Gotham Gazette Gotham Gazette is an online publication covering New York policy and politics as well as news on public safety, transportation, education, finance and more. http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/hpd 2017-10-23T15:33:39+00:00 Webmaster webmaster@gothamgazette.com Key to Affordable Housing Development, Vacant Lots Remain Source of Controversy 2017-10-16T04:00:00+00:00 2017-10-16T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7251:key-to-affordable-housing-development-vacant-lots-remain-source-of-controversy Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/vacant-lot.jpg" alt="vacant lot" /></p> <hr /> <p>On 43rd Street in Far Rockaway, Queens, sit five adjacent, vacant lots. Cordoned off by a chained-link, gray metal fence, the lots—owned by the city’s Department of Housing and Preservation (HPD)—are covered in weeds and garbage. They are “eyesores for the community,” said Alexis Smallwood, a local community organizer, in an interview with Gotham Gazette. “Vacant lots should be used for community spaces or real affordable housing.”</p> <p>These five lots are examples of the hundreds the Department of Housing and Preservation (HPD) could utilize for affordable housing. Since issuing an audit and fuller report in early 2016, Comptroller Scott Stringer’s office has claimed that HPD has let more than 1,000 of these lots stand idle. Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration has contended, however, that Stringer’s conclusions were <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/18/nyregion/audit-proposes-using-vacant-lots-owned-by-new-york-city-for-affordable-housing.html?_r=0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">“false and misleading.</a>”</p> <p>The latest iteration of the decades-old debate over the quantity, quality, and status of New York’s city-owned vacant lots has been raging, with ebbs and flows, for the past year-and-a-half, even making its way into this year’s mayoral election.</p> <p>Sal Albanese, who challenged de Blasio in the Democratic mayoral primary and is now running in the general election on the Reform Party line, cited the Comptroller, writing <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/big-ideas-sal-albanese-article-1.3481366" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">in The Daily News</a> that he “will remove the stranglehold that big developers have on City Hall by taking the vacant properties city government owns - there are more than 1,000 of them - and building truly affordable housing.” Albanese referenced the use of vacant lots during debates as well.</p> <p>Other politicians have taken up the cause, calling for better use of the city’s vacant lots in battling the affordable housing crisis. Public Advocate Letitia James and City Council Members Jumanee Williams and Ydanis Rodriguez—arguing for legislation that includes a yearly, HPD-led census of publicly-owned, vacant lots—cited Stringer in <a href="http://cityandstateny.com/articles/opinion/vacant-properties-could-house-homeless-new-york-city.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">an August op-ed in City and State.</a></p> <p>Meanwhile, HPD and City Hall insist that the de Blasio administration is progressing in its development of lots for new affordable housing and call critics uninformed. “The sites that are available we’ve had a near maniacal focus on making sure that we know where they are and that we are putting them to good use,” said HPD Commissioner Torres-Spring in an interview on <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7206-what-s-the-data-point-77-651-with-the-city-housing-commissioner" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">What’s the [Data] Point?,</a> a podcast from Gotham Gazette and Citizens Budget Commission.</p> <p>The comptroller’s office remains dubious. In response to the commissioner’s comments, Tyrone Stevens, press secretary for Comptroller Stringer, said, “Unfortunately, since our audit, we have not seen any specific plans from HPD about how they are developing vacant city-owned land or how many units they’ve created and where they’re located.”</p> <p>As of now, the facts remain fuzzy. In early 2017, HPD denied several FOIL requests by Paula Segal, attorney with the Community Development Project at the Urban Justice Center, for lists of vacant lots under its jurisdiction. No lists were provided to the comptroller’s office in rebutting its report, and the department did not provide that information to Gotham Gazette when approached recently, after Torres-Springer’s latest comments on the discrepancy.</p> <p>As the debate continues, momentum has been building for pending City Council legislation that would require HPD to perform an annual, citywide census of all publicly-owned, vacant land. However, the de Blasio administration has not yet signaled support for the legislation, which is under negotiation, according to Torres-Springer.</p> <p><strong>Why Vacant Lots?</strong><br />When he announced his intention to run for mayor, de Blasio made affordable housing a centerpiece of his campaign, promising to create and preserve <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/de-blasio-bring-agenda-cuomo-albany-lawmakers-article-1.1508059" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">200,000 affordable housing units</a> over the next ten years. “We need a stronger hand to make sure development will create and preserve places for a diverse range of families to live and raise their kids,” said de Blasio <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2013/10/04/nyregion/deblasio-abny-speech.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">in a late 2013 campaign speech</a>.</p> <p>Shortly after he assumed office, he released <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/199-14/mayor-de-blasio-housing-new-york--five-borough-10-year-housing-plan-protect-and#/0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Housing New York</a>, a plan to flesh out a path to these 200,000 affordable units. At a total cost of $41 billion, not all of which would be city money, it promotes an array of strategies, like expanding housing for seniors and mandating rezonings to require a set portion of affordable units. The plan also includes a call to spur citywide development of small, vacant sites.</p> <p>For privately-owned, vacant sites, Housing New York includes the intention to not only institute taxes to incentivize housing development, but to reach out to real estate owners to foster potential partnerships. For those that are publicly-owned, the plan calls for the clustering of small, city-owned sites through newly-created programs like the Neighborhood Construction Program (NCP) and New Infill Homeownership Opportunities Program (NIHOP).</p> <p>Most notably, Housing New York includes a plan to conduct a citywide survey of all publicly and privately-owned vacant land. The administration has given no public indication that this survey has been performed, though it insists it has a detailed grasp of all its vacant lots.</p> <p>Nonprofits have estimated the total number of vacant sites to be in the thousands. In a 2011 report, Picture the Homeless, a nonprofit advocacy group, <a href="http://picturethehomeless.org/project/banking-on-vacancy-homelessness-real-estate-speculation/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">reported the existence</a> of 3,551 vacant buildings and 2,489 publicly and privately-owned vacant lots citywide. The group projected that these properties could house close to 200,000 people, more than three times the estimated number of homeless people in New York City, which now hovers around 62,000.</p> <p><strong>How Many Public Lots?</strong><br />While the city can incentivize the development of private lots (through vacancy taxes, rezoning density bonuses, and more), it can more quickly turn city-owned lots into affordable housing, as it directly administers these properties, often by working with nonprofit developers.</p> <p>However, the exact number of vacant lots the city owns remains unclear. "It seems like there's no number to start with, even if it's wrong," said City Council Member Jumaane Williams, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/4906-the-mayors-vacant-lots-de-blasio-affordable-housing" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">during a hearing on vacant properties in 2014</a>.</p> <p>Nonprofits like Picture the Homeless and city agencies have tried to fill the gap, with varying results. In <a href="https://www.mas.org/ourwork/colp/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a report released in 2016</a>, The Municipal Arts Society of New York used data from the Department of City Planning and found 2,726 city-owned, vacant sites. Nonetheless, MAS noticed inaccuracies.</p> <p>“There seems to be deficiencies in existing city datasets,” said Marcel Negret, project manager at The Municipal Arts Society, in an interview with Gotham Gazette.</p> <p>596 Acres, a nonprofit that pushes for community access to vacant lots, tried to correct for these errors. It combed through city datasets, removing sites that are gutterspaces, parks, and those that have already been sold to developers. Publishing this data as an <a href="https://livinglotsnyc.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">interactive map</a>, 596 Acres then crowdsourced information from residents and organizers. Its estimate for publicly-owned, vacant land amounts to 1,801 lots as of October 13th.</p> <p>Finally, the comptroller’s office waded into the fray with <a href="https://comptroller.nyc.gov/wp-content/uploads/documents/FM14_112A.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">its 2016 audit of the Department of Housing and Preservation</a>. Auditors used agency records as well as tax lien sales to identify 1,459 city-owned, vacant properties, of which 1,131 are under the jurisdiction of HPD, it said. In a subsequent report, Stringer claimed that these existing properties could produce approximately 53,000 units of affordable housing. Stringer did not assess the usability of the lots.</p> <p><strong>Debate Kicks Up a Notch</strong><br />After the audit’s public release, Comptroller Stringer, a Democrat then considering a possible entrance into the 2017 mayoral race, blasted the administration, HPD, and their predecessors, for an inability to effectively deploy vacant sites under their control.</p> <p>“This is generations of inaction,” he said.</p> <p>Housing officials responded in kind. “Your assertion that HPD allows vacant City-owned properties to languish in the face of the affordable housing crisis is simply wrong,” said Vicki Been, then HPD Commissioner, in a statement included in the original audit, in the section typically reserved for such a response. &nbsp;</p> <p>HPD claimed that the majority of lots cited in Stringer’s audit were accounted for: it said 310 have “major development challenges” (e.g. were in floodplains or near hurricane danger zones); 150 of the properties were better suited for “non-residential projects” (e.g. community gardens); and 670 were suited for residential use, of which 400 were already set aside for development within the next two years.</p> <p>De Blasio himself pushed back when asked about the audit during an interview. “I think it’s breathtaking how little the comptroller understands about this issue,” he said <a href="http://observer.com/2016/09/bill-de-blasio-says-its-breathtaking-how-little-his-top-democratic-rival-knows/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show in September 2016</a>.</p> <p>The comptroller had his own response. “But what the city has said to me is ‘no, no, no, all of these properties are already accounted for.’ Can you believe that? So if they’ve already made deals on the properties, who did they ever consult? They didn’t consult the community boards, they didn’t consult anybody,” Stringer said <a href="http://observer.com/2016/09/pols-advocates-count-citys-vacant-properties-to-solve-homeless-and-housing-crises/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">in an interview with the Observer.</a></p> <p><strong>The ‘Housing Not Warehousing Act’</strong><br />This back-and-forth took place amid City Council discussions on legislation designed to take stock of and push the development of private and city-owned vacant land. Comprised of three bills, the “Housing Not Warehousing Act” aims to create a registry of all landlords holding vacant property; hold an annual, citywide census of all vacant land; and compile a list of publicly-owned vacant sites.</p> <p>Introduced to the Council in December of 2015 by Public Advocate Letitia James and Council Members Jumaane Williams and Ydanis Rodriguez, the act was the focus of a public hearing in September 2016. Despite widespread support from Council members, HPD opposed <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=2537047&amp;GUID=ED82545C-893D-47EE-B5B6-095729CE7C67" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Intro. 1039</a>, the bill that would require the department to “conduct annual surveys of all city-owned properties to identify vacant buildings or lots that may be suitable for affordable housing.”</p> <p>HPD Deputy Commissioner Daniel Hernandez testified that publicly releasing this list would have unintended consequences. It would reveal vacant lots that host key environmental infrastructure, information potentially dangerous in the wrong hands, he said. It would prompt real estate speculation, as companies buy up surrounding lots in hopes of grants by the city, he argued, and it would be costly and unnecessary, as HPD already has much of this information at its fingertips.</p> <p>“Monitoring and collection required by the census would require extensive staff time and a commitment of financial resources without providing the data we really believe is desired,” explained Hernandez, <a href="https://citylimits.org/2017/09/29/is-housing-not-warehousing-next/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">according to City Limits</a>.</p> <p>In order to prove HPD was already making use of vacant lots under its control, Hernandez cited the same statistics released in response to Stringer’s audit, saying the city has identified 670 vacant lots suitable for the construction of affordable housing. HPD did not provide a detailed itemization.</p> <p>The committee balked at the lack of specificity. “How could you come to this hearing and not know the status of each and every one of these sites?” asked Council Member Barry Grodenchik, a Democrat from Queens, <a href="http://www.crainsnewyork.com/article/20160915/REAL_ESTATE/160919925/city-council-mayor-bill-de-blasio-fight-over-vacant-lots" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">according to Crain’s New York</a>.</p> <p><strong>Trying for Clarity</strong><br /> More than a year since the committee hearing on the Housing Not Warehousing Act, HPD has yet to publicly provide a detailed accounting of its vacant sites. Yet, the department reiterates that it is doing everything in its power to manage and deploy lots under its control.</p> <p>“There’s a lot of misconception about this, so I’m happy to clear the air,” Torres-Springer said, when asked about the vacant lots controversy on What’s The [Data] Point?. “To the extent that they are vacant sites, hundreds of those have either already been designated or in the pipeline or will be soon. There’s a good portion of those that are very small lots that have significant issues where you can’t really build. And—to be honest—even for those, we’re looking at ways to cluster so there's an affordable housing project that can be built.”</p> <p>Asked to respond to Torres-Springer’s recent comments, Stringer’s office again demanded details. “Which sites are currently being developed and how many remain undeveloped? In what neighborhoods?,” said Stevens, the press secretary. “Who are the developers and how much total subsidy have they received from the city so far for their work?”</p> <p>Others, too, have lamented that HPD has failed to substantiate its claim that all vacant lots under its control are accounted for. Segal, of the Urban Justice Center, explained in an interview that she filed three Freedom of Information Law requests to HPD on behalf of Picture the Homeless. Asking for lists of the 310 lots that have development challenges, the 150 better suited for non-housing purposes, and the 670 best suited for housing, Segal said that HPD denied one request based on “interference of contracts,” while not replying to the other two.</p> <p>“HPD failed to respond as they are required by state law,” she explained. “There’s no accountability.”</p> <p>Gotham Gazette asked HPD for the same lists Segal requested. Housing officials neither provided the data nor responded to Segal’s allegations. They did, however, push back against Stringer’s criticisms. “The comptroller’s assertion that HPD can create 50,000 units on all vacant city-owned land is simply untrue,” said housing officials. “It is not practical to develop all available sites at one time considering resource demands, and oddly shaped lots, infrastructure and resiliency needs on HPD’s remaining land makes development all the more challenging.”</p> <p>Asked for examples of city-owned vacant lots where housing is currently under construction, HPD provided two. One is "Flushing Municipal Lot 3," which was bid on in 2014 and awarded in 2015. "HPD announced the selection of a joint venture between Asian Americans for Equality (AAFE), HANAC Inc., and Monadnock Development to develop a transit-oriented, mixed-use, and mixed-income development in the Flushing neighborhood of Queens. The team's plan, called One Flushing, will result in the creation of 208 units of very low-income senior housing and multifamily housing that will be affordable to low- and moderate-income families."</p> <p>The second example is "Livonia Avenue Initiative Phase II," which was bid on and awarded in 2014. "HPD announced the selection of BRP Companies, HELP USA, and the Local Development Corporation of East New York (LDC ENY) for Phase II of the Livonia Avenue Initiative in the East New York neighborhood of Brooklyn. The development team's plan includes four new mixed-use buildings with a total of 288 affordable apartments, a commercial kitchen that will provide culinary training, and a Career Exploration center (CEC) that will provide vocational training to students of the New Visions Charter High School."</p> <p>There are various other lots in different stages of development, including some that were put out for bid last year that will be moving forward with selected partners in the near future.</p> <p><strong>Going Forward</strong><br />Perhaps the best hope for a reliable account of city-owned vacant lots remains one bill, Intro. 1039, of the Housing Not Warehousing Act. While the legislation has remained dormant since the 2016 hearing, <a href="https://citylimits.org/2017/09/29/is-housing-not-warehousing-next/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">City Limits recently reported</a> that momentum for the package of bills is increasing. Two have over 30 sponsors in the 51-seat Council, and Intro. 1039 has more than the “veto-proof” majority, with 34 sponsors, as of October 10.</p> <p>In comments given to City Limits, Council Member Williams, the prime sponsor of 1039, said, “I do believe it’s time to get moving.” He explained he might even attempt to push the legislation through without HPD sign-off. The Council virtually never moves legislation that has not reached an amicable compromise point with the de Blasio administration.</p> <p>Williams is hopeful that parlays with the administration will be successful and, according to a spokesperson in a statement to Gotham Gazette, “believes that the administration recognizes the degree of the affordable housing crisis here in the city, and hopes to work with them to address the problem and find meaningful solutions.”</p> <p>Torres-Springer echoed this desire to cooperate, saying on the podcast, “We continue to work with the Council on those bills, because we share the goal of using every square foot of real estate that we possibly can to build affordable housing, but we have to do it, of course, in the most strategic way.”</p> <p>

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by Ben Weiss, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

