On the heels of President Trump signing three executive orders “designed to restore safety in America,” City Council Member Antonio Reynoso is condemning the actions as “deeply concerning.” In a statement, he says it was “only fitting” that Trump signed the orders “while swearing in noted racist Jeff Sessions as Attorney General.”
It’s too late to save Rivington House, the former HIV treatment facility that a non-profit nursing home operator unexpectedly flipped to a luxury developer after the city quietly lifted a deed restriction. But a bill signed into law today should do something to prevent buildings designated for community use from becoming luxury condos.
The new law requires the city to maintain a searchable online database of properties with deed restrictions, and forces developers who want to have them lifted to inform their local City Council member, community board, and borough president. The law requires the mayor, a specially formed committee, and the Department of City Planning to review any such requests, and approve them with the mayor’s personal sign-off only if they’re deemed to be in the city’s best interest. While there had been talk of requiring the city’s stringent Uniform Land Use Review Procedure in such scenarios, the new law stops short of that.
You might have noticed that since the election, stories of hate crimes and swastika sightings have been everywhere. But the increase isn’t simply due to a greater public interest in issues like police brutality and racially-motivated violence– hate crimes themselves have actually been on the rise. And quantifiably so: in the first 10 days after Trump’s victory, the Southern Poverty Law Center documented 867 “bias-related incidents” across the country. (And yet, the government itself has no reliable way of tracking hate crime. “That’s because reporting of hate crimes is voluntary, not mandatory,” CNN reported yesterday.)
As New Yorkers, we live in one of the most progressive and diverse cities in the nation, so we might think that hate crimes only happen in rural America, and are therefore not our problem. Unfortunately, that’s just patently false. Back in November, Governor Cuomo said that the “ugly political discourse” of the campaign trail has only gotten worse, having transformed into an all-out “social crisis” of hate crime and intolerance. “This fear and this anger, misdirected, seeks an enemy,” he said. “It seeks a target and that target has become people who we see as different than ourselves.” Recently, Cuomo launched a Statewide hotline for reporting “incidents of bias and discrimination.” According to the NYPD, hate crimes have been on the rise in the last year right here in New York City– as of November 13, 328 had been reported since the start of 2016. (As Gothamist noted, that’s a 31.5 percent increase since 2015.)
Ok, that’s a little overwhelming. So how can we even begin to respond to awful garbage like this?
As the ongoing drama surrounding the Rivington House intensifies, elected officials urged the City Planning Commission this morning to make deed restriction changes subject to the city’s strictest approval process. On the steps of City Hall, officials reiterated the importance of making deed restriction changes more transparent and accountable.
In a statement released after the press conference, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer argued that changes to deed restrictions (which limit how a property can be used) should have to be approved via the city’s Uniform Land Use and Review Process (ULURP), which requires multiple city agencies to sign off on certain projects. “We lost Rivington House because the deed restriction change was managed by the wrong agencies in a bad process. The best way to fix this is to handle these land use changes the same tried-and-true way we’ve handled other meaningful land use changes for years, with transparency and public input.”
Some background on the issue: 45 Rivington, a former schoolhouse turned nursing home, was subject to a deed restriction established in 1992 that limited the building to non-profit usage. Although Allure Group, the nursing-home operator that took over the building in 2014, is a for-profit organization, it was understood that the building would remain as some kind of medical facility for the neighborhood’s many seniors.
But last year, the city controversially lifted the non-profit deed restriction and failed to set down any conditions for the building’s use. The building was then sold to private developers, who plan to convert it into luxury condos. Predictably, the outcry has been significant.
Last week the city’s Department of Investigations released a report accusing Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration of incompetence and finding a “complete lack of accountability within City government regarding deed restriction removals.” Furthermore, the report found that the Rivington House’s deed restriction removal was handled by a number of agencies that weren’t directly in charge of determining land usage. Yesterday, the Neighbors to Save Rivington House, a community activist group, said in a statement that “the fact that the deed restrictions were lifted without any notice to our electeds or Community Board 3, and that there was NO chance for community discussion and comment is scandalous.”
City Council member Margaret Chin and President Brewer agreed that it was problematic that the deed restrictions were lifted in a manner that completely escaped pubic notice and that lacked any formalized process. In a letter to the City Planning Commission, Brewer and Chin proposed legislation that would create a searchable database of properties with city-imposed deed restrictions, and called for a codified, “public and transparent process” for the lifting or modifying of the restrictions. The pols are also seeking “a more formal process for lifting deed restrictions on formerly city-owned property.” This way, local community boards, borough presidents, city council members, and members of the public could be informed and react quickly. Chin has already introduced this legislation to City Hall in May.
