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/gale-brewer 2017-10-18T03:52:26+00:00 Webmaster webmaster@gothamgazette.com City Council Hears Testimony on 'Open Data 2.0' Bills 2017-09-21T01:19:55+00:00 2017-09-21T01:19:55+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7209:city-council-hears-testimony-on-open-data-2-0-bills Samar Khurshid <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/c93-69luiaaiaii.jpg-large.jpeg" alt="c93 69luiaaiaii.jpg large" width="600" /></p> <p>Council Member James Vacca (right)</p> <hr /> <p>At an oversight hearing on Wednesday of the City Council’s Committee on Technology, good government and civic technology experts praised a pair of bills aimed at updating the city’s 2012 open data law, but raised concerns that the proposals could have unforeseen ramifications.</p> <p>The city’s current law mandates that city agencies publish non-confidential agency data on a public web portal for all New Yorkers to see and easily access. The <a href="https://opendata.cityofnewyork.us" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">open data portal</a> is now home to over 1,600 data sets, with hundreds more data sets scheduled to be released in the coming years. The two “Open Data 2.0” proposals, sponsored by Council Member James Vacca, chair of the committee, and supported by Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, are intended to bolster open data reporting standards as well as improve certain areas of the current policy. “Access to government information ensures public institutions can be held accountable,” said Vacca, in his opening statement. “In New York City, the importance of public access to data is reflected in both law and practice.” He noted that New York City had been the first municipality in America to pass a law requiring public data be posted online in machine readable formats.</p> <p>The hearing was a bittersweet occasion for Vacca, who is term-limited and will be leaving the City Council in December after 12 years. It was his final oversight hearing on open data policy, a project he has long championed.</p> <p>The city’s open data policy is seen as a model not just for the United States, but the entire world, Brewer noted in her opening statement at the hearing. “I just met with elected officials in Spain... And they are looking at our law,” Brewer said. To illustrate one of the uses of open data, Brewer will be joining civic technology group BetaNYC to host a “311 Data Jam” on Saturday, employing the city’s dataset on the 311 helpline. It’s the third such event hosted by BetaNYC, and they will be introducing “BoardStat,” a tool for community boards to analyze visualized 311 data in order to discover community trends.</p> <p>The bulk of Wednesday’s hearing covered <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=3136796&amp;GUID=0144E84F-0BEC-4DB9-ABC6-B564DE4F717C&amp;Options=&amp;Search=" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Intro. 1707</a>, which includes provisions requiring reviews of the “Technical Standards Manual,” which is the guideline for how agencies manage and present their datasets every two years, to ensure the datasets remain up to date.</p> <p>“These standards are designed to make open data more usable to the maximum number of users,” said Albert Webber, director of Open Data for the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications (DoITT). “We see the TSM as a living document, meant to keep up with advances in technology, data availability, and the passage of local laws that impact data disclosure. An official periodic review of this document would ensure that open data disclosure stays up-to-date, relevant, and true to the most current practices.”</p> <p>The bill codifies a requirement for city agencies to appoint an “open data coordinator” to ensure agency compliance with the open data law. It also changes the deadline for agencies’ compliance plans from July to September, to avoid conflicting with the city’s budget season. The bill would also require that data analytics on public usage of the data portal be collected and studied.</p> <p>Criticisms of the legislation stemmed not from opposition to any one plank, but rather from unintended consequences that certain provisions of Intro. 1707 could have in areas such as agency reporting, accountability, and protection of individual privacy.</p> <p>One provision in the proposal raised eyebrows among good government groups and civic technologists. Noel Hidalgo, executive director of Beta NYC, and John Kaehny, executive director of Reinvent Albany, pointed out that the bill extends the open data compliance deadline for city agencies from 2018 to 2021, a full nine years after the law went into effect in 2012. Many datasets from numerous city agencies are currently scheduled for release on the current deadline, December 31, 2018.</p> <p>Kaehny said allowing agencies to hold off on publishing data is akin to a high school student saying they’ll turn in all of their homework on the last day, a promise that can’t be seen as reliable. He made similar comments to Gotham Gazette <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7086-city-releases-latest-progress-on-open-data-plan" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">in July</a> after the city released its annual update to the open data plan. Kaehny referred to the extension to 2021 as a “homework extension” that will never be turned in.</p> <p>Vacca pressed Webber on these concerns, and Webber insisted that the administration was committed to releasing the data sets on time. “Putting a deadline is always helpful,” he told the Council member. “But no, we do not have concerns that pushing it to 2021 will delay the release of some datasets.” In his testimony, Webber stated that the administration would “like to discuss how to improve the language to ensure that submissions meant to be disclosed by December 31, 2018 will still be held to that deadline.”</p> <p>Another aspect of Intro. 1707 that received some critique was a provision calling for the collection of data analytics on visitors to the portal. Concerns were raised that recording data on unique visitors to the portal, especially those exploring data that could be construed as sensitive, might violate an individual’s privacy. The language of this provision in the bill was viewed as vague.</p> <p>“Pageviews, great,” said Sumana Harihareswara, a programmer from Astoria who testified at the hearing. “Numbers of pageviews, great. Unique users? I don’t want to be identified uniquely in a public place for having looked up a certain piece of data. So number of unique users is perhaps what this ought to say.”</p> <p>Those who testified otherwise generally praised the proposed biannual review of the TSM, the change in the annual compliance deadline from July to September, and codifying into law the agency requirement of an open data coordinator.</p> <p>The bill also saw some critique for what it lacked, such as a “private right of action,” the ability of the public to sue agencies failing to perform their duties. Kaehny noted that the only course of action without the private right of action is to “name and shame” agencies considered to be “laggard” in regards to their dataset releases. According to Kaehny, open data is one of the few pieces of legislation in New York City that does not include a private right of action, making it highly unusual, especially for such a major city law.</p> <p>Brewer echoed the call for a private right of action, emphasizing that future administrations may not be as committed to transparency. “I believe we must provide a private right-of-action to protect the New York City municipal open data apparatus from a future administration that does not wish to operate it in good faith as the current and previous administrations have done,” she said. She cited the Trump administration’s moves immediately post-inauguration to delete data that had been posted online under the previous administration; there is no federal law that establishes similar data protections as New York City’s policy.</p> <p>Kaehny claimed that even naming and shaming is a difficult task, given that agency compliance with the law is not compiled in a single spreadsheet on the portal but rather in four separate spreadsheets. Compiling all relevant information about published and unpublished datasets into one spreadsheet was one of Reinvent Albany’s key recommendations to the committee. “What we’re seeing is fog when it comes to understanding exactly how well agencies are doing,” Kaehny said.</p> <p>The administration also had suggestions for improving the bill. Echoing testimony from the advocates, DoITT’s Webber expressed dismay at the law’s lack of any licensing requirements for the data, hoping that “permissive licenses,” licenses with few, if any, redistributive restrictions, could be added to the program.</p> <p>“Our mission to encourage public engagement with open data in the long term makes the ability to license very important,” Webber said. “Structured properly, licenses could allow us to formally make the city’s datasets free and open for public use in perpetuity, codifying our existing practice and ensuring that New Yorkers have access to open data for the long haul.”</p> <p>Also under consideration at the hearing was <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=2984659&amp;GUID=6B734B2A-47FA-49C7-BE83-C7C640B098D2&amp;Options=&amp;Search=" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Intro. 1528</a>, an amendment to an existing open data law that would require agencies that process Freedom of Information Law requests involving non-confidential data to report and publish the names of the public datasets, rather than simply the metrics of the datasets. The measure received overall support from those testifying before the committee.</p> <p>

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by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/c93-69luiaaiaii.jpg-large.jpeg" alt="c93 69luiaaiaii.jpg large" width="600" /></p> <p>Council Member James Vacca (right)</p> <hr /> <p>At an oversight hearing on Wednesday of the City Council’s Committee on Technology, good government and civic technology experts praised a pair of bills aimed at updating the city’s 2012 open data law, but raised concerns that the proposals could have unforeseen ramifications.</p> <p>The city’s current law mandates that city agencies publish non-confidential agency data on a public web portal for all New Yorkers to see and easily access. The <a href="https://opendata.cityofnewyork.us" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">open data portal</a> is now home to over 1,600 data sets, with hundreds more data sets scheduled to be released in the coming years. The two “Open Data 2.0” proposals, sponsored by Council Member James Vacca, chair of the committee, and supported by Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, are intended to bolster open data reporting standards as well as improve certain areas of the current policy. “Access to government information ensures public institutions can be held accountable,” said Vacca, in his opening statement. “In New York City, the importance of public access to data is reflected in both law and practice.” He noted that New York City had been the first municipality in America to pass a law requiring public data be posted online in machine readable formats.</p> <p>The hearing was a bittersweet occasion for Vacca, who is term-limited and will be leaving the City Council in December after 12 years. It was his final oversight hearing on open data policy, a project he has long championed.</p> <p>The city’s open data policy is seen as a model not just for the United States, but the entire world, Brewer noted in her opening statement at the hearing. “I just met with elected officials in Spain... And they are looking at our law,” Brewer said. To illustrate one of the uses of open data, Brewer will be joining civic technology group BetaNYC to host a “311 Data Jam” on Saturday, employing the city’s dataset on the 311 helpline. It’s the third such event hosted by BetaNYC, and they will be introducing “BoardStat,” a tool for community boards to analyze visualized 311 data in order to discover community trends.</p> <p>The bulk of Wednesday’s hearing covered <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=3136796&amp;GUID=0144E84F-0BEC-4DB9-ABC6-B564DE4F717C&amp;Options=&amp;Search=" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Intro. 1707</a>, which includes provisions requiring reviews of the “Technical Standards Manual,” which is the guideline for how agencies manage and present their datasets every two years, to ensure the datasets remain up to date.</p> <p>“These standards are designed to make open data more usable to the maximum number of users,” said Albert Webber, director of Open Data for the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications (DoITT). “We see the TSM as a living document, meant to keep up with advances in technology, data availability, and the passage of local laws that impact data disclosure. An official periodic review of this document would ensure that open data disclosure stays up-to-date, relevant, and true to the most current practices.”</p> <p>The bill codifies a requirement for city agencies to appoint an “open data coordinator” to ensure agency compliance with the open data law. It also changes the deadline for agencies’ compliance plans from July to September, to avoid conflicting with the city’s budget season. The bill would also require that data analytics on public usage of the data portal be collected and studied.</p> <p>Criticisms of the legislation stemmed not from opposition to any one plank, but rather from unintended consequences that certain provisions of Intro. 1707 could have in areas such as agency reporting, accountability, and protection of individual privacy.</p> <p>One provision in the proposal raised eyebrows among good government groups and civic technologists. Noel Hidalgo, executive director of Beta NYC, and John Kaehny, executive director of Reinvent Albany, pointed out that the bill extends the open data compliance deadline for city agencies from 2018 to 2021, a full nine years after the law went into effect in 2012. Many datasets from numerous city agencies are currently scheduled for release on the current deadline, December 31, 2018.</p> <p>Kaehny said allowing agencies to hold off on publishing data is akin to a high school student saying they’ll turn in all of their homework on the last day, a promise that can’t be seen as reliable. He made similar comments to Gotham Gazette <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7086-city-releases-latest-progress-on-open-data-plan" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">in July</a> after the city released its annual update to the open data plan. Kaehny referred to the extension to 2021 as a “homework extension” that will never be turned in.</p> <p>Vacca pressed Webber on these concerns, and Webber insisted that the administration was committed to releasing the data sets on time. “Putting a deadline is always helpful,” he told the Council member. “But no, we do not have concerns that pushing it to 2021 will delay the release of some datasets.” In his testimony, Webber stated that the administration would “like to discuss how to improve the language to ensure that submissions meant to be disclosed by December 31, 2018 will still be held to that deadline.”</p> <p>Another aspect of Intro. 1707 that received some critique was a provision calling for the collection of data analytics on visitors to the portal. Concerns were raised that recording data on unique visitors to the portal, especially those exploring data that could be construed as sensitive, might violate an individual’s privacy. The language of this provision in the bill was viewed as vague.</p> <p>“Pageviews, great,” said Sumana Harihareswara, a programmer from Astoria who testified at the hearing. “Numbers of pageviews, great. Unique users? I don’t want to be identified uniquely in a public place for having looked up a certain piece of data. So number of unique users is perhaps what this ought to say.”</p> <p>Those who testified otherwise generally praised the proposed biannual review of the TSM, the change in the annual compliance deadline from July to September, and codifying into law the agency requirement of an open data coordinator.</p> <p>The bill also saw some critique for what it lacked, such as a “private right of action,” the ability of the public to sue agencies failing to perform their duties. Kaehny noted that the only course of action without the private right of action is to “name and shame” agencies considered to be “laggard” in regards to their dataset releases. According to Kaehny, open data is one of the few pieces of legislation in New York City that does not include a private right of action, making it highly unusual, especially for such a major city law.</p> <p>Brewer echoed the call for a private right of action, emphasizing that future administrations may not be as committed to transparency. “I believe we must provide a private right-of-action to protect the New York City municipal open data apparatus from a future administration that does not wish to operate it in good faith as the current and previous administrations have done,” she said. She cited the Trump administration’s moves immediately post-inauguration to delete data that had been posted online under the previous administration; there is no federal law that establishes similar data protections as New York City’s policy.</p> <p>Kaehny claimed that even naming and shaming is a difficult task, given that agency compliance with the law is not compiled in a single spreadsheet on the portal but rather in four separate spreadsheets. Compiling all relevant information about published and unpublished datasets into one spreadsheet was one of Reinvent Albany’s key recommendations to the committee. “What we’re seeing is fog when it comes to understanding exactly how well agencies are doing,” Kaehny said.</p> <p>The administration also had suggestions for improving the bill. Echoing testimony from the advocates, DoITT’s Webber expressed dismay at the law’s lack of any licensing requirements for the data, hoping that “permissive licenses,” licenses with few, if any, redistributive restrictions, could be added to the program.</p> <p>“Our mission to encourage public engagement with open data in the long term makes the ability to license very important,” Webber said. “Structured properly, licenses could allow us to formally make the city’s datasets free and open for public use in perpetuity, codifying our existing practice and ensuring that New Yorkers have access to open data for the long haul.”</p> <p>Also under consideration at the hearing was <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=2984659&amp;GUID=6B734B2A-47FA-49C7-BE83-C7C640B098D2&amp;Options=&amp;Search=" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Intro. 1528</a>, an amendment to an existing open data law that would require agencies that process Freedom of Information Law requests involving non-confidential data to report and publish the names of the public datasets, rather than simply the metrics of the datasets. The measure received overall support from those testifying before the committee.</p> <p>

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by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

</p>
De Blasio Goes Local with ‘City Hall in Your Borough’ Series 2017-04-09T04:00:00+00:00 2017-04-09T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6863:de-blasio-goes-local-with-city-hall-in-your-borough-series Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/26484184021_a59e709777_z.jpg" alt="de Blasio Staten Island Oddo" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>De Blasio at a Staten Island town hall (photo:&nbsp;Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Mayor Bill de Blasio will be on Staten Island this week in the first of five “City Hall in Your Borough” sojourns wherein the mayor, who is up for reelection this fall, is bringing city government local. De Blasio, many of his commissioners, top aides, and City Hall staff will work out of borough hall, hold constituent office hours and a variety of events on the island, and attempt to immerse themselves in borough issues for the week.</p> <p>The mayor chose to start the initiative on Staten Island, the only borough the first-term Democrat lost in his landslide 2013 victory. De Blasio’s week will include a town hall Thursday night, but begins Monday with several events, including a morning cabinet meeting with senior staff at borough hall, a noon press conference related to neighborhood policing, and a 10 p.m. visit with a road re-paving crew.</p> <p>According to the mayor’s office, de Blasio will set aside time to meet with local constituents and groups, visit at least one house of worship, and make many other stops around the borough. He is expected to hold events with each of Staten Island’s three City Council members, and to spend a good deal of time with Borough President James Oddo, a Republican whom the mayor has a close relationship with. First Lady Chirlane McCray is expected to hold events related to ThriveNYC, the mental health program she spearheads.</p> <p>The mayor will be commuting to Staten Island from Gracie Mansion, his office said, not spending overnights on the island. [The Staten Island Advance <a href="http://www.silive.com/news/index.ssf/2017/04/early_look_at_de_blasios_week.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">acquired a draft schedule</a> for de Blasio’s week, though it is unclear how closely his actual plan will match it. The launch of the overall initiative was <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/de-blasio-staff-launch-initiative-city-hall-borough-article-1.3009342" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">first reported by The Daily News</a>.]</p> <p>De Blasio’s week on Staten Island is sure to deal with some broad citywide themes like public safety, education, affordable housing, and development, but will also have a distinctly local feel. As borough officials often say, Staten Island is more like the rest of the United States than it is the rest of New York City. Staten Island has high homeowner and driving populations compared to other boroughs, for example. Many Staten Islanders also continue to battle their way back from Superstorm Sandy and there has been a good deal of frustration about the city’s Build It Back recovery program. The borough is also dealing with the opioid addiction and overdose problem that has spread throughout communities across the country.</p> <p>After Staten Island, “City Hall in Your Borough” will proceed to the other four boroughs throughout the year, all as de Blasio competes in the Democratic primary and, likely, general election in his pursuit of a second term. Asked about the initiative coinciding with election season, mayoral spokesperson Jessica Ramos said that “It's coinciding with spring” and that the administration wants New Yorkers to interact with their local government in their own neighborhoods. ‎”We'll be doing this again over following years,” she said in an email.</p> <p>The mayor and his team are likely to work out of borough hall in Queens, Brooklyn, and the Bronx, <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/de-blasio-staff-launch-initiative-city-hall-borough-article-1.3009342" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">according to The Daily News</a>, but will seek uptown space in Manhattan given that City Hall and the Manhattan Borough President’s offices at 1 Centre Street are so close to each other.</p> <p>Asked about the initiative, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams had praise for de Blasio, but said in a statement that while he “would welcome Mayor de Blasio and his team to Brooklyn Borough Hall with open arms for this initiative...it would be even more impactful for us to work together on bringing City Hall to neighborhoods like Brownsville that have a real need of this presence. A site such as the Brownsville Recreation Center, for example, would serve as a great hyperlocal hub for this effort."</p> <p>Adams said City Hall in Your Borough is “a smart concept to get government out of the austere structures that often separate it from the communities it serves.” According to his office, borough specific issues Adams wants to see City Hall focus on include affordable housing, tenant harassment, civic tech innovation, preventive health care, school tech infrastructure, among others. Adams also wants to see city agencies rethink community engagement models.</p> <p>In a brief interview, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer said that her team and the mayor’s have been in touch already. Asked what the focus issues should be, Brewer said her office “gets a ton of housing, housing, housing” and that people really are concerned about both residential and small business affordability. Small Business Services, NYCHA, and the Department of Buildings were three city agencies that Brewer said the mayor’s team should be ready to prioritize.</p> <p>As for space, Brewer said she is the only borough president without a grand borough hall, but that she is also the only one with a storefront presence. She said her office’s uptown satellite space on West 125th Street “is not huge but it can fit 25 or 30 people at a time. So, we'd love him to join us there. We also have an office at the Harlem State Office Building, which has, obviously, huge spaces. So, either one, I think, would be fabulous, and we'd love to host the mayor.”</p> <p>A spokesperson for Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. declined to comment on City Hall in Your Borough or to make the borough president available for a brief interview. Diaz Jr. has been an outspoken critic of de Blasio on several issues, and was considering challenging the mayor in the Democratic primary, but now plans to run for re-election. He is the only borough president that de Blasio is <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/6051-rift-between-de-blasio-and-diaz-jr-grows-with-implications-for-the-bronx" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">not on good terms with</a>.</p> <p>A spokesperson for Queens Borough President Melinda Katz did not return a request for comment. Katz praised de Blasio at a recent town hall event in Queens for delivering on universal pre-kindergarten, though she and many in her borough want to see more from City Hall on school overcrowding and have concerns about the mayor’s homeless shelter siting.</p> <p>At a January event hosted by Crain’s New York Business, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6727-five-borough-presidents-advise-critique-de-blasio" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the five borough presidents gave their assessments of de Blasio</a> and offered him advice for how to improve his relationships with their boroughs.</p> <p>Oddo, who will host de Blasio this week on Staten Island, said he still wants to see a culture change at city agencies where rank-and-file employees feel more urgency to complete projects and make progress. “You want to have a legacy” as a mayor, Oddo said, “you have to change the culture of these agencies, and I don’t believe that’s happening.”</p> <p>“He could do a whole lot better, in my opinion, in his messaging and communication to the people of the City of New York,” Diaz Jr. said.</p> <p>