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<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/vacant-lot.jpg" alt="vacant lot" /></p> <hr /> <p>On 43rd Street in Far Rockaway, Queens, sit five adjacent, vacant lots. Cordoned off by a chained-link, gray metal fence, the lots—owned by the city’s Department of Housing and Preservation (HPD)—are covered in weeds and garbage. They are “eyesores for the community,” said Alexis Smallwood, a local community organizer, in an interview with Gotham Gazette. “Vacant lots should be used for community spaces or real affordable housing.”</p> <p>These five lots are examples of the hundreds the Department of Housing and Preservation (HPD) could utilize for affordable housing. Since issuing an audit and fuller report in early 2016, Comptroller Scott Stringer’s office has claimed that HPD has let more than 1,000 of these lots stand idle. Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration has contended, however, that Stringer’s conclusions were <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/18/nyregion/audit-proposes-using-vacant-lots-owned-by-new-york-city-for-affordable-housing.html?_r=0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">“false and misleading.</a>”</p> <p>The latest iteration of the decades-old debate over the quantity, quality, and status of New York’s city-owned vacant lots has been raging, with ebbs and flows, for the past year-and-a-half, even making its way into this year’s mayoral election.</p> <p>Sal Albanese, who challenged de Blasio in the Democratic mayoral primary and is now running in the general election on the Reform Party line, cited the Comptroller, writing <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/big-ideas-sal-albanese-article-1.3481366" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">in The Daily News</a> that he “will remove the stranglehold that big developers have on City Hall by taking the vacant properties city government owns - there are more than 1,000 of them - and building truly affordable housing.” Albanese referenced the use of vacant lots during debates as well.</p> <p>Other politicians have taken up the cause, calling for better use of the city’s vacant lots in battling the affordable housing crisis. Public Advocate Letitia James and City Council Members Jumanee Williams and Ydanis Rodriguez—arguing for legislation that includes a yearly, HPD-led census of publicly-owned, vacant lots—cited Stringer in <a href="http://cityandstateny.com/articles/opinion/vacant-properties-could-house-homeless-new-york-city.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">an August op-ed in City and State.</a></p> <p>Meanwhile, HPD and City Hall insist that the de Blasio administration is progressing in its development of lots for new affordable housing and call critics uninformed. “The sites that are available we’ve had a near maniacal focus on making sure that we know where they are and that we are putting them to good use,” said HPD Commissioner Torres-Spring in an interview on <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7206-what-s-the-data-point-77-651-with-the-city-housing-commissioner" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">What’s the [Data] Point?,</a> a podcast from Gotham Gazette and Citizens Budget Commission.</p> <p>The comptroller’s office remains dubious. In response to the commissioner’s comments, Tyrone Stevens, press secretary for Comptroller Stringer, said, “Unfortunately, since our audit, we have not seen any specific plans from HPD about how they are developing vacant city-owned land or how many units they’ve created and where they’re located.”</p> <p>As of now, the facts remain fuzzy. In early 2017, HPD denied several FOIL requests by Paula Segal, attorney with the Community Development Project at the Urban Justice Center, for lists of vacant lots under its jurisdiction. No lists were provided to the comptroller’s office in rebutting its report, and the department did not provide that information to Gotham Gazette when approached recently, after Torres-Springer’s latest comments on the discrepancy.</p> <p>As the debate continues, momentum has been building for pending City Council legislation that would require HPD to perform an annual, citywide census of all publicly-owned, vacant land. However, the de Blasio administration has not yet signaled support for the legislation, which is under negotiation, according to Torres-Springer.</p> <p><strong>Why Vacant Lots?</strong><br />When he announced his intention to run for mayor, de Blasio made affordable housing a centerpiece of his campaign, promising to create and preserve <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/de-blasio-bring-agenda-cuomo-albany-lawmakers-article-1.1508059" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">200,000 affordable housing units</a> over the next ten years. “We need a stronger hand to make sure development will create and preserve places for a diverse range of families to live and raise their kids,” said de Blasio <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2013/10/04/nyregion/deblasio-abny-speech.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">in a late 2013 campaign speech</a>.</p> <p>Shortly after he assumed office, he released <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/199-14/mayor-de-blasio-housing-new-york--five-borough-10-year-housing-plan-protect-and#/0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Housing New York</a>, a plan to flesh out a path to these 200,000 affordable units. At a total cost of $41 billion, not all of which would be city money, it promotes an array of strategies, like expanding housing for seniors and mandating rezonings to require a set portion of affordable units. The plan also includes a call to spur citywide development of small, vacant sites.</p> <p>For privately-owned, vacant sites, Housing New York includes the intention to not only institute taxes to incentivize housing development, but to reach out to real estate owners to foster potential partnerships. For those that are publicly-owned, the plan calls for the clustering of small, city-owned sites through newly-created programs like the Neighborhood Construction Program (NCP) and New Infill Homeownership Opportunities Program (NIHOP).</p> <p>Most notably, Housing New York includes a plan to conduct a citywide survey of all publicly and privately-owned vacant land. The administration has given no public indication that this survey has been performed, though it insists it has a detailed grasp of all its vacant lots.</p> <p>Nonprofits have estimated the total number of vacant sites to be in the thousands. In a 2011 report, Picture the Homeless, a nonprofit advocacy group, <a href="http://picturethehomeless.org/project/banking-on-vacancy-homelessness-real-estate-speculation/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">reported the existence</a> of 3,551 vacant buildings and 2,489 publicly and privately-owned vacant lots citywide. The group projected that these properties could house close to 200,000 people, more than three times the estimated number of homeless people in New York City, which now hovers around 62,000.</p> <p><strong>How Many Public Lots?</strong><br />While the city can incentivize the development of private lots (through vacancy taxes, rezoning density bonuses, and more), it can more quickly turn city-owned lots into affordable housing, as it directly administers these properties, often by working with nonprofit developers.</p> <p>However, the exact number of vacant lots the city owns remains unclear. "It seems like there's no number to start with, even if it's wrong," said City Council Member Jumaane Williams, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/4906-the-mayors-vacant-lots-de-blasio-affordable-housing" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">during a hearing on vacant properties in 2014</a>.</p> <p>Nonprofits like Picture the Homeless and city agencies have tried to fill the gap, with varying results. In <a href="https://www.mas.org/ourwork/colp/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a report released in 2016</a>, The Municipal Arts Society of New York used data from the Department of City Planning and found 2,726 city-owned, vacant sites. Nonetheless, MAS noticed inaccuracies.</p> <p>“There seems to be deficiencies in existing city datasets,” said Marcel Negret, project manager at The Municipal Arts Society, in an interview with Gotham Gazette.</p> <p>596 Acres, a nonprofit that pushes for community access to vacant lots, tried to correct for these errors. It combed through city datasets, removing sites that are gutterspaces, parks, and those that have already been sold to developers. Publishing this data as an <a href="https://livinglotsnyc.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">interactive map</a>, 596 Acres then crowdsourced information from residents and organizers. Its estimate for publicly-owned, vacant land amounts to 1,801 lots as of October 13th.</p> <p>Finally, the comptroller’s office waded into the fray with <a href="https://comptroller.nyc.gov/wp-content/uploads/documents/FM14_112A.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">its 2016 audit of the Department of Housing and Preservation</a>. Auditors used agency records as well as tax lien sales to identify 1,459 city-owned, vacant properties, of which 1,131 are under the jurisdiction of HPD, it said. In a subsequent report, Stringer claimed that these existing properties could produce approximately 53,000 units of affordable housing. Stringer did not assess the usability of the lots.</p> <p><strong>Debate Kicks Up a Notch</strong><br />After the audit’s public release, Comptroller Stringer, a Democrat then considering a possible entrance into the 2017 mayoral race, blasted the administration, HPD, and their predecessors, for an inability to effectively deploy vacant sites under their control.</p> <p>“This is generations of inaction,” he said.</p> <p>Housing officials responded in kind. “Your assertion that HPD allows vacant City-owned properties to languish in the face of the affordable housing crisis is simply wrong,” said Vicki Been, then HPD Commissioner, in a statement included in the original audit, in the section typically reserved for such a response. &nbsp;</p> <p>HPD claimed that the majority of lots cited in Stringer’s audit were accounted for: it said 310 have “major development challenges” (e.g. were in floodplains or near hurricane danger zones); 150 of the properties were better suited for “non-residential projects” (e.g. community gardens); and 670 were suited for residential use, of which 400 were already set aside for development within the next two years.</p> <p>De Blasio himself pushed back when asked about the audit during an interview. “I think it’s breathtaking how little the comptroller understands about this issue,” he said <a href="http://observer.com/2016/09/bill-de-blasio-says-its-breathtaking-how-little-his-top-democratic-rival-knows/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show in September 2016</a>.</p> <p>The comptroller had his own response. “But what the city has said to me is ‘no, no, no, all of these properties are already accounted for.’ Can you believe that? So if they’ve already made deals on the properties, who did they ever consult? They didn’t consult the community boards, they didn’t consult anybody,” Stringer said <a href="http://observer.com/2016/09/pols-advocates-count-citys-vacant-properties-to-solve-homeless-and-housing-crises/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">in an interview with the Observer.</a></p> <p><strong>The ‘Housing Not Warehousing Act’</strong><br />This back-and-forth took place amid City Council discussions on legislation designed to take stock of and push the development of private and city-owned vacant land. Comprised of three bills, the “Housing Not Warehousing Act” aims to create a registry of all landlords holding vacant property; hold an annual, citywide census of all vacant land; and compile a list of publicly-owned vacant sites.</p> <p>Introduced to the Council in December of 2015 by Public Advocate Letitia James and Council Members Jumaane Williams and Ydanis Rodriguez, the act was the focus of a public hearing in September 2016. Despite widespread support from Council members, HPD opposed <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=2537047&amp;GUID=ED82545C-893D-47EE-B5B6-095729CE7C67" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Intro. 1039</a>, the bill that would require the department to “conduct annual surveys of all city-owned properties to identify vacant buildings or lots that may be suitable for affordable housing.”</p> <p>HPD Deputy Commissioner Daniel Hernandez testified that publicly releasing this list would have unintended consequences. It would reveal vacant lots that host key environmental infrastructure, information potentially dangerous in the wrong hands, he said. It would prompt real estate speculation, as companies buy up surrounding lots in hopes of grants by the city, he argued, and it would be costly and unnecessary, as HPD already has much of this information at its fingertips.</p> <p>“Monitoring and collection required by the census would require extensive staff time and a commitment of financial resources without providing the data we really believe is desired,” explained Hernandez, <a href="https://citylimits.org/2017/09/29/is-housing-not-warehousing-next/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">according to City Limits</a>.</p> <p>In order to prove HPD was already making use of vacant lots under its control, Hernandez cited the same statistics released in response to Stringer’s audit, saying the city has identified 670 vacant lots suitable for the construction of affordable housing. HPD did not provide a detailed itemization.</p> <p>The committee balked at the lack of specificity. “How could you come to this hearing and not know the status of each and every one of these sites?” asked Council Member Barry Grodenchik, a Democrat from Queens, <a href="http://www.crainsnewyork.com/article/20160915/REAL_ESTATE/160919925/city-council-mayor-bill-de-blasio-fight-over-vacant-lots" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">according to Crain’s New York</a>.</p> <p><strong>Trying for Clarity</strong><br /> More than a year since the committee hearing on the Housing Not Warehousing Act, HPD has yet to publicly provide a detailed accounting of its vacant sites. Yet, the department reiterates that it is doing everything in its power to manage and deploy lots under its control.</p> <p>“There’s a lot of misconception about this, so I’m happy to clear the air,” Torres-Springer said, when asked about the vacant lots controversy on What’s The [Data] Point?. “To the extent that they are vacant sites, hundreds of those have either already been designated or in the pipeline or will be soon. There’s a good portion of those that are very small lots that have significant issues where you can’t really build. And—to be honest—even for those, we’re looking at ways to cluster so there's an affordable housing project that can be built.”</p> <p>Asked to respond to Torres-Springer’s recent comments, Stringer’s office again demanded details. “Which sites are currently being developed and how many remain undeveloped? In what neighborhoods?,” said Stevens, the press secretary. “Who are the developers and how much total subsidy have they received from the city so far for their work?”</p> <p>Others, too, have lamented that HPD has failed to substantiate its claim that all vacant lots under its control are accounted for. Segal, of the Urban Justice Center, explained in an interview that she filed three Freedom of Information Law requests to HPD on behalf of Picture the Homeless. Asking for lists of the 310 lots that have development challenges, the 150 better suited for non-housing purposes, and the 670 best suited for housing, Segal said that HPD denied one request based on “interference of contracts,” while not replying to the other two.</p> <p>“HPD failed to respond as they are required by state law,” she explained. “There’s no accountability.”</p> <p>Gotham Gazette asked HPD for the same lists Segal requested. Housing officials neither provided the data nor responded to Segal’s allegations. They did, however, push back against Stringer’s criticisms. “The comptroller’s assertion that HPD can create 50,000 units on all vacant city-owned land is simply untrue,” said housing officials. “It is not practical to develop all available sites at one time considering resource demands, and oddly shaped lots, infrastructure and resiliency needs on HPD’s remaining land makes development all the more challenging.”</p> <p>Asked for examples of city-owned vacant lots where housing is currently under construction, HPD provided two. One is "Flushing Municipal Lot 3," which was bid on in 2014 and awarded in 2015. "HPD announced the selection of a joint venture between Asian Americans for Equality (AAFE), HANAC Inc., and Monadnock Development to develop a transit-oriented, mixed-use, and mixed-income development in the Flushing neighborhood of Queens. The team's plan, called One Flushing, will result in the creation of 208 units of very low-income senior housing and multifamily housing that will be affordable to low- and moderate-income families."</p> <p>The second example is "Livonia Avenue Initiative Phase II," which was bid on and awarded in 2014. "HPD announced the selection of BRP Companies, HELP USA, and the Local Development Corporation of East New York (LDC ENY) for Phase II of the Livonia Avenue Initiative in the East New York neighborhood of Brooklyn. The development team's plan includes four new mixed-use buildings with a total of 288 affordable apartments, a commercial kitchen that will provide culinary training, and a Career Exploration center (CEC) that will provide vocational training to students of the New Visions Charter High School."</p> <p>There are various other lots in different stages of development, including some that were put out for bid last year that will be moving forward with selected partners in the near future.</p> <p><strong>Going Forward</strong><br />Perhaps the best hope for a reliable account of city-owned vacant lots remains one bill, Intro. 1039, of the Housing Not Warehousing Act. While the legislation has remained dormant since the 2016 hearing, <a href="https://citylimits.org/2017/09/29/is-housing-not-warehousing-next/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">City Limits recently reported</a> that momentum for the package of bills is increasing. Two have over 30 sponsors in the 51-seat Council, and Intro. 1039 has more than the “veto-proof” majority, with 34 sponsors, as of October 10.</p> <p>In comments given to City Limits, Council Member Williams, the prime sponsor of 1039, said, “I do believe it’s time to get moving.” He explained he might even attempt to push the legislation through without HPD sign-off. The Council virtually never moves legislation that has not reached an amicable compromise point with the de Blasio administration.</p> <p>Williams is hopeful that parlays with the administration will be successful and, according to a spokesperson in a statement to Gotham Gazette, “believes that the administration recognizes the degree of the affordable housing crisis here in the city, and hopes to work with them to address the problem and find meaningful solutions.”</p> <p>Torres-Springer echoed this desire to cooperate, saying on the podcast, “We continue to work with the Council on those bills, because we share the goal of using every square foot of real estate that we possibly can to build affordable housing, but we have to do it, of course, in the most strategic way.”</p> <p>

