Gotham Gazette https://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/478 Fri, 18 Oct 2019 04:31:25 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) City Planning Chief on De Blasio Administration's Zoning for Growth, and the Need for More Housing in the Suburbs https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8834-city-planning-chief-on-how-de-blasio-administration-is-zoning-for-growth https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8834-city-planning-chief-on-how-de-blasio-administration-is-zoning-for-growth marisa lago city breakfast2

City Planning Director Marisa Lago (photo: May Vutrapongvatana)


In a Friday morning speech about how New York City’s limited space is used, Marisa Lago, director of the Department of City Planning, discussed some of the department’s approaches to the housing, employment, and equity challenges facing the city.

The city has a population of 8.4 million and is “the only older U.S. city that has surpassed its 1970s-era population peak,” said Lago, who was appointed by Mayor Bill de Blasio to direct the Department of City Planning and chair the City Planning Commission in early 2017 after over three decades in city and federal government. The city has 4.5 million jobs, including 800,000 created between 2010 and 2018, she told the audience attending the CityLaw breakfast at New York Law School.

In the picture Lago painted Friday, the Department of City Planning is responsible for balancing New Yorkers’ personal and professional needs with the implications of broad, even global, economic changes in a way that makes room for long-term growth. The work often revolves around the limited resource of land, which is heavily regulated by zoning rules enshrined in law or controlled by property owners, the City Planning Commission, and the City Council.

“It’s important to remember that, despite the growth in population in the city, we still have the same 303 square miles of land,” Lago said. “So to grow sustainably and equitably, we have to build more housing and especially affordable housing, and we also have to create what I call ‘space for jobs.’”

Using zoning rules to expand housing and job production is a fixture in the lifecycle of big cities throughout the country and the world. Lago also pointed to the need for more housing development in the New York City suburbs. The prongs of Lago’s approach to city planning, which extend back before her tenure at the Department of City Planning to her predecessor, Carl Weisbrod, include utilizing and expanding flexibility in zoning, and embracing data-driven planning, she said.

Flexibility in Land Use
Flexibility in zoning is key for a city as large as New York to adjust to demographic shifts and technological developments that drive and are driven by changes in the economy. The space needs of so-called “classic sector” jobs, like finance, the arts, even some manufacturing, are different in the new economy of online shopping and changing consumer preferences.

Lago believes having the ability to shift land use regulations from generation to generation is essential for the city’s long-term economic viability. “Powerful as zoning is, it can’t stop the tide of a changing global economy,” she said.

One of Lago’s focuses is updating the city’s mid-century zoning of manufacturing districts outside of Manhattan that place limits on height and density and require a high degree of space dedicated to parking. DCP is looking for opportunities to reduce parking requirements in those districts that have public transit options, she said, “to provide a wider array of permitted densities that will allow manufacturing business to grow vertically and also to give more flexibility to the envelopes of buildings.”

“Sometimes the best thing that the city can do is to get outdated, overly-proscriptive zoning out of the way of businesses that want to construct space for jobs,” said Lago.

But the city’s existing zoning already allows for a high degree of flexibility to meet existing construction demands. As-of-right development is the “workhorse of producing both housing and space for jobs,” Lago said Friday. As-of-right development refers to proposed construction or repairs that comply with existing zoning requirements. They don’t need approval from the City Planning Commission and City Council to proceed, meaning they do not have to go through the city’s extensive land use review process (ULURP).

The city over the last decade has relied on as-of-right development to produce a significant proportion of its new housing stock. According to Lago, 80 percent of the new housing built since 2010 -- housing approximately 300,000 New Yorkers -- has been as-of-right.

“If we were like San Francisco, where practically every single development project has to go through discretionary project review, we would be producing far less housing, thus becoming increasingly unaffordable,” she said.

But in some cases, Lago is hoping to insert flexibility on a broad scale through new zoning instruments.

Climate resiliency has become a significant focus of city planners in the seven years since Superstorm Sandy left entire neighborhoods in need of repair and reconstruction. The city planning department is pursuing changes to land use requirements throughout the city’s floodplain to make it easier for home- and small business-owners to mitigate flood risk.

Currently, elevating buildings along the waterfront, a common response to flood risk, often violates building height requirements and moving mechanical equipment from basements to higher floors takes up valuable residential square footage, according to Lago. For the past seven years, DCP has had in place temporary emergency zoning regulations that remove some of these requirements and encourage better flood resiliency construction.

Under a new plan called Zoning for Coastal Flood Resiliency, DCP hopes to codify the temporary regulations. Lago said the new amendments will go into ULURP early next year.

“We’ve now had seven years of living with these temporary regs and we’ve learned a ton by reaching out extensively to neighborhood residents in the city’s various types of flood-prone areas,” she said.

When DCP feels zoning regulations need to be changed, it is common for the agency to try to harness the demand of private sector stakeholders. Rezoning, and especially upzoning -- zoning for added building height and/or density -- is often a negotiation between the city and the private landowner seeking to benefit from added capacity on the land.

Under the mayor’s signature housing policy, which is intended to create or preserve 300,000 units of affordable housing over 10 years, the city instituted Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH) to ensure the creation of affordable housing in exchange for upzoning. MIH, which became law in 2016, is a permanent change to the city’s zoning code that requires a portion of housing units in newly upzoned plots or neighborhoods to be made permanently affordable. One of the criticisms of the plan is that the affordability standards in many cases are not truly affordable to local residents and do not reflect the demographics of the city.

Lago said housing production is essential to making the city affordable, even as it causes gentrification and displacement. “I think that we have to acknowledge that the fear of displacement and the fear of gentrification is real,” she said. But, “we also have to put the lie to the claim that if we build no more housing that somehow the city will become more affordable. That just is not true.” But in her prepared remarks she did not address the middle ground between those two thoughts, which is where one major critique of the de Blasio administration’s neighborhood rezoning and affordable housing policies resides: that they are not as helpful as they could or should be in addressing the city’s affordability crisis for the many New Yorkers who feel its crunch most acutely.