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/26484184021_a59e709777_z.jpg" alt="de Blasio Staten Island Oddo" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>De Blasio at a Staten Island town hall (photo:&nbsp;Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Mayor Bill de Blasio will be on Staten Island this week in the first of five “City Hall in Your Borough” sojourns wherein the mayor, who is up for reelection this fall, is bringing city government local. De Blasio, many of his commissioners, top aides, and City Hall staff will work out of borough hall, hold constituent office hours and a variety of events on the island, and attempt to immerse themselves in borough issues for the week.</p> <p>The mayor chose to start the initiative on Staten Island, the only borough the first-term Democrat lost in his landslide 2013 victory. De Blasio’s week will include a town hall Thursday night, but begins Monday with several events, including a morning cabinet meeting with senior staff at borough hall, a noon press conference related to neighborhood policing, and a 10 p.m. visit with a road re-paving crew.</p> <p>According to the mayor’s office, de Blasio will set aside time to meet with local constituents and groups, visit at least one house of worship, and make many other stops around the borough. He is expected to hold events with each of Staten Island’s three City Council members, and to spend a good deal of time with Borough President James Oddo, a Republican whom the mayor has a close relationship with. First Lady Chirlane McCray is expected to hold events related to ThriveNYC, the mental health program she spearheads.</p> <p>The mayor will be commuting to Staten Island from Gracie Mansion, his office said, not spending overnights on the island. [The Staten Island Advance <a href="http://www.silive.com/news/index.ssf/2017/04/early_look_at_de_blasios_week.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">acquired a draft schedule</a> for de Blasio’s week, though it is unclear how closely his actual plan will match it. The launch of the overall initiative was <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/de-blasio-staff-launch-initiative-city-hall-borough-article-1.3009342" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">first reported by The Daily News</a>.]</p> <p>De Blasio’s week on Staten Island is sure to deal with some broad citywide themes like public safety, education, affordable housing, and development, but will also have a distinctly local feel. As borough officials often say, Staten Island is more like the rest of the United States than it is the rest of New York City. Staten Island has high homeowner and driving populations compared to other boroughs, for example. Many Staten Islanders also continue to battle their way back from Superstorm Sandy and there has been a good deal of frustration about the city’s Build It Back recovery program. The borough is also dealing with the opioid addiction and overdose problem that has spread throughout communities across the country.</p> <p>After Staten Island, “City Hall in Your Borough” will proceed to the other four boroughs throughout the year, all as de Blasio competes in the Democratic primary and, likely, general election in his pursuit of a second term. Asked about the initiative coinciding with election season, mayoral spokesperson Jessica Ramos said that “It's coinciding with spring” and that the administration wants New Yorkers to interact with their local government in their own neighborhoods. ‎”We'll be doing this again over following years,” she said in an email.</p> <p>The mayor and his team are likely to work out of borough hall in Queens, Brooklyn, and the Bronx, <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/de-blasio-staff-launch-initiative-city-hall-borough-article-1.3009342" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">according to The Daily News</a>, but will seek uptown space in Manhattan given that City Hall and the Manhattan Borough President’s offices at 1 Centre Street are so close to each other.</p> <p>Asked about the initiative, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams had praise for de Blasio, but said in a statement that while he “would welcome Mayor de Blasio and his team to Brooklyn Borough Hall with open arms for this initiative...it would be even more impactful for us to work together on bringing City Hall to neighborhoods like Brownsville that have a real need of this presence. A site such as the Brownsville Recreation Center, for example, would serve as a great hyperlocal hub for this effort."</p> <p>Adams said City Hall in Your Borough is “a smart concept to get government out of the austere structures that often separate it from the communities it serves.” According to his office, borough specific issues Adams wants to see City Hall focus on include affordable housing, tenant harassment, civic tech innovation, preventive health care, school tech infrastructure, among others. Adams also wants to see city agencies rethink community engagement models.</p> <p>In a brief interview, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer said that her team and the mayor’s have been in touch already. Asked what the focus issues should be, Brewer said her office “gets a ton of housing, housing, housing” and that people really are concerned about both residential and small business affordability. Small Business Services, NYCHA, and the Department of Buildings were three city agencies that Brewer said the mayor’s team should be ready to prioritize.</p> <p>As for space, Brewer said she is the only borough president without a grand borough hall, but that she is also the only one with a storefront presence. She said her office’s uptown satellite space on West 125th Street “is not huge but it can fit 25 or 30 people at a time. So, we'd love him to join us there. We also have an office at the Harlem State Office Building, which has, obviously, huge spaces. So, either one, I think, would be fabulous, and we'd love to host the mayor.”</p> <p>A spokesperson for Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. declined to comment on City Hall in Your Borough or to make the borough president available for a brief interview. Diaz Jr. has been an outspoken critic of de Blasio on several issues, and was considering challenging the mayor in the Democratic primary, but now plans to run for re-election. He is the only borough president that de Blasio is <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/6051-rift-between-de-blasio-and-diaz-jr-grows-with-implications-for-the-bronx" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">not on good terms with</a>.</p> <p>A spokesperson for Queens Borough President Melinda Katz did not return a request for comment. Katz praised de Blasio at a recent town hall event in Queens for delivering on universal pre-kindergarten, though she and many in her borough want to see more from City Hall on school overcrowding and have concerns about the mayor’s homeless shelter siting.</p> <p>At a January event hosted by Crain’s New York Business, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6727-five-borough-presidents-advise-critique-de-blasio" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the five borough presidents gave their assessments of de Blasio</a> and offered him advice for how to improve his relationships with their boroughs.</p> <p>Oddo, who will host de Blasio this week on Staten Island, said he still wants to see a culture change at city agencies where rank-and-file employees feel more urgency to complete projects and make progress. “You want to have a legacy” as a mayor, Oddo said, “you have to change the culture of these agencies, and I don’t believe that’s happening.”</p> <p>“He could do a whole lot better, in my opinion, in his messaging and communication to the people of the City of New York,” Diaz Jr. said.</p> <p>

***
by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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</p>
De Blasio’s ‘Fearless’ Moment 2017-03-27T04:00:00+00:00 2017-03-27T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6835:de-blasio-s-fearless-moment Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/33302628560_91b0cb6b34_z.jpg" alt="de Blasio fearless girl statue" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>De Blasio &amp; "Fearless Girl" (photos:&nbsp;Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Mayor Bill de Blasio walked swiftly down Broadway Monday afternoon with a big smile on his face. The mayor approached the entrance to a barricaded area in which he was about to address gathered members of the media and was stopped for a photo by a group of Girl Scouts. He gladly obliged, then proceeded, approaching the Wall Street Bull, but stopping a few yards short at his destination, the “Fearless Girl” statue.</p> <p>De Blasio knelt beside the small statue that has become a symbol of female power and empowerment, and put an arm around the bronzed girl, posing for photos and smiling widely. Cameras shuttered from within the cordoned off triangle, which was filled with journalists and tourists, while other onlookers from surrounding sidewalks took in the scene and car traffic slowly proceeded toward Bowling Green.</p> <p>The mayor then gave brief remarks at a makeshift podium featuring a bouquet of microphones, where he explained that the Fearless Girl would be permitted to remain installed and staring down the bull through next International Women’s Day, in March 2018. It was the mayor's first remarks to gathered members of the media since <a href="https://mobile.nytimes.com/2017/03/23/nyregion/bill-de-blasio-walks-out-news-conference.html?smprod=nytcore-iphone&amp;smid=nytcore-iphone-share&amp;_r=0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">an ill-fated Thursday press conference</a> that the mayor ended abruptly when he did not like the questions he was asked.</p> <p>“[T]his statue, the Fearless Girl, means so much to the people of New York City – and I’m saying all the people of New York City,” said de Blasio, who was accompanied by Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer. “I’ve been profoundly struck by what this statue means in particular to women, and to girls in this city, and this whole country. But I think there’s an even broader symbolism of standing up to fear, standing up to power, being able to find in yourself the strength to do what’s right.”</p> <p>Just a few weeks ago, on this year’s International Women’s Day, March 8, when the Fearless Girl had seemingly appeared out of nowhere and became a social media sensation, de Blasio was caught unaware when asked about the statue at an unrelated press conference. The mayor promised a WNYC radio reporter that his office would soon provide a reaction, once he was briefed. Later that day, the mayor’s Twitter account <a href="https://twitter.com/NYCMayor/status/839611352113102848" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">announced</a> “our future rests in the hands of fearless girls,” with a photo of the statue and a group of admirers. The tweet also said that the statue would be “standing tall in Lower Manhattan through April 2nd,” a timeline that has now been extended after public outcry, including from Public Advocate Letitia James.</p> <p>James and de Blasio appeared together at a March 21 press conference on street safety. When the mayor was asked about the statue and James’ advocacy for its permanence, de Blasio half-jokingly called James "a fearless girl” in reference to work they had done together opposing former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s term-limits extension. The mayor then said he was considering “prolonging” the statue’s “presence.”</p> <p>“You know, some people have called for permanent action,” the mayor continued, “we’re hesitant to do anything permanent because, you know, that has ramifications for the whole city. But in terms of a longer presence, I’m open to that and we’re going to be looking at that.”</p> <p>On Monday, James reacted to the city extending the statue’s presence, saying in a statement she is “pleased that the Mayor is extending her permit. However, the importance of empowering women is not temporary, and Fearless Girl must become a permanent fixture in our City as a reminder to all women that no dream is too big and no ceiling is too high.”</p> <p>De Blasio’s visit to the statue was a late addition to his schedule. In his remarks, the mayor connected the statue to the women’s marches of January 21, which came the day after President Donald Trump’s inauguration, with “women and their male allies all over this country – hundreds of cities and towns – coming out to say that regardless of the results of an election, no one was going to affront women and the rights of women.”</p> <p>“And right after that, this miraculous girl appears and created such a powerful sensation because she spoke to the moment,” de Blasio continued, “that sense that women were not going to live in fear, that women were going to teach their daughters and all the girls in their life to believe in themselves.”</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/33686495765_f318f22122_z.jpg" alt="de Blasio Brewer fearless girl" width="350" height="233" style="margin-right: 10px; float: left;" />The Fearless Girl statue is a creation of Kristen Visbal, commissioned by State Street Global Advisors. Visbal has said in recent <a href="http://blogs.wsj.com/moneybeat/2017/03/07/creating-the-girl-who-stared-down-the-wall-street-bull/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">interviews</a> that the statue shows a “brave, proud, and strong” person, not “defiant” or “belligerent,” but a symbol that women are unapologetically part of the “traditionally male environment” on Wall Street. A representative of State Street has said the statue represents “the power and potential of having more women in leadership.”</p> <p>Some have called Fearless Girl a corporate public relations ploy and though James, Brewer, and other female civic leaders have championed the statue, the enthusiasm for it has been the source of much derision, including on social media, which can often be home to a great deal of negativity. Yet, New York Times columnist Ginia Bellafonte <a href="https://mobile.nytimes.com/2017/03/16/nyregion/fearless-girl-statue-manhattan.html?_r=0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">recently called</a> Fearless Girl “corporate feminism” and noted that it could have been an effort at changing the subject or distracting from some recent bad news -- fraud charges -- for the State Street parent company, which the company denied.</p> <p>De Blasio, a champion of regulating Wall Street who regularly calls for higher taxes on the wealthy, made no mention of the financial industry on Monday.</p> <p>The mayor's appearance at the statue was the first time he had gathered the press to make remarks since Thursday's truncated media availability, when the mayor promoted his “mansion tax” proposal but refused to answer questions on other topics and shut the press conference down in frustration after three “off-topic” questions.</p> <p>On Monday, de Blasio’s updated schedule, as emailed to members of the media, said that the appearance at Fearless Girl would not include any Q&amp;A with the press, despite the fact that more than a dozen journalists were on the scene. After the mayor posed for photos, gave his remarks, and listened as Brewer gave hers, he quickly walked back up Broadway to a waiting car, ignoring reporters who started asking questions.</p> <p>

***
by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/33302628560_91b0cb6b34_z.jpg" alt="de Blasio fearless girl statue" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>De Blasio &amp; "Fearless Girl" (photos:&nbsp;Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Mayor Bill de Blasio walked swiftly down Broadway Monday afternoon with a big smile on his face. The mayor approached the entrance to a barricaded area in which he was about to address gathered members of the media and was stopped for a photo by a group of Girl Scouts. He gladly obliged, then proceeded, approaching the Wall Street Bull, but stopping a few yards short at his destination, the “Fearless Girl” statue.</p> <p>De Blasio knelt beside the small statue that has become a symbol of female power and empowerment, and put an arm around the bronzed girl, posing for photos and smiling widely. Cameras shuttered from within the cordoned off triangle, which was filled with journalists and tourists, while other onlookers from surrounding sidewalks took in the scene and car traffic slowly proceeded toward Bowling Green.</p> <p>The mayor then gave brief remarks at a makeshift podium featuring a bouquet of microphones, where he explained that the Fearless Girl would be permitted to remain installed and staring down the bull through next International Women’s Day, in March 2018. It was the mayor's first remarks to gathered members of the media since <a href="https://mobile.nytimes.com/2017/03/23/nyregion/bill-de-blasio-walks-out-news-conference.html?smprod=nytcore-iphone&amp;smid=nytcore-iphone-share&amp;_r=0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">an ill-fated Thursday press conference</a> that the mayor ended abruptly when he did not like the questions he was asked.</p> <p>“[T]his statue, the Fearless Girl, means so much to the people of New York City – and I’m saying all the people of New York City,” said de Blasio, who was accompanied by Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer. “I’ve been profoundly struck by what this statue means in particular to women, and to girls in this city, and this whole country. But I think there’s an even broader symbolism of standing up to fear, standing up to power, being able to find in yourself the strength to do what’s right.”</p> <p>Just a few weeks ago, on this year’s International Women’s Day, March 8, when the Fearless Girl had seemingly appeared out of nowhere and became a social media sensation, de Blasio was caught unaware when asked about the statue at an unrelated press conference. The mayor promised a WNYC radio reporter that his office would soon provide a reaction, once he was briefed. Later that day, the mayor’s Twitter account <a href="https://twitter.com/NYCMayor/status/839611352113102848" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">announced</a> “our future rests in the hands of fearless girls,” with a photo of the statue and a group of admirers. The tweet also said that the statue would be “standing tall in Lower Manhattan through April 2nd,” a timeline that has now been extended after public outcry, including from Public Advocate Letitia James.</p> <p>James and de Blasio appeared together at a March 21 press conference on street safety. When the mayor was asked about the statue and James’ advocacy for its permanence, de Blasio half-jokingly called James "a fearless girl” in reference to work they had done together opposing former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s term-limits extension. The mayor then said he was considering “prolonging” the statue’s “presence.”</p> <p>“You know, some people have called for permanent action,” the mayor continued, “we’re hesitant to do anything permanent because, you know, that has ramifications for the whole city. But in terms of a longer presence, I’m open to that and we’re going to be looking at that.”</p> <p>On Monday, James reacted to the city extending the statue’s presence, saying in a statement she is “pleased that the Mayor is extending her permit. However, the importance of empowering women is not temporary, and Fearless Girl must become a permanent fixture in our City as a reminder to all women that no dream is too big and no ceiling is too high.”</p> <p>De Blasio’s visit to the statue was a late addition to his schedule. In his remarks, the mayor connected the statue to the women’s marches of January 21, which came the day after President Donald Trump’s inauguration, with “women and their male allies all over this country – hundreds of cities and towns – coming out to say that regardless of the results of an election, no one was going to affront women and the rights of women.”</p> <p>“And right after that, this miraculous girl appears and created such a powerful sensation because she spoke to the moment,” de Blasio continued, “that sense that women were not going to live in fear, that women were going to teach their daughters and all the girls in their life to believe in themselves.”</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/33686495765_f318f22122_z.jpg" alt="de Blasio Brewer fearless girl" width="350" height="233" style="margin-right: 10px; float: left;" />The Fearless Girl statue is a creation of Kristen Visbal, commissioned by State Street Global Advisors. Visbal has said in recent <a href="http://blogs.wsj.com/moneybeat/2017/03/07/creating-the-girl-who-stared-down-the-wall-street-bull/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">interviews</a> that the statue shows a “brave, proud, and strong” person, not “defiant” or “belligerent,” but a symbol that women are unapologetically part of the “traditionally male environment” on Wall Street. A representative of State Street has said the statue represents “the power and potential of having more women in leadership.”</p> <p>Some have called Fearless Girl a corporate public relations ploy and though James, Brewer, and other female civic leaders have championed the statue, the enthusiasm for it has been the source of much derision, including on social media, which can often be home to a great deal of negativity. Yet, New York Times columnist Ginia Bellafonte <a href="https://mobile.nytimes.com/2017/03/16/nyregion/fearless-girl-statue-manhattan.html?_r=0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">recently called</a> Fearless Girl “corporate feminism” and noted that it could have been an effort at changing the subject or distracting from some recent bad news -- fraud charges -- for the State Street parent company, which the company denied.</p> <p>De Blasio, a champion of regulating Wall Street who regularly calls for higher taxes on the wealthy, made no mention of the financial industry on Monday.</p> <p>The mayor's appearance at the statue was the first time he had gathered the press to make remarks since Thursday's truncated media availability, when the mayor promoted his “mansion tax” proposal but refused to answer questions on other topics and shut the press conference down in frustration after three “off-topic” questions.</p> <p>On Monday, de Blasio’s updated schedule, as emailed to members of the media, said that the appearance at Fearless Girl would not include any Q&amp;A with the press, despite the fact that more than a dozen journalists were on the scene. After the mayor posed for photos, gave his remarks, and listened as Brewer gave hers, he quickly walked back up Broadway to a waiting car, ignoring reporters who started asking questions.</p> <p>

