Gotham Gazette http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/277 Sun, 17 Dec 2017 10:14:46 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) Max & Murphy Podcast: NYCHA CEO Shola Olatoye http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7355:max-murphy-podcast-nycha-ceo-shola-olatoye http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7355:max-murphy-podcast-nycha-ceo-shola-olatoye

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


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/?id=7206:what-s-the-data-point-77-651-with-the-city-housing-commissioner http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=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/?id=6183:max-a-murphy-on-housing http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=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/?id=6669:bill-aims-to-ensure-heat-is-on-when-it-should-be http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=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/?id=6354:new-york-city-should-call-an-eviction-moratorium http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=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
Wright Runs for Congress as Tenants Champion, to Mixed Reviews http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6335:wright-runs-for-congress-as-tenants-champion-to-mixed-reviews http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6335:wright-runs-for-congress-as-tenants-champion-to-mixed-reviews wright rangel

Keith Wright, Charles Rangel, and others (photo via Wright's campaign)


New York Assemblymember Keith Wright’s congressional campaign has flooded inboxes declaring him a “champion” for tenants. Many see it as an appropriate description for the housing committee chair - his campaign touts the support of “100 tenant leaders” and he has a long history of advocating for renters, starting in the 1980s as the head of the tenant association in Harlem’s Riverton Houses, where he still lives. Wright and his fellow tenants recently settled a lawsuit with their landlord for $2 million after alleging they were charged improper rent and other misdeeds.

One of several campaign emails to supporters seeking donations based on Wright’s tenant advocacy reads: “Keith has been a voice for our neighborhoods for decades. His leadership has made sure that NYC protects and expands affordable housing. He pushes to stand up for tenants and hold NYCHA management accountable.”

Wright is a leader in the crowded Democratic primary to replace retiring Rep. Charles Rangel, who has endorsed him, and he’s very much running on his housing record.

There is another view of Wright held by some tenant advocates and legislators, though, who see him as being an outspoken advocate on housing issues who has failed to turn his bully pulpit and considerable power and influence in Albany into actual results.

These critics maintain that Wright failed to buck former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Governor Andrew Cuomo and fight for drastic changes to the rent laws that would do away with what they see as incentives for landlords to increase rent and drive out rent-controlled tenants.

In the 13th Congressional District largely made up of Harlem and Washington Heights, Wright is facing state Senator Adriano Espaillat; Clyde Williams, a former adviser to President Bill Clinton; Assemblymember Guillermo Linares; and former Assemblymember Adam Clayton Powell. Appearing the favored establishment candidate, Wright - along with Espaillat and Linares - has faced criticism from Williams and others for connections to Albany and its notorious corruption and dysfunction.

Several tenant groups were excited when Wright took over the housing committee from disgraced Assemblymember Vito Lopez in 2013, but a number of them were quickly disillusioned, representatives say. They believe Wright has simply maintained the status quo and amassed power in anticipation for his run for Congress. They point to Wright’s fundraising records that show he’s taken significant donations from real estate interests and question his loyalty to tenant issues such as doing away with the process by which landlords can deregulate affordable units or ending the 421-a subsidy they call a giveaway to developers.

“The problem with Keith is that he says all the right things but then follows orders, resulting in the ongoing destruction of our rent-regulated housing. And I am disturbed by the staggering amount of real estate money he has amassed for his congressional race,” said Michael McKee of Tenants PAC, which organizes around affordable housing issues and backs like-minded candidates. Tenants PAC does not endorse in national races.

A 2014 study by the Community Service Society, an advocacy group for low-income New Yorkers, found that the city lost 40 percent of apartments for low-income residents over the prior decade.

Wright defended his record in an interview: “As chair of the housing committee we’ve had to work against a very conservative state Senate,” Wright said, referring to the Republican-controlled upper house of the New York Legislature. “Listen, no matter what you do you are not going to be able to please everyone. Sure you get folks who want me to hold up the budget and this that, but I’ve been through those days before and it didn't quite work. If I thought it would work I would do it again. You can’t please everyone.”

As for his major wins, Wright counts his “greatest achievement” as a 2014 lawsuit he filed with his fellow tenants at Riverton Square accusing the landlords of illegally inflating rent, improperly evicting tenants, and overstating the value of the improvements made to apartments. In February the landlord, CWCapital and CompassRock, agreed to a $2 million settlement that will be paid in rent credits (they admitted no wrongdoing).

Wright was also a key player in negotiations of the recent sale of Riverton to A&E Real Estate. Part of the sale included an agreement that A&E would repair homes and include 975 apartments, including Wright’s, in a 30-year affordability agreement.

Two of Wright’s major wins didn’t come legislatively, but instead in actions he took to protect his own housing complex.

Wright rejected the idea that contributions from real estate influenced his fight for stronger rent laws. “Ask him why he’s taken so much Wall Street money and D.C. money,” Wright said, apparently referencing his opponent Clyde Williams, who brought up donations Wright has taken from real estate interests in recent debates. “We’ve all taken real estate money. It has nothing to do with my commitment to the tenants of New York City. I think my record is plain on its face.”

Filings with the State Board of Elections and Federal Elections Commission dating back to 2013 show that Wright has taken tens of thousands of dollars in donations from major real estate and construction interests and their subsidiaries. Real estate groups are known for donating to many state politicians in hopes of influencing policy.

Major donations to Wright from real estate interests include $2,050 from the Real Estate Board PAC; $4,100 from JSignal LLC, which is connected to Cayuga Capital, a real estate management and development firm; $500 from John Banks, president of the Real Estate Board of NY; $2,700 from Eliot Spitzer, the former governor who now focuses on real estate; $5,000 from Empire PAC, which represents real estate interests; $2,500 from REBNY member Daniel Zucker; and a total of $4,200 over three contributions from Donald Capoccia, head of BFC Partners, a development firm that specializes in affordable housing.

Wright’s first action as housing chair in 2013 was to introduce a package of housing bills that included a surprise: renewal of the lapsed J-51 program. The program is intended to provide tax breaks to landlords who make improvements to affordable housing, but tenant groups asserted it was abused by landlords. A study found half of the tax breaks went to owners of market-rate buildings.

“I was named housing chair on a Friday and we had a very large bill that was somewhat controversial that had to be done on Monday," Wright told Gotham Gazette during an interview in February 2013. "I know folks in the tenant movement were upset, they wanted that bill to be used as leverage, but it was a bill for coops, condos, and lofts, and those type of people do live in New York City. We had to do this bill.”

Last year, as rent regulations that govern affordable housing in the city and across the state came up for renewal, tenant groups were hoping Wright and newly sworn-in Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, a Bronx Democrat, would be able to win significant changes to the rent laws to do away with what they call incentives for landlords to take apartments off of the affordable housing rolls. Instead they say they got tweaks.

