View Full Version : One Housing Woe Gives Way to Another

December 20th, 2003, 09:56 PM
December 21, 2003

One Housing Woe Gives Way to Another


The lobby of 262 Van Buren Street in Brooklyn in 1995. (Photograph by the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development)

The lobby of 262 Van Buren Street in Brooklyn in 2001. The city often takes over properties and sells them to owners who renovate them. (Photograph by the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development)

It was the worst real-estate portfolio imaginable: ten thousand of New York City's most woebegone buildings, all of them in tax arrears, vacant, burned out or occupied by some of the city's poorest tenants in its most addled neighborhoods. A hundred thousand apartments held by a landlord with hardly any money for repairs and, it seemed, hardly any hope.

That reluctant landlord was the City of New York, which seized the buildings and empty lots in the 1970's and 80's from owners who were delinquent in paying taxes.

From the South Bronx to Central Brooklyn, this collection of scarred properties reconfigured the image of urban blight in America. On the windows of forsaken buildings lining the Cross-Bronx Expressway, the city pasted decals of potted plants and Venetian blinds in a half-baked beautification campaign. The blight was considered so dire, so irredeemable, that the city's top housing official once suggested that the South Bronx be abandoned.

But with little celebration or notice, the city has gradually whittled that sad inventory down by more than 95 percent, building by building, over four mayoral administrations, so that it now owns fewer than 800 buildings, containing 4,000 units. It has done so largely through huge capital investments in dozens of programs allocating money for repairs, encouraging new construction, promoting homeownership and working with development groups to take over and manage the housing.

For some, particularly the city officials, community groups and housing developers who made a leap of faith in addressing the problem, the transformation has been a stunning, unequivocal success. It stabilized neighborhoods. It oiled the economy. It improved the city's image and helped fuel the broader revitalization of New York.

For others, though, there is some regret about what might have been. While they do not question the effort's triumphs, they believe that the city could have been more creative and thoughtful — developing more units in the same space, for instance, or making sure that rents in redeveloped buildings remained low.

It is all the more regrettable, they say, now that homelessness is reaching record levels and once-forlorn neighborhoods are increasingly unaffordable for many New Yorkers.

Whether the city's campaign was a complete success or a missed opportunity, no one disputes the notion that New York finds itself at a crossroads as it confronts a new set of housing challenges without this inventory of city-owned property. As the portfolio dwindles, the city's challenge is shifting from rehabilitating housing and land to dealing with a shortage of both.

Those old buildings and vacant lots were such a staple of city life that officials regularly invoked their Latin nickname: "in rem," or "against the thing." The legal term technically referred to the city's possession of a building as collateral against a tax-delinquent owner, but soon became shorthand for the city's entire housing policy.

"You can't underestimate how important `in rem' was," said Irene Baldwin, executive director of the Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development, which represents more than 100 community development groups. "This was the foundation that everything was built on. It was the lens you look through. And now, the conversation is all about how the `in rem' stock is gone, and what we do from here."

Since 1676, the city has had the right to seize control of dilapidated houses and offer them to owners who would renovate them, according to Richard Plunz's "A History of Housing in New York City" (Columbia University Press, 1990). But the city did not manage many buildings, officials say, until the last quarter of the 20th century, when its fiscal crisis, coupled with rising crime and declining population, contributed to a surge of abandonment.

As the number of tax delinquencies escalated, the city put more pressure on landlords to make their payments, slicing the grace period for foreclosure to one year from three. But the delinquencies continued, and the city began to stockpile undesirable buildings.

It was not until the mid-1980's, when the financial crisis had abated and the city's bond rating had improved, that Mayor Edward I. Koch was able to initiate the most pivotal step: a 10-year, $5 billion capital program.

In all, the city developed a dozen or so core programs to deal with its stock of troubled buildings. Many focused on providing financing for repairs and soliciting responsible owners from among developers, newly formed tenant cooperatives and community development groups with little experience in housing.

In 1990, Community Board 10 in central Harlem had by far the greatest number of "in rem" buildings — 1,123. Other places with an inordinate number of the buildings were Bedford-Stuyvesant, western Harlem, the South Bronx, East New York, Bushwick and South Jamaica.

In many cases, the city held on to these properties for two decades or more because of financial and bureaucratic hurdles — becoming a landlord that many residents said was even worse than the delinquent ones. While housing officials say that property managers did their heroic best to maintain basic services despite daunting conditions, others say the city did a shoddy job of maintenance, security and management.

That changed during the Giuliani administration, particularly after the passage of Local Law 37 in 1996. The law gave the city the authority to sell the liens on a property that was in decent shape to a tax collection agency. But for the most run-down properties, the city was given the power to transfer development rights to another party.

Neighborhoods Benefited

The number of vacant lots in the city dropped by 21 percent between 1985 and 1996, according to research by Alex Schwartz, an associate professor of urban policy and management at New School University.

Property values have climbed as well, according to research soon to be published by the Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy at New York University.

Before the city built or rehabilitated vacant properties, the sales price of a house or apartment building within 500 feet of one was 20 percent less than the price of others elsewhere in the same census tract. But one year after the city finished the rehabilitation project, that difference had been sliced in half, to 10 percent.

Take what happened in the Mount Eden section of the Bronx. In the late 1980's, it resembled a war zone, rife with crime and drug dealers. By the mid-90's, it had undergone a renaissance, because of the efforts of the Settlement Housing Fund, a nonprofit group that built a 16-building, 995-unit complex called New Settlement Houses for low- and moderate-income families.

One neighbor, Marilyn Stroud, said the impact of New Settlement was beyond comprehension. In the 70's, she said, "My children would go to school and come back home, and that was it. My kids knew nobody. I knew nobody. But all the parents get to know each other now. And I can go out at 2 or 3 in the morning, to go the store, and get some milk. I'm amazed."

As is the case in Mount Eden, "in rem" buildings are becoming harder to spot these days. By June, the city says, there will be fewer than 800 of them, containing fewer than 4,000 units, most in Brooklyn and upper Manhattan. And by 2011, the city is expected to sell off its entire inventory, according to a recent report by the city's Independent Budget Office.

"I'm incredibly proud of it," said Jerry J. Salama, a deputy commissioner of the city's Department of Housing Preservation and Development in the mid-90's.

Given the safeguards now in place, Mr. Salama said, it is highly improbable that the city will ever again see widespread housing abandonment. And yet, a new housing survey to be released this week by New York University reports that long-term delinquencies on property taxes jumped by roughly one-third during 2002, after years of steady decline.

It might be a blip, said Michael H. Schill, a law professor, director of the Furman Center and co-author of the study. Or it might be "an early warning that we have of weakness in the housing stock" that could be worsened by the city's recent property tax increase, rising insurance costs and other factors.

Priorities Questioned

Whatever happens, many housing advocates think the city squandered an opportunity to develop a response to the housing crunch.

Harold DeRienzo, the president of the Parodneck Foundation and the founding executive director of the Banana Kelly Community Improvement Association, a South Bronx nonprofit group that renovated more than 2,000 apartments, said the city was shortsighted in trying to "recreate the suburbs" in places like the South Bronx by emphasizing small, boutique projects like town houses or two-family homes, instead of denser low-rise apartments. It amounted to what he said was "underbuilding on our vacant land, especially considering that the infrastructure was already in place: the subway, the sewer, the utilities."

Now the biggest housing priority, city officials and housing advocates say, is dealing with the scarcity of remaining land.

Last year, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg announced a $3 billion program to repair, preserve and build 65,000 units of housing, and suggested that the city squeeze as much housing as possible out of properties held by other agencies, like the city Public Housing Authority. He has also expressed a keen interest in rezoning and brownfields development. Jerilyn Perine, the city's commissioner of Housing Preservation and Development, said the mayor's plan was an attempt to invent some "new machinery" to address the end of the "in rem" inventory. It promises to be difficult, she said, and there will no doubt be missteps.

But she is always humbled and inspired, she said, by how much has changed.

"I think you could get on the subway today and you could get out at East Tremont, you could walk on the street, have lunch, walk in the park, watch children come and go from school," she said. "In '78, trust me, you couldn't have done that."

Marilyn Stroud in front of 1512 Townsend Avenue in the Bronx, holding a photo of the same building before housing revitalization efforts in the area got under way.

Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company

December 21st, 2003, 11:26 AM
Before & After Photo Gallery (http://www.nyc.gov/html/hpd/html/about-us/photo-gallery.html)


TLOZ Link5
December 21st, 2003, 03:31 PM
Note that there is still graffiti on the marble panelling in that Brooklyn building.

December 22nd, 2003, 08:27 AM
December 22, 2003

Assemblyman Says the City's Housing Authority Keeps Too Many Apartments Vacant


The New York City Housing Authority is the biggest and, by many accounts, the best-run public housing agency in the country. Its 2,700 buildings have held up reasonably well. Few of its 419,000 residents move out. And there are more than 146,000 people ready to move in, determined to wait the decade or so that it can often take for an apartment to open up.

But now, a state assemblyman from Manhattan is criticizing the housing authority for holding several thousand vacant apartments, some for as long as 12 years.

In a report to be released today, the assemblyman, Scott Stringer, found that the authority's own data showed that there were more than 5,300 vacant apartments, or 3 percent of the entire inventory, with more than a third being in Manhattan.

Nearly 3,500 of those apartments have been vacant for more than one year. More than 900 have been empty for more than five years. And 88 have been empty for more than nine.

"There was never a sense that there would be vacancies in public housing, because what people bemoaned was the doubling up, the tripling up, and waiting list of over 140,000 people," said Mr. Stringer, who, after receiving the data through a Freedom of Information Act request, discussed his preliminary findings with The New York Times. "So the fact that there are thousands of vacant apartments in public housing that have been vacant for many years is alarming."

But the housing authority says that the numbers are not nearly as bad as Mr. Stringer might presume.

In fact, the housing authority says a few thousand apartments are always empty, either because they are in the middle of renovations, or being saved for emergencies in which families need immediate shelter.

Housing officials also say that some apartments end up being vacant for more than a year because of the deliberate, meticulous and sometimes frustrating nature of government contracts.

"When Scott Stringer comes along and says there are vacancies, well, yes there are vacancies," said Howard Marder, a spokesman for the housing authority. "But the vacancies exist because of modernization work, and when it's all done, people will move back."

The jousting over vacancies comes at a time city officials and housing groups are desperate to create as much housing for low- and moderate-income families as possible in a city with record homelessness and a shortage of housing or land.

Indeed, last year Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, in declaring that the city faced a housing crisis, announced a plan to repair, preserve and build 65,000 units of housing — a plan that would be the most ambitious since the Koch administration.

The vacancy rate for New York City's entire inventory of 2 million rental apartments was 2.9 percent in 2002. In 1999, it was 3.2 percent.

The vacancy rate for public housing has been comparably low, as well, though it did increase to 3.4 percent in 2002 from 1.9 percent in 1999.

A decade ago, the housing authority would typically have perhaps 1,000 or so units that would stay vacant for more than a few months or even a year because of rehabilitation needs, said J. Phillip Thompson, a former acting general manager of the authority during the Dinkins administration. But in recent years, that number has climbed to 3,000 or 4,000. And according to Mr. Stringer, that means that the housing authority is losing anywhere from $10 million to $30 million each year in potential rent.

"I was really shocked by the data," said Mr. Thompson, who is now an associate professor of urban studies and planning at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Both Mr. Thompson and Mr. Stringer speculated that the increase might have to do with poor management, rather than any plan to privatize housing. And Mr. Marder, from the housing authority, was emphatic in saying that there were no such privatization plans. "Period. End of story," he said.

Still, Mr. Stringer said that the borough-by-borough breakdown of vacancies was striking in many ways. Manhattan had the greatest number of vacancies of more than a year, with 1,749. The Bronx had the highest percentage of vacancies of more than five years, with 43 percent.

The development with the greatest number of vacancies was Vladeck I, on Madison Street in Manhattan, with 456, with some apartments empty as far back as 1996. Next was Prospect Plaza, in Brooklyn, with 266, with some vacant back to 1997, according to Mr. Stringer.

In response, Mr. Marder said that the Prospect Plaza project was one that was ambitious, and complicated, in scale because it involved funding from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.

And for other projects, there was another federal component: a 1996 agreement with HUD in which the housing authority agreed to make approximately 9,000 units accessible to people with physical disabilities. That conversion typically takes four or five years to complete.

It sometimes takes one or two years to find enough vacant apartments to reach a critical mass to make renovations economical, Mr. Marder said, excluding any complications due to funding or contracting.

"This isn't a TV show where you've got a problem and a solution in 30 minutes," Mr. Marder said.

Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company

January 14th, 2004, 12:34 AM
January 14, 2004

10,000 Housing Units Coming, Mayor Says


Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said yesterday that 10,000 units of new or refurbished housing - the first of 65,000 units he has promised will be built or rehabilitated over the next five years - were now under development, and that his administration would offer a loan program in cooperation with four commercial banks to develop thousands more abandoned or decaying properties around the city over the next few years.

Within the next year, about 2,000 units will be ready for occupancy as part of Mr. Bloomberg's housing plan, the most aggressive of its kind since the Koch administration. Just over a year ago, Mr. Bloomberg vowed to build or rehabilitate 65,000 units of housing, much of it for poor or middle-income New Yorkers. Of the first 10,000 units, roughly half will be brand-new units, said a spokeswoman for the city's Department of Housing Preservation and Development, the agency in charge of the program.

While Mr. Bloomberg has staked his mayoralty on the success of his education policies, his housing proposals are almost nearly as aggressive and difficult to achieve. The mayor's aides say his personal interest in housing issues rivals that for the city's schools.

"Clearly we are seeing housing as a top priority for the city," said Joseph Weisbord, staff director of Housing First!, a group that advocates for housing for poor and middle-class people. "The question is, as the city's economic situation begins to improve, how do we build on their commitment?"

Mr. Weisbord and others have called for a larger program, but Mr. Bloomberg said yesterday that he preferred something smaller but attainable rather than a lofty goal the administration could not meet.

Because the city is not in a fiscal position to build many housing units, the Bloomberg administration is trying to encourage private development by changing zoning laws, streamlining the building code and devising plans to attract investors to e parts of the city that have been abandoned or forgotten.

Under the plan announced yesterday, the city will provide $200 million in low-interest loans for developers to acquire and assess land for housing development, generally on abandoned manufacturing sites and waterfront areas that are being rezoned for housing. Four city banks -- Citibank, Deutsche Bank, HSBC, and JPMorgan Chase - have committed the first $40 million toward those loans, and the city has put forward $8 million through the Housing Development Corporation to guarantee them.

"Housing is really one of the keys along with jobs and great quality of life that gives New York City a future," Mr. Bloomberg said yesterday.

Mr. Bloomberg was able to attract major banks to his housing plan by showing a willingness to get behind projects in which developers have a chance to make money, Seth H. Waugh, the chief executive officer of Deutsche Bank, said yesterday.

"I think the mayor is very commercially minded," said Mr. Waugh in an interview. "And he has cut through a lot of stuff that other people get backed up on because he comes from the corporate world. From our perspective, the willingness has always been there but not the program. To have it be sustainable you have to have it be somewhat commercial. We hope we don't lose money but we might."

Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

January 16th, 2004, 05:12 PM
Gotham Gazette - http://www.gothamgazette.com/article/communitydevelopment/20040116/20/840

Is Washington Looking To Get Out Of Subsidizing Low-Income Housing In NYC?

by Brad Lander

January 01, 2004

This past summer, 75 Bronx families in the Pueblo de Mayaguez housing development were heartened when help seemed to be on the way. After many years of deteriorating building conditions, the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) was planning to take the three buildings away from its owner through foreclosure. Tenants asked for the right to buy the buildings as a cooperative.

Instead, the federal agency sold the buildings at public auction for $4.7 million to a landlord with over 1,000 violations on the 11 small buildings he already owns. The apartments will no longer be preserved as guaranteed affordable housing, and the new owner will face less scrutiny.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development turned down the tenants' request even though New York's local housing agencies supported their bid, supposedly because the city and the tenants expressed their interest too late. But advocates claim that the federal agency allowed an even later bid in Newark, and that Dallas and Boston have received warmer treatment.

New York City may get the cold shoulder again in three additional developments in Brooklyn and Harlem that are facing foreclosure. Residents of these building are now scrambling to put together a proposal that the city can take to the federal agency. But they fear that there will be a repeat of what happened at Pueblo de Mayaguez -- the agency will again take the properties to auction and sell them to the highest bidder, without taking the purchaser's track record into account. "We were in shock when we received the notice of foreclosure," says long-time tenant N. Abdullah of Gates-Patchen Houses in Bedford-Stuyvesant. "We want to have a say in who comes in to purchase. But it seems as if HUD is trying to push us out of the building, to get the building off their hands. If we were facing eviction for non-payment, we would at least have our day in court. But HUD doesn't want to listen to us, or even tell us what is going on."

If this is a pattern, it could put at risk 20,000 apartments of federally-subsidized affordable housing for low-income families, primarily in high-poverty neighborhoods in central Brooklyn, the South Bronx, and Staten Island.

Little attention has been paid to this growing problem of "fail-outs," when landlord neglect and deteriorating building conditions lead the federal housing agency to cancel its subsidy. The risk of "fail-outs" has grown in part because the Department of Housing and Urban Development has gotten more aggressive in its approach to distressed projects in the past year, supposedly, according to an agency memo, in order to "ensure the properties are decent, safe, sanitary, and in good repair."

But advocates see a more nefarious purpose. Noting that one of the Bush Administration's top strategies for reining in costs in the federal budget is reportedly to shed the cost of housing subsidy contracts , they suspect that Washington is looking to balance the budget at the expense of vulnerable tenants, in low-income neighborhoods, in a state that President George Bush has little hope of winning when he runs for re-election. "HUD has allowed these owners to keep the subsidy funds - misused, misappropriated - for years, letting them walk away with the money" says Bronx Legal Aid attorney Ellen Davidson. "Why not make owners reinvest in the property?"

Tenants fear that foreclosure could result in a new slumlord owning their building, and the cancellation of their building's subsidy contract with the Department of Housing and Urban Development. When that happens, many income-eligible tenants receive housing subsidy vouchers, which they can continue to use in the building or take elsewhere. However, for a variety of reasons, many are screened out and do not receive vouchers. In addition, the entire voucher program is now threatened with reduction or elimination almost every year during federal budget negotiations.

Many tenants in these buildings are eager for change after years of neglect. "Our building has been allowed to literally fall apart," says Kim Smith, a tenant leader at Ennis Francis Houses in Harlem, "with no heat, no hot water, mold and mildew, and part of the plumbing system totally collapsed. We want the current management out." But they also want a say in what happens. "We are afraid that any slumlord could come along and buy our building. In the midst of this second Harlem Renaissance, can we please both get renovations and keep our subsidies?"

There are some bright spots, which show how "fail-outs" can become a win/win that preserves affordable housing and strengthens communities. Working with the 465 families at the Dr. Betty Shabazz Complex and Medgar Evers Houses in Brooklyn, a number of non-profit agencies acquired the two developments to preserve them as affordable housing - owned by a newly created not-for-profit that includes the tenants. Residents at the Diego-Beekman properties in the South Bronx are working on a similar workout.

But a real solution would take comprehensive and coordinated action. In the past, the city has not generally been eager to take the lead in this effort, since they do not want to foot the bill if the federal government withdraws funding. But now the city is seeking to arrange successful workouts on several properties, and tenants say they are waiting for the Department of Housing and Urban Development to meet them halfway.

New York City's housing developers, advocates, and community organizations have thrived despite a massive reduction in federal resources for building affordable housing over the past 30 years. Few suspected that they would need to fight for the preservation of federally-subsidized affordable housing in the city's lowest income neighborhoods.

January 30th, 2004, 03:25 AM
January 30, 2004

New Housing Spurt Sweeping Boroughs Outside Manhattan


Though the construction of luxury apartment buildings in Manhattan has commanded far more attention, new census data show that New York City is in the midst of a more surprising housing boom that extends across much of Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx, including neighborhoods where developers once feared to tread without large government subsidies.

The number of permits for new housing units in the city rose last year to the highest level in 30 years, while the total was stable or fell across the rest of the metropolitan area. City planners say those figures, released this week by the Census Bureau, document a new wave of interest and investment in middle-class neighborhoods outside Manhattan.

It has been decades since developers showed much appetite for building private, unsubsidized middle-income housing in the city, largely because it was so hard to turn a profit. Now, though, the construction boom stretches from the South Bronx, where a surge in privately financed development has led to a tripling of land prices, to Bensonhurst in Brooklyn, where houses are being torn down and replaced by six- and seven-story rental buildings and condominiums for an influx of recent immigrants, prompting calls for new zoning restrictions.

"This is market-driven, and the market is clearly making a vote of confidence in the city as a place to invest," said Eric Kober, director of housing, economic and infrastructure planning at the City Planning Department. "We call it reverse urban sprawl."

The number of new-home permits issued by the city has been rising strongly since the late 1990's, and still lags way behind the rising demand for housing as the city's population grows. The census figures are striking: Last year, builders obtained permits for 21,218 new privately owned apartments and houses, more than in any year since 1973, though far fewer than during the construction boom of the early 1960's.

The number of new homes approved rose by 15 percent from the year before, even though the number in Manhattan fell slightly for the second year in a row. In the last five years, the greatest increases both in numbers and percentages have occurred in Brooklyn, the Bronx and Queens.

Developers and planners say the trend is driven by several forces, like increased demand, lower crime rates and better kept neighborhoods. Low interest rates have cut building costs and have expanded the pool of people who can afford homes enough to include recent immigrants.

Much of the new development outside Manhattan has involved smaller projects: one- and two-family houses and small apartment buildings that can be built more cheaply than steel-trussed Manhattan high-rises, in part because they often use less expensive nonunion labor. Some builders are immigrants who have recently made the transition from contractors to developers, according to builders and planners.

The increased development in the city is taking place as new home construction in the rest of the metropolitan area — which includes portions of New Jersey, Connecticut, New York and Pennsylvania — is stable or falling slightly, despite rising home prices and the lowest interest rates in a generation. Throughout the region, the number of jobs has grown faster than new homes have been built, leading planners to worry that a housing shortage could hurt economic growth.

According to the Census Bureau figures, the total of new home construction in 2000 through 2003 rose 77 percent in New York City over the previous four years, while it increased by 2.4 percent in the rest of the metropolitan area. The city's share of new-home permits rose to 32 percent from 21 percent. Outside the city, the number of new homes approved last year — 37,180 — was slightly lower than in the year before, and remained 15 percent below the peak year of 2000.

Robert D. Yaro, president of the Regional Planning Association, an independent planning group, said the permits data reflected two trends. Many outer suburbs are "pulling up the drawbridge" out of concern for overburdened schools and services, he said, and rezoning to require larger lots or converting residential lots for commercial and industrial development.

At the same time, he said, Manhattan "has run out of neighborhoods below 110th Street to revitalize." So development has spread beyond there and the brownstone neighborhoods of Brooklyn, to other Brooklyn neighborhoods, Queens and even the Bronx, which has long lagged behind the rest of the city economically. With housing prices in the suburbs climbing ever higher, many families looking to buy their first home are staying in the city.

"The Bronx is becoming once again what it was for most of the 20th century, a center for middle-class families and working families with kids," Mr. Yaro said. "It's got good bones — good parks and good transit."

Development could slow, however, if interest rates rise sharply, land prices jump or denser housing leads to widespread zoning restrictions.

Joshua D. Weissman, the treasurer of the Jackson Development Group, has watched the boom but sees some risks ahead. Last year, his company completed 70 homes on 15 sites, typically in two- and three-family houses on vacant lots in the South Bronx, that are being marketed at about $450,000 per house, and is planning to build and sell 100 more units this year. The houses were built without special government subsidies or land provided by the city, something that was unthinkable just a few years ago, he said.

"We had one lot on 180th Street and Hughes Avenue," he said, "a corner lot full of cars and tires and garbage. It was terrible. We went in there and built four houses, and two houses over another company was building as well."

He said the vacant lots the company has relied on, which are often illegal parking lots on the sites of buildings burned out and torn down during the decline of the South Bronx, were getting harder to find because prices have tripled since 1999. The nationwide housing boom has raised the prices of construction supplies like plywood and metal studs; the cost of wood flooring has risen 20 percent, he said.

Development in Manhattan declined only slightly last year, according to the census figures, as the number of new homes approved fell by 175 from a year earlier, to about 17 percent below the peak of 6,109 in 2001, although real estate industry officials note that those numbers excluded projects in which downtown office buildings are being converted to housing.

From 1985 to 2001, there were more than two Manhattan homes approved for every home approved in Brooklyn, the city's most populous borough. Last year, though, there were more new homes approved in Brooklyn than in Manhattan, 6,054 to 5,232.

R. Randy Lee, a developer and chairman of the Building Industry Association of New York, said low interest rates were driving the resurgence of construction for the middle class. In the early 1990's, he said, he built subsidized houses in the Bronx that were affordable to families earning $30,000 to $40,000 a year, but as costs rose, minimum incomes rose to as much as $75,000 or $80,000. But as interest rates have fallen in the last few years, reducing monthly mortgage payments, minimum incomes have fallen again to where they were in the early 1990's.

"As the immigrant population continues to expand, there are a lot of first-generation immigrant buyers," he said. "People who have green cards and jobs are strong buyers for homes."

Many developers attribute the resurgence to city housing programs, which have provided subsidies and city-owned land and buildings for renovation and new construction of housing. But as the city develops plans for its last remaining properties, the number of new apartments and projects begun has started to decline, and the momentum has shifted to private developers.

"Their ability to lead the market has diminished," Mr. Lee said of city housing programs. "But by giving those neighborhoods a kick-start, they created an atmosphere where private sites could be developed."

Contributing to the boom is a rising city population, which grew by 900,000 between 1980 and 2000, and an additional 84,000 through July 2002, according to census data. Mr. Kober said city demographers believe that the population has continued to rise since then, in part because of continued immigration.

At the same time, unlike many suburban communities, New York City has a large reserve of unused building rights, since, under a 1961 zoning resolution, many neighborhoods outside Manhattan are zoned for far denser development than the single-family homes already there.

But as developers take advantage of these zoning rights, tearing down homes to build bigger or taller buildings, they face growing opposition. The city is studying proposals to limit the development of six- and seven-story buildings on low-rise streets in Bensonhurst, and has recently restricted building rights in most residential neighborhoods on Staten Island.

One result of that zoning change, which took effect in December, can be seen in the building permit data. In both October and November, according to Building Department data, twice as many permits were issued as in September, as some developers rushed to begin construction before the change took effect.

Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

January 30th, 2004, 12:56 PM
This is great and all, but most of the new housing is absolutely disgusting and some blatantly cheap. I remember last year a 7 story building under construction in Bensonhurst collapsed in on itself before it was finished. Most of the new buildings are bland, boxy structures that have no architectural merit whatsoever and have the potential to ruin a streetscape.

February 10th, 2004, 09:41 AM
New Housing New York Competition Winners (http://www.archnewsnow.com/features/Feature129.htm)

February 10th, 2004, 11:08 AM
Does anyone know where these sites acutally are in Manhattan, BK, and Queens?

February 15th, 2004, 04:47 AM
February 15, 2004

In a Brooklyn Boom, a Patchwork of Housing


New housing coming on the market in Brooklyn echoes the borough's old patchwork of styles, sizes and prices: the Fountains at Spring Creek, a low-income apartment complex.

The signs of Brooklyn's building boom are scattered across the borough, and they are not hard to read.

"Brand New Two-Family Homes - Locations Include East New York, Bedford-Stuyvesant," blares one sign on Pitkin Avenue. "Now Offering for Sale Luxury Two-Family Waterview Homes, Granite Kitchen," says another, along the quiet East Mill Basin channel. "Another Job Done by S & S Developers," says a third, in south Williamsburg.

These announcements, and the bricks and mortar they represent, are going up faster in Brooklyn than anywhere else in the city. According to census figures released last month, residential developers in New York City are building at the quickest pace in decades, and Brooklyn, perennial second fiddle to Manhattan, has become the new-housing capital of New York, with permits for more than 6,000 new housing units approved last year.

More than 17,000 units of housing have been approved in Brooklyn since 2000, and those now coming onto the market echo the borough's old patchwork of styles, sizes and prices. In the farthest corner of East New York, bordered on three sides by marshes and landfill, rises a long, low-income apartment complex in alternating facades of brick and white. A few miles south, along East Mill Basin, stand a matched set of three two-family houses with relatively gracious wrought-iron terraces, columns and dormer windows. And along Flushing Avenue in a formerly defunct Williamsburg industrial zone, weed-choked lots are giving way to masses of cookie-cutter brick condominium complexes.

Most of the growth is taking place between the cracks of Brooklyn's cityscape, in neighborhoods that often lack proper names, let alone downtowns: the former swamps and wastelands at the borough's edges, the buffer zones between communities.

This only makes sense. It is easiest to build where there is room to spread out, and a great deal of Brooklyn, long the city's most populous borough, is simply full, or close to it. But the expansion, which has been gathering steam for six years, is gradually remaking the face of the borough. With two-family starter homes here and a factory-building-gone-condo there, neighborhoods once pocked full of holes are becoming whole again, while others are bursting their boundaries, gobbling up vacant land as they go.

The growth parallels Brooklyn's rise as a destination for immigrants; city officials say it is beginning to rival Queens. The Caribbeans who have revitalized Canarsie over the last 20 years are moving into Bergen Beach, once an all-white enclave. The Satmar Hasidic Jews of south Williamsburg have pushed down into the northern fringes of Bedford-Stuyvesant. The little India of Ozone Park, Queens, has spilled across the border into East New York.

But as rents in the gentrified neighborhoods of northwest Brooklyn approach Manhattan levels, developers have found that there is also money to be made building lofts for the young and hip in neighborhoods like Bushwick and Bedford-Stuyvesant, which have suffered through decades of poverty and decline.

The process is not always pretty. There are regular growing pains and zoning (and rezoning) disputes. What heavy industry remains in Brooklyn is being squeezed out by more profitable housing, just as farmland is in distant suburbs.

Few of the new buildings are likely to win architectural prizes, though the 850-unit Oceana condo complex on the Brighton Beach waterfront was a finalist in last year's National Association of Home Builders awards. At the same time, not nearly enough of the new housing is affordable to lower-middle-class families who need it most, advocates say.

In a city with a chronic housing shortage, though, it all helps. "It's a huge vote of confidence in the borough," said Regina Myer, the Brooklyn director for the City Planning Department. "I know it sounds corny. But it really crosses so many neighborhoods, so many different types of people, so many different types of housing. It shows how stable the borough is right now and poised for future growth."

It is unlikely that the boom can continue at this rate. Interest rates will eventually rise, and sooner or later the land will be used up. "The challenge now is to find the right places to develop," Ms. Myer said.

Bergen Beach

Bergen Beach is certainly looking like the right place. Lying largely on a former island off the coast of Canarsie, the neighborhood was joined (via landfill) to the mainland in the early 20th century but was barely developed for decades. In the 1960's, custom homes went up on big lots. Now there is a proliferation of town houses and condominiums.

"Go drive around Bergen Beach and Mill Island," said Dorothy Turano, the district manager for Community Board 18, which includes both neighborhoods. "You see a Dumpster on every street."

There are many Dumpsters along Avenue M, where a multiblock chain of market-rate town houses is sprouting from the soil. A few blocks farther north, along the commercial strip of Ralph Avenue, a "now renting" banner flies from the side of a 72-apartment middle-income complex that opened less than a month ago.

The new apartments, Bergen Gardens, are next door to a big lot full of dirt and cranes that is announced by a sign as the Paerdegat Basin Water Quality Facility Construction of Combined Sewer Overflow Storage Tanks. The nearest subway stop is almost two miles away.

But the developers of Bergen Gardens, built with financing help from the city's Housing Development Corporation, say it is filling up. Rents are around $1,100 a month for one bedroom and $1,400 for two bedrooms. "We get a lot of nurses," said Victor Gartenstein, one of the owners. "Couples where, say, the husband is a bus driver and the wife is a nurse."

Louise Ray, a retired school administrator who sold her house in Crown Heights, said she felt at home in Bergen Gardens immediately. "The shopping is across the street, there's a post office in the supermarket and the drugstore is two blocks away," she said. "It's nice, it's quiet and it's comfortable."

South Williamsburg

By the late 1990's, after several generations of rigorous adherence to the biblical directive to be fruitful and multiply, the Satmar Hasidim of south Williamsburg were running out of room. Their attempts to build housing south of Flushing Avenue, in a decaying industrial zone and the spotty but improving north side of Bedford-Stuyvesant that lies beyond it, ran into zoning restrictions and, in some cases, resistance from longtime black homeowners uninterested in selling their property.

For the Hasidim, persistence paid off. A rezoning in 2001 made way for 700 units of housing along Flushing Avenue, and building is proceeding at a dizzying pace, all the way down to DeKalb Avenue four long blocks south. Some blocks seem like one long stretch of temporary plywood fencing plastered with building permits. Others, long vacant or abandoned, are becoming solid walls of five-story brick buildings.

Many of the buildings are in the Hasidim's stepped-back style, with small terraces that give residents space to build temporary huts for Sukkot, the autumn harvest festival. The apartments, mostly condominiums that sell for around $250,000 and are often rented out, are plain but functional inside. They have what is needed: two sinks for observing kosher rules and three or more bedrooms.

"Before anybody understood that Williamsburg is the promised land, we knew it," said Rabbi David Niederman, the president of the United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburg. "We have stayed here and held onto it."

East New York

Part 1 of the rebirth of long-suffering East New York, made possible by an array of government subsidies like free land, low-interest loans and tax breaks, is drawing to a close, albeit with a flourish.

In the southeasternmost corner of Brooklyn, on a lot past the South Shore Incinerator and a new shopping center with a Target store, stand a pair of three-story low-income apartment complexes, just finished, called the Fountains at Spring Creek. A white archway frames a high-ceilinged lobby. In the courtyard, a large bowl-shaped piece of granite sits on a pedestal, waiting for water to be turned on.

But closer to the heart of old East New York, the housing market jump-started by the city has acquired its own momentum. In December, Park Lane Enterprises, a developer in Richmond Hills, Queens, finished three two-family brick houses on Hendrix Street. They were put up without a dime of government help, and Park Lane is asking $450,000 apiece for them, an unthinkable figure just a few years ago. One is sold already and the other two are in contract, said Paula Celemin, Park Lane's president.

Farther out, at Pitkin and Shepherd Avenues, not far from the Queens border, a cluster of three-family homes is going up. Most of them are being sold to Indian families, said Shariar Uddin, the sales director for the developer, Millennium Homes. "People are moving from Jackson Heights, from Astoria," he said.

Across the street last week, Marquese Page stood in front of the skeletons of what will soon be a row of two-family houses. Mr. Page, who grew up in a housing project nearby, is head of security for the contractor putting the buildings up. The row is interrupted by an old brick building with a long-shuttered grocery store on the ground floor. Mr. Page, 28, said he would like to open a barbershop there if he could find a way.

Mr. Page, who is black, said he was watching the neighborhood become a blend of colors. "More Koreans, Pakistanis, Jews, Africans," he said, adding that it made no difference to him. "It's really just getting into buildings. It's good out here."


Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

February 15th, 2004, 02:17 PM
...see what I mean about the architecture?

February 15th, 2004, 05:12 PM
Yep, some good, many not. At least it's better than crack houses and vacant lots.

South Williamsburg is sick with building. In Queens, Downtown Flushing is very similar. Even though I haven't seen for myself, the same is being said for the...gasp...South Bronx.

It's all over NYC and it's pretty f'in great.

February 20th, 2004, 06:16 AM


Housing is one of the most critical issues facing New York City, and a competition currently on display at the Center for Architecture aims to expand notions of what affordable housing can and should be.

The competition and exhibit entitled, "New Housing New York," is sponsored by the American Institute of Architecture, the city's Department of Housing and the New York City Council. This year, it generated 160 entrees that find practical, yet innovate, solutions to the scarcity of affordable housing.

Competitors created designs to fit real locations, like a brownstone in East Harlem, a block on 4th Avenue in Brooklyn, and an area transitioning from a manufacturing center to a residential neighborhood in Queens. The buildings were also conceived with different populations in mind - senior citizens, single parents, people with disabilities, and telecommuters.

Choi Law's compact Manhattan tower that utilizes space to its greatest potential (see above) was one of the winning designs. City officials hope to use the designs to generate new housing policies for New York.

"The goal behind this competition is to solicit from the architectural community innovative ideas that will help us develop solutions," said City Council Speaker Gifford Miller.

The winning submissions are on display until March at the Center for Architecture, 536 LaGuardia. For more information, visit http://www.aiany.org/nhnywinrec.htm .


February 20th, 2004, 06:18 AM
February 20, 2004

Bush Housing Plan Stirs Anxiety Over New York's Share of Aid


In pure numbers, President Bush's 2005 budget proposes to increase spending on the Department of Housing and Urban Development by 3 percent. But in terms of philosophy, many housing experts say, the administration is actually moving strongly to reduce the federal government's role in the kind of subsidized housing that many New Yorkers depend on, applying market principles and the tenets of the welfare overhaul of the 1990's with a renewed eagerness.

The administration, for example, is proposing to shift from the federal to the local level the Section 8 voucher program, the government's primary effort to help the poorest Americans find and pay for their own housing. It wants to loosen the eligibility rules for Section 8, allowing a larger group of families to apply without guaranteeing a portion for the poorest families. And it has proposed giving incentives to housing agencies that shrink the rolls of subsidized tenants.

If enacted, New York City officials estimate, the Bush plan could reduce the number of households receiving vouchers in 2005 by 7,000, or almost 7 percent of the current total. That number could triple by 2009, they say.

The Bush administration says the budget represents the latest incarnation of a flexible but tough-love approach to subsidized housing that began to germinate during the Clinton administration. It also reinforces the original premise that subsidized housing should be a springboard to self-sufficiency, not a permanent entitlement, department officials say.

"It's an evolution which has been accelerated because we have pushed the envelope," said Michael Liu, assistant secretary for public and Indian housing at HUD. "Similar to the concepts which were approved back in the mid-90's regarding welfare reform, we are moving on the same tack."

To some critics, though, the proposals are an exercise in reckless budget-cutting, a sop to suburban homeowners at the expense of urban renters. And the place that could be hurt the most is New York City, which, according to a coming study from New York University, receives as much as $3.5 billion in federal housing aid each year, far more than any other city.

"It has a very strong political underpinning: demonizing folks on welfare and folks in public housing," said City Councilman Bill de Blasio, a Brooklyn Democrat, who was HUD's regional director in New York from 1997-99. "And it puts New York in a very, very difficult spot because we're past the point of any reasonable expectation that a better hand of cards will be dealt."

Many housing groups say they were preparing for major overhauls after the Bush administration tried last year to turn Section 8 into a block grant program for state governments, using a complicated formula to determine aid instead of basing it solely on the number of needy people. The program was called Housing Assistance for Needy Families; the nation's welfare program is called Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.

Congress said no. But in this year's $31.3 billion budget, HUD proposes, under a Flexible Voucher Program, to transfer Section 8 to local agencies instead of to the states, and to relax eligibility criteria.

Currently, 75 percent of all vouchers are reserved for people who earn up to 30 percent of the local median income, or about $15,000 a year in New York. But under the Bush plan, local housing agencies could hand out vouchers to anyone making up to 80 percent of the median income, or about $41,500 in New York.

Public housing would undergo changes, as well, paralleling the ideas that transformed welfare, like time limits and privatization, as well as other concepts, like bonuses for housing authorities based on financial aptitude. Among other experiments, HUD is pushing for a $15 million "voluntary graduation" program to encourage, though not require, residents to leave public housing.

"We come from a basic notion of accountability, and again, from a common sense understanding of what the program should be promoting, which is self-sufficiency," said Mr. Liu of HUD.

The budget has been heralded by conservatives like Howard Husock, a Harvard scholar whose 2003 book, "America's Trillion-Dollar Housing Mistake," has been popular with administration officials. Local governments and housing agencies, meanwhile, have applauded the notion of greater autonomy, but are worried about the amount of money.

Local control could make it easier for the New York City Housing Authority to move people from homeless shelters to housing more quickly, and to inspect buildings and to recertify residents for aid every two or three years, rather than each year.

"N.Y.C.H.A. is interested in many of the concepts contained in the president's budget, and we would encourage that there is a dialogue about those reforms, as long as we get full funding," said Tino Hernandez, the housing authority's commissioner.

But liberal critics, like the National Low Income Housing Coalition and the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, estimate that the budget falls at least $1 billion short of the amount necessary to finance the program at the current level. That could mean that up to 250,000 households nationwide would lose their vouchers in 2005, and 800,000, or 40 percent of the entire pool, by 2009.

Just as troubling, they warn, the eligibility changes could give landlords justification for choosing higher-income Section 8 tenants, thereby leaving the poorest more vulnerable.

"There are virtually no protections for tenants in this year's proposals," said Barbara Sard, director of housing policy at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Even some Congressional Republicans say they are skittish that Section 8, which takes more than half of HUD's budget, may suffer a fate common to many other block-grant programs: being capped or cut. "It's a radical policy change,'' said one senior Republican Congressional aide. "Why do we need to rush into this?"

But HUD officials scoff at such suggestions. They say local autonomy, and efforts to streamline bureaucracy, will enable them to serve the same number of people, and eventually to reduce costs. Mr. Liu said anyone who does not appreciate that HUD is "finding and unlocking new financial tools" may be "stuck in the time warp of 10 years ago."

Either way, any changes in HUD's budget, however small the percentages, will be magnified in New York, which has more public housing and vouchers than anywhere else, and the highest percentage of renters among major cities. The coming study by the Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy at the N.Y.U. School of Law says that 400,000 housing units, or almost one-fifth of all rental apartments, receive some federal subsidy.

The plan would also end enhanced vouchers, which help tenants cover the rent in buildings that leave the Section 8 program to test the open market. After one year, those enhanced vouchers would be replaced by conventional Section 8 vouchers that would not necessarily be able to cover a higher, market-based rent on the same unit, a prospect that housing groups say would force out many families.

About 1,200 households in New York now receive enhanced vouchers; 500 more are in the pipeline.

Despite proposed cuts to other programs affecting homelessness, derelict public housing and the redevelopment of brownfields, which are contaminated industrial sites, city officials do not believe that the budget will severely hamper Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg's plan to build or rehabilitate 65,000 housing units.

But Molly Wasow Park, a budget and policy analyst for the city's Independent Budget Office, cautions that because some of the low-income units in the mayor's plan depend on vouchers to cover operating costs, they could be harder to support if the vouchers become harder to obtain.

Regardless of the budget's final shape, two themes may ultimately stand out, said Bruce Katz, director of the Center on Urban and Metropolitan Policy at the Brookings Institution, who was chief of staff to Housing Secretary Henry G. Cisneros under President Bill Clinton.

The first, he said, is that "the message to the New Yorks of the world is, 'You're on your own, because Uncle Sam is going to be reducing our contribution.' '' The second, he said, is that housing policy is driven almost entirely by the budget process, not by a grander vision. It is enough to make him nostalgic for a former nemesis, Jack Kemp, HUD secretary under the first President Bush.

"At least with Kemp, they were putting forward policy reforms, and there was a competition over ideas," he said. "This is really a competition over what the federal government does at the most basic level. It's a very different debate, and housing is just a victim of broader decisions being made.''

Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

March 8th, 2004, 06:26 AM
Gotham Gazette - http://www.gothamgazette.com/article/housing/20040308/10/907

After Mitchell-Lama

by Joe Lamport

March 03, 2004

For more than 20 years, Marc Richardson has called the Lower East Side home and despite gentrification and increased rents in his neighborhood he has been able to do so thanks largely to the fact that he lives in a Mitchell-Lama apartment building.

But his days in the apartment may be numbered: The owners of the Lands End One complex, which includes 251 apartments, announced late last year that they have opted to buy out of the Mitchell-Lama program - and seek market rents for the apartments.

"Tenants are really feeling it," Richardson said, a member of the Lands End One Tenants Association. "There's very little affordable housing in this city. Where are we going to go? I really don't know where I'm going to start looking for an apartment."

There is growing fear among tenants of Mitchell-Lama apartments that they may have to leave their apartments or pay significantly higher rents. An appeals court decision at the end of February only added to their anxiety. City-sponsored legislation in Albany and City Council bills have set off a political battle.

There are about 60,000 Mitchell-Lama rental apartments left in New York City, mostly located in Brooklyn and Manhattan. They exist in buildings developed with state and city low-interest loans provided through a 1955 law sponsored by Manhattan State Senator MacNeil Mitchell and former Brooklyn Assemblyman Alfred Lama. The laws helped spur the development of almost 150,000 apartments in New York City, according to the city Comptroller's office.

"Mitchell-Lama housing is absolutely critical," said Councilmember Eva Moskowitz, who represents district 4 on Manhattan's East Side, which has several Mitchell-Lama projects in it. "It's one of the most well designed affordable housing programs the city has and a model for the nation. It's a force for stability in the city. you're going to undo the very stability you've created."

In return for the loans and real estate tax abatements, developers committed to keeping the apartments affordable. But not forever. A buyout option allows developers to take the apartments out of the program depending on what year they were built and whether the building's mortgage has been paid. For developments like Land's End One, which was opened for occupancy in 1978, a 20-year commitment to affordability expired in 1998. About 32,000 Mitchell-Lama apartments face a similar fate; 11 developments are currently in the process of buying out.

That developers can buy out of the program is not really the issue, advocates and tenants said. What is really at stake is what will happen to the rents. Rents will increase dramatically, perhaps four or five times the current rent, if developers are allowed to charge market rate rents. At the very least, tenants would like their apartments to become rent stabilized, with rent increases set by the Rent Guidelines Board and important tenant protections, like the right to lease renewals and sublets.

Running Out Of Rent Subsidies

For buildings built after 1973, some people have accepted that their rents will go to market rates. At the Lands End One development, that could be the case. Tenants might qualify for federal rent subsidies through Section 8 or Section 236 "enhanced vouchers." But federal assistance is facing radical cuts under current budget proposals from the Bush Administration. The vouchers would last only one year unless the money is increased.

The New York City Housing Authority recently confirmed that it has just 300 Section 8 vouchers left for 2004. These vouchers are reserved for the neediest cases - victims of domestic violence, intimidated witnesses and homeless families that have been separated. As more than 150,000 people who qualify for Section 8 assistance are currently on the waiting list, that is just one indication of how great the need for rental assistance is.

A spokesperson for Lands End Associates, which decided to buy out of Mitchell-Lama, said the company did not think it would lead to massive displacement of Lands End One tenants unable to afford higher market rents.

"Eighty-seven percent of tenants will qualify for the enhanced vouchers," said Devorah Fong. "For the remainder, (Lands End Associates) are sure they can make reasonable adjustments. They're willing to work with the residents."

Fong said she did not know the company's response to the possibility that enhanced vouchers might not be available due to budget cuts.

Will Ex Mitchell-Lama Apartments Become Rent Stabilized?

As February ended, an appellate court decision paved the way for one developer to charge market rents for apartments in three buildings on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. The ruling was significant because the buildings had been built before 1973. Until the ruling, the law seemed to indicate that pre-1973 buildings would become Rent Stabilized.

Carol Abrams, a spokesperson for Mayor Michael Bloomberg, said state legislation sponsored by the city, which would place into rent stabiliziation all apartments that have left the Mitchell-Lama program, would not be affected by the appellate court's decision. State legislators will begin discussing the legislation this month.

"The question is whether, after a buyout, an owner could apply to adjust the rent under the provision of rent stabilization that was the subject of this ruling," Abrams wrote in an email message in response to questions.

Victor Bach, senior housing policy analyst at the Community Service Society, said the city-sponsored legislation did not go far enough. As many as 36,000 apartments that were built with federal assistance through the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) also may be expiring, he said, destined for market rate rents.

"We are urging whatever the bill it should include HUD-subsidized developments," Bach said. "These are not officially Mitchell-Lama and are not covered in the mayor's bill. If they are not included then they will be lost."

Bach said that legislators need to understand that the loss of affordable housing provided by the programs would cause even greater problems for the city. City and state leaders need to be more assertive, he said: "I think the city and the state need to understand the dimensions of the crisis, the kind of the loss that will occur, the displacement, and how it will increase pressure on the homeless system."

Moskowitz said she was committed to preserving Mitchell-Lama.

"There's a lot of support on the council" for the two pieces of legislation to protect Mitchell-Lama. "A lot of us grew up middle class."

Lands End One tenants have responded, Richardson said, but it has not been without great effort.

"There's a lot of confusion," he said. "We've had to really scramble to get ourselves organized. We've been all about town to talk to various organizations. There's a lot to do in such a short time."

They are hoping to hold city leaders to the promises they have made.

"At least there are some politicians showing some concern for this issue," he said. "We just have to make them connect their words to action."

[i]Joe Lamport is the assistant director of the City-Wide Task Force on Housing Court, a coalition of community housing organizations.

April 5th, 2004, 12:29 AM
Affordable Housing in 2004 (http://www.gothamgazette.com/article/issueoftheweek/20040405/200/936)

April 28th, 2004, 02:01 PM
Housing for All (http://www.metropolismag.com/html/content_0404/pub/index.html)
A growing concern leads to a search for new ideas in the ways we live.

May 1st, 2004, 01:23 AM
May 2, 2004

Transforming City's Housing: Act 2


Morton Place in the Bronx, before (1992) and after (1999) construction took place through the new homes program of the New York City Housing Partnership.

212 West 140th Street in 1994 and in 1996 after renovation.

TWENTY-TWO years after New York City launched a federally financed $50 million plan to create 25,000 units of affordable housing, the program is winding down, successful beyond the imagination of even many of those involved. The stock of 10,000 buildings that formed the backbone of the plan — buildings seized by the city for tax delinquency — has been reduced to fewer than 800, and well over 200,000 housing units have been created or restored.

Now the city and the affordable housing community must struggle with the question of what's next. It is a problem at the core of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg's $3 billion New Housing Marketplace program to build or preserve 65,000 more homes and apartments over the next five years.

"There's no single answer, no silver bullet," said Shaun Donovan, the city's new commissioner of Housing Preservation and Development. "It's not just the dollars and the units, which are critically important. It's also about setting a framework for where the new pipeline for development is coming from."

The proposals and plans — some are already works in progress — include extensive rezoning of manufacturing and waterfront property for residential use, remediation of brownfield sites and building on vacant land that is either on city housing projects or adjacent to them. Other notions call for a shift from the construction of two- and three-family homes (a standard model for affordable housing) to higher-density co-ops or condominiums; teaching developers used to rehabilitating buildings how to perform ground-up construction; and retooling financing instruments to cover the cost of acquiring property, now that foreclosed properties are so scarce.

Already, Mr. Donovan said, "Just the rezonings currently on the boards will create room for thousands of new units."

The assumption that city initiatives can lead to the creation of large numbers of desirable homes for working-class people dates back, at least, to Jan. 14, 1982, when President Ronald Reagan, Mayor Edward I. Koch and 100 top business leaders, recruited by David Rockefeller, gathered at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel to announce the start of the New York City Housing Partnership. Over time, the partnership would be seen as a keystone in the creation of a structure by which major lenders, government subsidies, the expertise of local housing advocates and, increasingly, community-based developers would be harnessed to build homes for lower-income New Yorkers.

In the last 15 years alone, 212,000 new or rehabilitated homeownership and rental units — in broad swaths of full blocks and in-fill scatterings of two or three here, four to eight there — have infused new life and commerce into still-struggling communities.

Extensive Privatization
Areas Restored Via Foreclosures

The sites that have been rehabilitated were seized through a legal procedure known as "in rem foreclosure," and in the shorthand of the housing industry they are widely called in rem properties. ("In rem" is Latin for legal action taken "against the thing.") Since 1986, the city's inventory of in rem buildings has dropped by 92 percent and in rem units by 96 percent.

The transfer of those properties to for-profit and nonprofit developers, Commissioner Donovan said, "is quite simply the largest privatization of housing anywhere in the country."

And in a welcome offshoot of the process, a cadre of small community-based builders has seized the opportunity to reseed their old neighborhoods.

Ten years ago, Desmond Emanuel, president of Landmark Projects Inc., was a subcontractor doing the hammer-and-nail work assigned by established developers. "Then we got introduced to the partnership," he said. "They were interested in small contractors redeveloping communities they either lived in or were familiar with."

Mr. Emanuel grew up in a railroad flat with three brothers and seven sisters on Kelly Street in the Morrisania section of the Bronx. "I played stickball on the block," he said.

One of his first projects through the partnership was the development of 50 two-family homes around the corner from Kelly Street. "That was 1996," Mr. Emanuel said, "and at the time they sold for $147,000. Now they go for $300,000, minimum." Since then, his company has built 650 homes, mostly in the Bronx and Upper Manhattan.

The Housing Partnership is certainly not the only, and not even the first, of what are sometimes referred to as intermediaries — organizations bringing together public agencies and private lenders, developers and contractors. But its basic financial model of transferring title of city-held properties to local developers and organizations has become standard in the affordable housing sector.

"The city provides land that's been taken in rem and turns it over to the Housing Partnership for a minimum price," said Kathryn Wylde, a former president of the partnership — sometimes for as little as $1.

A developer designated by the partnership and the Department of Housing Preservation and Development then designs the site and secures a construction loan. The negligible cost of the land and public subsidies cover the difference between construction costs and the home's market price.

"Typically, the gap between what the market would bear and the house price was 20 percent," said Ms. Wylde, who is now president of the Housing Partnership's parent organization, the New York City Partnership, a leading business and civic group. "So if you built a home for $100,000, the most you could sell it for would be $80,000. And the public subsidy would make up the difference in the cost to the builder."

"In most of the neighborhoods where we built," she added, "this was the first private financing for residential construction in 50 years. It had all been public construction."

Over the years, that basic formula would transform dozens of neighborhoods. "It worked as well on Staten Island's north shore as it did in the South Bronx or central Brooklyn," Ms. Wylde said. "It received tremendous support from the City Council, the Legislature, governors and mayors."

Denise Scott, director of one of the original intermediary organizations, the Local Initiative Support Group, or LISC, is similarly impressed. "Koch created this affordable housing program, and it's actually continued with every mayor since," Ms. Scott said. "I don't think there's any other city that has invested as much in housing development as New York. And it's a credit to the city, phenomenal, in fact, that this kind of commitment has spanned many mayors, Democrat or Republican."

The New York office of LISC, an organization serving 35 cities nationwide, opened in 1979. And through its portfolio of 50 community development corporations, most not-for-profit, it has worked with the housing preservation department to rehabilitate 20,000 units in apartment buildings in central Brooklyn, the South Bronx and Harlem. At the same time, it has helped create about 1 million square feet of commercial and retail space in those communities.

Doing `Great Things'
Sick Blocks, Made Better

When Deborah Wright wants to remind herself of what is possible, she goes to 140th Street between Adam Clayton Powell and Frederick Douglass Boulevards in Harlem.

"It was dubbed the sickest block in the city," said Ms. Wright, who served as housing commissioner from 1994 to 1996 and is now president of the Carver Federal Savings Bank. "There was a two-page article in The Daily News and that was the headline, with a graphic showing the indices of distress: building code violations, sick children — it may have been TB — the percentage of people unemployed, drug incidents."

Back then the city owned all but three buildings on the block. "Most of the tenants weren't paying rent," Ms. Wright said, "and, in my view, appropriately so because our service was so poor. Many buildings didn't have front doors, certainly no operating intercoms; trash bags all around. It was the poster child for what was wrong with our policy of holding onto these buildings."

Eventually, through the Housing Partnership, the city handed over all its buildings to a combination of local private property managers and a nonprofit group, the Harlem Churches for Community Improvement. These days, the complete internal renovations of the fully occupied buildings, their stylish facades and canopies, their delicate detail work and the landscaped garden that once had been a garbage-strewn lot, offer a joyful contrast to the past.

"We brought together the city's most prominent banks and small local entrepreneurs, business people who were not typically on a first-name basis with major lenders," Ms. Wright said. "You get local actors in the same room with major private resources and government as a third partner, and great things happen."

Now, with the city's in rem stock largely dissipated, but its affordable development structure firmly in place, housing officials and advocates are examining a panoply of possibilities to continue their work.

Rafael Cestero, director of the New York office of the Enterprise Foundation, another leading intermediary, sees the need for a finely tuned piecemeal approach. "The tricky part of what's next is that the problem isn't so visible," Mr. Cestero said. "It's putting even more of an onus on us to hit all the nooks and crannies where poorly run property still exists."

The Enterprise Foundation, which opened its New York office in 1987, was the creation of the late James Rouse, a Baltimore developer of planned communities who, in his later years, turned toward producing homes for poor people. Enterprise has created 15,000 units in New York City.

"A major challenge," Mr. Cestero said, "is to purchase poorly run properties so they can be refinanced and rehabilitated as affordable projects. The idea is to work with financial institutions to develop early intervention strategies for acquiring properties facing foreclosure."

"If you get in early and work with the banks, you can save the cost and pain of foreclosure to the bank and, frankly, to the landlord," Mr. Cestero said. "You either work with the existing landlord who really wants to do a good job or with the bank to negotiate the purchase of the property prior to foreclosure."

"There are literally thousands of units like that around New York," he said.

Larger Scale Actions
Using Rezonings

And Other Means Commissioner Donovan is thinking on a larger scale. Under the mayor's housing plan, he said: "We have already, in partnership with City Planning, begun the most aggressive rezoning the city has ever seen." The process, so far, calls for a combination of upzonings — which increase density — and use changes for abandoned manufacturing sites in East Harlem, Park Slope, Morrisania and parts of Staten Island.

"We believe that just the rezonings recently completed or under way make room for between 30,000 and 50,000 new housing units," Mr. Donovan said. "And we will be looking at many more in coming years." Some sites, he said, will require varying degrees of environmental remediation.

At the same time, the commissioner continued, "We have already worked with the New York City Housing Authority to start revitalizing a number of their properties."

It is a notion that boggles the mind of Ms. Wright, the former housing commissioner. It speaks of "the remarkable success that the city, the private sector and the community groups had in revitalizing what were considered tough neighborhoods," she said.

"One constant in those neighborhoods is public housing," Ms. Wright said. "Thirty years ago, no one believed you could sell a brownstone for $1 million literally a block from public housing. Today, a $1 million brownstone in Harlem is unremarkable."

"Thirty years ago, nobody would have believed that land adjacent to Housing Authority property would be attractive for homeownership," she added. "The time is right to blow away that myth."

It could be co-ops or condominiums for lower-income people on those kinds of sites, said Naomi Bayer. Ms. Bayer is both director of the New York office of Fannie Mae, the mortgage-purchasing corporation, and chairwoman of the Housing Partnership.

"I think we're transitioning from the traditional two- and three-family homes that have been the model for the partnership over the past two decades into multifamily homeownership options like condominiums and cooperatives," Ms. Bayer said.

Two- and three-family homes have been the bellwether of the affordable housing movement because they allow the home buyer to use the rental income from the other units to help pay the mortgage. "Condos and co-ops provide the opportunity for more units on a single site," Ms. Bayer said. "Each buyer would benefit. So if it's a 200-unit property, there's 200 new homeowners on that site. And there would be a similar subsidy model to what has been used on the two- and three-unit properties."

Whatever the complex formula, no one expects it to fully solve the city's chronic housing squeeze. From 1990 to 2002, according to City Planning Department statistics, the number of newly built units increased by 123,200. Over the same period, however, census data indicates, the city added more than 154,000 households.

At the same time, according to the 2002 New York City Housing and Vacancy Survey, 22.7 percent of all renters, or 460,000 households, pay more than half their income in rent, and 14.3 percent of all homeowners, or 143,000 households, pay more than 60 percent of their income for housing.

It took a lot for Carmen Liburd, 46, to afford her dream.

Ms. Liburd, a single mother of two daughters, worked day and night — as a teacher's aide and caring for children with cerebral palsy — scraping together the $20,000 down payment on a two-family partnership-built home on South Road in Jamaica, Queens. "It ended up being my birthday present," she said. "We closed two days before my birthday." That was in 1998.

While renting in the area, Ms. Liburd said, "I saw the houses building up."

"So," she said, "I did the Joshua walk, like in the Bible when he walked around the walls of Jericho. I put down some footsteps. That's how I claimed that one day I would own one of these properties."

Ms. Liburd is from the tiny Caribbean island of Nevis where "people usually don't pay rent," she said. "They stay home with their family and save up to buy, even if it's just a two-room house. That was the mentality, save to get your own."

Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

May 4th, 2004, 12:06 AM
May 4, 2004

Housing Subsidies for the Poor Threatened by Cuts in U.S. Aid


New York City is facing a shortfall of at least $55.5 million in federal housing subsidies this year because of a recent regulatory change affecting the government's primary housing program for poor Americans.

The change, retroactive to January, stems from an effort by the Bush administration to control spiraling housing costs. In the past, the federal government paid the full cost of the 1.9 million rent vouchers given to poor tenants nationwide to help them pay for housing under the Section 8 program. But on April 22, the Department of Housing and Urban Development told housing agencies that it would pay only the cost of a voucher as of last August, plus an inflation adjustment.

The change could affect more than 900 of the nation's 2,500 public housing agencies, particularly those in cities where rent increases outpace inflation, according to the National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials. New York City housing officials say that historically, the local cost of providing vouchers has gone up faster than inflation.

The total national shortfall could be hundreds of millions of dollars for the current fiscal year, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal Washington research group. That shortfall, in turn, may force housing agencies to freeze the number of vouchers, demand more money from tenants or do something that has never happened in Section 8's three-decade history: evict tenants from federally subsidized housing because of insufficient funding.

No city has more at stake in the ruling than New York, which issues more than 118,000 rent vouchers a year, far more than any other city. While city officials are cautiously optimistic that they can work with HUD to avoid any evictions, they acknowledge that several thousand tenants with vouchers appear to be in a far more precarious position today than they were a few weeks ago.

To underscore their concern, the city's commissioner of Housing Preservation and Development, Shaun Donovan, and other top housing officials lobbied HUD officials in Washington last week. Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton wrote a letter on Friday to Alphonso R. Jackson, the secretary of housing, warning that the new formula would "undermine the legitimacy of the Section 8 voucher program" and leave many New Yorkers without housing.

"This formula falls well short of the actual cost of vouchers in 2004 for many housing agencies in New York, and will leave our most vulnerable residents without critical housing assistance at a time when the economy is uncertain at best," wrote Mrs. Clinton, who is a Democrat.

A bipartisan coalition of lawmakers from several other states, as well as the governors of Massachusetts and Minnesota, both Republicans, have written their own letters to HUD expressing similar worries.

In response, the agency's assistant secretary for public and Indian housing, Michael Liu, said in a conference call with reporters last week that the department was merely complying with Congress's desire in its own 2004 appropriations bill to contain the voucher program, which constitutes more than half of HUD's total budget.

"The law is the law," he said.

But others, while agreeing with the need to cap costs, have criticized the agency methods. Chief among them are Governors Mitt Romney of Massachusetts and Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota, two first-term Republicans.

"Unless the federal government remains a strong partner, our mutual goal to end long-term homelessness and satisfy other critical housing needs will be at risk," Governor Pawlenty wrote in a letter on Wednesday to HUD, warning that 2,000 families may lose their rental assistance as early as June.

In Fargo, N.D., housing officials are reluctantly asking tenants to contribute about $30 more per month to their rent, which now averages about $575 a month for a two-bedroom apartment. Otherwise, officials will have to stop giving vouchers to 46 of 1,100 families in the program, said Lynn O. Fundingsland, executive director of the Fargo Housing and Redevelopment Authority.

Last week, Massachusetts housing officials were on the verge of mailing out termination notices to about 650 tenants because of a gap of $550,000. But state and federal officials struck a deal to intervene and were working to come up with a solution.

Any local housing agency that believes it deserves more money has until July 15 to make its case, Mr. Liu said. In a subsequent interview, he said that HUD would work hard to help. "There will be dollars available to deal with needed adjustments in individual housing authorities," he said.

Mr. Liu also suggested that some doomsday predictions were exaggerated, and might be the result of inefficient local management. For example, he said that reported shortfalls in Los Angeles and Boston were largely plugged after HUD scrutinized the books.

"There are an array of tools, management tools, that housing authorities can employ to manage their costs," he said.

The debate stoked by the rule change illustrates a broader war of ideas over the Bush administration's determination to revamp the voucher program by employing market principles and fiscal discipline reminiscent of the welfare overhaul of the 1990's.

Last year, the administration tried unsuccessfully to turn Section 8 into a block grant program for state governments, using a complicated formula to determine aid instead of basing it purely on the number of needy people. The attempt was turned back by Congress.

Now, with this administrative ruling, HUD has infuriated lawmakers and housing groups who say the agency's actions could undermine confidence in the program among tenants, landlords and lenders who finance low-income housing.

"This is a cataclysmic failure of the federal government to keep the public trust," Sheila Crowley, president of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, an advocacy group, said last week in a statement that also announced a rally outside HUD's headquarters in Washington.

Section 8 has long been popular with elected officials, private landlords and financial institutions because it steered the government away from public housing developments and toward the private marketplace. The program enables poor, disabled or elderly tenants to receive vouchers from a local housing agency and redeem them with any private landlord who is amenable. Tenants pay 30 percent of their income in rent, while the vouchers pay the rest, up to a limit set by the federal government, depending on the local market.

The New York City Housing Authority provides 90,000 vouchers, or about three-quarters of the total in the city. About 83 percent of the authority's voucher recipients have incomes of less than $16,320. The median contribution from tenants with vouchers from the authority is $216 per month; the median payment to landlords is $670. Other vouchers are issued by the city's Department of Housing Preservation and Development and the New York State Division of Housing and Community Renewal.

In the last three years, the Section 8 budget nationwide has ballooned by 27 percent, said Representative James T. Walsh, a Republican of Syracuse, who is chairman of the House subcommittee that controls spending on housing. The situation has been most acute in places where the real estate market has been tight.

At the same time, Mr. Liu said, too many housing authorities have become so accustomed to HUD's carte blanche approval of Section 8 costs that they have not performed with maximum efficiency. If the current system continues, he said, HUD will face a $191 million deficit.

Mr. Liu acknowledged that some agencies would find the budget limits a "challenge." But he expressed confidence that local authorities would soon adjust, because "those who have worked with the program for years are used to change."

Representative Walsh agreed. "I think we have treated Section 8 very well," he said. "They got a 14 percent increase in '04. Given the federal budget, I can't think of anyone else who's gotten that kind of an increase."

In New York, meanwhile, city and federal officials have been scrambling to register their objections and plead their case with HUD. City officials said they understood the budgetary reasons behind the agency's decision, but they questioned whether Washington understood the human implications of its decision.

"The thing that's most clear is that the world has changed in Section 8, and I understand why," said Douglas Apple, the city Housing Authority's general manager. "But we're hopeful HUD will understand. I don't believe it's HUD's intention to force people out of housing."

Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

May 8th, 2004, 09:15 AM
May 8, 2004

A Rent-Free Place, if You Can Find a Spot to Park



Let other people moan and groan about sky-high rents and real estate in New York City. Jimmy Hines, 50, has found a solution: living rent-free in an R.V.

"It's my apartment on wheels," he said, leaning back this week in his faded 27-foot Gulfstream Sun Sport camper that was sitting on a fairly busy Queens street, wedged next to the curb in a line of parked cars.

Last fall, Mr. Hines gave notice on the Queens apartment he was renting and bought a camper with his savings. It is his sixth month living curbside in the camper, and he swears he will never have a landlord again.

Mr. Hines is no skylarking eccentric looking to prove a point about human self-sufficiency. He is rather a man pushed to an extreme situation by extreme circumstances: the New York City housing market.

He parked the rig on a busy stretch of Main Street south of the Long Island Expressway, on the edge of a commercial strip in an Orthodox section of Kew Gardens Hills, where streets are lined with kosher food shops and boxy brick houses.

Stepping out his front door to the sidewalk, he faces a cemetery. To the right is a bus stop and to the left a gas station. In accordance with city parking regulations, he moves the vehicle at 7 a.m. on Mondays for one half-hour, for street cleaning.

Mr. Hines said he was paying $900 a month for an apartment on Kissena Boulevard. He had recently lost his job as a vending machine repairman and was receiving a $150 weekly unemployment check.

"I started really thinking about what they're getting for an apartment in the city these days and I figured: `Why should I keep paying rent? It's crazy,' " he said.

So Mr. Hines took most of his savings and bought the 1987 Sun Sport for $6,000. He began living in the camper in December. Rather than ramble to less expensive areas, Mr. Hines wanted to stay in Queens, where he was born and raised and still near his friends.

"It was the wisest thing to do, considering my conditions," he said, stretching out in the camper on a smallish bed that barely accommodates his 6-foot frame.

The place rivals some Manhattan studio apartments. Mr. Hines, who is single, keeps the place like a typical bachelor pad. There are dishes in the sink, overflowing ashtrays and a picture of his first hot rod. Traffic whooshes by, several feet from his window. He keeps his shades down for privacy.

"Don't mind the place, it's a bit of a mess," he said, showing a visitor around on Thursday. The inside of the R.V. has shag carpet, simulated wood paneling and floral-patterned wallpaper. There is a comfortable couch, and some swivel seats next to a smallish table. In the rear, past the bathroom, refrigerator and closets, is a small bedroom with twin beds.

His kitchen console includes a four-range stove, oven and refrigerator, all powered by propane. A gas-powered generator provides electricity and heat. Mr. Hines also keeps perishables in a plastic cooler, replenished daily with store-bought ice.

His portable toilet deposits the waste in plastic bags, which he puts in street trash cans. For water, he fills up large jugs at a gas station. Without a water hookup, he takes showers at a friend's or at the gym at Queens College. His mail is sent to a friend's house.

After paying $500 a year for auto insurance, camper living is incredibly inexpensive, Mr. Hines said. Except for extreme hot or cold weather, he pays about $10 a week for propane, for which he must drive the camper to Nassau County for refills. He pays $25 a week in gasoline for the generator.

He spends $7 a day on cigarettes, $4 on coffee and the rest on food.

"I make a mean chicken cordon bleu in that oven," he said. "I don't even have an excuse to eat out."

He has a 9-inch color television with a built-in DVD player for movie rentals. He is set to buy a satellite dish for more channels.

"It's got everything my apartment had, except space," he said. "But who has a lot of space in New York?"

He holds regular poker games with his friends and has even taken a date back to the camper.

"The guys like coming here to get away from their old ladies," he said, adding that they debate what is crazier: living as an urban camper, or a lifetime of indentured servitude to a mortgage?

"A lot of my friends have kids and bills and they're all bald," Mr. Hines said. "Me, I'm not living large, but life is still good. I'm living on my own terms. I have an apartment on wheels. I can pick up and go whenever and wherever I want."

Mr. Hines grew up in Flushing. His camper is parked near John Bowne High School, which he attended. Mr. Hines calls himself "a product of the 60's" and wears his hair in a ponytail, his head wrapped in an American flag bandanna.

The high cost of housing has forced people in Manhattan to go home to the Midwest and other locales, and some with fewer resources go homeless. But for a man from Queens with meager means and a few friends, living in camper just made sense.

There is a steady stream of people on the sidewalk who pass his camper and another, larger R.V. that Mr. Hines said was owned and parked nearby by a local homeowner. But few take notice, even when Mr. Hines is standing in his doorway sipping his coffee.

No one has tried to intrude on his domain, he said. A police officer did drop by a week ago, he said, to say that there had been a complaint about the noise from the generator, but Mr. Hines said he was not bothered.

"I think he just wanted to check me out," said Mr. Hines, who says his living situation is totally legal.

Is it? A half-dozen city agencies could not answer the question. A spokeswoman for the Department of Buildings said it had no jurisdiction. ("It's not hooked up to any utilities, so it doesn't seem like a dwelling.")

But Keith Kalb, a spokesman for the city's Department of Transportation, said that traffic rules prohibit keeping boat trailers, mobile homes and mobile medical diagnostic vehicles on city streets for more than 24 hours at a time, although the regulations are usually enforced only in response to complaints.

Several merchants in the area said Mr. Hines had done very little to attract attention in the past five months, so they gave little thought to why the camper was even there.

David Fisher, 79, a retired auditor who lives nearby, walked by the camper on Thursday. He did a double-take at Mr. Hines in the doorway.

"I see him here all the time, and I wondered if it's legal to live in that thing," Mr. Fisher said. "It takes up parking space and is a bit of an eyesore, but if the man needs it, I guess it's necessary."

He added: "It's a unique solution. I wish him luck."

Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

May 10th, 2004, 02:36 AM
May 10, 2004

Killing Off Housing for the Poor

The Bush administration's tax cuts for the well-to-do have taken a heavy toll on the nation's most important social programs for the poor and working class. Prominent casualties include child care assistance for working mothers and federal aid for needy college students. The latest victim appears to be Section 8, the government's main housing program for the poor. The program provides rent subsidies for two million of the country's most vulnerable families and encourages private developers to build affordable housing.

Section 8 subsidies go primarily to families that live at or below the poverty level, in households that include children, disabled people or the elderly. These families pay 30 percent of their incomes toward rent and the Section 8 vouchers pay the rest. Some cities give priority to battered women, many of them with children, who have to find a new place to live to escape danger. The need is so great that families often wait years for vouchers, which become available when voucher holders die or become ineligible after getting better jobs.

Congress rejected an administration proposal that would have placed a financing cap on the program and turned the money over to the states. But the administration's assault continues, through the appropriations process in the House and through administrative rulings at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which has been trying to put the brakes on the voucher program. Last month, the department issued new guidelines to the country's 2,500 public housing agencies declaring that it would no longer pay the full cost of the vouchers but would cap the federal contribution at the level of August 2003, adding an adjustment for inflation.

This has already caused some private builders and financiers to back away from projects that would have produced desperately needed affordable housing. In addition, public housing officials in many states have made it clear that the new policies will force them to raise rents or evict tenants. Having paid lip service to the goal of ending chronic homelessness, the Bush administration is now threatening to kill off the only program that could possibly achieve it.

Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

May 10th, 2004, 08:24 AM
Gotham Gazette - http://www.gothamgazette.com/article/housing/20040510/10/971

Back To The Fore?

by Joe Lamport

May 05, 2004

The City Council recently held what for them was a first, an awards ceremony honoring six people for their work in affordable housing.

Did all the effort and expense for the ceremony – Council chambers filled with friends and family, an elaborate buffet, an appearance by Speaker Gifford Miller – mean anything more than just another event at City Hall?

Yes, insisted Councilmember Gale Brewer afterward: Housing, she believes, is back as a potent political issue.

The competition for attention is stiff. In one poll, New Yorkers ranked the economy, the city budget, and terrorism as the most important problems. Only two percent put housing first. But that poll, by Quinnipiac College, was conducted more than a year ago. Ask local officials now about constituent calls, and the answer is different:

“Housing is the number one problem in my district without a question,” said Councilmember Robert Jackson of Harlem in a recent interview. “I see it every day. Rents are going up so high and people are being evicted.”

Councilmember Letitia James of Brooklyn said she was getting “three or four” calls a day from people with housing problems, and helping landlords and tenants reach agreements that do not involve actual eviction.

There are also about a dozen council resolutions concerning housing issues pending now. In the city budget, the council has proposed using money from a commuter tax to finance affordable housing construction. At the state level, Vito Lopez, chairman of the Assembly’s Housing Committee said there are probably “10 percent” more bills about housing this year than last.

People are paying more attention not just because rents are going up, but also because

• A new commissioner of the city’s housing department has taken over;
• Cuts to the federal Section 8 program that could increase the number of homeless people are going into effect.
• The probable loss of more Mitchell-Lama apartments is uniting tenants.

The attention will only intensify in coming weeks. On May 13, two events will bring out hundreds, perhaps thousands of tenants: a rally to compel City Council members to adopt a bill to enable tenants to obtain roof-to-cellar inspections of their buildings and an overnight vigil at City Hall Park that begins at 2 p.m. At the same time, the Rent Guidelines Board is continuing hearings to determine whether and how much to raise rents on rent stabilized apartments.

But outside of the city, housing is not as potent an issue.

“I don’t hear much about housing,” said Erik Kriss, who covers Albany for the Syracuse Post Standard. “It’s not a steady issue.”

In his January 20th budget address, Governor George Pataki mentioned housing only once; in his State of the State address two weeks earlier, he had not mentioned housing at all.

State Senator John Bonacic, chair of the senate housing committee, said housing was important but simply a victim of a full agenda in the legislature that is dominated by education, health care and homeland security.

“You won’t find one person who will not say affordable housing is not important because it is,” said Bonacic, a Republican. “It goes hand in hand with economic development, to take care of the economic engine. And there is a critical need for affordable housing, especially for the mid-Hudson to the city, Long Island and Hudson. In terms of a political issue, I don’t think it’s a high political issue.”

A spokesman for Senator Joseph Bruno, majority leader of the State Senate, said housing did not stick out as an issue because the primary solutions to housing problems rest with the private sector, not the government.

“We prefer to see things that can be done to encourage competition through the strength of the market to encourage construction of housing, rather than the government just coming in and building homes or units,” said Marc Hansen, from Bruno’s office.

Michael McKee, associate director of New York State Tenants and Neighbors, a statewide housing advocacy organization, said attention to housing outside of the city was virtually nonexistent.

“I don’t think any of the players in Albany are paying attention to housing, affordable housing or any tenant protection program,” McKee said.

Assembly Member Lopez begged to differ.

“There is definitely more chatter,” Lopez said. “There is more attention because there is a serious housing crisis.”

Lopez said he expected the Assembly this year to commit $70 to $90 million for construction of affordable housing in the state budget. But that is far short of what is needed, affordable housing developers and advocates have said. In contrast, the mayor’s plan will spend about $3 billion on the preservation and construction of 65,000 affordable housing units through 2008 – and that is short of what is needed, too, experts have said.

This difference in how much attention housing gets in the city and in Albany is not lost on housing advocates. They are planning to apply more pressure on politicians to make housing a priority, particularly by rolling back luxury decontrol, which is part of the rent regulation laws renewed last year.

Luxury decontrol, which allows landlords to deregulate apartments that reach $2,000 monthly rent vacant or when the rent is $2,000 or higher and the household income is greater than $175,000 for two years consecutively, has been blamed for the loss of as many as 100,000 rent stabilized apartments.

Although Republicans in the legislature vocally oppose rent regulation, McKee said advocates are not targeting them alone. Democrats who have failed to win political battles for tenants are being targeted, too, he said. Tenants and Neighbors organized a rally outside of Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s office on a recent weekend.

The Democrats’ “whole response is, ‘what do you expect us to do?’” McKee said. “It’s pretty pathetic…. Well, we expect you to play hardball.”

Acknowledging that making housing a potent issue in Albany would be difficult, McKee said the recent rally was just the beginning of putting pressure on state politicians.

“Normally, the legislature never deals with rent regulation unless it’s a sunset year,” he said. “They’re not going to want to do it. They’re not going to do it unless there is an enormous effort by tenants and advocates.”

Joe Lamport is the assistant director of the City-Wide Task Force on Housing Court, a coalition of community housing organizations.

May 15th, 2004, 05:42 AM
May 16, 2004

Steady Focus, Evolving Vision


Monte Hinds and Dorine Clark talk at Nehemiah homes built in 1990.

A rendering of a design for the next phase.

IT was closing day, once again, at Nehemiah Housing as 13 quietly anxious families passed through an assembly line of folding tables, document checks and seemingly endless signatures in the living room and basement of a model row house on Hinsdale Street in the East New York section of Brooklyn.

At the crowded but never chaotic scene unfolded 10 days ago, buyers took title to some of the last of 2,900 low-cost homes built in Brooklyn by Nehemiah, a housing program that grew out of a church-based organizing movement and brought several troubled neighborhoods back to life.

Now as Nehemiah looks to the future, it is remaining remarkably true to its vision, but changing with the times as well. It will soon begin construction on a new round of row houses that are larger, more urban in feeling and more architecturally ambitious than earlier models, but will still be among the lowest-cost houses in the city.

Five blocks away from the closing, on Williams Avenue, a row of 18-foot-wide houses of brick and aluminum siding silently awaited as the 13 families went through the final paperwork. Workers from Monadnock Builders meandered across the freshly sodded front lawns, resetting door locks, gathering stray trash and going through a final punch list of things to do.

There, at No. 674, was the new home of Pamela D. King and her 16-year-old daughter, Tiffany. Ms. King, a welfare supervisor, was so nervous about the closing that as she packed up the night before, she accidentally threw out the purchase checks. She found them after dumping all the trash on the kitchen floor.

No. 680 was ready for Basil A. Clarke, an auditor with the Department of Education's food service division, and his wife, Hazel, a school cafeteria worker. Waiting for a seat at the title company table, Mr. Clarke said he could think only of finally escaping the drumbeat of noisy feet on the ceiling of his current fifth-floor apartment in East Flatbush.

Pelham C. Van Cooten Jr., a programmer at the Department of Education, was looking forward to moving his wife and three children to No. 684. He could not help grinning from ear to ear as he waited with his attorney, Howard Chu, a lawyer from his union, District Council 37. He had kept the closing a secret at work and in his family, and was looking forward to surprising his parents and co-workers with the news that he finally owned his own home after three years of waiting.

Each house has three bedrooms, a backyard and 1,300 square feet of living space, and was about to be sold for about $85,000 plus a $20,000 city subsidy that will eventually have to be repaid. The sale price is a small fraction of the market value, even on the outer reaches of Brooklyn in East New York, where after decades of abandonment and decline, property values have soared in the last few years. Each new house was sold at cost, through a lottery, to a first-time home buyer, one with an income as low as $26,000.

The houses on Williams Avenue that were sold at the closing 10 days ago, were among the last of a batch of 700 homes built on what had been an abandoned wasteland west of Pennsylvania Avenue in East New York by Nehemiah, a housing program dating back to the 1980's that grew out of a church-based community organizing movement. To date, Nehemiah has built 2,900 houses in Brooklyn and has helped to develop 1,000 more in the South Bronx.

Nehemiah and its parent organization, East Brooklyn Congregations, have been widely credited with restoring the economic and social stability of East New York and Brownsville, at a time when no one else would consider building there. Now private developers vie for small building sites once passed over by Nehemiah and put up market-rate houses without subsidies — and at a profit.

As it completes its third wave of housing construction, Nehemiah has remained remarkably true to the vision that led it to press City Hall to provide vacant, and all but worthless, city land for large swaths of small single-family houses, mass produced in Levittown fashion, without profit, so cheaply that even low-paid neighborhood people could afford them.

But Nehemiah's vision is shifting with the times. Its houses are becoming more spacious, and emboldened by its successes, Nehemiah is broadening its approach and ambitions even as the church and community leaders say they are also remaining true to their original mission, empowering people in the neighborhood to control their own destinies.

Although the group once tenaciously clung to the notion that home ownership itself, in the form of single-family homes, had a redemptive power that could transform a community, it is now planning a new development in Spring Creek, on the edge of East New York, that will include two- and three-family town houses as well. The new development, built on landfill, will include 843 homes that will be wider, at 20 feet, and larger and roomer than earlier models.

Forsaken Areas
From Empty Lots to Rows of Houses

The first houses built by Nehemiah were austere, with plain brick fronts and small windows, designed by architects hired directly by the contractors. Cars were parked in front yards so owners could keep an eye on them.

In contrast, for its next phase Nehemiah has hired its own architect, Alexander Gorlin, who has put together a sharply different vision for the new neighborhood. The facades have been redrawn with a new look of brick and colored panels that will vary from house to house. Front stoops are back, with cars relegated to rear yards. Still, as the ambitious project moves forward, the stress remains on keeping costs low.

Nehemiah has moved from simple awe over the miracle of building anything at all, let alone blocks and blocks of houses in a neighborhood all but forsaken by the city government and the private market, to the hiring of Mr. Gorlin, who has written a book on the history of the town house and has designed luxury town houses and is designing an apartment for Daniel Libeskind, the master planner of the World Trade Center site. He talks about the new development as an exemplar of the "the new urbanism" and celebrates the return of the classic New York front stoop.

"We were very careful to create a sense of identity for each house so they blend together," Mr. Gorlin said of the evolving designs for the next Nehemiah homes. "The sense of color enlivens the street and makes it more cheerful."

As vacant land in Brooklyn becomes scarce and expensive, Nehemiah is already planning several projects in which it will build low-cost midrise, four- to six-story, apartment houses on scattered vacant lots that will be operated as below-market-rate rental apartments.

"When we started here, there was nothing but empty lots — we are talking about total devastation," said Msgr. John Peyton of St. Rita Roman Catholic Church on Shepherd Avenue in East New York, co-chairman of East Brooklyn Congregations. "We developed a community that supported itself and all that was around it. The mission has never changed; the mission is about people, the process was housing."

Over the last two decades, the city has seen the resurgence of entire neighborhoods, as thousands of city-owned properties have been restored or rebuilt, creating or fixing 200,000 homes, according to city officials, making the devastation of the past a distant memory.

Church-Based Group
A Plan to Revive Dying Areas

The story of Nehemiah begins just beyond this horizon, before this resurgence began, as church leaders, struggling to find ways of stabilizing Brownsville and East New York, banded together and adopted the organizing techniques of Saul Alinsky, the legendary Chicago community organizer.

East New York, an immigrant working-class neighborhood with a mix of wood-frame houses and brick apartment buildings, had gone through a period of steep decline — white flight, followed by housing abandonment, followed by arson fires that destroyed what was left on many blocks. In 1970 to 1980 East New York lost one out of six residents and 5,000 households, according to census figures compiled by the Department of City Planning. As organizers held a series of meetings across the neighborhood, they found that housing was the most pressing priority after crime.

In early 1980's the group began working with I. D. Robbins, a builder and civic reformer who had advocated building very-low-cost row houses, affordable to families with modest incomes. With the help of church leaders — and a promise of construction funds from Catholic, Lutheran, Baptist and Episcopal church groups — the group began pressing Mayor Edward I. Koch for land to support the plan.

Nehemiah, now formally known as the Nehemiah Housing Development Fund Corporation, was born. It was named for the Old Testament prophet who called for a new Jerusalem to be built on the site of the old. The group sold their first homes in Brownsville in 1984, for $39,500. Construction in East New York began in 1987.

Nehemiah's Vision
First-Time Buyers in Low-Cost Homes

From the first, Nehemiah had a distinctive development strategy. It sought to build only single-family row homes to create a sense of neighborhood ownership. It built in large batches, using a single developer, to cut costs to the bone — pouring a single foundation for an entire block, for example. By building on large sites, the group hoped to create a critical mass of homeowners large enough to change the character and culture of an area.

And while other groups were scrambling for federal grants and local subsidies, Nehemiah rejected outright government handouts as a matter of principle and insisted that any subsidies be in the form of loans. Prices were kept low and profit eliminated.

While other groups look to provide housing for a mix of income groups in a neighborhood, Nehemiah was content to provide the lowest-price housing it could for first-time home buyers, according to Michael Gecan, a senior organizer with the Metro Industrial Areas Foundation, who began working with the East Brooklyn churches in 1980.

"We believe that the highest value is creating ownership at the starter level," he said. "That is exactly the place where there has been less of a commitment in a lot of new construction."

This is in sharp contrast to the New York City Housing Partnership, which has sponsored more than 18,000 subsidized houses since it was established in the early 1980's. Kathryn S. Wylde, who ran the housing partnership program for many years, said it was designed to create a housing market and attract private builders and private investment in neighborhoods that had been ignored for 50 years.

Under the program, builders received subsidies and low-cost land, in exchange for limited returns. Ms. Wylde is now president of the housing partnership's parent organization, the Partnership for New York City. New two-family houses built under the program sell for $270,000 to $360,000, city officials say.

Shawn Donovan, the new commissioner of the city's Department of Housing Preservation and Development, did a study comparing the two programs while at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. He said that while Nehemiah set a goal of empowering the community through home ownership, the partnership set a goal of developing and empowering a new generation of home builders.

"The means to the end was home ownership," he said. "The ends were quite different."

But for Nehemiah homeowners, the decision to take a chance on East New York was sometimes a difficult one.

It was with some trepidation that Robert James, a project manager with I.B.M., paid $71,000 in 1990 for a 1,100-square-foot house on Barbey Street in the first round of Nehemiah houses built in East New York. He had visited the area in the past and remembered being intimidated by the vagrants, drug addicts and others hanging around abandoned buildings in the area. "All of that stuff kind of disappeared," once the houses started going up, he said.

And his house and block have changed, too, since he moved in. On a block once spare and plain, neighbors have put up fences of iron or brick, sometimes with pillars topped with pyramids, pineapples or lions. Front porches and colorful verandas appeared. He and his neighbors joined together to build rear fences, one house each weekend. Vinyl floors were replaced with marble.

Some homeowners created extravagantly verdant gardens in their front yards. And in the last few years, as a testament to the neighborhood's success, a farmer's market opened nearby.

At the time he bought the house, Mr. James said, he was earning only $40,000 and could not afford to buy a home any other way. Now he said, while his income is higher, houses in his neighborhood are selling for well over $200,000 a year, threefold what he paid.

Without Subsidies
Private Developers Fill In the Gaps

Mr. James noticed something else. After Nehemiah built its houses, there were still vacant lots dotting the neighborhood. "All those gaps were filled in by privately built housing," he said.

Drew F. Bizzocco, a Brooklyn chiropractor, and his three partners, all old friends, are now filling one of those gaps in East New York. Last May, their company, Babe Builders, paid $468,000 for a large lot on Wyona Street near Livonia Avenue with a vacant pallet factory, which they knocked down. They are now pouring footings for five two-family houses that they plan to build and sell without subsidies.

Although construction is just beginning, Mr. Bizzocco said, the partners have had so many inquiries about the houses that they had to rush to print up a sales brochure. They are asking $449,000 for a house of about 3,000 square feet, about 30 percent more than they expected to get when they made the purchase. "It's our first project," he said, "but we are planning others."

The signs of resurgence appear all across the area. There are construction Dumpsters in front of wood-frame houses that have not been painted in many years, and just down the street from the new houses on Williams Avenue, workmen were renovating an apartment atop a bodega that had been vacant for years.

Jack Perlamuter, the founder of Quality Home Sales on Flatbush Avenue, said that the price of vacant lots has soared since the Bizzocco group made its purchase, and home prices have risen too. He attributed much of the increase to the spillover effect of higher prices in other Brooklyn neighborhoods, like Bedford-Stuyvesant, where two-family homes that cost $350,000 two years ago now go for $550,000.

"People are moving to East New York and Brownsville because prices are so high in Bedford-Stuyvesant," he said. "There really aren't bad neighborhoods in Brooklyn these days. All of the so-called bad neighborhoods have turned around."

The Next Step
Plans to Create a Neighborhood

All these changes in the neighborhood are echoed in the design of Nehemiah's next project, 843 houses that will be built next to a new shopping mall, the Gateway Center, which was opened by the Related Companies in October 2002.

Ronald Waters, the general manager of Nehemiah, said that for the first time Nehemiah was building an entire neighborhood from scratch with a goal of creating a place that would be both affordable and distinctive. "We wanted something that would be eye pleasing and make this community noteworthy," he said. "We have to do value engineering to keep the costs down."

Mr. Waters, who grew up in East New York half a century ago, was the project manager for the engineering firm that designed and supervised the construction of the Parliament House in Canberra, Australia. He said he took on the challenge of Nehemiah after his retirement and return to the metropolitan area to "give something back" to the community.

The Bloomberg administration is about to begin infrastructure work on the site, putting in sewers, water and gas lines and roads for the first phase of the project, with construction to begin later this year, perhaps as early as September. Prices are expected to range from $125,000 for a single-family home to $200,000 for a two-family and $300,000 for a small number of three-family houses.

The new houses will be two or three stories tall, 20 feet wide, rather than 18, in order to make the bedrooms wider, and will be 1,600 square feet. But because the houses are being built on pilings, there will be no basement. Instead, a large attic area will provide storage space.

The final designs will be set after construction bids are opened this month. "We had to be very careful about making everything economical and making use of every inch of space," said Mr. Gorlin, the architect.

For many of the new owners, the neat, identical 18-foot wide houses on Williams Avenue were a dream come true. At the closing 10 days ago, Ms. King clutched a handful of checks, for legal fees, taxes, insurance and so on — payments totaling about $12,000, including a $5,000 down payment.

The total cost of the house was $105,000, but $20,000 provided by the city was recorded as a lien against the property, to be repaid, without interest, when the house is sold.

Henry Camuso, a lawyer for Nehemiah, sat at one table, reviewing and signing documents. At the next table, Ms. King met with representatives of the M & T Mortgage Corporation and signed her agreement for a mortgage subsidized by New York State, with 4 1/2 percent interest and no extra points (points are advance payments equal to a percentage of the mortgage). Then, it was on to Home Abstract, a title company, which took the proceeds of the $80,000 mortgage and turned it over to the Community Preservation Corporation, a not-for-profit group that provided construction financing.

Ms. King's new payments for mortgage, taxes and insurance total $453 a month, less than the $550 she had been paying for a one-bedroom apartment in the basement of a house, where she lived for 13 years.

Her new neighbor, Mr. Clarke, would have even larger savings, since his rent was already $841 a month and rising. "More grass, more privacy, less money," is how he summed it up.

At another table she met with a representative of Allstate, the company providing homeowner's insurance, and a salesman for a security company that had installed window and door gates.

At a final table Fiordaliza Nunez, the closing manager for Nehemiah, handed her a a thick envelope and lectured the new homeowners on the nuts and bolts of owning a home, covering matters like appliance warranties and operating the water heater and boiler. Inside the envelope Ms. King found another tiny envelope with the keys to her new house.

In the blur of excitement on the way out, she stopped at the staircase and stood with her daughter. They clutched the new key in their hands, and Linda Dobson, a Nehemiah staff member, snapped a Polaroid picture that will be hung on the wall of photos at the office, along with hundreds of photos of her new neighbors.

Then it was out into the bright sun, for a short drive to their new home, and the slight bump as they pulled up on their new driveway. Ms. King put the key in the door and stepped into the thick gray carpeting in her new living room and took a deep breath.

A friend from the neighborhood pulled up in front of the house with a van full of supplies. There were paint cans, with glossy paint to replace the builder's flat off-white; tarps; blinds; a carton with a bedroom set; and even a green garden hose to water the grass.

Two days later, the paint was dry and they moved in.

Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

May 22nd, 2004, 06:44 AM
May 22, 2004

Affordable Housing in Crisis

House Republicans who authorized cuts in federal housing subsidies for the poor are now fuming over the bad publicity about the cuts. It's strange that anyone was surprised at the negative reaction. The cuts place tenants in some cities at risk of losing subsidized housing, and financial institutions are beginning to express doubts about continuing to participate in the kinds of development projects that have built much of the nation's affordable housing.

If the lawmakers really regret the damage they have done, there is still time for them to undo it. The recent promise by the Department of Housing and Urban Development to shovel an extra dollop of money into the current program won't do the trick. HUD needs to rethink its hostile approach to paying for the critical Section 8 program, which furnishes rent subsidies for two million of the country's most vulnerable families.

Section 8 has survived the generation-long assault on public housing because it is based partly in the private sector. Rather than building affordable housing itself, the government has guaranteed subsidies for rents in the private market. Families, most of them living at or below the poverty level, pay 30 percent of their incomes toward rent, and Section 8 vouchers pay the remainder. Developers used the Section 8 guarantees as backing when they raised money for low- or mixed-income developments.

But despite its theoretical commitment to the private market, HUD has gotten tired of meeting the fast-rising housing prices in some markets. It announced recently — with Congressional blessing — that it would no longer pay the full cost of the vouchers. It froze federal funds at the level of August 2003, plus an adjustment for inflation.

This is a tactic the Bush administration has used in other areas as it tries to halt open-ended commitments for federal funds in favor of set block grants. A "block grant," however, is simply a cut by another name. Neither the poor nor the local housing authorities have the power to make rents conform to those dictates. In high-cost areas like New York and San Francisco, officials will have trouble finding landlords and builders who will accept Section 8 tenants because the vouchers will no longer provide a predictable level of support. Families who have been lucky enough to get Section 8 help may wind up having to pay more rent.

Perhaps worst of all, the financial community has begun to react. A New England bank has scrapped an innovative home mortgage program aimed at promoting home ownership through Section 8. Wall Street bond traders have warned that the cuts could cause the bond market to lose faith in Section 8-related programs, undermining the bonding process that makes it possible to build affordable housing.

The incomes of the poor do not expand just because real estate values do. If these ill-advised cuts are allowed to stand, a public-private partnership that has been producing affordable housing since the Nixon years will wither and die.

Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

May 27th, 2004, 01:49 AM
May 27, 2004

City Diverted $600 Million Set Aside for Low-Cost Housing


Fifteen years ago, New York City agreed to spend $600 million that it receives from the Battery Park City Authority on low-cost housing. But a report issued on Wednesday said that little if any of that money had actually been spent on housing, because the city had used it for general budget needs.

The money is paid to the city in lieu of property taxes from Battery Park City, and was set aside in a 1989 agreement to leverage the economic growth from the area into assistance for low-cost housing elsewhere in the city. But instead, according to the report issued by the city's Independent Budget Office, the city relied on a loophole to funnel the money into the city's general fund.

The report comes two months after Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said he wanted to use an estimated $30 million a year from the authority to finance the expansion of the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center as part of $2.8 billion West Side redevelopment project.

Housing advocates said they saw the report as a cautionary reminder that promises made regarding public money for low-income programs often take a back seat to other priorities.

"We're not accusing malfeasance," said Joseph Weisbord, staff director of Housing First!, a coalition of civic, business and labor groups, which asked the Independent Budget Office to conduct the study. "The issue is really more bad faith on a pretty monumental scale when you think about what Battery Park City was. A broader commitment was made to the public, and it hasn't been fulfilled."

In response, Mr. Bloomberg's aides said that every administration since Mayor Edward I. Koch had used the Battery Park funds to plug holes in the city's budget. They also said that Mr. Bloomberg's primary housing focus remained his $3 billion plan, unveiled in Dec. 2002, to build or refurbish 65,000 units of housing.

"Over the last 10 years, the city has spent more than $5 billion on affordable housing, nearly a tenfold increase of what was produced by Battery Park City in the last 18 years," said Jordan Barowitz, a spokesman for Mr. Bloomberg. "Mayor Bloomberg has made an unparalleled commitment to affordable housing - more than $3 billion to build and maintain over 65,000 units for 200,000 New Yorkers."

The Battery Park City Authority, which was created by the state in 1968, collects rent and payments from landlords that are made in lieu of taxes, and pays off its debts. Every year, the authority gives the city an average of $55 million.

The agreement between the city and the authority called for $600 million to be used to produce 60,000 units of housing, but the commitment included an exception. "If the city determined that it needed the funds to 'maintain fiscal stability . . . or existing city services,' " said the Independent Budget Office report, "the city was allowed to use the funds for those purposes, rather than to increase spending on housing programs."

So the city did just that, and by 2003, that $600 million had been used up, according to the report.

Now the city is setting its sights on a new stream of money from the Battery Park City Authority to help finance its West Side projects, subject to the approval of the city comptroller.

In particular, the mayor wants $30 million from the authority's excess annual revenues to leverage $350 million in bond debt for the expansion of the Javits Center. That $30 million would come from what the Independent Budget Office estimates will be $88.1 million in revenues in 2005, $81.7 million in 2006 and $57.9 million in subsequent years.

To housing advocates, though, the balance after subtracting the $30 million would still leave enough for the low-cost housing initiatives - something that they say the city should have been doing all along.

Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

May 28th, 2004, 12:19 AM
May 28, 2004


Lead-Paint Law Frustrates Plans for Low-Income Housing


Two months before it goes into effect on Aug. 2, the city's new lead-paint legislation has caused nonprofit groups and private developers to shelve plans to redevelop buildings for low- and moderate-income tenants.

Adam Weinstein, president of Phipps Houses, which owns or manages 13,000 lower-income apartments, said that Phipps had decided not to bid for five federally assisted projects that are now available, and will probably not bid on other projects with possible lead-paint risk. The costs of adequate insurance, even if available, would make ownership financially impractical, Mr. Weinstein said.

Such decisions by potential buyers could leave the future of older subsidized housing developments in the city highly uncertain, housing managers and officials say. Thousands of these apartments are or will be in need of fresh private investment and more governmental assistance as their long-term mortgages come due and their federal subsidies expire.

Frank Anelante, president of Lemle & Wolf, a developer and manager of lower-income apartments, primarily in the Bronx, said he had halted the rehabilitation of two five-story walk-ups in upper Manhattan because the procedures required by the law made apartment reconstruction impractical.

"We used to be able to allow tenants back each night while we were working during the day in a sealed-off bathroom, replacing beams and fixtures,'' Mr. Anelante said. "Under this law, we would have to do lead tests first before we could reopen the bathroom, and getting the results would take a few days. We have no way to relocate our tenants on a large-scale basis for several days while we do this work.''

On the lending side, the Community Preservation Corporation, a consortium of banks that has become the largest provider of new mortgages to the city's midsize, older apartment buildings, said it would review the mortgages it is processing to be sure that the borrower had obtained adequate liability insurance.

"Under the new law, the landlord is held responsible when a child is found to have lead poisoning unless he can prove that the sickness was caused elsewhere, or previously,'' said John M. McCarthy, executive vice president of the corporation. "That leaves owners extremely vulnerable to damages in a lawsuit. We can't provide mortgages under those circumstances unless the owner is able to get insurance at a reasonable cost.''

The lead paint law, Local Law 1 of 2004, was enacted by the City Council in February over a veto by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg. It was drafted by the New York City Coalition to End Lead Poisoning and sponsored in the City Council by Councilman Bill Perkins of Harlem.

The 53-page law imposes detailed and stringent inspection and reporting requirements. The rules apply uniformly to pre-1960 apartments in the city, excluding owner-occupied co-ops. Officials of the Bloomberg administration have argued that resources should be focused on areas where lead poisoning cases are most prevalent, principally Bedford-Stuyvesant and Bushwick in Brooklyn, South Jamaica in Queens and Mott Haven in the Bronx.

The law requires that all surface edges that rub against each other - friction surfaces - must be treated in vacant apartments so that they can never become a future problem. Some managers say that this effectively means that windows and doors that might previously have been made "lead safe'' - by re-covering the surfaces - will have to be replaced entirely.

Matthew Cachére, staff attorney for the Northern Manhattan Improvement Corporation, who represents the Coalition to End Lead Poisoning, denied that its provisions were unreasonable or impractical. Throughout, the law holds regulators to a standard of reasonableness, he said. Landlords will not be held culpable if they can persuade a fact-finder that "diligent and reasonable'' efforts were made to eliminate a lead-paint hazard, he said.

The Brooklyn-based Pratt Area Community Council, a nonprofit developer and manager, supported the law. The legislation allows flexible approaches to deal with lead paint, said Deb Howard, the acting executive director, and insurance companies should in time feel more comfortable about writing liability policies, as occurred with asbestos policies.

But insurance brokers were less optimistic. Sheldon Horowitz, president of Safe Harbour Group Ltd., an independent insurance agency in West Nyack, N.Y., that has obtained insurance for thousands of older rental apartment buildings, said that once underwriters understood the law fully, they might decline to write policies altogether. If they offer the policies, he said, they may raise their prices prohibitively, decrease their coverage, or both.

Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

Council Passes Tougher Law on Lead Paint (http://forums.wirednewyork.com/viewtopic.php?t=2414)

May 28th, 2004, 12:38 AM
Oh well. I hope some of these people stop trying to screw everyone and put everyone out there as being responsible for something. This city and state is too highly regulated, as seen with building costs and regs, vicarious liability (NY is the only state to have this mess), and now this.

When does it end? Too many people in city gov't think that by passing laws and increasing regulations on every part of life, they are doing some great service to humanity and earning their pay. Sometimes, they do good things, but c'mon.

June 25th, 2004, 05:57 PM
this is a thought i had about how to add affordable housing to NYC and imporve the quality of life in urban neighborhoods. the idea is to mix different income groups in a development. for example, the run-down neighborhoods in central brooklyn and south bronx could be developed into a high-density sort of urban bedroom community, like hoboken. the plan is to build housing for high, middle, and low incomes in the same space. if you have 20 apartments/condos in a building. 4 can be set aside for low income, 4 for lower-middle income, 4 for middle income, 4 for upper middle income, and 4 for high income. the apartments would have more amenites and space as you pay more, but the quality of the housing and the neighborhood would benefit everybody. this lets people of all races and classes send their kids to the same schools, shop at the same stores and improve the economic chances of exsiting residents. this also stops the government from taking away funding from urban communites since their wealthy constituents would live side by side with the average joes. the added income coming into the nieghborhoods would create jobs and diversifiy neighborhoods. the problem with the city today is that groups are concentrated and hemmed in to certain neighborhoods. also, to help this venture along is people and buisnesses would get property and income tax breaks if you buy into certain neighborhoods. for example, if your white and earn a high income, you would get a tax break for buying into a poorer, non-white nieghborhood. and vice-versa. it's also a good idea to build these neighborhoods near public transit. and to keep the riff-raff out, you will be required to hold a job and have a clean record or be rehabliated form crime to live in these neighborhoods, and if you cause a crime or disturb the neighborhood, you're out!!! what do ya think?

TLOZ Link5
June 25th, 2004, 11:43 PM
NYPIRG was a driving force behind the new lead-paint law, or Local Law 1 of 2004. It's actually more accomodating than earlier local laws: landlords need only replace the lead paint when it starts to peel, because the main concern about lead paint is the lead dust that is released and settles when the paint peels. A child can crawl across a lead dust-covered floor and later lick or suck his/her unwashed toes or hands, thus getting lead poisoning. Even a few micrograms per milliliter is enough to raise lead-blood ratios to a level of concern. The law the Local Law 1 of 2004 replaces had called for the removal of lead paint from ALL surfaces.

Either way, the rejection of Local Law 38 of 1999 last year, which stated that landlords are granted immunity from lawsuits and other financial damages if they were unaware of lead paint in their apartments, ensures that there will be no loopholes in this new lead law. And like I said before, the new law is much more accomodating. The main defense of the opposition, who comprise some but not all landlords, is the "inconvenience" to tenants who might be displaced from their apartments during lead testing, which is totally bogus because the testing does not take days. I got to see part of the lead law hearing on Wednesday, and it was quite enlightening. Either way, any alleged short-term losses are outweighed by the long-term benefits. Doing nothing is akin to playing Russian roulette with children living in lead-painted residences and waiting to get sued God forbid something goes wrong.

June 29th, 2004, 08:34 AM
June 29, 2004

City Announces Financing Deal for Mitchell-Lama Landlords


In a move praised by landlords, tenants and housing groups, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and city housing officials announced a complicated new financing plan yesterday offering more incentives for property owners to stay in the Mitchell-Lama program, which provides housing for tens of thousands of low- and moderate-income families in the city.

The plan, a two-part initiative that would refinance existing mortgages on Mitchell-Lama properties and offer $50 million in loans for capital improvements, would be aimed at protecting 27,000 apartments in 80 buildings in all five boroughs. If the owners of those 80 buildings decide not to leave the program for 15 years - as city officials hope - then the cost to the city and the Housing Development Corporation would be $75.5 million.

"We believe this is a sensible, low-cost investment that would preserve affordable homes for tens of thousands of New Yorkers for the next 15 to 30 years," Mr. Bloomberg said at a news conference at City Hall.

Under the Mitchell-Lama program, developers receive subsidies and tax breaks, usually for 20 years or more, in exchange for building housing for low- and moderate-income families. But in recent years, a growing number of developers have left the program after fulfilling their mortgage obligations, and have begun to charge market rates for apartments.

Overall, about 21,000 of the original 140,000 apartments in dozens of buildings have been removed from Mitchell-Lama since the program started half a century ago, according to a report in February by the city comptroller, William C. Thompson Jr. At the same time, a growing number of tenant groups have made the loss of Mitchell-Lama units one of their top legislative concerns - something that has not escaped the notice of officials including Gifford Miller, the City Council speaker, and Mr. Bloomberg.

In March, for instance, the city helped to broker a deal between the tenants and owner of the Independence Plaza North housing development in TriBeCa to protect tenants from escalating rents once the development leaves the Mitchell-Lama program this year.

But yesterday's initiative is broader. It affects 80 rental and co-op buildings - 36 in Manhattan, 26 in the Bronx, 11 in Brooklyn, 7 in Queens and one in Staten Island. And it will offer these Mitchell-Lama developments the opportunity to restructure and refinance their mortgages at a lower interest rate and for an extended duration.

In so doing, city officials said, the program will help owners reduce their operating costs and use those savings on repairs. So to provide low-cost financing, the city is offering loans of $1 million to $7 million per complex, for a total of $50 million, under a new Repair Loan Program.

"We think owners are interested in this because this is a very effective way for them to actually do refinancing," said Emily Youssouf, president of the Housing Development Corporation.

What makes the program even more compelling, perhaps, is that just about anyone involved in housing issues in New York put aside the usual differences to applaud the effort. Representatives from the Real Estate Board of New York, the Rent Stabilization Association and the Mitchell Lama Residents Coalition all praised the program in a city press release.

It remains to be seen just how many owners will go along with the program. It is certainly possible, for instance, that some owners will buy out of their Mitchell-Lama obligations no matter what the city offers, because their buildings are in such prime locations and would command soaring rents.

Still, many tenant groups said that the new program could make a significant difference.

"We think it's a good program, and we support it," said Michael McKee, associate director of Tenants and Neighbors, a statewide advocacy group. "There's a lot more that needs to be done, but it's an encouraging step forward. Very creative."

Jennifer Steinhauer contributed reporting for this article.

Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

August 8th, 2004, 12:54 PM
August 8, 2004

The Last Empty Lot


Frank Rodriguez with his father, Angel, and his son, François, overlooking the neighborhood's last big vacant lot.

IN the late 60's, as a serious-looking, dark-eyed child, Frank Rodriguez used to climb up to the roof of his family's three-story walk-up at 911 Bruckner Boulevard in the Hunts Point section of the Bronx and fly his kite. Alone at the top of his little world, away from his parents and two brothers, he watched as the kite soared over the rooftops of apartment buildings dense with Jewish, Irish and Puerto Rican families.

Within a decade, that view would be transformed. Virtually all of the surrounding apartment buildings burned down in the late 1970's, leaving a one-acre site, bounded by Southern Boulevard, the Bruckner Expressway and Tiffany and Barretto Streets, empty except for a few buildings and private houses like the Rodriguezes'. And what took place on the block was taking place throughout the neighborhood.

"It just emptied out overnight," said Mr. Rodriguez, a postal worker who lives with his 7-year-old son, his parents and a large extended family in the house where he grew up. "I guess we stayed because my dad bought this house for future generations. He saw a future. He wanted his kids and grandkids to have something to look back on."

The neighborhood has traveled far since those grim days when the population of the community district that embraces Hunts Point and neighboring Longwood plummeted to 35,378 in 1980 from 96,042 in 1970. Starting in the 1980's, the population began creeping back, and statistical measurements of everything from the number of high school graduates to the number of owner-occupied buildings reflect the area's more robust social and economic health.

Now, the largest empty lot remaining in Hunts Point, the one that Mr. Rodriguez can see from the roof of his family home, will soon be the site of what is billed as the neighborhood's last major rebuilding project. If it succeeds, it will be a striking capstone to the Hunts Point resurgence.

The project is known as Tiffany Gardens, and the Southeast Bronx Community Organization, which under its charismatic leader, the Rev. Louis R. Gigante, developed 3,000 units of housing since it started in 1968, is poised to break ground on the $14 million development as early as next month. The seven-story complex of red brick buildings, nearly the length of a football field, will contain 105 units of low- and middle-income housing, paid for by a combination of public and private money.

Some 18 years after Sebco gained control of the site, final approval for the project was granted in June by the state's Housing Finance Authority. The first residents could move in a year from this fall.

The prospect of imminent construction on this site is perhaps the most visible and dramatic sign that Hunts Point is turning the page on a tumultuous time in its history. But there are other fresh signs of rebirth. Last fall, the long-troubled Banana Kelly Community Improvement Association got a new executive director, restoring its role as a major player in the neighborhood's development. Concrete plans are also falling into place for the two other big remaining lots in this community district, both on Prospect Avenue in Longwood. The city has hired a construction company to build 193 mixed-income apartments on one site and is moving ahead with plans for another 100 apartments on the second.

Hunts Point has made gains on other fronts: with thriving institutions like The Point Community Development Corporation and the Bronx Academy of Arts and Dance, it has become a focal point for culture in the South Bronx. But it is housing - everything from old buildings rescued from the dead to single-family row houses to new apartment buildings for low-income families and the elderly - that has transformed the physical and demographic landscape.

The transformation has had its bumps and backsliding, and much work lies ahead. But for families like the Rodriguezes, who have lived amid blight for so long, nothing so powerfully encapsulates the changes as the view outside their window.

The World of the Lot

The vacant lot is not all you can see from the roof of the Rodriguezes' building. Beyond it, near St. Athanasius Roman Catholic Church, is a beautiful park, and a street blocked off for children to play. The Hunts Point branch library across the street, a red brick building modeled after a Florentine palace, had a face-lift three years ago. But the lot remains both an eyesore and a stirrer of memories.

Frank Rodriguez's father, Angel Rodriguez, now 74, recalls the candy store that used to stand on the site and the Jewish friends from down the block who patronized it. "Now people come and throw trash like it was a garbage can," he said. "They even bring their dogs to do their business."

The nearly two decades of false starts on the Tiffany Gardens site are illustrative of how things have gone for Hunts Point. Even Sebco had no master plan. Instead, developers built whatever housing government money would finance, which at first were the one- and two-family houses that became the hallmark of the South Bronx rebirth.

Some people argue that such housing creates a false suburban feel and prevented the neighborhood's population from expanding to the levels it reached in 1970. Others disagree.

"In the mid-1980's under Mayor Koch, the city embarked on a very aggressive, and seminal, housing plan to reconstruct communities that a lot of people wrote off," said Jerilyn Perine, until recently the city's commissioner of the Department of Housing Preservation and Development. "There was all this vacant land, and there was real concern: could you build a multiple dwelling and would anyone move in?"

So houses were built, and for the most part the approach worked. The ultimate test may have come in 2002, when the batch of Sebco homes next to St. Athanasius that were built in 1987 became eligible to be resold for the first time. The agency, concerned about who might move in, carefully monitored the prices.

"Then we found out how much people were getting," said Phil Foglia, Sebco's executive vice president. With houses going for around $250,000 apiece, the agency stopped worrying about the caliber of buyers. People willing to pay a quarter of a million dollars to live in the South Bronx were hardly a problem.

Who's Crazy Now?

A few blocks from the big vacant lot sits an even older set of well-kept red brick row houses, the sort you might see in Queens. In the third house from the end live Francisco and Mitzia Mendez, part of what might be called the "Are you crazy?" generation.

In the early 1980's, the Mendezes were living in Soundview, just north of Hunts Point. Raising a son and a daughter in a neighborhood where shootouts were common, they were eager to leave, but Mr. Mendez, who drove a cab, and his wife, who managed a Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise, were caught in a financial Catch-22: too rich to qualify for rent subsidies in Manhattan and too poor to make a market-rate down payment on a house in the tranquil north Bronx.

One day in 1982, they noticed construction on a long-devastated block of Tiffany Street, and asked a workman what was going on. After a $500 application to Sebco and a $3,000 down payment on a $51,000 row house, they were South Bronx homeowners, much to the dismay of people like Ms. Mendez's late father. "When I told my father I bought a house here," Ms. Mendez said, "he said: 'Are you crazy? That's the worst of the Bronx.' ''

He changed his mind when he saw the couple's spacious three-bedroom house with a basement and a backyard, perfect for barbecuing. Then living in Florida, he began to spend every vacation in the Bronx, and after a year, he announced to his daughter, "I feel like I'm in Long Island."

Residents coped with problems by being organized. When backyards flooded, they banded together and got the builders to address the matter. Because a lot across the street attracted drug dealers and prostitutes who plied their trade in the overgrowth, they got the grass cut and formed a block watch.

This was no utopia. Some residents could not keep up with the payments and lost their homes. But the Mendezes, who eventually hope to sell their house and retire to Florida, are content. "We're sitting on gold," Ms. Mendez said, "our little gold pot."

Not every family is happy. Around 1990, the Tiffany Co-ops went up in the lot across from the Mendezes', and Robert Morales, who has lived there with his mother since the buildings were completed, is miserable.

Mr. Morales, a 49-year-old supervisor at an independent living facility for the elderly, purchased the apartment for $90,000, and in his opinion the money bought many problems - with the roof, the plumbing, the sewers - that he and other residents say took years to get fixed. "I used to live in Manhattan," he said. "I love Manhattan. I regret coming here."

Mr. Morales was a recruit from outside the neighborhood. But Hunts Point is also populated by residents who made national headlines a couple of decades back for refusing to leave the neighborhood and successfully pressuring the city to let them take over the buildings that remained.

José Madrigal, a 58-year-old who raised five children in the area, four of whom still live in the Bronx, was one of the original homesteaders of Kelly Street, a few blocks west of the vacant lot where Tiffany Gardens will rise. In 1978 he was part of a group that bought three four-story buildings for a total of $21,000. They did so with the help of the Banana Kelly Housing Development Fund Corporation, which would beget the Banana Kelly Community Improvement Association, a group that would eventually rehab more than 1,200 apartments in the South Bronx.

He has reaped the benefits. Because the buildings were then gutted, original residents like Mr. Madrigal had a lot of say in the design of their apartments. As his family grew, he worked on a sweat-equity project on nearby Fox Street, and ended up with a six-bedroom apartment there, making him one of the exotic species of middle-class New Yorkers who have a separate bedroom for each of their five children. The construction company he owns recently moved into office space in one of the Kelly Street buildings, and one of Mr. Madrigal's sons, Daniel, is president of its co-op board, and lives in a three-bedroom duplex with an office and a gym.

The Shift to Private Hands

Throughout the first 15 years of the Hunts Point revival, the city depended mostly on nonprofit groups, determined residents and itself to improve the local housing stock. But in 1994, with the city in charge of more than 44,000 apartments citywide, a disproportionate number of them in Hunts Point, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani established the Neighborhood Entrepreneurs Program, which offered low-interest financing to encourage private developers to take over and improve clusters of buildings.

The program eased the city out of the landlord business and introduced a new, for-profit element into the mix of developers. Krislen Management, once solely a management company, had tried to buy buildings in Hunts Point before, but only under the new program could it get the necessary financing.

The first cluster the company acquired were four apartment buildings on Longfellow and Lafayette Avenues, toward the more industrial side of Hunts Point. The buildings were in terrible shape, so much of a magnet for crack users and dealers that some residents defended themselves from desperate addicts by chasing them off the premises with baseball bats. Residents also tried to keep the prostitutes from soliciting nearby, sometimes by standing on roofs and throwing bricks at them.

Over two years, Krislen worked aggressively to remove tenants who were disorderly or failed to pay rent. After many evictions, including those of about 20 tenants in a 77-unit building, it began to gut its holdings, creating new floor plans according to the needs of residents who were staying: large families got big apartments, small families got smaller ones.

These days, tenants talk about prompt response by maintenance workers, clean hallways and the annual Christmas party. The buildings got a boost when an industrial building arose on a vacant lot across the street, and when a half-block of brick row houses were built on Longfellow Avenue. Just last month, after years of community pressure, new truck routes were established that local residents say will reduce the nuisance and danger of truck traffic to the Hunts Point Terminal.

Patches of the Old

Hunts Point is still not a beautiful neighborhood; its industrial feel, and smells, endure. Crime and poverty remain gnawing problems, as do prostitution and drug use, although residents generally agree that both used to be worse. And many people believe that living so close to an industrial area causes health problems, especially asthma.

Typical of the troubled buildings that remain is 833 Longfellow Avenue. The landlord never agreed to sell the building to the city, leaving it as the only unrenovated building on the block, surrounded now by new brick townhouses and the pleasantly painted Krislen buildings.

While the Krislen buildings have no outstanding building violations, 833 Longfellow has 10, dating to 1993. Unlike the Krislen buildings, the five-story structure has an outside door that rarely locks, and there is no working intercom. Three current and former residents say the power goes out a few times a year.

Although some residents had no complaints, others did. When Jose Santa Rosa has to locate his building to visitors, he simply says, "Just look for the building that's the trashiest," he tells people.

The landlord, Mildred Tirado, acknowledged that her building is old, but said all 25 units were "livable" and repairs are being done little by little. She blames neighborhood youths and drug dealers for breaking the locks, which she said she has fixed repeatedly. As for cockroaches, she said she came herself with the exterminator each month. "I'm here all the time," she said. "I try to meet the needs of all my tenants." Much more remains to be done in Hunts Point, especially as additional land becomes available. Sebco would like to get its hands on a building, on the edge of the big lot, that is now occupied by a Dominican social club that owes considerable back taxes. Some people would like to see the city reclaim the environmentally questionable plots of land known as brownfields that are abundant in the area. Six buildings owned by Banana Kelly are still being rehabilitated.

But the "farms," as some used to call the neighborhood's overgrown vacant lots, are gone, and with them most of the rats. There is something almost quaint about new arrivals complaining about cockroaches on the same streets where boys threw bricks at street walkers 20 years earlier.

In the eyes of many, the new and diverse housing stock is sending a ringing message, that people raised in the community are willing and even eager to stay. The Mendezes, for example, have only one complaint. "The only terrible thing is, your children never leave," Ms. Mendez said. The couple's two grown children, 29 and 26, still live with them. They have tried, unsuccessfully, to persuade their parents to take early retirement to Florida and leave them the house.

Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

August 10th, 2004, 08:38 AM
City Limits MONTHLY

Date: July/August 2004


Neighborhood groups team up to build affordable housing into Bloomberg's big redevelopment plans.

By Elizabeth Cady Brown

There was a lot of debate before the NYC Campaign for Inclusionary Zoning settled on a name. Some of the community organizers and policy advocates worried that the wonky term "inclusionary zoning" would alienate the public. Others argued that on the contrary, "inclusion" is an idea that New Yorkers generally favor. All wondered whether a campaign about land use, by any name, would catch fire.

In the end, the group had little choice about the name or their aim: They see modifying the city's zoning code as one of the few remaining ways to guarantee new affordable housing in New York City. "We have a citywide affordable-housing crisis," says Brad Lander, a leader in the new campaign and executive director of the Pratt Institute Center for Community and Environmental Development (PICCED), "and folks are just beginning to realize what important issues land use and zoning are." A new study from the Regional Plan Association and Citizens Housing & Planning Council found that over a third of households in New York City spend more than 35 percent of their income on housing, with the burden getting heavier the lower a family's income.

The Bloomberg administration asserts that the real estate industry can be convinced to produce more affordable housing through bond financing and other incentives. Just how eagerly developers will embrace these opportunities remains to be seen. The city's Independent Budget Office projects that even if developers take full advantage of the city's funds, just 6,700 units will be created for households earning less than $50,000 a year and another 11,500 for those earning up to $88,000.

The more than 50 groups now participating in the inclusionary zoning campaign want New York to ask real estate developers to do more. From San Diego to Arlington, VA, to Boston, more than 500 local governments either require developers to set aside a portion of all new units for low- or moderate-income tenants or give them financial incentives to do so. New York is already one of them. In much of Manhattan, developers get tax breaks for setting aside one in five units for low-income tenants, and in the highest-density neighborhoods they can build beyond height limits if they include affordable apartments.

The campaign is now looking to build on those models by making affordable housing a mandatory part of the city's ambitious redevelopment plans. The Department of City Planning is in the process of rezoning dozens of neighborhoods, many of them formerly industrial, opening vast areas for new residential development. In these areas, campaign leaders say, the city should guarantee that a portion of new units will rent or sell for less than market rate. Elsewhere in the city, they want developers to have the option to build larger, more lucrative buildings in exchange for including affordable apartments.

"The administration likes to say that the market should be left to function naturally," says Craig Gurian, director of the Anti-Discrimination Center of Metro New York and a member of the campaign's steering committee. "But the windfall created from rezoning is a function of city decisions. The administration is making a series of choices, and we have to make sure those choices are balanced."

Lander tried to get inclusionary zoning on the map once before, when he was head of the Fifth Avenue Committee. In 2002, City Planning announced plans to rezone Park Slope's Fourth Avenue. Lander's organization and other local groups asked the agency to give developers the option to build bigger buildings in exchange for including some affordable apartments.

But the planning department was dead-set against it. And because it was a neighborhood group working on what was perceived as a neighborhood issue, the Fifth Avenue Committee didn't have political leverage. "That was very discouraging," says Gretchen Maneval, the organization's director of housing development. "But I'm very happy now we went through that process. The Park Slope fight was a real lesson learned."

Early this year, Lander called together policy advocates and housing organizers--including reps from ACORN, Habitat for Humanity, Association for Neighborhood Housing Developers, El Puente and St. Nicholas Neighborhood Preservation Corp.--for an informal after-hours meeting. "It was just going to be dinner," Lander says. "No planning, no coalitions, just a chance to talk about issues in affordable housing in the coming year." Laughing, he adds, "But that's not how organizers really work."

At that meeting, recalls ACORN's Julie Miles, lead coordinator for the inclusionary zoning campaign, participants kicked around a lot of the big issues in housing, from rent regulations to cuts in federal rent subsidies. And, says Miles, "There were a lot of voices from all over the city talking about zoning in a serious way." Advocates learned from one another that communities across the city were all trying--and failing--to get City Planning to commit to zoning for affordable housing. "We came up with the new strategy based on people's fairly universal experience that attempts at conversation with the mayor on this issue were going nowhere."

The local and citywide groups are now working jointly to build a political base for inclusionary zoning, using slogans like "Zone Us In" and "NY Includes Us All" to rally support among churches, unions and grassroots social justice groups. "City Planning has been able to divide and conquer with all of these rezonings," says Maneval. "We need to respond with a united front. In every part of the city, we need to give the same response: We want some type of inclusionary zoning."

The Bloomberg administration is not opposed to offering voluntary incentives. City Planning is proposing them on Manhattan's Far West Side, and Shaun Donovan, the new commissioner of the Department of Housing Preservation & Development, has said they are likely to show up in plans for Williamsburg as well.

But the City Planning Department has repeatedly come out against obligating builders to include low-priced apartments. "There is enormous commitment to affordable housing," says Rachaele Raynoff, the agency's spokesperson. "But our initial look at the numbers shows that inclusionary zoning may not be economically feasible." Profits from market-rate homes, Raynoff explains, might not be high enough to balance the costs of affordable units. If that's the case, she says, "one would deter housing altogether."

Developers are quick to validate that fear. "It's an added cost to build, regardless of the social benefits," says Michael Slattery, research director at the Real Estate Board of New York. He argues that the burden of doing affordable housing in relatively untested markets would scare away potential investors. "Will they build if there is a mandatory requirement? No."

"The development business is subject to the vagaries of the marketplace," says builder Jeffrey Levine, who has built affordable housing using government subsidies. "With interest rates moving up, rents flattening down, operating costs at an all-time high and construction costs soaring because of inflation, the economics don't even support market-rate housing."

The administration is taking such warnings seriously. Raynoff says affordable housing advocates should, too. All housing construction, she explains, even luxury buildings, benefits all consumers. "It's simple supply and demand," says Raynoff. "The more housing you build, the less expensive it may become. It filters down from the very high end."

But there's no strong evidence that such trickle-down actually occurs in New York--a global financial powerhouse with a continual influx of new residents able to pay luxury rates. Frank Braconi, director of the Citizens Housing & Planning Council, notes that during the city's housing construction boom of the early 1960s, in which 350,000 units were built, rents actually went up: "Filtering does not necessarily lower the price of housing. But it does upgrade the housing stock."

Researchers have also questioned the idea that inclusionary zoning deters development. In other cities, the price of land in rezoned areas has simply declined, stabilizing developers' costs. And a 20-year study of 28 California cities, commissioned by the Los Angeles Department of Housing, showed that inclusionary programs had no negative impact on production.

Some experts in housing finance say the bottom line is that government must ensure that real estate investors can see some level of profit. "Developers will do whatever you want, as long as there is sufficient economic incentive," says Bill Traylor, president of the Richman Group of New York and a former top Bloomberg administration housing official. The campaign is recommending ways to help developers realize those profits, including small tax breaks and fee waivers.

With the Bloomberg administration unwilling to budge, inclusionary zoning advocates have decided to take their case to the City Council, which can pass, veto or amend zoning proposals. Already, 11 council members have signed on, including Brooklyn's Letitia James and Charles Barron; Hiram Monserrate and John Liu of Queens, Christine Quinn from the West Side, Bill Perkins in Harlem, and Larry Seabrook of the Bronx. David Yassky, whose district includes Williamsburg, submitted a resolution calling on City Planning to consider establishing mandatory inclusionary zoning in certain districts. He wants to get council members on the record in support before July, when a downtown Brooklyn rezoning plan is slated to be sent to the council for review.

While inclusionary zoning's proponents have to present a credible business case to public officials, they also recognize that social justice and civil rights are what will mobilize their community base. "For our campaign," says Miles, "the question is, Are we going to be a city of the elite, or are we going to take specific action to ensure that the people who built this city can afford to live here?"

January 25th, 2005, 11:48 AM
Gotham Gazette - http://www.gothamgazette.com/article/housing/20050125/10/1300

Repealing the Urstadt Law

by Joe Lamport

25 Jan 2005

Ask most housing advocates what one move would improve the lot of tenants in New York City, and they would answer: Repeal of the Urstadt Law. The state law, which then-Governor Nelson Rockefeller pushed through in 1971, and which Governor George Pataki strengthened in 2003, is named after Rockefeller’s housing commissioner, Charles Urstadt. For more than three decades, it has effectively handcuffed the city when it comes to dealing with the main problems facing housing here -- rents and evictions.

That is because the law largely took control of rent regulation out of the hands of the city government and gave it to the state legislature. The legislature, a body with many representatives from upstate districts that have few renters, has weakened rent regulation laws year after year. Changes in the rent regulation laws have resulted in what some estimate to be more than 100,000 rent stabilized apartments in New York City becoming “decontrolled” – the rents hiked up to whatever the landlord wants to charge.

Advocates say repealing the Urstadt Law would give the city the power to keep rents affordable.

“In my mind, it is the only way to reverse the crippling of the rent and eviction protections that we’ve seen at the hands of the state legislature,” said Kenny Schaeffer, vice chair of the Metropolitan Council on Housing. “Right now, the City Council’s hands are tied. The rent stabilization laws have had so many holes poked in them by the state legislature that they’re dying a death of a thousand cuts.”

Revoking the city’s control over rent laws was a strategic political move Rockefeller made to help in his re-election campaign, recalled Michael McKee, associate director of Tenants and Neighbors. As a result, it led to four sets of laws that fill hundreds of pages noted for their complexity, if not incomprehensibility.

There are state rent control laws and city rent control laws, state rent stabilization laws and city rent stabilization laws. Over the years, these have been revised and sometimes rewritten. Some of the laws are specific to New York City while others apply to smaller cities. The laws have spawned thousands of pages of commentary and doubtless assured the employment of many attorneys, legal journalists and, yes, even housing advocates. It takes years to figure out just what the different laws say and how they are applied in practice

Reclaiming home rule over rents and evictions would make understanding those laws easier, McKee said, in addition to making housing advocates’ work less onerous.

“We have a rent regulation system that makes no sense at all,” McKee said. “It’s a patchwork quilt that no one understands.”

Repealing the Urstadt Law would not create a “paradise” for tenants, McKee said, but would help them be more effective.

“Tenants will still have to organize and put pressure” on elected officials, McKee said. “But at least we won’t have to fight a two-front war. Especially in years where the (state’s and city’s) laws sunset at the same time. From an organizers point of view it’s a nightmare. People say, ‘I thought the laws just got renewed, why do I have to go to Albany?’”

Political considerations could make a repeal of the Urstadt Laws possible this year, Schaeffer said. Record homelessness, high rents and the continued loss of rent regulated apartments have put affordable housing firmly on the political agenda and the mayoral election will only increase the pressure for solutions.

At the same time, Democrats scored significant victories in last November’s elections to diminish the Republican majority in the State Senate. Those victories have led Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno to compromise more readily on progressive issues. A higher minimum wage and less draconian drug crime punishments are some of the results of the new political realities for Bruno.

While Mayor Michael Bloomberg has said in the past he supports a repeal of the Urstadt Law, McKee noted that he was silent when Pataki strengthened the law in 2003. Tenants have not forgotten, he said.

“Even when Pataki pushed, there wasn’t a squawk from the mayor, he didn’t say a word,” McKee said. “And we are fed up with this posturing in City Hall.”

A rally planned for Feb. 2 is meant to send that message loudly and clearly to politicians. The rally on Brooklyn Bridge will call attention to affordable housing, and specifically three actions that would allow the city to address the problem: Making sure that a significant portion of Battery Park Authority funds actually finance affordable housing construction as originally intended; Persuading the city to adopt inclusionary zoning that would allow developers to build higher density developments in return for setting aside a percentage of the units for affordable housing; And calling for a repeal of the Urstadt Law.

Joe Lamport is the assistant director of the City-Wide Task Force on Housing Court (http://www.cwtfhc.org), a coalition of community housing organizations.

January 27th, 2005, 02:30 PM
January 27, 2005

Cut in U.S. Housing Aid Raises Concerns for Poor


The New York City Housing Authority said yesterday that the federal government would provide $50 million less than what the agency needs to provide rent vouchers for low-income residents this year, a gap that agency officials fear could hamper their ability to house the poorest tenants.

The budget gap, part of a nationwide squeeze by the Bush administration in spending on housing programs, could mean that the authority would have to reduce the number of planned vouchers by more than 6,000 this year from the city's current 118,000. Agency officials have said they hope to avoid evicting any tenants, but will most likely cut back on new tenants and will not be able to replace those who leave.

