Friday, August 17, 2018

BDB/Glen & REBNY Together Forever; NYC Suffers

I realize it's very, very easy to be overwhelmed by what's happening at the federal level and the daily travesties committed by the Trump administration it's almost understandable to overlook what's going on in New York City. Almost.

Things are equally egregious here, just within a different context. The full NYC Council just voted to approve both the Inwood Upzoning (with minor changes) AND the de Blasio-promoted Tech Hub at Union Square (with little-to-no meaningful zoning and affordable housing protections). Both projects are wildly unpopular within their respective communities.

Speaking of "tech hubs," how many is the Administration now pushing? I know there's one based in the old Brooklyn Navy Yard, one for Downtown Brooklyn, a tech hub in Manhattan's rezoned Grand Central area; there's also a rumor of one proposed within the Inwood Upzoning. How many are actually necessary? And doesn't this push for tech jobs--at the cost of so much else including saving small businesses--imply a certain level of elitism? Not what one would expect from such a "progressive" leader.....

Perhaps the worst part of the 14th Street "Tech Hub" is that despite the repeated campaign promises of then-council candidate Carlina Rivera while she was running, she fecklessly voted affirmatively without those very protections she swore would ultimately determine her vote. Did she lie? (I wonder what was the underlying quid pro quo from the de Blasio administration to buy her vote--obviously, precedence has already proven priority was not to benefit her constituents, who deserve better.

Ed. Note: Like many EV residents, I called to object to Rivera's vote in the Zoning subcommittee for the tech hub without these vital safeguards. On August 3, 2018, I spoke with her legislative director who told me she was still in negotiations with the city and her vote was merely a procedural one. Given the final outcome, was this just continuation of the lie? 

As accurately depicted by the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation (GVSHP)what ultimately passed was a "fraction of a fraction" of what is necessary to truly protect the contiguous neighborhoods. It and many other community organizations are especially concerned with how market pressures will manifest because of these developments--both on existing tenants and small businesses. 

After passing the full Council, GVSHP rightfully pulled no punches about what transpired. "It's a shame that the Mayor is so invested in protecting his real estate donor friends that he would not consider real but reasonable zoning protections .... But of course, as always, the Mayor’s campaign donors got a very good deal out of this."

A special shout-out was reserved for Rivera: "It's also a shame that our local CM caved to the Mayor and broke a promise she publicly made that these real protections were part of any final deal. They’re not, and the deal approved today will do very little to protect this neighborhood."  

Critically, as GVSHP notes, any benefits Rivera maintains will come to the neighborhood did not require the large commercial upzoning the Council approved--and which inevitably will open a Pandora's Box to development.

Perhaps to quell the backlash that Rivera shockingly did not see coming, her office released a letter on August 13th (conveniently after the full Council already approved the hub) requesting City Planning (DCP) require a special site-specific permit for hotel development so they can only be constructed where it's deemed appropriate south of Union Square. (I wonder what that criteria will be and who will be deciding?) 

The phrase 'too little, too late' is woefully enormously inadequate.

Rivera's plan is "a pale shadow of the zoning protections she publicly promised would be necessary for her to approve the "Tech Hub"," GVSHP wrote in a rebuttal to Rivera's latest request to DCP. 

The organization maintains the special hotel permit "will have little to no effect on the development problems" exacerbated by the hub,  proceeding to break down point by point how truly useless and meaningless her appeal really is. "CM Rivera broke her promise to the community ... Trying to pass off flimsy measures with little effect as the protections this community fought for won't change that."

In terms of Inwood, the CM, Ydanis Rodriguez, has never heeded the overwhelming community opposition other than with lip service. The Inwood community has been well organized, outspoken and went so far as to offer its own compromise proposals through groups like Inwood Preservation (IP). One of its founders, Maggie Clarke, who has a PhD in environmental science and has lived in Inwood for 40 years emailed, "It was all done behind closed doors. We don't even know exactly what they voted on." 

On the 'compromise' to which Rodriguez allegedly agreed, Clarke noted, "Just to be clear, our entire Uptown United Plan was a compromise. It proposed more building than there is now. What folks don't understand is when you jump from [current zoning] R7 to R8 and R9 (which is still in the plan), and where much of the area's commercial and industrial is only 1 or 2 stories, the impacts will be very large...Saying excising the [commercial] U is a big concession is like saying we were only stabbed 2 times in the heart rather than 3.... But our CM doesn't get it."

