Gotham Gazette Thu, 29 Oct 2020 08:48:00 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb (Webmaster) What's The [Data] Point? 8,200 - The Gowanus Rezoning, with City Council Member Brad Lander brla sl pod

Council Member Brad Lander (photo: John McCarten/City Council)

What's The [Data] Point? Episode 97: 8,200 - the Gowanus Rezoning with City Council Member Brad Lander [You can download What's The [Data] Point? wherever you get your podcasts, including on iTunes]

City Council Member Brad Lander joined the show to discuss the Gowanus rezoning proposal that is entering final stages of negotiation and the prospects of passage in 2021 -- 8,200 is the number of new housing units that could be created by the proposed rezoning of Gowanus, Brooklyn.

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!

What's The [DATA] Point? · Episode 97: 8,200, with Councilmember Brad Lander

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

What's The [Data] Point? 8,200 - The Gowanus Rezoning, with City Council Member Brad Lander Thu, 15 Oct 2020 04:00:00 +0000
What's The [Data] Point? 20,000 - Industry City Rezoning Negotiations Fall Apart, with Industry City CEO Andrew Kimball & City Council Member Carlos Menchaca wtdp industry city

Council Member Menchaca and others tour part of Industry City (photo: William Alatriste/City Council)

What's The [Data] Point? Episode 96: 20,000 - The Industry City Rezoning Proposal Falls Apart, with Industry City CEO Andrew Kimball and City Council Member Carlos Menchaca [You can download What's The [Data] Point? wherever you get your podcasts, including on iTunes]

Industry City CEO Andrew Kimball and City Council Member Carlos Menchaca joined the show to discuss the demise of the Industry City rezoning proposal, which Kimball spent years working on and Menchaca opposed. What happened and what's next?

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!

What's The [DATA] Point? · WTDP 96 Mixdown 2

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

What's The [Data] Point? 20,000 - Industry City Rezoning Negotiations Fall Apart, with Industry City CEO Andrew Kimball & City Council Member Carlos Menchaca Thu, 24 Sep 2020 04:00:00 +0000
Scott Stringer is Putting Affordable Housing at the Center of His Mayoral Pitch — What's His Vision? ss yr sl

Comptroller and mayoral candidate Scott Stringer (photo: @scottmstringer)

When he officially launched his campaign for mayor earlier this month, Comptroller Scott Stringer took square aim at what he called “the gentrification industrial complex” that he says has flourished in New York City despite Mayor Bill de Blasio’s years-long effort to stem the tide of housing unaffordability. Stringer, a two-term Democrat, has for years examined, audited, and criticized various aspects of the mayor’s housing program, arguing it is not aptly designed to help those most in need of affordable housing, and is promising that if he’s elected mayor he will pursue a swift policy change to help house the poorest New Yorkers, finally make the city more affordable, and significantly reduce homelessness.

In January, Stringer released a housing plan that set him in contrast with de Blasio, earned him high praise from progressive leaders and organizations, and is now a lynchpin of his mayoral platform. The plan would be “a fundamental shift in the city’s approach to our housing crisis,” Stringer said at the announcement. “A plan that refocuses our resources where the crisis is most acute.” But there remain major open questions about the plan. Funding it would require action from the state Legislature, and at a time when both city and state tax revenues are down drastically. His push for both new mandates on affordable housing in new building projects and greater use of discretionary subsidies by the city could give pause to real estate developers and slow the pace of construction.

And Stringer has yet to answer key questions about what his approach to development as mayor would really be, including whether he would pursue large city-backed rezonings to encourage housing development in wealthier neighborhoods or how he would otherwise advance the housing desegregation that he has declared a goal.

While a representative of Stringer’s campaign told Gotham Gazette that Stringer wants to increase density across the city and that he supports upzonings in wealthier communities to do so, Stringer has not made either point central to his housing pitch. Nor has he pointed to any specific city neighborhoods he thinks are ripe for zoning changes to allow for larger buildings. He has so far only talked about mandating more affordable housing where building is set to occur within current zoning restrictions, thereby increasing costs for developers without increasing their potential earnings from more market-rate units that can subsidize the affordable ones, the key equation in de Blasio's plan.

Asked for examples of neighborhoods Stringer believes should be upzoned for more housing density, his campaign did not provide a response. Stringer was not made available for an interview for this story. But after this article originally published and discussion about Stringer's housing vision took off on social media, Stringer tweeted that "Upzonings are an important tool to create housing; we also need an as-of-right requirement," and, in response to housing advocates pointing to a proposal to upzone Soho for more housing, "I agree. Upzoning makes sense in Soho."

“When I'm mayor, we're going to end the crushing cycle of speculation, eviction and displacement,” Stringer said at his campaign launch. “No more giving away the store to developers. No more unaffordable affordable housing. We will put an end to the gentrification industrial complex, and end policies that perpetuate a cycle of segregation in our neighborhoods and in our schools...Together we will put the city's approach on a fundamentally new trajectory to build the housing we need in a city for everyone.”

[Read: Promising 'Leadership at City Hall,' Scott Stringer Officially Launches 2021 Mayoral Campaign]

At the campaign launch in Inwood, Stringer pointed to his housing plan and referenced its centerpiece, “universal affordable housing,” which would mandate aggressive affordability caps for 25% of the housing in any new development with ten or more units -- including those built as-of-right, meaning no new zoning changes in need of city approval. Universal affordable housing would replace the current Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH) program, a product of the de Blasio administration that has its fair share of critics, including Stringer, who don’t believe it goes far enough in mandating affordability and point out that it only applies to development in rezoned areas.

Universal affordable housing would require that all affordable housing created under it would cap rents so that those making an average of 60% of Area Median Income (about $58,000 a year for a family of three), or two parents making minimum wage and raising a child, would not pay more than 30% of their income in rent. Though some have raised questions about its constitutionality, as a potential government “taking” of private property, similar citywide policies have been implemented in San Jose, California in 2010 and Portland, Oregon in 2017. San Jose’s inclusionary housing policy was challenged all the way to the Supreme Court, which refused to take the case in 2016, letting the law stand (though leaving open the possibility of another challenge).

According to Stringer’s office, if universal affordable housing had been applied at the start of 2014, when de Blasio became mayor, it would have led to the construction of 25,000 additional affordable units by the end of 2019 over what de Blasio’s plan has produced.