"The burden this reality places on the city's public housing authority will be far-reaching and test our ability to assist families who need affordable housing and rely on Section 8 assistance," said Tino Hernandez, the housing authority's chairman. "The reality is our options are very limited, given the magnitude of the federal government's funding reduction."

At the same time, the city's Department of Housing Preservation and Development reported that the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development had agreed to increase its financing for rent vouchers by $27 million. The department generally provides Section 8 vouchers to residents with higher incomes than the tenants of the Housing Authority, who are among the city's poorest residents.

Taken together, the various city agencies issue about 118,000 Section 8 vouchers at a cost of about $1 billion. The net loss to the city, given the increase and the shortfall, will be about $23 million.

And the State Division of Housing and Community Renewal said that it had received $1.8 million less than it needed for the rent vouchers it distributes, including $500,000 for New York City.

In interviews yesterday, city officials said they were still coming to grips with the impact of HUD's decisions on the Section 8 program, which allows poor, disabled or elderly tenants to live in private apartments and pays part of their rent directly to landlords. But in the past, officials have said that any shortfall could force them to limit the number of vouchers for families on years-long waiting lists or pay landlords in the program less money. That could mean that landlords would drop out of the program, giving poor tenants fewer choices.

"These numbers, if put into effect, would be devastating to the people who can least afford it in New York," said Senator Charles E. Schumer, a New York Democrat, who vowed to fight the spending decision. "Section 8 is a successful program and there is no reason that HUD should take a meat-ax approach. We have been promised a appeal, and we hope that HUD will re-examine these numbers."

Around the country, 492 out of an estimated 2,500 housing agencies that issue vouchers had asked HUD for more money. Late yesterday, Donna White, a spokeswoman for HUD, said that she did not have a specific breakdown of how many of those requests were successful and for how much money.

But in a letter on Friday to housing agencies, David A. Vargas, HUD's director of housing voucher programs, explained that the agency had determined that the total amount of money needed for voucher renewals, based on costs through July 2004, was $13.9 billion. But because Congress appropriated only $13.4 billion, and is requiring housing agencies to stay within their allocations for the entire year, he said, HUD had to pare the financing to all housing agencies by 4 percent.

In the past, the federal housing department financed agencies for all the vouchers they were allowed to issue, based on actual costs. But last year, the Bush administration, concerned about the rising costs of Section 8, began to limit the program's flexibility and move toward fixed costs.

To HUD officials and some housing groups, this approach is preferable because it forces housing agencies to plan more effectively and contain costs.

But the problem this year, some housing advocacy groups contend, is that Congress allocated less money to adjust for possible needs after the July cutoff date. Agencies had had a reserve fund of up to one month in subsidies after 2001, but that reserve is about to be reduced to one week. As a result, many agencies will probably offer fewer vouchers so as not to run out of money.

The city's housing department received more money than the housing authority because it calculates its costs differently, local officials said. In addition, they said, HUD's formula, set by Congress, tends to favor the working-class and middle-class families who receive their vouchers from the housing department. Many of those families get rent vouchers because they live in Mitchell-Lama developments or other buildings with subsidies that are set to expire.

Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

January 27th, 2005, 03:04 PM
Funny, right after a request for $80 billion more for Iraq.

alex ballard
January 27th, 2005, 06:40 PM
Funny, right after a request for $80 billion more for Iraq.

Iraqis need homes too.

[note sarcasm]

TLOZ Link5
January 27th, 2005, 06:51 PM
As you know, you have to live in the apartment you have. It's not the apartment you might want or wish to have at a later time.

January 29th, 2005, 09:47 AM
January 29, 2005

Where Crack Once Ruled, Construction Now Booms


From central Brooklyn to the South Bronx to the farthest corners of Staten Island, new homes in the city are being built in numbers not seen in a generation.

In 2004, the city approved the construction of 25,208 housing units in New York City, more than in any year since 1972, according to newly released census figures. By comparison, in the last boom year of 1985, reflecting a successful housing program under the Koch administration, about 20,300 units were permitted; in 1994, however, there were 4,010.

This rapid growth, like most economic development trends in New York, stems in part from the policies of city government, but more importantly from the confidence of the private market, which is building and financing homes in neighborhoods best known 10 years ago for their brisk crack trade and overwhelming economic misery.

"There has been development activity in places that would have been inconceivable 10 years ago," said Carol Abrams, the spokeswoman for the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, which works with developers to rehabilitate and develop housing. "There has been the absolute transformation of the boroughs," Ms. Abrams said. "New immigrants or longtime residents now want to plunk down their life savings for a place in Mott Haven or East New York."

The building spurt reflects a confluence of factors, including the city's rising population - fueled in large part by immigrants who are willing to take a chance on underdeveloped areas that are no longer riddled with crime - as well as the city's continual housing shortage and protracted low mortgage rates.

"The thing that is amazing is that everyone thinks of the real estate community in New York as Manhattan," said Shaun Donovan, the commissioner of the housing preservation department. "And yet Manhattan is fourth out of the five boroughs in permits."

Driving this trend, Mr. Donovan said, is the tide of new immigrants and middle-class New Yorkers who are making a go in newly safe neighborhoods. "During the 1990's, New York City added more people than live in entire cities in the United States," he said. "Clearly the really unprecedented boom in immigration is driving a large part of the increase. But also people are staying who once might otherwise have moved out."

According to United States Census Bureau statistics released yesterday, Queens County leads the housing boom, with permits issued last year for 6,853 units. Brooklyn was just behind, at 6,825 permits. Even Staten Island, which has been fighting development in many neighborhoods, had 2,051 permits for homes, which will probably be developed over the next few years.

In 2002, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg announced a $3 billion plan to create tens of thousands of low- and middle-income housing units in New York City over five years, through both the repair and preservation of 38,000 units of existing housing and by building 27,000 new units in all five boroughs. His plan called for a complex financing deal in which the city's Housing Development Corporation would borrow against that agency's mortgage equity.

As of this year, 26,000 units have come under development, and his administration is offering a loan program in cooperation with four commercial banks to develop thousands more abandoned or decaying properties in the city.

At the same time, developers around the city have found that there is a market for housing in many neighborhoods considered anathema a decade ago.

"There has been a concerted effort on government's part to help finance housing," said Jason Bram, a regional economist with the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. "This is mostly true in poor neighborhoods, where they go in and other developers say, 'Aha, now there is an anchor!' and now the whole neighborhood improves."

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Bloomberg administration officials credit the mayor with much of the boom.

"This mayor is responsible for the single largest housing boom this city has ever seen," said John Crotty, executive vice president of the Housing Development Corporation. "The market is so hot right now there is no area that is bad for development. Developers have made investments in places where no private money would ever go into."

Last year the housing agency issued $1.1 billion in bonds to create and preserve new housing, the largest amount since the federal tax reform act of 1986, Mr. Crotty said.

Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

January 29th, 2005, 12:42 PM
That really suprised me that Manhattan is 4 out of 5 with permits! This city is def. booming! :D

February 3rd, 2005, 01:46 AM
February 3, 2005

Thousands Rally to Demand Low-Income Housing in City


Demonstrators outside City Hall yesterday called for more housing for the city's low-income residents.

http://graphics8.nytimes.com/images/dropcap/h.gifoping to inject the topic of housing into the mayoral race, thousands of tenants, teachers, city employees, immigrants and clerics converged outside City Hall yesterday afternoon to demand more housing for the neediest New Yorkers.

Organizers estimated the crowd to be as much as 8,000; the police said the number was closer to 5,000. Still, advocates for low-income housing said that it was by far the biggest housing rally in the city in decades.

The two-hour rally included a series of fiery speeches from union leaders like Randi Weingarten, the president of the United Federation of Teachers, and Lillian Roberts, the executive director of District Council 37, the city's largest municipal union. Demonstrators hoisted placards and chanted slogans. They demanded that the city guarantee more low-income housing in rezoned neighborhoods, use surpluses from the Battery Park City Authority for housing, and restore home rule to the city over rent regulations and evictions.

The rally was not prompted by a single issue, or directed at any elected official in particular, unlike, for example, a large protest in Albany in 1997 over State Senator Joseph L. Bruno's suggestion that the rent regulation system be scrapped, which drew several thousand people.

Instead, the rally was a clear attempt by organizers to elevate housing as an election-year issue. And to hammer home the point, they have organized a coalition called Housing Here and Now that includes more than 100 community groups.

"We are sending a message to all mayoral candidates, as well as City Council candidates, that we don't want lip service," said Michael McKee, the associate director of Tenants and Neighbors, a statewide tenants' group.

Some participants refrained from criticizing Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg too harshly. Many housing groups say that they have been encouraged by the mayor's plan to build or renovate 65,000 units, though some they believe that the plan caters a bit too much to the middle class.

When asked about the rally, Carol Abrams, a spokeswoman for the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, said: "Mayor Bloomberg launched the city's most aggressive affordable-housing program in over two decades. We look forward to working with our partners at all levels of government and in the private and nonprofit sectors to build and preserve housing for more than 200,000 New Yorkers."

Copyright 2005 (http://www.nytimes.com/ref/membercenter/help/copyright.html) The New York Times Company (http://www.nytco.com/)

February 15th, 2005, 10:26 AM
February 15, 2005

Study Urges City to Require Building of Low-Cost Housing


http://graphics8.nytimes.com/images/dropcap/a.gif new study by researchers at New York University recommends that the city require developers to include lower-cost apartments in large apartment buildings in fast-growing neighborhoods.

Although the Bloomberg administration and the real estate industry have said such actions should be voluntary, the study says that under the right conditions it would make financial sense to have developers set aside 10 to 20 percent of their units for lower-income residents, in exchange for building larger buildings than zoning now allows. The requirement would be most effective in developing neighborhoods like Greenpoint and Williamsburg in Brooklyn, the study says, and in condominium buildings, not rental units.

The study, to be released today by the university's Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy, comes at a time when community activists have been redoubling their efforts to inject housing into the mayoral race, with many urging the city to require 40 percent of units for lower-income residents. Two weeks ago, more than 5,000 tenants, city employees, clerics and others staged the biggest housing rally in decades outside City Hall, demanding, among other issues, that the city adopt this requirement, known as inclusionary zoning.

The report does not analyze whether the zoning requirement would work on Manhattan's West Side, another developing neighborhood often mentioned in the debate over low-cost housing. But it suggests that the city use the report to analyze factors like land costs and interest rates in determining whether the requirement makes sense for a neighborhood.

"In certain market conditions, it could actually work," said Michael H. Schill, a former New York University professor who helped conduct the study and is now dean of the School of Law at the University of California, Los Angeles. "You could get low-income housing without it affecting the supply of nonmarket housing, and it won't have all the negative effects that the real estate industry is claiming."

Called "Reducing the Cost of New Housing Construction in New York City," the report also examines how much economic conditions have changed since 1999, when New York University found that excessive labor costs, rampant corruption and anachronistic regulations contributed to exorbitant construction costs.

This time, the report said that progress had been made in several areas, including the Bloomberg administration's push for a uniform building code, but it also found that the disappearance of vacant land and a huge surge in land prices had contributed heavily to high construction costs. In the last year, the report found, 17 percent of all vacant land had sold for more than $100 a square foot, while no land was that expensive five years ago.

Over all, the report found that it was 5 percent more expensive to build in the city than in Los Angeles, 15 percent more than in Chicago and 47 percent more than in Dallas. But it also found that the gap had narrowed slightly in the last five years, attributable in part to an increase in nonunion labor in boroughs other than Manhattan.

Supporters of the zoning requirement welcomed the report. Brad Lander, the director of the Pratt Institute Center for Community and Environmental Development, said that he hoped that the city could combine a mandatory policy with a more aggressive voluntary one stocked with additional subsidies.

But skeptics were not convinced. Julia Vitullo-Martin, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, said the market would do better at promoting housing than any government dictate, given the cyclical nature of real estate.

"To develop public policy based on the strongest real estate market the world has ever seen would be extraordinarily shortsighted," she said. "If it's economically worthwhile, developers will do it. If it's not, and you're forcing them to do it, it will have deleterious effects."

Copyright 2005 (http://www.nytimes.com/ref/membercenter/help/copyright.html) The New York Times Company (http://www.nytco.com/)

March 6th, 2005, 02:09 PM
Mar 6, 5:56 AM EST

Public housing vacancies cost city $18 million a year

NEW YORK (AP) -- An increase in vacant public housing apartments in the city since 2003 has meant an $18 million a year loss of rental income, a new report says.

The report from Upper West Side Assemblyman Scott Stringer is an update of a December 2003 study. Using data from the city Housing Authority, he found that from November 2003 to last January, the number of vacant apartments increased 10 percent to 4,831. About 81 percent of the vacancies were for longer than a year and some for as many as 13 years.

"I'm surprised that the numbers are going in the wrong direction," Stringer told The New York Times in Sunday editions. "It is absolutely incomprehensible that we would leave any unit vacant that long because that's the difference between a family living in a shelter or on the street, or in an apartment."

Stringer said the numbers are not acceptable because 137,000 families are on a waiting list for public housing.

Housing authority spokesman Howard Marder said a few thousand apartments are always empty because of repair work being done or because they are reserved for emergencies. Some are also in such a state of disrepair, they are uninhabitable for many years.

He said Stringer does not understand the process of rehabilitating the housing or interpreting data on occupancy.

"In fact, we have less total vacant units today than we did five years ago," Marder said.

March 6th, 2005, 02:17 PM
March 6, 2005

Vacant Public Housing Units Have Increased, Report Says

By DAVID W. CHEN (http://query.nytimes.com/search/query?ppds=bylL&v1=DAVID%20W.%20CHEN&fdq=19960101&td=sysdate&sort=newest&ac=DAVID%20W.%20CHEN&inline=nyt-per)

http://graphics8.nytimes.com/images/dropcap/t.gifhe number of public housing apartments in New York City vacant for more than five years has increased 31 percent since 2003, meaning a loss of rental income of $18 million a year, according to a new report.

The report by Assemblyman Scott Stringer, who represents the Upper West Side, updates a December 2003 study that criticized the New York City Housing Authority for keeping several thousand apartments vacant too long.

This time, Mr. Stringer, using data from the Housing Authority obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, found that from November 2003 to January of this year, the number of vacant apartments had increased 10 percent to 4,831, or almost 3 percent of the total of 181,000 apartments. The report found that 81 percent of the vacancies were for longer than a year, and some for as long as 13 years.

Those numbers, Mr. Stringer said, are unacceptable, with 137,000 families on the waiting list for public housing.

"I'm surprised that the numbers are going in the wrong direction," he said about the report, which is to be released today. "It is absolutely incomprehensible that we would leave any unit vacant that long because that's the difference between a family living in a shelter or on the street, or in an apartment."

The Housing Authority did not contest the veracity of the data. But it strongly challenged Mr. Stringer's interpretation of the figures, just as it did after the 2003 report.

Howard Marder, an authority spokesman, said that a few thousand apartments are always empty, because they are in the middle of repair work, or because they are being reserved for emergencies. Some apartments are in such a state of disrepair that they are uninhabitable for many years, he added.

But of those apartments that are considered "immediately rentable," the vacancy rate was 0.5 percent, down from 0.6 percent from 2001, he said.

Mr. Marder noted that 65 percent of the authority's 345 housing developments were more than 30 years old. As a result, he said, the authority is spending more than $365 million a year to maintain and modernize its apartments - a major undertaking that requires some apartments to be left vacant.

"Assemblyman Stringer's accusations demonstrate that he neither understands the need to modernize our buildings so that residents can live in safe and secure housing, how you go about achieving this, nor how to accurately interpret data on occupancy of our buildings," Mr. Marder said. "In fact, we have less total vacant units today than we did five years ago."

The report comes a month after Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg announced a $2 billion plan to refurbish public housing. The money would be used partly for exterior projects such as brickwork, concrete repairs and roofs, and interior ones such as bathrooms and kitchens.

But Mr. Stringer, who is running for borough president of Manhattan, said the Housing Authority had not explained how much of the $2 billion would be used on the apartments that are now vacant.

In Manhattan, the Vladeck development on the Lower East Side had the greatest number of vacancies, with 518. The Raymond V. Ingersoll Houses, near the Brooklyn Navy Yard, had the most in Brooklyn, with 333, while Ocean Bay Apartments in Bayside had 339 vacancies, the most in Queens.

Copyright 2005 (http://www.nytimes.com/ref/membercenter/help/copyright.html) The New York Times Company (http://www.nytco.com/)

April 20th, 2005, 07:27 AM
April 20, 2005

Mayor Proposes Housing Fund Using $130 Million Surplus From Battery Park City

By DAVID W. CHEN (http://query.nytimes.com/search/query?ppds=bylL&v1=DAVID W. CHEN&fdq=19960101&td=sysdate&sort=newest&ac=DAVID W. CHEN&inline=nyt-per)
http://graphics8.nytimes.com/images/dropcap/s.gifaying that it was time to keep a promise first made more than 15 years ago, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and the city comptroller, William C. Thompson Jr., proposed yesterday that the city create a trust fund for low-cost housing by using $130 million in surplus funds from the Battery Park City Authority.

The money would be channeled into the new fund over the next four years, with the first year's contribution, $46 million, being the biggest deposit, said Shaun Donovan, the city's housing commissioner. The fund would then help the city build or preserve 4,500 apartments citywide for more than 11,000 people, mostly the poorest New Yorkers.

"This proposed housing trust fund is more evidence that creating affordable housing in all five boroughs is one of our highest priorities," Mr. Bloomberg said at a news conference at City Hall, flanked by Mr. Thompson, Mr. Donovan and Bertha Lewis, the executive director of Acorn in New York, an advocacy group for low-income families.

The authority, which was established by the state in 1968, collects rent and payments from landlords in Battery Park City that are made in lieu of taxes. After the authority pays off its debts, it hands the surplus to the city. The city's Independent Budget Office has estimated that the surplus will be $88.1 million in 2005, $81.7 million in 2006 and $57.9 million in subsequent years.

The proposal still needs to be approved by Gov. George E. Pataki, who controls the authority. But Mr. Bloomberg said he was "encouraged" and "optimistic." And a spokesman for Mr. Pataki, Todd Alhart, said, "The governor is supportive of the plan, and we're working together with the city on this proposal."

In terms of housing policy, the new fund would help, as Mr. Thompson put it, "repair the breach of trust" that developed when $600 million that was supposed to have been spent on low-cost housing under a 1989 agreement was instead used by the city for general budget needs.

But in terms of election-year politics, the new fund - which would be the biggest housing trust fund in the country by far, city officials say - would also allow Mr. Bloomberg to tout his housing credentials as he tries to win over working-class New Yorkers.

Two years ago, Mr. Bloomberg unveiled a $3 billion plan to build or refurbish 65,000 units of housing by 2008, the most significant housing initiative in more than a decade. But many housing groups said the plan focused too much on the middle class. And in February, more than 7,000 people rallied outside City Hall, suggesting, among other ideas, that the city use surpluses from the Battery Park City Authority.

The trust fund would aim to help, for example, the typical family of four that earned up to $18,850, or 30 percent of the area's median income. That would improve the city's ability to take care of the homeless, officials say, and advance Mr. Bloomberg's goal of ending chronic homelessness in five years.

The plan would add 3,000 units to the number in Mr. Bloomberg's original housing plan, bumping it up to 68,000. And while the city's commitment to the trust fund would end in 2009 - the end of Mr. Bloomberg's second term, should he prevail in November - Mr. Bloomberg said a "mechanism" would be created to make the fund easy to continue under future administrations.

That assessment was applauded yesterday by representatives of the housing groups who gathered on the steps of City Hall. They were so enthusiastic, in fact, that some raised their hands with Mr. Bloomberg, and shouted: "Keep it up! Keep the promise!"

Copyright 2005 (http://www.nytimes.com/ref/membercenter/help/copyright.html) The New York Times Company (http://www.nytco.com/)

April 22nd, 2005, 06:23 AM

Renewing the B.P.C promise

By Josh Rogers

“We are going to keep the promise,” Mayor Mike Bloomberg told cheering housing advocates – the types that usually come to City Hall to protest. “I like this kind of crowd. Come back.”

The broken promise to use excess Battery Park City revenues for affordable housing was made in 1989 and has been a bone of contention ever since. The mayor and city Comptroller Bill Thompson outlined a plan Tuesday to spend $130 million over four years to build or preserve an additional 3,000 apartments for low-income tenants.

The money comes out of the payments in lieu of taxes the Battery Park City Authority collects and turns over to the city every year. The 25-year-old neighborhood was originally going to have a majority of apartments for low and middle-income tenants, but the plan was changed in the 1980s, first so that the money could be used for affordable housing all over the city and later to allow the city to use the money for budget shortfalls.

The money is put into a fund controlled by the mayor, comptroller and the B.P.C.A., a state public authority that develops and manages the neighborhood.

Gov. George Pataki, who controls the B.P.C.A., told Downtown Express last Thursday that it is up to the city to decide how to use the B.P.C. money. He is not expected to block the new plan. Bloomberg and Thompson said they were optimistic, and after the announcement, Lynn Rasic, Pataki’s spokesperson, said the governor was inclined to back the proposal. “We are supportive of this plan and will be working with them,” Rasic said.

Thompson, a driving force behind the announcement, said the agreement means “thousands of hard working New Yorkers and their families will be able to live in our city without having to choose between paying the rent and buying food.”

Mary Brosnahan Sullivan, executive director for the Coalition of the Homeless, said she has been trying to redirect these B.P.C. funds for her entire 15 years at the coalition and it was Thompson who was able to make sure it happenned.

“It’s an extraordinary day,” she said after the announcement. “The comptroller called the bluff and said to the mayor he’s going to come out alone if you don’t support this.”

Thompson was set to announce the plan two weeks ago, just after his plans were reported in Downtown Express’ UnderCover column. At the announcement, Bloomberg said Thompson deserves as much credit as anyone in his administration, and mayoral appointee Shaun Donovan, commissioner of Housing Preservation and Development, said it would not have happened without the comptroller’s leadership.

Bloomberg and his Democratic opponents all promised to use the B.P.C. money for affordable housing in 2001, but on Tuesday the mayor said that after Sept. 11 the city economy was reeling and he knew he would not be able to keep the promise when he took office in January 2002. At the end of 2003, the mayor came out with a plan to build or preserve 65,000 affordable apartments and some housing advocates were disappointed the plan did not include B.P.C. money.

The $130 million from B.P.C. will go to a New York City Housing Trust Fund, which will be the largest such fund in the country, Donovan said. The money will pay for 4,500 apartments and represents a net gain of 3,000 apartments over the mayor’s original goal of saving or building 65,000 affordable apartments by 2008. Bloomberg said the city has reached 26,000 below-market apartments, which includes last year’s agreement at Independence Plaza in Tribeca.

A coalition of housing groups known as Affordable Housing Here & Now estimates that of the $1 billion in Battery Park City money that was once intended to be spent on affordable housing, only $143 million was used for that purpose.

H.P.D.’s Donovan said: “It’s about the dollars, but it’s also about keeping faith with all of you and with all New Yorkers about providing the affordable housing that all of us need to remain in New York City and to help our families grow.”

Some of the money will go to rent subsidies for people who make too much money to qualify for federal assistance, such as a family of four making between $30,000 and $50,000 a year, Donovan said. “We plan to spend the money immediately.”

There are several sites around the city being considered for housing projects, Donovan said, but none are in Lower Manhattan. During a press conference, Bloomberg noted how well the Downtown residential market has bounced back after Sept. 11.

Donovan said all of the excess B.P.C. revenue will go into the fund over the next four years and the mayor and governor should sign a deal within a few weeks.

The mayor did not want a longer-term agreement for the money because it would tie the hands of future administrations, said Donovan. Bloomberg had floated the idea of using $350 million of B.P.C. money for the expansion of the Javits Center in Midtown, but that idea was blocked by Thompson and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. Housing Here & Now estimates that if the B.P.C. money were committed over 20 years as opposed to four, 7,000 – 10,000 affordable apartments could be saved or built, compared to the 4,500 under the current plan.

Bertha Lewis, executive director of ACORN and a member of the housing alliance, criticized the governor, mayor and comptroller last year at a rally in Battery Park City but had nothing but praise for Thompson and Bloomberg Tuesday. “It’s a bold move, it’s a practical move,” she said “It is a move for New York City.” She said she would deal with future administrations in the future.

Shirley Mayes, 60, who attended the City Hall rally said, “I am happy and I’m not happy.” She was happy to hear more money would be spent on housing, but was not sure it would help her.

She pays $150 a month herself for her five-story walkup in the Bronx and gets an additional $250 every month under the federally-subsidized Section 8 housing program. “I have been living there almost 14 years and I’m tired of walking up,” she said.

Hayes said she had to pay $25 for a credit check to apply for low-income housing in an elevator building on 149th St. in the Bronx, but she is sure she won’t get it because she makes less than the income requirement, $18,000 a year.

Jackie Delvella, who works for New Settlement Houses where Hayes lives, said the B.P.C. plan won’t solve all housing problems but “this is an important first step.”


TLOZ Link5
October 22nd, 2005, 12:37 PM
Daily News

Moving into the projects: More housing


With the city's burgeoning population and skyrocketing rents, New Yorkers could soon outgrow New York, housing experts said yesterday.

But one city planner thinks he's found a way to squeeze in more affordable apartments.

Michael Kwartler's idea is to take underused open spaces in existing public housing and put low-rise multifamily dwellings on them.

Kwartler, an urban designer with New York City experience, analyzed 25 of the city's 348 public "towers in the parks."

He found that 65% of them had underused space. By filling it in with townhouses, Kwartler said the city could house up to 15,000 more families. And the city already owns the land, a big cost saving.

Creating mixed-income housing would integrate "superblock" towers into the streetscape, experts said. The effect is "a sense of place" for residents and the erasure of the stigma of public housing.

Kwartler spoke at a gathering of urban planners, architects, economists and policy makers who met at Baruch College to discuss the findings of a 10-month study into affordable housing options in New York City.

The research was sponsored by the office of the public advocate and the Steven L. Newman Real Estate Institute, with funding from the City Council.

"It's an absolutely brilliant idea," said event speaker and urban planner James Stockard.

Kwartler's proposal "would make it less easy to distinguish public housing from the rest of the neighborhood, which is exactly the right thing to do."

Organizers said Kwartler's idea was one of several promising housing options. Others included rezoning manufacturing and commercial districts to include housing and obtaining federal funds to buy housing sites.

Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum, who cautioned that preserving open spaces and parks was important, was buoyed by the discussion at the forum.

"Beyond its considerable practical value, this study is a sign of hope," she said.

Originally published on October 22, 2005

©New York Daily News, 2005

October 22nd, 2005, 12:47 PM
Brilliant idea. Let's hope it's implemented.

October 22nd, 2005, 11:36 PM
I agree. These superblocks really have proven to be destructive to the streetscape, a poor use of space and have creaed dead zones in the community. I don't think it would be too radical to demolish and rebuild - allowing larger buildings that guarantee a full replacement of subsidized housing to the lots - integrated with a full scope of housing and retail.

West 17th by 9th is a good example of bad planning. And the whole ILGWU housing blocks in the East 20's on Eighth are upkept nicely, but are just complete dead zones. Then, there's Coney Island....

October 23rd, 2005, 10:06 AM
These towers in a park can be brought back into the city. They should never have left in the first place.

October 23rd, 2005, 11:17 AM
The Benefits of the Boom

Sister Joan Kirby, Sister
Margaret Coakley and Sister Kathleen
Cox share an apartment in this West
52nd Street tenement building,
renovated in part with funds from
developers of a tower on West 43rd
Street. They were evicted from their
previous home when the nun named
on the lease moved.

Sister Joan Kirby, left, Sister
Margaret Coakley and Sister Kathleen
Cox, standing, share an apartment in
a West 52nd Street tenement building.

In East New York, Adrienne
Brockington with her daughter Brianne
Williams (in her arms), grandniece
Shadina Brockington and daughter
Princess McAllister. Her development
was financed in part through the sale
of tax credits to luxury developers.

Published: October 23, 2005

IT seems counterintuitive, but the luxury real estate market is helping to build housing for low- and moderate-income people.

Sometimes, the deals create what could be called sibling buildings - for example, a 42-story luxury tower on West 43rd Street is linked to five renovated tenement buildings nine blocks to the north. It was a good deal for both.

The beige-brick luxury building, called the Ivy Tower, is seven stories taller than it would have been had its developers not agreed to help finance the gut rehabilitation of those century-old buildings at the northwest corner of 52nd Street and 10th Avenue - creating 27 apartments for lower-income people.

The developers of the Ivy Tower benefited by getting 42 additional units, with rents ranging from $1,850 for a studio to $6,500 for a penthouse.

But the tenants on 52nd Street, where the five dilapidated tenements were combined and thoroughly modernized, also revel in their good fortune. "This is like luxury, so beautiful," said Sister Kathleen Cox, one of four nuns who live together in a three-bedroom apartment in the once-condemned buildings. Rents in the rehabbed building range from $297 a month for a studio to $947 for a three-bedroom.

The tradeoff linking the Ivy Tower to Sister Kathleen's relatively sumptuous quarters was made possible through what is known as inclusionary zoning, one of several city programs that provide incentives for market-rate developers to contribute to the inventory of affordable housing. They can buy extra space for their buildings from affordable housing developers; include affordable apartments in their buildings; or buy city-issued certificates from developers of affordable housing that allow them to pay lower property taxes.

"The traditional equation," said Shaun Donovan, the commissioner of the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, "has been that the stronger the real estate market, the harder it is to provide affordable housing. These programs turn that old equation on its head because the stronger the market, the greater the incentive for developers to use these programs and, therefore, provide affordable housing."

As housing economists point out, the market-driven programs do not meet the city's great need for the production of affordable units - but they make a dent. And their impact is expected to increase in the next few years as builders, aware of the city's growing population, take advantage of recently enhanced incentives to build in rezoned areas like the Hudson Yards and West Chelsea in Manhattan, and Greenpoint and Williamsburg in Brooklyn.

But for Sister Kathleen and her roommates, Sisters Joan Kirby, Margaret Coakley and Judy Garson - all members of the Religious of the Sacred Heart - the impact of those incentives is already deeply felt.

Three years ago, the nuns were evicted from a tenement building on West 49th Street because a fifth nun, the one whose name was on the lease, had moved into a retirement home near Albany. They used to pay $1,284 for the railroad flat in the old building, with its bathtub in the kitchen, toilet in the hallway, no lock on the front door and rarely seen superintendent.

Now, at $337 a month less, they are in a rehabbed building with a corniced roof and arched terra cotta windows. "It's day and night," Sister Margaret said. "We have sunlight, fresh air; we have the garden outside. There's doors on the closets, doors on our rooms."

Sister Joan said, "Here, if any little nick in the floor comes, a tile comes loose, the super fixes it immediately."

Sister Kathleen says she appreciates "the variety of families in the building; we're elderly, and we just had a little baby down the hall." To which Sister Margaret added, "Just on this floor, we have four different countries."

Under the program that linked the two buildings, developers can build an extra four square feet of market-rate space for every square foot of affordable space that is created. If the affordable project is done off-site, it must be within the same community-board area or within half a mile of where the market-rate development is being constructed. Part of the concept is to foster mixed-income communities.

The rehabilitation of the 52nd Street building retained the early 1900's exterior of the five tenements with a thoroughly modernized interior. "It went from walk-ups to elevator," said Joe Restuccia, executive director of the Clinton Housing Development Company, which, along with another affordable housing company, L&M Equities, developed the project. "It has 27 apartments, a community garden."

The renovated building has more than 25,000 square feet of space. That generated more than 100,000 square feet of extra development space, which was eventually divided among three luxury developers who helped finance the renovation. The largest share, 45,186 square feet, was sold to the builders of the Ivy Tower.

Mr. Restuccia appreciates the opportunity to make such deals. "Few other cities have the incredibly dynamic real estate market we have where there's such a spread between the market rents and the affordable housing rents," he said. "So, because market-rate units bring in so much rental income, the projects have the ability to support a greater number of affordable units."

And with a lot more for-sale units on the market in recent years, he said, "The economic return on a condo project easily enables a developer to include an affordable housing component while having greater returns."

Bernard Friedman, the president of the Penmark Realty Corporation, a partner in the development of Ivy Tower, savored another sort of return from the link between his building and Mr. Restuccia's affordable project. When he witnessed people who had lived in ramshackle buildings moving into the West 52nd Street building, he recalled, "some of them had tears in their eyes."

"It's a two-way street," Mr. Friedman said. "We are contributing to low-income housing at no expense to the city and we, in turn, get the extra floors on our building."

The other luxury developers that participated along with Penmark Realty were the Brodsky Organization and the Steinberg & Pokoik Management Corporation.

Adrienne Brockington has no notion of the intricacies of another city program that allows luxury developers to profit by supporting low-income housing: the 421-a tax abatement program. But she is glad to be living in a new development - with high porches, lawns and walkways - on Loring Avenue in East New York, Brooklyn. Rents there range from $525 a month for a studio to $646 for a two-bedroom.

"It looks like down South, like in Virginia," Ms. Brockington said. "It's gated, with security. It has grass in the complex" - a far cry from the rough street in Bushwick where she lived for eight years, until 2002.

The 187 apartments in three-story town houses at 1426 Loring Avenue were developed by the Arker Companies, which has built more than 3,000 affordable rental units in Brooklyn, the Bronx and Manhattan, in large part by selling 421-a certificates.

Under the program, a developer of affordable housing can sell the city-issued certificates to developers of new luxury buildings - primarily those between 96th Street and Houston Street in Manhattan - providing a 10-year property tax abatement on the market-rate building. The current negotiable rate for 421-a certificates is about $13,000 for each luxury apartment. The stronger the luxury market - meaning the greater the value of a new building - the higher its property taxes will be; and, therefore, the greater the benefit in buying a tax abatement. So, if a developer is selling condominiums with reduced property taxes, buyers will be able to afford higher purchase prices because their tax bills will be lower.

Sol Arker, a principal of the family-owned company, said that about 930 certificates were sold to help finance the construction of 1426 Loring Avenue. The 421-a program "is only one component in the city's efforts to meet the housing needs of lower-income people," Mr. Arker said. "I don't believe there's one silver bullet that produces all of the affordable housing needed, but it significantly helps."

It certainly helped Ms. Brockington.

"I'm on disability because I had a stroke two years ago," said Ms. Brockington, 40, the mother of two daughters - one 18, the other 18 months old - who recently also took custody of her 15-year-old grandniece. Ms. Brockington, who is in a program that teaches computer skills, was one of the applicants picked in a lottery run by the Department of Housing Preservation and Development to live in the Loring Avenue development. Her old neighborhood, she said, "was drug-infested; there were shootouts all the time."

A total of 4,271 affordable units have been created through the inclusionary and 421-a programs. "It's sort of Robin Hood," said Adam Weinstein, president of Phipps Houses, a nonprofit affordable housing group that owns or manages about 13,000 apartments in Manhattan, Queens and the Bronx. "It's taking the enormous value in a strong market and transferring - cream skimming, in effect - some of that value for social good: affordable housing," he said.

For example, Mr. Weinstein said his organization holds "an extremely valuable piece of real estate" on East 25th Street - an underused playground that is part of a 400-unit affordable development built 30 years ago - that will become the site of 50 more affordable apartments.

Michael D. Lappin, president and chief executive of the Community Preservation Corporation, another major nonprofit housing group, said his organization had invested nearly $5 billion preserving or developing 120,000 units of affordable housing.

More is on the way. Mr. Lappin said deals are being considered by churches in central Brooklyn that "flourished in one era and now have a lot of underutilized property" - rectories or schools. If they build affordable housing on their property and finance it by selling air rights, they will also help their members. "Their angst was that their congregants were being priced out of their neighborhoods, at $1,500 to rent a two-bedroom in a brownstone," he said.

Mr. Donovan, the city's housing commissioner, said mixed-income communities are the right model for the future. With the inclusionary program, he said, "we're essentially creating new neighborhoods from the ground up."

He expects that 30,000 units will be built in the next few years in the recently rezoned areas of Brooklyn and on Manhattan's West Side. "Using our new inclusionary program, which is the most aggressive in the country, along with city-owned land and other incentives," he said, "we expect 8,500 of those units to be affordable."

But more will certainly be needed, said George W. McCarthy, a housing economist at the Ford Foundation. Calling himself "a big fan of inclusionary zoning and 421-a incentives," Dr. McCarthy said, "While these market-based programs are laudable, they are still insufficient to meet the growing needs of New York City's low- and moderate-income families."

For those who have benefited, the changes have been enormous. David Lopez, a New York City police detective, and his wife, Janet, a waitress, and their 11-year-old son, David Jr., live in the rehabbed West 52nd Street building where the four nuns also reside. They were allowed to move in after another tenement they had been living in, on West 37th Street, was closed for renovations. The Lopezes pay $840 a month for a two-bedroom.

A 24-story luxury building is rising next door. "This area is up and coming; new apartments, new buildings," the detective said. On the open market, "I'd definitely have a hard time finding something like this in Manhattan," he said.

Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

October 23rd, 2005, 11:17 AM
Getting on the Lists For Affordable Housing

Published: October 23, 2005

THE city's Department of Housing Preservation and Development supervises separate lotteries for each affordable housing project. Advertisements for projects are placed in community newspapers, in citywide dailies and on the department's Web site, www.nyc.gov/hpd.

The department's home page includes a "For Apartment Seekers" section, with a directory called Current Housing Lotteries. The directory lists all apartments currently available under inclusionary zoning, the 421-a tax-exemption program and all other housing programs. The department gives preference for the sale or rental of half the homes it helps create or rehabilitate to current residents of the community board district where the homes are located.

The listings specify the income-eligibility requirements, which vary from project to project. For example, the annual income requirement for new tenants at the five tenement buildings on West 52nd Street ranged from $30,470 for a one-person household to $43,520 for a household of four people.

Someone seeking an apartment must request an application and return it by a specified date. No application or broker fees are charged, although the developer may charge for an applicant's credit report. Those chosen in the lottery must go through a series of interviews.

In general, the lotteries receive far more applications than the number of homes available.

Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

April 21st, 2006, 11:29 AM
27% of Public Housing Tenants Face More Rent Under City Plan

Members of Community Voices Heard, who are residents of public housing, protested higher fees Thursday near
City Hall. Dayshawn Smith, 7, performed a skit aimed to show New Yorkers "living in boxes."

Published: April 21, 2006

The New York City Housing Authority announced yesterday that it wants to raise the rents paid by tens of thousands of its better-off tenants. The move, the biggest change in housing authority rents since 1989, is intended to help close a budget gap that has widened as costs have shot up and federal financing has not, officials said.

The proposed rent increases, some as high as several hundred dollars a month over the next two years, would affect nearly 47,000 households with annual incomes ranging from $19,800 to as high as $100,000. They make up 27 percent of all authority households. The remaining 128,000 poorer households, whose rent is fixed at one third of their income, would be unaffected.

The housing authority's chairman, Tino Hernandez, said yesterday that the agency "is at a defining moment in its history."

If the authority does not solve the problem of its recurring deficits, Mr. Hernandez and other administrators said, it will exhaust its depleted reserves in less than two years.

The authority, the largest in the country with more than 400,000 tenants, last fixed rent ceilings, beyond which no tenant's rent could climb, in 1989. The aim of those "ceiling rents" was to encourage upwardly mobile families to remain in public housing, cultivating a socioeconomic mix that some say has been crucial to the authority's success.

Under the new proposal, a family with a household income of about $40,000 living in a two-bedroom apartment would see its monthly rent increase to $546 from $495 in two years.

The proposed change, which would be phased in starting in September and requires approval of the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, which oversees all local housing authorities, comes on the heels of the New York authority's decision to impose increased tenant fees for everything from owning a washing machine and a dishwasher to getting a broken door fixed or a key fished out of an elevator shaft.

Mr. Hernandez announced several other steps being taken in what he called the authority's "seven-point plan to preserve public housing." Those steps include an offer from Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg's administration of $100 million to help the authority pay its bills while it continues to look for new ways to raise revenue and cut costs.

The authority also intends to ask for approval to use federal Section 8 housing money to subsidize 8,400 of 21,000 authority-run units that were built by the city and state in the 1950's and 1960's. Because those units no longer receive any state or city subsidy, they are said to account for nearly half of the authority's $168 million operating deficit.

A letter from Mr. Hernandez announcing the proposals was to be distributed to every household yesterday. The authority is planning to hold five town hall meetings next month, one in each borough, and a public hearing in early June.

Victor Bach, a senior housing policy analyst for the Community Service Society, a nonprofit group that works against poverty, said in an interview: "There is clearly a reason to increase the ceiling rents since they haven't been increased in 20 years, at a time when maintenance and operating costs have gone up. The question is whether they're being increased to reasonable levels, whether they will cause any undue hardship for tenants."

He added, "I think it's going to be an issue and a decision that's going to be a hard fight with tenants, who are very sensitive to the rent issue."

Indeed, interviewed last night, one New York City tenant — from the Baruch Houses, on the Lower East Side of Manhattan — said the $495 rent she pays now for a two-bedroom apartment would rise by 40 percent under the new plan.

The tenant, Damaris Reyes, one of the residents in the system with a higher income, said: "Not that the current circumstances don't warrant some kind of an increase. Clearly when expenses go up, you have to generate more revenue. It's really about what kind of services you will get."

The authority houses more than 417,000 New Yorkers; the average household income is $19,000. Nearly half the authority's operating revenue comes from rent; most of the rest comes from federal financing, which covers a declining percentage of the authority's escalating costs.

This year, the authority said it was facing a $168 million budget shortfall, largely as a result of enormous increases in energy and pension costs. Since 2001, it said, it has spent $357 million from its reserves to close repeated budget gaps; this year, for the first time, it no longer has enough reserves to cover the shortfall.

The new rent increase proposal, expected to generate $60.8 million by the 2009 fiscal year, would affect only the 27 percent of households that currently pay the ceiling rents. Their new rents would be based on apartment size and household income. The increases, over two years, would range from 10 to 40 percent.

Households making less than 60 percent of the area's median income, or an average of $29,119, would see their rents rise by 10 percent to $557 from $505. Those making between 60 and 80 percent of the median, or an average of $41,137, would see theirs rise to $624 from $515.

Authority administrators say the highest-income households currently spend as little as 10 percent of their income on rent. That percentage would increase to 15 percent — well below the percentage paid by poorer tenants. While the higher-income tenants' rents have remained capped since 1989, rents in rent-stabilized apartments in the city have risen more than 50 percent, officials said.

Sunia Zaterman, executive director of the Council of Large Housing Authorities in Washington, described the New York authority's proposal as "sound and well thought out."

She said: "Those are difficult challenges given the history of the funding levels for housing authorities. I think they've presented a balanced plan."


Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

May 27th, 2006, 03:48 AM
May 27, 2006
Lower-Priced Housing Is Vanishing at a Faster Pace

The shrinking of New York City's supply of privately owned but subsidized rental apartments — housing relied upon by many working-class New Yorkers as well as teachers, civil servants and police officers — has accelerated sharply over the past three years, according to two new studies tracking the erosion of lower-priced housing in the city.

A study to be released today by the Community Service Society of New York found that nearly a quarter of the roughly 121,000 apartments built under federal and state subsidy programs dating from the 1960's and 1970's left those programs from 1990 to 2005. The rate of withdrawal grew in the late 1990's and hit its highest level last year.

Another study, released on Thursday by the Office of the New York City Comptroller looked largely at losses from the state's Mitchell-Lama program, and found that more than 25,000 units have been withdrawn or have begun that process since 2004. That number is greater than the 24,000 units pulled out in all the years before 2004, the study said.

"When we last looked in 2003, an estimated 10 percent of the stock was lost or in the process, " said Victor Bach, the senior housing policy analyst at the Community Service Society and an author of its report, along with Tom Waters. "Now it's up to 25 percent. It's really accelerating."

Both reports suggested that the losses may soon outweigh the effects of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg's efforts to build and preserve 165,000 units of low- and moderate-income housing by 2013. But city officials said the 56,000 units that they say the administration has already financed significantly exceeds the number of units lost.

They also said many residents of buildings have been able to remain in their buildings without paying high rents. Buildings built before 1974 fall under the rent stabilization system, and tenants in other buildings get federal Section 8 vouchers, which cover the gap between the rent they can afford and the market rate.

"That's not to say this is not an issue, that we shouldn't do more," Shaun Donovan, commissioner of the city's Department of Housing Preservation and Development, said of the reports. "But I think they're overstating what the impact is."

According to city figures, there are about 250,000 units of government-assisted housing in the city, developed through low-income housing tax credits, the Mitchell-Lama program and various federal subsidy programs. Under Mitchell-Lama and similar programs, in return for the government aid, building owners were required to keep rents affordable to low- and moderate-income people for a time, often 20 years, before they could leave the programs.

In recent years, more buildings have become eligible to withdraw. The strength of the real estate market has created new incentives to pull out. The Bloomberg administration, with some success, has developed programs to encourage owners to stay, but attrition has continued.

"Since 2004, the number has skyrocketed," said William C. Thompson Jr., the city comptroller, citing his office's study of losses of units from the Mitchell-Lama program and the similar Limited Dividend housing program. "In 2004, what we had talked about was an impending crisis in affordable housing. Today, that crisis is here."

The Community Service Society study looked at losses not only from the Mitchell-Lama program, but also from two federal mortgage-interest subsidy programs and the project-based Section 8 rent subsidy program. The study found that 23 percent of 120,917 apartments were lost from 1990 to 2005, including 5,518 in 2005 alone. Another 13 percent are imminently at risk, it said.

Attrition has been heaviest among Mitchell-Lama apartments, Mr. Waters said. Just 1,111 Mitchell-Lama apartments with a federal subsidy had been lost through 2002; by early this year, that number had risen to 9,528. Among those without a federal subsidy, 12,755, or 53 percent of all units, were lost from 1990 to 2005.

The number lost from the project-based Section 8 program rose to 5,478 in late 2005 from 3,363 in 2002.

The comptroller's office found that 28 Mitchell-Lama developments and one Limited Dividend development, totaling 13,000 units, have begun withdrawing. It predicted that if they withdraw, the city will have lost 49,000 units, or 33 percent of all units built under those two programs.

The comptroller's office calculated that the city had financed the creation of 12,229 low and moderate-income units in the period since 2002, a period in which the study said 12,943 Mitchell-Lama units were lost. But city officials said they have financed the preservation and creation of over 56,000 low- and middle-income units since 2002.

Mr. Waters said he did not think that the losses have outweighed the gains in lower-priced housing yet but they could do so in the future. He said that a lot of the new units being created by the city are for middle-income people — out of reach of many in the group that the older subsidized apartments have tended to house.

Among other recommendations, the Community Service Society called for federal funding to increase the subsidy for projects in areas in which the real estate market is hot, state help in refinancing mortgages, and improved tenant protections. Both studies urged the State Legislature to pass two pending bills that would place all Mitchell-Lama rental buildings under rent stabilization once they leave the program.

Interviews with tenants in several buildings that have left the subsidy programs indicated that change has been gradual in many cases.

Jean Green Dorsey, chairwoman of the tenants association in an Upper West Side apartment complex that left the Mitchell-Lama program eight years ago, said more than 80 percent of tenants have stayed and are paying rents at the stabilized rate. Mrs. Dorsey, who said that she and her husband pay $600 for their two-bedroom apartment with a terrace, said that rents for vacant apartments have tripled.

Edward Clarke, president of the tenants association at Boulevard Towers I in Soundview in the Bronx, which also left Mitchell-Lama, said tenants who stayed are paying rents similar to what they paid before. But, he said, evictions have gone up. And, in 10 years, he predicts, the residents will be a different crowd.

"Quite frankly, a lot of people I know are moving out of the city altogether," said Mr. Clarke, 36, an operations analyst with Mellon Investor Services. "Because of how much of your income you spend just renting an apartment, you can't really live a decent life or really enjoy all the offers and benefits the city has."


Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

June 20th, 2006, 11:54 AM
Ax rent hikes, tenants howl

Tracy Swartz
June 20, 2006

Calling affordable housing in New York City "a crisis," hundreds of city tenants urged the Rent Guidelines Board yesterday to reject a proposed rent hike between 3% and 8.5% for rent-stabilized apartments.

"We cannot afford another increase," said Ursula Morgan of Norwood, the Bronx, during a public hearing at Hostos Community College. "If you want to see a city full of homeless people, keep raising the rent, and that's what's going to happen."

The board is considering raising rents between 3% to 6.5% for one-year leases and between 5% to 8.5% for two-year leases. The board will vote June 27 on any increases, which will take effect Oct. 1.

The board entertained comments from the public for several hours at a sometimes raucous hearing. Tenants chanted, "Freeze the rents" while holding signs that read, "We have to survive. Zero increase" and "Landlords don't need big rent hikes."

Audience members hissed Eamon Toscano, a landlord in the north Bronx, who asked the board for a 10% rent increase to help cope with rising costs for oil and insurance.

"When we pay all the bills, there's not much left," Toscano said.

According to the Rent Stabilization Association, a landlord group, the average rent in the Bronx is $674 a month - nearly $200 below the city average.

But Adele Bender of Queens argued that tenants shoulder much of the burden.

"I know the landlords talk about their expenses, but what about our expenses?" she said.

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan) denounced the proposed hikes and urged the board to "dramatically reconsider."

The board will hold another public hearing from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Thursday at the Great Hall at Cooper Union in Manhattan.

All contents © 2006 Daily News, L.P.

July 19th, 2006, 10:01 AM
The first-ever broad count of neglected buildings in the city may reveal housing opportunities.

By Cassi Feldman

For most New Yorkers, the thought of abandoned property conjures images of the South Bronx in the 1970s, when owners deserted or even burned their buildings rather than pay taxes on them. Yet local anti-homelessness activists say that despite the current housing crunch, empty buildings still abound—and they’ve convinced Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer to take action.

This Saturday, Stringer’s office will sponsor the first large-scale count of abandoned properties in Manhattan. Volunteers will scour assigned sections of the borough, including Harlem, Washington Heights, Greenwich Village and Chinatown, looking for what the office defined as “any residential, commercial, or mixed-use building that is not occupied and has visible signs of distress.” They will also be asked to identify vacant lots and empty buildings in seemingly good condition.

The count comes at a time when the city has sold off all but 2,000 of the 100,000 units of derelict property it once controlled. Stringer hopes his count will help locate new sites for affordable housing. “It’s about being able to go to the owner and say, ‘Hey, this is your situation and these are the programs and incentives that are available to you,’” he said. If the land is publicly owned, his office will contact the appropriate government agency. Stringer expressed hope that similar tallies may be undertaken in other neighborhoods and boroughs.

The count was spearheaded by Picture the Homeless, a Harlem-based activist group. Its members say that dozens of properties in their neighborhood, including nearly an entire block at 125th Street and Lenox Avenue, have been empty for years. A source familiar with the Lenox Avenue site said the buildings were only recently fully vacated and will soon be demolished and redeveloped.

Activists aren’t swayed by such assurances. “We’re in a housing crisis and you have landlords warehousing ... buildings,” said Roosevelt Orphee, 46, a member of Picture the Homeless. He’s a former Verizon switchboard operator who now lives at a homeless shelter for single men. “People are [sleeping] outside while buildings are being kept offline.”

Other cities, including Boston and St. Louis, have undertaken similar counts with a goal of reducing blight and encouraging the development of affordable housing. Boston does an annual street-by-street count of abandoned properties that covers most of the city. When housing agency staffers find buildings that qualify, they post the addresses online to urge neglectful owners to either use the buildings or sell them. Since 2000, the number of abandoned buildings in the city has dropped by 43 percent.

Tim Davis, senior research analyst for Boston’s Department of Neighborhood Development, attributes that decrease partly to the count, partly to his agency’s housing programs and partly to market forces, which made have made the buildings more desirable over time. Still, he said, his work is far from done. “The market is hesitating,” he said. “We’re careful to see what happens to make sure that it doesn’t deteriorate.”

St. Louis, home to 5,699 vacant buildings at last count, plans to clear the path to smarter land use by demolishing any abandoned structures considered a threat to the safety of nearby residents or an obstacle to redevelopment. More than 2,700 such buildings have been demolished over the last five years.

Here in New York, Stringer said each property would be examined on a case-by-case basis to determine if its owner had defaulted on taxes, for instance, or failed to correct building code violations. If not, there isn’t much the city can do. But even in buildings with problems, Stringer seems reluctant to call for heavy-handed tactics like the use of eminent domain. “The real goal here is education,” he said. “We want to reach out in a positive way.”

Copyright © 2006 City Futures, Inc.

July 24th, 2006, 12:03 PM
Housing Advocates Take Count Of Vacant Lots In Manhattan


July 23, 2006

In a city where real estate is at a premium, Manhattan's borough president wants to know just how many abandoned properties are in his borough.

Scott Stringer, along with a group of 100 volunteers, scoured Manhattan yesterday to count the number of abandoned buildings and vacant lots in the borough. The street by street count will be used to identify places affordable housing could be built.

"We don't know why, in a hot housing market, we have vacancies like this in this," said Stringer. "We don't know who owns these properties. Are they tax delinquent? Does the city own them? We want to know specifically, exactly what is going on with this borough."

Similar counts in other cities have been successful. After Boston did a count, it was able to reduce the number of vacant lots and buildings by 43 percent.

Copyright © 2006 NY1 News.

July 24th, 2006, 12:38 PM
When it costs more money, or when there is a legal problem, sometimes it is easier to just let a problem sit than to do anything with it.

What happens with things like that warehouse fire of the property whose owner/developer seems to have a lot of fires on his lands? Not everyone in the city can pay homeless guys to burn the insulation off of wiring to try to get the copper you know.....

August 5th, 2006, 10:10 PM
Unrealized Real Estate: Manhattan’s Empty Buildings


Published: August 6, 2006

It may not be strictly true to call the five-story apartment building on 127th Street, just east of Lenox Avenue in Harlem, abandoned.

On a recent Saturday afternoon, the sagging scaffolding encasing its ground floor sheltered at least a dozen homeless people, and someone had spray-painted the words “guard dog” on the front door, which was chained shut. A banner from the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development, proclaiming “The New Housing Marketplace,” hung from an upper floor, although one corner had become detached, rendering the rest of the sign unreadable.

Shanifah Rieara, director of the uptown office of the Manhattan borough president, Scott Stringer, carefully noted the building’s address and condition, and a volunteer, Beverly Clark-Griggsby, snapped a picture with a disposable camera, then moved on down the block.

The two were part of an initiative, organized by Mr. Stringer’s office and the nonprofit group Picture the Homeless, to count Manhattan’s abandoned buildings and vacant lots.

Improbable as it may sound after the city’s long building boom, such properties are still out there, and on this day hundreds of volunteers combed the streets with clipboards, counting buildings.

Mr. Stringer said the information collected would be used to contact the owners of the properties, city agencies and community organizations and to encourage creation of low-income housing.

Similar counts have taken place in Boston, Albany and St. Louis, and he said the Boston count helped produce a 43 percent reduction in vacant buildings. Eric Pugatch, a spokesman for the borough president, said on Thursday that so far Mr. Stringer’s office had identified more than 1,000 Manhattan locations that appeared to be vacant, although the counting had not been completed and the properties would have to be evaluated individually before a final total could be determined this fall.

“This is going to surprise people,” Mr. Stringer said, standing in front of a row of boarded-up brownstones on 126th Street.

A few blocks away, Ms. Clark-Griggsby described a building on 136th Street next to a brownstone that her cousin recently bought.

“The building has garbage falling out the windows,” she said. “The man there said it had been that way for 16 years. I said, ‘Excuse me, sir?’ ”

In a tight market, the wasted properties could make a big difference. “Every day there are about 8 to 10 people that come into our office looking for housing opportunities,” Ms. Rieara said.

Ms. Clark-Griggsby asked two men sitting on boxes on the stoop of a boarded-up three-story building to move, and she took another picture.

“When she said 127th Street, I said, ‘Oh, boy, I hope I have enough film in one camera,’ ” Ms. Clark-Griggsby said.

Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

August 22nd, 2006, 11:15 AM
New York Lags in Housing Creation, Census Data Show

BY DAVID LOMBINO - Staff Reporter of the Sun
August 22, 2006
URL: http://www.nysun.com/article/38325

The Arizona county that contains Phoenix added more housing units than all of New York State last year, according to numbers released by the U.S. Census Bureau yesterday.

New York added 33,666 housing units, an increase of 0.4% of its total housing stock, from July 2004 to July 2005. That makes it second-worst among the 50 states in percentage housing growth, trailing only Rhode Island.

In total number of units built, New York ranked 20th. Florida added nearly 247,000 units of housing, followed by California and Texas. States like Minnesota, South Carolina, Georgia, and Wisconsin also beat out New York.

A professor of demographics at Cornell University, Warren Brown, said the state's tepid pace of housing growth stems from slow population growth, particularly in upstate New York, a trend that he said began regionally in the 1970s.

"There is no increase in population because there aren't the jobs," Mr. Brown said. "People aren't moving here for the climate. They would come for jobs."

A senior policy analyst at the Regional Plan Association, Alexis Perrotta, said she would not characterize New York's housing growth as slow.

She said most of the housing growth in states like Florida and Arizona was likely to be single family housing that she said is "barely possible" in most downstate New York areas, which are mostly built out.

"That is plain old suburban growth which is not possible in our region. We already did that. We did that 60 years ago," Ms. Perrotta said.

A spokesman for the state's Division of Housing and Community Renewal, Peter Moses, said: "We are very proud of our housing accomplishments in the state of New York. Since 1995, $11 billion has been invested in affordable hosing in this state."

The Census Bureau also published housing data by county. The fastest growing county by total units was Maricopa County, Ariz., which contains Phoenix. It added 52,000 homes over the period. It was followed by Clark County, Nevada, which contains Las Vegas, and Harris County, Texas, which is home to Houston.

The five counties that make up New York City added more than 16,300 housing units from 2004 to 2005, according to the census. While the city is visibly going through a housing boom, the census figure falls short of the city's more recent estimates that more than 30,000 units are being constructed.

Still, the number of new housing units reported in New York City is an increase of about 31% over the previous year measured by the census, 2003 to 2004.

A spokesman for the city's Department of Housing Preservation and Development, Neill Coleman, said the city is sticking by its estimates, which are based on the number of building permits filed each year. He noted that last year more building permits were filed than in any year on record since 1972, and so far in 2006 building permits are being filed at a similar pace.

Mr. Coleman said that there are tens of thousands of housing units now under construction that do not appear in the latest census data but will soon. Mayor Bloomberg has a $7.5 billion plan to build and preserve 165,000 units of affordable housing over ten years.

Mr. Brown, of Cornell, said that the Census Bureau's methodology underestimates the number of new housing units in New York City. He said the bureau does not take conversions into account, and overestimates the amount of demolitions, or houses lost each year.

"It is probably pretty good data for Flagler County, Florida, but it is probably not good data for the five counties of New York City," Mr. Brown said.

He said that the Census housing data can have important ramifications. "Some federal monies are distributed to localities on the basis of these estimates, which favors suburban areas," Mr. Brown said.

An analyst with the Census Bureau, Greg Harper, said that the bureau estimates the amount of housing units destroyed, demolished or inhabitable each year.

"New York City might think we estimate too much loss for them," Mr. Harper said.

He said that based on the Census Bureau's building permit data for 2005 to 2006, New York City is due for a substantially bigger increase in new units next year.

An editor of the City Journal, Nicole Gelinas, said that New York State's tax policy is affecting migration, and is keeping population growth down and stunting housing starts.

"If you look at where all of these houses are being built, it is a story about the migration to the south and the southwest," Ms. Gelinas said. "All of these places have lower state taxes than New York."

"People are fleeing high housing costs, but they are also fleeing high taxes and moving to a more hospitable tax climate," she said.

August 22nd, 2006, 11:20 AM
How to House the Middle Class

August 22, 2006
URL: http://www.nysun.com/article/38313

Everybody is talking about the major crunch in middle class housing — even after a decade long housing boom of historic proportions, in which 69% of households own their own home. The reason is quite simple: it is becoming financially and politically infeasible to build middle class housing in the two places most likely to absorb new construction — suburban greenfields and existing urban and suburban neighborhoods. In both cases, government policy is responsible.

In greenfields, new housing construction has been tagged as "sprawl." Local citizens oppose it on the grounds that it is ugly, increases traffic, burdens local schools and infrastructure, and destroys attractive open space. Opposition efforts typically result in complicated regulations, expensive permits, interminable approval processes, and various efforts to buy and preserve open space. The result is inflated prices for suburban homes that would otherwise have been easily affordable to most Americans.

In built-up urban neighborhoods, residents oppose replacing familiar buildings with new higher-density housing as out-of-scale development in neighborhoods already experiencing overcrowded schools, congested streets, and a lack of parking. Some of this opposition is now uniting under the ludicrous term, "vertical sprawl." Residents demand zoning that protects "neighborhood character." The result is to reduce opportunities for development to the point that the price of housing in urban neighborhoods escalates.

With highways reaching capacity, developable land running out, and denser development becoming a political problem, it is growing harder and harder to build new housing for the middle class. Consequently, most development today is either single-family houses on small, expensive lots, or massive projects that must carry the costs of enormous fees, approvals, and various exactions demanded by local governments. Both cost too much for any but the rich.

There is plenty of blame to go round — residents who oppose change in their neighborhoods of any sort, mediocre developers whose poor products fuel local outrage — but in the end, the failure must rest squarely on the shoulders of local governments. Governments across the country have failed to fulfill their mission of providing the infrastructure and the public realm framework for new development. In many places, the only government contribution to the public realm of development is a highway. The rest — sewers, roads, and open space — is expected to come from the developers. As a result, infrastructures are soon strained to capacity, the public realm is hideous, and citizens — is it any surprise? — cry out for an end to development.

Some governments have attempted to compensate on the cheap by exacting concessions from developers to build parks, schools, and other public facilities. The result is that development becomes still more expensive (an expense inevitably passed through to home buyers), the facilities are minimal, and development pressure shapes the public realm and infrastructure, rather than vice versa.

It is time to set things right and start planning for growth once again. Governments must zone for the higher densities that make middle-class housing possible, and simultaneously they must make the investments necessary to shape that growth. In cities, that means investing in transit to defray added traffic. It means paying for schools and sewers and hospitals prior to development. And above all, it means investing in an attractive public realm framework that will provide open space for old citizens and new, and that will lure better development.

In suburbs, governments must lay out the parks, roads, water and sewer lines needed to shape a meaningful public realm that can knit together new development before vacant land is purchased for development. Governments must invest in the infrastructure of schools and other public facilities to support new residents.

How does one pay for these improvements? The simple answer is that these are not expenditures but investments, and the dividend they yield comes in the form of increased tax revenue from developed property, which can pay the debt service on the bonds issued to cover the costs of these initial public investments.

These public improvements not only encourage development, they make development politically acceptable. Most citizens who oppose growth do so because they are so displeased with the growth that they see. But growth with adequate infrastructure and an attractive, usable public realm is a very different thing. In Atlanta, my firm proposed just such a set of public realm improvements in the form of the Beltline Emerald Necklace, a 23-mile trail and light rail loop connecting over 2000 acres of new parkland. Thanks to the active support of Mayor Shirley Franklin, within one year the city approved the financing to implement the recommendations and has already acquired a property that will become the city's largest public park. The Beltline gained the widespread support of Atlantans because it offered growth with a high quality of life — growth that will make a better city.

Even with rising land prices, it is still possible to build decent, affordable housing at market rates, without government subsidies. In both cities and suburbs, developers can produce low- and mid-rise, stick-built multi-family houses and apartment buildings at a relatively low cost. These may not be the suburban dream of a house with a yard, but they could be good housing for working people, without costing taxpayers a cent. If set in a well-funded, well-designed public realm, the housing can also be very attractive.

This will not solve all our country's problems of housing. It will not for example, provide housing for people of very low income — that is only financially possible with government housing subsidies. It will, however, produce housing for the middle- and working-classes — housing that is no longer being produced at anything like the quantities that are necessary to maintain high rates of home ownership.

Cities are evolving organisms by their nature. The future does not lie in trying to stop that growth, nor in a false dichotomy between city and suburb — both are different parts of the same organism. The promise of a brighter future lies in government investment in the public realm to shape that change. Only then can we create a future that everyone can afford.

Mr. Garvin is a professor of urban planning and management at Yale University and the president and CEO of Alex Garvin & Associates, Inc.

August 22nd, 2006, 12:43 PM
Excellent article and it's right on the money. The same polititians that scream and shout about lack of available housing, bow to the community activists that want to limit the height of new buildings that makes housing less affordable.

August 22nd, 2006, 10:09 PM
Garvin has a good mind. He should be running the City's planning.

August 22nd, 2006, 10:56 PM
Like the guys above said, this is an excellent article. So excellent that I emailed it to my hometown's anti-sprawl/development orginization (www.kngg.org/) in the hopes that they'll post it on their site. They tend to be a bit NIMBY-ish, so I'm hoping this will ultimately lead them in the right direction.

August 23rd, 2006, 04:46 PM
It’s Alex Garvin’s Town; You’ll Never Live In It

By: Matthew Schuerman
Date: 8/23/2006

Alex Garvin has been Dan Doctoroff’s favorite urban planner for about seven years now, ever since the deputy mayor came across Mr. Garvin’s book, The American City: What Works, What Doesn’t, in a Barnes & Noble.

His brand of urbanism with a free-market conscience appealed to Mr. Doctoroff, who was then just another investment manager with an Olympic dream. The two got together and worked out a way to bring the games to New York.

First it was NYC2012. Now it’s NYC2025.

With the Olympic bid by the wayside, Mr. Garvin has been working on a report on housing and infrastructure investments for the Strategic Land Use Plan, a nearly covert effort by the Bloomberg administration on what should be done to accommodate the nine million New Yorkers of the future (up from 8.1 million today). It is believed to be just one of a handful of reports that various consultants are preparing for the strategic plan, and was secret until Aug. 16, when Aaron Naparstek, a writer, posted it on StreetsBlog, a transportation Web site. Mr. Naparstek, whose own book, Honku: The Zen Antidote to Road Rage, may at one time or another may also have been found in Barnes & Noble, said that he had obtained the finished report in June from “a City Hall insider.”

Some of the ideas included in the report were mentioned in an Aug. 21 Observer article on the strategic plan, but the 87-page document delves into copious detail. The introduction cites “opportunities to build between 160,000 and 325,000 housing units, with virtually no residential displacement, and to dramatically improve city’s public realm through strategic capital investment.” Chief among them is a platform over Sunnyside Yards, the 166-acre commuter and passenger train yard in Queens, which would, when built out over three phases, provide space for up to 35,300 apartments. A more controversial idea that The Observer said is under consideration--congestion pricing, or charging cars for entering lower Manhattan and midtown weekdays--is not mentioned in the report.

“If housing production does not accelerate to match the growing population, housing prices will climb still higher,” the report states. “Such an expensive housing market will make it difficult for New York to attract the world’s top companies and employees, to retain an economically and culturally diverse population, and to continue expanding opportunities for every New Yorker.”

