Gotham Gazette https://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/277 Wed, 21 Aug 2019 05:14:32 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) As New NYCHA Chair Takes Over, the Future of Public Housing Hangs in the Balance https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8739-new-nycha-chair-russ-future-of-public-housing-nycha https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8739-new-nycha-chair-russ-future-of-public-housing-nycha new nycha chair

Chair Gregory Russ visiting a NYCHA complex (photo: @NYCHA)


“These first few months of our work have revealed NYCHA as an organization fraught with serious problems in structure, culture, and direction, and perhaps even worse,” wrote Bart Schwartz, the new federal monitor of the city’s public housing authority, in his first progress report, released July 22.

Three weeks later, this past Monday, Gregory Russ arrived in Manhattan for his first day of work as NYCHA’s new Chair and CEO, with an enormous task in front of him.

NYCHA’s short- and long-term futures have been complicated for some time. It’s the largest public housing authority in the country, with more than 400,000 residents, struggles to break even with annual operating expenses, is tens of billions of dollars behind in infrastructure spending for a state of good repair, and plagued by lead paint, mold, broken heating systems and elevators, and other calamities.

Until Russ, NYCHA hadn’t had a permanent leader in 16 months, during which time Schwartz was named federal monitor through a January 31 agreement among Mayor Bill de Blasio, federal housing Secretary Ben Carson, federal prosecutors, and a judge.

While de Blasio has taken more ownership of and put more resources into NYCHA than his recent predecessors, crises at the sprawling, 316-development, 176,000-unit public housing authority have spiraled. Federal and state help has been limited, and, in combination with what the city is doing, is nowhere near meeting the need.

Recognition has set in more recently that drastic measures are needed, though it is unclear where all of the more than $30 billion estimated need to get NYCHA apartments and complexes into a state of good repair will come from.

Russ takes over as the latest in several major changes and announcements toward a better future for NYCHA and its residents, but also amid a great deal of uncertainty and a constant drumbeat of headlines about waste, mismanagement, inefficiency, and need. His hiring comes after a lead paint scandal broke and multiple announcements by the de Blasio administration and NYCHA about plans to deal with it; the release of the “NYCHA 2.0” plan by de Blasio that calls for fairly aggressive steps like “infill” private housing development to raise needed capital revenue for the crumbling housing authority; the near-receivership deal with the Department of Housing and Urban Developmentin New York; and Schwartz’s appointment.

Russ, formerly head of the public housing authorities in several cities, including most recently Minneapolis, is now undertaking what is likely his biggest professional challenge.

“It’s probably one of the most difficult jobs in public administration in New York City and maybe even the country,” said Nicholas Dagen Bloom, professor of Urban Policy and Planning at Hunter College and a NYCHA scholar.

The goals, mandates, and timelines already in place as Russ begins his work form a somewhat confusing mix, all layered on top of the desperate need, with many thousands of tenants living in squalor and far too many units on the verge of being uninhabitable.

The combination of reforms the city has made with NYCHA over the last several years; NYCHA 2.0; other promises by the mayor and his appointees; federal requirements; and Schwartz’s recently-begun work form the basis of what Russ has to work with.

In an online message posted on NYCHA’s website, Russ promised “real and substantial changes” in order to turn the page at the housing authority.

“My mission is simple: fix residents’ homes today and make NYCHA stronger for the coming generations,” Russ wrote. “One of my top priorities is to meet with NYCHA residents and staff across the city to hear about how we can best work together to make progress,” he wrote.

As Russ starts his tenure, he and Schwartz appear to be conducting similar fact-finding and get-to-know-you endeavors, with questions looming about how well they will work together, along with HUD officials and others, to bring relief to NYCHA tenants and repair the nation’s largest public housing stock for adequate and comfortable future use by hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers.

The HUD Agreement
Federal Monitor Bart Schwartz, a former federal prosecutor and currently chair of investigations firm Guidepost Solutions, was named monitor on March 1. He will be overseeing NYCHA’s progress towards deadlines laid out in an agreement with HUD, federal prosecutors for the Southern District of New York, NYCHA, and the de Blasio administration announced January 31.

Schwartz, whose still-unknown budget (reportedly he submitted an initial $20 million bill) will be paid by the city, is required to release essentially a public progress report on NYCHA’s compliance with the agreement each quarter, the first of which was released July 22. That report, which laid out the extent to which NYCHA is following the agreement particularly with regard to lead, mold, and elevator inspections, is highly critical of NYCHA, pointing to limits of its progress, describing “cascading putrid liquid” in one development, insufficient plans, and “daunting” deadlines.

“He is there to hold us to account,” then-NYCHA Interim Chair Kathryn Garcia said in a May 7 City Council hearing. The implementation of a federal monitor was widely welcomed by critics of NYCHA. Russ will have to establish a positive working relationship with the the monitor, a position which will be filled for at least five years and currently held by Schwartz.

Garcia and Schwartz butted heads over the progress of arguably the biggest focus of NYCHA, SDNY, and HUD’s agreement: the testing for and abatement of lead in NYCHA’s public housing stock.

In a pointed memo, Schwartz criticized Garcia’s testimony to the City Council’s Committee on Public Housing in the May 7 hearing, saying it “omitted material details about lead paint issues that are required to be addressed now and in the future by the NYCHA, and thereby may have resulted in a misleading impression being given to City Council members and the public about how these issues are being addressed.”

Per the agreement, NYCHA is required to test for lead paint in all NYCHA units built before 1978 (the year lead paint was made illegal) and all units NYCHA believes are occupied or routinely visited by children under six years old, who are the most vulnerable to lead paint poisoning and its effects on development. NYCHA plans to test 135,000 units with x-ray technology called XRF testing by the end of 2020.

During a press conference announcing the testing on the day it began, April 15, de Blasio said, “for the first time ever, we’re going into 135,000 NYCHA apartments to eradicate lead exposure. This aggressive new testing plan will help make New York the healthiest and fairest big city in America.”

It appears the authority is already behind.

The $88 million initiative is supposed to inspect 5,000 to 7,000 units a month. In total in the first three months of the initiative -- per data released August 8th -- only 9,475 units were tested, which is 7% of the total goal. At that rate, at the end of 2020 NYCHA will have tested roughly 47,000 apartments, 35% of the goal.

Of the 4,645 test results received from those inspections, 3,494 came back positive.

According to Schwartz’s report, “we note that our interviews have indicated that NYCHA lacks a comprehensive strategic policy to address the many issues surrounding lead-based paint.”

Longer-term, NYCHA is required to abate all lead-based paint in 50% of apartment units that contain it and remove all lead paint in 20 years.

NYCHA is required per the agreement to release action plans for how to deal with lead, mold, heat and hot water, elevators, and pests and waste. The action plan for lead didn’t cut it, according to Schwartz: “NYCHA’s Certification and Corrective Action Plan is a frank admission of an unacceptable level of deficiencies, from the quality of the interim controls to the number of units that have not been cleared.”

Garcia, in a return memo to Monitor Schwartz, acknowledged the ambition of the deadlines and said full compliance should not be expected immediately.

The agreement also lays out ambitious deadlines for addressing heating improvements, mold removal, elevator outages, and rat and roach reduction.

Compliance with elevator deadlines -- by January 2022, 70% of buildings with more than one elevator can have at most one instance per year where both elevators are out of service -- doesn’t seem likely. “Even with a sufficient increase in funding,” according to Schwartz, “NYCHA cannot simply engage in a capital program of installing a large number of elevators in a short amount of time because there is currently no plan in place to address the global challenges of the elevator portfolio.”

By January 2021, 95% of the times residents submit a verified mold complaint, NYCHA must remove all visible mold in the unit within five business days.

By October 2024, no more than 15% of occupied units can have internal temperatures that fall below the legal limit-- during the day between October 1st and May 31st if outside temperature drops below 55 degrees, internal temperature must be at least 68 degrees Fahrenheit and at least 62 degrees Fahrenheit throughout the night. NYCHA per the agreement will replace or address 500 boilers by 2026.

The rat and roach deadlines, like lead testing, have already proven controversial. The New York Daily News spoke with experts who said the pest control requirements -- NYCHA has three years to reduce the rat population by 50%, mouse population by 40%, and roach population by 40% -- are “nearly impossible to meet without an unlimited budget given the size of NYCHA…and the scope of New York City’s entrenched pest problems.”

During a March 11 oversight hearing, Garcia acknowledged pests are one area where the authority might need more time to develop a plan to meet the deadlines.

Possibly sensing the difficulties of the ambitious deadline, NYCHA announced in July a doubling the number of developments under de Blasio’s 2017 “Neighborhood Rat Reduction” initiative to decrease the rat population in the city. However, Schwartz doesn’t see this as the best tact, calling it “too narrowly implemented.”

“Certain NYCHA developments visited by the Monitor Team that are not located within one of the Mayor’s rat reduction zones have horrific pest infestation conditions (including rats). It is inadequate for NYCHA to largely bootstrap its rat reduction efforts to the Mayor’s rat reduction program. NYCHA’s rat reduction efforts must be more expansive across its entire portfolio in order to eradicate this problem.”

At this point in the Agreement, NYCHA is required to inspect the grounds and common areas every day for each of its buildings for trash and pests.

“Culture of Disengagement and Dysfunction”
Scrutiny of Russ has already begun, especially after the city missed two deadlines before naming him leader of the entity tasked with providing good housing and other services to an estimated 500,000 people in NYCHA public housing. Russ will reportedly earn a salary of just over $400,000, making him the highest paid city official in New York, and plans to regularly return to Minneapolis, where his family is remaining full-time, at least initially.

