Thursday, August 25, 2016

UPDATED Part #1: REBNY: The Thing That Ate NYC

UPDATE #2: 
WBAI Morning Show interview with GVSHP's executive director about both the city's redevelopment project at St. John's Terminal and the situation with the endangered tenements.
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There is recent news the city and Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) ignored community and preservationist pleas to save five beaux arts EV tenement buildings eligible for landmarking, to allow a 'hipster' hotel to be constructed in their place.

According to the GVSHP, LPC not only failed to act; they never even responded to the request! Wow--deja vu to the days of Rudy Giuliani, when this kind of (in)action was the rule, not the exception...and the city lost some real treasures, like the Cottage apartments on the Upper East Side, or the Palladium nightclub (originally the Academy of Music). To add insult to injury, after NYU demolished that storied music venue for a dorm, they had the poor taste to name it 'The Palladium dorm.


I guess the whole BDB-preserving-existing-affordable-housing is unfortunately exactly what we expected: a sham. People were living in these buildings until very recently.


But it's not enough to lose quality affordable housing, is it? We are also losing interesting specimens from eras when architects took pride in their work, deciding to create buildings with aesthetic appeal and detail, NOT more glass shoe boxes designed for suburbanites and yuppies who think perfectly straight floors and shiny new appliances is really living. No unique character for these philistines.......Plus, it's yet another nail in the coffin separating the city's rich history from this generic entity with its disappearing soul.


And, we still mourn a particularly beautiful building once standing on the corner of 7th Street and 2nd Avenue, which was destroyed last year in that gas explosion--just a few blocks from the tenements.


I've said it before, the Las Vegas NY-NY casino is more authentic than is this facsimile to which we now refer as NYC.


So, I've decided to create the 'Dishonorable Hall of Shame,' an ever-growing list of people who have been active or complicit in the destruction of our beloved home: 

Governors Pataki, Andrew Cuomo; 
Mayors Giuliani, Bloomberg, de Blasio; 
Council Speakers Peter Vallone, Gifford Miller, Christine Quinn, Melissa Mark Viverito; 
State Senate Republicans; 
State Senate Democrats because when they finally won a majority, they made Pedro Espada chair of the housing committee; 
Deputy Mayors Dan Doctoroff, Alicia Glen; 
Borough Presidents C. Virginia Fields, Scott Stringer, Marty Markowitz, Eric Adams, Ruben Diaz Jr.;
Too many City Council Members to list;
The NYS Economic Development Council, NYC Economic Development Corporation (and their various offshoots;)
REBNY; 
The Rent Stabilization Association; 
Business Improvement Districts;
The Downtown Alliance;
The Association for a Better NY;

There is no point in adding individual developers because, like dogs eating their own feces, its in their genetic makeup: they are going to do what they've been doing so long as the city and state keep enabling them. (Apologies to dogs...)


Furthermore, there are some who are straddling the fence like Gale Brewer--whom I have know for two decades and greatly respect--but who was the only sitting Borough President to support Mayor de Blasio's MIZ plan.


Have additions? Tweet them to @ethicsaintpretty.

*****

The Real Estate Board of New York's (REBNY) power in the city and state have effectively transformed both over the last 20+ years--and i think many would agree, not for the better. As a true Manhattan native, I can't begin to describe how sick I feel every time I don't recognize my city anymore. When I see certain skyline views now, I wonder is that NYC or is it Baltimore or Philadelphia or Toronto or Vancouver or even Hong Kong? 

One very real way this has manifested has been how quickly, almost pathologically, we as a city--lead by our municipal government--have allowed our history to be sacrificed to the wrecking ball so a developer can erect yet another out-of-scale shoebox to compensate for any personal shortcomings. 


Build as high as you can, shut out all light and air, tax an already overburdened infrastructure, compromise the very neighborhoods you are trying to exploit so the things making these areas so appealing can no longer exist. Maybe throw in a pittance of 'affordable' units (off-site if you're really lucky) and even better, get a tax bonus. Wow, getting subsidized to make money!


I was watching the classic film, An American In Paris, the other day which opens with wide shots of different monuments, including the Place de la Concorde. I haven't been to Paris in a while, but I think it's pretty safe to guess it still looks the same as it did when I was last there, and as it did in that 1951 movie. Incredibly, there are actually height limits in that city; the Eiffel Tower remains the tallest building within Paris proper.