Besides universal affordable housing, Stringer’s housing plan would also deepen the city’s investment in housing for extremely and very low-income households, shifting funds from supplementing rents for moderate- and middle-income households; create a New York City Land Bank to fund 100% permanently affordable housing on about 1,000 vacant city-owned properties (though that number of potentially-useful lots has long been disputed by city housing officials); end the 421-a affordable housing tax subsidy that is supposed to incentivize affordable units in wealthier areas and replace it with discretionary subsidies; and expand homeownership through various initiatives.

Stringer regularly talks about the need for a real focus on comprehensive “community-based planning,” arguing that the de Blasio administration has been too top-down and promising that if he’s elected mayor communities will have more input. He has not explained what that will look like or how it will be anything but a barrier to more housing being built, whether in wealthier neighborhoods or elsewhere.

According to an assistant comptroller in Stringer’s office, which produced the housing plan in January, the main flaw in de Blasio’s housing approach has been the targeting of low-income communities of color for major upzonings that allow more density. Instead of encouraging development in those areas and spurring or accelerating gentrification, the mayor should target parts of the city where construction is already occurring, the official said. De Blasio has argued that he has pursued neighborhood plans where there is ample room to build, where force of gentrification could be harnessed or stemmed, and where local elected officials are interested in working on rezonings.

And rather than focus on a quantitative target of 300,000 rent-restricted units over 12 years, the mayor should be looking at the outcomes for affordability, according to Stringer. His plan does not contain a goal of total units or a timeline.

In response to Gotham Gazette inquiries about various aspects of the housing plan, Cameron Hellerman, a spokesperson for Stringer’s campaign, provided a statement about universal affordable housing and how it would work. It said, in part: “This means real affordable housing in every neighborhood with new construction, no exceptions. The problem with Mayor de Blasio's approach is that the ‘affordable’ housing in his rezonings is not affordable and completely out of reach for the people who built up the low income neighborhoods he targeted. Universal Affordable Housing would bring an affordable housing revolution that delivers housing to the New Yorkers who need it most. With a mounting homelessness crisis made worse by the devastation of the pandemic, we simply can't afford not to implement this plan."

De Blasio’s 300,000-unit housing program, which mostly focuses on preservation rather than new construction, has shifted several times as the mayor has responded to constant and ongoing criticism about being too focused on the middle class as opposed to those who are working class, poor, and homeless. As of June 30, his administration has preserved 114,934 units and funded the construction of 50,656 units of rent-restricted housing. Of those, a total of 72,396 are targeted at extremely low- and very low-income families, which fall below the 50% Area Median Income threshold. More than 60,000 New Yorkers are in Department of Homeless Services shelters, while tens of thousands more live in other shelters, on the streets, or doubled up with friends or relatives.

The city’s fortunes have changed since the release of both de Blasio’s most recent version of his plan and Stringer’s plan. Just before the coronavirus outbreak hit, de Blasio was promising another iteration of his housing plan, with more focus on those with limited means.

While Stringer talked about the impacts of the pandemic at his campaign launch, he did not say anything about them altering his housing plan. The pandemic has pushed the economy into a recession and city revenues have plummeted, forcing de Blasio to pare back his own affordable housing program.

Stringer’s plan, which envisions a net increase of $600 million in city investment for affordable housing, in part through phasing out the 421-a affordable housing tax credit, eliminating the Mortgage Recording Tax, and reforming the Real Property Transfer Tax, may no longer be feasible.

Stringer’s proposal is a rebuke of Mandatory Inclusionary Housing, a broadly popular policy proven controversial based on the particulars of how it was designed by the de Blasio administration and City Council before its passage in 2016. As part of the mayor’s 300,000-unit affordable housing program, MIH requires developers to build permanent rent-restricted housing in new developments at various income bands when they receive rezoning permission to build bigger. MIH is, however, a small part of the overall housing plan and, by the end of 2019, about 2,100 affordable units had been created through the program, according to a City Limits report.

Under the current approach, the de Blasio administration has pursued neighborhood rezonings in select areas across the city to encourage more density, build new market-rate and affordable units, and modernize and invest in communities. While several neighborhood rezoning plans have moved through the process and been approved, others that de Blasio had targeted have not moved or been stalled, and the mayor has not made neighborhood rezonings a priority for years now.

When Stringer released his plan, the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development publicly criticised it, saying, in part, "Comptroller Stringer's proposals would actually worsen New York City's housing crisis. They'd make it next to impossible to build new buildings and lock countless hard-working families out of homes they could actually afford.”

Housing advocates, however, have broadly critiqued the city’s existing program and how MIH has been implemented. They note that the administration has mostly targeted low-income communities of color like East New York and East Harlem for rezonings, therefore encouraging real estate speculation and expediting the currents of gentrification that can price current residents out of their neighborhoods. De Blasio argues that his plan leverages forces of gentrification that would only worsen without city intervention and that it helps build desperately needed new housing for a variety of income levels. But advocates and some elected officials, including Stringer, say too much new housing that is being created continues to be unaffordable to those who need it most.

Stringer’s plan, on the other hand, has support from some of the most prominent housing advocacy groups in the city, including Community Voices Heard, Community Service Society, New York Communities for Change, The Legal Aid Society, and Churches United for Fair Housing.

“It's a million times better than de Blasio’s plan, which prioritized affordable housing that was unaffordable to communities,” said Jonathan Westin, executive director of New York Communities for Change, in a phone interview.

“What the next administration really needs to work on is, it's not just about building quote-unquote affordable housing,” he added. “It's about really housing the New Yorkers who need it the most, which are homeless people and people on the verge of homelessness.”

Part of Stringer’s proposal involves increasing operating housing subsidies awarded by the Department of Housing Preservation and Development by about $125 million each year and increasing capital investment by $375 million each year. But with the phasing out of the 421-a subsidy, which costs about $1.6 billion in property tax revenue annually according to estimates from Stringer’s office, under Stringer’s plan the city will have sufficient funds for the added investments. 

Westin said the city already has enough resources, but they’re not applied where they’re needed. “There's billions and billions in resources right now that is at HPD, that is at [Economic Development Corporation], that is just being misappropriated to build the gentrification plan that de Blasio is putting forward right now,” he said. “It could just be repurposed...into funding the lowest income housing.” If the city houses homeless people, it’ll also spend less on the shelter system, he pointed out.