Along with the salary and travel, the choice of Russ was questioned given that in Minneapolis he managed a little more than 6,000 public housing units, compared to NYCHA’s roughly 175,000 units. However, the list of people with experience managing even close to the size of NYCHA’s portfolio is quite small.

As he attempts to save public housing in New York City, in part by meeting federal deadlines, Russ will have to significantly change NYCHA’s leadership and overall management culture, which have been heavily criticized for some time, especially over the last few years.

In a recent op-ed in Gotham Gazette, former commissioner of the city Department of Investigation Mark Peters and former first deputy commissioner of DOI Lesley Brovner wrote that the investigations into NYCHA that they oversaw revealed a “systemic culture of failing to take responsibility.”

Schwartz, in his initial report, wrote in regard to regional asset managers that NYCHA employs a strategy of “[moving] people around so that no one knows the history of the development in which they land and no one takes responsibility as they are new to the site.”

NYCHA’s leadership structure might be changing: Schwartz was required by the agreement to hire an outside consulting firm (he hired KPMG) to construct an organizational plan to “examine NYCHA’s systems, policies, procedures, and management and personnel structures, and make recommendations to the City, NYCHA, and the Monitor to improve the areas examined.”

The agreement required NYCHA to establish a Compliance Department, an Environmental Health and Safety Department, and a Quality Assurance Unit by mid-February. All three departments were created on time, but there were issues, according to Schwartz. The monitor is “concerned…about the effectiveness of these departments,” and even rejected two proposed heads, as they lacked “requisite qualifications and experience.”

In his online opening message, Russ said, “I’d like to remind staff that they should cooperate with the monitor’s team as we work together to achieve our shared goals. Because the wellbeing of our residents and employees is our primary focus, I’d also like to make clear that improper practices or conduct will not be tolerated at the Authority.”

NYCHA 2.0
Few if any of the requirements in the HUD deal or any of the many essential renovations at NYCHA complexes and apartments will be completed without significant financial investment. As of 2017, NYCHA projected that $32 billion is needed to properly fund the capital needs of its housing stock. Incoming Chair Russ has said it’s probably up to $45 billion now, but in his initial open letter to NYCHA employees, Russ wrote $32 billion.

“Without dramatic action, up to 90 percent of NYCHA’s 176,000 units of public housing could deteriorate to the point at which they are no longer cost-effective to repair by 2027,” according to Sean Campion, a researcher at the nonprofit Citizens Budget Commission (CBC), in testimony to the City Council’s Committee on Public Housing on November 15 of last year.

According to a CBC report, the average cost to repair a single NYCHA apartment is $181,000. If NYCHA apartments were to deteriorate at the same rate they have been, by 2027 90% of the authority’s housing stock could be designated as “very high cost” to repair, around $250,000- $300,000 each; and 8,000 units could need repairs exceeding the cost to replace the unit outright with brand new construction.

Running simultaneously with the changes spelled out by HUD, NYCHA will continue the roll out and implementation of NYCHA 2.0, first released by de Blasio and NYCHA officials in December, and its aggressive plan to resolve $24 billion in capital needs over 10 years.

NYCHA 2.0 accelerates the goals and initiatives of de Blasio’s previous plan, Next Generation NYCHA, raising questions about why the mayor and NYCHA leaders did not pursue a more assertive plan from the get-go when de Blasio took over City Hall and NYCHA in 2014. Next Generation NYCHA was released in May 2015.

The new plan has three tranches: One, converting public housing (Section 9 housing) into public-private partnerships (Section 8 housing) using the federal Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) process, which allows for private management of NYCHA complexes and an influx of revenue to the authority for leasing such rights; Two, a significant “infill” program to allow leasing of NYCHA space for private housing development, some of which will be market-rate and some “affordable” rentals; And three, selling NYCHA air rights.

Using the PACT program -- the city name for RAD conversions -- NYCHA will essentially lease buildings and developments to private companies who will manage public housing, investing in the housing projects, collecting rent, and running the facilities. NYCHA plans to use this process for 62,000 units which would address around $12.8 billion in capital needs over 10 years, according to the plan. The agreement with HUD states HUD’s support for continuing the RAD program but not necessarily expanding it (HUD must approve all RAD conversions).

When asked about the biggest unknown for NYCHA, Professor Bloom said it is continuing these conversions at an increasing scale. A major upside of the RAD conversions is it transfers the responsibility and cost of the upkeep of the units to private companies (which are often free of the cumbersome labor union work rules that NYCHA leadership and others have found frustrating). The money NYCHA receives from the conversions goes directly towards repairs and renovations in the converted developments.

Chair Russ is a big proponent of RAD. In Minneapolis, he put every single public housing unit through RAD conversions and would surely welcome an even more ambitious goal than 62,000 RAD units in the city.

There have been nine PACT/RAD conversions, two of them recently announced in Brooklyn and Manhattan. Plus, the largest single-site RAD conversion, totalling $560 million in renovations (partly paid by FEMA funds for Superstorm Sandy recovery), at Ocean Side Apartments in Rockaway, Queens was unveiled in June.

According to Bloom, PACT conversions can be lucrative for private companies as well as NYCHA: “There’s some real upside to taking on a NYCHA project that most people don’t realize,” Bloom said. “Many have significant capital investment over the years, more than people realize, they’re solid buildings…they’re fully-tenanted, they come with Section 8 investment, which is a federal guarantee, they’re not required to pay normal city property taxes, they can borrow or develop vehicles to renovate the projects, and they’re also in pretty good locations.”

The second piece of NYCHA 2.0 is even more controversial than PACT/RAD conversions, which are themselves criticized by some as “privatization” of public housing.

Using infill development, what is considered “underutilized” land, often parking lots, in the often sprawling public housing projects, is leased to private developers to build housing. The housing that will come to given NYCHA complexes will vary in terms of the balance of market-rate and “affordable” units (typically the more market-rate the more revenue for NYCHA), with proceeds of the lease agreements going to NYCHA and investments in the developments home to the new infill housing.

In NYCHA 2.0, the city estimates $2 billion in revenue for NYCHA from infill development in around five initial developments. But, it is unclear if the city can meet the pace it expects given how controversial infill can be -- private developers were recently forced to restart the community engagement process of planned infill development at Holmes Towers on the Upper East Side. The proposal would have built a 50-story building on the site of a playground, with half the units market-rate rentals, more than some residents and local officials like Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and City Council Member Ben Kallos would have preferred.

“To get the type of money to basically build a new development that includes an affordable component and has the market-rate to fully renovate the nearby development,” says Bloom, “it has to be more market-rate. The residents and advocates don’t want that. That’s the challenge.”

When asked about infill development on the Max & Murphy show on WBAI radio, outgoing Chair Garcia said in late May, “we want to maximize the money that we can get in order to do what is a pretty massive capital need. That being said, I can completely understand why residents might be anxious.”

“We really don’t have a lot of other options in terms of the incredible need,” she continued, “and I think this is a way to take funding or value from campuses and do two things: make sure residents do well, and increase the supply of housing and affordable housing in the city which of course is always in dire need.”

If residents decide to back an infill development in their own backyard, 100% of the revenue from the project goes directly to that development. However, the more money for repairs means more market-rate apartments, which can be unpopular with residents who fear broader gentrification of their neighborhoods.

According to an October 2018 CBC report, “developers would pay 50 percent less for a project with a 20 percent affordability set aside and 86 percent less for a project with a 50 percent affordable set aside.”

“Stricter requirements to produce greater amounts of affordable housing make the land less valuable to developers, and hence, generate less revenue for NYCHA,” the report states.

Infill development can lead to innovative architecture, as development plans must navigate what can be tricky underutilized lots of land. The Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) and the American Institute of Architects New York launched an international competition to find architects to embrace the unique challenge of infill development. HPD may designate some or all of the five finalists, announced in May, to further develop their proposals into affordable housing projects.

The final part of the city’s 2.0 plan to fund NYCHA capital needs is selling air rights. NYCHA estimates it has 80 million square feet of unused air rights, some of which it will utilize to generate $1 billion in capital repair needs. During a December press conference announcing NYCHA 2.0, then-Deputy Mayor of Housing and Economic Development Alicia Glen said the city is “conducting a more thorough analysis as to where there are available air rights and sites that can receive them.”

Campion, of Citizens Budget Commission, also recommends that the city should integrate NYCHA into its affordable housing plans, which could shift more money to NYCHA units by making it a more central part of the city’s larger affordable housing landscape and planning.

In a recent statement to Gotham Gazette, a spokesperson for NYCHA said, “NYCHA will continue to utilize all NYCHA 2.0 tools in order to secure the funding it needs to improve the quality of residents’ homes and preserve public housing for generations.”

There are several reasons why it’s so important to address NYCHA’s many needs and improve the standard of living across NYCHA developments, while recognizing the important roles NYCHA and its residents play in larger city society, according to the Regional Plan Association. NYCHA residents are vital to the New York City workforce: there are 30,000 NYCHA residents who work in the healthcare industry alone, RPA recently noted. Also, NYCHA provides almost half of all New York City senior centers, over 100 childcare facilities, and many parks and open recreational areas.

