Gotham Gazette https://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/2508 Sun, 29 Nov 2020 11:09:32 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) City Council Members and De Blasio Planning Chief Spar Over Neighborhood Rezonings at Budget Hearing https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9183-city-council-criticism-de-blasio-planning-administration-neighborhood-rezonings-affordable-housing https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9183-city-council-criticism-de-blasio-planning-administration-neighborhood-rezonings-affordable-housing navy yards we

Mayor de Blasio makes an announcement (photo: Edwin J. Torres/Mayoral Photo Office)


What was ostensibly meant to be a City Council hearing on the proposed preliminary budget for the Department of City Planning on Tuesday turned into a debate about the de Blasio administration’s approach to neighborhood rezonings. Several Council members expressed their displeasure with rapid gentrification and resident displacement, and what they believe are the city’s insufficient efforts to stop those trends while at times exacerbating them through rezonings, while Mayor Bill de Blasio’s planning chief, Marisa Lago, defended the administration’s approach to housing and community development.

At a hearing of the City Council’s Committee on Land Use, chaired by Council Member Rafael Salamanca Jr. of the Bronx, Lago -- who is the director of the Department of City Planning and chair of the City Planning Commission -- found herself on the defensive as she explained the administration’s strategy behind its neighborhood rezoning plans, which undergird de Blasio’s 12-year plan to build and preserve 300,000 units of rent-restricted housing. DCP plays a central role in that rezoning process, while the City Planning Commission winds up voting to approve or disapprove the proposals that make their way through the city’s land use review process.

Since 2016, the administration has successfully moved six large-scale neighborhood rezonings, which involve changing land use regulations to create more housing density while mandating inclusion of affordable housing in new, larger developments, as well as provide a slew of infrastructure and community investments such as libraries, schools, community centers, parks, and more. The rezonings also often change land use regulations related to commercial and manufacturing space.

But those rezonings have been focused in low-income communities of color, an approach that has been criticized for exacerbating existing displacement pressures and accelerating gentrification that is already underway, though the mayor and his top housing deputies have repeatedly argued that the rezonings are often the best way to mitigate the effects of market forces already taking hold in certain communities.

So far, rezonings have been approved in East New York, Brooklyn, East Harlem and Inwood in Manhattan, Jerome Avenue in the Bronx, Downtown Far Rockaway in Queens, and the Bay Street corridor on Staten Island. (East Midtown in Manhattan was also rezoned but was aimed at revitalizing a commercial district rather than aimed at building housing.) The Inwood plan has been halted by a judge, however, the subject of an appeal by the city. Other proposed neighborhoods for rezonings, including part of Flushing, were shelved before the planning process really got going, largely due to local opposition.

When asked which rezonings could be certified by the time de Blasio’s tenure is up, Lago seemed confident that one in Gowanus, Brooklyn would go through. She was cut off before she could name any other neighborhoods that have been identified for a rezoning but have yet to move.

If the administration were to stop rezoning wide swathes of neighborhoods, market-rate “as-of-right” housing would continue to be built, Lago said.

As she explained at the hearing on Tuesday, 80% of housing construction in the city takes place “as-of-right,” which involves private development where the city does not have a role to play. “New housing,” she said, is “disproportionately built in the city’s most affluent neighborhoods – 30% of new units since 2015 have been in the 20% of neighborhoods with the highest median incomes. These neighborhoods are also getting a proportionately large share of new affordable housing – 20% of new affordable units have been built in the most affluent 20% of neighborhoods.”

Acknowledging that its affordable housing plan needs to create deeper affordability, the administration has reset its housing program multiple times, most recently by expanding the number of units that will be set aside for the lowest income and homeless New Yorkers, Council members have repeatedly said the rezoning plans don’t create enough housing that is affordable for the current residents of the neighborhoods involved.

That’s also why some Council members have sought to downzone parts of their districts in neighborhood rezonings, to preserve the character of their communities and prevent the kind of rapid development that they fear will lead to rising rents that push out long-time residents.

“Does City Planning not care about keeping the character of neighborhoods intact?” asked Salamanca, who recently put the kibosh on a potential rezoning in part of his district.

Lago pushed back on the suggestion, noting that downzonings limit the city’s ability to spur the building of more affordable housing. “As a department that looks citywide, and a city that is growing, and in a city that has an affordability crisis, we need to recognize that the solution is not to stop housing construction,” she said.

That was a central divergence point that led to the abrupt stalling of the city’s effort to pursue a neighborhood rezoning in Bushwick, Brooklyn. In January, the city halted the environmental review process for the proposed rezoning after rejecting a request by elected officials and community activists to consider an alternate, community-based plan. The Bushwick Community Plan, which was years in the making, was “in essence, a downzoning,” Lago said at Tuesday’s hearing, citing the words of Vicki Been, the deputy mayor for Housing and Economic Development.

Council Member Antonio Reynoso, who represents Bushwick, disagreed, as he has before, and delivered the harshest criticism of the hearing. Reynoso condemned the city’s decision to walk away from the Bushwick Community Plan and questioned why the administration was instead interested in a plan that would lead to more displacement through development of what he sees as too much new market-rate housing. “At this point, it just doesn't seem like you're playing a fair game with the community, and asking us to engage in a system where the outcomes are only what you want and nothing else,” he said.

Lago emphasized that the displacement Reynoso fears would happen regardless. “We are seeing displacement occur with or without rezoning,” Lago emphasized, noting that the city’s approach has been to prevent displacement through various other means including free legal services to low-income tenants facing eviction and anti-tenant harassment measures, among others.

Lago particularly leaned on that argument when Salamanca questioned whether DCP supported legislation he has proposed along with Public Advocate Jumaane Williams to require a racial impact study with city-sponsored rezoning proposals. Lago did not directly say she supported the legislation. “We very much agree on the need critically to analyze land use actions, and we also need to analyze the status quo and what is happening, even in the absence of a discussion about rezoning,” she said.

