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/maria-torres-springer 2017-12-12T23:40:30+00:00 Webmaster webmaster@gothamgazette.com Brooklyn Armory Deal, and Larger De Blasio Development Debate, Move Toward Term Two 2017-12-10T05:00:00+00:00 2017-12-10T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7360:brooklyn-armory-deal-and-larger-de-blasio-development-debate-move-toward-term-two Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/bedford-union-armory-rendering-via-bfc.jpg" alt="bedford union armory rendering via bfc" width="600" height="354" /></p> <p>(Armory rendering via BFC) (photos within piece by Rachel Holliday Smith)</p> <hr /> <p>Following years of ferocious debate, negotiation, protests and anguish, City Council Member Laurie Cumbo was finally ready to vote “yes” on the redevelopment of the publicly-owned, vacant Bedford-Union Armory.</p> <p>At very nearly the last minute, she and the administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio worked out a deal for the Crown Heights building with the city’s chosen developer, BFC Partners, the night before a crucial City Council land use committee vote on the controversial redevelopment. A week later, Cumbo stood amid the full Council, ready to approve the project.</p> <p>But before that could happen, chanting interrupted the meeting.</p> <p>“The city is not for sale! Kill the deal!”</p> <p>In the balcony of the Council chambers, a small crowd of activists, housing advocates, and Crown Heights residents shouted as security escorted them out.</p> <p>“Laurie lies!”</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/reset_1/img0126.jpg" alt="City Council Bedford Armory protest vote" width="400" height="263" style="margin-right: 15px; float: left;" />Among the protesters were the fiercest and most frequent critics of the armory project: members of New York Communities for Change (NYCC), the Crown Heights Tenant Union and their allies, who have pushed the city to scrap the plan for nearly two years, leading dozens of protests and supporting anti-armory plan challengers to Cumbo during her successful yet contentious reelection campaign this summer and fall.</p> <p>From the beginning, the coalition of activists saw the vacant armory and the publicly-owned land beneath it as an incredibly valuable resource that should be used to improve a rapidly gentrifying community, with deeply affordable housing to help stem the tide of displacement.</p> <p>By all accounts, the pressure moved the needle significantly. When it was announced in late 2015, the redevelopment included plans for 330 market-rate and affordable rentals, two dozen luxury condominiums, and a 45,000-square-foot recreation center. Following months of protests by NYCC, CHTU and others against any and all market-rate housing on the site, with particular ire directed at the condominiums, a new deal took shape.</p> <p>In the last-minute agreement, BFC cut out the condos as the city promised $50 million to subsidize more affordable — and more deeply affordable — rental housing on the site. In addition, the planned state-of-the-art recreation center would remain, with its own affordability requirements, supported financially by 150 market-rate apartments, officials said.</p> <p>To the casual observer, the armory agreement may appear to be a major feat for all sides. But as the project cleared the last hurdle in its public approval process, its detractors see it as a failure, emblematic of problems with the de Blasio administration’s approach to affordable housing citywide: doing too little for those who need it most, failing to slow gentrification, and relying too heavily on for-profit development. In particular, critics found fault with income restrictions at the project, which originally set aside a majority of affordable apartments at the site for households making above the area median income.</p> <p>To the mayor and his team, the armory is a solid compromise and exactly what the administration is aiming for with much of its ambitious housing plan — leveraging public resources to spur the construction of mixed-income housing by private developers.</p> <p>As Housing Preservation and Development Commissioner Maria Torres-Springer put it to Gotham Gazette, the city worked hard to meet the needs of the community while “ensuring we have a financially feasible project.”</p> <p>“That’s always a complicated balancing act,” she said.</p> <p>The project passed the Council on November 30 with 43 in favor, two against, and one abstention. As she cast her vote, Cumbo said the concerns of the project’s critics “have been taken into account” while underscoring all the good the project will bring: affordable housing, recreation space, jobs.</p> <p>“This is progress. This is an opportunity. This is getting something done in our term,” she said.</p> <p>The mayor echoed that sentiment when speaking about the project this summer, saying that “ultimately, it’s something that could do a lot of good for the community.”</p> <p>“Right now that armory is doing no good for the community,” he said at an unrelated press conference.</p> <p>But “getting something done” isn’t good enough for some in the neighborhood, including Crown Heights resident Esteban Giron, a local tenant organizer and member of the neighborhood community board’s land use committee, who was one of those escorted out of City Hall when the Council approved the deal.</p> <p>A day after the vote, Giron said he’d rather see the armory remain vacant than be rebuilt under the new terms.</p> <p>“What did we do, from the very beginning, except say we want 100 percent affordable housing?” he asked.