Gotham Gazette http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/596 Sun, 22 Oct 2017 08:04:20 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) New Facility Classification Allows Better Options for City Seniors, If Built http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6432:new-facility-classification-allows-better-options-for-city-seniors-if-built http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6432:new-facility-classification-allows-better-options-for-city-seniors-if-built Hebrew Home Bronx property

Along the property of the Hebrew Home in the Bronx (Sofie Hecht)


Mayor Bill de Blasio and the New York City Council recently passed a series of amendments to the city's zoning regulations aimed, in part, at encouraging the construction and expansion of senior housing and elder care facilities. With the package, known as Zoning for Quality and Affordability (ZQA), one goal was to address the issue of inadequate options for seniors who want to age in place. An outdated land use code has made it nearly impossible to build flexible senior care facilities, they said.

For older New Yorkers and those heading toward senior citizenship, city government’s first priority with ZQA was creating additional opportunity for building affordable housing. This was accomplished, they exclaimed, through a variety of tweaks to land use rules, including reducing requirements for parking spaces to accompany senior housing. Senior advocates in the City Council and groups like AARP-NY and LiveOn NY pushed hard for and celebrated passage of ZQA for this reason.

Less publicized was the creation, through ZQA, of a new building category called “long term care facility,” which could have significant implications for the city’s aging population and senior care.

The new category allows developers to build nursing homes and residential units on the same property, making it easier to build facilities called Continuing Care Retirement Communities (CCRCs) in New York City. CCRCs provide seniors with increasing levels of care as they age without requiring they move. While there are currently 12 CCRCs across New York state, none exist in New York City. Though city planners and senior advocates look forward to the proliferation of CCRCs, the potential first such facility is mired in controversy.

“It is especially jarring to uproot elderly residents from homes and communities that are familiar to them and from their loved ones in order to accommodate their changing needs,” said Rachaele Raynoff, a spokesperson from the Department of City Planning. “That's why a model with a continuum of care was developed. Under ZQA, NYC zoning now recognizes this model, allowing for the development of new options for aging for our growing elderly population.”

Prior to the creation of the new zoning category, it was effectively impossible to build a CCRC in the city, according to Dan Reingold, CEO of RiverSpring Health. RiverSpring, which owns a nursing home called Hebrew Home in the Riverdale section of the Bronx, plans to build the city’s first CCRC by adding a residential campus on a piece of land contiguous to the nursing home.

CCRCs are typically made up of independent living, assisted living, and health care units, which make it possible for residents to move into a CCRC and then age in place with more care and little housing change (other than on-site room shifts). These facilities allow seniors to stay in the same community as they age and make it possible for couples who need different levels of care to stay together.

While the development of CCRCs is exactly what the City Council and the de Blasio administration’s Department of City Planning hoped to encourage by adding the “long term care facility” category to the city’s building code, RiverSpring’s plan has revealed a contentious aspect of the new zoning code. CCRCs may erode zoning protections enjoyed by residents of neighborhoods zoned for low-rise residential housing (“R-1” and “R-2” in zoning parlance).

RiverSpring’s plan involves the construction of four- to six-story apartment buildings for its CCRC on land in Riverdale that is zoned for single-family housing. This is allowed under the new zoning regulations, so long as RiverSpring is able to secure special permission from the Department of City Planning. Community leaders in Riverdale, as well as City Council Member Andrew Cohen, who represents the district including Riverdale, have opposed RiverSpring’s proposal on the grounds that the apartment-style residential units of the CCRC will alter the character of the neighborhood.

“CCRCs are typically designed as apartment buildings, the form and scale of which are not compatible with the single-family homes in this neighborhood,” said Sherida Paulsen, chair of the Riverdale Nature Preservancy. The Riverdale community went through a process in 2006 to down-zone the land now owned by RiverSpring in order to protect the residential nature of the area along the river, according to Paulsen. “This change to the zoning code has opened the door to development that would be non-contextual to the property around it, and it could easily go out of business, leaving the neighborhood changed forever,” she said.

City Council Member Paul Vallone of Queens, who chairs the Council’s senior center subcommittee, opposed ZQA prior to its approval for the same reason. “These sweeping changes to zoning regulations would effectively erase many of the protections that our civic organizations and community boards have fought for years to obtain,” he said in a press release ahead of the Council’s approval of ZQA. He continues to advocate for zoning that he believes will protect the integrity of neighborhoods like Riverdale. "A balance must exist between addressing senior housing in our city and proper community engagement,” he said in a statement for this story.

The initial ZQA proposal would have allowed CCRCs to be built in residential zones as-of-right, according to Council Member Cohen, but the Council interceded. They developed criteria, outlined in ZQA, that require the new facility or expansion be "compatible with the character of the surrounding area," that it's entrance, orientation, and landscaping "create an adequate buffer between the proposed facility and nearby residences," and that the streets leading to the facility are "adequate to handle the traffic generated thereby” (ZQA section 74-901).

Proposals to build CCRCs in residential zones must go through the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Policy (ULURP) in order to ensure they comply with these criteria. If they are found to comply, the developer is given a special permit to build.

Prior to ZQA, RiverSpring made multiple attempts to get its proposal approved, according to Paulsen. In its first attempt, RiverSpring asked that the zoning of the land be changed so that RiverSpring would not need a special permit. When this failed, RiverSpring attempted to redefine its proposed development as a healthcare facility in its building application, but the city rejected that definition on the grounds that the facility would be primarily residential, according to Paulsen.

Bronx Community Board 8, which represents the area where the Hebrew Home campus is located, opposes the Hebrew Home expansion, as well. CB8 will get a chance to review RiverSpring’s plans as part of the ULURP process, but the City Council will have the final word on whether or not the expansion—and the construction of the city’s first continuing care retirement community—occurs.

On land use decisions, the Council defers to the local Council member, making Cohen’s opinion utmost important. “Hebrew Home, to their credit, has briefed me on their plans, and we've had frank conversations about the project, but we are in no way on the same page yet,” he said, citing RiverSpring’s disregard for the neighborhood’s residential zoning as his primary objection.

RiverSpring submitted its plan to the Department of City Planning on April 27 and it has yet to go to CB8 or Cohen for review. Ultimately, Council Member Cohen believes the ULURP process for obtaining a special permit will protect the community’s interests. “I'm satisfied that there are a significant number of safeguards that the development on that site will be thoroughly vetted by the community,” he said. “If Hebrew Home is able to muster significant community support, then we'll cross that bridge when we come to it.”

Charles Moerdler, president of Bronx Community Board 8, says that the board has seen at least three proposals of the Hebrew Home expansion plan since the organization bought the property in 2011. According to Moerdler, RiverSpring took many of CB8’s recommendations, such as lowering the apartment tower heights from eight to six stories and building more of the residential units on the current Hebrew Home campus, which is zoned R-4, as opposed to the new land (R-1). But the latest plan presented to the board is still not satisfactory to the majority of its members, he said.

"The issue the Board has with ZQA is not the development of CCRCs but the process by which City Planning is going about doing it," Moerdler said, despite the fact that the City Council will get final say. "ZQA undermines the opinion of the community, which has done so much to preserve the residential zoning status of this land."

Before it passed, there was a great deal of debate over ZQA in relation to it being a “one-size-fits-all” change to zoning and land use rules. The final product includes a number of neighborhood-specific tweaks inserted by the City Council, but given its potpourri nature, ZQA still has something for almost every community to take issue with. As Mayor Bill de Blasio regularly pointed out when ZQA and its companion change to city land use rules, Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH), were being debated, community boards are well-known for opposing changes to the neighborhoods under their purview.

City Council Member Cohen says that while there is a significant need for senior housing in his district, options other than a new CCRC exist. “We have a full spectrum of options for seniors living in Riverdale. The ideal situation is for people to age in place, but there’s already a lot of infrastructure in Riverdale for people to do that,” he said.

One way seniors living in Riverdale and in other areas of New York City can age in place is through Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities (NORCs), which include publicly funded programs that help seniors stay in their own apartments by providing services like shopping and transportation assistance, on-site nursing, and social activities. NORCs are not easily formed, requiring pre-conditions and lobbying. Currently, Riverdale has one NORC in the Amalgamated Housing Cooperative, which has 1,500 units. Cohen says he is currently advocating for the creation of another NORC at the Knolls Cooperative, which has 240 units.

City Council Member Margaret Chin, who chairs the Council’s aging committee, is an advocate of NORCs as an option for seniors who want to age in place, as well. NORCs have historically received money from the state, but the city has had to provide support for them lately, according to Chin. “The state was trying to cut some of that funding last year, and we have been trying to save it,” she said.  