“I would welcome the opportunity to engage with the Council on identifying whether there is a causality between racial displacement and rezoning,” she added.

Some of the criticism of DCP stemmed from housing and zoning decisions made well before Lago took over as planning chief, and almost a decade before de Blasio became mayor. Council Member Stephen Levin, for instance, noted that the Williamsburg-Greenpoint rezoning approved in 2005 under former Mayor Michael Bloomberg did not lead to the many projected improvements that city planning officials had predicted at the time. DCP released an analysis of the long-term impacts of the rezonings last year and he asked the department to conduct similar analyses of other rezonings.

Council Member Mark Treyger echoed Levin’s sentiment in forceful tones, noting that a Coney Island rezoning from 2009 had similarly failed to promote robust economic activity as envisioned and that current residents cannot wait for a decade for affordable housing to be built. “The reason why I'm bringing this to the attention of DCP is because it was your agency and others that sold my community a bag of goods about the 2009 rezoning,” he said, calling for remedial measures to help fix the problems the rezoning created.

“Michael Bloomberg failed Coney Island and we need to address the crisis my constituents face right now,” he said.

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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City Council Members and De Blasio Planning Chief Spar Over Neighborhood Rezonings at Budget Hearing Wed, 04 Mar 2020 05:00:00 +0000
Celebrating Renewal, Inclusive Planning and Mixed-Use Development in the Bronx https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/9001-inclusive-planning-and-mixed-use-development-in-the-bronx-peninsula https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/9001-inclusive-planning-and-mixed-use-development-in-the-bronx-peninsula roundtable community groups

The Peninsula in the Bronx (rendering via @nycgov)


The lights were off and the countdown was on. “One, two, three,” over a hundred people called out until the lights on the Christmas tree flickered to life. With that, the Hunts Point holiday celebration was in full swing. Hot chocolate was served, pictures were taken with Santa, the Point’s youth choir sang carols, and gifts were given to the neighborhood’s youngest residents.

Last Friday’s celebration of community was a stark contrast to holidays past in Hunts Point. For the nearly 50 years it was in operation, the Spofford Juvenile Detention Center had been a blight on the community. The institution isolated the city’s youth rather than empowering them. And the dark and decaying structure sent a clear message to the community that this was a dangerous place. 

Nearly a decade after Spofford shut its doors, we joined the Hunts Point community last week for an inaugural tree-lighting, celebrating both the start of the holiday season and a new, brighter chapter for the neighborhood. Working with the local community, we are transforming the Spofford site from a place of suffering into a celebrated community hub. The Peninsula will be a vibrant live-work campus that will include 740 affordable homes, open plazas, and ground-floor retail stores. And, to integrate this campus into Hunts Point’s robust manufacturing sector, there will be close to 50,000 square feet of light industrial space on site that will spark new manufacturing jobs. If Spofford was a symbol of neglect, the Peninsula stands for promise—more housing, more jobs, more hope.

From the start, local leaders and city agencies spearheading the redevelopment, including our offices at the City Council and Economic Development Corporation, the Department of City Planning (DCP), the Department of Housing, Preservation, and Development (HPD), and the Public Design Commission (PDC), recognized that Hunts Point residents had to be intimately involved with reimagining this site.

Early on, we hosted roundtables with local stakeholders and community groups -- including Bronx Community Board 2, Urban Health Plan, The Point, Hunts Point Alliance for Children, SEBCO, and Sustainable South Bronx -- about what should be built on the five-acre site. It was important for us to hear people’s priorities firsthand and identify needs the new development could meet. Following these conversations, we held information sessions in the neighborhood where over 100 community members voiced how they would remake the site. From these conversations, we developed a plan for the site that would address some of the neighborhoods most pressing needs, including a lack of open space, jobs, affordable housing, and access to quality food.

The next step for the plan was going through the public approval process. There was broad support at community board meetings, an affirmative vote by the Bronx Borough President, and detailed discussion by the City Planning Commission and then a vote to approve. This was followed by a hearing and a unanimous City Council vote. The constructive tone of discussions as this project advanced through the public approval process made it clear that the community felt heard during the planning phase. Hunts Point was ready to tear down this building and everything it symbolized to pave the ground for its future. 

All of this rolls up into a blueprint for how best to engage residents in comprehensive and complicated redevelopment projects. Spofford’s evolution into the Peninsula highlights how we can do better by New Yorkers when these opportunities present themselves and continue to engage the community as projects take shape. On Friday, when Hunts Point came together at the holiday celebration, we marked a new era for the neighborhood and inclusive community planning in New York.

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James Patchett is President of the New York City Economic Development Corporation (EDC). City Council Member Rafael Salamanca represents parts of the Bronx. On Twitter @jbpatchett of @NYCEDC and @Salamancajr80.

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Celebrating Renewal, Inclusive Planning and Mixed-Use Development in the Bronx Tue, 17 Dec 2019 05:00:00 +0000
A Well-Meaning But Misguided Housing Proposal https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8932-well-meaning-but-misguided-housing-proposal-homelessness https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8932-well-meaning-but-misguided-housing-proposal-homelessness city council cm raf salamanca

Council Member Salamanca (photo: John McCarten/City Council)


A year ago, a homeless woman confronted Mayor de Blasio during his gym workout in Park Slope to ask why the city doesn’t set aside more apartments for homeless people. The incident and a video of it in which the mayor refused to talk with the woman, Nathylin Flowers Adesegun, were widely reported. A few weeks later, City Council Member Rafael Salamanca of the Bronx introduced legislation that would require any rental housing project receiving taxpayer subsidies such as tax abatements, loans, tax credits or reduced-cost land to set aside 15% of its units for people living in the city’s shelters. 