The threshold for rent at which a vacant apartment can be deregulated was increased from $2,500 to $2,700. The deal also required landlords stretch out the period they increase tenants’ rent after making major capital improvements. Landlords were also limited in how much they can increase rent between tenants. The wins were seen as small, minimal in comparison to what Cuomo and the Assembly publicly pushed for. Wright said he was nevertheless proud of the changes that were made.

Last year was a not a typical year - both legislative leaders Dean Skelos and Sheldon Silver were indicted during budget season (and later convicted). Rather than a traditional negotiation of the expiring rent laws and 421-a program that gives tax breaks to developers for including affordable housing in their projects, Cuomo allowed real estate and labor interests to negotiate 421-a renewal on their own, outside the Legislature.

Tenant groups say 421-a is a “tax suck” that has been demonstrated to produce very few affordable units and been the subject to major abuse and fraud by developers. Investigations, like one by ProPublica, have proven those claims to be true. Still, Mayor Bill de Blasio and others want to see a new, strengthened 421-a program enacted.

Cuomo attributed giving real estate and labor control of negotiations to the sensitivity of legislators towards the Silver and Skelos scandals that included revelations about the political influence of Glenwood Management, a real estate company that was the state’s largest campaign donor.

Labor and real estate failed to reach an agreement on renewing 421-a, so the program lapsed. Still, Cuomo and other stakeholders appear loathe to let it go, to the dismay of some tenant groups.

Results of the legislative negotiations on rent laws last year were hailed as “historic” by Cuomo, but tenant groups found it lacking. They say it basically cemented the status quo allowing landlords to steadily raise rents and move apartments off the affordable housing rolls.

"We pretty much got nothing," said Delsenia Glover, director of Alliance for Tenant Power, said at a press conference in Albany in early April. "At the time Governor Cuomo said they were the 'strongest rent laws in history.' It's not true, we got nothing."

Glover, who is from Harlem, does not blame Wright for the rent law negotiations. “Keith is extremely supportive,” Glover told Gotham Gazette in a recent interview. “He was one of our lead champions last year along with Speaker Heastie. He worked as hard as he could on the rent laws.”

The focus of Alliance for Tenant Power’s April press conference was demanding that if Albany does decide to find a replacement for 421-a that they must also reopen negotiations on rent laws. Glover says lawmakers should end current rules that incentivize landlords to make apartments unaffordable.

“Instead of discussing benefits for rich developers, all attention should be on fixing the major loopholes in the rent regulation system that houses 2.5 million tenants in approximately 1 million units with no cost whatsoever to the taxpayer,” Glover wrote in an April op-ed at Gotham Gazette.

Glover and other tenant groups deride the idea of any replacement for 421-a. Wright attended the press conference and appeared to agree, despite the fact he introduced what many tenant advocates saw as a direct replacement. Wright proposed a program that would provide $100,000 to developers per affordable unit they build that would be funded by the state abandoned property fund.

Wright said at the time that the bill was negotiated with the Real Estate Board of New York the NYS Association for Affordable Housing, and the Building & Construction Trades Council. All three groups indicated to the Daily News at the time that they didn’t actually support the plan.

“I’m sorry the press picked it up as a replacement for 421-a,” Wright told Gotham Gazette, implying that his plan was not aimed to be such and that a lack of enthusiasm for it was the result of that mistaken characterization.

Asked for her take on Wright’s plan, Glover demurred, saying, “You’d have to ask someone who was in the room.”

Barika Williams, deputy director of the Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development (ANHD), praised Wright for bringing together disparate groups to discuss the creation of “a tool” to spur the creation of affordable housing. “It was a unique table that brought together different parts of the for-profit and nonprofit set. You saw a lot of people who don’t normally sit at the same table. We were looking at achieving the deepest affordability and trying to target resources to those buckets of the population that are desperately in need.”

Williams said that in the end all of the groups may not have been on the same page because not all the groups involved were present for the entire process. “It was a long process that took commitment and being consistently involved for over two months.”

Wright has been criticized by advocates and fellow legislators for not being properly versed in the bills he supports. He’s also been criticized for being too close to Governor Cuomo.

Wright said he would love to see the rent laws reopened for negotiation this year.

City & State NY recently reported that Tom Cayler, chair of the West Side Neighborhood Alliance’s Illegal Hotel Committee, was unhappy with a bill Wright carries that is technically designed to deal with illegal hotels.

Wright’s bill would create a process by which permanent residents of certain apartment buildings could register to rent their apartments in the short term - similar to how Airbnb functions.

Cayler said the bill would simply allow residents to rent their apartments as “illegal hotels,” rather than ending the practice. There is a good deal of pushback against Airbnb in Manhattan. The group met with Wright and were asked to send him a memo with their concerns. They say they never heard back.

“It was really shocking to us that he didn’t actually seem to know much about the bill he had his name on,” Cayler told City & State. “He was not well-informed about it. His chief of staff was the one who knew about this particular bill.”

Wright’s spokesperson Emma Forbes told City & State that the bill was designed to increase transparency and that the bill had yet to move because there wasn’t “consensus” from residents and stakeholders.

Asked about Cayler’s criticism Wright told Gotham Gazette: “I thought he was somewhat misinformed.”

Wright said his door is always open and he is willing to discuss legislation.

WIlliams, of ANHD, countered the idea that Wright was ill informed about legislation. “I think from our experience Assemblymember Wright understands the complexity of housing and the complex mix of interests that are involved. With all of that in mind, his goal always seems to be thinking about deep affordability and how to help those folks in New York City who are struggling and who are the most underserved.”

Asked if he expects legislation on illegal hotels to move this session, which ends in mid-June, Wright replied, “The bill is in my name in a committee I head and I control the bill and it hasn’t moved.” “So if it quacks like a duck...,” he added, implying there was little chance the bill would advance.

Wright said he is proud of his record as a tenant advocate and that despite the overwhelming support he has received from the Democratic establishment, including words of support from former President Bill Clinton and formal endorsements from Gov. Cuomo, Speaker Heastie, and Rep. Rangel, he does not take it for granted that he will be leaving Albany for Washington. “We have a lot to do here,” Wright said, adding that should he be elected to Congress his main focus will be on changing the definition of area median income because of the way it impacts affordable housing in the city.

“The reason I’m running is to change the definition of area median income and the way it is put forward with affordable housing,” said Wright. “The housing that is being built is called “affordable,” but it's not affordable to anyone I know or even me.” (Wright, who lives in rent-stabilized housing, has an Assembly salary of $79,500, not including the stipend he receives for heading the housing committee, and he has served for 24 years.)

Citing the fact that the AMI used for New York City to determine rent thresholds takes into account Westchester and Rockland counties, greatly increasing the number, Wright said that reform would benefit city residents.