Asked about “actual” affordability in reference to this criticism during the question-and-answer session that followed her remarks, Lago cited programs administered by the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development that create set-asides for extremely low-income people, the seniors, and formerly homeless people. In terms of the zoning regulations DCP and CPC have influence over, Lago defended the affordability tiers in many of the rezoned neighborhoods, which create “workforce housing” serving the needs of middle-income professionals like teachers and firefighters.

Data-Driven and Regional Planning
On Friday, Lago emphasized the importance of “community-informed, fact-based” city planning. She discussed recent examples of research-based analysis, which DCP has undertaken to inform its work.

This summer DCP released a study on retail-store vacancy that examined over 10,000 storefronts in 24 pedestrian-oriented shopping corridors across the five boroughs. The report found that the vacancy rate of storefronts was not uniform city-wide and the reasons for vacancy varied from neighborhood to neighborhood, according to Lago.

“This research that we have done is going to inform our neighborhood planning work and I hope the work of other policy-makers who may have non-zoning tools to address the needs of small-businesses throughout the city,” she said.

DCP has also used, Lago said, quantitative research to confirm what it had long-believed: that in a city with limited space and as many transit options as New York, tall buildings are essential for creating dense housing stock. It also reveals information about what range of building heights the city can allow to create the level of density needed to house the growing population, she said.

Lago described a study of new residential buildings completed by DCP in 2017. The study found one-to-six story buildings represented 87 percent of new buildings constructed that year but only a quarter of new units. By contrast, 22 percent of new housing units fell into just 18 high-rises above 40 storiess (one percent of the new residential buildings completed that year). The remaining half of units were in mid-rise buildings of 13 stories or more, all of which are in neighborhoods Lago considers “transit-rich.”

But the measurements are not always complete.

At a City Council oversight hearing in May, representatives of DCP and the Mayor’s Office of Environmental Coordination revealed that the city has no procedure for assessing the accuracy of Environmental Impact Statements -- required when a proposed rezoning could potentially change the neighborhood -- after a project is complete. Council Members and Public Advocate Jumaane Williams have introduced a number of bills to improve this, including requiring a racial impact study to accompany rezoning proposals. The bill will mandate reporting on the potential effect the proposed rezoning would have on the racial make-up of the area.

Lago wants to see data-driven approaches to zoning expanded to the regional level by continuing the work of DCP’s regional planning office started by Weisbrod. The regional planning office is partnering with DCP counterparts in municipal governments throughout the New York City metropolitan area with the understanding that housing affordability depends on the supply of housing outside the five boroughs and that the city is the job center for the region. Lago says she hopes to continue to leverage regional data to inform the work and partnerships of local governments.

“In the city we understand that housing affordability is a major challenge, but we also have to be aware that the region as a whole is falling woefully behind on housing production,” Lago said. “Historically, the suburbs to our north and east have been affordable alternatives to city living, but for years these jurisdictions have allowed extremely restrictive zoning to curtail their housing production."

“Our goal is to bring regional knowledge to bare in our and in other governments’ local planning efforts,” she added.

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

Read more by this writer.

]]>
City Planning Chief on De Blasio Administration's Zoning for Growth, and the Need for More Housing in the Suburbs Sun, 06 Oct 2019 04:00:00 +0000
New State Rent Regulations Complicate Inwood Rezoning Lawsuit Against the City https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8680-new-state-rent-reforms-complicate-inwood-rezoning-lawsuit-against-the-city https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8680-new-state-rent-reforms-complicate-inwood-rezoning-lawsuit-against-the-city city council inwood

Inwood (photo: Emil Cohen/City Council)


New York state government’s recent rent regulation reforms gave tenant advocates reason to celebrate, eliminating major loopholes that allowed landlords to raise rents and deregulate units among the roughly 1 million city apartments currently governed by the rent laws. One unforeseen consequence of the new Housing Stability and Tenant Protection Act, however, is how the strengthened regulations may imperil a tenant lawsuit against New York City government on the impacts of a recent neighborhood rezoning of Inwood, in northern Manhattan.

Community groups and business owners from Inwood filed suit against the city in December, alleging the de Blasio administration failed to study crucial impacts of a rezoning -- which in this and some other cases means changes to land use rules to encourage more housing density -- on their neighborhood. One of their central arguments was the city neglected to analyze how preferential rents, or rents lower than the legal maximum landlords of rent-regulated apartments are allowed to charge, put the roughly 12,000 preferential rent leased tenants in Inwood and Washington Heights at the mercy of landlords. They allege landlords would be incentivized by a rezoning to push rent-regulated tenants out and capitalize on the likelihood of a hotter rental market.

New rent reforms passed in Albany in June significantly altered how preferential rents are governed and, in turn, dashed a major argument against the city. Amy McCamphill, a lawyer representing the City of New York, sent a letter to the judge in the lawsuit earlier this month pointing out the community members’ argument is no longer relevant.

“Following the passage of this 2019 legislation, Petitioners' preferential rent claim is simply moot,” wrote McCamphill, in the letter. “Under this new law, New York State has ensured that tenants receiving preferential rent are no more vulnerable to rent increases than any other tenant living in regulated housing.”

Among other things, the new rent reforms specifically designate that tenants in rent-stabilized units paying a preferential rent, or a “sweetheart deal” lower than what a landlord can actually charge, will have the preferential rate cemented as their actual rent at the next lease renewal. What it means for tenants is landlords cannot raise the rents sky-high when it is convenient for them, like when a housing market gets hot, as the tenants are renewing their lease.

Lawyers representing Inwood residents feel they lost a strong argument against the city but are glad Inwood residents received some extra protections from landlords via Albany. 

“I’m really glad the rent laws passed. It’s a happy problem to have,” said Philip Simpson, an attorney who is a plaintiff in the case, which they are proceeding with.

“Landlords are still going to do what landlords are going to do to take apartments out of rent regulation. There needs to be better analysis from the city,” said Simpson. 

Additionally, the petitioners argued the city did not properly study the rezoning’s impact on minority- and women-owned businesses, congestion, and racial displacement.

