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Development

Is Washington Looking To Get Out Of Subsidizing Low-Income Housing In NYC?


This past summer, 75 Bronx families in the Pueblo de Mayaguez housing development were heartened when help seemed to be on the way. After many years of deteriorating building conditions, the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) was planning to take the three buildings away from its owner through foreclosure. Tenants asked for the right to buy the buildings as a cooperative.

Instead, the federal agency sold the buildings at public auction for $4.7 million to a landlord with over 1,000 violations on the 11 small buildings he already owns. The apartments will no longer be preserved as guaranteed affordable housing, and the new owner will face less scrutiny.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development turned down the tenants' request even though New York's local housing agencies supported their bid, supposedly because the city and the tenants expressed their interest too late. But advocates claim that the federal agency allowed an even later bid in Newark, and that Dallas and Boston have received warmer treatment.

New York City may get the cold shoulder again in three additional developments in Brooklyn and Harlem that are facing foreclosure. Residents of these building are now scrambling to put together a proposal that the city can take to the federal agency. But they fear that there will be a repeat of what happened at Pueblo de Mayaguez -- the agency will again take the properties to auction and sell them to the highest bidder, without taking the purchaser's track record into account. "We were in shock when we received the notice of foreclosure," says long-time tenant N. Abdullah of Gates-Patchen Houses in Bedford-Stuyvesant. "We want to have a say in who comes in to purchase. But it seems as if HUD is trying to push us out of the building, to get the building off their hands. If we were facing eviction for non-payment, we would at least have our day in court. But HUD doesn't want to listen to us, or even tell us what is going on."

If this is a pattern, it could put at risk 20,000 apartments of federally-subsidized affordable housing for low-income families, primarily in high-poverty neighborhoods in central Brooklyn, the South Bronx, and Staten Island.

Little attention has been paid to this growing problem of "fail-outs," when landlord neglect and deteriorating building conditions lead the federal housing agency to cancel its subsidy. The risk of "fail-outs" has grown in part because the Department of Housing and Urban Development has gotten more aggressive in its approach to distressed projects in the past year, supposedly, according to an agency memo, in order to "ensure the properties are decent, safe, sanitary, and in good repair."

But advocates see a more nefarious purpose. Noting that one of the Bush Administration's top strategies for reining in costs in the federal budget is reportedlyto shed the cost of housing subsidy contracts , they suspect that Washington is looking to balance the budget at the expense of vulnerable tenants, in low-income neighborhoods, in a state that President George Bush has little hope of winning when he runs for re-election. "HUD has allowed these owners to keep the subsidy funds - misused, misappropriated - for years, letting them walk away with the money" says Bronx Legal Aid attorney Ellen Davidson. "Why not make owners reinvest in the property?"

Tenants fear that foreclosure could result in a new slumlord owning their building, and the cancellation of their building's subsidy contract with the Department of Housing and Urban Development. When that happens, many income-eligible tenants receive housing subsidy vouchers, which they can continue to use in the building or take elsewhere. However, for a variety of reasons, many are screened out and do not receive vouchers. In addition, the entire voucher program is now threatened with reduction or elimination almost every year during federal budget negotiations.

Many tenants in these buildings are eager for change after years of neglect. "Our building has been allowed to literally fall apart," says Kim Smith, a tenant leader at Ennis Francis Houses in Harlem, "with no heat, no hot water, mold and mildew, and part of the plumbing system totally collapsed. We want the current management out." But they also want a say in what happens. "We are afraid that any slumlord could come along and buy our building. In the midst of this second Harlem Renaissance, can we please both get renovations and keep our subsidies?"

There are some bright spots, which show how "fail-outs" can become a win/win that preserves affordable housing and strengthens communities. Working with the 465 families at the Dr. Betty Shabazz Complex and Medgar Evers Houses in Brooklyn, a number of non-profit agencies acquired the two developments to preserve them as affordable housing - owned by a newly created not-for-profit that includes the tenants. Residents at the Diego-Beekman properties in the South Bronx are working on a similar workout.

But a real solution would take comprehensive and coordinated action. In the past, the city has not generally been eager to take the lead in this effort, since they do not want to foot the bill if the federal government withdraws funding. But now the city is seeking to arrange successful workouts on several properties, and tenants say they are waiting for the Department of Housing and Urban Development to meet them halfway.

New York City's housing developers, advocates, and community organizations have thrived despite a massive reduction in federal resources for building affordable housing over the past 30 years. Few suspected that they would need to fight for the preservation of federally-subsidized affordable housing in the city's lowest income neighborhoods.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Community Service Requirement In Public Housing


The James Weldon Johnson housing development on 112th Street in Manhattan may not be the best place to live in the city, but as part of the city's public housing system - the largest in the nation - it is among the more affordable. The development will have a new recreation center in coming months to make it nicer.

Ethel Velez lives in one of the development's 1,307 apartments, and as president of the development's tenant's association and director of a citywide alliance of public housing residents knows more about public housing problems than most people.

Security is the most pressing issue, she said; maintenance is another. The federal government could help out with either one, but instead Congress is making things worse, she said. Many advocates, New York City politicians and tenants agree.

In 2004, public housing may be the most important front in the battle to protect affordable housing in New York City. A new community service requirement for residents of public housing is a reflection of an intense anti-public housing sentiment in Congress, advocates said. They expect any new policy ideas from Washington to be worse.

Thousands of people will face eviction now that the new rule - requiring eight hours of community service a month - has gone into effect January 1, 2004. And thousands of other people will be fighting the rule, which has already become a rallying cry among advocates, elected representatives and tenants.

Many advocates believe that the new rule is yet another indication of a disturbing change in the role the federal government plays in housing - and one that is exacerbating homelessness as a record number of New Yorkers are crowding city shelters.

"Why should public housing residents have to do this at all?" said Judith Goldiner of the Legal Aid Society, which represents many New York City Housing Authority tenants in Housing Court. If the requirement is in return for receiving subsidized housing, she said, "then why not the farmers who get subsidies? Why not the people who get a tax deduction? Why is it poor people? It makes no sense."

A 1998 law, the Quality Housing and Work Responsibility Act, included the community service requirement. But some members of Congress, led by New York Rep. Charles Rangel, prevented it going into effect by blocking its funding. But this year, the law has gone into effect.

Emile Milne, Rangel's press secretary, said the community service requirement was reflective of more than just a hostile attitude in Congress toward public housing.

"I think there's an overarching hostility attitude toward poor people overall," he said. "The attitude is about getting as many benefits to wealthy people at the expense of poor people. You can see that by just looking at the tax bills. It's a pattern."

Many of the estimated 500,000 public housing residents in New York City will be exempt from the new requirement. Tenants older than 62 and younger than 18 will not have to meet the community service requirement, nor will pregnant women with doctors' notes, the disabled, people receiving Social Security Insurance or welfare, or people working more than 30 hours a week.

