Cuomo visits NYCHA + How Private Developers Acquire Public Land

Local News

  • After two terms of largely ignoring public housing, Cuomo visited a NYCHA development for the first time since becoming Governor and directed the State Health Department to investigate conditions in public housing, saying he was prepared to declare a “state of emergency” at NYCHA. On Saturday, at his second visit to a NYCHA complex, Cuomo stated that “even though the state has no financial responsibility, I am going to fight for another $250 million for NYCHA residents.” The Mayor’s Office has claimed that the State is withholding $200 million in funding previously promised for key repairs at NYCHA developments.
  • City Limits highlights that under Governor Cuomo, the majority or entirety of state funding for NYCHA has actually come from the federal government for post-Sandy repairs. Cuomo claims that he has provided “unprecedented and historic” levels of funding to NYCHA.
  • Former aide to Gov. Cuomo, Joseph Percoco, was found guilty of accepting over $300,000 in bribes.
  • Permits have been filed to construct a 15 story residential building at Bedford Union Armory.
  • A new report from the Village Voice reveals that the MTA has systematically installed lower speed limits across the subway system that have slowed trains down and exacerbated the downward spiral for on-time service over the past few years.
  • With Gothamist preparing to relaunch as a subsidiary of WNYC this spring, major questions are still unanswered about the prospects of its union. Furthermore, the future appears even more grim for DNAinfo, which dispatched beat reporters to specific neighborhoods while the rest of the City’s press corps were pulling out of local reporting.

Elections

  • The New York State Democratic Committee spent $100,000 on an ad touting Governor Cuomo’s gun control record. The Committee is effectively controlled by Cuomo, and some have questioned its decision to run a campaign ad for the Governor when he already has $40 million in the bank, the Committee is supposed to stay neutral in primaries, and there are a number of Democrats in State Senate swing districts that would better benefit from such spending.
  • Some political consultants predict Cynthia Nixon will not be as formidable of a challenger to Cuomo as Zephyr Teachout, a progressive challenger, was in 2014 with 34% of the vote.
  • After endorsing Cuomo in 2014 over Teachout, the Working Families Party again faces the choice of either “safely” endorsing the Governor or choosing Cynthia Nixon, an unproven candidate running to his left.
  • With Cynthia Nixon’s campaign appearing imminent, Governor Cuomo has gone on an all out political offensive to shore up support, dispatching surrogates to support him and attack Nixon, gaining premature endorsements from organizations like NOW, and mobilizing the State Democratic establishment to box Nixon out early. He also received the endorsement of Sir Elton John.

In-Depth: Public Land Grabs: How Private Developers Acquire Public Land

"Divestment"

A brief history of public land in NYC

Public land has historically played a crucial role in the development of affordable housing and urban planning. However, the process of public land leases and sales can unsurprisingly favor for-profit developers at the expense of working class tenants. A variety of institutionally racist land use policies across the US including redlining, deindustrialization, and urban renewal resulted in a great deal of landlord foreclosures by the 1970s. These properties were eventually taken over by municipalities. While some cities continue to maintain this stock of public land, New York City has developed various mechanisms through which public land is used for neighborhood redevelopment.

Public land transactions under de Blasio

The City disposes of public land primarily through two main land development agencies. The Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) is tasked with developing and maintaining the City’s stock of affordable housing, and the New York City Economic Development Corporation (EDC) is a not-for-profit corporation responsible for managing the City’s assets and developing real estate through public-private partnerships.

Mayor Bloomberg and his predecessors were quick to give up ownership of public land to developers. However, under de Blasio there has been a shift in EDC policy from outright sales of public land to one of offering developers a 99-year ground lease, allowing the City to retain ownership of the land parcel. EDC documents show 41 land sales by the EDC to other entities from 2005-2013 in comparison to only seven land sales from 2014 to the present.

Despite this shift in policy at the EDC, since de Blasio took office in January 2014, the City of New York through HPD has sold 202 City-owned lots to housing developers for $1 each, with 41 lots pending sale for $1. According to onedollarlots.org, while some lots are used for clear community benefit purposes, such as youth shelters, some are sold to for-profit housing developers to create market rate apartments. The $1 properties often come with many stipulations about how the land must be used, though the usage restrictions almost always expire after a certain period of time.

How developers acquire public land

RFPs and RFIs

The most common way for a private developer to acquire public land is by responding to a publicly available Request for Proposals (RFP) or a Request for Interest (RFI) released by EDC or HPD. These requests outline the selection criteria and requirements associated with the parcel of land, and each submission is assessed by an appointed team of evaluators consisting of employees within the agency or external organizations. While this is the most competitive and therefore most “transparent” procurement process, there are opportunities for it to favor certain developers during the selection process. For example, the agency may tailor the selection criteria to a specific developer’s competencies, ensuring that specific developer is awarded the contract.

Sole Source Procurements

In some cases, a project is awarded to a specific company without any competitive process, which is called a sole source. A sole source must meet specific requirements that were established in 1982 for EDC’s predecessor, the Public Development Corporation. The requirements are extremely generic, referring broadly to instances where there is a vendor with “unique” capabilities leaving no viable alternatives, a “small component” of a project (defined as 1/100th of the overall project cost) is a critical path item and a competitive procurement would cause a sufficient delay or overruns, and a consultant’s prior experience would “add significantly to the overall quality of … the planning, design, or construction of the project.” In short, a sole source procurement is conducted at the whim of Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen who must sign off on all sole source procurements. This is by far the least transparent and most controversial method of procurement, though significantly less common, allowing the DM to award a contract to whomever she thinks is most appropriate.

Why does this matter? Public land is a scarce and precious resource. The developer-friendly policies of Mayor de Blasio and Deputy Mayor Glen are ineffective at closing the widening affordability gap and stemming New York City’s continued housing crisis, which has been called a humanitarian emergency. As socialists, we must continue to fight for more radical solutions such as community land trusts that will help bring land back into public control and allow for the creation of permanently affordable housing, communal green spaces, and other social goods.

(Illustration by Annie Zhao)

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