park Slope Armory,” the large YMCA-run recreational facility on 15th Street.

“The plan here was recreation space, community space, maybe education, maybe seniors,” he said of the Bedford-Union Armory. “But housing was never part of it.”

In 2013, at the end of the Bloomberg administration, the city’s Economic Development Corporation put out a request for proposals (RFP) for the site. Housing officially became part of the armory plan when, in late 2015, the EDC under de Blasio chose BFC and Slate Properties to redevelop the vacant building.

When the city announced the chosen plan for the site, officials from EDC and HPD as well as the developer stressed the proposal was a jumping-off point, subject to negotiation and local input. At the announcement, BFC Partners principal Don Capoccia promised to “continue to engage the community” to ensure that “at the end of the day, this project is responsive to the needs of this community.”

Within months, protests began, led by nearby tenants and residents with a big assist by NYCC, a group with a long history of activism — and ties to de Blasio. Formerly, NYCC was known as Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, or ACORN, before a national controversy surrounding the group in 2009 prompted a rebranding. The group has backed progressive causes for decades and, in 2013, put their weight behind a longshot progressive candidate for mayor: Bill de Blasio.

But that close relationship with the then-candidate has cooled through his years at City Hall, largely based on de Blasio’s approach to development and housing, and NYCC pulled no punches as it revved up to fight the armory plan.

The group went after Slate Property for their dealings in the controversial 2015 sale of a Lower East Side home for seniors. They called out then-Knicks player Carmelo Anthony — whose foundation had signed on to help with the recreation center — for getting involved with a project that would “further exacerbate the gentrification of Crown Heights,” according to a published letter written to the basketball star by activist Bertha Lewis, former leader of NYCC when it was known as ACORN.

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

In rallies, open letters and editorials, the groups fought against the armory plan with a consistent message: Scrap the deal completely, start from scratch, and build only affordable housing on the site, with no market-rate units. They called for the property to be moved to a community land trust.

As the months dragged on, the project became a central issue in Cumbo’s re-election campaign, with two challengers — Democrat Ede Fox and Green Party candidate Jabari Brisport — promising to start from square one on the armory if elected. In May, facing Fox’s primary challenge, Cumbo backed away from the armory plan, announcing she would not support it if it included luxury condominiums.

As Fox, Brisport, and other critics of the project continued to hammer her, Cumbo’s campaign touted her opposition to the plan, at times using misleading language. An independent expenditure by the hotel workers’ union paid for pro-Cumbo flyers and robo-calls indicating she would support the armory plan only if it included 100 percent affordable housing, a claim Cumbo said she never made, was aware of, or approved.

“It wouldn’t even make logical sense for me to do that because I know going into [negotiations] that you’re not going to get 100 percent,” she told Gotham Gazette. “So it wouldn’t be beneficial for me to promise something that I can’t deliver.” Cumbo did not, however, disavow the independent expenditure or ask the hotel workers’ union to stop its mailers.

Cumbo beat Fox by more than 16 percentage points in the September primary and won reelection with 67 percent of the vote in the general election (Brisport did exceptionally well for a Green Party candidate, seemingly buouyed by armory resentment). In an interview, Cumbo said after the election she stuck to her line in the sand about the condominiums until the end, even when “the administration continued to negotiate other aspects of the project without dealing with the 800-pound gorilla in the room.”

“I, the community, the local stakeholders, the elected officials, said that they did not want any sale of the armory to happen,” Cumbo said. “I knew I wasn’t going to support a project that had luxury condominiums.”

Even with a win on that aspect, the Council member acknowledges that, as with any great compromise, no party leaves the table with everything they want, herself included.

“I’m not walking away completely happy, but I am walking away satisfied,” she said. “I’m walking away with a project that I know is going to benefit this community for generations to come.”

**********

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

“We’re generating the types of opportunities that really address many sides of the complex affordability question in this city — certainly affordable housing, but also access to services, recreation, community, and jobs,” she said.

The city is making that happen in partnership with BFC, a for-profit developer, which will pay $2 million per year in ground rent for the armory site, both in cash and in at least $1.25 million in “community benefits,” calculated as discounts on classes, memberships, space for nonprofits, and rentals to community groups within the newly built armory.

For the city’s part, the $50 million in public funds will pay for 250 units of subsidized housing, set aside for households making between about $25,000 and $51,000 per year for a family of three, HPD said. In the deal, BFC will use income from the 150 market-rate rentals on the site to operate and maintain the recreation center. The company is projected to make an annual profit. A spokesperson did not return multiple requests for that projected amount.

To Torres-Springer, the city’s job in a deal such as the armory is “making sure that we are stretching every public dollar as much as we can.”

The philosophy — of partnering with and relying on private, for-profit developers to build affordable housing — is foundational to the de Blasio administration’s overall housing goal of building and preserving 300,000 affordable units by 2026.

In an interview with The New York Times in October, Alicia Glen, de Blasio’s powerful deputy mayor for housing and economic development, said “there’s no such thing” as housing built by the city alone.

“It’s all about, to what extent can you use the resources of the private sector, and the resources the public sector has, to put together the best deals you can possibly do,” she said.

To advocates who fought the armory plan, some of whom fight de Blasio administration plans around the city, that idea is anathema to the goal of solving the housing crisis, particularly for low-income and homeless New Yorkers. To NYCC Executive Director Jonathan Westin, it’s a “failure of imagination” by the administration.

“They’ve shown that they very clearly do not prioritize public housing,” or housing built and operated by the city, he said. “They do not actually believe in it. And it’s hugely problematic.”

Particularly at the armory site, where 150 market-rate apartments will be built on the publicly-held property, the administration’s plan is “completely egregious,” according to Katie Goldstein, executive director of the statewide housing group Tenants and Neighbors, which has played an active role with NYCC to fight the armory plan.

“When the city owns the land, to give that away to a for-profit developer? It’s such punch in the face to the community who was organizing around this,” she said.

Lewis of the Black Institute said “not one iota” of the deal is satisfactory, and trying to deal with the de Blasio administration was worse than “all of the other fights that we’ve had,” including in the Bloomberg and Giuliani administrations.

“You meet the new mayor, he’s the same as the other old mayors,” she said. “It’s really disgraceful that they should even utter the word ‘progressive.’”

“To privatize something means that it has to make a profit,” said Giron, the Crown Heights resident and tenant advocate. “To me, that’s never going to be an appropriate approach for people of color, for low-income people, for New York, period.”

***********

The mayor and his team don’t necessarily disagree much with their critics, at least in terms of describing the city’s approach to housing and development. To de Blasio, Glen, Torres-Springer, and others, the number one thing the city needs is more housing, at various levels of affordability. The mayor stressed that goal when speaking about the armory project in July.

“We need both – we need market and we need affordable housing. That’s our mission. Every time we do it, we’re looking to maximize the amount of affordability and to make the affordable housing as consistent with the community as possible,” he said, speaking to a caller on WNYC radio's The Brian Lehrer Show.

And de Blasio regularly argues that it is essential to create more affordable housing for middle-income families, while, after pushback, he has also repeatedly adjusted his larger housing plan and more localized projects, like the armory redevelopment, to create deeper affordability.

Pending a final approval from Brooklyn’s Borough Board — a last step in rezoning that will almost certainly pass, given the City Council’s overwhelming support — the armory deal is headed for a closing, a spokesperson for HPD said, and the city expects construction to begin in 2018.

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

The day before the full City Council vote on the redevelopment, the Legal Aid Society filed a lawsuit challenging the city’s measurement of the project’s potential effect on displacement of rent-stabilized tenants. In arguing that the city is not taking into account displacement outside a 400-foot area surrounding the site, the plaintiffs hope to convince a judge to compel the city to adjust the project or, if nothing else, set a new standard for similar projects in the future.

Last week, a judge denied the group’s request for a temporary restraining order on the armory project. The next hearing date in the suit is set for February 8, according to an EDC representative.