***
by Ben Weiss, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

</p>
City Hall Pushes Back on Proposal that Hits Core Tension of Housing Plan 2017-10-12T04:00:00+00:00 2017-10-12T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7249:city-hall-pushes-back-on-proposal-that-hits-core-tension-of-housing-plan Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/reset_1/housing_rally_sign_via_nyccomptroller.jpg" alt="housing rally sign via nyccomptroller" width="600" height="450" /></p> <p>City Hall ralliers with Metro-IAF-NY (photo: @NYCComptroller)</p> <hr /> <p>Thousands of New Yorkers, many of them residents of public housing, braved the rain on Monday, October 9, to rally outside City Hall to push Mayor Bill de Blasio to adopt a new direction for his affordable housing plan. Their alternative proposal, which had been presented by the leading advocates to the mayor ten days prior, calls for a radical investment in building new housing for low-income families, especially seniors, which critics say has largely been left out of the mayor’s current housing strategy.</p> <p>But there’s disagreement over whether the plan is feasible and if the city, without state or federal resources, can commit to a sweeping addendum to an already ambitious affordable housing plan.</p> <p>The leaders of the community proposal and rally, reverends from Brooklyn, achieved significant attention for their plan and support from elected officials, in part because their critique of de Blasio’s housing program touched the core tension of what some see as a solid, fairly moderate approach, but others call too timid to address the affordability crisis facing the city and its residents and, in some cases, a catalyst of detrimental gentrification.<br /> <br />De Blasio’s Housing New York plan aims to build about 80,000 new affordable units and preserve another 120,000 by 2024. By June 30, the end of fiscal year 2017, the city had financed 77,651 units -- 25,342 or 33 percent new units and 52,309 or 67 percent preserved. The mayor has declared the plan on time and within budget and earlier this year he also announced an additional $1.9 billion investment to create 10,000 more affordable housing for low-income earners, including 5,000 more dedicated senior housing units, for a total of 15,000 senior units under the plan. There are also projects in the pipeline to build 10,000 new units on underutilized NYCHA property.</p> <p>But the organizers of Monday’s rally -- leaders of the Metro Industrial Areas Foundation and East Brooklyn Congregations, made up of church-going members, homeowners associations, schools, and senior centers -- say the plan isn’t building enough housing quickly enough, particularly for those at the lowest income tiers, and is ignoring the need for more senior housing. Their plan seeks to address these deficiencies, though the de Blasio administration says it is already doing most of what is being sought in the plan, while other aspects are not possible at this time.</p> <p>Of the 77,651 units financed by the administration so far, 11,505 were for families of three making less than $25,770 a year, or 30 percent on the area median income (AMI), and another 13,277 were for families making between $25,771-$42,950 (31-50 percent AMI).</p> <p>The Metro IAF-EBC proposal specifically calls for 15,000 new senior housing units on underutilized NYCHA land, which it foresees would allow 50,000 people on NYCHA waitlists and in homeless shelters to move into apartments vacated by those seniors. The plan also advocates for refurbishing NYCHA developments across the city. Its proponents, while vehemently behind it, note that it is a starting point for discussion with the mayor and his team.</p> <p>Mayor de Blasio, in a letter on October 7 responding to the coalition, wrote that he shares “the same values and goals: to build safe, clean, and affordable housing for all of our families at a faster rate than we have ever done.”</p> <p>“I also agree with you that we have to make tough choices if we’re going to turn a corner in this crisis, and invest in our original affordable housing: NYCHA,” he added, before agreeing to collaborate, in a general sense, on the coalition’s ideas. He made no specific promises.</p> <p>In an appearance on NY1 the night of the rally, Metro IAF-EBC coalition leader Rev. Shaun Lee, pastor of Mt. Lebanon Baptist Church in Brooklyn, said de Blasio’s response had been “disrespectful” so far. “They tried to placate us but they’re not really taking the plan seriously,” he told anchor Errol Louis.</p> <p>Rev. David Brawley, from St. Paul Community Baptist Church, said on the show that the mayor had promised them a “thoughtful response” that did not seem forthcoming. “We don’t consider a form letter, just because it has a seal on it and a signature, a thoughtful response,” he said. “We think a commitment is a thoughtful response. Even a question, a date to meet again, is a thoughtful response. Not simply a form letter.”</p> <p>The coalition has prominent allies, including Comptroller Scott Stringer and Public Advocate Letitia James, both of whom spoke at the group’s City Hall rally. A spokesperson for Stringer told Gotham Gazette that the comptroller believes the coalition proposal is financially feasible in conjunction with the administration’s current plan. The spokesperson did not elaborate when asked for details.</p> <p>The de Blasio administration, although agreeing with the principle behind the plan, disagrees with that notion. Some of the ideas in the plan, said spokesperson Melissa Grace, are currently also being implemented.</p> <p>“We agree with the group’s goals, and are already advancing them in many places across the city,” said Grace, in an email. “Deeper affordability? Those very lowest-income apartments now represent nearly 30 percent of our housing plan. Building on underused NYCHA land for seniors? We’ve closed on two senior projects, with more coming. We welcome the chance to work together to accomplish more.”</p> <p>Among the pitfalls of the plan, the administration points out, are that it would require heavy subsidies from the city -- building only deeply affordable housing is extremely expensive -- and it ignores the need to build middle-income housing, something de Blasio regularly explains he is steadfastly committed to. Indeed, the proposal predicts creating 15,000 new affordable housing units would cost about $3.83 billion, including about $1.875 billion in city subsidies, through the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD).</p> <p>NYCHA also has a $17 billion capital backlog, and the advocates have been vague about how the city could address that without federal or state funding, other than insisting that the mayor must get “creative and imaginative” with funding solutions. “The money is there. The question is, where’s the leadership,” Brawley said in a phone interview. The coalition says the city must make good on NYCHA capital repairs so that, if its plan moves forward, people want to move into the NYCHA apartments that seniors would vacate as they move into the new homes being built, often into smaller units than they may now occupy, allowing larger families to move in.</p> <p>The proposal did identify at least $225 million each year in new revenue sources the city could use -- $40 million in excess revenue from the Battery Park City Authority and $185 million paid by NYCHA to the city for sanitation, water and other services. A Metro IAF spokesperson also emphasized, as have its leaders, that the pace of NYCHA “infill” projects -- like the senior projects Grace referred to -- has been too slow and that four years into the affordable housing program, few have broken ground. Grace later pointed out that the $40 million was already committed to affordable housing projects, including in communities with NYCHA developments.&nbsp;</p> <p>One aspect of the plan also proposes an alternative financing model for new developments through tax credits, tax-exempt bonds and Section 8 vouchers for 100 percent of the units. Using Section 8 vouchers, which are limited, at new projects on NYCHA land is also problematic, according to the administration. If Section 8 vouchers are applied, the city would require a waiver from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development to allocate units to current NYCHA residents. HUD has in the past has approved an allocation of 25 percent for an area the size of a community board, according to City Hall. The Metro IAF spokesperson said, however, that these provisions of the plan are not necessarily red lines and that they are open to change.</p> <p>The crucial point of the plan, said Brawley, is that the city needs to move beyond incremental increases in affordable units. “The city’s gonna have to work to do a critical mass of units. A few hundred units here or there will not do,” he said. He brushed aside the issues built into the system of constructing new housing -- the city’s process for competitive bids and the lengthy review of land use applications.</p> <p>Public Advocate James, who brought Brawley to the general election mayoral debate on Tuesday night as her guest, has also recently started calling for a much more ambitious overall program of building new affordable housing, putting forth ideas like building more over rail yards across the five boroughs.</p> <p>It remains to be seen whether de Blasio will be amenable to implementing some of the ideas from Brawley’s coalition -- Metro IAF has worked with the city to build multiple affordable housing complexes before. In the meantime, Brawley and Lee have vowed a sustained advocacy campaign. “We’ve increased pressure on mayors in the past to make things happen,” Brawley said. “And that’s what we’ll do. We’re going to see this plan through.”</p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Note - this article has been updated.</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/reset_1/housing_rally_sign_via_nyccomptroller.jpg" alt="housing rally sign via nyccomptroller" width="600" height="450" /></p> <p>City Hall ralliers with Metro-IAF-NY (photo: @NYCComptroller)</p> <hr /> <p>Thousands of New Yorkers, many of them residents of public housing, braved the rain on Monday, October 9, to rally outside City Hall to push Mayor Bill de Blasio to adopt a new direction for his affordable housing plan. Their alternative proposal, which had been presented by the leading advocates to the mayor ten days prior, calls for a radical investment in building new housing for low-income families, especially seniors, which critics say has largely been left out of the mayor’s current housing strategy.</p> <p>But there’s disagreement over whether the plan is feasible and if the city, without state or federal resources, can commit to a sweeping addendum to an already ambitious affordable housing plan.</p> <p>The leaders of the community proposal and rally, reverends from Brooklyn, achieved significant attention for their plan and support from elected officials, in part because their critique of de Blasio’s housing program touched the core tension of what some see as a solid, fairly moderate approach, but others call too timid to address the affordability crisis facing the city and its residents and, in some cases, a catalyst of detrimental gentrification.<br /> <br />De Blasio’s Housing New York plan aims to build about 80,000 new affordable units and preserve another 120,000 by 2024. By June 30, the end of fiscal year 2017, the city had financed 77,651 units -- 25,342 or 33 percent new units and 52,309 or 67 percent preserved. The mayor has declared the plan on time and within budget and earlier this year he also announced an additional $1.9 billion investment to create 10,000 more affordable housing for low-income earners, including 5,000 more dedicated senior housing units, for a total of 15,000 senior units under the plan. There are also projects in the pipeline to build 10,000 new units on underutilized NYCHA property.</p> <p>But the organizers of Monday’s rally -- leaders of the Metro Industrial Areas Foundation and East Brooklyn Congregations, made up of church-going members, homeowners associations, schools, and senior centers -- say the plan isn’t building enough housing quickly enough, particularly for those at the lowest income tiers, and is ignoring the need for more senior housing. Their plan seeks to address these deficiencies, though the de Blasio administration says it is already doing most of what is being sought in the plan, while other aspects are not possible at this time.</p> <p>Of the 77,651 units financed by the administration so far, 11,505 were for families of three making less than $25,770 a year, or 30 percent on the area median income (AMI), and another 13,277 were for families making between $25,771-$42,950 (31-50 percent AMI).</p> <p>The Metro IAF-EBC proposal specifically calls for 15,000 new senior housing units on underutilized NYCHA land, which it foresees would allow 50,000 people on NYCHA waitlists and in homeless shelters to move into apartments vacated by those seniors. The plan also advocates for refurbishing NYCHA developments across the city. Its proponents, while vehemently behind it, note that it is a starting point for discussion with the mayor and his team.</p> <p>Mayor de Blasio, in a letter on October 7 responding to the coalition, wrote that he shares “the same values and goals: to build safe, clean, and affordable housing for all of our families at a faster rate than we have ever done.”</p> <p>“I also agree with you that we have to make tough choices if we’re going to turn a corner in this crisis, and invest in our original affordable housing: NYCHA,” he added, before agreeing to collaborate, in a general sense, on the coalition’s ideas. He made no specific promises.</p> <p>In an appearance on NY1 the night of the rally, Metro IAF-EBC coalition leader Rev. Shaun Lee, pastor of Mt. Lebanon Baptist Church in Brooklyn, said de Blasio’s response had been “disrespectful” so far. “They tried to placate us but they’re not really taking the plan seriously,” he told anchor Errol Louis.</p> <p>Rev. David Brawley, from St. Paul Community Baptist Church, said on the show that the mayor had promised them a “thoughtful response” that did not seem forthcoming. “We don’t consider a form letter, just because it has a seal on it and a signature, a thoughtful response,” he said. “We think a commitment is a thoughtful response. Even a question, a date to meet again, is a thoughtful response. Not simply a form letter.”</p> <p>The coalition has prominent allies, including Comptroller Scott Stringer and Public Advocate Letitia James, both of whom spoke at the group’s City Hall rally. A spokesperson for Stringer told Gotham Gazette that the comptroller believes the coalition proposal is financially feasible in conjunction with the administration’s current plan. The spokesperson did not elaborate when asked for details.</p> <p>The de Blasio administration, although agreeing with the principle behind the plan, disagrees with that notion. Some of the ideas in the plan, said spokesperson Melissa Grace, are currently also being implemented.</p> <p>“We agree with the group’s goals, and are already advancing them in many places across the city,” said Grace, in an email. “Deeper affordability? Those very lowest-income apartments now represent nearly 30 percent of our housing plan. Building on underused NYCHA land for seniors? We’ve closed on two senior projects, with more coming. We welcome the chance to work together to accomplish more.”</p> <p>Among the pitfalls of the plan, the administration points out, are that it would require heavy subsidies from the city -- building only deeply affordable housing is extremely expensive -- and it ignores the need to build middle-income housing, something de Blasio regularly explains he is steadfastly committed to. Indeed, the proposal predicts creating 15,000 new affordable housing units would cost about $3.83 billion, including about $1.875 billion in city subsidies, through the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD).</p> <p>NYCHA also has a $17 billion capital backlog, and the advocates have been vague about how the city could address that without federal or state funding, other than insisting that the mayor must get “creative and imaginative” with funding solutions. “The money is there. The question is, where’s the leadership,” Brawley said in a phone interview. The coalition says the city must make good on NYCHA capital repairs so that, if its plan moves forward, people want to move into the NYCHA apartments that seniors would vacate as they move into the new homes being built, often into smaller units than they may now occupy, allowing larger families to move in.</p> <p>The proposal did identify at least $225 million each year in new revenue sources the city could use -- $40 million in excess revenue from the Battery Park City Authority and $185 million paid by NYCHA to the city for sanitation, water and other services. A Metro IAF spokesperson also emphasized, as have its leaders, that the pace of NYCHA “infill” projects -- like the senior projects Grace referred to -- has been too slow and that four years into the affordable housing program, few have broken ground. Grace later pointed out that the $40 million was already committed to affordable housing projects, including in communities with NYCHA developments.&nbsp;</p> <p>One aspect of the plan also proposes an alternative financing model for new developments through tax credits, tax-exempt bonds and Section 8 vouchers for 100 percent of the units. Using Section 8 vouchers, which are limited, at new projects on NYCHA land is also problematic, according to the administration. If Section 8 vouchers are applied, the city would require a waiver from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development to allocate units to current NYCHA residents. HUD has in the past has approved an allocation of 25 percent for an area the size of a community board, according to City Hall. The Metro IAF spokesperson said, however, that these provisions of the plan are not necessarily red lines and that they are open to change.</p> <p>The crucial point of the plan, said Brawley, is that the city needs to move beyond incremental increases in affordable units. “The city’s gonna have to work to do a critical mass of units. A few hundred units here or there will not do,” he said. He brushed aside the issues built into the system of constructing new housing -- the city’s process for competitive bids and the lengthy review of land use applications.</p> <p>Public Advocate James, who brought Brawley to the general election mayoral debate on Tuesday night as her guest, has also recently started calling for a much more ambitious overall program of building new affordable housing, putting forth ideas like building more over rail yards across the five boroughs.</p> <p>It remains to be seen whether de Blasio will be amenable to implementing some of the ideas from Brawley’s coalition -- Metro IAF has worked with the city to build multiple affordable housing complexes before. In the meantime, Brawley and Lee have vowed a sustained advocacy campaign. “We’ve increased pressure on mayors in the past to make things happen,” Brawley said. “And that’s what we’ll do. We’re going to see this plan through.”</p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Note - this article has been updated.</p>
Commissioner Puts Community Development at Forefront of Housing Plan 2017-06-04T04:00:00+00:00 2017-06-04T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6971:commissioner-puts-community-development-at-forefront-of-housing-plan Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/mts_housing.jpg" alt="HPD Maria Torres-Springer" width="600" height="482" /></p> <p>HPD Commissioner Torres-Springer, middle (photo: @MTorresSpringer)</p> <hr /> <p>Discussing Mayor Bill de Blasio’s affordable housing plan on Friday, the city’s housing commissioner stressed that it is also a program for community development.</p> <p>Speaking at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism's Center for Community and Ethnic Media, Commissioner Maria Torres-Springer, head of the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, gave an update on the administration’s 10-year 200,000-unit <a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/housing/assets/downloads/pdf/housing_plan.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">affordable housing plan</a>, and spoke about how the city is working to revitalize communities in the process.</p> <p>Torres-Springer’s appearance came just after the city released <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/assets/hpd/downloads/pdf/community/the-brownsville-plan.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a new plan</a> for Brownsville, Brooklyn that aims to not only add 2,500 units of affordable housing, but address deep-rooted community issues in one of the poorest, resource-starved neighborhoods in the city. The plan, she said, was developed with community input via in-person planning meetings and an online option provided by HPD over the last year.</p> <p>“We know at HPD that the crisis that we are facing in terms of affordability is much more than just building housing,” Torres-Springer said. Through its housing plan, which includes the potential rezoning of around a dozen neighborhoods, the de Blasio administration is seeking to add affordable housing, overall housing density, and community staples such as parkland and school seats.</p> <p>Issues brought forth for Brownsville included “better health outcomes, more thriving retail, more job opportunities, [and] better streets,” said Torres-Springer, who has been heading HPD since the beginning of the year after stints leading the city’s department for small business services and the Economic Development Corporation.</p> <p>The commissioner said Friday that her team will also be actively working to combat resident displacement through preserving current affordable housing and aiding tenant protection and anti-eviction efforts. Sixty percent of De Blasio’s housing plan is preserving currently affordable units, which means incentivizing landlords to keep rent caps in place for tenants. The mayor has also added millions of dollars in funding to provide lawyers to tenants facing unfair eviction.</p> <p>“I’m happy to report that, a lot due to the efforts of course of my predecessor and the incredible team at HPD, that we’ve made terrific progress toward the plan’s goals,” Torres-Springer said Friday. “We’ve financed 63,398 units -- ahead of schedule and on budget,” she said, referring to the overall plan and both new and preserved units.</p> <p>According to Torres-Springer, these housing units serve a range of needs, from families of three making $43,000 or less to $26,000 or less annually in an effort to help “preserve the economic diversity that makes our neighborhoods so dynamic.”</p> <p>Stating that this is not always enough, she went on to praise the mayor’s decision to add $2 billion to HPD’s capital budget, bringing the total to $10 billion, which funds subsidized housing, and allowing for 25 percent of the plan to be dedicated to the lowest income families in the city. De Blasio has received some pushback from locals and community activists who have said that his plan does not provide enough affordable units for those making the least income. He adjusted the plan, which was released in 2014, earlier this year, though his efforts have not completely quieted the protests.</p> <p>HPD’s goals are not without challenges, some of them new. The <a href="https://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/whitehouse.gov/files/omb/budget/fy2018/amendment_03_16_18.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">executive budget proposal</a> put out by the Trump administration has left Torres-Springer and her team -- who get 86 percent of their funding from the federal government -- uncertain but “optimistic” that they will be able to fight back and continue as planned.</p> <p>“That is the funding that really helps us advance all of our work to protect the city’s housing stock, to fill gaps in terms of supportive housing, in terms of home ownership -- we’re the fifth largest issuer of Section 8 vouchers -- and we’re living in a world, as many of you know, where the cuts that the president has proposed for the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, [mean] a lot of those programs are really under threat.”</p> <p>Torres-Springer also stressed that the administration, partnered with different coalitions across the country, will make “sure that Washington D.C. does not walk away from its obligations to the people of this city.”</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/torres_springer_cuny_j.JPG" alt="torres springer cuny j" width="300" height="157" style="margin-right: 10px; float: left;" />On Friday, Torres-Springer was questioned by a panel of CUNY Journalism School’s Errol Louis and two other reporters, and then members of the audience, who represented a variety of community and ethnic outlets. When asked how members of a community who might not have been aware of the plans before now might feel about the changes, she admitted to the difficulties of pleasing everybody.</p> <p>“I am under no illusion that they will approve of everything that we do, and that’s fine, because it's really that type of feedback -- positive or negative -- that ensures that at the end of the day, public servants, public officials, elected officials, who have a more formal role in, say, the public approval process, that we’re all held accountable,” Torres-Springer had told Louis Thursday evening <a href="http://www.ny1.com/nyc/all-boroughs/city-hall-newsmakers/2017/06/2/ny1-online--the-future-of-brownsville.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">on his NY1 Road to City Hall program</a> in regards to the projected development in Brownsville.</p> <p>When asked on Friday whether or not the breakdown of affordability will be based on the needs of the individual communities, she said it will be based on the designations of the best submitted proposal while keeping the residents in mind. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>“It’s 100% affordable, but the different levels of affordability for all of those units -- we will wait to see what comes back in terms of the submissions and then consider them based on that. But we always want to reach the deeper levels of affordability,” Torres-Springer said. “The most successful proposals are often the ones that really take into consideration the context in which each and every one of the developments of the projects is happening.”</p> <p>While the de Blasio administration has made a wide variety of deals to preserve or develop affordable housing across the city, the neighborhood plans that are also a key part of the overall affordable housing plan have moved fairly slowly. Only East New York has had <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6825-the-east-new-york-rezoning-one-year-later" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a rezoning move entirely through the lengthy process</a>. A few others have started that process, which includes city studies, community outreach, and review by local officials like the borough president, community board members, and City Council member.</p> <p>Torres-Springer made sure to emphasise the importance of residents getting involved in the planning process. “For too long, in different administrations, the approach has been, and I think the feeling of residents has been, that projects were happening to them,” Torres-Springer said on NY1. “And in this administration we really wanted to change that.”</p> <p>

