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/rafael-espinal-jr 2018-11-18T10:59:08+00:00 Webmaster webmaster@gothamgazette.com At First Debate, Candidates for Public Advocate Pitch Visions for the Role 2018-11-16T05:00:00+00:00 2018-11-16T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8076-at-first-debate-candidates-for-public-advocate-pitch-visions-for-the-role Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/public-adv-debate-first-ls.png" alt="The candidates, moderator and hosts" width="600" /></p> <p>The candidates, moderator and hosts (photo via Gotham Gazette)</p> <hr /> <p>New York City Public Advocate Letitia James’ victory in the race for state attorney general has kicked off what will be roughly three months of jostling by candidates running to replace her. While James won’t be sworn in until January and the nonpartisan special election for her seat won’t be held till February, several candidates have already declared their interest in the seat and, on Wednesday evening, seven of them shared a stage at New York Law School, staking out their positions on the roles and responsibilities of the office and how they would employ the limited powers of the public advocate.</p> <p>The 90-minute forum, hosted by AARP-NY and good government group Citizens Union, featured New York City Council Members Rafael Espinal, Eric Ulrich and Jumaane Williams, Assembly Members Michael Blake and Daniel O’Donnell, Dawn Smalls, a former Obama White House appointee, and journalist Nomiki Konst. Gotham Gazette editor Ben Max moderated the discussion, which largely focused on how the candidates would execute the role of public advocate, but also touched on a number of issues, from development in the city to the recently-announced deal that would bring an Amazon headquarters to Queens.</p> <p>The candidates were all in the same neighborhood in defining the role of the public advocate as an independent watchdog in city government that provides a voice for the voiceless and holds the mayor accountable. Each presented their vision of the key responsibilities of the office and how they would creatively use its resources, and discussed areas of government function and city agencies where they would focus their efforts. There was minimal daylight among them, all Democrats save for Ulrich, who admitted he was the “elephant in the room” as the only Republican on stage (he calls himself a Rockefeller Republican and is pro-choice, pro-labor union, and opposed to President Donald Trump).</p> <p>The candidates mostly agreed that the office is underfunded, at $3.3 million for the current fiscal year, and agreed that the budget should be independent of the whims of the City Council and the mayor, though none of them offered specific projections for adequate funding.</p> <p>Council Member Espinal pitched his record of bringing resources to his district and fighting for affordable housing, chiefly through the East New York rezoning plan that included $250 million in city investments in the neighborhood. He agreed that the public advocate should use their position to hold the mayor accountable for his decisions. “But I also believe that the public advocate should be responsible for making sure that we have a plan that’s going to benefit the future of New York City,” he said, insisting that the role should be about more than just reacting to crises after the fact. “NYCHA’s crumbling, the MTA’s crumbling, but no one’s talking about what are some sustainable solutions on how the city should move forward to make sure those problems do not end up at our steps at City Hall.”</p> <p>Espinal said the office should be empowered to audit city agencies, conduct independent environmental studies on land use deals, and should run the city’s most efficient constituent services program. Asked how he would work to make the city more aging friendly, he promised to advocate for investments in infrastructure and accessibility, and to push for increased senior services and funding for health care facilities.</p> <p>Ulrich repeatedly made some of the most forceful pledges to hold the mayor accountable, arguing he is best suited to do so given his party affiliation. “The office of the public advocate was supposed to be, or was designed to be, I believe, a check on the power of the executive branch in this city, not a rubber stamp,” he said, noting that officials sometimes fail that duty when both the public advocate and mayor are members of the same party while giving credit to several prior public advocates for ways in which they used the office.</p> <p>Ulrich said the powers of the office could be expanded without increased funding, by allowing the public advocate to sit on the boards of more city commissions and authorities, such as the MTA executive board and the CUNY board of trustees.</p> <p>To aid seniors, Ulrich said he would push to expand support for naturally occurring retirement communities (NORCs), advocate for legislation in Albany to give tax credits to caregivers of senior citizens and also promote greater affordable housing set asides for seniors. He stressed that it was necessary to set up a communication pipeline, perhaps within the office, dedicated to seniors’ complaints and issues.</p> <p>The presumed frontrunner in the race is Council Member Williams, who is fresh off a defeat in the primary for lieutenant governor in which he nonetheless won nearly 47 percent, more than 640,000 votes, against the incumbent, Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul. Williams prides himself on being an “activist elected official” and has vowed to bring that philosophy into the public advocate’s office. “I want to make sure that people feel someone is watching the mayor, the City Council, the agencies to make sure they’re doing what they’re supposed to do,” Williams said. More than just raising issues with government failures, he said the public advocate should also propose solutions to solve them.</p> <p>Williams pushed for the office to receive subpoena power and an independent budget with enough resources to hire a dedicated investigations staff and to give them the ability to file lawsuits and see them through. To Williams, the biggest issues facing seniors are the lack of affordable housing in the city and “resource inequality” across neighborhoods for which he pointed fingers at Mayor Bill de Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo, promising that he would prioritize those problems if elected.</p> <p>Smalls, an attorney who worked in the Clinton and Obama administrations and formerly as a commissioner at the New York State Joint Commission for Public Ethics, pitched herself as an independent candidate from outside the established political structure. “I am running for public advocate because I believe in government as a force for good, but only if it works,” she said.</p> <p>Smalls said she would reorganize the office to be “laser focused” on a few key areas, in particular the city’s subway system, affordable housing, homelessness, and voting reforms. “Rather than doing a little bit of everything, when you have such a limited budget, and you have such a limited staff, I think the way to leverage that is to really focus in on a few key issues that affect all New Yorkers and really use that watchdog status to drill down and hold leaders accountable,” she said.</p> <p>Smalls also said she supported providing more affordable housing for seniors and a caregiver tax credit, and said the city needs to put more money into NYCHA which is home to many seniors and is experiencing a “five-alarm emergency.”</p> <p>Similarly to Smalls, Konst touted her independence from politics as her strongest qualification. “I’m running for public advocate because it is independent, it should be independent of politics,” she said. Konst previously served on the Democratic National Committee Reform Commission, appointed by Senator Bernie Sanders, and has been a vocal proponent of reform within the party. A democratic socialist, she also holds what are in this race likely the furthest left positions on many issues.</p> <p>She offered several unique ideas for how she would use the public advocate’s office including setting up a unit of out-of-work reporters to investigate public corruption, creating a conflicts of interest map to portray the connections between elected officials, lobbyists, and special interests, and appointing a representative of the public advocate’s office in each of the 51 City Council districts to monitor community issues. “The public advocate is there to shine light on all the dark places in this city, expose it and take it on,” she said.</p> <p>Konst said senior issues were “intersectional” and argued that across the board, underfunding of government services was the root of the problem, whether it be in NYCHA or the MTA. She promised to sue landlords that improperly evict elderly tenants and inveighed against overdevelopment that she said was leading to services and resources being concentrated in richer communities.</p> <p>Assemblymember Blake, who was recently reelected for a third term and is also a vice chair of the Democratic National Committee, said the number one responsibility of the office is “to be the watchdog of the agencies and to fight for the people.” He outlined four critical areas where he would “mobilize” the office’s resources -- the MTA, NYCHA, affordable housing, and the Department of Education. Blake repeatedly chided the deal signed between the city and state with Amazon to help the tech giant establish a satellite office in Long Island City. The deal was struck without input from local elected officials and will cut out the City Council from the land use review process. Blake said it was a chief example of why the city needs a strong public advocate.</p> <p>Blake called for an expansion of the SCRIE program, which provides rent freezes for seniors, insisted that the city should expand transit options for the elderly and also emphasized the need to provide services to senior veterans and seniors living in public housing. Additionally, he emphasized a focus on preventative health care for the city’s aging population, insisting that “too often we’re addressing the crisis on the back end.”</p> <p>“I’m running for public advocate because I don’t want to be mayor,” said Assemblymember O’Donnell, insisting that anyone seeking to use the office as a springboard should be “disqualified” from the race. (Only Ulrich would later say that he would consider running for mayor, while the rest either denied or deflected). “You have to have an independent outside voice who’s unafraid of the consequences of telling the truth,” O’Donnell added.</p> <p>O’Donnell said his first legislative proposal would be to give the public advocate’s office the power to subpoena city agencies, later touting his experience conducting investigations as head of the Assembly’s ethics committee. He repeatedly said the top issue the office should combat is overdevelopment and gentrification he says is running rampant across the city.</p> <p>O’Donnell also raised the issue of so-called food deserts in low-income communities, which lack access to fresh fruits and vegetables and are generally linked to worse health outcomes. He said he would work to solve that problem. “I believe the public advocate’s office is the perfect place to promote it, to organize it,” he said.</p> <p>He also touted a bill he authored to remove social security income from SCRIE application numbers, alleviating pressure on seniors who cannot afford their rent, and he said the city should take over control of the bus system from the MTA, to ensure better transit options for seniors.</p> <p>Not all of the participating candidates are officially declared, Ulrich indicated he hasn’t made up his mind about running yet, and others who were not part of the forum are running or may run. Among others who are running or considering a run are former City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, City Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, David Eisenbach, Ben Yee, and Theo Chino. Candidates will have to officially petition in early January to get on the February ballot. As soon as James vacates the seat, Mayor Bill de Blasio, himself a former public advocate, will have to call the special election.</p> <p>[LISTEN: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8074-listen-public-advocate-candidate-forum-nov-2018" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Public Advocate Candidate Forum - Nov. 14, 2018</a>]</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, Senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p> Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union. </p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/public-adv-debate-first-ls.png" alt="The candidates, moderator and hosts" width="600" /></p> <p>The candidates, moderator and hosts (photo via Gotham Gazette)</p> <hr /> <p>New York City Public Advocate Letitia James’ victory in the race for state attorney general has kicked off what will be roughly three months of jostling by candidates running to replace her. While James won’t be sworn in until January and the nonpartisan special election for her seat won’t be held till February, several candidates have already declared their interest in the seat and, on Wednesday evening, seven of them shared a stage at New York Law School, staking out their positions on the roles and responsibilities of the office and how they would employ the limited powers of the public advocate.</p> <p>The 90-minute forum, hosted by AARP-NY and good government group Citizens Union, featured New York City Council Members Rafael Espinal, Eric Ulrich and Jumaane Williams, Assembly Members Michael Blake and Daniel O’Donnell, Dawn Smalls, a former Obama White House appointee, and journalist Nomiki Konst. Gotham Gazette editor Ben Max moderated the discussion, which largely focused on how the candidates would execute the role of public advocate, but also touched on a number of issues, from development in the city to the recently-announced deal that would bring an Amazon headquarters to Queens.</p> <p>The candidates were all in the same neighborhood in defining the role of the public advocate as an independent watchdog in city government that provides a voice for the voiceless and holds the mayor accountable. Each presented their vision of the key responsibilities of the office and how they would creatively use its resources, and discussed areas of government function and city agencies where they would focus their efforts. There was minimal daylight among them, all Democrats save for Ulrich, who admitted he was the “elephant in the room” as the only Republican on stage (he calls himself a Rockefeller Republican and is pro-choice, pro-labor union, and opposed to President Donald Trump).</p> <p>The candidates mostly agreed that the office is underfunded, at $3.3 million for the current fiscal year, and agreed that the budget should be independent of the whims of the City Council and the mayor, though none of them offered specific projections for adequate funding.</p> <p>Council Member Espinal pitched his record of bringing resources to his district and fighting for affordable housing, chiefly through the East New York rezoning plan that included $250 million in city investments in the neighborhood. He agreed that the public advocate should use their position to hold the mayor accountable for his decisions. “But I also believe that the public advocate should be responsible for making sure that we have a plan that’s going to benefit the future of New York City,” he said, insisting that the role should be about more than just reacting to crises after the fact. “NYCHA’s crumbling, the MTA’s crumbling, but no one’s talking about what are some sustainable solutions on how the city should move forward to make sure those problems do not end up at our steps at City Hall.”</p> <p>Espinal said the office should be empowered to audit city agencies, conduct independent environmental studies on land use deals, and should run the city’s most efficient constituent services program. Asked how he would work to make the city more aging friendly, he promised to advocate for investments in infrastructure and accessibility, and to push for increased senior services and funding for health care facilities.</p> <p>Ulrich repeatedly made some of the most forceful pledges to hold the mayor accountable, arguing he is best suited to do so given his party affiliation. “The office of the public advocate was supposed to be, or was designed to be, I believe, a check on the power of the executive branch in this city, not a rubber stamp,” he said, noting that officials sometimes fail that duty when both the public advocate and mayor are members of the same party while giving credit to several prior public advocates for ways in which they used the office.</p> <p>Ulrich said the powers of the office could be expanded without increased funding, by allowing the public advocate to sit on the boards of more city commissions and authorities, such as the MTA executive board and the CUNY board of trustees.</p> <p>To aid seniors, Ulrich said he would push to expand support for naturally occurring retirement communities (NORCs), advocate for legislation in Albany to give tax credits to caregivers of senior citizens and also promote greater affordable housing set asides for seniors. He stressed that it was necessary to set up a communication pipeline, perhaps within the office, dedicated to seniors’ complaints and issues.</p> <p>The presumed frontrunner in the race is Council Member Williams, who is fresh off a defeat in the primary for lieutenant governor in which he nonetheless won nearly 47 percent, more than 640,000 votes, against the incumbent, Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul. Williams prides himself on being an “activist elected official” and has vowed to bring that philosophy into the public advocate’s office. “I want to make sure that people feel someone is watching the mayor, the City Council, the agencies to make sure they’re doing what they’re supposed to do,” Williams said. More than just raising issues with government failures, he said the public advocate should also propose solutions to solve them.</p> <p>Williams pushed for the office to receive subpoena power and an independent budget with enough resources to hire a dedicated investigations staff and to give them the ability to file lawsuits and see them through. To Williams, the biggest issues facing seniors are the lack of affordable housing in the city and “resource inequality” across neighborhoods for which he pointed fingers at Mayor Bill de Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo, promising that he would prioritize those problems if elected.</p> <p>Smalls, an attorney who worked in the Clinton and Obama administrations and formerly as a commissioner at the New York State Joint Commission for Public Ethics, pitched herself as an independent candidate from outside the established political structure. “I am running for public advocate because I believe in government as a force for good, but only if it works,” she said.</p> <p>Smalls said she would reorganize the office to be “laser focused” on a few key areas, in particular the city’s subway system, affordable housing, homelessness, and voting reforms. “Rather than doing a little bit of everything, when you have such a limited budget, and you have such a limited staff, I think the way to leverage that is to really focus in on a few key issues that affect all New Yorkers and really use that watchdog status to drill down and hold leaders accountable,” she said.</p> <p>Smalls also said she supported providing more affordable housing for seniors and a caregiver tax credit, and said the city needs to put more money into NYCHA which is home to many seniors and is experiencing a “five-alarm emergency.”</p> <p>Similarly to Smalls, Konst touted her independence from politics as her strongest qualification. “I’m running for public advocate because it is independent, it should be independent of politics,” she said. Konst previously served on the Democratic National Committee Reform Commission, appointed by Senator Bernie Sanders, and has been a vocal proponent of reform within the party. A democratic socialist, she also holds what are in this race likely the furthest left positions on many issues.</p> <p>She offered several unique ideas for how she would use the public advocate’s office including setting up a unit of out-of-work reporters to investigate public corruption, creating a conflicts of interest map to portray the connections between elected officials, lobbyists, and special interests, and appointing a representative of the public advocate’s office in each of the 51 City Council districts to monitor community issues. “The public advocate is there to shine light on all the dark places in this city, expose it and take it on,” she said.</p> <p>Konst said senior issues were “intersectional” and argued that across the board, underfunding of government services was the root of the problem, whether it be in NYCHA or the MTA. She promised to sue landlords that improperly evict elderly tenants and inveighed against overdevelopment that she said was leading to services and resources being concentrated in richer communities.</p> <p>Assemblymember Blake, who was recently reelected for a third term and is also a vice chair of the Democratic National Committee, said the number one responsibility of the office is “to be the watchdog of the agencies and to fight for the people.” He outlined four critical areas where he would “mobilize” the office’s resources -- the MTA, NYCHA, affordable housing, and the Department of Education. Blake repeatedly chided the deal signed between the city and state with Amazon to help the tech giant establish a satellite office in Long Island City. The deal was struck without input from local elected officials and will cut out the City Council from the land use review process. Blake said it was a chief example of why the city needs a strong public advocate.</p> <p>Blake called for an expansion of the SCRIE program, which provides rent freezes for seniors, insisted that the city should expand transit options for the elderly and also emphasized the need to provide services to senior veterans and seniors living in public housing. Additionally, he emphasized a focus on preventative health care for the city’s aging population, insisting that “too often we’re addressing the crisis on the back end.”</p> <p>“I’m running for public advocate because I don’t want to be mayor,” said Assemblymember O’Donnell, insisting that anyone seeking to use the office as a springboard should be “disqualified” from the race. (Only Ulrich would later say that he would consider running for mayor, while the rest either denied or deflected). “You have to have an independent outside voice who’s unafraid of the consequences of telling the truth,” O’Donnell added.</p> <p>O’Donnell said his first legislative proposal would be to give the public advocate’s office the power to subpoena city agencies, later touting his experience conducting investigations as head of the Assembly’s ethics committee. He repeatedly said the top issue the office should combat is overdevelopment and gentrification he says is running rampant across the city.</p> <p>O’Donnell also raised the issue of so-called food deserts in low-income communities, which lack access to fresh fruits and vegetables and are generally linked to worse health outcomes. He said he would work to solve that problem. “I believe the public advocate’s office is the perfect place to promote it, to organize it,” he said.</p> <p>He also touted a bill he authored to remove social security income from SCRIE application numbers, alleviating pressure on seniors who cannot afford their rent, and he said the city should take over control of the bus system from the MTA, to ensure better transit options for seniors.</p> <p>Not all of the participating candidates are officially declared, Ulrich indicated he hasn’t made up his mind about running yet, and others who were not part of the forum are running or may run. Among others who are running or considering a run are former City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, City Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, David Eisenbach, Ben Yee, and Theo Chino. Candidates will have to officially petition in early January to get on the February ballot. As soon as James vacates the seat, Mayor Bill de Blasio, himself a former public advocate, will have to call the special election.</p> <p>[LISTEN: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8074-listen-public-advocate-candidate-forum-nov-2018" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Public Advocate Candidate Forum - Nov. 14, 2018</a>]</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, Senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p> Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union. </p>
LISTEN: Public Advocate Candidate Forum - Nov. 14, 2018 2018-11-15T05:00:00+00:00 2018-11-15T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8074-listen-public-advocate-candidate-forum-nov-2018 Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/pa_forum_aarp_afterward.jpg" alt="pa forum aarp afterward" width="600" /></p> <p>The candidates, moderator and hosts (photo via Gotham Gazette)</p> <hr /> <p>With Public Advocate Letitia James' victory to become the next New York State Attorney General, she will vacate her current position on January 1 and there will be a special election to fill it sometime in February, once the Mayor decides on the exact date within a limited window he has to call it. In the days before and after Election Day 2018, candidates for Public Advocate have announced their intentions to run, or at least explore it, in some cases. Seven of those candidates participated in a forum on Wednesday, Nov. 14, hosted by Citizens Union, AARP NY, and New York Law School: Assembly Members Michael Blake and Danny O'Donnell; City Council Members Eric Ulrich, Jumaane Williams, and Rafael Espinal; activist and journalist Nomiki Konst; and attorney and former federal aide Dawn Smalls (there are other candidates who have declared or are exploring a run -- candidates will have to decide early in January at the latest).</p> <p>The debate touched on a wide range of issues, but was especially focused on how the candidates would approach the office of Public Advocate and what issues they would focus on, and it was moderated by Gotham Gazette's Ben Max. Listen to the debate through the audio embedded below, or find it wherever you get your podcasts under "Gotham Gazette" and "Max &amp; Murphy" -- we've added it to those podcast streams.</p> <p><iframe src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/530246352&amp;color=%23ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false&amp;show_teaser=true" width="100%" height="180" frameborder="no" scrolling="no"></iframe></p> <p>

