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Pols Introduce Legislation to Prevent Another Rivington House Scandal

 Pols gathered on the steps of City Hall to discuss the new legislation.
Pols gathered on the steps of City Hall to discuss the new legislation.
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DNAinfo/Allegra Hobbs

MANHATTAN — As the scandal surrounding Rivington House and the city’s alleged mishandling of the property deepens, local politicians on Wednesday introduced new legislation that would increase transparency around properties saddled with deed restrictions.

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and City Councilwoman Margaret Chin have introduced a bill that would both create a publicly searchable database of properties with deed restrictions and require public notification when the city considers lifting such a restriction.

“A searchable database and robust public notice requirements are common sense reforms,” Brewer said. “If they had been in place last year, the only discussion we’d be having about Rivington House today is what kind of nonprofit healthcare facility should be there.”

Officials are now waiting for Department of Citywide Administrative Services Commissioner Lisette Camillo to release the names of “13 or 14” facilities currently targeted with requests for deed restriction removal, which have been put on hold for the time being, according to Councilman Ben Kallos. 

The demand for transparency has been at the core of community discussions surrounding the loss of the building, formerly a nursing home for AIDS patients, to residential developers. 

As Community Board 3 passed an uncompromising resolution demanding the reversal of the deed lift, returning the facility to the community as a health care center, community members further demanded the city reform its method of dealing with deed-restricted properties to allow for more community input.

Community Board 3 on Tuesday passed a resolution supporting the new legislation, demanding a public, “easily searchable database” for the sake of transparency.

Mayor Bill de Blasio in March signed an executive order mandating public notice be given preceding any move to lift deed restrictions in the future — a move the borough president says is not strong enough.

“The executive order is fine,” said Brewer. “But it doesn’t go far enough. That’s why we’re passing a law.”

The mayor’s administration, meanwhile, is in hot water over the series of transactions that led to the quiet deed flip, which is currently under investigation from a handful of city and state watchdogs. 

While de Blasio himself has continually denied knowing about the deal — insisting he would have moved to prevent the flip — recent reports have revealed several City Hall staffers knew about aspects of the deal as early at December 2014.

According to Politico New York, a representative for the Allure Group emailed Steve Newmark, policy adviser and council to the deputy mayor for health and human services asking the deed restriction — which required the facility be operated as a not-for-profit health care facility — be lifted so that Allure could operate it as a for-profit nursing home, calling the roadblock a “time sensitive matter.”

The Department of Citywide Administrative Services ultimately lifted the restriction in exchange for $16 million. Allure then sold the property to Slate Property Group for a condo conversion.

The Wall Street Journal previously reported that de Blasio aide Avi Frank met with the Allure Group around the time of the above email exchange, though it is unknown what was said during the meeting.

Dom Williams, chief of staff to first deputy mayor Tony Shorris, knew Village Care intended to sell the property in early 2014, Politico New York has previously reported.