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Thread: One Housing Woe Gives Way to Another

  1. #31

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    June 29, 2004

    City Announces Financing Deal for Mitchell-Lama Landlords

    By DAVID W. CHEN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Jennifer Steinhauer contributed reporting for this article.

    Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

  2. #32

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    August 8, 2004

    The Last Empty Lot

    By SETH KUGEL


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    The World of the Lot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Who's Crazy Now?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    The Shift to Private Hands

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

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

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

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

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

    Patches of the Old

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

  3. #33

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    City Limits MONTHLY

    Date: July/August 2004

    SPACE: THE FINAL FRONTIER

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


    By Elizabeth Cady Brown

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  4. #34

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    Gotham Gazette - http://www.gothamgazette.com/article...050125/10/1300

    Repealing the Urstadt Law

    by Joe Lamport

    25 Jan 2005

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  5. #35

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    January 27, 2005

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

    By DAVID W. CHEN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

  6. #36
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    Funny, right after a request for $80 billion more for Iraq.

  7. #37

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    Quote Originally Posted by Gulcrapek
    Funny, right after a request for $80 billion more for Iraq.

    Iraqis need homes too.

    [note sarcasm]

  8. #38
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    As you know, you have to live in the apartment you have. It's not the apartment you might want or wish to have at a later time.

  9. #39

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    January 29, 2005

    Where Crack Once Ruled, Construction Now Booms

    By JENNIFER STEINHAUER

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

  10. #40

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    That really suprised me that Manhattan is 4 out of 5 with permits! This city is def. booming!
    Last edited by NewYorkYankee; January 30th, 2005 at 07:01 PM.

  11. #41

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    February 3, 2005

    Thousands Rally to Demand Low-Income Housing in City

    By DAVID W. CHEN


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

    oping to inject the topic of housing into the mayoral race, thousands of tenants, teachers, city employees, immigrants and clerics converged outside City Hall yesterday afternoon to demand more housing for the neediest New Yorkers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

  12. #42

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    February 15, 2005

    Study Urges City to Require Building of Low-Cost Housing

    By DAVID W. CHEN

    new study by researchers at New York University recommends that the city require developers to include lower-cost apartments in large apartment buildings in fast-growing neighborhoods.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

  13. #43
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    NYDailyNews
    Mar 6, 5:56 AM EST

    Public housing vacancies cost city $18 million a year

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  14. #44

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    March 6, 2005

    Vacant Public Housing Units Have Increased, Report Says

    By DAVID W. CHEN

    he number of public housing apartments in New York City vacant for more than five years has increased 31 percent since 2003, meaning a loss of rental income of $18 million a year, according to a new report.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

  15. #45

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    April 20, 2005

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

    By DAVID W. CHEN
    aying that it was time to keep a promise first made more than 15 years ago, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and the city comptroller, William C. Thompson Jr., proposed yesterday that the city create a trust fund for low-cost housing by using $130 million in surplus funds from the Battery Park City Authority.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


    Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

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