In response to the lawsuit, the city said in a typical rezoning it studies potential direct residential displacement, direct business displacement, indirect residential displacement, indirect business displacement, and specific industries, according to Hilary Semel, director of the mayor’s office that plans environmental reviews, in a supportive court filing for the city’s argument. Considering all those categories and after the lengthy environmental review, the city “properly determined that the Rezoning would not lead to any significant adverse impact,” wrote Semel. 

The conflict over what the city should be studying also includes the type of tenants it is including in an environmental review. The city focuses “its displacement analysis on tenants living in non-regulated apartments,” according to McCamphill. She stated that the city mainly studied tenants living in non-regulated units because it was a legally satisfactory bar for the city to meet.

In a 2016 economic report of Washington Heights and Inwood conducted by State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, however, his office found that “nearly three-quarters of the 71,410 housing units in Washington Heights and Inwood were rent-stabilized.”

Lawyers for Inwood community members believe their case will still be strong without the preferential rent argument, especially when it comes to the city failing to study the racial impact of rezoning (the city currently has no requirement for a “racial impact study” as part of environmental review, but Public Advocate Jumaane Williams has introduced legislation to mandate it) and congestion. They argue the demolition of the Inwood library and the potentiality of rising property taxes and rents will have a detrimental effect on minority groups in the neighborhood.

Plus, they say traffic will bottleneck due to new development and more people moving in, which creates negative livability and public health impacts. The lawyers allege the rezoning “promotes no plan to significantly improve infrastructure or public transportation options in Inwood to alleviate the burden imposed by more residents and more cars.” With the nearest hospital at the top of Broadway near 220th Street, the lawyers question what the bottlenecking could mean for emergency situations when EMTs need to go up the one major thoroughfare of Inwood.

State Senator Robert Jackson, who represents the neighborhoods of Inwood and Washington Heights, came in with the new class of state Democrats who helped pass the rent regulations in Albany. He said he supports the rezoning lawsuit against the city. 

“The landmark rent reforms we passed in Albany this session will help mitigate the damage done by that rezoning to rent-regulated tenants, especially those with preferential rents. But fixing one symptom doesn't mean you've cured the disease. The other symptoms that predatory rezonings cause—undue pressure on family-owned small businesses, strain on already-crumbling infrastructure, health risks posed by out-of-scale construction on contaminated and flood-prone land—these are not going to go away just because we've ushered in a wave of tenant power in Albany,” Jackson said in a statement.

The Inwood rezoning, spearheaded by the de Blasio administration in conjunction with City Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez and the city’s Economic Development Corporation (EDC), was the fifth neighborhood rezoning under the de Blasio administration to move through the detailed land use review (ULURP) process. All five, and a sixth since, have been in neighborhoods with large communities of color and lower-income populations.

The rezoning plan came with $500 million in city investments, including building new waterfront parks and investing $50 million in school infrastructure. The city said it is upzoning land along the Harlem river to facilitate commercial and residential development, and projects 2,600 new units of affordable housing across the neighborhood as a result of the overall rezoning. The plan also promises to preserve and protect another 2,500 existing affordable homes.

Though there are not any official plans yet, the EDC said also it is replacing the current Inwood library with a “state-of-the-art” library that includes a pre-K facility. In addition, the agency promises to fund STEM programming in school and will build a center celebrating immigrant achievements and performing arts.

Some Inwood residents strenuously protested these changes during ULURP, despite the positive community investments, because they argue community displacement through development outweighs certain benefits to parks and schools.

The arguments by the lawyers for both the city and Inwood residents in the lawsuit will be weighed by the Manhattan Civil Court judge in the case on August 13. 

Overall, Jackson is both pleased with the rent reforms in Albany and pushing for the lawsuit. He said part of the work of the rent reforms was undoing the damage of the rezoning.

“That's why I still think the lawsuit is important, because it never was just about housing alone,” said Jackson. “It's about the ecosystem of a vibrant, working-class community of color being thrown out of balance to the detriment of many for the benefit of the few.”

***
by Jake Shore for Gotham Gazette
  

Read more by this writer.

 

 

]]>
New State Rent Regulations Complicate Inwood Rezoning Lawsuit Against the City Thu, 18 Jul 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.

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

Read more by this writer.

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

]]>
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%.

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

Read more by this writer.

]]>
Council Hearing Highlights Big Gaps in City Planning Processes Thu, 09 May 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Hoping to Dictate City Rezoning and Stem Gentrification, Locals Put Forth Bushwick Community Plan https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7955-hoping-to-dictate-city-rezoning-and-stem-gentrification-locals-put-forth-bushwick-community-plan https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7955-hoping-to-dictate-city-rezoning-and-stem-gentrification-locals-put-forth-bushwick-community-plan bushwick today 19

photo via Bushwick Community Plan


A years-long endeavor to protect a Brooklyn neighborhood from unwanted development and plan for its future took a major step forward over the weekend: the Bushwick Community Plan, an ambitious and collaborative effort, was formally released.

The creation of the plan has at times been contentious, indicative of the fraught nature of virtually any community planning process and the high stakes involved in addressing affordability, transportation and other crises facing many neighborhoods across New York City. The effort was organized by local City Council Members Antonio Reynoso and Rafael Espinal with Brooklyn Community Board 4 and a variety of other stakeholders.

At the release event on September 22, U.S. Rep. Nydia Velázquez told the more than 200 people who packed into the cafeteria of the Academy of Urban Planning to learn the details of the plan that the development of the community plan was an example of democracy in action.

“You will empower our member of the City Council, Reynoso, to go to the city and say, ‘This is a community-driven rezoning plan – and this is how it should be done,’” she said.

The Bushwick Community Plan includes a number of goals – including slowing displacement, preventing out of character development, and supporting both small- and large-scale manufacturing businesses – and is being presented from the community and its leaders to the Department of City Planning as it begins to evaluate the area for changes to land use rules and new city investments, similar to processes that have taken place in areas like East Harlem.

Like several others the de Blasio administration has rezoned already, including East New York and the Jerome Avenue corridor in the Bronx, Bushwick is home to many low-income people of color at risk of housing displacement. But more like East Harlem and Inwood, Bushwick has already seen significant gentrification and locals are concerned about how the pace has accelerated without a coherent plan.