Sean Campion, senior research associate at nonprofit watchdog Citizens Budget Commission, recently authored a report that found that New York’s housing stock growth has not kept pace with job creation, exacerbating the housing crisis. Policy decisions over the years have created uneven levels of allowable density, massive areas with low-density zoning, hard-to-develop vacant lots, and a scarcity of as-of-right development sites. Stringer’s plan seeks to correct some of those issues, but could run up against hurdles, Campion said in an interview.

“[Stringer] called for both more capital and targeting capital better at deep levels of affordability. There's obviously less of that to go around,” he said, pointing to the city’s budget crunch. Even if a Stringer administration kept funding flat, it would mean fewer units get built at deeper affordability. “That trade off is still there. But obviously in a more constrained environment, that's more difficult to do.”

Operational funding will be the bigger challenge, Campion noted, as the city’s revenues have nosedived with big budget gaps expected next year. Stringer has proposed raising those funds by replacing the “regressive and inequitable” mortgage recording tax with a “more progressive” Real Property Transfer Tax, changes that would together raise about $400 million in revenue each year. Those tax amendments, along with 421-a’s expiration, would require approval from the state Legislature.

“Given the budget shortfall plus the declines in just the number of real estate transfers in general, particularly on the commercial side, that could put a dent in that in the short-term,” Campion said.

Though CBC has not taken a position on Stringer’s universal affordable housing proposal, Campion did address the idea to do away with 421-a and provide subsidies on a discretionary basis. “Making it discretionary would probably depress housing production,” he said. “There are a lot of faults [with 421-a]. It can be better targeted, it’s expensive. But because it’s as-of-right, developers know what the program is, and they know what they're getting into when they're buying land, running projects.”

“One of the benefits of development in New York City in general is that you can build things as-of-right without discretionary approvals, but we still need 421-a to make the economics work because the tax on multi-family development is so high...Making the tax incentives discretionary effectively makes all development discretionary,” he added.

[Read: Experts Examine Challenges and Solutions to Building Affordable Housing in New York]

One area of general agreement among advocates and fiscal watchdogs is that additional capital investment will both help create more housing and spur job growth by encouraging construction.

“I don't see the pandemic at all at odds with an ambitious housing preservation and production program the way that Stringer lays out,” said Cea Weaver, campaign coordinator for the Housing Justice For All coalition. Weaver too noted flaws in how the city has used Mandatory Inclusionary Housing. “Mandatory Inclusionary Housing is really a public policy that's designed for a hot market,” she said, noting that de Blasio’s years in office have been accompanied by robust real estate growth (until covid). MIH, she said, is designed to work best in neighborhoods with higher land values, where developers would be able to recoup their investments without needing public subsidies while still building affordable units. “De Blasio, that's not how he used it. The way that he decided to do it was to use it in low land value areas of the city,” she said.

Weaver said the time is ripe for the city to take a greater role in regulating housing by bringing unregulated housing stock, particularly in boroughs other than Manhattan, under rent-regulation as the pandemic suppresses the real estate market. “This downturn means that there are lots of things that you can do to increase the value of the city's capital,” she said, calling on the city to issue bonds for building housing and to bail out struggling landlords and buildings while bringing them under city regulation.

She did note one point of minor disagreement with Stringer’s plan. The comptroller has proposed increasing homeownership partly through creating community land banks and land trusts that can fund the construction of affordable co-ops and condos. “Stringer says that these are mechanisms to create homeownership. They're not. They're mechanisms to create collectively run housing. So I think that's a misnomer and he shouldn't be describing it that way,” Weaver said.

Stringer is among a field of declared and likely candidates for the Democratic mayoral primary set to take place in June of next year and likely to determine the next mayor, given the city's overwhelming voter registration imbalance toward Democrats. All those seeking the mayoralty will be expected to outline how they plan to make the city more affordable, produce more housing, reduce homelessness, and save public housing. Earlier this year, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, who has said he intends to run for mayor but has not officially declared his candidacy, released an anti-homelessness plan and said an affordable housing plan was soon to come, but that was put on hold by the pandemic. Former federal housing secretary Shaun Donovan, also seriously exploring a mayoral run, is likely to make housing a centerpiece of his campaign. Former nonprofit executive Dianne Morales, who has launched her run for mayor, is talking about housing as "a human right" and hosting an upcoming campaign event focused on the issue. Other declared or exploring Democrats include Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, former New York City Veteran Affairs Commissioner Loree Sutton, and Maya Wiley, a civil rights attorney and former counsel to Mayor de Blasio.

If victorious, Stringer would need political will and alliances to implement some of the necessary policies. Phasing out 421-a will require state action as will reforming the city’s inequitable property tax system, which de Blasio promised and failed to do for years. (Stringer released an analysis of the property tax system in 2018, criticizing the disparate impact it has on working families. “We need to give New Yorkers a break, and turn a regressive tax system into a fair and progressive one,” he said at the time. “We must explore common sense solutions and expand tax relief to level the playing field for working families.” He has not released his own property tax reform plan. Meanwhile, long-delayed efforts by de Blasio to reform the inequitable and antiquated property tax system were stalled before the pandemic and have not been discussed since.)

“While our world has changed radically since the start of the year, New York City still has an affordable housing crisis,” said James Whelan, president of the Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY), an organization of major developers and land-owners, in a statement. “Though it’s now more critical than ever to provide more units for low-income, hard-hit New Yorkers, there are dramatically fewer resources available to create such housing. Tackling our City’s affordable housing needs will require sensible, data-driven policies and creative partnerships with the private sector to produce new, below market-rate units.”

Eric Kober, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a think tank, said Stringer’s plan “was never workable. It’s certainly not workable in the current economic circumstances. It is even less workable than de Blasio’s MIH program.” He pointed out that it would require diverting already dwindling capital resources away from other needs and towards housing.

Besides discouraging private development, Kober said most developers will try to grandfather in to existing regulations before 421-a expires next in 2022. That rush may be accelerated if developers are wary of Stringer’s plan being implemented, he said. “Even in the wealthiest neighborhoods, where in theory you could cross-subsidize affordable housing with high rents, what’s more likely to happen is that people will rush to build before Stringer’s plan goes into effect,” he said. “So there will be an initial burst of housing and very little housing after that.”

“It would have very deleterious effects on the city and possibly on the economy,” he added.

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Note: this article has been updated to reflect Stringer's responses to discussion of the piece on social media, including his call for upzonign Soho.

