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Thread: One Housing Woe Gives Way to Another

  1. #16


    Gotham Gazette -

    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. [If it is undone] 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."

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

  2. #17

  3. #18


    Housing for All
    A growing concern leads to a search for new ideas in the ways we live.

  4. #19


    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

  5. #20


    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

  6. #21


    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

  7. #22


    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

  8. #23


    Gotham Gazette -

    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.

  9. #24


    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

  10. #25


    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

  11. #26


    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

  12. #27


    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

  13. #28
    Forum Veteran
    Join Date
    Jan 2003
    Garden City, LI


    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.

  14. #29


    Quote Originally Posted by alex ballard
    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?

  15. #30
    Forum Veteran
    Join Date
    Nov 2002
    New York City


    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.

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