Ultimately, Chin is supportive of the development of CCRCs in addition to NORCs, and was an advocate for passing ZQA. “There is just not enough senior housing to go around,” she said. “I'm looking forward to seeing some integrative long term care facilities go up in New York City.”

***
by Kate Groetzinger for Gotham Gazette
@GothamGazette

]]>
New Facility Classification Allows Better Options for City Seniors, If Built Sun, 10 Jul 2016 04:00:00 +0000
With Clock Ticking, East New York Negotiations to Heat Up http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6262:with-clock-ticking-east-new-york-negotiations-to-heat-up http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6262:with-clock-ticking-east-new-york-negotiations-to-heat-up espinal east new york hearing

City Council Member Espinal (photo: William Alatriste) 


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read more by this writer.

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

]]>
With Clock Ticking, East New York Negotiations to Heat Up Mon, 04 Apr 2016 00:52:30 +0000
Wary of Gentrification, East Harlem Braces for Change http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6258:wary-of-gentrification-east-harlem-braces-for-change-page-two http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6258:wary-of-gentrification-east-harlem-braces-for-change-page-two mmv ehnp

 Mark-Viverito at an East Harlem planning session (photo: William Alatriste)


CONTINUED from page 1 - this is page 2 of 2

Community calls for community planning
City officials have not yet presented a timeline, much less a plan, for rezoning East Harlem, but that hasn’t stopped residents from preemptively organizing against “upzoning” that they believe will accelerate displacement of low-income people in their neighborhood. Two community-driven plans have emerged from El Barrio since November: one, an attempt at leveraging rezoning for a higher percentage of more deeply affordable housing and community benefits through collaboration with city officials; the other, an outright rejection of the mayor’s plan and a demand for better protections for immigrants and very low-income people living in regulated rental units.

Speaker Mark-Viverito, who represents East Harlem and parts of the South Bronx, told NY1 in January, "The question is, do we want to let things stand and get nothing out of it, or do we try to get something, allow the density to happen, with a benefit to the community? To me, the answer is very clear. We have to get something for the community.”

“Getting something for the community” seems to be the theme of the East Harlem Neighborhood Plan, which was completed in February by a broad coalition led Mark-Viverito, Manhattan President Gale Brewer, and advocacy group Community Voices Heard.

east harlem planning tableThe EHNP is the product of a 10-month process in which over 1,300 East Harlem residents filled out hundreds of community surveys, gathered for seven community vision workshops on 12 topic areas, and produced an exhaustive list of recommendations for neighborhood preservation and improvement. While it certainly won’t halt fear of gentrification and displacement, it may go a long way in influencing the rezoning plan put forth by City Hall, and, many believe, stemming the tide of displacement while improving the community in a variety of ways.

The plan’s recommendations span 12 themes, ranging from improvements to NYCHA developments to arts and culture preservation to senior needs, but two issues took precedence over the rest: the preservation of affordable housing and job creation.

The plan specifically calls for better enforcement of anti-tenant harassment laws, additional legal and educational support for tenants, and policy changes and increased funding aimed at preserving existing regulated units and bringing more units under regulation. The plan also recommends that the city build off of the affordability that will be required on private rezoned sites under the new Mandatory Inclusionary Housing rules. The plan recommends 100% affordable units on public sites, and asks that all tools, such as HPD subsidies and programs, be utilized to achieve deeper affordability for the lowest-income residents.

Participants also heavily emphasize job creation, job training, and living wages as changes they want to see accompany increased density in their neighborhood.

East Harlem’s distinction as the home district of the powerful City Council Speaker sets the area apart from other neighborhoods on deck to be rezoned. Still, other Council members took notice of the EHNP effort, even attending the final planning event, eyeing ways in which they can lead a local process to get ahead of a more centralized, mayoral administration-run plan for rezoning.

The EHNP coalition sent the 134-page plan to the City Planning Commission and other city agencies after its release on February 25.

Community planning in New York neighborhoods is not a new concept; the Department of City Planning has been organizing “place-based planning studies” in other to-be-rezoned neighborhoods to help develop recommendations for affordable housing, economic development and infrastructure investments, and assisting community and borough boards in the creation of 197-a community plans.

The city created the rezoning plan that is now being negotiated for East New York after a number of community meetings, and the process is playing out in Flushing and other areas slated for rezonings.

But the Speaker calls the EHNP the first of its kind in the city, emphasizing a proactive, bottom-up approach.

“We’re kind of doing it upside-down. Usually an application is presented and we respond to it, right?” Mark-Viverito said to the audience at an EHNP community forum on January 27, referring to the typical land use review process (ULURP), which is taking place in East New York. “The [East Harlem] application hasn’t even been submitted. We have a plan, we’re giving it to the city, and we’re forcing the city to consider and take into account those needs in the application process.”

It remains to be seen whether the Speaker’s influence will fortify the plan once the rezoning process begins in East Harlem, but many people involved believe that the strength of the plan’s process and government-community partnerships have given the neighborhood the best chance of success as they both brace for and embrace the rezoning.

"This is a document that we actually want to govern how East Harlem is developed and evolves over time,” said Sondra Youdelman, director Community Voices Heard, in a February interview with Gotham Gazette. “Now it's up to the city to figure out which policies and tools need to be coupled together to make this happen.”

'Consulta del Barrio'
Movement for Justice in El Barrio, founded in 2004, is an organization predominantly comprised of and led by immigrants - mostly women - who have lived in rent-regulated apartment units in East Harlem for decades. The organization claims over 1,000 members and organizing within 95 privately-owned buildings in El Barrio.

MJB released in November 2015 a 10-point plan that roundly rejected the mayor’s zoning plans as they stood then and focuses almost exclusively on housing preservation for low-income residents in rent-regulated apartments, people of color, and immigrant communities, which the group says are disproportionately displaced by landlord harassment and gentrification.

“Our members didn’t want to just reject the plan,” said Juan Haro, an organizer at Movement for Justice in El Barrio. “They wanted to put forward a concrete proposal to improve the housing situation in our neighborhood.”

The document is also an indictment of what Movement for Justice calls a failure by HPD to enforce housing codes and protect tenants’ rights.

“We believe that when HPD is not responsive to landlords breaking the local housing code, and their unresponsiveness allows landlords to get away with driving out tenants, which contributes to displacement and gentrification,” Haro said.

Movement for Justice in El Barrio’s plan calls for increased and independent oversight of HPD; a public education campaign to inform tenants about HPD's role; a new body to collect fines levied against negligent landlords; publication of inspection documents in multiple languages, penalties for landlords who fail to make repairs within 24 hours of emergency violations; the establishment of an East Harlem HPD oversight team; and improvements to HPD’s inspection and follow-up speeds.

According to Haro, over 8,500 East Harlem residents participated in 12 public meetings throughout the year-long “Consulta del Barrio,” or neighborhood consultation. Haro highlights the group’s bottom-up organizing strategy and pragmatic outreach effort, which targets very low-income residents and immigrants, and favors flyering over social media.

“We know that there is a digital divide,” he said. “Many folks in the neighborhood don’t have access to Facebook or Twitter, so we focused on on-the-street outreach, and worked in the evenings and on weekends when more people weren’t at work.”

Public meetings were “fluid and organic,” Haro added, and residents attended to learn more about the intricacies of the rezoning proposal and land use in general. Participants voted to reject the mayor’s proposals, and formulated the demands that would become the pith of the 10-point plan.

The plan concentrates on protecting tenants of regulated, private apartment buildings, because those tenants have the most at stake as the neighborhood gentrifies, Haro said. “Landlords cut off basic services and violate local housing codes,” he said. “They offer buyouts to tenants to surrender their units. They threaten to bring in immigration authorities or ask for proof as citizens and threaten based on citizenship."

The de Blasio administration has mounted an initiative to deter evictions and landlord harassment in rapidly changing neighborhoods with the creation of the Tenant Support Unit in August of 2015. The mayor announced in February that the unit had resolved its thousandth case since it began offering assistance to tenants.

While reviews of the unit’s methodology have been mixed, the administration touted a ten-fold increase in free legal services for tenants, for a total of $62 million in funding that will be fully implemented for the 2017 fiscal year, which begins July 1 of this year.  As a result, de Blasio said, evictions by city marshals have decreased 24 percent since he took office, down from 28,849 in 2013 to 21,988 in 2015.

While the new support measures and protections introduced by the mayor seem to be having a positive effect, members at MJB believe that they will still be forced out once rezoning takes hold.

Movement for Justice in El Barrio members organized a series of protests against the mayor’s plan leading up to a Community Board 11 vote on MIH and ZQA in November.