</p> <p style="text-align: center;">**********</p> <p>For critics of the project, the sticking point on the redevelopment has always been this: the sprawling former military complex on Bedford Avenue sits on an extremely precious commodity — public land — and that limited resource, especially in gentrifying neighborhoods like Crown Heights, must be used to most effectively combat the city’s housing affordability crisis.</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/reset_1/img207.jpg" alt="Bedford Union Armory December 2017" width="400" height="266" style="margin-right: 15px; float: left;" />&nbsp;The 1904 building was used by the state as a training facility (complete with horse stables, a drill hall and rifle range) until its decommissioning in 2011, when then-Borough President Marty Markowitz, upon the urging of Crown Heights locals, began an effort to study what could be done with the hulking, 122,000-square-foot structure and its large lot.</p> <p>Markowitz’s chief of staff at the time, Carlo Scissura, now the president of the New York Building Congress, said the idea “was going to be similar to the Park Slope Armory,” the large YMCA-run recreational facility on 15th Street.</p> <p>“The plan here was recreation space, community space, maybe education, maybe seniors,” he said of the Bedford-Union Armory. “But housing was never part of it.”</p> <p>In 2013, at the end of the Bloomberg administration, the city’s Economic Development Corporation put out a request for proposals (RFP) for the site. Housing officially became part of the armory plan when, in late 2015, the EDC under de Blasio chose BFC and Slate Properties to redevelop the vacant building.</p> <p>When the city announced the chosen plan for the site, officials from EDC and HPD as well as the developer stressed the proposal was a jumping-off point, subject to negotiation and local input. <a href="https://www.dnainfo.com/new-york/20151217/crown-heights/city-unveils-design-for-bedford-union-armory-redevelopment-crown-heights" target="_blank" rel="noopener">At the announcement</a>, BFC Partners principal Don Capoccia promised to “continue to engage the community” to ensure that “at the end of the day, this project is responsive to the needs of this community.”</p> <p>Within months, protests began, led by nearby tenants and residents with a big assist by NYCC, a group with a long history of activism — and ties to de Blasio. Formerly, NYCC was known as Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, or ACORN, before a national controversy surrounding the group in 2009 prompted a rebranding. The group has backed progressive causes for decades and, in 2013, put their weight <a href="http://observer.com/2014/03/reincarnated-acorn-calling-the-shots-in-bill-de-blasios-new-york/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">behind a longshot progressive candidate for mayor</a>: Bill de Blasio.</p> <p>But that close relationship with the then-candidate has cooled through his years at City Hall, largely based on de Blasio’s approach to development and housing, and NYCC pulled no punches as it revved up to fight the armory plan.</p> <p>The group went after Slate Property for their dealings<a href="https://www.dnainfo.com/new-york/20160714/lower-east-side/city-agency-knew-of-possible-condo-conversion-before-rivington-sale-report" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> in the controversial 2015 sale </a>of a Lower East Side home for seniors. They <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/brooklyn/activists-call-foul-carmelo-backed-brooklyn-development-article-1.2744655" target="_blank" rel="noopener">called out then-Knicks player Carmelo Anthony</a> — whose foundation had signed on to help with the recreation center — for getting involved with a project that would “further exacerbate the gentrification of Crown Heights,” according to a published letter written to the basketball star by activist Bertha Lewis, former leader of NYCC when it was known as ACORN.</p> <p>Soon afterward, both Slate and Anthony dropped out of the project.</p> <p>In rallies, open letters and editorials, the groups fought against the armory plan with a consistent message: Scrap the deal completely, start from scratch, and build only affordable housing on the site, with no market-rate units. They called for the property to be moved to a community land trust.</p> <p>As the months dragged on, the project became a central issue in Cumbo’s re-election campaign, with two challengers — Democrat Ede Fox and Green Party candidate Jabari Brisport — promising to start from square one on the armory if elected. In May, facing Fox’s primary challenge, Cumbo <a href="http://gothamist.com/2017/05/19/crown_heights_armory_cumbo.php" target="_blank" rel="noopener">backed away from the armory plan</a>, announcing she would not support it if it included luxury condominiums.</p> <p>As Fox, Brisport, and other critics of the project continued to hammer her, Cumbo’s campaign touted her opposition to the plan, at times using misleading language. An independent expenditure by the hotel workers’ union paid for pro-Cumbo flyers and robo-calls indicating she would support the armory plan only if it included 100 percent affordable housing, a claim Cumbo said she never made, was aware of, or approved.</p> <p>“It wouldn’t even make logical sense for me to do that because I know going into [negotiations] that you’re not going to get 100 percent,” she told Gotham Gazette. “So it wouldn’t be beneficial for me to promise something that I can’t deliver.” Cumbo did not, however, disavow the independent expenditure or ask the hotel workers’ union to stop its mailers.