Scott Stringer is Putting Affordable Housing at the Center of His Mayoral Pitch — What's His Vision? Mon, 21 Sep 2020 04:00:00 +0000
Busting Industry City Rezoning Myths industry city hum

Industry City (photo: @IndustryCity)

City Council Member Carlos Menchaca’s July announcement of his intent to vote no on Industry City’s controversial “special innovation zoning district” because Jamestown Properties and investor owners were “ramming through their proposal unchanged,” catalyzed a deluge of appeals to the City Council and Speaker Corey Johnson to break the long-standing tradition of ‘member deference’ on matters pertaining to land use and real estate development.

The New York Daily News followed with three editorials urging Industry City to “build bigger” and “The Council must vote yes” because the stakes for the city are to “build or die.” Members of the City Council - Robert Cornegy (Brooklyn District 36), Ritchie Torres (Bronx District 15), and Donovan Richards (Queens District 31) - penned opinion pieces stating that as a “steward of the public good,” they plan to “do what I believe is right” and vote to approve Industry City’s massive special district and rezoning application. With no direct neighborhood ties or experience, their support is “personally offensive” to Alexa Avilés, Community Board 7 member and candidate in City Council District 38 to replace the term-limited Menchaca.

Amid the ongoing economic toll of the COVID-19 pandemic, the rezoning of Industry City has taken on heightened urgency as an engine of job creation in a city facing “a severe blow” to its local economy and “distressingly high” unemployment rates, particularly among immigrants and communities of color. A Chinese language news article reposted in City Limits reported on a letter to City Council Speaker Johnson from Sunset Park’s Chinese immigrant growth coalition, comprised of Community Board 7 members, business and property owners, and local developers expressing their support for an Industry City expansion. Community Board 7 member Kenny Guan, owner of Guan Realty Corp. located in neighboring Dyker Heights, said, “We need to build up locally and in the city and the entire country with jobs especially with the Coronavirus here in Sunset Park.” Mr. Guan also makes an appearance in an Industry City video touting opportunities for local small businesses.

There are zero public dollars at stake here
Supporters of Industry City repeat and perpetuate the false notion that as a “purely private investment,” Industry City, therefore, does not benefit from public subsidy. In a 2015 Crain’s article, Industry City CEO Andrew Kimball noted city and state investments of $115 million for infrastructure upgrades to the sprawling 16 building complex. The city also invested in ferry service and a fiber optic broadband network along Third Avenue to provide high-speed connectivity, and as former Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen noted, “If we were not doing all this other stuff, [Industry City] wouldn’t be as successful as they’re going to be.” 

Furthermore, a Partnership for New York City letter signed by 17 organizations including labor unions, local chambers of commerce, and the Real Estate Board of New York, claimed rezoning Industry City “will generate $100 million a year in desperately needed local tax revenue.” Real property taxes are the largest source of city revenues to fund essential public services such as education, housing, transit, and health services. The truth, however, is Industry City has long been a beneficiary of the city’s costliest commercial real estate tax exemption program, the Industrial and Commercial Incentive Program (ICIP), which significantly lowered the amount of tax owed on a commercial property by reducing the property’s assessed value for up to 25 years.

Due to its high cost in foregone commercial property tax revenues, which the Independent Budget Office estimated at $500 million in fiscal year 2008, ICIP was replaced by the Industrial and Commercial Abatement Program in 2008. But, properties with previously approved ICIP tax exemption benefits (such as Industry City) were not affected. 

Despite the perception that Industry City does not benefit from public subsidies, three Industry City buildings have been paying significantly reduced property taxes for nearly two decades. In the case of 639 2nd Avenue, which is one of Industry City’s nine city block-long “finger buildings” connected by a public corridor of boutique retailers dubbed Innovation Alley, its current estimated market value is $36,331,000 but the 2020/2021 taxes will be based on an assessed value of a mere $9,446,240. The 25-year ICIP benefit period for 639 2nd Avenue will end on June 30, 2027. For 882 3rd Avenue, a 12-story building with commercial office tenants, Industry City’s 2020/2021 tax bill will be based on an assessed value of $21,827,520, which is significantly less than half the property’s market value at approximately $60 million. Industry City’s commercial property tax exemptions are, in fact, a public subsidy.

creation cash cowjob

To Bring 20K New Jobs to Sunset Park” 
City Council Member Ritchie Torres’ statement in his co-authored New York Daily News opinion piece, “..Industry City’s application is not about skyscrapers that displace people. It is about jobs that employ New Yorkers in a time of depression-level unemployment,” is particularly myopic and disappointing. As Chair of the Oversight and Investigations Committee, Council Member Torres led a March 2019 joint oversight hearing with Council Member Paul Vallone, Chair of the Economic Development Committee, to demand an account of Mayor de Blasio’s New York Works jobs plan. Describing the mayor’s plan to create 100,000 “good-paying” jobs by 2027 as “glorified wishful thinking,” Council Member Torres was a fierce advocate for accountability of the mayor’s “pretty promises.”

Community concerns about Industry City have long centered on the questionable promise of entry-level, good-paying jobs for working class New Yorkers. Despite the fanfare about an Innovation Lab to connect Sunset Park residents to employment at Industry City, the only account of workforce training and placement outcomes showed paltry gains for individuals seeking employment. In a one-year period between May 2018 and May 2019, the Innovation Lab helped place 114 individuals of whom 91 secured employment in Industry City “innovation economy jobs” such as maintenance/building services, security guards, dispatchers, food production, and retail.  

One of Council Member Torres’ chief criticisms of New York Works focused on the “uncertain at best and woefully inaccurate” method of tracking job creation. It was during the March 2019 joint oversight meeting that Council Member Torres’ questioning of job projections versus actual numbers of jobs created led to the discovery that in the one year since the New York Works implementation, $300 million was spent to create a mere 300 actual jobs at that point. It is, therefore, especially disappointing that Council Member Torres endorsed Industry City’s rezoning application without studying Industry City’s track record in job creation for working class New Yorkers. Regulating land use and zoning are key tools the city leverages for economic development and job creation, and as tools that should advance public interest and welfare rather than private investor profits, job creation claims based on a rezoning deserve the highest level of scrutiny and accountability.  