But as many as 60,000 people will have to prove that they have worked eight hours as volunteers for non-profit organizations, tenant associations or other agencies that take volunteers.

The housing authority has sent notice to tenants and is currently establishing procedures to enforce the requirement, said Howard Marder, the agency's public information officer. The new policy is not popular at the agency, he said, although he added that the agency had increased the number of exemptions from five to 20 and most people would not be affected.

"Anytime you have an unfunded mandate, it puts a burden on us," Marder said. "We'll have to take people away from other work" to enforce the new rule.

The Legal Aid Society is already preparing to file suit in court because the authority is not exempting people who should be exempted, Goldiner said.

Calling it outrageous, City Councilmember Charles Barron of Brooklyn said he would soon introduce a resolution against the rule.

"People are already living under challenging conditions in public housing," Barron said. "To now enforce an eight hour rule is an attempt to get some cheap slave labor. This will add to homelessness.

"As long as people meet the requirements (for public housing), there shouldn't be a free labor requirement," he continued. "This is setting up a catastrophe, a condition where you're going to create homelessness. It makes no sense whatsoever. It's almost genocidal."

Tenant leaders like Velez adamantly oppose the rule and are preparing to fight it.

"Slavery's back," she said. "When folks are financially strapped, it shouldn't be something that's held against them."

"When I think of public service, the language itself is insulting," she said. "Mandatory volunteer community service? It's demoralizing. And at the end is eviction if you don't do it. So then you make someone homeless."

Many public housing residents already volunteer, Velez said, patrolling their complexes and cleaning public areas. "I think it's insulting that now you'll have to get a thing signed when you've already been doing this of your own free will."

The only positive side to the new rule may be its usefulness in organizing tenants, she said in the James Weldon Johnson's tenant's association office recently, its walls covered with pro-public housing literature, announcements and calls for action.

"We might turn this whole thing around and use it while it's on the books," she said. "Until we can fight it off and get it eliminated, then let's use it as a positive."

Joe Lamport is the assistant director of the City-Wide Task Force on Housing Court, a coalition of community housing organizations.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Linda Stone Davidoff, 1941-2003


 

When Riverside South park opens in the spring, sun bathers and ball players will find a wooden sign in the park telling them that the area between 65th and 68th Street has been named "Linda's Lawn." This is in tribute to Linda Stone Davidoff, the urban planner, activist and former director of Citizens Union and Citizens Union Foundation, who died December 31 at age 62.

Among her many achievements in more than 40 years of activism, Davidoff developed the plan that led to the creation of this new park on Manhattan's Upper West Side. She also ran political campaigns and launched the national effort that resulted in the passage in 1993 of the National Voter Registration Act. Known as "Motor Voter," it requires states to provide voter registration forms to citizens when they apply for drivers' licenses and other services.

At a memorial service in the Prospect Park Picnic House on January 4, about 250 family, friends and colleagues remembered Davidoff as a woman who liked to win but was never afraid to embrace losing causes, and who threw herself energetically into everything that engaged her -- from the fight to end the war in Vietnam to her final battle against leukemia. But Davidoff was also honored for her fierce devotion to her family and for the personal example she set for her wide circle of relatives, friends, colleagues and comrades in arms.

Born in Washington, D.C, Linda Stone Davidoff grew up in Pittsburgh, the daughter of a Steelworkers Union employee and a teacher. She graduated from Radcliffe College and received a master's degree from the University of Pennsylvania.

Her long history of political involvement started in the civil rights and antiwar movements of the 1960s. It was then that she embarked on a lifetime of working for losing political candidates. While living in Larchmont, New York, she struggled mightily to elect liberal Democrats to replace entrenched Republicans in Westchester County. Later, she would manage Elizabeth Holtzman's losing campaign for Senate in 1980 and Ruth Messinger's unsuccessful New York City mayoral campaign in 1997. But despite so many fights for the losing side, her friend Libby Moroff said in her eulogy, Davidoff always hewed to an "implacable, unshakable conviction that something could be done." A fitting motto for her, said Moroff, could come from the "Lord of the Rings": "Death is certain. Victory unlikely. Let's fight."

Despite her affinity for politics, Davidoff saw herself primarily as an urban planner. In a series of articles in the late 1960s and early 1970s, she and her first husband, Paul Davidoff, developed the concept of advocacy planning. This idea held that planners should not be merely technicians but instead should consider social and political values in their work. Paul Davidoff died in 1984.

After heading several non-profit organizations (including the Parks Council, the New York League of Conservation Voters, and Citizen Action of New York), Davidoff in 2000 became executive director of Citizens Union and Citizens Union Foundation, the publisher of Gotham Gazette. In less than three years, she expanded the group's budget and staff and led it into greater activism and involvement in communities across the five boroughs of New York City.

While speakers at the memorial service remembered Davidoff's many political crusades they also spoke of her personal warmth and intensity. Noting the large number of Manhattanites in Brooklyn on a rainy Sunday morning, Adrian Benepe, the commissioner of the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, said, "It would take someone like Linda Stone Davidoff to get the Upper West Side to relocate to Prospect Park."

After being diagnosed with leukemia in August, Davidoff kept a firm grip of life, spending time with her husband Harold Stone, whom she married in 1997, and her children, stepchildren and their children. Anne Mackinnon, her "step-daughter-in-law," recalled how, less than a week before her death, Davidoff plunged into Christmas Day, exclaiming over how delicious the coffee was, marveling at the croissants and seeing the humor of atheists tearing open Christmas stockings.

She was, it seemed, following the advice she had given her loved ones two months before on Rosh Hashanah: "It's definitely time to give thought to ... saying good-bye, NOT being sadder than we have to be, keeping a sense of humor and perspective and, especially, of the sweetness of a good life."

In lieu of flowers, the family suggests that contributions may be sent to Citizens Union Foundation or to Howard Dean for America. A larger memorial celebration will be held this spring, at a date to be announced.

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The “Food Justice” Movement: Trying To Break the Food Chains


One of the great, often unspoken, forms of oppression that low- and moderate-income communities suffer through is the lack of access to healthy food. When I moved back to Central Brooklyn in 1985, I was stuck by its barren nutritional landscape. It wasn’t just that options like fresh produce and organic foods were hard to come by. But the storefront food provision systems themselves - “bullet-proof” fast food joints, poorly stocked and over-crowded supermarkets, cruddy, stomach-curdling bodegas – seemed to represent a level of self-destruction and dietary corruption that went well beyond my inability to buy tofu on Nostrand Avenue. While most residents and activists look at conditions such as public safety, housing availability, public education, environmental concerns and economic opportunities when taking on community development issues, seldom do we consider one of the most basic elements – how an area feeds itself – as a sign of neighborhood well being.

Recently I stumbled upon a growing movement of activists who have coined a phrase - “food justice” - that I think places how and what a community eats squarely in the context of community building and social change. Up to now “food security” has been a more common term used to describe a similar, if not broader, area of social concern. While government bureaucrats and international non-governmental-organizations alike have been using food security to call attention to a whole host of agriculture- and hunger-related issues, activists have also used it to focus on creating community-based ways of producing food in an affordable, sustainable and environmentally-friendly manner. Along the way they have sought to create local jobs, promote good health and stress the importance of small, local farmers.