***
by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
De Blasio Faces Local Questions About ‘Mansion Tax’ Plan 2017-02-23T05:00:00+00:00 2017-02-23T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6773:de-blasio-faces-local-questions-about-mansion-tax-plan Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/32805723182_2f0ce1af02_z.jpg" alt="de Blasio speech dining room gracie" width="600" height="401" /></p> <p>Mayor de Blasio (photo:&nbsp;Edwin J. Torres/ Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>A report released by the city Independent Budget Office has raised questions about the potential effects of the so-called “mansion tax,” a proposed part of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s affordable housing strategy that would levy a 2.5 percent surcharge on the sale price over a threshold of $2 million for residential properties.</p> <p>De Blasio put forward a version of the mansion tax proposal, which requires approval by the State Legislature and Governor Andrew Cuomo, in mid-2015. It failed to gain traction then. The mayor presented the current updated form at an Albany legislative state budget hearing in late January and reiterated it at his State of the City address February 13.</p> <p>The mayor has said that he hopes the revenues from the tax, estimated by his Office of Management and Budget at $336 million in fiscal year 2018, will be used to subsidize rents for seniors.</p> <p><a href="http://ibo.nyc.ny.us/cgi-park2/2017/02/how-many-homes-apartments-in-new-york-city-sold-in-recent-years-for-more-than-2-million/" target="_blank">The IBO report</a> shows that about 8 percent of citywide home sales between 2014 and 2016 carried price tags of $2 million or more; and of those sales, 86 percent were for properties in Manhattan.</p> <p>Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer had requested that IBO examine the impact the tax would have on her constituency. Often in agreement with de Blasio, a fellow Democrat, Brewer told Gotham Gazette that she is opposed to the mayor’s mansion tax proposal.</p> <p>“Manhattan should not be the cash cow for the rest of the boroughs,” Brewer said during a phone interview, adding that she would be “much more comfortable with [a threshold of] $5 million and not $2 million.”</p> <p>At the State of the City speech, the mayor told his constituents to “ask [state legislators] if you think someone selling a home for more than $2 million can afford a little bit for senior citizens.” The tax would be paid by the buyer, according to de Blasio’s plan.</p> <p>Brewer also raised concerns that mansion tax revenues would not be guaranteed to go to rent subsidies. “Any tax that has been enacted then has to be allocated. It could go to seniors, or it could go to homeless services, or it could go to anything,” she said.</p> <p>Asked if she would publicly oppose and testify against the tax if given the opportunity, Brewer said she would. She said she had not been in touch with the mayor or his staff about the mansion tax specifically, but had heard from constituents concerned about the measure’s effects.</p> <p>In emailed comments expanding on the report, IBO Chief of Staff Doug Turetsky said there were arguments for and against the tax. A possible issue is the specter of a price cliff: “suddenly you will probably have a lot of sales priced just under the threshold for the mansion tax.”</p> <p>However, he touted the proposal’s potential to level the playing field, as both co-ops and high-end residential sales paid in cash or with foreign financing are not subject to the city’s existing mortgage recording tax. “As a result, purchasers of a comparatively moderate priced home will likely pay both the city’s mortgage recording tax and real property transfer tax, while many buyers of the city’s most expensive residential properties will only pay the transfer tax,” he said.</p> <p>Along with skepticism from Brewer, de Blasio is facing a long road to mansion tax passage in Albany, where both Cuomo, a fellow Democrat, and the state Senate Republican majority are philosophically opposed to new taxes. Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan has said his conference is interested in cutting taxes, and he is facing a Cuomo proposal to extend the state’s “millionaire’s tax.”</p> <p>De Blasio has said that recent progressive victories indicate nothing is impossible to see through Albany if there is enough support. The mayor also argues the city needs the mansion tax revenue to bolster his affordable housing plan, especially for seniors, though the city has been rapidly adding to its budget under the mayor without additional taxes, given revenues have been strong amid a booming city economy.</p> <p>“I don’t think the mayor has thus far made the case why the tax is needed for any particular agenda he wants to pursue,” said Carol Kellerman, president of the Citizens Budget Commission, adding that “it would seem to us that the mayor and the [City] Council are able to fund anything they need $330 million for” out of the already expanded, $84.7 billion budget the mayor has proposed for fiscal year 2018.</p> <p>Melissa Grace, a spokesperson for the mayor’s office, dismissed the idea of a price cliff, arguing that, since the tax would only apply for the price over $2 million, “that’s not going to affect any buyer or seller’s behavior.” She also pointed out that the average home purchase affected by the tax would be $4.5 million, an argument the mayor also raised at an unrelated press conference this week when Gotham Gazette asked about his tax plan.</p> <p>In response to Brewer’s concern of the money being used for other purposes, Grace said that according to the city’s proposal, the funds would go specifically to the recently announced Elder Rent Assistance program and could not be used for anything else.</p> <p>Asked at a Tuesday press conference about previous statements that the mansion tax was justifiable given tax cuts for the wealthy the mayor is anticipating from Washington, D.C., the mayor said that President Donald Trump “has been salivating for the opportunity to reduce corporate taxes and taxes on the wealthy...So I think it’s a really, really good betting assumption there will be tax cuts for the wealthy and the corporations.”</p> <p>The mayor added that, even if a federal tax cut does not materialize, “I still think the mansion tax makes sense...Someone who’s buying a $4.5 million home can afford to spend a little bit more.”</p> <p>

***
by Felipe De La Hoz, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/32805723182_2f0ce1af02_z.jpg" alt="de Blasio speech dining room gracie" width="600" height="401" /></p> <p>Mayor de Blasio (photo:&nbsp;Edwin J. Torres/ Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>A report released by the city Independent Budget Office has raised questions about the potential effects of the so-called “mansion tax,” a proposed part of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s affordable housing strategy that would levy a 2.5 percent surcharge on the sale price over a threshold of $2 million for residential properties.</p> <p>De Blasio put forward a version of the mansion tax proposal, which requires approval by the State Legislature and Governor Andrew Cuomo, in mid-2015. It failed to gain traction then. The mayor presented the current updated form at an Albany legislative state budget hearing in late January and reiterated it at his State of the City address February 13.</p> <p>The mayor has said that he hopes the revenues from the tax, estimated by his Office of Management and Budget at $336 million in fiscal year 2018, will be used to subsidize rents for seniors.</p> <p><a href="http://ibo.nyc.ny.us/cgi-park2/2017/02/how-many-homes-apartments-in-new-york-city-sold-in-recent-years-for-more-than-2-million/" target="_blank">The IBO report</a> shows that about 8 percent of citywide home sales between 2014 and 2016 carried price tags of $2 million or more; and of those sales, 86 percent were for properties in Manhattan.</p> <p>Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer had requested that IBO examine the impact the tax would have on her constituency. Often in agreement with de Blasio, a fellow Democrat, Brewer told Gotham Gazette that she is opposed to the mayor’s mansion tax proposal.</p> <p>“Manhattan should not be the cash cow for the rest of the boroughs,” Brewer said during a phone interview, adding that she would be “much more comfortable with [a threshold of] $5 million and not $2 million.”</p> <p>At the State of the City speech, the mayor told his constituents to “ask [state legislators] if you think someone selling a home for more than $2 million can afford a little bit for senior citizens.” The tax would be paid by the buyer, according to de Blasio’s plan.</p> <p>Brewer also raised concerns that mansion tax revenues would not be guaranteed to go to rent subsidies. “Any tax that has been enacted then has to be allocated. It could go to seniors, or it could go to homeless services, or it could go to anything,” she said.</p> <p>Asked if she would publicly oppose and testify against the tax if given the opportunity, Brewer said she would. She said she had not been in touch with the mayor or his staff about the mansion tax specifically, but had heard from constituents concerned about the measure’s effects.</p> <p>In emailed comments expanding on the report, IBO Chief of Staff Doug Turetsky said there were arguments for and against the tax. A possible issue is the specter of a price cliff: “suddenly you will probably have a lot of sales priced just under the threshold for the mansion tax.”</p> <p>However, he touted the proposal’s potential to level the playing field, as both co-ops and high-end residential sales paid in cash or with foreign financing are not subject to the city’s existing mortgage recording tax. “As a result, purchasers of a comparatively moderate priced home will likely pay both the city’s mortgage recording tax and real property transfer tax, while many buyers of the city’s most expensive residential properties will only pay the transfer tax,” he said.</p> <p>Along with skepticism from Brewer, de Blasio is facing a long road to mansion tax passage in Albany, where both Cuomo, a fellow Democrat, and the state Senate Republican majority are philosophically opposed to new taxes. Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan has said his conference is interested in cutting taxes, and he is facing a Cuomo proposal to extend the state’s “millionaire’s tax.”</p> <p>De Blasio has said that recent progressive victories indicate nothing is impossible to see through Albany if there is enough support. The mayor also argues the city needs the mansion tax revenue to bolster his affordable housing plan, especially for seniors, though the city has been rapidly adding to its budget under the mayor without additional taxes, given revenues have been strong amid a booming city economy.</p> <p>“I don’t think the mayor has thus far made the case why the tax is needed for any particular agenda he wants to pursue,” said Carol Kellerman, president of the Citizens Budget Commission, adding that “it would seem to us that the mayor and the [City] Council are able to fund anything they need $330 million for” out of the already expanded, $84.7 billion budget the mayor has proposed for fiscal year 2018.</p> <p>Melissa Grace, a spokesperson for the mayor’s office, dismissed the idea of a price cliff, arguing that, since the tax would only apply for the price over $2 million, “that’s not going to affect any buyer or seller’s behavior.” She also pointed out that the average home purchase affected by the tax would be $4.5 million, an argument the mayor also raised at an unrelated press conference this week when Gotham Gazette asked about his tax plan.</p> <p>In response to Brewer’s concern of the money being used for other purposes, Grace said that according to the city’s proposal, the funds would go specifically to the recently announced Elder Rent Assistance program and could not be used for anything else.</p> <p>Asked at a Tuesday press conference about previous statements that the mansion tax was justifiable given tax cuts for the wealthy the mayor is anticipating from Washington, D.C., the mayor said that President Donald Trump “has been salivating for the opportunity to reduce corporate taxes and taxes on the wealthy...So I think it’s a really, really good betting assumption there will be tax cuts for the wealthy and the corporations.”</p> <p>The mayor added that, even if a federal tax cut does not materialize, “I still think the mansion tax makes sense...Someone who’s buying a $4.5 million home can afford to spend a little bit more.”</p> <p>

***
by Felipe De La Hoz, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Five Borough Presidents Advise, Critique De Blasio 2017-01-24T05:00:00+00:00 2017-01-24T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6727:five-borough-presidents-advise-critique-de-blasio Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/5_borough_presidents_crains_forum_via_bpericadams_1.jpg" alt="5 borough presidents crains forum via bpericadams 1" width="600" height="301" /></p> <p>The five BPs at Crain's forum (photo: @BPEricAdams)</p> <hr /> <p>Communicate better. Build more affordable housing, and faster. Streamline small business regulations. Improve transit offerings in the outer boroughs. Bust the bureaucracy to get city agencies moving more quickly.</p> <p>These tips and pleas were among the guidance that the five New York City borough presidents offered Mayor Bill de Blasio on Tuesday morning. At a forum convened by Crain’s New York Business, moderator Erik Engquist, a Crain’s editor, asked Manhattan’s Gale Brewer, Brooklyn’s Eric Adams, the Bronx’s Ruben Diaz Jr., Staten Island’s James Oddo, and Queens’ Melinda Katz a series of questions, including what advice they would give de Blasio, who has just entered his fourth year in office, which is his re-election year.</p> <p>When Engquist posed the question -- if he asked you for a piece of advice, what would you offer Mayor de Blasio? -- about 20 minutes into the discussion, he got a laugh from the roughly 125 audience members by calling on Diaz Jr. first. The Bronx Borough President has been one of the most outspoken critics of the mayor and is considering whether to challenge de Blasio this year.</p> <p>Once the laughter subsided, Diaz Jr. reiterated a point: that he wants the city to “hand over the keys” to the developers of the Kingsbridge Armory, a project that has been caught in limbo for some time and has been a flashpoint in the tension between Diaz Jr. and de Blasio, with some involvement from Governor Andrew Cuomo, who is much closer to Diaz Jr. than to de Blasio.</p> <p>Of advice for de Blasio, Diaz Jr. then said, “Obviously homelessness is a big issue, not only in my borough, but throughout the city of New York.” He the mayor and his administration “haven’t been able to wrap their hands around” the crisis and called for more permanent affordable housing, supportive housing, and development in the Bronx, saying that the administration takes too long to make decisions.</p> <p>Diaz Jr. also called for improvements to gifted and talented school program offerings and transportation expansion.</p> <p>“He could do a whole lot better, in my opinion, in his messaging and communication to the people of the city of New York,” Diaz Jr. added.</p> <p>Asked by Gotham Gazette after the event to expand on the communication critique, Diaz Jr. said the mayor and his team should be more proactively communicative with local communities about all kinds of issues. It is a common refrain from de Blasio critics -- and some allies -- that was echoed by Queens Borough President Katz and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams as well.</p> <p>Among the borough presidents, both Eric Adams and Gale Brewer are strong de Blasio allies. Adams has already endorsed de Blasio for reelection (he plans to run for Mayor himself, he said again at the Crain’s event, but not this year) and Brewer told Gotham Gazette afterward that she is supportive of de Blasio’s bid for a second term.</p> <p>Still, Adams and Brewer had ‘constructive criticism’ for the mayor. Citing “quality of life” issues, Brewer said she wants the mayor to focus on noise mitigation, improving city schools, investing even more in NYCHA and affordable housing, and expanding free WiFi. Brewer credited de Blasio for crime being down and improving relationships between community members and the police, as well as the IDNYC program.</p> <p>Adams also cited communication, saying that the mayor could do better showing people the improvements that have been made in the city. The Brooklyn BP then cited issues with “middle management,” saying that “the permanent bureaucracy” in city government shows a “lack of innovation, a lack of creativity.”</p> <p>Adams wants the city to stop holding back businesses by continuing to reduce unnecessary fines, an area where de Blasio has made a great deal of progress, and acting more quickly at the Department of Buildings and elsewhere. “The slowest walking human being I’ve seen in my life was at the Department of Buildings,” Adams said, drawing a laugh from the crowd.</p> <p>A former NYPD officer and captain, Adams gave de Blasio significant praise for improvements at the police department, especially in terms of interactions with New Yorkers. “Police are now doing something that is revolutionary,” he said, “they are saying ‘good morning.’” Adams said cops are walking the beat and talking with people, having positive interactions.</p> <p>Speaking after Adams, Queens Borough President Katz said she agreed with several points made by her colleagues before her. She noted that all five borough presidents have known and worked with de Blasio for years, since all six have held other positions in government.</p> <p>“As beneficial as he has been on a lot of topics, the communication part has been ineffective to a certain extent,” Katz said. She credited the mayor for universal pre-kindergarten and general progress. But, she called the “homeless crisis” “a very serious topic,” and cited issues in Queens related to use of hotels for housing homeless people and the protests that Queens residents have staged against the administration on the topic.</p> <p>Katz said she wants the city to better help people stay in their homes and their communities and to enhance “economic services to help get folks back on their feet.” Communities need to be involved in decision-making, she said, at which point Engquist aptly pointed out that communities often reject homeless shelters. Katz responded that “the worst thing you can do with a community is not tell them things” and that there are ways of being more upfront and negotiating better.</p> <p>Speaking last on the topic of advice for the mayor, Staten Island’s Oddo, the lone Republican among the borough presidents, said that a “sea change at the top of city government” with the election of de Blasio has not led to much change at all when it comes to the city bureaucracy that he often does battle with.</p> <p>It is consistently frustrating, Oddo explained, “to have a great idea, to have the mayor of the city of New York and the mayor’s office say ‘that is a good idea,’ and then run headlong into the brick wall of city agencies, time and time again.”</p> <p>“It’s the same jerks that were there in the Bloomberg years that are here now,” Oddo said, speaking of agency officials and local agency workers, especially at agencies like the Department of Transportation, Department of Buildings, and the Department of Design and Construction. “Unless you have an administration with strong deputy mayors pushing down on commissioners and making commissioners change the culture of these agencies, I hate to say it guys, I’m not sure if it really matters who’s up at the top.”</p> <p>“You want to have a legacy,” Oddo said to this mayor or any, “you have to change the culture of these agencies, and I don’t believe that’s happening.” Instead of commissioners changing their agencies, Oddo said, he sees agencies changing the commissioners for the worse.</p> <p>“The sea change that was promised, whether you believe in it or not, hasn’t happened,” Oddo said. At which point, Adams -- a vocal de Blasio supporter -- jumped in to echo the point, lamenting the permanent culture of “no” among civil servants who “wait out mayors...wait out commissioners and...get in the way of change.”</p> <p>A spokesperson for de Blasio declined to comment on the critiques provided by the borough presidents.</p> <p>Other than critiquing the mayor, at the Crain’s event the five borough presidents also discussed specific development projects in their respective boroughs, their takes on Uber and Airbnb, and broader political dynamics.</p> <p>There were half-jokes about the fact that Diaz Jr. is very close with Gov. Cuomo, while Adams enjoys a closer relationship with de Blasio. Yet there were more direct words between Diaz Jr. and Adams over whether Cuomo has been strong enough in backing fellow Democrats, specifically with respect to the state Senate, which remains in Republican control. Brewer said the governor has not been enough of a Democratic champion, which Adams agreed with and Diaz Jr. denied. Adams and Diaz Jr. debated the issue for a couple of minutes.</p> <p>Engquist also asked the borough presidents whether they plan to seek higher office. All five are eligible for another term in their current positions, and the four other than Diaz Jr. are definitively seeking re-election.</p> <p>As for later aspirations, Adams said he wants to be Mayor eventually. Diaz Jr. said he plans to seek higher office someday, but “I don’t know when.” Brewer said she doesn’t plan to seek a higher office; Katz demurred, saying she is focused on running for re-election; and Oddo said, “No, because First Deputy Mayor is not an elected position.”</p> <p>