Of course, Mr. Garvin could have put his pen down right there. How much of an overpopulation problem would we have if no one wanted to live here?

But it becomes clear that Mr. Garvin wants the city to grow: increasing housing, he writes, “absorbs the city’s growth,” while improving the “public realm … helps ensure that growth occurs in the first place.”

And so, while the first part of the report is about creating housing, the report is illustrated with charming photos of tree-lined streets in Paris, bicycle lanes in Vienna and trolleys in Minneapolis, giving the impression that Mr. Garvin actually believes that just a little more urban planning will make New York City a civilized place to live!

“Alex is one of the pros in the business, and he’s raised a lot of interesting ideas about development potential,” said Robert Yaro, the president of the Regional Plan Association, a nonprofit planning group. “It’s particularly useful if it’s going to be a catalyst for public discussion, and I think that’s the key, that it needs to be seen as a beginning for dialog.”

It is unclear just what Mayor Bloomberg thinks of the report and how much of it will end up in his final plan, but outside consultants typically submit numerous drafts, get feedback, and shape their final versions to make them more or less acceptable to their clients. Mr. Garvin, a Yale professor as well as head of his own planning firm in New York, referred questions about the report to the Mayor’s office, which refused to comment. Mr. Doctoroff, reached separately, said he was tied up in meetings, but previously he has promised that the public would have a chance to provide input during the creation of the plan.

The idea of building platforms is nothing new for New York: Park Avenue was created over the New York Central rails; the Bloomberg administration is trying to build a deck on the West Side; and developer Bruce Ratner is proposing to cover Long Island Rail Road tracks in Brooklyn. Developers have likewise eyed the Sunnyside Yards for a long time, but no one has jumped.

“We’ve been looking at these sorts of opportunities, but as a private developer, it is very hard to figure out how to get involved,” said Jon McMillan, the planning director for Rockrose Development Corp., which is developing part of Queens West nearby. “There are several layers of ownership: the city, the M.T.A., and there’s even a private owner that has an option on part of it. Opportunities like this really have to be competitively bid.”

The trick to making it work economically is to figure out how many apartments developers are allowed to build on top of the platform in order to pay for the cost of the platform. At some point, Mr. McMillan said, “you turn the dial” and find the density that is at once acceptable to the community and also profitable for developers.

“If it’s not there already, it is almost there,” he said.

Another experienced developer in the outer boroughs, though, doubted it could be done without government subsidizing the cost of the platform.

“The concept is an excellent concept, the concept of building housing wherever it may be built,” he told The Observer. “The problem is that the infrastructure costs of a site like that are so enormous.”

Mr. Garvin estimates that maybe R8 zoning (roughly eight- to 10-story buildings, depending on its footprint) and definitely R9 zoning (roughly 12- to 18-story buildings) would be sufficient to make the platform worthwhile, but he does not spell out the specifics.

“Sunnyside Yards probably has more potential than any area in New York,” said Councilman Eric Gioia, who represents the area. “Platforming would give us an opportunity to build schools, homes that the middle class can afford, and create a vibrant new neighborhood.”

The idea of building over the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway in Cobble Hill appears to be more controversial, however. The local congresswoman, Representative Nydia Velázquez, recently secured more than $300,000 to study how to cover the expressway, which runs in a ditch along the neighborhood’s western edge. But community members are leaning in favor of cantilevering a broad sidewalk over either side of the ditch, narrowing the gap but leaving a slit through which car exhaust could escape.

“I don’t understand how putting housing over the highway will still let the highway breathe,” said Murray Adams, president of the Cobble Hill Association. “What that does is put all of the burden on either end of the platform instead of dissipating fumes throughout.”

Mr. Garvin’s ideas may run into other difficulties as well: He recommends rezoning 21 blocks of Sunset Park for housing while the Bloomberg administration set them aside earlier this year as part of an “Industrial Business Zone,” a designation meant to keep manufacturing companies from getting pushed out of New York City because of rising real-estate prices. “For housing to be built in these areas, the city must make a policy decision--as recommended by this report--that each site holds greater benefit to the city as a residential or mixed-use community than under its current uses,” the Garvin report states.

Other ideas are innocuous by comparison, and Mr. Garvin argues that they are relatively cheap. Planting trees along streets, for example, can be accomplished for the bargain-basement price of $650,000 a mile. (Keeping them alive is another issue.)

Mr. Garvin also suggests closing more major streets on Sundays as now is the practice in Central and Prospect Parks, and “pedestrian reclamations,” which means getting rid of parked cars along one side of the street, and broadening the sidewalk to create a sort of mall, with trees and benches along the side. In general, cars, especially parked cars, do not come off very well.

copyright © 2005 the new york observer, L.P.

August 28th, 2006, 09:01 AM
The housing problem beyond New York ...

The Housing Crisis Goes Suburban

Washington Post (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/08/25/AR2006082501197.html)
By Michael Grunwald
Sunday, August 27, 2006

In the past five years, housing prices in Fairfax County have grown 12 times as fast as household incomes. Today, the county's median family would have to spend 54 percent of its income to afford the county's median home; in 2000, the figure was 26 percent. The situation is so dire that Fairfax recently began offering housing subsidies to families earning $90,000 a year; soon, that figure may go as high as $110,000 a year.

Seventy years after President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared that the Depression had left one-third of the American people "ill-housed, ill-clothed and ill-nourished," Americans are well-clothed and increasingly overnourished.

But the scarcity of affordable housing is a deepening national crisis, and not just for inner-city families on welfare. The problem has climbed the income ladder and moved to the suburbs, where service workers cram their families into overcrowded apartments, college graduates have to crash with their parents, and firefighters, police officers and teachers can't afford to live in the communities they serve.

Homeownership is near an all-time high, but the gap is growing between the Owns and the Own-Nots -- as well as the Owns and the Own-80-Miles-From-Works. One-third of Americans now spend at least 30 percent of their income on housing, the federal definition of an "unaffordable" burden, and half the working poor spend at least 50 percent of their income on rent, a "critical" burden. The real estate boom of the past decade has produced windfalls for Americans who owned before it began, but affordable housing is now a serious problem for more low- and moderate-income Americans than taxes, Social Security or gas prices.

Yet nobody in national politics is doing anything about it -- or even talking about it.

For most of the past 70 years, housing was a bipartisan issue. In recent decades, its association with urban poverty made it more of a Democratic issue. But now it is simply a nonissue. The current crunch falls hardest on renters in Democratic-leaning cities and metropolitan areas, but Democrats have ignored the issue as resolutely as Republicans. Neither Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) nor President Bush even bothered to propose affordable housing plans during the 2004 presidential campaign.

"Even 10 years ago, that would have been unimaginable," says Ron Utt of the conservative Heritage Foundation. "But now the problems are so much worse, and nobody cares. . . . I find myself on panels where I'm the token conservative, and I'm the one asking: Doesn't anyone care about affordable housing?"

America used to care a lot about affordable housing. Roosevelt signed housing legislation in 1934 and 1937, providing mortgages, government apartments and construction jobs for workers down on their luck. In 1949, Congress set an official goal of "a decent home and a suitable living environment for every American family," and in 1974, President Richard M. Nixon began offering subsidized rent vouchers to millions of low-income tenants in private housing. For half a century, most housing debates in Washington revolved around how much to expand federal assistance.

But for the past two decades, the public face of public housing has been decrepit projects such as Chicago's Robert Taylor Homes and Cabrini-Green.

And the only new federal housing initiative has been HOPE VI, a Clinton administration program that has demolished 80,000 units of the worst public housing and built mixed-income developments in their place. The program has eliminated most of the high-rise hellholes that gave public housing a bad name, including Robert Taylor and Cabrini-Green, and has revived some urban neighborhoods. But it has razed more subsidized apartments than it has replaced.

Overall, the number of households receiving federal aid has flatlined since the early 1990s, despite an expanding population and a ballooning budget. Congress has rejected most of President Bush's proposed cuts, but there has been virtually no discussion of increases; affordable-housing advocates spend most of their time fighting to preserve the status quo.

And it's a tough status quo. Today, for every one of the 4.5 million low-income families that receive federal housing assistance, there are three eligible families without it. Fairfax County has 12,000 families on a waiting list for 4,000 assisted apartments. "It's golden when you get one -- nobody wants to give it up," says Conrad Egan, chairman of the Fairfax housing authority. It sounds odd, but the victims of today's housing crisis are not people living in "the projects," but people who aren't even that lucky.

Some liberals dream of extending subsidies to all eligible low-income families, but that $100 billion-a-year solution was unrealistic even before the budget deficit ballooned again. So even some housing advocates now support time limits on most federal rent aid. The time limits included in welfare reform 10 years ago were controversial, but studies suggest they've helped motivate recipients to get off the dole. And unlike welfare, housing aid is not a federal entitlement, so taking it away from one family after a few years would provide a break for an equally deserving family.

"It's a no-brainer," says David Smith, an affordable-housing advocate in Boston. "You can't sustain the internal contradiction of no limits."

Smith and many local housing officials also think that the strict income limits for most federal housing aid serve as employment disincentives, while concentrating poor children in projects without working role models. Rents are usually set at 30 percent of income, so the lowest-income families pay virtually nothing, and as Smith points out, "it's economic suicide for them to get a job." But the vast gap between the number of low-income families eligible for subsidies and the number served suggests that tinkering with the current system would not come close to solving the crisis. And the problems extend well beyond low-income families, which is why communities such as Fairfax now assist middle-class renters.

The root of the problem is the striking mismatch between the demand for and the supply of affordable housing -- or, more accurately, affordable housing near jobs. Fifteen million families now spend at least half their income on housing, according to Harvard's Joint Center for Housing Studies; many skimp on health care, child care and food to do so.

Others reduce their rents by overcrowding, which studies link to higher crime rates, poorer academic performance and poorer health; Los Angeles alone has 620,000 homes with more than one person per room.

Other workers are enduring increasingly long commutes from less expensive communities, a phenomenon known as "driving to qualify." In the past five years, 88,000 Fairfax County families have moved elsewhere in the region, according to a George Mason University study; when Fairfax housing officials gave me a tour recently, they told me many of their employees now drive a full hour from Warrenton in Fauquier County. The media officer interjected that she drives nearly two hours each way from Winchester in Frederick County. The driver said he lives in Winchester, too.

This creates all kinds of lousy outcomes -- children who don't get to see their parents, workers who can't make ends meet when gas prices soar, exurban sprawl, roads clogged with long-distance commuters emitting greenhouse gases. "I don't think we're creating strong communities by forcing people into their cars four hours a day," says Cathy Hudgins, chairwoman of the housing committee for the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors.

Affordable housing also helps make communities competitive; it's not clear how Fairfax can keep creating jobs if workers can't afford to live there.

Moderate-income families aren't able to buy Lamborghinis or Armani, but they can buy cars and clothes. So while it's obvious why they can't afford McMansions, it's not so obvious why they can't afford decent housing. They demand it. Shouldn't the market supply it?

The answer is yes. But in many communities, local regulations have stifled multifamily housing and even modest single-family housing. Minimum lot requirements, minimum parking requirements, density restrictions and other controls go well beyond the traditional mission of the building code and end up artificially reducing the development of safe, affordable housing.

The unfashionable but accurate term for these restrictions is "snob zoning." Suburbanites use them to boost property values by keeping out riffraff -- even the riffraff who teach their kids, police their streets and extinguish their fires. Urbanites are susceptible to the same NIMBY impulses, often couched as opposition to "traffic congestion" or "overdevelopment" or protection of the neighborhood's "character." It's easy to support affordable housing in someone else's neighborhood. But when developers propose high-density projects, neighborhoods object.

Fairfax recently bucked that trend when it approved a developer's proposal to tear down 65 single-family houses across the street from the Vienna Metro station and replace them with 2,248 high-rise apartments. The project will increase the supply of job-accessible housing and take commuters out of their cars; the county is even forcing the developer to set aside a small percentage of moderate-income units in exchange for an exemption from its anti-density rules. But the Fairfax supervisors rejected a similar mega-project down the street, bowing to opponents worried about traffic congestion, property values and "the element" the high-rises might attract.

Still, Fairfax County illustrates how the creative solutions to the current crisis are emerging locally. It was one of 130 communities to adopt "inclusionary zoning," requiring developers to reserve a percentage of affordable units. It is one of more than 300 communities with affordable-housing trust funds; Fairfax voters approved a "Penny for Housing" initiative that will divert one cent of property taxes to subsidized projects. The Fairfax housing authority is also at the cutting edge of "workforce housing," offering 20 single-room apartments for day laborers in its own offices, while building and buying several dozen townhouses to rent to nurses, police officers, firefighters, teachers and bus drivers.

But these local projects address only a tiny fraction of the demand. For example, Los Angeles is considering a bond issue that would create 1,000 units of affordable housing -- small comfort to those 620,000 families in overcrowded apartments. Economist Christopher Thornberg notes that California's private market added 120,000 urban rental units in 1987; in the first half of 2006, the total was just 232. The main obstacle, Thornberg concludes, is "the intransigence of local zoning boards."

In other words, the best thing local officials can do to promote affordable housing is to get out of the way -- stop requiring one-acre lots and two-car garages, and stop blocking low-income and high-density projects.

Washington politicians, on the other hand, have the federal budget at their disposal. But Congress hasn't supported new construction since the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit of 1986, which creates nearly 100,000 units of affordable housing a year, enough to replace half the units that are torn down or converted to market rents. Bush proposed a home-ownership tax credit during his 2000 and 2004 campaigns, but it turned out to be the rare tax cut he didn't pursue. A bill pending in Congress would divert a percentage of profits from federally chartered institutions such as Fannie Mae to a national affordable-housing trust fund, but it seems stalled. The only affordability ideas with any traction at the national level are not really housing ideas; for example, one way to make housing more affordable to workers would be to raise their incomes -- through higher minimum wages, lower payroll taxes or an expanded Earned Income Tax Credit.

There is one clear solution to the affordable-housing crisis: a real estate crash. It's the one housing issue that attracts media attention -- because it would hurt the Owns. But while an easing of prices could be devastating for lower-income Owns with risky mortgages, it probably wouldn't bring home ownership within reach for many Own-Nots. Prices have too far to fall; in 2000, two-thirds of the home sales in Fairfax were for $250,000 or less, but last year, fewer than one-twentieth were. And even a modest price slump could trigger a construction slowdown that would make shortages of affordable housing for moderate-income families even worse.

Eventually, politicians may rediscover housing -- not as an urban poverty issue, but as a middle-class quality-of-life issue, like gas prices or health care. Homeownership is often described as the American dream, but these days many workers would settle for a decent rental that won't bankrupt their families.

Michael Grunwald is a Washington Post staff writer.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company

September 3rd, 2006, 11:10 AM
As Landlord Grows, So Does Criticism

NY TIMES (http://www.nytimes.com/2006/09/03/nyregion/03pinnacle.html?_r=1&ref=nyregion&oref=slogin)

September 3, 2006

Not long ago, Joel Weiner was a small player in New York City’s residential real estate industry. The properties he owned were neither extensive, nor impressive.

But during the past two years, Mr. Weiner, 57, and his firm, the Pinnacle Group, have spent more than $1 billion on hundreds of apartment buildings and quietly become one of the biggest property owners in neighborhoods from Brooklyn to the Bronx.

But Pinnacle has had problems as it expanded: It is the subject of criminal investigations by the Manhattan district attorney and the state attorney general’s office; it has been denounced by Representative Charles B. Rangel and other politicians; and it has been the subject of angry community meetings and rallies and petitions signed by thousands of people who object to its business practices.

Last week, the attorney general’s office subpoenaed Pinnacle documents, including rent registration forms, as part of its investigation, Pinnacle officials said.

Marilynn K. Yee/The New York Times
Tenants at a building at 706 Riverside Drive who have formed
a group to oppose Pinnacle. Pinnacle Group has become one of
the biggest property owners in neighborhoods
from Brooklyn to the Bronx.

The antipathy generated by Mr. Weiner and Pinnacle is the city’s latest entry in the time-honored landlord-versus-tenant struggle, between those who want to keep their rents down and those who want to raise them. But this one is being played out with perhaps greater passion because of a tight housing market and the breakneck speed of gentrification in recent years, which has seemed to transform many formerly undesirable neighborhoods overnight.

Critics accuse Pinnacle of buying buildings and firing superintendents within weeks. Questions have also been raised about whether the company has violated the city’s rent-stabilization laws by sometimes raising rents higher than is legally allowed, through such measures as passing along the cost of questionable renovation expenses. In one case, the cost of installing five toilets was passed on to a tenant in a two-bathroom apartment.

The critics also say the company has been engaging in harassment to force people out of their apartments. Tenants describe being put through a Kafkaesque tangle of eviction notices slipped under doors at night, and of legal challenges made to their right to live in longtime apartments.

In some buildings, one-quarter to one-half of the tenants have received so-called dispossess notices — typically the start of the eviction process — within a few months of Pinnacle’s purchase of the property. The company’s practices, its critics say, are a case study in the gentrification of some of the last working-class neighborhoods in Manhattan.

“We’ve been living here since it was the drug capital of the world, now we are sitting on a commodity,’’ said Rafael Gomez, 48, who lives in a Pinnacle building in Washington Heights, adding that people ask how “do we end up in such a beautiful neighborhood when we are poor people?”

Mr. Weiner denied criminal wrongdoing and said his goal was to be recognized as a model landlord. He has acknowledged raising some rents, but said the increases were necessary so he could provide safe, quality housing. His lawyers maintain that any errors Pinnacle may have made in seeking to evict tenants or in overcharging on rent have been the result of honest mistakes. The company rightly says costs of improving apartments can be legally passed on to tenants.

Mr. Weiner has not disputed that his company has sent out 5,000 dispossess notices to tenants in its approximately 21,000 apartments in the past 29 months. That, say adversaries, is itself cause for alarm.

“When you are trying to evict one out of four tenants, that is what lawyers call prima facie evidence,” Congressman Rangel said. “It is something that screams out for a criminal or civil or legal remedy.”

Mr. Weiner agreed to be interviewed, but did not want his photograph taken because, his lawyers said, he wanted to protect his privacy and because he had received a death threat on the Internet.

Mr. Weiner, who was born in Brooklyn and lives on Long Island, said his objective was to simply get tenants to pay their rents. And he makes no apologies for Pinnacle’s aggressiveness in moving to evict those late on rent or otherwise not legally entitled to live in his buildings.

“When you are in the trenches and you try to turn around a building, it’s not easy,” he said. He has hired a team of prominent lawyers, including former City Councilman Kenneth K. Fisher and Benjamin Brafman, a defense attorney whose clients have included Michael Jackson.

Mr. Weiner describes himself as a hands-on owner who visits his properties frequently and is a stickler for cleanliness, order and the removal of building code violations.

Although much of the criticism about him has focused on gentrification, Mr. Weiner said his recent purchases of buildings in neighborhoods like Washington Heights, Harlem, Inwood and the South Bronx would not necessarily lead to wealthier tenants moving in and displacing current residents.

“I don’t want to call it gentrification,” he said. “I want to call it meeting community needs.”

He said he typically raises rents after he buys a building in order to pay for the major improvements he must make because previous landlords have neglected many of the properties. Pinnacle legally passes those costs on to tenants in higher rent bills. “This is a very tough business,” he said. “I have a passion for doing it, and doing it right.”

In December 1997, Pinnacle owned 267 apartments in the city, and Mr. Weiner, though wealthy, was unknown, even to many of his competitors. But by May of this year, after an infusion of cash from the Praedium Group, a real estate fund that specializes in investing in inner cities, Pinnacle’s holdings had jumped to 21,642 apartments.

From May 2004 to May of this year alone, the number of Pinnacle-owned apartments had tripled, with most of the recent purchases concentrated in Upper Manhattan and the Bronx. Among its acquisitions — for $500 million — was the 2,900 apartment portfolio of Baruch Singer, who had become one of Harlem’s most notorious landlords because of the number of code violations and fines his buildings incurred.

Marilynn K. Yee/The New York Times
The Dunbar Apartments in Harlem, one of the properties owned by the Pinnacle Group.

Kim Powell, who in November 2005 helped start an anti-Pinnacle group called Brush — Buyers and Renters United to Save Harlem — said the group’s primary problem with Pinnacle was how it treats renters. “They have shown an absolute disregard for tenants,” Ms. Powell said.

The Pinnacle model has been to purchase what it refers to as distressed properties — typically apartment buildings that have numerous code violations, are in poor repair, and house many tenants who are behind on rent. The tenants in the 104 Singer buildings, for example, were in arrears for a total of $4.3 million, according to Pinnacle.

The company cleans up the building, often starting at the basement. It scrubs graffiti, installs exterior lighting, cameras and new front doors, and works on code violations. The rent-stabilization laws allow some or all of the cost of that work to be passed on to tenants in the form of higher rents.

Vacant units often get complete makeovers, including new kitchens.
Landlords can also increase rents on vacant apartments by as much as 20 percent under state rent regulations. As a result, rents paid by incoming tenants are often significantly higher than what previous renters of the same apartment had paid.

Tenant advocates say Pinnacle is intent on raising rents to the $2,000-a-month threshold, which would remove the units that are vacant from rent-stabilization protection.

The law would then allow a landlord to rent those apartments for whatever the market will bear.

“That’s their business plan,” said Ken Rosenfeld, director of legal services for the nonprofit Northern Manhattan Improvement Corporation. “They’re testing the waters, they’re pushing the envelope.”

Mr. Weiner however, said that few of his apartments had reached the $2,000 level, and that he usually charges tenants less than the legally allowed rent because the current market cannot support higher rents. The city allows an occupied rent-stabilized apartment to be deregulated after its rent hits $2,000, but only if the tenants’ household income is at least $175,000 for two years in a row.

The Manhattan district attorney’s office and the state attorney general’s office have sought Pinnacle work invoices, eviction records, responses to tenant complaints and other documents to try to determine whether there is a pattern of fraud, whether the costs of renovations were exaggerated and false billings were submitted, officials said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing. Some of the accusations against Pinnacle, as well as some details of the investigations, have been reported by The Daily News.

Mr. Weiner said he was cooperating with the inquiries and has pledged to change Pinnacle’s business methods if either office requests it. The company has also hired two community outreach workers with the goal of forming a community advisory panel that would help guide Pinnacle operations.

Further, the company said it was willing to turn over the files of the 1,256 cases it is currently litigating against tenants to elected officials so they can be examined. Finally, it has agreed not to seek to evict elderly tenants without first contacting the city Department of Aging.

“I am looking every day to improve the operation,” Mr. Weiner said.
Many tenants however, say they have had unsettling encounters with Pinnacle and its lawyers.

Karen Flannagan, 53, said that even after she had presented Pinnacle documents that established her residency rights to her Harlem apartment after her mother died, the company slipped an eviction notice under her door and took her to court. Her mother had been the leaseholder and the family had lived in the apartment along with Ms. Flannagan’s teenage daughter for several years.

“Here I am trying to grieve, and I am having to worry about me and my daughter being thrown out,” she said.

After two years and 10 appearances in housing court, Pinnacle abruptly dropped the case a few years ago, she said. Pinnacle lawyers, however, said recently that Ms. Flannagan’s original documents had not been sufficient, though in a statement this week the company said it regretted any inconvenience it had caused her.

Marjorie Charron, 56, and her husband, Ted Charron, 59, moved into a Pinnacle building in Harlem in 2001, paying $1,900 a month for a two-bedroom apartment. They were told by Pinnacle that by law, the company could have charged as much as $2,500.

When the couple realized that other tenants were paying far less, they found out that Pinnacle had claimed to have performed $20,000 worth of remodeling work on the apartment before they moved in, which gave the landlord the right to raise the rent by a corresponding amount.

When they examined Pinnacle’s invoices for the work done on the apartment, however, they found that the company had included charges for 160 light bulbs, 75 pounds of grout, 130 gallons of paint, a $198 nail gun and a $424 drain cleaning device. They also found that some items listed as installed were not there, including oak flooring and a pedestal sink.

Other costs included maintenance work such as painting walls and sanding floors, the costs of which are not permitted to be passed on to a tenant by a landlord.

Five years later, the couple was awarded $10,000 in rent credits from Pinnacle, although they say the company owes them at least $15,000 more.
Pinnacle lawyers acknowledged having made mistakes in the Charron case, but continue to legally challenge some of the couples’ claims.

“The average person can’t do this, so by default, Pinnacle wins almost every time,” Ms. Charron said. In a statement this week, Pinnacle said the items had been “inadvertently misallocated” and apologized.

In another case, Erica Martinez, who lives in a Pinnacle building in Washington Heights, received a $1,317.83 rent credit from Pinnacle after the State Department of Housing and Community Renewal ruled that she had been overcharged. In addition, the agency ordered Pinnacle to pay her triple the amount of the overcharge — or a total of nearly $4,000 — because the overcharge had been deemed “willful.”

Pinnacle lawyers said the company had made mistakes in the Martinez case, but had not done so purposely.

In another case, Pinnacle has attempted to pass on charges to tenants for the $21,700 cost of new front doors in one of its buildings in Harlem, even though they were replaced several years earlier. The state eventually quashed the attempt and the tenants’ rents were not increased.

“Pinnacle, if by the second or third overcharge they had said, ‘Something’s wrong, lets make it right,’ I would have given them credit, but they never have,” said Hazel Miura, a tenant organizer in the Bronx.

Another Pinnacle tenant, Mark Gordon, was charged through his rent for the cost of five toilets for his apartment in 2001, even though he had only two bathrooms. Pinnacle’s invoices also included the cost of replacing electrical wiring that appeared not to have been replaced and a double billing for the installation of kitchen cabinets.

Mr. Gordon said three years and $10,000 in legal fees later, Pinnacle resolved the case by agreeing to lower his rent. While at the time, Pinnacle did not admit making any errors, the company recently acknowledged making a mistake.

But Pinnacle’s lawyers said that in only about 50 cases had the company been found to have overcharged tenants and that only about 6 percent of its units were currently under litigation. Pinnacle says that most of the tenants it has moved to evict have failed to pay rent for at least two months.

Mr. Weiner said he instructed his employees to work out cases with tenants amicably, and that he only used the courts as a final resort. His lawyers say that despite handing out thousands of dispossess notices, no more than 351 people have actually been evicted since 2004.

Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

September 26th, 2006, 03:41 PM
September 25, 2006
A National Housing Innovator Leads City’s Effort for the Poor

Shaun Donovan, left, commissioner of the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, and Ron Moelis, a developer, visiting a construction site in Brooklyn.

On a sweltering morning in August, Shaun Donovan, the commissioner of the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development, left his office in Lower Manhattan and headed for an abandoned landfill in Brooklyn. He was on his way to an unusual groundbreaking for a vast new development — a village within the city — in what had once been one of the most desolate neighborhoods in New York.

The planned project — 2,200 new homes, streets, stores and a school in East New York — was the product of an intricate collaboration between a major real estate developer, lenders, church groups and the Bloomberg administration. Its scope was a marker of how far New York had come since the 1980’s and 90’s, when city administrations found themselves as the default landlords for thousands of buildings taken in tax foreclosure.

The business of generating working-class housing had changed, too. It had become a complex exercise in creative financing, an arcane science at which Mr. Donovan excels. New York City was becoming a leader in finding new ways to produce lower-priced housing. But, with the city’s population growing and land values rising, there is something Sisyphean about Mr. Donovan’s job.

“We know that you, who have built back this community, could be squeezed out,” he told the residents who had gathered for the groundbreaking that morning, taking refuge from the suffocating heat in St. Paul Community Baptist Church. “We want to be sure that the renaissance of this community is not something that happens to you, but something that happens for you.”

Mr. Donovan, 40, holds the unenviable job of trying to fulfill Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s multibillion-dollar promise to create or preserve 165,000 units of low- and moderate-income housing by 2013. He took on the assignment, in 2004, at an inauspicious moment: Land values were climbing, construction costs rising, the inventory of city-owned property drying up, landlords opting out of state and federal programs that had kept rents low.

Two and a half years later, Mr. Donovan is seen nationally as a pioneer in finding new ways to create and preserve low-cost housing. Paradoxically, he has tried to do it by capitalizing on the strength of the real estate market itself.

“I would never believe that the private sector, left to its own devices, is the best possible solution,” Mr. Donovan said recently. “I’m in government because of the role of government in setting rules and working in partnership with the private sector. On the other hand, there’s no way you could ever get to a scale that can really affect the housing problems in this country without working with the market.”

“There are lots of folks more skeptical of the market and working with the market than we are,” he added. “There are groups that would argue that we should only work with nonprofits. I believe we should work with both. Because at some fundamental level, I believe in competition. I believe that by having a broader pool available, having for-profits in the mix, we may get a lower price or be able to manage it more efficiently.”

He is credited with helping win over the administration to the idea of inclusionary zoning, under which developers agree to set aside a part of their projects for lower-income people in return for being allowed to build at greater density. The administration’s embrace of that idea helped win public support for the rezoning of several large, formerly industrial areas expected to produce 8,500 new low-cost units during the next 10 years.

Mr. Donovan was the force behind the creation of the $200 million New York Acquisition Fund, an unusual collaboration between the city, seven major foundations and financial institutions. The fund, to help small local developers and nonprofit groups compete for land in the private market, is expected to serve as a catalyst for the production and preservation of 30,000 low-cost apartments during the next decade.

Mr. Donovan has also worked unusually close with the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, which oversees 800 HUD-assisted apartment buildings in the city, some of which have slid into foreclosure.

HUD policy is to sell such properties to the highest bidder, but Mr. Donovan, who worked at HUD during the Clinton administration, has found ways of steering them instead into local nonprofit, and sometimes tenant, hands.

“Shaun is one of the best and the brightest thinkers on housing issues in the country,” said William C. Apgar, a senior scholar at the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard and a former assistant secretary at HUD who was Mr. Donovan’s boss for a part of his tenure. “He has the capacity to see the possibilities, to throw away all the old models, to not get stuck in rules that really are more flexible than your imagination allows them to be.”

The city, under the program, has started 47,000 housing units.

Michael Bodaken, executive director of the National Housing Trust, a nonprofit based in Washington, said: “I use the New York fund they created as an example all the time to urge other cities to create this acquisition-like fund with foundation money, city money, bank money. I don’t know of any other city leveraging its own funds and foundation funds with bank money to try to save existing housing. It’s path-breaking.”

Not everyone agrees with the focus of housing policy under Mayor Bloomberg. Howard Husock, a vice president of the Manhattan Institute and the author of “America’s Trillion Dollar Housing Mistake: The Failure of American Housing Policy” (Ivan R. Dee, 2003), would like to see the administration also focus on “freeing up” the market by phasing out the rent regulation system and reusing public housing sites.

Michael McKee, treasurer of the Tenants Political Action Committee, wants the administration to do the opposite — to work to strengthen rent regulations in order to stop the attrition of low-cost apartments. Though he called Mr. Donovan “the best housing commissioner the city has had since I became an organizer 36 years ago,” he said the administration should be working to take control of the rent laws from the state.

Others like Brad Lander, director of the Pratt Center for Community Development, also said that the Bloomberg administration could do more to slow the loss of low-cost units. “I don’t think you can really solve New York City’s affordability crisis only with new production and money and land,” Mr. Lander said. “Keeping existing units affordable, both subsidized ones and regulated ones, is critical. That’s not part of the Bloomberg administration’s housing vision; they haven’t advocated against rent regulations but they are decidedly cold to efforts to strengthen them.”

But even those who differ with the administration’s approach describe Mr. Donovan as unusually qualified, — with master’s degrees in architecture and public administration from Harvard, and who, by age 38, had been acting commissioner of the Federal Housing Administration, had run the affordable housing program at Prudential and had written case studies for the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.

Mr. Donovan — described as a “malignant optimist” by his sister, Justine Donovan, who is a psychiatrist — became interested in urban policy, poverty and design at a young age.

Raised in Manhattan, Mr. Donovan said he was “a math and science person” who ran track, built model cars and contemplated car design as a career. He got hooked on housing as a graduate student at the Kennedy School, he said, and emerged as what he calls a public sector junkie.

Mr. Donovan’s agency, described as the largest municipal developer of affordable housing in the country, has a $1 billion budget and 2,700 employees, from rumpled bureaucrats to Blackberry-brandishing up-and-comers. There is a new emphasis these days on strategic planning and on being customer friendly at a time when the market leaves developers lucrative alternatives to working with the city.

To spend a day trailing Mr. Donovan is to venture into a mind-boggling landscape of tax credits, operating deficits, cross subsidizations, income bands, soft costs, 202 refinancings, conforming loans. Mr. Husock, who lectures at the Kennedy School, said he sees Mr. Donovan as master of an art that developed in the wake of the federal government’s withdrawal from building low-income housing.

“You had a generation of students who were trained in how to cobble together deals — where the city puts in the land, they get a soft second mortgage from the state, they use low-income housing tax credits,” he said. “That’s the milieu Shaun Donovan came of age in. He’s really good at that stuff. If you are a specialist in housing policy at the graduate level today, it’s all about creative financing.”

For the East New York project, called the Nehemiah Spring Creek Houses at Gateway Estates, the Related Companies, the most active developer in the city, bought city-owned land to build a 625,000-square-foot retail center. The city will use money from that sale to help pay for streets, sidewalks and sewers. Financing for the first phase of home building will come from a loan from the Community Preservation Corporation, a major lender, and from the church organizations. The city is subsidizing the cost of the single-family homes.

“This is something you would never have had the opportunity to do 20 years ago,” Mr. Donovan said before the groundbreaking ceremony in August. “This is one of the signal shifts in our strategy — how you think of ways to harness the marketplace and channel that to keep housing affordable.” But, he added, “You’re always trying to work within the bounds of what the market is going to do. It’s clearly a huge challenge: Can you keep up?”

Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

September 26th, 2006, 03:50 PM
This article is posted somewhere else on the forum.... I just don't know where...

September 26th, 2006, 04:52 PM
NYC: The Costs of Living (http://www.wirednewyork.com/forum/showpost.php?p=122121&postcount=71)

October 9th, 2006, 04:27 PM
10 sites targeted for homes
S. Bronx low-income units



Some of the last city-owned land in the Bronx will soon become affordable housing.

Ten locations in the South Bronx will be turned over to developers, the city Housing Preservation and Development Department said.

The 163rd Street Improvement Council and its co-developer, the architectural firm of Wormser and Associates, were among 25 development teams tapped to build new homes on 236 city-owned lots in Brooklyn and the Bronx.

"We're looking forward to building quality housing on these sites for the neighborhoods we serve," said Biarni Burke, acting president and CEO of the 163rd Street Improvement Council.

The 10 Bronx lots are in three clusters - in East Tremont, Melrose and Morrisania - and will hold a total of 39 affordable condominium units.

Under the Housing Preservation and Development Department's New Foundations program, developers buy the city-owned land and build one- to four-family homes or condos affordable for moderate- and middle-income families who agree to occupy the purchased home. At least one unit in the home must remain owner-occupied for 15 years.

The vacant lots are distressed real estate the city seized from landlords for nonpayment of property taxes.

From its peak in the 1980s when the city owned more than 100,000 units of housing and more than 5,000 vacant lots, the city now owns just over 2,000 units currently being redeveloped by Housing Preservation and Development Department programs and 248 developable lots - including the 236 lots in the Bronx and Brooklyn now being parceled out to affordable housing developers.

"By developing vacant city-owned land over the past two decades, New York City has successfully revitalized neighborhoods that were once written off and abandoned," said Housing Preservation Commissioner Shaun Donovan.

"Now that the challenge of abandonment has been met and the supply of city-owned land is nearly exhausted," he said, "we are faced with the challenge of affordability."

Donovan pointed to such innovations as inclusionary zoning - requiring developers to include a percentage of affordable units in large residential developments - as a way to keep housing stock affordable.

More than one third of the units in this latest round of developments will be within reach for families with incomes of $56,700 or less. Additional affordable units will be available to families with incomes between $56,700 and $92,170.

These units are part of Mayor Bloomberg's New Housing Marketplace Plan to build and preserve 165,000 affordable homes for 500,000 New Yorkers over 10 years.

Originally published on October 9, 2006 (http://www.nydailynews.com/boroughs/story/459785p-386848c.html)

October 11th, 2006, 03:54 AM
October 11, 2006
New York City Acts to Add Low-Cost Homes

The Bloomberg administration plans to recommend that the city’s most popular tax break for housing developers be overhauled as a way of creating a more powerful incentive to build lower-cost housing.

The announcement, scheduled for today, would be the first major change in the program, known as 421-a, in the 35 years since it was conceived.

Under the current program, which was started when the housing market was stagnant, developers of new apartment buildings in most neighborhoods are eligible for a 10- to 15-year exemption from the increase in real estate taxes resulting from the work. Only in a few parts of the city — central Manhattan and Greenpoint-Williamsburg in Brooklyn — are they required in return to include lower-priced units, either on site or nearby.

Under the new proposal, those areas would be expanded to include Lower Manhattan, parts of Harlem, the Dumbo section of Brooklyn, Brooklyn Heights and other parts of the Brooklyn and Queens waterfront. The tax break would be tightened in other ways, too. There would be a strict limit on the size of tax breaks to market-rate units, and the maximum benefit — a 25-year tax break — would go only to projects citywide that include low-priced units.

“The program will steer more developers toward creating affordable housing because of the incentives built into the program,” said Shaun Donovan, commissioner of the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development. “But at the same time, there will also be more taxes paid to the city of New York because of the reforms, and we’re going to take those increased taxes and put them back into affordable housing.”

Mr. Donovan estimated the increased revenue at hundreds of millions of dollars, some percentage of which the administration would try to direct toward construction of thousands of additional units of low- and moderate-income housing.

The 421-a proposal, which the administration hopes will be passed by the City Council before the end of this year, comes at a time of growing concern that high housing costs will drive the middle class out of many neighborhoods. There is strong backing on the Council for revamping the program, including support from Speaker Christine C. Quinn.

The administration’s plan, aimed at increasing the incentives to build lower-cost housing, is expected to pit the interests of real estate developers against those of advocates for low-priced housing.

Steven Spinola, president of the Real Estate Board of New York and a member of the administration-appointed task force that made the recommendations, said he supported several of the proposals but worried about others. If they are approved as proposed, he said, “I think it’s going to have a detrimental impact on housing construction in the city of New York over the next decade.”

But Brad Lander, director of the Pratt Center for Community Development and a task force member, called for an expansion of the area where developers must build lower-priced units in exchange for tax breaks, known as the exclusion zone.

“Unless the exclusion zone is significantly expanded beyond what’s proposed,” he said, “I think this reform will not be anywhere near sufficient. The proposed expansion would still provide extensive tax breaks for million-dollar condos from Harlem to Park Slope, from Forest Hills to Riverdale, with no affordability requirements. It would remain an expensive gentrification subsidy.”

A council member who supports the plan, Bill de Blasio, whose district includes Park Slope in Brooklyn, said, “It’s unbelievable to me that we would take any public money and subsidize developers who are going to develop housing anyway, when that money could go to other efforts to develop affordable housing.”

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who has pledged to create or preserve 165,000 units of low- and moderate-income housing by 2013, appointed the task force in February to rethink the 421-a program, which by some estimates costs the city $300 million a year in lost tax revenues. Many housing experts believe that the current strength of the housing market offers an opportunity to redirect the program, giving it a greater emphasis on the production of badly needed lower-priced housing.

The challenge, administration officials say, is to figure out how to direct the tax benefit toward encouraging lower-priced housing without inadvertently slowing down the development of housing in general.

“We are trying to harness the market,” said Mr. Donovan, another task force member. “But we’re not trying to shackle the market. We need to strike that balance very carefully.”

The task force — made up of city officials, developers, housing advocates, bankers and others — is proposing a half-dozen changes to the program. In addition to the plan to expand the exclusion area, the plan causing the most debate is probably one to eliminate a system under which developers of lower-cost housing can raise equity by selling their tax benefits to market-rate developers in the exclusion area.

The task force concluded that the system of selling those “negotiable certificates” was an inefficient method of steering money toward low-cost housing, because the tax breaks tend to be worth five times what the market-rate developers pay. The group is suggesting that the certificate program be replaced with “a dedicated fund for affordable housing.”

“The task force believes it should be eliminated if the revenue coming to affordable housing currently through the certificate program is replaced — and with an adequate amount of money,” Mr. Donovan said.

But, he added, “If the fund doesn’t get set up as a replacement, the preference of the task force is to keep the certificate program because there needs to be this revenue going to affordable housing.”

Also under the new plan, there would be a limit on the total tax benefit any market-rate apartment could receive, regardless of its value. Currently, a $2 million condominium can receive twice the tax break given to a $1 million condominium next door. To avoid oversubsidizing luxury properties, there would be no increase in benefit after the first $100,000 of assessed valuation, which is roughly equivalent to that of a $1 million condominium.

In addition to those changes, the task force wanted the extended, 25-year tax break — currently given to any development in neighborhoods once thought in need of improvement — to be given only to projects providing some low-cost housing.

Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

October 12th, 2006, 12:32 PM
Orange: Police Use Pepper Spray on Crowd

nytimes.com (http://www.nytimes.com/2006/10/12/nyregion/12mbrfs-007.html?_r=1&oref=slogin)
October 12, 2006

The Orange police said yesterday that they had been forced to use pepper spray to control a large, unruly crowd of people seeking applications for subsidized-housing vouchers.

At least 500 and as many as 1,000 people — some of whom had waited overnight — showed up at the offices of the Orange Housing Authority for one of the 200 available applications. The doors opened at 8 a.m. and the crowd ignored officers’ instructions to stay calm, the police said. One passer-by said he had seen fights break out among the crowd. The federal housing program, known as Section 8, provides subsidies that low-income people can use to rent market-rate housing.

By noon, a sign on the building said that “due to the overwhelming response” to the release of the Section 8 applications, no more were to be distributed yesterday. A telephone call to the authority’s office was not answered.

Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

October 14th, 2006, 03:09 PM
“How can you live on Fifth Avenue and have wire hangers?”

The Best Revenge (Isn’t It Always)


THERE are many status symbols in the world of prewar East Side apartment buildings, and an elevator that opens onto a private vestibule and a lone front door is one of them. A double-height living room is another.


Carolyne Roehm’s apartment on East 57th Street has both. One would expect Ms. Roehm, 55, who once upon a time reigned as an empress of Park and Seventh Avenues, to live in otherworldly surroundings.

Since she shut down her high-profile fashion house 15 years ago and she and the financier Henry R. Kravis divorced in 1993, she has made teaching others how to live as well as she does her life’s work. She lectures and publishes books about entertaining, flower arranging, gardening and gift wrapping. She sells impeccable housewares and hostess gifts from her Web site, a chic bazaar with the recherché spirit of Henri Bendel’s old Street of Shops.

Although she has lived in two of Manhattan’s legendary buildings — 740 Park Avenue and 1 Sutton Place South — Ms. Roehm says this duplex is by far her favorite. “The light is beautiful at all times of day,” she said.

After a decade at 1 Sutton, where she moved to regroup after her divorce, Ms. Roehm said, she needed a change. When she started looking at apartments, she was horrified by how other wealthy New Yorkers lived. “I couldn’t believe people’s closets,” she said. “How can you live on Fifth Avenue and have wire hangers?”

She had initially refused to consider apartments at this building on East 57th Street because, except for the grand salons, the other rooms are relatively modest. She had looked at Frank and Kathie Lee Gifford’s apartment here many years ago when it was for sale, so she thought she knew the building.
“And then someone I knew in Connecticut insisted that I had to see this apartment because it was so much like Weatherstone,” she said, referring to her beloved 18th-century stone house in Sharon, Conn. “When I first walked into this apartment, it was as if I had a twin brother and he’d lived here,” she said brightly. “There were my pilasters! There was the coffered ceiling just like I have at Weatherstone.”

But Weatherstone, which Ms. Roehm rebuilt after a fire in 1999, does not have arched two-story windows nor does it have her collection of oversize 18th- and 19th-century portraits hung on brown velveteen walls.

“I’ve never been able to hang my ladies before,” she said, surveying the massive paintings of aristocrats by Louise-Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun, Sir Joshua Reynolds and Franz Xaver Winterhalter. “I’ve always had to lean them against the wall on the floor. Now they are hanging as they were meant to.”

The women gaze down upon an assortment of mostly 18th-century furniture from England, France, Italy, Russia and Sweden, including a 19th-century neo-Classical piano. “It’s an Erard, which is what Chopin preferred to play on,” Ms. Roehm explained in her melodious voice.

Although this elegant drawing room seems her natural habitat, Ms. Roehm grew up middle class in Missouri. “It was a ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ childhood,” said Ms. Roehm, who was dressed in well-cut trousers and a crisp blouse the color of a blush peony. “You lived in your imagination.”

After graduating from Washington University in St. Louis in 1973, she moved to New York to work in the fashion business. Her first apartment was an un-air-conditioned fourth-floor walk-up on the Upper East Side that she shared with three sorority sisters and dozens of cockroaches. “It was such a dive,” she said. “But I was young, and everything was fun and wonderful.”

She didn’t even bother trying to decorate her next apartment in a banal high-rise because she was too busy. “I was at work all day, and I went on dates at night,” she said. “And then I was lucky enough to meet my first Prince Charming, and I moved in with him.”

Prince Charming No. 1 lived in a small penthouse between Madison and Fifth Avenues. “That was my beginnings in New York real estate,” she said. “He was the perfect first love. He loved music. He taught me about wine. He gave me my first fur coat.”

She married Prince Charming No. 2, and he took her to live in his native Germany, but the relationship did not work out, and she returned to New York and her old job working for Oscar de la Renta, who had become her mentor and protector.

She moved into another undistinguished high-rise, but this time she decorated it. “Oscar had a license with Cannon Mills at the time, and he was able to get me this blue and white sheet fabric for 99 cents a yard, and I draped all the walls in the fabric,” she said, pausing as if it were hard to believe she had ever done such a thing. “It had a look.”

But nothing like the look of the majestic duplex apartment at 740 Park she shared with Prince Charming No. 3, her second husband, Mr. Kravis. The apartment was sumptuously decorated by Denning & Fourcade, whose clients included the philanthropist Jayne Wrightsman and Henry A. Kissinger.

In those days, she was the president of the Council of Fashion Designers of America and gave formal dinners for 18 as a matter of course when she wasn’t at charity galas counting the number of women wearing dresses she had designed.

Now she does most of her entertaining in Connecticut, and her new book, “A Passion for Parties” (Broadway Books), chronicles fetes that include a square dance in her barn and a July 4 picnic by her pond.

Today, she always works from home. The barn has been turned into the warehouse for her Web site. On East 57th Street, she has turned the shoebox-sized maid’s room into her office. “The apartment isn’t really much,” she said, giving a quick tour of the round dining room with a table for four, the paneled library for watching television and the master bedroom suite where the walls, as well as the bed, are covered in an ethereal floral fabric from Cowtan & Tout.

She is not nostalgic for the 16-room apartment at 740 Park, and she has not read Michael Gross’s “740 Park: The Story of the World’s Richest Apartment Building,” which was published last year. “I wasn’t that interested,” she said coolly.

Nor did she ever read “Barbarians at the Gate,” the 1990 best seller (and later HBO movie) about Mr. Kravis’s landmark leveraged buyout of RJR Nabisco. “I didn’t have to,” she said. “I lived it.”

Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company


November 8th, 2006, 01:27 PM
Over the next few years, residential buildings will replace open spaces at some public housing complexes

By Tanveer Ali
November 6, 2006

Apartment buildings will sprout from parking lots at public housing projects around the city over the next few years, creating up to 600 new affordable housing units on what’s now underutilized land, according to a joint plan by the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) and the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD).

As part of Mayor Bloomberg’s Housing Marketplace Plan, current residents of Brooklyn’s Linden Houses and Boulevard Homes, Manhattan’s Harborview Terrace, Fulton Houses and Chelsea Elliot Houses, and the Stapleton Houses on Staten Island may all see new construction in parts of their complexes by 2010.

According to HPD spokesperson Neill Coleman, the initiative is part of his department’s broader push to find and create new housing units in the city by collaborating with traditional and non-traditional governmental partners.

“Altogether, these partnerships with city and state agencies are expected to generate over 20,000 units of new affordable housing by 2013,” Coleman said. In addition to NYCHA, HPD’s partners include the Economic Development Corporation, Department of Citywide Administrative Services, Department of Transportation, Health and Hospitals Corporation and Human Resources Administration.

The move to replace parking lots at the Fulton complex in Chelsea was met with open arms, according to Jimmy Pelsey, president of the Fulton Houses Tenants Association.

“We support it wholeheartedly. We endorsed it from the beginning,” Pelsey said. A 16-story, nearly 100-unit building will replace a parking lot on 18th Street, which is now used mostly for storage, he said. Developers will replace lost spots with underground parking.

Pelsey said current Fulton tenants negotiated with the city to get first crack at living in the possible new tower. According to NYCHA documents, a final proposal will be expected from the city agencies and developers in January 2008 with the project ending two years later.

NYCHA reached a similar agreement for its current tenants, setting aside a minimum quota of 30 “eligible NYCHA households” for an opportunity to purchase 160 new townhouses or condominiums for the Linden Houses and Boulevard Houses project. That development has an expected completion date of October 2009.

In September, NYCHA and HPD announced the completion of their first collaborative development at the University Macombs Apartments in the Bronx, rehabilitating former NYCHA land to produce more than 200 apartment units.

Copyright © 2006 City Futures, Inc. (http://www.citylimits.org/content/articles/weeklyView.cfm?articlenumber=2019)

November 8th, 2006, 01:44 PM
Apartment buildings will sprout from parking lots at public housing projects around the city over the next few years, creating up to 600 new affordable housing units on what’s now underutilized land...
Great idea, but why only 600 units?

Build 'em high.

November 9th, 2006, 03:42 PM
Great idea, but why only 600 units?

Build 'em high.

I know. Although I am wondering. What about the views of the buildings on location. I mean they were all built to have some sort of views and then you place this new buildings in front of the ones already there. I will like to know how they plan to do this well.

It will be better to just destroy all of those housing on parks towers and build them again respecting the street.

November 10th, 2006, 08:01 AM
I know. Although I am wondering. What about the views of the buildings on location.
No one should expect a guaranteed view in perpetuity. Anyway, most views in these cities in a park are of identical ugly brick boxes.

I mean they were all built to have some sort of views and then you place this new buildings in front of the ones already there. I will like to know how they plan to do this well.
If the new buildings are handsome, they will actually improve the views for their existing neighbors. Above their neighbors' height they no longer block views, and the higher they soar the more new unobstructed views they will provide.

It will be better to just destroy all of those housing on parks towers and build them again respecting the street.
Yeah, but that's expensive and would truly disrupt the lives of those who are there.

All in all, I think the idea is OK.

November 13th, 2006, 12:53 AM
Stranger Than Fiction? Having People Live on Top of Branch Libraries

November 13, 2006

The hunt for new ways of creating moderately priced housing in places with immoderate land prices has led housing experts in New York City to an unconventional thought: Why not tear down obsolete branch libraries and replace them with libraries that not only are bigger and better, but also have apartments built on top?

In Brooklyn, a community development group has proposed tearing down four deteriorating branch libraries and redeveloping each site — an undertaking that the group says could produce more than 30,000 square feet of new library space and as many as 200 apartments for low- and moderate-income tenants.

Meanwhile, Enterprise Community Investment, a national company that finances low- and moderate-income housing, recently completed an inventory of nearly every branch library in New York City, to identify those whose age, condition and neighborhood zoning might make them candidates for redevelopment to create housing.

“City-owned land is becoming more and more scarce,” said Michelle de la Uz, executive director of the Fifth Avenue Committee, the group that has been working to redevelop the four branch libraries in Brooklyn. “We have to look at every possible option for redevelopment — specifically, the things the city has control of. And it’s a win-win situation.”

Library redevelopment is one of several unorthodox approaches to producing low-priced housing that are cropping up in places where population growth and land costs have driven housing prices up. In New York and other cities, developers are collaborating with churches to redevelop church-owned properties, and with government agencies to turn parking lots into parking structures with housing on top.

In St. Paul, a developer, with help from Local Initiatives Support Corporation, or LISC, a major supporter of community development nationally that is also doing work in New York, replaced a small branch library with a new, 32,000-square-foot library, which opened in September, and a 98-apartment, mixed-income complex.

In Seattle, a community development group, with the support of LISC, approached the Seattle Public Library about adding 19 apartments for low-income families to a new branch library. The deal made it possible to increase the size of the library and cut the cost.

These developments are public-private partnerships that typically include government subsidies as well as grants or loans from banks and other financing sources to build the apartments. Where the library is on city-owned land, the developer can avoid the land-acquisition costs and instead pay the city for development rights. The city can then use that money to pay for the new library.

“This is a great opportunity to look at a resource that is in every neighborhood and that has the ability to generate additional housing,” said Rafael Cestero, deputy commissioner for development at the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development. He added, “You’re looking at pieces of property that have underutilized development rights, and libraries that need rehabilitation and expansion.”

For many years, New York City encouraged the construction of low- and moderate-income housing by doling out its once vast inventory of properties taken in tax foreclosure. But that supply of cheap land has been exhausted. Community development groups and developers of lower-priced housing, unable to compete with the private market, have begun searching for creative ways to find land.

Ms. de la Uz of the Fifth Avenue Committee said the library idea arose after a meeting last year with a member of the City Council who happened to mention the difficulties of finding money for the long list of repairs and renovations needed at many branches of the Brooklyn Public Library. Marrying libraries to housing seemed like an innovative way to meet both needs.

The Fifth Avenue Committee, which has a long history of developing low-priced housing in parts of Brooklyn, has proposed redeveloping the library branches at Clinton Hill, Red Hook, Sunset Park and Brower Park in Crown Heights. All four branches are in low-rise buildings dating from the 1960s or ’70s.

The group, which lined up predevelopment financing from LISC and Deutsche Bank, is scheduled to meet today with city officials to discuss how to proceed.

“Ideally, this would serve as a model that can be replicated in Brooklyn and across the city, and really provide resources to the library that might otherwise not be available, and meet the mayor’s and the city’s goal of building additional affordable housing,” said Steven Schechter, director of government and community affairs for the Brooklyn Public Library.

Mr. Schechter said many of the library’s branches had suffered from years of deferred maintenance and needed things like new roofs, boilers and computer technology. (The Brooklyn Public Library, which is separate from the New York Public Library, operates 59 of the more than 200 branch libraries in New York City.)

Good candidates for redevelopment are what are sometimes called “bunker-style libraries” — unremarkable single-story brick buildings in deteriorating condition. They must be on sites with enough room for larger replacements, and in neighborhoods where the zoning allows taller buildings, making it possible to both increase the size of the library and add on, say, 50,000 square feet of housing or perhaps 50 units.

The Clinton Hill branch illustrates some of the challenges. The branch opened in 1974 in a low-slung beige-brick building on a handsome tree-lined block of taller houses on Washington Avenue near Lafayette Avenue. The library consists largely of a single room with cinder-block walls, partly empty bookshelves and an acoustic-tile ceiling studded with fluorescent lights, bathing the room in a desultory glow.

Library officials have estimated that the building needs about $3 million worth of capital improvements, including a new roof, a new boiler and an interior renovation. Last year, the system received no capital funds for the building, despite its request to the city, Mr. Schechter said. Under the Fifth Avenue Committee’s redevelopment plan, the library would double in size.

The Fifth Avenue Committee initially proposed building apartments as well as a charter school on top of a new library. But the neighborhood was considering a rezoning that would make have made it impossible to do both. So the current proposal includes only the school. Apartments as well as other community facilities are tentatively proposed for the three other Brooklyn library sites.

Kirk Goodrich, a vice president at Enterprise Community Investment, said his company had met with both the Brooklyn and New York Public Libraries. Enterprise’s recently completed survey of all the branch libraries in the city found library redevelopment possibilities in every borough.

Mr. Goodrich said it was too early to say how many units of housing could be produced.

Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

November 13th, 2006, 09:03 AM
Library + Low Income Housing =/ good

I know they need some more affordable housing units in the city, but the problem is, you do something like put low income housing on TOP of a Library, you are probably not going to get the respect that a place like that deserves.

Maybe if you made it a "target" low income housing, one that you not only had to apply to, but had more restrictive rules of decorum and upkeep than other places, then you would have something going there.

I don't know, make it something liek only people who are currently housed, who have had a good record, and whose current residences pass inspection can be admitted, and then they can also be thrown out for things like prolonged excessive storage on their balconies, improper usage of space, overcrowding or pissing in the elevators. (You may scoff, but that is a MAJOR problem at the 54th and 10th avenue projects!!!).

Although housing is limited, I do not want the Library to be a place that I don't want my kids to be around after dark, you know?

November 13th, 2006, 09:27 AM
Man, I would *love* to live at the library. I would hate for the library to be a scary place though. They would have to make sure that they were "good" projects, not "bad" projects. That should be easy, right? haha...

November 13th, 2006, 09:57 AM
Limited space? Enforcement problems?

What about projects on Police stations?

Lets just consolodate things a bit..... :p

November 13th, 2006, 03:19 PM
We could take that the next step. I think there some unused land on Rikers.

Limited space? Enforcement problems?

What about projects on Police stations?

Lets just consolodate things a bit..... :p

November 26th, 2006, 03:30 PM
Bloomberg Administration Is Developing Land Use Plan to Accommodate Future Populations

Published: November 26, 2006

Faced with a shrinking inventory of vacant land, the Bloomberg administration next month will unveil its goals for accommodating the city’s growing population over the next 25 years and the municipal services that nine million or more New Yorkers will require.

Chief among the priorities of the mayor’s Sustainability Advisory Board, led by Daniel L. Doctoroff, the deputy mayor for economic development, is how to reclaim as many as 1,700 acres of polluted land — brownfields and other former industrial parcels — and transform them into environmentally sound sites for schools, apartments and parks.

Among the other goals being explored by the 17-member board, which Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg appointed in September, are improving commuting times (at 39 minutes on average, now the highest of any big city in the nation), maintaining and protecting the drinking water supply, reducing sewage overflow into the city’s surrounding waterways during stormy weather, and reconciling the region’s growing energy needs with clean-air standards.

The board is expected to outline its draft agenda by the end of next month, then place it before civic groups and the public for further debate. In mid-2007, the mayor will present its final goals — and strategies to achieve them.

Driven by higher birth rates among Hispanic and Asian New Yorkers, the influx of about 100,000 immigrants a year and a housing boom that is attracting newcomers to each borough, the city’s population hit another peak last year, of 8.2 million. If those trends persist, the population is projected to reach at least nine million in the 2020’s.

Responding to the mayor’s pledge in his State of the City address last January to produce a “strategic land use plan” to deal with a city of nine million people, Mr. Doctoroff said: “We have the capacity through rezoning and underutilized land to go well over that number. But you cannot simply divorce the issue of growth from the infrastructure required to support it.

“It opens up great opportunities only if the growth is smart,” he said at the time, explaining that growth that fosters economic development could, for instance, help balance the city’s budget.

“Growth for its own sake is not necessarily good,” Mr. Doctoroff said. “We have a structural budget deficit. You want to ensure that the growth that takes place helps to ameliorate that deficit rather than exacerbates it.”

City officials declined to publicly elaborate on their proposals in advance of the advisory board’s announcement. But some of its goals were foreshadowed by two of the largest rezoning revisions in city history — of the Brooklyn waterfront in Greenpoint and Williamsburg and the Far West Side of Manhattan — both driven by Mr. Doctoroff.

The two major zoning changes, coupled with other development proposals, including the Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn, were aimed at revitalizing underutilized land for economic development and expanding the city’s property tax base. The zoning changes were accomplished, in part, by tying them to the city’s timetable to apply for the 2012 Olympic Games.

The city lost its Olympic bid, which included the ill-fated proposal for combining a stadium for the Olympics and the Jets with an expanded convention center on the West Side. But Mr. Doctoroff maintains that he also viewed the Olympics as a vehicle to drive the sort of longer-range planning in which local governments rarely have the resources, or the vision, to indulge.

“Ultimately the most important point was to finally create the conditions for the West Side to develop,” he said.

The stadium proposal itself generated the most criticism, and even some of Mr. Doctoroff’s supporters said he did not do enough political spadework to see it through. But Mr. Bloomberg, among others, says that Mr. Doctoroff has not gotten his due.

“Doctoroff, by the time he gets done,” Mr. Bloomberg said recently, “will have a greater impact on this city, I think, than Robert Moses, in a much more democratic world where there’s a lot more community input and a lot more supervision from the courts and the Legislature.”

Planners who were interviewed agreed that the biggest growth constraint that the city faced was accommodating nine million people within its boundaries. Unlike newer cities in the South or the West, New York is not empowered to expand by annexing neighboring communities. But developers are seeing new possibilities for land that was once the site of industry, as manufacturing and maritime uses of the waterfront have declined.

The advisory board’s biggest challenge, Mr. Doctoroff has said, is “how are we going to generate the land in a city where land is our scarcest resource to provide for the facilities that will support growth.”

“It could be a zoning change, an investment in a form of transportation, it could be park space, working with Con Ed and KeySpan on energy needs,” he continued. “Power plants take acres and acres of land, but if we’re going to grow we’ve got to provide that.”

One possible source is the inventory of 1,700 contaminated acres in the city, many of which, consultants to the advisory board believe, can be reclaimed through improved technology. The technology has to be efficient enough, however, to make whatever is built there affordable.

If the brownfields were sufficiently decontaminated, those sites alone could accommodate 2,600 schools.

“We can’t afford to write off the land,” one advisor to the board said.

According to a Department of City Planning survey of land use, one- and two-family homes consume more space than any other category — more than 27 percent — followed by 25 percent devoted to open space and recreation, 12 percent to multifamily housing, 4 percent each to commercial and industrial uses, and a little more than 1 percent to parking. About 7 percent of the land surveyed was identified as vacant.

Separately, transportation officials say streets and highways take up about 32,000 acres, which would rank them third in an overall inventory of land use.

Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

December 21st, 2006, 05:36 AM
December 21, 2006
In Overhaul, New York City to Expand Lower-Cost Units

The City Council yesterday approved the first major overhaul of the most popular tax break for apartment building developers, adopting a plan intended to induce them to build tens of thousands of apartments for people other than the well-heeled.

The changes, which Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg supported and which would go into effect in 2008, significantly increase the areas of the city in which developers who want the tax break must make one out of every five apartments they build affordable to lower-income people. The boundaries of those areas would be reconsidered every two years in light of trends in the housing market.

In addition, and for the first time in the 35-year history of the program, those lower-priced apartments would have to be included in each building and could not be built elsewhere in the city. There would be a cap on the size of the tax break given for market-rate apartments, to limit the degree to which the program might be said to subsidize gentrification.

The revamped program would also include a $400 million trust fund for developing low- and moderately priced housing, especially in the city’s 15 poorest neighborhoods, including Soundview in the Bronx and parts of Bushwick in Brooklyn.

Housing officials estimate that the program, which is said to have fueled the construction of 110,000 units since 1971, will generate 20,000 new units of lower-priced housing over the first 10 years. The apartments, for rent or sale, will be set aside for New Yorkers making no more than 80 percent of the median household income, or $56,720 for a family of four.

“This is the single most important element of the largest affordable housing plan in the nation’s history,” said Shaun Donovan, commissioner of the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, referring to the mayor’s plan to create or preserve 165,000 units of lower-priced housing by 2013. “No other single change that we will make, or new policy, will have as broad an impact.”

Christine C. Quinn, the Council speaker, who sponsored the measure, said, “The bill will create even more affordable housing, encourage development in communities where it is still needed and protect taxpayer dollars from oversubsidizing new luxury development.”

But Steven Spinola, president of the Real Estate Board of New York, a real estate trade association with 11,000 members, said of the bill, “I believe it will result in less production of housing, as well as less production of affordable housing.” He suggested that the changes would alter the economics of development in certain neighborhoods, limiting the incentive for developers to proceed with their projects there.

The bill represented a compromise between an administration bill and a more radical proposal initially backed by as many as 20 members of the 51-member Council.

The impact of the changes, which cannot go into effect until the State Legislature renews the program, known as 421-a, next year, is likely to be greatest in former industrial areas like the Brooklyn-Queens waterfront that seem poised for large-scale residential redevelopment. The changes will also be felt in places like downtown Brooklyn and along Fourth Avenue where recent rezoning has opened up the possibility of new building.

The 421-a program, which costs the city hundreds of millions of dollars a year in forgone tax revenue, was begun in the 1970s to spur housing development. Under the program, developers could get a 10- to 15-year exemption from the increase in taxes that resulted from their work. In poor neighborhoods, the tax break lasted up to 25 years.

When the real estate market in Manhattan revived in the 1980s, the program was modified to require developers in central Manhattan to build lower-cost units if they wanted the tax break. Many of those units were built outside Manhattan. The designated area of Manhattan, known as the exclusion area, was expanded in recent years to include areas along the Greenpoint-Williamsburg waterfront.

But there has been a growing consensus in favor of broader reforms. In February, Mayor Bloomberg appointed a task force of developers, affordable housing advocates, bankers and others to look into changes. Based on the group’s report, the administration in October proposed some expansion of the exclusion area, a limit on the tax benefit for market-rate apartments, a $300 million trust fund and other changes.

Last month, more than a third of the City Council submitted a counterproposal under which no developers anywhere in the city would get the tax break without making at least 30 percent of the apartments in their buildings affordable to lower-income people. Under their plan, the low-priced units would have been required to be affordable for households earning no more than 50 percent of the median income, or $35,000 for a family of four.

Ms. Quinn’s compromise, which passed by 44 to 5, expands the exclusion area to include Manhattan south of 136th Street in West and Central Harlem and south of 117th Street in East Harlem, as well as an area between 124th and 126th Streets in East Harlem. It also covers Downtown Brooklyn, Carroll Gardens, Cobble Hill, Boerum Hill and Park Slope, as well as most of Fort Greene, Prospect Heights, Williamsburg and Greenpoint, and parts of Sunset Park and Bushwick.

The bill limits the total tax break for market-rate apartments so that buildings with average apartment prices of more than $650,000 will receive abatements for no more than the first $650,000. The changes also limit the number of low-priced units that go to households making 60 percent to 80 percent of the median income, to ensure that most go to households making less than that.

Mr. Donovan, the housing commissioner, estimated that the new $400 million trust fund would produce 7,200 lower-priced units over 10 years; another 6,600 would come from $300 million in new tax revenue generated by changes in the plan. On top of that, he said, about 6,000 more units are expected to be created as a result of the increased incentives.

Julie Miles, director of Housing Here and Now, a coalition of affordable-housing advocacy groups and others that campaigned for change, said she was now looking to the state to require even more radical reform. But she also said, “I think this coalition of council members and housing advocates standing together had a real impact on long overdue reform of the 421-a program.”


Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

May 28th, 2007, 01:40 AM
In a City Known for Its Renters, a Record Number Now Own Their Homes

Beth Olarsch says the monthly
costs for her new Upper East Side
condominium are about the same
as for her old sublet in Chelsea.

