Tuesday, July 09, 2013

AY down the memory hole: De Blasio believes city must do better in holding developers accountable (but doesn't look in mirror)

I reported in May how the mayoral candidates treated Atlantic Yards as a done deal, with many offering slippery responses. So it shouldn't be a surprise that Public Advocate Bill de Blasio has positioned himself as the most liberal (major) candidate, according to New York magazine, and that his campaign papers over his slippery position on Atlantic Yards.

The New York profile was headlined Bill de Blasio’s Towering Problem: He’s the highest-minded liberal in the race—but are his concerns too rarefied for most New Yorkers? (I'd suggest that Sal Albanese, with his refusal to accept developer contributions, is far more "liberal" and independent than de Blasio, but Albanese is a longshot--though respectable--candidate.)

Wrote New York's Chris Smith regarding de Blasio:
The new, unsettled battleground is economic liberalism. His campaign is easily the most intellectually coherent and focused when it comes to inequality. Everything from his proposal for beefing up bus service to his plan for restructuring development subsidies extends from his central premise: that New York has become dangerously split between rich and poor, and the ­disparities in government priorities and services need to be closed.
...I see people suffering and feeling like they’re losing their grip on the place, and my job is to help New Yorkers live in New York. It’s not to clear the place out and see it fully gentrified.” So De Blasio, as mayor, wouldn’t just tax the rich more stiffly; he’d cut down on the use of stop-and-frisk and require real-estate developers to build below-­market-rate apartments.
Of course, when it comes to "requir[ing] real-estate developers to build below-­market-rate apartments," the devil's in the details, and de Blasio has been silent when the Atlantic Yards developer--a source of campaign cash--reneged on promises to provide significant numbers of family-sized apartments in the first tower.

Driving the hardest bargain?

In the same vein, an interview last week in Brownstoner Queens was headlined Bill de Blasio on Development: “We Need to Drive the Hardest Bargain Possible”:
In a 71-page policy paper, he calls for the creation and preservation of 200,000 affordable housing units. (Bloomberg called for 165,000 units by 2013.) De Blasio seeks a higher rate of affordable units compared to the 20 percent affordable, 80 percent market rate split common in new developments, which some tenant advocates say have failed to do enough. De Blasio wants higher taxes on vacant land, which would discourage landlords from holding onto parcels in hopes of selling at a higher price in the future. He wants the city’s public pension funds to invest $1 billion to build 11,000 of the new units. (Rival Anthony Weiner has proposed shifting units to a “60/20/20″ distribution.)
...At the same time, de Blasio said he is not anti-development... He said mistakes were made with the Williamsburg rezoning, where residents have been unsatisfied with the amount of affordable housing that’s been built despite a large increase in new apartment units along the waterfront. ”The industry made shallow commitments, and they weren’t enforced,” said de Blasio. “There wasn’t a rigorous follow through on the long-term commitments that were made.”
...De Blasio’s positions make him among the most liberal of the Democrat mayoral candidates, but his involvement in the city’s most controversial development demonstrates the complexities of balancing economic development with community oversight. As a City Councilman representing Park Slope, de Blasio was deep in the fray during the bruising fight for Atlantic Yards in 2006. He negotiated a community benefits agreement for the project, but critics say he failed to follow up to ensure that its guidelines were followed. (Bruce Ratner, developer of Barclays Center, has also donated to de Blasio’s campaign.)
A De Blasio spokeswoman said in a statement that he supported Atlantic Yards because “Brooklyn desperately needs more affordable housing and that locating density near mass transit makes sense, but he believes the city needs to do better in holding the developer — and all developers — accountable for their commitments.”
Some of those policies are worthy, especially the taxation of vacant land--a policy suggested by Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer in 2007.

But de Blasio hasn't exactly earned our trust. As I commented, de Blasio had nothing to do with negotiating a community benefits agreement (CBA) for Atlantic Yards, though he did support it--and the groups the signed it reciprocally supported him.

Also, the formulation that “critics say” he failed to follow up on the CBA suggests that it's a debatable issue. It's not. For example, as the link indicates, de Blasio said nothing about Atlantic Yards developer Forest City Ratners failure to hire an Independent Compliance Monitor.

Also, his claim that the “city needs to do better in holding the developer — and all developers — accountable for their commitments” is completely disingenuous, since he as Public Advocate could be part of that effort at accountability.

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