The mayor’s comments about the proposed legislation were on target. He said:

“I think that the [current] affordable housing plan works for the people of the city because it is for everyone. It is meant to reach working-class people, middle-class people, low-income people,” and, “I don’t want to send a message that the only folks who can get affordable housing are folks who end up in shelter. I think that’s wrong for everyone.” 

Now, almost exactly a year later, Salamanca has re-introduced the same bill but the mayor’s response has been quite different -- he says he is sure he can reach a deal with Council Speaker Corey Johnson.

The mayor was right a year ago and there is no reason to change positions now. His apparent disinterest in or distaste for conflict with the Council cannot be allowed to lead to bad policy that will impede what has been a successful program to build and preserve affordable housing for needy New Yorkers at a variety of income levels.

In 2014 the de Blasio administration issued Housing NY, a ten-year plan to build and preserve a total of 200,000 units of housing in the five boroughs. An important principle of the plan was that the apartments developed would be affordable to families at an array of income levels, from those of extremely low-income, defined as below $25,000 a year for a family of four, to those of middle-income, families of four earning $100,000-138,000 a year, and others in between. The plan projected the distribution of units developed at 20% (40,000) for extremely low- and very low-income households, 58% (116,000) for low-income households, and 22% for moderate- and middle-income households (44,000).

In 2017 Housing NY 2.0 modified the administration’s already-ambitious goals by accelerating its plan, extending it two years, and adding an additional 100,000 units to be preserved or created by 2026. The new targets increased the number of extremely low- and low-income households to be housed to 25% of the total.

Providing affordable housing to New Yorkers at all low- to middle-income levels is important to maintaining a thriving economy and a diverse, vibrant city. As a recent report from the Department of City Planning shows, the city’s supply of jobs far exceeds its supply of housing and we need to generate more places for workers to live.

It is very expensive to build and maintain units for extremely low-income households (approximately $150,000- $200,000 in city capital subsidy per unit for construction, plus ongoing rental assistance) so the rents at higher income levels are necessary to make developments economically viable.  The situation is not helped by the fact that the City Council keeps piling on requirements -- like the just-added prevailing wage requirement -- that are not only costly, but deter developers (both for- and non-profit) from wanting to even do deals with the city. It also must be acknowledged that many families in the shelter system need a variety of on-site services in addition to housing, services that private-sector buildings do not provide.   

Reasonable people can debate the shortcomings and details of Housing NY,  for example, the inclusion of thousands of units in Stuyvesant Town as “preserved” but there is no denying that it has been an ambitious effort that has thus far leveraged over $14 billion in city capital commitments and generated 135,000 units of urgently needed housing.

City officials need the flexibility to design each project based on its overall size, location, and cost; they should not be constrained by arbitrary apartment allocation requirements to particular income levels or types of tenants. 

Mayor de Blasio needs no prodding to devote priority and resources to homeless individuals and families. His annual budget provides more than $3 billion a year for shelters, rent assistance, legal assistance, and other homelessness prevention programs, re-housing efforts, and related social services.

So far, about 11% of the units generated by Housing NY have gone to homeless households. Moreover, in 2016 NYCHA started giving preference to homeless families and over the past three years, nearly half of all tenants placed in NYCHA units -- 6,400 -- have been formerly homeless. Another 4,400 homeless families have received Section 8 rental assistance through NYCHA in the same time period.

The City Council should not create a one-size-fits-all set-aside that would tie the hands of the Mayor, Deputy Mayor for Housing, and other city officials who are trying to spur as much housing construction as possible and who are already motivated to create units for homeless families without compulsion.

If the 15% homeless requirement is in addition to the 25% proportion of units Housing NY 2.0 already requires for extremely low-income units, it will make some projects so costly that they will not be built. If the homeless allocation is instead made part of the total number of project units allocated to low-income families, it will take much-needed units out of the pool available to the thousands of other families earning less than $25,000 a year who also need decent and affordable places to live in New York City. Neither is acceptable.

The Council’s focus should be on streamlining the process for project approval and creating more new affordable housing across the income spectrum, not counterproductive requirements and virtue posturing.

***
Carol Kellermann was president of Citizens Budget Commission from 2008 through 2018.

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A Well-Meaning But Misguided Housing Proposal Sun, 17 Nov 2019 05:00:00 +0000
To End the Homelessness Crisis It’s Time to Refocus the City’s Housing Plan - Here’s How https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8859-end-homelessness-crisis-refocus-city-housing-plan https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8859-end-homelessness-crisis-refocus-city-housing-plan homelessness rally

The authors and others at a rally (photo: John McCarten/City Council)


More than 61,000 men, women, and children will sleep in New York City shelters tonight, and this historic homelessness crisis will continue to devastate the lives of even more people unless Mayor de Blasio embraces the common sense plans that we have put forward from a City Council office and the Coalition for the Homeless, respectively.

The record number of homeless New Yorkers will continue to reach new highs every year, according to the latest report from the Coalition. In stark contrast to Mayor de Blasio’s predicted decrease in the shelter census of a mere 2,500 people by 2022, the Coalition’s analysis shows that the number of city residents living in shelters will increase by 5,000 people in that time period.

While the mayor often touts the work his administration has done to prevent homelessness and protect tenants, his failure to meaningfully reduce the shelter census is a direct result of the lack of truly affordable apartments created specifically to house homeless New Yorkers. This is why the House Our Future NY Campaign, with the support of the majority of the New York City Council, has spent more than a year and a half calling on Mayor de Blasio to make his Housing New York 2.0 plan -- badly in need of a third iteration -- address the true scale of the homelessness crisis.

