Friday News Round Up!

Made it through another week. Here’s some things that happened in New York while nothing good happened in Washington. 

  1. Big developers and the Department of City Planning are rushing to finish up their final projects before Bloomberg leaves office. Its looking very likely that the next mayor will be a little bit less friendly to big ticket development (and ideally in favor of more affordable housing.) 
  2. Speaking of development: Greenpoint is currently facing a debate that underscores all debates around affordable housing in New York. What does affordable mean? Affordable to who? How much “affordable” should developers provide? Is the AMI even a useful measure of income? 
  3. What does Tish James as Public Advocate mean for the race to be the next City Council speaker? 
  4. Glenn Beck claims that the media focus on Anthony Weiner was simply a distraction, a communist plot to take over the government. It’s funny. 
  5. A coalition of tenants have been fighting against their notorious Predatory Equity landlord, Pinnacle, for years. They charge their landlord used widespread practices to illegally raise rents and push out low income tenants. Though tenants will now be able to seek compensation from their landlord for this malfeasance, tenants are disappointed. This week, a federal judge turned down tenants attempts to appeal an earlier settlement which excluded certain types of claims that Pinnacle could be liable for. We know they’ll keep fighting. 

Friday News Round-Up

Hello all. Here are some things going on in the New York City housing world this week:

  • NY Daily News wrote an article on what it touts as “the smallest apartment in New York” – a 100 square foot apartment in Harlem going for $1,275 a month. Residential rooms must be at least 150 square feet according to City Housing Maintenance Code, but the developer, Shanghai Holdings, is filing to convert the building’s single-room occupancy status, and is advertising to single students and young professionals who might be willing to deal with the cramped space in exchange for relatively low rent.
  • Mayor Bloomberg has set aside $732 million for public housing repairs. Work has already begun at Kingsborough and Kingsborough Extension in Brooklyn. This effort is part of the New York City Housing Authority’s five-year public housing roadmap, Plan NYCHA.

“Unlike other cities around the country, our Administration is deeply committed to preserving and improving our public housing system, despite the major budgetary challenges involved in doing so,” said Mayor Bloomberg. “We’ve found creative ways to generate capital and reduce the backlog of repairs, and this bond issuance will further that progress.”

  •  Taconic Investment Partners, L + M Development partners, and BFC Partners were chosen by the city to redevelop the Seward Park urban renewal area on the Lower East Side. Their plans include 1,000 low, moderate, and middle-income apartments, an urban farm, a bowling alley, an Andy Warhol museum, retail space, and office space for tech companies. The site is in a gentrifying area that has a history of displacement – 2,000 families lost their homes when the tenements there were demolished in 1967. A community task force created a list of demands and they say this new proposal meets many of them – including a mix of market rate and affordable units and storm-strengthening of the buildings, which are not far from the East River.
  •  The Census Bureau released data on Thursday that confirms that New York City’s poverty rate is climbing. The percentage rose from 20.9% in 2011 to 21.2% in 2012, a difference of 1.7 million people. With wages staying the same, this means a lot of New Yorkers are struggling as the income gap widens. However, to get a broader perspective, among the 20 largest cities in the country, NYC has dropped from the 6th highest rate of poverty to the 13th since 2000.
  • A brownstone in Park Slope is up for sale for the first time in 50 years, after the death of its previous owners, the Ortners. The couple were involved in Park Slope’s revival, carefully renovating their brownstone, hosting a “back to the city” conference, and being instrumental in the landmarking of the Park Slope Historic district. The Observer wonders whether all of the Ortners’ restoration work will be scrapped in favor of a more modern, sleek, luxurious look for the new owners, who will be moving into a very different neighborhood than the Ortners did in 1963. “Never again, never again, never again will houses of this quality be built for the middle class of the city,” Mr. Ortner once said. We are determined to prove him wrong, as we work towards quality housing for all.

Have a great weekend as we officially transition into autumn!

Friday News Round-up!

It’s Friday! Here is some of the most relevant housing news from this week:

