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...

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