To that end, an impromptu sit-in was held in Rodriguez district office shortly after the committee vote. No, it didn't accomplish much, but it was heartening to see organic resistance rising up. 

As in countless areas across the entire city, the very essence that makes a neighborhood unique and so very New York are the very elements the administration is permitting to be systematically dismantled--all so private developers can reap bigger profits.

Sooner or later though, city residents are going to finally say 'enough' to Mayor de Blasio's pay-to-play policies and to his REBNY-backed allies in government, like Carlina Rivera, Ydanis Rodriguez and too, too many more. Think of the 1976 movie Network, with its classic scene in which Peter Finch tells his news audience, "I'm a human being goddammit. My life has value. So, I want you to get up now, I want all of you to get out of your chairs, I want you to get up right now and go the window, open it, and stick your head out and yell, "I'm as mad as hell and I'm not going to take this anymore!"  So applicable today on so many levels...

Recently, this little nugget was reported which I'm sure most people missed. And why not? We've become inured to these kind of travesties. Check out the affordability threshold: 72K- 95-K for a studio! If someone earning that much money as a single person (which is the presumed justification for the small space of a studio ie it's too small for a family), how on earth can that person need to be subsidized--which is exactly what's happening, as opposed to oft-repeated misnomer about rent regulations. If there was ever any question or ambiguity about de Blasio's "affordable" housing plan, I think that's been put to rest with a resounding THUD.

Based on what we've witnessed over the last five years--the so-called affordable housing plan affordable to almost no one; ZQA; MIH; the upzonings of middle-and working-class neighborhoods, just to name a few--does ANYONE believe somehow the BDB/Glen mission miraculously changed to finally help the people who actually need it the most and not their developer allies?

Thursday, May 31, 2018

BDB & REBNY: A Noxious Co-Dependent Relationship Running NYC?

Update: This came in late Tuesday evening as I was putting the finishing touches on this post, but it must be mentioned. According to the Greenwich Village Society for Historical Preservation, the Landmarks Commission has backed off (for now at least) it's proposed rule changes which would have cut out public input because of widespread opposition. Actually, the email says LPC, "retreated from many of the most controversial elements of their proposed changes to the rules governing the landmarks public review and approval process." A 'stay tuned' seems in order......
I think it's pretty obvious: the Real Estate Board of NY (REBNY) has lost its mind, in part thanks to its co-dependent relationship with the government of the City of New York. It has been utterly enabled by Mayor Bill de Blasio and his chief henchperson, Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen (full disclosure: my former high school friend)--who have given REBNY unfettered control of the city's public policy--because in the end, every issue, every policy, every edict is run through a real estate and land use filter. And if REBNY deems something unacceptable, well, by now we know the tune...If REBNY has a wish-list, then de Blasio and Glen have proceeded to check off item after item in the 'granted' column.

As with many such relationships, this kind of co-dependency breeds an unhealthy dynamic that leaves a path of damage in its wake--and I should know because this accurately describes in a nutshell the toxic marriage of my own parents. However, instead of being confined to immediate family members, we instead see it playing out on a much larger stage and scale deleteriously impacting the entire city.

I suppose this kind of situation organically creates the rapacious desire for fresh conquests, to push boundaries and because there are virtually no constraints or ramifications. Nothing is ever enough for developers and landlords: greater profits, greater greed, a continuous cacophony of "More, More, More" (and not in the lighthearted, tongue-in-cheek context of the Andrea True Connection.)

It's particularly surreal and quite Orwellian when we see how the administration is trying desperately to lift height caps imposed by a 1961 state law on residential buildings when in actuality, there have been few examples where developers haven't been able to build ridiculously tall buildings (commonly known as supertalls) using a combination of existing zoning regulations and loopholes. Just look around at the developments taking place all over the city, regardless of the neighborhood.

In a recent newsletter by Human Scale-NYC (HS-NYC), it's asked, "Why lift the cap when the city has yet to produce a plan--or even have a debate--about how much density a neighborhood can sustain before the quality of life deteriorates? Why do such a thing when the city is locked into a false economic theory that suggests (without evidence) that to have economic growth, the only possible strategy is to attract young, "intelligent" people... [so we have to build] lots of high-rise luxury housing...specifically in the hot neighborhoods of Manhattan and on the Brooklyn-Queens waterfronts...One worrying thought about it: Is "intelligent" supposed to be a code word for young, educated white college grads instead of black brown immigrants from poor countries?"