***
by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/5_borough_presidents_crains_forum_via_bpericadams_1.jpg" alt="5 borough presidents crains forum via bpericadams 1" width="600" height="301" /></p> <p>The five BPs at Crain's forum (photo: @BPEricAdams)</p> <hr /> <p>Communicate better. Build more affordable housing, and faster. Streamline small business regulations. Improve transit offerings in the outer boroughs. Bust the bureaucracy to get city agencies moving more quickly.</p> <p>These tips and pleas were among the guidance that the five New York City borough presidents offered Mayor Bill de Blasio on Tuesday morning. At a forum convened by Crain’s New York Business, moderator Erik Engquist, a Crain’s editor, asked Manhattan’s Gale Brewer, Brooklyn’s Eric Adams, the Bronx’s Ruben Diaz Jr., Staten Island’s James Oddo, and Queens’ Melinda Katz a series of questions, including what advice they would give de Blasio, who has just entered his fourth year in office, which is his re-election year.</p> <p>When Engquist posed the question -- if he asked you for a piece of advice, what would you offer Mayor de Blasio? -- about 20 minutes into the discussion, he got a laugh from the roughly 125 audience members by calling on Diaz Jr. first. The Bronx Borough President has been one of the most outspoken critics of the mayor and is considering whether to challenge de Blasio this year.</p> <p>Once the laughter subsided, Diaz Jr. reiterated a point: that he wants the city to “hand over the keys” to the developers of the Kingsbridge Armory, a project that has been caught in limbo for some time and has been a flashpoint in the tension between Diaz Jr. and de Blasio, with some involvement from Governor Andrew Cuomo, who is much closer to Diaz Jr. than to de Blasio.</p> <p>Of advice for de Blasio, Diaz Jr. then said, “Obviously homelessness is a big issue, not only in my borough, but throughout the city of New York.” He the mayor and his administration “haven’t been able to wrap their hands around” the crisis and called for more permanent affordable housing, supportive housing, and development in the Bronx, saying that the administration takes too long to make decisions.</p> <p>Diaz Jr. also called for improvements to gifted and talented school program offerings and transportation expansion.</p> <p>“He could do a whole lot better, in my opinion, in his messaging and communication to the people of the city of New York,” Diaz Jr. added.</p> <p>Asked by Gotham Gazette after the event to expand on the communication critique, Diaz Jr. said the mayor and his team should be more proactively communicative with local communities about all kinds of issues. It is a common refrain from de Blasio critics -- and some allies -- that was echoed by Queens Borough President Katz and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams as well.</p> <p>Among the borough presidents, both Eric Adams and Gale Brewer are strong de Blasio allies. Adams has already endorsed de Blasio for reelection (he plans to run for Mayor himself, he said again at the Crain’s event, but not this year) and Brewer told Gotham Gazette afterward that she is supportive of de Blasio’s bid for a second term.</p> <p>Still, Adams and Brewer had ‘constructive criticism’ for the mayor. Citing “quality of life” issues, Brewer said she wants the mayor to focus on noise mitigation, improving city schools, investing even more in NYCHA and affordable housing, and expanding free WiFi. Brewer credited de Blasio for crime being down and improving relationships between community members and the police, as well as the IDNYC program.</p> <p>Adams also cited communication, saying that the mayor could do better showing people the improvements that have been made in the city. The Brooklyn BP then cited issues with “middle management,” saying that “the permanent bureaucracy” in city government shows a “lack of innovation, a lack of creativity.”</p> <p>Adams wants the city to stop holding back businesses by continuing to reduce unnecessary fines, an area where de Blasio has made a great deal of progress, and acting more quickly at the Department of Buildings and elsewhere. “The slowest walking human being I’ve seen in my life was at the Department of Buildings,” Adams said, drawing a laugh from the crowd.</p> <p>A former NYPD officer and captain, Adams gave de Blasio significant praise for improvements at the police department, especially in terms of interactions with New Yorkers. “Police are now doing something that is revolutionary,” he said, “they are saying ‘good morning.’” Adams said cops are walking the beat and talking with people, having positive interactions.</p> <p>Speaking after Adams, Queens Borough President Katz said she agreed with several points made by her colleagues before her. She noted that all five borough presidents have known and worked with de Blasio for years, since all six have held other positions in government.</p> <p>“As beneficial as he has been on a lot of topics, the communication part has been ineffective to a certain extent,” Katz said. She credited the mayor for universal pre-kindergarten and general progress. But, she called the “homeless crisis” “a very serious topic,” and cited issues in Queens related to use of hotels for housing homeless people and the protests that Queens residents have staged against the administration on the topic.</p> <p>Katz said she wants the city to better help people stay in their homes and their communities and to enhance “economic services to help get folks back on their feet.” Communities need to be involved in decision-making, she said, at which point Engquist aptly pointed out that communities often reject homeless shelters. Katz responded that “the worst thing you can do with a community is not tell them things” and that there are ways of being more upfront and negotiating better.</p> <p>Speaking last on the topic of advice for the mayor, Staten Island’s Oddo, the lone Republican among the borough presidents, said that a “sea change at the top of city government” with the election of de Blasio has not led to much change at all when it comes to the city bureaucracy that he often does battle with.</p> <p>It is consistently frustrating, Oddo explained, “to have a great idea, to have the mayor of the city of New York and the mayor’s office say ‘that is a good idea,’ and then run headlong into the brick wall of city agencies, time and time again.”</p> <p>“It’s the same jerks that were there in the Bloomberg years that are here now,” Oddo said, speaking of agency officials and local agency workers, especially at agencies like the Department of Transportation, Department of Buildings, and the Department of Design and Construction. “Unless you have an administration with strong deputy mayors pushing down on commissioners and making commissioners change the culture of these agencies, I hate to say it guys, I’m not sure if it really matters who’s up at the top.”</p> <p>“You want to have a legacy,” Oddo said to this mayor or any, “you have to change the culture of these agencies, and I don’t believe that’s happening.” Instead of commissioners changing their agencies, Oddo said, he sees agencies changing the commissioners for the worse.</p> <p>“The sea change that was promised, whether you believe in it or not, hasn’t happened,” Oddo said. At which point, Adams -- a vocal de Blasio supporter -- jumped in to echo the point, lamenting the permanent culture of “no” among civil servants who “wait out mayors...wait out commissioners and...get in the way of change.”</p> <p>A spokesperson for de Blasio declined to comment on the critiques provided by the borough presidents.</p> <p>Other than critiquing the mayor, at the Crain’s event the five borough presidents also discussed specific development projects in their respective boroughs, their takes on Uber and Airbnb, and broader political dynamics.</p> <p>There were half-jokes about the fact that Diaz Jr. is very close with Gov. Cuomo, while Adams enjoys a closer relationship with de Blasio. Yet there were more direct words between Diaz Jr. and Adams over whether Cuomo has been strong enough in backing fellow Democrats, specifically with respect to the state Senate, which remains in Republican control. Brewer said the governor has not been enough of a Democratic champion, which Adams agreed with and Diaz Jr. denied. Adams and Diaz Jr. debated the issue for a couple of minutes.</p> <p>Engquist also asked the borough presidents whether they plan to seek higher office. All five are eligible for another term in their current positions, and the four other than Diaz Jr. are definitively seeking re-election.</p> <p>As for later aspirations, Adams said he wants to be Mayor eventually. Diaz Jr. said he plans to seek higher office someday, but “I don’t know when.” Brewer said she doesn’t plan to seek a higher office; Katz demurred, saying she is focused on running for re-election; and Oddo said, “No, because First Deputy Mayor is not an elected position.”</p> <p>

***
by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Calls Grow for New Council-Led Deed Restriction Process 2016-07-21T04:00:00+00:00 2016-07-21T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6448:calls-grow-louder-for-new-deed-restriction-process Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/MMV_deed_restriction_presser.jpg" alt="MMV deed restriction presser" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Chin, Mark-Viverito, Brewer (l-r) at Wednesday's presser (photo: William Alatriste)</p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">Armed with the findings of a newly-released investigation that faults City Hall for a &ldquo;lack of accountability,&rdquo; Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and City Council Member Margaret Chin called for reform to the city&rsquo;s deed restriction removal process at a press conference on Wednesday outside City Hall.</p> <p dir="ltr">In a show of strength and seriousness, Brewer and Chin were joined by Public Advocate Letitia James, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, and others.</p> <p dir="ltr">The <a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/doi/downloads/pdf/2016/July%202016/pr22rivington_7142016.pdf" target="_blank">report</a>, issued by the Department of Investigations last Thursday, found that the Mayor&rsquo;s Office and the Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS) failed to stop the removal of a deed restriction at 45 Rivington Street in Manhattan and neglected to weigh whether the removal was in the city&rsquo;s best interests.</p> <p dir="ltr">Because of &ldquo;communication failures&rdquo; between DCAS and City Hall, the site that formerly housed a not-for-profit nursing home known as Rivington House was sold to a developer of luxury condominiums without objection from the administration, according to the DOI report. Deed restrictions are in place on a fairly small number of properties around the city, often ones that once belonged to the city, and establish certain restrictions on what a piece of land can be used for. The result on Rivington House has become a point for criticism of the de Blasio administration, and the process is still under investigation by the city comptroller and state attorney general.</p> <p dir="ltr">Brewer, Chin, Council Members Ben Kallos and Rosie Mendez, Public Advocate James, Speaker Mark-Viverito, and members of various community boards, blamed the mishandling of Rivington House and <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/14/nyregion/builder-acquires-valuable-harlem-plot-after-deed-change.html" target="_blank">a similar deed restriction removal at Dance Theater of Harlem</a> on the current &ldquo;murky, opaque&rdquo; process by which deed restriction changes are approved at the press conference.</p> <p dir="ltr">Brewer added that the issue would be solved by treating deed restriction changes using the same process as land use decisions, as well as passing <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=2735475&amp;GUID=C514BD10-3BCE-4529-B12B-2C345CD4C387" target="_blank">a bill she recommended and Chin sponsors</a> aimed at increasing transparency in the process.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;These are land use questions, but they weren&rsquo;t being handled like land use questions. Decisions to lift deed restrictions were being managed by the wrong people at the wrong agencies in the wrong process,&rdquo; Brewer said. &ldquo;We have a tried and true way to manage land use decisions. It&rsquo;s called ULURP.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">Brewer refers to the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure. Unlike the current procedure for deed restriction changes, ULURP would mandate input from community boards and the borough president, and would require final action by the City Council before deed restrictions could be lifted.</p> <p dir="ltr">The City Planning Commission is the only entity with the charter-mandated power to alter the deed restriction review process, meaning the Council must receive the recommendation of the CPC before it can enact a local law subjecting deed restriction changes to ULURP. The Commission will hold its next review session on July 25 and a public meeting on July 27.</p> <p dir="ltr">Mayor Bill de Blasio, who appoints the CPC Chair and six of its 13 members, indicated in a July 8 press release that the CPC will adopt a series of reforms that align with some of Chin and Brewer&rsquo;s suggestions, such as involving Borough Presidents and City Planning in the deed review process. He also announced that the city will re-invest $16 million in proceeds from the Rivington House sale &ldquo;in the affected community on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">De Blasio&rsquo;s plan, however, does not establish ULURP as the norm for deed restriction changes, instead favoring a plan that does not give the Council ultimate decisionmaking power in reviewing deed restriction changes. Chin said the Mayor&rsquo;s plan is &ldquo;not enough,&rdquo; a stance that Brewer echoed. Brewer also said the $16 million restitution was &ldquo;not sufficient&rdquo; as securing a building the size of Rivington House for the community would cost &ldquo;closer to $200 million.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">Further, Chin criticized the administration&rsquo;s lack of action to discipline those responsible for overseeing Rivington House&rsquo;s deed restriction removal. According to the DOI report, City Hall First Deputy Mayor Anthony Shorris was sent memos regarding the removal months in advance by former DCAS Commissioner Stacey Cumberbatch, but did not read the memos as he did not believe the matter to be important at the time.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;I think the people who are responsible should be held accountable. The mayor should reconsider,&rdquo; Chin said at the press conference. When asked whether she believed Shorris specifically should be held accountable, Chin simply repeated, &ldquo;those who are responsible.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">When reached for comment, a mayoral spokesperson did not respond to Chin and Brewer&rsquo;s criticisms, and instead reiterated the goals of the mayor&rsquo;s proposed reforms in a statement sent to Gotham Gazette.</p> <p dir="ltr">"The Mayor's instituting a series of reforms aimed at overhauling a broken, decades-old deed modification process. Our focus is on making sure these reforms deliver for local communities," the spokesperson said.</p> <p dir="ltr">For her part, Mark-Viverito was careful not to condemn any City Hall officials at the press conference. She did, however, speak in support of Chin and Brewer&rsquo;s proposal to grant the Council final decision-making power by instituting ULURP for deed restriction changes.</p> <p>&ldquo;The removal of the deed restrictions at the Rivington House and Dance Theater of Harlem wasn&rsquo;t malicious but it was inexcusably sloppy,&rdquo; Mark-Viverito said. &ldquo;Although we cannot change the actions of the last year, we can enact measures to insure nothing like this happens again.&rdquo;</p> <p>