Sandra Cruz, a member, said at a rally before the meeting, “We are against the mayor’s ‘luxury housing plan’ because we know that 25-30% of the apartments that the mayor says will supposedly be constructed for low-income people will not be accessible to the poor people of East Harlem, because we don’t make enough money to pay those high rents.”

CB 11 voted “no with conditions” on the mayor’s citywide zoning plans. This feedback, similar to that of community boards across the city, helped inform the City Council’s negotiations with the de Blasio administration over the final versions of MIH and ZQA.

Movement for Justice sent its 10-point community plan to Speaker Mark-Viverito and Borough President Gale Brewer in November, but have not received a response, they said. Meanwhile, Mark-Viverito, Brewer, and a variety of other stakeholders, were in the process of creating the East Harlem Neighborhood Plan.

Next for East Harlem
With MIH and ZQA in place, East Harlem stakeholders are watching the neighborhood rezoning process as it unfolds in East New York, the first neighborhood rezoning being moved by the de Blasio administration, in consultation with the City Council.

Like East Harlem, East New York’s population is predominantly Latino and African-American, and the neighborhood AMI is around $34,000. City Council Member Rafael Espinal represents much of East New York and remains adamant that the plan for the area not help in pricing out long-term residents.

"Neighbors on my street are already jacking up the rents to $1,800 [per month]," Espinal said at a March 8 City Council hearing on the East New York rezoning.

Parallels between East New York and East Harlem are undeniable, and many are watching the process for clues as to how the future may unfold in El Barrio. East Harlem may be slightly further along in a gentrification process as of now, but both neighborhoods are changing.

Though some involved in the East Harlem Neighborhood Plan are skeptical as to how much of the document will be seriously considered by the city, the speaker hopes that the document will serve as a model for other communities down the road.

“It would be great,” she said at the January 27 community forum, “if the administration established some sort of process to create neighborhood plans in every area that would be rezoned.” She followed this up by devoting a portion of her February State of the City address to the Council’s proposal that the city develop a Neighborhood Commitment Plan that would accompany all rezoning proposals, “describing and tracking commitments for housing, schools, infrastructure and other city services.”

“Planning for the future of our neighborhoods should start from the ground up and infuse the voices of everyday New Yorkers into policy decisions,” Mark-Viverito said in her address. She remarked that the community planning process is an opportunity to discuss neighborhood concerns “from school overcrowding and pedestrian safety to sewers and public transit.”

For community organizations in El Barrio, the work has only just begun. Leaders across groups and initiatives say they’ll continue to apply pressure to the city to respond to demands for deeper affordability, better protection of tenants’ rights, neighborhood improvements, and capital investments. Essential, they say, is community power in all processes.

Even as the future of East Harlem seems unsure, long-time resident Pearl Barkley notes the surge of neighborhood civic engagement around rezoning as a silver lining.

“I grew up in a time of social movements, with activism throughout the neighborhood,” Barkley said. “Right now, when I attend meetings, I see young people standing up, excited to talk about what they want for their city. That gives me hope. It makes me happy.”

This is page 2 of 2 - return to page 1

***
by Maggie Calmes, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

]]>
Wary of Gentrification, East Harlem Braces for Change Fri, 01 Apr 2016 02:22:42 +0000
AARP Emerges as Key De Blasio Ally http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6233:aarp-emerges-as-key-de-blasio-ally http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6233:aarp-emerges-as-key-de-blasio-ally aarp ny

AARP members pack City Council chambers (photo via @aarpny)


There are about 800,000 AARP members in New York City and Mayor Bill de Blasio has been arm-in-arm with them of late. The organization has come out in strong support of key pieces of de Blasio's affordable housing agenda and his plan to create a city-run retirement savings program for private sector workers.

De Blasio has sought and embraced the support, frequently engaging with AARP members and regularly citing AARP's endorsement as validation for his housing plan, specifically controversial changes to the city's zoning rules that he is negotiating through the City Council. On Tuesday, the Council will pass changes to the zoning code that AARP supports as essential to creating more affordable housing for seniors.

Not only is AARP helpful in the near-term as de Blasio builds support for his policies, but older voters are also an important bloc as de Blasio heads toward a 2017 re-election bid. There are more than 2 million registered voters in New York City over the age of 50, which is the threshold for AARP membership, and 72 percent, or 1.5 million, are Democrats, according to Steve Romalewski, Director of CUNY Mapping Service at the Center for Urban Research/The Graduate Center.

Older people are known to vote in higher percentages than other age groups, and that is the case in New York City. According to Romalewski, in the 2013 mayoral election, which saw very low overall turnout as de Blasio cruised to a landslide, about 38% of the one million-plus registered voters 65 and older voted, compared to 12% of the one million-plus registered voters 35 or younger.

While AARP has become a key ally for the mayor, the group does not officially endorse candidates. Still, de Blasio's attention to issues of concern for older people and their regular exposure to him as a champion of their causes certainly appear to have created a mutually beneficial dynamic. AARP support for de Blasio's zoning changes became loud during a tough time for the mayor as community boards and others around the city criticized the plan.

On Monday evening, de Blasio held his fourth tele-town hall with AARP-NY in the last nine months, during which he has discussed affordable housing and other issues with thousands of older constituents. According to AARP, 12,800 people participated over the course of an hour-long tele-town hall in February.

During Monday's call, de Blasio struck a celebratory tone on the eve of the City Council voting through the zoning changes. Saying that Tuesday is "going to be a great day for New York City," de Blasio thanked AARP members for "the decisive support you have provided for our affordable housing plan." The "historic" day, de Blasio said, will usher in new policies "to open up a lot of different places where we can create the affordable housing seniors need." De Blasio told call participants that there will be a celebratory rally in Foley Square at 5 p.m. on Wednesday.

Over the past two months, AARP also figured significantly in two de Blasio-led rallies at City Hall - one on his housing policies, one on his new retirement savings plan - and helped coordinate an in-person town hall meeting de Blasio held on senior housing in Manhattan.

"AARP is an extraordinary force for good," de Blasio said during one of the tele-town halls, "looking out for the needs of our seniors, making sure their rights are respected, and building a more fair society."

In response to de Blasio's affordable housing plans outlined in his 2015 State of the City speech, AARP New York State Director Beth Finkel said in a statement, "Mayor de Blasio outlined a bold initiative to help make New York City more affordable...AARP looks forward to working with Mayor de Blasio and the City Council to address a primary concern of so many New Yorkers - the cost of living here - and continuing to make New York a great place to live, work and play for all age groups."

AARP has followed up on that pledge, especially as the debate over de Blasio's key senior housing-related proposal, known as Zoning for Quality and Affordability, recently came toward a vote in the City Council. AARP has encouraged its members to call their City Council representatives and conducted a targeted social media campaign to lobby Council members. It also purchased radio ads in support of the mayor's plan and sent mailings. (Another advocacy group for older New Yorkers, LiveOn NY, has also been a vocal supporter of ZQA.)

In a Friday interview with WNYC, de Blasio said that as he and his administration engaged more people on his zoning proposals and larger housing plan, more came to support it. "[A]s this legislation moved forward," de Blasio told WNYC's Brigid Bergin, "crucial organizations like AARP got involved and they spoke powerfully to seniors about why this would help create more senior housing. And that brought in a lot of support." He also referenced the support of a variety of labor unions.

A nonpartisan advocacy group, AARP does not endorse candidates or make campaign contributions. It does, however, support policies, and it has put significant resources behind de Blasio's zoning changes. AARP has also committed to full-throated support for the retirement savings program, which the group's representatives say is a major national priority.

Still, AARP representatives are firm that the organization does not endorse, donate to campaigns, or promote candidates through independent expenditures. In response to a tweet from Gotham Gazette in which this reporter speculated that AARP could be a formidable source of election support for de Blasio, AARP Associate State Director for New York City Chris Widelo tweeted back, "we are strictly non-partisan and do not endorse...but our members do vote!"

During a phone interview Monday afternoon, Widelo explained more about AARP's approach to issue advocacy versus candidate campaigns. "If it were an election, I think our tone would be different," Widelo said. He added that AARP has been behind the mayor's housing plan with such energy because it is a key priority, but he stressed that the organization will not be supporting de Blasio's reelection campaign. "Next year, you'll probably notice AARP, we have a hard deadline when candidates file paperwork and become a candidate in our eyes, even if they are a sitting elected official, and we adjust how we may coordinate." Widelo said that the deadline is in the summer, but that AARP will judge the political landscape.

AARP has also done tele-town halls with Governor Andrew Cuomo and Public Advocate Letitia James, Widelo noted. "It just so happens that our priorities have lined up with the mayor's and others here in the city," Widelo said. "We're happy to have the mayor of the largest city in the country on our tele-town hall, for sure," he added, "but for us, it's more important to tell [members] the story about what this policy is...it's educational."