***
by Jynn Schubert for Gotham Gazette
@JynnWasHere  @GothamGazette

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/mts_housing.jpg" alt="HPD Maria Torres-Springer" width="600" height="482" /></p> <p>HPD Commissioner Torres-Springer, middle (photo: @MTorresSpringer)</p> <hr /> <p>Discussing Mayor Bill de Blasio’s affordable housing plan on Friday, the city’s housing commissioner stressed that it is also a program for community development.</p> <p>Speaking at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism's Center for Community and Ethnic Media, Commissioner Maria Torres-Springer, head of the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, gave an update on the administration’s 10-year 200,000-unit <a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/housing/assets/downloads/pdf/housing_plan.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">affordable housing plan</a>, and spoke about how the city is working to revitalize communities in the process.</p> <p>Torres-Springer’s appearance came just after the city released <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/assets/hpd/downloads/pdf/community/the-brownsville-plan.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a new plan</a> for Brownsville, Brooklyn that aims to not only add 2,500 units of affordable housing, but address deep-rooted community issues in one of the poorest, resource-starved neighborhoods in the city. The plan, she said, was developed with community input via in-person planning meetings and an online option provided by HPD over the last year.</p> <p>“We know at HPD that the crisis that we are facing in terms of affordability is much more than just building housing,” Torres-Springer said. Through its housing plan, which includes the potential rezoning of around a dozen neighborhoods, the de Blasio administration is seeking to add affordable housing, overall housing density, and community staples such as parkland and school seats.</p> <p>Issues brought forth for Brownsville included “better health outcomes, more thriving retail, more job opportunities, [and] better streets,” said Torres-Springer, who has been heading HPD since the beginning of the year after stints leading the city’s department for small business services and the Economic Development Corporation.</p> <p>The commissioner said Friday that her team will also be actively working to combat resident displacement through preserving current affordable housing and aiding tenant protection and anti-eviction efforts. Sixty percent of De Blasio’s housing plan is preserving currently affordable units, which means incentivizing landlords to keep rent caps in place for tenants. The mayor has also added millions of dollars in funding to provide lawyers to tenants facing unfair eviction.</p> <p>“I’m happy to report that, a lot due to the efforts of course of my predecessor and the incredible team at HPD, that we’ve made terrific progress toward the plan’s goals,” Torres-Springer said Friday. “We’ve financed 63,398 units -- ahead of schedule and on budget,” she said, referring to the overall plan and both new and preserved units.</p> <p>According to Torres-Springer, these housing units serve a range of needs, from families of three making $43,000 or less to $26,000 or less annually in an effort to help “preserve the economic diversity that makes our neighborhoods so dynamic.”</p> <p>Stating that this is not always enough, she went on to praise the mayor’s decision to add $2 billion to HPD’s capital budget, bringing the total to $10 billion, which funds subsidized housing, and allowing for 25 percent of the plan to be dedicated to the lowest income families in the city. De Blasio has received some pushback from locals and community activists who have said that his plan does not provide enough affordable units for those making the least income. He adjusted the plan, which was released in 2014, earlier this year, though his efforts have not completely quieted the protests.</p> <p>HPD’s goals are not without challenges, some of them new. The <a href="https://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/whitehouse.gov/files/omb/budget/fy2018/amendment_03_16_18.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">executive budget proposal</a> put out by the Trump administration has left Torres-Springer and her team -- who get 86 percent of their funding from the federal government -- uncertain but “optimistic” that they will be able to fight back and continue as planned.</p> <p>“That is the funding that really helps us advance all of our work to protect the city’s housing stock, to fill gaps in terms of supportive housing, in terms of home ownership -- we’re the fifth largest issuer of Section 8 vouchers -- and we’re living in a world, as many of you know, where the cuts that the president has proposed for the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, [mean] a lot of those programs are really under threat.”</p> <p>Torres-Springer also stressed that the administration, partnered with different coalitions across the country, will make “sure that Washington D.C. does not walk away from its obligations to the people of this city.”</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/torres_springer_cuny_j.JPG" alt="torres springer cuny j" width="300" height="157" style="margin-right: 10px; float: left;" />On Friday, Torres-Springer was questioned by a panel of CUNY Journalism School’s Errol Louis and two other reporters, and then members of the audience, who represented a variety of community and ethnic outlets. When asked how members of a community who might not have been aware of the plans before now might feel about the changes, she admitted to the difficulties of pleasing everybody.</p> <p>“I am under no illusion that they will approve of everything that we do, and that’s fine, because it's really that type of feedback -- positive or negative -- that ensures that at the end of the day, public servants, public officials, elected officials, who have a more formal role in, say, the public approval process, that we’re all held accountable,” Torres-Springer had told Louis Thursday evening <a href="http://www.ny1.com/nyc/all-boroughs/city-hall-newsmakers/2017/06/2/ny1-online--the-future-of-brownsville.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">on his NY1 Road to City Hall program</a> in regards to the projected development in Brownsville.</p> <p>When asked on Friday whether or not the breakdown of affordability will be based on the needs of the individual communities, she said it will be based on the designations of the best submitted proposal while keeping the residents in mind. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>“It’s 100% affordable, but the different levels of affordability for all of those units -- we will wait to see what comes back in terms of the submissions and then consider them based on that. But we always want to reach the deeper levels of affordability,” Torres-Springer said. “The most successful proposals are often the ones that really take into consideration the context in which each and every one of the developments of the projects is happening.”</p> <p>While the de Blasio administration has made a wide variety of deals to preserve or develop affordable housing across the city, the neighborhood plans that are also a key part of the overall affordable housing plan have moved fairly slowly. Only East New York has had <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6825-the-east-new-york-rezoning-one-year-later" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a rezoning move entirely through the lengthy process</a>. A few others have started that process, which includes city studies, community outreach, and review by local officials like the borough president, community board members, and City Council member.</p> <p>Torres-Springer made sure to emphasise the importance of residents getting involved in the planning process. “For too long, in different administrations, the approach has been, and I think the feeling of residents has been, that projects were happening to them,” Torres-Springer said on NY1. “And in this administration we really wanted to change that.”</p> <p>

***
by Jynn Schubert for Gotham Gazette
@JynnWasHere  @GothamGazette

Read more by this writer.

</p>
City Housing Commissioner to Return to Teaching, Remain in Government Role 2016-08-25T04:00:00+00:00 2016-08-25T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6495:city-housing-commissioner-to-return-to-teaching-remain-in-government-role Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/24323098735_6d67180f18_z_1.jpg" alt="Been de Blasio housing" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>HPD Commissioner Been &amp; Mayor de Blasio (photo:&nbsp;Demetrius Freeman, Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Commissioner Vicki Been, head of the city&rsquo;s Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD), is planning to return to teaching at NYU Law School, Gotham Gazette has learned.</p> <p>According to the school&rsquo;s course offerings, Been will be teaching a Spring semester property law course on Monday and Wednesday mornings, 8:50-10:40 a.m., beginning in January. According to an HPD spokesperson, Been is not leaving the administration. The spokesperson, Melissa Grace, said that Been had no comment on these plans and pointed out that many people in government also teach.</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/NYU_Law_School_Vicki_Been_course_screen_shot.png" alt="NYU Law School Vicki Been course screen shot" width="500" height="325" style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;" /></p> <p>Been has been on academic leave from NYU School of Law and, according to Grace of HPD, the property course is one she has taught many times over a 25 year span. Grace did not comment in response to the point that government employees who teach courses usually do so at night, not during the typical workday, nor in response to the notion that there don&rsquo;t appear to be any other city agency commissioners or deputy mayors who teach courses.</p> <p>A spokesperson for the mayor also declined to comment on the nature of Been&rsquo;s upcoming schedule, but did also confirm from City Hall that Been does not intend to leave the administration.</p> <p>Appointed by Mayor Bill de Blasio to lead HPD in February of 2014, Been has been one of the chief architects of the mayor&rsquo;s affordable housing plan, a top de Blasio priority. Along with Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen and City Planning Chief Carl Weisbrod, Been has been spearheading the effort to build or preserve 200,000 units of affordable housing over 10 years. That plan is off to a solid start, with, according to the administration, &ldquo;52,936 affordable homes financed&rdquo; through fiscal year 2016, which ended June 30.</p> <p>According to the press release announcing Been&rsquo;s hire in 2014, she was at that time &ldquo;the Boxer Family Professor of Law at NYU School of Law,&rdquo; where she has been on leave since (Been also earned her J.D. from NYU Law School). At the time of her hire, she was also &ldquo;the Director of NYU&rsquo;s Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy&rdquo; and &ldquo;Affiliated Professor of Public Policy of the NYU Wagner Graduate School of Public Service.&rdquo;</p> <p>As the mayor moves further toward completion of his third year in office, he has seen <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/city/6417-de-blasio-continues-deliberative-approach-to-appointments" target="_blank">several top officials depart his administration</a>, including de Blasio&rsquo;s counsel, Maya Wiley. NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton announced his retirement earlier this summer and will depart mid-September. Additional prior departures have included the mayor&rsquo;s press secretary, other agency commissioners, and one deputy mayor.</p> <p>While the mayor has had an up-and-down term and his administration and campaign fundraising practices are the sources of several law enforcement investigations, there is also normally upper-level staff turnover as an administration moves through a mayoral term. Neither de Blasio nor any of his staff or allies have been charged with a crime, and de Blasio has maintained that he and his associates have acted ethically and will be vindicated once the investigations are completed.</p> <p>Been is a self-described policy wonk and widely praised by colleagues and other government officials, including City Council members. She has given no public indication of plans to leave the administration.</p> <p>In a statement at the time of her hire Been said, &ldquo;We&rsquo;re going to take a much more aggressive approach to protecting and building affordable apartments that responds to the crisis we&rsquo;re in. From apartments approaching the end of their subsidy to homes lost to Superstorm Sandy, we need faster and more innovative strategies that seize every opportunity to keep apartments affordable and accelerate the pace of bringing new ones online.&rdquo;</p> <p>

***
by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/24323098735_6d67180f18_z_1.jpg" alt="Been de Blasio housing" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>HPD Commissioner Been &amp; Mayor de Blasio (photo:&nbsp;Demetrius Freeman, Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Commissioner Vicki Been, head of the city&rsquo;s Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD), is planning to return to teaching at NYU Law School, Gotham Gazette has learned.</p> <p>According to the school&rsquo;s course offerings, Been will be teaching a Spring semester property law course on Monday and Wednesday mornings, 8:50-10:40 a.m., beginning in January. According to an HPD spokesperson, Been is not leaving the administration. The spokesperson, Melissa Grace, said that Been had no comment on these plans and pointed out that many people in government also teach.</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/NYU_Law_School_Vicki_Been_course_screen_shot.png" alt="NYU Law School Vicki Been course screen shot" width="500" height="325" style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;" /></p> <p>Been has been on academic leave from NYU School of Law and, according to Grace of HPD, the property course is one she has taught many times over a 25 year span. Grace did not comment in response to the point that government employees who teach courses usually do so at night, not during the typical workday, nor in response to the notion that there don&rsquo;t appear to be any other city agency commissioners or deputy mayors who teach courses.</p> <p>A spokesperson for the mayor also declined to comment on the nature of Been&rsquo;s upcoming schedule, but did also confirm from City Hall that Been does not intend to leave the administration.</p> <p>Appointed by Mayor Bill de Blasio to lead HPD in February of 2014, Been has been one of the chief architects of the mayor&rsquo;s affordable housing plan, a top de Blasio priority. Along with Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen and City Planning Chief Carl Weisbrod, Been has been spearheading the effort to build or preserve 200,000 units of affordable housing over 10 years. That plan is off to a solid start, with, according to the administration, &ldquo;52,936 affordable homes financed&rdquo; through fiscal year 2016, which ended June 30.</p> <p>According to the press release announcing Been&rsquo;s hire in 2014, she was at that time &ldquo;the Boxer Family Professor of Law at NYU School of Law,&rdquo; where she has been on leave since (Been also earned her J.D. from NYU Law School). At the time of her hire, she was also &ldquo;the Director of NYU&rsquo;s Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy&rdquo; and &ldquo;Affiliated Professor of Public Policy of the NYU Wagner Graduate School of Public Service.&rdquo;</p> <p>As the mayor moves further toward completion of his third year in office, he has seen <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/city/6417-de-blasio-continues-deliberative-approach-to-appointments" target="_blank">several top officials depart his administration</a>, including de Blasio&rsquo;s counsel, Maya Wiley. NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton announced his retirement earlier this summer and will depart mid-September. Additional prior departures have included the mayor&rsquo;s press secretary, other agency commissioners, and one deputy mayor.</p> <p>While the mayor has had an up-and-down term and his administration and campaign fundraising practices are the sources of several law enforcement investigations, there is also normally upper-level staff turnover as an administration moves through a mayoral term. Neither de Blasio nor any of his staff or allies have been charged with a crime, and de Blasio has maintained that he and his associates have acted ethically and will be vindicated once the investigations are completed.</p> <p>Been is a self-described policy wonk and widely praised by colleagues and other government officials, including City Council members. She has given no public indication of plans to leave the administration.</p> <p>In a statement at the time of her hire Been said, &ldquo;We&rsquo;re going to take a much more aggressive approach to protecting and building affordable apartments that responds to the crisis we&rsquo;re in. From apartments approaching the end of their subsidy to homes lost to Superstorm Sandy, we need faster and more innovative strategies that seize every opportunity to keep apartments affordable and accelerate the pace of bringing new ones online.&rdquo;</p> <p>