HS-NYC raises some very legitimate questions and points. As much as I hate the phrase "quality of life" and its implications thanks to its utter bastardization by Rudy Giuliani, it makes perfect sense in this regard. As the city keeps pushing development and especially out-of-scale development, the law of diminishing returns has to kick in at some point--though I think it can be argued it already has.  Though the evidence is ample, here are just a few examples: the overtaxed transit system which constantly breaks down from overuse and lack of investment; overcrowded public schools; a general lack of personal space and the encroachment of shadows caused by these supertalls, which are all facts of life today for NYers. 

(Ed. Note: I would maintain there is no neighborhood left in Manhattan that isn't 'hot'--thanks to the mayor's plan to rezone (i.e. upzone) the last few remaining communities comprised of mixed incomes and diverse populations (mostly of color): East Harlem and Inwood.

HS-NYC correctly point out the entire premise of the de Blasio housing plan is predicated on a theory which focuses on attracting usually white, but more importantly, predominantly the upper-middle class and wealthy.

This is wrong on so many levels, but as a native Manhattanite, I find the city's focus to attract people from other cities and states mystifying. In my lifetime, I can't remember a time when city government worked so hard to retain the residents already here, college educated or not, as it appears it's doing to appeal to outsiders.

The city and its allies like the Regional Plan Association and of course, REBNY, are using the veil of 'affordable housing' as the justification, but I think everybody sees through that facade after 5+ years of Bill de Blasio's tenure. As the Historic Districts Council wrote, "There is NOTHING (ed emphasis) in this bill regarding affordable housing, it only increases developers' already broad latitude to build. NYC does not have a housing shortage--there are nearly 250,000 empty units, or about 11% of the city's total rental apartments, which currently sit empty. There is enough housing for everyone, but developers build for maximum profit, not for people."

The situation has moved from bad to seriously egregious, again, thanks to the Cart Blanche granted by the de Blasio administration. Developers have become emboldened, constantly pushing the lines away from the public good, away from basic necessities like sunlight, air and public space, and away even from common sense. And, this madness now extends to selling publicly-owned assets like library branches to private developers--which once was utterly inconceivable...

The most recent example is the proposed mixed-used development including double towers--one of which is roughly the size of the Chrysler building--"planned" (a term I use facetiously as the city does no actual planning) for the middle of brownstone-dominated residential Brooklyn, around Fort Greene and Boerum Hill. The developer wants to triple existing zoning while delaying the mandatory inclusionary housing. You can listen here to an interview with one of the leading activists opposing this development which I produced for WBAI Radio's The Morning Show. 

If this proposal wasn't bad enough on it's face, it's being facilitated by a little-known government agency that was dormant until 2010 when Michael Bloomberg's administration resuscitated it--but there is no ambiguity as to why it was brought back or how it's being used. The idea behind 80 Flatbush Towers--and allowing such monstrous buildings where they really ought not to be--is perhaps the second most cliched justification for out-of-context development, just behind the affordable housing excuse: schools.

In the case of Flatbush Towers, two small schools are being proposed using public land and the accompanying air rights---an enormous boon to the developer and its partners. (They are asking for the equivalent of $300+ million in free air rights from the city and state.) There is also enormous concern the development will encourage such a large influx of people to the area that the new schools will "barely cover" the new population and actually result in a net LOSS of school seats.

Meanwhile, everything that we recognize as truly unique to NYC--from the longstanding independent small businesses, to the architecture, to the divergent and multicultural populations reflected in every walk of life including the cornucopia of food choices, to our very own heritage--is being systematically dismantled block by block, street by street, community by community. I've previously written on EAP about the loss of unofficial landmarks, like Indian Row in the East Village, the garment center and diamond district. 

The latest in danger of being added to this list is Tin Pan Alley, considered the birthplace of popular music and a bastion of NYC culture and history. Here is a Morning Show interview with one of the organizers trying to save TPA

Because of encroaching over-development and the peculiar circumstance of existing zoning which encourages hotel construction, it's well past time for the Department of City Planning (DCP) to intervene and stop the glut of hotels. The Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) has twice rejected landmarking designation because it has deemed the area lacking in architectural style--but have you ever walked around the neighborhood? If anything, the architecture is astounding. 

Tin Pan Alley and the larger at-risk area surrounding it called NoMad includes gems like "pre-Civil War Italianite row houses" and turn-of-the century buildings built in the "neo-Renaissance and/or Beaux Arts styles."  Throw in the historical significance of the block(s) and the case for protection is self-explanatory.  