May 27, 2007

New York, a city of renters since immigrants began jamming lodging houses and tenements early in the 19th century, has reached two milestones in homeownership:

One in three households now own their dwellings, according to a new analysis of census results. And the number of homes and apartments occupied by their owners has passed one million for the first time.

Propelled by a building boom, co-op and condominium conversions, the lifting of rent regulations and the availability of low-interest and risky subprime mortgages, the rate of homeownership in the city increased more from 2000 to 2005 than during all of the 1990s, according to the analysis, conducted by Queens College demographers for The New York Times.

In 1990, 28.7 percent of New Yorkers owned their homes, according to the census figures. In 2000, 30.2 percent did, and five years later, according to the analysis of the Census Bureau’s 2005 American Community Survey, 33.2 percent were homeowners.

“It is my understanding that 33 percent is a record high for the city,” said Vicki Been, director of the Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy at New York University.

The increases spanned all major racial and ethnic groups in the city, and the steepest jumps occurred in some of the poorest neighborhoods: the South Bronx, Central Harlem, the Lower East Side, Washington Heights and Brownsville, Brooklyn. In each of those, the proportion of property owners had risen by more than 70 percent since 1990. In the South Bronx, for example, the Census Bureau found nearly 3,600 homeowners in 2005, up from 1,600 in 1990. Only one neighborhood, Bushwick, Brooklyn, registered a decline.

Sarah Plowden, a church administrator, lives with her grandson in a home she bought in East New York, Brooklyn, in 1992 for $110,000 under the Nehemiah program, which has built low-cost houses on land donated by the city. Today, she said, it is worth about two and a half times what she paid for it.

“I’ve had a chance, in owning a home, to have some equity for retirement if I decide to sell it,” she said.

The shift toward homeownership heralds broad implications for the city’s future.

“Homeownership,” says John H. Mollenkopf, executive director of the Center for Urban Research at the City University of New York Graduate Center, “is the strongest predictor of being likely to turn out in local politics and being a bit more conservative and antitax in your general outlook.”

Since 1990, the rate of homeownership among black New Yorkers has risen to 28 percent from 21 percent; among Hispanics, to 16 percent from 12 percent; among Asians, to 40 percent from 31 percent; and among non-Hispanic whites, to 44 percent from 38 percent.

The number of foreign-born owners is up, too. In 2005, 40 percent of New York’s homeowners were born outside the United States; in 1990, 30 percent of them were. “Everybody’s buying,” said Lourdes Cartagena, a broker with Foxtons real estate in the Bronx and Westchester County.

But the analysis also found an increase in the price that the homeownership imposes. Rent consumed a higher proportion of household income in 2005 than in 1990, but the increased costs for homeowners climbed even more steeply. In 1990, 15 percent of homeowners were spending 35 percent or more of their income on housing. By 2005, 32 percent of owners were.

Monthly housing costs for owner-occupied homes and apartments with a mortgage consumed about one-third of the median income in Brooklyn, the Bronx and Queens in 2005 — a higher percentage than in all but four counties in the country. Manhattan homeowners spent about one-fifth of their median income.

Since 2000, the median rent rose about 10 percent, to $909 from $823 a month. During the same period, median monthly mortgage costs for homeowners increased more than 15 percent, to $2,062 from $1,786. Those figures did not account for the tax advantages of homeownership, namely the income tax deduction for mortgage interest.

“Homeownership rates increased even as fewer and fewer New Yorkers were able to afford the city’s housing,” Professor Been said in an interview. “Less than 5 percent of home sales in 2005 were affordable to New Yorkers earning the median income, $43,434, down from 10.7 percent in 2000, and less than 7 percent were affordable to those making 120 percent of the median income, down from 21.5 percent in 2000.” (Generally, “affordable” is defined as spending no more than 30 percent of income on housing and a purchase price that is roughly two and a half times the buyer’s annual income.)

Nationwide, the proportion of homeowners also increased, to about 68 percent — partly a result of the greater availability of mortgage loans with low initial interest rates or extended terms for first-time buyers with spotty credit.

“Some say that New York City homeownership rates may be less driven by subprime lending because co-ops often don’t allow much in the way of ‘creative’ financing and because homeowners are wealthier in the city than elsewhere,” Professor Been said. “But the rate of subprime home purchase loans tripled in New York City between 2002 and 2005, and that likely is accounting for some of the increase in homeownership rates.”

Shaun Donovan, the city’s housing commissioner, said officials had identified neighborhoods where subprime lending had grown sharply and where initial foreclosure filings, but not necessarily foreclosures, had increased. The Furman Center found that the highest percentage of subprime lending occurred in Brownsville; East New York; Jamaica, Queens; and Williamsbridge in the Bronx, which also were among the neighborhoods that recorded the largest increases in homeownership.

Last month, City Comptroller William C. Thompson Jr. cited estimates that the number of foreclosure filings in the city could reach 15,000 this year, more than double the total two years ago.

“Homeownership is not right for everyone,” said Sarah Gerecke, chief executive officer of Neighborhood Housing Services of New York City, which promotes affordable housing and advises prospective owners.

Owning a home can strain even those at higher incomes. David Kolker, 37, a financial analyst and semiprofessional guitarist who has his own band, is moving in the fall from an apartment on East 27th Street in Manhattan, where the rent is rising to $6,000 from $3,100, to a condominium in a converted office building downtown on Greenwich Street. He bought the condo for $1.4 million, and he estimates that it will cost him about $6,500 a month, after his income tax deduction.

“At $3,100, I can take my girlfriend out to dinner every night,” Mr. Kolker said. “At the new place, I’m buried. But my gamble is that my pay will increase, and the equity will, too.”

Mark K. Levitan, who is leaving his job as senior policy analyst for the Community Service Society, an advocacy group, to conduct research for Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s Center for Economic Opportunity, said that another incentive to buy has been rent deregulation, including the removal of rent controls on apartments that become vacant.

“Along with the supply-side factors — more co-ops and condos, greater access to credit — I would add another: the growing scarcity of affordable rental units,” Mr. Levitan said.

“On the demand side, I would guess that there are more people who want to settle in the city and want the security and equity that comes with ownership,” he said. This is assuming, he added, that the prices reflect the value of the property and that owners have invested in neighborhoods that go up in value.

Women are responsible for much of the increase in homeownership. In 2005, they accounted for 47 percent of New York homeowners, up from 34 percent in 1990.

Beth Olarsch, a 40-year-old consultant for a financial services company, was renting a sublet in Chelsea and recently bought a one-bedroom apartment on the Upper East Side. Her monthly costs are similar.

“I could move out and continue paying rent elsewhere, and for about same amount of money,” she said. “Or I could pay my mortgage and maintenance and own something.”

New York’s rate of homeownership remains the lowest of any major American city. The figure is 36 percent in Boston, 40 percent in Los Angeles, 43 percent in Washington, 48 percent in Houston and 57 percent in Philadelphia.

In the 1890 census, only about 6 percent of New York City residents reported owning a home. In 1900, even after the consolidated city absorbed residential tracts in Brooklyn and Queens, the overall homeownership rate was just 12 percent.

By 1950, with new housing being built for returning military veterans, the share of owners topped 19 percent. With the exception of the 1970s, when the city flirted with bankruptcy, the proportion has been inching up ever since.

But much earlier in the city’s history, in the 17th century, homeownership was more commonplace.

“A high percentage, probably the majority, of families in New Amsterdam owned their homes — the obvious exception being slaves,” said Russell Shorto, author of “The Island at the Center of the World.”

“Homeownership was necessary in order to be a burgher, and have a voice in city affairs,” he said.


Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company (http://www.nytimes.com/2007/05/27/nyregion/27owners.html?_r=1&ref=nyregion&oref=slogin)

May 30th, 2007, 09:44 AM
New Buildings Are Proposed Among Projects

Diane Humphrey lives in the Fulton Houses in Manhattan, where new apartments for middle- and even
upper-income occupants may be built. “They should build more low-income housing,” she said

Published: May 30, 2007

Facing a $225 million budget gap, the City Housing Authority is planning to sharply reduce its staff and sell vacant land in its projects for development into housing, much of it for middle-income residents, officials said yesterday.

Under a plan scheduled to be approved today, the authority is proposing to raise $50 million by selling parking lots and other open space at a number of housing complexes. Officials at the authority, which is the landlord for more than 400,000 low-income New Yorkers, said that although some of that development might include market-rate units, the income from the land sales generated would help preserve housing for the poor.

The city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development, which often works with private developers to build homes for residents with a broad range of incomes, will buy the land, and expects to select developers for three projects on the West Side of Manhattan and one in Brooklyn within a few weeks, a department spokesman said.

At the same time, Housing Authority officials, who have been steadily reducing the agency’s staff, plan to eliminate an additional 500 jobs by October, through layoffs and by letting vacancies go unfilled. The authority also plans to use $100 million from its capital budget, which is normally set aside for long-term physical upkeep of its 2,653 residential buildings, to help cover its day-to-day costs.

Despite those moves, the authority still faces a nearly $52 million budget gap for the current calendar year.

“This budget requires hard choices, given the limited amount of new aid provided by Washington and Albany,” said Tino Hernandez, the Housing Authority chairman. “The board is taking the steps necessary to ensure fiscal stability while maintaining our commitment to the residents of public housing.”

The Housing Authority has struggled for years to balance its books as the gap between federal subsidies and expenses for items like pensions and heating fuel have continued to grow. Over the years, the authority has undertaken a variety of measures, including raising rents, freezing hiring, reorganizing management and seeking additional assistance from Washington and Albany — assistance it usually did not get.

Officials at the authority have abandoned efforts, for instance, to gain permission to use $117.5 million from federal programs in different ways from the originally intended uses. And they are still waiting to see if they will be able to use $27.7 million from a rent-subsidy program known as Section 8 for housing that was built by the city and state but no longer receives aid from them.

Requests for $62 million in state aid yielded only $3.4 million, while a proposal to bring parity to the way the state helps welfare recipients pay for public and private housing — which could ultimately mean an additional $46.6 million a year — is still pending.

In response, the authority is looking to reduce its work force of roughly 13,000 full-time employees by 500, a move that could result in service cuts at properties where there have already been reductions in weekend staff levels while rents have increased.

Although officials in Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s administration have been considering the idea of selling vacant land in the projects for years, they are only now taking the first major steps toward doing so. Housing Authority officials say there is enough empty or underused space within its developments to support 25,000 new apartments and homes, but that they are selling only enough for roughly 5,000 or 6,000.

Among those parcels are parking lots at the Fulton Houses on 18th Street between 9th and 10th Avenues and at the Elliott-Chelsea complex on 25th Street and 9th Avenue. According to the city’s request for proposals from developers, the apartments at the two complexes are to be affordable to a family of four earning $56,720 to $116,985 and single households earning $39,700 to $81,890.

At a similar development planned for a parking lot and basketball court at the Harborview Terrace Houses, on 55th Street between 10th and 11th Avenues, most of the apartments are to be set aside for those earning $43,249 to $116,985 for a family of four and from $30,247 to $81,890 for a single resident. The Manhattan developments are expected to create more than 400 new rental apartments.

And a parking lot at the Linden and Boulevard Houses in East New York, Brooklyn, is to become a mixture of 180 two- and three-family and condominium town houses. At least 15 of the two-family units are to be set aside for households earning no more than $56,700 for a family of four, with the rest affordable to households earning no more than $92,170 for a family of four.

The Housing Authority sees the plan as a way of leveraging its assets in a time of fiscal strain, but the Bloomberg administration also sees it as a way to ease the housing crunch for middle-class residents.

“We’re creating more economically diverse communities by mixing middle income with the low-income populations” at Housing Authority projects, said Neill Coleman, a spokesman for the Department of Housing Preservation and Development.

Mr. Coleman said that while it was “certainly conceivable” that the developments would one day include market-rate housing, the department would be able to mandate a higher proportion of lower-cost housing because it was buying the land from another government entity at a lower cost than it could privately.

Several advocates of low-cost housing said that they supported the approach in theory, and that mixed-income communities are desirable for those who live in them. But some warned against using public land for middle-income residents at the expense of the poor.

“Within reason, a mixed-income, economically diverse community is a good community,” said Victor Bach, a housing policy analyst at the Community Service Society, which works with the poor. “Because the site and the land is being obtained from N.Y.C.H.A., and N.Y.C.H.A. has a historical mission to assist low-income New Yorkers in providing housing that’s affordable to them,” he added, “that should be reflected in a higher proportion of the housing going to low-income New Yorkers.”

At the Fulton Houses, a dark red brick complex on a quiet, leafy street in Chelsea, a resident, Diane Humphrey, 46, could hardly agree more. “This is supposed to be low income, not high income,” she said. “Rent’s going up, it ain’t going down. That’s unsuitable for a lot of people. Our rent is going up and up. And now they’re talking about building something else.” She added, “They should build more low-income housing.”

Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company (http://www.nytimes.com/2007/05/30/nyregion/30housing.html?_r=1&ref=nyregion&oref=slogin)

June 12th, 2007, 01:33 PM
I think it is a good idea on several levels.

1. Parking lots are wasted space in the city. This is one of the few cities where NOT having a car is not a major liability.

2. Segregation and separation due to socioeconomic differences would be reduced. You would no longer have "the projects", you would have a community that would be more of a blend from all levels. HOPEFULLY this will make for more of a community and not prompt hate, or reverse-hate crimes.

3. It makes the system more self-sustaining. In a market where people are willing to spend so much money no land and development in NYC, to allow it to go untapped it not forgivable. It is not like they are destroying a park or building incongruously next to an architectural landmark. Maybe the projects would end up looking better from these additions!

Hopefully this will be done right, and the money gone DIRECTLY back into the care and maintenance of the projects involved. The one thing I hate is when they are saying they are doing this and that when all that is happening is that some upper level city officials pension is being guaranteed. :(

July 9th, 2007, 11:15 AM
Loft Clauses

What happens if the city steps up enforcement of Soho’s artist-in-residence laws?

The way it was: The Soho loft of artists Bill and Yvonne Tarr circa 1970.
(Photo: John Dominis/Time Life Pictures/Getty Images)

New York Magazine (http://nymag.com/realestate/realestatecolumn/34448/)
By S.Jhoanna Robledo
July 16, 2007 Issue

In order to get the full asking price — $3.2 million — Corcoran broker Cornelia Dobrovolsky had to wait four months on her Soho listing, a 2,500-square-foot loft on Mercer Street, near Broome. The seller worked in the insurance business, and the buyer was in the film business. But during due diligence, Dobrovolsky says, an issue cropped up with the building’s certificate of occupancy (a.k.a. C of O) — documentation all city dwellings need in order to be legally habitable. The building’s C of O was supposedly in jeopardy because the building was filling up with non-artists.

In most city neighborhoods, this wouldn’t be an issue. But in 1977, Soho, and Noho, were zoned for “joint living-working” spaces, meaning properties there are for so-called artists-in-residence (AIR) only. Never mind that these days, hedge-funders, traders, and lawyers—not artists—are the ones usually buying. “The whole thing is absurd,” says Dobrovolsky, who ended up dropping the final sale price by $200,000 to get the buyer to sign on the dotted line.

It’s a little-known fact that to live in a loft in most Soho buildings, at least one loft resident has to be certified by the city as an artist. In typical New York fashion, the vetting process is byzantine, requiring individuals to be engaged in the “fine arts”; to demonstrate a “serious, consistent commitment” to their art; and need a large space. It’s notoriously fickle, says lawyer Margaret Baisley, who represents a number of buildings dealing with AIR issues. Choreographers and filmmakers for instance, get a pass, but dancers and actors and musicians do not.

For years, says real-estate attorney Steven Wagner, sellers worked around the issue by having purchasers sign “Soho letters” acknowledging they were aware of the need for AIR certificates and may be asked to produce them should building inspectors come nosing around. Brokers say that until recently, there was no real reason to worry. Loft-livers were rarely asked for them. “People sign [Soho letters] as a matter of course on the assumption that the city won’t enforce it, but that doesn’t mean they won’t,” says Wagner, who doesn’t like them. Indeed, as more co-ops bring their properties up to code or convert to condominiums, enforcement appears to be stepping up, leaving some owners scrambling to comply — Quick, find a craftsy roommate! — and real-estate types wringing their hands.

Attorney Neil Garfinkel recently agonized over what to tell a client interested in an AIR loft. “It’s becoming a bigger issue. If [my clients] are at all unsure, I say, ‘You need to be careful going forward,’” he says. If a city inspector finds even one loft without a city-certified AIR, it can issue a building violation. “It’s ridiculous! There’s no way for the buildings to clear the violations unless it evicts non-artists or has them find an artist roommate to live with,” says Stacey Max, head of Bellmarc Realty’s downtown office. “Just the fact that all of this is pending makes it riskier to buy in Soho.”

Apparently, there are more than a few co-ops under Department of Buildings scrutiny for AIR-related violations. The DOB’s position? “The law has not changed, nor has our enforcement of the law,” says spokesperson Kate Lindquist. “We continue to enforce the AIR regulations as we always have.”

For now, no one seems to fear a true crackdown, but there have been enough headaches that some are lobbying for rezoning. “ obsolete,” declares Baisley. “Preserving Soho for artists is an absurdity. We don’t zone for butchers, bakers, and candlestick makers.” Even longtime Soho denizens like Sean Sweeney are willing to discuss changing the law—though they’re not quite onboard yet. “All of a sudden, we have to feel pity for Wall Streeters?” asks Sweeney, who heads the neighborhood coalition SoHo Alliance. “We’d be open as long as we have input from the neighborhood’s pioneers.”

After all, rezoning would have an impact on the remaining artists, too. They’re “walking out of lofts with big checks under their arms,” says Prudential Douglas Elliman broker Leonard Steinberg. “This is their retirement fund. Many mediocre artists owned these lofts, and they didn’t sell a lot of art. But they had great real estate.”

[I]Copyright © 2007, New York Magazine Holdings LLC.

July 9th, 2007, 11:56 AM
They are correct, they should get rid of the AIR rules, and get rid of the rental loft law. Both have outlived their usefulness.

July 9th, 2007, 01:43 PM
There are still a few hundred loft buildings covered under the Loft Law where the owners have failed to fully up-grade to residential code requirements. Hence the buildings do not have a residential C/O. Without the Loft Law the residential occupants of those buildings would have no protections. There is no good reason that, after 20+ years, owners of those loft buildings haven't fulfilled their legal requirements -- aside from the distinct probability that they are flouting the law in order to force protected tenants out of their homes.

PS: If there were a financial hardship situation then the owners could have vailed themselves of that aspect of the law, so claiming "hardship "is no good excuse.

July 9th, 2007, 02:01 PM
I'm amazed that nobody has challenged these laws in court. Can one really engage in housing discriminatation based on employment?

Get rid of the law. Everyone knows Soho is extremely wealthy and not particularly artist-oriented. How many non-wealthy artists under the age of 50 live in Soho (or anywhere downtown, for that matter)?

July 9th, 2007, 02:12 PM
NYS Legislature recently RENEWED / EXTENDED the Loft Law (http://www.plannyc.org/print.php?sid=2661) for another year (through May 2008) -- as they have done regularly for the past many years.

Per the NYC Loft Board (http://www.nyc.gov/html/loft/html/laws/loft-law.shtml) regarding non-compliant Interim Multiple Dwellings (IMD buildings):

As of February 15, 2007 there are 395 IMD buildings in New York City.

Download the Loft Law (http://www.nyc.gov/html/loft/downloads/pdf/loft_law.pdf)

September 13th, 2007, 05:38 AM
September 13, 2007
Housing Takes Bigger Bite of New Yorkers’ Incomes, Census Data Shows

The burden of housing costs continues to stretch the pocketbooks of New Yorkers, as large percentages of residents see more of their income go to their mortgages and rents, according to an analysis of new census data.

Across the city, homeowners in Brooklyn and renters in the Bronx are carrying the heaviest burdens, with many spending half or more of their monthly paychecks on housing.

In Brooklyn, 31 percent of homeowners with a mortgage are spending 50 percent or more of their income on housing costs, the highest percentage in any large county in the state. In the Bronx, 32.9 percent of renter households are paying a similar share of their income for their apartments, the highest percentage in the city, according to an analysis of the Census Bureau’s 2006 American Community Survey, which was released to the public yesterday.

Zulma Solorzano, a 32-year-old single mother, lives in a one-bedroom apartment in the Bronx with her 8-year-old daughter, Elisa Castro. She figures she spends 57 percent of her income on rent, earning $645 every two weeks as a part-time public school teacher and paying $790 for rent.

Her life has become a series of small sacrifices. She used to spend $60 a week on groceries, but now she spends $40. She recently had to get a second job, working as a sales clerk at the Gap. She would like to go back to school to get a master’s degree, but cannot afford the tuition. She wanted to become more active in her neighborhood by working with the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition, but never has the time. About two weeks ago, she cut off her cable television service.

“It was hard to say to a little kid, ‘I cannot afford it anymore,’ ” Ms. Solorzano said, adding: “It’s really frustrating. I’ve been struggling for a long time.”

The latest data, when compared with census results from 2005, illustrates the speed with which New York City housing is becoming increasingly expensive.

Ismene Speliotis, executive director of New York Acorn Housing, a nonprofit housing organization, and other advocates for low- and moderate-income housing said several factors were putting the squeeze on homeowners and renters.

Stagnant incomes have not kept pace with rising rents. Gentrification and the rapid loss of subsidized rental housing have also pushed housing costs up for low- and moderate-income families, housing experts said. At the same time, the proliferation of low-interest and risky subprime mortgages, while increasing homeownership numbers, has led to more foreclosure filings in the city.

“We’ve seen a huge increase in defaults and foreclosures in Brooklyn, in East New York, East Flatbush,” Ms. Speliotis said.

In 2006, 26.4 percent of homeowners with a mortgage in the city paid half or more of their income on housing, up from 25.4 percent in 2005, according to the analysis conducted by Queens College demographers for The New York Times. About 49.8 percent of homeowners with a mortgage in the city were paying 30 percent or more of their income on housing, a level commonly viewed as a limit of affordability, compared with 48.8 percent in 2005.

In Brooklyn, 55.3 percent of homeowners in 2006 paid 30 percent or more of their income on housing. Homeowners there had the second-highest median monthly costs in the city, at $2,194. Those in Manhattan had the highest, with $2,758.

For many poor and low-income renters driven out of Upper Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens by rising rents, the Bronx has become a last refuge. The borough has the cheapest median gross rent in the city, at $826 a month.

“Lower-income people being squeezed out of other parts of the city are moving to the only place they can still afford,” said Gregory Lobo Jost, deputy director of the nonprofit University Neighborhood Housing Program.

Even with the cheapest rents, the Bronx is the only borough in which the people moving in make less than the people already living there, the group found in a report released earlier this year.

The new census figures echo the research many community groups have already done on New Yorkers’ housing burdens. A study by the Community Service Society of New York found that the city’s low-income families, after spending much of their income on rent, are left with only $32 a week per family member.

“It’s disappointing but not surprising that in 2006 these trends are continuing,” said Julie Miles, executive director of Housing Here and Now, a coalition of housing advocates and community groups. “Families constantly are having to choose between essentials, between food costs and health care costs and energy costs, and housing.”

The city’s median gross rent climbed to $945 a month, up from $909 in 2005. Manhattan remains the most expensive borough for renters, with the median rent at $1,081, according to the census data. Renters in the city spending at least half their income on housing remained unchanged from 2005 to 2006, at 27.9 percent.

The burden of housing costs, though high in New York City, is by no means the highest in the country.

In Lawrence, Mass., 42.1 percent of homeowners with a mortgage were spending 50 percent or more of their income on housing, the highest percentage among cities in the country with more than 65,000 people, according to the analysis. In Newark, that figure is 34.7 percent, far higher than New York City’s 26.4 percent.

Victorville, Calif., had the highest percentage of renters paying at least half their income on housing among cities with more than 65,000 people, at 48 percent. Close behind was Muncie, Ind., at 47.9 percent.


Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company

October 24th, 2007, 03:41 PM
Fed Says Make Money by Selling Housing Projects

October 24, 2007

Yesterday, the New School held a forum to discuss how New York City will save its public housing. The New York City Housing Authority, which is the city's primary sources of affordable housing to 400,000 residents, has an annual shortfall of $225 million.

The Daily News reports that Sean Moss, the Regional Director for the Department of Housing and Urban Development in the NY/NJ region, offered a suggestion that "prompted shocked murmurs." His idea: Sell some of the Housing Authority's buildings in expensive neighborhoods. "It may displace some people, and that is a concern...That is not necessarily a bad thing if you can create more housing with that. Instead of having 300 units [in a project], maybe there is a way to increase that if they are able to...sell those assets so that you can create more housing." There are some NYCHA developments in neighborhoods full of new, luxury development, but would that mean lower-income families would be shifted more remote places?

Some others on the panel were more cautious. Teamsters Local 237 president Gregory Floyd said, "We have something that's working. We would like this to be improved." And City Council member Rosie Mendez suggested the city help out by not charging the NYCHA for "police services, water, trash pickup and senior programs."

Last year, NYCHA chairman Tino Hernandez proposed a seven-point "Plan to Preserver Public Housing," which included a limited rent increase and use of Section 8 funding to support operations in 8,400 units.

2003-2007 Gothamist LLC. (http://gothamist.com/2007/10/24/fed_says_make_m.php)


Feds eye New York building sale at housing projects

Wednesday, October 24th 2007

New Yorks top federal housing official said on Tuesday the city's cash-strapped Housing Authority should consider selling buildings in expensive neighborhoods to create more apartments elsewhere.

"It may displace some people, and that is a concern," Sean Moss, the regional administrator for the federal Housing and Urban Development Department, said at a forum on the Housing Authority's future.

"That is not necessarily a bad thing if you can create more housing with that," Moss said. "Instead of having 300 units [in a project], maybe there is a way to increase that if they are able to ... sell those assets so that you can create more housing."

Moss' frank comments prompted shocked murmurs among the dozens of housing advocates at the forum, organized by the New School's Center for New York City Affairs.

Gregory Floyd, president of Teamsters Local 237, which represents many Housing Authority workers, worried developers are already eying authority projects in valuable neighborhoods, which would curtail affordable housing options there.

"We have something that's working," Floyd said. "We would like this to be improved."

Other housing authorities have torn down dilapidated high-rises and replaced them with new low-rise buildings elsewhere, but New York's projects have been well managed in the past and provided solid middle-class housing for decades.

The Housing Authority and the city Housing Preservation and Development Department have sold parking lots at some Manhattan projects so developers can put up new apartments. Housing Authority General Manager Douglas Apple said the agency may also build new stores on its sites.

Federal cutbacks have left the authority with a $200 million annual shortfall, which has hurt services and maintenance for its 400,000 residents.

City Councilwoman Rosie Mendez (D-Manhattan) said the city should consider putting millions into the Housing Authority - or at least stop billing the agency for police services, water, trash pickup and senior programs.

"We in city government need to pick up some of the slack and pay for that," Mendez said.

© Copyright 2007 NYDailyNews.com. (http://www.nydailynews.com/news/2007/10/24/2007-10-24_feds_eye_new_york_building_sale_at_housi-1.html)

October 24th, 2007, 04:13 PM
Why don't they just rent some of these houses out to cover the costs of the other units?

I know it sounds bad, but if you have prime real estate, and a budget shortfall, make it so that the money that people are willing to spend goes towards saving places that need it.

I see this as a good thiong, but I know the money will mysteriously dissappear.

You get 300 units that you can rent at at least $2000 a month, you are talking $6M a month. $72M a year. Not exactly enough to cover the shortfall, but 300 units is one building.

How far would they have to push people out to make the system balance? How mean do they have to be to save something than may not bode well if it is forced to survive on its own?

What is the lesser of two evils?

Selling is just stupid. That is money that will find other pockets.

November 14th, 2007, 10:17 AM
Politicians Can't Back Sell-The-Projects Idea

Brownstoner (http://www.brownstoner.com/brownstoner/archives/2007/11/_unsurprisingly.php)
November 14, 2007

Unsurprisingly, a group of legislators has a serious bone to pick with HUD regional director Sean Moss over his recent comments (http://www.brownstoner.com/brownstoner/archives/2007/10/hud_top_dog_sug.php) that selling some public housing developments might help solve New York's affordable housing crisis. A letter addressed to HUD secretary Alphonso Jackson that was signed by 14 assemblymembers (including Joan Millman and Hakeem Jeffries) makes the case that selling public housing is in no way a long-term solution for the city's housing crisis:

At issue is the assertion that mass displacement of residents in one neighborhood, would benefit residents of another. At the very least, this assertion is misguided. The existing NYCHA developments are of much more value, to both the number of individuals which they provide shelter to as well as the diverse communities they help foster, than a short term budget windfall. Likewise, any purchase and/or development of affordable housing, short of new construction of full scale NYCHA developments, would be comparatively wasteful of the suggested sales proceeds and could by no means accommodate the same numbers of residents currently served by existing developments. In short, a sale of NYCHA properties would be a 'one-shot' deal, and would offer very few benefits for those in need of public housing extending past the year of the sale.Full text of the letter on the jump.

HUD Official Speaks the Unspeakable: Selling The Projects (http://www.brownstoner.com/brownstoner/archives/2007/10/hud_top_dog_sug.php) [Brownstoner]



November 14th, 2007, 10:22 AM
The Cambridge Model

Rent deregulation made town spiffy, homogenous, unaffordable

Illustration by Nigel Holmes; Source: Manhattan Institute

NY OBSERVER (http://www.observer.com/2007/cambridge-model?page=0%2C0)
by Tom Acitelli
November 13, 2007

Whenever New Yorkers debate rent stabilization, they quickly ask one question: What would happen to the city’s apartment market if its 1.04 million rent-stabilized units were deregulated? Luckily, we have one good example of what would happen: the Boston area.

In 1994, Massachusetts ended rent regulations on most apartments. Boston and its suburb Cambridge were among the state’s few municipalities that still had wide-scale controls on apartments that kept rents below market. In Cambridge, two-thirds of apartments in buildings with at least four units were regulated.

Within a few years of deregulation, rents were way up, especially in Cambridge, a city of about 100,000 where tenants are similar socioeconomically to those in New York and where the housing stock is also similar. Over the same few years, landlords invested more in the formerly rent-regulated apartments they owned, improving the physical conditions and therefore helping to improve some Cambridge neighborhoods.

Henry Pollakowski, a housing economist at M.I.T.’s Center for Real Estate, did a study of the effects of Cambridge’s deregulation. The report, released by the conservative Manhattan Institute in 2003, found landlord investment increased through 1998 by about 20 percent over what it would have been had the city maintained rent regulation. Landlords, too, spread this investment over both affluent and poorer neighborhoods.

The report concluded that this “tremendous boom in housing investment” could happen in New York City should it deregulate its stabilized apartments. “… [T]he Cambridge experience suggests,” Dr. Pollakowski wrote, “that if New York’s policymakers wish to achieve significant improvements in housing quality in New York, they should give serious consideration to deregulation.”

But the physical improvements in formerly stabilized apartments would drive up rents and likely change forever the demographics of some of the city’s most prominent and desirable neighborhoods.

Another study by Dr. Pollakowski concludes that New York rents in the short term would rise following deregulation. In the long term, it’s anyone’s guess; but it seems likely New York rents, once all market-rate, would jump so much as to render today’s already high prices quaint, like stories now of $100,000 Central Park West co-ops in the 1980’s.

Again, look to the Boston area.

“Five years after Massachusetts voters ended rent regulation … in Boston, Brookline and Cambridge,” began a New York Times article from July 2000, “rents have taken sizable jumps, the cities are spiffier and less pockmarked by deteriorating neighborhoods and many poorer people have been forced to move to communities farther from the urban core. … [A] leading landlord in Cambridge found that rents for his company’s formerly controlled apartments have doubled.”

More striking than any post-regulation rent jumps in New York would be how expensive and exclusive some neighborhoods in particular would become. Dr. Pollakowski’s report suggests a mere $8 as the median monthly increase in the first two years for stabilized apartments citywide.

But most stabilized apartments are in more affluent neighborhoods, including the lower two-thirds of Manhattan. These neighborhoods are already some of the least diverse economically and socially in the city. Quite simply, the already high costs of living, including rents, keep out many New Yorkers and create ample and understandable fodder for those who lament the city’s gentrification.

Take away rent stabilization and this gentrification would only grow. Think the Upper West Side’s homogenous now? Wait until you see it with higher rents—Dr. Pollakowski’s report pegged a median monthly rent increase of over $200 post-deregulation; and this was before the spikes in rents this year.

Higher rents will draw wealthier renters; the wealthier renters will attract higher-end retail; the higher-end retail will force out the mom-and-pop retailers; and, pretty soon, today’s gentrification will seem as modest as the price of a diner cup of coffee—which is also likely to increase.

The above scenario may seem hyperbolic. But look northward.

Boston Mayor Thomas Menino’s office told The Times in 2000 that the average rent for a two-bedroom apartment in that city had jumped 75.1 percent from 1995 to 1999 to $1,550. It’s much higher now. A search last Friday on Craigslist for all one-bedroom apartments in New York City and Boston showed similar ranges of rent: Here, one-bedrooms ranged from about $1,500 to $3,000-plus; in Boston, from $1,200 to $2,000-plus.

Boston’s low apartment-vacancy rate—a report from investment-sales firm Marcus & Millichap pegged it at near 5 percent this year, about twice that of New York’s—ensures that rents stay high. Part of that tenant demand stems from the gentrification this decade of Boston and some of its suburbs; and part of that gentrification stems from rent deregulation.

Boston and Cambridge are much more expensive cities to rent in than they were before deregulation—and huge swaths of both have changed, perhaps irrevocably. This is fabulous news for landlords and for residents who can afford rents that rose 75 percent in four years. For everyone else, it’s a warning.

November 15th, 2007, 12:55 PM
And I bet in Boston average income, eductional level, and the tax base are up, and crime and social service costs are down. The were very smart to get rid of rent regulation. The people who are there now are better off.

We should do the sme thing here.

November 15th, 2007, 01:35 PM
In effect, we already are -- the number of rent-regulated apartments is dropping as units cycle out of the system.

As an owner, this benefits me economically -- but I find it heinous in terms of social costs. It's bad for old people, it saps the economic engine of the city as newcomers face ridiculously long commutes, and it's making a city of neighborhoods into one big strip mall.

ali r.
{downtown broker}

November 15th, 2007, 02:54 PM
What Ali said, exactly.

November 15th, 2007, 06:04 PM
Actually it would be newcomers who would do the best if rent regulation were eliminated. A large number of the old timers, who can only afford to live in NY because they pay a ridiculously low rent would be forced out. This would create, for the first time in modern history, a fairly lose rental market (it a reasonable vacancy rate). This would bring down marginal rents (the rent someone would have to pay for a newly rented apt), significantly. So those newcomers could do much better than they could now.

Basically we'd be trading a lot of retirees for starting professionals.

In effect, we already are -- the number of rent-regulated apartments is dropping as units cycle out of the system.

As an owner, this benefits me economically -- but I find it heinous in terms of social costs. It's bad for old people, it saps the economic engine of the city as newcomers face ridiculously long commutes, and it's making a city of neighborhoods into one big strip mall.

ali r.
{downtown broker}

November 15th, 2007, 06:11 PM
Mike W: Your scenario ^ is NOT what happened in Boston ...

Boston Mayor Thomas Menino’s office told The Times in 2000 that the average rent for a two-bedroom apartment in that city had jumped 75.1 percent from 1995 to 1999 to $1,550. It’s much higher now. A search last Friday on Craigslist for all one-bedroom apartments in New York City and Boston showed similar ranges of rent: Here, one-bedrooms ranged from about $1,500 to $3,000-plus; in Boston, from $1,200 to $2,000-plus.

November 15th, 2007, 06:11 PM
Ali and Schade,
I couldn't agree more. I am not anti-development, or progress, or whatever, as long as it is balanced. But how much less vibrant is this city becoming? I was in Rome this summer and I was enchanted. It felt so alive. I'm afraid that I'm one of those who kind of felt (perversely, I'll admit) that Billy's Topless in Chelsea was a bit iconic. Real life is full of so many different kinds of people, and we don't seem to be embracing them at all. I love talking to the old-timers, the wonderful barbers who have been around for 60 years and cut my husband's hair.

As Kramer said to Jerry, there have to be some standards. If we feel that way about it, we might as well get in the car and drive to the east side. Except that now (with a few exceptions, including LES and Harlem) it's all seems to be becoming rather soulless.

November 15th, 2007, 06:28 PM
Mike W. and Lofter,
I think New York would be a bit different than Boston (not the rosy picture that Mike W. paints, but somewhere in between), but still socially reprehensible. The system is awful, but a rapid deregulation is a sick thought. Even the destabalization rate of (I believe) $2000 is a sham. There are many people in this city who are approaching that rate, and this has been New York's way of largely getting people out of the system without flooding the market and avoiding excessive criticism. As Ali says, it essentially works the same way, only longer term.

Boston neighborhoods in the late 80s/early 90s (usually) were either good, or they were bad. When rents were deregulated it allowed landlords, who proved themselves up to the task, to refurb apartments and take the time to fill them with much higher income tenants at much higher rents. Boston is a lovely city, with a huge college base, and this change encouraged many people to reconsider Boston (over New York). Boston pay was lower, but even with the increase in housing costs, it seemed more affordable to many.

November 16th, 2007, 12:28 AM
Actually it would be newcomers who would do the best if rent regulation were eliminated. A large number of the old timers, who can only afford to live in NY because they pay a ridiculously low rent would be forced out. This would create, for the first time in modern history, a fairly lose rental market (it a reasonable vacancy rate). This would bring down marginal rents (the rent someone would have to pay for a newly rented apt), significantly. So those newcomers could do much better than they could now.

Basically we'd be trading a lot of retirees for starting professionals.

First off, I'd like to say that PricedOut takes all of this better than I do, because I can't even tolerate the LES most nights. Is that what "starting professionals" look like?

Secondly, I think your argument is absurd, MikeW. Do you really think that only retirees benefit from rent regulation?

In this magical city you describe, where everyone is a fresh-scrubbed young professional paying maximum rent, are there any teachers? Police officers? EMTs? Fire fighters? Social workers? Editors? Advertising employees? Musicians? Artists? Nurses? Doctors? Lawyers? Anyone who earns under a six-figure salary, which means most people? Not all rent-regulation stories end with Carly Simon as the punchline.

I'm sorry, but the overwhelming resentment in MikeW's posts makes everything sound more like sour grapes and less like logic. It really makes me wonder if MikeW could even afford this utopia he describes.

November 16th, 2007, 01:01 AM
The fallacy is the entrenched belief that if Rent Stabilization / Rent Control were dropped and all of a sudden every apartment in NYC became de-regulated and therefore available to rent within a year or two (since no one would be entitled to a long term tenancy) that the result would be all the rents in NYC would drop to some (unspecified) affordable amount.

The article about Boston belies that.

And look at Santa Monica -- another place where rent de-regulation was put into effect a few years back and where rents went UP (http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m5072/is_15_21/ai_54545463) almost immediately.

November 16th, 2007, 06:39 AM
Lately I keep questioning if the high cost of living in New York is worth it.

There are a lot of things to do, but if youre using nearly all of your income on rent whats the use?

November 16th, 2007, 07:00 AM
Because I have a young child I usually head out to dinner by 6:00 (we take her with us), so I probably am not as assaulted by the newbies as you might be (I generally see alot of tourists at that time). BUT obviously I'm on the same page. I can't even imagine how my daughter might live in New York post-graduation, and at this point I can't imagine recommending it.

November 16th, 2007, 02:49 PM
I said marginal, not average. Average rents would probably rise people with ridiculous deals would have to deal with reality. But what would come down would be the rents on newly rented apartments.

Right now, if you want to rent an apt in NYC, and especially Manhattan, all your going to get in market rate. Rent regulation not only doesn't help in this situation, it actuallly hurts, because it suppresses supply. If all the old timers had to pay market, a large number would move, freeing up apartments and loosening the market.

As I said the ones who would get hurt would be the old timers.

Mike W: Your scenario ^ is NOT what happened in Boston ...

November 16th, 2007, 02:56 PM
What proves you definitively wrong is that every other city in the country has housing for all these people. Go to Dallas, Vegas, Charleston, etc, etc, and you can find housing at a fraction of the cost of NY.

It's NYC, with it's screwed up rent regulation that has the most disfunctional housing market in the country. It is rent regulation, and NYC other regulatory boondoggles, that have directly caused NYC housing problems. The the problems with exist in perpetuity till NYC gets rid of it's regulations.

First off, I'd like to say that PricedOut takes all of this better than I do, because I can't even tolerate the LES most nights. Is that what "starting professionals" look like?

Secondly, I think your argument is absurd, MikeW. Do you really think that only retirees benefit from rent regulation?

In this magical city you describe, where everyone is a fresh-scrubbed young professional paying maximum rent, are there any teachers? Police officers? EMTs? Fire fighters? Social workers? Editors? Advertising employees? Musicians? Artists? Nurses? Doctors? Lawyers? Anyone who earns under a six-figure salary, which means most people? Not all rent-regulation stories end with Carly Simon as the punchline.

I'm sorry, but the overwhelming resentment in MikeW's posts makes everything sound more like sour grapes and less like logic. It really makes me wonder if MikeW could even afford this utopia he describes.

November 16th, 2007, 03:01 PM
Hmmmm ^ perhaps because Mnahattan and most of NYC (including Queens, Brooklyn, Staten ISland) are ISLANDS -- even the Bronx is landlocked -- so there is no excess of land upon which to spread, as there is in Dallas & Vegas :cool:

November 16th, 2007, 03:03 PM
It's NYC, with it's screwed up rent regulation that has the most disfunctional housing market in the country. It is rent regulation, and NYC other regulatory boondoggles, that have directly caused NYC housing problems. The the problems with exist in perpetuity till NYC gets rid of it's regulations.

You keep saying that so I know you believe it.

What do you have to honestly back up your position?

November 16th, 2007, 08:22 PM
Other saga of woe ...

Landlord Eviction Trick Backfires, Investigators Say

NY TIMES (http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2007/11/16/landlords-eviction-trick-backfires-investigators-say/)
By Sewell Chan
November 16, 2007

Landlord-tenant hostility is nothing new in New York City, but investigators said today that a Brooklyn landlord, Oludola Johnson, took things to a new and illegal level.

On Sept. 4, Mr. Johnson, who owns a three-story apartment building at 714 St. Mark’s Avenue in Crown Heights, attached a fraudulent, altered copy of a city marshal’s eviction notice to the apartment door of one of his tenants and then changed the locks on the door, according to the city’s Department of Investigation.

The notice looked like the genuine article: It said “MARSHAL’S LEGAL POSSESSION” and carried the name, badge number and office address of Norman Katz, one of the city’s 44 marshals. The notice said that Mr. Katz had transferred “legal possession” of the apartment from the tenant to Mr. Johnson.

But Mr. Johnson ran into a problem, officials said: his tenant — who had admitted to being behind on her rent — saw her landlord put up the notice. Her suspicions aroused, she removed the notice from the door and brought it to Mr. Katz’s office. Mr. Katz’s staff told her he had never issued such a notice. In fact, Mr. Katz had nothing to do with the matter.

It turns out, officials said, that Mr. Johnson had altered a copy of an eviction notice that Mr. Katz had issued more than a year earlier — on May 26, 2006 — and left on the door of another tenant in building. (Warrants of eviction are issued by Housing Court and enforced by the marshals.)

Mr. Johnson, 36, of Brooklyn, was charged with criminal possession of a forged instrument (one felony count and one misdemeanor count) and unlawful eviction, a misdemeanor. If convicted, he faces up to seven years in prison.

As of this afternoon, Mr. Johnson was still in custody and had not been arraigned. No number could be found for him through directory assistance. There was no answer at a telephone number in Brooklyn that has been associated with Mr. Johnson in public records.

(C) NY Times

November 16th, 2007, 10:34 PM
Somebody who really made a difference ...

Clara Fox, Tireless Advocate for Subsidized Housing,
Is Dead at 90

Clara Fox

NY TIMES (http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/16/nyregion/16fox.html)
November 16, 2007

Clara Fox, an advocate of subsidized housing for poor and moderate-income people and the founder of the Settlement Housing Fund, a nonprofit organization that now houses 2,200 families in 44 buildings in New York City, died on Nov. 9 in Manhattan.

She was 90 and lived in Manhattan Plaza, the twin-towered complex on West 42nd Street that she helped save from bankruptcy in the mid-1970s.

The cause was kidney failure, said Carol Lamberg, the current director of the Settlement Housing Fund, who succeeded Mrs. Fox in January 1983.

Mrs. Fox formed the Settlement Housing Fund in 1969 by bringing together housing experts from 35 settlement houses, the neighborhood agencies created in the first decades of the 20th century to aid newly arriving immigrants. And though she retired from the organization as its founding executive director, she never stopped advocating for affordable housing.

Until her death, she remained co-chairwoman of the New York Housing Conference, a coalition of more than 70 organizations representing developers, bankers, architects, housing advocates and owners of nonprofit buildings. Among other activities, the group, an affiliate of the National Housing Conference, lobbies the government on housing policy.

“Clara originated the idea of combining low- and moderate-income housing with social programs,” said Conrad Egan, the president of the national conference. When rental buildings were converted to cooperatives in the 1960s under a New York State subsidy program, Mr. Egan said, Mrs. Fox was the first to train former renters in how to manage co-ops.

Ms. Lamberg said: “Clara was one of the first people who advocated for low-income cooperatives. She was also one of the first to bring together social agencies and housing groups to work for better housing. Now there are all kinds of nonprofit groups that create and sustain affordable housing. She had a lasting effect.”

Clara Leon was born in the Bronx on May 10, 1917, a daughter of Ralph and Lillian Frankel Leon. She graduated from the University of Chicago, then earned a master’s degree in sociology there. Her marriage to William Fox ended in divorce in 1950. She is survived by her daughter, Roberta Fox, of Manhattan, and a sister, Florence Blank, of the Bronx.

In the early 1960s, Mrs. Fox, who had been the director of a private nursery school, became New York City’s first coordinator of Head Start, the federally sponsored program that provided eight weeks of education and social enrichment for prekindergarten children from poor families. After leaving Head Start in 1965, Mrs. Fox was asked to become housing coordinator for United Neighborhood Houses, the organization of 35 settlement houses that four years later established the Settlement Housing Fund.

“Clara was very proud of putting together the plan that saved Manhattan Plaza,” Ms. Lamberg said.

Built by a major developer in the mid-1970s, Manhattan Plaza, a complex of 1,688 apartments in two towers between Eighth and Ninth Avenues, was supposed to house middle-income renters. By the time the buildings were completed, Times Square was squalid and inflation was in the double digits. With few renters, Manhattan Plaza faced default.

The city wanted to turn it into a low-income project, a plan opposed by Broadway theater owners. Mrs. Fox led a committee that came up with an alternative: Manhattan Plaza would house performing artists, theater workers and community residents receiving federal rent subsidies. Those who could afford it — later to include Mrs. Fox — would pay market-rate rents.

In 1983, because of her work on the plan, Mrs. Fox was named an honorary member of Actors’ Equity, the professional actors’ and stage managers’ union.

On her retirement from the Settlement Housing Fund, Mrs. Fox told The New York Times: “The thing I feel strongest about is the incredible indifference that seems to exist in government about what’s happening to subsidized housing. We have done worse than any other social program, and what we hear from Congressional representatives is there is no constituency in Washington for low-income housing.”

Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company

November 18th, 2007, 08:08 AM
We need more people like her. What a hero to New York.

December 26th, 2007, 08:44 PM
Talk about a woeful situation ...

Holiday Jeers


Annie Tritt for The New York Times
74 Grand Street

Big Deal

NY TIMES (http://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/23/realestate/23deal2.html)

December 23, 2007

It is that time of year again, when owners of co-ops and condominiums set aside their petty grievances and complaints about each other. They stifle, for the moment, plans for board coups and toast one another at the annual Christmas party in the lobby.

But perhaps all good unit owners and shareholders should pause a moment to reflect on the fate of the shareholders at 74 Grand Street, a 25-foot-wide co-op building in SoHo, which has landmark status.

During the summer of 2004, Caroline Hunt, a business consultant, bought a loft apartment there for nearly $1.6 million. Construction crews had torn down an old one-story building next door, and as she was closing, a foundation wall next to her building was being removed.

At the time, Ms. Hunt ran a company that planned business conferences aboard cruise ships and had moved to New York from London. She had her belongings shipped in and set about having the full-floor apartment renovated. The building has four units and an antique furniture store.

But that September, on the day she planned to move in, she got a phone call that changed everything. “There was a loud noise, a bang, and my renovators ran out screaming,” she said.

The facade of her building sagged more than 24 inches toward the construction site, and the Department of Buildings soon sealed off the building. More than three years later, Ms. Hunt and her neighbors — including a lawyer, an artist and a curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art — have scattered. Their fate remains in the hands of the courts as lawsuits wend their way through the legal system.

“I never even slept in the place,” Ms. Hunt said. She has since lived in a succession of temporary apartments, with her beloved piano in storage most of the time. She continues to pay maintenance to cover legal fees and taxes, but has negotiated a suspension of payments on her mortgage.

The co-op blames the construction work for undermining the foundation, breaking through a stone and concrete platform that was shared by both buildings when they were put up about a century ago in what is now the cast-iron district of SoHo.

But the building has had a slight lean since the 1930’s, and the owners next door say that the wooden pilings pounded into the soil beneath the foundation platform under both buildings had rotted long ago.

The co-op’s insurance companies refused to cover the collapse, and the co-op is suing them. The co-op is also suing the owners of the building next door, and the contractors, architects and engineers on the project. The owners next door at 72 Grand Street, in turn, have filed suit demanding that the co-op remove the sagging portion of its building.

One positive factor is that property values have soared so much in the last few years that both the co-op and the lot next door are worth far more than they were when the building was sealed. Though a trial is tentatively scheduled next year, the case could drag on for years, lawyers say.

Maxwell K. Hearn, the co-op’s president and a curator in the Metropolitan Museum’s department of Asian Art, would not discuss the details of what happened. “It is a very complicated case; a lot of different parties are involved,” he said.

Meanwhile, Ms. Hunt said, one co-op owner has moved to Hong Kong, and the others have not been inclined to spend the holidays together. “This girl has never had a Christmas party,” she said.

Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company


74 Grand in better days (thanks to Pith's 74 Grand gallery (http://pith.org/photo/view/20040912-74grand/AUT_9107) & gothamist (http://gothamist.com/2007/12/23/74_grand.php)):

Copyright © jcn (http://pith.org/pith/)

And how it looks now ...



74 grand at wooster

September 15th, 2009, 06:27 AM
Building Collapse Betting Pool: Leaning Tower's Last Gasps

September 14, 2009, by Pete





Get ready for the demise of Soho's 74 Grand Street, the granddaddy of our fair city's leaning towers and one that's been on its last legs (http://curbed.com/tags/74-grand-street) since 2004. That was when some big rains and a rather un-neighborly neighbor undermined its foundation. The cast-iron beauty at Wooster and Grand trembled and tilted, driving its inhabitants into the streets. For nearly five years the building has been empty, covered in black netting and propped up on the west by some major steel girders. The erector set may not be as intricate as the one downtown (http://curbed.com/tags/57-reade-street), but it has served its purpose by keeping the bricks and iron from tumbling. Now, suddenly, the safety netting has come down. An execution is in the air.

According to a flier advertising a public hearing on the matter (seen in the gallery), the plan is to demolish the building and cart off the cast iron facade into safe storage, where it will await "future reinstallation." What's to come remains unknown, but Community Board 2 will be tracking the proposal. Any progress here will be welcome. This ramshackle intersection, still looking like the grittier Soho of yore, has a new batch of condos (http://curbed.com/archives/2009/02/24/a_new_new_building_for_sohos_27_wooster_street.php ) slated to go up on the parking lot across the street. However, that plan seems to be in a holding pattern, so change may not come anytime soon. And there's still nothing in the works for the source of these Grand Street miseries, the derelict hole next door to 74 Grand Street. On certain corners progress moves at its own slow pace.

74 Grand Street coverage (http://curbed.com/tags/74-grand-street) [Curbed]

http://curbed.com/archives/2009/09/14/building_collapse_betting_pool_leaning_towers_last _gasps.php

October 9th, 2009, 08:38 AM
Scrapping Soho?

LPC ponders plans to demolish cast-iron building

The Architect's Newspaper (http://archpaper.com/e-board_rev.asp?News_ID=3890)
By Matt Chaban
October 7, 2009

“Someone has stolen my building!”

So declared Beverley Moss Spratt, the former chair of the Landmarks Preservation Commission, in a 1974 front page story in the Times upon learning that what remained of the facade of the first cast-iron building ever constructed in the city had been stolen from a lot on Chambers Street and sold for scrap. The episode haunts the commission, which is why it approached 74 Grand Street so cautiously during a September 22 hearing.

In 2004, excavation work was underway at neighboring 72 Grand Street, on the corner of Wooster Street. According to neighbors, the work was far from adequate, especially given the area’s silty soil. Then it rained for almost two weeks. The foundation at 74 Grand buckled. The five-story loft building slid a full 13.5 inches out of alignment, leading to emergency shoring and evacuation. It has sat vacant ever since. But it continues to stir.

Over the past five years, 74 Grand has continued to settle, now overhanging the adjacent lot by about two feet. And it has begun to bring much of the block with it, pulling a one-story building at 76 Grand more than a foot out of alignment, while another loft building at 78 Grand has shifted up to 7 inches, with similar concerns now mounting at 80 Grand.

On September 8, the Department of Buildings determined that 74 Grand must now be demolished, but because it is located in the Soho Cast Iron Historic District, the demolition must be approved by the commission. Furthermore, the owners of 74 Grand are responsible for the work, but the cooperative of owners that were forced out of the building want nothing to do with it any longer, so there are as yet no plans for the building’s reconstruction. Instead, the owners want to demolish the building and store the facade until it can be sold to someone else and the site rebuilt.

But both the storage and the sale worry the preservation commission. “I’m not opposed to demolition, I believe it is unavoidable,” Commissioner Fred Bland said. “My point is storage. It’s got to be protected.” Some commissioners debated putting a lien on the property or creating stiff fines to ensure that nothing happens to the facade, and to make it clear to the next owner that the commission expects the building to be rebuilt as is.

Another issue raised by the neighbors is that the demolition of 74 Grand presents an enticing development opportunity, because two vacant lots will sit next to the nondescript building at 76 Grand. “We want to make sure this facade isn’t patched into some monstrosity,” Stella Sands of 78 Grand, told the commission.

And then there is the issue of ensuring that the demolition of 74 Grand does not further the collapse of its neighbors. Though no definitive plan has been devised, the commission’s counsel said the owners of 74 Grand have agreed to safe storage and demolition, which would be paid for with the proceeds from a pending settlement with 72 Grand. Still, some commissioners remained unconvinced, with the demolition approved by a vote of 6-3.

Copyright © The Architect's Newspaper, LLC.

October 9th, 2009, 09:17 AM
Scrapping Soho?

So declared Beverley Moss Spratt, the former chair of the Landmarks Preservation Commission, in a 1974 front page story in the Times upon learning that what remained of the facade of the first cast-iron building ever constructed in the city had been stolen from a lot on Chambers Street and sold for scrap. The episode haunts the commission, which is why it approached 74 Grand Street so cautiously during a September 22 hearing.

Sometime about 1985, on the corner of Grand & Green Streets a guy was selling fragments of a cast-iron facade on the street corner; he set the few pieces he had for sale along the sidewalk against a brick wall. I bought a cast-iron corbel and a few other pieces for about 30 dollars.

I now use the cast-iron corbel (mounted on a wood base) as a decorative book end; reading that article, I can only wonder if that cast-iron corbel could be part of what remained of the "facade of the first cast-iron building ever constructed in the city".

Also, I will look to see if I can find/post that "1974 Front Page Story". Any help on finding that article would be appreciated.


[img=http://img207.imageshack.us/img207/7376/img5922b.jpg] (http://img207.imageshack.us/i/img5922b.jpg/)

[img=http://img205.imageshack.us/img205/2232/img5929y.jpg] (http://img205.imageshack.us/i/img5929y.jpg/)

October 9th, 2009, 09:45 AM
An archive SEARCH (http://query.nytimes.com/search/query?frow=0&n=10&srcht=s&daterange=period&query=Beverly+Moss+Spatt+cast+iron&srchst=p&submit.x=14&submit.y=13&submit=sub&hdlquery=&bylquery=&mon1=09&day1=18&year1=1851&mon2=12&day2=31&year2=1980) of the NY Times brings up a number of articles on that subject (almost all will cost you $3.95 to read), including this one from 1974:

4-Ton Cast-Iron Landmark Facade Panels Stolen Here;
Four-Ton Cast-Iron Landmark Stolen From Chambers St. Lot

June 26, 1974, Wednesday

The theft of nearly all of a four-ton city landmark-a 126-year-old cast-iron building facade that had been carefully disassembled for preservation-was discovered yesterday when three men were observed trying to make off with the last piece. The Bogardus Building before its cast-iron facade was disassembled and stored in a lot [ END OF FIRST PARAGRAPH ]

October 9th, 2009, 10:08 AM

Diane Alyssa Jackier

A THESIS (http://www.archive.org/stream/movinghistoricst00jack/movinghistoricst00jack_djvu.txt)

Historic Preservation

Presented to the Faculties of the University of Pennsylvania in
Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of



... As New York City lamented the loss of Pennsylvania Station, preservation
became more of an issue within urban renewal projects, starting with Washington Street ...

The Landmarks Preservation Commission's Report for Washington Street

In September 1967, the Housing and Development Administration asked the
Landmarks Commission to review the city's 25 urban renewal areas for potential
landmarks. The Commission staff quickly completed twelve reports because either few
or no landmarks existed within the areas slated for demolition. The Washington Street
project, the thirteenth report, however, was a different matter. Here, the Commission
recommended ten buildings for landmark status ~ nine residential townhouses and one
commercial structure ...

While the houses along Washington Street moved intact to their new destination,
the James Bogardus Building could not be relocated in one piece. The building was in
such critical condition that even before the dismantling process began, the walls had to be
stabilized with wood columns and steel cabling. On February 24, 1971, under the
direction of Professor Winston R. Weisman, chairman of the Department of Art History
at Pennsylvania State University, a demolition crew started taking apart the historic
building piece by piece. Architectural historian James Marston Fitch and Charles E.
Peterson also supervised the disassembly process. In order to document accurately the
dismantling, eight graduate students from the preservation program at Columbia
University numbered and catalogued the pieces of the building as the wrecking crew
carefully removed them.

The city paid for the $80,000 dismantling process. Although the project was
described as "a rare case of using demolition to save landmarks," the Landmarks
Commission was ecstatic with the results. In 1971, the agency reported that it had
"molds for the missing ornamental pieces and a complete stockpile of the structural
pieces, wire-brushed, red-leaded and carefully stored. An exquisite set of measured
drawings of the building as well as the details have been turned over to the Historic
American Building Survey." After disassembly, the pieces were stored at a nearby
location along Reade Street, near the site for the new Manhattan Community College
building where the panels were to be reconstructed. Originally, the panels were going
to be kept under the Manhattan Bridge in Brooklyn however, representatives of the
Housing and Development Administration and the Landmarks Commission decided that
the pieces were too brittle to transport any further than necessary. As a result, Caudill
Rowlett Scott, suggested the lot on Reade Street.

Construction for Manhattan Community College was not scheduled to begin until
1974 so the Bogardus panels remained in the lot waiting reassembly. However, on June
25, 1974, Beverly Moss Spatt, chairman of the Landmarks Commission, ran into the
press room at City Hall and declared, "Someone has stolen one of my buildings."
Although the panels survived being in storage for more than two years, Gerard Varlotta, a
building contractor, had discovered three men loading the large pieces into a truck.
Despite his attempts to stop the men from taking the landmark, the truck sped away.
Fortunately, Varlotta noted the license plate of the truck, enabling the police to track
down one of the men who admitted that approximately 20 to 30 of the panels had been
taken over a period of several weeks and sold to a junkyard for $90. After the reported
theft, the police found 22 broken pieces of the landmark at 850 Edgewater Road, the
Bronx. Almost two-thirds of the Bogardus Building panels were destroyed.

The theft of the cast-iron panels was part of a rash of vandalism toward public
architecture that occurred in the city during the early 1 970s. Two days after the Bogardus
Building was stolen, robbers took bronze sections of a bridge railing on Riverside Drive
at 96th Street. Other bronze adornments taken in previous months included a sculpture of
Richard Morris Hunt from Central Park and two lampposts from the Fireman's Memorial
on Riverside Drive. However, this did not placate the irate New Yorkers who mourned
the loss of the Bogardus Building. One op-ed piece in the New York Times stated, "It is
sad to see a city's treasures deteriorate through lack of care, its landmark objects growing
dingy through neglect." On July 2, 1974, New Yorker Brent L. Brandenburg urged the
resignation of Beverly Moss Spatt and the other bureaucrats in charge "in favor of
persons with even a modicum of judgment essential to the preservation of the public trust
and our priceless artistic treasures."

Three weeks after the disappearance of the building, representatives from the
Housing and Development Administration, the Landmarks Preservation Conmiission,
Friends of Cast Iron Architecture and Columbia University met to decide the outcome of
the remaining panels. Several options still remained. These included recasting the
stolen pieces for inclusion in the facade of the Manhattan Community College building,
giving the pieces to the South Street Seaport project, or donating the panels to an
institution for a study collection. While the city officials were deciding what to do, the
Landmarks Commission secretly moved the remaining pieces to a new storage location in
a city-owned building on West 52nd Street near Tenth Avenue.

The city finally resolved that the location at South Street Seaport would be best
for the reuse of the Bogardus panels. However, on June 7, 1977, when architects went to
measure the pieces with a staff member of the Landmarks Commission, they discovered
that the remaining panels had also disappeared from their hiding place. Thus, any plans
to reuse the Bogardus Building were neutralized.

October 10th, 2009, 10:06 AM
Photos of one of the cast-iron fragments I purchased on the desolate streets of soho in 1985 have been posted here (http://wirednewyork.com/forum/showpost.php?p=300452&postcount=120): this piece could very well be one of the fragments taken from the "Bogardus Building".:eek:

EXCERPT: "The theft of nearly all of a four-ton city landmark-a 126-year-old cast-iron building facade that had been carefully disassembled for preservation-was discovered yesterday when three men were observed trying to make off with the last piece. The Bogardus Building (http://wirednewyork.com/forum/showpost.php?p=300465&postcount=122) before its cast-iron facade was disassembled and stored in a lot"


October 10th, 2009, 10:25 AM
An archive SEARCH (http://query.nytimes.com/search/query?frow=0&n=10&srcht=s&daterange=period&query=Beverly+Moss+Spatt+cast+iron&srchst=p&submit.x=14&submit.y=13&submit=sub&hdlquery=&bylquery=&mon1=09&day1=18&year1=1851&mon2=12&day2=31&year2=1980) of the NY Times brings up a number of articles on that subject (almost all will cost you $3.95 to read), including this one from 1974:

Thanks, BTW - Sometimes I have been able to find an articles on the NYPL news data base (http://www.nypl.org/databases/select.html): most of the news data bases can be accessed by the internet.

October 15th, 2009, 06:09 AM
As City Adds Housing for Poor, Market Subtracts It


Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg is closing in on a milestone: building or preserving 165,000 city-financed apartments and houses for low-, moderate- and middle-income families, the goal of a $7.5 billion housing plan he announced in 2002 and expanded in 2005.

It has already financed the creation or preservation of 94,000 units, including 72,000 for low-income households, city officials say.
But those efforts have been overwhelmed by a far larger number — the 200,000 apartments affordable to low-income renters that New York City has lost over all, because of market forces, during the mayor’s tenure.

The shrinking supply of these apartments, highlighted by researchers at New York University, illustrates not only the increasing strain that housing costs have had on this city of renters, but also the limits of the mayor’s success in providing the city’s poor with reasonable places to live. While the mayor’s plan has put thousands of low-income families in new or rehabilitated buildings and helped stabilize neighborhoods, it has been nearly drowned out by the twin waves of gentrification and rent deregulation.

“We’re losing units even with additions to the stock under the mayor’s housing plan,” said Victor Bach, a senior housing policy analyst for the Community Service Society (http://www.cssny.org/), a nonprofit antipoverty group, and a member of a panel that advised the Bloomberg administration on housing in 2002. “I’m not knocking the plan. I’m just saying it hasn’t done much to stop the hemorrhaging of lower-rent units across the city.”

Including public housing, the number of apartments considered affordable to low-income households — those earning less than 80 percent of the city’s median income, or less than $37,000 — decreased to 991,592 from 1,189,962, a drop of nearly 17 percent, from 2002 to 2008. About 42 percent of the city’s households fit in that income category in 2008.

The data were supplied by the Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy at New York University, which analyzed the city’s Housing and Vacancy Survey from 2002, 2005 and 2008. The center and other housing experts consider an apartment affordable if it costs no more than 30 percent of a family’s income, or about $925 a month for a family earning $37,000.

Although the numbers present a gloomy picture, they did contain a glimmer of hope. The worst years were between 2002 and 2005, when the city lost affordable apartments at the highest rate of the mayor’s tenure. In the next three years, as the mayor’s plan took hold, the city actually gained about 8,000.

“We’re very proud of what we’ve accomplished, but we’re also not satisfied or done,” said Rafael Cestero, the city’s housing commissioner. “We can’t undo what happened between 2002 and 2005, but what happened during those years is exactly why we created the largest municipal housing plan in the nation’s history. What the data suggests is that the response is working.”

A majority of the 200,000 units in the Furman Center data — 137,000 apartments — had been part of the rent regulation system but were deregulated. In most cases, they became market-rate once their rent topped $2,000 and they became vacant, as allowed by the rent regulation system. Thousands of others had been in the state Mitchell-Lama (http://www.nyc.gov/html/hpd/html/apartment/mitchell-lama.shtml) or federal Section 8 (http://portal.hud.gov/portal/page/portal/HUD/topics/housing_choice_voucher_program_section_8) programs, but were taken out of those subsidy programs by their owners and converted to market-rate apartments.

The affordability of all of the city’s 2.1 million rental apartments is of course beyond the control of Mr. Bloomberg and the city’s housing agency, the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (http://www.nyc.gov/html/hpd/html/home/home.shtml).

But housing experts and tenant advocates say that the mayor has been far from powerless, and that his housing policy has suffered from a kind of tunnel vision, by focusing energy and resources on his 165,000-unit target rather than the larger pool of existing housing.

Tenant advocates have been pushing state legislators to make it harder to remove apartments from rent regulation, a move strongly opposed by landlords and the real estate industry. The mayor has been virtually silent on the issue, though he appoints the members of the Rent Guidelines Board (http://www.housingnyc.com/), which decides the annual rent increases for rent-stabilized apartments. He proposed state legislation in 2003 that would prevent the loss of Mitchell-Lama units, but the measure failed and has become a low priority for the mayor, tenant advocates say.