***
by Aaron Holmes, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/MMV_deed_restriction_presser.jpg" alt="MMV deed restriction presser" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Chin, Mark-Viverito, Brewer (l-r) at Wednesday's presser (photo: William Alatriste)</p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">Armed with the findings of a newly-released investigation that faults City Hall for a &ldquo;lack of accountability,&rdquo; Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and City Council Member Margaret Chin called for reform to the city&rsquo;s deed restriction removal process at a press conference on Wednesday outside City Hall.</p> <p dir="ltr">In a show of strength and seriousness, Brewer and Chin were joined by Public Advocate Letitia James, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, and others.</p> <p dir="ltr">The <a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/doi/downloads/pdf/2016/July%202016/pr22rivington_7142016.pdf" target="_blank">report</a>, issued by the Department of Investigations last Thursday, found that the Mayor&rsquo;s Office and the Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS) failed to stop the removal of a deed restriction at 45 Rivington Street in Manhattan and neglected to weigh whether the removal was in the city&rsquo;s best interests.</p> <p dir="ltr">Because of &ldquo;communication failures&rdquo; between DCAS and City Hall, the site that formerly housed a not-for-profit nursing home known as Rivington House was sold to a developer of luxury condominiums without objection from the administration, according to the DOI report. Deed restrictions are in place on a fairly small number of properties around the city, often ones that once belonged to the city, and establish certain restrictions on what a piece of land can be used for. The result on Rivington House has become a point for criticism of the de Blasio administration, and the process is still under investigation by the city comptroller and state attorney general.</p> <p dir="ltr">Brewer, Chin, Council Members Ben Kallos and Rosie Mendez, Public Advocate James, Speaker Mark-Viverito, and members of various community boards, blamed the mishandling of Rivington House and <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/14/nyregion/builder-acquires-valuable-harlem-plot-after-deed-change.html" target="_blank">a similar deed restriction removal at Dance Theater of Harlem</a> on the current &ldquo;murky, opaque&rdquo; process by which deed restriction changes are approved at the press conference.</p> <p dir="ltr">Brewer added that the issue would be solved by treating deed restriction changes using the same process as land use decisions, as well as passing <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=2735475&amp;GUID=C514BD10-3BCE-4529-B12B-2C345CD4C387" target="_blank">a bill she recommended and Chin sponsors</a> aimed at increasing transparency in the process.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;These are land use questions, but they weren&rsquo;t being handled like land use questions. Decisions to lift deed restrictions were being managed by the wrong people at the wrong agencies in the wrong process,&rdquo; Brewer said. &ldquo;We have a tried and true way to manage land use decisions. It&rsquo;s called ULURP.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">Brewer refers to the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure. Unlike the current procedure for deed restriction changes, ULURP would mandate input from community boards and the borough president, and would require final action by the City Council before deed restrictions could be lifted.</p> <p dir="ltr">The City Planning Commission is the only entity with the charter-mandated power to alter the deed restriction review process, meaning the Council must receive the recommendation of the CPC before it can enact a local law subjecting deed restriction changes to ULURP. The Commission will hold its next review session on July 25 and a public meeting on July 27.</p> <p dir="ltr">Mayor Bill de Blasio, who appoints the CPC Chair and six of its 13 members, indicated in a July 8 press release that the CPC will adopt a series of reforms that align with some of Chin and Brewer&rsquo;s suggestions, such as involving Borough Presidents and City Planning in the deed review process. He also announced that the city will re-invest $16 million in proceeds from the Rivington House sale &ldquo;in the affected community on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">De Blasio&rsquo;s plan, however, does not establish ULURP as the norm for deed restriction changes, instead favoring a plan that does not give the Council ultimate decisionmaking power in reviewing deed restriction changes. Chin said the Mayor&rsquo;s plan is &ldquo;not enough,&rdquo; a stance that Brewer echoed. Brewer also said the $16 million restitution was &ldquo;not sufficient&rdquo; as securing a building the size of Rivington House for the community would cost &ldquo;closer to $200 million.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">Further, Chin criticized the administration&rsquo;s lack of action to discipline those responsible for overseeing Rivington House&rsquo;s deed restriction removal. According to the DOI report, City Hall First Deputy Mayor Anthony Shorris was sent memos regarding the removal months in advance by former DCAS Commissioner Stacey Cumberbatch, but did not read the memos as he did not believe the matter to be important at the time.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;I think the people who are responsible should be held accountable. The mayor should reconsider,&rdquo; Chin said at the press conference. When asked whether she believed Shorris specifically should be held accountable, Chin simply repeated, &ldquo;those who are responsible.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">When reached for comment, a mayoral spokesperson did not respond to Chin and Brewer&rsquo;s criticisms, and instead reiterated the goals of the mayor&rsquo;s proposed reforms in a statement sent to Gotham Gazette.</p> <p dir="ltr">"The Mayor's instituting a series of reforms aimed at overhauling a broken, decades-old deed modification process. Our focus is on making sure these reforms deliver for local communities," the spokesperson said.</p> <p dir="ltr">For her part, Mark-Viverito was careful not to condemn any City Hall officials at the press conference. She did, however, speak in support of Chin and Brewer&rsquo;s proposal to grant the Council final decision-making power by instituting ULURP for deed restriction changes.</p> <p>&ldquo;The removal of the deed restrictions at the Rivington House and Dance Theater of Harlem wasn&rsquo;t malicious but it was inexcusably sloppy,&rdquo; Mark-Viverito said. &ldquo;Although we cannot change the actions of the last year, we can enact measures to insure nothing like this happens again.&rdquo;</p> <p>

***
by Aaron Holmes, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

</p>
A Series of Rallies Outside City Hall 2016-05-27T04:00:00+00:00 2016-05-27T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6359:a-series-of-rallies-outside-city-hall Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/27218607256_7e9d085359_z.jpg" width="600" height="401" alt="Adult Literacy" /></p> <p><a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/gothamgazette/27199374251/in/datetaken/" target="_blank">&nbsp;Adult Literacy Rally</a> (Sofie Hecht / Gotham Gazette)</p> <hr /> <p>&nbsp;A variety of activist groups and City Council members gathered outside City Hall on Wednesday morning to call for attention to their respective causes. New legislation was to be introduced at the City Council that afternoon and more budget money was being requested, or demanded, as the city’s new financial plan is due by the end of June and negotiations between the Mayor and the City Council continue.</p> <p>The weather had finally begun to feel like summer and a series of hot rallies sought recognition from the media and lawmakers, especially Mayor Bill de Blasio, who, along with many City Council members, walked into City Hall throughout the morning. The central government building provided the backdrop for what felt like several attempts at the same scene from a movie - different actors in different clothes holding different signs about different causes, crowds of varying sizes trying to get the feel just right.</p> <p>But, in reality, these were individuals and groups with very serious purposes, attempting to influence the legislative and budget-making process, with the City Council set to hold one of its two full-bodied meetings of the month in the afternoon, where Council members would introduce new bills and vote on previously considered items. Some Council members participated in the rallies beforehand, others may have taken note as they walked by.</p> <p>The morning in photographs, with explanation below:&nbsp;</p> <p> <a data-flickr-embed="true" data-footer="true" href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/gothamgazette/albums/72157666383400664" title="City Hall Rallies May 25, 2016"><img src="https://c4.staticflickr.com/8/7347/27198937571_620e46f8a7.jpg" width="500" height="334" alt="City Hall Rallies May 25, 2016"></a><script async src="//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js" charset="utf-8"></script> </p> <p>Deed Restriction Reform<br />The day began at 9:15 a.m. with a press conference led by Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and City Council Member Margaret Chin, who announced new legislation being introduced to the Council that would change the city’s deed restriction practices. The move was prompted by the controversial lifting of a deed restriction by the de Blasio administration that is now being investigated by several entities - the “arcane process...surrounding the sale of Rivington House on the Lower East Side,” according to the Brewer/Chin press release. Council Members Mark Levine, Ben Kallos, and Vincent Gentile voiced their support at the press conference. Increased transparency and oversight are at the center of the reforms being proposed.</p> <p>Parks Funding<br />Following the deed restriction press conference, about 25 people gathered on the steps of City Hall to rally for increased funding for parks and green spaces. City Council Parks Committee Chair Mark Levine, New Yorkers for Parks, the New York League of Conservation Voters, and others participated. Sporting signs with the hashtag #pitchin4parks or slogans like “Flowers Not Towers,” the group of gardeners, park enthusiasts, park workers, and advocates made their budget requests clear. Levine has been pushing his Council colleagues and the de Blasio administration for more parks funding before the budget deal is reached.</p> <p>Library Funding<br />An even larger and more colorful group came out at 11 a.m. to lobby for funding for libraries. Library workers and supporters of the cause clad in bright orange or green t-shirts stood on the steps behind the speakers. City Council Members Brad Lander, Mark Levine, and Jimmy Van Bramer were among those who voiced their support for a $22 million increase in operating funding and $100 million of capital funding to New York City Public Libraries for restoring and maintaining the buildings. “Public libraries offer New Yorkers opportunities to strengthen themselves and their communities,” New York Public Library President Tony Marx said in a press release, expressing the same sentiment at the rally. Council Member Van Bramer, chair of the Council’s cultural affairs committee, echoed Marx, saying, “Libraries are our lifeblood.”</p> <p>Adult Literacy Funding<br />“What do we want?” “Education!” “When do we want it? “Now!”</p> <p>Approximately 1000 people gathered outside City Hall’s gates around noon on Wednesday, rallying for increased funding for adult literacy. They could be heard blocks away passionately calling for an end to cuts to High School Equivalency (HSE) and English as a Second Language (ESL) classes. Seven hundred students from over 15 different adult literacy programs attended the rally, according to organizers, calling on Mayor de Blasio to invest $16 million in adult literacy programs this fiscal year so that their programs and education can continue.</p> <p>Myra Less shared her family’s story, one very similar to many students and attendees of the Wednesday event. Less moved to New York from Ecuador when she was 21 and struggled to find work or enroll in college because she couldn’t speak English. She learned English from newspapers, TV, music, and “practice and practice and practice,” she explained. But others aren’t as lucky as her, she noted. Her mother’s English classes at an organization on her corner stopped because of funding cuts. “My mom wants to help [my sister] with her homework and she can’t because she’s still struggling with her English,” she said.</p> <p>More than 6,000 adult literacy classroom seats were cut for fiscal year 2015. Of 2.2 million adults in need of either HSE or ESL classes, state, federal and city funding only provides services for 61,000 people, less than 3% of the need, according to UJA-Federation employee Sasha Kesler.</p> <p>“You guys drive New York City,” Kevin Douglass of United Neighborhood Houses said to the crowd of students and advocates, “We need adult literacy.”</p> <p>Budget Crunch Time<br />As negotiations enter their final stages, expect more rallies outside City Hall as advocates and legislators look to push for more funding for their causes. A budget deal is due by the July 1 start of the new fiscal year, but many expect it to be completed sooner. Stay tuned!</p> <p>***<br />by Sofie Hecht, Gotham Gazette<br /><a href="https://twitter.com/GothamGazette" target="_blank">@GothamGazette</a></p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/27218607256_7e9d085359_z.jpg" width="600" height="401" alt="Adult Literacy" /></p> <p><a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/gothamgazette/27199374251/in/datetaken/" target="_blank">&nbsp;Adult Literacy Rally</a> (Sofie Hecht / Gotham Gazette)</p> <hr /> <p>&nbsp;A variety of activist groups and City Council members gathered outside City Hall on Wednesday morning to call for attention to their respective causes. New legislation was to be introduced at the City Council that afternoon and more budget money was being requested, or demanded, as the city’s new financial plan is due by the end of June and negotiations between the Mayor and the City Council continue.</p> <p>The weather had finally begun to feel like summer and a series of hot rallies sought recognition from the media and lawmakers, especially Mayor Bill de Blasio, who, along with many City Council members, walked into City Hall throughout the morning. The central government building provided the backdrop for what felt like several attempts at the same scene from a movie - different actors in different clothes holding different signs about different causes, crowds of varying sizes trying to get the feel just right.</p> <p>But, in reality, these were individuals and groups with very serious purposes, attempting to influence the legislative and budget-making process, with the City Council set to hold one of its two full-bodied meetings of the month in the afternoon, where Council members would introduce new bills and vote on previously considered items. Some Council members participated in the rallies beforehand, others may have taken note as they walked by.</p> <p>The morning in photographs, with explanation below:&nbsp;</p> <p> <a data-flickr-embed="true" data-footer="true" href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/gothamgazette/albums/72157666383400664" title="City Hall Rallies May 25, 2016"><img src="https://c4.staticflickr.com/8/7347/27198937571_620e46f8a7.jpg" width="500" height="334" alt="City Hall Rallies May 25, 2016"></a><script async src="//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js" charset="utf-8"></script> </p> <p>Deed Restriction Reform<br />The day began at 9:15 a.m. with a press conference led by Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and City Council Member Margaret Chin, who announced new legislation being introduced to the Council that would change the city’s deed restriction practices. The move was prompted by the controversial lifting of a deed restriction by the de Blasio administration that is now being investigated by several entities - the “arcane process...surrounding the sale of Rivington House on the Lower East Side,” according to the Brewer/Chin press release. Council Members Mark Levine, Ben Kallos, and Vincent Gentile voiced their support at the press conference. Increased transparency and oversight are at the center of the reforms being proposed.</p> <p>Parks Funding<br />Following the deed restriction press conference, about 25 people gathered on the steps of City Hall to rally for increased funding for parks and green spaces. City Council Parks Committee Chair Mark Levine, New Yorkers for Parks, the New York League of Conservation Voters, and others participated. Sporting signs with the hashtag #pitchin4parks or slogans like “Flowers Not Towers,” the group of gardeners, park enthusiasts, park workers, and advocates made their budget requests clear. Levine has been pushing his Council colleagues and the de Blasio administration for more parks funding before the budget deal is reached.</p> <p>Library Funding<br />An even larger and more colorful group came out at 11 a.m. to lobby for funding for libraries. Library workers and supporters of the cause clad in bright orange or green t-shirts stood on the steps behind the speakers. City Council Members Brad Lander, Mark Levine, and Jimmy Van Bramer were among those who voiced their support for a $22 million increase in operating funding and $100 million of capital funding to New York City Public Libraries for restoring and maintaining the buildings. “Public libraries offer New Yorkers opportunities to strengthen themselves and their communities,” New York Public Library President Tony Marx said in a press release, expressing the same sentiment at the rally. Council Member Van Bramer, chair of the Council’s cultural affairs committee, echoed Marx, saying, “Libraries are our lifeblood.”</p> <p>Adult Literacy Funding<br />“What do we want?” “Education!” “When do we want it? “Now!”</p> <p>Approximately 1000 people gathered outside City Hall’s gates around noon on Wednesday, rallying for increased funding for adult literacy. They could be heard blocks away passionately calling for an end to cuts to High School Equivalency (HSE) and English as a Second Language (ESL) classes. Seven hundred students from over 15 different adult literacy programs attended the rally, according to organizers, calling on Mayor de Blasio to invest $16 million in adult literacy programs this fiscal year so that their programs and education can continue.</p> <p>Myra Less shared her family’s story, one very similar to many students and attendees of the Wednesday event. Less moved to New York from Ecuador when she was 21 and struggled to find work or enroll in college because she couldn’t speak English. She learned English from newspapers, TV, music, and “practice and practice and practice,” she explained. But others aren’t as lucky as her, she noted. Her mother’s English classes at an organization on her corner stopped because of funding cuts. “My mom wants to help [my sister] with her homework and she can’t because she’s still struggling with her English,” she said.</p> <p>More than 6,000 adult literacy classroom seats were cut for fiscal year 2015. Of 2.2 million adults in need of either HSE or ESL classes, state, federal and city funding only provides services for 61,000 people, less than 3% of the need, according to UJA-Federation employee Sasha Kesler.</p> <p>“You guys drive New York City,” Kevin Douglass of United Neighborhood Houses said to the crowd of students and advocates, “We need adult literacy.”</p> <p>Budget Crunch Time<br />As negotiations enter their final stages, expect more rallies outside City Hall as advocates and legislators look to push for more funding for their causes. A budget deal is due by the July 1 start of the new fiscal year, but many expect it to be completed sooner. Stay tuned!</p> <p>***<br />by Sofie Hecht, Gotham Gazette<br /><a href="https://twitter.com/GothamGazette" target="_blank">@GothamGazette</a></p> Wary of Gentrification, East Harlem Braces for Change 2016-04-01T02:22:42+00:00 2016-04-01T02:22:42+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6258:wary-of-gentrification-east-harlem-braces-for-change-page-two Super User <p dir="ltr"><strong><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/mmv_ehnp.jpg" alt="mmv ehnp" height="400" width="600" /></strong></p> <p dir="ltr">&nbsp;Mark-Viverito at an East Harlem planning session (photo: William Alatriste)</p> <hr /> <p><em>CONTINUED from <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/6253-wary-of-gentrification-east-harlem-braces-for-rapid-change" target="_blank">page 1</a> - this is page 2 of 2</em></p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Community calls for community planning</strong><br />City officials have not yet presented a timeline, much less a plan, for rezoning East Harlem, but that hasn’t stopped residents from preemptively organizing against “upzoning” that they believe will accelerate displacement of low-income people in their neighborhood. Two community-driven plans have emerged from El Barrio since November: one, an attempt at leveraging rezoning for a higher percentage of more deeply affordable housing and community benefits through collaboration with city officials; the other, an outright rejection of the mayor’s plan and a demand for better protections for immigrants and very low-income people living in regulated rental units.</p> <p dir="ltr">Speaker Mark-Viverito, who represents East Harlem and parts of the South Bronx, told NY1 in January, "The question is, do we want to let things stand and get nothing out of it, or do we try to get something, allow the density to happen, with a benefit to the community? To me, the answer is very clear. We have to get something for the community.”</p> <p dir="ltr">“Getting something for the community” seems to be the theme of the<a href="http://www.eastharlemplan.nyc" target="_blank">&nbsp;East Harlem Neighborhood Plan</a>, which was completed in February by a broad coalition led Mark-Viverito, Manhattan President Gale Brewer, and advocacy group Community Voices Heard.</p> <p dir="ltr"><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/22984956200_9ef6976220_z.jpg" alt="east harlem planning table" style="margin: 8px; float: left;" height="249" width="375" />The EHNP is the product of a 10-month process in which over 1,300 East Harlem residents filled out hundreds of community surveys, gathered for seven community vision workshops on 12 topic areas, and produced an exhaustive list of recommendations for neighborhood preservation and improvement. While it certainly won’t halt fear of gentrification and displacement, it may go a long way in influencing the rezoning plan put forth by City Hall, and, many believe, stemming the tide of displacement while improving the community in a variety of ways.</p> <p dir="ltr">The plan’s recommendations span 12 themes, ranging from improvements to NYCHA developments to arts and culture preservation to senior needs, but two issues took precedence over the rest: the preservation of affordable housing and job creation.</p> <p dir="ltr">The plan specifically calls for better enforcement of anti-tenant harassment laws, additional legal and educational support for tenants, and policy changes and increased funding aimed at preserving existing regulated units and bringing more units under regulation. The plan also recommends that the city build off of the affordability that will be required on private rezoned sites under the new Mandatory Inclusionary Housing rules. The plan recommends 100% affordable units on public sites, and asks that all tools, such as HPD subsidies and programs, be utilized to achieve deeper affordability for the lowest-income residents.</p> <p dir="ltr">Participants also heavily emphasize job creation, job training, and living wages as changes they want to see accompany increased density in their neighborhood.</p> <p dir="ltr">East Harlem’s distinction as the home district of the powerful City Council Speaker sets the area apart from other neighborhoods on deck to be rezoned. Still, other Council members took notice of the EHNP effort, even attending the final planning event, eyeing ways in which they can lead a local process to get ahead of a more centralized, mayoral administration-run plan for rezoning.</p> <p dir="ltr">The EHNP coalition sent the 134-page plan to the City Planning Commission and other city agencies after its release on February 25.</p> <p dir="ltr">Community planning in New York neighborhoods is not a new concept; the Department of City Planning has been organizing “place-based planning studies” in other to-be-rezoned neighborhoods to help develop recommendations for affordable housing, economic development and infrastructure investments, and assisting community and borough boards in the creation of&nbsp;<a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/site/planning/community/community-based-planning.page?tab=2" target="_blank">197-a community plans</a>.</p> <p dir="ltr">The city created the rezoning plan that is now being negotiated for East New York after a number of community meetings, and the process is playing out in Flushing and other areas slated for rezonings.</p> <p dir="ltr">But the Speaker calls the EHNP the first of its kind in the city, emphasizing a proactive, bottom-up approach.</p> <p dir="ltr">“We’re kind of doing it upside-down. Usually an application is presented and we respond to it, right?” Mark-Viverito said to the audience at an EHNP community forum on January 27, referring to the typical land use review process (ULURP), which is taking place in East New York. “The [East Harlem] application hasn’t even been submitted. We have a plan, we’re giving it to the city, and we’re forcing the city to consider and take into account those needs in the application process.”</p> <p dir="ltr">It remains to be seen whether the Speaker’s influence will fortify the plan once the rezoning process begins in East Harlem, but many people involved believe that the strength of the plan’s process and government-community partnerships have given the neighborhood the best chance of success as they both brace for and embrace the rezoning.</p> <p dir="ltr">"This is a document that we actually want to govern how East Harlem is developed and evolves over time,” said Sondra Youdelman, director Community Voices Heard, in a February interview with Gotham Gazette. “Now it's up to the city to figure out which policies and tools need to be coupled together to make this happen.”</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>'Consulta del Barrio'</strong><br />Movement for Justice in El Barrio, founded in 2004, is an organization predominantly comprised of and led by immigrants - mostly women - who have lived in rent-regulated apartment units in East Harlem for decades. The organization claims over 1,000 members and organizing within 95 privately-owned buildings in El Barrio.</p> <p dir="ltr">MJB&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5972-east-harlem-tenants-group-rejects-de-blasio-housing-plan-offer-its-own">released in November 2015 a 10-point plan</a>&nbsp;that roundly rejected the mayor’s zoning plans as they stood then and focuses almost exclusively on housing preservation for low-income residents in rent-regulated apartments, people of color, and immigrant communities, which the group says are disproportionately displaced by landlord harassment and gentrification.</p> <p dir="ltr">“Our members didn’t want to just reject the plan,” said Juan Haro, an organizer at Movement for Justice in El Barrio. “They wanted to put forward a concrete proposal to improve the housing situation in our neighborhood.”</p> <p dir="ltr">The document is also an indictment of what Movement for Justice calls a failure by HPD to enforce housing codes and protect tenants’ rights.</p> <p dir="ltr">“We believe that when HPD is not responsive to landlords breaking the local housing code, and their unresponsiveness allows landlords to get away with driving out tenants, which contributes to displacement and gentrification,” Haro said.</p> <p dir="ltr">Movement for Justice in El Barrio’s plan calls for increased and independent oversight of HPD; a public education campaign to inform tenants about HPD's role; a new body to collect fines levied against negligent landlords; publication of inspection documents in multiple languages, penalties for landlords who fail to make repairs within 24 hours of emergency violations; the establishment of an East Harlem HPD oversight team; and improvements to HPD’s inspection and follow-up speeds.</p> <p dir="ltr">According to Haro, over 8,500 East Harlem residents participated in 12 public meetings throughout the year-long “Consulta del Barrio,” or neighborhood consultation. Haro highlights the group’s bottom-up organizing strategy and pragmatic outreach effort, which targets very low-income residents and immigrants, and favors flyering over social media.</p> <p dir="ltr">“We know that there is a digital divide,” he said. “Many folks in the neighborhood don’t have access to Facebook or Twitter, so we focused on on-the-street outreach, and worked in the evenings and on weekends when more people weren’t at work.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Public meetings were “fluid and organic,” Haro added, and residents attended to learn more about the intricacies of the rezoning proposal and land use in general. Participants voted to reject the mayor’s proposals, and formulated the demands that would become the pith of the 10-point plan.</p> <p dir="ltr">The plan concentrates on protecting tenants of regulated, private apartment buildings, because those tenants have the most at stake as the neighborhood gentrifies, Haro said. “Landlords cut off basic services and violate local housing codes,” he said. “They offer buyouts to tenants to surrender their units. They threaten to bring in immigration authorities or ask for proof as citizens and threaten based on citizenship."</p> <p dir="ltr">The de Blasio administration has mounted an initiative to deter evictions and landlord harassment in rapidly changing neighborhoods with the creation of the Tenant Support Unit in August of 2015. The mayor announced in February that the unit had resolved its thousandth case since it began offering assistance to tenants.</p> <p dir="ltr">While&nbsp;<a href="http://citylimits.org/2015/07/21/citys-tenant-protection-effort-breaks-ground-and-ruffles-feathers/">reviews of the unit’s methodology have been mixed</a>, the administration touted a ten-fold increase in free legal services for tenants, for a total of $62 million in funding that will be fully implemented for the 2017 fiscal year, which begins July 1 of this year. &nbsp;As a result, de Blasio said, evictions by city marshals have decreased 24 percent since he took office, down from 28,849 in 2013 to 21,988 in 2015.</p> <p dir="ltr">While the new support measures and protections introduced by the mayor seem to be having a positive effect, members at MJB believe that they will still be forced out once rezoning takes hold.</p> <p dir="ltr">Movement for Justice in El Barrio members organized a series of protests against the mayor’s plan leading up to a Community Board 11 vote on MIH and ZQA in November.</p> <p dir="ltr">Sandra Cruz, a member, said at a rally before the meeting, “We are against the mayor’s ‘luxury housing plan’ because we know that 25-30% of the apartments that the mayor says will supposedly be constructed for low-income people will not be accessible to the poor people of East Harlem, because we don’t make enough money to pay those high rents.”</p> <p dir="ltr">CB 11 voted “no with conditions” on the mayor’s citywide zoning plans. This feedback, similar to that of community boards across the city, helped inform the City Council’s negotiations with the de Blasio administration over the final versions of MIH and ZQA.</p> <p dir="ltr">Movement for Justice sent its 10-point community plan to Speaker Mark-Viverito and Borough President Gale Brewer in November, but have not received a response, they said. Meanwhile, Mark-Viverito, Brewer, and a variety of other stakeholders, were in the process of creating the East Harlem Neighborhood Plan.</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Next for East Harlem</strong><br />With MIH and ZQA in place, East Harlem stakeholders are watching the neighborhood rezoning process as it unfolds in East New York, the first neighborhood rezoning being moved by the de Blasio administration, in consultation with the City Council.</p> <p dir="ltr">Like East Harlem, East New York’s population is predominantly Latino and African-American, and the neighborhood AMI is around $34,000. City Council Member Rafael Espinal represents much of East New York and remains adamant that the plan for the area not help in pricing out long-term residents.</p> <p dir="ltr">"Neighbors on my street are already jacking up the rents to $1,800 [per month]," Espinal said at a March 8 City Council hearing on the East New York rezoning.</p> <p dir="ltr">Parallels between East New York and East Harlem are undeniable, and many are watching the process for clues as to how the future may unfold in El Barrio. East Harlem may be slightly further along in a gentrification process as of now, but both neighborhoods are changing.</p> <p dir="ltr">Though some involved in the East Harlem Neighborhood Plan are skeptical as to how much of the document will be seriously considered by the city, the speaker hopes that the document will serve as a model for other communities down the road.</p> <p dir="ltr">“It would be great,” she said at the January 27 community forum, “if the administration established some sort of process to create neighborhood plans in every area that would be rezoned.” She followed this up by devoting a portion of her February State of the City address to the Council’s proposal that the city develop a Neighborhood Commitment Plan that would accompany all rezoning proposals, “describing and tracking commitments for housing, schools, infrastructure and other city services.”</p> <p dir="ltr">“Planning for the future of our neighborhoods should start from the ground up and infuse the voices of everyday New Yorkers into policy decisions,” Mark-Viverito said in her address. She remarked that the community planning process is an opportunity to discuss neighborhood concerns “from school overcrowding and pedestrian safety to sewers and public transit.”</p> <p dir="ltr">For community organizations in El Barrio, the work has only just begun. Leaders across groups and initiatives say they’ll continue to apply pressure to the city to respond to demands for deeper affordability, better protection of tenants’ rights, neighborhood improvements, and capital investments. Essential, they say, is community power in all processes.</p> <p dir="ltr">Even as the future of East Harlem seems unsure, long-time resident Pearl Barkley notes the surge of neighborhood civic engagement around rezoning as a silver lining.</p> <p dir="ltr">“I grew up in a time of social movements, with activism throughout the neighborhood,” Barkley said. “Right now, when I attend meetings, I see young people standing up, excited to talk about what they want for their city. That gives me hope. It makes me happy.”</p> <p dir="ltr"><em>This is page 2 of 2 - <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/6253-wary-of-gentrification-east-harlem-braces-for-rapid-change" target="_blank">return to page 1</a></em></p> <p dir="ltr">

