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Know Your Rights
Source: Crain's New York Business
Subject: Housing & Environmental Justice
Type: Media Coverage

Mayor’s housing plan kicks off, with some gripes

The de Blasio administration’s $41 billion plan to build and preserve 200,000 units of affordable housing officially began Monday with a meeting of the so-called implementation advisory board—but one invitee skipped the gathering and delivered harsh words about mayor’s plan.

City Planning Commission Chairman Carl Weisbrod and Housing Preservation and Development Commissioner Vicki Been presided over the 90-minute meeting at City Hall that included Wall Street and real estate executives, construction trade members, affordable housing advocates, progressive activists, academics and others, according to a list of attendees provided to Crain’s. About three dozen participants were said to be in attendance.

Michael McKee, treasurer of Tenants PAC, attended a simultaneous meeting of the Rent Guidelines Board instead. Even so, he blasted the mayor’s housing plan as “window dressing” and said it lacks a specific plan to address vacancy decontrol, a process by which rent-regulated apartments become market-rate.

“I literally despair of their whole approach,” Mr. McKee said.
A de Blasio spokesperson responded, “Preserving at-risk Mitchell-Lama housing and stemming the tide of apartments lost to deregulation are key parts of our broader strategy.” Rent regulation is controlled by state legislation.

According to the mayor’s housing plan, the implementation advisory board will “be comprised of stakeholders from New York’s diverse housing community and provide important guidance to the city.”

Indeed, attendees included a diverse array of advocates and business representatives, many of whom had regular contact with the previous administration under Michael Bloomberg, such as Steve Spinola of the Real Estate Board of New York, and others who had been mostly shut out of development talks with City Hall, such as Jonathan Westin of New York Communities for Change and Javier Valdes of Make the Road New York.

Other attendees included Priscilla Almodovar, COO of JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s Community Development Banking Business; Xavier Briggs, VP for economic opportunity and assets at the Ford Foundation; David Kramer, a principal at Hudson Companies; union leader Gary LaBarbera, president of the Building and Construction Trades Council; affordable housing builder Martin Dunn, president of Dunn Development Corp.; Deborah Howard, executive director of the Pratt Area Community Council; Todd Gomez, a senior vice president at Bank of America; and Héctor Figueroa, president of building workers union 32BJ.

Mr. Weisbrod and Ms. Been kicked off the meeting by asking for reactions to the mayor’s housing plan, which was released in early May. The discussion pivoted to problems with recent zoning changes and how the city can foster development of more housing with a substantial number of affordable units, according to an agenda of the meeting.

The administration said it plans to target up to 15 neighborhoods for taller buildings and increased density, though it has yet to publicly name any those neighborhoods except East New York, which has been deemed a “template.”

Mr. Spinola, who confirmed Monday his intention of stepping down from REBNY at the end of 2015 after 30 years as the city’s top real estate lobbyist, said the meeting was helpful insofar as it laid out the administration’s expectations for growing the city’s housing stock.

“Other areas they did not want to disclose at this point, simply because they thought it was appropriate to have some discussion with the community … although they clearly already are working at where they should be,” the real estate leader said. The administration has the tricky task of generating community support for taller buildings, which historically are resisted by locals.

“Questions were asked about the areas that have been rezoned, why hasn’t it affected the area,” Mr. Spinola continued. “I don’t think any real answers came up, but there was some discussion.”

City Hall staffers noted the significance of convening a meeting that included stakeholders who often find themselves at odds, such as Mr. Spinola and Ismene Speliotis, executive director of the Mutual Housing Association of New York, which was previously ACORN’s housing corporation.

Mr. Spinola noted that he even sat next to Ms. Speliotis.
“We’re building that relationship,” he said. “Because of the emphasis [the mayor] has put [on cooperation], we all recognize that if we actually want to accomplish something for our own interest—whatever that may be—we better talk to each other.”

It’s unclear what role the advisory board will have in implementing the mayor’s housing plan outside of meeting occasionally to hash out ideas. Mr. Spinola said they would likely run into “problems” if they were asked to reach a consensus.

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