“Changing the definition is what I want to do the first day I get to Congress, most definitely,” said Wright.

New Yorkers are tired of seeing condos going for millions of dollars while they worry about paying the bills and staying in their neighborhood, Wright said.

“The people of Harlem shed blood, sweat, and tears to make their neighborhood a safe place to live,” Wright said. “People are scared to death their children won't be able to afford to live in the neighborhood because it won’t be affordable.”

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by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
     

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Wright Runs for Congress as Tenants Champion, to Mixed Reviews Sun, 15 May 2016 04:00:00 +0000
Homeowners Stand to Gain in Areas to be Rezoned, If They Can Keep Their Homes http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6309:homeowners-stand-to-gain-in-areas-to-be-rezoned-if-they-can-keep-their-homes http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6309:homeowners-stand-to-gain-in-areas-to-be-rezoned-if-they-can-keep-their-homes de blasio homeowners sign sandy

Mayor de Blasio (photo: Rob Bennett, Mayor's Office)


As plans to spur new development in areas around New York City proceed, mostly silence surrounds the experience of homeowners who are being pressured by investors to sell. Prior to the City Council’s approval of rezoning East New York, Brooklyn last week, there had been little public discussion of how or whether to ameliorate real estate speculation on small homes. At least in East New York, some homeowner protections have been introduced to the plan, but investor-backed speculation, to some extent, still seems to be part of the city-wide housing agenda.

Facing a shortage of housing attainable for moderate- and low-income residents, Mayor Bill de Blasio has stressed the importance of creating a comprehensive affordable housing plan, part of his larger agenda to combat inequality. De Blasio is attempting to harness the sweep of gentrification that continues to displace residents – both renters and small home owners - who are being priced and bought out, especially in the “next” neighborhoods where prices are rising rapidly.

“We know right now that we can do a lot to stop evictions from rental apartments,” de Blasio said in a March interview with WNYC. “We don’t have as good a model to protect homeowners that might be the subject of speculation.”

The mayor is working with the City Council on much of his housing plan, including tenant protections, new affordable housing requirements, and the rezoning of as many as 15 neighborhoods across the city. East New York’s is the first such rezoning plan to be approved by a Council vote.

The Council itself has been especially focused on protecting tenants from eviction. When asked, though, about protections for financially-strapped homeowners who will have trouble resisting aggressive speculation, Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito also indicated, like the mayor, that the subject has not been thoroughly discussed. Acknowledging pressure on homeowners as a challenge in a “very hot” market, she said, “Those are things we can talk about as we think about initiatives and existing legal services and getting to more targeted populations.”

In the revised East New York rezoning plan, the city has committed to establishing a “Homeowner Helpdesk,” which will be a community-based support service with financial and legal counselors offering advice to homeowners facing overbearing speculators who are drawn in by low prices and the potential for high price growth that comes with the ability to build higher. The city will also provide low-income homeowners with loans and small grants for critical repairs through the Home Improvement Program and Senior Citizen Assistance Program, among others.

The Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD), which subsidizes the construction of affordable housing, also says it will work with the Department of Environmental Protection to implement water rate relief programs, and is also looking into the possibility of establishing a “Cease and Desist Zone,” where homeowners would be protected from unwanted solicitation. Buying, however, is still a principal tenet of the agenda to have real estate developers build much of the city’s new affordable housing stock.

Part of Mark-Viverito’s East Harlem district is also on the list to be rezoned, as well as neighborhoods including Flushing West, Long Island City, a Jerome Avenue corridor in the Bronx, and a Bay Street Corridor on Staten Island.

The rise in sales prices and the interest investors are showing in one-to-four unit houses in areas eyed for rezoning indicate that homeowners may increasingly become the targets of forceful, even predatory, buyers.

Mark-Viverito mentioned the calls she herself receives to sell her East Harlem home, while “keys for cash” flyers proliferate in the neighborhoods on the shifting lines of gentrification. Often, even more aggressive tactics are taken by those looking to invest early when a neighborhood appears to be considered for improvement.

Stakeholders and Stakes
All homeowners stand to gain from increasing property values in neighborhoods slated for rezoning. Those with moderate incomes and unburdened by mortgages are in particularly good position, whether they decide to take the money and run or stay vested. But many, often most, of the homeowners in areas pending rezoning have relatively low incomes and face significant pressures like mortgage obligations and the cost of maintaining old housing. As investors see greater opportunity in neighborhoods the city plans to upzone, this latter group of homeowners becomes more vulnerable to buyout offers that don’t reflect the value of their assets.

For small home owners, the ability of government intervention to prevent displacement and promote affordable housing options falls into a grey area. “Obviously, the first thing we would say to anybody is to encourage nobody to respond to anything unless they get some sort of guidance,” Mark-Viverito said in March of homeowners being approached to sell. “These are challenges that we face in a market that is very hot, you know, that is putting a lot of pressures.”

While Mark-Viverito may offer a tip to fellow homeowners - some of whom speak limited English and many of whom are seniors - and the city provides some advice and loan services, homeowners appear to be largely on their own as the city encourages investment in underdeveloped communities. As part of the plan to rezone East New York, the city aims to subsidize the construction of new deeply affordable housing on private land, but in many cases, developers must first buy land from existing homeowners.

“Gentrification, rezoning it all trickles and impacts,” said Darma Diaz, a homeowner in Cypress Hills, which is partially included in the East New York rezoning plan. “We definitely know that rents in New York City are high and apartments are hard to find, but it makes [living in the city] that much more challenging when you have the pressure of investors wanting and pursuing and making it really financially lucrative to sell your home.”

Diaz has been living in Cypress Hills, Brooklyn since the late 1970s and has owned a home there since 2007. She is worried that small home owners have not received enough attention throughout the city-wide discussion of rezoning as part of the mayor’s affordable housing agenda. “We knew that building more units was necessary for our community, but I think what [the mayor and City Council] did not take into account was the impact that the speculators were gonna have on small home owners.”

Mayor de Blasio’s affordable housing plan, in part using legislative tools passed through the City Council in March, includes leveraging property value growth that will come with changing land use regulations to allow greater housing density, encourage construction, and require developers to build tens of thousands of new units of affordable housing. De Blasio’s overall plan is to build and preserve a total of 200,000 units of affordable housing over ten years with varying rent regulations affordable to low-, moderate-, and middle-income New Yorkers. Another 160,000 market-rate units are part of the plan.

Benjamin Dulchin, executive director of the Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development (ANHD), told Gotham Gazette that the areas pending rezoning are typically regions of the city with high concentrations of low-rise buildings. Now with low housing density, developers will soon be allowed to build higher in these neighborhoods, creating additional market-rate apartments along with mandated affordable units.