  1. On Wednesday, Brian Lehrer moderated a mayoral forum on housing policy at NYU’s Furman Center. The forum gave candidates a chance to comment on the city’s current housing policies, as well as offer suggestions for the future. All of the candidates agreed that New York City’s affordable housing stock is inadequate.  In an effort to change this reality, Speaker Quinn wants to create a fund to purchase distressed  foreclosed properties in bulk, while Advocate Bill de Blasio and Bill Thompson want to leverage pension funds and other city capital to create more affordable housing.  And, Comptroller John Liu wants to utilize his “Capital Acceleration Plan,” which would identify excess budgeting in long term plans, eliminate it, and use the surplus to create more affordable housing. To listen to the full forum, check out the audio here
  2. This week, President Obama released his budget proposal for 2014. According to the Washington Post, the President allocated $47.6B to the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), which is a 6 percent increase from 2013. Of those funds, $37.4 will provide rental assistance to 4.7M low-income families and $2.4 will provide 10,000 new vouchers for veterans. While the increased budget will subsidize many housing costs, Secretary Sean Donovan fears that the allotted funding will not cover the administrative costs of public housing authorities. With insufficient funding, we look to local government to think creatively about recuperating these costs. As we know, NYCHA controversially plans to solve this problem through land leasing their parking lots to luxury developers.
  3. Today, the National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA) released a report entitled, “Modernizing the Fair Housing Act for the 21st Century.” Currently, the Fair Housing Act protects against discrimination based on race, sex, national origin, family status, and religion. However, there are some glaring loopholes — the law does not protect against discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, income status or martial status (as relating to queer partners).  The NFHA report makes visible the inadequate protections in the Fair Housing Act and advocates that lawmakers revise the law to reflect the current needs of its citizens.
  4. On Monday, the City Planning Commission (CPC) approved the Bloomberg administration’s microunit proposal: aDAPT NYC. The plan details the building of micro-units, or tiny apartments, as a means of expanding the affordable housing stock. However, the program requires rezoning in order to be built, and rezoning requires public approval. In the coming weeks there will be a public referendum on the plan. If given the go-ahead from the community as well as the city council, this program would set the precedent for building tiny apartments in NYC. Stay tuned as this story unfolds!
  5. Okay, so forgive us, this happened a few weeks ago. But its a great report and we want to give it the thumbs up it deserves: CASA members and the Urban Justice Center partnered to conduct a survey on the tenant experience in Bronx Housing Court. Their startling results, along with several solid policy recommendations, are available here.

Have a great weekend and stay dry!

Needed: New Mayor to End Homelessness in NYC

homelessness nyc 2

Rates of homelessness in New York City are still rising. As of January 2013, Coalition for the Homeless reported that 50,100 people were homeless. Of  those who were homeless, 12,000 were families and 21,000 were children. These statistics illustrate the highest rates of homelessness since the Great Depression.

Since Mayor Bloomberg took office in January of 2002, 61 percent more folks are sleeping in shelters.   And beyond these statistics, thousands more are sleeping in public spaces, including subways, park benches, and sidewalks, each night.

Many attribute the heightened rates of homelessness to Bloomberg’s unwillingness to target the root causes of poverty. Throughout Bloomberg’s 11 year tenure, he has notoriously implemented band aid fixes by funneling more money into the shelter system while simultaneously cutting programs like Work Advantage. City Limits cited that since January of this year, the Department of Homeless Services has created 12 new homeless shelters, costing the city $722M. These costs are exorbitant and unnecessary. To save money and lessen rampant poverty, deviating from Bloomberg’s ‘crisis management’ tactics is imperative.

In the same City Limits article, the increase in homelessness is also attributed to the increase in eviction rates. West Bronx Housing, a community-based non-profit that works with tenants to prevent unnecessary evictions, has witnessed this increase firsthand. Between the months of July and October in 2010, West Bronx Housing supported 137 tenants battling eviction. Exactly one year later, they supported 240 tenants battling eviction. While the study’s sample size is small, the figures offer a snapshot of multiplied homelessness in recent years.

Many of the evictions are correlated to the loss of jobs as well as cuts in public benefits. Last week, the New York State Department of Labor released new data stating that 9.9 percent of New York City residents are currently unemployed. This statistic is even higher than unemployment rates from one year ago. Additionally, a major blow to housing in New York was when the City cut the Advantage program last year.  According to the NY Times, the program benefited 15,000 families by providing them stable housing in private multi-family buildings.  With the elimination of this program, many of these families were forced to return to the shelter system. We need new tactics that prevent homelessness and permanently remove people from the shelter system.

With an upcoming mayoral race, we are looking forward to a new mayor who will radically change Bloomberg’s homeless strategies.  A few of the candidates have already offered their ideas. Speaker Christine Quinn, a longstanding proponent of affordable housing, is hoping to reopen lists for federal housing programs, such as Section 8 (there has been a freeze for years), as well as create more rental assistance programs to support folks as they leave the shelter system. Alternatively, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio would like to reinstitute the Advantage program and use city pension funds to create new affordable housing.  As Bloomberg’s tenure ends and a new mayoral term begins, New York has an opportunity to reconstruct homeless intervention programs and expand affordable housing. Stay tuned for more about mayoral candidates’ plans for much needed affordable housing in our city!

Unionized NYC Bus Drivers Take a Bold Stance!

Posted by NYMag
Posted by NYMag 1.16.13

On Tuesday, 8,000 unionized New York City school bus drivers went on strike.The bus drivers are demanding that  once their contracts expire in June, their needs remain met.  While the contract renewal might lead to dramatic job losses, members of Local 1181 views the change as an opportunity to partake in negotiations and protect their jobs as well as their wages. 

In a press conference last night, Mayor Bloomberg stated that he plans to open bid on bus contracts to “reduce costs and adapt to a changed school system.”  What this means for the bus drivers is that their jobs are at risk, and they might be subject to reduction of wages. As Bloomberg’s plans develop and the bus system is reshuffled, unionized workers are demanding an Employee Protection Provision in their contract. This clause would grant them their current salary with their future employers.

For decades, there have been many underlying problems with the city’s school bus system. According to the New York Times, the system is one of the most expensive in the country. The city pays $7,000/year for each student to ride the bus. In contrast, Chicago spends $5,000, Los Angeles spends $3,500, and Miami $1,000. Proportionally, these prices are unreasonable.