For Giron, who lives two blocks from the armory, finding any way to stop the project — even “the hard way,” with a lawsuit, he said — is the only option. In the space of three or four years, he estimates about “half the people have been emptied out” of rent-regulated buildings between his home on Franklin Avenue and the armory on Bedford Avenue, he said, victims of an already super-heated housing market in Crown Heights.

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

For him, the armory was an opportunity to reverse, or at least slow, the displacement brought by gentrification, not accelerate it; the fact that any market-rate apartments will be built there, and without union labor, are unacceptable to him. So, he and the rest of the coalition will continue to fight, into the next four years — or longer, if necessary.

“I can see a path…where there’s not even a shovel put in the ground before Laurie’s out of office,” he said, referring to Council Member Cumbo, whose second and last term ends in 2021.

“We’re going to fight until we can’t anymore, until we’re gone or they’re gone,” he promised. “But we’re not going to stop.”

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

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Brooklyn Armory Deal, and Larger De Blasio Development Debate, Move Toward Term Two Sun, 10 Dec 2017 05:00:00 +0000
Upstate New York is Home to Heavy Voter Turnout, Major State Investment and Minimal Job Growth http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7334:upstate-new-york-is-home-to-heavy-voter-turnout-major-state-investment-and-minimal-job-growth http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7334:upstate-new-york-is-home-to-heavy-voter-turnout-major-state-investment-and-minimal-job-growth Cuomo Buffalo Western New York

photo via The Governor's Office


Responding to criticism that his administration’s efforts to help the economy in upstate New York have been ineffective, Governor Cuomo recently stated at a luncheon in Glens Falls, a small upstate city, “It’s been a bad 50 years.” He added, “You’re not going to turn it around in a couple of years. But have we changed the overall trajectory? Yes.”

A great deal has been written not just about weak economic growth in upstate New York, but also about the lack of accountability and transparency of the state’s economic development agency, Empire State Development. It is essential to examine these concerns in the larger context of the health of upstate and how the region fits into the larger New York economy, the allocation of state government resources, and state politics.

A major political fact about upstate New York stands out in the context of any discussion about its destiny. Upstate New York provides a huge share of the vote in the state’s gubernatorial elections, which occur every four years in the even years not home to presidential elections.

Census 2016 estimates of the population of upstate New York, defined as all the counties north of New York City, Long Island, Westchester, and Rockland, were that the region was about 36% of the state’s total population. But in 2014 upstate New York was home to almost 49% of the gubernatorial vote, when Cuomo won re-election. New York City was home to only 26.5% of the statewide vote, although its share of the state population is 43%. That was equivalent to 1.01 million of the 3.81 million total gubernatorial votes.

These proportions were not just a fluke of one fairly uninteresting election. In 2010, when Andrew Cuomo was first elected governor, the upstate vote was 46.5% of 4.6 million votes on the governor line, while New York City was 29%. In 2006, when Eliot Spitzer easily won the governorship, upstate was 48% of the vote, while New York City was 28% of the 4.4 million votes. The city did do better in last year’s presidential election: in 2016, 2.7 million votes were recorded in New York City of the 7.7 million votes statewide, or 35%.

Upstate New York’s share of the vote in gubernatorial elections -- nearly half -- means that the area is politically important to whomever the governor might be and explains the focus on attempts to meet the needs of the people who live there. This, in combination with other factors, can help explain Governor Cuomo’s intense focus on Buffalo and other upstate areas, and the many economic development programs the state has launched to reinvigorate the upstate economy.

Downstate residents -- especially people from New York City -- ought to take upstate’s staggering disproportion of the vote as a wake-up call on the issue of how voter turnout may impact the allocation of resources. Not for the purpose of taking resources away from an area with a stagnant economy, but to make sure there are rational, articulated reasons and shared goals as to why state policies put resources in one place or another.

Let’s look at job growth over the past six years, measured as annual average employment in 2010 versus the annual average in 2016, and how upstate New York compared to the rest of New York and the nation.

Upstate New York gained 132,000 private sector jobs, growth of 5.8%, but lost 37,000 government jobs, making total job growth a meager 95,000 jobs, a gain of 3.3% from 2010 to 2016. Total state employment grew 851,000 jobs, with private sector growth of 916,000 jobs.

New York City gained 610,000 jobs overall, with 616,000 private sector jobs. The city gained 72% of the total number of jobs across the state. The city had a gain of 16% of jobs there compared to 2010, and a strong 19% in private sector job growth from 2010 to 2016.

Long Island and the northern suburbs (Orange, Rockland, Westchester is the metro area unit) gained over 7% in total jobs compared to 2010, and over 10% growth in the private sector.

New York State as a whole grew 10%, with 13% in the private sector, very similar to the national growth rates, which were 10.7% total growth and private sector growth about 13%. The figures, all 2016 compared to 2010, certainly show that upstate New York was growing far more slowly than the rest of New York and the nation as the United States emerged from the Great Recession that hit in 2008-2009.

Upstate New York has nearly 7 million people, meaning it has a larger population than at least 33 states, and has 3 million jobs. It is a substantial economic region itself, and, like many parts of the United States, its job base has been battered by recessions and loss of manufacturing jobs.

Upstate New York has 12 metropolitan areas, and its three largest fared better than a number of the metro areas with smaller core cities. The Buffalo-Niagara region and the Rochester metro region both gained about 30,000 private sector jobs, almost 7% growth from 2010 to 2016. The Albany area gained 34,000 private sector jobs, about 9%. The Syracuse area, upstate’s fourth largest metro area, grew more slowly, gaining only 3% in private jobs.

The Binghamton and Elmira areas, in the Southern Tier, and the Utica-Rome area in central New York, lost 10,000 jobs between 2010 and 2016, although 7,000 of the jobs were in government. Utica-Rome did not lose private sector jobs but had almost no growth in them either. The remaining regions varied in their growth patterns but in general had slow growth. Loss of government jobs in upstate New York stabilized by 2013 after several years of cutbacks as the economy and the state budget improved.

Job growth overall in New York has continued in 2017, but a recent report by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York stated that growth in the upstate New York economy has slowed in 2016 and 2017.

Governor Cuomo said that upstate New York has had a bad 50 years but the state had changed the trajectory. It is important to acknowledge the economic damage that occurred in upstate New York before Cuomo was elected in 2010 as one looks at economic development efforts his administration has undertaken to change the trajectory.

New York’s efforts include not just the activities of Empire State Development, but substantial budget allocations and other development tools. Given the range of initiatives, from the Buffalo Billion to Start-Up New York, new casinos, the nano-technology centers, the Regional Economic Development Councils, and other efforts, it would be unfair to say the New York State government is not trying to help upstate New York. It is trying.

The next columns in this series on the state’s economy and economic development efforts will look at these concerns together: the severity of upstate New York’s manufacturing and other job losses; the extent of the effort by the state government to put resources into upstate; whether resources are being used effectively or being squandered; and to what extent the outcomes of these initiatives are transparent and being reported in meaningful ways.

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Jim Brennan was a member of the New York State Assembly for 32 years, where he chaired four committees. On Twitter @JimBrennanNY.

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Upstate New York is Home to Heavy Voter Turnout, Major State Investment and Minimal Job Growth Tue, 21 Nov 2017 05:00:00 +0000
Assembly Takes Stock of State Economic Development Programs Ahead of Next Negotiations http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7321:assembly-takes-stock-of-state-economic-development-programs-ahead-of-next-negotiations http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7321:assembly-takes-stock-of-state-economic-development-programs-ahead-of-next-negotiations 34868772685 4a41dee04d z

Howard Zemsky in Buffalo (via Governor's Office)


Ahead of the 2018 legislative session, the New York State Assembly’s Economic Development Committee held a hearing Monday in Albany to evaluate the progress of the state’s multitude of economic development programs and hear testimony from companies and organizations that have benefited from state grants.

Taking center stage was Howard Zemsky, Governor Andrew Cuomo’s economic development czar as president and CEO of Empire State Development, who defended the state’s jobs programs and was grilled for nearly an hour by members of the committee. Committee members, led by chair Robin Schimminger, a Democrat from Erie County, raised concerns about the effectiveness of Buffalo’s annual 43North competition and Regional Economic Development Council grants; lower-than-expected job production; and increased regulatory burdens on small businesses.