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/pa_forum_aarp_afterward.jpg" alt="pa forum aarp afterward" width="600" /></p> <p>The candidates, moderator and hosts (photo via Gotham Gazette)</p> <hr /> <p>With Public Advocate Letitia James' victory to become the next New York State Attorney General, she will vacate her current position on January 1 and there will be a special election to fill it sometime in February, once the Mayor decides on the exact date within a limited window he has to call it. In the days before and after Election Day 2018, candidates for Public Advocate have announced their intentions to run, or at least explore it, in some cases. Seven of those candidates participated in a forum on Wednesday, Nov. 14, hosted by Citizens Union, AARP NY, and New York Law School: Assembly Members Michael Blake and Danny O'Donnell; City Council Members Eric Ulrich, Jumaane Williams, and Rafael Espinal; activist and journalist Nomiki Konst; and attorney and former federal aide Dawn Smalls (there are other candidates who have declared or are exploring a run -- candidates will have to decide early in January at the latest).</p> <p>The debate touched on a wide range of issues, but was especially focused on how the candidates would approach the office of Public Advocate and what issues they would focus on, and it was moderated by Gotham Gazette's Ben Max. Listen to the debate through the audio embedded below, or find it wherever you get your podcasts under "Gotham Gazette" and "Max &amp; Murphy" -- we've added it to those podcast streams.</p> <p><iframe src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/530246352&amp;color=%23ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false&amp;show_teaser=true" width="100%" height="180" frameborder="no" scrolling="no"></iframe></p> <p>

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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</p>
Field for Public Advocate Special Election Comes Into Focus 2018-11-12T05:00:00+00:00 2018-11-12T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8069-field-for-public-advocate-special-election-comes-into-focus Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/39766002621_7e972f43a2_z.jpg" alt="Rafael Espinal" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Council Member Rafael Espinal (photo: William Alatriste)</p> <hr /> <p>Letitia James’ win in the race to become the next New York Attorney General means there will be a special election early in 2019 to name New York City’s next Public Advocate. The candidates for what will be a roughly three-month race were just beginning to become clear when news broke of planned City Council legislation calling for the position of public advocate to be abolished, as <a href="https://www.politico.com/states/new-york/albany/story/2018/11/12/council-to-consider-abolishing-office-of-the-public-advocate-691815" target="_blank" rel="noopener">reported by Politico</a>.</p> <p>Though the post of public advocate has had critics since it was created during a massive 1989 New York City Charter revision process, the Council bill faces an uphill path to passage, and the race to replace James as one of just three popularly-elected citywide officials will capture much of the city’s political attention over the coming weeks.</p> <p>The somewhat undefined and underfunded role of public advocate is largely shaped by the person who fills it. It is broadly expected that the public advocate will do as the name suggests and fight for public interests, serving as a watchdog over the rest of city government. It is also seen as a stepping stone post -- Bill de Blasio launched his successful 2013 campaign for mayor from the perch.</p> <p>With James expected to win her race for attorney general since she launched her campaign several months ago, a long list of potential public advocate candidates formed. Now that Election Day is in the past, some are making it official, while others are still officially in the considering phase.</p> <p>Pushing the decision-making is that organizations have begun to host candidate forums, including the first on Monday night, held in Manhattan by several progressive advocacy groups and Democratic clubs. <a href="http://aarp.cvent.com/events/aarp-new-york-city-nyc-public-advocate-town-hall-new-york-ny-11-14-18/event-summary-314a803f5d324ce18be85b3e3986817a.aspx" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Another will follow on Wednesday night</a>, hosted by government reform group Citizens Union and AARP-NY. Candidates must also consider fundraising and pursuing endorsements from groups, labor unions, and high-profile individuals.</p> <p>Even before James won her race, a handful of candidates declared their candidacies: City Council Member Jumaane Williams, state Assembly Members Daniel O’Donnell and Michael Blake, activist and journalist Nomiki Konst, and Columbia history professor David Eisenbach, who ran in the 2017 public advocate Democratic primary against James.</p> <p>Former City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito is said to be nearing the launch of a campaign, while there have been grumblings that her predecessor in that role, Christine Quinn, may also give the race a look. There has also been some question about whether Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams would consider it, though he has expressed his intention to run for mayor in 2021. Both Quinn and Adams appear unlikely candidates at this point.</p> <p>Meanwhile, along with Williams, who just lost a bid to become the Democratic lieutenant governor nominee, current City Council Members either starting or flirting with a run for public advocate include Rafael Espinal, Ydanis Rodriguez, and Eric Ulrich, the lone Republican in the mix at this point. (Meanwhile, five of their colleagues - Kalman Yeger, Robert Holden, Ruben Diaz Sr., Mark Gjonaj, and Rtichie Torres -- announced on Monday that they are backing a new bill to eliminate the position.)</p> <p>Also in the running for public advocate are Dawn Smalls, a Manhattan attorney with a background in federal government, open government advocate and Democratic Party activist Ben Yee, and systems engineer Theo Chino. Other names could easily emerge in the coming days and weeks.</p> <p>Once James is officially sworn in as attorney general on January 1, Mayor de Blasio will have just a few days to call a special election, likely to take place in late February. That election will be “non-partisan,” meaning there are no party primaries and each candidate must create their own ballot line through petitioning to accrue signatures from voters.</p> <p>Once the special election is decided, the winner will only hold the office until the end of 2019. In the fall, there will be a “regular” election, with party primaries (as necessary) and a general election. The winner of that election will serve out the rest of James’ term until the end of 2021. He or she would be eligible to run for reelection that fall and able to serve two full terms on top of the partial term, though there is of course talk that whoever holds the seat at the start of 2020 may very well run for mayor in 2021, when de Blasio is term-limited out of office.</p> <p>The <a href="http://aarp.cvent.com/events/aarp-new-york-city-nyc-public-advocate-town-hall-new-york-ny-11-14-18/event-summary-314a803f5d324ce18be85b3e3986817a.aspx" target="_blank" rel="noopener">forum on Wednesday</a> will be held at New York Law School starting at 6:30 p.m., participating candidates including Blake, Williams, Espinal, Ulrich, O'Donnell, Konst, and Smalls.</p> <p>[Updated: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8074-listen-public-advocate-candidate-forum-nov-2018" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Listen to the full Wednesday forum here</a>]</p> <p>

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by Victor Porcelli, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Ben Max contributed to this story.</p> <p>This story has been updated to indicate that City Council Member Robert Cornegy told Gotham Gazette he is not running for public advocate and that he is pursuing a run for Brooklyn borough president in 2021.</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/39766002621_7e972f43a2_z.jpg" alt="Rafael Espinal" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Council Member Rafael Espinal (photo: William Alatriste)</p> <hr /> <p>Letitia James’ win in the race to become the next New York Attorney General means there will be a special election early in 2019 to name New York City’s next Public Advocate. The candidates for what will be a roughly three-month race were just beginning to become clear when news broke of planned City Council legislation calling for the position of public advocate to be abolished, as <a href="https://www.politico.com/states/new-york/albany/story/2018/11/12/council-to-consider-abolishing-office-of-the-public-advocate-691815" target="_blank" rel="noopener">reported by Politico</a>.</p> <p>Though the post of public advocate has had critics since it was created during a massive 1989 New York City Charter revision process, the Council bill faces an uphill path to passage, and the race to replace James as one of just three popularly-elected citywide officials will capture much of the city’s political attention over the coming weeks.</p> <p>The somewhat undefined and underfunded role of public advocate is largely shaped by the person who fills it. It is broadly expected that the public advocate will do as the name suggests and fight for public interests, serving as a watchdog over the rest of city government. It is also seen as a stepping stone post -- Bill de Blasio launched his successful 2013 campaign for mayor from the perch.</p> <p>With James expected to win her race for attorney general since she launched her campaign several months ago, a long list of potential public advocate candidates formed. Now that Election Day is in the past, some are making it official, while others are still officially in the considering phase.</p> <p>Pushing the decision-making is that organizations have begun to host candidate forums, including the first on Monday night, held in Manhattan by several progressive advocacy groups and Democratic clubs. <a href="http://aarp.cvent.com/events/aarp-new-york-city-nyc-public-advocate-town-hall-new-york-ny-11-14-18/event-summary-314a803f5d324ce18be85b3e3986817a.aspx" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Another will follow on Wednesday night</a>, hosted by government reform group Citizens Union and AARP-NY. Candidates must also consider fundraising and pursuing endorsements from groups, labor unions, and high-profile individuals.</p> <p>Even before James won her race, a handful of candidates declared their candidacies: City Council Member Jumaane Williams, state Assembly Members Daniel O’Donnell and Michael Blake, activist and journalist Nomiki Konst, and Columbia history professor David Eisenbach, who ran in the 2017 public advocate Democratic primary against James.</p> <p>Former City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito is said to be nearing the launch of a campaign, while there have been grumblings that her predecessor in that role, Christine Quinn, may also give the race a look. There has also been some question about whether Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams would consider it, though he has expressed his intention to run for mayor in 2021. Both Quinn and Adams appear unlikely candidates at this point.</p> <p>Meanwhile, along with Williams, who just lost a bid to become the Democratic lieutenant governor nominee, current City Council Members either starting or flirting with a run for public advocate include Rafael Espinal, Ydanis Rodriguez, and Eric Ulrich, the lone Republican in the mix at this point. (Meanwhile, five of their colleagues - Kalman Yeger, Robert Holden, Ruben Diaz Sr., Mark Gjonaj, and Rtichie Torres -- announced on Monday that they are backing a new bill to eliminate the position.)</p> <p>Also in the running for public advocate are Dawn Smalls, a Manhattan attorney with a background in federal government, open government advocate and Democratic Party activist Ben Yee, and systems engineer Theo Chino. Other names could easily emerge in the coming days and weeks.</p> <p>Once James is officially sworn in as attorney general on January 1, Mayor de Blasio will have just a few days to call a special election, likely to take place in late February. That election will be “non-partisan,” meaning there are no party primaries and each candidate must create their own ballot line through petitioning to accrue signatures from voters.</p> <p>Once the special election is decided, the winner will only hold the office until the end of 2019. In the fall, there will be a “regular” election, with party primaries (as necessary) and a general election. The winner of that election will serve out the rest of James’ term until the end of 2021. He or she would be eligible to run for reelection that fall and able to serve two full terms on top of the partial term, though there is of course talk that whoever holds the seat at the start of 2020 may very well run for mayor in 2021, when de Blasio is term-limited out of office.</p> <p>The <a href="http://aarp.cvent.com/events/aarp-new-york-city-nyc-public-advocate-town-hall-new-york-ny-11-14-18/event-summary-314a803f5d324ce18be85b3e3986817a.aspx" target="_blank" rel="noopener">forum on Wednesday</a> will be held at New York Law School starting at 6:30 p.m., participating candidates including Blake, Williams, Espinal, Ulrich, O'Donnell, Konst, and Smalls.</p> <p>[Updated: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8074-listen-public-advocate-candidate-forum-nov-2018" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Listen to the full Wednesday forum here</a>]</p> <p>