***
by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Wary of Gentrification, East Harlem Braces for Rapid Change 2016-03-31T05:00:00+00:00 2016-03-31T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6253:wary-of-gentrification-east-harlem-braces-for-rapid-change Super User <p dir="ltr"><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/east_harlem_mural.jpg" alt="east harlem mural" height="450" width="600" /></p> <p dir="ltr"><span style="font-size: 10pt;">Hank Prussing's mural, The Spirit of East Harlem (via @ManhattanCB11)</span></p> <hr /> <p>Pearl Barkley moved to East Harlem in the 1950s, when she was six years old. Her family lived in the Jefferson Houses on 115th Street, where she lives today and works as an organizer with Community Voices Heard, an economic justice advocacy non-profit.</p> <p dir="ltr">“Many people remember the fires, the abandoned boarded up buildings, and the people who left,” Barkley said in an interview. Essential services began disappearing from the neighborhood in the 1970s, she said, due in large part to city and federal policies that encouraged <a href="https://www.nixonlibrary.gov/virtuallibrary/releases/jul10/53.pdf">“benign neglect”</a> of poor neighborhoods of color.</p> <p dir="ltr">“They left the neighborhood to fend for itself,” Barkley said. “And the community was strong, but it suffered.”</p> <p dir="ltr">“Now, East Harlem is a hot property,” Barkley said. “We have to bring the focus back to the people who were originally here and went through all of this. We have to make sure that the people who were here can stay here.” While she doesn’t necessarily take issue with newcomers to the neighborhood, Barkley emphasizes that preserving homes for long-term residents of the neighborhood should take precedent over new developments.</p> <p dir="ltr">Newcomers have been moving into East Harlem for some time, drawn by its upper-Manhattan perch, lower rents, and access to public transit. But now, El Barrio - like a variety of other low-income areas populated predominantly by people of color - is becoming increasingly desirable to developers hoping to accommodate waves of middle-class renters.</p> <p dir="ltr">In February, The New York Times named East Harlem one of <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/28/realestate/new-yorks-next-hot-neighborhoods.html">New York’s Next Hot Neighborhoods</a>, noting that 21 development sites had recently “traded hands,” and pointing to its lower-than-average real estate prices, good transit options, and historic architecture.</p> <p dir="ltr">“If you want to stay in Manhattan,” the author wrote, “East Harlem may be your best bet.”</p> <p dir="ltr">To long-term residents who want to stay in their neighborhoods, this kind of attention from the real estate market is synonymous with anxieties about inequity, marginalization, and displacement. And rightly so, as rents have skyrocketed across the city, incomes have stagnated, and the affordable housing crisis tops the list of policy issues facing New York City.</p> <p dir="ltr">Now, as Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration prepares to rezone <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/6191-a-closer-look-at-de-blasios-neighborhood-rezoning-plans">15 neighborhoods</a>, including East Harlem, as part of a plan to build and preserve 200,000 units of affordable housing in New York City, residents are bracing for further shifts that some believe will drastically change the landscape of their neighborhood, push long-term residents out of their homes as new residents move in, and threaten local businesses. In a word, gentrification: the force that has been sweeping through New York City neighborhoods and striking fear in places set for new investment.</p> <p dir="ltr">Even as policies like Mandatory Inclusionary Housing, which requires set percentages of rent-controlled units in new developments, move toward enactment in an administration-run rezoning process, some East Harlem stakeholders are making proactive attempts at steering their community’s future. Led by the Speaker of the City Council, Melissa Mark-Viverito, whose home district includes East Harlem, a broad coalition of residents and groups created a comprehensive plan to shape the rezoning of the neighborhood.</p> <p dir="ltr">Members of that coalition and other groups have organized to protect against displacement while also championing changes that will improve their community.</p> <p dir="ltr">It remains to be seen how successful residents will be in achieving control over the way their neighborhood changes -- and who will be left to enjoy the fruits of that labor. But one thing is certain: East Harlem - a low-income community populated primarily by people of color, imbued with deep-rooted history and culture, situated in an area ripe for speculation by developers, struggling amid an affordable housing crisis -- is at a tipping point.</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Community character</strong><br />The neighborhood of just over 123,000 residents hugs the northeast corner of Central Park along Fifth Avenue, runs South until 96th Street, and spreads east toward the Harlem and East Rivers, where large portions of the East Harlem Esplanade are crumbling into the water.</p> <p dir="ltr">East Harlem is one of the largest predominantly Latino neighborhoods in New York City, the result of waves of Puerto Rican and Latin American immigration to the area after World War I, followed by more South and Central American arrivals throughout the 20th century. In spite of demographic changes over the last decade, East Harlem is still mostly populated by people of color and an immigrant neighborhood, with Hispanic and black residents comprising 81 percent of the population, and about a quarter of residents foreign-born, according to <a href="https://www1.nyc.gov/html/doh/downloads/pdf/data/2015chp-mn11.pdf">U.S. Census Bureau estimates for 2013</a>.</p> <p dir="ltr">The dominant culture is reflected everywhere: Spanish is spoken on every corner, storefronts advertise Latin American food, music, and good, and large-scale, colorful murals pervade the neighborhood with images of Latin American activists and artists.</p> <p dir="ltr">It is no coincidence that this is where Mark-Viverito, born and raised in Puerto Rico, settled after coming to the United States in 1987 to attend Columbia University. After college, Mark-Viverito participated in a mentorship program for young Latinos, coordinated New York-based efforts to drive the U.S. Navy from the Puerto Rican island of Vieques, co-founded women’s economic justice group Mujeres del Barrio, and served on Community Board 11. Mark-Viverito was elected to the City Council in 2005, and re-elected twice before becoming the first Puerto Rican and Latina to win the Speaker’s office when her colleagues selected her in 2014.</p> <p dir="ltr">The Speaker is now at the helm of a City Council reckoning with an affordable housing crisis and scars and fears of gentrification across several neighborhoods; charged with the task of building and preserving affordable housing and improving neighborhoods while protecting communities’ cultures and livelihoods at a pivotal time. It is a struggle filled with economic and social tensions exemplified in East Harlem.</p> <p dir="ltr"><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/14337705347_c9f9ac4afe_z.jpg" alt="MMV shaking hands distrit" style="margin: 8px; float: left;" height="250" width="375" />“It’s an ongoing battle,” the speaker (pictured, left) told <a href="http://larespuestamedia.com/melissa-mark-viverito-interview/">La Respuesta</a> in a 2014 interview. “Longtime residents in our communities that are finding themselves with limited options to stay, and feel they have no other place to go and are being displaced, is obviously alarming. We have a responsibility to do as much as we can to try to figure out how to stem that tide, but we’re also faced with limitations.”</p> <p dir="ltr">East Harlem’s history as a stronghold of people of color and immigrants follows the arc of many other urban communities throughout the U.S. The neighborhood first felt the impact of urban renewal initiatives in 1938, when NYCHA began razing low-rise tenements and relocating residents to make way for <a href="http://www.6sqft.com/towers-in-the-park-le-corbusiers-influence-in-nyc/">“towers-in-the-park”</a> housing developments also seen in larger examples at Stuyvesant Town and Co-op City. The city cleared more land containing factories, stores, and community centers in the 1960s, but failed to attract investors to the area. The result was an abundance of overgrown lots and a fragmented urban landscape that set the scene for the increase in poverty, violence, and arson that plagued the neighborhood during the ‘60s and ‘70s.</p> <p dir="ltr">These policies, Pearl Barkley said, along with growing wealth disparity and disenfranchisement of low-income people of color, pushed East Harlem - its residents, infrastructure, and local economy - into the political periphery, and dramatically exacerbated socioeconomic problems that plagued the neighborhood throughout the second half of the 20th century.</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Housing East Harlemites</strong><br />Today, a lack of affordable market-rate housing all but defines the residential landscape of East Harlem, where the majority of residents rely on public housing, rental assistance, or rent stabilization to afford their homes. A <a href="http://www.arch.columbia.edu/files/gsapp/imceshared/East_Harlem_Studio_2011.pdf">2011 report</a> from Columbia University calls East Harlem one of the “last holdouts of undeveloped Manhattan,” citing its waterfront and public transit options as contributors to the neighborhood’s growing vulnerability to displacement. These factors, combined with the voracity of the real estate market and a concentration of low-income residents, have cranked up pressure on the housing stock in El Barrio, driving rents - and fears of displacement - ever higher.</p> <p dir="ltr">Enter <a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/housing/assets/downloads/pdf/housing_plan.pdf">Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plan</a> to encourage more residential development all over the city, with affordable housing mandates, and to rezone East Harlem to add density and neighborhood improvements. De Blasio and supporters of his approach, including Council Speaker Mark-Viverito, believe that without this type of government intervention, the forces of the market will run wild over East Harlem as they have in Central Harlem, several Brooklyn neighborhoods, and elsewhere over the past two decades. With any increase in development, though, comes heightened fear as well as very real change.</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Not enough housing, not enough income</strong><br />With <a href="http://www.census.gov/housing/nychvs/">only 8 percent</a> of privately-owned units owner-occupied, East Harlem is a community of renters. And, over half of rental households are considered <a href="http://furmancenter.org/NYCRentalLandscape">rent-burdened</a>, paying more than 30 percent of total household income on gross rent, or severely rent-burdened, paying more than 50 percent of income on rent, and are particularly susceptible to the throes of the real estate market.</p> <p dir="ltr">The city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) and the Census Bureau <a href="http://www.census.gov/housing/nychvs/">reported in 2014</a> that 55 percent of rental units in East Harlem were either rent-stabilized or government-assisted, and another 28 percent are NYCHA units, leaving less than a quarter of the renter-occupied housing stock unregulated.</p> <p dir="ltr">While there is still a considerable concentration of regulated and subsidized units in East Harlem, this cache is shrinking as units age out of rent regulation and landlords evict or coerce tenants into vacating stabilized apartments in order to raise rents.</p> <p dir="ltr">The loss is considerable, with 2,500 rent-stabilized or subsidized units disappearing from East Harlem between 2007 and 2014, and a projected 4,200 more gone by 2030, according to <a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/dcp/pdf/neigh_info/statement_needs/mn11_statement.pdf">Community Board 11’s 2016 Statement of Needs</a>.</p> <p dir="ltr">The mayor hopes to curb the loss of such regulated rental units through his <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/site/housing/index.page">Housing New York Plan</a>, which seeks to preserve 120,000 existing affordable units throughout the five boroughs. To this end, the administration has doubled HPD’s funding and begun initiatives around landlord harassment, deregulation, and targeted investment in vulnerable communities, among others. The administration is more aggressively targeting opportunities to work with landlords to offer benefits in exchange for extending rent regulations.</p> <p dir="ltr">De Blasio said at a press conference in January that the administration is ahead of schedule, having preserved nearly 14,000 units in projects like Stuyvesant Town, Riverton Houses, and smaller buildings, and that the overall program was on track to build or preserve 200,000 units by 2024.</p> <p dir="ltr">While <a href="https://www.dnainfo.com/new-york/20160112/bed-stuy/de-blasio-says-his-200k-units-of-affordable-housing-are-ahead-of-schedule">critics of the plan assert</a> that not enough affordable units are targeted at very low-income New Yorkers, de Blasio said that 75 percent of the 40,000-plus units built or preserved over the first two years of the timeline have been for extremely low income, very low income, and low income residents.</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Concentrated public housing</strong><br />The New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) plays a vital role in maintaining a large portion of East Harlem’s affordable housing stock, with 30% of residents living in NYCHA-owned properties. This is the second-highest concentration of public housing in the city - a result of urban renewal initiatives begun in 1941, when one of NYCHA’s earliest housing developments, the East River Houses, went up on 102nd Street. Another wave of renewal, led by Robert Moses and funded by the 1949 Federal Housing Act, razed existing structures and constructed the Thomas Jefferson Houses in 1959. Today, there are 24 public housing developments in the neighborhood. &nbsp;</p> <p dir="ltr">Over the last two decades, federal and state budget cuts have weakened NYCHA, leaving the agency with a $74 million deficit in 2015, and facing capital needs of about $17 billion over the next five years, according to the city. This shortfall has resulted in crumbling buildings, breakdowns in communication between tenants and the agency, increased violence in housing developments, and myriad other problems.</p> <p dir="ltr">Mayor de Blasio <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5838-another-way-of-looking-at-infill-housing-development">launched last summer</a> the <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/site/nycha/about/nextgen-nycha.page">NextGeneration NYCHA</a> initiative as part of a “ten-year plan aimed at preserving public housing for the future generations,” according to the city’s website. The administration describes NextGen as a long-term strategy to change the way NYCHA properties are funded, operated, and designed, and to revamp the way the agency engages with residents - all in an attempt to prevent the housing authority from being turned over to the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development - an acquisition that could result in the sale of housing sites.</p> <p dir="ltr">The most controversial aspect of NextGen NYCHA is a plan in which underutilized land within NYCHA developments will either be leased for housing development, with buildings half market-rate and half affordable. Opponents say that the plan <a href="http://citylimits.org/2015/11/18/does-nychas-development-plan-vindicate-john-rhea/">too-closely resembles</a> former Mayor Bloomberg’s attempt at infill on NYCHA land, which de Blasio vehemently opposed, and a step on the path to privatizing what is now public housing.</p> <p dir="ltr">NYCHA CEO and Chair Shola Olatoye <a href="http://citylimits.org/2015/05/20/de-blasio-administration-seeks-to-develop-nycha-land/">told City Limits in May 2015</a> that building affordable housing on NYCHA land is a way to reconnect public developments to surrounding neighborhoods.</p> <p dir="ltr">"Residents want improved playgrounds, basketball courts, things we do not receive funding for. One way I can deliver on that is to maximize revenue from development,” she said. "If people want their development to improve, they have to be flexible about what kinds of changes they're willing to accept."</p> <p dir="ltr">De Blasio said at the program’s launch that it would result in the construction of 10,000 new affordable units on NYCHA land. If the plan succeeds, it will eliminate NYCHA’s crippling operating deficit. The city’s argument is that this strategy will add affordable housing, new revenue, and community improvements.</p> <p dir="ltr">The first NextGen project in East Harlem led to the opening last fall of the East Harlem Center for Living and Learning, which occupies a parking lot once owned by NYCHA. The project includes an eleven-story residential building containing 100% subsidized units. The <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/26/arts/design/how-to-build-affordable-housing-in-new-york-city.html">New York Times reported</a> in January that the development serves a “mix of working and disabled tenants, many from the neighborhood.” The building connects to the new Dream Charter School, which serves almost 500 students.</p> <p dir="ltr">While the Times reported “overwhelmingly positive reactions” to the Center, it remains to be seen whether similar “infill” initiatives will be welcomed by other NYCHA residents wary of privatization and gentrification - or if the program will even produce enough revenue to bolster the floundering agency. Olatoye <a href="http://www.capitalnewyork.com/article/city-hall/2016/03/8595005/nycha-chair-says-agency-budget-millions-red?top-featured-image">told the City Council on Monday</a> that while its financial situation is improving, NYCHA is still tens of millions of dollars in the red, but is hoping that programs like NextGen will ease the burden.</p> <p dir="ltr">“With NextGen, we can reduce NYCHA’s deficit by a total of more than $1 billion over the next five years,” Olatoye told the Council.</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Space to use</strong><br />The East Harlem housing shortage is exacerbated by vacancy of both city- and privately-owned properties, according to Comptroller Scott Stringer and area organizations.</p> <p dir="ltr">Stringer and HPD Commissioner Vicki Been <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/18/nyregion/audit-proposes-using-vacant-lots-owned-by-new-york-city-for-affordable-housing.html">traded barbs in February</a> over a comptroller <a href="http://comptroller.nyc.gov/wp-content/uploads/documents/FM14_112A.pdf">report </a>indicating that, as of September of 2015, HPD owned 1,131 uninhabited lots throughout Manhattan, and chiding the city agency for what Stringer called a lax pace of transference for properties that should be developed into affordable housing. Stringer held a press conference for the report’s release outside of an HPD-owned vacant property on East 123 Street, one of over 50 vacant properties the comptroller’s office found in East Harlem.</p> <p dir="ltr">“This vacant lot has been owned by the city since the seventies, collecting garbage, attracting rats, and hurting the proud community of El Barrio,” Stringer said at the press conference. “We’re in an affordability crisis the likes of which we’ve never seen – yet our most valuable resource, vacant space, is readily available all across this city.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Stringer was joined at the conference by members of Picture the Homeless, an advocacy organization based on East 126 Street that has long campaigned for turning vacant lots into affordable housing sites.</p> <p dir="ltr">The organization <a href="http://picturethehomeless.org/project/banking-on-vacancy-homelessness-real-estate-speculation/">released its own report in 2012</a>, for which teams of homeless and formerly homeless PTH members and other volunteers scoured Manhattan neighborhoods in search of vacant buildings and lots. They identified 143 empty lots and buildings in East Harlem, and highlighted a block of East 116th Street between Lexington and Park as an example of the problem: nearly half the buildings were empty or boarded up. About 95 percent of all vacant properties surveyed were privately owned.</p> <p dir="ltr">Commissioner Been’s rebuttal, which was included in Stringer’s report, emphatically denied the comptroller’s findings.</p> <p dir="ltr">"Your assertion that HPD allows vacant City-owned properties to languish in the face of the affordable housing crisis is simply wrong,” Been wrote.</p> <p dir="ltr">Been went on to clarify that residential development is only feasible on about 670 of the 1,100 properties; the rest are unsuitable due to location in dangerous areas like flood zones, or lack adequate access to public transportation or sewage infrastructure. Of those 670 viable sites, Been wrote, “roughly 400 have been earmarked for developer designation within the next two years.”</p> <p dir="ltr">The remaining sites will either be developed for residential uses within the duration of de Blasio’s 10-year housing plan or turned over to the Department of Parks and Recreation for use as community gardens.</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>An acute homelessness problem</strong><br />For those who have managed to hold on to housing, the rent - as in the rest of New York City - is going up. East Harlem’s median gross rent increased by 53 percent between 2000 and 2013, according to the American Community Survey (ACS) 5-Year Estimates for 2013.</p> <p dir="ltr">The data combine to paint a bleak picture for low-income residents of El Barrio. As of 2013, over a quarter of East Harlem households <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/site/hpd/about/nyc-housing-vacancy-report.page">were considered in “severe need”</a> by HPD, based on the number of people who are rent burdened, entering homeless shelters, or living in overcrowded apartments.</p> <p dir="ltr">This grim combination appears to hit East Harlem residents particularly hard, resulting in the worst case scenario for a number of households. According to <a href="http://www.anhd.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/2015-ANHD-Affordable-Housing-at-risk-for-mkt-rate.pdf">data</a> from the Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development (ANHD), 306 families entering shelters in 2014 listed East Harlem as their last address - the highest rate of entry to family shelters from any neighborhood in Manhattan.</p> <p dir="ltr">Jazmin Berges, 32, has been living in Marcus Garvey Park for the past three years. Berges was born and raised in the Bronx, but moved to East Harlem with a partner. When that relationship ended, she was unable to find housing that she could afford.</p> <p dir="ltr">“Rent is going sky-high in the neighborhood,” Berges told Gotham Gazette. “The community is being restructured, small businesses are closing, and people who lose their jobs can’t afford their rents.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Berges, who works with Picture the Homeless, believes that rent regulation doesn’t go far enough, and emphasized that a <a href="http://citylimits.org/2016/02/05/advocacy-group-pitches-plan-for-nyc-homeless-housing/">community land trust</a> - a not-for-profit entity that acquires and holds property to preserve accessible housing - is the only way to keep permanent affordable housing in East Harlem. “Even low-income housing isn’t low-income housing,” Berges said.</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>New land use rules come to East Harlem</strong><br />It is unsurprising that East Harlem was included on the list of 15 neighborhoods to be rezoned under Mayor de Blasio’s affordable housing plan. The plan targets lower-density and low-income areas where demand is or is soon expected to be strong enough to support new development. Over several years, beginning this year with East New York, in Brooklyn, the administration plans to rezone the 15 neighborhoods to allow for more density and neighborhood improvement through more green space, school seats, and transportation infrastructure. The big centerpiece, of course, is housing.