Gotham Gazette http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/277 Sat, 19 Jan 2019 14:49:47 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) As Affordability Crisis Becomes More Acute, Real Estate Donations Emerge as Litmus Test for Some Democrats http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8112-as-affordability-crisis-becomes-more-acute-real-estate-donations-emerge-as-litmus-test-for-some-democrats http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8112-as-affordability-crisis-becomes-more-acute-real-estate-donations-emerge-as-litmus-test-for-some-democrats  Ocasio-Cortez Teachout

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez & Zephyr Teachout (photo: Gotham Gazette)


This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project
Find the rest of the series here

Queens City Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer has said he will refuse donations from wealthy landlords and the real estate industry as he runs for borough president. Julia Salazar, a democratic socialist in Brooklyn, defeated an eight-term incumbent state senator using her rejection of real estate donors as a rallying cry. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez did the same when she toppled Democratic Rep. Joe Crowley and became the youngest woman elected to the United States House of Representatives. Zephyr Teachout sought the Democratic nomination for attorney general while eschewing real estate contributions and making it a core plank of her campaign. Nomiki Konst, an investigative reporter, recently launched her campaign for New York City public advocate with the same promise.

New York’s real estate industry, most of it concentrated in the dense confines of New York City,  has long played a significant role in funding candidates for elected office up and down the ballot across the state and beyond, a role that candidates of both major parties and political insiders have always recognized. But as voters, particularly energized, activist Democrats, focus on the affordable housing crisis and take heed of the state’s broken campaign finance laws, including loopholes that donors, especially those in real estate, have exploited to pad the coffers of legislators and executives, some progressive Democrats have begun to reject campaign contributions from the real estate industry.

Affordable housing policy, including the already-begun debate over rent regulations decided in Albany that will be a significant issue in 2019, is at or toward the top of many activists’ lists, and housing justice advocates increasingly see campaign finance pledges as a litmus test for candidates. Increasing numbers of Democrats eschewing real estate money, or at least any given through the so-called LLC loophole, has given those activists and advocates cause for optimism that real estate’s role in state elections may be on the decline and that their elected representatives will heed the clarion call to protect tenants and listen to small donors over wealthy special interests.

“I think that it’s clearly a concern amongst a growing number of voters,” Van Bramer told Gotham Gazette. “I think it’s increasingly one of those issues that people want a response on from their elected officials and candidates. And I think that they’re right to be concerned about the influence of big money, generally speaking.”

“Money still plays a huge role in our elections and real estate is a good way to raise money in New York City and New York State,” said Celia Weaver, research and policy director at New York Communities for Change, a leading housing and economic justice advocacy group pushing campaign finance reform, strengthened rent regulations, and deeper affordable housing development. “It’s like oil in Texas.”

Though questions about the influence of real estate money have swirled for decades, Weaver traced the budding trend of declarations against taking any of it to Diana Richardson’s election to the state Assembly in 2015, in a district that includes rapidly gentrifying Crown Heights and at a time when state rent regulation laws were up for renewal in the state Legislature. “Her decision to refuse real estate money in that election turned what would ordinarily be a pretty boring special election where the Democratic machine just gets to anoint the person who’s going to run and take the line to a widely covered exciting race that was really a referendum on the real estate industry and its role in politics,” Weaver said. “That became a huge touchstone for voters in the district.”

It’s common knowledge that the real estate industry has been a staple in electoral politics for decades and its members’ donations have been part of the picture across the political spectrum. Democrats and Republicans have benefited from them, none more so than Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat recently re-elected to a third term. But the recent election cycle, the first since Donald Trump was elected president, saw greater awareness among voters about the power of state government and the special interests that fund campaigns. Actor and education activist Cynthia Nixon also used that backdrop to run a competitive primary challenge against Cuomo. She refused donations from real estate and issued a scathing indictment of the governor’s reliance on big donors in the industry, while calling for sweeping housing justice reforms.

Weaver also pointed to the high-profile corruption convictions of former State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Democrat, and former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, a Republican, in trials that exposed how a real estate firm, Glenwood Management, attempted to wield influence over legislation. Glenwood, an enormous donor to Cuomo and many legislators, recently made massive contributions to Senate Democratic candidates ahead of the November election where it appeared likely they would become part of a new majority in the chamber.

The primary mechanism for real estate donations has been the gaping loophole in state campaign finance law that allows limited liability companies with opaque ownership -- a common instrument in the real estate business -- to circumvent contribution limits. City Limits reported in September that LLCs had been used to donate more than $188 million to political campaigns since the late 1990s, with about $31 million given to gubernatorial candidates alone, including Cuomo. “Combining his campaign for attorney general in 2006 and his three runs for governor, Cuomo has received roughly one of every eight dollars donated by LLCs,” City Limits found. Those donations are largely dominated by the real estate industry.

Mayor Bill de Blasio has also come under scrutiny for accepting significant real estate donations, especially to a political nonprofit he established to push his agenda that became the subject of law enforcement investigations related to whether City Hall did favors for its donors.