Other Funding
While NYCHA 2.0 sets ambitious targets for revenue toward the more than $30 billion in need, more is clearly needed, and major questions remain with regard to executing that plan, as well as other operational goals, management changes, and compliance with federal mandates. NYCHA needs to embark on major elements of 2.0 like infill development while also making basic repairs to individual apartments, replacing boilers and roofs, and much more.

Other outstanding questions include the levels of state and federal funding that NYCHA will receive. The federal government funds two-thirds of NYCHA’s annual operating budget according to Garcia, but that funding is tenuous. Meanwhile, chronic underfunding by the federal government has led to the seemingly insurmountable capital need, according to Professor Bloom.

Controversially, HUD promised no new funds in the agreement, which de Blasio defended by indicating that he had saved the city from entering receivership and pointing to the hostile general outlook from the Trump administration toward public housing. Outgoing interim NYCHA Chair Stanley Brezenoff criticized the deal -- and refused to sign it -- because it included no new federal financial support for NYCHA.

“You can’t starve the system then complain about signs of malnutrition,” said City Council Member Mark Treyger of Brooklyn in the March 11 oversight hearing, in regard to HUD’s funding to NYCHA.

Amid a reelection campaign, Governor Andrew Cuomo last year made a strong show of support for NYCHA, after mostly ignoring it previously. He saw to $250 million additional funds allocated toward NYCHA in 2018, beyond an already committed $300 million to the housing authority. He’s been highly critical of the ongoing lead paint saga, calling NYCHA “fundamentally dysfunctional.”

“This is supposed to be the progressive capital of the nation, New York City. Everybody likes to talk about how progressive they are, how liberal they are, well we’re saying walk the walk don’t talk the talk,” said Cuomo, a former HUD secretary, in a July 2018 press conference. “If you actually care then you step up and you do the right thing by NYCHA after so many years of neglect.”

Cuomo has withheld $450 million of committed state investment, saying he does not trust the money would be spent properly, though it is set to be spent through the state Dormitory Authority working with NYCHA.

“Delivering money to NYCHA is like throwing it out the window,” Cuomo said in April 2018, when he threatened to appoint a state monitor for NYCHA, later opting not to based on federal involvement.

THE CITY reported in April that Cuomo was on the verge of releasing the money for elevator and boiler repairs, but he still does not appear to have done so. The de Blasio administration has agreed to put $2.2 billion in capital expenses towards NYCHA.

Federal, state, and city officials and activists have criticized de Blasio for the multitude of problems that have occurred under his administration, despite the attention and funding he’s provided NYCHA. Some say he waited too long to begin utilizing RAD conversions, and others have questioned his oversight duties in regards to the lead paint scandal, among other problems like heat and hot water outages.

Both de Blasio and Cuomo agree that more federal money is needed, yet the recent HUD agreement provides no new federal financial commitment.

“We need to make sure we are advocating for additional state funds and additional federal funds,” Garcia said in the Council hearing, a sentiment de Blasio has echoed many times.

“The last 10 years have definitely been much more volatile” for NYCHA, Bloom said. “What’s the difference? The difference is money. When, after 2000, when NYCHA’s financial situation vis-à-vis the federal funds declined, and the city cut its funding, NYCHA became more volatile. The other fact is, they’ve also entered into a cycle where some of their buildings are old…[R]ight when you need the money most is when you’re not getting it because of cuts in federal support.”

***
by Truman Stephens, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

]]>
As New NYCHA Chair Takes Over, the Future of Public Housing Hangs in the Balance Thu, 15 Aug 2019 04:00:00 +0000
An Old, Unfair System: New York City’s Property Tax Conundrum - Part II - Deep and Complex Inequities https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8713-old-unfair-system-new-york-city-property-tax-conundrum-part-ii-classes https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8713-old-unfair-system-new-york-city-property-tax-conundrum-part-ii-classes maybdb rem

(photo: Edwin J. Torres/ Mayor's Office)


This is part two of a three-part series. Read part one - Taking on the Difficult Task - here. (Skip to part three - The City's Bottom Line - here.)

Elected officials and their critics alike have decried the complexity and inequality of the state’s property tax system. They say it is layered and non-transparent, and produces disproportionate tax burdens for various populations because of technical factors that are difficult for taxpayers to understand. These can lead owners of similarly valued properties in different parts of the city to pay drastically different annual property taxes.

The rising value of a homeowner’s property can belie the struggle they may face to stay afloat and keep their homes when property tax payments also climb. For those who own rental property, when the tax burden goes up it is often passed on to renters in the form of higher rents and fees on apartments that are not rent-regulated.

The Advisory Commission on Property Tax Reform was emplaneled by Mayor Bill de Blasio and City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, both Democrats, in 2018 to examine these issues and develop recommendations to reform the system, which could implicate both city and state policy, without reducing the city’s largest revenue stream.

On the table are aspects like the way different properties are classified and assessed by the state, how statutory restrictions on tax rate growth interact with market forces, and how the city sets the tax rate. These factors have had consequences for communities of color, low-income New Yorkers, seniors, and residents in some, but not all, boroughs.

As it was in 1981, when the current system was wrought out of practices that extend to the early days of the American republic, the issue today is a political flashpoint. Property taxation affects every resident in the state, and members from nearly every interest group and political party have called for its overhaul. But some of the most outspoken critics of the system, especially certain homeowners who see their taxes go up every year, may end up responsible for an even greater share of the levy if changes are made.

Four decades ago, in Hellerstein v. Assessor, Islip, the courts found New York’s property value assessment methods, which had been in practice for roughly 200 years, to be in violation of state law. Homes were being assessed with great variability on a fraction of their sales price, while business owners were footing a much larger bill for their commercial properties. Rather than adjusting practices to assess the full value of homes, lawmakers in Albany changed the rules to allow government assessors to continue favoring certain types of property over others.

Reflecting the old order, the current system divides properties into four classes, each to be assessed and taxed differently. Statutory caps are in place to ensure property taxes payments remain stable even if market values jump. To help account for variables like income, location, and the condition of housing, tax abatements and rebates are available. As a result of the classification regime’s disparate assessment methods, discrepancies exist among residential properties, with cooperatives and condominiums greatly undervalued for tax purposes compared to other homes despite at times being worth far more.

One- to three-family homes are in Class 1 and are assessed based on comparable sales prices; in Class 2, apartment buildings, as well as co-ops and condos, are taxed based on a market value derived from the annual income earned in rent by similar, nearby units, which is usually lower than the market value based on sales price, according to property tax experts. Even within the classes, statutory caps on assessed value growth have led, more recently, to uneven tax burdens across the five boroughs because of the way the housing market has exploded in some neighborhoods more than others.

An Unfair System
Attempts have been made to address property tax inequities in New York City since the current system was adopted nearly 40 years ago, but they have failed to produce transformative results. The most notable review was led by Mayor David Dinkins in 1993.

Dinkins, a Democrat, empaneled a commission to study the issue, which released a report just days before his term ended. Its most salient recommendation was to bring the treatment of co-ops and condos closer to Class 1 properties, but years of negotiations under his Republican successor, Rudy Giuliani, led only to a temporary tax abatement for apartment owners, according to an Independent Budget Office report. (A piece in the New York Times from 1994 provides an alternative account in which the Dinkins commission made no recommendations because it could not come to a “consensus on objectives,” using the words of one of the commissioners.)

The issue has become a recurring political motif. De Blasio discussed it during his first campaign for mayor and a year later, in 2014, his Commissioner of Finance, Jacques Jiha, said he would undertake a comprehensive analysis before making recommendations to the state for change. Yet it appears the Advisory Commission empaneled in 2018 is conducting the first such review of the mayor’s tenure.

“Fairness” is at the core of the commission’s mission, largely a response to a number of related policy consequences that have become apparent over the years.

>>Property Tax Classes
Legislators in 1981 created a system that would benefit small home owners by placing them in Class 1, maintaining the relatively low assessment rates they had enjoyed for so long, while leaving commercial properties, including apartment buildings, in Class 2 with a larger share of the levy.

At the time, co-op conversions, which started in New York City in the 1920s, had begun to take place at a very rapid rate; between 1978 and 1988, roughly 242,000 rental apartments in more than 3,000 buildings had been turned into tenant-owned cooperatives, according to a New York Times report published in 1988. In order to prevent assessors from considering the value of apartments if they were to be converted, lawmakers placed co-ops and condos into Class 2 and inserted language into the state law requiring they be assessed on the net income they would earn as rentals, as opposed to their sales value.

More recently, however, in an era of acute gentrification and concentrated market value growth, the low rates on co-ops and condos has become a new variation on the unequal assessment theme that sparked the Hellerstein case. As the price of homes in booming neighborhoods has skyrocketed, taxes assessed on co-ops and condos have become an increasingly smaller proportion of their sales value.

Tax Equity Now New York, a coalition of homeowners, renters, and business groups, led by former city Department of Finance Commissioner Martha Stark, filed a lawsuit in 2017 challenging the state laws that lead to disproportionate rent burden. The group claims the neighborhoods with the greatest burdens are less affluent and more likely to be the home of large populations of people of color.

By state law, taxes for homes in Class 1 are assessed on 6 percent of what assessors believe to be their market value, while co-ops and condos in Class 2 are assessed at a rate of 45 percent of potential rental income. But the way the city Department of Finance (which is responsible for calculating market value based on formulas set by the state) arrives at that value for the two property types is not consistent.

For Class 2, city finance officials compare co-op values to the income of nearby rental properties, vastly undervaluing what the property would be worth if sold. Because of the age and location of many co-ops, their taxes are often assessed based on comparisons to rent-regulated buildings, exacerbating the value discrepancy. 