</p> <p>Cumbo beat Fox by more than 16 percentage points in the September primary and won reelection with 67 percent of the vote in the general election (Brisport did exceptionally well for a Green Party candidate, seemingly buouyed by armory resentment). In an interview, Cumbo said after the election she stuck to her line in the sand about the condominiums until the end, even when “the administration continued to negotiate other aspects of the project without dealing with the 800-pound gorilla in the room.”</p> <p>“I, the community, the local stakeholders, the elected officials, said that they did not want any sale of the armory to happen,” Cumbo said. “I knew I wasn’t going to support a project that had luxury condominiums.”</p> <p>Even with a win on that aspect, the Council member acknowledges that, as with any great compromise, no party leaves the table with everything they want, herself included.</p> <p>“I’m not walking away completely happy, but I am walking away satisfied,” she said. “I’m walking away with a project that I know is going to benefit this community for generations to come.”</p> <p style="text-align: center;">**********</p> <p>To the de Blasio administration, the plan is a “win, win, win,” according to housing Commissioner Torres-Springer, who formerly led EDC.</p> <p>“We’re generating the types of opportunities that really address many sides of the complex affordability question in this city — certainly affordable housing, but also access to services, recreation, community, and jobs,” she said.</p> <p>The city is making that happen in partnership with BFC, a for-profit developer, which will pay $2 million per year in ground rent for the armory site, both in cash and in at least $1.25 million in “community benefits,” calculated as discounts on classes, memberships, space for nonprofits, and rentals to community groups within the newly built armory.</p> <p>For the city’s part, the $50 million in public funds will pay for 250 units of subsidized housing, set aside for households making between about $25,000 and $51,000 per year for a family of three, HPD said. In the deal, BFC will use income from the 150 market-rate rentals on the site to operate and maintain the recreation center. The company is projected to make an annual profit. A spokesperson did not return multiple requests for that projected amount.</p> <p>To Torres-Springer, the city’s job in a deal such as the armory is “making sure that we are stretching every public dollar as much as we can.”</p> <p>The philosophy — of partnering with and relying on private, for-profit developers to build affordable housing — is foundational to the de Blasio administration’s overall housing goal of building and preserving 300,000 affordable units by 2026.</p> <p>In an <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/05/nyregion/de-blasio-affordable-housing-new-york-city.html?_r=0" target="_blank" rel="noopener">interview with The New York Times</a> in October, Alicia Glen, de Blasio’s powerful deputy mayor for housing and economic development, said “there’s no such thing” as housing built by the city alone.</p> <p>“It’s all about, to what extent can you use the resources of the private sector, and the resources the public sector has, to put together the best deals you can possibly do,” she said.</p> <p>To advocates who fought the armory plan, some of whom fight de Blasio administration plans around the city, that idea is anathema to the goal of solving the housing crisis, particularly for low-income and homeless New Yorkers. To NYCC Executive Director Jonathan Westin, it’s a “failure of imagination” by the administration.</p> <p>“They’ve shown that they very clearly do not prioritize public housing,” or housing built and operated by the city, he said. “They do not actually believe in it. And it’s hugely problematic.”</p> <p>Particularly at the armory site, where 150 market-rate apartments will be built on the publicly-held property, the administration’s plan is “completely egregious,” according to Katie Goldstein, executive director of the statewide housing group Tenants and Neighbors, which has played an active role with NYCC to fight the armory plan.</p> <p>“When the city owns the land, to give that away to a for-profit developer? It’s such punch in the face to the community who was organizing around this,” she said.</p> <p>Lewis of the Black Institute said “not one iota” of the deal is satisfactory, and trying to deal with the de Blasio administration was worse than “all of the other fights that we’ve had,” including in the Bloomberg and Giuliani administrations.</p> <p>“You meet the new mayor, he’s the same as the other old mayors,” she said. “It’s really disgraceful that they should even utter the word ‘progressive.’”</p> <p>“To privatize something means that it has to make a profit,” said Giron, the Crown Heights resident and tenant advocate. “To me, that’s never going to be an appropriate approach for people of color, for low-income people, for New York, period.”</p> <p style="text-align: center;">***********</p> <p>The mayor and his team don’t necessarily disagree much with their critics, at least in terms of describing the city’s approach to housing and development. To de Blasio, Glen, Torres-Springer, and others, the number one thing the city needs is more housing, at various levels of affordability. The mayor stressed that goal when speaking about the armory project in July.</p> <p>“We need both – we need market and we need affordable housing. That’s our mission. Every time we do it, we’re looking to maximize the amount of affordability and to make the affordable housing as consistent with the community as possible,” he said, speaking to a caller on WNYC radio's The Brian Lehrer Show.