These astronomical expenditures stem mainly from two root causes.  The first is the city’s desire to “embrace anticompetitive measures” and contract with multiple bus companies, regardless of those companies’ practices (according to that same NYTimes article).  Many of these companies, though, have partaken in unlawful practices, including organized crime and bribery.  The second problem with the bus system is that new local and federal education policies that have increased options of schools (“school choice”) and number of days in a school year. The costs of driving students longer distances for more days has resulted in $1.1 billion annually!

Much of the strike’s media coverage has portrayed bus drivers as vindictive and insensitive individuals. Undeniably, the strike has impacted many children: NPR reported that 152,000 students were forced to find another way to school in the past day. Many parents were required to take their children to school and were consequently late to work. While children and parents are definitely impacted by the strike, it is necessary to think about the livelihoods of the bus drivers and their right to organize for job security.

We at UHAB stand in solidarity with the bus drivers, and respect their organizing efforts as a means to improve their quality of life. We hope that the city upholds workers rights in this unstable and corrupt contracting system.  While we recognize that student and parents’ routines have been rattled, we also believe that the structural and financial outcomes of this strike will make up for these losses.  We hope that this strike will inspire New Yorkers to continue empowering our unions and enhancing New York City’s economy.

How to Address Increasing Homelessness? Recapture Vacant Land

In January 2012, Picture the Homeless released a report, “Banking on Vacancy,” to document vacant property in New York City and make suggestions as to how that space can be used to reduce homelessness and increase low income housing. During this time, 38,000 people were living in city shelters. Here are their findings:

The numbers show that there was a massive amount of under-utilized housing stock in New York City. So much, in fact,that the vacant spaces in just one-third of the city (the area their survey covered) could house the number of people living in the shelter system many times over.

Since the survey was conducted, the need to recapture vacant buildings and land for affordable housing has only intensified. In August, the Bloomberg administration reported that nearly 50,000 people are spending the night in New York City shelters. This is almost a 10% increase in the number of recorded homeless people – the actual number is likely much higher, as un-housed people seeking shelter with family, friends, or spending the night outside are not recorded. In the wake of this increase, the Department of Homeless Services rushed to open nine new shelters in just two months.

The problem deepens: In a joint press conference with Cuomo on November 4th, Bloomberg emphasized the major housing crisis that left in Sandy’s wake. According to Bloomberg, there are as many as 40,000 New Yorkers that “we’re going to have to find housing for.” The Governor agreed: “There’s going to be a massive, massive housing problem.”

Now, more than ever, seems like an ideal time to return to Picture the Homeless’ survey. The unprecedented number of shelter-seeking people in New York, along with a possible influx of federal disaster relief money, calls for innovative housing solutions. By directing disaster relief money towards rehabilitating vacant property, we could provide housing to victims of Sandy – many of whom are NYCHA residents – while stabilizing long term affordable housing in New York City.


Friday News Round-Up

It was a busy week at UHAB but we made it to Friday in one piece to bring you, once again, the Friday News Round-Up.

  1. The Health Board approved Mayor Bloomberg’s large soda ban yesterday, adding to the philosophical debate about what we want our government to do for us. This has proven to be a very contentious issue among New Yorkers.  Soda companies want us to believe that the founding ethos of our nation, our very freedom is at stake. Mayor Bloomberg will tell us that it’s for our own good, and he will tout that his nanny-state policies (cigarette ban, trans-fat ban) have helped to raise the life expectancy of New Yorkers 2.5 years. In terms of taking a stronger stance on public health, there are other issues we wish Bloomberg would get behind. (What about paid sick leave?) But as City Limits notes: outcry aside, most New Yorkers will probably support the soda ban in a couple years, and it may even make us a little bit healthier.
  2. NYCHA is still in the news. This week one of New York Magazine’s feature articles examined the housing projects (“Nychaland”) and argued that they are “the land that time and money forgot.” We don’t totally disagree – NYCHA has many real problems and anyone who is concerned about affordable housing should call on NYCHA to do a better job. However, it is important to contextualize the nation’s largest public housing program. First, it is far more successful than that of any other major city. One of the reasons for its success is that NYCHA projects are not all isolated on the outskirts of the city. (Though some are.) Another reason is that NYCHA is chock-full of organized tenants who are actively engaged in their housing.
  3. Teachers are still striking in Chicago, in what can be considered a referendum on what we want our public education system to be. Public schools in Chicago are deeply segregated and wrought with problems that school districts across the country are facing. Chicago has also been a laboratory for bureaucratic reformers (including Arne Duncan) that are seeking to shift the paradigm of public education. Recently, this has meant an emphasis on standardized testing and charter schools. We’re standing with the teacher’s union! Stay tuned as this story unfolds…
  4. Yesterday was primary day in New York State. Check out full election results here.

Of course, many, many more things happened this week. Tuesday was the 11-year anniversary of September 11th and, tragically, it was marked by both religious intolerance and fatal attacks in Libya. Our thoughts are with victims of these attacks, those 11 years ago, and all who have lost their lives in the two wars since.