The comprehensive 74-page community plan covers six areas: land use and zoning, housing, economic development, community health and resources, open space and transportation and infrastructure. Under land use and zoning, the key issue, recommendations include not allowing areas currently zoned for manufacturing to become residential unless certain requirements are met; allowing higher density development in some cases when it will increase the number of affordable housing units; and proposing historic districts as well as individual landmarks throughout the neighborhood. The plan also calls for increased funding for anti-displacement legal services, the creation of a program that would incentivize homeowners to keep rents affordable in their buildings, more sanitation funding for commercial corridors, and improving Maria Hernandez Park and Irving Square Park, the two largest parks in the neighborhood.

But at issue is how feasible the plan is, how the de Blasio administration approaches its efforts to rezone and invest in the area, and how far Reynoso, Espinal, and their partners can push the city to adopt the community’s vision. The Department of City Planning may use the community plan as something of a guide as it designs a rezoning proposal, but it remains to be seen to what extent the community proposals shape the process, which will ultimately come to a vote before the City Planning Commission and the City Council, where Reynoso and Espinal will have outsized sway. Bushwick residents, both for and against a rezoning, worry about how the city might mangle or ignore the plans altogether.

A democratically-designed rezoning plan
Under current land use rules, otherwise known as zoning, significant new development is allowed in Bushwick without consideration of affordable housing or the aesthetic character of the neighborhood. There are many properties that have extensive as-of-right powers, meaning developers can build taller buildings without any real negotiation with the city for community benefits.

One such property is near the Myrtle-Wyckoff transit corridor, where developers plan to build a 27-story tower with retail space, office space, and 400 apartments, according to the minutes from a February meeting of the community board’s Housing and Land Use subcommittee. That particular high-rise wouldn’t be allowed under the zoning rules that are being proposed as part of the Bushwick Community Plan, according to Community Board 4 District Manager Celeste Leon.

In 2013, concerned by overdevelopment happening in nearby neighborhoods, members of the community board wrote a letter to then-City Council Member Diana Reyna seeking to explore the idea of rezoning Bushwick. The goal was to preserve the character of the community. In particular, preventing taller buildings, which have been referred to as “middle finger buildings,” from being wedged in between two- and three-family homes, according to current Reynoso, who succeeded Reyna in 2014.

“Affordable housing would have been icing on the cake,” Reynoso said in a late August interview.

After his election, Reynoso, along with Espinal, who took office the same year after moving from the state Assembly, initiated the Bushwick community planning process, an effort to allow residents to democratically design a rezoning plan that would best suit their needs. Over the course of the next several years, the steering committee – comprising of more than 200 participants, including the members of the community board, organizations like immigrant-advocacy group Make the Road New York, the RiseBoro Community Partnership, and Churches United for Fair Housing, as well as 21 individual Bushwick residents – held a dozen workshops, town halls, and other issue-specific meetings.

Planning this way is time-consuming and complicated, but the process allows for many voices to be heard, Reynoso said.

Shortly after Bill de Blasio was elected mayor, he put forth an agenda to rezone 15 different neighborhoods throughout the city in an effort to create more housing, especially affordable housing, and infuse communities with new resources, in part to handle an influx of new residents. His predecessor, too, used rezoning to manage development in New York City, though with a somewhat different lens: during his three terms, Michael Bloomberg oversaw more than 100 rezonings. Before de Blasio began to move through his rezonings, he worked with the City Council to pass significant changes to the city’s land use rules, including Mandatory Inclusionary Housing, which requires developers to include certain percentages of affordable housing in new buildings that receive a city variance to build denser.

Bushwick was not on de Blasio’s original list of neighborhoods, but city officials have been closely involved as the community has crafted its plan and appears ready to move into its planning process.

The city will hold its own listening sessions and do its own studies, then release its own initial plan. Once the Department of City Planning certifies a Bushwick rezoning application, the Uniform Land Use Review Process, which takes roughly seven to ten months, begins. After the community board offers its advisory vote, the plan moves to the borough president for review and additional nonbinding feedback, then the City Planning Commission for formal approval, followed by the City Council for final say. Throughout the process, local leaders, especially the City Council member(s), typically continue to negotiate with the mayoral administration to make tweaks to the city’s proposal and secure additional investments.

Pushback against the plan
As in most rezonings, at issue in Bushwick is that the mayoral administration’s interests may not be in line with the community’s. One example is the neighborhood’s manufacturing zones. Bushwick is known for its old factories and warehouses, which developers often eye as potential for new residential space. The community plan would oppose changing most manufacturing zones to residential zones unless special conditions are met. That is one point the city has tried to ignore, said Leon, the community board district manager.

Another example: at a February meeting, Winston Von Engel, the Brooklyn director of the Department of City Planning (DCP), reportedly told Bushwick residents that the city was interested in preserving the aesthetic character of the neighborhood, more so than preventing displacement, according to several residents who were present. Von Engel later told the Bushwick Daily that he had been misinterpreted and that there should be a balance between preservation and expansion.

In June, a group of activists shut down that month’s Community Board 4 meeting so that the board could not discuss the rezoning plans at all. One of the activists, Pati Rodriguez, of the anti-gentrification group Mi Casa No Es Su Casa, stood up to plead with the board: “I want to continue to live in the neighborhood that raised me, and I wish I could keep raising my daughter here too, but if this goes to DCP, I don’t think that is ever going to happen.”

Activists like Rodriguez oppose the rezoning entirely.

“The community board has no veto vote,” Rodriguez said in a later interview. “It makes the community powerless. That’s why we have decided the only way we can stop anything from happening is to disrupt the process.”

Michael Higgins, a member of the Brooklyn Anti-Gentrification Network, said that the plan itself could cause Bushwick residents to panic, from which landlords can then benefit.

“I think trying to address overdevelopment with rezoning is a backwards solution,” he said. “It comes from the belief that we can meet market forces with government, and unfortunately that’s just not the way the City of New York works in fundamental ways.”

He said the community has more leverage when individual properties are rezoned, rather than whole swaths of a neighborhood, because residents have the opportunity to negotiate requests like more affordable housing and community space.