Ana Champeny of Citizens Budget Commission (CBC), the fiscal watchdog, gave an example: “You look at the value that [Department of Finance] determined based on state law and it’ll be something like...$600,000, but when you look at how much the person paid when they bought that unit, they would have paid something like $3 million.”

To help address this inequity, CBC argued when it testified before the Advisory Commission in November, simply put condos and co-ops in Class 1 where they belong, and assess them based on sales prices. This would also help New Yorkers understand the system’s complex arithmetic and the outcomes it produces. Because now-distant beginnings created the fractional assessment practices established by the property classification system, the particular tax-related burdens New Yorkers face often feel arbitrary.

“I think that creates a lot more mistrust, too, in the system. Which is why we said you really should put all these homes into one class and you should value them based on sales,” Champeny told Gotham Gazette.

There were a number of bills in the Legislature related to condos and co-ops that lawmakers were apprehensive about taking up because of uncertainty about changes to the classification system, according to Assemblymember Galef.

“We want to see where the commission comes out on that one so those bills won’t be addressed this year,” Galef told Gotham Gazette in May before the legislative session ended. (The Legislature passed, and the governor has yet to sign, a two-year extension of a property tax abatement program for co-ops and condos, but nothing to address the structure of the real property class system.)

When everyone is a stakeholder, though, upsetting the long held fractional assessments would mean some people will have to pay more, and that is likely to include the high value co-ops and condos now enjoying low rates. As in the past, this will inevitably be a difficult pill to swallow.  In a letter to the Advisory Commission in May, City Council Members Steven Matteo, Joe Borelli, and Justin Brannan -- who represent parts of southern Brooklyn and Staten Island -- urged, “First, do no harm to Class 1 and 2 homeowners.”

Responding to a co-op owner who worries about rising taxes year after year, Mayor de Blasio said, “I want to be...really honest with everyone that we cannot end up with a system that reduces our revenue substantially, unless people want to see a change in the services provided by city.”

>>Renters
For residents, the weight of New York’s property classification system is harder to bear the further you are away from the mitigating effects of ownership, which can put serious pressure on renters who can’t cash in or pass on tax burdens to tenants. In a class-action lawsuit filed in 2014 on behalf of African-American and Hispanic renters, the real estate law firm Newman Ferrara claimed that the way the state classifies different types of property has resulted in a disproportionate tax burden being passed on to renters in large residential buildings.

According to a CBC analysis, as of December 2016 one- to three-family homes made up roughly 48 percent of the total market value of New York City property, but were taxed only about 15 percent of the total levy. By contrast, Class 2 properties -- apartment buildings, co-ops, and condos -- made up approximately 25 percent of the market, but were taxed significantly more: nearly 38 percent of the total.

Most of that burden falls on apartment buildings because owners of co-ops and condos often pay such a small percentage of their property value in taxes. To maintain their profit margin, landlords often redistribute the tax burden to tenants (the same is true for commercial tenants, which can put a strain on small business). The 2014 suit alleged, since large apartment buildings are predominantly occupied by African-American and Hispanic tenants, the uneven tax burden they experience is a violation of the Fair Housing Act.

The property tax burden on one- to three-family home owners can be mitigated by the lower share they pay on the property’s value; the tax burden on co-ops and condos is not great because they are assessed on a fraction of their sales price; and much of the tax burden of big landlords can be passed on to tenants. But renters, who make up two-thirds of all occupied units, according to 2017 U.S. Census data, have no outlet to spread their burden.

(Homeowners who pay a significant portion of their income in property taxes and cannot immediately benefit from the rising value of their homes without selling them, are also put in a precarious situation as taxes rise annually and the costs of maintaining aging housing stack up. The city’s Third Party Transfer program, which seizes buildings from landlords who are behind on taxes and other fees, has recently come under fire for taking the homes of lower-income, minority property owners.)

The 2014 Newman Ferrara suit was dismissed by a state Supreme Court, which rejected the notion that property taxes could be shared more equitably among the classes as “speculative.”

Short of revamping the city’s entire property tax system, the push to improve conditions for many tenants was a major point of contention in Albany this year, as state rent regulations affecting the city and surrounding suburbs approached their expiration date in June. A concerted push under the new Democratic governing reality resulted in a landmark package of tenant reforms aimed at strengthening protections and closing loopholes in rent regulations like reforming the major capital improvement program, ending vacancy decontrol, and eliminating the vacancy bonus, among others. These regulations affect roughly 2 million tenants in 1 million apartments.

“We made a commitment that the new Senate Democratic Majority would help pass the strongest tenant protections in history,” said Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins in a statement after the package passed both houses of the Legislature. “The legislation we passed today achieves that commitment and will help millions of New Yorkers throughout our state.”

>>Income
While statutory caps were put in place to keep homeowners’ property taxes from rising too quickly, they have still tended to outpace the growth in household incomes, creating a disparity in tax burden across income levels. A report by the city Comptroller’s Office from September found that between 2005 and 2016 annual property tax revenue grew an average of 6.4 percent a year, while the household incomes of small home, co-op and condo owners rose only 2 percent per year. As a result, the share of income that goes to pay property taxes on those types of homes has risen significantly and is most pronounced among the lowest earners.

The comptroller’s report shows that households making less than $50,000 -- largely retirees whose incomes had been higher when the homes were purchased -- had property tax payments increase from 6.6 percent of household income in 2005 to nearly 13 percent in 2016 (the study does not take into account social security earnings and other non-taxable income for seniors, meaning its findings for this group may be higher than seniors’ true property tax burdens).

“For households at this income level, where there is little or no discretionary income, these increases impose significant constraints and sacrifices on household budgets,” the report reads. By contrast, homeowners with income between $250,000 and $500,000 paid only 2.9 percent of their income in property taxes.

Some advocates have proposed what are known as “circuit breakers” to deal with property tax burdens on lower-income New Yorkers.

A circuit breaker essentially provides a tax rebate for lower-income property owners by reducing state income taxes if property taxes exceed a certain proportion of income, or simply by capping property taxes as a percentage of income. Hellerstein was a proponent of implementing circuit breakers, as was Governor Carey, who included them in his own 1981 proposal, which failed. In November, the CBC testified about the benefits of circuit breakers before the city’s Advisory Commission.

But mechanisms like circuit breakers, which create indirect relief through income tax reductions -- as well as various other kinds of exemptions, abatements, and rate limitations -- when piled on to triage the discrete consequences of New York’s property tax system (exacerbated by the city’s complex housing portfolio), also contribute to the opacity of the system -- one of the main problems the Commission aims to address.

“Homestead exemptions, or elderly or disabled or veterans exemptions...tax abatements and rate limitations and assessment limitations and assessment increase limitations -- it becomes a very complex system and ultimately non-transparent,” John Anderson of the Lincoln Institute for Land Policy noted before the Advisory Commission in February.

But exemptions and other forms of relief are popular among property owners in distress and are something that can be enacted by the city, making them attractive to local politicians trying to court voters. (Borelli introduced a bill to the City Council in 2018 that would give a tax exemption to veterans of Cold War conflicts.)

Disparities exist despite tax credits and other programs intended to ease the burden on lower-income New Yorkers, and they are likely to get worse.

The increase in tax burden identified in the Comptroller’s report was tempered by the rising value of property assets and declining interest rates over the past 20 years, which kept mortgage payments low, according to its authors. But the report notes interest and mortgage payments have begun to rise while property value growth has subsided in many neighborhoods, and phase-ins on co-ops and condos (like statutory caps on small homes) mean that property taxes can continue to rise even after the market stabilizes.

Changes in state and local tax deductions from Washington, D.C. last year mean taxpayers who itemize their deductions may no longer be able to deduct the amount of their property taxes from their federal taxes.

>>Geography
Last September, Citizens Budget Commission released an analysis showing that homeowners on Staten Island and in the Bronx have a higher effective tax rate than the rest of the city, meaning they pay a higher percentage of their property’s market value in taxes despite owning homes that are worth less.

This, the report notes, is the result of statutory caps set in state law on the rate by which assessed values can grow. There are different caps for different categories of property; for small homes the cap is set at 6 percent annually, or 20 percent over five years.

The growth rate cap, intended to insulate homeowners experiencing rapid market growth from dramatic property tax increases, has the effect of shifting the tax burden from booming neighborhoods to ones with more stable housing markets, regardless of the overall value of the homes. The CBC analysis finds only 5 percent of the city’s single-family homes are assessed at the 6 percent target ratio because the caps keep most assessments lower. But Staten Island and Bronx homeowners do not seem to be the beneficiaries of this dynamic.

Council Members Borelli and Matteo, who represent districts on Staten Island, in a 2016 press release said, “Staten Islander’s [sic] on average pay [property taxes on] 98.5% of their actual market values, while average Brooklyn and Manhattan class-1 homeowners pay 88.5% and 87.2% respectively.”

Politicians from Staten Island have been among the most vocal proponents of property tax reform. The borough has a large aging population on fixed income and roughly 70 percent of residents own their homes, according to Census data.

In 2016 Borelli and Matteo, both Republicans, called for a bipartisan commission to look at the economic burdens on one- and two-family homes, including the caps issue. They also called for the Department of Finance to use actual assessors, not statistical models, in order to account for a property’s actual condition (on Staten Island only a tenth of homes were built in the last 20 years). Assembly Member Nicole Malliotakis, also a Republican, joined Borelli in calling for a property tax commission when she ran for mayor against de Blasio in 2017. (Property tax reform and relief was also a central pillar of Republican gubernatorial candidate and Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro’s 2018 campaign against Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who this year pushed through a permanent 2 percent cap on annual property tax growth, which applies everywhere outside New York City.)