A collaborative report in 2016 by ProPublica, The Real Deal and the National Institute on Money in State Politics tracked how real estate developers who benefitted from a prominent tax incentive called the 421-a program gave about $21 million to party committees and candidates since 2000, out of $83 million that the real estate industry donated in the same time.

“I think people are very much aware that rich donors including real estate developers and landlords are distorting our election system,” said Michael McKee, treasurer of Tenants PAC, a political action committee dedicated to affordable housing. “I think that’s the growing awareness. There’s no question about it.”

It was in that context that a slew of progressive Democrats ousted their more moderate and real estate-tied partymates from office with the support of smaller donors and by rejecting corporate backers. “The housing crisis in this city is out of control and going into a year when candidates are going to be debating rent regulations in Albany, voters wanted candidates that are gonna act with integrity and widely believed that candidates who work for the real estate industry won’t,” said Weaver.

Besides Salazar, Zellnor Myrie and Alessandra Biaggi similarly ran for and won Democratic primaries in the state Senate in opposition to wealthy real estate interests. Each of the three represents a district, much like a lot of the city, grappling with a deep affordability crisis and pockets of gentrification displacing low-income residents of color. Their opponents all received significant contributions from real estate.

The decision to reject real estate seems based in both principle and pragmatism. Biaggi made housing justice a prominent campaign issue as she successfully dethroned Senator Jeff Klein, once the powerful leader of the Independent Democratic Conference, a breakaway faction of eight senators that propped up Republican control of the Senate. Democratic voters rejected six of the IDC members, blaming them for preventing the passage of many bills, including stronger rent regulations, and replaced them with progressive Democrats, including Biaggi and Myrie.

“It’s not necessarily that taking real estate money makes you a bad legislator or a bad person...but for me, it’s very clear that it’s a slippery slope,” Biaggi said in a phone interview.

Even as she acknowledged how difficult it can be to run for office without wealthy donors, Biaggi said it was important to her to retain her independence and answer to everyday constituents, not just those who can write big checks. “The winning can’t take precedence over the fact that, once you’ve won, the people who have helped get you there are the people who are going to come knocking on the door and that’s really a very challenging thing to come to terms with,” she said. Biaggi spent about $330,000 on her campaign and won with 53.1 percent of the vote, while Klein disbursed more than $3 million to try to keep his seat and got 44.5 percent.

Salazar said her commitment, and Myrie’s and Biaggi’s, to refuse real estate donations proved that it’s possible to run a viable campaign with small donors, and build grassroots support and trust in communities by doing so.

“I think advocates have long recognized the correlation between the amount of real estate money that many electeds have taken and their failure to advocate vigorously for tenants,” she said. “When other candidates see those campaigns being successful and they see this growing and increasingly loud demand from advocates, I think that is what is translating to them paying more attention.”

Those in the real estate industry push back against being made the boogeymen of state politics. Real estate is, without a doubt, central to New York City’s fortunes and the industry comprises a large part of the city’s tax base. The sector is scapegoated more so than other industries and groups, like those in health care, finance, or education, that also employ somewhat similar tactics in state elections. And of course, many candidates regularly pursue real estate donors when running for office.

“There are people who are willing to accept our contributions because our philosophies or the ideas that we are espousing are aligned with their philosophies,” said John Banks, president of the Real Estate Board of New York, in an interview. “There are people who don’t want to accept real estate money because their philosophies don’t align with the work that the real estate industry does and there are people who move back and forth across that continuum.”

Banks pushed back against any notion that his industry has used the LLC loophole to improperly sway the political landscape to its benefit. “The real estate industry respects and follows both the letter and the intent of the law and to say that someone who follows the letter of the law is in someway undermining the legitimacy of the political process is a naive statement,” he said.

And, he noted, the real estate industry is intrinsically a part of New York’s landscape, more than any other, even finance, or technology. “Unlike some of the other industries, mobility is not something that is an option for us,” he said.

There are also Democrats, even those who call themselves progressives, for whom real estate donations are far from an insurmountable liability, even if they are unpopular with the party’s left wing. Cuomo sailed to reelection, in part by taking millions combined from LLCs and the real estate industry that he then used to overwhelm his less-funded primary and general election opponents over the airwaves. New York City Public Advocate Letitia James, not a close friend to real estate, accepted similar donations and was resoundingly elected the next attorney general of New York State. In the attorney general primary, for instance, James ran on a platform that included criticism of bad landlords and yet received $10,000 from an LLC linked to the Durst Organization, one of the largest real estate developers in the city. That LLC and seven others under the Durst umbrella also gave a combined $150,000 to one of James’ opponents, Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, which became a line of attack from Teachout.

“The real estate industry is pretty broad and diverse,” said Jordan Barowitz, spokesperson for the Durst Organization. “I work in it, as do members of 32BJ and the super in your building and the residential broker who leased you your apartment.” He said “painting all these people with a pretty broad brush” is problematic. “Unfortunately there’s a lot of blaming in politics these days and it’s easy to point to one group or person or industry and say they’re responsible for everything that’s bad in this world and that’s pretty simplistic and wrong.”

“Honest politicians don’t take bribes and reputable donors don’t request quid pro quos,” he added.