This got me to thinking about when I lived in London in the 1980s, working on an internship in the House of Commons. Despite the massive gentrification and their own desperate need for affordable housing, many of London's historic sights remain relatively unscathed, places like Trafalgar Square and Piccadilly Circus. 


According to the National Capital Planning Commission's Height Master Plan: London’s height regulation approach is primarily comprised of protected view corridors between specific vantage points and priority landmarks.


The website for the Mayor of London's office devotes an entire page to 'Heritage Assets and Archeology," disclosing how policy and planning decisions are made and why regarding its 'landscape heritage:' 
Spatial distribution of designated heritage assets
Crucial to the preservation of this character is the careful protection and adaptive re-use of heritage buildings and their settings... make a significant contribution to local character and should be protected from inappropriate development that is not sympathetic in terms of scale, materials, details and form. Development that affects the setting of heritage assets should be of the highest quality of architecture and design...

In fact, many prominent cities across the globe have some form of regulation protecting their history, including landmarks and even views. 


And, then there's New York. 


Can you imagine what NYC would be like had the preservation of OUR past been a significant priority? Can you imagine REBNY ever permitting this?


The news that Extel plans to demolish 10 buildings in the diamond district is just
 the latest in a long line of blows.

Industries and other distinct areas are disappearing; there is little of the garment and flower districts, for example. No more meat packing, no more printing... We're losing--or have already lost--everything about NYC that has ever given it character, including some of the less formal 'landmarks' like Indian Row on East 6th Street.

There are longstanding criticisms of city government--especially against the Department of City Planning (DCP)--accusing both of not actually PLANNING on a broad scale. Moreover, DCP is now perceived as an instrument facilitating developers, often at the expense of local neighborhoods. 


Tom Agnotti, Urban Affairs and Planning professor at Hunter College (full disclosure: my alma mater) wrote this in 2010New York City does little real planning... [DCP] the agency entrusted with planning in the charter, is fixated on ad hoc localized zoning instead of planning. Zoning regulates the built environment but doesn’t deal with most of the complex issues that New Yorkers care about. It regulates new development but does little to address most quality-of-life issues or solve serious problems in our neighborhoods. 

Mind you, he wrote this well before before Mayor de Blasio's affordable housing and rezoning plans were introduced. 


Further: 
And there is an inherent conflict of interest with the city planning department charged with both pushing for zoning changes and with providing information and support to communities that might want to question those changes...While citywide planning occurs in New York, it is piecemeal and not connected to community-based planning.  (Author's emphasis.)

Understanding what Agnotti wrote is critical because it similarly explains NYC's approach to preservation; in fact, there is little official guidance about the importance of integrating NYs legacy, as a general rule. There is virtually no relevant information on the DCP website or on the Mayor's home page. 

“The purpose of safeguarding the buildings, and places that represent NYC's cultural, social, economic, political and architectural history,” according to the website for the agency tasked with saving city history, the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC), the VERY FIRST reason is to, “stabilize and improve property values.”

I did see, however, these gems on DCP's site:


*Promote neighborhood economic development;
By creating conditions which benefit chain stores while pushing out mom and pop small businesses?

*Work with neighborhoods and government agencies to develop sound ground-up frameworks for growth that align strategic planning priorities with individual community needs.
Let's ask the residents of neighborhoods like East Harlem, Chinatown or the Bronx's Jerome Avenue Corridor to ask how serious DCP has been about that second point.

The city's Landmarks Preservation Commission is notoriously overburdened and underfunded, and frankly, hasn't done its job properly for two decades. Don't forget, the current LPC chair has no preservation experience. Even worse, she headed the city's Board of Standards and Appeal (BSA), that mayoral-controlled nebulous entity responsible for some of the more glaring travesties because it grants waivers to developers to circumvent existing rules.

Yes, we have landmarked buildings and some historic districts. But the process is rife with politics, reactive instead of proactive, and piecemeal in scale, similar to what Agnotti wrote when describing DCP. Just look at the number of historically or architecturally significant buildings--particularly those located near such districts--LPC refuses to landmark, or that have already been destroyed. 