While AARP is appreciative of the mayor's attention to issues older New Yorkers care about, de Blasio is certainly happy to have the group's support.

At a March 9 rally outside City Hall to support his housing agenda, de Blasio was surrounded by representatives from AARP and several labor unions, each of which he thanked. "I have to say, there are so many great organizations," de Blasio yelled through a megaphone, "but one that has done absolutely awesome work has been AARP."

***
by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

]]>
AARP Emerges as Key De Blasio Ally Tue, 22 Mar 2016 01:13:02 +0000
The Week Ahead in New York Politics, March 21 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6231:the-week-ahead-in-new-york-politics-march-21 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6231:the-week-ahead-in-new-york-politics-march-21 New York City Hall

New York City Hall


What to watch for this week in New York politics:

This week will be another busy one when it comes to budgets: the City Council continues its preliminary budget hearings and state budget negotiations enter their final ten days - a state budget is due by April 1 and some say a deal could be announced before the end of this week. Don't count on it, though, state budgets usually come in just before (or, as was the case last year, just after) the March 31 midnight deadline. This practice under Governor Andrew Cuomo is actually a serious improvement given that the state used to regularly wind up with late budgets extending weeks past the start of the new fiscal year, which begins April 1.

There are a variety of issues to be worked out, with several of importance to New York City. As always, there are a number of high-profile items, like an increase of the minimum wage or government ethics reform, that could be pushed beyond the budget and into the legislative session to follow. That session runs until mid-June. The budget, after all, only must include necessary state expenses. Expect at least a couple of closed-door meetings among Cuomo and the two legislative leaders, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, a Democrat, and Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, a Republican. On Monday, City Council "Speaker Mark-Viverito and Council Members will travel to Albany to advocate for the City Council's 2016 State Budget and Legislative Agenda," according to Mark-Viverito's public schedule.

Also worth watching in Albany this week, the Assembly will consider internal reforms announced by Heastie and his conference at the end of this past week. The 40-plus reform proposals received a mixed reaction from elected officials and good government advocates, but still indicate a number of changes that many have been advocating for years. And, keep an eye out for a related conference in Albany on Friday, which will look at ethics reform through the lens of a state constitutional convention - details below.

While it is another busy week of budget hearings at the City Council, the Council will also hold a full-body Stated Meeting on Tuesday, at which new bills will be introduced and the Council will vote on the two high-profile zoning changes - Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH) and Zoning for Quality and Affordability (ZQA) - that have been the source of months of discussion, negotiation, and controversy, and that are key to Mayor de Blasio's affordable housing plans.

As always, there's a great deal happening all over the city, with many events to be aware of - read our day-by-day rundown below.

***Do you have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics?
E-mail Gotham Gazette editor Ben Max: bmax@gothamgazette.com***

The run of the week in detail:

Monday
Mayor de Blasio is doing a series of six media appearances to discuss his affordable housing agenda on Monday. He'll be on NPR, 880AM and 710AM radio, and on NY1, NY1 Noticias, and Univision TV.

Both houses of the New York State Legislature are in session on Monday in Albany.

At 10 a.m. in Albany, following the full meeting of the NYS Board of Regents, the board’s newly-elected Chancellor and Vice Chancellor will hold a press conference with the State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia.

At noon Monday, a coalition of over 90 HIV/AIDS advocates will launch a statewide Week of Action on the steps of City Hall, calling upon Governor Cuomo to invest $70 million in a plan to end AIDS in the 2016 New York State budget.

At the City Council on Monday:

  • At 9:30 a.m., the Committee on Health will hold a hearing on a bill to prohibit the use of smokeless tobacco products at sports arenas and recreational areas that require tickets.
  • At 10 a.m., the Committee on Health will meet for a preliminary budget hearing.
  • At noon, the Committee on Consumer Affairs will meet for a preliminary budget hearing.
  • At 1 p.m., the Committee on Youth Services will discuss a bill requiring the establishment of a training coordinator to teach certain agency staff throughout departments such as Parks and Recreation, Homeless Services, and Human Resources Administration/Social Services how to identify runaway, homeless or sexually exploited youth and how to connect them with appropriate services. The committee will also discuss several technical changes relating to an annual report produced by the Administration for Children’s Services and the Department of Youth and Community Development on the number of sexually exploited youth each agency has come into contact with over the course of the calendar year.
  • At 1 p.m., the Committee on Public Safety will meet for a preliminary budget hearing.
  • At 1:30 p.m., the Committee on Higher Education will meet to discuss a resolution to increase State funding to CUNY, and to reach a fair labor agreement with the University’s faculty and staff in the 2016-17 NYS Executive Budget.
  • At 3 p.m., the Committee on Civil Rights will examine a bill to broaden or incorporate a right to truthful information for a variety of activities covered by the New York City Human Rights Law, including lending, employment, and access to public accommodations and others.

At 2 p.m. Monday, "First Lady McCray will deliver opening remarks at a panel at Fountain House, an organization dedicated to supporting those living with serious mental illness."

At 6 p.m. Monday, the LGBT Task Force of Manhattan Community Boards 9, 10, 11, and 12 will host an LGBT Resource Fair featuring New York City Agencies. The event is sponsored by Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito.

At 6:10 p.m. Monday evening, "Mayor Bill de Blasio will discuss affordable housing with an anticipated 10,000+ AARP members from New York City on an interactive call that allows participants to ask questions," according to AARP-NY.

On Monday at 6:30 p.m., schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña will attend a town hall meeting of District 16's Community Education Council at MS 267 in Brooklyn.

Tuesday
Both houses of the New York State Legislature are in session on Tuesday in Albany.

At 8:30 a.m. Tuesday, Crain’s New York Business will host an event on how startup businesses take off in New York City, featuring: Gregg Bishop, Commissioner, NYC Department of Small Business Services; Howard Lerman, Co-Founder & CEO, Yext; Rachel Shechtman,, Founder and CEO, STORY; Adam Shwartz, Director, Jacobs Technion-Cornell Institute at Cornell Tech; and moderated by Matthew Flamm, Senior Reporter, Crain's New York Business.

At 8:30 a.m. Tuesday, the YWCA of New York City will host “its third breakfast panel for Women’s History Month “New York City Women Leaders: The Power of Influence and Purpose.” The panel will include Maya Wiley, counsel to Mayor Bill de Blasio; City Council Member Elizabeth Crowley; and Carmelyn Malalis, commissioner of the city’s Human Rights Commission; among others.

At 10 a.m. Tuesday, the Commission on Public Information and Communication will meet to discuss the implementation of the webcasting law and the establishment of a central portal for webcasts.

At the City Council on Tuesday:

  • At 9 a.m., the Committee on State and Federal Legislation will meet to press for authorization that Christopher Park in Manhattan is discontinued as city parkland.
  • At 10 a.m., the Committee on Finance will meet to approve new designations for certain organizations to receive funding in the expense budget; to communicate the transfer of City funds between various agencies in FY ‘16 in the expense budget; and to communicate the appropriation of new revenues of $982 million in FY ‘16.
  • At 1:30 p.m., the City Council will hold a full-body Stated Meeting. The highlight of the hearing will be the Council’s votes on the MIH and ZQA zoning text amendments.
  • Before the Stated, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito will host a pre-Stated press conference at 12:30.

Also prior to the Stated Meeting, at noon, City Council Members Costa Constantinides and Ydanis Rodriguez will host a press conference on the steps of City Hall to rally before introducing a bill to create a pilot program for electric vehicle charging stations on street parking. The program hopes to encourage the use of electric cars and reduce carbon emissions citywide.

Wednesday
Both houses of the New York State Legislature are in session on Wednesday in Albany.

At the City Council on Wednesday:

  • At 10 a.m., the Subcommittee on Libraries will meet jointly with the Committee on Cultural Affairs, Libraries and International Intergroup Relations for a preliminary budget hearing on libraries.
  • At 11 a.m., the Committee on Contracts will meet for a preliminary budget hearing.
  • At 1 p.m., the Committee on Courts and Legal Services will meet for a preliminary budget hearing.

At 5 p.m. Wednesday, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito will host a Women’s History Month celebration at Mott Haven Library.

Thursday
At 8 a.m. Thursday, the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce will host a breakfast event focused on combating the rising tide of cybercrime and featuring Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance.

Friday and the weekend
At 1:30 p.m. Friday in Albany, a forum, “Can a NYS Constitutional Convention Strengthen Government Ethics?” The event, hosted by The Rockefeller Institute, will feature discussion about whether issues of integrity in government can be fixed statutorily, or if would be better resolved through constitutional change. Speaking will be former NYS Comptroller H. Carl McCall; and Columbia Law School Professor Richard Briffault, who is also a former assistant counsel to Governor Hugh Carey; as well as a panel of experts.