Of the 300,000 apartments the Housing New York 2.0 plan will create or preserve by 2026, only 15,000 apartments will be set aside for homeless New Yorkers – and just 6,000 of those will be created through new construction. The remaining 9,000 of those apartments in the mayor’s plan will be set aside for homeless New Yorkers through the preservation of already-occupied units, which will remain unavailable to homeless New Yorkers for many years.

To address the housing needs of our homeless neighbors, the House Our Future NY Campaign, formed by the Coalition and 66 partner organizations, urges Mayor de Blasio to create 24,000 apartments through new construction (about 20 percent of all planned new construction in Housing New York 2.0) and preserve at least 6,000 more units for a total of 30,000 apartments for homeless New Yorkers.

In the Bronx, we have seen how the issue of homelessness impacts people firsthand. Many hurtful and false narratives have been spread about people in the shelter system, primarily that individuals are unemployed or are looking for handouts. To the contrary, many in the system have full-time jobs or are living on fixed-incomes and turn to the shelter system as a last resort because of rising rents in their communities. Once in the system, people face a lengthy wait to be placed in permanent housing due to a lack of truly affordable housing.

To address this issue and the staggering number of individuals and families in the shelter system, we introduced legislation, Intro. 1211, which requires all new housing developments that receive city financial assistance to set aside at least 15 percent of new apartments for homeless households.

Working together to raise awareness on this proposal, Intro. 1211 has secured a veto-proof majority of Council members signed on as co-sponsors, as well as the support of Public Advocate Jumaane Williams. While an overwhelming number of homeless advocates came out in support of the bill at a public hearing held in December 2018, the de Blasio administration declared its opposition to the bill, citing financial concerns. But we have demonstrated that more affordable housing can be built for homeless New Yorkers than is conceptualized in the mayor’s plan.

Starting in April 2018 while drafting the language for Intro. 1211, we began requiring developers who were looking to build housing in Council District 17 in the Bronx to set aside a minimum of 15 percent of developed units for homeless individuals and families. Despite the administration’s insistence that the financing would not work, we were able to secure a 15 percent homeless set-aside in every new construction project that required our Council approval.

In total, our Council office approved 121 new set-aside units over eight projects. While this number of units is a drop in the bucket of the overall need for our homeless population, it shows the impact this legislation could have in changing the tide on homelessness if implemented across New York City.

We are pleased that Intro. 1211 is already having a positive effect on the movement to build more housing for homeless people. Many Council colleagues have begun requiring a 15 percent set-aside minimum in projects in their own districts. With a citywide policy to substantially increase new housing built for homeless New Yorkers, we would be able to move more people out of city shelters and achieve the goal of reaching the 24,000 new units the House Our Future NY Campaign is advocating for.

We cannot continue to accept mass homelessness in our city as a fact of life. We have the means to alleviate the suffering of tens of thousands of homeless New Yorkers by building more deeply subsidized affordable housing to match the scale of the need. In addition to being the moral thing to do, the New York City Council has demonstrated through its support of the House Our Future NY Campaign and Intro. 1211 that it is entirely feasible. Now it is time for Mayor de Blasio to finally address the ongoing homelessness crisis with the best tool available: building new affordable apartments for homeless New Yorkers.

***
City Council Member Rafael Salamanca Jr. represents parts of the Bronx. Giselle Routhier is Policy Director at Coalition for the Homeless. On Twitter @Salamancajr80 & @Giselle_Ashley.

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To End the Homelessness Crisis It’s Time to Refocus the City’s Housing Plan - Here’s How Thu, 17 Oct 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Criticizing De Blasio Rezonings, Williams Introduces 'Racial Impact Study' Requirement https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8558-criticizing-de-blasio-rezonings-williams-introduces-racial-impact-study-requirement https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8558-criticizing-de-blasio-rezonings-williams-introduces-racial-impact-study-requirement maybill public adv

(photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)


Fulfilling a promise he made in his successful campaign for public advocate, Jumaane Williams introduced legislation on Wednesday that would require the city to conduct an assessment of expected racial and ethnic impact brought on by proposed neighborhood rezonings, in order to ensure that the city is complying with the federal Fair Housing Act, and combat segregation and displacement.

The Fair housing Act, passed in 1968, is meant to protect against discrimination in the sale, purchase, and renting of housing, or in trying to obtain housing assistance, and it also requires jurisdictions receiving federal assistance to take affirmative steps to integrate housing. New York City, Williams said at a news conference Wednesday morning, has failed on that front.

The public advocate was joined by Bronx City Council Member Rafael Salamanca, who chairs the powerful land use committee and has co-sponsored the bill, and members of Churches United For Fair Housing (CUFFH), a grassroots advocacy group that has called for such ‘racial impact studies’ to help inform neighborhood rezonings, which typically occur to change land use rules to allow greater housing density and usher in new city investments in a given community. City Council Member Antonio Reynoso, who represents areas of Brooklyn that have seen significant gentrification and is negotiating a possible Bushwick neighborhood rezoning with the city, also expressed support for the legislation. 

“Rezonings are one of the primary drivers of gentrification, which leads to displacement, which leads to racial segregation,” Williams said, harshly critiquing Mayor Bill de Blasio’s affordable housing plan, which has relied on upzoning neighborhoods to create more density with a legal requirement -- Mandatory Inclusionary Housing -- for developers to build affordable housing.

Most of the rezonings pursued by the administration have been in low-income communities of color and advocates say that has exacerbated gentrification while also refusing to ask more affluent and white communities to allow more housing in their neighborhoods. Williams, who voted against MIH when he was in the City Council, has called for a moratorium on all neighborhood rezonings.  

Williams’ bill would mandate that any land use application that goes through the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP), which requires an environmental impact statement and is reviewed by the City Planning Commission, must also include a racial impact study. The ULURP process occurs for many proposed new developments, from neighborhood rezonings that impact broader communities and are typically spearheaded by the mayoral administration to single plot rezonings that allow developers to build a bigger building than the current zoning allows.

