Friday, January 6, 2017

421a & IZ: It's All About the Impact, Stupid! Pt 1

Like many others, the election results really affected me and I don't think I realized how depressed I was and remain. Nonetheless, the sausage machine known as NYC government continues to churn unabated, as the real estate industry and REBNY grow in power and control over public policy. 

Here are several segments I recently produced for WBAI's The Morning Show dealing with the most critical issues of our time as New Yorkers: land use, development and gentrification. But even in their commonalities, there's one theme that keeps recurring, a theme widely ignored by pretty much everyone: the effect of, and impact on, communities unlucky enough to be targeted by the city or really, by developers. 


Why do you suppose that is?
*****

NY State Senator Liz Krueger discusses her OPED describing the 'charade' of the emergency session that had been pending, calling it a disservice to the voters and bad public policy.

"After 15 years in Albany, I have a rule: if something is just popping up with no justification for it, and nobody has had a chance to review and vet it, I guarantee you there's poison pills stuck in there somewhere." 

Moreover, Krueger was deeply concerned there could be even the slightest perception of horse trading, legislative salary raises in exchange for Governor Cuomo's wish list.

While Krueger objected in general to the notion of so many complex matters potentially being decided in only one day--with little time to review or analyze any legislation--it's the possible renewal of developer subsidy program 421a the governor is pushing that was probably the real rationale for the session. It's a "fundamentally flawed program" where upstate legislators with no connection to the city--so there's no blow-back to them personally--do whatever big real estate demands because of its large coffers, Krueger explains.


She asks how a program potentially costing city tax payers more than $2 billion but only generating--at best--$150 million worth of affordable housing considered acceptable or even efficient? Krueger blames the city's "overheated real estate market further exacerbated by exemptions and abatements which are now being used disproportionately in neighborhoods of color. 


These areas "desperately" need to keep their existing affordable units, but residents are being pushed out for the newer construction, which isn't necessarily for the people who actually live or need the housing in the neighborhood. "You can actually displace people in older, affordable units with these new buildings, that actually maybe do have a percentage of affordable apartments,
but there's a net loss of affordable units," Krueger explains. And, this is precisely what is occurring. 
*****

Tenant.net's John Fisher and Tom Waters, housing policy analyst for the Community Service Society, focus on this potential 421a revival, which expired earlier this year. 

Waters describes the program as little value for an enormous cost, criticizing Gov. Cuomo's revised version because it prolongs developer exemptions. That means a further shrinking of the city's tax base. With no phase-outs included as had previously existed, Waters believes NYC housing will be shaped--and interfered with--for the next 35 years (the proposed amount of time for the new exemptions) when they finally run out. "We'll all still be be paying for de Blasio's housing policy," because of this increased cost, which will leave a "huge budget hole" for whomever is mayor.


For Fisher, the lack of concern over the impact of 421a and similar programs like Inclusionary Zoning (IZ) is most galling--especially within the 
media and from tenant organizations. He believes the press allows itself to be preoccupied by the red herring presented by real estate interests and their self-serving narrative--that the fight over 421a is about wages--while ignoring what actually happens when these programs are implemented. 

It's not surprising countless elected officials choose to ignore the ramifications---because they receive so much real estate money. Fisher believes because 421a in particular is so lucrative for developers, it fosters "incentive to create huge luxury buildings," regardless of demand, cost, aesthetics, or effect on a crumbling and insufficient infrastructure--it's singularly about making money.

There's already a history of massive commercial and residential displacement, and higher eviction rates because of this kind of "affordable" housing---which targets middle-income earners, not the people who need it most. Even in the highly unlikely, best-case scenario, Fisher explains, where 50% of units are ''affordable'--that still mean the remaining 50% are market or luxury. Once introduced into a community, "there's a whole line of consequences, "including an influx of higher-income earners which automatically changes the demographics of the area.

*****

There is little i can say to adequately express the dismay, shock and horror i feel by the debacle of the presidential election--and I'm a writer. There is so much blame to go around--including I believe the hubris of the Clinton campaign and the Democratic Party. I was receiving multiple fundraising letters/emails a day exclaiming how 'We could win it all,' and I kept thinking, 'Why are you being so greedy? Focus on winning the White House and the damned Senate back!' especially given the odds of winning the House because of Republican gerrymandering.


I also think we all underestimated the depth of misogyny in this country and the alive-and-well double standards applied to female political candidates. But mostly, I feel a deep sense of embarrassment and disappointment caused by my fellow journalists, particularly in the mainstream media. They and their corporate overlords did this country an enormous disservice in how and what they covered.


Finally, I keep going back to this analogy: They say that an addict can only begin to recover after hitting rock bottom. Well, America is clearly the addict and let's hope to whomever or whatever (or nothing) that we've hit that point--because i can't imagine it getting much worse....though it always can. 


What happens if Donald Trump--as many of us expect--gets bored, or doesn't like working so hard, or decides he's not making enough money, and quits? Then Mike Pence becomes president......and then things really will get worse. Surreal.