New Yorkers for a Human Scale city included this summation in Round-Up #17 by architect and urbanist John Massengale to explain how things work (or don't): The New York City Planning Commission... process is reactive and personal, dependent upon who is serving as Commissioner and what influences have been brought to bear on the Commissioner’s boss, the Mayor...
 [LPC] has input on work in historic districts and on designated landmarks, but that is again done through negotiation and according to the personal preferences of the 11 Commissioners, who are appointed by the Mayor. 

The history of mayoral interference, particularly on behalf of developers, is well-known. Now, pro-development City Council Members--one of whom chairs the Land Use committee in a fox-protecting-the-hen-house kind of situation-- have been trying to chip away at the little baseline protections we have. They got their way. Despite heavy opposition from community and preservation groups, Mayor de Blasio signed the bill on June 30th, 2016. 

And don't get me started on the whole state vs city landmarking status, that has permitted developers to build within the city as they like in areas like the Lower East Side because state protections are less stringent than the city's--and offer less protection to its historic districts.

The following WBAI segment is a discussion with the president of the New York Landmarks Conservancy about a recent report they commissioned debunking many of the lies and myths REBNY has propagated so successfully about landmarking. Because of this success, REBNY--with a lot of help from countless elected officials--have created an environment where nothing is considered sacred anymore. 


The report unequivocally shows landmarking and preservation is beneficial for the local economy--despite the REBNY narrative about stunting growth. Other REBNY lies were proven false as well like only affluent whites in Manhattan want to  preserve the city's heritage. Or that instead of being an impediment to creating affordable units, the creation of historic districts actually protects older housing stock, which is where many critical rent-regulated apartments are located. 


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Here is my latest article: Council Eyes Barriers to Court Access for New Yorkers with Disabilities




Friday, August 19, 2016

Part #2: Bloomberg Helps Create Trump Monster; VP Pick Catholic & Pro-Choice, Heads Explode

Now, about the presidential race...

Word of former Mayor Bloomberg's endorsement of Hillary Clinton and speech at the DNC convention has been in the ether all week, along with an article in the NYT. (I'm astounded the article, which quotes Bloomberg 'senior advisor,' Howard Wolfsen, never mentions Wolfsen served as communications director on previous H. Clinton campaigns. That doesn't seem like a minor detail to me.)

Anyone who knows anything about New York politics can't possibly be surprised. What is surprising is how the article discusses Bloomberg's apparent 'dismay' about the Trump candidacy. You may recall earlier this year, Bloomberg hinted at his own potential run because of similar feelings when VT Sen. Bernie Sanders was gaining momentum in the Democratic primaries.


Putting aside the obvious false equivalent Bloomberg and others have made about Trump and Sanders--as if a self-aggrandizing, self-absorbed opportunistic blowhard ridiculously unqualified for any elected office 
could ever be compared to a sitting U.S. senator and former mayor who has spent his long public service career trying to help others. 

This minimizes Sanders, and with good reason: people like Michael Bloomberg are terrified of Sanders and what he represents: change.

If you read between the lines, this is really about Bloomberg's inability to tolerate any group not part of the status quo or establishment; no revelation there, given how the man governed. Bloomberg was the quintessential elitist--not out of a superiority complex or from the safety of generations of inbred privilege--but because he has been so wealthy for so long, he clearly has no inclination or empathy for the majority of NYers, the non-one percenters. Bloomberg was, and remains, entirely out of touch.


Bloomberg's speech Wednesday night was fine, essentially what was to be expected. He did, I think, appear to relish, insulting and mocking the Donald, belittling Trump's 
"success" as a businessman. Which makes the reality even odder.....

Putting aside also the absolute myth Trump is somehow not part of this status quo, Michael Bloomberg actually helped create the delusional bubble in which Trump resides. The most notorious example was the Trump "hotel" in SOHOwhich went into foreclosure in 2014.


With support from former Council Speaker Christine Quinn and now-Comptroller Scott Stringer, Bloomberg and the others were accomplices by allowing Trump to flagrantly flout existing zoning codes (and then brag about it.) The list of examples where Bloomberg's people enabled Trump, or ignored their duties like enforcement, is pretty astonishing. 

In other words, Bloomberg directly fed into Trump's entitled view of himself, which clearly extends to his smarmy children......