What's been occurring--and permitted to occur by the city--at 85 Bowery in Chinatown is beyond a travesty. We've been consistently covering the plight of these tenants for the better part of two years on The Morning Show--something few local journalistic organizations can credibly maintain.

The evicted tenants resumed their hunger strike on May 30th, in their latest attempts to bring pressure to get back home. February 1st was the ostensible deadline the city gave the landlord to make "repairs" but here we are, in June. The city has done little-to-nothing to enforce its own time frame; meanwhile, dozens of people who are legally entitled to their apartments are still homeless.

According to organizers, the city keeps permitting the landlord to delay and stonewall--the repairs being the questionable justification to evict the rent-regulated tenants in the first place--after he spent years trying to shirk his responsibilities AND tried to illegally evict them.  

The city's Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) agency ignored the case for two years, after a 2016 Housing Court order mandated the fixes based on poor conditions. The city's Department of Buildings (DOB) and others like HPD even stood by as the landlord disposed into dumpsters tenants' belongings.

The entire drama is particularly galling because it's being played out during the administration of our self-described 'progressive' mayor---who has repeatedly failed to intervene on behalf of these beleaguered tenants and demand his own government agencies do their damned jobs. This is the same man whose initial campaign for the office focused on social justice and on the whole 'Tale of Two Cities' theme, apparently just a big canard that snookered voters and the press alike.

Update: The organizers of #85 Bowery have a 4pm Victory March planned for today at the entrance to City Hall. 

Monday, October 23, 2017

Help Save WBAI Radio; NYCLPC Sued & More NYC Real Estate Foibles

As many of you know, I work in part as the senior producer at WBAI radio's The Morning Show, the only station-sponsored daily public affairs program. I came to the station--the oldest and largest independent progressive station in the NY area--after years of working in print. However, my background and greater passion has always been in broadcast and frankly, I'm a really good producer--much better than I am a writer. 

Unfortunately for me, my timing in broadcast was terrible, both in terms of the national economy dating back to the recessions of the 1990s; the deleterious post-OJ effect on serious and substantive public affairs discourse; and frankly, a curious phenomenon that developed during that time period where it became shockingly clear that smart women with opinions (that could be backed up) who were over 30 were not exactly welcome within the ranks of many news outlets.

WBAI and the host of The Morning Show, Michael G. Haskins, have been true blessings for me on multiple levels (though not financial.) I implore you to help us in the fight to save WBAI. The owners of the Empire State Building are essentially extorting the station, yet they just prevailed in court.

Please read this note from WBAI volunteer Marilyn Vogt-Downey:

The Empire State Realty Trust--the owners of the Empire State Building where WBAI's transmitter is located--has pushed WBAI Radio into a crisis. The crisis is real! And we need your help to turn this crisis around.

We need your time, your energy and, especially, your skills... we need YOU to be part of a cadre of volunteers to help build our off-air multi-million dollar fundraising campaign. 

YES we can do it together... 

We need grant writers, event planners, social media & computer technology experts, phone banking volunteers, and particularly those experienced with obtaining large donor contributions... Are you an experienced fundraiser??? We need you now!!!

Historically WBAI listeners have shown great heart and courage in the face of political adversity. Now it's urgent that we bring our efforts together on behalf of WBAI, our irreplaceable station.

Specify your area of expertise and experience and let us know how you can help. 
Again, please call 347-647-9224 or email

Together we will win!

In my capacity as producer at WBAI, I've had the opportunity to create substantive segments about issues I believe are either ignored by the mainstream press or not fully examined. Here are some important interviews on which I worked before the recent court decision:

A Community organization's lawsuit vs the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) 
for the 'capricious' manner in which it makes important landmarking decisions, with no standard set of regulatory guidelines. Because of the arbitrary nature, and absent standards, it's impossible not to speculate about what factors are considered like the administration's close ties to developers. Certainly, the fact that the LPC chair has no landmarking or preservation experience is more than troubling. Several other community groups have filed suit against LPC for an array of reasons, and this case has potential citywide implications;
Update on the controversial (and wildly unpopular) rezoning of Jerome Avenue in the Bronx;

The travesties occurring in Brooklyn's Crown Heights section caused in part by a corrupt community board and a mayoral administration hell bent on turning the city over to private developers as in the case of the Bedford Armory;

I'm also particularly pleased with the following two segments focusing on national issues:

1) What the Trump administration is trying to do to working Americans, in terms of overtime regulations and the pay gap;

2) A fine tribute to and discussion of the late LGBT pioneer Edie Windsor and her legacy  between the two co-hosts of GAYUSA, the longest running LGBT news and information show which has aired since the mid-1980s. Both hosts knew Windsor well and considered her their friend.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Is BDB's Transportation Policy Code for Enriching Real Estate Industry?