On Saturday, March 26, Participatory Budget voting begins in New York City Council districts running the program. In Participatory Budgeting, Council Members ask New York City residents “to decide how to invest public funds in their neighborhoods.” Voting will take place throughout the nearly 30 participating districts through April 3.

***
Have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics? E-mail Gotham Gazette executive editor Ben Max any time: bmax@gothamgazette.com (please use "For Week Ahead" as email subject).

***
by Kelly Fan and Ben Max
@GothamGazette

]]>
The Week Ahead in New York Politics, March 21 Sat, 19 Mar 2016 14:22:16 +0000
Sides Near Deal on Major Zoning Changes Aimed at Creating Affordable Housing http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6222:sides-near-a-deal-on-major-zoning-changes-aimed-at-creating-affordable-housing http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6222:sides-near-a-deal-on-major-zoning-changes-aimed-at-creating-affordable-housing de blasio rally

De Blasio rallies for his housing plans (photo: Demetrius Freeman, Mayor's Office)


After months of public discussion and weeks of private negotiation, the City Council is on the verge of passing, with tweaks, two sweeping changes to the city's land use rules that are key to Mayor Bill de Blasio's housing plan.

Sources familiar with negotiations say that some details are still being worked through, but that the major tenets of the controversial changes to city zoning text are all but set. A deal may be announced as early as Monday afternoon.

With several alterations to the original proposals by the de Blasio administration, the Council is likely to vote Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH) and Zoning for Quality and Affordability (ZQA) through committee this week. Then, the City Planning Commission will be asked to sign off on the changes to the plans that it passed earlier this year, stamping them as "within scope" and sending them back to the Council for a full vote on March 22.

Council votes in the zoning subcommittee and land use committee are likely to take place on Wednesday, though they could be moved if deemed necessary. But, indications are that discussions between de Blasio administration and City Council representatives are close to finalized. In news that signaled the end of what has at times been a contentious process, the de Blasio administration announced on Sunday that the coalition making the most noise in opposition to the structure of the plans had come around in support given new developments.

Most importantly, de Blasio will see his Mandatory Inclusionary Housing program enacted; the plan requires that real estate developers who receive an upzoning on a plot of land in order to build more housing than otherwise allowed will have to include a set percentage of units under specific rent thresholds. Negotiating parties are making slight but important changes to the structure of affordability levels within MIH, including set-asides for lower income earners than the plan had previously included.

With a series of recent endorsements and now the backing of Real Affordability for All (RAFA), a collection of community groups and construction unions, along with prior support from a variety of advocacy groups and other unions, de Blasio is set for a big-tent win. The City Council Speaker, Melissa Mark-Viverito, and Council members will also tout the new land use policies as major progress for the city, especially those in danger of being priced out of an increasingly expensive New York. Council negotiations with the de Blasio administration have centered on affordability levels, with the Council apparently able to move the needle in slight, but significant ways.

The two zoning changes are part of the administration's larger housing plan, which aims to build or preserve 200,000 units of affordable housing over ten years. Forty-thousand were secured during de Blasio's first two years in office.

"We're on the verge of implementing the strongest, most progressive requirement for affordable housing of any city in the country," said de Blasio spokesperson Wiley Norvell in a Sunday statement announcing the backing of RAFA. "We welcome this support, and look forward to working with communities across the city to identify even more tools to reach New Yorkers with quality jobs and affordable housing."

The backing from RAFA, which is spearheaded by New York Communities for Change, an organization at one point led by a longtime friend of de Blasio, Jon Kest, who passed away in 2012, comes after concessions by the administration. Not only has RAFA seen encouraging movement on affordability levels within MIH, but the administration also promised to conduct a study of tools it can use to deepen affordability and ensure "job standards in new housing." The coalition, especially its labor component, has been calling for both local hiring and construction safety precautions to be included in the plans.

The affordability levels within MIH have been the source of perhaps the most debate as the zoning amendments have gone through the public review process. Along with Mark-Viverito and Council staff, Council Member Donovan Richards, chair of the Council's zoning subcommittee, has been key in the negotiations. Council Member Jumaane Williams, chair of the housing committee, has been said to be the loudest voice pushing for deeper levels of affordability. It appears that in the final MIH structure, shifts will have been made to ensure some apartments for lower income earners and broader economic diversity within new developments.

Income levels are based on Area Median Income, currently $77,688 for a family of three. AMI is a federal measure that for New York City also includes data from surrounding suburban counties. Average incomes in the city are significantly lower, especially in neighborhoods the de Blasio administration is targeting for added housing density and community improvements. "Affordable" means that a family would not be spending more than 30 percent of its income on rent.

Throughout the public review process, fears of gentrification have been at the forefront. De Blasio, his representatives, and his allies argue that without a new program from the city, gentrification will continue largely unabated as it has in many communities over the past two decades. Some advocates and politicians have been calling for a mandatory inclusionary housing program for many years. As de Blasio moved forward with his plan, the big question became the exact numbers.

As proposed, the administration included three options for builders creating new housing on land rezoned under MIH:
> 25 percent of new units affordable to tenants making an average of 60 percent AMI
> 30 percent of units affordable to tenants making an average of 80 percent AMI
> 30 percent of units affordable to tenants making an average of 120 percent AMI - this third option would not come with added city subsidies; would not be available in most of Manhattan in an effort to create more economic diversity; and is often known as "the workforce" option, meaning that it is targeted more at middle-class households.

Negotiations appear to be yielding a couple of changes to that structure. One change is that instead of simply requiring rents for the affordable units to average 60 or 80 or 120 percent of AMI, there would be clear set-asides for some percentage of units to be affordable for those earning down to 30 percent of AMI. Another change would add a fourth option that gets at deeper affordability, possibly accompanied by a smaller percentage of affordable units, again in an effort to make some new apartments available to tenants with lower incomes. Two sources close to negotiations confirmed the outline of these changes to Gotham Gazette.

City Council members indicated they were looking for these types of tweaks during a February hearing on MIH, as did Council Member Donovan Richards, chair of the zoning subcommittee and one of the Council's lead negotiators on the subject, in an interview with Gotham Gazette. Details of the changes as part of negotiations were first reported by Politico New York earlier this month.

Mark-Viverito, the Council speaker, has, like many of her members, been a supporter of the plans from the start, but also interested in making changes, especially to affordability thresholds. Council Member Williams said he knows Mark-Viverito and Council Member Richards have been negotiating those numbers.

"The speaker and Donovan Richards are in there trying to push what many of us are asking for," Williams said in an interview on Friday. "All of New York has to see itself in this plan. If it doesn't, we haven't achieved what we need to achieve."

Williams referenced the push for a fourth option under MIH and the carving out of a certain percentage of units for those making the most modest incomes. "We want to make sure that there aren't parts of this city that are built with no deeply affordable units," he said. "There shouldn't be a project where some of the units aren't of the deepest affordability - 30 percent or below of AMI must be considered."

Meanwhile, it is still unclear if there will be modifications around other key points of contention, such as the building of affordable units "off site," as in at a different location than new market-rate units. Council members have expressed interest in disincentivizing the practice within the MIH language, perhaps by including language requiring more affordable units if they are built away from the market-rate units.

As for ZQA, which deals with a wide variety of more specific zoning rules, the parties appear to be coming to compromises around modifications to parking requirements that come with senior affordable housing and the distances in so-called transit zones. Details of the ZQA deal are said to be among those still being discussed as City Council members often have neighborhood-level concerns, especially around building heights, parking, senior housing, and retail space.

Much of the discussion around ZQA has related to the ways in which it will help create more affordable housing for seniors. AARP and other advocacy groups have backed the plan, with AARP-NY dedicating significant resources in support, rallying with the mayor, and lobbying Council members.

A spokesperson for Council Member Richards told Gotham Gazette that negotiations have yielded a deal on the minimum size of new affordable housing units for seniors, one point of contention in early negotiations. The de Blasio plan had put the minimum at 275 square feet, which Richards and others called too small, pushing for 400. The sides have agreed on 325 square feet.

The sides are said to be negotiating specific numbers around the number of parking spots that must accompany new senior housing and which areas of the city would still require special permits to build nursing homes, among other finer points. Politico New York has reported on already-decided changes to ZQA.

When a deal on MIH and ZQA is finalized, de Blasio and City Council members are likely to celebrate, these types of changes to city zoning rules do not happen often, and the mandate for affordable housing in any upzoned development is indeed a major win.