</p> <p>And de Blasio regularly argues that it is essential to create more affordable housing for middle-income families, while, after pushback, he has also repeatedly adjusted his larger housing plan and more localized projects, like the armory redevelopment, to create deeper affordability.</p> <p>Pending a final approval from Brooklyn’s Borough Board — a last step in rezoning that will almost certainly pass, given the City Council’s overwhelming support — the armory deal is headed for a closing, a spokesperson for HPD said, and the city expects construction to begin in 2018.</p> <p>At the same time, housing advocates are still planning to fight the project any way they can.</p> <p>The day before the full City Council vote on the redevelopment, the Legal Aid Society filed a lawsuit challenging the city’s measurement of the project’s potential effect on displacement of rent-stabilized tenants. In arguing that the city is not taking into account displacement outside a 400-foot area surrounding the site, the plaintiffs hope to convince a judge to compel the city to adjust the project or, if nothing else, set a new standard for similar projects in the future.</p> <p>Last week, a judge denied the group’s request for a temporary restraining order on the armory project. The next hearing date in the suit is set for February 8, according to an EDC representative.</p> <p>For Giron, who lives two blocks from the armory, finding any way to stop the project — even “the hard way,” with a lawsuit, he said — is the only option. In the space of three or four years, he estimates about “half the people have been emptied out” of rent-regulated buildings between his home on Franklin Avenue and the armory on Bedford Avenue, he said, victims of an already super-heated housing market in Crown Heights.</p> <p>“I walk over there and I feel that void,” he said.</p> <p>For him, the armory was an opportunity to reverse, or at least slow, the displacement brought by gentrification, not accelerate it; the fact that any market-rate apartments will be built there, and without union labor, are unacceptable to him. So, he and the rest of the coalition will continue to fight, into the next four years&nbsp;— or longer, if necessary.</p> <p>“I can see a path…where there’s not even a shovel put in the ground before Laurie’s out of office,” he said, referring to Council Member Cumbo, whose second and last term ends in 2021.</p> <p>“We’re going to fight until we can’t anymore, until we’re gone or they’re gone,” he promised. “But we’re not going to stop.”</p> <p>***<br />by Rachel Holliday Smith for Gotham Gazette<br /><a href="https://twitter.com/rachelholliday" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@rachelholliday<br /></a><a href="https://twitter.com/GothamGazette" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@GothamGazette</a></p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/bedford-union-armory-rendering-via-bfc.jpg" alt="bedford union armory rendering via bfc" width="600" height="354" /></p> <p>(Armory rendering via BFC) (photos within piece by Rachel Holliday Smith)</p> <hr /> <p>Following years of ferocious debate, negotiation, protests and anguish, City Council Member Laurie Cumbo was finally ready to vote “yes” on the redevelopment of the publicly-owned, vacant Bedford-Union Armory.</p> <p>At very nearly the last minute, she and the administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio worked out a deal for the Crown Heights building with the city’s chosen developer, BFC Partners, the night before a crucial City Council land use committee vote on the controversial redevelopment. A week later, Cumbo stood amid the full Council, ready to approve the project.</p> <p>But before that could happen, chanting interrupted the meeting.</p> <p>“The city is not for sale! Kill the deal!”</p> <p>In the balcony of the Council chambers, a small crowd of activists, housing advocates, and Crown Heights residents shouted as security escorted them out.</p> <p>“Laurie lies!”</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/reset_1/img0126.jpg" alt="City Council Bedford Armory protest vote" width="400" height="263" style="margin-right: 15px; float: left;" />Among the protesters were the fiercest and most frequent critics of the armory project: members of New York Communities for Change (NYCC), the Crown Heights Tenant Union and their allies, who have pushed the city to scrap the plan for nearly two years, leading dozens of protests and supporting anti-armory plan challengers to Cumbo during her successful yet contentious reelection campaign this summer and fall.</p> <p>From the beginning, the coalition of activists saw the vacant armory and the publicly-owned land beneath it as an incredibly valuable resource that should be used to improve a rapidly gentrifying community, with deeply affordable housing to help stem the tide of displacement.</p> <p>By all accounts, the pressure moved the needle significantly. When it was announced in late 2015, the redevelopment included plans for 330 market-rate and affordable rentals, two dozen luxury condominiums, and a 45,000-square-foot recreation center. Following months of protests by NYCC, CHTU and others against any and all market-rate housing on the site, with particular ire directed at the condominiums, a new deal took shape.