In what world does it make sense that the city of NY would spend $2.5 BILLION in taxpayer money on a limited trolley system which: 
a) is considered low on a list of under-served areas;
b) happens to run along the very same waterfront route in Brooklyn and Queens where many of the mayor's developer friends own property and/or have developments proposed? 

Or, where another city transportation 'priority' to expand ferry services has a price tag at minimum of $325M, not including operating and infrastructure upgrade costs. A passenger will be charged the same as a ride on a city bus or subway (currently $2.75,) though the actual cost is estimated somewhere around $6.50. One Slate journalist wrote, "Once the city makes its $55M capital investment in docks, boats, (etc.)...the most successful route will require an operating subsidy per passenger almost twice the cost of a local bus and about six times that of a subway."

But, what's especially worrisome about the ferry expansion is the small projected ridership compared with those on the buses and subways, for whom the service is singularly designed to cater, and why. 

In describing the ferry scheme, the Slate piece includes, "All public transit is subsidized, of course. But what makes this a particularly inappropriate use of city transportation dollars is the clientele. Aside from the aforementioned Rockaways stop and a politically expedient stop at Soundview in the Bronx, the ferries will serve expensive or gentrified areas." He continues [Editor's emphasis], "The best reason to spend $30M a year running boats, however, isn't to get people from place to place, but to encourage new construction."

Mind you, the contract wasn't even awarded to a local company.

And, it should be mentioned with both the trolley and ferries, free transfers to MTA buses and subway would be unavailable. As a native who grew up in the 1970s and 80's, I remember all-to-well what it was like not being able to afford two transit fares, bus-to-subway or vice versa---or having to allot more travel time hours so that I could take buses and transfer among two for free. I believe they call that lost productivity.

So, in what or whose world? Why, in faux-progressive Mayor Bill de Blasio's world, that's where. That's a world where transportation policy decisions are actually subterfuge for enriching the giant real estate industry that really runs NYC. (And this world view isn't exclusive to the mayor, or even to one elected official......)

Yet, the same mayor--the man with aspirations (or delusions, your choice)--to be a national leader in the left wing 'resistance' movement calls the #FairFares campaign to provide subsidies for poor NYers who are being priced out of mass transit after six hikes in roughly a decade a "noble" gesture but one the city can ill afford. And, because the price structure encourages paying for a bulk package with discounts, a single ride is more expensive to the very people who can least afford it.

These subsidies are estimated to cost around $200M. According to the Riders Alliance, almost one million residents could be eligible. By the way, the same system already offers subsidies to seniors, the disabled and school children. And though not a classic subsidy, middle-class residents qualify for pre-tax benefits on the total cost of their Metrocards.

The Straphangers Campaign testified before the City Council earlier this year about #FairFares: "More than one third of all low-income, working-age New Yorkers have reported that the rising transit fares have prevented them from either seeking or accepting employment further from where they live..... Transit inaccessibility further perpetuates the cycle of poverty by limiting educational and employment opportunities... and rising costs make it exceedingly difficult for these individuals to live in NYC or even attempt to complete a college degree."

Now, I realize my opinion on this next point differs with many transit advocates, but I have difficulty accepting that public funds may be potentially necessary to expand a "public/private" bike-riding service or that this should take precedence over #FairFares. 

It's very easy to blame Governor Cuomo for the dismal state of our mass transit system---and that blame would not be misdirected. However, many people don't realize how culpable NYC also is in this situation---the decline and deterioration en mass of the transit system's infrastructure after decades of combined underfunding.

The NYC Independent Budget Office (IBO) issued a report in 2008 about the money the city pays to NYC Transit, the subsidiary running the subways and most bus lines: "
The city makes an annual grant to NYC Transit under section 18(b) of the state's transportation law.  The city's annual grant matches a state appropriation, and has remained at about $159M since the mid-1990's." Doug Turetsky, communications director at IBO confirmed in an email funding for "18(b) hasn't changed since Giuliani." 

Furthermore, according to a Daily News editorial, the city's share for half-priced fares for seniors and people with disabilities have remained flat since 1978, now covering less than 10% of costs. 

IBO issued another report in 2015 estimating what the city would be paying annually if aid had kept up with the rate of inflation: "If the city had decided to keep its contribution at the 1982-1986 level in real (inflation-adjusted) terms, the contribution would have reached $363M in 2014, and provide more than $1.8B for the proposed 2015-2019 capital plan."