How prior critics of the plans, including many local community boards who voted against their initial construction, will react is unclear. While some have seen and will continue to see merit in the plans, fears of new real estate development, added density, and rising rents are very real and unlikely to abate. The de Blasio administration is also moving forward with a series of neighborhood rezonings, starting with East New York, Brooklyn, but soon moving to communities in each borough.

De Blasio is staking his legacy largely on his attempts to make the city more affordable and his housing policies will be a key piece of his 2017 reelection bid.

In endorsing the mayor's plans, the New York Times editorial board recently captured the moment, writing, "This grand plan is a hugely important gamble that the city can build its way to greater housing equality, that it can ignite growth, improve neighborhoods, tame gentrification and protect tenants, all at once. That New York can still be a mixed-income city."

Passing MIH and ZQA doesn't provide the result to that gamble, it pushes more chips on the table.

***
by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

]]>
Sides Near Deal on Major Zoning Changes Aimed at Creating Affordable Housing Mon, 14 Mar 2016 14:41:40 +0000
A Closer Look at De Blasio's Neighborhood Rezoning Plans http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6191:a-closer-look-at-de-blasios-neighborhood-rezoning-plans http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6191:a-closer-look-at-de-blasios-neighborhood-rezoning-plans worker background de blasio

(photo: Demetrius Freeman/Mayoral Photography Office)


See interactive map below

Mayor de Blasio's housing plan is moving forward on a few levels. There are the citywide zoning proposals (Mandatory Inclusionary Housing and Zoning for Quality and Affordability) being considered by the City Council in February and March. If passed, these will change the zoning rules for the entire city, including a first-time requirement that whenever a developer receives an upzoning for a plot of land to build housing, a set percentage of affordable units will be required as part of the project. The Council is considering its tweaks to the plan before its late-March vote.

Then, there are the individual site projects that the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) always has underway. These projects are the often-overlooked smaller efforts to build and preserve afforable housing, often through significant subsidies to landlords and nonprofit builders.

In between are the neighborhood level plans, which the mayor has pitched as a way to comprehensively improve 15 areas of the city through rezoning for more density and new infrastructure and amenities. These neighborhood rezoning plans are detailed, often block-by-block programs to create housing and improve communities. They include plans for new housing development, but also schools, parks, and other community features. With these and the citywide changes, some fear gentrification and a lack of affordability, though the administration says that is not what will occur.

Only eight of the 15 neighborhood areas are currently known, and in only one of those eight (East New York) has the city actually put forward a formal rezoning plan. But interesting ideas and conflicting proposals are emerging every week from the administration, community boards, local organizations, borough presidents and others. The City Council Speaker, Melissa Mark-Viverito, helped spearhead a planning process in East Harlem where an extensive community prorgram yielded a detailed plan that is the blueprint community stakeholders want the city to follow when it develops the East Harlem rezoning plan.

Other communities to be rezoned include part of Flushing, Queens, the Bay Street Corridor on Staten Island, part of Jerome Ave. in the Bronx, and others.

Below, we show the neighborhoods targeted for rezoning, with links to information from the city and any relevant coverage from Gotham Gazette and City Limits.

Click on the purple pins to learn more about each plan. If you feel we're missing anything, please let us know: info@gothamgazette.com

***
by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

]]>
A Closer Look at De Blasio's Neighborhood Rezoning Plans Fri, 26 Feb 2016 05:00:00 +0000
Planning Commission Sends Mayor's Zoning Proposals to City Council http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6143:planning-commission-sends-mayors-zoning-proposals-to-city-council http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6143:planning-commission-sends-mayors-zoning-proposals-to-city-council BdB Weisbrod

Mayor de Blasio & Planning Chair Carl Weisbrod (photo: The Mayor's Office) 


As expected, the City Planning Commission passed two major components of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s housing plan on Wednesday morning, sending the amendments on to City Council for public hearings on Feb. 9 and 10.

Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH) and Zoning for Quality and Affordability (ZQA) each passed with nine commissioners in favor, three opposed, and one abstaining. The plans, which need City Council approval, aim to change the city’s land use rules in order to spur more real estate development, but in a way that encourages new affordable housing units and improved neighborhoods.

The Commission addressed a standing room-only meeting hall and overflow annex packed with a large turnout of members from both the Hotel Trades Council and New York chapter of the AARP. Each group publicly endorsed Mayor de Blasio’s housing plan in December, citing positive implications for hotel workers and seniors, respectively.

Planning Commission Chair Carl Weisbrod, who is appointed by the Mayor, roundly praised the amendments before the MIH vote, saying that the changes would “bring affordable housing to neighborhoods where it otherwise wouldn’t be built.”

Responding to oft-repeated criticism that the plans are too broad-strokes for community improvement, Weisbrod emphasized that the plan was not intended as a “one-size-fits-all” approach. He reminded attendees that the two amendments were meant to create a “floor, not a ceiling” for housing affordability in New York, pointing to subsidies from Housing Preservation and Development and other funding programs that would round out the mayor’s 10-year plan to create or preserve 200,000 units of affordable housing.

Other Commission members weren’t as optimistic. Commissioner Rayann Besser, appointed by Staten Island Borough President, and Commissioner Orlando Marin from the Bronx both voted against the MIH amendment with no comment, while Queens-based Commissioner Irwin Cantor voted against after asking that changes be made during City Council review.

Commissioner Michelle de la Uz, appointed to the Planning Commission by then-Public Advocate Bill de Blasio and reappointed by now-Public Advocate Letitia James, insisted that MIH “doesn’t do enough to guarantee that the lowest-income families can obtain housing.” De la Uz abstained.

De la Uz’s critique of MIH, which requires affordable housing as part of new developments obtaining a rezoning, is a frequent one cited by critics of the plan. As Weisbrod did, supporters of MIH say that the city has other tools to create affordable housing for those at the lowest ends of the income spectrum.

The MIH amendment passed City Planning with a few changes, including improvements to the Board of Standards and Appeals special permits provisions of the program meant to enhance the city’s Housing and Preservation Department’s role in reviewing hardship applications from developers, and some textual clarifications.

The ZQA vote proceeded in much the same fashion, preceded by Commissioner Weisbrod’s statement that the ZQA amendment is a “modest but essential update” to current regulations that will allow for easier construction of more affordable and transit-accessible housing for low-income residents and seniors, as well as encourage more progressive urban design and ground-floor use of residential buildings.

Commissioner Besser again voted no, citing Staten Island Borough President James Oddo’s concern about “too many unanswered questions” regarding the effects ZQA would have on neighborhood character. Commissioner Marin also voted no, without comment. Commissioner Cantor praised the “tireless” efforts of City Planning before voting against. Commissioner de la Uz again abstained from the vote.

ZQA passed with changes requiring a CPC special permit for long-term care facilities in low-density residential districts, and specification around ground-floor usage for those facilities.

City Planning moved the two zoning text amendments through to the City Council despite the fact that they had received near-universal disapproval from local community boards, which had reviewed the proposals previously.

The Council will hold public hearings scheduled for Feb. 9 (MIH) and 10 (ZQA), at which the Council’s zoning subcommittee, chaired by Council Member Donovan Richards, will hear testimony from city government representatives, housing organizations, residents, and others. After that, the City Council will deliberate and may approve, modify, or disapprove the amendments. It is all but certain that the Council will seek modifications to the plans, especially ZQA.

According to city land use modification rules, any changes to MIH and ZQA must be “within scope” of what is passed by the CPC and approved as such by the CPC. The City Council’s website defines changes “within scope” as alterations that “must be on the same topic and within the boundaries of what has been studied in the Environmental Impact Statement.”

Responding to discussion on Twitter of the City Council’s power to modify the amendments, Council Member David Greenfield, who chairs the land use committee wrote, “Suffice to say we can make significant changes on our own.”

Whatever versions of MIH and ZQA are produced by the Council will be voted on by the subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises, followed by the Committee on Land Use, and finally by the entire City Council.

While Wednesday’s Planning Commission majority vote lends a certain momentum to the changes being sought by Mayor de Blasio, advocacy groups continue to push back against both MIH and ZQA.

Community groups say that MIH does not address deeper affordability for New York’s lowest-income residents. New York Communities for Change issued a statement after the Planning Commission meeting, criticizing the commission’s decision. “Today the City Planning Commission sided with some of New York’s wealthiest developers to sell out our neighborhoods for a meager percentage of ‘affordable' units,” it reads. The statement specifically mentioned fast-food and homecare workers as being “left out of the city’s housing plans for decades.”

A cadre of preservation groups also spoke out vehemently against the CPC decision. Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, said in a statement, “By far the majority of our city’s communities and residents have spoken out against this plan. We call on the City Council to listen to the people and communities that elected them and to ensure this wrongheaded plan is stopped. Berman’s criticism was echoed in a press release by representatives from the Historic Districts Council, New York Landmarks Conservancy, Landmark West, and Friends of the Upper East Side Historic District.

