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Thread: One Housing Woe Gives Way to Another

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    December 21, 2003

    One Housing Woe Gives Way to Another

    By DAVID W. CHEN


    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

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    Note that there is still graffiti on the marble panelling in that Brooklyn building.

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    December 22, 2003

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

    By DAVID W. CHEN

    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

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    January 14, 2004

    10,000 Housing Units Coming, Mayor Says

    By JENNIFER STEINHAUER

    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

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    Gotham Gazette - http://www.gothamgazette.com/article...0040116/20/840

    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.

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    January 30, 2004

    New Housing Spurt Sweeping Boroughs Outside Manhattan

    By JOSH BARBANEL

    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

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    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.

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    Does anyone know where these sites acutally are in Manhattan, BK, and Queens?

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    February 15, 2004

    In a Brooklyn Boom, a Patchwork of Housing

    By ANDY NEWMAN


    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

  12. #12
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    ...see what I mean about the architecture?

  13. #13
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    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.

  14. #14

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    INNOVATIVE AND AFFORDABLE HOUSING



    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 .

    http://www.gothamgazette.com/calendar.shtml

  15. #15

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    February 20, 2004

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

    By DAVID W. CHEN

    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

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