“There needs to be a focus on preservation at the same level of intensity that there is for new development,” said Michelle de la Uz, executive director of the Fifth Avenue Committee, a nonprofit Brooklyn-based affordable housing and community development group. “It’s not as though things aren’t moving in the right direction. It’s that advocates have a different sense of urgency.”

Mr. Bloomberg’s campaign said that the mayor intends to expand the housing plan by investing an additional $965 million, which will help preserve 10,000 more units of Mitchell-Lama housing than originally planned and stabilize apartment buildings that are overleveraged, meaning their debt is unsupportable by the income generated by rents, a widespread problem that has led to the physical and financial deterioration of many buildings.

The Housing and Vacancy Survey showed that in 2008, 29.4 percent of all renter households in the city paid more than 50 percent of their income toward rent, an increase from 25.5 percent in 2002. Experts call those families “severely rent burdened.” (The city’s median income in the Furman survey differed slightly from that in other recent surveys.)

The financial squeeze has a spillover effect. It leads to overcrowded conditions and illegally partitioned rooms. It contributes to the record number of homeless families in city shelters. It fills the halls of the city’s housing courts and fuels residential evictions, which have risen slightly to 25,027 in 2008, from 23,669 in 2006. And it causes many people to move out of the city.

A study prepared for the Bloomberg administration by the polling firm Harris Interactive found that 64 percent who moved out of the city cited housing costs as a major reason. The 2006 study was obtained by the Center for an Urban Future, a nonprofit research group.

Before the recession, James Hadden was earning up to $1,000 a week cutting hair at a Harlem salon, but more recently he has taken home $400 to $700. So he has fallen behind on the $1,300-a-month rent on his one-bedroom apartment, a fourth-floor walk-up on Lenox Avenue. His landlord began asking him to pay weekly. “I’m going to go pay this man’s rent so he’ll stop calling me,” Mr. Hadden, 42, said Tuesday.

He said he was happy to be only 16 blocks from work; closer to the salon, on Fifth Avenue at 116th Street, rents are even more expensive. But he said he sometimes heard gunfire outside his building on Saturdays. “My family comes to visit me and I’m embarrassed to show them where I live,” he said.

Despite the net losses of affordable apartments, experts in the field are quick to praise Mr. Bloomberg on much of his housing record. The mayor’s plan has suffered only one major setback since it was unveiled in December 2002: Mr. Bloomberg’s goal of creating or preserving 165,000 units by 2013 was pushed back one year in late 2008 because of the recession.

Mr. Cestero, the housing commissioner, said the plan was on schedule and no further delays were expected. He said the preservation of existing affordable housing was the agency’s “No. 1 priority,” and he said the agency would “engage in the discussion” about rent regulation at the right time.

The plan relies on the rezoning of underused manufacturing areas, including the Greenpoint and Williamsburg neighborhoods in Brooklyn, that allowed developers to build larger buildings if they set aside some apartments as low-cost units. New units have also been created through the city’s Housing Development Corporation, which issues bonds and uses its corporate reserves to finance low-cost mortgages to affordable housing developers.

“I think the city has done an extraordinary job, more than any other place in America,” said Jerilyn Perine, executive director of the nonprofit Citizens Housing and Planning Council (http://www.chpcny.org/) and the former city housing commissioner who helped create the mayor’s original plan in 2002. “You have to go to Europe to find another city that has this kind of robust, sustained housing policy and housing investment.”

Of the 94,000 units the administration counts as gains, fewer than half, about 35,000, are new. The rest are apartments that City Hall says it has preserved as affordable, by providing low-interest loans to rehabilitate them or keep them from leaving rent-subsidy programs.

Some housing experts say the loss of affordable units is evidence of the city’s economic vitality and a natural consequence of demand for affordable housing exceeding supply. As Ms. Perine wrote in the housing plan, there has never been a time in the city’s history when all of its population’s housing needs have been met with safe and affordable housing.

“I don’t think there’s a serious crisis in this area,” said Magda L. Cruz, a lawyer and an owner representative on the Rent Guidelines Board. “I do believe a big problem is employment, and salaries just not being high enough to sustain cost-of-living increases. That’s something the mayor plays a part in, but it doesn’t have to do with building new housing.”

Affordable housing is in such demand that most new apartments are awarded by lottery. Alan Ceballos, 30, said he was grateful to have won his two-bedroom apartment, costing $839 a month, in a new building on University Avenue in the Bronx.

Mr. Ceballos, who earns about $33,000 a year as a sales associate at a car rental agency, won the spot three years ago, allowing him to move out of a one-bedroom that cost $794. He and his wife had two children then, and now have three.

He said that traffic often speeds down the street and that people who hang out in a park by the building sometimes smash car windows; his own windshield has been broken. But he is happy with the building itself: its cleanliness, security, price and size.

“Before, it being a one-bedroom, it did not have enough closet space,” said Mr. Ceballos. Besides the extra room he now has, “the kitchen is bigger, the living room is bigger, so it’s adequate space now.”


October 24th, 2009, 06:20 AM
Affordable? U.N. Puts a Questioning Eye on New York’s Housing

By Mike Reicher

Everybody knows New York City is an expensive place to live. But the United Nations wants to know if affordable housing is so tough to come by that it actually violates human rights.

The United Nations has assigned an official, “a special rapporteur on the right to adequate housing,” (http://www2.ohchr.org/english/issues/housing/overview.htm) to check the city’s affordable housing. The rapporteur, Raquel Rolnik, is to tour the city for the next three days with housing advocates and city officials to “hear the voices of those who are suffering on the ground,” she said.

The United Nations Human Rights Council appoints a rapporteur, or independent experts, to investigate human rights conditions around the world. In the case of Ms. Rolnik, (http://raquelrolnik.wordpress.com/) a professor of urban planning at the University of Sao Paulo in Brazil, her “mission” (http://restorehousingrights.org/) is to tour New York City and six other places in the United States and to report back to the United Nations General Assembly about housing rights violations and advances.

After that, “We send off letters to governments to ask, ‘Is this true? What’s going on?’ and to please intervene,” she said.

Housing advocates will be taking Ms. Rolnik to the Atlantic Yards site in Brooklyn (http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/subjects/a/atlantic_yards_brooklyn/index.html?scp=1-spot&sq=atlantic%20yards&st=cse) to see the results of the government’s use of eminent domain to seize property; to the New York City Housing Authority’s Grant Houses in Harlem to see how public housing residents live; and to the Bronx to meet residents whose landlords are in foreclosure.

At a town hall meeting last night in Morningside Heights, residents wept and shouted at Ms. Rolnik. They complained about deteriorating public housing, the lack of housing subsidies for AIDS patients, landlord harassment and many other issues, large and small.

She told them: “I am representing the right of adequate housing as a human right.”

One advocate and resident of public housing, Agnes Rivera, wept after telling Ms. Rolnik that Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg “doesn’t care about the poor.” Rob Robinson from Picture the Homeless (http://www.picturethehomeless.org/), a local advocacy group, embraced Ms. Rivera and gazed toward the special rapporteur. Later, Ms. Rolnik hugged a resident herself.

“Affordable housing here is not that affordable,” said Ms. Rolnik, who studied urban history as a New York University doctoral student in the 1980s. Her eyes lit up when talking about inclusionary zoning and other city housing policies. New York is unusual, she pointed out, because it has a city-level obligation to ensure that homeless people have shelter. Now it should make affordable housing a priority, she said.

Ms. Rolnik was appointed as special rapporteur by the United Nations Human Rights Council in May 2008. This is her first official mission.
After her tour of New York City, she will survey the housing situations in Chicago, New Orleans, Los Angeles, Washington, a South Dakota Indian reservation, and Wilkes-Barre, Pa. Her report to the General Assembly is planned for March.

Across the United States, residents may tell her the same stories as those of New Yorkers — of mortgage scams, too many luxury condos and the stigma associated with public housing.

“We have no one to help us,” said Delores Earley, 73, who said her landlord has been trying to push her out of her Harlem rent-stabilized apartment for 20 years. “Somebody has got to know.”


October 24th, 2009, 03:05 PM
Folks will have a field day with this one ... Interesting to have a Brazilian (http://www.hicnet.org/news.php?pid=607) (with all their favelas) instructing the US on housing ...

U.N. Puts a Questioning Eye on New York’s Housing

... The United Nations has assigned an official, “a special rapporteur on the right to adequate housing,” (http://www2.ohchr.org/english/issues/housing/overview.htm) to check the city’s affordable housing. The rapporteur, Raquel Rolnik, is to tour the city for the next three days with housing advocates and city officials ...

Ms. Rolnik, (http://raquelrolnik.wordpress.com/) a professor of urban planning at the University of Sao Paulo in Brazil, her “mission” (http://restorehousingrights.org/) is to tour New York City and six other places in the United States and to report back to the United Nations General Assembly about housing rights violations and advances.

October 26th, 2009, 09:07 AM
Affordable housing is only a human right when there are a few qualifying conditions.

1. That the economy and general state of affairs allows that kind of generosity.

2. There is no other place that the people can get to (IOW, EVERYWHERE in the US has a housing problem)

3. People are instructed to live within their means (you do not have enough money to afford housing? Why do you have 4 kids?)

4. Basic staples of life are not confused with luxuries like Television or Fast Food (not all abuse this, but there are some).

If housing is unaffordable in NYC, we should be encouraging other city centers to carry the balance, Have the work force migrate, lowering the cost for buisness in other areas and promoting the spread of economic development.

The only thing that needs to be looked after is that this has a buffer/damper installed to prevent mass migration (ala 1970's) which could result in the LOSS of development already achieved.

If NYC is too expensive to live in, DON'T LIVE IN NYC!!!!

The only catch being some of the specifics. Some neighghborhoods outside the city are expensive, or require having a car, or whose mass transit schedules do not allow easy commute for odd-hour jobs. But that is nt for the majority.

DO not get me wrong, I think we DO need a mix of socioeconomic brackets in the city, but considering it a right to be/live here is something different.

October 26th, 2009, 10:37 AM
Yeah, and if the USA is too expensive then move on.

October 26th, 2009, 11:09 AM

Loft, quit being sarcastic, I am serious. Since when is everybody entitled to so much? I am not saying that people should be tossed to the street, but if you are living in a little 1br because YOU CAN'T AFFORD MORE, you do not go and have 3 kids and expect the government to put you up in better digs because "housing is your human right".

From my own Father, to my grandparents, these "necessities" were never given or taken for granted.

Also, Mr. Sarcasm, I suppose that areas like PA are too expensive for the poorer set? That people, 50-100 years ago that packed everyone up in the beat up used Ford station wagon (or equivalent thereof) to "go west", had it all wrong? That we are somehow entitled to live somewhere we cannot afford?

Aside from doing things like raising taxes on those that really CAN'T afford them (which I have seen in many areas), simply saying that it is the governments responsibility to PROVIDE it is a little over the other side.

Maybe something needs to be done to encourage it, but just giving it away does not do this.

You get a city, or an area, that cannot house its working class, you start to see a shift as its needs are no longer being met. The key is to buffer the motion so it does not become reactionary and too swift to handle. If the workers leave, the restaurants close or get more expensive, and the patrons stop coming. If there is less to DO in the city, less will LIVE in the city, people will move out. When people move out, the value (in most) will decrease and the cycle begins again.

Back to my question. How do you stabilize the cycle so its fluctuations are minimal and easily ridden? How do you avoid a gross socialization of the housing market?

October 26th, 2009, 11:16 AM
Loft, quit being sarcastic

If I did that then my post count would be at about 300 :o

October 26th, 2009, 01:55 PM
Then maybe just a satiristic reprieve?

October 26th, 2009, 01:59 PM
I'll do my best to comply :cool:

October 27th, 2009, 05:35 AM
Bloomberg Casually Tweaks Affordable-Housing Ambitions; Thompson Offers Little Pushback

Four years ago, three weeks before his convincing defeat of Democratic challenger Freddy Ferrer, Mayor Bloomberg made a stop at a housing luncheon in midtown to unveil a grand $7.5 billion plan to build or preserve 165,000 units of below-market rate housing by 2013. The well-received plan was ambitious and politically adept: it more than doubled the scope of his existing 65,000-unit plan and blunted a policy edge Mr. Ferrer had held in the campaign up until that point: he was urging a 167,000-unit plan.

This time around, talk on affordable housing has been a bit more muted.

Last week, the Bloomberg campaign outlined the mayor's plans for housing in a third term. There was no luncheon, no thunderous applause, and certainly nothing to slap on a bumper sticker.

The announcement (http://www.mikebloomberg.com/index.cfm?objectid=73064770-C29C-7CA2-F818DC5B07B127F0)--which took the form of a three-page document email blasted by the Bloomberg campaign--laid out a rejiggered version of the plan first revealed four years ago. Billed as the "next generation" of the earlier plan by the campaign, it represents both scaled-back ambitions amid a recession and a need to tackle new issues caused by the economic crisis.
But it also comes as the mayor is feeling almost no heat from his opponent on housing, which had been a key policy issue back in the 2005 mayor's race.

This time, Mr. Bloomberg's opponent, Comptroller Bill Thompson, has not emphasized the issue, nor does he have a numbers-specific plan to counter the mayor's. His own policy paper (http://billthompson.3cdn.net/69e4f7876911543af4_mlbrsvhfv.pdf) focuses much on tenant-friendly legislation in Albany--including a law that would prohibit landlords from taking apartments out of rent stabilization--and a relatively vague call for a "21st Century Mitchell Lama program." Generally, however, Mr. Thompson has exhibited no noticeable push on the issue politically. (Not that there's no opening: Many housing advocacy groups had been expecting a push for permanent affordable housing during the campaign, given that most of the mayor's programs have expiration dates, going market rate after 15 or 20 years.)

WITH NO ARMS RACE ON housing policy, Mr. Bloomberg has been content to mostly keep his housing ambitions as they were, leaving his new housing commissioner, Rafael Cestero, to produce an adjusted plan that both cuts back on costs (which had gone up since 2005) and tackles new issues such as foreclosures on properties large and small.

The largest change in the current plan, which runs an extra year to 2014, is a shift toward preservation, away from the creation of new subsidized housing, which is more expensive (there were significant capital budget cuts made for housing) and significantly harder to undertake these days, with lending having dried up. The preservation of units typically takes the form of extending tax breaks or other benefits in exchange for a commitment by landlords to keep their rents at below-market rate levels for more time (often 10 or 15 years).

Under the 2005 plan, the Bloomberg administration sought to build 92,000 new units and preserve 73,000. Now the plan will be essentially flipped, as the new construction component has fallen well short of its goals. The initial plan seemed to assume that the market was going to stay hot for years, with the number of subsidized apartments being built in the second half of the plan exploding. Instead, the number has fallen: The city expects under 3,500 apartments to be built this year, down from 6,826 two years ago.

Instead, the city will turn again to what worked so well in the first half of the plan--extending tax credits on buildings like Mitchell Lama middle-income housing developments, so that their rents remain regulated for some time to come.

In addition, there is a significant new emphasis on distressed properties: the plan calls for $750 million to go toward the stabilization of apartment buildings that are at risk of deterioration amid a restructuring. Many landlords bought mostly rent-stabilized apartment buildings in overleveraged deals that could lead to default, with either the existing owners or a financial institution to cut back on maintenance.

The plan puts up money for these buildings so that they can be restructured and sold relatively quickly, and some money for the city to acquire properties.

Related is a pledge to step up code enforcement, forcing landlords to maintain their properties or face fines or the loss of their properties. The Bloomberg administration wants City Council approval to be able to foreclose on a property when it has code violations, a bill that is under discussion, according to the Bloomberg campaign.


http://curbed.com/archives/2009/10/26/everyones_suddenly_talking_about_affordable_housin g.php#more

October 28th, 2009, 05:55 AM
Survey finds 601 troubled condo projects

Figure from grassroots alliance Right to the City-New York covers just six neighborhoods but is far above the official tally for the city as a whole.

There are a total of 601 condominium buildings scattered across a half dozen neighborhoods in the city that have substantial numbers of vacant units or where construction has stalled, according to preliminary data compiled by Right to the City-New York, an alliance of grassroots community organizations. That figure is well above the 454 recorded by the Department of Buildings for the city as a whole.

More than 150 members of Right to the City canvassed six neighborhoods in Manhattan and Brooklyn to identify buildings that feature many vacant units or stalled construction. The group, along with several members of the City Council, will announce the results Tuesday afternoon at a rally in downtown Brooklyn as part of an effort to urge the city to convert vacant condos into affordable housing.

“We want to show the city how big the problem is,” said David Dodge, a member of Right to the City's New York chapter and a policy associate at Urban Justice Center. “The problem is larger than people knew and the city took count of.”

In fact the city's figure is nearly 25% less than the number cited by the group. The Right to the City data tallies the number of qualifying buildings in downtown Brooklyn, Brooklyn's Bushwick, and the Manhattan neighborhoods of Harlem, the Lower East Side, South Bronx and West Village. It found 126 of those buildings in downtown Brooklyn, 108 in Bushwick, 116 in the LES, 99 in Harlem, 93 in South Bronx and 59 in the West Village. The figures will be a part of a comprehensive report the group plans to release early next year on the state of condo buildings in these areas.

In July, the city unveiled a $20 million pilot program, the Housing Asset Renewal Program, designed to turn unsold condos and stalled residential buildings into as many as 400 affordable housing units. Community groups and local officials like Right to the City say the housing renewal is a good start, but it is not enough to resolve the proliferation of vacant buildings, the decline in low-income housing and the city's increasing homelessness rate.

Among the 126 buildings in downtown Brooklyn, Right to the City identified Be@Schermerhorn, a 246-unit luxury condo, with a vacancy rate of more than 93%, and Forté, a 108-unit luxury condo, with a vacancy rate of more than 60%. Both buildings have been on the market for at least a year.

Forté was recently taken over by its lender Eurohypo bank. The group has not identified specific buildings in the Manhattan neighborhoods yet.

“Clearly HARP is not sufficient to meet the needs for the entire city,” said Councilwoman Leticia James, who will be attending the afternoon rally.

It's unclear how many developers want to participate in the Housing Asset Renewal Program, but industry officials note that developers may shun such a program for a number of reasons. They note that such government programs will take at least two years to implement. And some developers may have the resources to wait for the economy to recover.

“By the time government takes action, apartments will start to sell or rent,” said Boaz Gilad, president of Ore International, a Brooklyn-based developer who has been scooping up troubled projects and finishing them at bargain prices. “It might not be a relevant program anymore.”

Right to the City's Mr. Dodge said although the market may be improving, several of these buildings have been vacant for more than two years, and something should be done with them to benefit the local community. “We aren't bailing developers out,” he added.


October 28th, 2009, 10:38 AM
Forté was recently taken over by its lender Eurohypo bank.

I see signs for Eurohypo on projects under construction all over town.

In fact, if things go really sour they might be my landlord one day :(

December 7th, 2009, 09:53 PM
10% of NYC's low-cost housing seen deep in debt

Study finds that overleveraged buildings more likely to harass
rent-regulated tenants as several are seen heading for financial defaults.

CRAIN'S (http://www.crainsnewyork.com/article/20091207/FREE/912079990)
By Amanda Fung
December 7, 2009

Nearly 10%, or 100,000 units, of the city's affordable housing stock were overleveraged by predatory equity investors, and several of them are heading toward financial default, according to a recent report from a housing advocacy group.

According to the 30-page report, dubbed "Predatory Equity: Evolution of a Crisis" , these predatory equity investors “used tenant harassment as a business model to drive out rent-regulated tenants on a wholesale level by evicting and replacing them with market-rate renters.” The report, compiled by the nonprofit Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development, also found that many property portfolios are operating on equity loans that earn only 55 cents for every dollar in debt, which is classified as predatory.

It also highlighted the default risk of 10 major portfolio loans in the city that have used speculative underwriting practices. The report is based on industry loan servicer filings between 2005 and 2009, according to Benjamin Dulchin, executive director of the association.

“It is bad. There is already a lot of money lost and affordable housing destroyed,” said Mr. Dulchin. “It is an important issue and we will actively pressure banks to preserve and deleverage these properties.”

The report's predatory equity default risk list includes a number of high-profile troubled properties such as Tishman Speyer's Peter Cooper Village & Stuyvesant Town. Since the court ruled last month against landlord Tishman Speyer for illegally deregulating apartments while receiving tax breaks, the $3 billion mortgage that financed the purchase of the complex has been transferred to a special servicing firm, a sign that the borrowers are likely to default.

The list also includes developer Lawrence Gluck's Riverton Houses, a rent-regulated apartment complex in Harlem with 1,230 units, which is “rumored to be near default,” according to the report.

In addition, a 1,142 apartment complex in East Harlem owned by now defunct Darnay Day, a British investment firm, is in default and in the hands of a special servicer Centerline Servicing, according to the report.

The findings were released last week, shortly after the city announced that a real estate development company led by former New York Met first baseman Maurice “Mo” Vaughn bought a collection of 14 deteriorating South Bronx apartment buildings owned by the Ocelot Capital Group, which let the properties fall into disrepair and eventually defaulted on their mortgage.

Last week, the City Council also announced the creation of the Predatory Equity Task Force, which will track buildings that are financially or physically at risk and pressure owners and lenders to either maintain these properties or sell them.

“This is an issue that is important,” said Mr. Dulchin. “There needs to be movement by government, community groups and tenants to push banks to engage in preservation deals.”

Entire contents © 2009

January 28th, 2010, 10:15 PM
Scumlords ...

Landlord Faces Lawsuit for Harassment

NY TIMES (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/29/nyregion/29vantage.html?ref=nyregion)
January 29, 2010

State Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo announced Thursday that he intends to sue a major New York landlord that he says harassed thousands of tenants in rent-regulated apartments in Queens and Manhattan in a systematic effort to force their departure to create vacancies for higher-paying tenants.

The landlord, Vantage Properties, routinely filed eviction notices and other legal actions against working-class and immigrant families in tenements that the company had recently acquired to generate “substantial tenant turnover,” investigators and tenant advocates said. But most of the legal notices, the attorney general said in a letter to Vantage, contained “deceptive and misleading representations” that were eventually rejected by the city’s housing courts.

The attorney general notified Neil Rubler, president of Vantage Properties, that his office would file a lawsuit in five days unless the company stopped the harassment, paid damages to tenants and agreed to a monitor to oversee its future rental activity.

“Landlords who illegally harass tenants to boost their bottom line do great harm to the fabric of the city,” Mr. Cuomo said Thursday. “Their underhanded tactics displace longtime residents from their homes and exacerbate the acute affordable housing shortage.”

Vantage issued a statement Thursday evening saying it looked forward to demonstrating to Mr. Cuomo its commitment “to serving its residents and to the future of affordable housing in New York City.”

But its financial partner, Apollo Real Estate Advisors, also issued a statement expressing regret that Vantage had not yet reached an agreement with the attorney general “incorporating best practices and other tenant protections, which we fully support.”

“We expect that Vantage will work with Attorney General Cuomo’s office to get this matter resolved quickly,” Apollo said.

Marina Materon, 63, a cleaning woman who has lived in the same four-story building in Sunnyside, Queens, for 26 years, said that Vantage had been harassing her since it bought the building in January 2008. She said she had to go to court to resolve a false claim that she owed back rent. But she said she still regularly receives notices demanding back rent.

“It’s harassment,” she said during an interview at her home, “because I’m paying my rent and every month they’re sending me this thing that says I have to pay this amount. I don’t know what I would do if I had to move.”

Ms. Materon, who pays $754.70 per month for her two-bedroom apartment, said her building is deteriorating. There are rats and cockroaches; the front door is broken and sometimes stays open at night.

A relative newcomer, Vantage spent more than $2 billion at the height of the market in 2006 and 2007, buying roughly 125 buildings with more than 9,500 apartments in Queens, Washington Heights and Harlem. Most often, it did so in partnership with Apollo.

Vantage, like the Pinnacle Group, the Praedium Group and other private equity firms, paid top dollar for rent-regulated buildings in working-class neighborhoods and wrapped them in inordinately large mortgages. Although rental income did not cover their mortgage payments, their business plan was to profit by forcing out tenants in rent-regulated apartments, renovating the units and then sharply increasing rents.

Indeed, after Vantage and Apollo bought eight buildings in Washington Heights, rental income covered only 40 percent of the annual loan payments. Only one of the 455 apartments was not regulated. But Vantage expected quick turnover.

“The borrower anticipates to recapture approximately 20 to 30 percent of the units by year end 2008, and 10 percent per year thereafter,” according to a 2007 corporate filing.

But the average annual turnover in a rental building in New York is closer to 5 percent. The attorney general and tenant advocates said the only way that Vantage could achieve those numbers was by harassing tenants with fake eviction notices and other tactics.

“The Wall Street type of competition and profit seeking of private equity financing is causing an epidemic of tenant harassment,” said Benjamin Dulchin, executive director of the Association of Neighborhood Housing. “Vantage and their financiers are jeopardizing economic diversity and long-term stability of our neighborhoods.”

Vantage claimed that it was only trying to weed out those tenants who did not qualify for rent regulation. But investigators point out that 86.2 percent of the termination notices filed by Vantage at one complex, Savoy Park in Harlem, were resolved in favor of the tenants.

Marcos Oliveira said he never had a landlord problem before Vantage bought his building in Jackson Heights, Queens. Vantage sent him a letter saying that he and his family had to leave because the apartment was not his primary residence. He said he gathered up years of bills from Con Ed and other vendors to prove that he was a longtime resident. But Vantage, he said, refused to cash his rent checks.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Mr. Oliveira said. “How come I’ve been here so long with no problem? Everyone in the building knows me. What do I have to do to get them to leave my family alone?”

Ann Farmer contributed reporting.

Copyright 2010 The New York Times Company

January 29th, 2010, 07:39 AM
“I couldn’t believe it,” Mr. Oliveira said. “How come I’ve been here so long with no problem? Everyone in the building knows me. What do I have to do to get them to leave my family alone?”

Sue them.

It's the American Way.

January 29th, 2010, 08:34 AM
It can be outrageously expensive and time consuming for a tenant to sue a corporate landlord. Savvy lawyers can stretch out the process for years and wear down those their clients have harassed. But no doubt all of that was considered when Vantage put together their so-called "business" plan for these properties.

Good to see that the state is taking the lead.

January 29th, 2010, 11:33 AM
You see, you have to hurt yourself on one of the things they did not maintain... Then the Personal Injury guys will swarm like flies.

But you are right, the only way that the tenants could fight is if they formed a coalition.....

January 29th, 2010, 01:01 PM
Kinda tricky to physically hurt yourself with an untrue and harassing court filing submitted against you by the landlord :cool:

February 1st, 2010, 07:48 AM
Irony: Slipping and falling on the front step while getting your mail (including the legal notices)?


February 5th, 2010, 11:18 PM
Feds say Gluck is gouging I.P.N.

By Julie Shapiro

Tenants of Independence Plaza North have been arguing for years that their apartments should be rent-stabilized — and now U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara is taking up the cause.

Bharara’s office wants to recover tens of millions of dollars the federal government paid I.P.N. owner Laurence Gluck to support the Tribeca apartment complex’s low-income tenants. Bharara, in New York’s Southern District, also wants many of I.P.N.’s 1,339 apartments declared rent-stabilized.

Diane Lapson, president of the I.P.N. tenant association, sees the U.S. attorney’s case as support for a similar case the tenants brought several years ago, also arguing that their apartments should be rent-stabilized. That case is still pending.

“[The federal government] wouldn’t make a move like this if they thought there was a question about it,” Lapson said.

Stephen Meister, Gluck’s lawyer, disagreed, saying the U.S. attorney’s case was politically motivated. Meister also threatened to “make it my personal business” to make things worse for I.P.N. tenants if they win their case and are declared rent-stabilized.

The U.S. attorney’s complaint, filed in October of last year, echoes the tenants’ earlier case by arguing that many Independence Plaza apartments should be rent-stabilized because Gluck received a J-51 tax break. Not only should the apartments have been rent-stabilized while Gluck was getting the tax break, but the tenants should continue to be rent-stabilized until they move out, even though Gluck cancelled and repaid a portion of the tax break in 2006, the U.S. attorney’s office wrote in the Oct. 29 complaint.

The reason the U.S. attorney is involved is because the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development provides Section 8 subsidies to I.P.N.’s low income tenants. The subsidies started in 2004, when Gluck removed I.P.N. from the state’s Mitchell-Lama affordability program. Section 8 tenants pay no more than 30 percent of their income for their apartments, and HUD covers the rest. So between the two payments, Gluck has received the full market-rate rent for each Section 8 apartment every month since exiting Mitchell-Lama.

But now, the U.S. attorney is arguing that Gluck should have received much smaller federal subsidies, because the apartments should have been rent-stabilized, not market-rate.

“Substantial HUD monies were paid as rent to defendants to which they were not entitled,” the federal prosecutors wrote in a complaint filed last October. “In equity and good conscience, they should not retain the payments.”

Seth Miller, a lawyer for I.P.N.’s tenants, put it even more simply: “HUD is a little bit upset that they’ve been paying market-rate vouchers to Larry Gluck to the tune of tens of millions of dollars, when all the while they should have been paying a stabilized rate,” Miller said at a housing forum hosted by State Sen. Daniel Squadron last week.

While I.P.N. once had nearly 700 Section 8 apartments, the complex now has just fewer than 500, because some tenants lost their vouchers or moved away. Meister, Gluck’s lawyer, estimated that HUD has been paying Gluck at least $10 million a year since 2004.

HUD is now trying to reclaim much of that money, plus interest and fees. HUD did not comment or give an exact figure.

While I.P.N.’s tenants see the U.S. attorney’s case as a sign of support for their own bid to become rent-stabilized, Meister disagrees. Meister said the only reason the U.S. attorney decided to pursue the case was because of last year’s Stuyvesant Town decision, which tenants see as a favorable harbinger for Independence Plaza. The state’s highest court ruled last October that Stuyvesant Town’s owner illegally deregulated thousands of apartments. One week later, the U.S. attorney filed the complaint saying that apartments at Independence Plaza, too, were wrongly deregulated.

“They don’t want to be embarrassed,” Meister said of the federal government. If the I.P.N. tenants win their case, the U.S. attorney could look bad for not going after the Section 8 money, so the U.S. attorney filed the case, Meister said.

On the surface, the connection between Stuyvesant Town and I.P.N. is that both received J-51 tax breaks from the city. But Meister said it doesn’t make sense to apply the Stuy Town ruling to I.P.N. because Gluck’s tax break was much smaller and he discontinued and repaid it. Miller, the I.P.N. tenants’ attorney, argues that the cases are similar.

Either way, it does appear that the Stuy Town ruling prompted the U.S. attorney’s court action. Ed Rosner, an I.P.N. tenant, first filed a whistle-blower complaint with the federal government back in 2006, accusing Gluck of charging HUD too much for the Section 8 tenants. The U.S. attorney’s office decided not to pursue the exact complaint Rosner made, but filed a related complaint last October, one week after the Stuyvesant Town decision.

The U.S. attorney’s office, Rosner and Rosner’s lawyer declined to comment on the pending litigation.

Also pending is the tenants’ 2005 case against Gluck, which Judge Marcy Friedman deferred to the state Division of Housing and Community Renewal last year.

The D.H.C.R. has shown no sign of issuing a decision — “They’ve done nothing with it,” Meister said — so it’s possible that the more recent federal case could be decided first. D.H.C.R. did not respond to requests for comment.

In a phone interview this week, Meister, Gluck’s lawyer, made his most pointed statements to date saying the tenants will be worse off if they continue pursuing their case and become rent-stabilized.

“If [I.P.N. tenant lawyer Miller] wins and the building is stabilized, I’m going to make it my personal business to completely take the building to market,” Meister told Downtown Express. “Everyone gets screwed if Miller wins.”

Lapson said Meister’s comments amount to nothing more than scare tactics, since if the tenants win, they will be protected under rent-stabilization. Many tenants already have basic rent protections under a binding agreement they negotiated with Gluck in 2004, before they discovered the J-51 tax break.

“He continues to think that if he frightens us, we’re going to back off,” Lapson said. “No one’s backing off. We’ve been in this a long time.”

Losing either the tenants’ case or the federal one could put Gluck’s company in a dire position. If Gluck has to repay the tens of millions of dollars he has received from HUD, his company may be unable to meet mortgage payments and have to surrender the building — another potential echo of Stuyvesant Town at I.PN. Gluck’s company has recently defaulted on other properties, including the Riverton Houses in Harlem.

Meister said, “There may or may not be enough equity in [I.P.N.]” to cover a repayment to HUD.


March 25th, 2010, 09:38 PM
Soho Landmark's Facade Heads for Safekeeping

March 25, 2010, by Pete





After a number of false starts—and six years of tilting some 30 inches to the west—the five-story cast iron co-op at 74 Grand Street is finally coming down. A new sidewalk shed has been erected to protect passersby, running along Grand and around the corner up Wooster Street, partially obscuring the big steel bracing that fills the corner lot and keeps this one from toppling over. Crews can be seen carefully disassembling pieces of cast iron which, under order from the Landmarks Preservation Commission, will be salvaged, crated and stored "in a secure warehouse accessible by LPC staff" with the idea that the facade will be re-installed on a new building at the site. Things were getting so bad here that the weight of this one had begun to pull other structures on the block out of line, and last winter the one-story building next door that housed the Deitch Projects gallery was put under a vacate order and may eventually need to come down as well.

The building went up in 1886, designed by architect George DaCunha. In the late 1800's the building served as a warehouse for a sponge importing business; by 1912 it housed the Pocketbook Manufacturing Company. By the mid-1980s Villas Boas, a purveyor of antiquities imported from Italy, had moved in, and the Paul Kasmin Gallery was here from 1992 until its move to West Chelsea in 1999. A photo from those simpler Soho days on Flickr (http://www.flickr.com/photos/34759296@N03/3999868766/sizes/l/) shows the corner before the tilting troubles began. The main concern now is bringing down the weight of bricks, wood and iron at 74 Grand that are putting others at risk. Then the site will have its cellar filled to grade, with the hope of stabilizing nearby foundations. Residents who were forced out remain in limbo, with no clear indication when their homes and investments will rise again.

74 Grand Street coverage (http://ny.curbed.com/tags/74-grand-street) [Curbed]


March 29th, 2010, 10:00 PM
Whadya think will happen here, lofter?

March 30th, 2010, 12:22 AM
Hopefully a well designed new structure will go up on the single lot and the old cast iron will be re-installed.

But with two available lots on either side where a developer could combine them into a plot 3 X as big there's the possibility that a larger structure could go up. How does the cast iron get worked into that? Seems LPC has mandated that any new structure would have to include the original cast iron, and they have authority over the design, but it could end up a mess.

It's a funky intersection, both here and on the lot catty-corner across Grand / Wooster (where another questionably-designed development (http://ny.curbed.com/archives/2009/02/24/a_new_new_building_for_sohos_27_wooster_street.php ) is currently stalled). Another approved project up the block (the SE corner of Wooster / Broome (http://www.wirednewyork.com/forum/showthread.php?p=124286&highlight=Wooster#post124286)) is also stalled.

Chances are this corner will get cleared and then nothing will happen for quite some time. The folks who own co-ops on this property probably just want to get some cash and get out of it altogether.

What would you do, ablarc?

March 30th, 2010, 05:01 PM
I'd put the facade back exactly where it was, but attached to a modern structure that encompassed all three lots at the same height. I'd hire Morris Adjmi or myself.

March 31st, 2010, 07:51 AM
I wouldn't go that far.

I would like to have something that serves as both a way to present the facade, as a modern structure would do, and also become a part of it.

The problem is, we get buildings like the new BOA at Bryant that takes a whole huge facade and removes all the substance behind it. it is like we are transforming NYC into that second city in Blazing Saddles! ;)

Well, not really, but the key here is to try and make it so that we at least have some of the design styles represented in the new building. i just don't like it when they put a Carnevale mask on a big glass box and call it "preservation".

March 31st, 2010, 10:29 AM
What are the odds that, at some point, that facade gets lost somewhere in a steel recycling yard?

March 31st, 2010, 04:14 PM
Landmarks would be shamed if that happened with this one -- it did happen in the past with the cast iron facade of a building that was deconstructed in 1968 ...

Streetscapes: Facades in Storage; Links to the Cast-Iron Era Await Reconstruction

NY TIMES (http://www.nytimes.com/1990/06/10/realestate/streetscapes-facades-in-storage-links-to-the-cast-iron-era-await-reconstruction.html?pagewanted=1)
Published: June 10, 1990

... the facades of the Laing Stores, designed by James Bogardus and also stored by the commission for re-erection, were stolen and sold for scrap.

They've now numbered all the various pieces of cast iron at 74 Grand, so at least they'll know how to put it back together when the time comes.

April 1st, 2010, 11:00 AM
Is there any requirement that they be reused on the same site?

April 1st, 2010, 02:10 PM
That ^ is the idea, but the LPC Certificate of Appropriateness (http://a810-bisweb.nyc.gov/bisweb/BScanJobDocumentServlet?requestid=4&passjobnumber=120251949&passdocnumber=01&allbin=1007085&scancode=SC090731042) for the current work doesn't specify that requirement.

June 24th, 2010, 07:10 AM
Soho's 74 Grand Gone For Good

June 23, 2010, by Pete


http://cdn.cstatic.net/cache/gallery/4029/4718753318_12acb87689_s.jpg (http://cdn.cstatic.net/cache/gallery/4029/4718753318_47a510e945_o.jpg) http://cdn.cstatic.net/cache/gallery/4050/4718105757_ba98f06d0d_s.jpg (http://cdn.cstatic.net/cache/gallery/4050/4718105757_7621566e16_o.jpg) http://cdn.cstatic.net/cache/gallery/4065/4718106317_a0ed70b581_s.jpg (http://cdn.cstatic.net/cache/gallery/4065/4718106317_93bf9afcd8_o.jpg) http://cdn.cstatic.net/cache/gallery/4072/4718752810_8241b67f18_s.jpg (http://cdn.cstatic.net/cache/gallery/4072/4718752810_8c10744b02_o.jpg) http://cdn.cstatic.net/cache/gallery/4070/4718753004_008a62ae98_s.jpg (http://cdn.cstatic.net/cache/gallery/4070/4718753004_aa5569d1f6_o.jpg)
(click to enlarge)

Memorial services are in store for 74 Grand Street, a sorry place (http://ny.curbed.com/tags/74-grand-street) if there ever was one down in the heart of Soho. Following years of troubles and travails (http://ny.curbed.com/archives/2004/09/16/74_grand_put_a_fork_in_it.php) brought on by an over-eager developer next door, this stack of bricks has been reduced to rubble. The landmarked cast iron facade has been catalogued (http://ny.curbed.com/archives/2010/04/30/days_are_numbered_for_soho_landmark_on_grand_stree t.php) and carted away. As for the legal fight, there's no end in sight.
The Clyde Fitch Report (http://www.clydefitchreport.com/2010/06/new-york-citys-landmarks-is-it-really-just-a-house-of-cards/) sees the sad situation as an example of the inherent weakness of the Landmarks Preservation Commission:
Shortly after Thanksgiving last year, the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) issued a permit approving the demolition of 74 Grand Street, a landmark in the Soho-Cast Iron Historic District. The rationale for razing this architectural gem was that excavation at the adjacent lot had severely compromised the landmark’s foundation, causing it to tilt and thus posing a danger to public safety ... These foundations can quickly become compromised, however, when one goes digging around and beneath them ... the LPC staff reviewing these permit applications lack the requisite expertise to sufficiently recognize red flags ...And so it goes in the world of preservation. The creative gang at Beardwood & Co., from windows with a great view of the destructoporn, has chronicled the demise (http://www.beardwood.com/the-dismantling-of-74-grand-st/). As for the future, what's in store for the corner of Wooster and Grand is anybody's guess.

74 Grand Street coverage (http://ny.curbed.com/tags/74-grand-street) [Curbed]
New York City’s Landmarks: Is it Really Just a House of Cards? (http://www.clydefitchreport.com/2010/06/new-york-citys-landmarks-is-it-really-just-a-house-of-cards/) [The Clyde Fitch Report]
The Dismantling of 74 Grand St (http://www.beardwood.com/the-dismantling-of-74-grand-st/) [Beardwood & Co. website]


July 17th, 2010, 06:26 PM
The Fall of Temporary Apartment Walls

NY TIMES (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/18/realestate/18cov.html)
July 15, 2010

AFTER graduating from Duke University this spring, Karan Sabharwal landed a job in finance in New York City. He had a plan to make Manhattan living affordable.

He would lease a nice one-bedroom apartment, convert it to a two-bedroom space with a temporary wall and split the rent with a friend.

But when he went to check out the Rivergate, a high-rise apartment building in Kips Bay, he was told by the property manager that partitions were no longer allowed.

“I told her I had friends in nearby buildings that had put up the walls,” he said. “She said, ‘We have adopted the policy, like many other buildings in the neighborhood, that you will not be able to put up the full wall anymore.’ ”

As the city aggressively enforces a long existent but widely ignored code, walls are falling across Manhattan, radically altering the housing landscape for scores of young professionals. Thousands of renters are being told that the walls that have been put up over the years without approval from the Department of Buildings must come down. And new renters are being informed that if they wish to divide a space, they will need to rely on bookshelves or partial walls that don’t reach the ceiling.

“The impact has already been dramatic,” said Gordon Golub, the senior managing director for rentals at Citi Habitats. “Landlords are all trying to come to some sort of conclusion as to what they are going to do in allowing any walls or a different sort of wall that might go up, and it is affecting brokers and customers.”

Manhattan apartments are as varied as the roommates who decide to share a place. Because of this, there are no rules that apply universally. But in all cases, temporary walls must not block exit routes or interfere with the ventilation and sprinkler systems. And there are minimum requirements for room size.

The current focus on temporary walls is driven by two developments: prosecutors’ decision to level manslaughter charges at the owners of a building where a fatal fire occurred in 2005 and, more recently, the city’s drive to eliminate illegally installed temporary walls in Stuyvesant Town, the sprawling complex between 14th and 23rd Streets on the East Side.

After tenants’ complaints and subsequent inspections by both the Fire Department and the Department of Buildings, Tishman Speyer, the owner of Stuyvesant Town, embarked this spring on a review of all its apartments and moved swiftly to eliminate all walls that were not up to city code.

“It was determined that partition walls previously installed in some apartments were not in compliance with the New York City Building Code,” the company said in a statement. It declined to go into the extent of the complaints or who had lodged them.

Tishman Speyer is paying for the removal of the walls. It is also footing the bill for the installation of approved replacement walls for those tenants who had the landlord’s permission to build temporary walls.

City officials note that it has long been illegal to install a floor-to-ceiling wall without a permit from the Department of Buildings, even though landlords as well as tenants have often disregarded this requirement. But the strict enforcement at Stuyvesant Town has prompted many landlords to get into compliance.

The Manhattan Skyline Management Corporation, which manages thousands of luxury apartments across Manhattan, including the Rivergate, has been examining its entire portfolio to establish where walls were erected. The company has already informed hundreds of residents that even if they installed walls with the building’s approval, or moved into an apartment that already had such walls, they will have to rip them out if they are not up to code.

In a statement, the company said that because the Department of Buildings had “greatly restricted” the use of walls to subdivide rooms, “previously installed walls which were believed to be legally installed have to be removed.”

The company is offering tenants who erected walls with its approval $700 to help defray the cost of erecting new dividers, like bookshelves.

But for many residents, a bookshelf or a partial wall is no substitute.

“It’s not only inconvenient, but heartbreaking, since we love our apartment just the way it is,” said Daniela Zakarya, 25, and a broker at the Real Estate Group of New York.

Ms. Zakarya, who moved with her college roommate into a Gramercy-area apartment a year ago, said the wall had been in place at the time. She was informed in April by her landlord — whom she did not want to identify since she is still negotiating a solution — that the wall had to come down.

A week later it was removed, and now the living room has become the second bedroom while the roommates decide what to do next.

“It is a cataclysmic change and is the future of Manhattan share situations,” she said.

Ms. Zakarya quickly realized she was not alone. Many of her clients are young professionals looking to share places in doorman buildings where the average rent for a one-bedroom ranges from $3,000 to $3,500. As she has shown apartments in recent weeks, she said some potential renters have been surprised to find that the cost-saving room-splitting arrangements their friends made just a year ago are no longer an option.

And the bookshelves, screens and partitions replacing walls inevitably result in a loss of privacy.

“Everyone who wishes to save money on rent and convert their apartments may need to get used to this,” Ms. Zakarya said.

Tony Sclafani, a spokesman for the Department of Buildings, said the city’s regulations had not changed. He emphasized that a work permit had always been required to add a wall.

“The addition of a partition, pressurized wall, or other floor-to-ceiling divider, even if intended as a temporary installation, results in a change to the layout of an apartment,” he said.

To get a work permit, one must hire an architect or engineer to prepare plans of the proposed layout and other construction details as well as to apply for plan approval, Mr. Sclafani said. After the plan is approved, the contractor must get a work permit. After the work is complete, the architect or engineer must inspect it and then sign off on the job at the Department of Buildings.

Certainly, thousands of renters have skirted these rules in the past without penalty. The Department of Buildings does not randomly inspect residences, and mostly acts in response to complaints.

But ever since a deadly fire in a Bronx apartment building in 2005 in which two firefighters died after leaping from a window, the city has had illegal room dividers in its sights. Prosecutors charged the building’s former and current landlords, as well as two tenants, with manslaughter. The city’s position was that illegal partitions erected by the tenants to subdivide the apartments had disoriented the firefighters and led to their deaths.

The tenants, who were said to have installed the partitions to create small, windowless rooms that they then rented out for $75 to $100 a week, were acquitted.

The owner and former owner were convicted of criminally negligent homicide by a separate jury. But that verdict was overturned in February by the State Supreme Court, which found the prosecution had failed to prove the defendants had known about the illegal partitions.

Since that fire, the Department of Buildings has cracked down on the most dangerous situations, issuing 1,200 vacate orders in 2009 for people living in illegally subdivided apartments, the majority in Queens. Manhattan shares drew little attention until recently, when landlords and real estate agents could not help hearing the rumble of walls falling in Stuyvesant Town.

Because apartment layouts vary widely, it is difficult to generalize about what types of walls meet with city approval, but officials at the Department of Buildings said the major considerations had to do with “egress routes” to ensure “maximum travel distances in the building code are not impeded, sprinkler coverage areas (where sprinklers are provided) are not obstructed, smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors are relocated or supplemented if necessary to comply with the building code.”

Any electricity work must also meet guidelines.

“Keep in mind that the elimination of a common living room to create a three-bedroom, zero living room apartment may result in a rooming-unit situation that is not permitted by the Housing Maintenance Code,” Mr. Sclafani said. “In addition, since each apartment is generally required to have at least one room of at least 150 square feet, the installation of a partition may run afoul of this requirement in certain cases.”

He said anyone with questions about whether an apartment is up to code can call 311 and request an inspection by the Department of Buildings.

In any case, despite the firm stance taken by some major property owners, thousands of renters are still using pressurized walls, which are relatively inexpensive, easily installed and easily removed.

Donny Zanger, the project manager at All Week Walls, which specializes in installing and removing pressurized walls, said his business was so far unaffected.

“We are growing like crazy,” he said.

“If these walls did not exist in New York,” Mr. Zanger said, “it would be a very difficult situation for students and young professionals and even professionals who make more money.”

He says he follows all the city codes and regulations when installing a wall. He also says he does not understand how erecting large bookshelves to divide a space is any safer than properly installing a pressurized wall.

In practice, it has not been the responsibility of the installation companies to obtain the necessary building permits; it has been the landlord’s or the owner’s. But many companies use their Web sites to advise potential customers to secure approval from building management.

The cost of a wall starts around $700, and Mr. Zanger said his company had put up 300 to 400 walls in the past year. There are dozens of similar companies — a testament to just how common the practice of dividing rooms in Manhattan has become over the years.

It remains to be seen whether many landlords will follow the lead of Stuyvesant Town and other major property owners in Manhattan, but during a June meeting of landlords and brokers hosted by the Real Estate Board of New York, it was the hot topic.

Meanwhile, many renters new to the city find themselves in a position similar to that of Mr. Sabharwal, the Duke graduate.

“I heard that if you have a month, that is plenty of time to find something,” he said. But in light of the crackdown on temporary walls, his options seem more limited and he might have to reassess his $1,600 budget.

“It is a whole different experience than my friends had,” he said.

Copyright 2010 The New York Times Company

July 17th, 2010, 11:13 PM
^ I was trying to think where to post that; forgot about this thread. Thank goodness for Lofter :).

...small, windowless rooms...Not very appealing, even if it is cheap. Seems like this will largely affect only those least able to afford decent housing, as usual. And those who, although sometimes perhaps inappropriately opportunistic, are trying to make a few extra dollars.

The Department of Buildings does not randomly inspect residences...So will this mean relying on landlords/owners doing the right thing now? Are regular inspections of apartments by landlords the norm in NYC?

It obviously required something as serious as the deaths of 2 firefighters before the "long existent but widely ignored code" is eventually (after five years :confused: - how long has the city been "aggressively" enforcing this code?) being enforced. And what if those tenants at Stuyvesant Town hadn't complained, leading to Tishman Speyer's revelatory actions?

...He also says he does not understand how erecting large bookshelves to divide a space is any safer than properly installing a pressurized wall.Apart from possibly not obstructing "ventilation and sprinkler systems", good point.

July 18th, 2010, 10:56 AM
A "regular inspection by landlords" is not the norm -- but for NYC renters the landlord has the right, after reasonable notice (there's the rub) to gain entry. An inspection in regard to non-compliant walls would definitely be deemed "reasonable" in NYC. And now that a landlord's liability for illegal walls as described has gained precedence, any landlord who suspects that such conditions exist in a building would be foolish not to inspect and, if found, require removal.

On another woeful note, here's a scary tale about life and death and housing in the El Dorado (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/18/nyregion/18nineb.html?_r=1) ...

Nightmare in Apt. 9B

August 12th, 2010, 07:25 AM
Judge Affirms Support for Tenant in Downtown Rent-Stabilization Case

By Julie Shapiro If the a judges rent-stabilization case ruling holds, it could affect thousands of tenants in lower Manhattan.

http://s3.amazonaws.com/sfb111/story_xlimage_2010_08_R5136_JUDGE_AFFIRMS_421G_RUL ING08102010.jpg
A judge ruled last week that an apartment in 37 Wall St. should have been rent-stabilized.

FINANCIAL DISTRICT — The owner of 37 Wall St. illegally deregulated an apartment that should have been rent-stabilized, a Housing Court judge ruled last week.
Judge Bruce Scheckowitz affirmed his previous ruling on the matter from late last year and denied the landlord’s motion to re-argue the case.

If the ruling holds, it could open the door for thousands of other lower Manhattan apartments to become rent-stabilized (http://www.downtownexpress.com/de_350/5000fidi.html).

In his Aug. 4 decision, Scheckowitz wrote that the apartment should have been rent-stabilized because the landlord, W. Associates, received a 421-g tax break. The 421-g program offered tax incentives to downtown developers who converted offices to apartments between 1995 and 2006, as long as they made the units rent-stabilized.

The question, though, is what happens when the rent in those apartments tops $2,000.

W. Associates argued that the apartments are subject to luxury decontrol, which means they are no longer rent-stabilized when they hit $2,000. In this case, the 37 Wall St. apartment initially rented for nearly $5,000, so it was never rent-stabilized, argued Kevin Smith, the landlord’s attorney.

But Serge Joseph, who represents the tenant, said that no matter how high the rent rises in 421-g apartments, rent-stabilization still holds.

Judge Scheckowitz agreed.

“It is unfair for an owner to receive [tax] benefits which reduce operating cost and not, conversely, provide some benefit to the tenants as well,” Scheckowitz wrote in his decision.

Smith, who represents the landlord, said he disagreed with the decision but had not discussed it with his client and did not know if he would appeal.

A representative for W. Associates declined to comment.

In addition to affecting the other tenants of 37 Wall St., the ultimate resolution of the case could affect more than two-dozen downtown buildings (http://www.downtownexpress.com/de_353/moredowntown.html) that also received the 421-g tax abatement.


August 12th, 2010, 07:41 AM
Maybe the judge should have also stated an option to buy out of the 421-G by paying for tax credits given/awarded plus any appreciation between the time of receipt to the time of payment.

If they want to charge whatever they want, let them. Just "remind" them that they have debts to pay.

August 24th, 2010, 05:43 AM
Housing Fades as a Means to Build Wealth, Analysts Say


Housing will eventually recover from its great swoon. But many real estate experts now believe that home ownership will never again yield rewards like those enjoyed in the second half of the 20th century, when houses not only provided shelter but also a plump nest egg.

The wealth generated by housing in those decades, particularly on the coasts, did more than assure the owners a comfortable retirement. It powered the economy, paying for the education of children and grandchildren, keeping the cruise ships and golf courses full and the restaurants humming.

More than likely, that era is gone for good.

“There is no iron law that real estate must appreciate,” said Stan Humphries, chief economist for the real estate site Zillow. “All those theories advanced during the boom about why housing is special — that more people are choosing to spend more on housing, that more people are moving to the coasts, that we were running out of usable land — didn’t hold up.”

Instead, Mr. Humphries and other economists say, housing values will only keep up with inflation. A home will return the money an owner puts in each month, but will not multiply the investment.

Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, estimates that it will take 20 years to recoup the $6 trillion of housing wealth that has been lost since 2005. After adjusting for inflation, values will never catch up.

“People shouldn’t look at a home as a way to make money because it won’t,” Mr. Baker said.

If the long term is grim, the short term is grimmer. Housing experts are bracing themselves for Tuesday, when the sales figures for July will be released. The data is expected to show a drop of as much as 20 percent from last year.

The supply of homes sitting on the market might rise to as much as 12 months, about twice the level of a healthy market. That would push down prices as all those sellers compete to secure a buyer, adding to a slide that has already chopped off as much as 30 percent in home values.

Set against this dismal present and a bleak future, buying a home is a willful act of optimism. That explains why Adam and Allison Lyons are waiting to close on a $417,500 house in Deerfield, Ill.

“We’re trying not to think too far ahead,” said Ms. Lyons, 35, an information technology manager.
The couple’s first venture into real estate came in 2003 when they bought a condo in a 17-unit building under construction in Chicago. By the time they moved in two years later, it was already worth $50,000 more than they had paid. “We were thinking, great!” said Mr. Lyons, 34.

That quick appreciation started them on the same track as their parents, who watched the value of their houses ascend for decades. The real estate crash interrupted that pleasant dream. The couple cannot sell their condo. Unwillingly, they are becoming landlords.
“I don’t think we’re ever going to see the prosperity our parents did, but I don’t think it’s all doom and gloom either,” said Mr. Lyons, a manager at I.B.M. “At some point, you just have to say what the heck and go for it.”

Other buyers have grand and even grander expectations.

In an annual survey conducted by the economists Robert J. Shiller and Karl E. Case, hundreds of new owners in four communities — Alameda County near San Francisco, Boston, Orange County south of Los Angeles, and Milwaukee — once again said they believed prices would rise about 10 percent a year for the next decade.

With minor swings in sentiment, the latest results reflect what new buyers always seem to feel. At the boom’s peak in 2005, they said prices would go up. When the market was sliding in 2008, they still said prices would go up.

“People think it’s a law of nature,” said Mr. Shiller, who teaches at Yale.

For the first half of the 20th century, he said, expectations followed the opposite path.

Houses were seen the way cars are now: as a consumer durable that the buyer eventually used up.

The notion of housing as an investment first began to blossom after World War II, when the nesting urges of returning soldiers created a construction boom. Demand was stoked as their bumper crop of children grew up and bought places of their own. The inflation of the 1970s, which increased the value of hard assets, and liberal tax policies both helped make housing a good bet. So did the long decline in mortgage rates from the early 1980s.

Despite all these tailwinds, prices rose modestly for much of the period. Real home prices increased 1.1 percent a year after inflation, according to Mr. Shiller’s research.

By the late 1990s, however, the rate was 4 percent a year. Happy homeowners were taking about $100 billion a year out of their houses, which paid for a lot of good times.

“The experience we had from the late 1970s to the late 1990s was an aberration,” said Barry Ritholtz of the equity research firm Fusion IQ. “People shouldn’t be holding their breath waiting for it to happen again.”

Not everyone views the notion of real appreciation in real estate as a lost cause.

Bob Walters, chief economist of the online mortgage firm Quicken, acknowledges that the recent collapse will create a “mind scar” just as the Great Depression did. But he argues that housing remains unique.

“You have to live somewhere,” he said. “In three or four years, people will resume a normal course, and home values will continue to increase.”

All homes are different, and some neighborhoods and regions will rebound more quickly. On the other hand, areas where there was intense overbuilding, like Arizona, will be extremely slow to show any sign of renewal.

“It’s entirely likely that markets like Arizona will not recover even in the 15- to 20-year time frame,” said Mr. Humphries of Zillow. “The demand doesn’t exist.”

Owners in those foreclosure-plagued areas consider themselves lucky if they are still solvent. But that does not prevent the occasional regret that a life-changing sum of money was so briefly within their grasp.

Robert Austin, a Phoenix lawyer, paid $200,000 for his home in 2000. Five years later, his neighbors listed a similar home for $500,000.

Freedom beckoned. “I thought, when my daughter gets out of school, I can sell the house and buy a boat and sail around the world,” said Mr. Austin, 56.

His home is now worth about what he paid for it. As for that cruise, “it may be a while,” Mr. Austin said. Showing the hopefulness that is apparently innate to homeowners, he added: “But I won’t rule it out forever.”


August 24th, 2010, 08:40 AM
Wow, people are just learning this?

I think this is mostly true, but I also know that in a LONG TERM INVESTMENT, so long as your neighborhood does not go to .....poop, you will get slightly more than inflation just because some areas are more desirable than others.

Some simple reasons:

Ethnicity. Some cultures are willing to pay more to move to a neighborhood they feel comfortable in. Although that eventually fades, you see the result in Korean and Chinese neighborhoods (like in Elmhurst) commanding much more than similar places in almost identical neighborhoods.

Education. Schools still matter and make some areas more valuable than others.

Convenience. Although many 'Burbanites will not feel the need for a town center, almost ALL like having a commute less than an hour. Until NYC runs out of office space and we get some more serious development surrounding it (Jersey City as an example), people will stay near the commuting lines and routes that are the most convenient and expedient.

Density. This only works in conjunction with the others. Living in a crowded area that has nothing (go down route 1 and 9 in Jersey City and Union to see what I mean) will get nothing, but when an area has no room, but has everything people want... such as Brooklyn Heights or Montclaire (zoning prevents much new development there) the price gets inflated.

So, i think we have just gone back to what it has always been. Property is not a guaranteed investment. You have to know what you are buying, and most will not appreciate much above inflation or average wage increases.

August 24th, 2010, 02:07 PM
It's still subject to supply and demand. In some parts of the country housing was massively overbuilt (Vegas, Florida, California). It will take decades to absorb the supply.

But NYC is predicted to get up to 1,000,000 more residents over the next several decades. They're all going to need someplace to live.

August 31st, 2010, 05:16 AM
Public Advocate Takes on Slumlords With New Website

August 30, 2010, by Sara

New York City's worst landlords haven't been having a great month. First the law made them reveal their true identities (http://ny.curbed.com/archives/2010/08/26/meet_the_landlords.php). Now the office of Public Advocate Bill de Blasio is coming for them with a new website (http://www.pubadvocate.nyc.gov/landlord-watchlist) and searchable/sortable NYC slumlord watch list. Unlike similar city lists, this one uses the power of Google Maps to show the neighborhoods with the highest slumlord concentrations. And what it lacks in slumlord gross-out stories, the Daily News (http://www.nydailynews.com/ny_local/2010/08/30/2010-08-30_keepin_tabs_on_the_rats_public_advocate_aims_to _shine_light_on_citys_worst_sluml.html) makes up for with a few colorful rat-in-toilet anecdotes from tenants of Bronx slumlord Alan Fein. According to a press release from the public advocate's office, de Blasio will be taking one Chinatown slumlord to task with a press conference outside his 197 Madison Street building today. We're guessing no one's gonna make the place look nice for his arrival.

NYC's Worst Landlords Watchlist (http://www.pubadvocate.nyc.gov/landlord-watchlist) [pubadvocate.nyc.com]
New website aims to shine light on city's worst slumlords (http://www.nydailynews.com/ny_local/2010/08/30/2010-08-30_keepin_tabs_on_the_rats_public_advocate_aims_to _shine_light_on_citys_worst_sluml.html) [NYDN]

http://ny.curbed.com/archives/2010/08/30/public_advocate_takes_on_slumlords_with_new_websit e.php

August 31st, 2010, 07:20 AM
Using Private Eyes to Keep Track of Tenants


As a parade of slovenly dressed 20-somethings passed through the entrance of a downtown Manhattan apartment building on a weekday afternoon, these seemingly savvy New Yorkers did not seem to notice they were the subjects of a photo shoot.
That is because this shoot was covertly orchestrated by their landlord, who had hired a private investigator to root out illegal tenants.

Masked by lunchtime crowds and afternoon rain, the private eye, Joseph Mullen, who has run a sleuthing firm for more than 40 years, parked his car in front of the building, flipped through papers showing that several residents of the seven-story building were “dead or living somewhere else,” and waited.

Shane Williams, a vice president of the firm, J.T. Mullen Inc., slouched strategically in his seat and photographed people as they entered and left. The affable pair looked like observers at an antifashion show as food deliverymen paraded through, an older portly renter stepped out to buy cheese biscuits and renters dressed in gym clothing shuffled outside to smoke.

“We don’t know half the people who live in this building,” Mr. Mullen said. He released a gravelly chuckle, rustled through papers and glanced through the tinted window. “The landlords say, ‘I got to get these illegal tenants out and make some money.’ ”

In a high-rent borough like Manhattan with plenty of rent-regulated apartments ripe for exploitation, real estate investigation has long been a big business. Private detectives say it has picked up in the past year as some New Yorkers have tried to find extra money by moving out of their apartments and subletting to other renters for more than they are paying, which is not allowed.

And, of course, there are landlords pressed for cash, trying to root out people who are using rent-controlled or rent-stabilized apartments illegally. This would allow the landlords to find new tenants and raise the rent by 20 percent or more under state housing law.

During the speculation boom of the last decade, some large landlords were accused of using private investigators to harass legal tenants out of their apartments in order to raise rents to cover large mortgages and increase their profits.

Landlords who root out illegal sublets and absentee renters — a rent-regulated tenant must occupy the unit for at least 183 days a year — crow about how profitable these investigations can be.

Craig Charie, a lawyer and landlord who has hired private investigators for such cases since 1994, described a tenant at one Chelsea building who held onto her $433-a-month apartment while living primarily in New Jersey. An investigator tracked her commuting patterns, and Mr. Charie kicked her out, combined the apartment with another to make a duplex and raised the rent.

“It’s exceptionally useful,” Mr. Charie said. “We pieced together a lifestyle and recaptured the unit.”

As Mr. Mullen and Mr. Williams watched for residents and rain pattered on the car, they explained how these real estate cases, which make up a small fraction of their business, reach them. New Yorkers settle into rent-regulated apartments in their 20s. But as their incomes and families grow and they move out, they try to hold onto these apartments by renting them out to family and friends. When landlords bought buildings in recent years, often the only information they were given about their tenants was scribbled on rumpled papers and included names of residents who had not lived there in 30 years. Mr. Williams estimates that landlords do not know 20 percent of their tenants.

That is when they hire Mr. Mullen’s firm. He investigated a Baxter Street building where all of the residents had the same Social Security number. Mr. Williams chimed in about a building where the illegal tenant listed his apartment under the name O. B. Juan KNobi.

They allowed this reporter on a recent stakeout on the condition that the address not be published, because it was still under surveillance. They were hired to investigate 10 of the 25 apartments in the building; they usually earn $300 to $500 per apartment, or more if it involves extensive research. The most widely available public records may not always help. They said some tenants who lived elsewhere most of the year would vote in the city (itself a crime) to leave a paper trail or would receive their mail at their rent-controlled apartment and bribe the superintendent to forward it once a week.

This building had several advantages for the two men, including proximity to good coffeehouses, to keep them alert, and a superintendent who puts out the trash early enough to give them time to dig for Consolidated Edison or phone bills or other clues to who actually lives in an apartment. E-ZPass records and auto insurance bills are also useful. At some buildings, the superintendent can be talked into wedging a match into a locked apartment door to see how many days or weeks it takes to fall out.

When a smoker emerged from the building, they cheered; smokers linger and make it easy to photograph. Eventually, they will give all their photos to the landlord, who can show them to the superintendent to identify who is living where and whether a 25-year-old is living alone in a 95-year-old’s apartment.

If so, the eviction process can begin. It’s a messy business that has left Mr. Mullen with little envy for his clients.

“I wouldn’t want to be a landlord,” he said.


August 31st, 2010, 10:25 AM
Our landlord sent a guy like that around a few years back. Total creep.

August 31st, 2010, 11:09 AM
I am on the fence with this though.

If people are abusing the system, saying Grandma is still living there when it is Grandson camping out and playing in the Park... why should they be allowed to keep such primo space when it is no longer serving its purpose (affordable housing to those that contribute).

OTOH, there are cases where a dwelling has been used by many family members as a Base of Operations, and has helped many who have happened on bad times and need the space.

The problem with this is, for every Controlled Squatter, you probably have 2 that legitimately need the space, but are not following all the rules. These landlords are probably not concerned with helping people out, but just getting rid of them, so more people end up getting hurt rather than helped all for the sake of a dollar.

August 31st, 2010, 11:59 AM
I agree. I am not against rent stabalization or regulation for primary residents, but obtaining a favorable lease and subletting at a profit is a problem for me. Still, I can see where legitimate residents would get creeped out by the idea of getting spied upon.

August 31st, 2010, 01:30 PM
Rent regulation was a bad idea when it started, and has gotten to be a bigger problem over the decades. The majority of New Yorkers would be better off without it. It's too bad Pataki didn't kill it off when he had the chance.

But then again, the landlords don't want to get rid of it too quickly. They want it to go away slowly.

August 31st, 2010, 01:32 PM
How could Pataki have killed it off? Is a LAW of NY State, not some Gubernatorial fiat.

August 31st, 2010, 01:50 PM
Because we all know local politicians are responsible for local problems!!! ;)

I think the main problem with rent control is that it is not genuinely reflecting the needs of the people OR the owners. It did not fit perfectly when it was first done, and it certainly does not now. But the system does not have the means to deal with all the families that would be displaced if it were repealed tomorrow.

The only way to solve this is simple, gradual phasing out. Include clauses in it that would change the status from a strict rent control to some median (isn't that stabailzed?) when it goes from Parents to Kids (or other relative). Each link bringing it closer to market value.

The problem we will see is what the middle class has been seeing for the longest time. Those that are needed to work in the city will not be able to afford to live in the city. When that happens, we will see some interesting shifts.....