Cuomo has staked much of his legacy and devoted billions of state dollars to revitalizing the upstate economy. The state has infused $8 billion a year into economic projects since he took office in 2011, according to a Gannett Albany review. But as Cuomo’s economic development programs have multiplied each year, the Legislature has failed to pass any meaningful oversight measures to ensure transparency, that beneficiaries are meeting job creation goals, or that grants and incentives are going to well-vetted recipients. While some efforts, such as those aimed at farms and breweries, have been successful, others, like Cuomo’s Start-Up New York program, have fallen short of job creation goals.

At Monday’s hearing, Zemsky noted that upstate cities have seen a boom in tech sector jobs, which on average pay more than non-tech sector jobs, and touted a dramatic increase in venture capital investment throughout the state. The Empire State Development head said that ESD takes a “holistic” approach, pointing to the success of its downtown and waterfront revitalization efforts, which aim to attract a younger, more vibrant talent base, and investing in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education.

He briefly defended the Regional Economic Development Councils, which have been accused of favoritism and conflicts of interests, and touted Buffalo as a success story -- a city that has been a major focus for Gov. Cuomo and transformed from a financially depressed post-industrial town to a vibrant hub of entrepreneurship.

“A lot of what we have done in Buffalo we have used as a template in many other parts of the state and I’m proud that we took some risks and took some chance,” said Zemsky. “Every year we improve and make adjustments.”

Schimminger cited an article noting that three-quarters of companies that are attracted to Buffalo by the 43North program have since left the city and inquired about whether the residency requirements, currently a year, could be extended.

“We’re only a few years into the program, but after every year the 43North board reassesses and reevaluates what went right, what didn’t go right, just like we do in government. Is it possible that we might change the regulations, that we might change the time frame? That’s under active discussion,” said Zemsky, noting that many companies retain active connections to Buffalo even after they leave.

Zemsky’s presentation rang hollow for at least one committee member, Assemblymember Raymond Walter, a Republican from Amherst, who told Zemsky to provide hard data about the returns delivered by the state’s Buffalo investments rather than “offering platitudes.”

“Our job here is to draw a direct connection between what we are doing with taxpayer dollars to that renaissance and I’m not convinced you can do that,” said Walter. “If we could focus on that, rather than the platitudes, that would be great.”

Zemsky pointed Walter to ESD’s progress report, insisting the number of new firms has grown and jobs have dramatically accelerated in Buffalo, by “almost any metric,” particularly when compared to other struggling cities.

The conversation quickly turned personal, with Zemsky, who is a Buffalo businessman, accusing the Assembly member of opposing the state’s efforts to spur Buffalo’s economy, and demanding, “Do you go to any of the REDC meetings, do you know anything that is actually going on?”

At one point during the heated exchange about interpreting Buffalo’s jobs data, which Walter said mostly highlights low-skill jobs growth, Zemsky snapped, “You don’t know anything about the innovation economy.”

The biggest indicator of Buffalo’s growth, Zemsky pointed to the rise of the area’s millennial population over the last decade. “Turning the corner on that is the most important thing we can do,” he said.

After Zemsky, the Assembly panel was addressed by various industry leaders and experts, who described how programs like the Start-Up New York jobs program and the Southern Tier Startup Alliance (NYSTAR) have created or retained thousands of jobs and spurred both investment and innovation.

A representative of watchdog group ReInvent Albany then presented the positions of good government organizations, calling for the passage of a number of bills introduced in the Legislature last year, which would increase oversight of and transparency in the state’s economic development programs.

Among the legislative fixes proposed by Reinvent Albany and others is the creation of a “database of deals,” which would digitally list every entity receiving funds from the state along with where each dollar is going; a bill to restore the powers of the state Comptroller to review procurement contracts for SUNY, CUNY, and Office of General Services; and campaign finance restrictions to curb the appearance or reality of pay-to-play politics.

At least two bills, including the database of deals and one requiring nonprofit organizations affiliated with government entities to be subject to the freedom of information law and the open meetings law, are sponsored by Schimminger, but did not make it to the Assembly floor. Legislation related to procurement reform appeared to gain steam early this year in light of a major bid-rigging scandal that will see close associates of and donors to Cuomo on trial for corruption in 2018, but nothing was passed as the Legislature acquiesced to the governor’s objections.

“The only thing the Legislature did do is write a check for $1.8 billion in the extender budget passed in April, a blank check granted by the Legislature to Governor Cuomo for economic development projects with no additional oversight,” said Alex Camarda, senior policy advisor for Reinvent Albany.

Schimminger welcomed Camarda’s comments, saying that  good government groups are “preaching to the choir” when they call for increased accountability and oversight.

“Not a single one of those bills that you mentioned have been blocked by the committee, in fact, many of them -- the database of deals, the Start-Up fix -- have come out of the committee but are delayed elsewhere,” said the Assembly member, referring to the fact that the legislation had been held up in other legislative committees.

The wisdom behind Start-Up New York, which creates tax-free zones for new businesses, local development corporations and other economic development programs is the finding that startups create significantly more jobs than companies that have matured 10 to 30 years and drive economic development. But critics say these programs continue to fall short of the job creation goals and many beneficiaries of these state incentives have failed to report on sufficient or any progress made through their grants.

Despite the fact that several members of Cuomo’s circle are set to appear in court next year for their roles in the bid-rigging scandal involving the state’s Buffalo Billion program, a second round of cash investment to the project was approved in this year’s budget, with no new accountability measures.

While Schimminger acknowledged these problems in his opening remarks, the hearing was primarily an information-gathering session, and those outstanding issues will be addressed during the next legislative session, he told Camarda. The governor will unveil his next executive budget in January, leading to months of negotiations and hearings.

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Assembly Takes Stock of State Economic Development Programs Ahead of Next Negotiations Tue, 14 Nov 2017 05:00:00 +0000
What's The [DATA] Point? 348 and 74 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7293:what-s-the-data-point-348-and-74 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7293:what-s-the-data-point-348-and-74 whats the data point


What's The Data Point? Episode 18 -- 348 and 74 [You can download What's The [Data] Point? wherever you get your podcasts, including on iTunes]

348 74 277

This week's data points are 348 and 74 as we bring you a two-part show, each featuring the author of a new CBC report out this week.

348 is the number of Local Development Corporations and Industrial Development Agencies in New York State. These corporations, created by local governments throughout the state, are intended to help spur economic development. But, are they effective? Riley Edwards, the principal author of "Opaque and Duplicative - Local Economic Development in New York State" discusses.

Then: 74 is the number of Business Improvement Districts in New York City. Are BIDs effective? Are they transparent? Tim Sullivan, author of CBC report "BIDS - Oversight, Organization and Transparency" discusses.

Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think: Ben Max of GG (@TweetBenMax), Carol Kellerman of CBC (@cbcny), and guests Riley Edwards and Tim Sullivan of CBC. Listen below or download wherever you get your podcasts!

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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What's The [DATA] Point? 348 and 74 Thu, 02 Nov 2017 04:00:00 +0000
City Council Passes Bills Expanding Oversight of Economic Development Spending http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7284:city-council-to-pass-bills-expanding-oversight-of-economic-development-spending http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7284:city-council-to-pass-bills-expanding-oversight-of-economic-development-spending dmw7vyeuqaayxfq.jpg large

CM Garodnick speaks at a groundbreaking ceremony (photo via @DanGarodnick)


[editor's note: the bills discussed in this story have passed the Council since its publish; the headline has been tweaked to indicate that fact, but the story remains unchanged from its publish]

The New York City Council is set to pass a package of three bills that will expand its oversight of the New York City Economic Development Corporation, a city-affiliated non-profit that is instrumental in the city’s efforts to stimulate business and create jobs.