New Language and Icons

With the use of the term “food justice” this activism hasn’t changed so much as it has taken on fresh new political energy. In an increasing number of grassroots efforts in New York, local people are re-imagining their collective relationship to food. According to Bryant Terry, the founder of the youth-based, not-for profit B-Healthy, food justice starts from the conviction that access to healthy food is a human rights issue and that the “lack of access to food in a community is an indicator of material deprivation”. Food justice, Bryant suggests, goes beyond advocacy and direct service. It calls for organized responses to food security problems, responses that are locally driven and owned.

For its part, B-Healthy tries to offset the dominance of processed foods and fast food advertising in the lives of young people with political education and a sort of counter-insurgency culinary training. With a curriculum that includes books like Fast Food Nation, Diet for a Small Planet and Food Fight, B-Healthy offers everything from cooking classes to tips on how to shop for pesticide-free, non-genetically modified foods.

With a Black founding director and a youth-of-color constituency, many of whom are immigrants, B-Healthy has implicitly challenged the popular image of health food consciousness as being the strict domain of WASPy vegans who listen to public radio and shop at the Park Slope Food Co-Op. And rather than try to introduce “culturally inappropriate’ foods into the lives of families, B-Healthy works with foods and seasonings that are familiar to them

Food System Alternatives

Education is perhaps the first line of offense in the long fight to change eating patterns and food distribution in any given neighborhood. But as most food justice advocates will tell you, this education has to be coupled with action – the creation of viable alternatives.

Just Food, which has integrated a social justice mission into its name, has been the catalyst for the establishment of 30 CSAs – Community Supported Agriculture -throughout the city, some in areas like Harlem, Bushwick and East New York. CSAs are arrangements in which people living in a given area purchase “shares” of organically-grown produce directly from local sources. CSAs provide urban families with more healthy eating choices, while also supporting family-run farms. Just as importantly, CSAs, like other local food systems, eliminate a neighborhood’s dependence on far-flung corporate growers and a host of intervening processors, handlers, distributors, transporters and other middle people who have made the business of connecting urban America to food inefficient and environmentally taxing.

Just Food also works with a small number of community gardeners who are learning to market and distribute their produce in local settings. In most cases, local food justice efforts not only provide food, but often help strengthen neighborhood economies, provide employment and entrepreneurial opportunities for youth and offer innovative ways to utilize open space.

One text book example of a project that seeks to address a range of community needs through food activism has recently taken root in Red Hook, a mostly low-income neighborhood with a food terrain that is decidedly user-hostile. According to Ian Marvy co-director of Added Value, Red Hook has only one full-service, sit-down restaurant and no major grocery store, but is otherwise replete with bodegas, steam line eateries, pizza shops and fried chicken shops. On real estate that is being eyed by hungry developers seeking new water front opportunities, Added Value and a cadre of young people from the surrounding area maintain a modest farm with other local farmers and run a market where young people sell the farm’s collective harvest, as well as beef, chicken and fish from other local farms. Added Value is also making plans to build a green house and harvest fish itself.

Marvy is clear about what distinguishes his work and that of his colleagues. “Food security is more about analyzing problems, ameliorating issues and providing answers…Food Justice…involves local people from seed to sale. It educates, organizes and mobilizes new social relations around food. It touches hands, hearts and pockets.”

Bold New World

Efforts like B-Healthy, Just Food, Added Value and New York-based CSAs are all relatively young. And right now they are all looking to achieve justice through education and feeding, rather than agitation and confrontation. Ruth Katz, executive director of Just Food, is intent on rebuilding a demand for healthy foods and envisions a return to a time in our nation’s history when, in the midst of food shortages in the 1940s, forty percent of the nation’s food was supplied locally.

Still, some are hinting at a slightly more aggressive march towards progress. Terry sees the young people he works with as one day creating community organizing campaigns. He looks to take on the perpetrators of structural, food-based racism that, he feels, has kept areas like Red Hook and Central Brooklyn flooded with toxic foods and empty of choices. Of course, these days, racism is often easier to feel than prove. And while the economic development and food distribution visions of Terry and his peers are clear, a strategy of what public policies would be targeted by food-centered, grassroots organizing campaigns is far less so. Any way you look at it, America’s appetites for fast food and corporate farming - both defining aspects of American culture – are not retreating anytime soon.

But then again I still believe that one day I will help start a black-run food cooperative in Bed-Stuy; and that affordable, family-style, locally-owned restaurants will spring up while liquor stores and Burger Kings die a certain death; and that a loud chorus of my neighbors will compel my community board, City Council representative and Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce to establish a farmers market on local abandoned property.

New social realities always begin here, as somebody’s seemingly far-fetched dreams. In the meantime, I’m itching for a food fight.

Mark Winston Griffith, a writer whose work has appeared in the New York Times, Essence and Spin, is also founder of the non-profit Central Brooklyn Partnership, which organizes people to build economic power.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Sidewalks of New York


New York City's sidewalks are its best public spaces, the heart of the city's bustling street life. Sidewalks are everywhere, 12,000 miles of them, enough to stretch half way around the world. Everyone uses them. They move more people daily than cars and subways, and play host to more people than the city's parks. They take the place of the grand plazas and public squares that are prominent in many European cities.

Yet the city does not take responsibility for its sidewalks. Instead, they are treated as places to issue tickets and put advertising, as potential lawsuits, or as by-products of new development. Instead of a positive approach that celebrates sidewalks, the city spends most of its efforts trying to punish people who use them.

Recent actions by the City Council give the city new authority to control newsstands, newspaper boxes and anything else that obstructs sidewalks. In fact, the city controls just about everything that goes on sidewalks, and everything people do on sidewalks. The city has the power to give out a franchise for all "street furniture," including bus shelters, information kiosks, and public toilets, and to allow advertising on it all. There reportedlyis even talk in City Hall about pasting ads on garbage cans. And the city is just waiting for Albany to renew a law that will let it repeat more of its periodic blitzes to remove street vendors.

But with all of its powers and ability to enforce them with fines, the city has no overall policy or plan for the use and enjoyment of public sidewalks. Its street furniture deals are mired in negotiations that are anything but public. It is time to put the public back in public space.

CONTROLLLING THE SIDEWALKS

Half a dozen agencies have their hands in the mix, but none are in charge. The Department of Transportation (DOT) and Police Department are mainly responsible for keeping sidewalks clear for pedestrian traffic. Transportation regulates the placement of newsstands, newspaper boxes, bus shelters, and bicycle racks. The Department of Sanitation is responsible for trash. The Parks Department plants and maintains street trees. And the Department of Consumer Affairs controls sidewalk cafes. The City Planning and Buildings Departments regulate the size of front yards mandated by the zoning code. (The city's Zoning Resolution, written in 1961, gave incentives to big downtown developers to build and maintain street-level public spaces, but the result has been mixed, and the rules are optional and only affect new buildings.)