The buildings that would need to be torn down to make room for the higher, denser housing necessary to achieve the mayor’s goal of 80,000 newly built affordable units are also often the kinds of buildings - one-to-four family houses - that are occupied by the owner.

In East New York, a majority of all housing is in buildings with fewer than six units. According to the Coalition for Community Advancement, a group of neighborhood organizations independently monitoring the planning process and pushing for deeper affordability levels, roughly three-quarters of the buildings on sale in East New York are one-to-four family houses.

The Department of City Planning’s East New York Community Plan, the revised version of which was passed just by the City Council, proposed to change land use rules to allow six- to 14-story buildings to be constructed, which could more than double the area’s population density. In the next two years, HPD plans to build 1,200 new affordable housing units in East New York and, by 2024, seeks to make affordable half of all new units developed in that community.

Even before rezoning proposals are approved through the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP), which is the public process involving many city actors that any major land use change must go through, the increase in property value that comes with rezoning has potential to make waves among buyers and investors - and thus, existing homeowners.

While the steady sales price growth of New York City real estate over the past five years (20 if you allow for some dips) is cooling, annual price growth in East Brooklyn, which includes Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brownsville, Bushwick, Crown Heights, and East New York, increased to a high 20.5 percent in February, exceeding the Brooklyn-wide growth rate by about 300 percent, according to a StreetEasy report.

Alan Lightfeldt, a data scientist at StreetEasy, said that it is impossible to tell what impact the new affordable housing legislation will have on home sales because of the complexity of factors that affect prices, such as the “endemic demand” for homes - the built-in demand that a large city with a population of aspiring homeowners, like New York, almost always has today.

That demand is part of the general trend of gentrification, radiating outward as the population continues to grow, business centers expand, and the city becomes safer. The latest hot neighborhoods are those where prices are still affordable to moderate- and middle-income residents, and that have public transportation infrastructure connecting them to the rest of the city.

Paula Crespo, a senior planner at the Pratt Center for Community Development, who works with the Coalition for Community Advancement, provided Gotham Gazette with data that the sales prices of one-to-four family homes has increased by 13 percent in East New York since the rezoning was announced in 2014. Yet, they are still relatively low compared to the city- and borough-wide median sales prices.

The combination of low prices and high price growth makes places like East New York incredibly appetizing to real estate speculators who seek to turn a profit. When speculation is rampant, homeowners - both current and prospective - feel the effects.

From a market perspective, other considerations aside, “when an area sees widespread value change, especially through external factors like rezoning,” Lightfeldt said, “homeowners usually benefit.” Being able to choose when to sell gives homeowners, like investors, the ability to capitalize on the increase in their property’s value.

Hardships of the Small Home Owner
For homeowners who are in debt and facing financial hardship, however, the agency to choose whether and when to sell is not always theirs. Up against wealthy buyers attracted by favorable prices and even more favorable price growth, homeowners in areas under rezoning consideration face the weighty task of holding out against offers to buy. Giving in may satisfy immediate financial needs, but, for the lowest-income earners, it almost certainly means displacement from the community as speculation ratchets-up prices.

“I think it’s dollars and cents,” said Diaz, who works with the Coalition for Community Advancement in Cypress Hills. “They’re capitalizing on people who may be financially strapped, and that’s a way to harass them, and makes them think…they can pay off their debt and go buy something else. OK, and where are they going to buy something else in Cypress Hills or New York City as a whole?”

According to the Coalition for Community Advancement, the median income of homeowners living in one-to-four family houses in East New York is nearly $19,000 below the city-wide median, making it difficult to meet housing and maintenance expenses, including mortgage and loan payments, property tax payments, utilities, and repairs. Because of their effect on taxes and everyday neighborhood expenses, rising property values can actually hurt a homeowner who wants to stay in their house and in their community.

In the zip codes that comprise East New York, census data from 2010 show that, of the 15,157 owner-occupied housing units, 12,286 were owned with a mortgage or loan. Less than one-fifth of homeowners were free and clear. For many of these homeowners, the risk of foreclosure is high and buy-out offers, even relatively low ones, may be hard to resist. (It should be noted that the East New York rezoning does not include the entirety of the neighborhood, but a significant portion of it.)

Some of the homes in East New York have already changed hands as a result of foreclosure. The 2008 housing collapse resulted in millions of foreclosures nationwide, and in New York City a second wave of foreclosures early this decade further destabilized homeowners. Census surveys in 2010 and 2014 show that the number of owner-occupied units in one East New York zip code fell by 217, or about three percent, in the intervening years.

Last year, East New York reported the fourth highest foreclosure rate in the city, according to data from the Coalition for Community Advancement.

The foreclosure crisis has not been lost on unscrupulous opportunists, who have inundated New York City homeowners with unlicensed and often illegal mortgage refinancing offers. According to a 2014 report by the Center for NYC Neighborhoods in conjunction with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, “New York homeowners report larger losses to scammers than in the rest of the country.”

Because such foreclosure rescue scams are so costly to their victims – they often involve the redirection of mortgage payments towards fraudulent restructuring services – and in many cases lead to more urgent mortgage trouble, they compound the risk of displacement of homeowners who are, by definition, already in distress, and incentivize buy-outs below the potential market prices of the near-future.

The areas hit hardest by these scams – Southeast Brooklyn, Southeast Queens, and the Northwest Bronx – are also places where rezoning is being discussed.

In addition to the financial stresses that accompany onerous mortgage obligations, the Coalition for Community Advancement reports that a majority of homes in East New York – 64 percent – have a water or sewer lien, demonstrating the level of economic distress faced by homeowners to pay for essentials. Adding to the cost of staying, most of the small housing stock there was built prior to 1950 and, according to several sources, many homes need serious repairs. Increasing property value also means that property taxes will rise, an additional burden to homeowners who do not wish to sell.

Diaz, who does not intend to sell her home despite regular solicitation from buyers, says its assessed value has gone up $8,000 in the past year, and that her property tax payments have increased by about $116 a month.

The homeowners in areas to be rezoned represent more vulnerable and historically disadvantaged groups that face greater barriers to keeping their homes and greater challenges if they lose them. According to Coalition data, nearly half of all small homeowners in East New York are senior citizens and 89 percent are either black or Hispanic.

Many senior citizens in East New York depend on retirement benefits, and some have experienced a significant reduction in income upon retiring. Discussing the challenges faced by seniors in her neighborhood, Diaz said, “I was speaking to a senior just on Sunday, and her income basically decreased by $32,000 when retiring. So that’s a big indicator.”

Ring of Investors
A mark of community fracture, homebuyers seeking to take advantage of favorable conditions in the market are less and less first-time buyers and end-users. Increasingly, they are investors and big firms using their buying power to flip real estate quickly. The Center for NYC Neighborhoods, which works with the city and state to facilitate home ownership and prevent foreclosure, recently reported that house flipping in New York City is at a five-year high, with more than 1,800 one-to-four unit homes flipped last year.