</p> <p>In the last-minute agreement, BFC cut out the condos as the city promised $50 million to subsidize more affordable — and more deeply affordable — rental housing on the site. In addition, the planned state-of-the-art recreation center would remain, with its own affordability requirements, supported financially by 150 market-rate apartments, officials said.</p> <p>To the casual observer, the armory agreement may appear to be a major feat for all sides. But as the project cleared the last hurdle in its public approval process, its detractors see it as a failure, emblematic of problems with the de Blasio administration’s approach to affordable housing citywide: doing too little for those who need it most, failing to slow gentrification, and relying too heavily on for-profit development. In particular, critics found fault with income restrictions at the project, which originally set aside a majority of affordable apartments at the site for households making above the area median income.</p> <p>To the mayor and his team, the armory is a solid compromise and exactly what the administration is aiming for with much of its ambitious housing plan — leveraging public resources to spur the construction of mixed-income housing by private developers.</p> <p>As Housing Preservation and Development Commissioner Maria Torres-Springer put it to Gotham Gazette, the city worked hard to meet the needs of the community while “ensuring we have a financially feasible project.”</p> <p>“That’s always a complicated balancing act,” she said.</p> <p>The project passed the Council on November 30 with 43 in favor, two against, and one abstention. As she cast her vote, Cumbo said the concerns of the project’s critics “have been taken into account” while underscoring all the good the project will bring: affordable housing, recreation space, jobs.</p> <p>“This is progress. This is an opportunity. This is getting something done in our term,” she said.</p> <p>The mayor echoed that sentiment when speaking about the project this summer, saying that “ultimately, it’s something that could do a lot of good for the community.”</p> <p>“Right now that armory is doing no good for the community,” he said at an unrelated press conference.</p> <p>But “getting something done” isn’t good enough for some in the neighborhood, including Crown Heights resident Esteban Giron, a local tenant organizer and member of the neighborhood community board’s land use committee, who was one of those escorted out of City Hall when the Council approved the deal.</p> <p>A day after the vote, Giron said he’d rather see the armory remain vacant than be rebuilt under the new terms.</p> <p>“What did we do, from the very beginning, except say we want 100 percent affordable housing?” he asked.</p> <p style="text-align: center;">**********</p> <p>For critics of the project, the sticking point on the redevelopment has always been this: the sprawling former military complex on Bedford Avenue sits on an extremely precious commodity — public land — and that limited resource, especially in gentrifying neighborhoods like Crown Heights, must be used to most effectively combat the city’s housing affordability crisis.</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/reset_1/img207.jpg" alt="Bedford Union Armory December 2017" width="400" height="266" style="margin-right: 15px; float: left;" />&nbsp;The 1904 building was used by the state as a training facility (complete with horse stables, a drill hall and rifle range) until its decommissioning in 2011, when then-Borough President Marty Markowitz, upon the urging of Crown Heights locals, began an effort to study what could be done with the hulking, 122,000-square-foot structure and its large lot.</p> <p>Markowitz’s chief of staff at the time, Carlo Scissura, now the president of the New York Building Congress, said the idea “was going to be similar to the Park Slope Armory,” the large YMCA-run recreational facility on 15th Street.</p> <p>“The plan here was recreation space, community space, maybe education, maybe seniors,” he said of the Bedford-Union Armory. “But housing was never part of it.”</p> <p>In 2013, at the end of the Bloomberg administration, the city’s Economic Development Corporation put out a request for proposals (RFP) for the site. Housing officially became part of the armory plan when, in late 2015, the EDC under de Blasio chose BFC and Slate Properties to redevelop the vacant building.</p> <p>When the city announced the chosen plan for the site, officials from EDC and HPD as well as the developer stressed the proposal was a jumping-off point, subject to negotiation and local input. <a href="https://www.dnainfo.com/new-york/20151217/crown-heights/city-unveils-design-for-bedford-union-armory-redevelopment-crown-heights" target="_blank" rel="noopener">At the announcement</a>, BFC Partners principal Don Capoccia promised to “continue to engage the community” to ensure that “at the end of the day, this project is responsive to the needs of this community.”</p> <p>Within months, protests began, led by nearby tenants and residents with a big assist by NYCC, a group with a long history of activism — and ties to de Blasio. Formerly, NYCC was known as Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, or ACORN, before a national controversy surrounding the group in 2009 prompted a rebranding. The group has backed progressive causes for decades and, in 2013, put their weight <a href="http://observer.com/2014/03/reincarnated-acorn-calling-the-shots-in-bill-de-blasios-new-york/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">behind a longshot progressive candidate for mayor</a>: Bill de Blasio.</p> <p>But that close relationship with the then-candidate has cooled through his years at City Hall, largely based on de Blasio’s approach to development and housing, and NYCC pulled no punches as it revved up to fight the armory plan.