“[E]ven the announcement of ULURP leads to rampant speculation that coincides with a rise in harassment and displacement,” Williams said. “The link between [neighborhood] rezonings and racial segregation is very clear. I don’t think anyone can argue with the results of it. Yet the city has failed to even acknowledge the problem.”

As an example, Williams pointed to the 2005 rezoning of the Williamsburg waterfront, approved under then Mayor Michael Bloomberg, which “transformed low-income communities of more color into enclaves for new wealthy and white residents,” Williams said. “A decade later, the waterfront area’s white population increased by 45% compared to 2% decline citywide, while the area’s Latinx population declined by 27% compared to a 10% increase citywide. This is just unacceptable. To combat racial segregation, we first need to study it.”

Williams also noted that Seattle has implemented a similar policy that takes racial justice into account while creating affordable housing. “Even Seattle doesn’t have the phrasing ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ and they are doing much more to address the tale of two cities, I believe than the housing plan here in New York City,” he said, invoking the campaign slogan that de Blasio employed in his first mayoral race in 2013.  

At an unrelated afternoon news conference, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson did not take a position on the bill, saying he had yet to study it. But he acknowledged the rationale behind it. “I do think what it speaks to is the gentrification and displacement that we’ve seen throughout our entire city, all five boroughs, that anxiety, that fear, especially amongst long term residents about what’s happening to them,” he said.

De Blasio has insisted that his housing and planning policies are sound and use a combination of strategies to create new housing, including many affordable units, while also putting resources in communities with new parks, school seats, and other investments that often accompany rezonings. He has said that the neighborhood rezonings under his administration have been done in concert with local Council members who welcome new zoning rules, more affordable housing, and city investment. The mayor has also pointed to the city’s significant increase in tenant eviction protection during his tenure.

"This Administration is fighting displacement with record levels of affordable housing, free legal services, rent freezes, and programs to combat harassment," said Jane Meyer, a mayoral spokesperson, in a statement. "Through Where We Live NYC, we are developing new fair housing policies to fight discrimination and build more inclusive neighborhoods. We look forward to reviewing this legislation and working with our partners to promote equity and fairness."

Salamanca has his own concerns with the mayor’s housing plan as he has pushed for a 15% set aside in new affordable housing for homeless New Yorkers, which the administration has resisted. “We can continue to grow the city of New York, because there is a housing crisis,” he said at the morning news conference with Williams, “but we should be able to do that without displacing our communities, and that’s what this is about.”

He also refuted the notion that a racial impact study could add another layer of red tape to the already lengthy and burdensome ULURP process. “We’re not trying to change the timeframe as to how the ULURP process works,” he said in response to reporters’ questions, “but...what we’re adding is more resources, more information, to that [environmental impact study] so that Councilmembers can make the right decision.”

CUFFH was created ten years ago when advocates sought to fight the proposed rezoning of Broadway Triangle in Brooklyn. The group was part of a larger coalition that took the Bloomberg administration to court, arguing that the rezoning would violate the Fair Housing Act. The case was only settled in 2017 with the de Blasio administration.

But Alex Fennell, network director of CUFFH, said the city continues to fail to live up to its obligations under the FHA. “Being displaced is not a choice. And the current zoning process, rather than promoting fair housing encourages developers to profit from harassing, displacing and segregating out long time residents,” she said on Wednesday.

She added, “The racial impact study is the first step in undoing the harm caused by over a century of land use policy rooted first in overt racism, then shielded by colorblind language.”

The next step for the bill would be a committee hearing.

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Note - This article has been updated with comment from a mayoral spokesperson.

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Criticizing De Blasio Rezonings, Williams Introduces 'Racial Impact Study' Requirement Wed, 29 May 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Council Hearing Highlights Big Gaps in City Planning Processes https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8513-council-hearing-highlights-big-gaps-in-city-planning-processes https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8513-council-hearing-highlights-big-gaps-in-city-planning-processes hearing city hall cm rafael salamanca jr

Council Member Salamanca, center (photo: William Alatriste/City Council)


A Tuesday City Council hearing about how city planning is done revealed major flaws in the process and showed significant divides between the mayoral administration and the Council over a set of bills aimed at changing relevant processes. Specifically, the legislation addresses how the outcomes of neighborhood rezonings -- where land use rules are adjusted in certain geographic areas to meet new development goals -- are projected and evaluated.

The hearing, which included racial overtones, was centered on oversight of the “City Environmental Quality Review,” known by its initials, CEQR, the city’s pre-rezoning assessment of the potential impact discretionary changes may have on the area and its residents.

Questions from members of the Council’s land use committee to representatives from the de Blasio administration brought into focus what planning and evaluation tools the city does and does not use when it pursues a major neighborhood overhaul or plans key infrastructure developments, and in measuring what impact these developments have on the communities.

A key concern expressed at the hearing was whether the Department of City Planning and the City Planning Commission are appropriately and accurately evaluating the local impact of zoning changes to inform future studies and planning. Several of the Council members present sponsor bills intended to improve the way the city evaluates the potential impact of rezonings on local transportation, schools, and residential displacement, changes that often fall along racial and economic lines.

With real estate always at a premium in New York City, the restrictions the city places on how land can be used in the five boroughs has incredibly broad effects on the character and utility of neighborhoods. Anything from the number of apartments available (and the number of affordable ones), what commerce and industry operates, the density of sidewalks and public transportation, and what city services will be accessible, can all be dramatically affected by zoning decisions.