Remember when daddy Trump bought Ivanka's modelling "career" in the 80s, and then he and his PR machine tried to sell the public she was some kind of super model? The main difference here is apparently we were collectively smarter 30 years ago, not so easily fooled and manipulated. 


Then again, we bought It's Morning In America, all while the federal government willfully ignored the burgeoning AIDS epidemic...And ketchup was a vegetable... And the president's inner circle funded and trained Central American death squads and tried to overthrow a democratically-elected government by trafficking crack in the US, and arms to Iran just a few years after our hostages were released in 1981. 


Never mind.

*****

I know many progressives have been initially disappointed by Hillary Clinton's choice for vice president, myself included. Whether or not VA Sen. Tim Kaine is liberal enough, or has too many ties to the oil industry, will be debated for a long whileRegardless, one thing I don't really understand in much of the post-announcement analysis has been the preoccupation with the fact that Kaine is a pro-choice Catholic. Shock and horror!

Kaine has legitimate bona fides: Planned Parenthood and NARAL have both given him a 100 percent rating. But NEWS FLASH--this is not a new phenomenon, nor is it mutually exclusive. Our late governor Mario Cuomo's career and his mystique were partially based on his committed opposition to the death penalty and for being consistently pro-choice, despite church doctrine. 


What about the current Vice President, Joe Biden? Or the late great MA Sen.Teddy Kennedy? And, notice how Catholic female elected officials--like former MD Senator Barbara Mikulski or House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi--don't seem to provoke the same ire and backlash? Is this just a twisted version of paternalism, or are these women considered too far gone to bother? After all, they're only women, and we women get so emotional about things like control of our bodies........ 


The point of being pro-choice is precisely that--being in favor of giving someone the opportunity to determine for (her)self what she consider best for her health and well-being. That's why it's called being pro-choice and not pro-abortion per se, and why the anti-choice movement using the pro-life moniker is so inaccurate. 
(I'm always struck by the double standard when it comes to reproductive freedom and the church versus the death penalty and the church, and the free pass given to Catholic death penalty supporters.)


Someone pro-choice doesn't have to be pro-abortion, just understand other people may believe differently from him or her, particularly when those beliefs are based on a religious view that is not universal. 


This is a clearly manufactured, contrived issue. But why has it gained any traction, and why has the media permitted it to do so? I'd really like to hear from you. Tweet me @ethicsaintpretty.






Wednesday, May 11, 2016

BDB, Real Estate & the Great Vampire Squid (credit to Matt Taibbi)

Cake from my last birthday; Remember when this was the battle cry against gentrification, especially in the East Village?


With all the scandals now swirling around Mayor de Blasio, I suppose it's easy to focus on possible fundraising improprieties concerning state senate candidates. The press loves simple narratives--in this case standard potential corruption--and given the low attention span or intellectual levels they ascribe to us, they can get away with simultaneously either barely covering or worse--willfully ignoring--the larger, more complex moving parts. Kudos, then, to DNAinfo for its stellar reporting and follow through.


There are currently numerous ongoing investigations into the de Blasio administration, including several based on some variation on a pay-to-play edict. What is becoming astonishingly clear (and disappointingly so) is the seemingly rampant impropriety, illegality and behavior as if they are above the law. Even the appearance of impropriety has not served as a deterrent.


No matter what anyone tells you, it's abundantly clear the majority of these cases involve big real estate and developers, including the sale of the Brooklyn Heights Library or concerning the sale and deed change of the AIDS hospice on the LES. I have heard speculation from within certain alternative media outlets that the time frame suggests there is the possibility some of these deals were worked out even before the mayor assumed power. More on this later.


But something I think getting lost within the feeding frenzy is the fact the mayor's point person on all things real estate--my former high school friend DM Alicia Glen--is an alumni of one of the world's most venal corporations, Goldman Sachs, whose track record borders on a criminal enterprise. Glen was no mere mid-level employee at Goldman, she headed its Urban Investment Group. 


I've previously posted my concerns about her appointment. Already, Glen has been linked to the egregious library sale. Reports of her trying to undo the nursing home sale I believe are only part of the story, and I think further investigation will yield evidence that her office was aware of the deal before even the First Deputy Mayor. After all, she has enormous power in this administration and virtually everything dealing with land use goes through her office.