***
by Victor Porcelli, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Ben Max contributed to this story.</p> <p>This story has been updated to indicate that City Council Member Robert Cornegy told Gotham Gazette he is not running for public advocate and that he is pursuing a run for Brooklyn borough president in 2021.</p>
Hoping to Dictate City Rezoning and Stem Gentrification, Locals Put Forth Bushwick Community Plan 2018-09-25T04:00:00+00:00 2018-09-25T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7955-hoping-to-dictate-city-rezoning-and-stem-gentrification-locals-put-forth-bushwick-community-plan Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/bushwick-today-19.png" alt="bushwick today 19" width="600" height="402" /></p> <p>photo via Bushwick Community Plan</p> <hr /> <p>A years-long endeavor to protect a Brooklyn neighborhood from unwanted development and plan for its future took a major step forward over the weekend: the <a href="http://www.bushwickcommunityplan.org/welcome/">Bushwick Community Plan</a>, an ambitious and collaborative effort, was formally released.</p> <p>The creation of the plan has at times been contentious, indicative of the fraught nature of virtually any community planning process and the high stakes involved in addressing affordability, transportation and other crises facing many neighborhoods across New York City. The effort was organized by local City Council Members Antonio Reynoso and Rafael Espinal with Brooklyn Community Board 4 and a variety of other stakeholders.</p> <p>At the release event on September 22, U.S. Rep. Nydia Velázquez told the more than 200 people who packed into the cafeteria of the Academy of Urban Planning to learn the details of the plan that the development of the community plan was an example of democracy in action.</p> <p>“You will empower our member of the City Council, Reynoso, to go to the city and say, ‘This is a community-driven rezoning plan – and this is how it should be done,’” she said.</p> <p>The Bushwick Community Plan includes a number of goals – including slowing displacement, preventing out of character development, and supporting both small- and large-scale manufacturing businesses – and is being presented from the community and its leaders to the Department of City Planning as it begins to evaluate the area for changes to land use rules and new city investments, similar to processes that have taken place in areas like East Harlem.</p> <p>Like several others the de Blasio administration has rezoned already, including East New York and the Jerome Avenue corridor in the Bronx, Bushwick is home to many low-income people of color at risk of housing displacement. But more like East Harlem and Inwood, Bushwick has already seen significant gentrification and locals are concerned about how the pace has accelerated without a coherent plan.</p> <p>The comprehensive <a href="https://static1.squarespace.com/static/57e402b946c3c4b30fb3cdcb/t/5b9ff0fb575d1f5b7bc7e6f2/1537208573834/BCP_Final_09172018-web.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">74-page community plan</a> covers six areas: land use and zoning, housing, economic development, community health and resources, open space and transportation and infrastructure. Under land use and zoning, the key issue, recommendations include not allowing areas currently zoned for manufacturing to become residential unless certain requirements are met; allowing higher density development in some cases when it will increase the number of affordable housing units; and proposing historic districts as well as individual landmarks throughout the neighborhood. The plan also calls for increased funding for anti-displacement legal services, the creation of a program that would incentivize homeowners to keep rents affordable in their buildings, more sanitation funding for commercial corridors, and improving Maria Hernandez Park and Irving Square Park, the two largest parks in the neighborhood.</p> <p>But at issue is how feasible the plan is, how the de Blasio administration approaches its efforts to rezone and invest in the area, and how far Reynoso, Espinal, and their partners can push the city to adopt the community’s vision. The Department of City Planning may use the community plan as something of a guide as it designs a rezoning proposal, but it remains to be seen to what extent the community proposals shape the process, which will ultimately come to a vote before the City Planning Commission and the City Council, where Reynoso and Espinal will have outsized sway. Bushwick residents, both for and against a rezoning, worry about how the city might mangle or ignore the plans altogether.</p> <p><strong>A democratically-designed rezoning plan</strong><br />Under current land use rules, otherwise known as zoning, significant new development is allowed in Bushwick without consideration of affordable housing or the aesthetic character of the neighborhood. There are many properties that have extensive as-of-right powers, meaning developers can build taller buildings without any real negotiation with the city for community benefits.</p> <p>One such property is near the Myrtle-Wyckoff transit corridor, where developers plan to build a 27-story tower with retail space, office space, and 400 apartments, according to the minutes from a February meeting of the community board’s Housing and Land Use subcommittee. That particular high-rise wouldn’t be allowed under the zoning rules that are being proposed as part of the Bushwick Community Plan, according to Community Board 4 District Manager Celeste Leon.</p> <p>In 2013, concerned by overdevelopment happening in nearby neighborhoods, members of the community board wrote a letter to then-City Council Member Diana Reyna seeking to explore the idea of rezoning Bushwick. The goal was to preserve the character of the community. In particular, preventing taller buildings, which have been referred to as “middle finger buildings,” from being wedged in between two- and three-family homes, according to current Reynoso, who succeeded Reyna in 2014.</p> <p>“Affordable housing would have been icing on the cake,” Reynoso said in a late August interview.</p> <p>After his election, Reynoso, along with Espinal, who took office the same year after moving from the state Assembly, initiated the <a href="http://www.bushwickcommunityplan.org/welcome/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Bushwick community planning process</a>, an effort to allow residents to democratically design a rezoning plan that would best suit their needs. Over the course of the next several years, the steering committee – comprising of more than 200 participants, including the members of the community board, organizations like immigrant-advocacy group Make the Road New York, the RiseBoro Community Partnership, and Churches United for Fair Housing, as well as 21 individual Bushwick residents – held a dozen workshops, town halls, and other issue-specific meetings.</p> <p>Planning this way is time-consuming and complicated, but the process allows for many voices to be heard, Reynoso said.</p> <p>Shortly after Bill de Blasio was elected mayor, he put forth an agenda to rezone 15 different neighborhoods throughout the city in an effort to create more housing, especially affordable housing, and infuse communities with new resources, in part to handle an influx of new residents. His predecessor, too, <a href="https://www.politico.com/states/new-york/city-hall/story/2014/02/the-quiet-massive-rezoning-of-new-york-078398" target="_blank" rel="noopener">used rezoning to manage development in New York City</a>, though with a somewhat different lens: during his three terms, Michael Bloomberg oversaw more than 100 rezonings. Before de Blasio began to move through his rezonings, he worked with the City Council to pass significant changes to the city’s land use rules, including Mandatory Inclusionary Housing, which requires developers to include certain percentages of affordable housing in new buildings that receive a city variance to build denser.</p> <p>Bushwick was not on de Blasio’s original list of neighborhoods, but city officials have been closely involved as the community has crafted its plan and appears ready to move into its planning process.</p> <p>The city will hold its own listening sessions and do its own studies, then release its own initial plan. Once the Department of City Planning certifies a Bushwick rezoning application, the Uniform Land Use Review Process, which takes roughly seven to ten months, begins. After the community board offers its advisory vote, the plan moves to the borough president for review and additional nonbinding feedback, then the City Planning Commission for formal approval, followed by the City Council for final say. Throughout the process, local leaders, especially the City Council member(s), typically continue to negotiate with the mayoral administration to make tweaks to the city’s proposal and secure additional investments.</p> <p><strong>Pushback against the plan</strong><br />As in most rezonings, at issue in Bushwick is that the mayoral administration’s interests may not be in line with the community’s. One example is the neighborhood’s manufacturing zones. Bushwick is known for its old factories and warehouses, which developers often eye as potential for new residential space. The community plan would oppose changing most manufacturing zones to residential zones unless special conditions are met. That is one point the city has tried to ignore, said Leon, the community board district manager.</p> <p>Another example: at a February meeting, Winston Von Engel, the Brooklyn director of the Department of City Planning (DCP), <a href="https://www.villagevoice.com/2018/02/22/city-to-bushwick-displacement-not-our-problem/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">reportedly told Bushwick residents</a> that the city was interested in preserving the aesthetic character of the neighborhood, more so than preventing displacement, according to several residents who were present. Von Engel later <a href="https://bushwickdaily.com/bushwick/categories/community/5276-bushwick-neighborhood-planning-gets-heated" target="_blank" rel="noopener">told the Bushwick Daily</a> that he had been misinterpreted and that there should be a balance between preservation and expansion.</p> <p>In June, a group of activists <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oeYYTegVrO4" target="_blank" rel="noopener">shut down that month’s Community Board 4 meeting</a> so that the board could not discuss the rezoning plans at all. One of the activists, Pati Rodriguez, of the anti-gentrification group Mi Casa No Es Su Casa, stood up to plead with the board: “I want to continue to live in the neighborhood that raised me, and I wish I could keep raising my daughter here too, but if this goes to DCP, I don’t think that is ever going to happen.”</p> <p>Activists like Rodriguez oppose the rezoning entirely.</p> <p>“The community board has no veto vote,” Rodriguez said in a later interview. “It makes the community powerless. That’s why we have decided the only way we can stop anything from happening is to disrupt the process.”</p> <p>Michael Higgins, a member of the Brooklyn Anti-Gentrification Network, said that the plan itself could cause Bushwick residents to panic, from which landlords can then benefit.</p> <p>“I think trying to address overdevelopment with rezoning is a backwards solution,” he said. “It comes from the belief that we can meet market forces with government, and unfortunately that’s just not the way the City of New York works in fundamental ways.”</p> <p>He said the community has more leverage when individual properties are rezoned, rather than whole swaths of a neighborhood, because residents have the opportunity to negotiate requests like more affordable housing and community space.</p> <p>Tom Angotti, professor emeritus of Urban Policy and Planning at Hunter College and the author of “Zoned Out! Race, Displacement, and City Planning in New York City,” said he understands the skepticism over the rezoning.</p> <p>There have been no citywide studies that explain the relationship between rezonings and gentrification, but individual case studies do show that zoning changes lead to displacement, particularly in low income communities and communities of color, Angotti said.</p> <p>Reynoso acknowledges the community’s concerns, but said that Bushwick’s geography, as well as the way it is built out, leaves fewer opportunities for growth compared to other neighborhoods around the city, referencing the recently-passed Inwood rezoning, which drew criticism from local housing activists concerned about density, neighborhood character, and gentrification. But Inwood, Reynoso said, encompasses waterfront property that the city could capitalize upon.</p> <p>New development of that nature just isn’t possible in Bushwick. The Bushwick plan envisions growth near transit hubs, but otherwise is mostly designed to downzone the neighborhood, Reynoso said, and disallow large new residential buildings.</p> <p>“The basic principles of what’s happening in other locations don’t necessarily apply here,” Reynoso said in the interview. “The fears that people have are not necessarily apples to apples.”</p> <p>That’s true, Angotti said, but that still doesn’t mean the Bushwick Community Plan will prevent displacement. He points not so much to the community plan itself, but to the Department of City Planning and the City Planning Commission.</p> <p>Angotti said the city has rejected every community-based rezoning proposal of which he is aware over the last 25 years.</p> <p>“In every instance that I know of, the community plans get ripped up and changed to the point of being unrecognizable to the people in the community,” he said. “The city planning department has its own way of looking at land use in the city, and it doesn’t include communities. It doesn't include people.”</p> <p>In a statement, the agency did confirm that rezoning applications, even those by city agencies, are usually changed during the public review process.</p> <p>Jose Lopez, the co-director of organizing at Make the Road New York, has been heavily involved with the Bushwick Community Plan, serving on its steering committee. He recognizes that DCP will craft its own proposal for the ULURP process, but has some hope for the influence that the community plan may have.</p> <p>“If there is a good rezoning where we can control growth, generate affordable housing, where we see effective tools that keep people in the homes they live in – if it’s a good rezoning, that is something we can get behind,” he said. “But our members believe that a bad rezoning is worse than no rezoning at all.”</p> <p>Reynoso said that the discretion and authority to rezone really lies with the City Council, not with any city agency, and “the Council member’s job is to advocate on behalf of the community” – which he plans to do.</p> <p>Typically, when the City Council votes on a rezoning plan, the expectation is that the Council will vote to support what the local City Council member(s) – in this case, Reynoso and Espinal – want. Yet, in May, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson said that his approach is <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7530-on-land-use-johnson-promises-deference-to-members-but-no-veto" target="_blank">“deference” but “no veto” for Council members on land use matters</a>.</p> <p>“Michael Bloomberg did 140 rezonings,” Angotti said. “Everyone of them passed. So the track record pretty much demonstrates how difficult it is, once something gets into ULURP, to derail it under the current system because of the overwhelming power of the mayor.”</p> <p>Robert Camacho, the chair of Community Board 4, has been involved with the planning process since the beginning. He said he is satisfied with the final plan, but does worry for its future.</p> <p>“If we don’t do anything, the city will do what it wants,” he said. “And if we submit something, the city can do what it wants anyway. I see it as a lose-lose situation. So why not do something? Something beats zip. If you don’t ask, you’re not getting anything.”</p> <p>***<br />Bianca Fortis is a Brooklyn-based freelance journalist. On Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/biancafortis" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@biancafortis</a>&nbsp;&amp;&nbsp;<a href="https://twitter.com/GothamGazette" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@GothamGazette</a>.</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/bushwick-today-19.png" alt="bushwick today 19" width="600" height="402" /></p> <p>photo via Bushwick Community Plan</p> <hr /> <p>A years-long endeavor to protect a Brooklyn neighborhood from unwanted development and plan for its future took a major step forward over the weekend: the <a href="http://www.bushwickcommunityplan.org/welcome/">Bushwick Community Plan</a>, an ambitious and collaborative effort, was formally released.</p> <p>The creation of the plan has at times been contentious, indicative of the fraught nature of virtually any community planning process and the high stakes involved in addressing affordability, transportation and other crises facing many neighborhoods across New York City. The effort was organized by local City Council Members Antonio Reynoso and Rafael Espinal with Brooklyn Community Board 4 and a variety of other stakeholders.</p> <p>At the release event on September 22, U.S. Rep. Nydia Velázquez told the more than 200 people who packed into the cafeteria of the Academy of Urban Planning to learn the details of the plan that the development of the community plan was an example of democracy in action.</p> <p>“You will empower our member of the City Council, Reynoso, to go to the city and say, ‘This is a community-driven rezoning plan – and this is how it should be done,’” she said.</p> <p>The Bushwick Community Plan includes a number of goals – including slowing displacement, preventing out of character development, and supporting both small- and large-scale manufacturing businesses – and is being presented from the community and its leaders to the Department of City Planning as it begins to evaluate the area for changes to land use rules and new city investments, similar to processes that have taken place in areas like East Harlem.</p> <p>Like several others the de Blasio administration has rezoned already, including East New York and the Jerome Avenue corridor in the Bronx, Bushwick is home to many low-income people of color at risk of housing displacement. But more like East Harlem and Inwood, Bushwick has already seen significant gentrification and locals are concerned about how the pace has accelerated without a coherent plan.</p> <p>The comprehensive <a href="https://static1.squarespace.com/static/57e402b946c3c4b30fb3cdcb/t/5b9ff0fb575d1f5b7bc7e6f2/1537208573834/BCP_Final_09172018-web.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">74-page community plan</a> covers six areas: land use and zoning, housing, economic development, community health and resources, open space and transportation and infrastructure. Under land use and zoning, the key issue, recommendations include not allowing areas currently zoned for manufacturing to become residential unless certain requirements are met; allowing higher density development in some cases when it will increase the number of affordable housing units; and proposing historic districts as well as individual landmarks throughout the neighborhood. The plan also calls for increased funding for anti-displacement legal services, the creation of a program that would incentivize homeowners to keep rents affordable in their buildings, more sanitation funding for commercial corridors, and improving Maria Hernandez Park and Irving Square Park, the two largest parks in the neighborhood.</p> <p>But at issue is how feasible the plan is, how the de Blasio administration approaches its efforts to rezone and invest in the area, and how far Reynoso, Espinal, and their partners can push the city to adopt the community’s vision. The Department of City Planning may use the community plan as something of a guide as it designs a rezoning proposal, but it remains to be seen to what extent the community proposals shape the process, which will ultimately come to a vote before the City Planning Commission and the City Council, where Reynoso and Espinal will have outsized sway. Bushwick residents, both for and against a rezoning, worry about how the city might mangle or ignore the plans altogether.</p> <p><strong>A democratically-designed rezoning plan</strong><br />Under current land use rules, otherwise known as zoning, significant new development is allowed in Bushwick without consideration of affordable housing or the aesthetic character of the neighborhood. There are many properties that have extensive as-of-right powers, meaning developers can build taller buildings without any real negotiation with the city for community benefits.</p> <p>One such property is near the Myrtle-Wyckoff transit corridor, where developers plan to build a 27-story tower with retail space, office space, and 400 apartments, according to the minutes from a February meeting of the community board’s Housing and Land Use subcommittee. That particular high-rise wouldn’t be allowed under the zoning rules that are being proposed as part of the Bushwick Community Plan, according to Community Board 4 District Manager Celeste Leon.</p> <p>In 2013, concerned by overdevelopment happening in nearby neighborhoods, members of the community board wrote a letter to then-City Council Member Diana Reyna seeking to explore the idea of rezoning Bushwick. The goal was to preserve the character of the community. In particular, preventing taller buildings, which have been referred to as “middle finger buildings,” from being wedged in between two- and three-family homes, according to current Reynoso, who succeeded Reyna in 2014.</p> <p>“Affordable housing would have been icing on the cake,” Reynoso said in a late August interview.</p> <p>After his election, Reynoso, along with Espinal, who took office the same year after moving from the state Assembly, initiated the <a href="http://www.bushwickcommunityplan.org/welcome/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Bushwick community planning process</a>, an effort to allow residents to democratically design a rezoning plan that would best suit their needs. Over the course of the next several years, the steering committee – comprising of more than 200 participants, including the members of the community board, organizations like immigrant-advocacy group Make the Road New York, the RiseBoro Community Partnership, and Churches United for Fair Housing, as well as 21 individual Bushwick residents – held a dozen workshops, town halls, and other issue-specific meetings.</p> <p>Planning this way is time-consuming and complicated, but the process allows for many voices to be heard, Reynoso said.</p> <p>Shortly after Bill de Blasio was elected mayor, he put forth an agenda to rezone 15 different neighborhoods throughout the city in an effort to create more housing, especially affordable housing, and infuse communities with new resources, in part to handle an influx of new residents. His predecessor, too, <a href="https://www.politico.com/states/new-york/city-hall/story/2014/02/the-quiet-massive-rezoning-of-new-york-078398" target="_blank" rel="noopener">used rezoning to manage development in New York City</a>, though with a somewhat different lens: during his three terms, Michael Bloomberg oversaw more than 100 rezonings. Before de Blasio began to move through his rezonings, he worked with the City Council to pass significant changes to the city’s land use rules, including Mandatory Inclusionary Housing, which requires developers to include certain percentages of affordable housing in new buildings that receive a city variance to build denser.</p> <p>Bushwick was not on de Blasio’s original list of neighborhoods, but city officials have been closely involved as the community has crafted its plan and appears ready to move into its planning process.</p> <p>The city will hold its own listening sessions and do its own studies, then release its own initial plan. Once the Department of City Planning certifies a Bushwick rezoning application, the Uniform Land Use Review Process, which takes roughly seven to ten months, begins. After the community board offers its advisory vote, the plan moves to the borough president for review and additional nonbinding feedback, then the City Planning Commission for formal approval, followed by the City Council for final say. Throughout the process, local leaders, especially the City Council member(s), typically continue to negotiate with the mayoral administration to make tweaks to the city’s proposal and secure additional investments.</p> <p><strong>Pushback against the plan</strong><br />As in most rezonings, at issue in Bushwick is that the mayoral administration’s interests may not be in line with the community’s. One example is the neighborhood’s manufacturing zones. Bushwick is known for its old factories and warehouses, which developers often eye as potential for new residential space. The community plan would oppose changing most manufacturing zones to residential zones unless special conditions are met. That is one point the city has tried to ignore, said Leon, the community board district manager.</p> <p>Another example: at a February meeting, Winston Von Engel, the Brooklyn director of the Department of City Planning (DCP), <a href="https://www.villagevoice.com/2018/02/22/city-to-bushwick-displacement-not-our-problem/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">reportedly told Bushwick residents</a> that the city was interested in preserving the aesthetic character of the neighborhood, more so than preventing displacement, according to several residents who were present. Von Engel later <a href="https://bushwickdaily.com/bushwick/categories/community/5276-bushwick-neighborhood-planning-gets-heated" target="_blank" rel="noopener">told the Bushwick Daily</a> that he had been misinterpreted and that there should be a balance between preservation and expansion.</p> <p>In June, a group of activists <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oeYYTegVrO4" target="_blank" rel="noopener">shut down that month’s Community Board 4 meeting</a> so that the board could not discuss the rezoning plans at all. One of the activists, Pati Rodriguez, of the anti-gentrification group Mi Casa No Es Su Casa, stood up to plead with the board: “I want to continue to live in the neighborhood that raised me, and I wish I could keep raising my daughter here too, but if this goes to DCP, I don’t think that is ever going to happen.”</p> <p>Activists like Rodriguez oppose the rezoning entirely.</p> <p>“The community board has no veto vote,” Rodriguez said in a later interview. “It makes the community powerless. That’s why we have decided the only way we can stop anything from happening is to disrupt the process.”</p> <p>Michael Higgins, a member of the Brooklyn Anti-Gentrification Network, said that the plan itself could cause Bushwick residents to panic, from which landlords can then benefit.</p> <p>“I think trying to address overdevelopment with rezoning is a backwards solution,” he said. “It comes from the belief that we can meet market forces with government, and unfortunately that’s just not the way the City of New York works in fundamental ways.”</p> <p>He said the community has more leverage when individual properties are rezoned, rather than whole swaths of a neighborhood, because residents have the opportunity to negotiate requests like more affordable housing and community space.</p> <p>Tom Angotti, professor emeritus of Urban Policy and Planning at Hunter College and the author of “Zoned Out! Race, Displacement, and City Planning in New York City,” said he understands the skepticism over the rezoning.</p> <p>There have been no citywide studies that explain the relationship between rezonings and gentrification, but individual case studies do show that zoning changes lead to displacement, particularly in low income communities and communities of color, Angotti said.</p> <p>Reynoso acknowledges the community’s concerns, but said that Bushwick’s geography, as well as the way it is built out, leaves fewer opportunities for growth compared to other neighborhoods around the city, referencing the recently-passed Inwood rezoning, which drew criticism from local housing activists concerned about density, neighborhood character, and gentrification. But Inwood, Reynoso said, encompasses waterfront property that the city could capitalize upon.</p> <p>New development of that nature just isn’t possible in Bushwick. The Bushwick plan envisions growth near transit hubs, but otherwise is mostly designed to downzone the neighborhood, Reynoso said, and disallow large new residential buildings.</p> <p>“The basic principles of what’s happening in other locations don’t necessarily apply here,” Reynoso said in the interview. “The fears that people have are not necessarily apples to apples.”</p> <p>That’s true, Angotti said, but that still doesn’t mean the Bushwick Community Plan will prevent displacement. He points not so much to the community plan itself, but to the Department of City Planning and the City Planning Commission.</p> <p>Angotti said the city has rejected every community-based rezoning proposal of which he is aware over the last 25 years.</p> <p>“In every instance that I know of, the community plans get ripped up and changed to the point of being unrecognizable to the people in the community,” he said. “The city planning department has its own way of looking at land use in the city, and it doesn’t include communities. It doesn't include people.”</p> <p>In a statement, the agency did confirm that rezoning applications, even those by city agencies, are usually changed during the public review process.</p> <p>Jose Lopez, the co-director of organizing at Make the Road New York, has been heavily involved with the Bushwick Community Plan, serving on its steering committee. He recognizes that DCP will craft its own proposal for the ULURP process, but has some hope for the influence that the community plan may have.</p> <p>“If there is a good rezoning where we can control growth, generate affordable housing, where we see effective tools that keep people in the homes they live in – if it’s a good rezoning, that is something we can get behind,” he said. “But our members believe that a bad rezoning is worse than no rezoning at all.”</p> <p>Reynoso said that the discretion and authority to rezone really lies with the City Council, not with any city agency, and “the Council member’s job is to advocate on behalf of the community” – which he plans to do.</p> <p>Typically, when the City Council votes on a rezoning plan, the expectation is that the Council will vote to support what the local City Council member(s) – in this case, Reynoso and Espinal – want. Yet, in May, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson said that his approach is <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7530-on-land-use-johnson-promises-deference-to-members-but-no-veto" target="_blank">“deference” but “no veto” for Council members on land use matters</a>.</p> <p>“Michael Bloomberg did 140 rezonings,” Angotti said. “Everyone of them passed. So the track record pretty much demonstrates how difficult it is, once something gets into ULURP, to derail it under the current system because of the overwhelming power of the mayor.”</p> <p>Robert Camacho, the chair of Community Board 4, has been involved with the planning process since the beginning. He said he is satisfied with the final plan, but does worry for its future.</p> <p>“If we don’t do anything, the city will do what it wants,” he said. “And if we submit something, the city can do what it wants anyway. I see it as a lose-lose situation. So why not do something? Something beats zip. If you don’t ask, you’re not getting anything.”</p> <p>***<br />Bianca Fortis is a Brooklyn-based freelance journalist. On Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/biancafortis" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@biancafortis</a>&nbsp;&amp;&nbsp;<a href="https://twitter.com/GothamGazette" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@GothamGazette</a>.</p> Potentially Crowded Public Advocate Special Election Could Feature Two Former Council Speakers 2018-09-03T04:00:00+00:00 2018-09-03T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7910-potentially-crowded-public-advocate-special-election-could-feature-two-former-council-speakers Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/3749385121_4288a8d47c_z.jpg" alt="Quinn Mark-Viverito" width="600" height="456" /></p> <p>Christine Quinn, center, &amp; Melissa Mark-Viverito (photo: City Council on flickr)</p> <hr /> <p>The September primary election is just over one week away and if New York City Public Advocate Letitia James wins the Democratic nomination for attorney general over her three primary opponents, she will be a significant favorite to win the position in November owing in large part to the state’s Democrat-heavy electorate. No Republican has won statewide since Governor George Pataki captured a third term in 2002; it’s been far longer for a Republican attorney general.</p> <p>James winning the nomination will likely kick-off, in earnest, a mad scramble by several sitting and former elected officials who may seek to replace her through the at-that-point nearly certain special election for her citywide seat. Among the stronger potential contenders discussed in Democratic circles are two former speakers of the New York City Council -- Melissa Mark-Viverito, who led the body until last year, and Christine Quinn, her predecessor.</p> <p>[Read: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7681-james-victory-in-attorney-general-race-could-trigger-first-citywide-special-election" target="_blank" rel="noopener">James Victory in Attorney General Race Would Trigger Citywide Special Election</a>]</p> <p>While they come from different wings of the New York Democratic Party, both Mark-Viverito and Quinn are firebrand politicians in their own right, and both made history in their respective ascensions to the speakership.</p> <p>Quinn, a Democrat who represented parts of the lower west side of Manhattan, became the first openly gay and first female speaker in 2006, presiding over the 51-member legislative body for two four-year terms. For the last three years, since being term-limited out of office and losing in the 2013 mayoral primary, she has served as president and CEO of Women in Need (WIN), a nonprofit that provides services to homeless women and children. Some Democrats and others have criticized Quinn for her close working relationship with Mayor Michael Bloomberg, including the effort to extend term limits, which allowed Bloomberg, Quinn, and others to seek a third term in 2009 despite public disapproval. She is currently a close ally of Governor Andrew Cuomo, who appointed her vice chair of the New York State Democratic Committee.</p> <p>Mark-Viverito, a Puerto Rican native who represented a district that includes East Harlem and part of the south Bronx, became the Council’s first Latina speaker in 2014, pushing a broad agenda of criminal justice reform, immigrant protection, police accountability and affordable housing. In January, she became a senior adviser at the Latino Victory Fund PAC, a group that supports Latino candidates for elected office. As speaker, Mark-Viverito was at times criticized for her close relationship with Mayor Bill de Blasio, a fellow progressive Democrat, and she has been an outspoken critic of the governor, endorsing his primary opponent, Cynthia Nixon. Mark-Viverito is one of a relatively small group of prominent Democrats that is backing Nixon for governor and James for attorney general.</p> <p>After a New York Law School panel earlier this month, Quinn did not deny having an eye on the office of public advocate. “We have to get Tish James elected and that’s what I’m focused on and also let’s not forget the Lieutenant Governor, Kathy Hochul, we have to get reelected,” she told Gotham Gazette, when asked if she had considered running for public advocate in the event of James’ ascension to attorney general. “Right now, I am focused, most importantly, on running WIN and helping the homeless families that we serve...and then in my spare time, so to speak, among other things, I’m helping candidates and friends run for office. So that’s what this summer and fall is about.”</p> <p>Pressed further, she simply repeated the statement. “That’s what this summer and fall is about.”</p> <p>Mark-Viverito is slightly less circumspect about her own political future. “I’ve been consistent in saying that I’m really proud of the record that I have accomplished and the issues that I’ve championed and what we’ve been able to get done in the city of New York,” she told Gotham Gazette in a recent phone interview. “I’m not gonna close the door on looking at possibilities in the future if other positions or other opportunities became available...So if there is an opportunity that presents itself, I will definitely be taking a look at that. And I feel strongly that Tish will win so we’ll have that conversation later.”</p> <p>She emphasized that she brings a strong perspective to policy-making as a Latina representing a low-income community. “I think that’s something that we consistently need to have in positions of authority in the city,” Mark-Viverito said. “And I believe my record speaks for itself and I look forward to being able to continue to serve this wonderful city.”</p> <p>The special election, if there is one, would take place in March, assuming James is sworn in January 1 and vacates her current seat. Special elections for public advocate are nonpartisan, and each candidate would have to run on their own unique political party ballot line. The winner would then have to run for the seat again in a primary and general election later in 2019, if that person wants to keep the position.</p> <p>There are several others who have either been floated as candidates or have signalled an interest in becoming the city’s ombudsperson, a post also considered a strong launching pad for a mayoral bid as de Blasio illustrated. They include sitting City Council Members Rafael Espinal, Ydanis Rodriguez, Ritchie Torres, and Joe Borelli, the only Republican among them. All of them but Borelli will be term-limited out of office in 2021. State Assemblymember Michael Blake is another potential candidate, as are Republican attorney J.C. Polanco and Columbia professor David Eisenbach, who both challenged James when she was up for reelection last year -- Eisenbach in the primary and Polanco in the general. Eisenbach has already officially filed papers with the New York City Campaign Finance Board.</p> <p>“I think the position obviously has a lot of potential,” said a Democratic consultant who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “It has different potential than being the City Council speaker where you’re not just responsible for yourself, you’re responsible for 50 other members, hundreds of staff, dozens of appointments here or there. It’s a different set of responsibilities and in the hands of someone who understands the levers of government, who understands the bully pulpit and is sort of willing to take bold steps, it can be a very strong position.”</p> <p>The public advocate can act as more than just a “counterweight to the mayor,” the consultant said. “That person also can establish themselves as someone who is also driving the agenda for New York, and that’s something we haven’t really seen since Mark Green,” the person added, referring to the city’s first-ever public advocate, who served from 1994 to 2001.</p> <p>Espinal, a Brooklyn representative, said in an email, “I’m seriously considering it, and whether to launch a campaign will come down to the positive energy and support from New Yorkers.”</p> <p>A spokesperson for Rodriguez, whose district covers neighborhoods in upper Manhattan and a small section of the Bronx, said, “[Council Member Rodriguez] is committed to supporting Public Advocate James in her run for attorney general as she is the most qualified in the race. Should there be a special election for public advocate, he would consider running for that seat.”</p> <p>Torres, in a statement through a spokesperson, said, “I am still thinking about it and where I would be most effective. I’m debating which position would allow me to be a better advocate for the city.” The Bronx Council member is also said to be looking at a run for Congress or Bronx borough president.</p> <p>Borelli also said he was considering a run for public advocate, though he conceded that it would be tough to retain. “It’s possible to win a special, but it will be difficult for a Republican to win the following November,” he said in a text message.</p> <p>When asked about Quinn and Mark-Viverito both running, he said, “Each would be formidable.”</p> <p>Shortly before a primary debate among the four Democratic attorney general candidates on Tuesday, Assembly Member Blake told Gotham Gazette he was watching closely in case James’ seat becomes vacant. “She’s gotta win first, but it would be irresponsible not to be looking at it,” he said about considering a run. “First and foremost, this is brand new terrain for all of us. The possibility for a citywide special election is unique to say the least...Out of respect for everybody in the field, this is a moot point unless [James] is the attorney general, and we’re gonna be respectful of that.”</p> <p>He added, “As I tell my team often, proper preparation prevents poor performance. So you’re just ready, and if that opportunity presents itself, we have some serious decisions to make.”</p> <p>Blake, who is a vice chair of the Democratic National Committee, was the campaign manager for 2013 public advocate candidate Reshma Saujani, giving him some recent experience with a citywide race. He was then elected to the Assembly in 2014.</p> <p>No current elected official would have to give up their seat to run in the special election, but, if victorious, would then have to vacate their position to become public advocate.</p> <p>As Borelli alluded to, one effect of numerous Democrats entering the fray is that they could split the vote in what will likely be a low-turnout special election, offering up an opportunity for a Republican to claim victory.</p> <p>Polanco, the attorney and former public advocate candidate, recognizes that opening. Having run for the seat just last year, he has certain advantages. “Whoever is gonna come from our side, there has to be just one candidate,” Polanco said in a phone interview. “We’re small enough as it is. Even in a non-partisan race, you’re gonna need organizational support. So the organizations have to line up behind one candidate from the beginning in order for us to have a shot.”</p> <p>Polanco noted that the nonpartisan aspect of the election is “always good for democracy, always good for participation,” since voters won’t necessarily make choices along party lines. But he also echoed the risk for any sitting Republican elected official who might run, as Borelli noted. “Do you give up your Council seat for that? I don’t know whether that’s a good gamble or not, especially if you have three years left on your Council seat,” Polanco said.</p> <p>Polanco also weighed in on the potential contest between two former Council speakers, saying Quinn would be the “ultimate” candidate. “She’s the most qualified of the candidates on that side running,” he said. “But I think the Democratic Party of today is more along the lines of Melissa Mark-Viverito. The Ocasio-Cortezes of the world, the democratic socialists, are getting momentum. She represents that faction. We can’t kid ourselves.”</p> <p>