There is a distance between bribes and quid pro quos on one hand, of course, and donations having some influence on policy-making, even if simply by virtue of how donations help candidates get elected.

McKee of Tenants PAC noted, for instance, that REBNY had begun donating larger sums in this election cycle to Democratic candidates once it seemed apparent that the party was going to regain control of the state Senate and, by result, the entire Legislature.

“REBNY saw the handwriting on the wall. They’re equal-opportunity opportunists. They don’t care who’s in the majority. They’ll try to buy influence with them by giving them money,” McKee said. “I’m not suggesting in any way that the mere fact that REBNY has started giving money to Democratic senators means that those Democratic senators are going to sell tenants out. That’s not my point. My point is that this is how they try to win friends and influence people, with big money.”

The influence of such donations can come down to seemingly small changes in policy, like the exact threshold at which an apartment leaves rent regulation, not necessarily major new legislation that would raise flags as donor-favors.

Gotham Gazette: Myrie wanted to avoid even the perception of corruption when he took his pledge, he said. “The number one reason that I did it was because...when we were gonna be facing the fight in Albany on whether or not we’re gonna protect tenants, I wanted there to be no confusion about which side I was on,” he said.

It would be hard to argue, he said, that real estate hasn’t had a corrupting influence on politics. “Albany for the longest time has passed watered down legislation,” Myrie added. “We have not protected tenants the way that we’ve needed to and that, you can draw the direct correlation to the increase in the amount of real estate donations to the Legislature. I think anyone looking at that objectively could say that it has had a corrosive effect on how we pass policy affecting our tenants.”

“Once you take that money, of course it influences how you legislate,” Biaggi said. “Now I think there are ways to protect against that, and that goes into campaign finance reform.”

Biaggi asserted that the path to stronger rent regulations runs directly through reforming the state’s campaign finance system, primarily through closing the LLC loophole, but also through lowering individual donation limits, where New York has some of the highest in the country. Closing the LLC loophole alone, advocates say, would take away real estate’s biggest weapon of political influence, and they insist it should be accompanied by a public campaign financing program, like the one currently used in New York City, to boost the voices of ordinary New Yorkers who only give $25 or $100 to a candidate.

Democrats in the Assembly have repeatedly attempted to reform campaign finance law but have been roadblocked for years by Republicans in the Senate, who have been major beneficiaries of real estate donations. Many, Cuomo included, have emphasized that ending the LLC loophole is among their priorities in the upcoming legislative session in January.

“If you had these kinds of reforms, candidates wouldn’t have to spend so much time cultivating rich people to make big donations,” McKee said.

On the other hand, Republicans have long-argued that labor unions often use campaign contributions to support and influence Democrats, and that any LLC reform should also institute limits on how local chapters of unions are classified in campaign finance law.

Weaver, from Communities for Change, said, “Not only are rent laws coming up in 2019 but I think there’s gonna be a big referendum on the role of money in politics generally…and the campaign finance stuff is also gonna be a referendum on tenant issues and real estate money in politics specifically.”

This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project
Find the rest of the series here

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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As Affordability Crisis Becomes More Acute, Real Estate Donations Emerge as Litmus Test for Some Democrats Thu, 29 Nov 2018 05:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy Podcast: Homelessness & Affordable Housing Development http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8108-max-murphy-podcast-homelessness-affordable-housing-development http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8108-max-murphy-podcast-homelessness-affordable-housing-development mxm logo

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


November 28, 2018 - Max & Murphy Podcast: Homelessness & Affordable Housing Development

This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project
Find the rest of the series here

gr mp 400pxThis week's Max & Murphy is part of housing week for the Agenda 2019 project, which is setting the stage for next year in New York City and State government and politics. Giselle Routhier, Policy Director at Coalition for the Homeless, joined the show to discuss homelessness in New York City, evaluating Mayor de Blasio's approach and what the State should do to address the issue. Then, Molly Park, Deputy Commissioner for Development at the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD), joined the show to discuss the city's affordable housing plan, HPD's approach to development, changes to the plan that have occurred over time, and more.

Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think -- we're on Twitter @TweetBenMax and @JarrettMurphy. You can listen to the show through the embedded audio below or download the episode wherever you get your podcasts, under "Max & Murphy," and listen to Max & Murphy live on Wednesdays at 5 p.m. on WBAI radio, 99.5FM or wbai.org

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This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project
Find the rest of the series here

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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Max & Murphy Podcast: Homelessness & Affordable Housing Development Wed, 28 Nov 2018 05:00:00 +0000
The Mayor and Governor Found Amazon a New Home Right Down the Street from My Shelter http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8100-the-mayor-and-governor-found-amazon-a-new-home-right-down-the-street-from-my-shelter http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8100-the-mayor-and-governor-found-amazon-a-new-home-right-down-the-street-from-my-shelter mayorsoffice unbranded

(photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)


The red carpet has been rolled out and Mayor de Blasio and Governor Cuomo are giddily holding open the doors: Jeff Bezos and Amazon are coming to town, for the low price of $3 billion, a helipad, and prime real estate in Queens. For years, homeless activists have pressed the mayor and governor to invest resources and political will to tackle the historic crisis of homelessness plaguing both our city and state. Instead, they partnered in selling out taxpayers and sidelining politicians to make the Amazon deal a reality.

