Wednesday, December 16, 2015

BDB Uses RE Insiders to Sell RE-Friendly Housing Plans, Surprised By Rejection

Extinct NYC stores as seen on Seinfeld reruns: Champagne Video, Pasta Vicci...

Dec. 16. Update: Lynn Ellsworth, co-founder of New Yorkers for a Human-Scale City and chair of the Tribeca Trust discusses on WBAI radio the need for a citywide coalition to fight overdevelopment, the massive power of the real estate industry, and the fight against the mayor's housing and upzoning plans. This includes their petition calling out the way the city has completely capitulated to developers in the struggle to preserve historic neighborhoods and allowing them to  "seize our commonly shared light, air, gardens and iconic views for private consumption."

By now, it's safe to assume anyone who reads Ethics Ain't Pretty is the kind of person who has a sense of what's going on in the city. So, you already know the mayor's Affordable Housing Plan (AHP) with its Mandatory Inclusionary Zoning component, and his citywide upzoning plan are not exactly going over like gangbusters. (I'm not going to get into some of the media misrepresentations or inaccuracies in coverage. They are worthy of a post unto themselves.)

This opposition has spread across the city. It seems like almost everyday, another Community Board votes against the mayor, and the Borough Board votes are also piling up.

Most interestingly, the neighborhoods the de Blasio administration first targeted for development--like East Harlem, Brooklyn's East New York and the Jerome Corridor in the Bronx--are among the most vociferously opposed. And they are organized.

I recently produced this segment for WBAI interviewing Jill Dowling, a member of the organizing committee with Movement for Justice in El Barrio.

There are two key overall suspicions undermining what the administration keeps preaching. The first is if the plans would actually ever manifest in sufficient numbers of AH at all--without even getting into its widening of who is eligible and therefore asking the perennial question, 'affordable for whom?' 

The second is concern about direct displacement caused by all those luxury towers, and the subsequent result of a loss of too much existing affordable stock. 

One recent article describes how a Greenpoint group has been travelling the city, "sharing that story as a cautionary tale of how rezoning can spur development of pricey glass towers, but promises made to residents for new parks and other amenities go unkept," and they should know, having endured Bloomberg's rezoning-on-steroids. They fault DCP for essentially destroying their community, "You've left Greenpoint lying in gentrification's waste....Ours was a working-class neighborhood, and now it's unaffordable to most people," said one of the organizers.

For the sake of brevity, I'll put aside the mayor's Zoning for Quality and Affordability (ZQA) plan, which is inherently a slap in the face to those neighborhoods who struggled--often for years and at great personal expense--to protect their communities. (Because the system is already so stacked against them, the fact that this proposal would supersede those long hard-fought battles in areas that have been contextually or down-zoned goes beyond hubris.)

It seems glaring to me that perhaps the mayor wouldn't have so much difficulty persuading community after community that these plans might be um, kosher, if he hadn't loaded up his admin with real estate insiders. As written extensively on EAP, on every single de Blasio appointment that deals with land use, his repertoire has been extremely limited.

I contend he would have considerably more credibility and maybe even given the benefit of the doubt if the officials principally tasked with selling these plans to the general public didn't have distinctive track records almost exclusively working on behalf of developers or big real estate.

And frankly, the mayor and his team haven't exactly done much to dissuade this public perception since he took office, if only symbolically. He also doesn't serve himself well by patronizing the opposition or by diminishing their arguments.

One of the most serious and accurate criticisms against Michael Bloomberg was that he was such an elitist, he was only comfortable rubbing shoulders with other members of the ruling class, putting him in such a bubble he couldn't (or wouldn't) relate to the plight of the average New Yorker.

Mayor de Blasio has his own elitism--in the form of a myopic delusion that somehow publicly-funded private developers will be the magic solution to the city's desperate need for affordable housing by jiggering a few more units here and there. He continues to hold this belief in the face of a plethora of evidence this way is too little, too late while simultaneously jeopardizing the very thing he says he wants to preserve--existing affordable housing stock.


Here is another segment of WBAI's The Morning Show I produced discussing de Blasio's housing and development policies. Though not specifically about either the ZQA or AHP and aired in October, it does focus on gentrification and the city's almost sociopathic reliance on 421a benefits allowing luxury development to produce an iota of questionably affordable units.

David Tieu, from the Coalition to save Chinatown and the Lower East Side, also talks about the 2008 "racist" rezoning which protected parts of the whiter, more affluent district in the East Village--though I personally can't speak to the more affluent categorization, nor can anyone I know who still lives here--while permitting the lower-income, predominantly areas of color to be left open to precisely what's now going on: rampant luxury out-of-scale development, which is displacing existing tenants, encouraging harassment and overcrowding an already overtaxed infrastructure. Just think of the 80 story Extell tower coming to the former site of a community grocery store.

Some 60 organizations--whom I believe to be more legitimate stakeholders than are the slew of developers currently enriching themselves--have offered the city's its own solution, known as the Chinatown Working Group rezoning plan but have been dismissed by DCP as unrealistic.

The coalition
 is holding a public meeting this Saturday Dec. 5th, inviting "Mayor de Blasio to Face the People at a Town Hall Meeting Against Displacement," from 4-6pm at Seward High School, between Ludlow and Essex Streets.

They are also staging another rally against displacement and in opposition to the mayor's citywide zoning plans on Wednesday, Dec. 16th at 4pm in front of Gracie Mansion.


So, to end this otherwise depressing post with something joyful and fun, here is video that's both wonderful and terrible, simultaneously. Oh, those dresses, the knee socks, the hats...The mod in me is doing the pony as I listen to the dulcet tones of the great Tom Jones. If this doesn't make you at least smile, well, you just don't get it.

Correction: The girls aren't wearing knee socks--they are a hybrid go-go boot/spat! So groovy, I want my own pair!

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