All of these agencies are concerned with regulating how sidewalks are built and maintained. They can slap fines on violators. But none of them looks at how sidewalks are used and designed, how they can be more attractive public places, or how they fit in with, meet the needs of, and improve local neighborhoods.

NEED FOR SIDEWALK POLICY

New York City does not maintain the sidewalks that it owns, unlike many other large cities around the world. Instead, property owners are responsible for repairing concrete, sweeping and clearing trash, and shoveling snow. In September, revisions to the city's Administrative Code explicitly required property owners, except in areas with 1-3 family homes, to maintain and repair sidewalks and to carry liability insurance covering any mishaps. In designated areas, Business Improvement Districts maintain sidewalks, but in a way that serves the interests of merchants and not necessarily shoppers or passersby.

While the city's parks are planned, no one in government is responsible for figuring out the best way to design and use sidewalks. The agency with the most responsibility is the Department of Transportation, but their approach is to move pedestrian traffic just like they move vehicular traffic, by removing as many obstacles as possible. What is great about the city's street life is not only what moves on the sidewalks but what is stationary. That includes the gaggle of seniors sitting on folding chairs, the kids playing hopscotch, the double-Dutchers and, yes, the street vendors and homeless people that some people do not like to look at. In the city's effort to banish some people who it finds objectionable, we are all mugged of our public space, the great diversity of street life, and our civil liberties. We reduce the value of the democratic, civic life which, after all, brings together people who are very different from each other. New York can learn a lesson from Barcelona in Spain, a city with intensely utilized and popular public spaces. Planning and design plus social tolerance can make for exciting streets and sidewalks.

Not only are New York's sidewalks neglected, they are shrinking, especially in areas where they are needed the most, such as midtown Manhattan. Every time a new building goes up it increases pedestrian traffic, but sidewalk space does not expand. Instead of widening sidewalks and reducing the roadway, and thus cutting congestion and pollution, the city is putting up metal barriers to squeeze more pedestrians onto the existing sidewalks.

A POLICY FOR SIDEWALKS

What would a sensible sidewalk policy look like?

The first goal should be to improve the sidewalk experience for all New Yorkers and visitors. Both groups spend a good deal of their time walking, sometimes hours daily. Noise and air pollution are not only a nuisance, they are damaging to our health. Vehicular traffic is the main source of pollution, and it should be severely reduced, especially in densely developed downtown areas.

Secondly, strip our streets of advertising, the biggest source of visual pollution. Do not give this great public resource away to the highest bidders. We can have newsstands, garbage cans, public toilets, benches and green space without ads.

Third, improve pedestrian safety in congested areas by widening sidewalks, particularly at intersections, bus stops, and at wide crossings. Sidewalks do not always have to be linear. Creatively designed sidewalks can slow traffic, establish nodes for social activity, and accommodate a variety of street furniture without blocking pedestrian flow.

Fourth, stop trying to find the generic design for sidewalk amenities in this city of eight million people because it always turns out to be the easiest solution for the corporate contractor or city agency. It has produced dull design solutions that are just plain inadequate. Our bus shelters are great examples of this inadequacy. Empower community boards to develop their own plans and set up local design review procedures so that street life can reflect the particular conditions and history of the city's diverse neighborhoods. Of course, to do the job right community boards need some of the resources and professional help that are now squandered on schemes to wheel and deal generic contracts. Their mandate should be to make sidewalks inclusive public spaces open to all.

Finally, drop the ticket blitzing. Put community boards in charge of enforcement and have them work with property owners and local civic organizations. Ticketing may raise some dough for the city, but the revenue it produces, some millions a year, is a laughable fraction of the city's overall budget. Besides, enforcement costs millions and has proven to be largely ineffective except where there are active civic groups and property owners nagging the city to do something in the first place. Put the power in the hands of people who have a stake in preserving the city's vital public spaces.

The Project for Public Spaces celebrates great public spaces around the world and helps cities upgrade them (and they have some good and bad examples from Barcelona on their website). For some out-of-the-box opinions on the city¡|s street furniture, see their site www.localexpressions.com.

Tom Angotti is Professor of Urban Affairs and Planning at Hunter College, City University of NY, editor of Planners Network Magazine, and a member of the Task Force on Community-based Planning.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Bridge Back Home


I was a foster parent in The Bronx before the city began trying to keep foster children in their communities. When I first heard about the change I thought it would be a great idea for the children, because pulling children out of their home is traumatizing enough. It wouldn’t be as traumatizing if you keep the children in their community.

But now I believe that, in some ways, the change is harmful. Some birth parents are angry that they have lost their child and they take their anger out on the foster parent. If the foster parents and the biological parents do not see eye-to-eye, it can be very confrontational when they are living near each other.

I also know that this is for a good cause. The city wants foster parents and birth parents to work together to get the kids back home. I think this is very important, but I don’t think they have to live near each other to do that. Where the children live matters less than changing the foster parents’ outlook so that they see themselves as helpers to the biological parent.

Some foster parents don’t want to bond with the birth parent. They find it unnecessary or think it’s a burden. And they may not want the children to go back home. I don’t care what the age of the child is, if you are human you will get attached to them. Some foster parents find it very hard to accept that they are only a temporary part of the child’s life, that they must help the child move on. It’s a hard job. You bond with this child and when they move out of your home you have lost a very important part of your life.

When I became a foster parent, I had a child who was two years old when he came to me. I became very attached to him and his sister. We just clicked. When they left to live with their aunt I thought somebody died. I decided right then and there I couldn’t be a foster parent because of the grief I was going through.

When I finally decided to take in another child I did it with a different outlook -- the same outlook the city is trying to get foster parents to adopt. I told myself that I was trained as a foster parent to open my home to a child but at the same time I have to let the child know that they are going to move on. I am that bridge they have to cross before they walk back to their own home.

Now I try to think from the birth parent’s point of view. I call the birth parent up every time I am about to make a decision about the child. If the child acted up in school, I call the birth parent. The kid is floored when I do that, thinking, “Damn, I thought I had to just deal with this lady.” But it helps them do well academically. They know their mom will be on them and I will be on them and they can’t play us against each other.

Also, I avoid agency visits, because if you had a child in foster care, would you like to see the child for only two hours with someone looking at you? So I might have a visit once or twice with a parent at the agency, then I will get permission to bring the child to meet with their parent in restaurants or to go to a show. Once I asked the parent to meet me and her child at 42nd street at the Olive Garden and we went to the wax museum and made a big day of it. Another time she had a family reunion with fried chicken, collard greens, potato salad, you name it.