***
by Samar Khurshid, Senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/3749385121_4288a8d47c_z.jpg" alt="Quinn Mark-Viverito" width="600" height="456" /></p> <p>Christine Quinn, center, &amp; Melissa Mark-Viverito (photo: City Council on flickr)</p> <hr /> <p>The September primary election is just over one week away and if New York City Public Advocate Letitia James wins the Democratic nomination for attorney general over her three primary opponents, she will be a significant favorite to win the position in November owing in large part to the state’s Democrat-heavy electorate. No Republican has won statewide since Governor George Pataki captured a third term in 2002; it’s been far longer for a Republican attorney general.</p> <p>James winning the nomination will likely kick-off, in earnest, a mad scramble by several sitting and former elected officials who may seek to replace her through the at-that-point nearly certain special election for her citywide seat. Among the stronger potential contenders discussed in Democratic circles are two former speakers of the New York City Council -- Melissa Mark-Viverito, who led the body until last year, and Christine Quinn, her predecessor.</p> <p>[Read: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7681-james-victory-in-attorney-general-race-could-trigger-first-citywide-special-election" target="_blank" rel="noopener">James Victory in Attorney General Race Would Trigger Citywide Special Election</a>]</p> <p>While they come from different wings of the New York Democratic Party, both Mark-Viverito and Quinn are firebrand politicians in their own right, and both made history in their respective ascensions to the speakership.</p> <p>Quinn, a Democrat who represented parts of the lower west side of Manhattan, became the first openly gay and first female speaker in 2006, presiding over the 51-member legislative body for two four-year terms. For the last three years, since being term-limited out of office and losing in the 2013 mayoral primary, she has served as president and CEO of Women in Need (WIN), a nonprofit that provides services to homeless women and children. Some Democrats and others have criticized Quinn for her close working relationship with Mayor Michael Bloomberg, including the effort to extend term limits, which allowed Bloomberg, Quinn, and others to seek a third term in 2009 despite public disapproval. She is currently a close ally of Governor Andrew Cuomo, who appointed her vice chair of the New York State Democratic Committee.</p> <p>Mark-Viverito, a Puerto Rican native who represented a district that includes East Harlem and part of the south Bronx, became the Council’s first Latina speaker in 2014, pushing a broad agenda of criminal justice reform, immigrant protection, police accountability and affordable housing. In January, she became a senior adviser at the Latino Victory Fund PAC, a group that supports Latino candidates for elected office. As speaker, Mark-Viverito was at times criticized for her close relationship with Mayor Bill de Blasio, a fellow progressive Democrat, and she has been an outspoken critic of the governor, endorsing his primary opponent, Cynthia Nixon. Mark-Viverito is one of a relatively small group of prominent Democrats that is backing Nixon for governor and James for attorney general.</p> <p>After a New York Law School panel earlier this month, Quinn did not deny having an eye on the office of public advocate. “We have to get Tish James elected and that’s what I’m focused on and also let’s not forget the Lieutenant Governor, Kathy Hochul, we have to get reelected,” she told Gotham Gazette, when asked if she had considered running for public advocate in the event of James’ ascension to attorney general. “Right now, I am focused, most importantly, on running WIN and helping the homeless families that we serve...and then in my spare time, so to speak, among other things, I’m helping candidates and friends run for office. So that’s what this summer and fall is about.”</p> <p>Pressed further, she simply repeated the statement. “That’s what this summer and fall is about.”</p> <p>Mark-Viverito is slightly less circumspect about her own political future. “I’ve been consistent in saying that I’m really proud of the record that I have accomplished and the issues that I’ve championed and what we’ve been able to get done in the city of New York,” she told Gotham Gazette in a recent phone interview. “I’m not gonna close the door on looking at possibilities in the future if other positions or other opportunities became available...So if there is an opportunity that presents itself, I will definitely be taking a look at that. And I feel strongly that Tish will win so we’ll have that conversation later.”</p> <p>She emphasized that she brings a strong perspective to policy-making as a Latina representing a low-income community. “I think that’s something that we consistently need to have in positions of authority in the city,” Mark-Viverito said. “And I believe my record speaks for itself and I look forward to being able to continue to serve this wonderful city.”</p> <p>The special election, if there is one, would take place in March, assuming James is sworn in January 1 and vacates her current seat. Special elections for public advocate are nonpartisan, and each candidate would have to run on their own unique political party ballot line. The winner would then have to run for the seat again in a primary and general election later in 2019, if that person wants to keep the position.</p> <p>There are several others who have either been floated as candidates or have signalled an interest in becoming the city’s ombudsperson, a post also considered a strong launching pad for a mayoral bid as de Blasio illustrated. They include sitting City Council Members Rafael Espinal, Ydanis Rodriguez, Ritchie Torres, and Joe Borelli, the only Republican among them. All of them but Borelli will be term-limited out of office in 2021. State Assemblymember Michael Blake is another potential candidate, as are Republican attorney J.C. Polanco and Columbia professor David Eisenbach, who both challenged James when she was up for reelection last year -- Eisenbach in the primary and Polanco in the general. Eisenbach has already officially filed papers with the New York City Campaign Finance Board.</p> <p>“I think the position obviously has a lot of potential,” said a Democratic consultant who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “It has different potential than being the City Council speaker where you’re not just responsible for yourself, you’re responsible for 50 other members, hundreds of staff, dozens of appointments here or there. It’s a different set of responsibilities and in the hands of someone who understands the levers of government, who understands the bully pulpit and is sort of willing to take bold steps, it can be a very strong position.”</p> <p>The public advocate can act as more than just a “counterweight to the mayor,” the consultant said. “That person also can establish themselves as someone who is also driving the agenda for New York, and that’s something we haven’t really seen since Mark Green,” the person added, referring to the city’s first-ever public advocate, who served from 1994 to 2001.</p> <p>Espinal, a Brooklyn representative, said in an email, “I’m seriously considering it, and whether to launch a campaign will come down to the positive energy and support from New Yorkers.”</p> <p>A spokesperson for Rodriguez, whose district covers neighborhoods in upper Manhattan and a small section of the Bronx, said, “[Council Member Rodriguez] is committed to supporting Public Advocate James in her run for attorney general as she is the most qualified in the race. Should there be a special election for public advocate, he would consider running for that seat.”</p> <p>Torres, in a statement through a spokesperson, said, “I am still thinking about it and where I would be most effective. I’m debating which position would allow me to be a better advocate for the city.” The Bronx Council member is also said to be looking at a run for Congress or Bronx borough president.</p> <p>Borelli also said he was considering a run for public advocate, though he conceded that it would be tough to retain. “It’s possible to win a special, but it will be difficult for a Republican to win the following November,” he said in a text message.</p> <p>When asked about Quinn and Mark-Viverito both running, he said, “Each would be formidable.”</p> <p>Shortly before a primary debate among the four Democratic attorney general candidates on Tuesday, Assembly Member Blake told Gotham Gazette he was watching closely in case James’ seat becomes vacant. “She’s gotta win first, but it would be irresponsible not to be looking at it,” he said about considering a run. “First and foremost, this is brand new terrain for all of us. The possibility for a citywide special election is unique to say the least...Out of respect for everybody in the field, this is a moot point unless [James] is the attorney general, and we’re gonna be respectful of that.”</p> <p>He added, “As I tell my team often, proper preparation prevents poor performance. So you’re just ready, and if that opportunity presents itself, we have some serious decisions to make.”</p> <p>Blake, who is a vice chair of the Democratic National Committee, was the campaign manager for 2013 public advocate candidate Reshma Saujani, giving him some recent experience with a citywide race. He was then elected to the Assembly in 2014.</p> <p>No current elected official would have to give up their seat to run in the special election, but, if victorious, would then have to vacate their position to become public advocate.</p> <p>As Borelli alluded to, one effect of numerous Democrats entering the fray is that they could split the vote in what will likely be a low-turnout special election, offering up an opportunity for a Republican to claim victory.</p> <p>Polanco, the attorney and former public advocate candidate, recognizes that opening. Having run for the seat just last year, he has certain advantages. “Whoever is gonna come from our side, there has to be just one candidate,” Polanco said in a phone interview. “We’re small enough as it is. Even in a non-partisan race, you’re gonna need organizational support. So the organizations have to line up behind one candidate from the beginning in order for us to have a shot.”</p> <p>Polanco noted that the nonpartisan aspect of the election is “always good for democracy, always good for participation,” since voters won’t necessarily make choices along party lines. But he also echoed the risk for any sitting Republican elected official who might run, as Borelli noted. “Do you give up your Council seat for that? I don’t know whether that’s a good gamble or not, especially if you have three years left on your Council seat,” Polanco said.</p> <p>Polanco also weighed in on the potential contest between two former Council speakers, saying Quinn would be the “ultimate” candidate. “She’s the most qualified of the candidates on that side running,” he said. “But I think the Democratic Party of today is more along the lines of Melissa Mark-Viverito. The Ocasio-Cortezes of the world, the democratic socialists, are getting momentum. She represents that faction. We can’t kid ourselves.”</p> <p>