</p> <p dir="ltr">Essentially, the city’s plans mandate that any area rezoned to allow greater housing density - neighborhood or individual plot of land - will require significant numbers of affordable units as part of market-rate development.</p> <p dir="ltr">The New York City Council overwhelmingly voted in favor of the two major components of the plan that the neighborhood rezonings rely on - Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH) and Zoning for Quality and Affordability (ZQA) - on March 22. The passage was a considerable victory for the administration after months of pushback and protest from community boards and advocacy groups, and negotiations with the City Council to modify the plan to include more affordability and a few other tweaks.</p> <p dir="ltr">According to the plan, which was changed to include more units affordable to lower-income households, MIH requires that developers who build residential units in rezoned areas set aside 20-30% of new units as permanently affordable for households making 40-80% of the Area Median Income, or AMI. Under MIH, there are a <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/assets/housing/downloads/pdf/mih-fact-sheet.pdf">variety of options</a> that will be chosen by City Council members, developers, and the mayoral administration. ZQA, which stirred less broad controversy than MIH, focused on changing parking requirements and height limits to encourage more senior affordable housing, improve retail space design, and streetscape planning.</p> <p dir="ltr">Mayor de Blasio said in a statement after the vote, “New York City is now one step closer to being a city where everyone can work and live,” and thanked Speaker Mark-Viverito for her efforts in passing the “landmark legislation.”</p> <p dir="ltr">City Planning Commissioner Carl Weisbrod said at a hearing on MIH in February that the program “will bring new affordable housing to neighborhoods where it otherwise wouldn’t be built, and act as a cushion against potential gentrification of communities caused by broad demographic trends we are seeing in so many neighborhoods, simultaneously freeing up city funds to provide even more deeply affordable housing at lower rents where economic need is great.” &nbsp;</p> <p dir="ltr">Some opponents of MIH see a flaw in that what the plan defines as “affordable” does not include the lowest-income residents in what are now largely low-income neighborhoods.</p> <p dir="ltr">Affordability levels are <a href="http://citylimits.org/2016/02/17/the-secret-history-of-ami/">determined by the area median income</a> of the five boroughs, plus Putnam, Westchester, and Rockland Counties, which comes out to about $77,700 for a three-person household. The AMI for East Harlem is $33,595, or less than half (43%) of the figure that serves as a baseline for affordability calculations.</p> <p dir="ltr">MIH mandates that a percentage of affordable units built in rezoned neighborhoods must be affordable to households of certain earnings - for example, one option sets aside 20% of units for those earning an average of 40% of AMI, or about $31,00 for a family of three. This is the lowest income band option in MIH, and one that the Council insisted on adding to the de Blasio administration’s initial proposal. Households in East Harlem’s poorest zip code, 10035, earn an AMI of just $24,000, which critics say puts new affordable units out of reach.</p> <p dir="ltr">The mayor, the speaker, and HPD Commissioner Vicki Been have stated often that a combination of HPD subsidies and other housing programs will address the gap of affordability for the lowest-income New Yorkers. This is where the neighborhood rezonings also factor in. Mark-Viverito has said repeatedly that she plans to get to 50-50 market rate-affordable for new development in her district.</p> <p dir="ltr">Community Board 11, which represents East Harlem <a href="http://www.citylandnyc.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/14/2015/12/MIH-ZQA-CB-Tracker-Final-ALL-VOTES-IN.pdf">joined</a> 43 other community boards across the city in voting against de Blasio’s proposal on November 23 of last year.</p> <p dir="ltr">"But in the end," the mayor said at a <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/6007-mayor-and-speaker-rezoning-plans-will-change-before-council-vote">press conference in November,</a> "the community boards aren't the final decision makers.”</p> <p dir="ltr"><b>READ ON - <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/6258-wary-of-gentrification-east-harlem-braces-for-change-page-two" target="_blank">PAGE 2 of 2</a> - <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/6258-wary-of-gentrification-east-harlem-braces-for-change-page-two" target="_blank">How East Harlemites are attempting to shape the future of their neighborhood and more</a></b></p> <p dir="ltr"><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/east_harlem_mural.jpg" alt="east harlem mural" height="450" width="600" /></p> <p dir="ltr"><span style="font-size: 10pt;">Hank Prussing's mural, The Spirit of East Harlem (via @ManhattanCB11)</span></p> <hr /> <p>Pearl Barkley moved to East Harlem in the 1950s, when she was six years old. Her family lived in the Jefferson Houses on 115th Street, where she lives today and works as an organizer with Community Voices Heard, an economic justice advocacy non-profit.</p> <p dir="ltr">“Many people remember the fires, the abandoned boarded up buildings, and the people who left,” Barkley said in an interview. Essential services began disappearing from the neighborhood in the 1970s, she said, due in large part to city and federal policies that encouraged <a href="https://www.nixonlibrary.gov/virtuallibrary/releases/jul10/53.pdf">“benign neglect”</a> of poor neighborhoods of color.</p> <p dir="ltr">“They left the neighborhood to fend for itself,” Barkley said. “And the community was strong, but it suffered.”</p> <p dir="ltr">“Now, East Harlem is a hot property,” Barkley said. “We have to bring the focus back to the people who were originally here and went through all of this. We have to make sure that the people who were here can stay here.” While she doesn’t necessarily take issue with newcomers to the neighborhood, Barkley emphasizes that preserving homes for long-term residents of the neighborhood should take precedent over new developments.</p> <p dir="ltr">Newcomers have been moving into East Harlem for some time, drawn by its upper-Manhattan perch, lower rents, and access to public transit. But now, El Barrio - like a variety of other low-income areas populated predominantly by people of color - is becoming increasingly desirable to developers hoping to accommodate waves of middle-class renters.</p> <p dir="ltr">In February, The New York Times named East Harlem one of <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/28/realestate/new-yorks-next-hot-neighborhoods.html">New York’s Next Hot Neighborhoods</a>, noting that 21 development sites had recently “traded hands,” and pointing to its lower-than-average real estate prices, good transit options, and historic architecture.</p> <p dir="ltr">“If you want to stay in Manhattan,” the author wrote, “East Harlem may be your best bet.”</p> <p dir="ltr">To long-term residents who want to stay in their neighborhoods, this kind of attention from the real estate market is synonymous with anxieties about inequity, marginalization, and displacement. And rightly so, as rents have skyrocketed across the city, incomes have stagnated, and the affordable housing crisis tops the list of policy issues facing New York City.</p> <p dir="ltr">Now, as Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration prepares to rezone <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/6191-a-closer-look-at-de-blasios-neighborhood-rezoning-plans">15 neighborhoods</a>, including East Harlem, as part of a plan to build and preserve 200,000 units of affordable housing in New York City, residents are bracing for further shifts that some believe will drastically change the landscape of their neighborhood, push long-term residents out of their homes as new residents move in, and threaten local businesses. In a word, gentrification: the force that has been sweeping through New York City neighborhoods and striking fear in places set for new investment.</p> <p dir="ltr">Even as policies like Mandatory Inclusionary Housing, which requires set percentages of rent-controlled units in new developments, move toward enactment in an administration-run rezoning process, some East Harlem stakeholders are making proactive attempts at steering their community’s future. Led by the Speaker of the City Council, Melissa Mark-Viverito, whose home district includes East Harlem, a broad coalition of residents and groups created a comprehensive plan to shape the rezoning of the neighborhood.</p> <p dir="ltr">Members of that coalition and other groups have organized to protect against displacement while also championing changes that will improve their community.</p> <p dir="ltr">It remains to be seen how successful residents will be in achieving control over the way their neighborhood changes -- and who will be left to enjoy the fruits of that labor. But one thing is certain: East Harlem - a low-income community populated primarily by people of color, imbued with deep-rooted history and culture, situated in an area ripe for speculation by developers, struggling amid an affordable housing crisis -- is at a tipping point.</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Community character</strong><br />The neighborhood of just over 123,000 residents hugs the northeast corner of Central Park along Fifth Avenue, runs South until 96th Street, and spreads east toward the Harlem and East Rivers, where large portions of the East Harlem Esplanade are crumbling into the water.</p> <p dir="ltr">East Harlem is one of the largest predominantly Latino neighborhoods in New York City, the result of waves of Puerto Rican and Latin American immigration to the area after World War I, followed by more South and Central American arrivals throughout the 20th century. In spite of demographic changes over the last decade, East Harlem is still mostly populated by people of color and an immigrant neighborhood, with Hispanic and black residents comprising 81 percent of the population, and about a quarter of residents foreign-born, according to <a href="https://www1.nyc.gov/html/doh/downloads/pdf/data/2015chp-mn11.pdf">U.S. Census Bureau estimates for 2013</a>.</p> <p dir="ltr">The dominant culture is reflected everywhere: Spanish is spoken on every corner, storefronts advertise Latin American food, music, and good, and large-scale, colorful murals pervade the neighborhood with images of Latin American activists and artists.</p> <p dir="ltr">It is no coincidence that this is where Mark-Viverito, born and raised in Puerto Rico, settled after coming to the United States in 1987 to attend Columbia University. After college, Mark-Viverito participated in a mentorship program for young Latinos, coordinated New York-based efforts to drive the U.S. Navy from the Puerto Rican island of Vieques, co-founded women’s economic justice group Mujeres del Barrio, and served on Community Board 11. Mark-Viverito was elected to the City Council in 2005, and re-elected twice before becoming the first Puerto Rican and Latina to win the Speaker’s office when her colleagues selected her in 2014.</p> <p dir="ltr">The Speaker is now at the helm of a City Council reckoning with an affordable housing crisis and scars and fears of gentrification across several neighborhoods; charged with the task of building and preserving affordable housing and improving neighborhoods while protecting communities’ cultures and livelihoods at a pivotal time. It is a struggle filled with economic and social tensions exemplified in East Harlem.</p> <p dir="ltr"><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/14337705347_c9f9ac4afe_z.jpg" alt="MMV shaking hands distrit" style="margin: 8px; float: left;" height="250" width="375" />“It’s an ongoing battle,” the speaker (pictured, left) told <a href="http://larespuestamedia.com/melissa-mark-viverito-interview/">La Respuesta</a> in a 2014 interview. “Longtime residents in our communities that are finding themselves with limited options to stay, and feel they have no other place to go and are being displaced, is obviously alarming. We have a responsibility to do as much as we can to try to figure out how to stem that tide, but we’re also faced with limitations.”</p> <p dir="ltr">East Harlem’s history as a stronghold of people of color and immigrants follows the arc of many other urban communities throughout the U.S. The neighborhood first felt the impact of urban renewal initiatives in 1938, when NYCHA began razing low-rise tenements and relocating residents to make way for <a href="http://www.6sqft.com/towers-in-the-park-le-corbusiers-influence-in-nyc/">“towers-in-the-park”</a> housing developments also seen in larger examples at Stuyvesant Town and Co-op City. The city cleared more land containing factories, stores, and community centers in the 1960s, but failed to attract investors to the area. The result was an abundance of overgrown lots and a fragmented urban landscape that set the scene for the increase in poverty, violence, and arson that plagued the neighborhood during the ‘60s and ‘70s.</p> <p dir="ltr">These policies, Pearl Barkley said, along with growing wealth disparity and disenfranchisement of low-income people of color, pushed East Harlem - its residents, infrastructure, and local economy - into the political periphery, and dramatically exacerbated socioeconomic problems that plagued the neighborhood throughout the second half of the 20th century.</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Housing East Harlemites</strong><br />Today, a lack of affordable market-rate housing all but defines the residential landscape of East Harlem, where the majority of residents rely on public housing, rental assistance, or rent stabilization to afford their homes. A <a href="http://www.arch.columbia.edu/files/gsapp/imceshared/East_Harlem_Studio_2011.pdf">2011 report</a> from Columbia University calls East Harlem one of the “last holdouts of undeveloped Manhattan,” citing its waterfront and public transit options as contributors to the neighborhood’s growing vulnerability to displacement. These factors, combined with the voracity of the real estate market and a concentration of low-income residents, have cranked up pressure on the housing stock in El Barrio, driving rents - and fears of displacement - ever higher.</p> <p dir="ltr">Enter <a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/housing/assets/downloads/pdf/housing_plan.pdf">Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plan</a> to encourage more residential development all over the city, with affordable housing mandates, and to rezone East Harlem to add density and neighborhood improvements. De Blasio and supporters of his approach, including Council Speaker Mark-Viverito, believe that without this type of government intervention, the forces of the market will run wild over East Harlem as they have in Central Harlem, several Brooklyn neighborhoods, and elsewhere over the past two decades. With any increase in development, though, comes heightened fear as well as very real change.</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Not enough housing, not enough income</strong><br />With <a href="http://www.census.gov/housing/nychvs/">only 8 percent</a> of privately-owned units owner-occupied, East Harlem is a community of renters. And, over half of rental households are considered <a href="http://furmancenter.org/NYCRentalLandscape">rent-burdened</a>, paying more than 30 percent of total household income on gross rent, or severely rent-burdened, paying more than 50 percent of income on rent, and are particularly susceptible to the throes of the real estate market.</p> <p dir="ltr">The city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) and the Census Bureau <a href="http://www.census.gov/housing/nychvs/">reported in 2014</a> that 55 percent of rental units in East Harlem were either rent-stabilized or government-assisted, and another 28 percent are NYCHA units, leaving less than a quarter of the renter-occupied housing stock unregulated.</p> <p dir="ltr">While there is still a considerable concentration of regulated and subsidized units in East Harlem, this cache is shrinking as units age out of rent regulation and landlords evict or coerce tenants into vacating stabilized apartments in order to raise rents.</p> <p dir="ltr">The loss is considerable, with 2,500 rent-stabilized or subsidized units disappearing from East Harlem between 2007 and 2014, and a projected 4,200 more gone by 2030, according to <a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/dcp/pdf/neigh_info/statement_needs/mn11_statement.pdf">Community Board 11’s 2016 Statement of Needs</a>.</p> <p dir="ltr">The mayor hopes to curb the loss of such regulated rental units through his <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/site/housing/index.page">Housing New York Plan</a>, which seeks to preserve 120,000 existing affordable units throughout the five boroughs. To this end, the administration has doubled HPD’s funding and begun initiatives around landlord harassment, deregulation, and targeted investment in vulnerable communities, among others. The administration is more aggressively targeting opportunities to work with landlords to offer benefits in exchange for extending rent regulations.</p> <p dir="ltr">De Blasio said at a press conference in January that the administration is ahead of schedule, having preserved nearly 14,000 units in projects like Stuyvesant Town, Riverton Houses, and smaller buildings, and that the overall program was on track to build or preserve 200,000 units by 2024.</p> <p dir="ltr">While <a href="https://www.dnainfo.com/new-york/20160112/bed-stuy/de-blasio-says-his-200k-units-of-affordable-housing-are-ahead-of-schedule">critics of the plan assert</a> that not enough affordable units are targeted at very low-income New Yorkers, de Blasio said that 75 percent of the 40,000-plus units built or preserved over the first two years of the timeline have been for extremely low income, very low income, and low income residents.</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Concentrated public housing</strong><br />The New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) plays a vital role in maintaining a large portion of East Harlem’s affordable housing stock, with 30% of residents living in NYCHA-owned properties. This is the second-highest concentration of public housing in the city - a result of urban renewal initiatives begun in 1941, when one of NYCHA’s earliest housing developments, the East River Houses, went up on 102nd Street. Another wave of renewal, led by Robert Moses and funded by the 1949 Federal Housing Act, razed existing structures and constructed the Thomas Jefferson Houses in 1959. Today, there are 24 public housing developments in the neighborhood. &nbsp;</p> <p dir="ltr">Over the last two decades, federal and state budget cuts have weakened NYCHA, leaving the agency with a $74 million deficit in 2015, and facing capital needs of about $17 billion over the next five years, according to the city. This shortfall has resulted in crumbling buildings, breakdowns in communication between tenants and the agency, increased violence in housing developments, and myriad other problems.</p> <p dir="ltr">Mayor de Blasio <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5838-another-way-of-looking-at-infill-housing-development">launched last summer</a> the <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/site/nycha/about/nextgen-nycha.page">NextGeneration NYCHA</a> initiative as part of a “ten-year plan aimed at preserving public housing for the future generations,” according to the city’s website. The administration describes NextGen as a long-term strategy to change the way NYCHA properties are funded, operated, and designed, and to revamp the way the agency engages with residents - all in an attempt to prevent the housing authority from being turned over to the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development - an acquisition that could result in the sale of housing sites.</p> <p dir="ltr">The most controversial aspect of NextGen NYCHA is a plan in which underutilized land within NYCHA developments will either be leased for housing development, with buildings half market-rate and half affordable. Opponents say that the plan <a href="http://citylimits.org/2015/11/18/does-nychas-development-plan-vindicate-john-rhea/">too-closely resembles</a> former Mayor Bloomberg’s attempt at infill on NYCHA land, which de Blasio vehemently opposed, and a step on the path to privatizing what is now public housing.</p> <p dir="ltr">NYCHA CEO and Chair Shola Olatoye <a href="http://citylimits.org/2015/05/20/de-blasio-administration-seeks-to-develop-nycha-land/">told City Limits in May 2015</a> that building affordable housing on NYCHA land is a way to reconnect public developments to surrounding neighborhoods.</p> <p dir="ltr">"Residents want improved playgrounds, basketball courts, things we do not receive funding for. One way I can deliver on that is to maximize revenue from development,” she said. "If people want their development to improve, they have to be flexible about what kinds of changes they're willing to accept."</p> <p dir="ltr">De Blasio said at the program’s launch that it would result in the construction of 10,000 new affordable units on NYCHA land. If the plan succeeds, it will eliminate NYCHA’s crippling operating deficit. The city’s argument is that this strategy will add affordable housing, new revenue, and community improvements.</p> <p dir="ltr">The first NextGen project in East Harlem led to the opening last fall of the East Harlem Center for Living and Learning, which occupies a parking lot once owned by NYCHA. The project includes an eleven-story residential building containing 100% subsidized units. The <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/26/arts/design/how-to-build-affordable-housing-in-new-york-city.html">New York Times reported</a> in January that the development serves a “mix of working and disabled tenants, many from the neighborhood.” The building connects to the new Dream Charter School, which serves almost 500 students.</p> <p dir="ltr">While the Times reported “overwhelmingly positive reactions” to the Center, it remains to be seen whether similar “infill” initiatives will be welcomed by other NYCHA residents wary of privatization and gentrification - or if the program will even produce enough revenue to bolster the floundering agency. Olatoye <a href="http://www.capitalnewyork.com/article/city-hall/2016/03/8595005/nycha-chair-says-agency-budget-millions-red?top-featured-image">told the City Council on Monday</a> that while its financial situation is improving, NYCHA is still tens of millions of dollars in the red, but is hoping that programs like NextGen will ease the burden.</p> <p dir="ltr">“With NextGen, we can reduce NYCHA’s deficit by a total of more than $1 billion over the next five years,” Olatoye told the Council.</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Space to use</strong><br />The East Harlem housing shortage is exacerbated by vacancy of both city- and privately-owned properties, according to Comptroller Scott Stringer and area organizations.</p> <p dir="ltr">Stringer and HPD Commissioner Vicki Been <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/18/nyregion/audit-proposes-using-vacant-lots-owned-by-new-york-city-for-affordable-housing.html">traded barbs in February</a> over a comptroller <a href="http://comptroller.nyc.gov/wp-content/uploads/documents/FM14_112A.pdf">report </a>indicating that, as of September of 2015, HPD owned 1,131 uninhabited lots throughout Manhattan, and chiding the city agency for what Stringer called a lax pace of transference for properties that should be developed into affordable housing. Stringer held a press conference for the report’s release outside of an HPD-owned vacant property on East 123 Street, one of over 50 vacant properties the comptroller’s office found in East Harlem.</p> <p dir="ltr">“This vacant lot has been owned by the city since the seventies, collecting garbage, attracting rats, and hurting the proud community of El Barrio,” Stringer said at the press conference. “We’re in an affordability crisis the likes of which we’ve never seen – yet our most valuable resource, vacant space, is readily available all across this city.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Stringer was joined at the conference by members of Picture the Homeless, an advocacy organization based on East 126 Street that has long campaigned for turning vacant lots into affordable housing sites.