My point here is this: Mayor de Blasio made a very specific statement when he hired her, which was not simply to pacify REBNY. Really, what do you think she represents, what message did her appointment send? De Blasio himself may not be corrupt--I simply don't know anymore and he's a far cry from the man with whom I worked on the Dinkins' reelection campaign in 1993--but Glen's association with Goldman--not to mention Giuliani's HPD which was rife with sleaze while managing to also decimate the agency--speaks VOLUMES to the rest of the well-intentioned honest people who comprise the administration. 


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For this post, I've highlighted some of the recent WBAI segments I produced focusing on land use, development and the all-consuming power of the real estate industry, in no particular order. 

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Louis Flores, publisher of online news site Progress Queens, analyzes the mayor's recent revamping plan for the city's vast public hospital system. Included deeply and vaguely within the pages of a city analysis is something we've come to expect from the de Blasio administration: the advocacy of selling public (hospital area) land and repurposing buildings.  

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Community concerns over the recent and near unanimous Council passage of the East New York rezoning with Ana Aguirre, executive director of United Community Centers-East NY and member of the Coalition for Community Advancement.

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Tenant.net's John Fisher and Marina Ortiz of East Harlem Preservation discuss the selling out by tenants groups who now support de Blasio's affordable housing plan. Specifically, they focus on the Real Affordability for All Coalition (RAFA), and the unique relationship that develops because many of its members depend on funding from elected officials. By switching positions, they provide political cover for those electeds who side with the interests of big real estate over those of their own constituents. Meanwhile, said tenant advocates received nothing concrete in concessions from the city. They also discuss the inherent flaw in the kind of Inclusionary Zoning--mandatory or not--used in NYC, which inevitably leads to the construction of predominantly luxury units. That, in turn, fundamentally changes the dynamic of any given neighborhood, imminent displacement and even a net loss of affordable apartments. 

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Atlantic Yards Reports' Norman Oder  elaborates on the array of problems and disruptions for residents living near Brooklyn's publicly-subsidized boondoggle, the Barclay's Center Arena--including sexual harassment and assault. Oder also talks about how the promised jobs have morphed over time, and how the 'affordable' units have become less and less accessible to the people who most need them, while also becoming so expensive as to exceed de Blasio's Inclusionary Zoning guidelines--which are already very generous to high-income households.

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CUNY graduate student and New Politics author Samuel Stein talks about how the city has the power to do better regarding affordable housing, calling it a 'dangerous game" to link the creation of affordable apartments to luxury unit construction. Focusing on the "imperfect" tool of zoning, Stein believes the city should have imposed a moratorium before instituting any new rezonings. As soon as neighborhoods were identified by the AH plan, they became giant targets of speculation and huge creations of wealth for land owners, as evidenced in East NY, he said, and it's no coincidence the city targeted lower income neighborhoods--which can't possibly remain so after the rezonings.

The mayor's plan is actually a real estate stimulus plan; Stein explains this is to be expected given the top two de Blasio officials responsible for implementation, City Planning chair Carl Weisbrod and DM Glen. Both have backgrounds rooted in finance and the real estate industry rather than in fields like affordable housing or city planning.


Now back to the speculation about timing: In an article for Jacobin magazine, Stein connects the dots about the mayor's proposed trolley route between two boroughs. Stein's research not only revealed most of the same route is already adequately served, there are nine areas considered "subway starved" in comparison, which happen to be located in lower income minority neighborhoods. More significantly, the route matches up with many development projects sponsored by developers who happen to be supporters.


In his article, Stein writes, "The route is clearly not the most logical or sustainable...The 'Friends of the Brooklyn-Queens Connector' are...friends of higher waterfront property values, seeking public insurance for their private investments in the form of infrastructure development....The waterfront streetcar plan is based less on a community's need for service than a group of well-connected developers' desire for profit."


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Steve Barrison, attorney and EVP of the Small Business Congress-NYC--which represents more than 185,000 mom pop businesses--discusses why they are trying to pressure Queens elected officials for help to stem the tidal wave of mass closings. Queens is the home to the largest number of immigrants in the city, and immigrants are the largest owners of small businesses.