***
by Samar Khurshid, Senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
The East New York Rezoning, One Year Later 2017-03-22T04:00:00+00:00 2017-03-22T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6825-the-east-new-york-rezoning-one-year-later Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/espinal_and_bdb_by_jeffrey_wz_reed.jpg" alt="espinal and bdb by jeffrey wz reed" width="600" height="403" /></p> <p>Council Member Espinal and Mayor de Blasio (photo: Jeffry W Reed)</p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">About a year ago, the City Council approved a comprehensive rezoning plan for East New York, the first of a dozen neighborhoods that the city targeted for new land use rules in an effort to develop more housing, including affordable housing, and improve community amenities. As with any rezoning, the plan approved in April 2016 was many months in the making and negotiated in close consultation with the local City Council member, in this case Rafael Espinal, who had significant influence over the designs and final say on the plan’s passage in the Council.</p> <p dir="ltr">Now, Espinal, his district, and the de Blasio administration are seeing the early stages of the East New York Neighborhood Plan put into action, though the effects of the rezoning will only be seen and felt in stages over decades. The plan brings with it major investments in the community, but also more density and gentrification, neighborhood improvements that can benefit current residents while also endangering their ability to afford the area long-term.</p> <p dir="ltr">In an interview last week at his legislative office in Downtown Manhattan, Council Member Espinal touted what he delivered for his community, and praised the city’s commitment to fulfilling its many promises as it gets ready to begin repaving streets, designing public parks, and opening a much-awaited community center by the end of this year.</p> <p dir="ltr">While critics of the final deal reached by Espinal and the de Blasio administration worry that even the rent-stabilized affordable housing will not be affordable enough for current residents, no one can deny that hundreds of millions of dollars are flowing into a community that has among the highest poverty and unemployment rates in the city.</p> <p dir="ltr">In negotiating the plan with the administration, Espinal faced immense political pressure while attempting to balance parallel and competing interests -- an administration that wanted to prioritize housing development; a community that wanted deeper affordability than was being offered; and a neighborhood that needed jobs and economic development after years of stagnation and being underserved. Espinal came out of negotiations with $267 million in promised capital investments -- money for schools, parks, infrastructure -- in what will likely be the largest neighborhood rezoning the de Blasio administration attempts.</p> <p dir="ltr">Of the 10 to 15 neighborhoods the de Blasio administration <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6287-east-new-york-deal-sets-precedent-for-wave-of-rezonings" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">may attempt to rezone</a>, East New York’s is the only plan that has passed thus far. The rezonings are about neighborhood development, but also key to the mayor’s plan to create and preserve 200,000 units of affordable housing. The East New York rezoning process itself was a major test of the administration’s commitment to equity in development and to ensuring that investment in communities doesn’t mean wholesale gentrification and displacement, issues that will be watched over time.</p> <p dir="ltr" style="text-align: center;">[Related: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6287-east-new-york-deal-sets-precedent-for-wave-of-rezonings" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">East New York Deal Sets Precedent for Wave of Rezonings</a>]</p> <p dir="ltr">Espinal said the city has followed through so far, having allocated $90 million to the plan already. “There was this commitment from the administration that they were going to get to work as soon [the rezoning plan] was passed,” he said. “And I have to say that they stayed true to that commitment.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Espinal listed off progress on the various projects underway -- the district’s first state-of-the-art community center in decades is expected to open by the end of this year; the Brooklyn Parks Department has received funding for a number of local projects and is set to begin work; the Department of Transportation is ready to “put the shovel in the ground next month” for the planned streetscaping of Atlantic Avenue; and the nonprofit Phipps Houses is ready to break ground by the end of the summer on a lot to build 1,000 units of 100-percent permanently affordable housing.</p> <p dir="ltr">The city has also received applications for developing another 200 units at a city-owned site, again for housing that will be 100-percent permanently affordable -- meaning that rent caps will be in place to ensure that residents of specific income bands don’t pay more than 30 percent of their income in rent. The specifics of those income thresholds was part of the debate over the rezoning and has been part of the overall discussion of de Blasio’s housing plan, with some elected officials and activists pushing for deeper levels of affordability.</p> <p dir="ltr">The East New York plan includes two of four options for Mandatory Inclusionary Housing, which requires developers to set aside a certain percentage of units under rent thresholds amid other market-rate units. One of the bands requires that 20 percent of new units be created for households making up to 40 percent of Area Median Income ($31,080 for a household of three) and the second option requires 25 percent of units at 60 percent AMI (including 10 percent at 40 percent AMI). Developers will be able to choose which of the two options they prefer when building on a parcel of land.</p> <p dir="ltr">Additionally, a working group of city agencies is studying the legalization of basement apartment units, and is due to issue its report soon, based on which $12 million in city funding could potentially help homeowners retrofit about 1,200 basements for residential purposes, creating another potential source of housing affordable to lower-income residents.&nbsp;That funding has yet to be allocated but is one of the commitments made by the administration.</p> <p dir="ltr">For another key piece of the plan, the School Construction Authority is seeking public review for a 1,000-seat public school, and two community visioning sessions have been held so far. And, a Workforce1 job training center, run by the city’s Department of Small Business Services, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6664-part-of-rezoning-plan-city-opens-new-career-help-center-in-east-new-york" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">opened in December.</a></p> <p dir="ltr">“So everything that we fought for and everything that the mayor committed to delivering is actually coming to fruition,” Espinal said. &nbsp;</p> <p dir="ltr" style="text-align: center;">[Related: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6664-part-of-rezoning-plan-city-opens-new-career-help-center-in-east-new-york" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Part of Rezoning Plan, City Opens New Career Center in East New York</a>]</p> <p dir="ltr">Still, the process is not without its anxieties. With rapid development comes gentrification, for better and worse, and there is fear about rising rents and displacement -- for both residential and commercial tenants. De Blasio has long-argued that the best thing for New Yorkers, especially low-income residents, is to harness development and gain concessions from developers. He has also shown a willingness to invest city money into affordable housing and community parks, among other things.</p> <p dir="ltr">Though the neighborhood may have the blessing of capital commitments from the mayor, even those might not be immune to the larger pressures of the annual budget process at the city, state and the federal level.</p> <p dir="ltr">“There’s no real way to legally hold [the administration] accountable,” admitted Espinal. “But I think being the first rezoning put us at an advantage, in that, since we were the first, [the mayor] had to make good on this first project in order to convince other members, in order to show the city, that he was committed in doing the right thing by every community.”</p> <p dir="ltr">To bolster accountability and transparency, the City Council <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=2637116&amp;GUID=AB629863-4E14-4F88-8AEC-D03AED71CD90&amp;FullText=1" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">passed legislation</a> in December, sponsored by Espinal, Public Advocate Letitia James, and Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, which <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6314-legislation-aimed-at-holding-city-accountable-for-rezoning-commitments" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">mandates</a> that the administration maintain an online public list of commitments made during a land use review process, including rezonings. The details of that online portal are being ironed out with the administration and it “should come live pretty soon,” Espinal said.</p> <p dir="ltr">Concerns about rising costs and gentrification are harder to allay. Before the rezoning plan passed, community advocates warned about the effect a rezoning could have on the neighborhood. New York Communities for Change was one group that opposed the plan, and protested Espinal’s support for it, mainly calling the affordability levels of the housing inadequate. They even <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/brooklyn/protests-planned-east-new-york-rezoning-plan-article-1.2598517" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">threatened</a> to run a primary candidate against him in his upcoming reelection bid (though it appears they are not following through).</p> <p dir="ltr">In the weeks leading up the Council’s vote on the rezoning, and on the day of the vote itself, the groups held rallies, calling for a “no” vote from Espinal, which would’ve effectively killed the plan altogether. The full City Council, by tradition, not statute, votes with the local representative on land use matters. With Espinal’s blessing, and a lot of praise from colleagues for the deal he struck, the plan passed nearly unanimously. The one “no” vote was from neighboring Council Member Inez Barron, who actually represents a small piece of the rezoned area herself. Barron worried about affordability and gentrification.</p> <p dir="ltr">“One year later, tenants are still being harassed, rents are rising, and we still have a rezoning plan that will not create affordable units for the people of East New York,” said Renata Pumarol, deputy director of New York Communities for Change, in an email.</p> <p dir="ltr">Among the adverse effects that NYCC claims the rezoning has caused are rising rents along the L Train corridor and along the 2,3,4 and 5 subway lines, minimal affordable housing development, predatory land grabs, and tenant harassment. Pumarol said in the email, as an example, that monthly rents at Marcus Garvey Village for certain families increased from $1700 last year to $2100.</p> <p dir="ltr" style="text-align: center;">[Related: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6309-homeowners-stand-to-gain-in-areas-to-be-rezoned-if-they-can-keep-their-homes">Homeowners Stand to Gain in Areas to be Rezoned, If They Can Keep Their Homes</a>]</p> <p dir="ltr">Espinal brushed aside the criticism that was levelled against him, even as he acknowledged that housing speculation was an expected trend that was hard to contain.</p> <p dir="ltr">“I agree that we should find ways to create more affordability in these plans,” he said, “but the position I was in at the time, it wasn’t feasible. I was given these certain tools and what I was able to do was maximize every tool that was on the table that the agencies had to build affordable housing.” Espinal said he would gladly stand with those same community groups to fight for affordable housing but he had to move forward with the rezoning, “because I wasn’t just building affordable housing, I was also giving my constituents the tools they need to deal with the forces of gentrification as it comes into the community.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Housing speculation kicked off <a href="http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2015/01/east-new-york-gentrification.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">well ahead of </a>the plan even being approved as word spread that the city had identified East New York for redevelopment. The rezoning plan attempted to ameliorate some of those effects, by creating a Homeowner Helpdesk and by providing legal assistance to those facing eviction in housing court, a program that was <a href="https://www.dnainfo.com/new-york/20170213/civic-center/housing-court-de-blasio-mark-viverito-levine-lawyer-landlord" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">recently fully funded</a> by the mayor.</p> <p dir="ltr">“It’s a snowball that started rolling a long time ago, coming in from Williamsburg,” Espinal said, referring to one neighborhood among several that de Blasio often cites when talking about misguided past rezonings that did not deliver for the community already there. “Bushwick has seen a lot of gentrification, and has seen a lot of the negative effects of that because government didn’t intervene at all,” Espinal added, mentioning another of the neighborhoods de Blasio also cites.</p> <p dir="ltr"><a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/site/planning/plans/east-new-york/east-new-york-1.page" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/eny_map_key.jpg" alt="eny map key" width="400" height="259" style="margin: 0px 8px 0px 0px; float: left;" /></a>The Council member emphasized the need for the city to step in, as it has with the rezoning. “For anyone to say, ‘Oh we shouldn’t invest in these neighborhood because it’s gonna raise speculation,’ you know I think that’s just wrong,” he said. “I grew up there and as a kid all I wanted was the city and state to invest all this money in the neighborhood because I wanted a better park...I was a kid watching TV, seeing the high schools, and I’m like, ‘how come my high school doesn’t look that way?’”</p> <p dir="ltr">The city’s Mandatory Inclusionary Housing policy is also dependent on drawing real estate developers to a neighborhood. That’s part of what the city is relying on for meeting a 10-year target of 6,000 new units in East New York, with at least half of them affordable. And the market pressures that may affect the community, Espinal said, would be offset by first creating 1,200-1,300 units of permanent affordable housing within the next two years.</p> <p dir="ltr">The challenges for the community aren’t limited to the stock and costs of affordable housing. Relatedly, though, East New York has one of the city’s largest concentrations of homeless families. The Partnership for the Homeless <a href="http://partnershipforthehomeless.org/pages/81/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">estimates</a> that more than a third of East New York families are poor and nearly 40 percent of its children live in poverty.</p> <p dir="ltr">De Blasio has struggled to control homelessness citywide, and often references his affordable housing plan as one of ways the city will reduce homelessness in the long-term. The rezoning plan says nothing directly of taking on homelessness, and a new homelessness plan the mayor recently outlined dictates the opening of 90 new shelters while the city stops using commercial hotels and scatter-site apartments to house homeless New Yorkers.</p> <p dir="ltr">It is unclear how many new shelters the city may target for East New York. But, part of the rezoning deal involved the closure of two homeless shelters in the district.</p> <p dir="ltr">The mayor has promised a new shelter siting policy that prioritizes proximity to a homeless person’s most recent address and support center, keeping homeless people close to their communities. This principle raises concerns in communities like East New York that shelters could be concentrated in already-overburdened neighborhoods. That cyclical logic is what bothers Espinal.</p> <p dir="ltr">“I’m very concerned when [the mayor] says that every neighborhood will have to pay their fair share,” Espinal said. The idea that “depending on how many homeless are coming out of your neighborhood will determine how many homeless shelters you have in your community,” Espinal said, “if we’re going to follow that philosophy then that means East New York would get a large group of those shelters and I don’t think that’s fair...this could mean that we’re gonna get two brand new shelters after we’ve closed down two that we committed to close.”</p> <p dir="ltr">The mayor’s homeless shelter siting plan could run up against the City Council’s own proposed legislation, spearheaded by Speaker Mark-Viverito and Council Member Brad Lander, to modernize the city’s fair share guidelines that determine the siting of municipal facilities. The Council’s proposals would require a more equitable distribution of facilities across the five boroughs, which may not necessarily align with the mayor’s homeless shelter plan, which he calls a community-focused approach. “We’re going to change our shelter system to reflect the needs of each community board,” the mayor said in announcing the new approach. “We want people to be close to home. But we want everyone to do their fair share – every community board needs to be part of the solution.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Espinal supports the fair share legislation and also wants to see a “compassionate” homelessness policy that keeps people close to their neighborhoods, two things that aren’t mutually exclusive, he said. “I think the issue is taking a family from Brooklyn and housing them in the Bronx,” he said, “and then saying, ‘How are you going to get to school every morning in Brooklyn?”</p> <p>He went on, “If you’re in the immediate area or a neighborhood near where your school is, I think that would work a lot better. I know my neighbors in Queens, which is just a few blocks to the north and a few blocks to the east, are a little shy of housing homeless shelters in their areas. But you know, these neighborhoods are right next door, why not put a shelter in the community board next door to mine?”</p> <div> <p dir="ltr">Presented with Espinal’s comments, a spokesperson for Mayor de Blasio said in an email, “We are committed to engaging communities as we open shelter sites across the five boroughs, taking into account community feedback and working to address neighborhood concerns.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Jaclyn Rothenberg, the spokesperson, noted that the city is canceling the use of 360 emergency hotels and cluster sites, which will ultimately lead to a 45 percent reduction in the city’s shelter footprint. Brooklyn alone has about 93 shelters, 48 cluster sites and 22 hotel shelters, according to an <a href="http://www.ny1.com/nyc/all-boroughs/politics/2017/02/27/city-data-reveals-where-all-nyc-homeless-shelters-are-located.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">NY1 analysis</a> based on a Freedom of Information Law request, released a day before the mayor announced his new policy.</p> <p dir="ltr">According to city data, there are 1,197 cases, including 2,703 individuals, in shelters who hail from Community Board 5, which covers East New York. At the same time, about 1,368 cases or 2,171 individuals are currently housed in shelters actually situated in that community board. In the same area, there are 64 apartment units in cluster sites housing 201 individuals and 242 beds in commercial hotels that hold 411 individuals.</p> <p dir="ltr">“We encourage all communities to join us at the table as we move forward," Rothenberg said.</p> <p dir="ltr">Naturally, Espinal also worries about how proposed federal budget cuts may also affect the neighborhood, even if they don’t necessarily affect the city’s rezoning commitments. “I represent a neighborhood that’s one of the lowest income communities in the city and we’re gonna face the same problems that any inner city community will face,” he said, citing education and health care as two important streams of federal funding. A repeal of the Affordable Care Act would be a particularly stinging blow to his community, he said.</p> <p dir="ltr">The future is not all anxiety and uncertainty, however. Along with the city’s commitments, Espinal recently received a welcome piece of news in Governor Andrew Cuomo’s <a href="https://www.governor.ny.gov/news/governor-cuomo-announces-14-billion-vital-brooklyn-initiative-transform-central-brooklyn" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Vital Brooklyn</a> proposal, which would invest $1.4 billion in Central Brooklyn, including parts of East New York and Bushwick. The plan, according to a spokesperson for the governor, was months in the making and sought input from local and state legislators.</p> <p dir="ltr">Vital Brooklyn includes investments in education, job creation, affordable housing, healthy food options, open and green spaces, among others. Espinal, who was with the governor at the announcement, said it brought back memories of the East New York plan which similarly addressed a comprehensive range of needs for the community. “I can’t speak to how much of that $1.4 billion is coming into East New York itself but you know it’s only going to enhance the work we’ve done,” he said.</p> <p dir="ltr">When asked, Espinal said he’d like to see the mayor and governor coordinate on the overlapping parts of the plans, but he doesn’t hold out hope for the feuding leaders, both Democrats like Espinal. “I would love to see coordination but if they decide to do things with their own priority and prerogative then I think that’s fine as well,” he said.</p> <p dir="ltr">“I think it’s no secret what the relationship is,” he added with a chuckle, when asked if he thinks the mayor and governor can work together. “But I think they can. I don’t think there’s anything controversial in investing in low-income communities. It’ll better serve the community if they’re able to come together and come up with a comprehensive plan that will match the needs of the neighborhood.”</p> <p dir="ltr">The Department of City Planning is currently studying a number of neighborhoods for the next rezoning after East New York. Furthest along in the process are Greater East Midtown and Downtown Far Rockaway, which are both undergoing public review, as well as East Harlem. The city is also conducting an environmental impact study in the Bay Street Corridor in Staten Island while another potential rezoning study, in <a href="http://citylimits.org/2016/06/02/city-says-flushing-rezoning-is-paused-not-dead-some-investments-still-on-track/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Flushing, Queens</a>, was “paused” in late-May after facing opposition from local legislators.</p> <p dir="ltr">Most of these neighborhoods eyed for rezoning are smaller than East New York, but each has its own socioeconomic and even political complexities. Espinal, having been through the process, is now the sounding board for the Council members who will be in the hot seat next as they negotiate their own rezonings with the administration. “They all reach out to me,” Espinal said proudly. “They all worry about not getting the best deal out of the administration. And they ask advice about what was it that I pushed for and how did I push for it, also dealing with the political pressures too.”</p> Last year, at the land use committee vote to approve the East New York plan, Council Member David Greenfield, the committee chair, called it a “unicorn deal” that set the bar for other rezonings. “This is the new standard that’s being set in the city that quite frankly everybody else will chase,” he said. “But rest assured I can tell you, as the chair of the land use committee, they’re not gonna capture it.”</div> <div>&nbsp;</div> <div>