August 31st, 2010, 03:46 PM
The laws expire periodically. Usually it a formality to have them renewed. But with a Republican senate and governor, the last two times were not a slam dunk. There was serious talk of just letting them lapse. But this was not what the LLs wanted. They wanted a slow orderly decline, so there is now high income and (essentially) vacancy decontrol.

However, they were a little slopply, and didn't include language to state that properties that were stabilized by virtue of property tax exemptions where included. They got bitten on this.

How could Pataki have killed it off? Is a LAW of NY State, not some Gubernatorial fiat.

August 31st, 2010, 06:54 PM
Wouldn't the offending tenants be the creeps? Can't blame a landlord for trying to kick out tenants stealing from the landlord, can we?

And why aren't the tenants forced to pay back the stolen money? They should pay back the market rent for the term of the thievery.

August 31st, 2010, 08:51 PM
But we can blame landlords for digging around into the private lives of tenants who are abiding by the law.

Oh, right ... innocent until proven guilty doesn't apply here.

September 1st, 2010, 05:54 AM
Tribeca Complex Actually Was Illegally Deregulated, Judge Says

August 31, 2010, by Sara

Tenants in Independence Plaza North were on the Stuy Town bandwagon long before there was a Stuy Town bandwagon. They filed a lawsuit five years ago arguing that landlord Laurence Gluck had illegally destabilized rents in the Tribeca complex after getting J-51 tax breaks. Gluck attempted to take care of that by paying back all tax breaks received after Independence Plaza North left the Mitchell-Lama program, and, as of March, that was good enough for the state's Department of Housing and Community Renewal. It was not, however, good enough for the state Supreme Court judge who reversed DHCR's decision yesterday.

The judge ruled that Gluck's deregulation of rents at Independence Plaza North was illegal, Crain's reports. No word on what kind of refunds the tenants might be due for, and there's probably another appeal from Gluck in the works. But, since there's still a federal lawsuit in the courts against Gluck, this could be a one-two punch.

Court rules against big Manhattan landlord (http://www.crainsnewyork.com/article/20100830/REAL_ESTATE/100839980) [Crain's]
Independence Plaza North coverage (http://ny.curbed.com/tags/independence-plaza-north) [Curbed]

http://ny.curbed.com/archives/2010/08/31/tribeca_complex_actually_was_illegally_deregulated _judge_says.php

http://s3.amazonaws.com/sfb111/story_xlimage_2010_06_R3266_IPN_HEARING06012010.jp g


September 2nd, 2010, 06:25 AM
Federal Government Could Recoup Millions From Independence Plaza Ruling

Independence Plaza owner Laurence Gluck could owe the federal government tens of millions of dollars.

http://s3.amazonaws.com/sfb111/story_xlimage_2010_09_R9971_IPN_US_ATTORNEY_COMPLA INT09012010.jpg

By Julie Shapiro

TRIBECA — This week’s court ruling that Independence Plaza North is rent-stabilized (http://dnainfo.com/20100831/downtown/tribeca-tenants-win-rentstabilization-case-against-landlord) could mean big bucks for the tenants who have been overcharged — and even bigger bucks for the federal government.

Over the past six years, the federal government has poured tens of millions of dollars into Independence Plaza to support the TriBeCa complex’s low-income tenants.

The federal Section 8 voucher program has allowed IPN owner Laurence Gluck to collect the full market rent for hundreds of apartments, even though the tenants living there could only pay a fraction of the cost.

But this week, State Supreme Court Judge Marcy Friedman ruled that all those apartments ought to have been rent-stabilized. If the ruling holds, it means the federal government should have been paying Gluck stabilized rates, not market rate, for more than 500 apartments at IPN.

“By overcharging the tenants, you’ve indirectly overcharged Uncle Sam,” said Timothy McInnis, a lawyer who represents Ed Rosner, the IPN tenant who first raised this issue in 2006.

After Rosner filed a whistleblower complaint, US Attorney Preet Bharara sued Gluck last year, demanding that Gluck return the tens of millions of dollars he has received from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, plus interest and fees.

While the federal case is separate from the state one that Friedman just decided on behalf of the tenants, her ruling could give Bharara’s case a boost.

“This decision by Judge Friedman is very good news,” said McInnis, a former federal prosecutor who specializes in whistleblower cases. “It certainly helps the federal case.”
Bharara's office, in New York's Southern District, declined to comment.

Stephen Meister, Gluck’s lawyer, plans to appeal Friedman’s decision and said the state case would need to reach a conclusion before Bharara’s complaint can move forward.

Earlier this year, Meister estimated that HUD had paid Gluck at least $60 million (http://www.downtownexpress.com/de_354/fedsaygluck.html) since 2004. Meister said it was unclear whether Gluck would be able to repay the money if ordered to do so. Gluck has defaulted on other properties, including Riverton Houses in Harlem (http://dnainfo.com/20100312/east-harlem/riverton-houses-harlem-sold-for-125m).

At IPN, many of the Section 8 tenants are paying less than $1,000 a month for their apartments, while market rate is between $3,000 and $5,000.

Bharara’s case is still in the preliminary discovery phase.

The only major action so far was that the court denied Rosner, the IPN tenant, whistleblower status on the case. McInnis is appealing, and if Rosner is recognized as a whistleblower, he could receive 15 to 30 percent of whatever the federal government recoups, potentially in the millions of dollars, McInnis said.


September 11th, 2010, 03:59 AM
People who make these decisions presumably haven't suffered any such inconvenience :rolleyes:.

MTA Cuts Hinder Home Sales


Vickie Palmos, a broker in Astoria, Queens, recently found a buyer willing to pay $999,000 cash for a brand-new penthouse condo listed at $1.1 million.

"She fell in love with the apartment," Ms. Palmos recalled.

The 1,264-square-foot condo in the East River Tower has two bedrooms, a balcony with a view of the Manhattan skyline, a doorman, a fitness center and parking. The biggest drawback: a 20-minute walk to the nearest subway. The buyer, however, was counting on taking the express bus into Manhattan, which stopped nearby on 21st Street.
Except it doesn't exist anymore.

The QM22, an express bus that ran from Jackson Heights into midtown, snaking through Astoria and Long Island City on the way, was among the casualties of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's most recent round of budget cuts. So when Ms. Palmos's buyer found out about a month ago that the route was axed, the penthouse deal went the way of the express bus.

"There are a lot of buildings around here that depended on having the express bus," Ms. Palmos said. "That killed off sales for us over in that building. … for the people who are looking to get in and out of Manhattan quickly it's going to be a tough sell. People aren't willing to walk that far."

Location, location, location lies at the core of any real-estate transaction. In New York City, mass transit is an equally essential factor. The loss of the V and W subway lines and the scaling back of bus service in all five boroughs hit commuters hard, for sure, but also appears to be affecting the property values of homes in their now-abandoned paths.

Real-estate data compiled by StreetEasy.com show a dropoff in sales in some neighborhoods along the bus routes since they ended this summer. In Kensington and Ditmas Park, Brooklyn, where condo buildings along Coney Island Avenue and Ocean Parkway can be a half-mile walk from the nearest subway, the X29 stops on Coney Island Avenue could mean a quick ride into Manhattan. That bus was cut. The number of home sales dropped 60% in Kensington and 83% in Ditmas Park between July 2009 and June, when bus service ended, but that is likely due to a spike in June when the first-time home-buyer tax credit expired.

Not every neighborhood where the buses ran is affected. For example, Jackson Heights, where the QM22 culminated, has been relatively untouched because of easy proximity to several subway lines. Other neighborhoods farther from Manhattan already appeal primarily to those who commute by car to jobs in the other four boroughs or nearby suburbs.

But in more far-flung, gentrifying areas, where buyers were willing to accommodate longer commutes in exchange for bargains, brokers say they are already feeling some pain.

"The buyer who buys in Astoria is looking for a cheaper price and to get into Manhattan quickly," said Ms. Palmos, adding that she is having the same problem with a condominium building in Upper Ditmars, north of Astoria. Apartments there that she said would have easily sold for $500,000 with the express bus nearby are now languishing on the market at prices about $420,000.


" 'How far is it to the train?' That's the first thing people ask me," said Charles Sciberras of Realty Executives Today, a longtime Astoria broker. "The closer to the train the higher the demand… Two to three blocks away from transportation is very easy for me to rent."

Alternatives exist for the dropped routes, but the appeal of those alternatives varies. Residents far from train stations can take buses to the subway. They can, of course, walk further or ride longer. The city has permitted private bus companies to take over some routes.

Aaron Donovan, an MTA spokesman, said the impact on property values isn't something the agency takes into account when proposing service cuts.

"We look at ridership, we look at the cost of service, we look at the availability of alternatives," he said.

But one more inconvenience, in an outside-Manhattan neighborhood where the commuting options are perhaps already imperfect, will drag prices down, experts said.

Sofia Song, the vice president for research at StreetEasy, said transit cuts in general are unlikely to affect the volume of sales—though they could bring down prices.

"I think the changes would need to be pretty drastic, because demand for housing is so high. If you make it more affordable and less convenient, there's still always going to be demand," Ms. Song said.

Joan Di Marco, 61 years old, who owns a house on 21st Street in Astoria, said she is concerned about the impact the bus cuts will have on property values in her neighborhood—especially with a slew of luxury condo buildings going up.

"I'm sure people thinking of moving into the area will see these overcrowded [local] buses, and it's going to be a turnoff," said Ms. Di Marco, who took the QM22 for 20 years and now takes local buses or cabs to her job in Manhattan.

In Bay Ridge, an area that has experienced spillover from costlier—and more accessible— neighborhoods in brownstone Brooklyn, residents are lamenting the cuts in routes. Much of Bay Ridge is convenient to the N and R trains, but the trip into Manhattan on the local R can be a long, slow ride.

"The N and the R, they're older trains—the Never and the Rarely. They just don't seem to have that frequency," said Matthew Giordano, first vice president for sales at the real-estate firm Massey Knakal.

What's more, Mr. Giordano said, there is a direct relationship between transportation options and population density.

"The best areas in Brooklyn have great transportation into the city—the most expensive neighborhood in Brooklyn is Brooklyn Heights—you can get just about anywhere in the city easily. You go out into where there is less transportation, the prices go down," Mr. Giordano said. "It's one of the many emotional decisions that people make that can add or detract value from real estate."

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703453804575479780527798198.html?m od=rss_newyork_real_estate

September 17th, 2010, 09:29 PM
New York Housing Market Flirts With Stability


THE story of the national housing market — and the somewhat less tumultuous New York City subplot — has been one of great extremes: bubbles, booms and busts, crashes and comebacks, misery and euphoria.

So what to make of it now? After weeks of gloomy national news fanning fears of a double dip in the market, New York City’s largest brokerage firms are reporting something of a rebound and, with a sense of relief, even a possible state of stability.

“It is too soon to tell about a return to normalcy,” said Noah Rosenblatt, an independent broker who publishes real estate data on his Web site, UrbanDigs, and has been analyzing recent property listings, new contracts and sales. “It looks to me that we hit the bottom” in the sales slump that drove home prices down, he said, and that “activity is starting to really pick up.”

The major brokerages agree: prices, while low, are holding steady; inventory over all appears to be at a relatively healthy level; and sales have risen substantially over the last six months. The exception was a slightly slower-than-normal summer, but it came after a slightly better bonus season earlier in the year, and there are now reports of a more typical post-Labor Day upswing.

The prospect of a return to seasons in real estate — a busy spring and fall, slow summer months and a sleepy market during the holidays, followed by bonus-driven sales from the start of the year to spring — is itself cause for some muted celebration.

Dorothy Herman, the president of Prudential Douglas Elliman, said: “It’s going to be a good year for us; people may actually move this year. In 2009 they were afraid to do anything. They would look but wait for prices to drop. People actually pulled the trigger in 2010.”

Diane M. Ramirez, the president of Halstead Property, said that things were also looking a little less grim for sellers. “When you open the newspaper and you read what’s going on nationally, then people get very anxious,” she said. But, she said, she is seeing something unfamiliar in the recent market: an apartment “you may have loved yesterday” was sold to someone else, and perhaps buyers will have to move faster.

While no one is doing cartwheels, analysts cautiously agree with this sunnier picture.

They do, however, emphasize some caveats, including the stubbornly high unemployment rate (New York City’s rate is marginally lower than the national average, and it has been on a steady decline), tight credit and an overall economy that is not exactly poised to fuel an imminent housing comeback.

“Things are stabilizing, and everybody’s thinking, ‘Hey, we’re back, the worst is behind us,’ ” said Jonathan J. Miller, the president of the Miller Samuel appraisal firm, who also prepares the quarterly market reports for Prudential Douglas Elliman. “A year has passed and people haven’t felt like they were standing right on the abyss.”

He added, though, “We’re in a far better place than we were, but we still have a ways to go.”

While it is still clearly a buyer’s market, supply and demand may be starting to come into equilibrium, Mr. Rosenblatt said.

Many apartments, however, are still selling below list prices. Ms. Ramirez said the gap between asking price and accepted offers continued to be widest in the luxury market, which she defined as apartments listed for at least $3 million. For less expensive one- and two-bedrooms, she said, sellers are receiving 92 to 98 percent of the asking price; for the high-end units, the offers are at least 8 percent lower, with much more negotiating.

Pamela Liebman, the chief executive of the Corcoran Group, shared the views of her colleagues, saying, “we’re at this new normal market.”

She noted that she had seen a significant turnaround in the troubled new-construction market, with new units now selling.

Hall F. Willkie, the president of Brown Harris Stevens, said that his company was seeing many more renters who had been priced out of the market looking to take advantage of low sales prices and buy.

He and other brokers said that although real estate investment from foreign buyers had fallen off, it was now beginning to pick up again, driven largely by Russian, European and Chinese buyers.

“I’m very encouraged,” Mr. Willkie said. “I don’t think we’re back to the heydays, but it’s a healthier market in many ways. But we’re cautious. We will follow the general economy, and if that falters a great deal, we’re going to feel it.”

Chris Phoenix and Mary S. Park, a couple in their early 40s, have been looking for a Manhattan apartment in the $1 million price range for the last three years.

They are taking a view on the market that Mr. Miller says is the smartest: the long one. And they sound mostly impervious to the manic-depressive swings in real estate, expressing the kind of consumer confidence that brokers hope will be contagious.

“Regardless of whether it’s a seller’s or a buyer’s market,” Ms. Park said, she is confident that “there is somebody who wants to sell something to us at a price point we are happy with, and we can sell it in the future at a good price.”


September 24th, 2010, 06:06 AM
City Says Investigation Uncovers Illegal Apartments


City inspectors posing as apartment hunters discovered dozens of spaces that had been illegally converted into residences, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg announced on Thursday.

Armed with hidden video cameras, undercover agents visited 62 properties and found that 54 of them were not legal apartments because of a number of violations, including not having two ways to get out in the event of a fire, he said.

At a City Hall press conference, Mr. Bloomberg, who was joined by Robert D. LiMandri, the commissioner of the city’s Department of Buildings, said that Buildings Department inspectors read apartment classifieds on Craigslist looking for telltale signs of illegal conversions, like “utilities included.” (A landlord would not want to give a tenant a reason to to call Con Edison and divulge that he or she has moved into an illegal apartment, officials explained.)

As a result of the investigation, which started in May, the city imposed orders to vacate on 33 properties because the violations were so serious, city officials said. Officials said it was difficult for inspectors to police illegal conversions unless they get a warrant.

“It is also often legally very difficult or impossible for inspectors to gain access to buildings they suspect have been illegally converted,” Mr. Bloomberg said. “But we do believe that our stepped-up enforcement efforts, through creative approaches such as these undercover investigations, are going to make building owners think twice about keeping their properties up to code.”

A video recording played at the press conference showed (http://www.youtube.com/mayorbloomberg#p/a/u/0/igbd9M8z0h0) a potential landlord showing an apartment, which the city claims was not a legal dwelling, by jimmying a door open with screwdrivers.

This is only the latest of the city’s undercover operations, a favorite tool in Mr. Bloomberg’s arsenal. Last week, the city said that an undercover operation showed the illegal sale of cigarettes on an Indian reservation.

In an interview after the press conference, Mr. LiMandri said that about 10 Buildings Department investigators had gone undercover in search of illegal conversions.

Mr. Bloomberg said that he kept returning to the undercover tactic “because it works.”

“It’s kind of hard to refute what you have in a video,” he said.


September 24th, 2010, 06:12 AM
Landlords Back in Control


TO the chagrin of many renters in New York City, the balance of power in the rental market has tipped back toward landlords — if not far enough for landlords to start celebrating quite yet.

At the beginning of the year, renters could demand and receive a month of free rent and maybe even get the landlord to pay their broker’s fees. Those concessions, now the exception rather than the rule, are mainly found in brand-new apartment towers whose owners are hoping to fill them quickly. Overall vacancy rates are again hovering around 1 percent, where they were during the boom. Some landlords have started to push for rent increases.

Still, even though rates as tracked by Citi Habitats have declined steadily since late last year and had hovered below 1 percent for several months, the rate increased from 0.8 percent in July to 1.1 percent in August — a discouraging sign for landlords, since August is traditionally one of the busiest months for rentals.

Gary L. Malin, the president of Citi Habitats, said the summer uptick was surprising. But he also said that even though prices remain flat, “landlords are back in the driver’s seat.”

Landlords, he said, “did what they needed to do last year, but they’re not giving money away this year, and threatening to leave doesn’t threaten owners as much as it did a year ago.”

Mr. Malin said that some rent renewal letters “may look aggressive to the tenants’ eyes, but landlords are only doing what they see happening in the current marketplace.”

Mr. Malin gave an extreme example: A friend recently called him for help because his landlord had demanded a rent increase of $1,400 a month. He had helped place the friend in the $3,400-a-month two-bedroom apartment in 2009 when the landlord was eager to fill the space.

Mr. Malin and his unhappy friend looked at comparable apartments, “and unfortunately for him,” Mr. Malin said, “what we concluded was he got an amazing deal last year where he was basically paying a one-bedroom price for a two-bedroom.”

Mr. Malin broke the news as gently as he could. “While it was a big dollar amount to swallow,” he said, “it is what those apartments are renting for now.”
The friend signed the new lease.

A more typical scenario might involve someone who rented a $3,000-a-month apartment last year but received two months of free rent, bringing the net effective rent down to $2,500 a month. Most landlords in this situation will probably try to renew the lease this year at $3,000 a month, without incentives, although they might be willing to meet the renter halfway.

Still, any hopes among landlords that rents will rise significantly could be stymied by the city’s employment picture.

Marc Lewis, the president of Century 21 NY Metro, said that landlords to whom he had spoken in recent weeks were not terribly sanguine. “The general feeling is that things are not good because the summer season was much shorter than in the past and there were fewer transactions,” he said. Many landlords, he added, “think we’re in for a tough winter and they’re not very optimistic about the next six months.”

Business may have declined because landlords have pulled back on incentives, he said, “but the bigger reason is simply lack of jobs.” Judging by the rental applications that his brokers helped process in recent months, he said, “there are a lot less people coming into the city with new jobs, and a lot less banking and technology jobs than we saw in the last few years.”

The New York City Independent Budget Office has projected slow employment growth in the city through 2011 and does not anticipate a return to pre-downturn levels until mid-2013.

The budget office’s data on the size of the city’s labor force, which includes everyone who is employed or looking for work, also mirror the strengthening rental market earlier in 2010 and the recent weakening. The size of the labor force had dropped through most of 2009 and had finally started to grow again in February 2010, approaching 4 million people.

But the number fell by 14,000 in July, and in August grew by only about 2,000. (In August 2008, the last month before the economic meltdown, the city’s labor force grew by 7,500.)

Landlords who were emboldened to stop offering rental concessions earlier in the year “maybe were sensing the jobs picture improving and may have been reacting to that,” said Doug Turetsky, a spokesman for the budget office. The growing vacancy rate in August may also be a reaction to the falloff in the labor force in July, he said.

Some landlords are asking more from renters during the application process. Brokers at the Real Estate Group New York have noticed that landlords in smaller buildings in particular are requiring a guarantor or more money upfront, either as prepaid rent or a bigger security deposit, said Andrew Barrocas, the company’s chief executive.

“Landlords generally seem much more cautious now when they’re renting to new hires,” Mr. Barrocas said. “Three years ago, just having an offer letter from a Fortune 100 company was enough to get an apartment. Now landlords wonder if that person will really have a job.”

Brokers are hopeful, though, that the market will strengthen in 2011, when fewer new rental buildings will be coming to market. About 2,000 rental units now under construction are to be completed next year, roughly half the inventory added in 2010, said Cliff Finn, the director of new development marketing for Citi Habitats.

The relative scarcity of new buildings will very likely keep down the vacancy rate, Mr. Finn said. “If it’s not so easy to go to the next thing, people may want to stay put longer.” A decrease in rentals with incentives could also cut down on bargaining in general. “Right now, when we have a dozen or so new buildings giving one or two months’ free rent, it’s pretty hard to negotiate a renewal and not get at least something,” he said. “Next year, when you don’t have as many new buildings, it’ll be a different story.”

For now, at least, incentives like free rent seem to be fading away.

Glenwood Management, which owns about two dozen luxury rental buildings throughout Manhattan, stopped offering free rent in March and is now paying broker fees at only half of its buildings. Gary Jacob, a Glenwood executive vice president, said that other building owners were similarly “experimenting building by building taking away the owner-paid broker fee.” And once tenants are back to routinely paying broker commissions, he added, “that will be a sign that the market is as strong as it was three years ago.”

Another luxury rental landlord, TF Cornerstone, is paying broker fees at only one of its nine buildings: its newest, 505 West 37th Street. “Over all we’re seeing tremendously better traffic than we did a year ago,” said Scott Walsh, the marketing director at TF Cornerstone.

“We’re not paying broker’s fees in established buildings where we don’t have a lot of inventory,” he said. “But if we have a number of two-bedrooms building up somewhere, we might elect to pay it in that one property, just to get brokers to show it and help us market it.”


September 24th, 2010, 08:08 AM
On story 1:

It is so difficult to find something nice and affordable that there is a strong market for illegal residences. I just hope they are focusing more on over-packed flop-houses than someone renting out a non-separated bedroom (cash).

Story 2:

I guess this is reality, but I think this is also a case where rent stabilization should be in effect. The landlord should NOT be able to bump it up that much that quickly. It is unfair to the tenant to raise the rent 40% in one year to match market rate.

Maybe it would be better for all parties to enact an existing tenant buffer. Something like 15%-20% to make the maximum increases more predictable and bearable. That $3400 place would go up, say, $680 a month for this year and $816 the next year, a total of almost $1500 over two.

Not instant money, but not instant fiscal sacrifice either.....

September 27th, 2010, 12:12 AM
Number of Tenants Owing Back Rent Rises Sharply at City Housing Authority

NY TIMES (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/27/nyregion/27housing.html?ref=nyregion)
September 26, 2010

In a sign of the toll the dismal economy has taken on working families in New York, more than 1 in 10 households living in public housing owe at least one month in back rent, a rise of nearly 50 percent over the past year.

Though the city has always had to deal with a number of public housing tenants who are chronically late with their rent, housing officials are now confronting a significant rise in longtime tenants who never before missed a payment but are falling behind, in many cases because they have lost their jobs.

Across the city, tenants of nearly 22,000 public housing apartments, or about 12 percent of the total, owed back rent as of Aug. 31, according to the New York City Housing Authority, which runs the largest public housing system in the United States. The comparable figure in August 2009 was about 15,200.

“When you have, like any landlord, a laser-beam focus on rent collection, you sometimes miss the bigger picture,” said John B. Rhea, the housing authority’s chairman. “What’s happening is that we’re seeing substantial increases in the number of people not paying their rent on time.”

The problem is the worst in Queens, where the number of households owing back rent increased nearly 70 percent between August 2009 and last month, to 2,424 from 1,431. In six of the public housing developments in the western part of the borough, more tenants missed payments than anyplace else in the city, according to Housing Authority statistics. At the Astoria Houses, for example, the number more than doubled, to 157 households from 64; the latest number is 14 percent of the development’s 1,103 apartments.

It does not take much to send a family over the edge. For Shonette Conners, 39, it was the birth of a child. For Denise Haynes, 54, it was not getting paid at her part-time job when complications from her diabetes forced her to miss work on several occasions over the past two years ...

... as the sluggish economy continues to eat into tenants’ pocketbooks, the agency has decided to try to find a way to keep people in their homes. Under a program it is announcing on Monday, it will start offering payment plans, longer extensions and other incentives to help tenants pay their back rent before they end up in court ...

FULL ARTICLE (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/27/nyregion/27housing.html?ref=nyregion)

Copyright 2010 The New York Times Company

October 9th, 2010, 03:28 AM
New York City residents on verge of losing home get reprieve from foreclosures

BY Robert Gearty and James Fanelli

Thousands of city residents on the brink of losing their homes can breathe a temporary sigh of relief now that three of the country's biggest lenders have halted foreclosures.

Last week, JPMorgan Chase and GMAC Mortgage announced the moratorium in 23 states - including New York - where court approval is required.

Bank of America Friday went a step further, stopping foreclosures in all 50 states.

The banks want to reassess their process for seizing homes after admitting required paperwork may have been improperly prepared and could be inaccurate.

The pause affects hundreds of thousands of homeowners around the country and has also wreaked havoc in the housing market, bringing some sales to an abrupt halt, housing experts say.

The foreclosure mess has sparked an outcry from Congress, which has planned hearings about the foulups, and suits by some state attorney generals.

About 3,000 city homeowners who have loans through JPMorgan Chase will benefit from the reprieve, the housing group Center for NYC Neighborhoods says.

An additional 1,300 who have Bank of America mortgages and 150 who have GMAC loans also had their foreclosure proceedings halted, the group said.

Michael Hickey, the head of Center for NY Neighborhoods, blamed the mortgage giants for the mess and the shoddy paperwork.

He said bank employees and lawyers must verify that foreclosure documents are accurate and complete.

The massive volume of foreclosures and the complex trail of loan sales led to rush jobs, with some people wrongfully losing their homes, he said.

"The lack of transparency is the crisis," he said. "It's what got us here and what maintains the uncertainty in the housing market that we're all trying to work through."

Hickey's group offers legal counseling to financially strapped residents who call 311.

He said the moratorium has confused many homeowners facing foreclosure - a lengthy process that takes up to two years in New York and requires a judge's signoff.

"We've heard from people who want to know if they can get their house back," he said.

"We've heard from people who are in the middle of a foreclosure and now want to know if it's real."

http://www.nydailynews.com/ny_local/2010/10/08/2010-10-08_new_york_city_residents_on_verge_of_losing_home _get_reprieve_from_foreclosures.html#ixzz11qPCRpZB

October 14th, 2010, 07:12 AM
This makes my blood boil :mad:.

Bankers Ignored Signs of Trouble on Foreclosures


At JPMorgan Chase & Company, they were derided as “Burger King kids” — walk-in hires who were so inexperienced they barely knew what a mortgage was.

At Citigroup and GMAC, dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s on home foreclosures was outsourced to frazzled workers who sometimes tossed the paperwork into the garbage.

And at Litton Loan Servicing, an arm of Goldman Sachs, employees processed foreclosure documents so quickly that they barely had time to see what they were signing.

“I don’t know the ins and outs of the loan,” a Litton employee said in a deposition last year. “I’m not a loan officer.”

As the furor grows over lenders’ efforts to sidestep legal rules in their zeal to reclaim homes from delinquent borrowers, these and other banks insist that they have been overwhelmed by the housing collapse.

But interviews with bank employees, executives and federal regulators suggest that this mess was years in the making and came as little surprise to industry insiders and government officials.

The issue gained new urgency on Wednesday, when all 50 state attorneys general announced that they would investigate foreclosure practices. That news came on the same day that JPMorgan Chase acknowledged that it had not used the nation’s largest electronic mortgage tracking system, MERS, since 2008.

That system has been faulted for losing documents and other sloppy practices.

The root of today’s problems goes back to the boom years, when home prices were soaring and banks pursued profit while paying less attention to the business of mortgage servicing, or collecting and processing monthly payments from homeowners.

Banks spent billions of dollars in the good times to build vast mortgage machines that made new loans, bundled them into securities and sold those investments worldwide.

Lowly servicing became an afterthought. Even after the housing bubble began to burst, many of these operations languished with inadequate staffing and outmoded technology, despite warnings from regulators.

When borrowers began to default in droves, banks found themselves in a never-ending game of catch-up, unable to devote enough manpower to modify, or ease the terms of, loans to millions of customers on the verge of losing their homes. Now banks are ill-equipped to deal the foreclosure process.

“We waited and waited and waited for wide-scale loan modifications,” said Sheila C. Bair, the chairwoman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, one of the first government officials to call on the industry to take action. “They never owned up to all the problems leading to the mortgage crisis. They have always downplayed it.”

In recent weeks, revelations that mortgage servicers failed to accurately document the seizure and sale of tens of thousands of homes have caused a public uproar and prompted lenders like Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase and Ally Bank, which is owned by GMAC, to halt foreclosures in many states.

Even before the political outcry, many of the banks shifted employees into their mortgage servicing units and beefed up hiring. Wells Fargo, for instance, has nearly doubled the number of workers in its mortgage modification unit over the last year, to about 17,000, while Citigroup added some 2,000 employees since 2007, bringing the total to 5,000.

“We believe we responded appropriately to staff up to meet the increased volume,” said Mark Rodgers, a spokesman for Citigroup.

Some industry executives add that they’re committed to helping homeowners but concede they were slow to ramp up. “In hindsight, we were all slow to jump on the issue,” said Michael J. Heid, co-president of at Wells Fargo Home Mortgage. “When you think about what it costs to add 10,000 people, that is a substantial investment in time and money along with the computers, training and system changes involved.”

Other officials say as foreclosures were beginning to spike as early as 2007, no one could have imagined how rapidly they would reach their current level. About 11.5 percent of borrowers are in default today, up from 5.7 percent from two years earlier.

“The systems were not ever that great to begin with, but you didn’t have that much strain on them,” said Jim Miller, who previously oversaw the mortgage servicing units for troubled borrowers at Citigroup, Chase and Capitol One. “I don’t think anybody anticipated this thing getting as bad as it did.”

Almost overnight, what had been a factorylike business that relied on workers with high school educations to process monthly payments needed to come up with a custom-made operation that could solve the problems of individual homeowners. Gregory Hebner, the president of the MOS Group, a California loan modification company that works closely with service companies, likened it to transforming McDonald’s into a gourmet eatery. “You are already in chase mode, and you never catch up,” he said.

To make matters worse, the banks had few financial incentives to invest in their servicing operations, several former executives said. A mortgage generates an annual fee equal to only about 0.25 percent of the loan’s total value, or about $500 a year on a typical $200,000 mortgage. That revenue evaporates once a loan becomes delinquent, while the cost of a foreclosure can easily reach $2,500 and devour the meager profits generated from handling healthy loans.

“Investment in people, training, and technology — all that costs them a lot of money, and they have no incentive to staff up,” said Taj Bindra, who oversaw Washington Mutual’s large mortgage servicing unit from 2004 to 2006.

And even when banks did begin hiring to deal with the avalanche of defaults, they often turned to workers with minimal qualifications or work experience, employees a former JPMorgan executive characterized as the “Burger King kids.” In many cases, the banks outsourced their foreclosure operations to law firms like that of David J. Stern, of Florida, which served clients like Citigroup, GMAC and others. Mr. Stern hired outsourcing firms in Guam and the Philippines to help.

The result was chaos, said Tammie Lou Kapusta, a former employee of Mr. Stern’s who was deposed by the Florida attorney general’s office last month. “The girls would come out on the floor not knowing what they were doing,” she said. “Mortgages would get placed in different files. They would get thrown out. There was just no real organization when it came to the original documents.”

Citigroup and GMAC say they are no longer giving any new work to Mr. Stern’s firm.

In some cases, even steps that were supposed to ease the situation, like the federal program aimed at helping homeowners modify their mortgages to reduce what they owed, had actually contributed to the mess. Loan servicing companies complain that bureaucratic requirements are constantly changed by Washington, forcing them to overhaul an already byzantine process that involves nearly 250 steps.


November 4th, 2010, 06:51 AM
Seeking a New Law’s Protection, Loft Tenants Instead Find Grief


After New York State passed a law this summer extending residential rights to people living in illegal lofts in much of the city, the seven tenants of 360 Jefferson Street in Bushwick, Brooklyn, acted fast.

Theirs was not a pretty building: two and a half stories of dung-colored bricks punctuated by windows encased in rusting metal mesh, on a forlorn street with sidewalks cracked like eggshells. But it was home and, by New York City standards, a deal: 1,200-square-foot expanses rented for about $1,500 a month. Midway through August, they applied for protection and legalization under the new loft law.

And then, tenants said, a sort of hell broke loose.

The landlords, Mario and Maritza Villacis, angrily descended on the building, the tenants said, accusing them of betrayal and saying the place could never be residential. They served notices threatening eviction. They called the Fire Department to report the illegal occupancy of a loft that had been home to an artist for seven years.

In October, citing fire hazards, the Buildings Department ordered tenants out of the building.

When they were allowed back in a week and a half later, they discovered that a fire exit had been bricked over; their hot water had been shut off; their shower faucets and taps had been excised and tiled over; and the shower drains had been plugged with freshly set concrete.

“We thought we were gaining protection,” Brian Gallagher, 33, a carpenter and woodworker, said of the tenants’ application for loft law rights, “and instead we’ve exposed ourselves.”

The landlords, meanwhile, said they never knew that the tenants, most of them artists and photographers, were using the spaces as anything other than work studios. They said they had removed the showers because they were illegally built.

“I trusted these people,” Ms. Villacis said. “I rented a space cheap for them. I did it because they cried that they can’t afford it otherwise.”

She added, “They’re fighting for something that doesn’t belong to them.”

The battle over 360 Jefferson Street highlights the hazy but substantial netherworld of illegal living spaces in New York, and is just a taste of the struggles likely to occur as the new law goes into full effect.

Under the original loft law, enacted in 1982, lofts in Lower Manhattan and a few other areas were legalized. The new law expands coverage to more-recently occupied lofts, including an unknown number of illegally converted factories and warehouses in Bushwick and Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and Long Island City, Queens.

To be eligible, lofts had to have been continuously lived in for 12 months between Jan. 1, 2008, and Dec. 31, 2009; at least three lofts in the building must have been occupied; and applications had to be filed with the New York City Loft Board.

The law requires landlords to make costly upgrades to bring their buildings into compliance with residential building codes, by installing sprinklers and fireproof doors and removing illegal partitions, among other things.

It also protects tenants from sudden eviction and makes their lofts subject to rent stabilization.

But if a landlord fights legalization, tenants can find themselves in a frustrating limbo. The city’s Loft Board is still adopting rules to administer the new law and is unlikely to decide buildings’ eligibility until next year, said Chuck DeLaney, a member of the board.

Since the new loft law was passed, 32 applications for protection have been submitted to the Loft Board. Of those, 13 were for additional units in buildings where some units already had protection, and 19 were for units in buildings without protection.

In the meantime, tenants seeking legalization of lofts stand on shaky legal ground. The law protects them from eviction, pending the Loft Board’s decision in their cases. But because the buildings are still officially illegal residences, the tenants would face an uphill battle if they went to housing court to try to force their landlords to make repairs or reinstall showers, said Bob Petrucci, the lawyer for the 360 Jefferson Street tenants.

There has been some relief for his clients. Hot water was restored shortly after they returned to the building, and the fire exit was reopened. Mr. Petrucci said he had been working with the Villacises’ lawyer and the Department of Buildings to get the showers restored.

Tenants, meanwhile, are bathing at friends’ apartments, washing one another’s hair and taking sponge baths.

Heated landlord reactions to tenants’ flexing their rights have a long and colorful history in New York City. After the original loft law passed, tales abounded of landlords’ drilling through streets to cut water off from buildings and physically attacking tenants to drive them out.

In the early 2000s, Joshua Guttman, who owned illegally converted lofts in Dumbo, Brooklyn, was accused by tenants who had sought protection from the courts of strewing garbage in hallways, taking down doors and piling dog kibble in empty units to attract rats. Mr. Guttman denied the charges and reached settlements with tenants, who left.
“It’s just like the good old days,” Mr. DeLaney said of the travails at 360 Jefferson Street.

David Frazer, a tenants’ rights lawyer, said that landlord reaction to the expanded loft law had generally been more muted this time around. Some landlords have discouraged tenants from applying, saying the buildings were ineligible, Mr. Frazer said, or suggesting, falsely, that loft law status would drive rents up. But he said some landlords were voluntarily registering illegal lofts, including the owner of two buildings in Bushwick, Brooklyn.

“There are landlords who are welcoming the loft law as a way of legalizing buildings that otherwise couldn’t be legal,” Mr. Frazer said. The landlords stand to gain, he added, because the residential lofts could prove to be gold mines years down the road.

Ms. Villacis, however, said the law stripped her of her rights as an owner. She had plans to convert the building’s ground-floor space into a catering hall, she said, and ran a small factory in another space (tenants said the factory, which produces bright pink belts, was defunct until a few weeks ago).

Though the owners say they were unaware people were living in their building, Mr. Gallagher said that Mr. Villacis routinely patched roof leaks in the apartment Mr. Gallagher shares with his wife, in full view of their kitchen and bed.

And when Ted Partin, a 33-year-old photographer, moved from the first floor to the second, he said, Mr. Villacis helped him move his full-size refrigerator. “We live here, and they definitely know it,” Mr. Partin said.


November 4th, 2010, 09:23 AM
The landlords, meanwhile, said they never knew that the tenants, most of them artists and photographers, were using the spaces as anything other than work studios.

Same thing my lying landlords told the judge after they shut off the heat and elevators in our building back in '85. That specious claim is the oldest trick in the book. It will cost the tenants to fight and stay -- but it worked in our building (as the Loft Law intended).

We're still here. :cool:

November 4th, 2010, 12:57 PM
Saying that you "don't know" that someone is living there and you then proceed to remove a shower stall is, plain and simple, contradicting yourself.

If nobody was living there, why was there a stall? Why did you need to seal it? Playing ignorant should not be an excuse in cases like this. It is no excuse in breakingthe law, why should it be an excuse for this?

November 4th, 2010, 03:01 PM
But how much is it worth? What are the legal bills going to be on this?

Same thing my lying landlords told the judge after they shut off the heat and elevators in our building back in '85. That specious claim is the oldest trick in the book. It will cost the tenants to fight and stay -- but it worked in our building (as the Loft Law intended).

We're still here. :cool:

November 4th, 2010, 10:02 PM
In our building we had over a dozen different lofts where tenants split the legal bills. Otherwise it would have been impossible to fight. It ain't cheap, especially when the Landlord lawyers up with an expensive suit.

November 4th, 2010, 11:58 PM
There also has to be a cost benefit analysis here. I'm sure you were into at least multiple five figure total. You at least could split it enough ways to fund it. If there are only 2 or 3 units in a building, it doesn't work so well. And then there are the non-monetary costs. It must have been a royal pain.

November 9th, 2010, 06:50 AM
Heavy Metal Thunder

After six years, a strict lead-abatement law is driving deep wedges between tenants and landlords.

By Lisa M. Collins

When big flakes of paint started falling onto the very spot where Elaine Kaufmann had been nursing her baby in her Cobble Hill apartment, it was time for her to act. Kaufmann’s landlord had ignored requests to fix an obvious problem, and when she filed a complaint with the city, inspectors swarmed in, finding dozens of lead-paint violations.

Work commenced, but five months later, already facing a hostile landlord and worrying that their home was still toxic, her family gave up and moved out. “It was horrible,” says Kaufmann. “I’ll never forget standing in the middle of the living room, with our son, afraid to touch anything. We ended up leaving the neighborhood.”

Stories like hers are becoming familiar, fed by a set of clashing trends. Brooklyn’s old brownstones are popular among families with small children. Their landlords are often just householders who rent out a floor or two and would be clobbered by a big lead-abatement expense. (Contractors can charge $10,000 to deal with a two-bedroom apartment, and the city requires landlords to relocate families while work is done.)

Tenants are adamant that their kids be protected; landlords want the problem to go away. If they can’t come to an agreement, families get fed up and leave, or, in the ugliest stories, the landlord harasses them till they do, bringing in a tenant (presumably childless) who won’t demand repairs. “It’s commonplace,” says Laurence Molloy, an environmental inspector. “The tenants hate the landlord, and they’ve gone through a contentious experience. They just want to build a new nest.” Meanwhile, on the other side of the balance, “certain landlords are between a rock and a hard place,” says Pat James Crispi, a Manhattan personal-injury attorney. “They own five-story walk-ups leveraged to the max”—and money is tighter than ever.

New York City has one of the strictest lead laws in the country. Since it was passed in 2003, after a Bloomberg veto and a City Council override, owners of pre-1960 apartments that house children under 7 must inspect every year and hire an EPA-certified contractor if a paint problem is discovered. Yet “I don’t think most people are complying,” Molloy says. Steven Rosenbaum, principal at Accredited Lead Inspection, agrees: “Most landlords aren’t even familiar with the law.” Only when a tenant or inspector makes a complaint or a child tests positive for lead does an inspection usually happen. (That said, something’s working: Since 1995, our lead-poisoning rate has fallen 92 percent.) Erin Dalton, a Brooklyn Heights pediatrician, says that fear figures into the equation: “There is an undercurrent of people who don’t want to bring up lead with their landlord—they’re afraid of losing their apartment.”

Jemilla Mulvihill, who lives in Brooklyn Heights, decided to tough it out. When she got pregnant, her landlord declined to renew her lease. “He said he wanted to sell, but I suspected my child was the problem,” says Mulvihill, who refused to leave. After her son was born, he tested for elevated lead levels, and that’s when she called 311. The team that arrived found flaking lead paint on a window sill. “Stressful is an understatement,” she says of her experience with a “very angry” landlord. But, she says, “I am still living in the apartment—which has been painted—with my happy and healthy son, and the lead’s been removed. We are surviving in New York. Just like everyone else.”


November 9th, 2010, 11:11 AM
Another reason why older buildings should just be demolished and replaced.

November 9th, 2010, 01:40 PM

Nevermind the fact that people MOVE IN and DON'T WANT TO LIVE SOMEWHERE ELSE.

Until there is some pride in construction again, and a willingness to spend a bit more on actual material of construstion rather than fitting in as many units as possible in a pre-fab + concrete slab construction there will always be a want for the classic brownstone type residence.

Your comment is kind of blunt and vague. Any reason for throwing a match on the haystack BBMW?

November 10th, 2010, 12:44 PM
I'm pointing out that, despite all the love/nostalgia for older buildings, they present a lot of problems. Normally, as buildings get torn down and replaced these go away. Maybe to be replaced with new different problems, but the old ones are gone. Lead paint, asbestos, questionable structural issues (think non-fireproof unreinforced masonary construction), bad/out of date plumbing/electrical. handicapped access, etc., etc..

In addition, we need more housing, and enshrining the oldies is an impediment.

Yes, you can gut out an oldie, and deal with some (but not all) of the problems. But does it pay, and if it pays, does the cost involved make the housing affordable only to the richest? If you can tear them down, and build bigger, you get rid of the problems and more housing.

How much is quaintness worth?

November 10th, 2010, 01:10 PM
The new buildings have problems as well.

Come to hoboken and see how pre-fab units that replaced the old brownstones and warehouses are starting to rust and leak less than 10 years after construction....

November 11th, 2010, 02:24 PM
That's why there are building codes (if they're enforced).

November 12th, 2010, 07:34 PM
Building codes are only limited to what rules are placed by the local administrations.

They were 100% compliant, but uesd standard steel screws on outdoor metal stairs. They also used pre-fab window and wall panels that, after 5 years, start losing their sealant strips.

Everything is according to code, unlike other construction using pressboard right on the coastling of a salt water estuary (the Hudson, certain constructions in Edgewater). That was a case of blind inspectors....

November 15th, 2010, 03:08 PM
Then the codes (and their enforcement) need to be tightened up. This is a continual process, see what works and what doesn't. Include the former, eliminate the latter. If a current generation of buildings has a problem, make sure the next doesn't.

In any case. The buildings may leak, but they dont' have lead. They don't have asbestos. They vastly less likely to be fire traps, and have a multitude of other problems that have been recognized and dealt with over the decades. They likely have adequate electrical and plumbing service. It's never going to be perfect, but it's likely to be functionally much better (but not likely as quaint).

November 15th, 2010, 03:28 PM
The problem is this BB, they are "safer", but they are not "better".

Construction has gotten very cheap lately, and unless you are talking about lead and asbestos (or seismic design) many buildings are just crap by yesteryears comparison.

Many of the buildings (see Kaufman I believe) will probably not be much more than slated redevelopments in 25 years time rather than iconic pieces of craftsmanship or history. We have lost the era of the craftsman, so getting a hand turned wooden banister will cost you a small fortune now. Those banisters that have lasted, aside from their spindles, for 100 years are being replaced by synthetics that lose their attachment points (stripping the thread) or by LOVELY metal railings that may last longer, if painted correctly, but not to anyones praise.

People LIKE the old buildings because they HAVE 9'+ ceilings, crown molding, chair rails, bay windows, old fashioned window wells with storm shutters and other long lost amenities.

And whet do we get in return? Showers with 19 nozzles. :p

November 16th, 2010, 06:10 PM
Yeah, you're right. It's basically mass production. But then again, it depends on your definition of better. The concept of 19 shower nozzels sounds interesting. :D

And a lot of people are perfectly willing to trade quaint for better functioning.

December 24th, 2010, 11:51 PM
Looking Back at 2010


Ever-rising Maintenance Fees

RISING maintenance costs were high on the complaint list for apartment owners in 2010, and that’s not likely to change in 2011.

Last spring, as co-op boards were gathering across the city (“It’s Co-op Meeting Time. No, Your Fees Will Not Go Down,” May 23), property managers predicted maintenance increases of 5 to 7 percent in 2010, mostly because of taxes.

But maintenance fees went up an average 11 percent in 2010, and property managers anticipate they could rise by as much as 15 percent in the coming year. Property taxes were again named as the main culprit for the heftier maintenance bills this year and next.

Average carrying costs for Manhattan co-ops and condos rose to $1,855 a month in 2010, from $1,726 in 2009, according to data compiled by Jonathan J. Miller, the president of the appraisal firm Miller Samuel and a market analyst for Prudential Douglas Elliman. Five years ago, in 2006, the average was $1,491, nearly 25 percent lower.

Property managers, who recently sent out notices about maintenance increases that will take effect in January, said increases would range from as low as 3 percent to 15 percent, depending on whether a building had deferred any costs in recent years.

Tax bills are on the rise because of a tax rate increase that kicks in on Jan. 1, and because tax assessments are continuing to go up despite the relatively flat real estate market. Assessments have not gone down even as values have dipped because they are phased in over a five-year period, and tax bills are still being calculated using property valuations that were made when the market was booming in 2007 and early 2008.

“Even though we were in a down financial situation, real estate taxes saw huge jumps last year and the year before,” said Stuart Smolar, the executive director of the Andrews Building Corporation, which manages more than 300 properties. He said the average tax increase this year, though, should be a little lower.

Stuart M. Saft, the chairman of the Council of New York Cooperatives and Condominiums, said that “a couple years from now, when tax appeal hearings are held,” and the highest valuations are replaced by lower ones, “there will finally be some reduction in real estate taxes.”

The combined tax rate and tax assessment increases are a “double whammy” for homeowners, said Dan Wurtzel, the president of Cooper Square Realty, which manages 400 buildings in New York City.

Using an Upper East Side building with about 160 units as an example, Mr. Wurtzel said that the building’s assessed valuation last year was $8.8 million, giving it a $1.165 million tax bill. This year, the assessment rose to $9.5 million and taxes went up to $1.268 million; and the bill starting next July is estimated at $1.4 million because of an anticipated $10.1 million assessed valuation. “Everything is going up every year,” Mr. Wurtzel said.

In addition to property taxes, buildings must contend with rising utility costs and salary increases of about 3 percent negotiated last spring for the 30,000 unionized doormen, porters, janitors and building superintendents. VIVIAN S. TOY

Temporary Walls Prove Resistant

HOW to find an affordable way to live in an unaffordable city? It is a question just about every New Yorker has asked. And one answer has long been to find a small space, split it into two even smaller spaces with a partition of some kind, and share the cost. But this year, temporary walls came under increased scrutiny. (“The Fall of the Temp Walls,” July 18.)

After a prosecutor decided to level manslaughter charges at the owners of a building that had a fatal fire in 2005 and, more recently, the city sought to eliminate illegally installed walls in the Stuyvesant Town complex on the East Side, many management companies began to worry about their legal liability if walls had been erected without the proper permits.

The New York City Department of Buildings staged a sting operation last spring, visiting apartments listed for rent on Craigslist, and found that of 62 apartments — renting for $750 to $1,200 a month — 54 were illegal conversions. Thirty-three were in such bad shape that the city ordered they be immediately vacated.

The department has its work cut out. Temporary walls are everywhere, from an apartment in Murray Hill shared by recent college graduates, to a windowless basement in Queens bursting with workers eking out a living.

The city has focused on the most dangerous living arrangements. But for those whose situations are not so obviously problematic, the varying policies of landlords have caused as much confusion as prevention.

Robert D. LiMandri, the commissioner of the buildings department, said that the agency was working to provide clarity for renters on what is legal, including creating a Web page to help consumers recognize an illegal conversion.

“If you are looking for an apartment in Brooklyn and the market rate is $3,000 and it is renting for $1,800, you have to ask yourself why it is so cheap,” Mr. LiMandri said. “People have woken up and they realize they are trading their safety for a better deal on an apartment.”

Donny Zenger, the project manager of All Week Walls, a company that specializes in installing pressurized walls in New York City apartments, said the conflicting messages coming from building managers had caused chaos.

When some companies first moved to ban the walls, Mr. Zenger said that brokers and others in the industry “were very frantic and it was very hurtful” to companies like his.
But as time passed, it became clear that many landlords were not willing to sacrifice the higher rents they could charge by allowing the walls, and enforcement was scattershot.
“The management companies are not resolving anything or taking steps to solve the problem,” Mr. Zenger said. “They are just masking it.”

He said he had worked with clients who had been told they could split the apartment, only to be informed after signing the lease that the cost and responsibility of securing the necessary permits would fall on them.

“It is a lengthy and expensive process,” he said. “It takes at least two months and costs a lot of money. No one is going to do this.”

Mr. Zenger, who says that his company is licensed by the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs and has never run afoul of fire-code laws, said one solution would be for landlords to inspect their own premises to determine where walls can be erected legally before renting out apartments, saving everyone trouble. MARC SANTORA

Treacherous Balconies

IN a city constantly reaching toward the sky, most New Yorkers worry from time to time that something may at any moment fall to earth and spell their doom. From the small rusted air-conditioners that dangle precariously from windowsills, to the mammoth cranes perched on high, there is plenty to worry about. But tragedy is rare.

This year, attention was focused on yet another danger looming overhead — and jutting underfoot: the balcony. (“Balconies Declared Unsafe at 16 New York Buildings,” May 17.)
In March, 24-year-old Connor Donohue fell to his death from a 24th-floor balcony on East 39th Street when the railing failed, and inspectors from the Department of Buildings fanned out across the city to crack down on faulty terraces.

“It was the largest facade safety initiative we have done in the history of the department,” said Robert D. LiMandri, its commissioner.

In all, inspectors visited more than 800 buildings; at 17, they found conditions so bad that they immediately ordered the balconies closed. Problems were encountered in every borough except Brooklyn.

Although it has been at least six months since most of the violations were found, only 3 of the 17 cited buildings have corrected the problems and reopened the balconies. Those three, all in Manhattan, are at 201 West 70th Street; 1675 York Avenue; and 1365 York Avenue.
The focus on balconies revealed how lax some property owners have become.

The city requires that all buildings over six stories have their balconies and facades inspected — at owner expense — every five years. “There is a standard program,” Mr. LiMandri said.

After Mr. Donohue’s death, it quickly became clear that many landlords were not in compliance. Inspectors found that nearly 1,000 buildings had failed to file the required safety reports.

The sweep began at these recalcitrant buildings and then moved to other locations. Sometimes the problems were so severe that inspectors, peering upward with binoculars, could see the danger from the sidewalk.

The most common violations involved the concrete balconies that jut out of the side of the buildings, beyond the exterior walls. Typically found in structures built in the 1980s, the balconies were cited for defective concrete and faulty and unsecured metal railings.

For now, the sweep is over and Mr. LiMandri said that he did not want to telegraph any future actions. However, he said that he viewed it as the department’s job to keep the focus on the issue, particularly now, in the bitter cold of winter, when balconies are not exactly the go-to spot for most apartment dwellers.

“Things happen every day in New York and people don’t pay attention,” Mr. LiMandri said. “We need to get out there and push the message. I guarantee you, in the spring, this is going to be a topic of interest again.” MARC SANTORA

The Mortgage Morass

MORTGAGE rates may still be enticingly low, but buyers trying to secure mortgages continue to be frustrated; the process is no easier now than it was after the market crashed and credit seized up in late 2008.

Real estate and mortgage brokers say that if anything, it may even be harder now, thanks to tougher guidelines from the mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

“As much as we’d like to think that credit markets are easing up,” said Melissa Cohn, the president of the Manhattan Mortgage Company, “the banks are still being very tough.

Every week it seems like there’s a new surprise — a new wrinkle or requirement.”

The latest change has many banks running second credit checks on buyers right before contracts close. So if a buyer put a roomful of new furniture on a credit card after going into contract on a new home, the bank could decide to decline the mortgage application at the last minute, Ms. Cohn said. The bank’s intent is to ferret out any hidden debt, but she said buyers seeking to avoid disappointment would be wise not to “spend a cent from the moment the bank gets the first credit report until you close.”

Other requirements that surfaced in 2010 continue to flummox buyers. For instance, some banks require buildings in flood zones to have insurance covering replacement costs, even if the building is a 30-story apartment tower. Banks have also refused to make loans in town houses that have window bars, even if the building is a designated landmark, when the bars are on the front windows and in rooms that have doors providing safe egress. On top of that, banks have required buildings to have reserve funds equal to 10 percent of their operating budgets, something that most recently built condos have not had time to accumulate.

Brokers said that to satisfy these requests, some buildings have increased their flood insurance, removed window bars or raised common charges to increase the reserve fund. But in other cases, buyers have had to start over and find a lender that did not have those requirements.

Frances Katzen, an executive vice president of Prudential Douglas Elliman, had two recent deals threatened by the flood insurance requirement. One, on West 18th Street, met the standard easily because it could increase its flood coverage for a nominal fee. But the other, on Water Street, had to assess each apartment owner $1,000 to secure adequate insurance.

Ms. Katzen said the flood insurance guideline might make sense for single-family houses in a coastal city, but she questioned why it should apply to a Manhattan apartment tower.
“The problem is the banks are trying to enforce these vanilla guidelines in New York City, when New York City is not vanilla,” she said. VIVIAN S. TOY


February 1st, 2011, 08:00 AM
The Latest Victims Of The Foreclosure Crisis: Low-Income Apartment Renters

Yepoka Yeebo

NEW YORK -- First, a heating pipe broke in the adjacent apartment, sending a powerful blast of steam into his home along with an unrelenting stench. Then, chunks of the ceiling started falling into his bathroom, and black mold began creeping up the walls.

Cockroaches thrived in the suddenly tropical apartment. In December, mice popped up from the gaps between the walls and the baseboards.

But each time Sergio Cuevas sought the attention of the landlord, hoping to arrest the deterioration of his apartment in the Bronx, he got nowhere. It was like the management company had ceased to exist.

This was not the result of another derelict slumlord, but rather an example of a lesser-explored aspect of the national foreclosure epidemic: Cuevas and some 400 other tenants living in ten apartment buildings in a working poor stretch of the Bronx have found themselves stuck in the legal cracks of the American real estate reckoning, their homes claimed by no one. When trouble arises, there is effectively no landlord to call.

The investors who bought their buildings at the height of the real estate bubble, hoping to flip them for quick profit or jack up stabilized rents, have washed their hands of a bad bet. The bank that has initiated foreclosure says it does not yet have legal title, meaning it lacks responsibility. The court-appointed receiver who controls the property says he doesn't have enough money to attend to the burgeoning problems.

The scene here in the Bronx is emblematic of a growing national problem. In apartment buildings scattered in low-income neighborhoods from New York to Phoenix to San Francisco, families with scant resources and uncertain legal rights are literally watching their ceilings crumble and their floors collapse as they wait and hope for a resolution.

Some cities have sought to compel banks to attend to the real estate seemingly under their control, but complain that they have limited authority to inject themselves into private property deals. When they do take action--writing up building code violations--a lack of clearly defined ownership means there is no one from which to demand action.

By now, stories of investors availing themselves of cheap credit to buy into speculative new subdivisions in sun-belt stretches of Florida and California have become legion. But the real estate boom also enticed speculation on the continued spread of gentrification in low-income communities, drawing in investors from far and wide.

This is how a Los Angeles-based company called Milbank Real Estate came to possess this motley collection of apartments in the Bronx.

The buildings were built in 1920s, erected to house a then-exploding New York City population whose ranks were being swelled by immigration. The Bronx beckoned as a marker of upward mobility, its concourses and new apartment blocks offering a respite from more densely populated neighborhoods in Manhattan.

Despite the neglect in more recent decades, many of the buildings retain hints of their former glory. Ornate moldings are still visible under layers of lumpy plaster patch-work. The more expansive apartments have generous kitchens and dining rooms, along with three bedrooms and two bathrooms.

Some of the tenants who have lived in the buildings for decades have managed to hang on to original parquet floors. They remember the fireplaces and wrought iron benches in the lobbies, the flowers in the courtyards. They feel a strong sense of pride in the neighborhood.

But as the city declined, and as the Bronx burned, the original owners gave way to a parade of some of New York City's most notorious slumlords. Each landlord collected rent checks and spent as little as possible on repairs, doing the bare minimum to stay legal.

The same courtyards that had once boasted landscaping eroded to bare dirt. Drug dealers set up shop under staircases and in vacant apartments--those units now marked with spray-painted logos, black Xs on red front doors.

By the time Milbank Real Estate entered the picture in 2007, most of the buildings were already in a state of considerable disrepair according to the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition, which works with tenants in the buildings.

The collection of five and six-story brick buildings were out of character for the company, which specialized in taking rundown commercial buildings and sprucing them up--from the Figueroa Tower in downtown Los Angeles to a trio of office buildings on the airport approach in Houston.

But buying into a piece of the Bronx and taking on tenants seemed to make commercial sense. New York was home to millions of renters willing to hand over ever-larger monthly sums for housing, and pressing further and further away from Manhattan in pursuit of extra space and¬ good value.

Milbank bought a total of 17 buildings in the Bronx, 10 with one $35 million mortgage, and the other seven with individual mortgages. All are in different stages of foreclosure.

The 10 buildings in the Bronx were walking distance to subway lines reaching offices in Manhattan, and they were renting at far below market rates because they were rent-regulated. If Milbank could chase out tenants who were behind on their rent, renovate the apartments, and then start charging market rates, it could capitalize on the spread of gentrification to the outer rings of the city, all the way to the Northwest Bronx.

Milbank's calculations were not being made in a vacuum. Other investors were also eyeing properties in low-income neighborhoods, and aiming to push out rent-regulated tenants. A British company, Dawnay Day, gave newspaper interviews about how easy it was to duck rent controls before openly offering East Harlem tenants small sums of money to leave. A Queens venture, Vantage, repeatedly filled housing court dockets with spurious claims that tenants hadn't paid rent or were living in Florida, until tenants won a $1 million settlement in a harassment claim.

2 (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/01/31/foreclosures_n_816075.html?page=2) 3 (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/01/31/foreclosures_n_816075.html?page=3) 4 (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/01/31/foreclosures_n_816075.html?page=4)


February 1st, 2011, 10:48 AM
The city should seize the buildings based on the lack of maintenance by the owners (It has done this in the past.) It should them contract to transfer them to new owners selected on the basis of their ability to finance the repairs and a track record of having well maintained buildings. The transfer would not be finaiized until the repairs are made satisfactorally.

February 1st, 2011, 11:07 AM
Junk lottery.

Unfortunately that does not hold well when a bank is trying to get its money back froma defaulting borrower.

The banks and other financeers would object to the giving away of any asset unless it can be proven that the loss for repair would be greater than the depreciated sale of the property.....

February 2nd, 2011, 10:30 AM
The city has the power to take the buildings. They've done this with recalcitrant landlords in the past. A bank would be no different. The banks would be warned to either get the work done in a given period of time or lose the buildings. And if the ownership situation is confused, well, this would resolve it.

February 2nd, 2011, 11:43 AM
The City has in the past claimed buildings and sold them to the tenants, who then assume some of the responsibility for needed upgrades.

February 2nd, 2011, 01:24 PM
Could be done in this situation also, but someone's going to have to pony up the money for the repairs. I really doubt the tenants would be in a position to do so. But buy seizing the buildings, the city could accomplish two things. I would untangle the ownership mess, thereby bypassing the forclosure process and getting the buildings out of limbo, and it could also qualify the subequent owners, to make sure they have the resources and track record to get the building in shape and run them successfully.

February 13th, 2011, 06:26 AM
Imagining Life Without Fannie and Freddie


KUDOS to Treasury and the Department of Housing and Urban Development for some straight talk about the nation’s broken mortgage system.

A report to Congress from those departments, published on Friday, provided some long-awaited analysis by the Obama administration about what went wrong in housing finance — and how to fix it.

The report, entitled “Reforming America’s Housing Finance Market,” (http://www.treasury.gov/initiatives/Documents/Reforming%20America%27s%20Housing%20Finance%20Mark et.pdf) zeros in on the perverse incentives created by the nation’s mortgage complex during the years leading up to the panic of 2008. The Treasury’s recommendation that we wind down Fannie Mae (http://topics.nytimes.com/top/news/business/companies/fannie_mae/index.html?inline=nyt-org) and Freddie Mac (http://topics.nytimes.com/top/news/business/companies/freddie_mac/index.html?inline=nyt-org) and let the private mortgage market step in is spot on.

Still, it is not clear that such moves, sensible though they are, will be enough to prevent taxpayers from having to bail out institutions that back mortgages in the future. That is because the debate over how to put the Treasury’s ideas into effect will soon become a brawl. Powerful participants are already working overtime to keep taxpayers on the hook.

The financial services industry, after all, has grown accustomed to having taxpayers ride to the rescue when it gets into trouble. Why would the big banks want to change that wonderful (for them) dynamic?

Some mighty and diverse groups are lining up against significant reductions in the government’s role as backstop to the mortgage industry. These include the Mortgage Bankers Association, the Financial Services Roundtable and the Center for American Progress. All three have put out recommendations revolving around the notion of creating Fannie- and Freddie-like entities to guarantee mortgages.

Never mind that we have seen this movie before, and that it ended badly.

The Mortgage Bankers Association, for example, recommends (http://www.mortgagebankers.org/files/Advocacy/2009/RecommendationsfortheFutureGovernmentRole.pdf) the creation of “mortgage-credit guarantor entities” with federal charters and overseen by a federal regulator.

These private entities would guarantee loans pooled into mortgage-backed securities, just as Fannie and Freddie did. At least one of these institutions could be owned by mortgage originators in a cooperative set-up, the mortgage bankers say.

In a report (http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/2011/01/pdf/responsiblemarketforhousingfinance.pdf) issued last month, the Center for American Progress echoes this plan, calling for the creation of mortgage institutions with federal regulators and charters to guarantee mortgage-backed securities.

But because, under both plans, mortgage lenders could own some of these institutions, the entities could become new, too-big-to-fail constructs. What would stop the banks from assigning high-risk mortgages that they originated to these guarantors, once again leaving taxpayers to pay the freight if the loans go bad?

Sure, these entities would be overseen by a “strong regulator,” as the Mortgage Bankers Association asserts. But if the credit crisis demonstrated anything, it was how easily regulators can be co-opted by the enterprises they are supposed to oversee. And if the mission of these “new” guarantors includes affordable-housing goals, you can be sure that regulators will again be persuaded to let them take more risks in the name of meeting homeownership benchmarks.

Happily, the Treasury report helps identify these possibilities when it describes how the taxpayers came to own Fannie and Freddie, at a current cost of about $150 billion. For example, the report states that the “profit-maximizing structure” at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac undermined the companies’ public mission, while their perceived government backing conferred unfair advantages. It is hard to see why the new entities recommended by the financial industry, especially when they are owned by banks, would not have these dangerous characteristics as well.

Lest we forget, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were simply supposed to support liquidity in the mortgage market, according to their charters. They did not require the companies to actually add cash to a world already awash in home-loan money. But because executives at both companies wanted the lush profitability that such financings provided, Fannie and Freddie wound up pouring more liquidity into a system that did not need it.

That is the lesson of the financial crisis, at least where Freddie and Fannie are involved.

Taxpayers surely do not want to create new government-sponsored enterprises that may later fail. So why not work toward a system where the government is solely the home lender of last resort? That way, the private market could operate in good times; the government would step in only if the market froze up.

Friday’s report seems to be leading in this direction. But it supplies no road map to a government system that provides a catastrophic insurance program only for those times when the private market is not working.

Such a program could insure privately underwritten mortgage securities at a cost based on in-depth analyses of loans in these pools. Using actual loan files, program administrators could estimate both current and historical losses of mortgages in the pools and base the cost of the insurance on the securities’ true risks. Insurance fees should not, repeat not, be based on credit ratings.

To be sure, any honest discussion of a new deal in mortgage finance will probably conclude that home loans would become more expensive. But if people put down more money when they bought homes, the risks associated with their mortgages would, in theory, be lower. As a result, their mortgage costs would decline, reflecting those lower risks.

And while we are talking honestly about mortgage finance, we should recognize the dire consequences of our nation’s tax policy, which encourages consumers to amass huge levels of debt when buying a home. Why not reward borrowers who have more equity in their homes instead?

One way to do this would be to provide tax credits to borrowers based on the amount of their down payments. Such a system could be graduated so lower- and middle-income borrowers benefited most, while upper-income borrowers received far less or nothing at all.

There is much to hash out if we are to build an effective housing finance system in America. Being truthful about what went wrong in the past, the report paves the way for a meaningful discussion. But we must also be sure that the solutions do not bring us back to where we began. That is where the real fight will be fought.


February 15th, 2011, 09:06 AM
The only other problem would be sky-high interest rates on these loans if the government had no hand in regulating them.

You could easily see double digit 30 year fixed mortgages come back into being again if the institutions are "forced" to take on all the "risk" themselves.

February 15th, 2011, 01:03 PM
No, 30 year fixed rate mortgages would simply go away. You would likely see a lot of 10 year balloon loans on 30 year amortizations. Rates would also likely be higher.

February 17th, 2011, 06:12 AM
I really hope this helps the people who really need it.

New York Courts Vow Legal Aid in Housing


New York court officials outlined procedures Tuesday aimed at assuring that all homeowners facing foreclosure were represented by a lawyer, a shift that could give tens of thousands of families a better chance at saving their homes.