Now when I work with other foster parents, I tell them our homes are only a temporary situation for the children. We have to keep in the forefront of our brains that most of the kids will be going back home to their birth moms. We need to reach out to the birth mom. We need to understand her initial anger and try to connect with her anyway. Our support can help her do what she needs to do to get her child home.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Illegal Threes


On a recent sunny fall day, Robin Demmo was at Queens Borough Hall looking at a faded copy of the Certificate of Occupancy for the two-family house she was living in on 55th Road in Elmhurst.

She was confirming her suspicions about the apartment she rented for $900 including gas and electricity about six months ago: the apartment was illegal.

Like the proverbial crazy aunt in the basement, the problem of "illegal threes" - the name given to two-family houses that have an illegal third apartment - is one housing issue that causes dilemmas and resists any easy resolution. Many people simply want to pretend they don't exist. A recent ruling by an appeals court on an "illegal three" case has not helped to clarify things.

According to 2000 Census Bureau statistics, there are about 400,000 two-family houses in New York City, mostly in Brooklyn and Queens. Many of the owners of these houses, looking for an extra dollar, convert the basement into an apartment and voila, they create an illegal apartment.

But it's a problem that many people are willing to overlook in the city, mainly because illegal apartments satisfy a variety of interests.

"They've always been around and they probably always will be around," said Carl Peterson, the senior borough coordinator for the organization I work for. "They're a significant amount of the housing in Queens.

"What an illegal three does is that it provides much-needed money for that homeowner and affordable housing for tenants," Peterson explained. "All these people need a place to live and so all these landlords do the same thing - they chop their houses up."

Illegal apartments are so common in Queens, many people simply do not realize that where they live is illegal, Peterson said.

"Unless it's definitely seen as hazardous or dangerous, not many people notice," Peterson said. "Because I've talked to people, housing advocates even, and they say, 'I live in a basement apartment and it's nice!'"

Robin Demmo said her apartment was a comfortable one-bedroom with a living room- kitchen combination that is "perfectly safe." Not everyone, consequently, wants to see the zoning laws strictly applied.

Politicians have launched occasional efforts over the years to crack down on illegal apartments and one Queens newspaper even asked readers to send in their landlords' names if they lived in illegal apartments. But everyone knows the apartments have not been eliminated - not even close.

A lot of people are looking the other way when they think an apartment is illegal - and not just complicit landlords and tenants. Demmo said when she called police to have her landlord put her electricity back on, they told her they wouldn't file a police report because doing so would reveal that the apartment was illegal - and lead a housing inspector to issue a vacate order.

The threat of a vacate order effectively discourages tenants from reporting problems in the apartments to housing authorities. If a tenant wants the heat on or a leak fixed, he has to weigh his desire against the likelihood that a housing inspector would order his apartment vacated because it was illegal.

The illegality of the apartment also prevents landlords from filing cases against tenants in illegal apartments in Housing Court. For years, Housing Court judges have simply dismissed any cases involving illegal apartments because the court lacks jurisdiction.

This meant that if a landlord wanted to get a tenant in an illegal apartment out, she had to file an "ejectment action" in Civil Court or Supreme Court, depending upon the value of the house.

A recent appeals court ruling has changed that. The court ruled that a landlord's failure to register a two-family house as a multiple dwelling, which is what it becomes when a third dwelling unit is added, does not mean Housing Court cannot hear the case - if the tenant waives this defect and accepts the jurisdiction of the court.

If the tenant does not waive the defect and makes a timely motion to dismiss the case, however, the judge can and should dismiss the case. Then, the landlord will have to file an ejectment action at Civil Court or Supreme Court, just like old times.

But having the case heard in Housing Court may serve some tenants' interests. Generally, Housing Court judges afford tenants more time to move than Civil Court or Supreme Court judges.

Robin Demmo was weighing exactly those types of options with Carl Peterson recently. The Certificate of Occupancy for her house was clear: the first floor walk-in apartment she occupied was illegal. According to the certificate, the building's first floor was meant to house the boiler and provide space for storage - not a tenant.

The landlord can still get her out, but Demmo needs time to find a new place. She said she would ask the Housing Court judge to adjourn the case in order to get legal advice. That has the benefit, too, of buying her some time.

Because the apartment is illegal, she could possibly buy more time when the court does hear the case by asking the judge to dismiss the case altogether. The landlord would have to file an ejectment action and that would give her more time again.

"I'm looking at an apartment today," she said of her efforts to avoid eviction or ejectment. "I don't want to go through the tears and the crying that I don't have a roof over my head."

Joe Lamport is the assistant director of the City-Wide Task Force on Housing Court, a coalition of community housing organizations.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The West Side Stadium: No Arena for Good Planning


The fixation with putting a football stadium on the west side of Manhattan is blocking good planning – for the Olympics and for the neighborhood.

After eight years of trying, Rudy Giuliani hung up his mayor’s cap without getting a stadium for the Yankees on the West Side of Manhattan. Michael Bloomberg came in to office and had the good sense to see that the numbers just didn’t add up. But then Bloomberg turned the Yankee dream into a Jets nightmare. And now, unless he has the good sense to can this latest stadium idea Bloomberg may well kill the city’s chances of getting the 2012 Olympics, undermine his own grand plans for office development on Manhattan’s west side, and end up a one-term mayor.

The Jets would like to transplant their turf from the Meadowlands to Manhattan mainly so they can have an arena with many more expensive box seats that they can market to corporate clients. This is no doubt a good business move for the Jets. But independent economists unanimously agree about two things. First, downtown stadiums don’t get built without huge public subsidies. Secondly, they don’t bring a lot of other business into cities. The Jets would foot only a fraction of the construction costs and the gains from their corporate subscribers won’t spill over into the neighborhood. After all, the Jets play only eight home games a year.

Since most New Yorkers who have looked at the stadium plans understood these painful truths, the city has now exorcised the term "stadium" from their vocabulary. They now call it a "multi-use facility" that would also serve the Jacob Javits Convention Center. The problem is it is not clear the Javits either needs or really wants a piece of a stadium whose goal posts have to be taken down, at considerable expense, after the last touchdown. A stadium is still a stadium.

The Plans for Olympics 2012

What is deceptive is that the brutish-looking west side stadium plan is wrapped up a much more attractive package -- the city’s plan for the 2012 Olympics bid. If you take the stadium out of the west side of Manhattan and put it across the river in Queens, the Olympics plan is a masterful and compelling piece of urban and environmental planning. It concentrates almost all its venues within a six mile radius and uses the city’s mass transit system to move spectators and athletes, thus avoiding the use of inefficient gas-guzzling vehicles. The plan would apply much-needed capital money to the building and restoration of parks on the Brooklyn and Queens waterfronts and leave an open space legacy that will last far beyond 2012. Perhaps its greatest merit is that, unlike so many other Olympics plans (Atlanta was one of the worst), it does not displace residents and businesses. While its authors may have emulated Robert Moses by cooking up their scheme without public input, the plan reflects a sensitivity to the critique of the Moses legacy of planning by bulldozer.