To address the tax burden inequities, Borelli has called for the Legislature to at least change the law so that caps reset when a house changes hands. Borelli was the prime sponsor of a resolution, co-sponsored by 13 others in the 51-seat Council, calling for the change in January 2018, but it has not been adopted.

He repeated the proposal to the Advisory Commission in September, saying, “The cap is attached to the property, not the owner, and the result creates vast disparities between the city’s wealthy and middle-class homeowners, and among wealthy homeowners themselves depending on when their homes were built and the characteristics of the market.”

>>Race
Tax Equity Now New York, the coalition led by former city finance commissioner Martha Stark, has highlighted some of these inequities in its lawsuit filed against the city and state in 2017. The lawsuit, filed after long-running frustration with elected officials’ apparent unwillingness to act on property tax reform, alleges New York’s property tax system has a disproportionate negative impact on homeowners and renters in less affluent neighborhoods with large populations of people of color.

In a study conducted by the group, higher tax burdens, especially those identified in the Citizens Budget Commission analysis, were shown to have a disproportionate impact on neighborhoods where racial minorities make up a majority of the population.

At the crux of the issue is the claim that property tax assessments have not reflected true market values, resulting in neighborhoods predominantly of color being assessed 19 percent more than predominantly white ones, the group alleges. Tax Equity Now is seeking changes to the law, not compensation, but has not specified what those changes should be. The suit survived the city’s motion to dismiss in September but is now stayed, pending appeal.

This is part two of a three-part series. Read part three - The City's Bottom Line - here. (Find part one - Taking on the Difficult Task - here.)

***
by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, reporter, Gotham Gazette      

Read more by this writer.

]]>
An Old, Unfair System: New York City’s Property Tax Conundrum - Part II - Deep and Complex Inequities Thu, 01 Aug 2019 04:00:00 +0000
What's The [Data] Point? 5, with former Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8386-what-s-the-data-point-5-with-former-deputy-mayor-alicia-glen https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8386-what-s-the-data-point-5-with-former-deputy-mayor-alicia-glen whats the data point


What's The [Data] Point? Episode 69 -- 5, with former Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen [You can download What's The [Data] Point? wherever you get your podcasts, including on iTunes]

wtdp alica glen deputy mayorAlicia Glen was Deputy Mayor for Housing and Economic Development under Mayor Bill de Blasio for more than five years, until she recently left the administration after being the chief architect of its signature affordable housing plan, a broad variety of economic development initiatives, and more. Glen joined the podcast (for the second time) for an "exit interview" on her legacy as deputy mayor, key issues facing the city and where the city is headed, the city's overall economic competitiveness, the Amazon deal that was undone, NYCHA, whether she would ever run for elected office herself, and other topics.

Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think: Ben Max of GG (@TweetBenMax), Maria Doulis of CBC (@MariaDoulis). Listen below or download wherever you get your podcasts!

***
by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

]]>
What's The [Data] Point? 5, with former Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen Tue, 26 Mar 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Private Sector Failure Requires NYCHA’s Preservation https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8216-private-sector-failure-requires-nycha-s-preservation https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8216-private-sector-failure-requires-nycha-s-preservation mayor private

(photo: Mayor's Office)


Many New Yorkers likely wonder why Mayor de Blasio wants to spend $24 billion on saving the aging towers of the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA). Much of this public housing consists of plain brick towers, which the city built rapidly from the 1930s to the 1960s, in a dated “towers in the park” design, now worn down from decades of hard use. In Singapore and much of Europe, government policy has targeted public housing of this age and type for billions in spending to remake projects to match changing urban tastes, family size, and rising densities.

But in the United States and New York there is no equivalent housing program with the funds to replace NYCHA’s 175,000 apartments (400,000 registered tenants), which rent on average at just $550 per month. The mayor, in the unprecedented $24 billion NYCHA 2.0 plan he released in December, is forced to rely on a complicated and potentially uncertain financing plan integrating city, state, federal, and private funds; private sector management of fully one-third of NYCHA’s portfolio; and hoped for revenues from “infill” ground leases and sales of air rights.

Added together the plan’s various elements will still barely provide for basic renovation when spread across a massive system that has a minimum of $31 billion in capital needs; NYCHA 2.0 certainly won’t cover redevelopment to a twenty-first century standard. Even if New York had the funds for massive redevelopment, it would still be a risky proposition to take NYCHA projects offline (many of which have 1,000 units or more each). NYCHA is already full to overflowing and the private market lacks sufficient low-cost units to accommodate relocation needs.

The risk is high in losing any of NYCHA’s units because the most endangered commodity in New York City is the privately-operated apartment that rents for less than $1,000 -- with rent-regulated units in particularly perilous straits. Public housing is now such a crucial part of that low-cost market that to lose the system, or even part of it, would, according to the respected Regional Plan Association, drive up homelessness, take housing from working-class people, and worsen conditions citywide because the market cannot replace the units.

A Brief History of Massive Failure

private building(Lewis Hine, Elizabeth Street, 1912. Library of Congress)

Today’s private sector housing failure is nothing new; instead, lousy and expensive housing has been a persistent dimension of New York City life for over a century. The city was once dominated by thousands of privately owned tenement buildings that crowded land and people together at density levels the world had never seen before. The creation of the subway in 1904 relieved that pressure for a time, allowing for a mass exodus to newer tenements, apartment buildings, or small homes in the outer boroughs. NYCHA also launched in the 1930s as an all-out attack on these tenements.

Tougher housing regulations and the suburban boom accelerated the tenement exodus from the 1930s onward, but many tenements in areas such as East Harlem and the Lower East Side backfilled with migrants from the south and Puerto Rico in the mid-twentieth century. Owners of many vestigial tenements abandoned or burned many of them from the ‘60s to the ‘80s.

Gentrification since the 1970s in New York City generated a new twist on private sector failure. Landlords of surviving apartment buildings good and bad won revisions in rent control and stabilization since the 1970s. They have used these lenient rules ever since to raise rents or drive out long-time tenants. Many private landlords haven’t cared if a tenant family must pay 50 percent or more of their income on rent. Dangerous conditions in many of these lower-rent buildings, which are not as widely publicized as those at NYCHA, are a mixed bag with irregular heat, lead exposure, and mold common.

Private Sector Saviors?
Many private real estate companies have, in fairness, played a crucial role in affordable housing management and development since the 1960s. Indeed, the various tax credits and breaks, and zoning bonuses, have created new “affordable” units that are modern and comfortable. Yet the supply of these units is relatively small (as they are often a minority percentage of a building); apartments time out of affordability after a specified period (requiring new public financing); and most apartments are targeted for income levels higher than public housing.

The result is scarcity and insufficient affordable housing production: the odds of landing one of the new privately developed and managed affordable units produced in 2018 was just 1 in 592. At the current rate of new private construction in Mayor de Blasio’s broader housing plan, which produced a record 7,857 affordable units in 2018, it would still take two decades or more just to replace NYCHA’s 175,000 units.

The real estate industry has also stepped up to play a central role in the conversion of public housing to private sector management and may end up running about 66,000 units of NYCHA housing under what NYCHA calls PACT (nationally it is RAD). Builders also hope to ground-lease NYCHA sites that could provide funding for renovation of surrounding buildings and additional affordable and market-rate units.

Private companies aren’t taking on these NYCHA projects or infill projects for entirely altruistic reasons, of course. Infill projects, even with affordable components, can be profitable. Private managers who take over existing NYCHA projects are being handed thousands of well-located, structurally-sound, mostly debt-free, fully-tenanted, property tax-free, federally-subsidized (Section 8) apartments they can borrow money from banks to renovate. Managing and renovating these buildings is a heavy lift, but there is a significant upside if done right.

Time to Step Up!
The private sector, even given these good steps, is still not doing enough for either NYCHA or the average low-income renter. Without a large-scale program of new production, the region will continue to be uncompetitive as business shifts to places where lower and even middle-income people can afford to live decently. The city’s private sector is booming today, for sure, but so is the national economy. When times get tight, New York City may seem much less attractive. A desperate population is also likely to be drawn to draconian rent regulations, higher taxes, and more “socialistic” policies to try and level the playing field. It isn’t pretty when recessions hit New York.

Both real estate interests and large employers should be putting more of their energy and funds into expanding affordable housing programs at the state and federal levels. Only when the real estate industry starts producing tens of thousands of affordable units per year do they earn a right to speak about NYCHA’s future and/or redevelopment. It also wouldn’t hurt if a business titan or two stood up for public housing funding and improvements.

Instead of putting so much of its energy into fighting rent stabilization or marketing overpriced apartments to foreign investors, business leaders could take a cue from their wealthy predecessors. Governors Roosevelt, Lehman, and Rockefeller developed and fought hard for creative programs to boost low-cost housing production. Or they can look west. Microsoft’s new commitment of $500 million to affordable housing in Seattle reflects, hopefully, a new era of commitment from employers to making more equitable housing market.

Where is New York City’s Microsoft of affordable housing?

***
Nicholas Dagen Bloom is a professor at New York Institute of Technology (NYIT) and a NYCHA scholar, and has a new book on state/urban policies: How States Shaped Postwar America.