The EDC handles a wide array of projects and initiatives from infrastructure and real estate development to cultural projects and parks and public spaces. The organization’s work is at the center of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plan to create 100,000 jobs over ten years that pay $50,000 annually, and it recently led the process for the city’s bid to host the second headquarters of retail giant Amazon. Hundreds of projects receive financial assistance each year from the city through EDC in the form of tax benefits, loans, grants, and even energy benefits

But as of now, EDC is required to report little publicly about its operations and the benefits of its work to the city and New Yorkers. The City Council bills being passed this week, which are expected to be signed into law by the mayor, seek to increase those reporting requirements to add a layer of accountability and transparency to EDC’s work.

“We spend an extraordinary sum every year on economic development and the goals are laudable: creation of jobs, the expansion of affordable housing or even the refurbishing of important cultural or historical sites,” said City Council Member Daniel Garodnick, chair of the economic development committee and prime sponsor of one of the three bills in the package, in a phone interview. “But, unfortunately it’s not always clear whether these dollars achieve their intended objectives.”

Garodnick’s bill would require the EDC to provide fiscal impact statements for projects it sponsors, including estimates of the number of jobs being created. Another bill, sponsored by Council Member Corey Johnson, would require EDC to report on its efforts to recover funds from any third party that received financial assistance but failed to live up to an economic development agreement. The third bill, sponsored by Council Member Helen Rosenthal, would give the City Council an opportunity to comment on proposed economic development agreements by mandating that EDC provide project descriptions and budgets to the Council at least 30 days before the agreement is finalized.  

The three bills build on Garodnick’s efforts that he began in 2014 to improve oversight of EDC and how it utilizes taxpayer money. Last year, Garodnick and Council Member Julissa Ferreras-Copeland, the Council’s finance chair, led a task force to examine the city’s economic development tax expenditures. The task force issued 10 recommendations including instituting regular reviews of tax expenditures and improved oversight. The three bills being passed on Wednesday were an outcome of those recommendations.

“Through these bills, EDC will provide comprehensive fiscal impact statements and enhanced compliance reports for projects that receive our financial assistance,” said Shavone Williams, an EDC spokesperson, in a statement. “We look forward to this collaboration with the City Council as part of our larger efforts to remain as transparent as possible to the communities we serve.”

Support from EDC indicates the mayor will sign into laws the bills, which have passed through Garodnick’s committee and will be voted on by the full City Council on Tuesday.

Garodnick did acknowledge that EDC has improved its processes and that it already provides some information annually on its projects as required under city and state law. EDC puts out an Annual Investments Projects Report, in three volumes, on projects that receive financial assistance and details of the sales and leases of city-land. The last report, issued January 30, notes that EDC provided some form of financial assistance to 554 projects in fiscal year 2016. The report included information on 46 sales of city-land that brought in $536.1 million and 89 leases of city-owned land with rents worth $126.1 million.

The 554 projects accounted for 5.9 percent of the total private employment in the city; about $36.1 billion in private investment; they cost the city about $138 million in fiscal year 2016 (totalling $1.8 billion over the life of the projects) and brought in $5.2 billion in tax revenue (estimated to grow to $50.3 billion over the life of the projects).

“I felt that more could be done to ensure that the public has a handle on how we are spending our money here and we want to give the public better access to this information,” said Garodnick, who is leaving the Council at the end of the year due to term limits. “We want to go further and be able to measure the upfront goals with the outcomes.”

Indeed, in the context of numerous neighborhood rezonings proposed by the de Blasio administration across the city, advocacy groups have consistently called for more rigorous scrutiny of promises made by the city and keeping developers accountable if they receive any benefits from the administration. This also applies to singular projects, including the prominent example of the Bedford Union Armory redevelopment, a process that was spearheaded by EDC. The project is on city land but proposes a long-term lease to a private developer, raising concerns among community advocates.

“There is a natural tension here between the need to activate economic development measures and local community perspectives,” Garodnick said, when Gotham Gazette ventured whether increased oversight was necessary in the aftermath of the Bloomberg years, when development went largely unchecked. “And part of this is ensuring that local needs are considered and that’s really what the Rosenthal bill is about. This is a very important agency that spends an extraordinary amount of money which does a lot of good work. We want to add these oversight measures to ensure the greatest transparency of taxpayer dollars.”

Garodnick also agreed that there’s a need to ensure that the mayor’s plan to invest in burgeoning economic sectors to directly create 100,000 jobs receives the appropriate scrutiny. “This would always be important but with the commitment that is being made to find ways to create economic opportunities, this is even more important,” he said.

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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City Council Passes Bills Expanding Oversight of Economic Development Spending Mon, 30 Oct 2017 04:00:00 +0000
Top City Electeds Skip Letter Wooing Amazon http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7266:top-city-electeds-skip-letter-wooing-amazon http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7266:top-city-electeds-skip-letter-wooing-amazon wtc orange amazon via edc

One World Trade Center lit up orange for Amazon (photo via NYC EDC)


New York is laying out the red carpet to entice online retail giant Amazon to locate its new corporate headquarters in the state. Governor Andrew Cuomo promised a slew of incentives to support four official proposals from different regions that were submitted to the company on Wednesday, and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio lit up the city in orange at night as a fawning branding appeal.

New York City’s own bid -- which included four possible business districts -- was backed by about 70 elected officials that represent the city, including members of Congress, state Senators and Assembly members, City Council members, borough presidents, and Public Advocate Letitia James. But at least four notable elected officials were conspicuously absent from the letter of support sent by the mayor’s office to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, of the Bronx, City Comptroller Scott Stringer, and City Council Members Corey Johnson and Donovan Richards, both contenders to become the next Speaker of the City Council, did not sign on to the letter.

“No city embodies the American traditions of innovation and creativity quite like New York City,” the letter reads. “It has transformed from a Dutch settlement, to the nation’s first capital, to a booming industrial center. It became a port of hope for millions of immigrants looking for a better life, and a model for urban revitalization. From Broadway, the Bronx Zoo and the Brooklyn Bridge, to Citi Field and the shores of Staten Island, New York City is a place where history is made every day. Our tradition of reinvention matches yours, and we invite you to join us in writing our next chapters together.”

A spokesperson for Stringer declined to comment. Multiple messages and emails sent to spokespeople for Heastie were not returned.

“We’re excited about the prospect of new businesses coming to New York City,” said Jordan Gibbons, a spokesperson for Council Member Richards, “but before we support the plan, we need more information about job standards and impact on local businesses.”

Council Member Johnson wrote in a text that he “didn’t sign on to [the] letter because I have concerns about Amazon’s labor record but also recognize 50K jobs would be good for the city.”  

As Johnson noted, Amazon’s second headquarters is expected to create 50,000 jobs and bring in roughly $5 billion in investment. One of the proposed areas for Amazon’s headquarters, Midtown West, falls in Johnson’s Manhattan district. City Council members representing other proposed sites for the headquarters signed on to the letter.

Amazon’s announcement and request for proposals triggered a mad dash by dozens of cities across the country to lure the multi-billion-dollar company. To bolster their bids, some cities and states have promised enormous tax breaks while others have pledged infrastructure investments around a potential Amazon campus. Most have hedged their bets on being able to provide the optimum balance of tech talent, affordable and ample real estate, and an appealing quality of life. One municipality in Georgia even went so far as to propose creating an entirely new city named for the online retailer.

Short of naming a new business district after Amazon, New York City’s pitch includes all those aspects. Culled from more than two dozen proposals from across the five boroughs, the New York City Economic Development Corporation, in collaboration with the Empire State Development Corporation, decided on four city areas that met Amazon’s criteria -- Midtown West, Long Island City, Lower Manhattan, and the Brooklyn Tech Triangle. The city is banking on many factors, including its pool of 2.3 million residents who hold a bachelor’s degree and above -- a number higher than the combined comparable workforce of Boston, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Washington D.C.

The city has 296,000 workers in the tech industry and is growing rapidly in sectors of the economy where Amazon is diversifying, including media, advertising, fashion, and manufacturing.

And the city is already an attractive destination for Amazon, which has a distribution and fulfillment center, corporate offices and retail space in the city with plans to expand in Manhattan. Amazon’s website says it has 1,000 employees in New York, plus seasonal additions around the winter holidays.