Acknowledging the lack of Industry City job creation data, Council Member Menchaca appealed to his colleagues in a September 9 letter, writing, “Industry City’s argument boils down to a promise. That they will create thousands of jobs during an economic recession. This argument is also their greatest liability.”

The Ultimate Cash Cow” 
A few months after Jamestown Properties and their investor partners acquired an ownership share of Industry City and hired Andrew Kimball, who transformed the Brooklyn Navy Yard into "an economic engine of craft whiskey distilleries and film studios," working artists were displaced in favor of hosting art and design festivals such as the NYCxDesign. At the May 2014 NYCxDesign, Chilean artist Sebastian Errazuriz created a cash cow piñata stuffed with $1,000 bills. Festival attendees took turns swinging a stick at the piñata in an effort to break it and grab for the dollar bills. Errazuriz stated his cash cow symbolizes “...a golden calf from the Bible, a false idol, the Bull of Wall Street" and years later, the cash cow piñata remains an apt metaphor for the “false idol” of job creation based on a massive private investor and developer-led rezoning.

The COVID-19 pandemic underscored deep and persistent racial inequality but approval of Industry City’s rezoning proposal to establish an innovation district will not generate the jobs desperately needed by working class New Yorkers.

Tarry Hum's family moved to Sunset Park in 1974, and her father continues to reside there. She is Chair of the Urban Studies Department at Queens College, CUNY and author of Making a Global Immigrant Neighborhood. On Twitter @TarryHum.

Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email

Busting Industry City Rezoning Myths Mon, 14 Sep 2020 04:00:00 +0000
The Bronx to SoHo: Pull Your Weight in Addressing the City's Housing and Segregation Crises affordable housing puentes

Mayor de Blasio with New Yorkers (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)

Dear Mayor de Blasio, Manhattan Borough President Brewer, Council Member Chin, and Members and Residents of Manhattan Community Board 2:

My name is John Sanchez, I’m the District Manager of Bronx Community Board 6, a great neighborhood, but also among the poorest in our city. In Bronx CB6, which includes Belmont, East Tremont, and West Farms, there is a 31% poverty rate, a higher than 30% unemployment rate, and 60% of residents are rent-burdened. I love my neighborhood but I can’t fault any of my neighbors for wanting to live in a higher opportunity neighborhood like SoHo or The Village in Manhattan Community Board 2, especially given it would likely help their children’s long-term outcomes for career earnings, health, and educational attainment.

While I am sure many residents in places like Manhattan CB2 finally recognize that Black Lives Matter, in too many parts of our city this call to action stops when it comes to integrating exclusionary neighborhoods and having Black neighbors. I am writing to implore you to take a monumental first step toward equitable integration by supporting the plan presented by Open New York to rezone SoHo and NoHo for thousands of new homes, of which at least 700 would be deeply affordable through the Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH) program.

The rationing of affordable housing development in New York City due to arbitrary zoning rules and local control and the resulting displacement of demand to communities like mine must end.

I actually used to live in SoHo when I was a Resident Assistant at NYU. While the odds of attending NYU as a Black and Latino man from The Bronx are slim but improving, the odds of someone like me building a life in SoHo are six times lower, with only 2% of Manhattan CB2 residents being Black. The neighborhood’s long-standing refusal to construct affordable housing is the main reason for its lack of diversity. While neighborhoods such as Jerome Avenue, Far Rockaway, and East New York have been rezoned during the de Blasio administration, places like SoHo and Riverdale retain their zoning from nearly 40 years ago, limiting the number of people who can live there and preserving their pale “community fabric” instead of fostering beautiful mosaics.

Adding insult to injury, our city’s inequitable land use strategy contradicts the Department of Housing Preservation and Development’s very own guidance, which states “MIH requirements work best in strong housing markets. Rental projects in moderate and weak markets do not achieve sufficient returns to achieve feasibility without subsidies.” Allowing the stronger housing markets like SoHo to build without subsidies would allow low-income areas like my community board to have more subsidy dollars to build more units of housing at deeper levels of affordability.

The fiscal crisis brought on by the pandemic makes changing this dynamic even more urgent - if the city is going to cut $1 billion from our affordable housing construction budget, we must get the most equitable bang for our buck with the funding that’s available. 

The pandemic has shown us that viruses don’t recognize the geographic lines that define our land use process. New York is an interconnected city that cannot exist without people of all backgrounds doing their part, especially when it comes to addressing our affordable housing crisis. Whether operating our transportation system, staffing our hospitals, teaching our children, delivering our food, or cleaning our streets, our city would grind to a halt without the essential workers who mostly live in communities like mine. Yet in wealthy neighborhoods like SoHo they’re only welcome to visit when working, shopping, or sight-seeing, but not if they’re looking for a place to live.

If you can accept a food delivery from a New Yorker who doesn’t look like you, you can also embrace them as a neighbor. If you can hire a nanny for your children who looks different from you, you can also embrace their children as classmates of your own children. 

Upzoning SoHo for mixed-income housing would be an important next step in building a New York that is united and open to all regardless of background or income. Let’s show the whole city that building more housing is not a burden on any community, but a benefit for us all that should happen throughout the five boroughs.

John Sanchez is the District Manager of Bronx Community Board 6 and a candidate for City Council in District 15. On Twitter @NYJohnSanchez.

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The Bronx to SoHo: Pull Your Weight in Addressing the City's Housing and Segregation Crises Tue, 11 Aug 2020 04:00:00 +0000
Now More Than Ever, New York City Needs Leaders to Welcome Jobs sp cm cm

Council Member Menchaca & Speaker Johnson (photo: John McCarten/City Council)

All of us who care about New York City – and if you are a regular reader of Gotham Gazette that surely includes you – are worried about its future. COVID-19 has shuttered our economy and seriously impaired the lives and livelihoods of millions of our residents. It is clear that things will never go back to the way they were and that we must turn this disaster into an opportunity to bring back a different, better, fairer city. 

But fear of change and the demonizing of ‘development’ risk derailing one of the most important vehicles New York has to generate new jobs and revenue: changes in zoning so that neighborhoods can adjust to new conditions and attract more housing and business. In January I wrote about the risk to the city’s plan to upzone Inwood in Northern Manhattan to provide more housing. Though the plan included a number of community enhancements and had been approved by the area’s City Council member, Ydanis Rodriguez, it was challenged in court by local opposition groups. Fortunately the appellate division correctly reversed the lower court’s decision, but the opposing groups have vowed to appeal. 