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by Samar Khurshid, Senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</div> <div>&nbsp;</div> <div>Note - this article has been updated.</div>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/espinal_and_bdb_by_jeffrey_wz_reed.jpg" alt="espinal and bdb by jeffrey wz reed" width="600" height="403" /></p> <p>Council Member Espinal and Mayor de Blasio (photo: Jeffry W Reed)</p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">About a year ago, the City Council approved a comprehensive rezoning plan for East New York, the first of a dozen neighborhoods that the city targeted for new land use rules in an effort to develop more housing, including affordable housing, and improve community amenities. As with any rezoning, the plan approved in April 2016 was many months in the making and negotiated in close consultation with the local City Council member, in this case Rafael Espinal, who had significant influence over the designs and final say on the plan’s passage in the Council.</p> <p dir="ltr">Now, Espinal, his district, and the de Blasio administration are seeing the early stages of the East New York Neighborhood Plan put into action, though the effects of the rezoning will only be seen and felt in stages over decades. The plan brings with it major investments in the community, but also more density and gentrification, neighborhood improvements that can benefit current residents while also endangering their ability to afford the area long-term.</p> <p dir="ltr">In an interview last week at his legislative office in Downtown Manhattan, Council Member Espinal touted what he delivered for his community, and praised the city’s commitment to fulfilling its many promises as it gets ready to begin repaving streets, designing public parks, and opening a much-awaited community center by the end of this year.</p> <p dir="ltr">While critics of the final deal reached by Espinal and the de Blasio administration worry that even the rent-stabilized affordable housing will not be affordable enough for current residents, no one can deny that hundreds of millions of dollars are flowing into a community that has among the highest poverty and unemployment rates in the city.</p> <p dir="ltr">In negotiating the plan with the administration, Espinal faced immense political pressure while attempting to balance parallel and competing interests -- an administration that wanted to prioritize housing development; a community that wanted deeper affordability than was being offered; and a neighborhood that needed jobs and economic development after years of stagnation and being underserved. Espinal came out of negotiations with $267 million in promised capital investments -- money for schools, parks, infrastructure -- in what will likely be the largest neighborhood rezoning the de Blasio administration attempts.</p> <p dir="ltr">Of the 10 to 15 neighborhoods the de Blasio administration <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6287-east-new-york-deal-sets-precedent-for-wave-of-rezonings" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">may attempt to rezone</a>, East New York’s is the only plan that has passed thus far. The rezonings are about neighborhood development, but also key to the mayor’s plan to create and preserve 200,000 units of affordable housing. The East New York rezoning process itself was a major test of the administration’s commitment to equity in development and to ensuring that investment in communities doesn’t mean wholesale gentrification and displacement, issues that will be watched over time.</p> <p dir="ltr" style="text-align: center;">[Related: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6287-east-new-york-deal-sets-precedent-for-wave-of-rezonings" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">East New York Deal Sets Precedent for Wave of Rezonings</a>]</p> <p dir="ltr">Espinal said the city has followed through so far, having allocated $90 million to the plan already. “There was this commitment from the administration that they were going to get to work as soon [the rezoning plan] was passed,” he said. “And I have to say that they stayed true to that commitment.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Espinal listed off progress on the various projects underway -- the district’s first state-of-the-art community center in decades is expected to open by the end of this year; the Brooklyn Parks Department has received funding for a number of local projects and is set to begin work; the Department of Transportation is ready to “put the shovel in the ground next month” for the planned streetscaping of Atlantic Avenue; and the nonprofit Phipps Houses is ready to break ground by the end of the summer on a lot to build 1,000 units of 100-percent permanently affordable housing.</p> <p dir="ltr">The city has also received applications for developing another 200 units at a city-owned site, again for housing that will be 100-percent permanently affordable -- meaning that rent caps will be in place to ensure that residents of specific income bands don’t pay more than 30 percent of their income in rent. The specifics of those income thresholds was part of the debate over the rezoning and has been part of the overall discussion of de Blasio’s housing plan, with some elected officials and activists pushing for deeper levels of affordability.</p> <p dir="ltr">The East New York plan includes two of four options for Mandatory Inclusionary Housing, which requires developers to set aside a certain percentage of units under rent thresholds amid other market-rate units. One of the bands requires that 20 percent of new units be created for households making up to 40 percent of Area Median Income ($31,080 for a household of three) and the second option requires 25 percent of units at 60 percent AMI (including 10 percent at 40 percent AMI). Developers will be able to choose which of the two options they prefer when building on a parcel of land.</p> <p dir="ltr">Additionally, a working group of city agencies is studying the legalization of basement apartment units, and is due to issue its report soon, based on which $12 million in city funding could potentially help homeowners retrofit about 1,200 basements for residential purposes, creating another potential source of housing affordable to lower-income residents.&nbsp;That funding has yet to be allocated but is one of the commitments made by the administration.</p> <p dir="ltr">For another key piece of the plan, the School Construction Authority is seeking public review for a 1,000-seat public school, and two community visioning sessions have been held so far. And, a Workforce1 job training center, run by the city’s Department of Small Business Services, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6664-part-of-rezoning-plan-city-opens-new-career-help-center-in-east-new-york" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">opened in December.</a></p> <p dir="ltr">“So everything that we fought for and everything that the mayor committed to delivering is actually coming to fruition,” Espinal said. &nbsp;</p> <p dir="ltr" style="text-align: center;">[Related: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6664-part-of-rezoning-plan-city-opens-new-career-help-center-in-east-new-york" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Part of Rezoning Plan, City Opens New Career Center in East New York</a>]</p> <p dir="ltr">Still, the process is not without its anxieties. With rapid development comes gentrification, for better and worse, and there is fear about rising rents and displacement -- for both residential and commercial tenants. De Blasio has long-argued that the best thing for New Yorkers, especially low-income residents, is to harness development and gain concessions from developers. He has also shown a willingness to invest city money into affordable housing and community parks, among other things.</p> <p dir="ltr">Though the neighborhood may have the blessing of capital commitments from the mayor, even those might not be immune to the larger pressures of the annual budget process at the city, state and the federal level.</p> <p dir="ltr">“There’s no real way to legally hold [the administration] accountable,” admitted Espinal. “But I think being the first rezoning put us at an advantage, in that, since we were the first, [the mayor] had to make good on this first project in order to convince other members, in order to show the city, that he was committed in doing the right thing by every community.”</p> <p dir="ltr">To bolster accountability and transparency, the City Council <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=2637116&amp;GUID=AB629863-4E14-4F88-8AEC-D03AED71CD90&amp;FullText=1" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">passed legislation</a> in December, sponsored by Espinal, Public Advocate Letitia James, and Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, which <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6314-legislation-aimed-at-holding-city-accountable-for-rezoning-commitments" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">mandates</a> that the administration maintain an online public list of commitments made during a land use review process, including rezonings. The details of that online portal are being ironed out with the administration and it “should come live pretty soon,” Espinal said.</p> <p dir="ltr">Concerns about rising costs and gentrification are harder to allay. Before the rezoning plan passed, community advocates warned about the effect a rezoning could have on the neighborhood. New York Communities for Change was one group that opposed the plan, and protested Espinal’s support for it, mainly calling the affordability levels of the housing inadequate. They even <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/brooklyn/protests-planned-east-new-york-rezoning-plan-article-1.2598517" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">threatened</a> to run a primary candidate against him in his upcoming reelection bid (though it appears they are not following through).</p> <p dir="ltr">In the weeks leading up the Council’s vote on the rezoning, and on the day of the vote itself, the groups held rallies, calling for a “no” vote from Espinal, which would’ve effectively killed the plan altogether. The full City Council, by tradition, not statute, votes with the local representative on land use matters. With Espinal’s blessing, and a lot of praise from colleagues for the deal he struck, the plan passed nearly unanimously. The one “no” vote was from neighboring Council Member Inez Barron, who actually represents a small piece of the rezoned area herself. Barron worried about affordability and gentrification.</p> <p dir="ltr">“One year later, tenants are still being harassed, rents are rising, and we still have a rezoning plan that will not create affordable units for the people of East New York,” said Renata Pumarol, deputy director of New York Communities for Change, in an email.</p> <p dir="ltr">Among the adverse effects that NYCC claims the rezoning has caused are rising rents along the L Train corridor and along the 2,3,4 and 5 subway lines, minimal affordable housing development, predatory land grabs, and tenant harassment. Pumarol said in the email, as an example, that monthly rents at Marcus Garvey Village for certain families increased from $1700 last year to $2100.</p> <p dir="ltr" style="text-align: center;">[Related: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6309-homeowners-stand-to-gain-in-areas-to-be-rezoned-if-they-can-keep-their-homes">Homeowners Stand to Gain in Areas to be Rezoned, If They Can Keep Their Homes</a>]</p> <p dir="ltr">Espinal brushed aside the criticism that was levelled against him, even as he acknowledged that housing speculation was an expected trend that was hard to contain.</p> <p dir="ltr">“I agree that we should find ways to create more affordability in these plans,” he said, “but the position I was in at the time, it wasn’t feasible. I was given these certain tools and what I was able to do was maximize every tool that was on the table that the agencies had to build affordable housing.” Espinal said he would gladly stand with those same community groups to fight for affordable housing but he had to move forward with the rezoning, “because I wasn’t just building affordable housing, I was also giving my constituents the tools they need to deal with the forces of gentrification as it comes into the community.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Housing speculation kicked off <a href="http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2015/01/east-new-york-gentrification.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">well ahead of </a>the plan even being approved as word spread that the city had identified East New York for redevelopment. The rezoning plan attempted to ameliorate some of those effects, by creating a Homeowner Helpdesk and by providing legal assistance to those facing eviction in housing court, a program that was <a href="https://www.dnainfo.com/new-york/20170213/civic-center/housing-court-de-blasio-mark-viverito-levine-lawyer-landlord" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">recently fully funded</a> by the mayor.</p> <p dir="ltr">“It’s a snowball that started rolling a long time ago, coming in from Williamsburg,” Espinal said, referring to one neighborhood among several that de Blasio often cites when talking about misguided past rezonings that did not deliver for the community already there. “Bushwick has seen a lot of gentrification, and has seen a lot of the negative effects of that because government didn’t intervene at all,” Espinal added, mentioning another of the neighborhoods de Blasio also cites.</p> <p dir="ltr"><a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/site/planning/plans/east-new-york/east-new-york-1.page" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/eny_map_key.jpg" alt="eny map key" width="400" height="259" style="margin: 0px 8px 0px 0px; float: left;" /></a>The Council member emphasized the need for the city to step in, as it has with the rezoning. “For anyone to say, ‘Oh we shouldn’t invest in these neighborhood because it’s gonna raise speculation,’ you know I think that’s just wrong,” he said. “I grew up there and as a kid all I wanted was the city and state to invest all this money in the neighborhood because I wanted a better park...I was a kid watching TV, seeing the high schools, and I’m like, ‘how come my high school doesn’t look that way?’”</p> <p dir="ltr">The city’s Mandatory Inclusionary Housing policy is also dependent on drawing real estate developers to a neighborhood. That’s part of what the city is relying on for meeting a 10-year target of 6,000 new units in East New York, with at least half of them affordable. And the market pressures that may affect the community, Espinal said, would be offset by first creating 1,200-1,300 units of permanent affordable housing within the next two years.</p> <p dir="ltr">The challenges for the community aren’t limited to the stock and costs of affordable housing. Relatedly, though, East New York has one of the city’s largest concentrations of homeless families. The Partnership for the Homeless <a href="http://partnershipforthehomeless.org/pages/81/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">estimates</a> that more than a third of East New York families are poor and nearly 40 percent of its children live in poverty.</p> <p dir="ltr">De Blasio has struggled to control homelessness citywide, and often references his affordable housing plan as one of ways the city will reduce homelessness in the long-term. The rezoning plan says nothing directly of taking on homelessness, and a new homelessness plan the mayor recently outlined dictates the opening of 90 new shelters while the city stops using commercial hotels and scatter-site apartments to house homeless New Yorkers.</p> <p dir="ltr">It is unclear how many new shelters the city may target for East New York. But, part of the rezoning deal involved the closure of two homeless shelters in the district.</p> <p dir="ltr">The mayor has promised a new shelter siting policy that prioritizes proximity to a homeless person’s most recent address and support center, keeping homeless people close to their communities. This principle raises concerns in communities like East New York that shelters could be concentrated in already-overburdened neighborhoods. That cyclical logic is what bothers Espinal.</p> <p dir="ltr">“I’m very concerned when [the mayor] says that every neighborhood will have to pay their fair share,” Espinal said. The idea that “depending on how many homeless are coming out of your neighborhood will determine how many homeless shelters you have in your community,” Espinal said, “if we’re going to follow that philosophy then that means East New York would get a large group of those shelters and I don’t think that’s fair...this could mean that we’re gonna get two brand new shelters after we’ve closed down two that we committed to close.”</p> <p dir="ltr">The mayor’s homeless shelter siting plan could run up against the City Council’s own proposed legislation, spearheaded by Speaker Mark-Viverito and Council Member Brad Lander, to modernize the city’s fair share guidelines that determine the siting of municipal facilities. The Council’s proposals would require a more equitable distribution of facilities across the five boroughs, which may not necessarily align with the mayor’s homeless shelter plan, which he calls a community-focused approach. “We’re going to change our shelter system to reflect the needs of each community board,” the mayor said in announcing the new approach. “We want people to be close to home. But we want everyone to do their fair share – every community board needs to be part of the solution.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Espinal supports the fair share legislation and also wants to see a “compassionate” homelessness policy that keeps people close to their neighborhoods, two things that aren’t mutually exclusive, he said. “I think the issue is taking a family from Brooklyn and housing them in the Bronx,” he said, “and then saying, ‘How are you going to get to school every morning in Brooklyn?”</p> <p>He went on, “If you’re in the immediate area or a neighborhood near where your school is, I think that would work a lot better. I know my neighbors in Queens, which is just a few blocks to the north and a few blocks to the east, are a little shy of housing homeless shelters in their areas. But you know, these neighborhoods are right next door, why not put a shelter in the community board next door to mine?”</p> <div> <p dir="ltr">Presented with Espinal’s comments, a spokesperson for Mayor de Blasio said in an email, “We are committed to engaging communities as we open shelter sites across the five boroughs, taking into account community feedback and working to address neighborhood concerns.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Jaclyn Rothenberg, the spokesperson, noted that the city is canceling the use of 360 emergency hotels and cluster sites, which will ultimately lead to a 45 percent reduction in the city’s shelter footprint. Brooklyn alone has about 93 shelters, 48 cluster sites and 22 hotel shelters, according to an <a href="http://www.ny1.com/nyc/all-boroughs/politics/2017/02/27/city-data-reveals-where-all-nyc-homeless-shelters-are-located.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">NY1 analysis</a> based on a Freedom of Information Law request, released a day before the mayor announced his new policy.</p> <p dir="ltr">According to city data, there are 1,197 cases, including 2,703 individuals, in shelters who hail from Community Board 5, which covers East New York. At the same time, about 1,368 cases or 2,171 individuals are currently housed in shelters actually situated in that community board. In the same area, there are 64 apartment units in cluster sites housing 201 individuals and 242 beds in commercial hotels that hold 411 individuals.</p> <p dir="ltr">“We encourage all communities to join us at the table as we move forward," Rothenberg said.</p> <p dir="ltr">Naturally, Espinal also worries about how proposed federal budget cuts may also affect the neighborhood, even if they don’t necessarily affect the city’s rezoning commitments. “I represent a neighborhood that’s one of the lowest income communities in the city and we’re gonna face the same problems that any inner city community will face,” he said, citing education and health care as two important streams of federal funding. A repeal of the Affordable Care Act would be a particularly stinging blow to his community, he said.</p> <p dir="ltr">The future is not all anxiety and uncertainty, however. Along with the city’s commitments, Espinal recently received a welcome piece of news in Governor Andrew Cuomo’s <a href="https://www.governor.ny.gov/news/governor-cuomo-announces-14-billion-vital-brooklyn-initiative-transform-central-brooklyn" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Vital Brooklyn</a> proposal, which would invest $1.4 billion in Central Brooklyn, including parts of East New York and Bushwick. The plan, according to a spokesperson for the governor, was months in the making and sought input from local and state legislators.</p> <p dir="ltr">Vital Brooklyn includes investments in education, job creation, affordable housing, healthy food options, open and green spaces, among others. Espinal, who was with the governor at the announcement, said it brought back memories of the East New York plan which similarly addressed a comprehensive range of needs for the community. “I can’t speak to how much of that $1.4 billion is coming into East New York itself but you know it’s only going to enhance the work we’ve done,” he said.</p> <p dir="ltr">When asked, Espinal said he’d like to see the mayor and governor coordinate on the overlapping parts of the plans, but he doesn’t hold out hope for the feuding leaders, both Democrats like Espinal. “I would love to see coordination but if they decide to do things with their own priority and prerogative then I think that’s fine as well,” he said.</p> <p dir="ltr">“I think it’s no secret what the relationship is,” he added with a chuckle, when asked if he thinks the mayor and governor can work together. “But I think they can. I don’t think there’s anything controversial in investing in low-income communities. It’ll better serve the community if they’re able to come together and come up with a comprehensive plan that will match the needs of the neighborhood.”</p> <p dir="ltr">The Department of City Planning is currently studying a number of neighborhoods for the next rezoning after East New York. Furthest along in the process are Greater East Midtown and Downtown Far Rockaway, which are both undergoing public review, as well as East Harlem. The city is also conducting an environmental impact study in the Bay Street Corridor in Staten Island while another potential rezoning study, in <a href="http://citylimits.org/2016/06/02/city-says-flushing-rezoning-is-paused-not-dead-some-investments-still-on-track/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Flushing, Queens</a>, was “paused” in late-May after facing opposition from local legislators.</p> <p dir="ltr">Most of these neighborhoods eyed for rezoning are smaller than East New York, but each has its own socioeconomic and even political complexities. Espinal, having been through the process, is now the sounding board for the Council members who will be in the hot seat next as they negotiate their own rezonings with the administration. “They all reach out to me,” Espinal said proudly. “They all worry about not getting the best deal out of the administration. And they ask advice about what was it that I pushed for and how did I push for it, also dealing with the political pressures too.”</p> Last year, at the land use committee vote to approve the East New York plan, Council Member David Greenfield, the committee chair, called it a “unicorn deal” that set the bar for other rezonings. “This is the new standard that’s being set in the city that quite frankly everybody else will chase,” he said. “But rest assured I can tell you, as the chair of the land use committee, they’re not gonna capture it.”</div> <div>&nbsp;</div> <div>

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by Samar Khurshid, Senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</div> <div>&nbsp;</div> <div>Note - this article has been updated.</div>
The Holiday Season Opportunity to Bolster Our Local Businesses 2016-12-21T05:00:00+00:00 2016-12-21T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/6682-the-holiday-season-opportunity-to-bolster-our-local-businesses Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/espinal_supermarket_tour.jpg" alt="espinal supermarket tour" width="600" height="383" /></p> <p>Council Member Espinal, the author (middle), tours a local market</p> <hr /> <p>The holidays are my favorite time of year: a time when we can open ourselves up to one another and reflect on what makes us grateful. Whether through wishing a stranger a happy holiday, participating in charity, or simply sharing traditions with friends and family, the holidays are a time for community.</p> <p>Yet, amid the joy and cheer that accompany the holiday season, the pressure to find perfect gifts for our loved ones while also balancing our checkbooks can be daunting. Especially when income inequality in New York City is at an all-time high and working people are struggling to get by, the sense of obligation to buy presents is often an added burden on already financially strained families.</p> <p>Even with specific family situations being what they are, New York City consumers will spend a lot of money this holiday season. We live in a heavily consumerist culture, with pressure constantly upon us to buy more and more -- pressure that is even more present during the holiday season. Whether through the temptations of often sneaky “sales” in big-box stores or more modern techniques, such as the constant slew of advertisements targeted at us on our Facebook pages or in emails, large corporations are always trying to reach us; always trying to sell us the next big thing.</p> <p>Big companies often do provide us with the stuff we need to live our unique lives, while also providing jobs for our families and neighbors. But corporations do not have to be our main providers and an over-reliance on their services does not offer the best economic opportunities for our city.</p> <p>This holiday season there is again an important opportunity for us to create a stronger local economy by patronizing local businesses. That is why, as a City Council member, the chair of the Consumer Affairs committee, and a Brooklynite, I am urging my fellow New Yorkers to shop locally.</p> <p>Look for items made in New York to encourage local manufacturing and skip the big malls for your local business corridors. You’ll be amazed at the variety and quality of goods available to you locally, if you look.</p> <p>If you prefer online shopping, consider replacing amazon.com for <a href="http://madeinnyc.org/" target="_blank">madeinnyc.org</a>, an online platform that directly connects New Yorkers with local manufacturers offering the latest in food, fashion, furnishings, and other products. There's nothing like shopping local for all your last-minute gifts, too.</p> <p>One recent study found that for every $100 spent at a local business, $68 stays in the community. Yet, when the same amount of money is spent at a non-local business, it produces only $43 for the local community. That difference of $25 per $100 could be going to community businesses, which are often owned by families and employ neighborhood folk. Local ‘mom and pops’ have long been the backbone of our society -- they sustain families and provide jobs to community members. In fact, since 1990, small businesses alone have created 8 million jobs and most owners support paying above and raising the minimum wage.</p> <p>These are key reasons to shop local this holiday season -- and beyond.</p> <p>Small businesses no doubt contribute to the economic fabric and sustainability of our local communities. And, if that is not reason enough to support your local shops, consider this: a Harvard Business School Study found that CEOs make 350 times more than the average worker. Income inequality is one of the most crucial and wide-reaching issues of our day. We saw this as a major theme in our recent presidential election, both in the Democratic primary between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders and in the general election with the nomination of Donald Trump -- a radical rejection of the political status quo -- because it spoke to many Americans’ innermost economic and social grievances.</p> <p>Each of us has ample opportunities to make personal choices that hold large corporations accountable and bolster our local businesses. As chair of the City Council Committee on Consumer Affairs, and as a proud Brooklynite, I urge New Yorkers to spread the cheer to their local retailers and shop locally this holiday season.</p> <p>***<br />Rafael Espinal is a New York City Council member representing parts of Bushwick, East New York and Oceanhill-Brownsville in Brooklyn. As Chair of the Committee on Consumer Affairs, Council Member Espinal works to enact legislation that protects consumers, strengthens businesses, and empowers New Yorkers. On Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/RLEspinal" target="_blank">@RLEspinal</a>.</p> <p>