Tom Angotti, professor emeritus of Urban Policy and Planning at Hunter College and the author of “Zoned Out! Race, Displacement, and City Planning in New York City,” said he understands the skepticism over the rezoning.

There have been no citywide studies that explain the relationship between rezonings and gentrification, but individual case studies do show that zoning changes lead to displacement, particularly in low income communities and communities of color, Angotti said.

Reynoso acknowledges the community’s concerns, but said that Bushwick’s geography, as well as the way it is built out, leaves fewer opportunities for growth compared to other neighborhoods around the city, referencing the recently-passed Inwood rezoning, which drew criticism from local housing activists concerned about density, neighborhood character, and gentrification. But Inwood, Reynoso said, encompasses waterfront property that the city could capitalize upon.

New development of that nature just isn’t possible in Bushwick. The Bushwick plan envisions growth near transit hubs, but otherwise is mostly designed to downzone the neighborhood, Reynoso said, and disallow large new residential buildings.

“The basic principles of what’s happening in other locations don’t necessarily apply here,” Reynoso said in the interview. “The fears that people have are not necessarily apples to apples.”

That’s true, Angotti said, but that still doesn’t mean the Bushwick Community Plan will prevent displacement. He points not so much to the community plan itself, but to the Department of City Planning and the City Planning Commission.

Angotti said the city has rejected every community-based rezoning proposal of which he is aware over the last 25 years.

“In every instance that I know of, the community plans get ripped up and changed to the point of being unrecognizable to the people in the community,” he said. “The city planning department has its own way of looking at land use in the city, and it doesn’t include communities. It doesn't include people.”

In a statement, the agency did confirm that rezoning applications, even those by city agencies, are usually changed during the public review process.

Jose Lopez, the co-director of organizing at Make the Road New York, has been heavily involved with the Bushwick Community Plan, serving on its steering committee. He recognizes that DCP will craft its own proposal for the ULURP process, but has some hope for the influence that the community plan may have.

“If there is a good rezoning where we can control growth, generate affordable housing, where we see effective tools that keep people in the homes they live in – if it’s a good rezoning, that is something we can get behind,” he said. “But our members believe that a bad rezoning is worse than no rezoning at all.”

Reynoso said that the discretion and authority to rezone really lies with the City Council, not with any city agency, and “the Council member’s job is to advocate on behalf of the community” – which he plans to do.

Typically, when the City Council votes on a rezoning plan, the expectation is that the Council will vote to support what the local City Council member(s) – in this case, Reynoso and Espinal – want. Yet, in May, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson said that his approach is “deference” but “no veto” for Council members on land use matters.

“Michael Bloomberg did 140 rezonings,” Angotti said. “Everyone of them passed. So the track record pretty much demonstrates how difficult it is, once something gets into ULURP, to derail it under the current system because of the overwhelming power of the mayor.”

Robert Camacho, the chair of Community Board 4, has been involved with the planning process since the beginning. He said he is satisfied with the final plan, but does worry for its future.

“If we don’t do anything, the city will do what it wants,” he said. “And if we submit something, the city can do what it wants anyway. I see it as a lose-lose situation. So why not do something? Something beats zip. If you don’t ask, you’re not getting anything.”

***
Bianca Fortis is a Brooklyn-based freelance journalist. On Twitter @biancafortis & @GothamGazette.

]]>
Hoping to Dictate City Rezoning and Stem Gentrification, Locals Put Forth Bushwick Community Plan Tue, 25 Sep 2018 04:00:00 +0000
What's The [Data] Point? 4, with Sally Goldenberg https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7655-what-s-the-data-point-4-with-sally-goldenberg https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7655-what-s-the-data-point-4-with-sally-goldenberg whats the data point


What's The [Data] Point? Episode 39 -- 4, with Sally Goldenberg [You can download What's The [Data] Point? wherever you get your podcasts, including on iTunes]

wtpd md bm sally goldenbergSally Goldenberg, a senior reporter for Politico New York currently covering housing and real estate, joins the podcast to discuss Mayor de Blasio's approach to neighborhood rezonings and affordable housing, among other topics. The episode's data point, 4, is the number of neighborhood rezonings that have been passed so far under de Blasio: East New York, Downtown Far Rockaway, East Harlem, and the Jerome Avenue corridor in the Bronx. We discuss those, as well as proposals that have not gone through, new project and rezoning ideas on the table, and much more.

With a good deal of experience covering City Hall, city politics, budgets, and now housing, this week's guest brings a great deal of expertise to the discussion.

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

***
by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

]]>
What's The [Data] Point? 4, with Sally Goldenberg Fri, 04 May 2018 04:00:00 +0000
What's The [Data] Point? $307.45, with Anita Laremont of City Planning https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7620-what-s-the-data-point-307-45-with-anita-laremont-of-city-planning https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7620-what-s-the-data-point-307-45-with-anita-laremont-of-city-planning whats the data point


What's The [Data] Point? Episode 37 -- $307.45, with Anita Laremont [You can download What's The [Data] Point? wherever you get your podcasts, including on iTunes]

wtdp anita w maria and benAnita Laremont is the general counsel and chief data officer at the Department of City Planning, where major decisions are made around how land is used in New York City. Laremont joined the podcast to discuss some of the significant projects and changes that City Planning has ushered through over the past several years, including historic changes to the city's land use rules meant to spur affordable housing, neighborhood rezonings, and why the city doesn't have a master plan.

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

***
by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

]]>
What's The [Data] Point? $307.45, with Anita Laremont of City Planning Wed, 18 Apr 2018 04:00:00 +0000
De Blasio Planning Appointee Becomes Ardent Foe https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7577-de-blasio-planning-appointee-becomes-ardent-foe https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7577-de-blasio-planning-appointee-becomes-ardent-foe Mayor de Blasio afforable housing

Mayor de Blasio unveils his housing plan (photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)


Michelle de la Uz was first appointed to the powerful City Planning Commission in 2012, by then-Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, then re-appointed in 2017 by the current Public Advocate, Letitia James. Over the course of time, and with de Blasio now in his fifth year as mayor, de la Uz has become the most consistent and often lone dissenter on the 13-member commission, voting against a variety of de Blasio’s land use plans.

