Sunday, September 9, 2018

NYC Land Use Policies & Abuses: Designed by RE Industry, Implemented (or Ignored by Choice) by BDB/Glen


Consider the disaster that is the NYC Housing Authority (NYCHA.) It wouldn't be fair to lay all the blame on the feet of current Mayor Bill de Blasio (BDB) et al., because this was the culmination of systemic federal cuts, combined with two consecutive republican mayoral administrations deliberately neglecting the city's public housing complexes. That's the simplest way to explain how we got to where we were when de Blasio assumed the mayoralty in 2014. 

A recent Daily News editorial entitled "Bill's Big Brick: How de Blasio Failed to Fix Bloomberg's NYCHA Problem He Identified," noted that as public advocate,,de Blasio called out what is now considered massive fraud committed by the previous administration's "implausible" repair record of NYCHA units--which included falsified documentation claiming repairs had been completed when they weren't. Tenant signatures were forged to close cases; repair orders were destroyed. But here's the kicker: this fraudulent behavior continued at least three years into de Blasio's tenure.

As recently as the end of July, the chair of the City Council's Committee on Oversight and Investigations--who used to chair the Public Housing Committee and consistently turned a blind eye to current administration actions or the lack thereof--demanded NYCHA employees be punished for falsely closing work orders. Which means, the fraud has continued though out the entirety of our faux-progressive mayor's terms...

A plethora of damning information has been released roughly over the last year indicating just how corrupt the malfeasance has been, including the fact the mayor knew for two years about NYCHA's lead paint inspection failures. There's also the revelation that following a FOUR year inspection gap, NYCHA inspectors found potential lead-paint hazards in 80+ percent of almost 9,000 units housing children under six.

In a different inspection-related scandal, hand-written documentation of tainted drinking water tanks in the city's housing projects--among the worst in the city, according to City and State--vanished, having been absent or "erased" by NYCHA when the agency filed its Annual Roof Tank Inspection reports with the city's Department of Health.

In February, large numbers of NYCHA tenants lost their heat and/or hot water during the brutal winter. Ceilings collapsed. A March state Department of Health report assessed more than 80 percent of NYCHA apartments "had at least one severe condition," and severe hazards existed in 75 percent of common areas.

In April, a federal judge stopped what he called a "slapdash" agreement in which the city agreed to fix a longstanding (and ignored) mold infestation problem (something I have covered on EAP previously. (Ed. Note: For more extensive coverage, check out the blog Progress Queens, whose creator has been trying to sound the alarm for years, but was regularly ignored by the mainstream local media.)

In a case of true Trumpian-like tone-deaf behavior, de Blasio praised former NYCHA chair, Shola Olatoye--who was allowed to resign despite her negligent if not criminal actions---even AFTER it was disclosed she had lied to federal inspectors as well as to City Council. He even blamed other NYCHA employees for the debacle. 

Based on published reports, I'm pretty sure Olatoye should be in jail. And, if she's criminally liable, so is her former boss, Deputy Mayor for Housing and Economic Development, Alicia Glen. (Full Disclosure: My former friend from high school.)

Any doubt about how clueless and indifferent Glen really is--which didn't occur in a vacuum--is captured in this timely Daily News editorial"Gotcha Ms. Glen: The Awful Words of a de Blasio Deputy Mayor." (Ed. Note: For the record, I had written the bulk of this post to run with my previous one, but decided to split them because of the length. It was just fortuitous timing the DN would run such an editorial speaking exactly to the NYCHA issue and the pathetic de Blasio/Glen record.)

People have failed to connect the dots--either willfully or out of ignorance, it doesn't really matter--about how ALL of it goes through Glen. Look at this excerpt from her bio on the NYC.gov website: With over 20 City Agencies under her purview, Glen's portfolio includes: the Department of City Planning, the Department of Parks; Recreation; the Economic Development Corporation (EDC) ... the Housing Development Corporation; the NYC Housing Authority ... and the Landmarks Preservation Commission. 

Add to the list the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD), the Department of Small Business Services (a misleading and disingenuous moniker) and the notoriously corrupt Board of Standards and Appeals. I wrote this about the Mayor's disappointing appointments and their connections to big real estate in 2014.

