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...
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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.

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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 truth...so 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.

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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.

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