Skip to main content

Vacant lots, empty buildings = new opportunity for affordable housing

In the 1970s, New York City took over some 100,000 properties abandoned for nonpayment of taxes, and in subsequent decades helped community development groups fix them to create affordable housing. The numbers remaining are few, so the city now practices new tactics--tax incentives or increased development rights--to stimulate affordable housing.

But other solutions remain, notably the utilization of vacant or abandoned properties that are not in tax arrears. Unlike some other cities, notably Boston (as reported on the DMI blog), New York doesn't keep an inventory, nor has it changed any tax policies to incentivize owners.

(Regarding some seemingly stagnant properties in the Atlantic Yards footprint, the state got around the lack of incentives by declaring them blighted. A rezoning, however, might have done the trick.)

A lot of vacant properties

Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, in partnership with Picture the Homeless, decided to rectify that. They sponsored a study released in April, No Vacancy?, that concluded that 2228 properties in Manhattan appear to be vacant or have vacancies; 1723 contained built structures, while 505 are empty lots. Those lots could support, under current zoning, nearly 24,000 units.

Stringer recommends a citywide plan to identify vacant properties that are not in tax arrears. A registration and fee program could allow the city to learn the reasons for vacancy and suggest available financing options.

Also, the city could change tax policy that currently allows owners to sit on vacant land or buildings without penalty. The report notes, "Today, property taxes impose no burden on landowners who fail to develop empty lots or to rehabilitate deteriorating buildings. The result is a free pass on speculative timing of the real estate market."

(Here´s more on the issue from City Limits.)

Policy changes

Stringer, in his report on Manhattan, suggests several possible changes:
--ending the tax exemption for vacant land above 110th Street (and, by extension, in the outer boroughs); in Manhattan, that could raise more than $100 million a year
--levy a sales tax on vacant properties not improved during ownership.
--create a separate tax class for vacant properties.

Stringer also suggests changing the tax structure, in certain areas, to the value of the land, rather than the buildings. A number of cities around the world tax land at a higher rate, and this will begin in Philadelphia. The New York City Independent Budget Office, in its 2007 Budget Options for New York City, proposed this as a possible tactic.

IBO acknowledges a counter-argument: "Opponents might argue that the current tax treatment of this vacant land serves to preserve open space in residential areas in a city with far too little open space. Opponents also might have less faith in the power of existing zoning and land use policies to adequately restrict development in residential areas."

The Boston experience

Boston has been out ahead of most cities, compiling an annual survey since 1997 as part of its Abandoned Buildings Information. The number of abandoned residential properties went down 77% in the last decade.

Boston Mayor Thomas Menino spoke last Monday morning at a breakfast panel sponsored by the Drum Major Institute for Public Policy (DMI), titled Rehabilitating Vacant Buildings into Affordable Housing. (Here's a lengthy live blog from DMI, plus another piece. There´s a panel today at noon on the conjunction between housing policy, homelessness, and vacant property.)

He said that city officials first asked owners to clean up their buildings or sites. If not, such a property was labeled as a "house of shame," announced in press releases and news coverage in the home town--often upscale suburb--of the propety owner.

"I'm not in the embarrassment business," Menino said, "but when it's a piece of property in decay... and they live in suburban luxury, that's unacceptable."

(Left to right: Brad Lander, Carlton Collier, Scott Stringer, Thomas Menino, Andrea Batista Schlesinger. Photo from DMI Blog.)

The New York twists

Are there any other reasons for some properties to remain vacant or unimproved, beyond speculative warehousing? Brad Lander of the Pratt Center for Community Development suggested that in some neighborhoods, the market still isn't strong. Also, in some cases, there are ownership disputes.

Carlton Collier of the Parodneck Foundation--who joked that his address changed from Bedford-Stuyvesant to Clinton Hill without him moving--raised a larger question of planning for growth. "I would love to have the Nets, but when you build this stadium and office space," he asked, "what about the infrastructure?" (It would be mostly housing, not office space, but his point is a common one.)

Lapsed planning

"We've got to put planning back into the community boards," Stringer said. "So when the developer comes in with the 700-dollar-an-hour lawyer, the community is able to negotiate. We've got to beef the grass-roots up."

(Note today´s news that the City Council has established a new task force to assess new projects' impacts on city infrastructure. Worthy but late.)

Lander suggested "the system in New York City is broken for proactive planning." One way to keep track of vacant properties could be to use the system that keeps track of rent-regulated property.