The Olympics plan would string all the Olympic facilities along two axes, one going north and south from the Bronx to Staten Island and the other going east and west from the Meadowlands to the Nassau Coliseum. The axes converge in Long Island City. By placing the geographic center of the New York City Olympics in Queens, the plan will give a boost to the majority of New Yorkers who constantly live under the pale of the media mythology that New York City begins and ends in Manhattan. Unfortunately, by putting the stadium, as well as the broadcasting and media centers, on the west side of Manhattan, the center of the Olympic "X" gets shifted from Queens to Manhattan.

A "secret" memo by staffer Christopher Glaisek at Olympics 2012 that was recently leaked to the press presents a compelling argument that the center of the Olympics "X" should be in Queens and not Manhattan. A temporary retrofit of Shea Stadium would be infinitely cheaper, and would require no major public approvals or gigantic infrastructure investments. Already three major Olympics venues are planned for Flushing Meadows/Corona Park, right next to Shea. The International Broadcasting Center and Media Village, now planned for Manhattan’s west side, could easily be located in close proximity to Shea.

Of course, the Olympics planners should still look at the potential impact of the Olympics on the surrounding Queens neighborhoods. For example, Shea Stadium and the U.S. Tennis Center right next to it now operate like little enclaves that bring crowds in and out with little interaction with the neighborhoods of Corona and Flushing. The Olympics could just as easily turn its back on these neighborhoods and leave them nothing of value after the last athletes go home.

If the city decides to keep the stadium in Manhattan, they could very well undermine whatever chances are left for winning the 2012 Olympic bid. They face the formidable opposition of most local civic groups and elected officials, and likelihood of a devastating lawsuit. On the other hand, if the city decided now to put the stadium in Queens (and George Bush gets defeated in the next election) other countries represented on the International Olympics Committee may well vote for New York City.

The West Midtown Plan: Robert Moses at His Worst

The proposed stadium is a central part of the city’s monumental plan for office expansion on the west side of Manhattan. It’s so central the city named its plan the Hudson Yards Plan– referring to the rail yards over which the stadium would be built. This is what happens when a bad idea based on the fanciful dreams of a greedy corporation is the foundation for a plan that would redevelop an entire neighborhood. This is truly Robert Moses at his worst, without the parks and low-income housing that Moses left behind, only a few shrubs and lots of office towers and luxury high-rises.

The city and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority are now doing an environmental impact study to look at two things: first, the potential effects of zoning changes they hope to introduce next year; and secondly, extension of the #7 subway line, proposed to begin construction no later than 2005, when the final decision on the site of the 2012 Olympics will be made.

Here’s what’s wrong with this mega-plan:

• It would create a huge north-south wall of office and residential buildings, and a northward expansion of the Javits Center, cutting off the rest of the neighborhood from the waterfront.

• It requires building the most expensive mile of subway in the world – possibly $3 billion. This will divert funds from the Second Avenue subway and prove a net loser if the projected office development lags.

• It undermines the protections of two special zoning districts, the Special Garment Center District and Clinton Special District, zoning havens for small-scale manufacturers and affordable housing.

• It is based on overly optimistic projections of the amount of future office space that would be attracted to midtown.

• There’s no financial plan that shows how all of this makes economic sense or that it won’t contribute to a future fiscal crisis.

• It has virtually no community support. Local civic groups, elected officials and the community board are all against it.

The Community Plan

There is a sensible alternative. The Hells Kitchen Neighborhood Association (HKNA) has an alternative plan that deals with most of these problems. It is the result of many consultations involving residents, property owners, and the community board. It also has a bit of grandeur and plenty of development opportunities. But it is tempered by a more reasoned expectation of future development.

The plan has in mind a real full-time community, not another downtown office district that turns into a cemetery after the three-piece suits get back on the buses. It’s curious that the Bloomberg plan is such a throwback to the dull old downtown development model while at the same time he’s had the good sense to acknowledge the declining prospects for an office-only downtown in lower Manhattan.

The neighborhood plan would put a mixture of uses on the platform to be built on the Hudson Rail Yards. It allows space for the expansion south of the Javits Center and would put commercial and residential uses on the site. Most importantly it makes a big dent in the monstrous wall that a northward Javits expansion would create. Community residents all over the city want improved public access to the waterfront. A giant stadium will give that access only to the box-holders.

For background and major articles on the stadium and west side, see the Web site, HellsKitchen.net. Tom Angotti is Professor of Urban Affairs and Planning at Hunter College, City University of NY, editor of Planners Network Magazine, and a member of the Task Force on Community-based Planning.

Letitia James, who succeeds the assassinated James Davis in the City Council


Letitia James, who succeeds James Davis on the City Council representing district 35, which covers Clinton Hill, Prospect Heights, and Fort Greene, has a long history of supporting community development. Even before she officially took office, she was able to score two victories for affordable housing, including a promise by Housing Preservation and Development Commissioner Jerilyn Perine to support the transformation of "The Brig," a former prison on Flushing Avenue, into an apartment building.

But James also faces a significant challenge: how do deal with " development, development, development," as Jennifer Gerend, executive director of the Myrtle Avenue Revitalization Project, puts it. A series of major developments are taking place throughout the district. "Tish's challenge will be to balance development interests and the many differing community viewpoints on proposed development, rezoning, and preservation," says Gerend. "Many residents are excited about some amenities to be added from the major developments, but still want to preserve the local, neighborhood feel of the Fort Greene/Clinton Hill community. We basically want to have it all."

James says that she is not against development, but that it must meet the needs of her constituents. Any major housing development, she says, must provide "a fair share of housing for people at the community median income, or at least the [New York] City median," rather than the median for the metropolitan area (including Nassau & Westchester Counties), which is far higher. In addition, "we've got double-digit unemployment" in the public housing developments in the district, so developers must provide skills-training as well as jobs.

To achieve these goals, James hopes to use "project labor agreements," like one that she helped to negotiate for the Tappan Zee Bridge, that require unionized construction with apprenticeship programs for local residents. Another idea that James discussed during the campaign is negotiating with developers to sign "community benefits agreements," legal documents that stipulate how the development will benefit the community, in areas including jobs, community services, environmental improvement, and affordable housing Community benefits agreements have been used increasingly by community organizations and unions, especially in California.

But Steve Aronson of the Pratt Area Community Council wonders whether, even with these types of agreements, there really is "room for everyone." Will developers - especially Brooklyn mega-developer Bruce Ratner, who is involved in most of the major development projects - really be forced to make significant concessions, or will they basically get what they want, in exchange for a few goodies they would have provided anyway? And how will these agreements, which are notoriously hard to monitor, be maintained and enforced.

These questions will be answered in a multitude of development projects moving forward in Fort Greene and Clinton Hill:

Downtown Brooklyn Rezoning: Within the next few weeks, the Department of City Planning will certify its proposal to rezone downtown Brooklyn, in order to encourage the development of additional high-rise office, residential, and educational towers. Deputy Mayor Daniel Doctoroff argues that New York City needs space for many more office jobs to remain competitive in the decades to come. While many community members would welcome more jobs and housing in downtown Brooklyn, some fear the additional traffic. Others wonder what steps will be taken to ensure that good jobs are truly accessible to local residents, that the housing is affordable to local families, and that new schools are created that will not only meet the needs of the new families but provide better options for local kids.