Years of city policies either neglecting or even exacerbating mass closings of small businesses have created a crisis. As discussed on previous numerous Ethics Ain't Pretty posts, Council Member Bill de Blasio supported the one bill considered a real solution: The overwhelming reason NYC's longstanding mom-and-pops close is because of astronomical rent increases or the refusal of a landlord to renew a lease, and commercial tenants have no rights whatsoever. REBNY and other real estate interests have made it abundantly clear they wish to retain this status quo. Yet, not the mayor is virtually silent--why do you suppose that is?


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Tom Siracuse, chair of the Committee to Protect Rent Controlled Tenants, discusses how there are only about 25K of such units remaining in NYC, predominantly inhabited by seniors living on fixed incomes. Outside of those living in public housing, RC tenants have the lowest mean income of all renters in NYC; 1/3 spend more than 50% of income on rent. DHCR, the state agency tasked with overseeing controlled units is proposing (since approved with virtually no press coverage) a 9+% increase at a time when COLA's have been frozen, and rent stabilized tenants will get a rent freeze in 2016. Siracuse describes a faulty formula on which increases are based, resulting in controlled tenants being subjected to the highest cumulative increases of all rent regulated tenants over the years. This translates into more and more NYC senior citizens living at the very real risk of losing their longtime homes.

Friday, February 12, 2016

BDB & RE: Is it worse than we thought?

Recently, real estate-centric rag, The Real Deal, ran an article discussing the industry's love/hate relationship with Mayor de Blasio, focusing predominantly on that perspective--as one would expect. It included a comment from the DM for housing and economic development who said their relationship was improving, "I think it's changed in the sense that with each month or quarter that goes by, the industry is even more satisfied with the [administration's] ability to get deals done." This quote was presumably offered without any irony intended, given this little gem.


Any mention of opposition to the mayor's affordable housing and zoning plans was perfunctory at best, and completely ignored perhaps the most important and most overlooked concern--the impact these plans will have on NYC's communities. More on this later.

As I've written quite extensively on Ethics Ain't Pretty, to the surprise and now disappointment of many New Yorkers, the de Blasio administration has turned out to be more like Bloomberg redux than anyone expected. Quite simply, when it comes to the all-consuming power of big real estate, the status quo, and watching our beloved city surpass the threshold of progress into generic and homogeneous, the situation has reached Defcon 5.

Really, we shouldn't be that surprised given his history: supporting the massive developer giveaway known as Atlantic Yards that destroyed a viable neighborhood and countless small businesses; in favor of building condos in Brooklyn Bridge Park and NYU's latest land grab. NYU--the university who already decimated a neighborhood--and with whom many high-ranking BDB officials were once affiliated.

These were on the record during the mayoral race. But Bill de Blasio was a very lucky man with good timing who was never thoroughly vetted. In everyone's (necessary) myopia of 'Anyone but Quinn,' these facts were ignored for a multitude of reasons which are too complex to examine for this post.

While in the Council, de Blasio supported the 'Small Business Jobs Survival Act,' (SBJSA) as a means to right economic disparity and injustice--the eventual theme of his Tale of Two Cities mayoral run. But, as Public Advocate and now Mayor, it's been radio silence except to propagate the real estate- friendly narrative that fines, fees and lack of access to capital are the reasons NYC mom and pops close, despite a plethora of data and statistics proving otherwise.

Even considering these facts, it's still rather shocking what's gone on with the sale of the Brooklyn Heights library branch--an issue de Blasio actually campaigned against while running for mayor. Yet a few short years later, it's been a 180 change; in fact, the aforementioned DM assumed responsibility to ensure the deal went through. 

The last time something so egregious occurred was in 1996 when Rudy Giuliani unilaterally sold the license for WNYC-TV. It was only when he then wanted to also sell off the city's water supply that there was a backlash, but too late for the station (at which i worked). To this day, NYC doesn't have its own public TV station. (Look it up.)

Unfortunately, many of my fellow professionals have utterly failed in covering this issue.

Citizens Defending Libraries founders Michael D.D. White and Caroline McIntyre discuss the administration's push to sell city assets to a private developer for a pittance on WBAI's The Morning Show, which I produced. Naturally, a new luxury tower is in the works. 