The shifting needs of neighborhoods and the interplay of local economies throughout the metropolitan area makes development -- and, consequently, land use rule changes -- a necessary reality in New York City. But as has been the case in other periods of its history, with drastic recent changes over the last two decades, the city has had to grapple with how to grow responsibly.

City government has a lengthy process for considering and making changes to zoning restrictions, which requires that a lead city agency be designated to conduct a review of the “potential adverse environmental effects” of a rezoning proposal. Except for certain actions deemed by the lead agency to be too minor to warrant review, the study must result in an Environmental Impact Statement with proposals for mitigation strategies to avoid unfavorable outcomes.

The rezoning of Downtown Brooklyn in 2004 and of parts of Greenpoint and Williamsburg in 2006 both required Environmental Impact Statements, and were the subject of scrutiny at Tuesday’s oversight hearing.

While representatives of the Department of City Planning and the Mayor’s Office of Environmental Coordination (MOEC) spoke to the process of conducting and assessing environmental impact studies, they could not speak to the outcomes of these rezonings and whether the environmental reviews have been able to accurately predict the reality that followed.

What became painfully evident during the hearing was the fact that there is no procedure, or even an intention, to assess the accuracy of environmental impact predictions integral to the city’s consequential decisions to change the way land may be used.

The reality in those two cases is far different from what was predicted by the environmental impact statements, both Council members and administration representatives agreed. Downtown Brooklyn was rezoned largely to create opportunities for commercial development, while allowing some residential expansion; the result 15 years later is a vastly different neighborhood dominated by residential development, and a new economic landscape that has pushed out most of the community there before the rezoning, according to several of the Council members present.

While the Greenpoint-Williamsburg rezoning was intended for residential development to accommodate what was a growing need in 2006, an “explosion” of land speculation, land use variances, and illegal conversions in the years since have also displaced a large portion of residents, according to Council Member Antonio Reynoso, whose district includes parts of the neighborhood. The Environmental Impact Statement for that rezoning predicted a number of adverse impacts, including the indirect displacement of approximately 2,510 residents, and suggested mitigation strategies including the preservation and creation of additional affordable housing in the neighborhood.

The Department of City Planning has never revisited these figures or strategies. (Nevertheless, it considers Downtown Brooklyn to be a “very successful rezoning,” according to Susan Amron, general counsel at DCP, who testified on Tuesday.)

Amron told Council members at the oversight hearing that such a post-rezoning review does not fall under the agency’s purview.

“It is important to remember that environmental review is a disclosure process that applies only to discretionary decision-making, and not to the as-of-right developments that constitute nearly 80% of projects in the City,” she said. “Environmental review is also not a tool that looks backward to identify causes of current conditions...Again, it is a disclosure tool prepared at a specific moment in time, intended to aid decision-makers.”

But Council members present at the hearing could not understand why such a process wouldn’t include a retrospective assessment of whether the methodologies employed are sound and instructive, at times expressing shock and frustration.

“That answer doesn’t sit right with me,” Salamanca said. “How can the City of New York put a report out, submit it to the City Council, and then not go back and double-check to see how accurate that report was?”

Two of the bills being discussed would require city agencies to produce a comparative report on the projected and actual effects of a rezoning on transportation and school overcrowding, sponsored by Council Members Mark Gjonaj and Francisco Moya, respectively. They would further require the Department of City planning or the lead agency to make recommendations on how to amend the CEQR Technical Manual, which provides technical guidance on environmental impact studies, to “more accurately forecast such impacts in future land use actions.”

Another bill, sponsored by Moya, on the table Tuesday would require the city’s housing agency to produce a similar comparative report on residential displacement, and a fourth bill, sponsored by Reynoso, would require the city to track mitigation commitments.

At the hearing, Hilary Semel, director and general counsel of MOEC, the agency responsible for producing the CEQR Technical Manual, said that the office will soon launch an update to the manual, but has not yet determined its scope or the timeline of its release. City agencies “with expert jurisdiction over certain technical areas led the updating to those methodologies” in the past, Semel told the committee. But the manual has only been updated four times since it was first published in 1993, the most recent update in 2014, largely to accommodate changes to local, state, and federal law and policy.

In terms of tracking mitigation strategies, Semel said, OEC “is currently actively working on initiatives that will incorporate aspects of mitigation tracking. OEC will be able to apply its unique CEQR expertise, the developmental process, and the development of a public mitigation tracker.”

These initiatives, while still in the early stages of development, missed the crux of the matter for a number of the Council members present, many of whom are black and Latino and represent districts in which communities of color have been displaced or are under extreme economic pressure. Under Mayor de Blasio, a series of lower-income communities of color -- including East New York, East Harlem, Inwood, and others -- have been home to rezonings targeted at increasing housing density while providing broader public benefits. Several other proposed rezonings, in a more diverse mix of neighborhoods, are at various points in the lengthy process.

“The fact that you believe CEQR requires some changes because...everything can be improved and not speak to the gross miscalculations made by whatever formula exists in the CEQR manual, that you would come in here and say the Downtown Brooklyn rezoning was a success and that it’s something you’re proud of, is beyond me,” said an emphatic Antonio Reynoso, Council member from Williamsburg, Bushwick, and other areas who sponsors the bill to track mitigation strategies.

“You are part of the reason why 30,000 Latinos were displaced in ten years,” he continued. “You did that intentionally if you don’t think you have a problem with your manual. The manual needs to be modified so it can speak to real world problems.”

Council Member I. Daneek Miller of Queens wondered aloud about the racial make-up of the Department of City Planning. Only 28% of the department is black or Latino, according to the Department of Citywide Administrative Services, as of the 2017 fiscal year. For the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, an agency involved in mitigating displacement through affordable housing, that metric is a much higher 61%.