Despite the pushback, Mayor de Blasio has expressed confidence that MIH and ZQA will be looked upon favorably by City Council members. The City Council Speaker, Melissa Mark-Viverito, has indicated her support for the proposals, though she has said she expects changes to be made before the Council votes them through - something repeated by several members, including Greenfield and Richards.

Discussing his plans recently in Albany, de Blasio said, “[W]hat we found in the previous approach was that there were not particularly stringent demands put on developers in terms of affordable housing and some of the plans that were agreed to with communities were not honored, so that has bred a lot of cynicism.” But, de Blasio added, “I have a very different approach."

***
by Maggie Calmes, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

]]>
Planning Commission Sends Mayor's Zoning Proposals to City Council Wed, 03 Feb 2016 23:14:46 +0000
Planning Commission Vote Will Send Zoning Proposals to City Council http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6137:city-planning-vote-will-send-zoning-proposals-to-city-council http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6137:city-planning-vote-will-send-zoning-proposals-to-city-council greenfield city hall

Council Member Greenfield leads a press conference (photo: William Alatriste) 


The next ten days are an especially critical period for Mayor Bill de Blasio's housing plan. While negotiations around a new state-level program to incentivize affordable housing production continue and Gov. Andrew Cuomo has promised to soon flesh out general affordable housing plans he announced during his recent State of the State speech, city-level changes being sought by de Blasio are on the move.

On Wednesday morning, the City Planning Commission is expected to vote through two major changes to the city's zoning codes being proposed by de Blasio. These adjustments to city rules for how land can be used are meant to set the stage for what the administration says will be more responsible development than the city has seen in the past, increasing density in neighborhoods across the city through the creation of tens of thousands of units of housing - including market-rate and "affordable" units - and adding community benefits.

Once passed by the Planning Commission, the proposals go to the City Council, which will hold two hearings on them next week.

Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH) and Zoning for Quality and Affordability (ZQA), as the two proposals are known, have been highly scrutinized and received a mixed reaction, including a large dose of negative feedback from many local community boards and praise from some city planners and advocacy groups.

Critics worry about gentrification, landmark preservation, over-development, loss of parking, and whether "affordable" units will be truly so for current residents of neighborhoods that will see major change. Supporters say the administration is taking a measured approach to development, insisting on affordable apartments from developers who benefit from rezonings, protecting tenants from predatory eviction, creating more affordable housing for seniors, and being mindful of community improvement as more housing is created.

The de Blasio administration is quick to stress that the two zoning changes set a new baseline for development in the city, but that city government has several other tools that it will use to create affordable housing and improve communities through neighborhood-specific rezoning plans.

While the City Planning Commission, which is chaired by de Blasio appointee Carl Weisbrod, is set to make some adjustments to the original proposals, they will move to the City Council largely as the de Blasio administration designed them. The Commission is looking at fairly minor changes such as lowering some of the new allowable building heights and the process by which a developer may become exempt from certain requirements.

On Tuesday and Wednesday of next week, the Council is set to hold its hearings on MIH and ZQA. Council members have expressed concerns about the two plans, as have the Comptroller, Scott Stringer, and the Public Advocate, Letitia James. MIH appears to have significantly more overall support than ZQA - MIH is simpler, as it basically requires set amounts of affordable housing along with any development allowed through a rezoning. ZQA, on the other hand, is a complicated hodgepodge of changes to land use rules.

The Council Speaker, Melissa Mark-Viverito, and other Council members are generally supportive of the proposals, especially MIH. The extent to which the Council seeks changes to MIH or ZQA is yet to be seen, but by the city's process for zoning amendments, the City Council cannot make major adjustments to the proposals sent through by City Planning, only more minor ones that fit "within scope," as judged by the Planning Commission.

City Council Member David Greenfield is chair of the Council land use committee, a subcommittee of which will hold the hearings next week. "I think the hearings are going be very rigorous," Greenfield told Gotham Gazette during an interview last week after he had appeared on a panel discussion hosted by City & State NY.

During the panel, Greenfield explained some of the issues with the administration's proposals: "[T]he city has rolled them both out at the same time and so things got a little bit confusing," he said. "They're really two independent plans. The Mandatory Inclusionary Housing program is very much focused on creating and actually mandating affordable housing in new development. And the Zoning for Quality and Affordability runs several hundred pages long and really varies on anything from building heights to reductions in parking to issues such as waivers for the development of senior centers. That's where it gets a little bit more controversial."

"[W]e've heard the overwhelming number of community boards and borough boards and borough presidents who have concerns," Greenfield said. "Although, when you separate those concerns, you realize that much of those concerns were really about Zoning for Quality and Affordability."

Echoing what Speaker Mark-Viverito, Council Member Donovan Richards, who chairs the zoning subcommittee, and other Council members have said, Greenfield said he doesn't expect to pass the zoning amendments "as is."

"We expect that there will be significant changes at the very least and hopefully we come to a place where the Council can be supportive," Greenfield said. Richards recently wrote an op-ed column explaining problems he sees with ZQA.

Asked by Gotham Gazette whether the Council could move ahead on MIH and not ZQA, Greenfield said, "We have taken the feedback very seriously and our goal is to try to come to a place where folks are happy. If that's not possible, then we're going to look at plan B." He did not elaborate on what that could look like.

One of the major questions around MIH is the levels of affordability it calls for - in essence, how many affordable units will be set aside at what rents. De Blasio's plan would set a precedent, infusing the "mandatory" aspect of affordable units into developments given rezonings and insisting on 25-30 percent of units at certain rent thresholds. But, some say that the plan does not include enough units at low enough rents. "In terms of housing, the big question is 'affordable to whom?,' City Council Member Jumaane Williams said at the City & State panel. Williams said the plan is "not reaching the lowest of the income spectrum."

The de Blasio administration doesn't disagree - representatives note that while MIH may not create units for those living in deep poverty, the city has other housing plans to create affordable housing for those New Yorkers. This is where proponents remind people that MIH and ZQA are not the totality of the administration's "Housing New York" plan, which includes a variety of programs and a ten-year goal of 200,000 units of affordable housing at a combination of affordability levels. Officials are quick to point to major affordable housing subsidies from the city's Housing and Preservation Department (HPD).

As the zoning amendment conversation does indeed occur in a larger housing policy context, the movement on de Blasio's proposals comes with the backdrop of uncertainty in terms of a state-level program to incentivize affordable housing development in New York City.

A long-standing program, called 421-a, recently expired. It offered major property tax breaks to real estate developers in exchange for the creation of affordable housing units. The program was riddled with flaws, though, and in negotiations to finalize a new version, an impasse was reached, leading to its expiration.

The prolonged absence of 421-a, or something like it, could be a big blow to de Blasio's affordable housing plans. There are also some who say that Mandatory Inclusionary Housing should not move forward without a 421-a-like program. Including the New York City Bar Association, these analysts say that the tax abatement program is essential to the kind of rental housing development the city is counting on to leverage MIH into more units. De Blasio has called on Albany lawmakers to get back to work on a new 421-a program.

Council Member Greenfield brought up the issue of 421-a in yet another way when discussing MIH moving forward. "[O]ne of the concerns that we have, especially now with the collapse of 421-a, is the off-site housing, which is that essentially MIH allows you to build affordable housing off-site," he said, referring to developers having flexibility to create market-rate units and affordable units at different locations.

"So, as long as you had 421-a, those people who were utilizing 421-a, which we expected to be the majority of the folks, would be required under 421-a to do it on-site and now it's actually going to be a possibility where they can build affordable housing off-site," Greenfield said. "We don't want to create pockets of poverty."

As have many of his colleagues, Greenfield also pointed to the income levels that affordable units will be reserved at. While there are some who say the affordability doesn't go deep enough, others say that there are not enough units dedicated to middle-income New Yorkers. "There's folks who want more flexibility on the bottom end," Greenfield said, "and there's folks who want more flexibility on the higher end."

***
by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

]]>
Planning Commission Vote Will Send Zoning Proposals to City Council Tue, 02 Feb 2016 22:53:35 +0000
Proposed Zoning Changes Raise Questions About Small Businesses http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6062:proposed-zoning-changes-raise-questions-about-small-businesses http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6062:proposed-zoning-changes-raise-questions-about-small-businesses morschers pork store queens james karla murray

Queens, 2009; photo by James and Karla Murray from Store Front II: A History Preserved

 


 

As the mayor‘s recently proposed, and in many cases fiercely opposed, zoning text amendments have fanned the flames of New Yorkers‘ ever-simmering fear of gentrification, one type of at-risk tenant has gone unmentioned: small business owners.