During a recent appearance on the Max & Murphy podcast from Gotham Gazette and City Limits, de la Uz gave her perspective on the city’s housing crisis and de Blasio’s approach to affordable housing and changing land use rules for various swaths of the city, often known as neighborhood rezonings, which have so far occurred in low-income communities of color like East New York, East Harlem, and the Jerome Avenue corridor in the Bronx.

The City Planning Commission is responsible for reviewing land-use applications across the city, ranging from small projects on individual plots of land to the redevelopment of the Hudson Yards, community-wide plans, and more. Several hundred applications come through the Commission each year, most of them not controversial, but there are typically at least a handful of great significance.

Seven of the CPC members are appointed by the mayor, five by the individual borough presidents, and one by the public advocate. De la Uz described working on the Commission as a privilege, and said of the different land review processes that, “some of them are quite technical and relatively minor, honestly, and others really call into question what are broader public policy questions around planning.”

Also the executive director of the Fifth Avenue Committee, a non-profit community development organization in Brooklyn that seeks to promote economic and social justice through a wide range of local initiatives, de la Uz has a particular philosophy about city planning and land use that not only comes from a social justice and equity lens, but also starts with “do no harm.”

“One of the reasons why I was appointed by Public Advocate de Blasio and Public Advocate Tish James, was not only my knowledge and expertise, but also quite honestly my independence,” she said, “at the time I think he was enamored with it.”

De la Uz has been an outspoken critic of the mayor’s planning policies, and recently voted against the major rezoning plans in East Harlem, East New York, Jerome Avenue, downtown Far Rockaway, and Inwood, often as the only dissenter on the Commission. This slate of rezonings would allow for more development in these neighborhoods and is central to the de Blasio’s affordable housing policy and community development efforts.

According to the his plan, Housing New York 2.0, the city aims to build or preserve 300,000 affordable homes by 2026. Neighborhood rezonings typically include new land use rules to allow more housing with greater density, and a variety of neighborhood investments, such as new schools, transportation improvements, park land, and more. De Blasio has defended his administration’s rezoning of only low-income communities of color, indicating that the city has gone where there has been interest from local officials and opportunity to add housing.

While de la Uz agrees that the mayor’s policies are headed in the right direction, she emphasizes the need to provide deeper affordability and for more careful zoning. She thinks there is significant room for improvement to the approach, including how the city leverages private investment to create affordable housing and how it uses other subsidies at its disposal.

On the podcast, de la Uz spoke about the New York Housing and Vacancy Survey of 2017 (HVS), and the upcoming HVS of 2018, which indicate that apartment vacancy rates in the city are extremely low, at 3.63% citywide, which qualifies as a housing crisis (below 5%). This has been a consistent problem for more than 20 years. Low vacancy rates give leverage to landlords over tenants in rent negotiations. The city addresses this imbalance with rent stabilization, among other programs.

According to a city official, in 2017 there were 966,000 rent-stabilized units (occupied and vacant available), comprising 44 percent of the total rental stock. De la Uz described rent-stabilized housing as one the city’s most valuable assets, together with public housing.

Giving some credit to the de Blasio administration’s efforts, de la Uz pointed out that “the city produced more [housing] units in the last few years than it’s had in decades, and I think that certainly is an endorsement of Mayor de Blasio’s affordable housing plan.” She also mentioned other measures that de Blasio has instituted to help tenants keep their rents affordable or stay in their homes.

As of November, landlords in certain areas need to provide “certificates of no harassment” signed by tenants, if they want to make significant alterations to their building. And, as of August 2017, the city has promised legal counsel to many low-income tenants facing eviction. De la Uz also expressed cautious optimism about the new “Neighborhood Pillars” program, which will pledge capital to help non-profit organizations acquire and preserve affordability in existing, unregulated, and rent-stabilized buildings.

“What’s interesting is that rents, especially at the upper income levels, are actually coming down,” she said, “the problem is that the rents really aren’t coming down for the folks that are most in need, and the people the Fifth Avenue Committee serves, and other non-profit community development corporations serve.” This pattern corresponds with the vacancy rates of different affordability brackets: according to the HVS, for units with rents less than $800 a month, the vacancy rate is 1.15%, while for units with rents more than $2,000 a month, the vacancy rate is 7.42%, and above $2,500 asking rent, the vacancy rate was reported at 8.74% in 2017.

A key part of de Blasio’s housing plan is the Mandatory Inclusionary Housing policy (MIH), which, through zoning actions, forces residential developers to build a certain percentage of units that are affordable to households in different income brackets, measured as a percentage of Area Median Income.

De la Uz expressed dissatisfaction with the MIH targets -- she voted against MIH at the Commission -- which underlies many of the neighborhood rezonings and land use measures the city backs to help create affordable housing through new development. “We know it’s the most aggressive mandatory inclusion policy in the country, but the need is much, much greater than that,” de la Uz said of how the MIH income targets play out in low-income communities.

Asked to respond to de la Uz’s critiques, a spokesperson for the de Blasio administration noted that the city added $2 billion to its affordable housing budget last year, specifically to preserve and build more deeply-affordable units, with nearly half allocated for families living on less than $43,000 per year. The city official also reported that the share of households that are rent burdened is still high, but it is stable with about half of renter households rent-burdened, and one-third severely burdened. A household is defined as rent-burdened if it spends 30% or more of its income on rent, and severely rent-burdened if that percentage hits 50.

De la Uz made a connection between the MIH targets and the strong local opposition to the major rezonings: “you have nearly 27% of New York City’s population that is not benefitting, whose incomes are so low that they are not benefiting from any of the new development that's happening in a community, right, so that's part of the problem -- MIH doesn't reach below 40% AMI, and yet in a number of the neighborhoods that have been rezoned or are targeted for rezoning, that’s the majority of residents in that community. So no wonder people are opposing it...none of the new housing is going to be for them. People want to see themselves in what is happening.”