But not everyone will accept this reality without a fight. In fact, the Amazon giveaway has been criticized by everyone from newly-elected democratic socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to the corporation-friendly editorial board of the Wall Street Journal. They join homeless activists like me, city and state elected officials, and thousands of others who are concerned about responsible government and the rights of immigrants, workers, tenants, students, and many more.

I am one of 89,000 people that live in the shelter system across this state, one of the 60,000-plus that live in New York City. I am from Flatbush, but I live in a homeless shelter in Long Island City, just blocks away from where Amazon is planning to make its home. In recent months, Mayor de Blasio has faced major scrutiny for refusing to set aside 30,000 housing units in his 300,000-unit affordable housing plan to house homeless New Yorkers. I confronted him at his gym and on the radio, and others have faced him at town halls. On every occasion, he denies us the basic thing we need -- housing -- and lectures us on why his housing plan is “for every kind of New Yorker.”

“Every kind of New Yorker,” including the ones who haven’t arrived yet and the ones Amazon claims would earn an average salary of $150,000 per year.

Meanwhile, Governor Cuomo has done no better. He refuses to follow through on his own housing commitments for the homeless. In 2016, he committed $20 billion in the state budget to tackle affordable housing and homelessness -- including 20,000 units of supportive housing -- but only a tiny sliver of those resources were made available after a year of campaigning and protests.

The governor pledged to create 6,000 units of supportive housing over five years, yet two years later, 559 units were reportedly open as of August of this year. He's reduced funding for rental assistance, forced cities to shoulder the cost of shelters, and blocked legislation attempting to solve the problem with new housing assistance, like Assembly Member Andrew Hevesi’s Homes Stability Support plan.

The mayor and governor have refused to adequately help the homeless, but they’ve been quick to negotiate a deal with the richest man in the world. Take a look across the country to predict what happens next.

A Seattle county official said the city was “asleep at the switch” when Amazon arrived. By the time the giant settled in, rents had skyrocketed and homelessness soared from 8,522 people in 2017 to 12,000 during a one-night count in January 2018. In 2017, 169 people experiencing homelessness reportedly died in Seattle, and today record-numbers of people are living in cars and in tent cities. In an attempt to reverse the damage, the Seattle City Council introduced a bill to tax companies like Amazon in order to fund homelessness initiatives. The bill passed, only to then be crushed by Amazon, which refused to be taxed and threatened to stop construction in the city. This it the kind of power we are up against in New York. Our homes, neighborhoods, and our lives are on the line.

Mayor de Blasio and Governor Cuomo have long-ignored the true needs of the homeless across New York. But by bypassing democracy and giving Amazon billions in incentives and grants to move here, they are trying to erase us -- and many others -- from the map.

We won’t have it. We must remember, this is not the mayor’s city nor the governor’s city, and it’s certainly not Amazon’s city -- it is ours.

Now it is critical that we fight back against this plan and demand the future we all deserve: safe and affordable housing for all New Yorkers, quality education for our kids, a transportation system that works, strong small businesses that remain the lifeblood and culture of our city, a powerful unionized workforce that bolsters fair wages, families that are never divided, and companies that don’t profit off the imprisonment and deportation of our loved ones.

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Nathylin Flowers Adesegun is a community leader at VOCAL-NY. On Twitter @VOCALNewYork.

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

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The Mayor and Governor Found Amazon a New Home Right Down the Street from My Shelter Mon, 26 Nov 2018 05:00:00 +0000
To Make New York City More Affordable, End the Cap on Density http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/7679-to-make-new-york-city-more-affordable-end-the-cap-on-density http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/7679-to-make-new-york-city-more-affordable-end-the-cap-on-density far rockaway queens mayors office

(Benjamin Kanter/Mayoral Photo Office)


New York’s severe housing crisis can be traced to a simple fact—our city doesn’t have enough homes for the people who want to live here. The shortage has led to ever-increasing rents, the steady displacement of long-standing communities, and levels of homelessness not seen since the Great Depression. To put it bluntly, we need to build more homes. Lots of them. Affordable and market rate. Yesterday.

One senseless obstacle to new housing is a statewide cap on the density of new residential construction. Since 1961, New York has prohibited the construction of any residential building that has floor space greater than 12 times the size of its lot. This limit is ill-suited for New York City, which needs to allow larger residential buildings to house its growing population in neighborhoods with good transit and good schools. The Regional Plan Association, a respected and nonpartisan think tank, has called for the repeal of this cap, arguing that without more dense construction, displacement in gentrifying neighborhoods will accelerate and the City will choke on worsened congestion.

It is encouraging that Mayor de Blasio and the state Senate have signaled support for ending these restrictions. Unfortunately, Andrew Berman, Executive Director of The Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation (GVSHP), recently published an op-ed with Gotham Gazette that includes several misleading arguments in favor of the density cap. Berman argues that fighting against new housing will somehow result in a more affordable city. He is mistaken; while new highrises will not single-handedly fix New York’s affordability problem, they deserve to be recognized as a serious tool for addressing the housing crisis.