***
by Maggie Calmes, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p dir="ltr"><strong><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/mmv_ehnp.jpg" alt="mmv ehnp" height="400" width="600" /></strong></p> <p dir="ltr">&nbsp;Mark-Viverito at an East Harlem planning session (photo: William Alatriste)</p> <hr /> <p><em>CONTINUED from <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/6253-wary-of-gentrification-east-harlem-braces-for-rapid-change" target="_blank">page 1</a> - this is page 2 of 2</em></p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Community calls for community planning</strong><br />City officials have not yet presented a timeline, much less a plan, for rezoning East Harlem, but that hasn’t stopped residents from preemptively organizing against “upzoning” that they believe will accelerate displacement of low-income people in their neighborhood. Two community-driven plans have emerged from El Barrio since November: one, an attempt at leveraging rezoning for a higher percentage of more deeply affordable housing and community benefits through collaboration with city officials; the other, an outright rejection of the mayor’s plan and a demand for better protections for immigrants and very low-income people living in regulated rental units.</p> <p dir="ltr">Speaker Mark-Viverito, who represents East Harlem and parts of the South Bronx, told NY1 in January, "The question is, do we want to let things stand and get nothing out of it, or do we try to get something, allow the density to happen, with a benefit to the community? To me, the answer is very clear. We have to get something for the community.”</p> <p dir="ltr">“Getting something for the community” seems to be the theme of the<a href="http://www.eastharlemplan.nyc" target="_blank">&nbsp;East Harlem Neighborhood Plan</a>, which was completed in February by a broad coalition led Mark-Viverito, Manhattan President Gale Brewer, and advocacy group Community Voices Heard.</p> <p dir="ltr"><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/22984956200_9ef6976220_z.jpg" alt="east harlem planning table" style="margin: 8px; float: left;" height="249" width="375" />The EHNP is the product of a 10-month process in which over 1,300 East Harlem residents filled out hundreds of community surveys, gathered for seven community vision workshops on 12 topic areas, and produced an exhaustive list of recommendations for neighborhood preservation and improvement. While it certainly won’t halt fear of gentrification and displacement, it may go a long way in influencing the rezoning plan put forth by City Hall, and, many believe, stemming the tide of displacement while improving the community in a variety of ways.</p> <p dir="ltr">The plan’s recommendations span 12 themes, ranging from improvements to NYCHA developments to arts and culture preservation to senior needs, but two issues took precedence over the rest: the preservation of affordable housing and job creation.</p> <p dir="ltr">The plan specifically calls for better enforcement of anti-tenant harassment laws, additional legal and educational support for tenants, and policy changes and increased funding aimed at preserving existing regulated units and bringing more units under regulation. The plan also recommends that the city build off of the affordability that will be required on private rezoned sites under the new Mandatory Inclusionary Housing rules. The plan recommends 100% affordable units on public sites, and asks that all tools, such as HPD subsidies and programs, be utilized to achieve deeper affordability for the lowest-income residents.</p> <p dir="ltr">Participants also heavily emphasize job creation, job training, and living wages as changes they want to see accompany increased density in their neighborhood.</p> <p dir="ltr">East Harlem’s distinction as the home district of the powerful City Council Speaker sets the area apart from other neighborhoods on deck to be rezoned. Still, other Council members took notice of the EHNP effort, even attending the final planning event, eyeing ways in which they can lead a local process to get ahead of a more centralized, mayoral administration-run plan for rezoning.</p> <p dir="ltr">The EHNP coalition sent the 134-page plan to the City Planning Commission and other city agencies after its release on February 25.</p> <p dir="ltr">Community planning in New York neighborhoods is not a new concept; the Department of City Planning has been organizing “place-based planning studies” in other to-be-rezoned neighborhoods to help develop recommendations for affordable housing, economic development and infrastructure investments, and assisting community and borough boards in the creation of&nbsp;<a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/site/planning/community/community-based-planning.page?tab=2" target="_blank">197-a community plans</a>.</p> <p dir="ltr">The city created the rezoning plan that is now being negotiated for East New York after a number of community meetings, and the process is playing out in Flushing and other areas slated for rezonings.</p> <p dir="ltr">But the Speaker calls the EHNP the first of its kind in the city, emphasizing a proactive, bottom-up approach.</p> <p dir="ltr">“We’re kind of doing it upside-down. Usually an application is presented and we respond to it, right?” Mark-Viverito said to the audience at an EHNP community forum on January 27, referring to the typical land use review process (ULURP), which is taking place in East New York. “The [East Harlem] application hasn’t even been submitted. We have a plan, we’re giving it to the city, and we’re forcing the city to consider and take into account those needs in the application process.”</p> <p dir="ltr">It remains to be seen whether the Speaker’s influence will fortify the plan once the rezoning process begins in East Harlem, but many people involved believe that the strength of the plan’s process and government-community partnerships have given the neighborhood the best chance of success as they both brace for and embrace the rezoning.</p> <p dir="ltr">"This is a document that we actually want to govern how East Harlem is developed and evolves over time,” said Sondra Youdelman, director Community Voices Heard, in a February interview with Gotham Gazette. “Now it's up to the city to figure out which policies and tools need to be coupled together to make this happen.”</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>'Consulta del Barrio'</strong><br />Movement for Justice in El Barrio, founded in 2004, is an organization predominantly comprised of and led by immigrants - mostly women - who have lived in rent-regulated apartment units in East Harlem for decades. The organization claims over 1,000 members and organizing within 95 privately-owned buildings in El Barrio.</p> <p dir="ltr">MJB&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5972-east-harlem-tenants-group-rejects-de-blasio-housing-plan-offer-its-own">released in November 2015 a 10-point plan</a>&nbsp;that roundly rejected the mayor’s zoning plans as they stood then and focuses almost exclusively on housing preservation for low-income residents in rent-regulated apartments, people of color, and immigrant communities, which the group says are disproportionately displaced by landlord harassment and gentrification.</p> <p dir="ltr">“Our members didn’t want to just reject the plan,” said Juan Haro, an organizer at Movement for Justice in El Barrio. “They wanted to put forward a concrete proposal to improve the housing situation in our neighborhood.”</p> <p dir="ltr">The document is also an indictment of what Movement for Justice calls a failure by HPD to enforce housing codes and protect tenants’ rights.</p> <p dir="ltr">“We believe that when HPD is not responsive to landlords breaking the local housing code, and their unresponsiveness allows landlords to get away with driving out tenants, which contributes to displacement and gentrification,” Haro said.</p> <p dir="ltr">Movement for Justice in El Barrio’s plan calls for increased and independent oversight of HPD; a public education campaign to inform tenants about HPD's role; a new body to collect fines levied against negligent landlords; publication of inspection documents in multiple languages, penalties for landlords who fail to make repairs within 24 hours of emergency violations; the establishment of an East Harlem HPD oversight team; and improvements to HPD’s inspection and follow-up speeds.</p> <p dir="ltr">According to Haro, over 8,500 East Harlem residents participated in 12 public meetings throughout the year-long “Consulta del Barrio,” or neighborhood consultation. Haro highlights the group’s bottom-up organizing strategy and pragmatic outreach effort, which targets very low-income residents and immigrants, and favors flyering over social media.</p> <p dir="ltr">“We know that there is a digital divide,” he said. “Many folks in the neighborhood don’t have access to Facebook or Twitter, so we focused on on-the-street outreach, and worked in the evenings and on weekends when more people weren’t at work.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Public meetings were “fluid and organic,” Haro added, and residents attended to learn more about the intricacies of the rezoning proposal and land use in general. Participants voted to reject the mayor’s proposals, and formulated the demands that would become the pith of the 10-point plan.</p> <p dir="ltr">The plan concentrates on protecting tenants of regulated, private apartment buildings, because those tenants have the most at stake as the neighborhood gentrifies, Haro said. “Landlords cut off basic services and violate local housing codes,” he said. “They offer buyouts to tenants to surrender their units. They threaten to bring in immigration authorities or ask for proof as citizens and threaten based on citizenship."</p> <p dir="ltr">The de Blasio administration has mounted an initiative to deter evictions and landlord harassment in rapidly changing neighborhoods with the creation of the Tenant Support Unit in August of 2015. The mayor announced in February that the unit had resolved its thousandth case since it began offering assistance to tenants.</p> <p dir="ltr">While&nbsp;<a href="http://citylimits.org/2015/07/21/citys-tenant-protection-effort-breaks-ground-and-ruffles-feathers/">reviews of the unit’s methodology have been mixed</a>, the administration touted a ten-fold increase in free legal services for tenants, for a total of $62 million in funding that will be fully implemented for the 2017 fiscal year, which begins July 1 of this year. &nbsp;As a result, de Blasio said, evictions by city marshals have decreased 24 percent since he took office, down from 28,849 in 2013 to 21,988 in 2015.</p> <p dir="ltr">While the new support measures and protections introduced by the mayor seem to be having a positive effect, members at MJB believe that they will still be forced out once rezoning takes hold.</p> <p dir="ltr">Movement for Justice in El Barrio members organized a series of protests against the mayor’s plan leading up to a Community Board 11 vote on MIH and ZQA in November.</p> <p dir="ltr">Sandra Cruz, a member, said at a rally before the meeting, “We are against the mayor’s ‘luxury housing plan’ because we know that 25-30% of the apartments that the mayor says will supposedly be constructed for low-income people will not be accessible to the poor people of East Harlem, because we don’t make enough money to pay those high rents.”</p> <p dir="ltr">CB 11 voted “no with conditions” on the mayor’s citywide zoning plans. This feedback, similar to that of community boards across the city, helped inform the City Council’s negotiations with the de Blasio administration over the final versions of MIH and ZQA.</p> <p dir="ltr">Movement for Justice sent its 10-point community plan to Speaker Mark-Viverito and Borough President Gale Brewer in November, but have not received a response, they said. Meanwhile, Mark-Viverito, Brewer, and a variety of other stakeholders, were in the process of creating the East Harlem Neighborhood Plan.</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Next for East Harlem</strong><br />With MIH and ZQA in place, East Harlem stakeholders are watching the neighborhood rezoning process as it unfolds in East New York, the first neighborhood rezoning being moved by the de Blasio administration, in consultation with the City Council.</p> <p dir="ltr">Like East Harlem, East New York’s population is predominantly Latino and African-American, and the neighborhood AMI is around $34,000. City Council Member Rafael Espinal represents much of East New York and remains adamant that the plan for the area not help in pricing out long-term residents.</p> <p dir="ltr">"Neighbors on my street are already jacking up the rents to $1,800 [per month]," Espinal said at a March 8 City Council hearing on the East New York rezoning.</p> <p dir="ltr">Parallels between East New York and East Harlem are undeniable, and many are watching the process for clues as to how the future may unfold in El Barrio. East Harlem may be slightly further along in a gentrification process as of now, but both neighborhoods are changing.</p> <p dir="ltr">Though some involved in the East Harlem Neighborhood Plan are skeptical as to how much of the document will be seriously considered by the city, the speaker hopes that the document will serve as a model for other communities down the road.</p> <p dir="ltr">“It would be great,” she said at the January 27 community forum, “if the administration established some sort of process to create neighborhood plans in every area that would be rezoned.” She followed this up by devoting a portion of her February State of the City address to the Council’s proposal that the city develop a Neighborhood Commitment Plan that would accompany all rezoning proposals, “describing and tracking commitments for housing, schools, infrastructure and other city services.”</p> <p dir="ltr">“Planning for the future of our neighborhoods should start from the ground up and infuse the voices of everyday New Yorkers into policy decisions,” Mark-Viverito said in her address. She remarked that the community planning process is an opportunity to discuss neighborhood concerns “from school overcrowding and pedestrian safety to sewers and public transit.”</p> <p dir="ltr">For community organizations in El Barrio, the work has only just begun. Leaders across groups and initiatives say they’ll continue to apply pressure to the city to respond to demands for deeper affordability, better protection of tenants’ rights, neighborhood improvements, and capital investments. Essential, they say, is community power in all processes.</p> <p dir="ltr">Even as the future of East Harlem seems unsure, long-time resident Pearl Barkley notes the surge of neighborhood civic engagement around rezoning as a silver lining.</p> <p dir="ltr">“I grew up in a time of social movements, with activism throughout the neighborhood,” Barkley said. “Right now, when I attend meetings, I see young people standing up, excited to talk about what they want for their city. That gives me hope. It makes me happy.”</p> <p dir="ltr"><em>This is page 2 of 2 - <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/6253-wary-of-gentrification-east-harlem-braces-for-rapid-change" target="_blank">return to page 1</a></em></p> <p dir="ltr">