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

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/espinal_supermarket_tour.jpg" alt="espinal supermarket tour" width="600" height="383" /></p> <p>Council Member Espinal, the author (middle), tours a local market</p> <hr /> <p>The holidays are my favorite time of year: a time when we can open ourselves up to one another and reflect on what makes us grateful. Whether through wishing a stranger a happy holiday, participating in charity, or simply sharing traditions with friends and family, the holidays are a time for community.</p> <p>Yet, amid the joy and cheer that accompany the holiday season, the pressure to find perfect gifts for our loved ones while also balancing our checkbooks can be daunting. Especially when income inequality in New York City is at an all-time high and working people are struggling to get by, the sense of obligation to buy presents is often an added burden on already financially strained families.</p> <p>Even with specific family situations being what they are, New York City consumers will spend a lot of money this holiday season. We live in a heavily consumerist culture, with pressure constantly upon us to buy more and more -- pressure that is even more present during the holiday season. Whether through the temptations of often sneaky “sales” in big-box stores or more modern techniques, such as the constant slew of advertisements targeted at us on our Facebook pages or in emails, large corporations are always trying to reach us; always trying to sell us the next big thing.</p> <p>Big companies often do provide us with the stuff we need to live our unique lives, while also providing jobs for our families and neighbors. But corporations do not have to be our main providers and an over-reliance on their services does not offer the best economic opportunities for our city.</p> <p>This holiday season there is again an important opportunity for us to create a stronger local economy by patronizing local businesses. That is why, as a City Council member, the chair of the Consumer Affairs committee, and a Brooklynite, I am urging my fellow New Yorkers to shop locally.</p> <p>Look for items made in New York to encourage local manufacturing and skip the big malls for your local business corridors. You’ll be amazed at the variety and quality of goods available to you locally, if you look.</p> <p>If you prefer online shopping, consider replacing amazon.com for <a href="http://madeinnyc.org/" target="_blank">madeinnyc.org</a>, an online platform that directly connects New Yorkers with local manufacturers offering the latest in food, fashion, furnishings, and other products. There's nothing like shopping local for all your last-minute gifts, too.</p> <p>One recent study found that for every $100 spent at a local business, $68 stays in the community. Yet, when the same amount of money is spent at a non-local business, it produces only $43 for the local community. That difference of $25 per $100 could be going to community businesses, which are often owned by families and employ neighborhood folk. Local ‘mom and pops’ have long been the backbone of our society -- they sustain families and provide jobs to community members. In fact, since 1990, small businesses alone have created 8 million jobs and most owners support paying above and raising the minimum wage.</p> <p>These are key reasons to shop local this holiday season -- and beyond.</p> <p>Small businesses no doubt contribute to the economic fabric and sustainability of our local communities. And, if that is not reason enough to support your local shops, consider this: a Harvard Business School Study found that CEOs make 350 times more than the average worker. Income inequality is one of the most crucial and wide-reaching issues of our day. We saw this as a major theme in our recent presidential election, both in the Democratic primary between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders and in the general election with the nomination of Donald Trump -- a radical rejection of the political status quo -- because it spoke to many Americans’ innermost economic and social grievances.</p> <p>Each of us has ample opportunities to make personal choices that hold large corporations accountable and bolster our local businesses. As chair of the City Council Committee on Consumer Affairs, and as a proud Brooklynite, I urge New Yorkers to spread the cheer to their local retailers and shop locally this holiday season.</p> <p>***<br />Rafael Espinal is a New York City Council member representing parts of Bushwick, East New York and Oceanhill-Brownsville in Brooklyn. As Chair of the Committee on Consumer Affairs, Council Member Espinal works to enact legislation that protects consumers, strengthens businesses, and empowers New Yorkers. On Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/RLEspinal" target="_blank">@RLEspinal</a>.</p> <p>

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

</p>
Part of Rezoning Plan, City Opens New Career Center in East New York 2016-12-11T05:00:00+00:00 2016-12-11T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6664-part-of-rezoning-plan-city-opens-new-career-help-center-in-east-new-york Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/bdb_espinal_town_hall.jpg" alt="bdb espinal town hall" width="600" height="398" /></p> <p>Mayor de Blasio &amp; CM Espinal (photo: Jeffrey Reed for the City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>After serving jail time in 2014, Anthony McGlashan, a resident of East New York, Brooklyn, struggled to find employment for three years. While he had a certification from the Anthem Institute in the field of Information Technology, he continued to be rejected by employers due to his lack of experience and his criminal background. McGlashan then turned to one of New York City’s Workforce1 Centers, a city initiative that provides free career services by pairing employers with workers, holding workshops for resume and interview preparation, and other resources to aid the job search.</p> <p>In August 2015, McGlashan enrolled in Employment Works, a city program designed to match individuals with criminal histories with full-time, permanent positions in an attempt to reduce recidivism. Through workshops and the support of the program, McGlashan was able to secure an IT support position with the State of New York Unified Court System.</p> <p>“It’s been awhile, it was a struggle,” McGlashan said. “I almost felt like giving up at one time. It was only three years, but it felt much longer than that.”</p> <p>“The program pushed me to look for a more permanent, full-time position,” he added. “It shows you what you have to do in life to get something, to fight for it. Stay ambitious and determined.”</p> <p>Those previously involved with the criminal justice system often face significant difficulties when looking for permanent job opportunities. Despite serving their time, a criminal history makes employees much less likely to be hired. To eliminate this type of employment discrimination by employers, New York City passed <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/site/cchr/media/fair-chance-act-campaign.page" target="_blank">the Fair Chance Act</a> in October of 2015, forbidding employers from asking for the criminal records of job applicants until a job offer has been made.</p> <p>To help further break down barriers faced when looking for a job after a conviction, Mayor Bill de Blasio, working with City Council Member Rafael Espinal and Commissioner Gregg Bishop of the Department of Small Business Services (SBS), is opening a new Workforce1 center in East New York, Brooklyn on Monday. The center, part of the East New York Neighborhood Plan that was <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/city/6287-east-new-york-deal-sets-precedent-for-wave-of-rezonings" target="_blank">negotiated by Espinal and the de Blasio administration and passed through the City Council</a>, is tailored to the specific needs of this neighborhood.</p> <p>East New York has a high percentage of out-of-work, out-of-school youth and individuals with criminal backgrounds, according to the city. As part of the East New York rezoning that passed earlier this year, the career center is the nineteenth such center across the city. It will cost about $700,000 annually to run, according to SBS, with that money coming through a federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act grant. The funding for creating the facility, about $165,000, came from the $276 million allocated for community development in the East New York plan, which encompasses a key stretch of Espinal’s district that will soon be home to new housing, retail, and other development, along with other community services, like a new school. It is an underdeveloped area with high concentrations of poverty and the first neighborhood rezoned under the de Blasio affordable housing plan.</p> <p>“We are investing in the people of East New York,” Mayor de Blasio said in a statement accompanying the announcement of the new workforce center’s opening. “We are committed to providing the training, the education and the job-placements families need to work their way into the middle class.”</p> <p>Council Member Espinal, who <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/city/6287-east-new-york-deal-sets-precedent-for-wave-of-rezonings" target="_blank">negotiated with the de Blasio administration</a> to pass the multi-faceted, “anti-gentrification” rezoning for his district in April, called the high unemployment rate in Brooklyn, especially in East New York, “unacceptable.”</p> <p>“The economic disparities in our city that have put a strain on so many New Yorker’s must be addressed,” Espinal said in a statement. “That is why I pushed so hard to secure this Workforce1 Center as part of the East New York Neighborhood Rezoning Plan. After all, a house is not affordable without a job.”</p> <p>Some of the debate centered on the East New York plan -- and other rezonings being considered around the city -- revolved around the levels of affordability for new rent-stabilized housing in the rezoned area. New housing in East New York will be deeply subsidized by the city, but there are still concerns of displacement. Relatedly, Espinal and others rallied on Saturday against predatory homeowner speculation that has been occurring in the area in anticipation of community improvements and rising property value.</p> <p>“All New Yorker’s should have access to good paying jobs and the tools they need to secure a bright future for their families,” Espinal said. “I am excited that the center has opened so quickly and look forward to the opportunities it will create for our community.”</p> <p>Alex Vitale, a Brooklyn College sociology professor, said opening this career center in East New York reflects the mayor’s understanding of the biggest challenge facing young people of color: unemployment.</p> <p>“High levels of joblessness among these young people is a major contribution to participation in underground economies of drug dealing, property crime, and prostitution,” Vitale said in an email.</p> <p>While these centers provide job-searching resources, Vitale said the mayor should continue to identify more ways for unemployed youth to get jobs, increasing public and private sector opportunity.</p> <p>“The question is whether these centers will produce an overall increase in employment or merely rearrange who gets the few jobs that are out there,” Vitale said. “The mayor should also take steps to significantly increase the number of jobs for these young people, through public employment if the private sector is unable or unwilling to do it.”</p> <p>According to the city, the new East New York center includes partnerships with community-based organizations. Espinal points out that while the unemployment rate continues to drop nationally, it has remained higher in Brooklyn, and it is even higher in East New York.</p> <p>“A quality career opportunity can be a ticket out of poverty for all New Yorkers, including those who were formerly acquainted with the criminal justice system,” said Bishop, the city’s commissioner of small business services, in a statement. “This career center will be an asset for the entire East New York community.”</p> <p>

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by Devin Gannon for Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Note: details of the funding for the career center have been clarified from the original version of this article.</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/bdb_espinal_town_hall.jpg" alt="bdb espinal town hall" width="600" height="398" /></p> <p>Mayor de Blasio &amp; CM Espinal (photo: Jeffrey Reed for the City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>After serving jail time in 2014, Anthony McGlashan, a resident of East New York, Brooklyn, struggled to find employment for three years. While he had a certification from the Anthem Institute in the field of Information Technology, he continued to be rejected by employers due to his lack of experience and his criminal background. McGlashan then turned to one of New York City’s Workforce1 Centers, a city initiative that provides free career services by pairing employers with workers, holding workshops for resume and interview preparation, and other resources to aid the job search.</p> <p>In August 2015, McGlashan enrolled in Employment Works, a city program designed to match individuals with criminal histories with full-time, permanent positions in an attempt to reduce recidivism. Through workshops and the support of the program, McGlashan was able to secure an IT support position with the State of New York Unified Court System.</p> <p>“It’s been awhile, it was a struggle,” McGlashan said. “I almost felt like giving up at one time. It was only three years, but it felt much longer than that.”</p> <p>“The program pushed me to look for a more permanent, full-time position,” he added. “It shows you what you have to do in life to get something, to fight for it. Stay ambitious and determined.”</p> <p>Those previously involved with the criminal justice system often face significant difficulties when looking for permanent job opportunities. Despite serving their time, a criminal history makes employees much less likely to be hired. To eliminate this type of employment discrimination by employers, New York City passed <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/site/cchr/media/fair-chance-act-campaign.page" target="_blank">the Fair Chance Act</a> in October of 2015, forbidding employers from asking for the criminal records of job applicants until a job offer has been made.</p> <p>To help further break down barriers faced when looking for a job after a conviction, Mayor Bill de Blasio, working with City Council Member Rafael Espinal and Commissioner Gregg Bishop of the Department of Small Business Services (SBS), is opening a new Workforce1 center in East New York, Brooklyn on Monday. The center, part of the East New York Neighborhood Plan that was <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/city/6287-east-new-york-deal-sets-precedent-for-wave-of-rezonings" target="_blank">negotiated by Espinal and the de Blasio administration and passed through the City Council</a>, is tailored to the specific needs of this neighborhood.</p> <p>East New York has a high percentage of out-of-work, out-of-school youth and individuals with criminal backgrounds, according to the city. As part of the East New York rezoning that passed earlier this year, the career center is the nineteenth such center across the city. It will cost about $700,000 annually to run, according to SBS, with that money coming through a federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act grant. The funding for creating the facility, about $165,000, came from the $276 million allocated for community development in the East New York plan, which encompasses a key stretch of Espinal’s district that will soon be home to new housing, retail, and other development, along with other community services, like a new school. It is an underdeveloped area with high concentrations of poverty and the first neighborhood rezoned under the de Blasio affordable housing plan.</p> <p>“We are investing in the people of East New York,” Mayor de Blasio said in a statement accompanying the announcement of the new workforce center’s opening. “We are committed to providing the training, the education and the job-placements families need to work their way into the middle class.”</p> <p>Council Member Espinal, who <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/city/6287-east-new-york-deal-sets-precedent-for-wave-of-rezonings" target="_blank">negotiated with the de Blasio administration</a> to pass the multi-faceted, “anti-gentrification” rezoning for his district in April, called the high unemployment rate in Brooklyn, especially in East New York, “unacceptable.”</p> <p>“The economic disparities in our city that have put a strain on so many New Yorker’s must be addressed,” Espinal said in a statement. “That is why I pushed so hard to secure this Workforce1 Center as part of the East New York Neighborhood Rezoning Plan. After all, a house is not affordable without a job.”</p> <p>Some of the debate centered on the East New York plan -- and other rezonings being considered around the city -- revolved around the levels of affordability for new rent-stabilized housing in the rezoned area. New housing in East New York will be deeply subsidized by the city, but there are still concerns of displacement. Relatedly, Espinal and others rallied on Saturday against predatory homeowner speculation that has been occurring in the area in anticipation of community improvements and rising property value.</p> <p>“All New Yorker’s should have access to good paying jobs and the tools they need to secure a bright future for their families,” Espinal said. “I am excited that the center has opened so quickly and look forward to the opportunities it will create for our community.”</p> <p>Alex Vitale, a Brooklyn College sociology professor, said opening this career center in East New York reflects the mayor’s understanding of the biggest challenge facing young people of color: unemployment.</p> <p>“High levels of joblessness among these young people is a major contribution to participation in underground economies of drug dealing, property crime, and prostitution,” Vitale said in an email.</p> <p>While these centers provide job-searching resources, Vitale said the mayor should continue to identify more ways for unemployed youth to get jobs, increasing public and private sector opportunity.</p> <p>“The question is whether these centers will produce an overall increase in employment or merely rearrange who gets the few jobs that are out there,” Vitale said. “The mayor should also take steps to significantly increase the number of jobs for these young people, through public employment if the private sector is unable or unwilling to do it.”</p> <p>According to the city, the new East New York center includes partnerships with community-based organizations. Espinal points out that while the unemployment rate continues to drop nationally, it has remained higher in Brooklyn, and it is even higher in East New York.</p> <p>“A quality career opportunity can be a ticket out of poverty for all New Yorkers, including those who were formerly acquainted with the criminal justice system,” said Bishop, the city’s commissioner of small business services, in a statement. “This career center will be an asset for the entire East New York community.”</p> <p>

***
by Devin Gannon for Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Note: details of the funding for the career center have been clarified from the original version of this article.</p>
Serving the Last Generation of Holocaust Survivors in New York 2016-05-26T04:00:00+00:00 2016-05-26T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/6355-serving-the-last-generation-of-holocaust-survivors Aaron Holmes <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/levine_klein_holocaust_survivor_city_council_.jpg" alt="levine klein holocaust survivor city council " height="438" width="600" /></p> <p>Mrs. Klein, a Holocaust survivor, with Council Member Levine (William Alatriste)</p> <hr /> <p>“If our stories do not survive when we are gone, then six million Jews were murdered in vain.” That sobering call to action from Mrs. Klein, one of the 4,700 Holocaust survivors served by Selfhelp Community Services each year, rings especially true as we marked Yom HaShoah, the annual commemoration of Jewish survival through last century’s great tragedy.</p> <p>At this time of the year, we are once again reminded to share the stories of the past to prevent atrocities of this kind from happening again. The time to share the memories and lives of the remaining survivors is fleeting. This is the last generation of Holocaust survivors – a sad fact that is painfully real.</p> <p>To pass these stories to the next generation, Selfhelp recently concluded seven performances of <a href="http://www.selfhelp.net/community-services/nazi-victim-services-program" target="_blank">Witness Theater</a>, a program that Selfhelp brought to New York, with the support of UJA-Federation of New York, the Jewish Communal Fund, and the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany. Now in its fourth year, the program utilizes drama therapy as a vehicle through which high school students work with local Holocaust survivors to re-enact critical moments from the survivors’ lives, creating a moving and educational performance to share with fellow students, parents and the community.</p> <p>As I watched the survivors on stage, it was hard not to notice how time is taking its toll. A small twitch in their hand, their walkers and canes, and the assistance they need from the students to move across the stage, all remind us how much support they need. And as this last generation grows older, their needs become more intense, more costly.</p> <p>New York is home to more than half of the approximately 110,000 Holocaust survivors living in the U.S., with the majority residing in New York City, Long Island, and Westchester. Of the 55,000 survivors living in New York City, about half live at or below the poverty line. Many of them lack the means for even the most basic necessities, including proper housing and health care, and they live on fixed incomes that do not accommodate escalating food prices, water and utility bills, the cost of medications, and other vital supports. Niceties such as a show, a new dress, a visit to the museum are unimaginable when rent must first be paid.</p> <p>The circumstances under which many Holocaust survivors live, along with the nature of the challenges they confront as they age, require special attention. Normal aging is complicated by unique problems not generally experienced by elderly persons. They have brittle bones and serious dental problems caused by malnutrition and stress experienced during their youth and early childhood. Traumas of dislocation, as well as the loss of loved ones and communities, can cause sleep disturbance, anxiety, depression, or an inability to trust. Some survivors may keep food nearby at all times. Others may bathe or permit sponge baths, but will not take a shower.</p> <p>To address the needs of this population, the New York City Council created the Holocaust Survivor Initiative last year, with the leadership of Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and Council Members Rafael Espinal, David Greenfield, and Mark Levine. This $1.5 million allocation supported 11 non-profits around the city to provide case assistance, socialization programs, and entitlements and benefits enrollment to the 55,000 Holocaust survivors living in New York City.</p> <p>These city funds helped Selfhelp to serve almost 300 low-income survivors with case assistance. Our social workers helped clients enroll in a range of benefits and entitlements, such as Medicare and Medicaid, rental and nutritional assistance, and Meals-on-Wheels. In just one fiscal year, we conducted a total of 343 home visits and provided almost 1900 hours of case management. The funding allowed our staff to help clients access and save close to $1.5 million. When more than half of the city’s survivors live at or below the poverty line, the money they save goes straight towards food, medication, and rent.</p> <p>Two years ago, Selfhelp testified at a U.S. Senate hearing on the needs of Holocaust survivors. At that hearing, Senator Bill Nelson, the chair of the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging, noted, “I am proud that the United States has a legacy of caring for the needs of aging Holocaust survivors. But, we must recognize that the demand for care is still there – and only becoming more challenging.”</p> <p>I am so grateful that our leaders on the city, state, and federal levels of government have raised the needs of this population and started to allocate funding. However, as Senator Nelson noted, the demand for care is increasing, and an increased investment is needed.</p> <p>Our elected officials often remark that a budget is a statement of priorities. With about 30,000 survivors living at or near the poverty line, struggling to get by, one of our city’s top priorities should be caring for our survivors and providing assistance so they can age with dignity, independence, and the support they need.</p> <p>***<br />Stuart C. Kaplan is CEO of <a href="http://www.selfhelp.net/" target="_blank">Selfhelp Community Services</a>. On Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/selfhelpny" target="_blank">@selfhelpny</a>.</p> <p>