In a shortage, the rich, whether they be landlords, wealthy tenants, or homeowners, always win. In a housing glut, tenants win. Denser buildings would produce more housing units, a substantial portion of which would be permanently affordable through the Mandatory Inclusionary Housing law. Before leaving office in 2016, the Obama Administration published an analysis of the barriers to new construction of affordable housing, and the most destructive factor they identified were burdensome restrictions on the size and shape of new buildings, like those Mr. Berman endorses.

Many readers may be skeptical of the idea that new market-rate homes help keep rents low, but studies have shown that denser, market-rate apartments in in-demand neighborhoods relieve pressure on existing homes citywide. Recent construction has lowered median rents across Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Queens, not just the top of the market. And south of 96 Street, the most affordable neighborhoods also happen to be the densest—the Upper East Side and the Lower East Side—and not, tellingly, neighborhoods hemmed in by ‘historic’ zoning, like Mr. Berman’s Greenwich Village.

If we don't produce enough new market-rate units, the people who might move into a new condo building in Downtown Brooklyn might instead buy a converted brownstone In Crown Heights, displacing existing Crown Heights residents in the process. People who might want to live on the Upper West Side are priced out and move into West Harlem instead. Forbidding dense development in one neighborhood is a recipe for gentrification in the next one over. Members of my organization, Open New York, have experienced this first-hand. Some of us, priced out of neighborhoods like Kips Bay, have become reluctant gentrifiers of Bushwick or Bed-Stuy. Others, like myself in the East Village, worry about our rents rising and facing the same fate.

Although unscrupulous landlords or rapacious speculators hardly help matters, the unfortunate truth is that the city’s housing crisis and the displacement it has wrought are primarily caused by these kinds of restrictions. Wealthy and politically-connected residents in desirable neighborhoods consistently use these laws to thwart the construction of new housing under the guise of ‘preserving neighborhood character,’ keeping their communities exclusive and pushing both new residents and their communities’ most vulnerable residents into less well-off areas. The result is gentrification and skyrocketing rents. New York needs to consider another way.

Lifting the state density cap would not affect residents’ right to have a say in new development. Any changes to a neighborhood’s zoning would still have to go through the regular land-use process and be approved by the City Council, and the city’s Mandatory Inclusionary Housing law would still apply, ensuring any changes include a mix of affordable and market rate units. But eliminating the ban would give residents more flexibility to decide how to grow, whereas keeping it forces us to double down on the same failed policies of exclusion. Rather than looking to Greenwich Village—one of the most expensive neighborhoods in the city—as a model to emulate, we should be working to eliminate the barriers to affordable growth. Removing this counterproductive restriction on density is a good first step.

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William Thomas is an East Village resident and a member of Open New York, an independent pro-housing advocacy group. On Twitter, @OpenNYForAll.

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

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To Make New York City More Affordable, End the Cap on Density Thu, 17 May 2018 04:00:00 +0000
The Mayor's Mistaken Attempt to Supersize Buildings http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/7633-the-mayor-s-mistaken-attempt-to-supersize-buildings http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/7633-the-mayor-s-mistaken-attempt-to-supersize-buildings mbdb hanac

(Credit: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)


Nearly every day it seems, a new record is broken for a tallest new residential structure in our city. Whether it is Downtown Brooklyn’s first 1,000+ foot tall tower, Queens’ tallest tower in Long Island City, or the 1,550 foot tall West 57 Street residential tower that will soon rise higher than the top floor of One World Trade Center, residential building in New York City is reaching new heights.

But for Mayor de Blasio and the real estate industry, even these record-breaking heights are not enough. They are advocating for repealing a 60-year-old state law, which, while capping the size of residential developments in New York City, is still so generous as to allow the unprecedented giants going up now.

If the mayor and the real estate industry have their way, the sky could literally be the limit for residential high-rises in New York City. And not just in Midtown or the Financial District, but residential neighborhoods like the Upper East Side and Upper West Side, Greenwich Village, and various parts of Brooklyn and Queens, where current rules limit new residential development to at or near the cap imposed by state law.

The possibility is more than theoretical. Two years ago proponents of lifting the cap came close to getting the State Legislature to do so. This year the State Senate pushed for the measure to be included in the state budget, but the Assembly ultimately did not go along with it (though the cap removal definitely has its proponents in the Assembly majority). Most observers expect the supporters of lifting the cap to push the measure again before the state legislative session ends in June, possibly as part of the “big ugly” – the annual package of often unrelated and controversial measures passed in the final hours of legislative session, with little public notice or input.

With all the problems facing New York City right now, from dysfunctional subways to crumbling public housing to crippling congestion, why is this an issue the mayor has chosen to take on?

Mayor de Blasio and some of the proponents of lifting the cap claim it’s necessary to build affordable housing.  But not because they want affordable housing developments that exceed the current record-breaking heights. Because they want to allow real estate developers to build vastly larger for-profit, luxury housing developments.  In return, they will require them to attach a comparatively small amount of affordable housing to the development.