Criminal defendants are guaranteed a lawyer, but New York will be the first state to try to extend that pledge to foreclosures, which are civil matters. There are about 80,000 active foreclosure cases in New York courts. In more than half of them, only the banks have lawyers.

“It’s such an uneven playing field,” said the state’s chief judge, Jonathan Lippman. “Banks wind up with the property and the homeowner winds up over the cliff, on the street. It doesn’t serve anyone’s interest, including the banks.”

A lawyer for every defendant will also serve the courts’ interests, the judge said, by making proceedings more efficient.

Under the procedures, which will be put in place in Queens and Orange Counties in the next few weeks and across the state by the end of the year, any homeowner in foreclosure who does not have a lawyer will be supplied one by legal aid groups or other pro bono groups.

Legal aid groups are expected to have foreclosure offices in the courts to handle the influx.

After revelations last fall that several major banks had used improper methods to speed foreclosures, the courts are increasingly becoming a central battleground for people seeking to modify their loan and salvage their house. Simply responding to a foreclosure notice in court, homeowners have learned, can sharply delay the proceedings.

That is a change from when the foreclosure crisis began. A few years ago, most foreclosed owners in New York and everywhere else did not show up at court proceedings and simply abandoned their homes. It was a “paper process,” the New York court system concluded in a recent report, with lenders inevitably the winners. New York now mandates settlement meetings overseen by a judge and attended by the lender, a sort of court inside the court. Homeowners are participating in large numbers but most of those without lawyers have little idea how to defend themselves. The cases are also overwhelming the courts. In several counties, half of the civil cases in higher courts are foreclosures.

Legal aid groups will find the task of representing all foreclosure defendants easier if the State Legislature agrees to Judge Lippman’s request for a $100 million increase in legal services programs spread over the next four years. Current financing for legal services in New York is about $200 million a year drawn from a variety of public and private sources.

New York, which is one of the 23 states where foreclosures must be overseen by a judge, has been more aggressive than most in trying to reshape the flood of housing cases.

Lawyers pursuing foreclosure in New York are personally liable for the accuracy of the documents they represent. It is a requirement that some lawyers find onerous, but has been credited with significantly slowing the pace of foreclosures in the state.

Legal aid organizations in the 23 states, which include Illinois, Florida and New Jersey, say that they do not have enough money or lawyers to help everyone who needs assistance. New Mexico and Connecticut have started classes to help train people to represent themselves. Legal aid groups in other states are forced to choose among families, helping some but not others.
New York’s action “will shift the debate,” said Donald Saunders, director of the civil division of the National Legal Aid and Defender Association. “Everything Judge Lippman is saying will be looked at closely elsewhere.”

Mr. Saunders added, however, that fiscal realities could trump other considerations.
Nationwide, 2.2 million households are in foreclosure, with another 2.1 million at least 90 days past due, according to LPS Applied Analytics. After the banks’ revelations about their procedures, the average number of days delinquent for a foreclosed property rose to 507 days in December, its first time above 500.

In New York, the two initial counties will serve as a model for the statewide program. Legal Services of the Hudson Valley will work with the court in Orange County to provide representation, while the Legal Aid Society, which assists people in New York City, will supply lawyers in Queens, a foreclosure hotbed.

According to court data, foreclosure filings in Queens have increased 217 percent, to 5,839 cases from 2005 to 2009.

“There’s a huge demand,” said Steven Banks, the society’s attorney in chief. While there are no specific statistics for foreclosure, he said that in general the group has been able to fulfill only one out of nine requests for help.

How then will it handle so many more foreclosures?

“Redeploying resources,” Mr. Banks said. It should help that the lawyers will “take more of an early intervention in the case rather than at the 11th hour when the sheriff is on the way,” he added.

Judge Lippman, who announced the new initiative in his annual State of the Judiciary address in Albany, said he hoped that the lawyers would reach out to defendants even before they appeared in court.

Citing the 1963 ruling by the Supreme Court that state courts are required by the Constitution to provide counsel in criminal cases to defendants who cannot afford their own, Judge Lippman said this was the right moment to extend that provision.

“Today it is an equally obvious truth that people in civil cases dealing with the necessities of life can’t get a fair day in court without a lawyer,” he said.

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/16/business/16housing.html?_r=1&scp=1&sq=New%20York%20to%20Press%20for%20Legal%20Aid%20i n%20Foreclosure%20Cases&st=cse

February 25th, 2011, 07:18 PM
DOB responds to fatal Brooklyn fire with Twitter and flier campaigns

By Amy Tennery

The city's Department of Buildings handed out fliers Wednesday in Brooklyn detailing the dangers of illegally converted apartments, following the death of an East New York tenant, who was unable to escape his illegal cellar unit during a fire (see flier below).

The DOB, which is also raising awareness of the issue on Twitter (http://twitter.com/NYC_Buildings/status/41190266350211072), included a list of common traits among illegal apartments in its pamphlet, including padlocks on bedroom doors and electricity supplied by extension cords. Also of concern are cellar apartments and attic units, which often don't provide enough exits.

When asked via Twitter (http://twitter.com/amytennery/status/41190762393776128) whether the flier distribution was due to the fire death, the DOB indicated it was (http://twitter.com/NYC_Buildings/status/41200299154751488).

As The Real Deal previously reported (http://therealdeal.com/newyork/articles/man-dies-in-fire-after-being-trapped-in-illegal-brooklyn-apartment-at-568-drew-street-in-east-new-york), the deadly fire last week broke out at the two-story 568 Drew Street in the early morning. There were no other fatalities or injuries, a New York City Fire Department spokesperson said. At the time, DOB Commissioner Robert LiMandri called the incident "a tragic reminder... that illegal conversions can have horrific consequences."

DOB flier (http://www.scribd.com/doc/49556812/DOB-flier)


February 27th, 2011, 02:21 AM
Best Visit to New York by a Former King?

By THE NEW YORK TIMES (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/27/nyregion/27duke.html?ref=nyregion)
February 25, 2011

STILL ROYAL - The Duke of Windsor at the
Vladeck Houses on the East Side in 1941.
Copyright 2011 The New York Times Company
New York City Housing Authority, via LaGuardia and
Wagner Archives, LaGuardia Community College/CUNY

GUY PEARCE, the actor who played King Edward VIII in “The King’s Speech,” is not among the nominees for an Academy Award at Sunday night’s ceremony. But Mr. Pearce’s character — who abdicated the throne to his brother (King George VI, played by Colin Firth, a favorite for Best Actor) in order to marry a double divorcee — captivated audiences during a visit to tenements on the East Side of New York in 1941.

Given that this seems to be Oscar’s year of “based on a true story” (“The Social Network,” “The Fighter,” as well as our stammering King George), it seemed appropriate to look back at the ex-king’s visit. By then, he was known as the Duke of Windsor, and he was accompanied by a Yiddish interpreter, who helped him chat with “busy housewives,” according to an article in The New York Times.

The “ex-King climbed the stairs of an old-fashioned” tenement, the article said, adding that “his reception in what used to be the worst-housed section of the metropolis was beyond doubt the most trying of his twelve-day stay” in New York.

“For the most part, they simply stared, and answered questions,” The Times said of the “housewives,” including one whose four-room apartment rented for $16 a month. “One woman held a baby in her arms. Another was cooking noodles for dinner.”

As word got out of his presence in the neighborhood, crowds grew. “Several hundred East Siders, mostly children or mothers carrying, dragging or pushing children, surged around the Duke” at the Vladeck Houses, where he stopped by a basement laundry that was maintained at 10 cents an hour, The Times said. Then on to the Madison Square Boys Club, where “another mob scene awaited.”

© 2011 The New York Times Company



Chats With Busy Housewives on East Side
With Aid of Yiddish Interpreter

NY TIMES (http://select.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=FA081EFD3F5E1A7A93C3A9178AD95F45 8485F9)
November 1, 1941


The unannounced visitor was the Duke of Windsor, once Edward VHE.

... With him went Frank Dorman, manager of Vladeck houses, and William Charney Vladeck ...

An ex-King climbed the stairs of an old-fashioned East Side tenement yesterday, chatted with housewives over the simmer of cabbage, and literally was mobbed by the youngsters of Gouverneur and Madison Streets as he crossed to inspect an example of a newer type of housing ...

Single Article: $3.95 (http://select.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=FA081EFD3F5E1A7A93C3A9178AD95F45 8485F9)

© 2011 The New York Times Company

April 6th, 2011, 05:52 AM
Troubled Apartment Building on Auction Block


A troubled Manhattan apartment building owned by a Los Angeles-based private-equity group is hitting the auction block on Wednesday.

Milbank Real Estate bought the 45-unit, rent-stabilized building on 212th Street in 2007 for $4.79 million, according to property records. The private-equity group took out a $2 million mortgage to cover the costs of the building, but defaulted on payments.

509 West 212th St.

The building in the Upper Manhattan neighborhood of Inwood was one of several that Milbank scooped up at the height of the real-estate boom.

Now many of Milbank's buildings have some of the worst housing conditions in the city, according to the city's Department of Housing Preservation and Development. The building on 212th Street has racked up 214 violations since 1998, according to the department.

"They are the perfect representation of what went wrong during the housing boom," said Dina Levy, a director at the Urban Homesteading Assistance Board, a housing advocacy group that has been working with tenants in several of Milbank properties. "They wrecked havoc and left a lot of turmoil in their wake and lot of us are struggling to clean it up."

Milbank didn't respond to requests for comment. LNR Property Corp., the special servicer of the property representing investors in a package of commercial mortgages, declined to comment.

The deed of the building could end up in the hands of LNR if no one bids at the auction or if the special servicer rejects bids below the $5.3 million that is owed to investors.

City officials have pointed to Milbank's portfolio of properties as a prime example of the dangers posed by real-estate speculators borrowing huge sums to buy buildings without the rental income needed to pay off loans. One of Milbank's biggest bets turned sour in 2009 when the company defaulted on a $35 million mortgage for 10 apartment buildings in the Bronx.

A similar scenario played out with the building on 212th Street. Milbank bought the property using a $2 million loan from Deutsche Bank.


Milbank failed to pay the loan, and foreclosure papers were filed in 2009. The building also still has owes $13,000 to the Department of Housing Preservation and Development for emergency repairs made by the city.

There are about 100,000 apartment units in New York in foreclosure or at varying levels of risk of foreclosure, according to housing advocates.

The number of commercial properties in the city that were scheduled for foreclosure auction spiked to 398 last year, according to real-estate website PropertyShark.com. In 2009, it was 304.

Investors flush with capital have been eyeing properties in New York City as banks become more willing to strike deals, said Dan Fasulo, managing director of Real Capital Analytics. After the financial crisis hit, lenders preferred to restructure or extend loans to avoid having to foreclose on commercial properties.

"We are moving into the later innings of this cycle," Mr. Fasulo said. "More are trying to sell them and not restructure the loans."

But lenders looking to sell distressed mortgages are still reluctant to cut the asking price for the note to avoid taking losses, said Emily Goldstein of Tenants & Neighbors, an advocacy group. That's a problem for buildings like the one on 212th Street because the new owners won't be able to pay off the mortgage and also pay for repairs, she said.

And in the case of an auction, there is no way to know who could end up owning the building and at what price, she said. "You may end up with an owner who was no better than the last owner."

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703806304576245103257562460.html?m od=WSJ_NY_RealEstate_LEADNewsCollection

April 6th, 2011, 09:34 AM
The thing that gets me about all of this is that it is not the BANK that swallows this turd and moves on, they just cut it into smaller pieces and feed it to us.

THEY gave an unsecured loan to a company for a piece of property that would only get that funding through a PROJECTED worth, not actual. Now they are stuck with that debt.

And instead of writing it off, they go to the government, cry to them about not being able to hold all that debt on their own, get us to pay for it, then turn right back around and start rewarding their top execs for getting the money that was never theirs to begin with.


We accept this and start yelling at our elected officials over property tax and teachers salaries. As if that is the cause of an imposing armageddon.

Sheeple are we, and we all say "Baa!".

June 25th, 2011, 10:40 PM
June 22, 2011--Senator Daniel Squadron Debates Senate Bill S.5763

Th bill, passed in the NYS Senate, would gut protections for the ~ 3,500 tenants living in Independence Plaza.

It was introduced by an upstate NYS Senator with no relation to the building and seemingly was put forth at the behest of the unhappy landlord, Laurence Gluck, who lost a court case (http://www.downtownexpress.com/de_384/rentstability.html) after he tried to empty the building of RS tenants and get tax breaks at the same time.

If you don't want to watch the whole thing, check in starting at minute 29:00 to see Squadron lay out his colleague ...


August 3rd, 2011, 06:25 AM
Foreclosed Homes Cited for Violations


Foreclosed homes and buildings in New York City have thousands of pending building code violations despite a state law requiring banks and lenders to maintain them, said a state Senate report released Monday.

One home in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, had 100 open violations. Another in the High Bridge section of the Bronx had 84, including illegally converted apartments, sinking floors and a defective boiler, said the report written by Sen. Jeffrey Klein's office.

Nearly all 2,000 foreclosed homes in New York City contributed to the total of 3,751 open building violations.

Mr. Klein said the violations were particularly disturbing after the deaths of a 12-year-old Bronx boy and his parents in a bank-owned home in April.

Victims Christian Garcia and his parents, Juan Lopez and Christina, were living in a Prospect Avenue property that had racked up numerous complaints, including reports of a faulty boiler, bad wiring, illegally subdivided apartments and a lack of access to exits.


"The fact that this sorry state of affairs exists after the tragedy on Prospect Avenue is even more outrageous and unacceptable," Mr. Klein said in a statement. "These lenders need to step up and stop abusing our communities with their neglect."

Michael Smith, president of the New York Bankers Association, said many of the homes in Mr. Klein's report were owned by lenders, not banks. As for those with violations owned by banks, he said he was "deeply concerned about the maintenance of properties in the foreclosure process."

"The law is the law," he said in an interview.

A state law passed in 2009 required banks and lenders to maintain and secure properties they own. The law did not provide penalties for owners with open violations, but gave local governments the power to fix problems at the properties and then bill banks for the changes.

Johnathan Levy, a deputy director at Legal Services NYC, said banks and lenders had the resources to bring the homes up to legal standards.

"Tenants are living in really horrific conditions," he said.

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424053111903341404576482551509761400.html?m od=googlenews_wsj

August 3rd, 2011, 09:05 AM
Seems absolutely ludicrous that these banks do not find some way to allow previous owners to still maintain a property (say reduce the payments to almost nil, with the requirement that all proceeds go to care and maintenance of the structure).

They are only ruining their foreclosed assets by letting them decay.

August 3rd, 2011, 01:32 PM
Why would an owner being forclosed on maitain a property that there're about to lose?

August 3rd, 2011, 01:51 PM
If they were allowed to stay.

The key here is evaluating each as a different situation. What scenario would lose the least amount of money in a modest amount of time? (5 years?).

Foreclosing has only worked for the few that did it early enough, now it is a tax write off if anything, and a lot of people are being putthrough hell because of short sighted penny pinching.

Why would a bank foreclose on a building if they can't get any more money out of it AND its value decreases because of lack of care on their part?

August 4th, 2011, 04:07 PM
I don't think it would make a difference, unless the bank was willing to write down the value of the loan to something like current market value, and recalculate the payments to match. If you were an owner deep under water on a property, even if you could keep title somehow, would you put money into it, if it was losing money, and you had little hope of ever being able to sell it.

August 5th, 2011, 09:55 AM
If you were living in it, yes.

What there needs to be is an attempt at maintaining the value of the investment. MANY homeowners would not let their house go to complete ruin while living in it with a suspended loan.

You may not have the money to repair the roof, but a full house has less of a chance of broken windows and water damage than a full one, ironically.

August 5th, 2011, 11:26 AM
I venture to say most LL don't live in their buildings (especially the slumlords). The problem is that no one (the investors, the banks) think their ever going to see their money back, so they look at it as a sunk cost, and walk away. In point of fact, if the build goes completely to crap, and gets vacated, it's probably worth more.

And using the SF homeowner analogy here isn't such a good idea? Legions of underwater homeowners have been walking away from their houses, and leaving them to the banks.

August 5th, 2011, 01:14 PM
I am saying it isn't just landlords....

Most of the US does not live in rentals.

August 20th, 2011, 12:24 AM
For god's sake :rolleyes:.

I hope common sense prevails.

Community Stands Strong to Block an Eviction


Mary Lee Ward, in hat, on Friday morning with her lawyer Karen Gargamelli, right;
Assemblywoman Annette Robinson, in red; and Edna Johnson, an aide to Representative Edolphus Towns.

From inside Mary Lee Ward’s small and sparsely furnished living room in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, it sounded Friday as if a block party was in full swing in the street below. Cars and trucks honked their horns as they passed and almost 200 voices could be heard cheering and chanting.

But this was no street party; it was not yet 9 a.m. and the crowd outside was there as a line of defense.

Ms. Ward — a tiny, soft-spoken 82-year-old — faced eviction by a city marshal on Friday morning, as the result of a subprime mortgage she took out in 1995. The lender, which filed for bankruptcy in 2007, had subsequently been investigated for predatory and discriminatory practices. And so neighbors, friends, housing advocates and supporters formed a thick human wall outside Ms. Ward’s small, gray house on Tompkins Avenue.

Shortly after 9:30, the local state assemblywoman, Annette Robinson, emerged from the house with news.

“The marshal will not be taking action today,” Ms. Robinson said over a bullhorn, as Ms. Ward stood by her side. Ms. Robinson vowed to negotiate with the deed holder to keep Ms. Ward in her home.
Friday’s protest followed three years of work on Ms. Ward’s behalf by the nonprofit legal group Common Law and Ms. Robinson, among others.

“If I’m evicted today, that’s it for anybody who’s a senior citizen,” Ms. Ward, who has lived in the house since 1967, said earlier in the morning, sitting in her living room next to a table covered with legal documents. “It would show they can break up the community and do anything to us.”

Fifteen years ago, Ms. Ward says, she needed money for a lawyer to help keep her great-granddaughter from being put up for adoption. Like many others in her neighborhood, she turned to a subprime lender.

She signed a contract with Delta Funding, a company she found advertised on a flier tucked in her mailbox. She borrowed $82,000 against her house, but claims she only ever received a payment of $1,000. Ms. Ward still displays a faded portrait of her great-granddaughter as a baby, even though she was unable to prevent the adoption and has long since lost contact with her.

In 1999 and 2000, several state and federal agencies sued Delta Funding, accusing the company of predatory lending practices directed at elderly members of minority groups throughout Queens and Brooklyn. Those suits were settled with Delta denying wrongdoing. Lawyers from Common Law say the lender sent a letter to Ms. Ward in 2001 informing her that they were canceling her loan, but the loan never was canceled. Instead, the mortgage passed from financial institution to financial institution over the last 10 years.

Unable to pay the growing debt, Ms. Ward was issued a judgment of foreclosure in 2008 and the property was put up for auction that July. The winning bidder, the real estate investment company 768 Dean Inc., has been trying to evict Ms. Ward ever since. It arranged, through a court order, for a city marshal to remove her from the residence on Friday, a move that galvanized support for Ms. Ward. By 7 a.m., demonstrators had gathered outside her doorstep, brandishing banners that read “We stand with Ms. Ward” and “Defend the block.”

“We have the people power to push the landlord to negotiate with us,” said Karen Gargamelli, a lawyer with Common Law. “Our demands are that the eviction be stopped and that the landlord give the deed back either directly to Ms. Ward or to the Bed-Stuy community in a land trust for affordable housing.”

Common Law has also asked the state attorney general to investigate why Ms. Ward’s purportedly canceled mortgage has continued to haunt her.

768 Dean Inc. does not have a listed phone number. Voice messages left at the workplace of its principal owner, Shammeem A. Chowdhury, and with Mr. Chowdhury’s lawyer were not immediately returned.

Ms. Ward is not the first to have received this brand of foreclosure defense. Take Back the Land, a housing activist group founded in Miami, has blockaded houses in Rochester, N.Y. in recent months to delay or prevent evictions. Many of the protesters outside Ms. Ward’s house came in response to a call put out by a coalition of housing advocacy groups, Organizing for Occupation.

A tearful Ms. Ward spoke briefly to those who had gathered on her behalf. “You have to stick with it when you know you’re right,” she said. “We’re not slaves anymore. My grandfather was a slave, but I’m not.”

Neighbors Neighbors and others gathered Friday morning to show their support for Ms. Ward.


September 30th, 2011, 11:35 AM
Good info for NYC renters here ...

Know your rights: Help with understanding NYC rent laws (http://evgrieve.com/2011/09/know-your-rights-help-with.html)


EV Grieve reader EVFlip wrote the following article...

Per EVFlip: "Recently, due to a change in my building's ownership, I've become more active in housing issues. I always thought I was the only one who didn't know about NYC rent laws, but as I speak with more and more neighbors, I find that very few people know their rights."

November 12th, 2011, 04:05 AM
Rethinking Ways to Divide Living Space


Terri Chiao, Deborah Grossberg Katz, Leigha Dennis, Joseph Vidich/Peter Gluck and Partners
A rendering of a town-house-sized lot, reconfigured as 20 small individual units.

IS there a mismatch between the housing New Yorkers need and the housing that gets built? Only 17 percent of dwelling units in the city are occupied by parents raising children under 25, according to the nonprofit Citizens Housing and Planning Council, but most new homes are designed with such traditional families in mind.

What is missing, housing advocates say, are homes for people who can afford only a little bit of space; living quarters large enough for four or more unrelated adults to share; and “accessory dwellings” for people who want to live close to family members who own single-family houses.

The absence of affordable housing for artists, actors, musicians and writers hoping to gain a foothold in New York is of particular concern. “We’re losing a lot of creative people to places like Buffalo and Berlin,” said Matt Blesso, a developer.

But developers like Mr. Blesso say city and state laws make it difficult to diversify the city’s housing stock. For example, it’s illegal to build units without kitchens and bathrooms or smaller than 400 square feet; and by law no more than three unrelated people are allowed to share a dwelling in the city.

David J. Burney, the commissioner of the city’s Department of Design and Construction, says “the regulatory environment has fallen behind” New York’s diverse population.

Last Monday, several architects presented their ideas for new types of housing for low-income New Yorkers. “We asked them to break the rules,” said Jerilyn Perine, the executive director of the Citizens Housing and Planning Council, which organized the conclave (along with the Architectural League of New York). Five city commissioners were on hand to critique the proposals.

Deborah Gans, an architect from Brooklyn, proposed adding tiny accessory units to a Tudor-style single-family house in Queens, some of them clinging to the original building. (Panelists referred to it as the barnacle approach.)

Rafi Segal, an architect who collaborated with Stan Allen Architect, also of Brooklyn, showed plans for a low-rise building in which prefabricated housing units would cluster around large light wells, with communal kitchens and shared bathrooms. It quickly became known as the urban kibbutz.

And a team headed by Peter Gluck, a Manhattan architect, showed how it might fit 20 small units — dubbed microlofts — onto one town-house-sized lot. Joseph Vidich, a young designer who worked with Mr. Gluck, said of the team members who are recent graduates struggling to find affordable housing, “We are part of the constituency we are designing for.”

Most of the designs were descendants of the once-common (and sometimes reviled) single-room-occupancy hotel. As Jonathan Kirschenfeld, an architect based in Manhattan, said while presenting his plans for buildings in the Bronx, “This is the S.R.O. redux.”

But not everyone was excited by that prospect. Robert D. LiMandri, the commissioner of the Buildings Department, said, “We need to enforce existing building codes, to keep people out of harm’s way.” Mr. LiMandri said that when he looks at some of the designs, “I think to myself, how is the fireman going to get in there?”

Other speakers questioned the viability of communal spaces. Ted Smith, an architect and developer from San Diego who is known for creating shared houses, said expecting a group to take care of a space is “always a mistake.”

And Mr. Smith was skeptical of the notion that convertible furniture — Murphy beds and desks that become dining tables — would make housing more affordable. “It costs more to buy the furniture than to make the room bigger,” he said.

Alexander Garvin, an urban planner, said designs involving windowless rooms might require so much electricity for lighting and ventilation that the cost savings would disappear.

But mostly the architects, activists and government officials were upbeat about the possibility of creating new housing types. “Everyone knows someone who would be well served by one of these designs,” Ms. Perine said. She said she was hoping to realize one or more of the designs in a pilot program, with government cooperation, and was also organizing a museum exhibition to bring the public into the discussion.

And Mr. Blesso said that if the laws were changed to permit some of the housing models he had seen, “I’d want to be the first to build it.”


November 13th, 2011, 02:02 PM
A lot of this sounds like a modernized take on the Lower East Side circa 1905.

November 14th, 2011, 12:10 PM
Looks like a dorm.

November 18th, 2011, 11:29 PM
Kids don't seem to be bolting for the door at the first opportunity like they used to and are staying at home much longer now here in Oz. More for the perks, methinks.

As New Graduates Return to Nest, Economy Also Feels the Pain



As a result, she didn’t pay rent — or a broker’s fee or renters’ insurance, for that matter. She also didn’t buy a bed, desk, couch, doormat, mop or new crockery set. Nor did she pay the cable company to send a worker to set up her TV and Internet, or a handyman to hang a newly framed diploma. She didn’t even buy drinks and snacks for a housewarming party.

In other words, Ms. Romanelli, 22, saved a lot of money. But she deprived the economy of a lot of potential activity, too.

Every year, young adults leave the nest, couples divorce, foreigners immigrate and roommates separate, all helping drive economic growth when they furnish and refurbish their new homes. Under normal circumstances, each time a household is formed it adds about $145,000 to output that year as the spending ripples through the economy, estimates Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics.

But with the poor job market and uncertain recovery, hundreds of thousands of Americans like Ms. Romanelli (and her boyfriend, who also lives with his parents) have tabled their moves. Even before the recession began, young people were leaving home later; now the bad economy has tethered them there indefinitely. Last year, just 950,000 new households were created. By comparison, about 1.3 million new households were formed in 2007, the year the recession began, according to Mr. Zandi. Ms. Romanelli, who lives in the room where she grew up in Branford, Conn., said, “I don’t really have much of a choice,” adding, “I don’t have the means to move out.”

Ms. Romanelli, who works as an assistant editor at Cottages & Gardens magazines, is one of the luckier “boomerang” children who have found jobs and at least can start saving for their own place someday. As of last month, just 74 percent of Americans ages 25 to 34 were working (http://data.bls.gov/pdq/querytool.jsp?survey=ln). It is perhaps no wonder then that 14.2 percent of young adults are living with their parents (http://www.census.gov/population/www/socdemo/hh-fam/cps2011.html), up from 11.8 percent in 2007. Among young men, 19 percent are living with their parents.

But even some young people who can afford to move out have decided to wait until getting on more solid footing. Prudence, not necessity, has kept them at home.

Jay Bouvier, 26, has a full-time job teaching physical education and health and coaching football and baseball at a high school in Hartford, near his parents’ house in Bristol. He could rent his own apartment — after taxes he makes about $45,000 a year, he says — but has decided not to. He says he will stay with his parents until he has saved enough to buy his own house.

“I have it pretty good at home, since it’s so close to my work, and financially I just feel like it’s smarter for the long run to buy,” he said. He says that living with his parents enables him to set aside about half of each paycheck. “It’s like I pay rent, but to myself.”

By not paying rent, of course, he has deprived a local landlord and a host of other local companies of some income, as well as whatever businesses those purveyors might have patronized further down the line. It’s a phenomenon that John Maynard Keynes referred to as the “paradox of thrift”: Saving is good for the individual, but en masse can hurt the economy by reducing demand.
“Increased housing demand definitely has multiplier effects throughout the economy,” said Gary D. Painter, a professor at the University of Southern California and director of research for the university’s Lusk Center for Real Estate. “We have these sort of missing potential households,” he said, which also means “missing” sales and jobs in industries like retail, construction and manufacturing.

The actions of the young are self-perpetuating. Young people are reluctant to set off on their own until they have greater financial stability. But the economic conditions necessary to make them financially secure are difficult to achieve while consumers like them are still too nervous to start making big purchases, on housing or anything else.
Small indulgences are not totally out of the question, though.

“To be honest, for my first few real paychecks I’ve treated myself,” said Ms. Romanelli, explaining that she has not yet begun her plan to salt away half of each paycheck. “It’s only the first month or two, after all.”

Some economists are optimistic that there is considerable pent-up demand for new homes because so many young adults are reluctantly staying with their parents. Several of Mr. Bouvier’s friends, he said, are “itching to get out.” As soon as they find work, he says, they’ll leave.
“Once we get a little bit of job growth, or even expectations of better job market, those households are going to start breaking apart pretty fast,” said Mr. Zandi, of Moody’s Analytics.

Household formation probably won’t lead the recovery, but once set into motion by other good economic news it can “supercharge growth.” He estimates that there is pent-up demand for close to 1.1 million new households, which is approximately equal to the number of excess vacant homes for sale and rent.

“If these pent-up households were to form, then the oversupply of housing would be largely absorbed and housing construction would quickly ramp up,” he said.

Mr. Bouvier, now three years out of school, is hoping to move into his own house early next year, ideally a place that he can “fix up and turn into good investment.” He says he’ll hire a construction crew to help with the renovations.

“You know, they really should have kept that tax incentive for first-time home buyers,” he said. “I’m creating jobs after all. I thought that was a good thing.”


November 21st, 2011, 10:19 AM
But with all the affluent individuals in the city completely ripping out all traces of previous ownership, you would think that NYC would have BILLIONS in business!!!!


January 12th, 2012, 07:10 AM
Nice :rolleyes:. This never affects employees of the NYCHA, obviously. It's not the fault of these residents that there is insufficient supply to meet the demand.


by Avi

http://www.westsiderag.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/amsterdam-houses.jpg (http://www.westsiderag.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/amsterdam-houses.jpg)

Elderly housing project residents, particularly at Amsterdam Houses in the West 60′s off of Amsterdam Avenue, are being told that they have to move because they live in apartments with more bedrooms than they need.

Some seniors are being told they have to move out of their developments — and even out of the borough, said Rosalba Rodriguez, a member of Councilwoman Gale Brewer’s staff who is working on the issue. Rodriguez said she’s been talking to residents of four housing projects she works with, including Amsterdam Houses, the Amsterdam Houses Addition, Harborview on 55th Street and Wise Towers on 92nd Street.

Rodriguez said that the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) has known for years that some of the units in the buildings are “underoccupied”, meaning that there are fewer people living in the apartments than it can hold (basically seniors who’s kids move out suddenly are living in two-bedroom and three-bedroom apartments by themselves). But NYCHA hasn’t been aggressive about pushing them out until now, and it’s freaking a lot of people out.

“They had never made these changes before,” she said. “It’s having health impacts on people.”

Rodriguez said she understands the need to make room for new families, but moving people out of their neighborhoods is unacceptable.

In a letter to NYCHA Chairman John Rhea sent last week, Brewer wrote that seniors are “alarmed.”

“It is widely recognized that seniors are vulnerable to physical and mental distress when uprooted from homes they have long occupied. They and their supporters are furious at the cavalier manner in which NYCHA is treating these residents, as though they are merely numbers to be shuffled about without regard to the harm this may cause. Ms. Curet has been in communication with NYCHA’s Family Services department and has made many referrals for assistance regarding these moves. However, she is deeply worried about the mental health of seniors who are under stress from NYCHA’s approach to downsizing.”

We contacted NYCHA for a response (Rhea apparently hasn’t responded to Brewer yet), and received the following from spokesperson Zodet Negron.

“The New York City Housing Authority faces a real crisis with more than 161,000 people on its waiting list for public housing (and another 120,000 waiting for a Section 8 vouchers). There are nearly 50,000 people in NYCHA housing units who are not living in apartments properly sized for their needs – meaning they have too many rooms for their family size. To serve families in need, it is critical that NYCHA utilize this scarce public resource as it was intended: to assist the greatest number of families eligible for affordable and subsidized housing. We will continue to work with residents as their case is reviewed annually to explore and discuss how best to meet their needs. NYCHA also will assist other families who can be better accommodated once under-utilized apartments become available.”

Negron added “This is not new, as each resident’s lease states this possibility.”

Asked why residents were being asked to move out of their neighborhoods, and even their boroughs, Negron responded: “NYCHA works with the residents to place them in an appropriately-sized unit where available. This could be within their own development or borough but it will depend on availability. For certain developments and boroughs, the wait can be longer.”


January 12th, 2012, 09:03 AM
The problem is simple. they have to PLAN this stuff out ahead of time. Moving the elderly to a smaller abode can be reasoned (would you rather grandma had a 3BR while a new family with 3-4 kids or inlaws is stuck in a 1BR?)

Where this falls apart is the poor planning that forces these guys to move to a different building, or different neighborhood. Maybe a stipulation has to be made that these guys can only be downsized when something in their building, of similar condition (or refurbed after vacating) is available.

When a 1BR becomes free, refurb it, put some new appliances and amenities in there, and then move these folks into there. Do not tell them they have too much and move them out to Queens.

January 24th, 2012, 05:04 AM
A bit of good news.

Home-Crisis Program Gets A Late Start


After three years of slow progress, a $53.9 million New York City program to help neighborhoods hit hard by the housing market collapse is finally showing a tangible result: people moving into empty, foreclosed homes.

A nonprofit housing developer working with the city has acquired more than 80 vacant homes primarily in southeast Queens and has rehabbed and sold three of them recently to buyers. Among the new homeowners is Betty Miller, 44 years old, who bought a four-bedroom house in November in the Jamaica section of Queens for $250,000.

"This really helped a lot," said Ms. Miller, who works as a school safety agent for a public school in Brooklyn. "I wanted to have something to pass on to my children."

The city effort is part of a $7 billion federal initiative called the Neighborhood Stabilization Program, launched in 2008 in response to soaring foreclosure rates. The city and federal campaigns have faced criticism—a slow rollout on the local level, not enough funding on the national level—but officials said they are now making progress.

To be sure, New York City's foreclosure rates don't compare to areas like Nevada or Florida. But the city and a nonprofit it hired for the program—Restored Homes Housing Development Fund Corp.—have focused on areas where there are large clusters of bank-owned homes, such as Jamaica and the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn.

"Southeast Queens is ground zero for the foreclosure crisis," said Salvatore D'Avola, executive director of Restored Homes. "The goal is to stop the cycle of the foreclosure and stabilize these communities."

In 2008, the city hired Restored Homes to buy up to 100 vacant foreclosed homes to rehab and resell to new buyers. The Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy estimates about 1,500 such homes exist in the city, down from 1,800 in 2009.

"Bringing these homes back to life will really be a significant impact," said Peter Madden of the city's department of Housing Preservation and Development, which runs the program locally.

For example, Restored Homes bought a foreclosed home in Jamaica for $277,000 and spent $30,000 rehabbing it. The nonprofit then sold the home to Ms. Miller and her husband at a below-market rate of $250,000. The couple couldn't have afforded the home without the program, she said.


Another part of the city's plan is to provide up to $80,000 in forgivable mortgages to homebuyers to purchase foreclosed homes. The New York Mortgage Coalition, a nonprofit housing group hired for the project, wants to make about 50 loans to people who have been vetted by financial counselors.

"It's important to get those homes as soon as they become vacant. Otherwise, it just gets worse and worse," said Adam Marcus of the mortgage coalition.

HPD is also using the $53.9 million in Department of Housing and Urban Development funds to hire other developers to rehabilitate several foreclosed apartment buildings.

The city and its nonprofit partners said the program's rollout in New York started slowly mainly because they had to learn complex federal reporting standards and had initial difficulties identifying eligible foreclosed properties. "There has definitely been a learning curve," said Lindsay Haddix, an HPD official who oversaw the program's first phase.

When NSP was announced, housing groups were thrilled, but many questioned what it could achieve. In November, the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond said in a report: "NSP funds, while significant, were simply insufficient to address the scope of the foreclosure problem that exists nationally."

There were 1.9 million loans nationwide in foreclosure at the end of June 2011, and that figure is expected to rise, the Richmond Fed said. In New York City, about 72,000 residential foreclosures have been initiated since 2007, according to real-estate website PropertyShark.com.

The report said NSP wasn't a "silver bullet" for the foreclosure crisis, but "it may end up serving as a first step."

Last year, the program came under fire in Congress from Republicans who charged it lets lenders and real-estate speculators off the hook for bad loans.

Its defenders said vacant homes contribute to neighborhood blight and hurt property values. "We recognize the scale of the problem, but we're also seeing communities across this country using NSP in a strategic and targeted way to tackle these challenges," said Mercedes Márquez, an assistant HUD secretary.

NSP's impact on the ground won't be known for at least a year. The city has until February 2013 to spend the rest of its federal money on up to 20 homes.

"It got off to a slow start," said Craig Nickerson of the National Community Stabilization Trust, a group that coordinates sales banks and nonprofits participating in federal program. But "we are seeing neighborhoods beginning to re-stabilize."

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970204301404577171251422630724.html?m od=WSJ_NY_RealEstate_LEFTTopStories

February 4th, 2012, 12:00 AM
It seems pretty unconscionable that a decision like this can be made without any alternatives to offer and seemingly no thought for the consequences.

Mayor Bloomberg previously warned that discontinuing the Advantage program would mean the city would need 70 new shelters to provide housing for those no longer receiving rental subsidies (http://www.dnainfo.com/20110311/manhattan/state-cuts-would-force-thousands-into-homeless-shelters-mayor-says), costing upwards of $80 million.

Building more homeless shelters is NOT the solution, either :rolleyes:, just throwing money at the symptoms of the problem, with no thought for the long-term.

Halt of Rent Subsidies Will Push Formerly Homeless Into Street, Critics Say

By Jill Colvin

MANHATTAN — Advocates are warning that thousands of families could be pushed out onto the streets after the Department of Homeless Services announced it will not be sending out rent-subsidy checks to formerly homeless families this month.

A legal challenge brought on behalf of tenants by the Legal Aid Society had forced the city to continue funding the program after state and federal cuts last year, but the appellate division of the New York State Supreme Court lifted an order Thursday, permitting the city to stop payments.

The DHS-adminstered Advantage program provides working families who are homeless with rental subsidies so they can move out of shelters and into their own homes. There were 15,000 people participating in the program and 3,000 qualified to join as of last March.

Following Thursday's ruling, the Department of Homeless Services announced on its website (http://www.nyc.gov/html/dhs/html/home/home.shtml) that the city has immediately ceased issuing checks.

“The City will NOT be paying the February rent subsidy,” read the notice, advising tenants to attend an information session offering eviction-prevention counseling and free legal help instead.
Advocates warned the move will create an “immediate” crisis for those who rely on the checks.

Mary Brosnahan, executive director of the Coalition for the Homeless, said that at least 8,000 homeless families were “at immediate risk of being evicted from their homes in the middle of winter,” and that many, “if not most,” will be forced to head to homeless shelters.

“Michael Bloomberg is now the first mayor in modern history with no program whatsoever to move people out of shelters and into affordable homes,” she charged. “His legacy is the sad result of this failed approach, and New York’s all-time [homeless] record is sure to grow worse as the city rushes to cut off Advantage families from the help they were promised.”

Public Advocate Bill de Blasio said the administration is at risk of driving thousands of families into homeless shelters, “which are already close to the breaking point.”

He said in a statement that the Bloomberg administration was "throwing away everything we have learned about preventing homelessness and helping families get back on their feet in the process."

Program recipient Karen Ruth, 44, who is raising a 13-year-old son in Bedford-Stuyvesant, said she doesn't know what she'll do without the help, which she began receiving from the city after they spent two months in homeless shelters in 2009.

“I’m very aggravated right now. Frustrated and emotional," said Ruth, who said she is legally blind and receives $1,000 a month through the Advantage program, which helps her afford her $1,305 a month rent.

“Without that help, I have no way to live," she said, adding that she hasn't yet broken the news to her son. "I would be homeless yet again, without the help of that voucher."

In a statement Friday, DHS Commissioner Seth Diamond said the Advantage program had been a success, but that without state and federal help, the cost was too much for the city to shoulder on its own.

"It is too expensive without shared responsibility," he said, adding that the Department "will continue to work aggressively to prevent and end homelessness in the absence of State and federal assistance."

DHS did not respond to mulitple requests for comment regarding how the agnecy planned to deal with those no longer receiving the checks.

Mayor Bloomberg previously warned that discontinuing the Advantage program would mean the city would need 70 new shelters to provide housing for those no longer receiving rental subsidies (http://www.dnainfo.com/20110311/manhattan/state-cuts-would-force-thousands-into-homeless-shelters-mayor-says), costing upwards of $80 million.

The sides will be back in court on Feb. 9 for oral arguments, a spokeswoman for the city's Law Department said.


February 6th, 2012, 10:58 AM
Mike just has not gotten the "relocation buses" ready for the February rush to NJ.

Homeless problem? What homeless problem? :rolleyes:

February 7th, 2012, 11:57 AM
So somehow state and federal cuts are Bloomberg's fault? How do you suggest he make up the cuts?

February 7th, 2012, 12:17 PM
You can go right back to "Why does NYC have to support most of NYS, and indeed the COUNTRY?"

People seem to forget how much the citizens of NY and other major metros, not the corporations, fund the tax roles of the nation. Somehow you get an equal voice to say what you want to do with the money even when you had little to do in providing it.

On the flip side, following THAT tenet would make the corporations our rulers.... legally as well as "behind the scenes".

February 7th, 2012, 06:07 PM
Still, that doesn't go to the question of why blame Bloomberg for it. Go after Cuomo, Silver, and whoever the hell is running the state senate, not to mention congress and Obama. Really, Bloomberg is at the bottom of the list on this one.

February 8th, 2012, 09:51 AM
I think it is a shared responsibility.

I am not for running one stooge up the yardarm when it comes to finding fault in politics and public policy.

August 1st, 2012, 08:50 AM
Forgiveness of Debt Could Yield Savings


As the regulator for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac nears its decision on whether to approve debt forgiveness for troubled borrowers, a new analysis by the regulator suggests taxpayers could benefit from the move, according to people briefed on the findings.

Fannie and Freddie could save about $3.6 billion more than current loss-mitigation approaches by reducing balances for some borrowers who owe much more than their homes are worth, these people said.

The Federal Housing Finance Agency is nearing a decision on whether to allow the companies to participate in the debt-forgiveness program that it consistently has resisted.Until now, the Federal Housing Finance Agency has maintained that the current housing-rescue programs offered by the taxpayer-supported mortgage companies are less-expensive options.

The new analysis was done because the Treasury Department said in January it would pick up part of the tab if the companies would reduce principal balances when modifying mortgages for troubled borrowers. It would use unspent housing funds from the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program.

The Obama administration has argued strongly in favor of the FHFA adopting the principal-reduction program for Fannie and Freddie, saying it would provide more sustainable loan modifications.

"We think there's a set of cases where it's clearly in the interest of the taxpayer for them to do principal reduction upfront," said Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner in congressional testimony earlier this year.

In April, the agency said that loan forgiveness would save about $1.7 billion for the companies, relative to other types of relief. At the time, the agency said that because the Treasury was paying to subsidize those write-downs, the relief would still cost taxpayers $2.1 billion, offsetting any savings to the companies.

But the latest analysis done by the agency found that such write-downs would generate $3.6 billion in savings for the companies, under certain assumptions, according to people familiar with the analysis. Even after subtracting the cost of the Treasury subsidies, the program would save $1 billion, these people said. As many as 500,000 borrowers could be eligible, these people said.

Spokeswomen for the Federal Housing Finance Agency and the Treasury Department declined to comment.

The FHFA has raised other concerns beyond the cost of such write-downs. Chief among them is the fear that more borrowers, upon hearing that Fannie and Freddie are instituting a debt-forgiveness program, might default to seek more generous terms. Fannie and Freddie were taken over by the U.S. government four years ago and have cost taxpayers about $145 billion.

A related worry is that unlike banks, which sometimes cut debts on loans they own, Fannie and Freddie would have to rely on hundreds of mortgage companies that manage payments on their behalf, creating greater operational headaches.

The Treasury Department rolled out the debt-forgiveness program in 2010. Fannie and Freddie opted against participating. The initiative, part of the administration's Home Affordable Modification Program, is open to homeowners who have missed their mortgage payments or face imminent hardship and who owe more than their homes are worth.

The program has been increasingly adopted by mortgage servicers that handle deeply underwater loans which aren't guaranteed by Fannie and Freddie. To qualify, homeowners must make at least three payments under the reduced loan amount, and principal balances are cut in installments over three years. The median principal amount reduced under the program has been $69,000.

Separately, Freddie Mac is preparing to expand rules devised to boost refinancing for borrowers with loans that the company guarantees, according to people familiar with the matter. The company currently allows its borrowers who are underwater or who have less than 20% equity to refinance with reduced documentation and fees under the Home Affordable Refinance Program.

The coming change will allow all borrowers with loans backed by the company, regardless of their loan-to-value ratio, to benefit from the streamlined program. Fannie Mae had already extended the HARP program to all borrowers, regardless of their equity position.

The FHFA last fall announced a sweeping revision of HARP guidelines, including eliminating a previous cap that limited the program to borrowers who owed up to 125% of their current property value.

But the Obama administration had been critical of the decision not to open up the program to borrowers with more home equity. "Have you ever heard of any program in any country at any time in history where borrowers with better collateral got a worse deal, or are even shut out altogether?" said Gene Sperling, director of the White House's National Economic Council, in a speech to the National Association of Realtors in May.

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10000872396390444405804577559722648306762.html?m od=WSJ_RealEstate_LeftTopNews

August 1st, 2012, 09:23 AM
What should be investigated is simple.

Look at who may be able to pay ANY loan back, if it was reduced, and see what the net cost would be to the bank if they were to foreclose and (try) to sell the property.

Certain estimations could go into effect, like taxes on foreclosed properties, depreciation in value due to foreclosure activity by themselves and others, and just the bottom line foreseeable price of the structure.

So if someone bought the house at $500K, had $100K in equity and can no longer pay, they should take the actual numbers to figure out what would yield them the least long term loss.

The house is now worth $300K, so even if sold, there would be a $100K loss to the bank if the homeowners declare bankruptcy or foreclose. So, see what the cost would be to market and sell the house. Say 4% = $12K. Put it on the market in a slow economy and you are talking 6 months of dead cash AND taxes. Lets call that $10K. Lets also not forget that, even with reduced cost, if the defaulters can pay, you are losing out on reduced mortgage payments of possibly another $10K. SO now you are looking at about another $30K of lost monies, not counting depreciation if they foreclose on it, and 4 neighbors.

Refinance the house at a $270K loan instead of $400K and use a reasonable rate or 50 year mortgage.

A LOT of people would probably be able to swing that as opposed to nothing. And if they can't, the bank is not going to lose much.

The problem was, when the bubble burst and people started defaulting, the banks jumped on the "me first!" wagon to balance their own leveraged books and ended up scuttling the sinking ship rather than bailing it.

February 12th, 2013, 05:40 AM
Good on them!

Tenants and Community Group Save Dilapidated Bronx Complex


Minarda Pimentel had to keep her clothes in sealed plastic bags because rats gnawed on everything in her closet.

Her neighbor Dominga Sanchez had to boil water on the stove for showers because there was no hot water — or heat for that matter — for days at a time. Ms. Sanchez’s oldest daughter moved out because the mold on the walls made her sick.

Their hardship stories are common enough in the low-rent neighborhoods of the Bronx, where dilapidated buildings are often passed from one neglectful landlord to the next. But the tenants of this decrepit apartment complex on College Avenue, many of whom speak little English, finally decided that they had enough.

Behind their creaky, peeling doors, they embarked on a yearlong campaign against their landlord that attracted the attention of influential supporters and eventually led to a change in ownership.

The complex, which has 63 apartments in three 1920s buildings, was acquired last month by a group of community-minded organizations led by the Banana Kelly Community Improvement Association, a nonprofit developer of moderate-cost housing in the South Bronx, which assumed the mortgage on the complex and is committed to spending an additional $3.5 million for renovations.

Even before the closing papers were signed, change was afoot: The new owners sent a mechanic and a truck carrying 1,500 gallons of heating oil to restart the boilers.

“It feels like winning the Mega Millions,” Ms. Sanchez, 48, said in Spanish, referring to a multistate lottery. “Since the new owners came, the heat hasn’t stopped and they’re coming to fix everything.

“I’ve lived an experience in this apartment that no one should have to.”

The Bronx deal grew out of an unusual program, known as First Look, in which a small number of banks have agreed that instead of selling troubled residential buildings to the highest bidder, they will give community developers first crack at taking the buildings over.

The program, which started a year ago, has allowed community developers to buy a dozen privately owned buildings in the Bronx and Brooklyn and, in the process, expand their footprint beyond mainly city-owned or abandoned properties.

Bill de Blasio, the New York City public advocate, said the College Avenue deal would open the door for community groups to help other long-suffering tenants.

His office has compiled a watch list of more than 300 privately owned apartment buildings, mostly in Brooklyn and the Bronx, that have been repeatedly cited for housing violations.

“We’re breaking the vicious cycle that sees troubled buildings endlessly bought, sold and then left to deteriorate,” Mr. de Blasio said. “What these tenants have accomplished is extraordinary, and it’s a model we need to replicate: pressure from within and resources from without.”

The Bronx complex was previously owned by Eli Abbott, a Brooklyn businessman whom Mr. de Blasio has called the city’s worst landlord. The rent-regulated apartments cost about $800 monthly for a one-bedroom or $1,200 for a two-bedroom and are often paid for with government assistance, tenants said.

But the problems with them could be seen in the 685 violations pending against the buildings, myriad offenses that included the presence of vermin, water leaks, broken windows, lead paint, defective electrical outlets and missing smoke detectors.

The city spent $36,000 on emergency repairs in the buildings. Still, city officials and housing advocates said there was only so much they could do to bring relief to tenants, because the buildings were privately owned. So Ms. Sanchez, 48, a disabled worker in a window factory, and her neighbors sought help from Susanna Blankley, director of housing organizing at CASA-New Settlement Apartments, a local community group, and formed their own tenants’ association.

Last September, they sent a letter to Mr. Abbott and the bank holding the mortgage on the building, New York Community Bank, listing the repairs that were needed.

Mr. Abbott described the complaints as “completely frivolous and baseless” in a letter to the bank, and said tenants had “unrealistic expectations as if they were living in million-dollar Manhattan apartments.”

Mr. Abbott declined to comment for this article.

Ms. Sanchez said her calls for repairs were ignored for so long that she finally gave up and spent $150 to replace a broken toilet and $180 to fix bathroom tiles damaged by water leaks. She said she started withholding part of her $1,200 monthly rent in protest.

Ms. Blankley said the tenants eventually learned that Mr. Abbott had listed the complex for sale early last year, in one advertisement asking $5 million.

Fearful that they would be saddled with another unsatisfactory landlord, the tenants made banners from white bedsheets — spray-painting them with messages like “We know our rights” and “We’re not moving” — which they hung from fire escapes to scare off unwelcome buyers. They also sued Mr. Abbott, seeking a court-appointed administrator to assume control of the buildings.

Ms. Blankley started approaching community groups about taking over the complex. Most said they simply did not have the money. Then she found Harold DeRienzo, the president of Banana Kelly, who brought in two partners, Wavecrest, a for-profit management company, and FCE College Avenue, a financial firm, which jointly provided the money for the deal.

New York Community Bank rejected their first bid, to reduce the principal on the mortgage, which the buyers would assume, to $2.4 million from about $3.4 million.

But the bank continued negotiating and finally agreed that the buyers would assume a mortgage of $3 million, with the bank allowing the group to make interest-only payments at first. “As much as we want to be a participant in the community, we wouldn’t be responsible to our shareholders if we gave it away — it’s a balancing act,” Chris Beck, a vice president of New York Community Bank, said of the agreement.

Mr. DeRienzo said his group was working with city housing officials to borrow about $8 million to repay the bank and finance renovations — about half of which will come from city funds, half from a private lender — in return for a commitment to maintain the apartments for low- and moderate-income families.

Mr. DeRienzo’s group also paid Mr. Abbott about $300,000, and paid hundreds of thousands more to settle unpaid property taxes and municipal bills. The new owners have already gone door-to-door to inspect each of the apartments, some of which still had antiquated fuse boxes. They sent in an exterminator and cleaned out piles of garbage in the basement.

Ms. Pimentel and her neighbors gathered in the lobby recently to celebrate their changing fortunes with a potluck dinner of baked chicken, rice and beans and macaroni salad.


April 15th, 2013, 07:36 AM
I would propose another form of cross-subsidization called the You Don’t Need to Live in a $50 Million Penthouse Tax, which would require anyone buying a property for more than $10 million (of which there are currently about 280 listed in The Times) to pay a percentage of that cost to an affordable-housing fund. And then commit, in writing, to never complain about it.

LOL! Excellent.

][/SIZE]“It isn’t all that complicated,” Christine C. Quinn

Would she be happy for her elderly relatives to go through the stress of doing that? What if they don't want to move? Would they have any choice in where they go? How about their future happiness, which is pretty damn important during their twilight years? Stupid woman :rolleyes:.

When ‘Affordable’ Is Just a Word


The spring has the real-estate press enthusiastically reporting on the construction of 432 Park Avenue, an apartment tower that its developers claim will be the tallest residential building in the Western Hemisphere. Apartments in the tower, designed by Rafael Viñoly and to be completed in 2015, are offered in the $20 million to $80 million range, which in the context of Ludicrously Priced Housing for Oligarchs Who Spend Most of the Year in Tax Exile on Mediterranean Yachts isn’t as numbing as it might otherwise be. Such is the historical moment that a few blocks west, in another glass tower, called One 57, apartments have sold in the past year for more than $90 million (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/18/realestate/midtown-penthouse-at-one57-sells-for-new-york-record.html).

Given these perversions, it is hard to understand what affordable housing means in New York, in one sense because the market doesn’t really abide it, and in another because the phrase itself in policy terms has become so amorphous.

Just as shocking, arguably, as the $44 million four-bedroom duplex in TriBeCa that turns up in the real estate listings of The New York Times is the $1,400-a-month, two-bedroom rental apartment in the Belmont section of the Bronx. According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, which calculates what it calls the housing wage (http://nlihc.org/library/wagecalc) — the earnings necessary to pay no more than 30 percent of your income on rent, the threshold usually used to define affordable housing — you would need to make $26.92 an hour, or $56,000 a year, to afford the apartment. If you held a minimum-wage job, a likely circumstance in a neighborhood where the poverty rate is 43 percent, twice the city’s on the whole, and median household income is just over $22,000, you would have to work 149 hours a week to meet the cost. Alternatively, you could clone yourself 2.7 times.

As it happens, affordable housing was the subject of a mayoral forum last week at New York University. Democratic candidates all expressed the view that despite the Bloomberg administration’s ambitious and lauded affordable housing program — which has financed the preservation and construction of 165,000 units of low-, moderate- and middle-income housing — the city, at a time of record homelessness, soaring rents and stagnating wages, needs to do more and needs to generate affordable housing that is actually affordable.

Two months ago, a report issued by the Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development, a consortium of neighborhood housing groups, indicated that out of the 38,670 units developed by the Bloomberg housing plan from 2009 to 2011, only one-third of them were economically within reach (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/14/nyregion/report-cites-shortcomings-of-affordable-housing-plan.html?_r=0) of households making the median income or less for the typical household in their neighborhood. Of the units the city developed over the same period, only about 8 percent were intended for households making less than 40 percent of the metropolitan area’s median income, though they make up nearly one-third of all New York City households.

Another dimension to all this is what Alex Schwartz, a professor of urban planning at the New School, likens to a bathtub with a running faucet and an open drain. As the city builds new units of affordable housing, old units age out of the system. Much of the affordable housing isn’t meant to be affordable forever simply because it isn’t financially feasible, so rents go up, tax breaks expire and units nudge toward market rate. Last week, the housing development association issued new data (http://www.anhd.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/Revised-Chart-4.2.13-FINAL-1.pdf) indicating where existing affordable housing had disappeared or was threatened. In the University Heights section of the Bronx, 5,000 units of housing from 2008 to 2011 became unaffordable, with rents requiring incomes of more than 80 percent of the area’s median income.

The New York City Housing Authority, where the average monthly rent as of this year is $436, offers permanent affordability, of course, but there are currently more than 167,000 families on its waiting list (and more than 123,000 families on a waiting list, now closed, for Section 8 federal housing vouchers, which have had their financing reduced by sequestration). One partial solution to clearing the backlog would be to relocate older residents living alone in large apartments in public housing to smaller ones and give over two- and three-bedroom apartments to the families who need them. “It isn’t all that complicated,” Christine C. Quinn, the City Council speaker and a Democrat, said at the candidates’ forum, “even though it isn’t happening.”

Creating actual affordable housing, buildings that can pay for themselves in the absence of growing subsidies, will be a formidable challenge for the next mayor. John C. Liu, a Democratic candidate, proposes to do it with what he calls the People’s Budget (http://comptroller.nyc.gov/press/2013_releases/pr13-04-052.shtm), which he unveiled last week and which includes $27 million in housing vouchers for the homeless and $3.7 billion in capital funds to help create 100,000 units of affordable housing over a four-year period. He would finance these and other ambitions through tax increases on those making more than $1 million a year, charging rents to charter schools using city facilities and taxing private equity firms’ carried interest, to cite a few examples.

Advocates and analysts in the affordable housing world have talked about addressing some of this difficulty by cross-subsidizing buildings, a process that would have a mixed-income building in the Bronx, for instance, helping to offset the costs of a primarily low-income building in Brooklyn. I would propose another form of cross-subsidization called the You Don’t Need to Live in a $50 Million Penthouse Tax, which would require anyone buying a property for more than $10 million (of which there are currently about 280 listed in The Times) to pay a percentage of that cost to an affordable-housing fund. And then commit, in writing, to never complain about it.


June 12th, 2013, 09:41 AM
City's Boom Spurs a Need for Housing

Report Calls for Developing New Housing for City's Population Boom


In the coming decades, New York could confront a problem many cities would love to have: too many people and nowhere to put them.

The city is expected to add one million more residents by 2040, but there likely won't be room for hundreds of thousands of them unless a small city of new housing is built, according to a report by a Columbia University think tank.

The most logical location for all this new housing: the city's waterfront neighborhoods, including Long Island City and Willets Point in Queens, Red Hook in Brooklyn and the Financial District, according to the report by the Center for Urban Real Estate at Columbia University.

Vishaan Chakrabarti, the center's director and an architect, said the city's current mega-projects, such as Hudson Yards on the Far West Side and Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn, represent only "a drop in the bucket" in terms of the amount of housing that is needed.

"What surprised me most was the scale of the problem," Mr. Chakrabarti said. "It's a clarion call that we don't have enough housing."

The report said the city would reasonably reach a population of more than 9 million in less than 30 years, with the authors predicting that New York will remain a magnet for immigrants, artists and young professionals seeking their fortune. The growth is slightly slower than that predicted by the Bloomberg administration, which has said there will be a million more New Yorkers by 2030.

The report comes after nearly 12 years of large-scale redevelopment in the city. The Bloomberg administration has undertaken 119 rezonings, and a handful of high-profile rezonings have transformed industrial waterfront neighborhoods into residential areas with new 40-story towers.

Bloomberg administration officials said they have tried to balance the character of neighborhoods, the preservation of open space and the capacity of an area's transportation networks to absorb more people.

The Center for Urban Real Estate report's authors would pack more people into smaller areas than the Bloomberg administration has planned, placing them in waterfront real estate that is close to transit and to Manhattan, and has the potential for a high quality of life.

"It's clear that we have to figure out how to develop our waterfront but in a smart and resilient way," Mr. Chakrabarti said.

Whether residents want more apartments in their neighborhoods remains to be seen. In places such as Williamsburg where Bloomberg administration rezonings brought new residents, the result has been subway cars so packed that commuters wait for several trains to pass, lengthy kindergarten wait lists and promised parks that have yet to be delivered. The city has also yet to master the art of making tightly packed blocks of new glass towers feel like neighborhoods, rather than sterile enclaves.

In downtown Brooklyn, local City Council Member Letitia James said the new development has driven out working-class families.

"We've lost quite a few," she said. "We've done studies regarding parking, and yet no studies about the loss of affordable housing and the loss of moderate-income housing."
In Lower Manhattan, where a number of office buildings have been converted into new apartments, local officials balked at the Center for Urban Real Estate report's notion of adding some 10,000 new units—unless the area gets more schools.

The school-age population of the Financial District more than tripled between 2000 and 2010, U.S. Census Bureau data shows.

"We have one ball field in Battery Park City, which was damaged after Sandy. The soccer season was completely eliminated. Thanks to elected officials, it was back online just in time for Little League," said Catherine McVay Hughes, chairwoman of Community Board 1.

The Center for Urban Real Estate report's authors cautioned that the report is a planning tool and doesn't take into account the politics of zoning, which often requires the city and developers to strike compromises with the community on the bulk of new buildings.

"Politically the big developments are controversial and there are a lot of people who say we don't want our neighborhood character to change," Mr. Chakrabarti said. "Who's the voice of the New Yorkers who aren't here yet?"

Finding places for new people in the city isn't as simple as putting development in less-dense neighborhoods. More than a quarter of the city's housing is in single-family structures, meaning there's still plenty of room to go up to accommodate more people.

But in many of those areas prices aren't high enough to justify the cost of building new 40-story towers. It's unclear, for example, whether there's enough demand for the 10,000 to 15,000 units the report said could be accommodated along Queens Boulevard, a 12-lane thoroughfare through the heart of the borough.

That much of the development would be along the waterfront raises serious questions after superstorm Sandy, when residents in Lower Manhattan, Long Island City and Red Hook were out of their homes for weeks or months.

The report's authors said the need to prepare for future storms is actually an opportunity to create new residential construction as well.

"We need the infrastructure to prevent storm surges," said Jesse Keenan, the center's research director. "Why not build housing on top?"

Population growth isn't a bad problem for a city to have. New York's has climbed to more than 8.2 million in 2010 at the same time that Detroit's population, for example, declined to 713,777, its lowest point since 1910.

Still, the issue will pose a challenge for the city's next mayor. Under the assumptions in the report, the city will grow about 35% more quickly between now and 2040 than it did from 2000 to 2010.

Without a road map for development, Robert Yaro, president of the Regional Plan Association, an urban planning think tank in Manhattan, said population growth would eventually become "a brake on the economic potential of the city."

Citing Yogi Berra, he said, "The place will become so crowded that nobody will go there anymore."


June 12th, 2013, 01:28 PM
Maybe people just need to NOT live in NYC.....

I know that there is a concentration, but there is also a partial out-migration due to the density.

If NYC can be maintained at optimal, with a constant pressure for more keeping land values high, additional development can occur in the surrounding boroughs of NY and NJ. Jersey City is seeing this now.

I am not against NYC and increasing its population base, but maybe a more efficient network of city centers should be what we are reaching for rather than how many clowns we can get in one car...

June 18th, 2013, 05:06 PM
They should just simply upzone the entire city by 25%, and add development fees for new construction that would fund the building of infrastructure to support the added population. Intentionally don't include enforced affordable units in this upzoning. The property, income, and sales taxes generated by the new construction, and the new residents living in that construction, would fund the ongoing operation and maintenance of the new infrastructure.

June 20th, 2015, 04:15 AM
NY's Rent Laws Get Extended; New Ones Still 'Far From a Deal'

June 19, 2015, by Zoe Rosenberg

http://cdn.cstatic.net/gridnailer/500x/http://cdn.cstatic.net/images/gridfs/557b0bb9f92ea141f400000e/421-a%20Primer.jpg (http://cdn.cstatic.net/images/gridfs/557b0bb9f92ea141f400000e/421-a%20Primer.jpg)
Via Shutterstock/Zlatko Guzmic (http://www.shutterstock.com/pic-284441243/stock-vector-vector-different-buildings-in-isometric-projection.html?src=BMtETOPFIr0YaGkCvO-iJg-1-11)

State lawmakers have agreed on one thing in the enormous debacle over expiring rent regulation (http://ny.curbed.com/archives/2015/06/15/tracking_the_imminent_expiration_of_crucial_nyc_ho using_laws.php) and 421-a (http://ny.curbed.com/archives/2015/06/12/new_yorks_great_421a_debate_the_uncertain_future_o f_trading_affordable_housing_for_tax_breaks.php) laws, and that's to extend their session, retroactively, by five days—which buys them until Tuesday to make some decisions. The extension gives lawmakers more time to hammer out the terms of an uncertain deal, and gives vulnerable tenants protection during the lapse.

When the legislation ran out on Monday (ttp://ny.curbed.com/archives/2015/06/15/tracking_the_imminent_expiration_of_crucial_nyc_ho using_laws.php), rent-regulated apartments in theory became market-rate, but landlords are still beholden to their lease agreements with regulated tenants, of which there are believed to be about 2 million throughout the city. The Journal says (http://www.wsj.com/articles/deal-reached-to-temporarily-extend-new-york-city-rent-rules-1434685810?mod=rss_newyork_real_estate) that the Democrat-controlled State Assembly is looking to strengthen rent regulation laws so that fewer apartments can be moved to market-rate, but the Republican-controlled Senate is at odds with that plan, and wants to implement an income verification program for tenants in rent-regulated buildings.

Both the rent regulation laws and 421-a tax abatement program are seen as well-intentioned policies in need of tweaks to eliminate loopholes and outdated sections. Mayor Bill de Blasio presented a revised 421-a policy (http://ny.curbed.com/archives/2015/06/12/new_yorks_great_421a_debate_the_uncertain_future_o f_trading_affordable_housing_for_tax_breaks.php) to the State Senate that ultimately won the support of the pro-development Real Estate Board of New York, but didn't make it much further with the actual politicians. Other camps within the state government have also been rumored to be hammering out their own plans. The Daily News reports (http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/city-calls-worried-tenants-rent-laws-article-1.2263263) that state legislators said on Thursday that they were far from a deal.

De Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo, both Democrats, have expressed contempt for the idea of letting the policies lapse, referring to a New York City without these regulations as "a nightmare," (http://nypost.com/2015/06/13/de-blasio-says-expired-rent-regulations-would-be-nightmare/) "the end of NYC as we know it," (http://www.dnainfo.com/new-york/20150612/midtown/mayor-failure-renew-rent-laws-will-be-end-of-nyc-as-we-have-known-it) and paving the way for "pandemonium." (http://www.wsj.com/articles/officials-brace-for-rent-crisis-1434154959?mod=rss_newyork_real_estate&cb=logged0.976197702344507)

Deal Reached to Temporarily Extend New York City Rent Rules (http://www.wsj.com/articles/deal-reached-to-temporarily-extend-new-york-city-rent-rules-1434685810?mod=rss_newyork_real_estate) [WSJ]
New York Legislature Agrees to 5-Day Extension of Rent Regulations (http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/19/nyregion/legislature-agrees-to-5-day-extension-of-rent-regulations-but-no-long-term-deal.html?partner=rssnyt&emc=rss&_r=0) [NYT]

http://ny.curbed.com/archives/2015/06/19/nys_rent_laws_get_extended_new_ones_still_far_from _a_deal.php