Now comes another possible derailment of a proposed zoning change: the rejection by Council Member Carlos Menchaca of the proposal to expand Industry City on the Brooklyn waterfront.  This plan to turn the area around the vibrantly successful and creative Industry City into a light manufacturing zone was first announced in 2015 and has been reviewed and refined in response to community input. The developers have indicated willingness to sign a community benefits agreement including all of the requirements Menchaca had specified, including removal of hotels from the plan, restriction on the amount of retail space, creation of a manufacturing hub managed by a non-profit, expansion of the existing Innovation Hub to connect more local residents to jobs, support for worker cooperatives and training and research around green manufacturing.

In both the Inwood and the Industry City cases, despite years of community engagement and input, whether through ‘member deference’ which enables the local Council member to veto a project or, failing that, through the courts, vocal groups have been able to sidetrack the projects. The chilling effect of the failure to bring an Amazon headquarters to Queens is being exacerbated just at the moment when we need to be encouraging outer-borough centers of innovation and employment. 

Of course every effort should be made to assure that the current residents of the surrounding area benefit from new development, and the Industry City plan adopts this goal. Indeed 57% of the 8,000 jobs already created by Industry City are filled by Brooklyn residents and 37% from the immediate neighborhood. This rezoning would bring an additional $64 million in private investment on top of the $400 million already spent on Industry City revitalization. It would attract new kinds of businesses and pump 15,000 more jobs and $100 million a year in tax revenue into the city’s economy. Projects like this are vital to ensuring a healthy future and the stakes are too high to let a determined minority override the best interests of everyone else. 

A few public officials have come forward to defend the Industry City project and urge its approval despite the local Council member’s objection. Two of them wrote convincingly in the Daily News, but they are from other boroughs and are moving on from the Council to other positions at the end of the year. Closer to home, Brooklyn Council Member Robert Cornegy Jr. courageously wrote to his colleagues in the Brooklyn delegation urging them to join him in supporting the Industry City zoning application notwithstanding their colleague’s objections. In a follow up op-ed in the Brooklyn Eagle he summed up the argument:

“In the pre-pandemic world, this was already a precedent-setting example of responsible development in our borough that would have been an important project for Brooklyn’s economic future. Now, in the face of a financial crisis unlike anything since the Great Depression, it is an absolute necessity."

"We find ourselves at a historically precarious junction and it is not an exaggeration to suggest that the City Council is now faced with a decision that will help to determine which economic path our City ultimately takes…This pandemic has forced us to think anew about what’s best for the greater good of our borough, our city and all of our residents – not just those within a few square blocks of a proposed development – and within that context I believe the choice for the City Council on Industry City’s proposal should be clear.” 

Bravo! Now what is needed is leadership from city-wide officials who are willing to step up and represent the needs and interests of the entire city. So amid mass unemployment in our city, what does Mayor de Blasio have to say? When first asked about it, he said that because it is a private application his administration doesn’t play a “leading role” and that while jobs are welcomed in New York City, it is really between the developer and the City Council.

The zoning process is overseen by the City Planning Commission, a mayoral agency, which plays a leading role in all of these decisions. The fact that no public subsidies are required for the Industry City project is a plus, not an element that makes it a “private application” that is solely between the developer and the Council. For the mayor to take the position that he has no role in this or any large-scale land-use application unless his administration is the main driving force would be quite an abdication of responsibility.

It seems that he (perhaps urged by someone in his administration) thought it might be better to be slightly more engaged, and a few days later the mayor modified his comments when asked about Industry City again. The traditional deference to the impacted area’s Council member is worth respecting, he said, but added:

“But I do think we have to think about some of the overwhelming dynamics we're dealing with right now. We're in the middle of a pandemic and we've got to get people back to work. We've got to find every way to get livelihoods back to people who need them. So, that needs to be taken into account.”

This is not exactly a ringing endorsement of the Industry City plan, but it is an acknowledgement that the covid crisis should cause City Council members and many others to rethink their priorities and approach to growth, especially jobs. Approving this particular rezoning is the right thing to do and would also serve as a symbol that our elected leaders get that special, hard times call for new approaches. With New York City facing an economic abyss, the mayor has to ratchet up his support and work with the City Council to get the Industry City rezoning over the finish line.

That said, Mr. City Council Speaker, the ball is in your court.

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

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Now More Than Ever, New York City Needs Leaders to Welcome Jobs Mon, 10 Aug 2020 04:00:00 +0000
A Portal Does Not Replace A Knock On The Door 49390440083 63553a0d3e c

The mayor at a ground-breaking ceremony (photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)

The Department of City Planning (DCP) has announced that it is resuming the city’s rezoning process after a five-month suspension due to the pandemic. But DCP has neither adapted the process that leads to significant land use changes to overcome the obstacles created by the pandemic nor the underlying structural racism embedded in land use decision-making. As DCP said in a recent statement reaffirming its commitment to dismantling institutionalized racism:

“We recognize that planning policies and zoning codes have acted for decades as bulwarks against fairness, inclusion and integration, and that they have played a large role in perpetuating racism and even violence against Black and Brown Americans…We are committed to unpacking and taking on institutionalized racism within the planning profession and examining our own role…”

If the city is to restart rezoning, it cannot be under the same structurally flawed process that it has acknowledged contributes to the disparities that have plagued this country since its inception. The current crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic as well as the ongoing protests for racial justice have further exposed the fatal impacts of institutionalized racism on Black and Latino communities. Resuming this flawed process while there are still pandemic-created obstacles to outreach, education, community organizing, and public participation will cause further harm to these communities.

Community groups that DCP relied upon for “getting out the word” are swamped with the need to feed and care for residents in their neighborhoods during this pandemic and the mass unemployment that has resulted from measures taken to contain COVID-19. The city’s creation of an online portal to provide information on attending virtual DCP meetings is not sufficient and will exclude hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers, many of whom are low income. A portal does not replace door-knocking. 

Additionally, budgetary changes have greatly impacted how the city will be able to respond to demands for more affordable housing. Beginning a zoning change now that relies on the current Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH) mechanism is extremely problematic and fundamentally unfair due to the draconian cuts to the city’s capital budget. The funding that would have been used to deepen affordability under MIH and provide additional services to remediate the negative impacts of a rezoning has evaporated. 

