Tuesday, March 31, 2009

As foreclosures increase, real blight (unlike AY 'blight') creates "real-estate panic"

Recent coverage of the foreclosure crisis around the country reinforces the definition of blight offered by urban planning professor Lynne Sagalyn: where "the fabric of a community is shot to hell."

Outside Cleveland, the New York Times reported March 23, the city of "Euclid has installed alarm systems in some vacant houses to keep out people hoping to steal lights and other fixtures, drug users and squatters." 

Euclid and other inner suburbs are spending "millions of dollars to maintain vacant houses as they try to contain blight and real-estate panic."

Yesterday, the Times reported on "bank walkaways," in which the banks won't even take possession of properties because it costs more to do so than the value of the real estate.

And in the AY footprint?

In the case of Atlantic Yards, there were some vacant buildings and empty lots, but there was and remains enormous demand for the land in and around the AY footprint.

That's why the failure by consultant AKRF to conduct the market study called for in its Blight Study contract with the Empire State Development Corporation looms large in the effort to appeal the dismissal of the case challenging the AY environmental review.

Instead, we saw AKRF straining to find blight, for example at the Mobil Station at Flatbush Avenue and Dean Street, contending that, "as shown in Photographs C and D, portions of the lot’s asphalt surface are pot holed (Photograph C shows a drainage grate near the lot’s entrance that has sunk below grade) and areas of the sidewalk surrounding the lot are cracked and uneven."

Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn responded that the "so-called potholes are in fact asphalt patches applied to holes drilled by Roux Associates in the course of making soil sample borings for AKRF when FCR was purchasing the property. It is not evident as asserted in Photo 1127-1-D that the entry drainage grate has sunk below grade. Likewise, the concrete sidewalk has cracks so very modest and so easily fixed, they do not merit 'blight characteristic' status."

Who'd move in?

There's another intriguing contrast. Around the country, those suffering economically have lost their houses and even moved into tent cities. One solution, as suggested last night at a panel titled "Urbanism, Inc." sponsored by the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, is to take back the foreclosed homes for those who need them. (Presumably, those are buildings not severely blighted.)

In the Atlantic Yards footprint, the most available units are not in buildings deemed unsafe, but in handsome former industrial buildings renovated into condos. And, as I've argued, we'll know Forest City Ratner is really serious only when it demolishes the Spalding Building, because, should the project fail, the units in that building could easily be re-sold.

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