***
by Maggie Calmes, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
De Blasio Housing Chief Looks to Allay Fears, Build Support for Rezonings 2015-11-13T21:47:43+00:00 2015-11-13T21:47:43+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5988:de-blasio-housing-chief-looks-to-allay-fears-build-support-for-rezonings Super User <p dir="ltr"><img alt="Been NY Law School" src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/Been_NY_Law_School.jpg" width="600" height="328" /></p> <p dir="ltr"><span style="font-size: 10pt;">New York Law School's Ross Sandler &amp; HPD's Vicki Been (Phoebe Rosen for NYLS)</span></p> <hr /> <p>Vicki Been, commissioner of the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, said that the city’s affordable housing plan is on track and responded to critics on Friday, emphasizing that the plan is less about simply building units and more about “making neighborhoods better.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Speaking at a breakfast hosted by the CityLand publication of New York Law School, Been gave a balanced, thorough review of the concerns people have expressed about the city’s rezoning plans, but said that the city, through HPD, is implementing policies that will prevent displacement and ensure existing residents are included as neighborhoods change.</p> <p dir="ltr">Nearly two years into Mayor Bill de Blasio’s term, his ten-year <a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/housing/assets/downloads/pdf/housing_plan.pdf" target="_blank">Housing New York</a> plan to preserve or build 200,000 units of affordable housing is on target, Been declared, with the city having closed on more than 30,000 affordable homes. But two key elements of the plan, <a href="http://home.nyc.gov/html/dcp/html/housing/mandatory-inclusionary-housing-summary.shtml" target="_blank">Mandatory Inclusionary Housing</a> and <a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/dcp/html/zoning-qa/zoning-for-affordability-1.shtml" target="_blank">Zoning for Quality and Affordability</a>, have run into community opposition in recent months as the city begins the public review process that is likely to lead to their passage through the City Council, potentially with a few tweaks.</p> <p dir="ltr">At a community meeting last month in East New York, Assembly Member Charles Barron and City Council Member Inez Barron <a href="http://www.dnainfo.com/new-york/20151020/east-new-york/east-new-yorkers-urged-reject-citys-rezoning-plan" target="_blank">urged residents</a> to vote against a <a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/dcp/html/east_new_york/index.shtml" target="_blank">proposal</a> to rezone the neighborhood, according to DNAinfo. The two said that while the new units built may be designated “affordable,” they may not actually be affordable to existing residents. This concern, among several specific problems that critics point to with the plans, has been voiced in other neighborhoods as well. An extensive borough- and community-based review of the proposals is underway, with varying results thus far as local community boards vote in non-determinative polls.</p> <p dir="ltr">Community boards have thus far had mixed responses to the proposed Mandatory Inclusionary Housing and Zoning for Quality and Affordability plans. While Brooklyn’s CB6 <a href="http://www.dnainfo.com/new-york/20151112/carroll-gardens/park-slope-carroll-gardens-cb6-approves-citys-rezoning-proposal" target="_blank">approved</a> the proposals this week, Brooklyn’s CB3 and Queens’ CB2 <a href="http://www.dnainfo.com/new-york/20151110/long-island-city/queens-cb2-rejects-affordable-housing-plan-citing-overcrowding-concerns" target="_blank">rejected</a> the same proposals earlier this month. Residents in Brooklyn’s CB3, which includes Bedford-Stuyvesant, said they were <a href="http://www.dnainfo.com/new-york/20151103/bed-stuy/citys-rezoning-proposal-shot-down-by-bed-stuy-community-board" target="_blank">concerned</a> about the plan allowing taller buildings to be built, changing the neighborhood’s character, and eventually forcing them to move out of the area.</p> <p dir="ltr">More borough- and community-based hearings are upcoming, including one being held by Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer on Monday evening, and City Council hearings are not far off.</p> <p dir="ltr">The Mandatory Inclusionary Housing plan would require 25 to 30 percent of new units built in a rezoned area to be “permanently affordable,” while the Zoning for Quality and Affordability plan would change existing zoning laws to promote the construction of more affordable and higher quality buildings.</p> <p dir="ltr">During an appearance on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show on Friday, Mayor de Blasio said his zoning plans are informed by what he saw as a lack of city regulation and planning in places like Williamsburg and Bedford-Stuyvesant.</p> <p dir="ltr">Been said that all such plans are controversial because current residents fear they could be displaced - that gentrification is scary to many in and near neighborhoods that have been changing over the years. But Been also said the East New York plan, which aims to provide more than 3,000 units of affordable housing and improve transport and business corridors, was something the city should be doing more of. She also said that rezonings don’t actually lead to more flight from neighborhoods by low-income tenants than is a typical amount of transience.</p> <p dir="ltr">Speaking to Gotham Gazette after the event, Been said that while she would like the rezoning plans to be more widely accepted, “we would like to get it passed, and we’re very optimistic.”</p> <p dir="ltr">She had a similarly optimistic response to a question from the audience about the future of the 421-a tax abatement, which will expire in December if it is not renewed given a deal between labor and real estate. “Life will go on,” Been said to chuckles from the crowd. “There was life before 421-a, and there will be life if 421-a fails. We will survive and still deliver our 200,000 units.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Still, Been indicated she would like to see 421-a survive and that it, in a newly strengthened form, will be helpful in achieving the administration’s goals.</p> <p dir="ltr">Either way, the administration’s rezoning plans are moving along. East New York is among the first neighborhoods the city plans to rezone, along with East Harlem and Flushing, among others. Some East Harlem tenants <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5972-east-harlem-tenants-group-rejects-de-blasio-housing-plan-offer-its-own" target="_blank">recently announced</a> their own opposition to the plans. During her speech Friday, Been showed a presentation that included current photos of streets in East New York and future renderings that showed new, six-story apartment buildings with street-level retail space.</p> <p dir="ltr">Been said that while change is inevitable when investments are made in a neighborhood, the city’s approach will address concerns about displacement and gentrification while she also highlighted the positives that come with community development.</p> <p dir="ltr">“If we’re investing hundreds of millions of dollars in a neighborhood, we’re doing it to make the neighborhood a bit better. We want it to be a more vibrant place…So as it gets better, it will become more desirable,” Been said. While low-income people face a lot of housing insecurity across the board, she said that recent <a href="http://uar.sagepub.com/content/40/4/463.abstract" target="_blank">research</a> shows that renters are not moving out of gentrifying neighborhoods at higher rates. Still, she acknowledged that “whatever the research shows, people fear displacement and they fear displacement for perfectly legitimate reasons.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Been pointed to a variety of policies included in the Housing New York plan that are aimed at preventing displacement. Most importantly, she said that the city will “double down” on efforts and take a data-driven approach to preserve existing affordable units. “We can’t let any unit of housing that is already affordable become market rate,” she said, noting that de Blasio’s plan promises to preserve at least 120,000 homes that would otherwise become market rate.</p> <p dir="ltr">Been also mentioned efforts in reaching out to owners of small buildings to preserve or establish affordability, providing legal assistance to protect tenants from harassment, changing vacancy decontrol laws, and establishing community preferences for distributing the new housing stock.</p> <p dir="ltr">“We’re really working hard to make sure that people in the neighborhoods and the lowest income people do get into the housing we’re building,” she said.</p> <p dir="ltr">Been also noted that Housing New York plans include families earning as little as 30 percent of area median income (AMI)—or $15,000 for single households. “We are stretching our housing boat down and a little up, so that we provide economically diverse neighborhoods and do not concentrate poverty,” she said. While some new buildings will be 100 percent affordable, many others will be mixed levels of affordability, with some units renting at market rate.</p> <p dir="ltr">Providing housing for those earning below 30 percent of AMI would be too expensive using the same approach, Been said, noting that the city has historically relied on the federal Department of Housing Urban Development’s Section 8 voucher program, funding for which has been cut in recent years. “That’s why we’re struggling so hard to provide housing below the 30 percent level,” she said in response to a question from an audience member.</p> <p dir="ltr">The affordable housing plan is “formed with the basic belief that we have to shape development instead of react to it,” she said. “Too much of the discourse is about stopping development. You don’t stop development in a city like New York…Let’s shape it to serve the interests of the neighborhoods across the city.”</p> <p dir="ltr">***<br />by Christian Zhang, Gotham Gazette<br /><a href="https://twitter.com/GothamGazette" target="_blank">@GothamGazette</a></p> <p dir="ltr"><img alt="Been NY Law School" src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/Been_NY_Law_School.jpg" width="600" height="328" /></p> <p dir="ltr"><span style="font-size: 10pt;">New York Law School's Ross Sandler &amp; HPD's Vicki Been (Phoebe Rosen for NYLS)</span></p> <hr /> <p>Vicki Been, commissioner of the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, said that the city’s affordable housing plan is on track and responded to critics on Friday, emphasizing that the plan is less about simply building units and more about “making neighborhoods better.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Speaking at a breakfast hosted by the CityLand publication of New York Law School, Been gave a balanced, thorough review of the concerns people have expressed about the city’s rezoning plans, but said that the city, through HPD, is implementing policies that will prevent displacement and ensure existing residents are included as neighborhoods change.</p> <p dir="ltr">Nearly two years into Mayor Bill de Blasio’s term, his ten-year <a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/housing/assets/downloads/pdf/housing_plan.pdf" target="_blank">Housing New York</a> plan to preserve or build 200,000 units of affordable housing is on target, Been declared, with the city having closed on more than 30,000 affordable homes. But two key elements of the plan, <a href="http://home.nyc.gov/html/dcp/html/housing/mandatory-inclusionary-housing-summary.shtml" target="_blank">Mandatory Inclusionary Housing</a> and <a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/dcp/html/zoning-qa/zoning-for-affordability-1.shtml" target="_blank">Zoning for Quality and Affordability</a>, have run into community opposition in recent months as the city begins the public review process that is likely to lead to their passage through the City Council, potentially with a few tweaks.</p> <p dir="ltr">At a community meeting last month in East New York, Assembly Member Charles Barron and City Council Member Inez Barron <a href="http://www.dnainfo.com/new-york/20151020/east-new-york/east-new-yorkers-urged-reject-citys-rezoning-plan" target="_blank">urged residents</a> to vote against a <a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/dcp/html/east_new_york/index.shtml" target="_blank">proposal</a> to rezone the neighborhood, according to DNAinfo. The two said that while the new units built may be designated “affordable,” they may not actually be affordable to existing residents. This concern, among several specific problems that critics point to with the plans, has been voiced in other neighborhoods as well. An extensive borough- and community-based review of the proposals is underway, with varying results thus far as local community boards vote in non-determinative polls.</p> <p dir="ltr">Community boards have thus far had mixed responses to the proposed Mandatory Inclusionary Housing and Zoning for Quality and Affordability plans. While Brooklyn’s CB6 <a href="http://www.dnainfo.com/new-york/20151112/carroll-gardens/park-slope-carroll-gardens-cb6-approves-citys-rezoning-proposal" target="_blank">approved</a> the proposals this week, Brooklyn’s CB3 and Queens’ CB2 <a href="http://www.dnainfo.com/new-york/20151110/long-island-city/queens-cb2-rejects-affordable-housing-plan-citing-overcrowding-concerns" target="_blank">rejected</a> the same proposals earlier this month. Residents in Brooklyn’s CB3, which includes Bedford-Stuyvesant, said they were <a href="http://www.dnainfo.com/new-york/20151103/bed-stuy/citys-rezoning-proposal-shot-down-by-bed-stuy-community-board" target="_blank">concerned</a> about the plan allowing taller buildings to be built, changing the neighborhood’s character, and eventually forcing them to move out of the area.</p> <p dir="ltr">More borough- and community-based hearings are upcoming, including one being held by Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer on Monday evening, and City Council hearings are not far off.</p> <p dir="ltr">The Mandatory Inclusionary Housing plan would require 25 to 30 percent of new units built in a rezoned area to be “permanently affordable,” while the Zoning for Quality and Affordability plan would change existing zoning laws to promote the construction of more affordable and higher quality buildings.</p> <p dir="ltr">During an appearance on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show on Friday, Mayor de Blasio said his zoning plans are informed by what he saw as a lack of city regulation and planning in places like Williamsburg and Bedford-Stuyvesant.</p> <p dir="ltr">Been said that all such plans are controversial because current residents fear they could be displaced - that gentrification is scary to many in and near neighborhoods that have been changing over the years. But Been also said the East New York plan, which aims to provide more than 3,000 units of affordable housing and improve transport and business corridors, was something the city should be doing more of. She also said that rezonings don’t actually lead to more flight from neighborhoods by low-income tenants than is a typical amount of transience.</p> <p dir="ltr">Speaking to Gotham Gazette after the event, Been said that while she would like the rezoning plans to be more widely accepted, “we would like to get it passed, and we’re very optimistic.”</p> <p dir="ltr">She had a similarly optimistic response to a question from the audience about the future of the 421-a tax abatement, which will expire in December if it is not renewed given a deal between labor and real estate. “Life will go on,” Been said to chuckles from the crowd. “There was life before 421-a, and there will be life if 421-a fails. We will survive and still deliver our 200,000 units.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Still, Been indicated she would like to see 421-a survive and that it, in a newly strengthened form, will be helpful in achieving the administration’s goals.</p> <p dir="ltr">Either way, the administration’s rezoning plans are moving along. East New York is among the first neighborhoods the city plans to rezone, along with East Harlem and Flushing, among others. Some East Harlem tenants <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5972-east-harlem-tenants-group-rejects-de-blasio-housing-plan-offer-its-own" target="_blank">recently announced</a> their own opposition to the plans. During her speech Friday, Been showed a presentation that included current photos of streets in East New York and future renderings that showed new, six-story apartment buildings with street-level retail space.</p> <p dir="ltr">Been said that while change is inevitable when investments are made in a neighborhood, the city’s approach will address concerns about displacement and gentrification while she also highlighted the positives that come with community development.</p> <p dir="ltr">“If we’re investing hundreds of millions of dollars in a neighborhood, we’re doing it to make the neighborhood a bit better. We want it to be a more vibrant place…So as it gets better, it will become more desirable,” Been said. While low-income people face a lot of housing insecurity across the board, she said that recent <a href="http://uar.sagepub.com/content/40/4/463.abstract" target="_blank">research</a> shows that renters are not moving out of gentrifying neighborhoods at higher rates. Still, she acknowledged that “whatever the research shows, people fear displacement and they fear displacement for perfectly legitimate reasons.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Been pointed to a variety of policies included in the Housing New York plan that are aimed at preventing displacement. Most importantly, she said that the city will “double down” on efforts and take a data-driven approach to preserve existing affordable units. “We can’t let any unit of housing that is already affordable become market rate,” she said, noting that de Blasio’s plan promises to preserve at least 120,000 homes that would otherwise become market rate.</p> <p dir="ltr">Been also mentioned efforts in reaching out to owners of small buildings to preserve or establish affordability, providing legal assistance to protect tenants from harassment, changing vacancy decontrol laws, and establishing community preferences for distributing the new housing stock.</p> <p dir="ltr">“We’re really working hard to make sure that people in the neighborhoods and the lowest income people do get into the housing we’re building,” she said.</p> <p dir="ltr">Been also noted that Housing New York plans include families earning as little as 30 percent of area median income (AMI)—or $15,000 for single households. “We are stretching our housing boat down and a little up, so that we provide economically diverse neighborhoods and do not concentrate poverty,” she said. While some new buildings will be 100 percent affordable, many others will be mixed levels of affordability, with some units renting at market rate.</p> <p dir="ltr">Providing housing for those earning below 30 percent of AMI would be too expensive using the same approach, Been said, noting that the city has historically relied on the federal Department of Housing Urban Development’s Section 8 voucher program, funding for which has been cut in recent years. “That’s why we’re struggling so hard to provide housing below the 30 percent level,” she said in response to a question from an audience member.</p> <p dir="ltr">The affordable housing plan is “formed with the basic belief that we have to shape development instead of react to it,” she said. “Too much of the discourse is about stopping development. You don’t stop development in a city like New York…Let’s shape it to serve the interests of the neighborhoods across the city.”