The Broadsheet – Lower Manhattan’s Local Newspaper
$eparate and Unequal
Neighborhood Association Provides Analysis of Community’s Future
Battery Park City Neighborhood Association (BPCNA) leaders Pamit Surana (center right) and Kelly McGowan (far right) confer with Justine Cuccia, chair of Community Board 1’s Battery Park City Committee, during last summer’s #PauseTheSaws protest.
A February 6 meeting of the Battery Park City Neighborhood Association (BPCNA) included a sobering analysis of the financial outlook for people who own homes in the community, as well as for those who rent.
The presentation was led by Pamit Surana, one of the leaders of the 501(c)(3) association, which formed last summer (under the social media banner of #PauseTheSaws) after successfully protesting to block a plan by then-Governor Andrew Cuomo to locate a monument to Essential Workers in Rockefeller Park. He began by noting, “the good news is that now, after Pause the Saws, the community is educated and organized,” and urging residents to email firstname.lastname@example.org for information about how to get involved.
“The biggest myth we want to dispel is that ground rent affects owners, but not renters. It affects everybody,” Mr. Surana continued. This was a reference to the exotic nature of property ownership in Battery Park City, where homeowners, landlords, and developers do not own outright the land they occupy, but instead lease the space (through June, 2069), in exchange for yearly payments of ground rent, as well as so-called “payments in lieu of taxes” (PILOT). Concerns about this arrangement have grown acute in recent years, as more residents have come to realize that, under the current terms of the ground lease, their homes may disappear in 47 years, as ownership of all the real estate in Battery Park City reverts to the Authority. Unless the terms of this lease are modified or extended, for condominium owners, it may mean that their property is effectively confiscated, while renters might face the prospect of eviction. Both owners and tenants could be rendered homeless under this scenario. Neither of these outcomes is a foregone conclusion, but would be subject to a decision by the Battery Park City Authority (BPCA) about how to move forward.
“And this affects more than just residents of Battery Park City,” added Bejal Shah, a Tribeca resident who is also a BPCNA board member. “When rising ground rent drives up the cost of leasing or owning an apartment in Battery Park City, this impacts the neighboring communities of Tribeca and the Financial District, causing costs to rise as a result of market dynamics.”
“Every resident pays four costs, directly or indirectly” Mr. Surana observed. “If you’re an owner, in addition to your mortgage, you pay common charges to your building, ground rent and a civic facilities fee to the State, and New York City property taxes.” For unit owners outside of Battery Park City, “you only pay taxes directly to the City. Within Battery Park City, what you pay instead is called ‘PILOT.’ And in Battery Park City, residents are disproportionately taxed higher than those outside. Our community is paying more than our neighbors across the West Side highway.”
“The rest of New York City does not pay ground rent,” explained Kelly McGowan, a co-founder and board member of BPCNA. “The reason is Battery Park City is State property. So your ground rent goes to the BPCA, which is a State agency, while your PILOT goes to the City. And the civic facilities fee pays for parks and public areas, which is interesting because all other New Yorkers get their parks maintained out of their property taxes.”
“Some residents believe that because they don’t see ground rent they are not paying it,” Mr. Surana adduced. “But renters pay this cost, the same as owners. Ground rent is actually hidden within monthly bills, both for renters and condo owners.”
Mr. Surana cited the example of a two-bedroom apartment in southern Battery Park City that is paying $644 per month for ground rent and $70 per month for civic facilities: “This person is paying $8,400 per year that no other New York City resident is paying. That is $700 per month on top of taxes and mortgage. So when people say that Battery Park City is not paying its fair share, the case to be made is that an extra $8,400 per year is significant.”
About PILOT, he noted that, “when New York City calculates our PILOT, they base it on our assessed value. They factor in what they say is the fair market value of rent. So when City tax assessors look at our buildings, for which we’re already paying a ground rent, we’re getting taxed on a tax. As a result, we paying a higher tax than a New York City resident outside of Battery Park City would. And that gives rise to the question: Is this equitable?”