BAM Cultural District: As reported in this column in April, negotiations are underway between the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) Local Development Corporation and the Coalition of Concerned Citizens, over the corporation's $700 million plan to create a cultural district, several pieces of which are already underway James hopes that the negotiations will lead to an agreement, so that the cultural district can move forward in a way that is satisfactory to the Coalition of Concerned Citizens, which fears that new housing, commercial, and cultural development will price out local residents and change the character of the community.

High-rise infill development: The Fort Greene Association and the Clinton Hill Society and others are gearing up to push for expansions of the existing historic districts, and perhaps also for "contextual zoning" that would provide height limits, in order to block high-rise infill development projects taking place "as of right." Residents recently lost a battle to prevent the development of a 15-story residential building, adjacent to four-story brownstones, on Greene Avenue and Carlton Place.

Atlantic Center: Construction is nearly complete on the last major commercial component of the Atlantic Center Mall - which developers, residents, and the city have been fighting over for more than 50 years. Over the next year, on the site where several generations of Brooklynites once hoped the new Dodger Stadium would rise, there will be several new tenants - Target, Bank of New York and Red Lobster. For this development, developer Ratner received $114 million in "Liberty Bonds" provided by the federal government to New York City - the first project (inside or outside of Manhattan) to use these tax-exempt bonds.

Ratner's Arena: The biggest fight about development is the arena proposed by Bruce Ratner for the New Jersey Nets and the New Jersey Devils, which would be built over the Long Island Rail Road yards across from the Atlantic Center mall. Ratner's $500 million proposal, which would be designed by renowned architect Frank Gehry, also includes commercial stores and 5,500 units of housing. The development has the support of Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, who has long been angling for a professional basketball team in Brooklyn.

But James, along with Assemblyman Roger Green and State Senator Velmanette Montgomery, opposes the project, on the grounds that it would create too much traffic and congestion. Opponents also include the Prospect Heights Action Coalition, which was created last year when residents came together in an attempt to block the siting of a homeless shelter in their community. James says that any stadium in Brooklyn should be built in the Navy Yard, perhaps as part of the city's plans for the Olympics.

Other community development advocates believe that the proposed site - at the crossroads of almost every subway train (the third-busiest hub in the city) and the Long Island Rail Road - could be a good location for the arena, but only if a "community benefits agreement" provided for good, unionized jobs for Brooklyn residents, and for more than 1,000 units of affordable housing.

Ratner recently submitted the highest bid to purchase the Nets, $275 million, $25 million more than the bid that included U.S. Senator Jon Corzine. But the bidding for the team - like the bidding for the future of the neighborhood - has only just begun.

Brad Lander is the director of the Pratt Institute Center for Community and Environmental Development .

Nightclub Act II


When he was New York City's special narcotics prosecutor, Robert Silbering helped bring down high-profile nightclub impresario Peter Gatien, sending him to jail and shuttering his Manhattan club, Limelight - just the most notorious of dozens of clubs, bars and lounges that were fined, padlocked, shut down, or simply went out of business because of the crackdown, mostly because of illegal drugs.

Now, Limelight is back, and so is Silbering, though Limelight is not Limelight anymore -- and neither, in a sense, is Silbering.

In September, the building in Chelsea (once a church) that housed Limelight, reopened as another nightclub, Avalon -- the first of three enormous new clubs slated to open this fall on sites of previous disrepute. And Silbering was there -- as an employee. He offers advice to the new owners as a paid consultant.

"In the past," Silbering said, "owners waited and reacted to bad publicity and police pressure." Now, he says, they are being advised to demonstrate, through aggressive self-policing and stringent door policies, "that they are serious about keeping drugs out of their clubs."

"Times have changed," said John Blair, a co-owner of Avalon.

NEW YORK IS ITS NIGHTLIFE

Nightlife has been a celebrated draw of New York City for at least a century; to many people, it is what makes New York New York. More than 24 million people visit New York City's nightclubs every year, which exceeds the attendance of Broadway theaters, city sports teams, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Empire State Building all combined, according to a report sponsored by the New York Nightlife Association. Nightclubs are said to contribute $2.9 billion to the city's economy and provide more than 27,000 jobs.

But for almost as long , crowded nightclubs have been the source of persistent aggravation for police, producing a litany of complaints, from displays of drunken disorderly conduct to public urination, to more serious assaults, brawls, stabbings, and shootings. In the 1990s, law enforcement officials expressed alarm about the widespread use and distribution in the clubs of "designer drugs" such as eXstasy, Special-K (the animal tranquilizer Ketamine), and crystal methamphetamine. (See accompanying article on crystal).

At the same time, residents became increasingly hostile towards clubs in their neighborhoods because of the noise, and the litter, the thousands of drunk young people spilling onto darkened city streets in the middle of the night - and the seeming indifference of the club owners to resident complaints.

"They felt they could do as they damn well pleased and it was nobody's business," recalled Cheryl Kupper, a member of community board 4, which covers Chelsea, home to more large clubs than any other area and holding more than 75 percent of the total cabaret licenses issued in the entire city.

It should be no surprise then, that, in 1997 Mayor Rudolph Giuliani created what he called the Nightclub Enforcement Task Force, to launch a quality of life campaign against the clubs.

The mayor revived enforcement of the cabaret laws, which requires a hard-to-get cabaret license for any establishment that allows dancing. As Julia Vitullo Martin explained on Gotham Gazette: "Passed in 1926 to regulate (some historians say to suppress) jazz in Harlem, the cabaret laws targeted the 'social mixing' that seemed to accompany jazz, says NYU Professor of Law Paul Chevigny, author of Gigs: Jazz and the Cabaret Laws in New York City."

For a time in the late 1990s, a campaign was launched called Operation CycleCheck, designed to discourage motorcyclists from patronizing bars in Chelsea, Greenwich Village and SoHo, as a direct result of noise complaints.

Armed with an arsenal of legal weapons, armies of inspectors, investigators and lawyers padlocked one club after another.

Under investigation for drug activity for some time, Twilo, on West 27th Street, was eventually forced to turn over its cabaret license. Without a cabaret license a large nightclub is essentially out of business.

A spate of high-profile incidents had hastened that club's demise, including a patron's overdose that sparked an unsuccessful lawsuit brought by the city in 1998 and a separate incident where a club-goer collapsed on the dance floor and died.

Twilo was not alone. Tunnel, Coney Island High, Baby Jupiter, Hogs & Heifers, the Palladium, Rivertown Lounge, all went under.

Some blamed the owners themselves, for refusing to address the problems emanating from their clubs, and failing to cooperate with the authorities. Others said the police overreacted.