While that is not entirely true, there has been some community opposition to the rezonings, with some people feeling that development will exacerbate market pressures, accelerate gentrification, and displace local businesses and residents. Although these rezonings have come in packages which include major investments in the neighborhoods, one critic, Emily Goldstein of the Association for Neighborhood & Housing Development, has pointed out that wealthier neighborhoods have been able to receive city resources “without having to “trade” for something City Hall wants.”

De la Uz explained where her skepticism comes from, saying, “I think [it’s] because I run a non-profit community development corporation, one that has seen all the mistakes of past rezonings.” Citing significant losses of rent-stabilized housing in North Park Slope, South Park Slope, and Sunset Park following their respective rezonings in 2003, 2007, and 2009, during Mayor Bloomberg’s tenure, she emphasized the need for caution. “Zoning can be too broad, you need a scalpel...It could be more targeted.”

De la Uz also expressed frustration with the environmental impact review process employed by the City Planning Department. At the moment, rent-stabilized housing is not viewed as at risk of demolition, but following the rezonings in Park Slope and Sunset Park, she said “certainly Fifth Avenue Committee and I, personally, have seen that that's just not the case.” More broadly, they don’t take into account risks of displacement of rent-stabilized tenants. “We have no data, or no data that’s being shared. That’s really critical, that the city and state’s information around rent stabilization is not publicly accessible,” she said, “If you don’t measure it how could you possibly know what the impact is?”

In the Jerome Avenue corridor rezoning process, for example, a neighborhood where the real-estate market is relatively weak, the Department of City Planning predicts that all of the residential development in the short-term will be subsidized and 100% will be income-targeted, according to Abigail Savitch-Lew from City Limits. Even in such cases, de la Uz wants to ask the question, “what was there before? - because in a number of these communities, there were naturally occurring affordable communities that had no subsidy from government to create the affordability, and often times the income level of the folks were lower than the new housing that's being created, especially in East New York. You know, that's a community that's moderate income that has a lot of homeowners.”

“What's being lost at what AMI level, and what’s being gained at what AMI level?” de la Uz asked. She also raised the concern that the rezonings displace undocumented immigrants. “We’re talking about people who are not eligible for the new affordable housing programs,” she said.

“You really need multiple strategies, and the city now, with the tenant right to counsel, and the certificate of no harassment, with MIH, these are the things -- and many more things -- that you have to put together in order to have the desired outcome of really increasing economic diversity and preserving not just buildings, but neighborhoods and the people that have lived in them,” de la Uz said, giving the de Blasio administration and other officials some credit.

She raised the possibility of using another strategy, saying, “none of the land use actions have thought about using value capture to help preserve public housing. NYCHA is talked about as if it’s a totally different universe despite the fact that it is all in these communities.”

The Gowanus rezoning process, occurring right in de la Uz’s backyard, could be a welcome break with the pattern of only rezoning poorer neighborhoods, as some have called for rezonings in more prosperous areas. The process is being led by City Council Member Brad Lander, who succeeded de Blasio in the City Council representing the area, and who was de la Uz’s predecessor at Fifth Avenue Committee.

De la Uz discussed her work with the Gowanus Neighborhood Coalition for Justice, a coalition of public housing residents, industrial business advocates, nonprofits, religious groups, and civic members, who are currently advocating for the community’s interests in four separate rezoning processes, including the larger Gowanus plan.

GNCJ is pushing for even deeper affordability than in MIH, investment in NYCHA through value capture, and the creation of the city’s first eco-district; close-by are three manufactured gas sites, and the neighborhood has lived with the environmental impacts for decades, not to mention the polluted Gowanus Canal. Additionally, there is a large industrial-business zone in the area, “that really needs much more attention and really should be leveraged, and should be thought of as part the mayor’s 100,000 jobs plan.”

Since de la Uz and Fifth Avenue Committee are involved in the local processes, she will have to recuse herself on the City Planning Commission.

On the city’s larger battle to create affordable housing, de la Uz also touched on the large number of vacant apartments in the city, according to the HVS.

“I think the other interesting number is the number of apartments that are vacant, but not for rent. So, pied-a-terres. There are over 70,000 apartments in the city of New York that are vacant or not really available, because someone is using them as investment properties. That number is more than the homeless population that we have in the city of New York. We don’t tax those units differently, for instance. To have an affordable housing crisis, and to have a public housing authority crisis, to have the highest number of pied-a-terres in the city’s history, not looked at, in my mind, as something that should be taxed or should be regulated more directly. They're not contributing to relieving the city’s housing crisis basically, they’re sitting there as investment property,” De la Uz said.

Mayor de Blasio has repeatedly advocated for a pied-a-terre tax and a mansion tax, which would additionally tax sales of expensive properties to support more affordable housing subsidies. Any tax legislation would have to pass through the State Legislature.

“We support wealthy out of towners paying their fair share through a pied-à-terre tax,” said de Blasio spokesperson Melissa Grace. “As we continue to explore our options in this challenging legal area, the Mayor is pushing hard for a mansion tax targeting a similar ultra-high-income group. Meanwhile, the Mayor’s Office of Special Enforcement is aggressively enforcing laws that bar property owners from taking permanent housing off the market to create illegal hotels.”

***
by Gabriel Slaughter and Ben Max

***
by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

]]>
De Blasio Planning Appointee Becomes Ardent Foe Wed, 28 Mar 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy Podcast: City Planning Commissioner Michelle de la Uz https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7548-max-murphy-podcast-michelle-de-la-uz https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7548-max-murphy-podcast-michelle-de-la-uz mxm logo

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


March 19, 2018 - Max & Murphy Podcast: Michelle de la Uz

michelle de la uz 277

Michelle de la Uz is a commissioner on the City Planning Commission, where she was originally appointed by then-Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, and Executive Director of Fifth Avenue Committee, a Brooklyn-based nonprofit that manages affordable housing projects and provides other services to low- and moderate-income New Yorkers. De la Uz has been an independent voice on the City Planning Commission, regularly voting "no" on major proposals coming from de Blasio's administration. She joined the podcast to discuss the current housing crisis in New York City, the mayor's approach to development, and more.