This is a false dichotomy that the real estate industry has promulgated and the mayor has endorsed – that the best and, in many cases, only way to get new affordable housing out of for-profit developers across the city is by supersizing the amount of luxury, market-rate housing they can build, and then attaching these smaller amounts of affordable housing to it.

It’s due to this approach that communities throughout New York City have opposed the mayor’s rezoning plans – both because they would destroy the scale and character of their neighborhoods, and because under the guise of introducing “affordable housing” (which in many cases is unaffordable to the residents of the neighborhood), vastly increased quantities of very expensive housing is built, which more than counteracts any good done by the relatively small amount of affordable housing created.

Take Greenwich Village and the East Village. These increasingly wealthy neighborhoods with decreasing affordable housing have been begging the mayor to support a zoning plan we have proposed that would allow modest increases in the allowable size of developments as a condition for creating or preserving affordable housing. The mayor has adamantly opposed the plan, saying he would only be willing to consider the kind of massive increases in the allowable size of residential development that would bump up against the current state cap, to say nothing of destroying the character of these human-scaled neighborhoods.

Don’t let the mayor or Big Real Estate fool you. The state cap on the size of New York City residential buildings is not limiting anything New Yorkers should be worried about. The only thing it’s limiting is the already astronomical profits of developers, and the ambitions of some politicians to increase them even further.

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Andrew Berman is Executive Director of Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation. On Twitter @GVSHP.

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

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The Mayor's Mistaken Attempt to Supersize Buildings Tue, 24 Apr 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy Podcast: NYCHA CEO Shola Olatoye http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7355-max-murphy-podcast-nycha-ceo-shola-olatoye http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7355-max-murphy-podcast-nycha-ceo-shola-olatoye mxm logo

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


December 7, 2017 - Max & Murphy: NYCHA CEO Shola Olatoye

shola olayote 277

NYCHA Chair and CEO Shola Olatoye has been at the center of a firestorm lately related to the public housing authority's lapses in lead paint inspections, violating federal and city laws, filing faulty documentation, and not telling NYCHA residents and the public about the years-long gaps as soon as leadership discovered them.

Olatoye faced hours of questioning at a City Council oversight hearing on Tuesday, then joined the podcast on Thursday for some follow-up and other questions about the lead paint situation and more. Olatoye discusses whether she and NYCHA need to regain residents' trust, whether she offered Mayor Bill de Blasio her resignation, and where the conversation around NYCHA -- home to more than 400,000 New Yorkers -- needs to go next.

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

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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Max & Murphy Podcast: NYCHA CEO Shola Olatoye Thu, 07 Dec 2017 05:00:00 +0000
What’s The [DATA] Point? 77,651, with the City Housing Commissioner http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7206-what-s-the-data-point-77-651-with-the-city-housing-commissioner http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7206-what-s-the-data-point-77-651-with-the-city-housing-commissioner whats the data point


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

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

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

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

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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What’s The [DATA] Point? 77,651, with the City Housing Commissioner Thu, 21 Sep 2017 04:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy on Politics http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6183-max-a-murphy-on-housing http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6183-max-a-murphy-on-housing max murphy screenshots

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


Each week, Ben Max of Gotham Gazette and Jarrett Murphy of City Limits discuss the latest on policy and politics in New York. Episodes, which are typically 10-15 minutes, began in February, 2016 with a focus on housing, but have expanded to other topics. Episodes are below, and can also be found on iTunes and other podcast networks. LISTEN:

June 1st, 2017: Election Season is Here!

May 25th, 2017: De Blasio in the Bronx; City's Transit System Becomes a Focus

May 17th, 2017: The Mayor's Homelessness Plan & Election Year Politics

May 8th, 2017: Controversy at Correction; The Latest in the Mayoral Race; Rezoning Politics; Stalled Voting Reforms; & More:

April 21, 2017: De Blasio Versus the Media, Re-election Year News, & The Mayor in the Boroughs

March 9th, 2017: Federal cuts looming? 421-a debates & the Mayor's new approach to homelessness

January 19th, 2017

December 2, 2016: 421-A Back from the Dead? New $ for Public Housing, and ZoneIn!

October 27, 2016: What's at stake for New York City on Election Day?

August 12, 2016: New York City Homeownership Trends, MIH gets real, and more:

July 26, 2016: With the presidential campaign in full swing and the national party platforms adopted, Max & Murphy are joined by Rachel Fee, executive director of the New York Housing Conference, to discuss federal housing policy and how it relates to New York:

June 23, 2016: In a special episode, we were joined by two leaders of Coalition for the Homeless, Mary Brosnahan and Shelly Nortz, to discuss a wide range of issues related to city and state homelessness-fighting policies, including problems around state funding and signs of progress with city management:

June 16, 2016: The Latest at NYCHA, from its Chair & CEO

June 9, 2016: A Lot to Watch for On Housing: Next Rezonings, New Legislation, State MOU?