Whether it is the famous Arepa Lady of Queens who cooks up corn pancakes with mozzarella, the baby Jesus doll boutique showcased in Frederick Wiseman‘s recent film “In Jackson Heights,” or the local bodega still selling expired $1 honey-buns, locally-owned and servicing mom-and-pop boutiques provide much of the diverse commercial life that has long characterized New York City.

As the de Blasio administration looks to change zoning requirements throughout the city, including to allow more and better retail space, and wants to see significant real estate development to increase affordable housing, there is a great deal at stake for small business owners - both current and prospective.

“Small business are critical to the vitality of the community,” Rachel Meltzer, an assistant professor of urban policy at the New School’s Milano School, told Gotham Gazette. “In economics terms there are ‘positive spillovers’ in a community from having operating, lively, and functional business, but there are also benefits that extend beyond just what it means for that owner.”

In a recent column for City Limits, Meltzer detailed how these local enterprises increase diversity, develop community, and provide economic stability.

Yet as rents skyrocket, chains descend upon New York City, and bodegas transform into banks, local shops into Duane Reades. The free market largely dictates these trends, while some continue to call for commercial rent control or, more moderately, adjusting leasing rules to help protect current tenants.

With the city economy and population booming and neighborhoods changing, it is increasingly difficult for small businesses to survive. There is little city policy dedicated to protecting these institutions of community character from the ruthless churn of the New York real estate market.

Commercial space is treated quite differently from residential space. Discussions around zoning guidelines, tax breaks, and other government policy almost exclusively centers around affordable housing.

“There really is no [preservation strategy] that I know of, and I do research in this area.” said Meltzer about small businesses.

Benjamin Dulchin, executive director of Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development (ANHD, an equitable development advocacy group), told Gotham Gazette that in one sense, this is understandable.

“Rent stabilization,” he explained, “exists because there‘s a sense that [residential] tenants are uniquely vulnerable because the stability of your home is a tremendously important thing and it is uniquely necessary for family and neighborhood stability...It’s a different thing between a landlord and a business.”

On the other hand, Dulchin says, “part of what we like about our neighborhoods are small- to medium-size indigenous businesses” and “as a neighborhood gentrifies, as rents go up, you see displacement pressure not just on the current residents, you also see lots of stores finding it very hard to hang on...I don‘t think the city has figured out what an effective tool for addressing that would be.”

With gentrification on the move in all five boroughs and the de Blasio administration looking to change the rules of the game while also spurring more development, there’s no clear indication about what may be done to protect existing small businesses in the next hot neighborhoods.

Meltzer suggests a place to start might be expanding various zoning initiatives designed to support small business and stymy the invasion of national corporations. She listed legislation from the Upper West Side, where former City Council Member Gale Brewer (now Manhattan Borough President) passed storefront width restricts to stop the spread of banks, as an example. So far this measure has been successful.

De Blasio’s Zoning for Quality and Affordability proposal (one of the two zoning plans, along with Mandatory Inclusionary Housing) includes allowing for taller first-floor retail space in mixed-use development, but proponents note that the new allowances would still be unconducive to bigger chain stores.

Meanwhile, this past summer residents of the Lower East Side proposed a type of zoning amendment already enacted in San Francisco that would cap the number of chain stores allowed in the neighborhood.

Meltzer also mentioned “productive zoning” as a potential tool, which instead of mandating spatial inputs like height limitations and store width, focuses on the outputs of the space - meaning what, generally speaking, the space will be used for. This way zoning can mandate retail space goes towards meeting certain communal needs, as opposed to merely stipulating what types of stores cannot be there through measurements.

The legal limitations of what zoning can achieve are unclear, though, according to Meltzer. “I’m not sure to what extent you can say ‘you have to put this type of business here with this kind of owner,’” she said. “I am not a lawyer.”

The ZQA text amendment, which is currently under City Planning Commission review and will soon move to the City Council, has some version of each of Meltzer‘s suggestions. City Planning told Gotham Gazette that the retail space permitted by ZQA is not suitable for big box retail (although Target started a program to get around this) and that in certain locations the city‘s FRESH program, which incentivizes supermarket development in health-deficient neighborhoods, will help fill the space.

The lack of protective zoning for the small business entrepreneurs of the city, Meltzer says, is only indicative of a larger void in the government‘s supportive framework for those individuals and enterprises. The “institutional arrangement and responsibilities” fall short, she says.

To fill the gap, Meltzer argues the government could create some type of bureaucratic infrastructure for retail space oversight - an entity that would have responsibilities comparable to that of the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, but for retail space. Such a body could supply subsidies to businesses when it made sense and assure the spaces these businesses occupied were not being exploited by landlords hungry for profit.

“HPD is really sophisticated and experienced in regulating housing and thinking about ways to preserve it,” she said. “There have been a lot of affordable housing developments that in the past have tried to be very conscientious about the retail that goes into those projects, but the success has been limited partially because the subsidy for housing is separate from the commercial subsidy. So when [the government says to the developer], ‘we will give you x dollars per unit,‘ that doesn’t include commercial space. There is no way to say ‘this is what the market is asking, we want a certain type of business that may not be able to pay that, so we will give a subsidy to fill that gap.’ There is not anything, at least that is coming out of the City, that does that in a large scale way like HPD or HDC does with housing.”

Meltzer went on to say that if the city did try something like that, the small business services agency could be the one to oversee it, but none of this is part of the equation right now.

Whether or not subsidizing commercial space, like HPD does residential, is even a good idea is up for debate. Meltzer said herself that she was “not prepared to argue that we should be subsidizing commercial rent,“ but went on to say that such a practice could prove a powerful tool in supporting businesses in rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods, adding “I think it‘s the government’s responsibility to support these businesses to try to stay in business.”

However, businesses should only receive subsidies, Meltzer says, if they show adequate interest in adjusting to the changing climate of the neighborhood. There‘s no point in financing an owner who wants to run their business the same regardless of environment.

Supporting businesses in transitioning neighborhoods is where existing services provided by the Department of Small Business Services (SBS) can be of use. In a response to an inquiry from Gotham Gazette, an SBS spokesperson said the agency was working to roll out programs targeting these businesses and listed business education and assistance, along with tools to help businesses navigate leases and the retail market as examples.

SBS also pointed Gotham Gazette to two other programs geared toward supporting the city’s less powerful retail operations: NYC Business Solutions, which, among other things, provides businesses with free financial assistance, recruitment and training services, and referrals to pro-bono legal services, and Small Business First, a program aiming to consolidate small business resources and requirements currently spread across 15 different city agencies into one portal. (Unfortunately, NextCity reported in September that there has been little progress since the program launched in February.)

Mayor de Blasio has dramatically cut fines imposed on small businesses across the city and worked, through SBS, to expand opportunities for immigrant entrepreneurs. The administration got a recent boost for its zoning proposals when a dozen ethnic and local business groups, including the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, endorsed the plans, as reported by the Daily News. The proposals are being considered by the City Planning Commission before it sends recommendations to the City Council for consideration.

Over the past couple of years there has also been clamor about commercial tenant protection, as landlords have been accused of dumping their property taxes onto small business owners and multiplying rents by four or five upon lease expiration. City Council Member Robert Cornegy, head of the Council’s small business committee, introduced legislation in July along with Council Member Mark Levine aimed at curbing harassment, but their bill has not moved.

Many small business advocates point to the Small Business Jobs Survival Act (SBJSA), which gives tenants a prodigious amount of lease negotiating power and has been floating around the City Council in various iterations for around 30 years, as the holy grail of business preservation.

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, who helped craft the bill while working for Ruth Messinger in the ‘80s, says SBJSA is misguided. Among other critiques, Brewers insists the law would make the lease negotiation process inefficient and there are “serious” doubts as to the bill‘s legality. She plans to propose a more moderate plan with Cornegy in the near future.

Ultimately, Meltzer thinks tenant protection and lease renewal negotiation reform are “great,” but that the best hope for strong, long-lasting mom-and-pop commercial retail space stands in how the city negotiates with developers looking to build.

“What we want to think about are the best points of leverage, which are new development,” Meltzer says. “Even in housing, you cannot do that much with existing orders. When a building gets built and the developers are trying to secure zoning and subsidies, those are the moments when the city can say ‘oh, OK, you want the rights from us? Here’s what you are going to have to do in order to build bigger.’“

Commenting on the zoning proposals currently up for review, Meltzer said, “It would be interesting to know if in the zoning, because it is not finalized by any means, [the city] would start to incorporate things like that.“

***
by Colin O’Connor, Gotham Gazette
@GothamGazette

]]>
Proposed Zoning Changes Raise Questions About Small Businesses Tue, 05 Jan 2016 02:48:52 +0000