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

***
by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

]]>
Max & Murphy Podcast: City Planning Commissioner Michelle de la Uz Mon, 19 Mar 2018 04:00:00 +0000
On Land Use, Johnson Promises 'Deference' to Members But 'No Veto' https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7530-on-land-use-johnson-promises-deference-to-members-but-no-veto https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7530-on-land-use-johnson-promises-deference-to-members-but-no-veto Johnson Rodriguez City Council

Speaker Johnson, center, & CM Rodriguez, right (photo: William Alatriste)


City Council Speaker Corey Johnson said Thursday that the elected Council members of the body he leads will get “deference” but “no veto” on land use matters.

Even before he was officially elected the new speaker of the Council, Johnson had already begun to define how he would approach the job. In clear breaks from his predecessor, Melissa Mark-Viverito, Johnson promised greater independence from the mayor, expanded oversight over city agencies, and a more active role in land use decisions, which is one of the most significant roles played by the 51-member legislative body.

Promising to bolster the Council’s land use division with more resources and staff, Johnson seemed to want a heavier hand in local development projects, or land use applications, where the previous speaker tended to almost completely defer to the local Council member’s sentiments and negotiations. Johnson, however, has implied that he won’t allow the same kind of leeway that Mark-Viverito gave to members to oppose or reject proposals in their districts, which, under Mayor Bill de Blasio, include a number of neighborhood rezonings that can shape the landscape and character of neighborhoods for generations.

At an event Thursday, hosted by the Center for Community and Ethnic Media at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, Johnson explained his approach, saying that he would involve himself in land use applications if a local Council member requested it, but at the same time, would not allow any single member to act as an obstacle to a worthwhile project with benefits for a community.

When asked about the ongoing land use process for a proposed rezoning in Inwood in Uptown Manhattan, Johnson first admitted that he knew little about the ins-and-outs of the particular plan. “On the Inwood rezoning, this is not me in any way shirking, but I honestly, I haven’t been briefed on it,” he said, when panellist Debralee Santos from the Manhattan Times asked him about his general approach to land use issues and specifically two rezonings, a recently completed one in the Jerome Avenue corridor in the Bronx and the ongoing one in Inwood in Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez’s district.

“I’ve been so crazy dealing with so many other things across the city,” Johnson added. “I see people tweet at me about it, and I’ve read some articles about it, but I have not had the opportunity to sit down with Councilman Rodriguez or the other elected officials and have a conversation about it.”

In the past few years, the City Council and the de Blasio administration have come face-to-face with the fact that even with rezonings that invest hundreds of millions of dollars in a neighborhood, that have gone through months of negotiations and received hundreds of hours of testimony and feedback from communities, there are inevitably those who remain dissatisfied. In some cases, Council members capitulate to community backlash, killing a project, but often they do not.

For instance, in 2015 East New York became home to the administration’s first successful neighborhood rezoning. Despite Council Member Rafael Espinal negotiating commitments of more than $260 million in investments from the city as well as a slew of other community benefits -- besides the affordable housing and economic development that undergirded the rezoning -- a segment of housing advocates argued that the rezoning would continue, and exacerbate, the nascent gentrification of the district. (The advocates even threatened to organize a challenge to Espinal’s 2017 reelection bid but did not follow through.) Espinal approved the project in the end, claiming advocates did not recognize the quality of the deal coming to the long-ignored community.

But, in 2016, owing to vocal community resentment, Council Member Rodriguez announced his opposition to a proposed development, also in Inwood, the day before it was scheduled to be voted on by the Council’s land use committee. The project was unanimously rejected by the committee based on Rodriguez’s verdict.

It was different, however, for Council Member Laurie Cumbo, who faced widespread criticism for vacillating on the proposed redevelopment of the Bedford Union Armory in Crown Heights. Eventually, faced with angry residents and a strong primary challenger, Cumbo rejected the proposal before her, which forced the city to amend its plans to later have them approved.

On Thursday at CUNY, Santos pointed to the Inwood Library as one controversial aspect of the larger rezoning, where residents of the neighborhood have called for an entirely separate land-use application for the building. “That’s a local institution that people believe should merit its own process altogether, its own ULURP [Uniform Land Use Review Procedure],” Santos pointed out.

“So I don’t know anything about it,” Johnson conceded. “But I’m happy to work with the stakeholders involved and find a solution. My general principle is, unless the rezoning or the land use action that’s proposed is totally off-the-wall and doesn’t make any sense or if there is no community buy-in, which it may be this case in Inwood from what I’m seeing, I try to get to a place of ‘yes.’”

Johnson recounted his own experience with the rezoning of Pier 40 in his Manhattan district in 2016, where in the end, he managed to extract $100 million worth of investments from the city while creating affordable housing and senior housing. “I worked on it for two-and-a-half years. There were many places where I wanted to walk away from that rezoning, it was frustrating me so much that I didn’t think I’d be able to close the deal. But in the end, I always work to get to a place of ‘yes,’” he said.

Would he get similarly involved in the Inwood rezoning, Santos asked.

“If I’m asked by the local elected official,” Johnson said. It’s unclear to what extent Johnson will assert himself if asked by other parties in a negotiation, such as the mayor’s office or real estate developers.

And though he noted that most rezonings go through a negotiated process, and most of them are approved, he said he will not allow a local Council member to determine the fate of any single land-use process that he deems worthy. “One thing I said is, is there member deference involved? Of course, there’s member deference involved,” he said. “But there’s no veto. No one gets a veto. There’s a difference between deference and a veto. If someone is opposing a project or asking for things that are totally unreasonable, someone needs to step in and say, ‘that doesn’t make any sense.’”

Though Johnson said he was not up to speed on the Inwood rezoning, in a statement to Gotham Gazette, Council Member Rodriguez indicated he is pleased with the speaker’s support thus far in the process.

“Speaker Johnson and the Land Use Committee staff have been very supportive throughout the rezoning,” Rodriguez said. “Land Use has taken the time to understand the needs of the community the council members share. They understand council members have the best knowledge of the whole population in their districts and are seeking an optimal outcome.”

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

Read more by this writer.

]]>
On Land Use, Johnson Promises 'Deference' to Members But 'No Veto' Fri, 09 Mar 2018 05:00:00 +0000