Stringer said the city council should get the Department of Housing Preservation and Development to do a citywide count.

Lander said the city had moved too slowly to adapt to a changing market, as evidenced by the belated reform of the 421-a tax incentive for new construction and the failure to fix the J-51 incentive for rehabilitation--both generous programs devised during the days when no one wanted to build in the city.

Community planning

"You've got to get the community back in the process from the beginning," Menino said. Collier suggested there's a role for the 197-a plans produced by and for community boards.

"The ULURP process needs to be strengthened," Stringer said. "I know the skylines are changing, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. But development without community participation and input makes absolutely no sense."

"Whether it's Community Benefits Agreements or negotiations in the land use process, let's stop settling for crumbs," he said.

Lander noted that communities now only have input in a reactive way. "You're never going to get one developer to solve the collective" problems of education, transportation, traffic and more.

Stringer suggested that the 197-a provision could be a solution, if taken seriously. But it's neglected every time, Lander replied. "You might conclude another system is needed."

(Missing words added in below two paragraphs)

A developer in the audience, a white Harlem resident, got up to ask a provocative question. Harlem, he said, was once an upscale neighborhood. What's wrong with him developing market-rate condos there, if he's fulfilling his responsibilities to his shareholders. "The profit motive," he said, "is getting rid of blight."

Stringer gave him a partial answer, noting that, if developers ask for more than what they're allowed to do, that triggers a responsibility to provide affordable housing. But the question lingered, a reflection on whether the city's market-friendly politics do enough of the job.

Bloomberg's legacy

How will Mayor Mike Bloomberg be looked upon in the future, wondered moderator Andrea Batista Schlesinger, director of the DMI.

Bloomberg, suggested Lander, will get credit for PlaNYC 2030, "but if we don't come up with new policies to cope with affordability and sustainability," he won't come off well.

Collier noted that the city's not building housing for low-income people earning under $30,000. It's difficult, Stringer said, for politicians to do things that have implications beyond their terms.

Menino, however, more than once pointed to a larger culprit regarding urban policies: "Nobody down at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue cares about public housing." (A commentator on the DMI blog makes the same point, citing the mayor and governor as well.)


Popular posts from this blog

Barclays Center/Levy Restaurants hit with suit charging discrimination on disability, race; supervisors said to use vicious slurs, pursue retaliation

The Daily News has an article today, Barclays Center hit with $5M suit claiming discrimination against disabled, while the New York Post headlined its article Barclays Center sued over taunting disabled employees.

While that's part of the lawsuit, more prominent are claims of racial discrimination and retaliation, with black employees claiming repeated abuse by white supervisors, preferential treatment toward Hispanic colleagues, and retaliation in response to complaints.

Two individual supervisors, for example, are charged with  referring to black employees as “black motherfucker,” “dumb black bitch,” “black monkey,” “piece of shit” and “nigger.”

Two have referred to an employee blind in one eye as “cyclops,” and “the one-eyed guy,” and an employee with a nose disorder as “the nose guy.”

There's been no official response yet though arena spokesman Barry Baum told the Daily News they, but take “allegations of this kind very seriously” and have "a zero tolerance policy for…

Behind the "empty railyards": 40 years of ATURA, Baruch's plan, and the city's diffidence

To supporters of Forest City Ratner's Atlantic Yards project, it's a long-awaited plan for long-overlooked land. "The Atlantic Yards area has been available for any developer in America for over 100 years,” declared Borough President Marty Markowitz at a 5/26/05 City Council hearing.

Charles Gargano, chairman of the Empire State Development Corporation, mused on 11/15/05 to WNYC's Brian Lehrer, “Isn’t it interesting that these railyards have sat for decades and decades and decades, and no one has done a thing about them.” Forest City Ratner spokesman Joe DePlasco, in a 12/19/04 New York Times article ("In a War of Words, One Has the Power to Wound") described the railyards as "an empty scar dividing the community."

But why exactly has the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Vanderbilt Yard never been developed? Do public officials have some responsibility?

At a hearing yesterday of the Brooklyn Borough Board Atlantic Yards Committee, Kate Suisma…

No, security guards can't ban photos. Questions remain about visibility of ID/sticker system.