This very week, Newsday ran an editorial in which it chastised the city for not contributing its 'fare share,' something mayoral candidate Sal Albanese has been arguing for years. 

Editor's Note: I realize I haven't been very active with the EAP blog in months now. This was in part due to the fact I was busy working on an article which meant a great deal to me. However, what was supposed to be about three weeks of work turned into three months. More significantly, the article transformed into something very different. (Worse still, though, was a request to provide information I knew didn't exist, at least in their terms---though I did spend an extra two days interviewing every industry analyst I could, just in case.) After about 90% of the article was edited--a point to which I really didn't believe we'd ever get--it was killed. It broke my heart, and left me extremely gun-shy to write. 

As always, I've continued working on WBAI's daily public affairs program, The Morning Show, now as senior producer. Below are several segments dealing with, what else? Development, gentrification and/or land use in our rapidly changing city.


Did the de Blasio administration knowingly violate zoning laws in order to allow the construction of four mega-towers along the Chinatown/LES waterfront?


Community gardens are at-risk more now than ever since the days of the Giuliani administration, when the city was practically giving gardens away to developers. What's the common denominator between these two time periods and is it mere coincidence? Hint: Which high-ranking BDB official currently responsible for essentially all land-use policy was once a deputy commissioner at Rudy's HPD--the lead agency tasked with identifying city-owned lots for development (vacant or otherwise, it doesn't seem to matter in their criteria)?


A pro-active group of advocates in Queens is taking on gentrification and the BDB pro-development policies;


"Who Owns the Sun?" a critical discussion by NYers for a Human Scale City and a really apt question for all of us today.

Monday, February 13, 2017

421a & IZ: It's All About the Impact, Stupid! Pt. 2

This is Part 2 of my posts dealing with little-discussed after affects of 'affordable housing" policies utilized in New York City; here's the link for Part 1.

It's incredibly telling that our esteemed mayor, Bill de Blasio, had nothing but good things to say about Donald Trump's son-in-law going to DC to work in the White House. As Ethics Ain't Pretty readers already know, Jared Kushner has been building up his slumlord reputation for some time now--no doubt learning at the knees of a master sleazebag who doesn't possess an ethical bone in his entire body.

The facts about Kushner, and the way he conducts business, are not in dispute. So far, the mayor has talked to the press about his respect for Kushner, "that he finds him to be a reasonable person" and that Kushner is "someone who really cares about New York City." That last quote is the most troubling.

It's already been widely reported how Kushner's rent-regulated tenant feel about both their landlord and the mayor's characterizations of this man. 

De Blasio has been accused of being a carbon copy of Bloomberg, a Bloomberg redux when it comes to zoning and land use policies. I doubt anyone expected the similarities would expand to include a similar kind of cluelessness and tone-deafness--especially from a self-identified progressive. Then again, we know how utterly meaningless that word is now when it comes to the all mighty power of the real industry...

Journalist and activist Josmar Trujillo and El Barrio Unite organizer Roger Hernandez Jr. give an update on community opposition to de Blasio's East Harlem rezoning. A November meeting/presentation sponsored by the city's Department of City Planning (DCP) didn't work out exactly as the city expected. "Instead, they got a very contentious reception from residents," Trujillo said, where the "underlying message [was/is] a big fat 'no' from El Barrio to the city and to the larger plans of the mayor to ultimately gentrify and displace an untold number of residents."

Both describe the major changes that have taken place since Mayor Bloomberg's 2003 rezoning, which permitted 10-12 story buildings in a community of low-rise 5-6 story tenements--and how it's already affected the neighborhood and its culture. That includes a major drop in the population with the number of Hispanics down 9%, and African-Americans dropping 11%, meaning 20% already displaced just in a little more than a decade.  The initial rezoning brought in 17K units, mostly inhabited by higher-income earners, and skewed the area median income (AMI.)

There is tremendous concern over the consequences of de Blasio's 30-story towers--predominantly unaffordable to area residents--based on what has already transpired since the previous, more modest rezoning.

They also discuss the astroturf group(s) created by NY City Council Speaker, Melissa Mark Viverito, who also represents the area. These are organizations--some of whom are legitimate, but some are not--created to give the appearance of community support when in reality "less than 1%... was involved in crafting the Speaker's alternate plan," which is very similar to the city's with a few more concessions. "It allows for and takes as inevitable a massive rezoning that will change the neighborhood and ultimately displace people," Trujillo explains.