The entire process exposes how co opted so many public officials have become by big real estate's largess; it also reveals widespread conflicts-of-interest running rampant throughout executive boards which affect public welfare in some way--including the Brooklyn Public Library's Board of Trustees--and amongst employees of various government entities. 
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Now back to the impact question. John Fisher, creator of Tenant.net, tells WBAI why the expiration of the controversial developer incentive plan known as 421a isn't a bad thing. Fisher discusses what much of the media, politicians and even tenant groups have ignored in the debate--the impact of such a program and others like it including inclusionary zoning--a cornerstone of de Blasio's affordable housing plan. 

Fisher noted that no matter how much "affordable" housing is included--25, 35, even 50%--it still means the rest will be luxury, translating into inevitable primary and secondary displacement of residents and businesses alike. This is a pattern we've seen for years, particularly under the Bloomberg rezonings-on-steroids. 

Arguments in favor of deeper affordability and using an AMI that better reflects NYC, according to Fisher, are red herrings because the sheer volume and density of the market-rate housing created will ultimately supersede everything else and continue swallowing up community after community.

Moreover, current owners see these giant profits and want to get it on the action, often employing illegal tactics to push out long-term tenants. A reasonable person might be able to recognize something like a chronic lack of repairs, consistent lack of hot water and/or heat, or tenants being groundlessly hauled into housing court as forms of harassment, but the city's housing agency is still grappling with the definition

And it's not as if ANY law enforcement office--not the five DA's or AG's offices etc.--or relevant agencies in charge of oversight take these issues seriously enough to prosecute most wrongdoers for the criminal fraud and other illegal activity. At best, there's a slew of press releases and a lot of promises made, but in reality the wheels of landlord corruption continue to spin.
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Underscoring Fisher's position is this interview I produced with a representative of CASA/New Settlement Apartments, who discusses community opposition to the mayor's proposed rezoning of 73 blocks along the Bronx's Jerome Avenue corridor--a stretch included in the nation's poorest urban Congressional District.

Carmen Rivera Vega tells how she and her neighbors spent a year engaging to create an alternative to the city's, after too many times actual residents--the ones who have been and would be directly affected---were again left out of area development plans. 

Rivera said the median income is under $25,000 per year with many residents spending more than 50% of income on rent, yet the city is relying on an AMI of more than $63,000 to be eligible for its planned "affordable" units. The area is also home to many automotive-related businesses and related jobs the city seems bent on forcing out.
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With the City Council not only voting to approve a giant pay raise--but one significantly higher than was recommended--I was reminded of something. In 1999-2000, I worked for then- CM Kathryn Freed who represented lower Manhattan. This was definitely not a job for me and as I was leaving, the Council's salary was raised to $90,000 for this "part-time" job. Over 16 years, that salary will now become $148,500, a $36,000 pay raise since 2006. Considering annual rates of inflation or even COLA increases--or freezes as is the case this year--the word disproportionate is an understatement. 

It's especially important because, as my current CM pointed out, Council employees tend to make paltry incomes, and this $36,000 raise is often more than what many earn in a given year. As a working journalist who regularly interacts with many of these staffers, it's pretty clear these days the 'best and the brightest' aren't generally flocking to, or staying at, the Council for jobs, and invariably the low salary is a giant factor. The staffs also seem to be a lot younger and more inexperienced.

Frankly, I needed a job at the time that gave me some stability, having burned out from the constant state of panic that comes with freelancing--especially in broadcast in the late 90's, and I knew and respected Kathryn. 

With a Masters degree, I earned $32,000; a colleague who started the same time earned $31,000 and he had a Masters in transportation planning.  My salary was insufficient for me to survive in New York City, if i hadn't lived in a rent-stabilized unit AND had a roommate. From what I've seen, this salary situation hasn't changed much after all these years, and Council staff are not represented by any municipal union.

Furthermore, my salary would have excluded me as too high for the very low end of city-sponsored affordable units AND from the vast majority of what's being currently proposed because it was too low.

Also of note: 60 Hudson Street--the building associated with last week's crane collapse--was already a major neighborhood concern in 1999. I inherited the relevant folder from the previous staffer, meaning this building was an issue even earlier. Yet, at last week's mayoral presser, the administration somehow seemed unaware of this. (And as a personal peeve, not one reporter inquired as to whether or not the crane crew was non-union.)
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I love this picture, and it brings out my Mod side; I feel sorry for you if you don't know who it is!