There are gaping holes and misguided instructions in the City Environmental Quality Review (CEQR) manual for gathering the information that goes into environmental impact statements - information essential for community boards, the City Planning Commission, and the City Council to accurately and fairly assess a zoning change before they vote on major land use changes (see more here and here).

These flaws hide the displacement and inadequacy of any anticipated affordable housing, and do not project how a zoning change will alter the racial composition of a neighborhood such as when older buildings are torn down and replaced with new “luxury condos.” The CEQR guidelines assume that tenants in buildings with six or more units are protected by rent regulation even though those protections are frequently evaded. Evictions, already highest in Black and Latino communities, are expected to rise as a result of the pandemic.

The CEQR guidelines are completely silent on the financial impacts a rezoning has on property values - critical information that communities and elected officials need when they try to negotiate with developers for more and deeper affordable housing, schools, libraries, and other community benefits.

In addition to providing resources and information essential to a fair zoning process, DCP must be creative and innovative to overcome the obstacles to communications and outreach created by the pandemic, which still threatens people’s health and undermines the existing public engagement process. 

The city cannot resume land use processes that will impact Black and Latino communities without a massive effort to engage these communities. City government must be driven by the imperative to bring BIPOC into the decision-making. DCP needs to innovate ways to communicate and there are a number of measures DCP can implement today: 

  • The city owns, controls, or can access buildings, spaces, and infrastructure in every neighborhood, from public schools and firehouses to bus-stop shelters and subway platforms. These spaces can serve as neighborhood touchpoints with maps, descriptions of possible buildouts, and other information to alert residents about land use proposals. 
  • Many of these spaces are already in use for emergency services for the community and can serve an additional function as a means of outreach for projects. DCP can create displays, take-away flyers, and other materials for distribution in these areas. It is important that language services and translations are also made available to accommodate residents who do not speak English. 
  • The city needs to extend the timeframe and expand the means of communication wherever possible, such as keeping hearings open so people can testify over time, and facilitating locations within impacted communities where people can submit written testimony, or safely record and submit in-person video testimony, a feature Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer has used often during public hearings; and
  • If the city truly wants to improve engagement in these communities, it must provide funding and other resources to community-based organizations, now swamped with providing essential services, to augment their capacity to reach out to community members about proposed zoning changes and encourage them to participate in the process.

This pandemic has demonstrated that the city is capable of changing rules and laws quickly to accommodate extenuating circumstances. It is not merely that these are extraordinary times that require innovation in how governments must engage their residents in decision-making. Government must also be enlightened by the awareness of the long-term structural barriers to engagement that have excluded communities of color from full participation.

Tara Duvivier is Senior Planner and Adam Friedman is Director at the Pratt Center for Community Development, a Pratt Institute Research Center, which provides technical assistance in land use and community development in low-income communities and communities of color throughout New York City.

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A Portal Does Not Replace A Knock On The Door Sun, 09 Aug 2020 04:00:00 +0000
City Council Members and De Blasio Planning Chief Spar Over Neighborhood Rezonings at Budget Hearing 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.

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
Stringer Calls for 'Universal Affordable Housing' and Overhaul of City Subsidy Use comptroller universal

Comptroller Scott Stringer (photo: @NYCComptroller)

New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer on Wednesday again took aim at perhaps the most pressing issue facing New Yorkers: housing affordability, and while repeatedly criticizing Mayor Bill de Blasio’s approach, unveiled a new plan headlined by a “universal affordable housing” proposal to require income-targeted units in every new development across the five boroughs.

Stringer, a fellow Democrat who hopes to succeed the term-limited de Blasio by winning next year’s mayoral election, is also calling for fully using city subsidies to help create new affordable housing for low- and very low-income households, a new nonprofit land bank to better utilize city-owned vacant lots, and ending state-authorized tax abatements that he argues are not spurring enough affordable housing.

The comptroller’s overall plan, which also includes a component aimed at increasing home ownership in the city, is dubbed “Housing We Need,” and seeks to take a more comprehensive approach, he said, than the current piecemeal efforts that too often involve upzoning communities of color to add housing that accelerates gentrification and keeps the city racially segregated. De Blasio’s approach, Stringer has long-argued and reiterated Wednesday, does not utilize city dollars to subsidize enough housing for those who are most rent-burdened, many on the verge of losing their homes.

Universal affordable housing would be a “fundamental shift” in the city’s approach, Stringer stressed, more aptly responding to the affordability crisis, and requiring that 25% of all new as-of-right development with ten or more units is set aside for permanent low-income affordable housing. Such an approach may face constitutional questions, given that it would be a requirement added to as-of-right property use, while the city under de Blasio passed Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH) where certain percentages of rent-regulated housing is required when developers are able to take advantage of an upzoning to build bigger or higher.

Stringer criticized MIH and its use, saying de Blasio’s approach has “facilitated rezonings in a few cherry-picked neighborhoods and allows developers to build buildings that are bigger and higher than the rules would normally allow in exchange for setting aside 20 to 30 percent of new units as affordable housing,” and said that even the affordable units are not affordable enough to existing residents of the impacted communities and “out of reach” for most New Yorkers.

“Our affordable housing programs were meant to be an answer to New Yorkers being priced out of their homes,” Stringer said. “They were supposed to yield hundreds of thousands of affordable units. They were supposed to anchor communities against the growing costs of living in this city. Instead, they’ve reinforced unaffordability. Instead of solving the problem, we’ve made it worse.”

Mayor de Blasio has a different perspective, of course, and believes that his 12-year, 300,000-unit affordable housing plan, which has evolved over the years, is a very sound one, helping to preserve and build rent-regulated housing for people of a variety of income levels, and taking advantage of neighborhood zoning opportunities where local City Council members have been willing to negotiate. De Blasio’s office did not return a request for comment on Stringer’s speech and plan.

On Wednesday, Stringer made perhaps his most aggressive case yet that de Blasio’s housing plans are failing, especially with regard to how well they are attuned to the severity of the affordability crisis for low-income New Yorkers.

“To make sure these units are actually affordable,” Stringer explained of his universal affordable housing idea, “they should all be set at an average of 60% of the Area Median Income, or a household income of $58,000 a year for a family of three.” To avoid how development has spurred or reinforced segregation, the proposal applies to developments in all neighborhoods “whether it’s in the Upper East Side or in East Tremont.” 