</p> <p>The group went after Slate Property for their dealings<a href="https://www.dnainfo.com/new-york/20160714/lower-east-side/city-agency-knew-of-possible-condo-conversion-before-rivington-sale-report" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> in the controversial 2015 sale </a>of a Lower East Side home for seniors. They <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/brooklyn/activists-call-foul-carmelo-backed-brooklyn-development-article-1.2744655" target="_blank" rel="noopener">called out then-Knicks player Carmelo Anthony</a> — whose foundation had signed on to help with the recreation center — for getting involved with a project that would “further exacerbate the gentrification of Crown Heights,” according to a published letter written to the basketball star by activist Bertha Lewis, former leader of NYCC when it was known as ACORN.</p> <p>Soon afterward, both Slate and Anthony dropped out of the project.</p> <p>In rallies, open letters and editorials, the groups fought against the armory plan with a consistent message: Scrap the deal completely, start from scratch, and build only affordable housing on the site, with no market-rate units. They called for the property to be moved to a community land trust.</p> <p>As the months dragged on, the project became a central issue in Cumbo’s re-election campaign, with two challengers — Democrat Ede Fox and Green Party candidate Jabari Brisport — promising to start from square one on the armory if elected. In May, facing Fox’s primary challenge, Cumbo <a href="http://gothamist.com/2017/05/19/crown_heights_armory_cumbo.php" target="_blank" rel="noopener">backed away from the armory plan</a>, announcing she would not support it if it included luxury condominiums.</p> <p>As Fox, Brisport, and other critics of the project continued to hammer her, Cumbo’s campaign touted her opposition to the plan, at times using misleading language. An independent expenditure by the hotel workers’ union paid for pro-Cumbo flyers and robo-calls indicating she would support the armory plan only if it included 100 percent affordable housing, a claim Cumbo said she never made, was aware of, or approved.</p> <p>“It wouldn’t even make logical sense for me to do that because I know going into [negotiations] that you’re not going to get 100 percent,” she told Gotham Gazette. “So it wouldn’t be beneficial for me to promise something that I can’t deliver.” Cumbo did not, however, disavow the independent expenditure or ask the hotel workers’ union to stop its mailers.</p> <p>Cumbo beat Fox by more than 16 percentage points in the September primary and won reelection with 67 percent of the vote in the general election (Brisport did exceptionally well for a Green Party candidate, seemingly buouyed by armory resentment). In an interview, Cumbo said after the election she stuck to her line in the sand about the condominiums until the end, even when “the administration continued to negotiate other aspects of the project without dealing with the 800-pound gorilla in the room.”</p> <p>“I, the community, the local stakeholders, the elected officials, said that they did not want any sale of the armory to happen,” Cumbo said. “I knew I wasn’t going to support a project that had luxury condominiums.”</p> <p>Even with a win on that aspect, the Council member acknowledges that, as with any great compromise, no party leaves the table with everything they want, herself included.</p> <p>“I’m not walking away completely happy, but I am walking away satisfied,” she said. “I’m walking away with a project that I know is going to benefit this community for generations to come.”</p> <p style="text-align: center;">**********</p> <p>To the de Blasio administration, the plan is a “win, win, win,” according to housing Commissioner Torres-Springer, who formerly led EDC.</p> <p>“We’re generating the types of opportunities that really address many sides of the complex affordability question in this city — certainly affordable housing, but also access to services, recreation, community, and jobs,” she said.</p> <p>The city is making that happen in partnership with BFC, a for-profit developer, which will pay $2 million per year in ground rent for the armory site, both in cash and in at least $1.25 million in “community benefits,” calculated as discounts on classes, memberships, space for nonprofits, and rentals to community groups within the newly built armory.</p> <p>For the city’s part, the $50 million in public funds will pay for 250 units of subsidized housing, set aside for households making between about $25,000 and $51,000 per year for a family of three, HPD said. In the deal, BFC will use income from the 150 market-rate rentals on the site to operate and maintain the recreation center. The company is projected to make an annual profit. A spokesperson did not return multiple requests for that projected amount.</p> <p>To Torres-Springer, the city’s job in a deal such as the armory is “making sure that we are stretching every public dollar as much as we can.”</p> <p>The philosophy — of partnering with and relying on private, for-profit developers to build affordable housing — is foundational to the de Blasio administration’s overall housing goal of building and preserving 300,000 affordable units by 2026.</p> <p>In an <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/05/nyregion/de-blasio-affordable-housing-new-york-city.html?_r=0" target="_blank" rel="noopener">interview with The New York Times</a> in October, Alicia Glen, de Blasio’s powerful deputy mayor for housing and economic development, said “there’s no such thing” as housing built by the city alone.