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

]]>
Private Sector Failure Requires NYCHA’s Preservation Wed, 23 Jan 2019 05:00:00 +0000
As Affordability Crisis Becomes More Acute, Real Estate Donations Emerge as Litmus Test for Some Democrats https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8112-as-affordability-crisis-becomes-more-acute-real-estate-donations-emerge-as-litmus-test-for-some-democrats https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8112-as-affordability-crisis-becomes-more-acute-real-estate-donations-emerge-as-litmus-test-for-some-democrats  Ocasio-Cortez Teachout

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez & Zephyr Teachout (photo: Gotham Gazette)


This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project
Find the rest of the series here

Queens City Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer has said he will refuse donations from wealthy landlords and the real estate industry as he runs for borough president. Julia Salazar, a democratic socialist in Brooklyn, defeated an eight-term incumbent state senator using her rejection of real estate donors as a rallying cry. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez did the same when she toppled Democratic Rep. Joe Crowley and became the youngest woman elected to the United States House of Representatives. Zephyr Teachout sought the Democratic nomination for attorney general while eschewing real estate contributions and making it a core plank of her campaign. Nomiki Konst, an investigative reporter, recently launched her campaign for New York City public advocate with the same promise.

New York’s real estate industry, most of it concentrated in the dense confines of New York City,  has long played a significant role in funding candidates for elected office up and down the ballot across the state and beyond, a role that candidates of both major parties and political insiders have always recognized. But as voters, particularly energized, activist Democrats, focus on the affordable housing crisis and take heed of the state’s broken campaign finance laws, including loopholes that donors, especially those in real estate, have exploited to pad the coffers of legislators and executives, some progressive Democrats have begun to reject campaign contributions from the real estate industry.

Affordable housing policy, including the already-begun debate over rent regulations decided in Albany that will be a significant issue in 2019, is at or toward the top of many activists’ lists, and housing justice advocates increasingly see campaign finance pledges as a litmus test for candidates. Increasing numbers of Democrats eschewing real estate money, or at least any given through the so-called LLC loophole, has given those activists and advocates cause for optimism that real estate’s role in state elections may be on the decline and that their elected representatives will heed the clarion call to protect tenants and listen to small donors over wealthy special interests.

“I think that it’s clearly a concern amongst a growing number of voters,” Van Bramer told Gotham Gazette. “I think it’s increasingly one of those issues that people want a response on from their elected officials and candidates. And I think that they’re right to be concerned about the influence of big money, generally speaking.”

“Money still plays a huge role in our elections and real estate is a good way to raise money in New York City and New York State,” said Celia Weaver, research and policy director at New York Communities for Change, a leading housing and economic justice advocacy group pushing campaign finance reform, strengthened rent regulations, and deeper affordable housing development. “It’s like oil in Texas.”

Though questions about the influence of real estate money have swirled for decades, Weaver traced the budding trend of declarations against taking any of it to Diana Richardson’s election to the state Assembly in 2015, in a district that includes rapidly gentrifying Crown Heights and at a time when state rent regulation laws were up for renewal in the state Legislature. “Her decision to refuse real estate money in that election turned what would ordinarily be a pretty boring special election where the Democratic machine just gets to anoint the person who’s going to run and take the line to a widely covered exciting race that was really a referendum on the real estate industry and its role in politics,” Weaver said. “That became a huge touchstone for voters in the district.”

It’s common knowledge that the real estate industry has been a staple in electoral politics for decades and its members’ donations have been part of the picture across the political spectrum. Democrats and Republicans have benefited from them, none more so than Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat recently re-elected to a third term. But the recent election cycle, the first since Donald Trump was elected president, saw greater awareness among voters about the power of state government and the special interests that fund campaigns. Actor and education activist Cynthia Nixon also used that backdrop to run a competitive primary challenge against Cuomo. She refused donations from real estate and issued a scathing indictment of the governor’s reliance on big donors in the industry, while calling for sweeping housing justice reforms.

Weaver also pointed to the high-profile corruption convictions of former State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Democrat, and former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, a Republican, in trials that exposed how a real estate firm, Glenwood Management, attempted to wield influence over legislation. Glenwood, an enormous donor to Cuomo and many legislators, recently made massive contributions to Senate Democratic candidates ahead of the November election where it appeared likely they would become part of a new majority in the chamber.

The primary mechanism for real estate donations has been the gaping loophole in state campaign finance law that allows limited liability companies with opaque ownership -- a common instrument in the real estate business -- to circumvent contribution limits. City Limits reported in September that LLCs had been used to donate more than $188 million to political campaigns since the late 1990s, with about $31 million given to gubernatorial candidates alone, including Cuomo. “Combining his campaign for attorney general in 2006 and his three runs for governor, Cuomo has received roughly one of every eight dollars donated by LLCs,” City Limits found. Those donations are largely dominated by the real estate industry.

Mayor Bill de Blasio has also come under scrutiny for accepting significant real estate donations, especially to a political nonprofit he established to push his agenda that became the subject of law enforcement investigations related to whether City Hall did favors for its donors.

A collaborative report in 2016 by ProPublica, The Real Deal and the National Institute on Money in State Politics tracked how real estate developers who benefitted from a prominent tax incentive called the 421-a program gave about $21 million to party committees and candidates since 2000, out of $83 million that the real estate industry donated in the same time.

“I think people are very much aware that rich donors including real estate developers and landlords are distorting our election system,” said Michael McKee, treasurer of Tenants PAC, a political action committee dedicated to affordable housing. “I think that’s the growing awareness. There’s no question about it.”

It was in that context that a slew of progressive Democrats ousted their more moderate and real estate-tied partymates from office with the support of smaller donors and by rejecting corporate backers. “The housing crisis in this city is out of control and going into a year when candidates are going to be debating rent regulations in Albany, voters wanted candidates that are gonna act with integrity and widely believed that candidates who work for the real estate industry won’t,” said Weaver.

Besides Salazar, Zellnor Myrie and Alessandra Biaggi similarly ran for and won Democratic primaries in the state Senate in opposition to wealthy real estate interests. Each of the three represents a district, much like a lot of the city, grappling with a deep affordability crisis and pockets of gentrification displacing low-income residents of color. Their opponents all received significant contributions from real estate.

The decision to reject real estate seems based in both principle and pragmatism. Biaggi made housing justice a prominent campaign issue as she successfully dethroned Senator Jeff Klein, once the powerful leader of the Independent Democratic Conference, a breakaway faction of eight senators that propped up Republican control of the Senate. Democratic voters rejected six of the IDC members, blaming them for preventing the passage of many bills, including stronger rent regulations, and replaced them with progressive Democrats, including Biaggi and Myrie.

“It’s not necessarily that taking real estate money makes you a bad legislator or a bad person...but for me, it’s very clear that it’s a slippery slope,” Biaggi said in a phone interview.

Even as she acknowledged how difficult it can be to run for office without wealthy donors, Biaggi said it was important to her to retain her independence and answer to everyday constituents, not just those who can write big checks. “The winning can’t take precedence over the fact that, once you’ve won, the people who have helped get you there are the people who are going to come knocking on the door and that’s really a very challenging thing to come to terms with,” she said. Biaggi spent about $330,000 on her campaign and won with 53.1 percent of the vote, while Klein disbursed more than $3 million to try to keep his seat and got 44.5 percent.

Salazar said her commitment, and Myrie’s and Biaggi’s, to refuse real estate donations proved that it’s possible to run a viable campaign with small donors, and build grassroots support and trust in communities by doing so.

“I think advocates have long recognized the correlation between the amount of real estate money that many electeds have taken and their failure to advocate vigorously for tenants,” she said. “When other candidates see those campaigns being successful and they see this growing and increasingly loud demand from advocates, I think that is what is translating to them paying more attention.”

Those in the real estate industry push back against being made the boogeymen of state politics. Real estate is, without a doubt, central to New York City’s fortunes and the industry comprises a large part of the city’s tax base. The sector is scapegoated more so than other industries and groups, like those in health care, finance, or education, that also employ somewhat similar tactics in state elections. And of course, many candidates regularly pursue real estate donors when running for office.

“There are people who are willing to accept our contributions because our philosophies or the ideas that we are espousing are aligned with their philosophies,” said John Banks, president of the Real Estate Board of New York, in an interview. “There are people who don’t want to accept real estate money because their philosophies don’t align with the work that the real estate industry does and there are people who move back and forth across that continuum.”

Banks pushed back against any notion that his industry has used the LLC loophole to improperly sway the political landscape to its benefit. “The real estate industry respects and follows both the letter and the intent of the law and to say that someone who follows the letter of the law is in someway undermining the legitimacy of the political process is a naive statement,” he said.

And, he noted, the real estate industry is intrinsically a part of New York’s landscape, more than any other, even finance, or technology. “Unlike some of the other industries, mobility is not something that is an option for us,” he said.

There are also Democrats, even those who call themselves progressives, for whom real estate donations are far from an insurmountable liability, even if they are unpopular with the party’s left wing. Cuomo sailed to reelection, in part by taking millions combined from LLCs and the real estate industry that he then used to overwhelm his less-funded primary and general election opponents over the airwaves. New York City Public Advocate Letitia James, not a close friend to real estate, accepted similar donations and was resoundingly elected the next attorney general of New York State. In the attorney general primary, for instance, James ran on a platform that included criticism of bad landlords and yet received $10,000 from an LLC linked to the Durst Organization, one of the largest real estate developers in the city. That LLC and seven others under the Durst umbrella also gave a combined $150,000 to one of James’ opponents, Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, which became a line of attack from Teachout.