May 26, 2016: Tenant Protection Efforts and Signs of Progress at NYCHA

May 12, 2016: NYCHA's 'Core Challenge' with guest Ritchie Torres, New York City Council member and chair of the public housing committee 

May 4, 2016: A Lot in the Spring Balance

April 21, 2016: Presidential Candidates Visit Public Housing; Next Up: 421-A

April 8, 2016: The presidential primaries are here - in New York!

April 1, 2016: Big Housing $ in the State Budget

March 25, 2016: Putting MIH Into Context

March 18, 2016: Good and Bad News for Mayor de Blasio

March 10, 2016: The Politics of De Blasio's Housing Plan Heats Up

March 4, 2016: Governor Cuomo Casts a Shadow Over Housing Hearing

Feb. 26, 2016: Amid fears of gentrification, neighborhood plans move ahead

Feb. 19, 2016: As the City Council deliberates, neighborhood planning heats up

Feb. 12, 2016: The City Council hears two major de Blasio zoning proposals

You can find more from Ben Max and Jarrett Murphy by visiting the latest reporting from Gotham Gazette and from City Limits; and find us on Twitter @TweetBenMax and @JarrettMurphy.

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Max & Murphy on Politics Thu, 01 Jun 2017 04:00:00 +0000
Bill Aims to Ensure Heat is On When It Should Be http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6669-bill-aims-to-ensure-heat-is-on-when-it-should-be http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6669-bill-aims-to-ensure-heat-is-on-when-it-should-be ritchie torres arms crossed pink tie

Ritchie Torres (photo: John McCarten)


City Council Member Ritchie Torres will introduce a bill on Thursday that aims to ensure landlords follow the law and keep the heat on for tenants when it should be.

Torres’ bill, being introduced in partnership with Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, would require landlords of buildings with more than three units to install tamper-proof heat sensors in the living room of each unit. These “temperature reporting devices” would be monitored by tenants, landlords, and the city’s housing agency, the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD).

The model for such a device was developed by Heat Seek, a winner of the city’s 2014 BigApps competition. With their legislation, Torres and Adams want to make sure that all tenants have heat when they are supposed to, and to create a new deterrent for landlords who might abuse heat settings as a way to drive tenants out of rent-stabilized housing.

“The bill is based on a recognition that laws governing heat and hot water, which are among the most common complaints among tenants, can be the hardest to enforce,” Torres said in an interview on Wednesday.

“It's bringing housing code enforcement into the 21st century,” Torres said. “And it’s allowing us to hold unscrupulous owners accountable, and drive down the rate of heat and hot water violations in New York City.”

Working with Heat Seek, tenants, and housing lawyers, Adams recently announced a lawsuit against one large Brooklyn landlord whose Brownsville building had a number of heat complaints.

Landlords must provide tenants with heat and hot water when the outdoor temperature falls below 55 degrees during the day and below 40 degrees at night during the October 1-May 31 “heat season.” HPD tracks violators.

“My message to landlords across New York City is that we’re watching; don’t harm your tenants’ quality of life all because of greed,” Adams said in a statement. “We are using cool technology to warm the homes of Brooklynites, while putting bad-acting landlords on the hot seat for their harassing behavior. I am proud to work with Council Member Torres, the innovative team at Heat Seek NYC, our incredible legal advocates, as well as courageous tenants who are standing up for their housing rights.”

As originally drafted, if passed by the Council and signed by the Mayor, the provisions of the bill would go into effect for January 1, 2018. It would require rules to be drafted and contract procurement by HPD (Heat Seek would not be guaranteed the contract for the devices). The bill will be heard in the Committee on Housing and Buildings, which is chaired by Council Member Jumaane Williams. Torres chairs the Committee on Public Housing, but the bill does not apply to the New York City Housing Authority, which is separate from the private landlords the bill is targeting.

There are already amendments to the bill being discussed. Most significantly, according to Torres’ office, the bill is likely to be changed so that the temperature monitors are required of landlords with repeated violations related to providing heat, not of all landlords. The idea will be to identify when there has been “willful deprivation of heat and hot water” so that HPD can then monitor it and ensure that landlords are not repeatedly violating the law or driving out tenants. At times, landlords are accused of not providing heat but then raise the heat for HPD inspections. Sensors would allow for regular detection.

Torres' office is looking at perhaps coordinating with the Public Advocate' "worst landlord" list that is released each year as those involved seek to identify negligent landlords or landlords that harass tenants.

According to data provided by Torres’ office from HPD, last heat season HPD inspectors attempted 117,767 heat-related inspections and wrote 7,548 heat-related violations. HPD completed $2.7 million in heat-related emergency repairs that was charged to building owners and filed 3,151 heat cases in court, collecting $1.7 million in civil penalties against more than 3,100 properties.

Heat Seek is looking forward to expanding its work. In a statement, the company said, “Heat Seek is grateful for Councilman Torres’s and President Adams’s forward-thinking approach to solving problems experienced by many New Yorkers. We know that underheated apartments are too common for our neighbors, and we believe that sensor technology has the capacity to change the way landlords provide services for their tenants and how our city enforces the Housing Code."

Tenants are encouraged to call 311 to report issues with their heat and their landlords. Some tenants have taken to keeping a "heat log" but the tamper-proof devices from Heat Seek can provide more indisputable evidence.