An EDC spokesperson said the city cast a wide net seeking support for the proposal. “Considering how hard it is to get New Yorkers to agree on anything, the fact that we got so many signatures in such a short time was pretty impressive and overwhelming,” the spokesperson said, expressing optimism that New York would outmatch other cities with its bid.

Asked at an unrelated Thursday news conference about his pursuit of Amazon when he has been opposed to Walmart opening in the city, de Blasio called it “apples and oranges.” “Amazon, there are some issues that need to be addressed with labor, there’s no two ways about it. But, at the same time, this is a company talking about potentially fundamentally changing the economy in New York City. Adding 50,000 jobs is a game-changer. And it’s something we need and we need more high-quality jobs for the people of New York City. So we can work on those labor issues and I’m happy to work on those labor issues, but no, I’m convinced that Amazon will be a net gain for New York City, unquestionably.”

Responding to Johnson’s concerns, the EDC spokesperson said that Amazon’s presence in New York would afford the city an opportunity to engage directly with the firm and “work with them to advance our shared values.” Pointing out that it was premature to evaluate a deal that hasn’t yet been approved, the spokesperson said the city would be able to negotiate down the line to add guarantees to ensure the number of jobs created, salary levels and that jobs go to New Yorkers. “It’s pretty clear to us that they want to build the headquarters with the community, not in the community,” the spokesperson said.

“It’s puzzling, I don’t know why you’d want to turn down a shot at 50,000 good-paying jobs,” said Jonathan Bowles, executive director of the Center for an Urban Future, when asked why leaders like Stringer, Heastie, and Johnson would not sign on. He conceded that concerns about corporate subsidies are valid, but that the Amazon opportunity is too good to pass up. “It’s a big win for New York City if we can get it.”

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Top City Electeds Skip Letter Wooing Amazon Thu, 19 Oct 2017 04:00:00 +0000
On New York’s Amazon Wishlist? More Homegrown College Graduates http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7262:on-new-york-s-amazon-wishlist-more-homegrown-college-graduates http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7262:on-new-york-s-amazon-wishlist-more-homegrown-college-graduates amazon go via amazon dot com

(via amazon.com)


Bids are due today for Amazon’s new headquarters and it seems cities across North America have joined the fray. The suitors are lining up with billion-dollar bouquets, and with good reason. What mayor could resist the promise of 50,000 well-paying jobs and all the economic energy that comes with the headquarters—a massive boost to the tax base, new cafes and food trucks, spin-off companies, and a legion of happy vendors? New York City alone has nearly two dozen neighborhoods vying for Bezos’ bounty.

Pundits have frequently written off the five boroughs as Amazon’s second home because of the exorbitant cost of living. Some are pointing to the subway meltdown. Yet an even greater obstacle may be the city’s underprepared workforce.

While New York has always been a beacon for titans of industry, striving immigrants, and the creative cognoscenti, for too long, the city has failed to develop enough local talent into the kind of smart, savvy employment base a modern company like Amazon demands. Just 36 percent of New York City residents have a bachelor’s degree or higher, according to the latest Census data, compared to 45 percent in Denver, 46 percent in Austin, and 55 percent in Washington, D.C. In Amazon’s current home base of Seattle, it is a whopping 59 percent.

New York’s ability to lure the world’s fourth largest corporation, or even its 40th or 400th, will hinge on whether its workforce is primed and ready. By that measure, the city has a long way to go.

More than 3.3 million city residents over age 25 lack an associate’s degree or higher level of college attainment. Residents with a bachelor’s degree or higher are largely concentrated in Manhattan, where the attainment rate stands at 62 percent, followed by just over 30 percent in Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island. In the Bronx, it is a distressing 18 percent.

Amazon should still see boundless potential on the Hudson. New York boasts a booming and entrepreneurial tech sector with more than 115,000 jobs today, an unparalleled smorgasbord of arts and culture, and the brand new Cornell Tech campus, alongside other world-renowned educational institutions.

But if New York succeeds in attracting Amazon, or any large company for that matter, whether GE, Aetna, or Tesla, it will be in spite of the city’s education and training systems, not because of them. New York can do so much more to ensure that its residents can access the opportunities that an Amazon would bring, while offering employers a much larger pool of homegrown talent.

Yes, New York is full of tech talent today. This is true, in part, because the city has become increasingly successful at attracting engineering and computer science graduates from Stanford, Carnegie Mellon, and other top universities around the world. But in an economy where technically skilled workers are prized—not just on Silicon Alley but in nearly every large and mid-sized company—demand is through the roof. New York needs a much bigger pipeline, not just for Amazon, but for blue chip companies and local start-ups alike.

Even if the vast majority of Amazon’s 50,000 new hires were imported from other places, New York would still be better off with them here than in Denver or Chicago or Atlanta. But no company—and certainly not a company with so many hiring needs—is going to make locational decisions that are completely dependent on bringing in outside talent. It is simply not realistic, or sustainable. Meanwhile, if half those workers or more were born, raised, and educated in New York, the benefits would be far broader—allaying the fears of those who see Amazon as more of an economic development trophy than an opportunity generator.

Such an achievement today would be almost impossible.

While New York City has done an increasingly impressive job of getting students through high school, it continues to struggle with college success, leaving students without the credentials an employer like Amazon demands. Today, fewer than half of all four-year college students at the City University of New York (CUNY) graduate with a degree in six years. Just 22 percent of CUNY’s community college students earn a degree in three years.

CUNY’s highly successful ASAP initiative, which provides supports to full-time community college students, and the CUNY Start program, which provides intensive preparation for students with remedial needs, are important steps in the right direction. But New York has a long way to go to achieve true college success for all.

Beyond the classroom, the city’s workforce development system still functions too much like a cumbersome placement agency. The de Blasio administration has laid out an impressive new vision with its Career Pathways initiative, aimed at developing career trajectories through skills building and education. But after more than three years, there is too little to show for it. The city needs to double down on proposed investments in bridge programs, career exploration, and on-the-job training, while strengthening and expanding partnerships with nonprofit providers, employers, and the public education system.  

There’s no doubt that New York City is a formidable competitor in the quest for Amazon’s HQ2. No other city offers so expansive a world of culture and commerce in a single place, a paragon of urbanism and urbanity animated by an astonishingly diverse population. But if Amazon heads elsewhere, policymakers should not just blame cost and congestion. They should look to the serious shortcomings in the city’s human capital development system, which remains far from meeting its full potential.

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Matt A.V. Chaban is the policy director and Fisher Fellow at the Center for an Urban Future. On Twitter @MC_NYC and @nycfuture.

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

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On New York’s Amazon Wishlist? More Homegrown College Graduates Wed, 18 Oct 2017 04:00:00 +0000
Where’s the Mayor’s Jobs Plan? http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6962:where-s-the-mayor-s-jobs-plan http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6962:where-s-the-mayor-s-jobs-plan de blasio jobs tour

Mayor de Blasio in the Bronx (photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)


Kicking off his week in the Bronx, Mayor Bill de Blasio said May 22 that his administration’s efforts to fight inequality are working and that while unemployment has dropped significantly in the borough, there is more work to be done. “The Bronx has borne the brunt of that inequality crisis in many ways,” the mayor said, but what his administration is doing is “disproportionately benefiting the Bronx.”

The mayor told those sitting with him -- senior administration officials and Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. -- and any others paying attention that his administration is focused on “maximizing economic opportunity.” “[N]ot just any jobs,” the mayor said, “but in fact an increasing focus on good paying jobs, which is what I devoted the State of the City to.”

De Blasio was referring to his February 13 speech, during which he announced that the city would invest in creating 100,000 permanent private sector jobs that pay more than $50,000 a year. It would be a ten-year plan, the mayor said, and while de Blasio offered a few examples of the economic sectors that would see some of that job growth -- tech, life sciences, renewable energy, manufacturing -- his announcement included few details. Soon after his State of the City, de Blasio explained that his administration would be releasing a detailed policy book, as it had done in 2014 with his 200,000-unit ten-year affordable housing plan and a few other major initiatives, to show where the jobs would come from and how.