“The real estate industry is pretty broad and diverse,” said Jordan Barowitz, spokesperson for the Durst Organization. “I work in it, as do members of 32BJ and the super in your building and the residential broker who leased you your apartment.” He said “painting all these people with a pretty broad brush” is problematic. “Unfortunately there’s a lot of blaming in politics these days and it’s easy to point to one group or person or industry and say they’re responsible for everything that’s bad in this world and that’s pretty simplistic and wrong.”

“Honest politicians don’t take bribes and reputable donors don’t request quid pro quos,” he added.

There is a distance between bribes and quid pro quos on one hand, of course, and donations having some influence on policy-making, even if simply by virtue of how donations help candidates get elected.

McKee of Tenants PAC noted, for instance, that REBNY had begun donating larger sums in this election cycle to Democratic candidates once it seemed apparent that the party was going to regain control of the state Senate and, by result, the entire Legislature.

“REBNY saw the handwriting on the wall. They’re equal-opportunity opportunists. They don’t care who’s in the majority. They’ll try to buy influence with them by giving them money,” McKee said. “I’m not suggesting in any way that the mere fact that REBNY has started giving money to Democratic senators means that those Democratic senators are going to sell tenants out. That’s not my point. My point is that this is how they try to win friends and influence people, with big money.”

The influence of such donations can come down to seemingly small changes in policy, like the exact threshold at which an apartment leaves rent regulation, not necessarily major new legislation that would raise flags as donor-favors.

Gotham Gazette: Myrie wanted to avoid even the perception of corruption when he took his pledge, he said. “The number one reason that I did it was because...when we were gonna be facing the fight in Albany on whether or not we’re gonna protect tenants, I wanted there to be no confusion about which side I was on,” he said.

It would be hard to argue, he said, that real estate hasn’t had a corrupting influence on politics. “Albany for the longest time has passed watered down legislation,” Myrie added. “We have not protected tenants the way that we’ve needed to and that, you can draw the direct correlation to the increase in the amount of real estate donations to the Legislature. I think anyone looking at that objectively could say that it has had a corrosive effect on how we pass policy affecting our tenants.”

“Once you take that money, of course it influences how you legislate,” Biaggi said. “Now I think there are ways to protect against that, and that goes into campaign finance reform.”

Biaggi asserted that the path to stronger rent regulations runs directly through reforming the state’s campaign finance system, primarily through closing the LLC loophole, but also through lowering individual donation limits, where New York has some of the highest in the country. Closing the LLC loophole alone, advocates say, would take away real estate’s biggest weapon of political influence, and they insist it should be accompanied by a public campaign financing program, like the one currently used in New York City, to boost the voices of ordinary New Yorkers who only give $25 or $100 to a candidate.

Democrats in the Assembly have repeatedly attempted to reform campaign finance law but have been roadblocked for years by Republicans in the Senate, who have been major beneficiaries of real estate donations. Many, Cuomo included, have emphasized that ending the LLC loophole is among their priorities in the upcoming legislative session in January.

“If you had these kinds of reforms, candidates wouldn’t have to spend so much time cultivating rich people to make big donations,” McKee said.

On the other hand, Republicans have long-argued that labor unions often use campaign contributions to support and influence Democrats, and that any LLC reform should also institute limits on how local chapters of unions are classified in campaign finance law.

Weaver, from Communities for Change, said, “Not only are rent laws coming up in 2019 but I think there’s gonna be a big referendum on the role of money in politics generally…and the campaign finance stuff is also gonna be a referendum on tenant issues and real estate money in politics specifically.”

This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project
Find the rest of the series here

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

Read more by this writer.

]]>
As Affordability Crisis Becomes More Acute, Real Estate Donations Emerge as Litmus Test for Some Democrats Thu, 29 Nov 2018 05:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy Podcast: Homelessness & Affordable Housing Development https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8108-max-murphy-podcast-homelessness-affordable-housing-development https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8108-max-murphy-podcast-homelessness-affordable-housing-development mxm logo

Ben Max, left, of Gotham Gazette, and Jarrett Murphy, right, of City Limits


November 28, 2018 - Max & Murphy Podcast: Homelessness & Affordable Housing Development

This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project
Find the rest of the series here

gr mp 400pxThis week's Max & Murphy is part of housing week for the Agenda 2019 project, which is setting the stage for next year in New York City and State government and politics. Giselle Routhier, Policy Director at Coalition for the Homeless, joined the show to discuss homelessness in New York City, evaluating Mayor de Blasio's approach and what the State should do to address the issue. Then, Molly Park, Deputy Commissioner for Development at the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD), joined the show to discuss the city's affordable housing plan, HPD's approach to development, changes to the plan that have occurred over time, and more.

Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think -- we're on Twitter @TweetBenMax and @JarrettMurphy. You can listen to the show through the embedded audio below or download the episode wherever you get your podcasts, under "Max & Murphy," and listen to Max & Murphy live on Wednesdays at 5 p.m. on WBAI radio, 99.5FM or wbai.org

agenda19v2 a

This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project
Find the rest of the series here

***
by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

]]>
Max & Murphy Podcast: Homelessness & Affordable Housing Development Wed, 28 Nov 2018 05:00:00 +0000
The Mayor and Governor Found Amazon a New Home Right Down the Street from My Shelter https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8100-the-mayor-and-governor-found-amazon-a-new-home-right-down-the-street-from-my-shelter https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8100-the-mayor-and-governor-found-amazon-a-new-home-right-down-the-street-from-my-shelter mayorsoffice unbranded

(photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)


The red carpet has been rolled out and Mayor de Blasio and Governor Cuomo are giddily holding open the doors: Jeff Bezos and Amazon are coming to town, for the low price of $3 billion, a helipad, and prime real estate in Queens. For years, homeless activists have pressed the mayor and governor to invest resources and political will to tackle the historic crisis of homelessness plaguing both our city and state. Instead, they partnered in selling out taxpayers and sidelining politicians to make the Amazon deal a reality.

But not everyone will accept this reality without a fight. In fact, the Amazon giveaway has been criticized by everyone from newly-elected democratic socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to the corporation-friendly editorial board of the Wall Street Journal. They join homeless activists like me, city and state elected officials, and thousands of others who are concerned about responsible government and the rights of immigrants, workers, tenants, students, and many more.

I am one of 89,000 people that live in the shelter system across this state, one of the 60,000-plus that live in New York City. I am from Flatbush, but I live in a homeless shelter in Long Island City, just blocks away from where Amazon is planning to make its home. In recent months, Mayor de Blasio has faced major scrutiny for refusing to set aside 30,000 housing units in his 300,000-unit affordable housing plan to house homeless New Yorkers. I confronted him at his gym and on the radio, and others have faced him at town halls. On every occasion, he denies us the basic thing we need -- housing -- and lectures us on why his housing plan is “for every kind of New Yorker.”

“Every kind of New Yorker,” including the ones who haven’t arrived yet and the ones Amazon claims would earn an average salary of $150,000 per year.

Meanwhile, Governor Cuomo has done no better. He refuses to follow through on his own housing commitments for the homeless. In 2016, he committed $20 billion in the state budget to tackle affordable housing and homelessness -- including 20,000 units of supportive housing -- but only a tiny sliver of those resources were made available after a year of campaigning and protests.

The governor pledged to create 6,000 units of supportive housing over five years, yet two years later, 559 units were reportedly open as of August of this year. He's reduced funding for rental assistance, forced cities to shoulder the cost of shelters, and blocked legislation attempting to solve the problem with new housing assistance, like Assembly Member Andrew Hevesi’s Homes Stability Support plan.

The mayor and governor have refused to adequately help the homeless, but they’ve been quick to negotiate a deal with the richest man in the world. Take a look across the country to predict what happens next.

A Seattle county official said the city was “asleep at the switch” when Amazon arrived. By the time the giant settled in, rents had skyrocketed and homelessness soared from 8,522 people in 2017 to 12,000 during a one-night count in January 2018. In 2017, 169 people experiencing homelessness reportedly died in Seattle, and today record-numbers of people are living in cars and in tent cities. In an attempt to reverse the damage, the Seattle City Council introduced a bill to tax companies like Amazon in order to fund homelessness initiatives. The bill passed, only to then be crushed by Amazon, which refused to be taxed and threatened to stop construction in the city. This it the kind of power we are up against in New York. Our homes, neighborhoods, and our lives are on the line.

Mayor de Blasio and Governor Cuomo have long-ignored the true needs of the homeless across New York. But by bypassing democracy and giving Amazon billions in incentives and grants to move here, they are trying to erase us -- and many others -- from the map.

We won’t have it. We must remember, this is not the mayor’s city nor the governor’s city, and it’s certainly not Amazon’s city -- it is ours.

Now it is critical that we fight back against this plan and demand the future we all deserve: safe and affordable housing for all New Yorkers, quality education for our kids, a transportation system that works, strong small businesses that remain the lifeblood and culture of our city, a powerful unionized workforce that bolsters fair wages, families that are never divided, and companies that don’t profit off the imprisonment and deportation of our loved ones.