Speculators, often using public records to identify which doors to knock on, are seeing gross return 29 percent higher than the country-wide rate. It is a practice highlighted by the There Goes The Neighborhood podcast from WNYC radio and The Nation, which investigates themes of housing, race, and gentrification in New York City.

Cypress Hills had the highest median gross return on flipped one-to-four unit houses in the city in 2015, and East New York as a whole experienced the highest volume of flips. The house next to Diaz’s in Cypress Hills, she said, has been bought and resold three times since she bought her home in 2007.

Investor-backed buyers have the capital to buy houses that many first-time buyers do not. As a result, they can make cash purchases on houses in foreclosure directly from the bank, renovate them quickly, and sell them or rent out rooms in a significantly higher price tier than many of the current residents of East New York and other neighborhoods can afford. According to the Center’s data, most homes that were originally affordable to families making 95 percent of the area median income (AMI) last year - about $75,000 annually for a family of three - were resold at prices affordable to families making 163 percent of AMI, sometimes only months later.

At times, as in the case of Dixon Advisory, the Australian firm that has bought up large swaths in Bushwick, Bedford-Stuyvesant, and Crown Heights, investors are buying houses with the intent of converting them into market-rate rental units, rather than making them affordable or building more units, a portion of which would have to be made affordable under MIH. Turning units in one-to-four family houses, currently among the more affordable rental options in the area according to Dulchin of ANHD, into market-rate housing would restrict the number of affordable housing units available for preservation in rezoned areas, as well as the potential number of new affordable units that could be built if the land were to be redeveloped.

The decrease in affordability of ownership means that many longtime renters will not be able to own property in their neighborhood following rezoning. “For me owning a home was one of life’s plans,” said Diaz. “I know what it is to have two-point-five jobs and say that’s what you are gonna do.” For families who have lived in Cypress Hills all their lives, she said, “it would take some sacrifices to be able to do that.”

HPD offers a down payment assistance program for low-income, first-time buyers who can receive up to $15,000 toward a down payment, as well as some low-interest loans for repairs and energy efficiency improvements. Even with assistance funding, though, most homes in East New York will not be affordable to residents there when they are being flipped.

A Challenge to Affordable Housing Options
Home speculation has the potential to impact Mayor de Blasio’s affordable housing goals. In addition to feeling pressure from speculators in the areas targeted for rezoning, homeowners also house a significant portion of renters in these communities, people who risk displacement if market prices rise ahead of the development of new affordable housing.

According to Humberto Martinez, an urban planner at Cypress Hills Local Development Corporation, part of the Coalition for Community Advancement, over 34,000 people live in owner-occupied homes, roughly 40 percent of East New York residents.

If homeowners sell their homes en masse to speculators seeking to flip houses into higher price brackets or to create market-rate rental units, many of these renters will be displaced from their homes. According to the Center for NYC Neighborhoods, “The rents required to sustain the resale prices of flipped properties...far exceed the median rents in their boroughs.” Before the mayor’s affordable housing agenda even rolls out in East New York, both renters and former area homeowners may have to leave the community.

Unregulated one-to-four unit, owner-occupied buildings are a “hidden supply of affordable housing,” said Dulchin. Because landlords live next to their tenants and often have personal relationships with them, these rental units tend to lag behind the market, providing housing options for some of the lowest-income earners.

“One of my cohorts who is also a small home owner, he rents to working Section 8 families,” said Diaz. “With the increase of the taxes it’s made it difficult for the rents to be at the level that they are now. When the homeowner’s expenses exceed those subsidies that they’re getting, they’re gonna have to go outside the box and will no longer be able to rent to those that [depend on public assistance] programs.”

David Shichman, director of homelessness prevention at New Alternatives for Children Inc., says that if rents in unregulated buildings are too far below market rates it is a sign of inadequate housing. Often there is doubling- and tripling-up, which is considered a form of homelessness.

East New York, in addition to being an area with the potential to greatly increase housing density, was also put forward for rezoning, according to Shichman, because it is “a top catchment area” of eviction and homelessness. As rental prices rise, it is becoming increasingly common for single-resident occupancy units (SROs) to house more than one tenant, which increases burdensome water and sewer charges and compounds the need for repairs.

While there was some effort to incorporate homeowner protections into the East New York plan, it seems that the sale of one-to-four unit houses from homeowners to developers is key for enough land to be made available to construct new housing in these low-rise areas. Small homes - under six units - contain 60 percent of all current housing units in East New York. All the same, HPD plans to build three-quarters of the 1,200 new units of affordable housing on privately-owned land over the next two years. Without high-volume buying of small homes by developers, there might not be enough available land for HPD’s development plan to unfold.

A senior HPD official said that land speculation simply cannot be stopped, but it can be dampened by Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH), which places affordability requirements on developers that could deter those seeking to exploit the market. In an interview last year with New York Magazine, Deputy Mayor for Housing and Economic Development Alicia Glen said, “I’m not here to be punitive. We want these guys to build.”

Whether aggressive speculation at the level experienced by current East New York homeowners is inevitable is under dispute. Paula Crespo, in an email, stated, “The mere announcement [that] the plan [to rezone East New York] would happen has fueled speculation.”

***
by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, Gotham Gazette

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Homeowners Stand to Gain in Areas to be Rezoned, If They Can Keep Their Homes Thu, 28 Apr 2016 04:00:00 +0000
East New York Deal Sets Precedent for Wave of Rezonings http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6287:east-new-york-deal-sets-precedent-for-wave-of-rezonings http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6287:east-new-york-deal-sets-precedent-for-wave-of-rezonings espinal lander

City Council Member Rafael Espinal (second from left) (photo: William Alatriste)


Colleagues heaped praise on City Council Member Rafael Espinal last week as the deal he negotiated with the de Blasio administration to rezone a portion of his Brooklyn district was passed through committee. The process and the agreement were being watched closely by Council members, especially those whose districts are in the pipeline for rezonings under Mayor de Blasio’s larger housing plan.

Espinal, who represents most of the area being rezoned, which includes part of East New York, managed to extract significant concessions from the city to get to a framework that he said he could be proud of, taking back to his community a robust plan for new housing and infrastructure, job training, tenant protections, and other community amenities.

“From the start, I told my community I would fight for a better plan,” Espinal said at the first of the two committee hearings on Thursday. “One that wasn’t just about housing, but about developing a neighborhood that had been neglected for decades.”

The package of changes in land use rules, levels of affordability for new housing, and planned investments in East New York sets an important precedent - it is the first of 15 neighborhoods that the de Blasio administration will target for rezoning as part of a plan to create and preserve 200,000 units of affordable housing over ten years. Next on the list: part of Flushing, corridors in the Bronx and on Staten Island, a portion of East Harlem, and other areas of the city where there is room for additional housing density and neighborhood improvements.