</p> <p dir="ltr">The organization <a href="http://picturethehomeless.org/project/banking-on-vacancy-homelessness-real-estate-speculation/">released its own report in 2012</a>, for which teams of homeless and formerly homeless PTH members and other volunteers scoured Manhattan neighborhoods in search of vacant buildings and lots. They identified 143 empty lots and buildings in East Harlem, and highlighted a block of East 116th Street between Lexington and Park as an example of the problem: nearly half the buildings were empty or boarded up. About 95 percent of all vacant properties surveyed were privately owned.</p> <p dir="ltr">Commissioner Been’s rebuttal, which was included in Stringer’s report, emphatically denied the comptroller’s findings.</p> <p dir="ltr">"Your assertion that HPD allows vacant City-owned properties to languish in the face of the affordable housing crisis is simply wrong,” Been wrote.</p> <p dir="ltr">Been went on to clarify that residential development is only feasible on about 670 of the 1,100 properties; the rest are unsuitable due to location in dangerous areas like flood zones, or lack adequate access to public transportation or sewage infrastructure. Of those 670 viable sites, Been wrote, “roughly 400 have been earmarked for developer designation within the next two years.”</p> <p dir="ltr">The remaining sites will either be developed for residential uses within the duration of de Blasio’s 10-year housing plan or turned over to the Department of Parks and Recreation for use as community gardens.</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>An acute homelessness problem</strong><br />For those who have managed to hold on to housing, the rent - as in the rest of New York City - is going up. East Harlem’s median gross rent increased by 53 percent between 2000 and 2013, according to the American Community Survey (ACS) 5-Year Estimates for 2013.</p> <p dir="ltr">The data combine to paint a bleak picture for low-income residents of El Barrio. As of 2013, over a quarter of East Harlem households <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/site/hpd/about/nyc-housing-vacancy-report.page">were considered in “severe need”</a> by HPD, based on the number of people who are rent burdened, entering homeless shelters, or living in overcrowded apartments.</p> <p dir="ltr">This grim combination appears to hit East Harlem residents particularly hard, resulting in the worst case scenario for a number of households. According to <a href="http://www.anhd.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/2015-ANHD-Affordable-Housing-at-risk-for-mkt-rate.pdf">data</a> from the Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development (ANHD), 306 families entering shelters in 2014 listed East Harlem as their last address - the highest rate of entry to family shelters from any neighborhood in Manhattan.</p> <p dir="ltr">Jazmin Berges, 32, has been living in Marcus Garvey Park for the past three years. Berges was born and raised in the Bronx, but moved to East Harlem with a partner. When that relationship ended, she was unable to find housing that she could afford.</p> <p dir="ltr">“Rent is going sky-high in the neighborhood,” Berges told Gotham Gazette. “The community is being restructured, small businesses are closing, and people who lose their jobs can’t afford their rents.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Berges, who works with Picture the Homeless, believes that rent regulation doesn’t go far enough, and emphasized that a <a href="http://citylimits.org/2016/02/05/advocacy-group-pitches-plan-for-nyc-homeless-housing/">community land trust</a> - a not-for-profit entity that acquires and holds property to preserve accessible housing - is the only way to keep permanent affordable housing in East Harlem. “Even low-income housing isn’t low-income housing,” Berges said.</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>New land use rules come to East Harlem</strong><br />It is unsurprising that East Harlem was included on the list of 15 neighborhoods to be rezoned under Mayor de Blasio’s affordable housing plan. The plan targets lower-density and low-income areas where demand is or is soon expected to be strong enough to support new development. Over several years, beginning this year with East New York, in Brooklyn, the administration plans to rezone the 15 neighborhoods to allow for more density and neighborhood improvement through more green space, school seats, and transportation infrastructure. The big centerpiece, of course, is housing.</p> <p dir="ltr">Essentially, the city’s plans mandate that any area rezoned to allow greater housing density - neighborhood or individual plot of land - will require significant numbers of affordable units as part of market-rate development.</p> <p dir="ltr">The New York City Council overwhelmingly voted in favor of the two major components of the plan that the neighborhood rezonings rely on - Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH) and Zoning for Quality and Affordability (ZQA) - on March 22. The passage was a considerable victory for the administration after months of pushback and protest from community boards and advocacy groups, and negotiations with the City Council to modify the plan to include more affordability and a few other tweaks.</p> <p dir="ltr">According to the plan, which was changed to include more units affordable to lower-income households, MIH requires that developers who build residential units in rezoned areas set aside 20-30% of new units as permanently affordable for households making 40-80% of the Area Median Income, or AMI. Under MIH, there are a <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/assets/housing/downloads/pdf/mih-fact-sheet.pdf">variety of options</a> that will be chosen by City Council members, developers, and the mayoral administration. ZQA, which stirred less broad controversy than MIH, focused on changing parking requirements and height limits to encourage more senior affordable housing, improve retail space design, and streetscape planning.</p> <p dir="ltr">Mayor de Blasio said in a statement after the vote, “New York City is now one step closer to being a city where everyone can work and live,” and thanked Speaker Mark-Viverito for her efforts in passing the “landmark legislation.”</p> <p dir="ltr">City Planning Commissioner Carl Weisbrod said at a hearing on MIH in February that the program “will bring new affordable housing to neighborhoods where it otherwise wouldn’t be built, and act as a cushion against potential gentrification of communities caused by broad demographic trends we are seeing in so many neighborhoods, simultaneously freeing up city funds to provide even more deeply affordable housing at lower rents where economic need is great.” &nbsp;</p> <p dir="ltr">Some opponents of MIH see a flaw in that what the plan defines as “affordable” does not include the lowest-income residents in what are now largely low-income neighborhoods.</p> <p dir="ltr">Affordability levels are <a href="http://citylimits.org/2016/02/17/the-secret-history-of-ami/">determined by the area median income</a> of the five boroughs, plus Putnam, Westchester, and Rockland Counties, which comes out to about $77,700 for a three-person household. The AMI for East Harlem is $33,595, or less than half (43%) of the figure that serves as a baseline for affordability calculations.</p> <p dir="ltr">MIH mandates that a percentage of affordable units built in rezoned neighborhoods must be affordable to households of certain earnings - for example, one option sets aside 20% of units for those earning an average of 40% of AMI, or about $31,00 for a family of three. This is the lowest income band option in MIH, and one that the Council insisted on adding to the de Blasio administration’s initial proposal. Households in East Harlem’s poorest zip code, 10035, earn an AMI of just $24,000, which critics say puts new affordable units out of reach.</p> <p dir="ltr">The mayor, the speaker, and HPD Commissioner Vicki Been have stated often that a combination of HPD subsidies and other housing programs will address the gap of affordability for the lowest-income New Yorkers. This is where the neighborhood rezonings also factor in. Mark-Viverito has said repeatedly that she plans to get to 50-50 market rate-affordable for new development in her district.</p> <p dir="ltr">Community Board 11, which represents East Harlem <a href="http://www.citylandnyc.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/14/2015/12/MIH-ZQA-CB-Tracker-Final-ALL-VOTES-IN.pdf">joined</a> 43 other community boards across the city in voting against de Blasio’s proposal on November 23 of last year.</p> <p dir="ltr">"But in the end," the mayor said at a <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/6007-mayor-and-speaker-rezoning-plans-will-change-before-council-vote">press conference in November,</a> "the community boards aren't the final decision makers.”</p> <p dir="ltr"><b>READ ON - <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/6258-wary-of-gentrification-east-harlem-braces-for-change-page-two" target="_blank">PAGE 2 of 2</a> - <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/6258-wary-of-gentrification-east-harlem-braces-for-change-page-two" target="_blank">How East Harlemites are attempting to shape the future of their neighborhood and more</a></b></p> Wary of Gentrification, East Harlem Braces for Change 2016-04-01T02:22:42+00:00 2016-04-01T02:22:42+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6258:wary-of-gentrification-east-harlem-braces-for-change-page-two Super User <p dir="ltr"><strong><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/mmv_ehnp.jpg" alt="mmv ehnp" height="400" width="600" /></strong></p> <p dir="ltr">&nbsp;Mark-Viverito at an East Harlem planning session (photo: William Alatriste)</p> <hr /> <p><em>CONTINUED from <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/6253-wary-of-gentrification-east-harlem-braces-for-rapid-change" target="_blank">page 1</a> - this is page 2 of 2</em></p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Community calls for community planning</strong><br />City officials have not yet presented a timeline, much less a plan, for rezoning East Harlem, but that hasn’t stopped residents from preemptively organizing against “upzoning” that they believe will accelerate displacement of low-income people in their neighborhood. Two community-driven plans have emerged from El Barrio since November: one, an attempt at leveraging rezoning for a higher percentage of more deeply affordable housing and community benefits through collaboration with city officials; the other, an outright rejection of the mayor’s plan and a demand for better protections for immigrants and very low-income people living in regulated rental units.</p> <p dir="ltr">Speaker Mark-Viverito, who represents East Harlem and parts of the South Bronx, told NY1 in January, "The question is, do we want to let things stand and get nothing out of it, or do we try to get something, allow the density to happen, with a benefit to the community? To me, the answer is very clear. We have to get something for the community.”</p> <p dir="ltr">“Getting something for the community” seems to be the theme of the<a href="http://www.eastharlemplan.nyc" target="_blank">&nbsp;East Harlem Neighborhood Plan</a>, which was completed in February by a broad coalition led Mark-Viverito, Manhattan President Gale Brewer, and advocacy group Community Voices Heard.</p> <p dir="ltr"><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/22984956200_9ef6976220_z.jpg" alt="east harlem planning table" style="margin: 8px; float: left;" height="249" width="375" />The EHNP is the product of a 10-month process in which over 1,300 East Harlem residents filled out hundreds of community surveys, gathered for seven community vision workshops on 12 topic areas, and produced an exhaustive list of recommendations for neighborhood preservation and improvement. While it certainly won’t halt fear of gentrification and displacement, it may go a long way in influencing the rezoning plan put forth by City Hall, and, many believe, stemming the tide of displacement while improving the community in a variety of ways.</p> <p dir="ltr">The plan’s recommendations span 12 themes, ranging from improvements to NYCHA developments to arts and culture preservation to senior needs, but two issues took precedence over the rest: the preservation of affordable housing and job creation.</p> <p dir="ltr">The plan specifically calls for better enforcement of anti-tenant harassment laws, additional legal and educational support for tenants, and policy changes and increased funding aimed at preserving existing regulated units and bringing more units under regulation. The plan also recommends that the city build off of the affordability that will be required on private rezoned sites under the new Mandatory Inclusionary Housing rules. The plan recommends 100% affordable units on public sites, and asks that all tools, such as HPD subsidies and programs, be utilized to achieve deeper affordability for the lowest-income residents.</p> <p dir="ltr">Participants also heavily emphasize job creation, job training, and living wages as changes they want to see accompany increased density in their neighborhood.</p> <p dir="ltr">East Harlem’s distinction as the home district of the powerful City Council Speaker sets the area apart from other neighborhoods on deck to be rezoned. Still, other Council members took notice of the EHNP effort, even attending the final planning event, eyeing ways in which they can lead a local process to get ahead of a more centralized, mayoral administration-run plan for rezoning.</p> <p dir="ltr">The EHNP coalition sent the 134-page plan to the City Planning Commission and other city agencies after its release on February 25.</p> <p dir="ltr">Community planning in New York neighborhoods is not a new concept; the Department of City Planning has been organizing “place-based planning studies” in other to-be-rezoned neighborhoods to help develop recommendations for affordable housing, economic development and infrastructure investments, and assisting community and borough boards in the creation of&nbsp;<a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/site/planning/community/community-based-planning.page?tab=2" target="_blank">197-a community plans</a>.</p> <p dir="ltr">The city created the rezoning plan that is now being negotiated for East New York after a number of community meetings, and the process is playing out in Flushing and other areas slated for rezonings.</p> <p dir="ltr">But the Speaker calls the EHNP the first of its kind in the city, emphasizing a proactive, bottom-up approach.</p> <p dir="ltr">“We’re kind of doing it upside-down. Usually an application is presented and we respond to it, right?” Mark-Viverito said to the audience at an EHNP community forum on January 27, referring to the typical land use review process (ULURP), which is taking place in East New York. “The [East Harlem] application hasn’t even been submitted. We have a plan, we’re giving it to the city, and we’re forcing the city to consider and take into account those needs in the application process.”</p> <p dir="ltr">It remains to be seen whether the Speaker’s influence will fortify the plan once the rezoning process begins in East Harlem, but many people involved believe that the strength of the plan’s process and government-community partnerships have given the neighborhood the best chance of success as they both brace for and embrace the rezoning.</p> <p dir="ltr">"This is a document that we actually want to govern how East Harlem is developed and evolves over time,” said Sondra Youdelman, director Community Voices Heard, in a February interview with Gotham Gazette. “Now it's up to the city to figure out which policies and tools need to be coupled together to make this happen.”</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>'Consulta del Barrio'</strong><br />Movement for Justice in El Barrio, founded in 2004, is an organization predominantly comprised of and led by immigrants - mostly women - who have lived in rent-regulated apartment units in East Harlem for decades. The organization claims over 1,000 members and organizing within 95 privately-owned buildings in El Barrio.</p> <p dir="ltr">MJB&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5972-east-harlem-tenants-group-rejects-de-blasio-housing-plan-offer-its-own">released in November 2015 a 10-point plan</a>&nbsp;that roundly rejected the mayor’s zoning plans as they stood then and focuses almost exclusively on housing preservation for low-income residents in rent-regulated apartments, people of color, and immigrant communities, which the group says are disproportionately displaced by landlord harassment and gentrification.</p> <p dir="ltr">“Our members didn’t want to just reject the plan,” said Juan Haro, an organizer at Movement for Justice in El Barrio. “They wanted to put forward a concrete proposal to improve the housing situation in our neighborhood.”</p> <p dir="ltr">The document is also an indictment of what Movement for Justice calls a failure by HPD to enforce housing codes and protect tenants’ rights.</p> <p dir="ltr">“We believe that when HPD is not responsive to landlords breaking the local housing code, and their unresponsiveness allows landlords to get away with driving out tenants, which contributes to displacement and gentrification,” Haro said.</p> <p dir="ltr">Movement for Justice in El Barrio’s plan calls for increased and independent oversight of HPD; a public education campaign to inform tenants about HPD's role; a new body to collect fines levied against negligent landlords; publication of inspection documents in multiple languages, penalties for landlords who fail to make repairs within 24 hours of emergency violations; the establishment of an East Harlem HPD oversight team; and improvements to HPD’s inspection and follow-up speeds.</p> <p dir="ltr">According to Haro, over 8,500 East Harlem residents participated in 12 public meetings throughout the year-long “Consulta del Barrio,” or neighborhood consultation. Haro highlights the group’s bottom-up organizing strategy and pragmatic outreach effort, which targets very low-income residents and immigrants, and favors flyering over social media.</p> <p dir="ltr">“We know that there is a digital divide,” he said. “Many folks in the neighborhood don’t have access to Facebook or Twitter, so we focused on on-the-street outreach, and worked in the evenings and on weekends when more people weren’t at work.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Public meetings were “fluid and organic,” Haro added, and residents attended to learn more about the intricacies of the rezoning proposal and land use in general. Participants voted to reject the mayor’s proposals, and formulated the demands that would become the pith of the 10-point plan.</p> <p dir="ltr">The plan concentrates on protecting tenants of regulated, private apartment buildings, because those tenants have the most at stake as the neighborhood gentrifies, Haro said. “Landlords cut off basic services and violate local housing codes,” he said. “They offer buyouts to tenants to surrender their units. They threaten to bring in immigration authorities or ask for proof as citizens and threaten based on citizenship."</p> <p dir="ltr">The de Blasio administration has mounted an initiative to deter evictions and landlord harassment in rapidly changing neighborhoods with the creation of the Tenant Support Unit in August of 2015. The mayor announced in February that the unit had resolved its thousandth case since it began offering assistance to tenants.</p> <p dir="ltr">While&nbsp;<a href="http://citylimits.org/2015/07/21/citys-tenant-protection-effort-breaks-ground-and-ruffles-feathers/">reviews of the unit’s methodology have been mixed</a>, the administration touted a ten-fold increase in free legal services for tenants, for a total of $62 million in funding that will be fully implemented for the 2017 fiscal year, which begins July 1 of this year. &nbsp;As a result, de Blasio said, evictions by city marshals have decreased 24 percent since he took office, down from 28,849 in 2013 to 21,988 in 2015.</p> <p dir="ltr">While the new support measures and protections introduced by the mayor seem to be having a positive effect, members at MJB believe that they will still be forced out once rezoning takes hold.</p> <p dir="ltr">Movement for Justice in El Barrio members organized a series of protests against the mayor’s plan leading up to a Community Board 11 vote on MIH and ZQA in November.</p> <p dir="ltr">Sandra Cruz, a member, said at a rally before the meeting, “We are against the mayor’s ‘luxury housing plan’ because we know that 25-30% of the apartments that the mayor says will supposedly be constructed for low-income people will not be accessible to the poor people of East Harlem, because we don’t make enough money to pay those high rents.”</p> <p dir="ltr">CB 11 voted “no with conditions” on the mayor’s citywide zoning plans. This feedback, similar to that of community boards across the city, helped inform the City Council’s negotiations with the de Blasio administration over the final versions of MIH and ZQA.</p> <p dir="ltr">Movement for Justice sent its 10-point community plan to Speaker Mark-Viverito and Borough President Gale Brewer in November, but have not received a response, they said. Meanwhile, Mark-Viverito, Brewer, and a variety of other stakeholders, were in the process of creating the East Harlem Neighborhood Plan.</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Next for East Harlem</strong><br />With MIH and ZQA in place, East Harlem stakeholders are watching the neighborhood rezoning process as it unfolds in East New York, the first neighborhood rezoning being moved by the de Blasio administration, in consultation with the City Council.</p> <p dir="ltr">Like East Harlem, East New York’s population is predominantly Latino and African-American, and the neighborhood AMI is around $34,000. City Council Member Rafael Espinal represents much of East New York and remains adamant that the plan for the area not help in pricing out long-term residents.</p> <p dir="ltr">"Neighbors on my street are already jacking up the rents to $1,800 [per month]," Espinal said at a March 8 City Council hearing on the East New York rezoning.</p> <p dir="ltr">Parallels between East New York and East Harlem are undeniable, and many are watching the process for clues as to how the future may unfold in El Barrio. East Harlem may be slightly further along in a gentrification process as of now, but both neighborhoods are changing.</p> <p dir="ltr">Though some involved in the East Harlem Neighborhood Plan are skeptical as to how much of the document will be seriously considered by the city, the speaker hopes that the document will serve as a model for other communities down the road.</p> <p dir="ltr">“It would be great,” she said at the January 27 community forum, “if the administration established some sort of process to create neighborhood plans in every area that would be rezoned.” She followed this up by devoting a portion of her February State of the City address to the Council’s proposal that the city develop a Neighborhood Commitment Plan that would accompany all rezoning proposals, “describing and tracking commitments for housing, schools, infrastructure and other city services.”</p> <p dir="ltr">“Planning for the future of our neighborhoods should start from the ground up and infuse the voices of everyday New Yorkers into policy decisions,” Mark-Viverito said in her address. She remarked that the community planning process is an opportunity to discuss neighborhood concerns “from school overcrowding and pedestrian safety to sewers and public transit.”</p> <p dir="ltr">For community organizations in El Barrio, the work has only just begun. Leaders across groups and initiatives say they’ll continue to apply pressure to the city to respond to demands for deeper affordability, better protection of tenants’ rights, neighborhood improvements, and capital investments. Essential, they say, is community power in all processes.</p> <p dir="ltr">Even as the future of East Harlem seems unsure, long-time resident Pearl Barkley notes the surge of neighborhood civic engagement around rezoning as a silver lining.</p> <p dir="ltr">“I grew up in a time of social movements, with activism throughout the neighborhood,” Barkley said. “Right now, when I attend meetings, I see young people standing up, excited to talk about what they want for their city. That gives me hope. It makes me happy.”</p> <p dir="ltr"><em>This is page 2 of 2 - <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/6253-wary-of-gentrification-east-harlem-braces-for-rapid-change" target="_blank">return to page 1</a></em></p> <p dir="ltr">