Glen left her job heading Goldman Sachs' Urban Investment Group (UIG) for more than a decade to join BDB, and it should be hammered over and over she was a deputy commissioner in Giuliani's HPD--a man who consistently demonstrated nothing but contempt for the poor. So much for Glen's partial Democratic Socialists of America upbringing--which was just a blip on the political radar in the 1980's. That was obviously before Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and taking a wild guess here, I'm betting it's an ideology that's become quite irrelevant to Glen. 

The Real Deal described the UIG as "an arm of the bank that invests in social impact projects, like CitiBike ... and the Brooklyn Navy Yard." Gotta love the euphemism of 'social impact' implying somehow it's for the public good when really, it's singularly about making greater profits for one of the country's most evil entities!

So, it should come as no surprise---or be considered an accident--NYCHA's former general manager "got a plum job with a city-affiliated organization," arranged by City Hall while people around him were being fired. This is the very man "responsible for the day-to-day operations during the lead paint scandal," who was allowed to resign and then named Chief Operating Officer at the Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corporation (BNYDC)--where Glen has longstanding ties, as well as falling under her purview; the appointment itself has Glen's fingerprints all over it.

For the record, the BNYDC is teaming with veterans of pro large-scale development organizations like the NYCEDC  including its president/CEO and the Brooklyn Bridge Parks Development CorporationEDC's current president is Glen's former chief of staff--and surely out of sheer coincidence, is also an alumnus of the Great Vampire Squid.

It's worth noting although the idea to sell off NYCHA land (including underneath where playgrounds are located) and Section 8 units to private developers originated under Bloomberg, it was during de Blasio's tenure where the program began in earnest. And, it's not just the privatization of the city's public housing that's at issue: it's also to whom.

Last year, the NYT ran a story discussing the growing opposition to Glen and her "Goldman Sachs model of development." According to the article, activists compiled a report reviewing projects undertaken by three specific for-profit developers--L&M Development Partners, BRP Development Corporation and BFC Partners because of Glen's pre-BDB background with them.*

None are exclusively "affordable" housing developers, and BFC and L&M are historically controversial. BFC is perhaps best known for being the well-connected Giuliani-favored developer responsible for destroying community gardens across the city starting in the late 1990's--which coincidentally, overlaps with the time Glen worked at HPD. That just happened to be the lead city agency tasked with disposition of the gardens.

Amazingly, BFC is as well-connected now during a progressive administration as it was during the two preceding republican ones--and it's the developer that really cleaned up with de Blasio's Bedford Armory scam.

And, there are questions about Glen's close relationship with L&M's CEO--who happens to sit on REBNY's governing board. (ED Note: I am astounded by the overwhelming generic, cookie-cutter nature and complete lack of aesthetic attributes I saw on the websites for all three developers concerning their NYC projects--even the 'luxury' ones. Not surprisingly in certain cases, the buildings were ridiculously out-of-scale with the neighborhood.)

Fufthermore, it is striking how few officials at BRP have experience working in the public sector, given how many 'public' projects in which they are involved. Oh yeah, BRP and L&M both tout on their websites their "partnerships" with financial institutions like...Goldman Sachs.

Most people would consider this Village Voice article about Glen written by a colleague who has guested on WBAI Radio's The Morning Show (TMS) (where I'm senior producer) to be a devastating indictment of one's character as well as one's purpose, but something tells me she's probably proud rather than ashamed. Some of the highlights include:
  • [Glen] ...  directs efforts at alienating public land [especially to these three developers].** In return, they built 29 mixed-income projects which produced almost no housing that was actually affordable to people in the neighborhoods in which they were built ... with a dozen others in the pipeline;
  • Glen ushered enormous pools of private equity capital into working class neighborhoods producing profits for investors while boosting neighborhood land values and costs. It was still speculative capitalism and it was still gentrification, but it was packaged as some kind of social good (as I noted earlier);
  • Her connections with favored developers ... are what enables the administration to hit the large, round numbers it likes to tout... at a cost far beyond the sticker price ... It means giving away scarce public land for subpar private luxury development... and it means luring luxury development into the city's poorest neighborhoods;
The more she does to screw tenants, the more valuable she is to the administration.