Espinal’s fellow Council members expressed widespread approval of the deal he reached, while some members who will soon be in his position are looking at what lessons they can learn. Council Member Donovan Richards, chair of the zoning subcommittee that first voted on the plan, said Espinal had done “a phenomenal job,” while Council Member Vincent Gentile commended him on “a job well done.” Council Member Antonio Reynoso said, “I’ve never seen units that affordable and that much at any city-owned sites.” Council Member Ritchie Torres quipped, “Rafael, you’re the man.”

“The East New York Plan represents a new way of planning for New York City," said Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito in a statement outlining the benefits included in the deal. "I thank Council Member Rafael Espinal for his staunch commitment to his constituents in putting forth a plan that truly meets the needs of East New York,” she said.

Perhaps the most effusive was Council Member David Greenfield, chair of the land use committee, which voted second, who called Espinal the “superstar of the day” and characterized the East New York plan as “quite literally the best community affordable housing plan ever in the history of new york.”

While each plan will be different, de Blasio is aiming to add thousands of units of housing to a variety of under-developed areas throughout the city in order to create more affordable apartments, while also adding new school seats, improving retail and green spaces, and more. In each case, City Council members and other local stakeholders aim to see how much community benefit they can secure as part of agreeing to major changes to their neighborhoods.

Fear of gentrification and displacement often top the list of concerns when an area is identified for rezoning, while many also worry that an influx of additional residents to an area will overwhelm existing infrastructure - transportation, schools, parks, and other public services. These are the issues hanging over discussions between local representatives and the mayoral administration, including city agencies like the City Planning Department and the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD).

East New York is the first application of the newly-approved zoning amendments -- Mandatory Inclusionary Housing and Zoning for Quality and Affordability -- which allow taller buildings and denser neighborhoods while mandating that developers set aside a certain ratio of affordable housing units in new developments, making it easier to build affordable senior housing, and creating more attractive retail space.

The proposal, which will head to a full council vote on Wednesday, April 20, is an expansive neighborhood development plan that includes $267 million in capital investments in addition to school and sewer construction funded through other streams.

“I’m actually calling this the unicorn deal,” Greenfield said. “And the reason I’m calling this the unicorn deal is because quite frankly you’re never gonna see a deal like this again. This is the new standard that’s being set in the city that quite frankly everybody else will chase. But rest assured I can tell you, as the chair of the land use committee, they’re not gonna capture it.”

Council Member Deborah Rose hopes that’s not true. One of the next few rezonings is the Bay Street corridor on Staten Island, in Rose’s district, and the East New York plan has bolstered her confidence about the process. “I hope that my rezoning turns out to be the best plan with the most amenities for my communities,” Rose said. She recognizes the “herculean task” of a neighborhood rezoning and navigating the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, saying, “It’s quite stressful and often contentious. Council Member Espinal really wanted to get the deepest affordability he could under the MIH amendment. I only have accolades for him to get that level of affordability.”

Rose will be looking for more mixed affordability in her rezoning efforts, she said, not necessarily looking for the lowest income and rent thresholds available under Mandatory Inclusionary Housing, which created several choices for Council members overseeing a rezoning. The MIH bands for creating affordable housing dictate the percentage of new units that must be affordable to households with certain income levels. For instance, the East New York plan, as selected by Espinal, has two of the four options, which developers will be able to choose -- one would require 20 percent of new housing units to be set aside for households making up to 40 percent of Area Median Income ($31,080 for a household of three) and another option would require 25 percent of units at 60 percent AMI (including 10 percent at 40 percent AMI).

Rose might select one or more bands that require more affordable units at higher rents - for example, 30 percent of units at 80 percent AMI.

What Rose really wants, though, are the second- and third-order investments that come with rezoning. “I see this as an opportunity to address the infrastructure issues that we’ve been trying to remedy since I’ve been in office,” she said, citing improvements that are necessary for increased density, including hospitals, schools, recreational facilities, and, most significantly, transportation. “Through this rezoning, the resources will be available to do that,” she said.

While Bay Street corridor might be much smaller than East New York, which is likely to be one of the largest neighborhoods of the 15, Rose isn’t going to hold back on her demands. “My list is as long, probably longer than Espinal’s,” she said.

“We’re a manufacturing, residential and commercial area and we’re gonna have to support all those communities,” she added. “I’m eager to get started.”

The differences in neighborhoods are definitely going to play an important role in how the city and the Council members approach the rezoning process. Queens Council Member Peter Koo, whose district includes the next neighborhood on the rezoning calendar, said as much.

“I applaud Council Member Espinal and the Mayor for negotiating a long, hard-fought list of investments that addresses many of the needs of East New York,” Koo said in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “As the focus turns to Flushing, we must remember that every rezoning area has different and distinct needs. Flushing West is on the waterfront which limits depth, and the LaGuardia flight path limits height. We are also already in the middle of a real estate boom, so the city must find a way to balance affordability with infrastructure, particularly to ensure new development does not compound our existing problems with traffic, 7 train capacity and the pollution of the Flushing Creek.”

The East New York plan saw several modifications to accommodate demands from community advocates and Espinal, who, along with the Council’s land use director, Raju Mann, led the negotiations with the de Blasio administration, for deeper affordability, anti-displacement mechanisms, and job creation measures.

Among the key changes to the plan from the original version proposed by de Blasio’s City Planning Department is removal of the Arlington Village housing development. Residents and activists had expressed concern that the owner, Bluestone Group, which had purchased the property shortly after the proposed rezoning was announced, would take advantage of the upzoning without creating sufficient affordable housing units.

The city will also dedicate 500 LINC vouchers to help move about that number of families from homeless shelters into affordable housing, while at the same time moving to close three homeless shelters and encouraging the owners to convert those units into affordable housing. The city has committed to closing two by the end of June and the third in the next fiscal year.

A working group of elected officials, community stakeholders and multiple agencies will also look into helping homeowners legalize basement units. If conversions of these units is impractical, the plan sets aside $12 million to support conversions and home repairs. It also mandates a Homeowner Helpdesk to provide financial and legal advice to help homeowners modify mortgages, prevent foreclosures, access loans for repair or weather-proofing, and fight housing scams.

To preserve affordable housing, the plan will fund free legal representation to tenants facing harassment, for five years. The plan will fund the acquisition or renovation of a childcare center with $2.8 million in capital funding.

While the original proposal had provided for the creation of a new 1000-seat school, it was modified to include another $17.45 million to fund school improvement projects for existing schools.