“A framework of Universal Affordable Housing would set a new course for the much-needed integration of all our communities. In requiring affordable housing across all new buildings in all neighborhoods, we’re sending a strong and clear message that racial and economic diversity, in every corner of our city, across all zip codes, is paramount,” Stringer said. 

During his speech, Stringer emphasized eliminating the 421-a tax subsidy program that applies to certain developments in higher-value neighborhoods that include some affordable housing. “It costs taxpayers $1.6 billion a year, but four out of every five dollars actually supports market-rate development,” Stringer said Wednesday, speaking at the YM & YWHA of Washington Heights & Inwood in front of a crowd of supporters. “With greater flexibility to tailor benefits, including property tax abatements and capital subsidies, we can steer money to where it’s actually needed: to finance permanently affordable units.”

A number of affordable housing activists and advocates praised Stringer’s plan. “For years, New York City’s affordability crisis has spiraled, perpetuated by a status quo that relies on business as usual,” Jonathan Westin, Executive Director, New York Communities for Change, said in a statement accompanying the release of Stringer’s plan. “Comptroller Stringer’s plan upends our broken system that’s pricing working people out of our city--and barring them from putting down roots. We can’t allow taxpayers to continue to blindly fund the gentrification of our communities that’s pushing so many long-time residents out of the neighborhoods they helped build.”

Over the last five-plus years since de Blasio released his original Housing New York affordable housing plan, Stringer has been a regular critic. In the last two weeks, his office released an updated analysis showing “that the ‘affordable’ housing created by the plan is too expensive for at least 435,000 of the city’s lowest-income households,” and that only a third of newly constructed units in fiscal year 2019 were affordable for extremely low- or very low-income New Yorkers. 

In a stark departure from the de Blasio approach, Stringer is proposing that “all of our current housing capital subsidies should be used to build housing for extremely and very low-income families.”

The comptroller is also adding to his regular calls to leverage “1,000 vacant lots owned by the city” to provide housing for the city’s lowest-income families. The comptroller's office put out a report in 2018 that said the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) is dragging its feet on developing the city-owned vacant lots. In response, HPD said the city is working on developing units, but that many of the lots are small or prone to flooding, which slows down the process and removes many from the buildable list, Curbed reported. Over several years, the city has stressed that it is moving as many publicly-owned vacant lots through the affordable housing pipeline as it can, and as quickly as possible.

In an effort to develop these lots, Stringer proposes creating a non-profit New York City Land Bank to “turn these vacant lots into sites that could generate tens of thousands of permanently affordable housing units for the lowest-income New Yorkers,” a plan that Stringer first suggested in 2016. The non-profit would take out long-term leases, which would allow the city to enforce affordability and keep costs low.

While the mayor's office did not respond to requests for comment on Stringer's speech, criticism of de Blasio, and new proposals, a spokesperson for de Blasio recently said in a statement to Gotham Gazette, "We are attacking the affordable housing crisis from all sides – from a record number of affordable homes to free lawyers for tenants facing eviction and rent freezes for the first time in history. In the past year alone, nearly half of all of the homes produced will serve the lowest income New Yorkers, and we will continue pushing to ensure there is housing for those who need it most."

Just after Stringer's speech, the city's Department of Housing Preservation and Development tweeted some crticism of the comptroller, saying, in part, "Comptroller Stringer's proposals would actually worsen New York City's housing crisis. They'd make it next to impossible to build new buildings and lock countless hard-working families out of homes they could actually afford."

Asked recently on WNYC's The Brian Lehrer Show about his approach to neighborhood rezonings, de Blasio said that his administration has often eyed areas of the city with more available land and willing local partners, but also said, "We have to create affordable housing everywhere if we're going to keep this city a city for everyone. And that means in neighborhoods that are more privileged and every kind of neighborhood." He stressed that the conversations can be challenging in more privelaged neighborhoods, but that "some of the rezonings coming up are in communities that have done pretty well for sure," perhaps referring to Gowanus, but tempered expectations for SoHo and NoHo and beyond, saying, "what I want to be very real about, in the next two years, is where are the things that we are absolutely certain there will be the support for in the ULURP process to get it done. Because I got two years to work urgently on these issues, Brian, and I'm going to put my energy in the places where I'm convinced we can get something done."

Stringer closed his Wednesday speech by addressing homeownership rates in New York City, which he pegged at 32% of housing and half of the rate of the rest of the country. Further, he added that less than 16% of home loans are granted to black and Hispanic borrowers despite the fact they make up the majority of the city’s population.

The comptroller’s plan aims to help increase homeownership rates by giving tenants the right of first refusal to buy their building when it goes up for sale, waving property transfer and mortgage recording taxes for qualified first-time homebuyers, and expanding programs like HomeFirst and HomeFix, to provide “moderate- and middle-income homeowners with up to $40,000 toward down payments and loans for home repairs,” Stringer said.

Some of the elements discussed Wednesday appeared in Stringer’s November 2018 housing plan, “NYC For All: The Housing We Need.” The plan sought to allocate $500 million in additional annual funding for extremely and very low-income housing, which included $375 million in capital costs and $125 million in operating subsidies. Stringer also suggested scrapping the mortgage recording tax and building on the city-owned vacant lots, just as this new plan says.

Stringer’s new plan adds the elements of universal affordable housing and completely redirecting all city capital dollars housing subsidies, among other planks.

“We came here today to ask one question. Who is New York City for?” Stringer said. “Our answer is loud and clear. This is your city, and your city cannot be bought.”

by Katie Kirker, Gotham Gazette

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Ben Max contributed to this article.

Note: this article has been updated with comments from de Blasio and the de Blasio administration.

Stringer Calls for 'Universal Affordable Housing' and Overhaul of City Subsidy Use Wed, 29 Jan 2020 05:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy Podcast: The Bushwick Rezoning Hits an Impasse antonio rey wbai

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

January 15, 2020 - Max & Murphy Podcast: The Bushwick Rezoning Hits an Impasse

antonio rey wbai150City Council Member Antonio Reynoso joined the show to discuss the controversy over the possible rezoning of part of Bushwick, plans for which have hit an impasse, with Reynoso and others backing one plan and the de Blasio administration in favor of another. The debate gets at the heart of community say, housing policies, gentrification, displacement fears, neighborhood planning, 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

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

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Max & Murphy Podcast: The Bushwick Rezoning Hits an Impasse Wed, 15 Jan 2020 05:00:00 +0000