</p> <p dir="ltr">***<br />by Christian Zhang, Gotham Gazette<br /><a href="https://twitter.com/GothamGazette" target="_blank">@GothamGazette</a></p> East Harlem Tenants Group Rejects De Blasio Housing Plan, Offers Its Own 2015-11-05T21:13:45+00:00 2015-11-05T21:13:45+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5972:east-harlem-tenants-group-rejects-de-blasio-housing-plan-offer-its-own Super User <p><img alt="East-HarlemMovement" src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/East-HarlemMovement.jpg" width="600" height="402" /></p> <p>A Movement for Justice in El Barrio rally</p> <hr /> <p>An East Harlem tenants group is gearing up to battle Mayor Bill de Blasio over his housing plan, saying that the plan will see local mom-and-pop stores bought out by chains, further incentivize landlords to push tenants out, and destroy the culture of Spanish Harlem.</p> <p>The group, Movement for Justice in El Barrio, is countering the de Blasio rezoning proposal that they call a "luxury housing plan" with a 10-point agenda of its own designed to preserve current housing stock and protect the community from gentrification. It hopes to push the local community board to vote against the mayor's two rezoning proposals and wants a face-to-face meeting with de Blasio to discuss concerns.</p> <p>Movement for Justice, an immigrant-led community organization formed in 2004, plans to make its opposition and proposals public at a Friday afternoon press conference at the corner of East 103rd Street and Lexington Avenue.</p> <p>The tenants' decision to oppose de Blasio's sweeping affordable housing plan didn't come easily or quickly, they say. "We spent a lot of time analyzing the plan, yet we understand lots of people in the city haven't opened their eyes. We are very hopeful we can make our case to the public and convince them we are on the moral high ground," said Josefina Salazar, a founding member of the group and 20-year resident of East Harlem.</p> <p>Movement for Justice in El Barrio held a series of community meetings and workshops starting this past spring that its members say involved thousands of Harlem residents. Only after formulating their position, creating a plan of their own, and reaching out to the mayor's office did they decide to take their position public.</p> <p>Tenants' biggest concerns, which mirror those being seen in other neighborhoods around the city where de Blasio is first looking to rezone to create more density, are led by the administration's plan calling for all new residential development to set aside 25-30 percent for "affordable" housing units, but with affordability rates they say are too high.</p> <p>"Affordable" as defined in the de Blasio plan is incomes between $46,620 and $62,150 for a family of three. According to census data the current average median family income for an East Harlem family of four is $33,600, according to 2010-2012 <a href="http://project.wnyc.org/median-income-nabes/" target="_blank">estimates</a> from the U.S. Census Bureau.</p> <p>Remaining units in new construction would rent at the real estate developer's discretion, also known as market-rate housing. Developers must agree to the administration's terms in order to build in areas being rezoned by the city.</p> <p>In order to meet de Blasio's ambitious affordable housing goals, maintaining or building 200,000 affordable units over ten years, the administration argues that it must increase density in underdeveloped neighborhoods. The administration is starting with places like East New York, Flushing, and East Harlem. El Barrio is particularly interesting because it is represented in the City Council by Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, largely an ally of the mayor.</p> <p>Supporters of the plan note that the affordable housing would be mandatory for developers to include in their projects and it would be permanent. But the group fears that their current apartments and those of their neighbors will not be protected and as the neighborhood gentrifies landlords will be motivated to push them out to rent to higher-income tenants.</p> <p>Community boards across the city have to decide whether to approve the mayor's <a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/dcp/html/housing/mandatory-inclusionary-housing-summary.shtml" target="_blank">Mandatory Inclusionary Housing</a> and <a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/dcp/html/zoning-qa/zoning-for-affordability-1.shtml" target="_blank">Zoning for Quality and Affordability</a> plans. City Limits <a href="http://citylimits.org/2015/11/02/how-are-nycs-community-boards-reacting-to-de-blasios-housing-proposals/" target="_blank">recently reported</a> that while most of the boards have yet to vote on the proposals, the majority of the ones that did rejected them and that there are widespread concerns about the plans as tenants and small business owners worry about being squeezed our of their neighborhoods.</p> <p>Movement for Justice in El Barrio plans a series of protests and continued community education to push back against the zoning plans before they comes to a vote at Community Board 11 on November 17. The Community Board is scheduled to hold a hearing on the matter on Nov. 9.</p> <p>"When we watch TV we see de Blasio promotes this plan as an affordable housing plan," said Salazar. "But this is pure propaganda. We did the math and we realized after reading the report on housing and his ten-year plan that this is not truly an affordable housing plan. It favors the creation of luxury housing that we don't consider affordable."</p> <p>The group has put together its own ten-point plan members want to see adopted to preserve existing affordable housing in their neighborhood.</p> <p>The plan calls for independent oversight of the city's Housing Preservation Department; establishing a public education campaign to inform tenants about HPD's role; empowering a new body or building inspectors to collect fines against landlords; having HPD make repairs not completed by the landlord in the specified amount of time and then billing the landlord; making inspectors carry citations in multiple languages and send out reports in multiple languages; forcing landlords to make repairs within 24 hours of emergency violations; establishing an East Harlem HPD oversight team as a pilot for other areas with at-risk low-income housing; providing inspections 24-hours-a-day, 7-days-a-week; and improving HPD's follow-up on violations.</p> <p>Zorayda Aguirre, a member of Movement for Justice who has lived in East Harlem with her husband and three young children for 16 years, said she fears for the community she has grown to love. "This plan will destroy our culture and change the face of East Harlem," she said of the mayor's proposals. "Not only that but the landlords will become more aggressive and try to drive us out. We will see our small businesses replaced by large ones that cater to the rich and it will become very expensive to live here."</p> <p>Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer shares some of the group's concerns."The history of New York City is one of constant change, but that change can't leave current residents behind – it needs to benefit and complement existing communities," Brewer told Gotham Gazette. "I will be working hard throughout this process to ensure the existing community is at the heart of the discussion. Any rezoning in East Harlem needs to address the full range of neighborhood issues like housing preservation, schools, and community-based small business."</p> <p>In response to de Blasio's plan, Brewer called for an inclusion of even more affordable housing, a reduction of luxury housing included in deals with developers, increased vigilance by HPD to make sure existing affordable housing units are not lost, that there are tenant education clinics (with no income restrictions) in areas where upzoning is proposed. Brewer has also focused on helping mom and pop shops stay in business as major chains move in.</p> <p>"We will never have enough affordable housing if we are not able to help tenants remain in existing affordable units. HPD must help prevent evictions by coordinating with the State Division of Housing and Community Renewal (DHCR) to ensure rents are legal and to enforce housing codes," Brewer <a href="https://madmimi.com/p/befad5?fe=1&amp;pact=28065113575" target="_blank">wrote</a> in a Febraury response to de Blasio unveiling his housing plan.</p> <p>Amy Varghese, spokesperson for Council Speaker Mark-Viverito, said that the speaker encourages the community to get involved in the discussion of the city's housing plan.</p> <p>"The East Harlem rezoning is an opportunity for all residents and stakeholders to engage in a community-driven, neighborhood-based planning process that addresses real local needs and concerns," Varghese said in a statement. "We need to have diverse voices at the table having meaningful conversations around these issues, from housing to transportation to open space and more. True to her grassroots leadership, Speaker is committed to facilitating these discussions in an empowered, productive environment and strongly encourages all residents to get involved, participate and harness this opportunity to make a difference in the neighborhood we are so proud to call home."</p> <p>Members of Movement for Justice in El Barrio say they will do just that, making their voices heard in the coming weeks as community boards across the city consider the plan.</p> <p>"This is a David versus Goliath type of battle," said Salazar. "The mayor is very powerful and has a propaganda machine. We really want a face-to-face meeting with the mayor. I think we can change his heart," said Salazar. "We want to tell him that we don't think his plan will preserve the simple, humble people of El Barrio."</p> <p>The mayor's office did not return request for comment.</p> <p>***<br />by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette<br /><a href="https://twitter.com/GothamGazette" target="_blank">@DavidHowardKing</a></p> <p><img alt="East-HarlemMovement" src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/East-HarlemMovement.jpg" width="600" height="402" /></p> <p>A Movement for Justice in El Barrio rally</p> <hr /> <p>An East Harlem tenants group is gearing up to battle Mayor Bill de Blasio over his housing plan, saying that the plan will see local mom-and-pop stores bought out by chains, further incentivize landlords to push tenants out, and destroy the culture of Spanish Harlem.</p> <p>The group, Movement for Justice in El Barrio, is countering the de Blasio rezoning proposal that they call a "luxury housing plan" with a 10-point agenda of its own designed to preserve current housing stock and protect the community from gentrification. It hopes to push the local community board to vote against the mayor's two rezoning proposals and wants a face-to-face meeting with de Blasio to discuss concerns.</p> <p>Movement for Justice, an immigrant-led community organization formed in 2004, plans to make its opposition and proposals public at a Friday afternoon press conference at the corner of East 103rd Street and Lexington Avenue.</p> <p>The tenants' decision to oppose de Blasio's sweeping affordable housing plan didn't come easily or quickly, they say. "We spent a lot of time analyzing the plan, yet we understand lots of people in the city haven't opened their eyes. We are very hopeful we can make our case to the public and convince them we are on the moral high ground," said Josefina Salazar, a founding member of the group and 20-year resident of East Harlem.</p> <p>Movement for Justice in El Barrio held a series of community meetings and workshops starting this past spring that its members say involved thousands of Harlem residents. Only after formulating their position, creating a plan of their own, and reaching out to the mayor's office did they decide to take their position public.</p> <p>Tenants' biggest concerns, which mirror those being seen in other neighborhoods around the city where de Blasio is first looking to rezone to create more density, are led by the administration's plan calling for all new residential development to set aside 25-30 percent for "affordable" housing units, but with affordability rates they say are too high.</p> <p>"Affordable" as defined in the de Blasio plan is incomes between $46,620 and $62,150 for a family of three. According to census data the current average median family income for an East Harlem family of four is $33,600, according to 2010-2012 <a href="http://project.wnyc.org/median-income-nabes/" target="_blank">estimates</a> from the U.S. Census Bureau.</p> <p>Remaining units in new construction would rent at the real estate developer's discretion, also known as market-rate housing. Developers must agree to the administration's terms in order to build in areas being rezoned by the city.</p> <p>In order to meet de Blasio's ambitious affordable housing goals, maintaining or building 200,000 affordable units over ten years, the administration argues that it must increase density in underdeveloped neighborhoods. The administration is starting with places like East New York, Flushing, and East Harlem. El Barrio is particularly interesting because it is represented in the City Council by Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, largely an ally of the mayor.</p> <p>Supporters of the plan note that the affordable housing would be mandatory for developers to include in their projects and it would be permanent. But the group fears that their current apartments and those of their neighbors will not be protected and as the neighborhood gentrifies landlords will be motivated to push them out to rent to higher-income tenants.</p> <p>Community boards across the city have to decide whether to approve the mayor's <a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/dcp/html/housing/mandatory-inclusionary-housing-summary.shtml" target="_blank">Mandatory Inclusionary Housing</a> and <a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/dcp/html/zoning-qa/zoning-for-affordability-1.shtml" target="_blank">Zoning for Quality and Affordability</a> plans. City Limits <a href="http://citylimits.org/2015/11/02/how-are-nycs-community-boards-reacting-to-de-blasios-housing-proposals/" target="_blank">recently reported</a> that while most of the boards have yet to vote on the proposals, the majority of the ones that did rejected them and that there are widespread concerns about the plans as tenants and small business owners worry about being squeezed our of their neighborhoods.</p> <p>Movement for Justice in El Barrio plans a series of protests and continued community education to push back against the zoning plans before they comes to a vote at Community Board 11 on November 17. The Community Board is scheduled to hold a hearing on the matter on Nov. 9.</p> <p>"When we watch TV we see de Blasio promotes this plan as an affordable housing plan," said Salazar. "But this is pure propaganda. We did the math and we realized after reading the report on housing and his ten-year plan that this is not truly an affordable housing plan. It favors the creation of luxury housing that we don't consider affordable."</p> <p>The group has put together its own ten-point plan members want to see adopted to preserve existing affordable housing in their neighborhood.</p> <p>The plan calls for independent oversight of the city's Housing Preservation Department; establishing a public education campaign to inform tenants about HPD's role; empowering a new body or building inspectors to collect fines against landlords; having HPD make repairs not completed by the landlord in the specified amount of time and then billing the landlord; making inspectors carry citations in multiple languages and send out reports in multiple languages; forcing landlords to make repairs within 24 hours of emergency violations; establishing an East Harlem HPD oversight team as a pilot for other areas with at-risk low-income housing; providing inspections 24-hours-a-day, 7-days-a-week; and improving HPD's follow-up on violations.</p> <p>Zorayda Aguirre, a member of Movement for Justice who has lived in East Harlem with her husband and three young children for 16 years, said she fears for the community she has grown to love. "This plan will destroy our culture and change the face of East Harlem," she said of the mayor's proposals. "Not only that but the landlords will become more aggressive and try to drive us out. We will see our small businesses replaced by large ones that cater to the rich and it will become very expensive to live here."</p> <p>Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer shares some of the group's concerns."The history of New York City is one of constant change, but that change can't leave current residents behind – it needs to benefit and complement existing communities," Brewer told Gotham Gazette. "I will be working hard throughout this process to ensure the existing community is at the heart of the discussion. Any rezoning in East Harlem needs to address the full range of neighborhood issues like housing preservation, schools, and community-based small business."</p> <p>In response to de Blasio's plan, Brewer called for an inclusion of even more affordable housing, a reduction of luxury housing included in deals with developers, increased vigilance by HPD to make sure existing affordable housing units are not lost, that there are tenant education clinics (with no income restrictions) in areas where upzoning is proposed. Brewer has also focused on helping mom and pop shops stay in business as major chains move in.</p> <p>"We will never have enough affordable housing if we are not able to help tenants remain in existing affordable units. HPD must help prevent evictions by coordinating with the State Division of Housing and Community Renewal (DHCR) to ensure rents are legal and to enforce housing codes," Brewer <a href="https://madmimi.com/p/befad5?fe=1&amp;pact=28065113575" target="_blank">wrote</a> in a Febraury response to de Blasio unveiling his housing plan.</p> <p>Amy Varghese, spokesperson for Council Speaker Mark-Viverito, said that the speaker encourages the community to get involved in the discussion of the city's housing plan.</p> <p>"The East Harlem rezoning is an opportunity for all residents and stakeholders to engage in a community-driven, neighborhood-based planning process that addresses real local needs and concerns," Varghese said in a statement. "We need to have diverse voices at the table having meaningful conversations around these issues, from housing to transportation to open space and more. True to her grassroots leadership, Speaker is committed to facilitating these discussions in an empowered, productive environment and strongly encourages all residents to get involved, participate and harness this opportunity to make a difference in the neighborhood we are so proud to call home."</p> <p>Members of Movement for Justice in El Barrio say they will do just that, making their voices heard in the coming weeks as community boards across the city consider the plan.</p> <p>"This is a David versus Goliath type of battle," said Salazar. "The mayor is very powerful and has a propaganda machine. We really want a face-to-face meeting with the mayor. I think we can change his heart," said Salazar. "We want to tell him that we don't think his plan will preserve the simple, humble people of El Barrio."</p> <p>The mayor's office did not return request for comment.</p> <p>***<br />by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette<br /><a href="https://twitter.com/GothamGazette" target="_blank">@DavidHowardKing</a></p>