***
Nathylin Flowers Adesegun is a community leader at VOCAL-NY. On Twitter @VOCALNewYork.

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

]]>
The Mayor and Governor Found Amazon a New Home Right Down the Street from My Shelter Mon, 26 Nov 2018 05:00:00 +0000
To Make New York City More Affordable, End the Cap on Density https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/7679-to-make-new-york-city-more-affordable-end-the-cap-on-density https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/7679-to-make-new-york-city-more-affordable-end-the-cap-on-density far rockaway queens mayors office

(Benjamin Kanter/Mayoral Photo Office)


New York’s severe housing crisis can be traced to a simple fact—our city doesn’t have enough homes for the people who want to live here. The shortage has led to ever-increasing rents, the steady displacement of long-standing communities, and levels of homelessness not seen since the Great Depression. To put it bluntly, we need to build more homes. Lots of them. Affordable and market rate. Yesterday.

One senseless obstacle to new housing is a statewide cap on the density of new residential construction. Since 1961, New York has prohibited the construction of any residential building that has floor space greater than 12 times the size of its lot. This limit is ill-suited for New York City, which needs to allow larger residential buildings to house its growing population in neighborhoods with good transit and good schools. The Regional Plan Association, a respected and nonpartisan think tank, has called for the repeal of this cap, arguing that without more dense construction, displacement in gentrifying neighborhoods will accelerate and the City will choke on worsened congestion.

It is encouraging that Mayor de Blasio and the state Senate have signaled support for ending these restrictions. Unfortunately, Andrew Berman, Executive Director of The Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation (GVSHP), recently published an op-ed with Gotham Gazette that includes several misleading arguments in favor of the density cap. Berman argues that fighting against new housing will somehow result in a more affordable city. He is mistaken; while new highrises will not single-handedly fix New York’s affordability problem, they deserve to be recognized as a serious tool for addressing the housing crisis.

In a shortage, the rich, whether they be landlords, wealthy tenants, or homeowners, always win. In a housing glut, tenants win. Denser buildings would produce more housing units, a substantial portion of which would be permanently affordable through the Mandatory Inclusionary Housing law. Before leaving office in 2016, the Obama Administration published an analysis of the barriers to new construction of affordable housing, and the most destructive factor they identified were burdensome restrictions on the size and shape of new buildings, like those Mr. Berman endorses.

Many readers may be skeptical of the idea that new market-rate homes help keep rents low, but studies have shown that denser, market-rate apartments in in-demand neighborhoods relieve pressure on existing homes citywide. Recent construction has lowered median rents across Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Queens, not just the top of the market. And south of 96 Street, the most affordable neighborhoods also happen to be the densest—the Upper East Side and the Lower East Side—and not, tellingly, neighborhoods hemmed in by ‘historic’ zoning, like Mr. Berman’s Greenwich Village.

If we don't produce enough new market-rate units, the people who might move into a new condo building in Downtown Brooklyn might instead buy a converted brownstone In Crown Heights, displacing existing Crown Heights residents in the process. People who might want to live on the Upper West Side are priced out and move into West Harlem instead. Forbidding dense development in one neighborhood is a recipe for gentrification in the next one over. Members of my organization, Open New York, have experienced this first-hand. Some of us, priced out of neighborhoods like Kips Bay, have become reluctant gentrifiers of Bushwick or Bed-Stuy. Others, like myself in the East Village, worry about our rents rising and facing the same fate.

Although unscrupulous landlords or rapacious speculators hardly help matters, the unfortunate truth is that the city’s housing crisis and the displacement it has wrought are primarily caused by these kinds of restrictions. Wealthy and politically-connected residents in desirable neighborhoods consistently use these laws to thwart the construction of new housing under the guise of ‘preserving neighborhood character,’ keeping their communities exclusive and pushing both new residents and their communities’ most vulnerable residents into less well-off areas. The result is gentrification and skyrocketing rents. New York needs to consider another way.

Lifting the state density cap would not affect residents’ right to have a say in new development. Any changes to a neighborhood’s zoning would still have to go through the regular land-use process and be approved by the City Council, and the city’s Mandatory Inclusionary Housing law would still apply, ensuring any changes include a mix of affordable and market rate units. But eliminating the ban would give residents more flexibility to decide how to grow, whereas keeping it forces us to double down on the same failed policies of exclusion. Rather than looking to Greenwich Village—one of the most expensive neighborhoods in the city—as a model to emulate, we should be working to eliminate the barriers to affordable growth. Removing this counterproductive restriction on density is a good first step.

***
William Thomas is an East Village resident and a member of Open New York, an independent pro-housing advocacy group. On Twitter, @OpenNYForAll.

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

]]>
To Make New York City More Affordable, End the Cap on Density Thu, 17 May 2018 04:00:00 +0000
The Mayor's Mistaken Attempt to Supersize Buildings https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/7633-the-mayor-s-mistaken-attempt-to-supersize-buildings https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/7633-the-mayor-s-mistaken-attempt-to-supersize-buildings mbdb hanac

(Credit: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)


Nearly every day it seems, a new record is broken for a tallest new residential structure in our city. Whether it is Downtown Brooklyn’s first 1,000+ foot tall tower, Queens’ tallest tower in Long Island City, or the 1,550 foot tall West 57 Street residential tower that will soon rise higher than the top floor of One World Trade Center, residential building in New York City is reaching new heights.

But for Mayor de Blasio and the real estate industry, even these record-breaking heights are not enough. They are advocating for repealing a 60-year-old state law, which, while capping the size of residential developments in New York City, is still so generous as to allow the unprecedented giants going up now.

If the mayor and the real estate industry have their way, the sky could literally be the limit for residential high-rises in New York City. And not just in Midtown or the Financial District, but residential neighborhoods like the Upper East Side and Upper West Side, Greenwich Village, and various parts of Brooklyn and Queens, where current rules limit new residential development to at or near the cap imposed by state law.

The possibility is more than theoretical. Two years ago proponents of lifting the cap came close to getting the State Legislature to do so. This year the State Senate pushed for the measure to be included in the state budget, but the Assembly ultimately did not go along with it (though the cap removal definitely has its proponents in the Assembly majority). Most observers expect the supporters of lifting the cap to push the measure again before the state legislative session ends in June, possibly as part of the “big ugly” – the annual package of often unrelated and controversial measures passed in the final hours of legislative session, with little public notice or input.

With all the problems facing New York City right now, from dysfunctional subways to crumbling public housing to crippling congestion, why is this an issue the mayor has chosen to take on?

Mayor de Blasio and some of the proponents of lifting the cap claim it’s necessary to build affordable housing.  But not because they want affordable housing developments that exceed the current record-breaking heights. Because they want to allow real estate developers to build vastly larger for-profit, luxury housing developments.  In return, they will require them to attach a comparatively small amount of affordable housing to the development.

This is a false dichotomy that the real estate industry has promulgated and the mayor has endorsed – that the best and, in many cases, only way to get new affordable housing out of for-profit developers across the city is by supersizing the amount of luxury, market-rate housing they can build, and then attaching these smaller amounts of affordable housing to it.

It’s due to this approach that communities throughout New York City have opposed the mayor’s rezoning plans – both because they would destroy the scale and character of their neighborhoods, and because under the guise of introducing “affordable housing” (which in many cases is unaffordable to the residents of the neighborhood), vastly increased quantities of very expensive housing is built, which more than counteracts any good done by the relatively small amount of affordable housing created.

Take Greenwich Village and the East Village. These increasingly wealthy neighborhoods with decreasing affordable housing have been begging the mayor to support a zoning plan we have proposed that would allow modest increases in the allowable size of developments as a condition for creating or preserving affordable housing. The mayor has adamantly opposed the plan, saying he would only be willing to consider the kind of massive increases in the allowable size of residential development that would bump up against the current state cap, to say nothing of destroying the character of these human-scaled neighborhoods.

Don’t let the mayor or Big Real Estate fool you. The state cap on the size of New York City residential buildings is not limiting anything New Yorkers should be worried about. The only thing it’s limiting is the already astronomical profits of developers, and the ambitions of some politicians to increase them even further.

***
Andrew Berman is Executive Director of Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation. On Twitter @GVSHP.

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

]]>
The Mayor's Mistaken Attempt to Supersize Buildings Tue, 24 Apr 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy Podcast: NYCHA CEO Shola Olatoye https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7355-max-murphy-podcast-nycha-ceo-shola-olatoye https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7355-max-murphy-podcast-nycha-ceo-shola-olatoye mxm logo

Ben Max, left, of Gotham Gazette, and Jarrett Murphy, right, of City Limits


December 7, 2017 - Max & Murphy: NYCHA CEO Shola Olatoye

shola olayote 277

NYCHA Chair and CEO Shola Olatoye has been at the center of a firestorm lately related to the public housing authority's lapses in lead paint inspections, violating federal and city laws, filing faulty documentation, and not telling NYCHA residents and the public about the years-long gaps as soon as leadership discovered them.

Olatoye faced hours of questioning at a City Council oversight hearing on Tuesday, then joined the podcast on Thursday for some follow-up and other questions about the lead paint situation and more. Olatoye discusses whether she and NYCHA need to regain residents' trust, whether she offered Mayor Bill de Blasio her resignation, and where the conversation around NYCHA -- home to more than 400,000 New Yorkers -- needs to go next.

Listen to the full conversation and let us know what you think -- we're on Twitter @TweetBenMax and @jarrettmurphy and guest @SholaOlatoye of @NYCHA. You can listen to the episode through the embedded audio below or download the episode wherever you get your podcasts.

***
by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

]]>
Max & Murphy Podcast: NYCHA CEO Shola Olatoye Thu, 07 Dec 2017 05:00:00 +0000