On and off for several weeks, the mayor defended setting the 100,000 goal without a roadmap to get there, saying that it was the target city experts could ambitiously but reasonably forecast and that the specifics would follow. He also found himself defending it as ambitious enough -- critics pointed out that the city has been adding jobs at a much more rapid pace over the last ten years, but the mayor explained that job growth was already slowing and that he is focused on the wage threshold.

De Blasio has been asked about the plan, and when the public would see the details, at press conferences and his top aides were asked about it at multiple City Council budget hearings. At a late April news conference, Gotham Gazette asked when the jobs plan could be expected, whether it was imminent. “Not imminent in the sense of the next few weeks,” de Blasio said. “But, at some point this year I'll give you a better read on when."

At a May 9 City Council budget hearing, the head of the city’s Economic Development Corporation, James Patchett, told Council members that de Blasio administration officials are working diligently on the plan.

City Council Member Dan Garodnick, chair of the economic development committee, said, "We continue to have little clarity on the sources of jobs in the mayor's jobs plan.” Patchett said, “We can expect to have a plan very shortly,” but would not give an exact deadline, instead saying, “Certainly, I would love to have it come by the end of the summer. Hopefully sooner.”

As Garodnick pressed for details and whether the 100,000 goal is the right one, Patchett said, “I think you’re right to ask for the plan, I think when you see it you’ll be able to better judge that. Broadly speaking, the 100,000 jobs target is focused on the specific ways the city is encouraging job growth, as opposed to more broadly in the economy.” Almost 300,000 jobs were created over the last three years, he added, but what the de Blasio administration is focused on is jobs created through city intervention and at the “good paying” threshold of $50,000 per year.

According to City Hall, top de Blasio officials under Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen, who oversees housing and economic development, continue to meet weekly and a detailed jobs plan is indeed expected sometime this summer. Glen’s portfolio includes the Economic Development Corporation; Small Business Services, which runs workforce development programming; the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment; and other agencies that will be integral to the jobs plan.

“Senior leadership from across the administration has met weekly on the jobs plan for months now, and our work is in an advanced stage,” said Melissa Grace, a de Blasio spokesperson, in a statement. “This is a major undertaking that will improve the earning power and professional opportunities of thousands of New Yorkers. From Vision Zero to ThriveNYC to Housing New York, we’ve consistently delivered on these big multi-agency initiatives because we take the time to do them right.”

The de Blasio administration has already released pieces of the plan, including an investment in the life sciences sector; manufacturing, garment, and fashion jobs in Brooklyn through enhanced use of both the Brooklyn Navy Yard and Brooklyn Army Terminal; and a new technology hub in Union Square. As those pieces and others have indicated, the plan will include both industry-specific initiatives and place-based efforts, leveraging city-owned land.

Another example was announced Tuesday, with the Economic Development Corporation releasing “the next phase of the Futureworks NYC advanced manufacturing initiative.” It will create more than 2,000 jobs over five years, the EDC announcement says, through “a series of partner networks and programs to increase access to advanced manufacturing technology, support startups, and help traditional manufacturing companies implement new technologies to help them remain competitive.”

De Blasio has repeatedly stressed that his government is investing and intervening in order to help New Yorkers find good-paying jobs, part of the mayor’s fight against inequality, attempt to make the city more affordable, and efforts to lift hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers out of poverty. While de Blasio has celebrated that unemployment in the city is hovering around an impressively low 4%, there are not necessarily enough middle-income private-sector jobs. The mayor argues that the city must take action to spur important types of job growth that will benefit New Yorkers.

But, as with many headline-grabbing announcements by de Blasio, the key will be planning, execution, return on city investment, and proper metrics for evaluating the program’s efficacy. It’s still not clear exactly how the 100,000 number was pegged.

When Gotham Gazette asked the mayor at a February news conference, he said, “The 100,000 plan emerged from looking at the strands that were already starting to move and asking how far we could take them, and what was a fair numerical stretch-goal to reach for. And that’s very consistent with how we did the affordable housing plan, how we did the pre-K plan – you name it. You know the question on the table is always what’s in motion, where can we take it, and then push it to its farthest extent. And I thought it was an important thing to focus on and really give people a sense of where we were going and what we could achieve.”

Pushed on whether the 100,000 number over 10 years is really a big goal, de Blasio said that critics are not really looking at the last 10 years fairly, noting that the economic crisis that began nearly 10 years ago made the subsequent job growth numbers unsustainable for many years.

“[W]e had huge job loss, and then we had impressive rebounding," de Blasio said. "We’ve gotten a little comfortable because we had such extraordinary success over the last couple of years. The first two years alone that I was in office was about 250,000 jobs. The difference now is the keep generating an intensive pace of job creation, but to focus more on the high-paying jobs. That’s going to take government stimulative effect, if you will. That’s going to take us doing smart, strategic things to keep growth high.”

EDC’s Patchett at the May 9 City Council budget hearing said the plan won’t “identify every sub-initiative of like 17 jobs here and 14 jobs there, because it’s over the next 10 years and...we need to be aware of the fact that the plan will change and the economy will change over time. But we are going to go sector by sector and talk about specific job targets and a series of specific initiatives that we can announce right away that will make up a significant portion of those jobs.”

“OK, we’ll look forward to seeing that,” Council Member Garodnick responded.

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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Where’s the Mayor’s Jobs Plan? Tue, 30 May 2017 04:00:00 +0000
Murky Definitions for Government Entities Undermine Transparency http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6909:murky-definitions-for-government-entities-undermine-transparency http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6909:murky-definitions-for-government-entities-undermine-transparency 15148467608 52cf785b4f z

Gov. Cuomo in Buffalo (photo: The Governor's Office)


When Rockland County Democratic Party Chair Kristen Zebrowski Stavisky fills out her annual state disclosure forms, she consults her husband for question six, which requires the listing of contracts held with a state or local agency held by the filer, filer’s spouse, or unemancipated child.

Evan Stavisky, a partner in the prominent Albany lobbying firm The Parkside Group, after checking with the firm’s lawyer, has told his wife that his company does not represent any government entities. So, for the past six years, Kristen has entered “none” for the question, according to the disclosure documents obtained from the Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE).

At the same time, between 2010 and 2016, Parkside pulled in more than $1 million from representing quasi-public entities, including four foundations affiliated with city and state universities, three New York City-based public library systems, and a local economic development corporation, according to the lobbying firm’s disclosure filings that can be viewed on the JCOPE website.

One of these contracts, on behalf of the Queens Economic Development Corporation -- which is treated by state law as a public authority -- expired in 2010, so according to filing instructions, Kristen Stavisky was not required to declare it on her JCOPE form for that year. But the other clients -- foundations associated with the CUNY Graduate Center, Queensborough Community College, Queens College, CUNY Creative Arts Team, and SUNY’s University at Buffalo, as well as Brooklyn Public Library, New York Public Library, and Queens Public Library -- fall into an ambiguous zone, defined as local or state agencies in some statutes of New York State law, but not others.

Kristen Stavisky became Rockland County party chair in February 2011, so her first required JCOPE form covered 2010. Political party chairs play a significant role in deciding which candidates run for local and state office, so they are held to the same disclosure standards as elected officials. Meanwhile, Evan Stavisky’s company is paid big money to lobby those same city and state officials on policy and funding matters that impact their clients.

“The reason that party committee chairs are required to disclose potential conflicts of interest because they wield considerable power in relation to elected officials, and they provide the political apparatus to get people elected,” said NYPIRG Executive Director Blair Horner.

As the Stavisky filings show, there is a multitude of quasi-governmental entities that exist in grey area of New York law, and how to classify these entities has been the subject of some debate. A rudimentary search pulled up at least a dozen different definitions for “state agency” and “local agency” in New York State law.

A lawyer for Parkside pointed to the state’s public officer’s law, which defines a state agency as a “state department, any public benefit corporation, public authority or commission at least one of whose members is appointed by the governor, or the state university of New York or the city university of New York.”