</p> <p>“It’s all about, to what extent can you use the resources of the private sector, and the resources the public sector has, to put together the best deals you can possibly do,” she said.</p> <p>To advocates who fought the armory plan, some of whom fight de Blasio administration plans around the city, that idea is anathema to the goal of solving the housing crisis, particularly for low-income and homeless New Yorkers. To NYCC Executive Director Jonathan Westin, it’s a “failure of imagination” by the administration.</p> <p>“They’ve shown that they very clearly do not prioritize public housing,” or housing built and operated by the city, he said. “They do not actually believe in it. And it’s hugely problematic.”</p> <p>Particularly at the armory site, where 150 market-rate apartments will be built on the publicly-held property, the administration’s plan is “completely egregious,” according to Katie Goldstein, executive director of the statewide housing group Tenants and Neighbors, which has played an active role with NYCC to fight the armory plan.</p> <p>“When the city owns the land, to give that away to a for-profit developer? It’s such punch in the face to the community who was organizing around this,” she said.</p> <p>Lewis of the Black Institute said “not one iota” of the deal is satisfactory, and trying to deal with the de Blasio administration was worse than “all of the other fights that we’ve had,” including in the Bloomberg and Giuliani administrations.</p> <p>“You meet the new mayor, he’s the same as the other old mayors,” she said. “It’s really disgraceful that they should even utter the word ‘progressive.’”</p> <p>“To privatize something means that it has to make a profit,” said Giron, the Crown Heights resident and tenant advocate. “To me, that’s never going to be an appropriate approach for people of color, for low-income people, for New York, period.”</p> <p style="text-align: center;">***********</p> <p>The mayor and his team don’t necessarily disagree much with their critics, at least in terms of describing the city’s approach to housing and development. To de Blasio, Glen, Torres-Springer, and others, the number one thing the city needs is more housing, at various levels of affordability. The mayor stressed that goal when speaking about the armory project in July.</p> <p>“We need both – we need market and we need affordable housing. That’s our mission. Every time we do it, we’re looking to maximize the amount of affordability and to make the affordable housing as consistent with the community as possible,” he said, speaking to a caller on WNYC radio's The Brian Lehrer Show.</p> <p>And de Blasio regularly argues that it is essential to create more affordable housing for middle-income families, while, after pushback, he has also repeatedly adjusted his larger housing plan and more localized projects, like the armory redevelopment, to create deeper affordability.</p> <p>Pending a final approval from Brooklyn’s Borough Board — a last step in rezoning that will almost certainly pass, given the City Council’s overwhelming support — the armory deal is headed for a closing, a spokesperson for HPD said, and the city expects construction to begin in 2018.</p> <p>At the same time, housing advocates are still planning to fight the project any way they can.</p> <p>The day before the full City Council vote on the redevelopment, the Legal Aid Society filed a lawsuit challenging the city’s measurement of the project’s potential effect on displacement of rent-stabilized tenants. In arguing that the city is not taking into account displacement outside a 400-foot area surrounding the site, the plaintiffs hope to convince a judge to compel the city to adjust the project or, if nothing else, set a new standard for similar projects in the future.</p> <p>Last week, a judge denied the group’s request for a temporary restraining order on the armory project. The next hearing date in the suit is set for February 8, according to an EDC representative.</p> <p>For Giron, who lives two blocks from the armory, finding any way to stop the project — even “the hard way,” with a lawsuit, he said — is the only option. In the space of three or four years, he estimates about “half the people have been emptied out” of rent-regulated buildings between his home on Franklin Avenue and the armory on Bedford Avenue, he said, victims of an already super-heated housing market in Crown Heights.</p> <p>“I walk over there and I feel that void,” he said.</p> <p>For him, the armory was an opportunity to reverse, or at least slow, the displacement brought by gentrification, not accelerate it; the fact that any market-rate apartments will be built there, and without union labor, are unacceptable to him. So, he and the rest of the coalition will continue to fight, into the next four years&nbsp;— or longer, if necessary.</p> <p>“I can see a path…where there’s not even a shovel put in the ground before Laurie’s out of office,” he said, referring to Council Member Cumbo, whose second and last term ends in 2021.</p> <p>“We’re going to fight until we can’t anymore, until we’re gone or they’re gone,” he promised. “But we’re not going to stop.”</p> <p>***<br />by Rachel Holliday Smith for Gotham Gazette<br /><a href="https://twitter.com/rachelholliday" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@rachelholliday<br /></a><a href="https://twitter.com/GothamGazette" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@GothamGazette</a></p> 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.