Additionally, the plan also addresses issues of economic and community development, including large infrastructure investments and capital spending. A key part of the proposal is the East New York Industrial Business Zone which will receive $16.7 million in funding to renovate buildings for business use, improve street infrastructure and provide high-speed broadband to businesses. The city will also create a Workforce1 Career Center to provide job recruitment, placement, training and counseling services to residents. The Housing Preservation and Development department will also initiate a Neighborhood Retail Preservation Program to create discounted space for local retailers in new developments. The plan also makes investments to renovate and upgrade two neighborhood parks, create a new NYPD community center, repave streets and replace water and sewer mains.

Community advocates and neighborhood groups had protested the East New York plan for not providing deeper levels of affordability for low-income residents. Till Wednesday, the day before the initial Council votes, protesters were pushing Espinal to reject the plan and a few were even arrested outside his district office. The final plan added an option for more affordable housing set asides at public sites but not in private units or to the levels the groups had demanded.

Espinal has repeatedly acknowledged this criticism. “The plan isn't perfect,” he said after the hearing, “but this is the best possible plan I was able to get for my community.”

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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East New York Deal Sets Precedent for Wave of Rezonings Mon, 18 Apr 2016 23:25:48 +0000
Major City Issues at Play in Politically Charged, Post-Budget Legislative Session http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6267:major-city-issues-at-play-in-politically-charged-post-budget-legislative-session http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6267:major-city-issues-at-play-in-politically-charged-post-budget-legislative-session cuomo budget paid leave pic

Gov. Cuomo announces the budget deal (photo via The Governor's Office)


Governor Andrew Cuomo dismissed the idea of extending state government's legislative session this year to tackle ethics reform during an appearance in Binghamton on Wednesday. "We have a relatively light agenda because we did so much work in the budget," the governor said. "We passed the minimum wage increase, we passed paid family leave, we passed a great package for the middle class, we passed a great package for upstate New York, more education funding than ever before."

It's a concerning statement for some advocates and elected officials who see the session full of unresolved issues - including, but beyond ethics - especially ones that impact New York City, issues that the governor himself tackled during his January State of the State speech or has since brought to the table. Some advocates take the governor's statement as an acknowledgement that he traded away issues Senate Republicans oppose to get a minimum wage increase, and not only in the budget, but for the rest of the legislative session that has just begun and is scheduled to end in June.

All-important control of the State Senate will be up for grabs again in November, but a key battle in the overall war will be decided on April 19 in the contest to fill the seat vacated by former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, recently convicted on federal corruption charges. The April special and impending November elections mean legislators are anxious to get back to their districts while avoiding political landmines.

Ethics reforms are one of the many issues jettisoned from budget talks that lawmakers say were dominated by minimum wage negotiations. Major issues of particular importance to New York City yet to be addressed this year include mayoral control of schools; a multitude of criminal justice reforms, some of which were introduced by Cuomo; housing programs, including a replacement for the 421-a property tax credit aimed at spurring affordable housing development; and two education matters that have been linked in the past: The DREAM Act and the education investment tax credit.

Mayoral Control
Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan and his conference have used Mayor Bill de Blasio as a progressive boogieman since the mayor tried to help Democrats win control of the chamber in 2014. Last year Flanagan successfully beat back the mayor's push for a seven-year extension of mayoral control, getting his negotiating partners to settle on one year. He again maneuvered discussion of renewal out of this year's budget discussions and before a spending deal was even announced, he scheduled hearings on mayoral control for May 4 in Albany and May 19 in New York City. Mayoral control is due to sunset on June 30.

Many Democrats expect Senate Republicans to delay actually acting on mayoral control until as late as possible in order to keep de Blasio "in check." With no other sensible alternative, de Blasio has been gracious about the situation so far, saying he plans to attend the hearings "personally" and welcomes the chance for "dialogue" on the issue.

Criminal Justice Reforms
Gov. Cuomo has supported three major criminal justice reforms over the last two years: Raise the Age, an effort to end New York's practice of treating 16- and 17-year-olds as adults in the criminal justice system; an effort to create independent review of police killings of civilians; and a program to increase data reporting of the race and ethnicity of individuals involved in police interactions. Unable to deliver on the first two last year, Cuomo took executive action. He moved 16- and 17-year-olds out of adult prisons and gave Attorney General Eric Schneiderman's office the discretion to look into police killings of civilians. Advocates were pleased, but acknowledged both issues still needed to be addressed in law.

This year Cuomo has proposed a bill that would give his office the ability to convene an investigation into police killings of civilians but only if certain criteria is met. He has continued to push for Raise the Age but not with the urgency supporters would like. They point out that even being held in separate facilities from older inmates, 16- and 17-year-olds are still treated as adults when arrested and tried, which make negative outcomes and criminal records more likely.

On Tuesday, supporters of a bill that would mandate the state collect data on police interactions with the public gathered in Albany to push Senate Republicans and Cuomo to act on an issue they call "common sense."

The bill, sponsored by Assembly Member Joseph Lentol and state Senator Daniel Squadron, both Brooklyn Democrats, would require the state to collect and report data on the number of tickets and misdemeanor arrests across the state; the number of civilian deaths in police custody or during an arrest; the race, ethnicity, and sex of those charged with misdemeanors and violations; and the geographic location of enforcement-related activity and arrest-related deaths. Lentol said the bill is not "anti-police" but a "transparency" and "open government" tool to improve relations between police and communities across the state. Lentol prodded Gov. Cuomo to act, noting that Cuomo has a similar bill that has failed to garner support.

"Yet again, communities of color were left behind in New York State budget negotiations, with no meaningful advancement of any criminal justice reforms," said Alyssa Aguilera, co-executive director of VOCAL-NY. "Passing the STAT Act this legislative session provides an opportunity for Governor Cuomo and the New York State Legislature to show they value the safety and dignity of all New Yorkers."

Squadron told Gotham Gazette that the bill is one that Senate Republicans "put in a black box, a dark room," never to be seen again. "This isn't something we have debated. We haven't heard their argument against it, it just disappears." Lentol, however, said that he believes police unions are using their influence to block the bill.

Assembly Member Jeffrion Aubry, Democrat of Queens, supports Lentol's bill and said that he feels his constituents and advocates are growing frustrated that the Senate fails to vote on criminal justice reforms year after year. "I think the governor is really going to have to move on some of these bills and not just wave his hands in the air and say 'It's the Republicans'" Aubry said. "We know he can get what he wants. He has an election coming up and he's got to deliver for these communities."

A spokesperson for the governor, Dani Lever, said in a statement that "The governor has and continues to push for comprehensive criminal justice reform to address the treatment of juveniles in the system and the prosecution of fatality cases involving law enforcement. Despite the legislature's failure to agree on these reforms, the governor has taken bold action and issued executive orders appointing a special prosecutor in police cases (the first of its kind in the country) and removing juveniles from adult state prisons. Until the legislature passes real reforms, the governor's executive orders will remain in effect."