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by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Council Hearing Highlights Big Gaps in City Planning Processes Thu, 09 May 2019 04:00:00 +0000
A Supportive Housing Victory, and Much More To Do https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/7743-a-supportive-housing-victory-and-much-more-to-do https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/7743-a-supportive-housing-victory-and-much-more-to-do salamanca levin 2

Council Members Levin & Salamanca, the authors, foreground (photo: Jeff Reed)


New York City is facing a crisis. There are more than 60,000 homeless individuals living in the city shelter system daily, and thousands more in shelters for survivors of domestic violence, youth, and those living with HIV/AIDS. An additional estimated 4,000 New Yorkers sleep on the streets each night. And according to the Coalition for the Homeless, the number of homeless New Yorkers sleeping each night in municipal shelters is 83 percent higher than it was a decade ago.

These numbers are staggering. We, as elected leaders have a responsibility to do better and fully invest in solutions that work.

That is why, as moderators at this year’s New York State Supportive Housing Conference, we are proud to champion the city’s efforts to build more supportive housing -- a critical component of the City’s efforts to combat the homelessness crisis. We’re proud that the new city budget recently agreed upon by the Mayor and City Council, which we are members of, increased from 500 to 700 the supportive housing units that will become available in the next fiscal year. There is still much more to do.

Supportive housing is permanent affordable housing paired with wrap-around services designed to help people maintain their homes for the long-term. All tenants have a lease, and are provided with individualized on-site care, including case management, job training, and mental health and substance abuse counseling. Supportive housing developments are run by non-profit organizations that typically provide both support services and management.

Last year, the City Council General Welfare Committee held a hearing in The Schermerhorn, a supportive housing building that also contains affordable housing units for community members and artists, along with a theater for the public. It is a good example of how these developments create jobs and contribute to the growth and well-being of a neighborhood.

Supportive housing’s track record has shown its effectiveness in ending homelessness, and  improving neighborhoods, creating much-needed affordable housing and saving taxpayer dollars. Simply put, it is housing for those most in need. Residents have a place to call home in an environment that provides direct case management and access to mental health providers. We know all too well how vital mental health care is to a person’s wellbeing, and is that much more critical for individuals who are unstably housed and have often faced significant trauma. The integrated service model enables people to connect to the programs that are right for them, helping them to lead their best lives.

Organizations like the Supportive Housing Network of New York, comprised of more than 200 nonprofit organizations, link the 50,000 units of supportive housing they’ve created with critical services and programs that give New Yorkers a jumpstart on advancing the lives they want to lead through a more holistic approach.

Supportive housing has made a world of difference to New Yorkers:

Like Robert, who struggled with mental illness and addiction most of his life, living in Madison Square Park for ten years. After a health emergency, Urban Pathways’ outreach team helped him move into a beautiful new apartment in his native Bronx. He’s an active participant in his building and in client advocacy groups, regularly visits with his mother and grandchildren, and is beloved by residents and staff alike.

And like Shannon, who has dealt with undiagnosed bipolar disorder and PTSD from a lifetime of sexual assault and domestic abuse. When she became a tenant at Community Access’ Gouverneur Court, things started to change: she fell in love with her current life partner, fellow resident Kenny, and overcame addiction with the support of the staff at Community Access. She now has full time work at the Social Security Administration and recently graduated with a master’s degree.

These stories show firsthand that supportive housing works. It’s why the Mayor proposed a plan in 2015 to build an additional 15,000 supportive housing apartments over 15 years through the city’s new NYC 15/15 program. We applaud the administration for this plan, yet we also know the need is immediate. We need to do more to bring units online today.

As Chairs of the City Council’s Land Use and General Welfare Committees, we’re working collaboratively with our fellow Council Members to help speed the creation of the Mayor’s promised 15,000 supportive apartments over the next several years so that all New Yorkers will have a place to call home.

We need a bold vision to end homelessness. Supportive housing is the key.

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Stephen Levin represents the 33rd City Council District, including parts of Brooklyn, and Rafael Salamanca, Jr. represents the 17th District, including parts of the South Bronx. On Twitter @StephenLevin33 and @Salamancajr80.

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

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A Supportive Housing Victory, and Much More To Do Mon, 18 Jun 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Brooklyn City Council Member Setting Early Foundation for Speaker Run https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7610-brooklyn-city-council-member-setting-early-foundation-for-speaker-run https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7610-brooklyn-city-council-member-setting-early-foundation-for-speaker-run justin brannan city council

Council Member Justin Brannan (photo: John McCarten/City Council)


City Council Member Justin Brannan is everywhere.

He’s at the governor’s mansion discussing the state’s efforts to empower women- and minority-owned businesses. He’s meeting with the president of the Building and Construction Trades Council about the city’s construction industry. He’s at the Chinese-American Planning Council’s 53rd anniversary celebration, posing for photos with Congressional Rep. Grace Meng, state Assembly members Peter Abbate Jr. and Yuh-line Niou, and fellow Council members. He’s talking police-community relations with NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill. He’s speaking with the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce. He’s at union rallies, nonprofit galas, senior centers, PTA meetings and parades.

He’s being interviewed on television and photographed at City Hall, and he’s developing more and more of a social media presence, showcasing both his travels around the city but also his focus on constituent services in his district, praising his colleagues, chronicling his subway struggles, and sharing song lyrics. And, he’s campaigning for Congressional Rep. Joe Crowley, the Queens Democratic Party leader with outsized influence in other parts of government.

All that in the last two months, part of a frenetic start for a Council Member who has only been on the job since January, though he has been involved in city politics for much longer. And those activities haven’t gone unnoticed as Brannan, a Brooklyn Democrat, is emerging very early on as a potential contender to be the next Speaker of the City Council.