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by Maggie Calmes, Gotham Gazette
     

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

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by Maggie Calmes, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Safe and Healthy Housing for All New Yorkers 2016-02-22T03:52:03+00:00 2016-02-22T03:52:03+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6186:safe-and-healthy-housing-for-all-new-yorkers Super User <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2016/22534262128_1c610bb931_z.jpg" alt="housing march parade" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>(photo:&nbsp;Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office)</p> <hr /> <p>I just can't take the mice and the mold anymore.</p> <p>For years, I have lived in a Staten Island apartment in desperate need of repair. I live there with my daughter, and we've constantly struggled to get our landlord to fix the problems that make our home an unhealthy place to live.</p> <p>Over the past six years, we've frequently gone without heat and hot water, faced endless mold growing in our cabinets, and suffered rodent infestations that simply won't go away.</p> <p>We've asked the landlord time and time again to make the repairs to the apartment that we need, but, when he finally does something, he only applies quick fixes. For instance, after we pushed hard for him to replace our moldy cabinets, he finally gave in—but the leak that caused the mold is still there, and it will soon grow again.</p> <p>Ours is the story of thousands of New York families who suffer dangerous and unhealthy living conditions because of landlords who put profit above people. In my case, the conditions caused by the landlord's failure to make the necessary repairs have made my asthma worse; last week, I had to go to the hospital because of a respiratory infection. And, like any mother, I worry constantly about how our unhealthy apartment is affecting my daughter.</p> <p>This type of problem afflicts tenants across the city. That's why it's so important that the New York City Council pass an important bill this year, <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=2015545&amp;GUID=BACAA453-58E7-4FEF-94E1-E12CD7E72758&amp;Options=&amp;Search=" target="_blank">Intro. 543</a>, that addresses the underlying conditions that bad landlords like mine so often fail to address.</p> <p>Here's what Intro. 543, introduced by lead sponsor Council Member Ritchie Torres, does: in the case that a landlord refuses to address the underlying condition causing a housing violation (for instance, a leak that produces mold), the bill would empower tenants like me to take our claims to housing court.</p> <p>This is important because, all too often, when landlords finally act to address housing violations, they fail to deal with the physical defect or failure in the building system that causes the violation. An example with which many New Yorkers will be familiar: the landlord who patches the dripping ceiling or paints over mold, but fails to fix the leaky pipe that's producing the problem.</p> <p>Currently, the city's housing agency (HPD) is only able to investigate up to 50 cases per year related to underlying conditions. The department does not currently have the capacity to fully take on all the cases that exist, which is why tenants like me need the legal recourses provided by this bill.</p> <p>It's time for landlords to accept responsibility for ensuring that tenants like my family are living in apartments that are safe and healthy.</p> <p>But landlords who profit enormously off of unhealthy apartments won't act alone. We have to make them, and that takes a change in the law. We need the City Council to pass Intro. 543 as soon as possible. If they don't, too many New Yorkers like me won't have the tools to ensure that our landlords make the repairs we need to make the mice and the mold go away.</p> <p>***<br />Dulce María Rivera is a member of Make the Road New York, the largest grassroots community organization in New York offering services and organizing the immigrant community. On Twitter: <a href="https://twitter.com/MaketheRoadNY" target="_blank">@maketheroadny</a>.</p> <p>

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<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2016/22534262128_1c610bb931_z.jpg" alt="housing march parade" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>(photo:&nbsp;Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office)</p> <hr /> <p>I just can't take the mice and the mold anymore.</p> <p>For years, I have lived in a Staten Island apartment in desperate need of repair. I live there with my daughter, and we've constantly struggled to get our landlord to fix the problems that make our home an unhealthy place to live.</p> <p>Over the past six years, we've frequently gone without heat and hot water, faced endless mold growing in our cabinets, and suffered rodent infestations that simply won't go away.</p> <p>We've asked the landlord time and time again to make the repairs to the apartment that we need, but, when he finally does something, he only applies quick fixes. For instance, after we pushed hard for him to replace our moldy cabinets, he finally gave in—but the leak that caused the mold is still there, and it will soon grow again.</p> <p>Ours is the story of thousands of New York families who suffer dangerous and unhealthy living conditions because of landlords who put profit above people. In my case, the conditions caused by the landlord's failure to make the necessary repairs have made my asthma worse; last week, I had to go to the hospital because of a respiratory infection. And, like any mother, I worry constantly about how our unhealthy apartment is affecting my daughter.</p> <p>This type of problem afflicts tenants across the city. That's why it's so important that the New York City Council pass an important bill this year, <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=2015545&amp;GUID=BACAA453-58E7-4FEF-94E1-E12CD7E72758&amp;Options=&amp;Search=" target="_blank">Intro. 543</a>, that addresses the underlying conditions that bad landlords like mine so often fail to address.</p> <p>Here's what Intro. 543, introduced by lead sponsor Council Member Ritchie Torres, does: in the case that a landlord refuses to address the underlying condition causing a housing violation (for instance, a leak that produces mold), the bill would empower tenants like me to take our claims to housing court.</p> <p>This is important because, all too often, when landlords finally act to address housing violations, they fail to deal with the physical defect or failure in the building system that causes the violation. An example with which many New Yorkers will be familiar: the landlord who patches the dripping ceiling or paints over mold, but fails to fix the leaky pipe that's producing the problem.</p> <p>Currently, the city's housing agency (HPD) is only able to investigate up to 50 cases per year related to underlying conditions. The department does not currently have the capacity to fully take on all the cases that exist, which is why tenants like me need the legal recourses provided by this bill.</p> <p>It's time for landlords to accept responsibility for ensuring that tenants like my family are living in apartments that are safe and healthy.</p> <p>But landlords who profit enormously off of unhealthy apartments won't act alone. We have to make them, and that takes a change in the law. We need the City Council to pass Intro. 543 as soon as possible. If they don't, too many New Yorkers like me won't have the tools to ensure that our landlords make the repairs we need to make the mice and the mold go away.</p> <p>***<br />Dulce María Rivera is a member of Make the Road New York, the largest grassroots community organization in New York offering services and organizing the immigrant community. On Twitter: <a href="https://twitter.com/MaketheRoadNY" target="_blank">@maketheroadny</a>.</p> <p>

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Progressive Caucus Responds to De Blasio's Executive Budget 2015-05-13T05:00:00+00:00 2015-05-13T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5721:city-council-progressive-caucus-responds-to-de-blasios-executive-budget Super User <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/rosenthal_and_co.jpg" alt="rosenthal and co" height="450" width="600" />&nbsp;</p> <p><span style="font-size: 10pt;">CM Helen Rosenthal is a vice chair of the Progressive Caucus (@TenantPowerNY)</span></p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">In response to his recently unveiled fiscal year 2016 Executive Budget, the City Council’s 18-member progressive caucus sent a letter to Mayor Bill de Blasio Tuesday outlining an eleven-point “advancement framework.” In the letter, which alternately praises the mayor and requests additional funding for specific priorities, the council members outline “legislative, fiscal and advocacy goals” for a “more equal and more just New York.”</p> <p dir="ltr">The effort, in part led by Council Member Helen Rosenthal, a Progressive Caucus vice-chair, drew feedback from caucus members to identify where the mayor’s budget is in line with the group’s progressive agenda and where it still needs attention. “It is really the moral document behind the rhetoric,” Rosenthal told Gotham Gazette of the city budget in a Wednesday phone interview.</p> <p dir="ltr">The council members, 18 of the body’s 51 total members, largely commend de Blasio for his executive budget, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/#/0">released last week</a>, that focuses on tackling income inequality, particularly through commitments to housing, workers’ rights, and civil legal services. “On the whole there’s no question it’s a very progressive, very impressive, and fiscally responsible budget,” said Rosenthal, who is a budget expert and chairs the Council’s contracts committee.</p> <p dir="ltr">But, Progressive Caucus members also pointed to certain priorities which complement the mayor’s own efforts and will be a part of budget negotiations over the next few weeks. “Some are smaller indications, some are bigger,” said Rosenthal. “But they all get to the same point,” she said, alluding to the work of "advancing opportunity for all New Yorkers," as stated in the letter, a copy of which was read by Gotham Gazette.</p> <p dir="ltr">For instance, the letter applauds the mayor for redirecting $506 million to the New York City Housing Authority through 2019, and providing an additional $300 million in capital funds over the next three years. But the mayor’s <a href="http://www.crainsnewyork.com/article/20140525/BLOGS04/140529919/right-sizing-housing-is-tricky-business" target="_blank">rightsizing initiative</a> has created the need for more resources for relocating families, they say in the letter. The caucus calls on the mayor to create a fund similar to the Council’s <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/assets/hpd/downloads/pdf/Moving-Allowance-Program-Fact-Sheet.pdf" target="_blank">Moving Allowance Program</a> that helps low-income tenants relocate. It also asks for more funding for Housing Preservation and Development’s (HPD) Alternative Enforcement Program that undertakes maintenance work on dilapidated buildings.</p> <p dir="ltr">The mayor, in his executive budget, adjusted the income of 35,000 contract workers to provide them a living wage increase. The Progressive Caucus welcomed this measure. “The Caucus shares in your belief that a hard day’s work deserves a fair day’s pay,” reads the letter. Caucs members hope, however, that the mayor would expand this to all 125,000 city-contracted social service workers.</p> <p dir="ltr">“The point that this document intended to make is that we’re not just saying it. We’re giving exact examples,” Rosenthal said.</p> <p dir="ltr">Among the other allocations and initiatives the caucus praises in its letter are the $78 million commitment to mental health services; the $1.8 million increase for the Commission on Human Rights; $18.9 million for the municipal identification program, IDNYC; improvements in community safety; and the efforts to reduce homelessness.</p> <p dir="ltr">Caucus demands are both targeted and general. Among other things, the members are pushing for increased funding for seniors; restoring $8.7 million for park maintenance employees and greater funding to the Green Thumb community garden program; money to provide six-day service in libraries; creating an LGBT liaison at the Department of Education; providing green education programs; increasing support to worker cooperatives; tackling viral hepatitis cases; addressing disparities in school athletic opportunities, particularly for young women and students of color; and increasing funding for the Office of Special Enforcement to tackle illegal hotels.</p> <p dir="ltr">The letter also indicates the caucus’ disappointment for the lack of funding for oversight and protection against employer abuse. Earlier this year, Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito &nbsp;<a href="http://www.crainsnewyork.com/article/20150211/BLOGS04/150219957/council-speaker-vows-to-create-office-of-labor" target="_blank">proposed the creation</a> of an Office of Labor Standards for this very purpose.</p> <p dir="ltr">Although Mark-Viverito has technically not signed the letter, the agenda laid out in the document is in line with the City Council’s <a href="http://council.nyc.gov/html/pr/041415br.shtml" target="_blank">preliminary budget response</a> put out by Mark-Viverito, Finance Committee Chair Julissa Ferreras, and their fellow council members. Mark-Viverito was a co-founder of the Progressive Caucus with Council Member Brad Lander, but she has formally removed herself after becoming speaker. The caucus is currently co-chaired by Council Members Antonio Reynoso and Donovan Richards; Council Member Ben Kallos and Rosenthal are co-vice chairs. After outlining his executive budget last week, de Blasio is in Washington, DC and California this week talking about the fight against inequality in New York and nationally. He unveiled The Progressive Agenda to Combat Income Inequality in DC on Tuesday with a large group of collaborators and co-signers.</p> <p dir="ltr">Moving forward in the city, the final deatils of the budget will be worked out before the June 30 deadline, and Rosenthal said the progressive caucus will be asking detailed questions about where de Blasio’s latest iteration falls short and why. Publicly, these questions will be raised during the Council’s weeks of executive budget hearings set to begin next week. Following that, Progressive Caucus members will reconvene to give their input to the Speaker as Mark-Viverito works with the entire Council and negotiates with the mayor.&nbsp;</p> <p>***<br />by Samar Khurshid, Gotham Gazette<br /><a href="https://twitter.com/samarkhurshid" target="_blank">@samarkhurshid</a></p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/rosenthal_and_co.jpg" alt="rosenthal and co" height="450" width="600" />&nbsp;</p> <p><span style="font-size: 10pt;">CM Helen Rosenthal is a vice chair of the Progressive Caucus (@TenantPowerNY)</span></p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">In response to his recently unveiled fiscal year 2016 Executive Budget, the City Council’s 18-member progressive caucus sent a letter to Mayor Bill de Blasio Tuesday outlining an eleven-point “advancement framework.” In the letter, which alternately praises the mayor and requests additional funding for specific priorities, the council members outline “legislative, fiscal and advocacy goals” for a “more equal and more just New York.”</p> <p dir="ltr">The effort, in part led by Council Member Helen Rosenthal, a Progressive Caucus vice-chair, drew feedback from caucus members to identify where the mayor’s budget is in line with the group’s progressive agenda and where it still needs attention. “It is really the moral document behind the rhetoric,” Rosenthal told Gotham Gazette of the city budget in a Wednesday phone interview.</p> <p dir="ltr">The council members, 18 of the body’s 51 total members, largely commend de Blasio for his executive budget, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/#/0">released last week</a>, that focuses on tackling income inequality, particularly through commitments to housing, workers’ rights, and civil legal services. “On the whole there’s no question it’s a very progressive, very impressive, and fiscally responsible budget,” said Rosenthal, who is a budget expert and chairs the Council’s contracts committee.</p> <p dir="ltr">But, Progressive Caucus members also pointed to certain priorities which complement the mayor’s own efforts and will be a part of budget negotiations over the next few weeks. “Some are smaller indications, some are bigger,” said Rosenthal. “But they all get to the same point,” she said, alluding to the work of "advancing opportunity for all New Yorkers," as stated in the letter, a copy of which was read by Gotham Gazette.</p> <p dir="ltr">For instance, the letter applauds the mayor for redirecting $506 million to the New York City Housing Authority through 2019, and providing an additional $300 million in capital funds over the next three years. But the mayor’s <a href="http://www.crainsnewyork.com/article/20140525/BLOGS04/140529919/right-sizing-housing-is-tricky-business" target="_blank">rightsizing initiative</a> has created the need for more resources for relocating families, they say in the letter. The caucus calls on the mayor to create a fund similar to the Council’s <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/assets/hpd/downloads/pdf/Moving-Allowance-Program-Fact-Sheet.pdf" target="_blank">Moving Allowance Program</a> that helps low-income tenants relocate. It also asks for more funding for Housing Preservation and Development’s (HPD) Alternative Enforcement Program that undertakes maintenance work on dilapidated buildings.</p> <p dir="ltr">The mayor, in his executive budget, adjusted the income of 35,000 contract workers to provide them a living wage increase. The Progressive Caucus welcomed this measure. “The Caucus shares in your belief that a hard day’s work deserves a fair day’s pay,” reads the letter. Caucs members hope, however, that the mayor would expand this to all 125,000 city-contracted social service workers.</p> <p dir="ltr">“The point that this document intended to make is that we’re not just saying it. We’re giving exact examples,” Rosenthal said.</p> <p dir="ltr">Among the other allocations and initiatives the caucus praises in its letter are the $78 million commitment to mental health services; the $1.8 million increase for the Commission on Human Rights; $18.9 million for the municipal identification program, IDNYC; improvements in community safety; and the efforts to reduce homelessness.</p> <p dir="ltr">Caucus demands are both targeted and general. Among other things, the members are pushing for increased funding for seniors; restoring $8.7 million for park maintenance employees and greater funding to the Green Thumb community garden program; money to provide six-day service in libraries; creating an LGBT liaison at the Department of Education; providing green education programs; increasing support to worker cooperatives; tackling viral hepatitis cases; addressing disparities in school athletic opportunities, particularly for young women and students of color; and increasing funding for the Office of Special Enforcement to tackle illegal hotels.</p> <p dir="ltr">The letter also indicates the caucus’ disappointment for the lack of funding for oversight and protection against employer abuse. Earlier this year, Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito &nbsp;<a href="http://www.crainsnewyork.com/article/20150211/BLOGS04/150219957/council-speaker-vows-to-create-office-of-labor" target="_blank">proposed the creation</a> of an Office of Labor Standards for this very purpose.</p> <p dir="ltr">Although Mark-Viverito has technically not signed the letter, the agenda laid out in the document is in line with the City Council’s <a href="http://council.nyc.gov/html/pr/041415br.shtml" target="_blank">preliminary budget response</a> put out by Mark-Viverito, Finance Committee Chair Julissa Ferreras, and their fellow council members. Mark-Viverito was a co-founder of the Progressive Caucus with Council Member Brad Lander, but she has formally removed herself after becoming speaker. The caucus is currently co-chaired by Council Members Antonio Reynoso and Donovan Richards; Council Member Ben Kallos and Rosenthal are co-vice chairs. After outlining his executive budget last week, de Blasio is in Washington, DC and California this week talking about the fight against inequality in New York and nationally. He unveiled The Progressive Agenda to Combat Income Inequality in DC on Tuesday with a large group of collaborators and co-signers.</p> <p dir="ltr">Moving forward in the city, the final deatils of the budget will be worked out before the June 30 deadline, and Rosenthal said the progressive caucus will be asking detailed questions about where de Blasio’s latest iteration falls short and why. Publicly, these questions will be raised during the Council’s weeks of executive budget hearings set to begin next week. Following that, Progressive Caucus members will reconvene to give their input to the Speaker as Mark-Viverito works with the entire Council and negotiates with the mayor.&nbsp;</p> <p>***<br />by Samar Khurshid, Gotham Gazette<br /><a href="https://twitter.com/samarkhurshid" target="_blank">@samarkhurshid</a></p>