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New Yorkers Demand City End 'Backdoor Deals,' Hold Developers Accountable

By Danielle Tcholakian | December 16, 2015 6:56pm
 The City Planning Commission  heard testimony on the mayor's controversial rezonings from hundreds of people on Wednesday.
The City Planning Commission heard testimony on the mayor's controversial rezonings from hundreds of people on Wednesday.
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DNAinfo/Danielle Tcholakian

BOWLING GREEN — The city can't keep giving away subsidies and tax breaks to developers if it is not equipped to hold them accountable for affordable housing and other promises made in exchange, community leaders and residents said Wednesday at a City Planning Commission hearing.

Hundreds of New Yorkers turned out to tell city officials what they think of Mayor Bill de Blasio's two rezoning proposals, which are designed to create 80,000 units of new affordable housing and preserve another 120,000 existing units.

One proposal, Zoning for Quality and Affordability, would increase existing limits on building heights in the hope of encouraging developers to produce affordable and senior housing.

The other proposal, Mandatory Inclusionary Housing, would require developers to incorporate some affordable housing if they build in certain neighborhoods targeted by the city, or if they propose a building that requires city approval due to zoning restrictions.

"They get tax credits. They should earn it," said John Medina, a director at Community Voices Heard. "Stop making these backdoor deals, OK?"

READ MORE ON THE MAYOR'S REZONING PROPOSALS:

De Blasio Zoning Plan Unites Civic Groups in Opposition

Here's What You Need to Know About the Mayor's Citywide Rezoning Plan

De Blasio Affordable Housing Plan Not Affordable Enough: Activists

Several people at the hearing brought up "backdoor deals" and a concern that the city could be demanding more from developers.

One commissioner, Cheryl Effron, cited a "recent report about units that were supposed to be regulated and weren't."

ProPublica recently showed that the city knew that Two Trees, one of New York City's major developers, was not fulfilling its promise of providing rent-regulated units at sites where it has received massive tax breaks for years.

The city's Department of Housing Preservation and Development did nothing but send letters to the developer telling it to comply, ProPublica found.

HPD Commissioner Vicki Been assured Effron that the department has "been taking a very hard look back at HPD, all of our enforcement efforts," including "doing some restructuring to improve our enforcement and tracking mechanisms," and "looking at using more third-party monitors for that."

Opponents of the mayor's zoning plan believe the city is giving away more than they're getting from developers, and at the hearing some emphasized that density — the ability to build bigger, taller or at all — "is the true value of Manhattan real estate [and] is being sold short."

"Density's a big bargaining chip," Medina said. "You have that power. Don't give it away for free."

Been insisted, as the city frequently has, that "requirements that are too onerous will only result in no housing at all, which will only exacerbate" the city's housing crisis.

CPC members also raised the issue of landlord harassment, and concerns about displacement of current residents.

Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen touted the city's "'put your money where your mouth is' commitment" to funding legal representation for tenants, saying "the single best thing that could ever be done for a tenant who thinks they are being treated unfairly is to have a lawyer."

But another planning commissioner, Michelle de la Uz, pointed out that displacement isn't always the result of landlord harassment.

"You can be legally displaced from your community. I think that’s one of the missing pieces" of the proposals, she said.

Most of the city’s 59 community boards and five borough presidents are opposed to or have rejected one or both rezoning plans.

The Planning Commission plans to incorporate the public's feedback from this hearing before issuing its changes to the plan in February.

Then, there will be another round of public hearings and alterations before the City Council votes on the final plan in April.

The mayor then has five days to decide if he wants to veto the Council's decision.