“I think most landlords make good effort to comply with the law,” Torres said, but it will be important to monitor and punish “actors who have a consistent pattern of heat and hot water violations.”

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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Bill Aims to Ensure Heat is On When It Should Be Wed, 14 Dec 2016 05:00:00 +0000
City Should Call an Eviction Moratorium http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/6354-new-york-city-should-call-an-eviction-moratorium http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/6354-new-york-city-should-call-an-eviction-moratorium housing

photo: Edward Blake via Flickr


One fear that is prevalent in every borough of New York City is the threat of eviction. Gentrification and the ever increasing housing affordability gap makes staying in an apartment harder and harder each year for thousands of tenants. Evictions are handed down in Housing Court, where the odds do not favor low-income tenants.

As of 2015, an estimated 90 percent of these tenants go through Housing Court without legal representation. In attempts to combat this, the New York City government has provided millions in funding to legal advocacy organizations to defend tenants in Housing Court and prevent evictions. As a result, New York saw an encouraging 18% decrease in the number of evictions in 2015 due to the increase in assistance of legal services. While this additional funding is making strides in helping combat high eviction rates, these efforts are not doing enough.

In order to provide real assistance and protection to its low-income residents and tenants as well as reduce racial discrimination, New York City should call for an indefinite temporary moratorium on evictions.

In September of 2015, I began work as a legal intern at the Safety Net Project at Urban Justice Center. For nine months straight, I spent hours at Bronx Housing Court with hundreds of tenants, conducting intakes for potential clients for the attorneys to represent in Housing Court. During this time, I realized that one way to address the housing and eviction crisis in New York City could be a temporary moratorium on evictions.

In a city plagued with homelessness, a poverty crisis, and drastic rates of gentrification, by instituting an eviction moratorium city government would not only be assisting its low-income residents, but also relieving its overburdened court system and the organizations trying to help tenants.

A moratorium on evictions, while it sounds extreme and improbable, would actually be quite feasible and beneficial.

Landlords, while not being able to evict tenants, would still be able to collect money settlements. This could take place in Small-Claims, Civil, or even the Supreme Court. During this indeterminate period, New York would be able to reevaluate its current housing crisis and come up with better multi-faceted solutions while thousands would not be threatened with homelessness.

The city, not burdened with the cost of both evictions and rising shelter expenses, could shift its focus and funding to other programs such as new or increased housing subsidies. Because of the inadequate number of affordable apartments, new and additional subsidies would allow access to a wider population of New Yorkers, thus diminishing the homeless population. This would result in annual savings at shelters throughout the city as well.

Housing Court and evictions demonstrate not only injustice against low-income tenants, but also racial discrimination. If you walk into Housing Court in Brooklyn, the Bronx, Manhattan, Queens, or Staten Island, you see clearly that the majority of tenants are people of color. Approximately seven of every ten clients I spoke to at Housing Court were African-American women. This opens up an even wider conversation about discrimination based on race and gender where black men are locked up and black women are locked out. An eviction moratorium would potentially limit these racially discriminatory practices.

Various types of moratoriums have actually taken place all across the country and yielded positive results.

In Salt Lake City, a one-year impact fee moratorium was imposed to help reassess the dysfunctional collection fee system. Recently, Oakland, California approved a 90-day freeze on rent hikes and an eviction moratorium to help the city deal with its ever-growing housing crisis. Chicago instituted an official annual moratorium on evictions from December 18 through January 5 to give tenants a holiday reprieve. This moratorium is also in effect when temperatures reach 15 degrees or colder or when severe weather conditions would make it dangerous to evict tenants. Moratoriums like these give cities time - opportunity to assess, reevaluate, and change any facet of policy that negatively affects tenants, recognizing that housing is a basic right and essential to pursuing other aspects of life. New York should be able to institute something similar.

Currently, the only existing eviction moratorium in place is the annual and informal practice conducted by marshals, who typically cease all evictions during the Christmas holiday into the new year. However, while this practice is neither sanctioned nor uniformly widespread, it does not address the larger issue of the vast number of low-income New Yorkers who are displaced from their housing each year. Another eviction moratorium, an official one, took place in 2012 after Hurricane Sandy. While no formal statistics could be found to show the benefits of these moratoriums, both led to more tenants in housing and reduced costs to the city for expenses like shelters.

In the fast-paced City of New York, tenants have seen rapid gentrification, judges pushing for settlements instead of fair decisions, and landlords seeking quick evictions. A moratorium on evictions would effectively slow down this process, keep people in their homes, provide more subsidies to put more people into new homes who currently do not qualify, and save the city money.

Lastly, New York stands as a beacon of change on many issues. Evictions are a national epidemic. A New York eviction moratorium would act as an example for the rest of the country, thus leading to fewer homeless Americans across the country. It should not take the Christmas spirit or a devastating hurricane to call the city to act in defense of its most vulnerable residents. A housing disaster is already taking place.

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Tyler Tagliaferro is a double major in Political Science and American Studies at Fordham University.

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

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City Should Call an Eviction Moratorium Wed, 25 May 2016 04:00:00 +0000