* The Voice reported while working at Goldman's UIG, Glen did 12 similar deals with L&M. and 11 more with BFC and BRP;

** Also according to the Voice article, during BDB's first year alone, Glen's office "handed over" 120 publicly-owned lots for $1 ... during his first term, she directed over $1 billion in subsidies and tax breaks, which translated into $709 million to L&M, $131 million to BFC and $100 million to BRP--again, FOR-PROFIT firms.
*****

Most EAP posts have focused on the venal power of the real estate industry in New York State and New York City. I didn't set out to create a blog with what's evolved into such a singular focus, but after watching the governing models of the Giuliani, Bloomberg and now de Blasio administrations, it became abundantly clear SOMEONE needed to not only bring attention to this issue--it needed to be someone without a vested or conflict-of-interest, as so many local news organizations and blogs appear to have. 

Furthermore, as a native New Yorker, I can speak to the palpable and substantive shift in the power dynamics controlling the city. Believe it or not, there was a time when NYC was not the one industry town it has become (the industry being real estate)--the way Los Angeles relies on the entertainment business and D.C. depends on government. 


To that end, here are two of the latest TMS segments I produced which are germane to this macro discussion about real estate's total control and corruption of city public policy today. They're simply more examples of abuses committed by the current administration to benefit its donor class: developers, landlords and other real estate interests. 

The primary commonality between the two segments is the further demonstration of how de Blasio's government has consistently approved inappropriate development projects--even while ignoring established laws or zoning. 

80 Flatbush Towers (a Chrysler-sized building--one of two towers--in the middle of brownstone Brooklyn) was resoundingly rejected by the local community board but unanimously approved by the Department of City Planning (DCP). How's that for a disconnect?

Around the Brooklyn Botanic Garden--where the developer submitted false shadow studies, well documented by the opposition--the city is still permitting the project to proceed, despite environmental requirements and the city's own 1991 zoning rules prohibiting buildings exceeding a certain height because of the damage they will cause the Garden.
*****

The new revelation the city is owed at least $1.5 million largely from uncollected construction and building violation fines is hardly surprising to anyone who has paid attention. $500K alone is owed by Jared Kushner's company, which has a long track record of harassing regulated tenants out of its buildings and filing false reports with the Department of Buildings; "hundreds" of violations date back at least to 2013, the year de Blasio was first elected.

Why do you think this was permitted to continue for so long specifically by Kushner, and by landlords in general? Might it have something to do with the mayor saying he respects Kushner "a lot"? Why do you think HPD's minimum fines are so paltry, often considered the cost of doing business, or why the agency pursues so few cases against landlords for harassment? And, who controls what happens at HPD?

One of the most common forms of tenant harassment is using construction to drive them out, and it's hardly a new method. However, with all of de Blasio's upzonings--which for landlords who want to cash in are tantamount to waving a red flag in front of a bull--why did the city only just this summer introduce "The Partners in Preservation" pilot program? 

City Limits reported the city plans to fund community-based organizations for 18 months to "coordinate anti-displacement initiatives." The targeted neighborhoods for this undertaking are located in the--wait for it--very same communities in the Bronx and Manhattan the city has upzoned like Jerome Avenue, East Harlem and Inwood. Do you think there may be a correlation? According to HPD, "high rates of speculative investment and rising rents have made residents particularly vulnerable to tenant harassment and displacement." Imagine that.

Call me crazy but perhaps such a program should have been initiated at the beginning of the upzoning process, not at the tale end where there are already countless victims of gentrification and displacement? Going back at least two years, The Morning Show aired related segments of representatives from community after community vocalizing dire concerns describing precisely what HPD just identified. So, the residents saw what was to come but the government of Bill de Blasio and especially DCP--which we all know does little actual planning--couldn't (or wouldn't) acknowledge the inevitable chaos?

In the end, everything de Blasio and Glen are doing will all result in the same thing--a totally unrecognizable entity called NYC without any of its soul or substance, inhabited by a very specific class of people. As I've written previously, systematically they are working to dismantle everything we know and recognize as 'NYC.'

Unfortunately, to be continued...

Friday, August 17, 2018

BDB/DM 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...
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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/DM 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 mjvogtdowney@gmail.com


Together we will win!


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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;
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Update on the controversial (and wildly unpopular) rezoning of Jerome Avenue in the Bronx;

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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;
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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. 

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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.


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

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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)?

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

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