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

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/levine_klein_holocaust_survivor_city_council_.jpg" alt="levine klein holocaust survivor city council " height="438" width="600" /></p> <p>Mrs. Klein, a Holocaust survivor, with Council Member Levine (William Alatriste)</p> <hr /> <p>“If our stories do not survive when we are gone, then six million Jews were murdered in vain.” That sobering call to action from Mrs. Klein, one of the 4,700 Holocaust survivors served by Selfhelp Community Services each year, rings especially true as we marked Yom HaShoah, the annual commemoration of Jewish survival through last century’s great tragedy.</p> <p>At this time of the year, we are once again reminded to share the stories of the past to prevent atrocities of this kind from happening again. The time to share the memories and lives of the remaining survivors is fleeting. This is the last generation of Holocaust survivors – a sad fact that is painfully real.</p> <p>To pass these stories to the next generation, Selfhelp recently concluded seven performances of <a href="http://www.selfhelp.net/community-services/nazi-victim-services-program" target="_blank">Witness Theater</a>, a program that Selfhelp brought to New York, with the support of UJA-Federation of New York, the Jewish Communal Fund, and the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany. Now in its fourth year, the program utilizes drama therapy as a vehicle through which high school students work with local Holocaust survivors to re-enact critical moments from the survivors’ lives, creating a moving and educational performance to share with fellow students, parents and the community.</p> <p>As I watched the survivors on stage, it was hard not to notice how time is taking its toll. A small twitch in their hand, their walkers and canes, and the assistance they need from the students to move across the stage, all remind us how much support they need. And as this last generation grows older, their needs become more intense, more costly.</p> <p>New York is home to more than half of the approximately 110,000 Holocaust survivors living in the U.S., with the majority residing in New York City, Long Island, and Westchester. Of the 55,000 survivors living in New York City, about half live at or below the poverty line. Many of them lack the means for even the most basic necessities, including proper housing and health care, and they live on fixed incomes that do not accommodate escalating food prices, water and utility bills, the cost of medications, and other vital supports. Niceties such as a show, a new dress, a visit to the museum are unimaginable when rent must first be paid.</p> <p>The circumstances under which many Holocaust survivors live, along with the nature of the challenges they confront as they age, require special attention. Normal aging is complicated by unique problems not generally experienced by elderly persons. They have brittle bones and serious dental problems caused by malnutrition and stress experienced during their youth and early childhood. Traumas of dislocation, as well as the loss of loved ones and communities, can cause sleep disturbance, anxiety, depression, or an inability to trust. Some survivors may keep food nearby at all times. Others may bathe or permit sponge baths, but will not take a shower.</p> <p>To address the needs of this population, the New York City Council created the Holocaust Survivor Initiative last year, with the leadership of Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and Council Members Rafael Espinal, David Greenfield, and Mark Levine. This $1.5 million allocation supported 11 non-profits around the city to provide case assistance, socialization programs, and entitlements and benefits enrollment to the 55,000 Holocaust survivors living in New York City.</p> <p>These city funds helped Selfhelp to serve almost 300 low-income survivors with case assistance. Our social workers helped clients enroll in a range of benefits and entitlements, such as Medicare and Medicaid, rental and nutritional assistance, and Meals-on-Wheels. In just one fiscal year, we conducted a total of 343 home visits and provided almost 1900 hours of case management. The funding allowed our staff to help clients access and save close to $1.5 million. When more than half of the city’s survivors live at or below the poverty line, the money they save goes straight towards food, medication, and rent.</p> <p>Two years ago, Selfhelp testified at a U.S. Senate hearing on the needs of Holocaust survivors. At that hearing, Senator Bill Nelson, the chair of the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging, noted, “I am proud that the United States has a legacy of caring for the needs of aging Holocaust survivors. But, we must recognize that the demand for care is still there – and only becoming more challenging.”</p> <p>I am so grateful that our leaders on the city, state, and federal levels of government have raised the needs of this population and started to allocate funding. However, as Senator Nelson noted, the demand for care is increasing, and an increased investment is needed.</p> <p>Our elected officials often remark that a budget is a statement of priorities. With about 30,000 survivors living at or near the poverty line, struggling to get by, one of our city’s top priorities should be caring for our survivors and providing assistance so they can age with dignity, independence, and the support they need.</p> <p>***<br />Stuart C. Kaplan is CEO of <a href="http://www.selfhelp.net/" target="_blank">Selfhelp Community Services</a>. On Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/selfhelpny" target="_blank">@selfhelpny</a>.</p> <p>

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

</p>
Legislation Aimed at Holding City Accountable for Rezoning Commitments 2016-05-05T04:00:00+00:00 2016-05-05T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6314-legislation-aimed-at-holding-city-accountable-for-rezoning-commitments Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/25169837451_05a83bcf0f_z.jpg" alt="city hall rotunda during announcement" height="400" width="600" /></p> <p dir="ltr">Announcement at City Hall (photo:&nbsp;Demetrius Freeman/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">With the recent passage of the East New York rezoning and community development plan, the city committed to revitalizing the neglected Brooklyn neighborhood by creating affordable housing, investing in community infrastructure, and promoting economic development. The first among 15 neighborhood rezonings planned by Mayor Bill de Blasio, East New York ushers in a new era of planned change and city promises.</p> <p dir="ltr">As these rezoning and development plans progress, a parallel effort is moving through the City Council to ensure that the city is held to its word in making commitments to communities when modifying land-use rules and upzoning neighborhoods for development.</p> <p dir="ltr">Last month, <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=2637116&amp;GUID=AB629863-4E14-4F88-8AEC-D03AED71CD90&amp;FullText=1" target="_blank">a bill</a> was introduced in the City Council -- sponsored by Public Advocate Letitia James, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, and Council Members Rafael Espinal and Deborah Rose -- that would create a publicly accessible database of commitments made by the administration in any city-sponsored Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) application. The database and an accompanying annual report would allow elected officials and, perhaps more importantly, the general public to track the promises to communities made by the Mayor and city agencies.</p> <p dir="ltr">The database and reports would provide regular updates on the progress of initiated projects and track projects left unfulfilled. Following the final passage of any city-sponsored land-use application, the commitments would be recorded on the database within 30 days.</p> <p dir="ltr">“It will not only record commitments,” said Public Advocate James, “It’s an ongoing reminder of the commitment made by the city to the general public.”</p> <p dir="ltr">James recognizes the need to push this bill at a time when the city is gearing up to rezone and redevelop those 15 neighborhoods across the city, starting with East New York, as part of an ambitious plan by Mayor Bill de Blasio to harness gentrification and create affordable housing in neighborhoods under strain from market forces.</p> <p dir="ltr">The public advocate, formerly a Brooklyn City Council member, says she has seen a pattern in similar neighborhood rezonings in the past where guarantees made by the city routinely fell through the cracks. She cited Downtown Brooklyn, Williamsburg, and Greenpoint as a few areas where the city <a href="https://www.dnainfo.com/new-york/20151117/williamsburg/de-blasio-zoning-plan-unites-civic-groups-opposition-it" target="_blank">reneged on its pledges</a> to provide ample community benefits while allowing real estate development. “I see all of these luxury condos that have gone up and no public benefits and amenities,” James said.</p> <p dir="ltr">James’ <a href="http://www.wnyc.org/story/316327-de-blasios-support-atlantic-yards-helped-old-ally/" target="_blank">vocal opposition</a> to the Atlantic Yards redevelopment in Brooklyn was in part because of the city’s failure to ensure adequate community benefits particularly affordable housing.</p> <p dir="ltr">“The bill is a transparency and accountability effort ensuring that promised benefits are delivered,” she added. James said the bill would be prospective and would not apply retroactively to any land use deals.</p> <p dir="ltr">City Council Member Brad Lander is a “big fan of planning” and he gives the administration credit for the broad community development plan created for East New York. “There’s a lot of important parts to getting planning right,” he said.</p> <p dir="ltr">One of those important parts, he believes, is tracking community commitments and the public advocate’s bill would make those commitments “visible, public, and online, and ensure regular tracking and reporting,” Lander said in support.</p> <p dir="ltr">Of course, tracking does not necessarily mean that promises will definitely be kept, he said. “It’s very hard to mandate keeping of promises,” he said, pointing out that the Council can only make budget decisions for a one-year period and cannot control decisions made in later years by new elected officials. But he added that it provides people with a strong tool to hold the city publicly accountable.</p> <p dir="ltr">If there’s any elected official now facing this, it’s Espinal, the Council member who represents a majority of the East New York area under the new rezoning plan. He was front and center in the negotiations with the de Blasio administration and managed to secure $267 million in capital funds for East New York under the plan (plus other investments through school and sewer construction that comes from other funding sources).</p> <p dir="ltr">Ensuring that the capital projects outlined in the East New York deal are carried out is “one of the most important parts of the plan,” Espinal told Gotham Gazette shortly after it was voted through by the Council land use committee. “We want to make sure that the commitments that are made by the administration are kept, that the community residents are able to track this easily online so that we won’t be kept guessing on when these projects will start and when they’ll be completed.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Espinal is hoping, and trying to see, that the bill passes before the East New York commitments are set in stone -- which he said would be 30 days after the full Council vote of April 20.</p> <p dir="ltr">“We’re currently working with the administration in creating the template of what that (database) will look like so the bill is actually being worked on and it’s something that we hope to pass very soon,” Espinal said. “It’s gonna happen within a month or so.”</p> <p dir="ltr">In a letter that listed the various capital commitments in the East New York plan, Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen said her office was working with the Mayor’s Office of Operations and city agencies to “develop a tool that will track the progress made against each commitment and make this information available online for the public.” These commitments, the letter states, will be posted on the city’s website within 30 days of the council’s full vote. MOO will also post an annual progress report online.</p> <p dir="ltr">“Our goal from the beginning of the process has been to ensure that we create a clear set of commitments, which can be tracked by the community and the Council Member to ensure that we are honoring our commitments made as a part of rezoning,” the letter reads.</p> <p dir="ltr">These efforts would become mandatory if James and the Speaker’s bill passes. Currently, there is no hearing set for the bill, which would go before the land use committee, but a spokesperson for Speaker Mark-Viverito said they expect to find a date soon. The bill will require one committee hearing to garner feedback from the de Blasio administration and the public, followed by another committee meeting for a vote and then a vote through the full Council.</p> <p dir="ltr">“Obviously my interest would be to put this in place as quickly as possible,” Mark-Viverito told Gotham Gazette after a recent news conference at City Hall. “We want to be able to track whatever commitments are made on any new development deals or land use deals.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Both James and Mark-Viverito said that they were having conversations with the administration on the bill. An aide for the speaker said there was a “a normal back and forth that the administration’s generally supported.”</p> <p>And it appears the de Blasio administration is onboard. "We look forward to working closely with the City Council and Public Advocate on this important transparency measure," said Austin Finan, spokesperson for the mayor, in an email.</p> <p>

***
by Samar Khurshid, Senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/25169837451_05a83bcf0f_z.jpg" alt="city hall rotunda during announcement" height="400" width="600" /></p> <p dir="ltr">Announcement at City Hall (photo:&nbsp;Demetrius Freeman/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">With the recent passage of the East New York rezoning and community development plan, the city committed to revitalizing the neglected Brooklyn neighborhood by creating affordable housing, investing in community infrastructure, and promoting economic development. The first among 15 neighborhood rezonings planned by Mayor Bill de Blasio, East New York ushers in a new era of planned change and city promises.</p> <p dir="ltr">As these rezoning and development plans progress, a parallel effort is moving through the City Council to ensure that the city is held to its word in making commitments to communities when modifying land-use rules and upzoning neighborhoods for development.</p> <p dir="ltr">Last month, <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=2637116&amp;GUID=AB629863-4E14-4F88-8AEC-D03AED71CD90&amp;FullText=1" target="_blank">a bill</a> was introduced in the City Council -- sponsored by Public Advocate Letitia James, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, and Council Members Rafael Espinal and Deborah Rose -- that would create a publicly accessible database of commitments made by the administration in any city-sponsored Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) application. The database and an accompanying annual report would allow elected officials and, perhaps more importantly, the general public to track the promises to communities made by the Mayor and city agencies.</p> <p dir="ltr">The database and reports would provide regular updates on the progress of initiated projects and track projects left unfulfilled. Following the final passage of any city-sponsored land-use application, the commitments would be recorded on the database within 30 days.</p> <p dir="ltr">“It will not only record commitments,” said Public Advocate James, “It’s an ongoing reminder of the commitment made by the city to the general public.”</p> <p dir="ltr">James recognizes the need to push this bill at a time when the city is gearing up to rezone and redevelop those 15 neighborhoods across the city, starting with East New York, as part of an ambitious plan by Mayor Bill de Blasio to harness gentrification and create affordable housing in neighborhoods under strain from market forces.</p> <p dir="ltr">The public advocate, formerly a Brooklyn City Council member, says she has seen a pattern in similar neighborhood rezonings in the past where guarantees made by the city routinely fell through the cracks. She cited Downtown Brooklyn, Williamsburg, and Greenpoint as a few areas where the city <a href="https://www.dnainfo.com/new-york/20151117/williamsburg/de-blasio-zoning-plan-unites-civic-groups-opposition-it" target="_blank">reneged on its pledges</a> to provide ample community benefits while allowing real estate development. “I see all of these luxury condos that have gone up and no public benefits and amenities,” James said.</p> <p dir="ltr">James’ <a href="http://www.wnyc.org/story/316327-de-blasios-support-atlantic-yards-helped-old-ally/" target="_blank">vocal opposition</a> to the Atlantic Yards redevelopment in Brooklyn was in part because of the city’s failure to ensure adequate community benefits particularly affordable housing.</p> <p dir="ltr">“The bill is a transparency and accountability effort ensuring that promised benefits are delivered,” she added. James said the bill would be prospective and would not apply retroactively to any land use deals.</p> <p dir="ltr">City Council Member Brad Lander is a “big fan of planning” and he gives the administration credit for the broad community development plan created for East New York. “There’s a lot of important parts to getting planning right,” he said.</p> <p dir="ltr">One of those important parts, he believes, is tracking community commitments and the public advocate’s bill would make those commitments “visible, public, and online, and ensure regular tracking and reporting,” Lander said in support.</p> <p dir="ltr">Of course, tracking does not necessarily mean that promises will definitely be kept, he said. “It’s very hard to mandate keeping of promises,” he said, pointing out that the Council can only make budget decisions for a one-year period and cannot control decisions made in later years by new elected officials. But he added that it provides people with a strong tool to hold the city publicly accountable.</p> <p dir="ltr">If there’s any elected official now facing this, it’s Espinal, the Council member who represents a majority of the East New York area under the new rezoning plan. He was front and center in the negotiations with the de Blasio administration and managed to secure $267 million in capital funds for East New York under the plan (plus other investments through school and sewer construction that comes from other funding sources).</p> <p dir="ltr">Ensuring that the capital projects outlined in the East New York deal are carried out is “one of the most important parts of the plan,” Espinal told Gotham Gazette shortly after it was voted through by the Council land use committee. “We want to make sure that the commitments that are made by the administration are kept, that the community residents are able to track this easily online so that we won’t be kept guessing on when these projects will start and when they’ll be completed.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Espinal is hoping, and trying to see, that the bill passes before the East New York commitments are set in stone -- which he said would be 30 days after the full Council vote of April 20.</p> <p dir="ltr">“We’re currently working with the administration in creating the template of what that (database) will look like so the bill is actually being worked on and it’s something that we hope to pass very soon,” Espinal said. “It’s gonna happen within a month or so.”</p> <p dir="ltr">In a letter that listed the various capital commitments in the East New York plan, Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen said her office was working with the Mayor’s Office of Operations and city agencies to “develop a tool that will track the progress made against each commitment and make this information available online for the public.” These commitments, the letter states, will be posted on the city’s website within 30 days of the council’s full vote. MOO will also post an annual progress report online.</p> <p dir="ltr">“Our goal from the beginning of the process has been to ensure that we create a clear set of commitments, which can be tracked by the community and the Council Member to ensure that we are honoring our commitments made as a part of rezoning,” the letter reads.</p> <p dir="ltr">These efforts would become mandatory if James and the Speaker’s bill passes. Currently, there is no hearing set for the bill, which would go before the land use committee, but a spokesperson for Speaker Mark-Viverito said they expect to find a date soon. The bill will require one committee hearing to garner feedback from the de Blasio administration and the public, followed by another committee meeting for a vote and then a vote through the full Council.</p> <p dir="ltr">“Obviously my interest would be to put this in place as quickly as possible,” Mark-Viverito told Gotham Gazette after a recent news conference at City Hall. “We want to be able to track whatever commitments are made on any new development deals or land use deals.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Both James and Mark-Viverito said that they were having conversations with the administration on the bill. An aide for the speaker said there was a “a normal back and forth that the administration’s generally supported.”</p> <p>And it appears the de Blasio administration is onboard. "We look forward to working closely with the City Council and Public Advocate on this important transparency measure," said Austin Finan, spokesperson for the mayor, in an email.</p> <p>

***
by Samar Khurshid, Senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>