Co-opting non-profits isn't a new phenomenon but it was perfected by former Speaker Christine Quinn to give cover on giveaway after giveaway to the city's real estate industry.

Prior to the Speaker's "community alternative," East Harlem residents created their own plan over the course of a year. The city has ignored them.

Hernandez tells how when the Speaker's so-called alternate plan was being crafted, groups like his were excluded, as were many organizations with legitimate grass-roots credentials.  That appeared especially the case for those who didn't receive funding from a politician and/or were already outspoken about what's been going on in East Harlem, he observed.


Government affairs consultant and longtime activist, Phil DePaolo, talks about the book, Rezoned: Race, Displacement, and Zoning in NYC
which examines the role zoning has played during the administration of de Blasio and Bloomberg, "because of the disproportionate effect ...on communities of color in NYC." 

Their research found "affordable" housing (AH) created through programs like IZ "are really a Trojan horse designed to convince communities to accept zoning that creates up to 80% market rate housing and that's what causes displacement of longtime residents and businesses," DePaolo explains. IZ can cause significant losses in affordable units because once there's a luxury upzoning, "the surrounding areas become absorbed." 

Not unlike in the previous segment about East Harlem, DePaolo details his own similar experience with non-profits who have been bought by elected officials, including those dependent on "the Speaker's trough."

These groups are supposed to be representative of the community as a whole "but we found that's not really the they come out with this plan that was based on a so-called community plan, but its very destructive because of the density promoted [with] no discussion about bringing in 70-80% luxury housing" and its impact. 

Ed: Notice the pattern here, a pattern that has repeatedly worked for big real estate and for the politicians for whom they've bought and paid. Throw in their enablers--the media, certain non-profits, even some tenant organizations--and you can clearly see why we are where we are.

In addition to the inevitable displacement, DePaolo describes how such tax abatements deleteriously effect both the tax base and the city's ability to expand the necessary infrastructure to accompany the incursion of people coming into a given neighborhood once rezoning occurs.

Authored and compiled by academics and urban planning and policy professionals, Zoned Out evolved over the course of a year because they saw a glaring lack of useful tools available for communities to effectively fight back, DePaolo said.

The book is based on a series of recent case studies like what happened in Williamsburg, Brooklyn and the 125th Street Harlem rezoning, good examples of what DePaolo calls DCP's "piece meal" myopia--a complaint echoed throughout NYC communities, and a reason why DCP has been accused of being a facilitating agent  for developers not a planning agency.   

Key recommendations include calling for a return to community-based planning and enforceable plans, something residents in both Chinatown/LES and East Harlem attempted to do but were summarily dismissed by the city. 

DePaolo explains according to the city's charter, community input is supposed to be considered when a rezoning is on the table--but it's not required, so neighborhood demands and concerns are routinely ignored. Furthermore, because the city tends to rely on the same company for the requisite Environmental Impact Study, their analysis tend to be somewhat generic and superficial.

The disparate impact on minority communities caused by zoning could be a violation of the federal Fair Housing Act, DePaolo maintains. And it's something even former President Obama acknowledged. The outgoing-administration issued a handbook in which it describes how development is rarely uniform. Not 
spreading development more equally to include affluent areas is becoming an increasing problem because it now almost exclusively affects low-income neighborhoods and communities of color.

These passages best summarize everything:

When new housing development is limited region-wide, and particularly precluded in neighborhoods with political capital to implement even stricter local barriers, any new development tends to be [disproportionately] concentrated in low-income communities of color, causing displacement and concerns of gentrification in those neighborhoods, raising market rents within neighborhoods experiencing rapid changes while failing to reduce housing cost growth region-wide.  As rents rise region-wide in response to insufficient housing supply, this displacement is exacerbated. 

Lowered region-wide barriers to new housing development would lead to more equitable distribution, allowing neighborhoods to retain character and resources as they evolve, while facilitating effective affordable housing preservation options by preventing excessively rapid change that generates displacement and dislocation.

To be sure, there are portions in this report with which I have major disagreements--there are times it seems like it was written by REBNY and its lackeys. Still, it's an important acknowledgement, one DePaolo says he's not seen before.


A recent article ran in an outlet for whom I have written for more than a decade, after my initial posting about the impact of programs like 421a and IZ. 

A number of EAP readers raised the question of timing, but given the obvious amount of work that went into the aforementioned piece, there's no doubt in my mind it's purely coincidental.