</p>
<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

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What’s The [DATA] Point? 77,651, with the City Housing Commissioner 2017-09-21T04:00:00+00:00 2017-09-21T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7206:what-s-the-data-point-77-651-with-the-city-housing-commissioner Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/whats-the-data-point.jpg" alt="whats the data point" width="600" height="600" /></p> <hr /> <p><strong>What's The Data Point? Episode 12</strong><strong>&nbsp;- <b>77,651</b> with&nbsp;<b>Maria Torres-Springer, housing commissioner in the de Blasio administration</b>&nbsp;</strong>[You can download What's The [Data] Point? wherever you get your podcasts, including on iTunes]</p> <p>For this episode of the podcast, we bring you excerpts of a speech the city's housing commissioner, Maria Torres-Springer, gave at a Citizens Budget Commission event on Wednesday, September 20, followed by 15 minutes of Q-and-A with the commissioner. You'll hear a brief introduction of the episode's data point, followed by portions of Torres-Springer's speech, which was focused on the de Blasio administration's affordable housing program, and then Torres-Springer answering questions from Gotham Gazette and CBC. Make sure to stay tuned for the Q-and-A, which includes several interesting exchanges.</p> <p>Throughout both parts, Torres-Springer explains progress being made on one of the administration's most ambitious goals, building or preserving 200,000 units of affordable housing over 10 years, discusses challenges the city is facing, including potential federal funding cuts, and much more. She discusses the administration's plans to rezone neighborhoods in order to add more housing, what the city needs from the state, and much more.</p> <p>Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think: Ben Max of GG (<a href="https://twitter.com/TweetBenMax" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@TweetBenMax</a>) &amp; CBC (<a href="https://twitter.com/cbcny">@cbcny</a>) &amp; guest Maria Torres-Springer (<a href="https://twitter.com/MTorresSpringer" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@MTorresSpringer</a> of <a href="https://twitter.com/NYCHousing" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@NYCHousing</a>). Listen below or download wherever you get your podcasts!</p> <p><iframe src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/343438625&amp;color=%23ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false&amp;visual=true" width="100%" height="300" frameborder="no" scrolling="no"></iframe></p> <p>

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/whats-the-data-point.jpg" alt="whats the data point" width="600" height="600" /></p> <hr /> <p><strong>What's The Data Point? Episode 12</strong><strong>&nbsp;- <b>77,651</b> with&nbsp;<b>Maria Torres-Springer, housing commissioner in the de Blasio administration</b>&nbsp;</strong>[You can download What's The [Data] Point? wherever you get your podcasts, including on iTunes]</p> <p>For this episode of the podcast, we bring you excerpts of a speech the city's housing commissioner, Maria Torres-Springer, gave at a Citizens Budget Commission event on Wednesday, September 20, followed by 15 minutes of Q-and-A with the commissioner. You'll hear a brief introduction of the episode's data point, followed by portions of Torres-Springer's speech, which was focused on the de Blasio administration's affordable housing program, and then Torres-Springer answering questions from Gotham Gazette and CBC. Make sure to stay tuned for the Q-and-A, which includes several interesting exchanges.</p> <p>Throughout both parts, Torres-Springer explains progress being made on one of the administration's most ambitious goals, building or preserving 200,000 units of affordable housing over 10 years, discusses challenges the city is facing, including potential federal funding cuts, and much more. She discusses the administration's plans to rezone neighborhoods in order to add more housing, what the city needs from the state, and much more.</p> <p>Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think: Ben Max of GG (<a href="https://twitter.com/TweetBenMax" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@TweetBenMax</a>) &amp; CBC (<a href="https://twitter.com/cbcny">@cbcny</a>) &amp; guest Maria Torres-Springer (<a href="https://twitter.com/MTorresSpringer" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@MTorresSpringer</a> of <a href="https://twitter.com/NYCHousing" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@NYCHousing</a>). Listen below or download wherever you get your podcasts!</p> <p><iframe src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/343438625&amp;color=%23ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false&amp;visual=true" width="100%" height="300" frameborder="no" scrolling="no"></iframe></p> <p>

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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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>

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by Jynn Schubert for Gotham Gazette
@JynnWasHere  @GothamGazette

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<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>

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by Jynn Schubert for Gotham Gazette
@JynnWasHere  @GothamGazette

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