While each of the aforementioned Parkside clients rely to some degree on government funding (Queens Library, for example, draws 94 percent of its revenue from city, state and federal sources), have board members appointed by city or state officials, and may serve a public function, as independent 501(c)(3) nonprofits, one could argue these entities do not qualify as a public authority or public benefit corporation. But like more typical government agencies, they are subject to Freedom of Information Laws, according advisory opinions issued by the New York State Committee on Open Government.

A person who willfully files financial disclosure forms incorrectly could face a penalty of up to $40,000 from JCOPE. A spokesperson for the ethics agency -- who is prohibited by law from discussing the disclosure forms of a particular filer -- declined to offer clarification on whether nonprofits associated with CUNY and SUNY were considered government entities according to the public officer's law, but said JCOPE reviews filings and pursues investigations when there appears to be a discrepancy. In other words, the only person who can request an opinion on how a particular filer should answer question six on the JCOPE disclosure form is the filer.

There is also is a lack of consensus on the definition of a “public benefit corporation” and a “public authority,” terms sometimes used interchangeably.

According to Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s office, public authorities -- which range from transportation agencies like the MTA to bodies created to spur economic development like Empire State Development -- are typically run by boards of directors and are not subject to the same transparency and disclosure as other branches of government. They are also able to borrow money without voter approval, as is constitutionally required of government agencies, a habit that has put the state in fiscal jeopardy.

Public authorities are increasingly enmeshed with state and local government operations, according to the comptroller. They do most of the state’s borrowing and supply revenue streams for the state budget. Sometimes these entities spawn subsidiary public authorities, which are subject to even fewer restrictions. The state’s first public authority, Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, was created in 1921, and more than 1,000 State and local public authorities, and subsidiaries of authorities, have been authorized since.

In 2004 and 2009, in response to a number of investigations into mismanagement, irresponsible borrowing, and questionable financial practices on the part of public authorities and their subsidiaries, attempts were made to streamline the definition and oversight of public authorities.

Then-Comptroller Alan G. Hevesi, raising concerns about “backdoor borrowing,” joined with then-Attorney General Eliot Spitzer to introduce the Public Authority Reform Act of 2004 “to capture all of these entities in one place and impose new rules to govern the conduct of public authorities and their representatives.” The proposed legislation compiled a list of “more than 640” entities, classifying them in A,B, C, and D classes. Class A and B public authorities would be required to adopt specific principles of corporate governance and fiscal integrity. They recommended Queensborough Community College Auxiliary Enterprise Association and the CUNY Research Foundation (two organizations that hired Parkside within the past six years) be classified as “Class B” public authorities.

Based on these recommendations, the Legislature and Governor George Pataki enacted the Public Authorities Accountability Act of 2005, later amended by the Public Authorities Reform Act of 2009, which established the Authorities Budget Office (ABO) and an official definition for “public authority.” The legislation also directed the ABO to maintain a list of state and local authorities, a list that currently does not include CUNY and SUNY foundations, the New York City library systems, or other quasi-governmental nonprofits.

But while the ABO’s office lists 578 authorities, a recent count by the state comptroller’s office found 1,192 state, local, and interstate or international authorities. A footnote in the comptroller’s report addresses this discrepancy: "Due to statutory, regulatory and administrative differences between the Office of the State Comptroller and the ABO, the ABO’s list does not identify certain entities included in this count, such as subsidiaries (which ABO includes with the parent authority), inactive authorities, and college auxiliary corporations."

Government reformers say this ever-morphing patchwork of definitions only serves to confuse the public and obscure conflicts of interests, rather than increase transparency.

“Complexity defeats accountability and complexity defeats democracy. One of the reasons I’m a reformer is to simplify how things work,” said SUNY New Paltz professor Gerald Benjamin. “The purpose of disclosure is for the person who is letting sunshine in to hold people accountable. If the detail of the law prevents transparency from doing its job, then it’s getting in the way of good government.”

While the Staviskys' situation is somewhat unique, this murky territory around what constitutes a government entity creates pitfalls for elected officials and others filing annual disclosure forms.

Furthermore, lax guidelines surrounding CUNY and SUNY nonprofits have led to wasteful spending and, in worst case, exploitation by bad actors. The state is currently facing a crisis of trust in government, according to public opinion polls. In the last year, both the CUNY and SUNY systems were rocked by allegations of financial impropriety involving related nonprofits. Now, more voices are calling for increased oversight of these nonprofits, which, like public authorities and public benefit corporations, are financially intertwined with government agencies and serve a public function.

Notably, two privately-run, deep-pocketed nonprofits affiliated with SUNY Polytechnic Institute -- Fort Schuyler Management Corporation and Fuller Road Management Corporation -- were at the center of federal and state investigations into Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Buffalo Billion economic development program. Former SUNY Poly president and CEO Alain Kaloyeros and Cuomo’s ex-executive deputy secretary Joe Percoco, along with six others, will face trial later this year on charges of bid-rigging, bribery, and extortion.

Parkside’s business with CUNY Research Foundation factors into another ongoing investigation into widespread misuse of funds by CUNY-tied nonprofits by State Inspector General Catherine Leahy Scott. An interim report by the inspector general released last year highlights presidential discretionary funds doled out by the research foundation that are frequently tapped for housekeeping costs, and parties, personal drivers, and club memberships. The report also notes that CUNY-affiliated foundations spent a significant amount of money on lobbyists “engaged in questionable and seemingly redundant tasks,” even though the system employs its own centralized and school-based government relations staff.

“These costs are significant to CUNY, and while they may be warranted in certain situations, appear to be duplicative in several cases. Even at this early stage of the Inspector General’s investigation, it seems clear that these activities warrant scrutiny and that centralization of these services should be explored,” wrote Leahy Scott.

Of $842,275 spent on outside lobbying by the CUNY Research Foundation during the report’s 2013-2015 review period, nearly 20 percent went to Parkside Group, and another 50 percent went to two lobbying firms founded by former Parkside executives, according to year-by-year comparison of the report and JCOPE lobbying disclosure forms. The firms were hired to lobby the Legislature and New York City Council on funding as well as policy matters.

When the report was released in November 2016, Governor Andrew Cuomo, who had been dealing with blowback for the scandals tied to his economic development programs, seized on the news of the CUNY investigation as an opportunity to push for sweeping reform across the state and city university systems, vowing to expand the jurisdiction of the state inspectors general to cover the university-based nonprofits, and calling for these entities to embrace good government practices. Language in the enacted 2017 budget expands the inspector general’s jurisdiction to include CUNY nonprofits, particularly, the research foundation, but notably it does not restore the state comptroller’s oversight over procurement through SUNY non-profits -- a power that was stripped in 2011 to expedite Cuomo’s economic development programs.

When reached by phone, Evan Stavisky, joined by his lawyer, offered a series of evolving explanations for their determination on whether Kristen Stavisky would disclose Parkside contracts, but noted that it was immediately obvious to them that as nonprofits, these clients were not government entities. He did not seek advice from JCOPE.

“Each year, our firm completes 12 separate filings for every single client for city and state regulators, a total of more than 500 annually. Since Kristen Stavisky became chair of the Rockland Democratic Party, our firm has filed 3,000 lobbying disclosures and not a single one has been for a government agency. It is false to suggest otherwise,” said Dan Katz, executive vice president and a general counsel to The Parkside Group, in a statement.

While political party chairs are not prohibited from lobbying the New York State Legislature themselves, they are barred from offering “goods or services having a value in excess of twenty-five dollars to any state agency” and from working on “the adoption or repeal of any rule or regulation having the force and effect of law,” according to a 1992 advisory opinion from New York State Ethics Commission, the first incarnation of JCOPE. The law does not necessarily extend to household members of the chairperson, but filers must indicate government contracts exceeding $1,000 held by a spouse or unemancipated child.

The decades-old regulation, along with most of the state’s modern government ethics law, sprang from a 1986 corruption probe that rocked Mayor Ed Koch’s administration, which landed a Bronx Democratic Party chair in prison, and was marked by suicide of Queens Borough President Donald Manes, who was also implicated in the scheme. The party chair, Stanley Friedman, was a stockholder in a company called Citisource Inc., which benefited from a $22.7 million contract with the city’s Traffic Violations Bureau for traffic agents' handheld computers.