Housing
Last year in an unprecedented move, Cuomo put the fate of the 421-a tax abatement program in the hands of the two stakeholder industries - real estate developers and construction unions. Whatever deal they reached on wages in new housing developments utilizing 421-a was to be enacted into law with other reforms to the program, but if they failed, 421-a would sunset. Negotiations floundered and 421-a is dead.

The program is thought to be essential to affordable housing production in New York City, making it profitable for developers to build new rental housing with some affordable units included. When Cuomo rejected compromise legislation crafted by de Blasio last June, it was one of the final straws to break de Blasio's back (along with the mayoral control compromise and more), leading to his now-infamous tirade against the governor on June 30. De Blasio's affordable housing goals rely on 421-a-related production.

On Monday, Cuomo told NY1's Errol Louis that he is looking for a replacement. "You can have a fair program that pays a fair rate to the unions and also a fair rate of profit to the developers," Cuomo said. "I believe there is that balance to be struck. But they have to strike that balance. We're still trying, but the Legislature is not going to approve a plan that kicks the labor unions out of the affordable housing business."

Bill Murrow, the governor's top aide, followed up those comments on Tuesday during a Crain's New York Business breakfast event, indicating that labor and real estate are indeed negotiating again. "The developers, REBNY, and the construction trades...they'll find some common ground. I am hopeful that sometime between now and June that something will actually happen," Mulrow said.

On Tuesday, tenant advocates gathered in Albany to demand that negotiations on 421-a or something like must also include strengthening rent regulations. Delsenia Glover, campaign manager for the Alliance for Tenant Power opened the press conference by condemning the deal that renewed the rent laws last year. "We pretty much got nothing," she said. "At the time Governor Cuomo said they were the 'strongest rent laws in history.' It's not true, we got nothing." Members of the crowd shouted "He lied!"

Glover said she has been disturbed to hear "lamentations" that 421-a is dead, saying she was glad a "giveaway to luxury developers" and "$1.1 billion tax suck" was dead and that assertions that developers won't be able to build affordable housing without it is patently false.

"Our demand," said Glover, "is this: If 421-a or anything that looks like 421-a is revived or created then the rent laws must be reopened, we get rid of vacancy bonus, fix preferential rents, and then maybe we can have a conversation."

A number of legislators who spoke after Glover pushed against the idea of any 421-a renewal. Assembly Member Walter Mosley of Brooklyn said he doesn't use the term '421-a' because "We don't want nothin' like 421-a to resurface, but ultimately we understand if anything like 421-a comes to the floor then we reopen the rent laws. Without that we have no discussion."

Assembly Housing Chair Keith Wright, who introduced a plan of something of a 421-a alternative earlier this year to a tepid response, brought up his proposal in front of the audience that was openly hostile to any replacement. Wright's plan would utilize the state's abandoned property fund to give a subsidy of $100,000 per affordable unit at a cost of about $200 million per year, compared to 421-a's 25-year property tax break and $1 billion annual tax revenue price tag.

"The plan was not...people were intrigued by the idea," Wright told the crowd, seeming to catch himself in an effort to promote the measure, "but listen anything in Albany takes a minute to work up to, but we are still pushing that plan, but we are still under siege."

Wright is a close ally of Cuomo and many expect that his plan was the first shot fired in an effort to restore a 421-a plan. The fact that Cuomo and Wright are openly pushing a replacement and that Senate Republicans are likely to want to deliver for real estate developers makes many advocates think it is a question of "when" not "if" a 421-a replacement comes to the floor of both houses. They hope to keep up public pressure to win some sort of concessions when it takes place.

Other Education Issues
Last year Cuomo tried to connect the DREAM Act that would allow the undocumented access to college tuition assistance and the education tax credit that would give benefits to those who donate to private schools. The DREAM Act has massive support in the Assembly, which has passed the measure repeatedly over the last few years and the education tax credit is a favorite of Senate Republicans. Cuomo's bid at linkage failed last year (he did not attempt to link them again this year, but did include both in his executive budget), but both issues remain on the table and the fact that they were left out of the budget has rankled a number of lawmakers.

Sen. Simcha Felder, a Democrat from Brooklyn who caucuses with Republicans, was said to be so upset that Republicans didn't demand the education tax credit be part of the budget that he didn't conference with them during budget negotiations (he was then the lone Senate "no" vote on the minimum wage and education budget bill). Meanwhile, DREAM supporters like Sen. Jose Peralta, a Democrat from Queens, railed against its exclusion during the late-night budget debate.

For supporters of each measure the problem seems to be that opposition to the other measure has become a litmus test for some in their party's base. Senate Republicans have included language touting the disinclusion of the DREAM Act in the budget on the Senate website, listing it as an accomplishment:

"Rejecting the Use of Taxpayer Dollars to Fund College Tuition for Illegal Immigrants:

"The final budget rejects an Executive Budget proposal that would have cost state taxpayers $27 million and reward people who are here illegally by giving them free college tuition. The measure would have extended all other criteria, exemptions or opportunities found within the education law - including all scholarship and tuition assistance programs funded with state tax dollars - to illegal immigrants while hardworking middle-class families are already being forced to take out massive college loans to pay for higher education."

Meanwhile, public school advocates are entrenched against the education tax credit, saying that it is a taxpayer giveaway to millionaires who will flood their favored schools with donations using up the credit before average families can utilize it. The Alliance for Quality Education, a teachers union-aligned group, has held press conferences and briefings against the policy this year.

Albany Tradition
If the past is indeed prologue than it is a safe bet that many of these issues will not come to a vote in both houses this year. With an important special election, a presidential race, and the entire Legislature up for (re)election, leaders will likely be looking to rest on the work they did in the budget and get back to their districts. While there will be a lot of noise made by the media and good government groups around ethics reform, no one who knows Albany is holding their breath.

Mayoral control of city schools is the only key policy related to New York City facing an expiration date and all-but-sure to see action. The questions are what Senate Republicans demand in exchange for extension, how long it is extended for, and how much they make de Blasio sweat in the process.

Including Wednesday, April 6, there are currently 25 session days remaining until its scheduled end on June 16.

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by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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Major City Issues at Play in Politically Charged, Post-Budget Legislative Session Wed, 06 Apr 2016 22:49:29 +0000
With Clock Ticking, East New York Negotiations to Heat Up http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6262:with-clock-ticking-east-new-york-negotiations-to-heat-up http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6262:with-clock-ticking-east-new-york-negotiations-to-heat-up espinal east new york hearing

City Council Member Espinal (photo: William Alatriste) 


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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

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With Clock Ticking, East New York Negotiations to Heat Up Mon, 04 Apr 2016 00:52:30 +0000