However, Brewer and Chin stated in their letter that while “these steps are necessary,” they “no longer believe they are sufficient.”
“Rather than sticking with a broken system that took Rivington House from the community, or creating another system from scratch, it makes sense to utilize a proven process that for decades has guided thousands of land use changes,” Council Member Chin said in a statement at today’s press conference. “By making deed restriction changes subject to ULURP, we will introduce transparency and public input to an inconsistent process that has failed to protect and preserve significant community assets, such as Rivington House.”
Under ULURP, projects involving certain changes such as rezoning, transfer of city property, and adjustments to the city map must be approved by multiple agencies, including the revelant community board, the borough president, the City Planning Commission, the City Council, and the mayor’s office. In their letter to the City Planning Commission, Brewer and Chin invoked a section of the New York City Charter that gives the commission power to determine, with the City Council’s support, what can and cannot be subject to ULURP, meaning that deed restriction removals could very well fall under its jurisdiction as well.
The elected officials urged the Planning Commission to adopt this proposal and present it to the City Council to prevent future losses of community-relevant buildings such as the Rivington House.
Correction: The original version of this post misstated the term Uniform Land Use Review Procedure for Universal Land Use Review Procedure.
A slew of city agencies and elected officials are asking Bushwick residents for direct input on how best to handle the rapid change that’s consuming the neighborhood.
“We’re here to make sure we give the people the opportunity to make a decision on what their neighborhood’s going to look like in the future,” City Council member Antonio Reynoso told the crowd at a Monday meeting at Ridgewood Bushwick Youth Center. Among the areas of concern: population growth, demographic shifts, the loss of affordable housing, an influx of luxury housing, private interests, and businesses that cater toward the moneyed. In other words, gentrification.
As Participatory Budgeting has been adopted here in New York City over the last few years, residents of each participating district can now vote on how to allocate a minimum of $1 million of the city budget to the local improvement efforts they they care most about. In North Brooklyn, the budgetary contenders chosen by neighbors include projects in schools, parks, playgrounds, transportation, and public housing. (Sorry, Lower East Side and East Village– you’re left out again this year.)
Bushwick council member Antonio Reynoso was among the many who challenged Mayor de Blasio’s affordable housing plan last week, but that doesn’t mean he’s ready to shoot it down entirely. Upzoning (i.e. rezoning certain areas to allow for higher buildings) is one of the more controversial aspects of the the mayor’s plan, and something that Bushwick residents have vehemently protested against in recent years. But in a report released earlier this month, Reynoso concludes that the mayor’s Mandatory Inclusionary Housing program, which would require a share of those taller buildings to be permanently affordable, represents the chance to address “missed opportunities” in North Brooklyn housing development.
The first rows of the City Council chambers were packed with red shirts yesterday. Members of the AARP were there to support Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plan to tackle the city’s affordable housing crisis and create 200,000 units over the next decade. But council members representing North Brooklyn aren’t so sure about the plan.
City Council members pushed Mayor de Blasio’s new rezoning plan to prioritize deeper affordability during a hearing yesterday on a key pillar of his effort to add 200,000 new affordable units over 10 years. If passed, Mandatory Inclusionary Housing would require new constructions in certain neighborhoods to set aside 25-30 percent of the units as permanently affordable.
Tenants and activists who are part of the Stand for Tenant Safety Coalition (STS) rallied outside of 90 Elizabeth Street this morning before marching to City Hall to show their support for a package of bills that would address construction-related harassment. Today marks an important landmark for the coalition’s fight against landlords who are taking advantage of a lack of oversight and toothless fines.
“You really have to be quick crossing the street, or they’ll totally run you down,” a friend of mine laughed. “I’m actually really scared that someday they’ll catch me not paying attention.” He was right– even after dark last night, garbage trucks were still rumbling down Thames Street periodically, past his apartment and toward the Brooklyn Waste Transfer Facility, which neighbors are saying is a particularly devious garbage deposit. I was on my way to a community meeting that brought together activists, workers, residents, and local business owners– all of them concerned about waste inequity– inside La Luz, a storefront and pop-up venue space.
To get to the meeting, I had to cross directly in front of the garbage processing warehouse where, per usual, the massive doors were wide open (which activists and residents say is the case several times an hour), revealing voluminous mounds of stinky refuse. I picked up the pace, realizing suddenly that I was in the crosshairs of an enormous white trash truck and a frantic bulldozer– I felt the distinct possibility that I could be mistaken for a passing ant. Had it been summer, my friend assured me, this experience would have been a more nauseating one.