The bi-monthly Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park Community Update meeting June 14, held at 55 Hanson Place, addressed multiple issues, including delays in the project, a new detente with project neighbors,concerns about traffic congestion, upcoming sewer work and demolitions, and an explanation of how high winds caused debris to fly off the under-construction 38 Sixth Avenue building. I'll have more coverage.
Security issues came up several times at the meeting.
Wayne Bailey, a resident who regularly takes photos and videos (that I often use) of construction/operations issues that impact residents, asked representatives of Tishman Construction if the security guard at the sites they're building works for them.
After Tishman Senior VP Eric Reid said yes, Bailey asked why a guard told him not to shoot video of the site, even though he was on a public street.

"I will address it with principals for that security firm," Reid said.
Forest City Ratner executive Ashley Cotton, the …

Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park graphic: what's built/what might be coming (post-dated pinned post)

This graphic, posted in November 2017, is post-dated to stay at the top of the blog. It will be updated as announced configurations change and buildings launch. Note the unbuilt B1 and the proposed shift in bulk to the unbuilt Site 5.

The August 2014 tentative configurations proposed by developer Greenland Forest City Partners will change. The project is already well behind that tentative timetable.

How many people are expected?

Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park has a projected 6,430 apartments housing 2.1 persons per unit (as per Chapter 4 of the 2006 Final Environmental Impact Statement), which would mean 13,503 new residents, with 1,890 among them in low-income affordable rentals, and 2,835 in moderate- and middle-income affordable rentals.

That leaves 8,778 people in market-rate rentals and condos, though let's call it 8,358 after subtracting 420 who may live in 200 promised below-market condos. So that's 5,145 in below-market units, though many of them won't be so cheap.


Barclays Center event June 11 to protest plans to expand Israeli draft; questions about logistics

At right is a photo of a poster spotted in Hasidic Williamsburg right. Clearly there's an event scheduled at the Barclays Center aimed at the Haredi Jewish community (strict Orthodox Jews who reject secular culture), but the lack of English text makes it cryptic.

The website explains, Protest Against Israeli Draft of Bnei Yeshiva Rescheduled for Barclays Center:
A large asifa to protest the drafting of bnei yeshiva in Eretz Yisroel into the Israeli army that had been set to take place this month will instead be held on Sunday, 17 Sivan/June 11, at the Barclays Center in Downtown Brooklyn, NY. So attendees at a big gathering will protest an apparent change of policy that will make it much more difficult for traditional Orthodox Jewish students--both Hasidic (who follow a rebbe) and non-Hasidic (who don't)--to get deferments from the draft. Comments on the Yeshiva World website explain some of the debate.

The logistical questions

What's unclear is how large the ev…

The passing of David Sheets, Dean Street renter, former Freddy's bartender, eminent domain plaintiff, and singular personality

David Sheets, longtime Dean Street renter, Freddy's bartender, eminent domain plaintiff, and singular personality, died 1/17/18 in HCA Greenview Hospital in Bowling Green, KY. He was 56.

There are obituary notices in the Bowling Green Daily News and the Wichita Eagle, which state:
He was born in Wichita, KS where he attended public Schools and Wichita State University. He lived for many years in Brooklyn, NY, and was employed as a legal assistant. David's hobby was cartography and had an avid interest in Mass Transit Systems of the world. David was predeceased by his father, Kenneth E. Sheets. He is survived by his mother, Wilma Smith, step-brother, Billy Ray Smith and his wife, Jane all of Bowling Green; step-sister, Ellen Smith Alexander and her husband, Jerry of Bella Vista, AR; several cousins and step-nieces and step-nephews also survive. Memorial Services will be on Monday, January 22, 2018 at 1:00 pm with visitation from 10:00 am to 1:00 pm Monday at Johnson-Vaughn-Phe…

Atlanta's Atlantic Yards moves ahead

First mentioned in April, the Atlantic Yards project in Atlanta is moving ahead--and has the potential to nudge Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn further down in Google searches.

According to a 5/30/17 press release, Hines and Invesco Real Estate Announce T3 West Midtown and Atlantic Yards:
Hines, the international real estate firm, and Invesco Real Estate, a global real estate investment manager, today announced a joint venture on behalf of one of Invesco Real Estate’s institutional clients to develop two progressive office projects in Atlanta totalling 700,000 square feet. T3 West Midtown will be a 200,000-square-foot heavy timber office development and Atlantic Yards will consist of 500,000 square feet of progressive office space in two buildings. Both projects are located on sites within Atlantic Station in the flourishing Midtown submarket.
Hines will work with Hartshorne Plunkard Architecture (HPA) as the design architect for both T3 West Midtown and Atlantic Yards. DLR Group will be t…