The reforms implemented in the Ethics in Government Act of 1987, which were hailed as a major turning point for government accountability in New York, were intended "to enhance public trust and confidence in our governmental institutions [by strengthening] prohibitions against behavior which may permit or appear to permit undue influence or conflicts of interest,” according to then-Governor Mario Cuomo. Many amendments have been signed into law since.

This question of whether a political party chair can lobby government entities is likely to resurface over Keith Wright, currently the Manhattan Democratic Party chair, who earlier this year accepted a position at Davidoff Hutcher & Citron, LLP, a lobbying and government affairs firm which represents The North Shore Board of Education, a government entity, and NYC & Company, a government-funded nonprofit. Wright, who left his seat in the Assembly in an unsuccessful 2016 congressional bid, was not listed in the firm’s January–February JCOPE filings. A spokesperson for the New York County Democratic Committee said Wright does not perform lobbying duties as part of his new role; he advises clients on government affairs.

The Staviskys maintain that Parkside’s business interests are kept separate from Kristen’s duties as Democratic committee leader and that there is no evidence that Evan or his company has benefited monetarily from the arrangement. Critics actually point to other members of the Stavisky family who wield the type of power likely to attract clients like libraries and SUNY and CUNY foundations. Policy and funding matters concerning these institutions fall under the purview of the Senate’s Higher Education Committee, where Democratic Senator Toby Ann Stavisky of Queens, the mother of Evan Stavisky, is the ranking member.

Parkside’s government-affiliated nonprofit contracts picked up in 2009-2010, the last time Democrats held a ruling majority in the Senate. Toby Ann, a former social studies teacher, chaired the Senate’s Higher Education Committee that year.

At the time, Toby Ann, seeking an advisory opinion, wrote to JCOPE that though she was not required to, she would prohibit her son, but not his partners, from lobbying members of the Senate. Despite calls for a probe from ethics watchdogs, a 2009 advisory opinion from the state's Legislative Ethics Commission deemed the arrangement “appropriate,” the New York Daily News reported.

Correction: A previous version of this article misidentifed the source of a 2009 advisory opinion. In 2009, the ethics advisory agency for state legislators was the Legislative Ethics Commission.The article has also been updated to include a comment from New York County Democratic Committee.

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Murky Definitions for Government Entities Undermine Transparency Wed, 03 May 2017 04:00:00 +0000
Comptroller Examines Uneven Economic Growth in Gentrifying Neighborhoods http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6890:comptroller-examines-uneven-economic-growth-in-gentrifying-neighborhoods http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6890:comptroller-examines-uneven-economic-growth-in-gentrifying-neighborhoods stringer presser

Comptroller Stringer (photo: Samar Khurshid/Gotham Gazette)


The 15 neighborhoods that experienced the highest rates of gentrification in the city between 2000 and 2015 showed a monumental increase in new businesses and job growth but with an inequitable distribution of the accompanying benefits, according to a new analysis released Tuesday by Comptroller Scott Stringer.

Stringer’s first-of-its-kind report, titled “The New Geography of Jobs: A Blueprint for Strengthening NYC Neighborhoods,” looked at economic activity in 15 gentrifying neighborhoods and examined trends in employment and entrepreneurial activity by industry, age, racial and ethnic groups. The neighborhoods were those identified by the NYU Furman Center in an analysis of 55 “sub-borough areas” in 2015. Of these, 22 were classified as lower income and 33 as higher income. The gentrifying neighborhoods were those that were lower income in 1990 and had experienced rent increases beyond the median neighborhood.

“We need to create an economy based on fairness,” Stringer said, speaking at the Chinese-American Planning Council on the Lower East Side. Stringer cited CPC’s work in the Lower East Side Employment Network, a successful workforce development approach that he said should be the model for other neighborhoods. “We want to be able to lift up all groups of people and everyone in our communities. I believe this is about the need to support the idea of local wealth creation and we can only do that with innovative, collaborative and community-centric solutions,” the comptroller added.

As economic activity increases in previously under-developed and lower-income neighborhoods, Stringer believes, the resulting opportunity, profits, and benefits should be experienced more evenly by all groups of residents.

The number of businesses in the city grew from 203,698 to 237,198 in the 15-year period, the report found, with increased activity in the boroughs outside Manhattan. In Downtown and Midtown Manhattan, which have traditionally seen large concentrations of the city’s economic activity, the share of total businesses fell from 39 percent to 31 percent. But in the 15 gentrifying neighborhoods -- which include East and Central Harlem, Bedford-Stuyvesant, Crown Heights, Prospect Heights, Bushwick, Sunset Park, Brownsville and Ocean Hill -- there was a 45 percent increase in the number of businesses from 29,132 in 2000 to 42,261 in 2015.

Although lower income communities saw greater growth than higher income districts across myriad industries, that growth was unevenly distributed. The report notes that while people of color own 34 percent of the city’s businesses, an uptick from years past, their share in the city’s overall economy, 16 percent of revenue and 21 percent of employment, remains relatively low. Black New Yorkers remain massively underrepresented, accounting for 22 percent of the city’s population but only owning 3 percent of businesses.

The report also found that 17.2 percent of young adults, between 18 and 24 years old, were out of school and out of work (OSOW) in 2015, with racial and ethnic disparities in those numbers. Among OSOW youth in gentrifying neighborhoods, black and Hispanic youth represented 21 percent each, while white youth made up 12 percent.

Stringer makes a number of recommendations in the report, aimed at connecting economic growth in a neighborhood to its residents. These include creating local network coordinators at workforce development providers to connect businesses with local job seekers; creating uniform assessments to evaluate and prepare job-seekers for the labor market; and assisting entrepreneurs and startups in scaling up their operations and setting up brick-and-mortar establishments; among other proposals.

“My message today is this: skylines change, creation is a good thing,” Stringer said. “But we have to do a better job of harnessing this economic power in a way that serves everyone. We need to focus not on prices and not just on rent, but we also need to work on wealth creation, on linking long-term residents with new emerging jobs.”

The comptroller noted, in response to a reporter, that housing affordability is still a crucial component of gentrification but emphasized the need to recognize changing demographics and economic challenges in those same neighborhoods. “What we need is a much more forceful workforce development plan because our data shows that there’s real possibility,” Stringer said, “but right now, for many communities, for many people, there’s a real disconnect between some of the benefits of changing neighborhoods, and it’s not filtering down to long-term residents.”

Stringer said this more robust city response to workforce development issues should be part of proposed rezonings that are being studied across the city. The de Blasio administration and local communities are in the process of developing plans to add development, population density, housing -- including affordable units, and neighborhood-specific changes like additional school seats and new parks, for example, to a variety of areas throughout the city. One plan, for East New York, was passed a year ago and is in the process of implementation. Others have moved slowly or stalled, though several, including for East Harlem, may be moving ahead more quickly soon.

Stakeholders in the East New York rezoning, including local Council Member Rafael Espinal, pushed strongly for workforce development initiatives to be included in the final plan, particularly the establishment of a city-run Workforce1 career center that opened in December. Similar efforts are also underway in other neighborhoods facing proposed rezonings, with community advocates insisting that jobs created by development should go to local residents.

Asked by Gotham Gazette about Mayor Bill de Blasio’s recently announced plan to create 100,000 “good paying jobs” in the next ten years, Stringer had some cutting advice. “Anytime you want to say, ‘I can create 100,000 jobs,’ sure that’s OK, that’s a good thing,” he said, “but now we have to look at our emerging economies in the boroughs and what kinds of jobs are being created and are we matching good jobs with the citizens in those communities. And if we’re not, and we’re clearly not with communities of color in some of these neighborhoods, well what will you do about it? Can’t just say we’re gonna create jobs for people who can’t access those jobs? That’s not right.”

[Related: Part of Rezoning Plan, City Opens New Career Center in East New York]

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Comptroller Examines Uneven Economic Growth in Gentrifying Neighborhoods Tue, 25 Apr 2017 04:00:00 +0000