COME-BACK

It was just a matter of time before the clubs made a comeback. After all, with $20 cover charges and exorbitantly priced drinks, club owners can rake in millions of dollars every year.

"There are more clubs, more different kinds of clubs, and they are crowded night after night, no matter what the policies are," said James Goll, a publicist who has been busy lately with the opening of new clubs this year, such as rap impressario Jay Z's 40/40.

Avalon, though massive at 1,650 square-feet, will be dwarfed by at least two other openings this month.

Crobar, slated to open on West 28th Street -- its co-owner used to own such hot clubs as Danceteria, Palladium and Area -- will have room for a staggering 2,500 people and include three separate dance spaces and three smaller rooms, including a main room with 60-foot high ceilings. Rumors are circulating that both a documentary and "The Restaurant"-style reality TV show are in the works.

Equally mammoth is Spirit, also scheduled to open this month in the same West 27th St. location formerly occupied by Twilo.

The most noticeable difference this time around will be the absence of smoky rooms, thanks to the local ban on smoking. But severe new federal legislation directly aimed at curbing drug use in nightclub is also giving the new club owners plenty of incentive to prevent any drug trafficking in their clubs.

On April 10 of this year, Congress passed the "Illicit Drug Anti-Proliferation Act (a.k.a. the "Rave Act")" as a rider attached to the child abduction bill known as the Amber Alert bill sponsored by Senator Joseph Biden (D-DE).

The "Rave" Act, which has no apparent relevance to child abductions, now allows the federal government to prosecute owners and promoters for their customers' drug offenses, even if it involves a single transaction, rather than a pattern.

Penalties include six-figure fines and jail sentences of up to twenty years for owners and promoters.

Locally, a bill was introduced in the City Council last week that would allow off-duty police officers to work these kinds of establishments in uniform.

According to Intro 478-A, introduced in the Public Safety Committee by City Councilmember David Yassky, the police department would expand the paid detail unit to cover establishments that sell alcohol. There are currently only 200 officers assigned to that unit who are permitted to wear their uniforms off-duty to patrol major private events.

Representatives for the police department, however, immediately criticized the bill, blasting it for the liability risk it would pose the city.

In the meantime, the owners both of Avalon and Spirit hired their predecessors' nemesis, Robert Silbering, to signal their seriousness . Silbering regularly sends private undercover investigators into Avalon to keep an eye on both clubgoers and staff alike.

"We meet with the Drug Enforcement Agency," said John Blair of Avalon, "we hold classes for our employees on what to look for, and we speak regularly with the local community board."

Kupper from community board 4 concedes they are making an effort. "They are very persuasive and do seem sincere and try to address complaints, or at least listen to them," she said. But, she added, "the same problems still exist, to varying degrees and depending on the club."

HERE TO STAY?

So, will the memory of the old crackdown, the new policies, and the new club attitudes, drive drugs out of the scene?

Hardly.

If anything, drug dealers have gone high-tech. Where they were once limited to street corners and bathrooms, and needed thriving drug-marts like the Limelight's bathroom to peddle eXstasy at upwards of $30 a pill, they have since graduated to beepers and, more recently, cell phones.

Sure, they would like to be inside the clubs, but they no longer have to be. They no longer need their customers to come to them; they can come to their customers. Undeniably, drug use will remain an integral part of club culture.

Club owners can probably keep the drug dealers out. But can they keep their drug-using patrons out?

*****

Related Articles:

• The 'Tina' Habit - A look at crystal methamphetamine, or tina, a drug popular with club goers.

• Books About NYC Nightlife

• Disco Despair - An Issue of the Week from May, 2001 outlining in more detail the problems and complaints -- and what residents can do about it.

 

"Section 8" And The Single Landlord


Many people might assume Gerardo Diuccio is the stereotypical mean landlord: On a recent afternoon he was at the Brooklyn Housing Court, trying to evict a tenant who has always paid her rent and has never caused him any grief. She has not damaged his apartment or run up the water bill. Diuccio has not had heated arguments with her about noise, where she puts her garbage or anything else.

He is evicting her anyhow. He doesn't want her out - he wants Section 8 out. Diuccio is tired of having to deal with the administrative rules and procedures of Section 8, the federal housing subsidy that helps thousands of low-income New Yorkers pay their monthly rent.

"I can't take it anymore," he said. "I don't even want to hear the name Section 8 anymore." Diuccio is not alone. Until about five years ago, owners of unregulated apartments could not "opt out" of Section 8. But a change in federal law now means that they can, and they are. More and more landlords seem to see the subsidy program as so bureaucratic and slow they are withdrawing their apartments from it.

And that is effectively denying New Yorkers affordable housing.

As of March 31, 85,229 apartments in New York City were rented under the Section 8 program, according to the New York City Housing Authority's web site. People on Section 8 receive the help in one of two forms: they either live in a Section 8 project or they have a Section 8 voucher allowing them to rent from a landlord who has signed up for the program.

The number of people who qualify for Section 8 far outnumbers the number of vouchers available; more than 150,000 New Yorkers are on a voucher waiting list, which was closed in 1994. With demand high, only people in homeless shelters, suffering domestic abuse or considered to be intimidated witnesses can get new vouchers. Section 8 recipients contribute 30 percent of their household income to pay their rent; the subsidy covers the rest.

Diuccio is one of almost 30,000 private landlords in New York City who participate in Section 8. His troubles started in 2002, when Section 8 accepted his request to increase the rent by $43 per month. Yet, he said, he's never seen one penny of it.

"They never give me that raise," he said. "Every time it's something. 'I can't find the paper.' They keep saying, 'Don't worry you're going to get your money.'� I don't want to deal with it anymore."

It is difficult to tell how many landlords are reacting like Diuccio. But Randi Massey, senior staff attorney at Legal Services of New York-Bronx, said she has heard so many such complaints that she has considered filing a federal lawsuit to compel improvements in Section 8's administration.

Among other administrative headaches for landlords is a lack of cooperation from Section 8 administrators that is mystifying, Massey said.

"If (a landlord) calls the tenant's worker to see what the problem is, they very often say, 'Sir, I can't give you that information, you have to subpoena it,'" Massey said. "There's no legal reason for that secrecy. That's ridiculous."

By paying landlords who have several tenants receiving Section 8 one lump-sum check, the Section 8 administrators create more problems, too. Given just one check, a landlord is hard-pressed to know which tenant has been cut off the subsidy or which apartment has been recertified after passing an inspection.

For Diuccio, more of Section 8's rules will make leaving the program difficult because he wants to help his tenant get a transfer from Section 8, which will allow her to move to a new Section 8 apartment. And in order to do that, she has to be evicted. After three visits to Brooklyn's Housing Court, Diuccio said that evicting his good tenant would cost him about $350.

"I'm sorry I got involved with Section 8," he said. "I did it because I want to help people. I'm a good person. It's going to cost me money now to get out."

Joe Lamport is the assistant director of the City-Wide Task Force on Housing Court, a coalition of community housing organizations.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



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