The Council Speaker, arguably the second-most powerful elected official in the city, is chosen internally by members every four years, in a process that is less-public facing and more backroom-dealing. In 2021, the next city election year, 36 Council members will be term-limited, portending a sea change in the 51-member legislative body and giving incumbents, who usually sail to reelection, a leg up in the speaker race. Brannan seems to be following the playbook of current Speaker Corey Johnson, who started making moves for the speakership early in his first four-year term.

It is, of course, far too early to tell what the field of candidates will look like, which is why Council sources are reluctant to speak openly. But the buzz around the Council threw up the same names over and over. Besides Brannan, other potential contenders -- all of them Democrats -- include Bronx Council Member Rafael Salamanca, Queens Council Members Francisco Moya and Adrienne Adams, Manhattan Council Member Carlina Rivera, and Brooklyn Council Member Alicka Ampry-Samuel. The list, save for Brannan, who seems to be the most active, is the same as that reported by City & State earlier this year. Some seem to have better odds, given their prominence on the Council and their relationships with the powerful Queens and Bronx Democratic county committees.

Brannan represents District 43 in Brooklyn, covering Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights, Bensonhurst and Bath Beach. He has a deep well of experience, as a former chief of staff to his predecessor, Council Member Vincent Gentile, and as intergovernmental affairs director at the Department of Education. He founded the Bay Ridge Democrats and served as its president. He’s also been a professional musician.

“You can see that he’s been out there, in other Council members’ districts and all over the city, so he might be taking a cue card from Corey Johnson’s playbook,” said a Council source who wished to remain unnamed. The source noted that though it will be an “open field” of candidates in 2021, the names that are popping up early are because of their relationships with county committees. “I think people are trying to get a sense of how to play the game...so it’s early to put money on a particular candidate.”

Another source with knowledge of Brannan’s moves noted that he has the advantage of being one of the few members who will be returning to the Council. “The fact that there’s only a handful of members coming back in four years sort of narrows the pool because...unless people would be OK with another two-term speaker, the next speaker is going to be one of the people that’s coming back,” the source said. Brannan, if reelected, would be serving his second and final term, as would the other contenders previously mentioned.

The source also noted that Brannan has made relationships over the last few years that will be beneficial down the line. “I think Justin’s always had, whether it was through the Bay Ridge Democrats or whether through campaign work he did, he’s always had those relationships,” the source said. “When he goes to the boroughs, it’s not like he’s introducing himself for the first time.”

Those relationships, including with Crowley and labor union leaders, will largely determine how the speaker race shakes out. The other members on the list of contenders have their own strengths and connections as well, and the speaker race often comes down to powerful stakeholders compromising in support of one candidate, taking into account a wide variety of factors.

Council Member Salamanca chairs the powerful land use committee and is a product of the Bronx Democratic County Committee. Salamanca’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

Council Members Moya and Adams are closely aligned with the Queens Democratic County Committee and its powerful boss, Rep. Crowley, who played kingmaker in the election of Johnson as speaker, in partnership with others, especially state Assemblymember Marcos Crespo, who heads the Bronx Democrats. Moya has the added bonus of having worked in the Assembly with Crespo.

“I’m sure this makes for great debate among all the political junkies out there, but the speakership is more than three years away,” Moya said in a statement. He insisted his focus is on his community, particularly on affordable housing, reduced-price MetroCards for low-income New Yorkers, and protections for workers in the building industry. “There will be a time and place to talk about the speakership but that’s a long ways away,” he said, not denying interest.

Stacey Yearwood, a spokesperson for Adams said the Council Member would not comment on being a speaker contender “as it is premature.”

None of the six potential candidates denied an interest in being the next speaker of the Council.

Council Members Rivera and Ampry-Samuel are viewed as rising stars in the Council and have have both been given prominent committees to lead -- hospitals and public housing, respectively. Rivera also received considerable support from Johnson in her election to the Council; they represent neighboring districts. Rivera declined to comment. Ampry-Samuels said in a statement, “My focus right now are the constituents of the 41st District and the residents of public housing.”

There’s no one predictable path to the speakership. “I think it’s hard because there’s been so few speakers that to go back and look historically how a speaker gets made, it’s different every time,” said the second Council source. “There’s the wisdom that Queens and the Bronx never make their own person the speaker, that would mean that Salamanca and Moya wouldn’t be the speaker. But who knows? There’s a lot of dynamics. There’s also the demographic dynamics. If we have a white mayor, chances are Justin’s not gonna be the speaker. If we have a black mayor, maybe there’s a chance there.”

In this last speaker’s election, there was vocal indignation that yet another white man was going be elected to a powerful seat in city government -- both Mayor Bill de Blasio and City Comptroller Scott Stringer are white men, Public Advocate Letitia James is a black woman. There were calls for electing a speaker of color, including from black and Latino Council members who were running for the seat themselves. All that could change, as the source noted, if the citywide seats aren’t occupied four years from now by mostly white men.

Brannan is coy about his plans, even if they seem transparent to others. “It’s April 2018!,” he said with a jovial laugh, when asked outside City Hall whether he was making an early move for the speakership. “It’s barely four months into my first term and I’m just laser-focused on being a good Council member for my district. Having succeeded a guy that was in office for a long time, I’ve got a lot to prove. So that’s my number one focus.”

He added, “It’s fun and flattering to be mentioned in that circle [of speaker potentials]. I think this new crop of my colleagues are all very talented and very smart. To be mentioned with this class is great.”

He conceded that maybe another white man may not be the way the Council will look to go and that diverse representation is sorely lacking in the legislative body. “Bottom line is that it’s gotta be someone that’s qualified for the job...I’ve already said in my Council seat, I would love nothing more than to be succeeded by a woman. So those things are important to me too. I’m certainly not blind to those dynamics but it’s just so far away.”

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Brooklyn City Council Member Setting Early Foundation for Speaker Run Thu, 12 Apr 2018 04:00:00 +0000