Having said that, I do have some problems with the article--written by a talented and diligent journalist. For one, the comparison to other cities is like comparing apples to oranges because we have a highly successful system of rent regulations so the equations aren't equal from the outset. (Credit to the fact this was one of the few articles dealing with NYC land use I'd seen in a long while that didn't blame such regulations for all the city's affordable housing woes.)

I also have a real problem with any article focusing on the impact of the mayor's housing plans which relies on an entity that has done little but legitimize those policies (and previous similar ones)--NYU's Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy. 

This would be the same Furman Center that is the once and future home of de Blasio's outgoing Housing, Preservation and Development (HPD) commissioner--Vicky Been. To me, that automatically undermines any credibility it could possibly have. And by the way, I reported 2+ years ago Been wasn't working out all that well because of her lack of practical experience--that she was in way over her head.

Plus, Been's return further ties the administration to NYU--a concern for many since the beginning of de Blasio's term. Remember, the-then public advocate and future mayor supported NYU's controversial expansion plans.

Next, the fact that Been's replacement is a former NYC Economic Development Corporation (EDC) official who became de Blasio's commissioner of Small Business Services (SBS) agency, then left SBS to return to EDC as its CEO and president raises SO many more issues, and she's not mentioned. 

Most significantly, EDC has never ever been sympathetic to either preserving the city's long-standing small businesses or towards existing affordable housing stock.  EDC traditionally loves mega-projects which usually push out both. 

Instead, the well-connected brain trust of insulated elites (or as I like to call them, that cluster fuck of entitlement) would rather spur creation of minute amounts of vaguely affordable units, especially if it means a private developer can make a lot of money in the process. It's hardly a stretch to say there are few who work at EDC or sit on its board who understand or care about real New Yorkers and the struggle to exist in a city which no longer even pretends to want them anymore.  And it's precisely the kind of 'leaders' at entities like EDC who have created this scenario.

interviewed Maria Torres-Springer several years ago upon her SBS appointment--she seems like a lovely woman. But she had no small business experience; similarly, she has no background in affordable housing or any housing at all--a fact omitted in the article.

Granted, the two point people in de Blasio's administration tasked with "affordable" housing also have no such experience. But, one can at least make the case outgoing DCP chair, Carl Weisbrod, and DM Alicia Glen have tangential experience in real estate per se, and its financing. (Personally, I don't buy it, and there are very specific reasons why the mayor picked these two people and not anyone from the pretty generous pool of candidates in the city and state who did and do.)

But to run not one but two city agencies without any direct background in either except that amorphous government experience at EDC, well, that's something.

Look at last month's EDC press release announcing Torres-Springer's move to HPD:
MTS comes to HPD with deep experience securing affordable housing and working directly with communities on holistic neighborhood planning. As president of EDC, and before that as the Mayor's SBS commissioner, Torres-Springer has created and advanced transformational projects, including the re-imagining of Spofford, a former juvenile detention center in the Bronx as a hub for the arts and affordable housing. She has been the administration's leader in developing the Downtown Far Rockaway Neighborhood Plan, which included $90 million in neighborhood investments and affordable housing to serve both the lowest-income New Yorkers and those in the middle class. Torres-Springer will build on Been's legacy of protecting neighborhoods and developing record numbers of securely-financed affordable homes in increasingly challenging economic times.

Now, do the math: MTS became SBS commissioner in January, 2014. She returned to EDC in July, 2015. She was named HPD commissioner in January, 2017. That's about one and a half years at each, but you wouldn't know how short the time frame was based on the release! She's apparently accomplished virtual Robert Moses-level achievements, and he served in government for some 40 years. 

Next, parse the wording in the release: without trying to sound harsh, it seems to me she was little more then a gopher for the administration. Furthermore, affordable for whom,  the perennial question? Just because housing to serve "the lowest income" is mentioned, it doesn't make it so. Based on both the administration's and EDC's track records so far, I'm inclined to believe someone included this reference for lip service.

Finally, they have the chutzpah to tout Vicky Been's "legacy of protecting neighborhoods?" This from an agency who still has difficulty recognizing landlord harassment and enforcing existing laws? I'm sure the residents in all of the de Blasio targeted neighborhoods for rezoning will have a great laugh at that one, while landlords continue to systematically target any and every regulated tenant using any methods necessary. After all, the chances of getting caught and then punished are minuscule, and whatever fines landlords have to pay if they do get caught are less than the cost of doing business ie harassing tenants. As has been the case since the days of Rudy, it continues to be a win-win for landlords.