“As a result,” Mr. Surana said, “Battery Park City properties are undervalued, pay disproportionately higher taxes and have higher fixed common costs.” He illustrated this point with metrics retrieved from online real estate databases StreetEasy and Zillow. “In Tribeca, the average price per square foot is $1,672,” he noted. “In Battery Park City, the average is $1,185. So the market is telling you that Battery Park City buildings are valued at 29 percent less, or $487 per square foot less. This means that if a Tribeca or FiDi property goes up 10 percent, that owner is going to accrue $167 per square foot in gain, while a Battery Park City owner gets only $118. And that gap in value is going to continue to expand. That’s a cause for great concern if you’re an owner in Battery Park City.”
“But for purposes of City property taxes,” he continued, “we are given higher valuations. In Tribeca, buildings average around $13.56 per square foot in tax assessments. In Battery Park City, however, buildings average $19.40 per square foot. So the tax valuations are roughly 44 percent, or $6.00 per square foot, higher. This means we are paying higher taxes than our neighbors on properties that the market says are worth much less than those of our neighbors.”
“But ground rent results in an average home owner paying 34 percent more in common charges and fixed costs than a similar unit owners in nearby communities,” Mr. Surana elaborated. “These add up to more $10 per square foot, with $5.84 for PILOT and $4.43 for ground rent and other common charges. And the result is that increases in PILOT and ground rent are pricing people out from being able to afford to rent or buy an apartment in Battery Park City. Continuing to raise ground rents is contradictory to the goal of improving affordability.”
Looking to the future, Mr. Surana predicted that, “upcoming ground rent increases are likely to be approximately $1.50 per square foot per year, per unit. That means if you have a thousand-square-foot unit that you rent or own, you’re looking at increases of $1,500 per year, or $125 per month, on top of everything else we’ve talked about. This is in addition to the current $6,000 to $12,000 per year that unit owners are already paying, all of which further increases New York City’s PILOT assessments. And these trends converge to devalue Battery Park City properties by an amount between $200,000 and $400,000, below other comparable buildings in New York City.”
“Is this separate and unequal?” he asked rhetorically. “Why should renters and owners in this community be taxed more than the rest of New York City? This raises a really important philosophical question,” he concluded. “We often hear that Battery Park City residents ‘can afford it.’ But why should affordability in Battery Park City be defined differently than anywhere else?”
Turning to possible strategies to remedy this dilemma, Mr. Surana said, “because this has become unsustainable, the community’s proposal is to freeze ground rents for ten years, then increase them by one percent per year thereafter.”
BPCA spokesman Nick Sbordone responded, “given that Battery Park City is one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in New York City, with high-end, luxury waterfront real estate enveloped within world-class parks with low crime, great schools, and robust public transportation options, it stands to reason that the cost of living would be higher than in some other neighborhoods.”
“Regarding ground rent specifically,” Mr. Sbordone continued, “it simply is not an additional charge for services, as some claim. Rather, BPCA owns the underlying land, and so building and condominium owners pay rent for their use of it over time. This ground rent—along with PILOT, as solely established by the City of New York—funds the needs of Battery Park City residents first, before any of it is passed through to fund important public services, including affordable housing throughout the City. Nevertheless, as we have said publicly, it is incumbent upon BPCA to develop responsible solutions for those who need help, and we’re exploring options to protect lower-income homeowners from ground rent increases they cannot afford.”
The Battery Park City Neighborhood Association is moving to build support for its strategy on several fronts. In addition to the ground rent proposal described above, the group is pushing for greater representation for residents on the BPCA board.
As Mr. McGowan explained at the February 6 meeting, “what we’re working on is what we call the ‘BPCA Governance Law,’ which is a measure we want our State legislators to enact. It’s a fair-representation law. The proposal is for a majority of BPCA board members to have their primary residence in Battery Park City.” (This effort is being spearheaded with an online petition, which has already garnered more than 1,000 signatures.)
Currently, State law sets aside only two seats on the BPCA’s seven-member board for residents. Although its board members are accountable only to the governor (who appoints them, and thus controls the Authority), the BPCA wields multiple forms of power within Battery Park City, through which it acts as the de facto (but unelected) government for the 15,000-plus people who live on the 92 acres of landfill between West Street and the Hudson River. Within the confines of Battery Park City, the Authority performs many of the functions of government, among them enacting rules, enforcing the law (through private security officers, who have peace officer-status), collecting taxes, regulating real estate development, building infrastructure, cleaning the streets, maintaining parks, and building schools. The BPCA collects hundreds of millions of dollars per year in revenue—derived in significant measure from the charges paid by people who live in the neighborhood. It carries a debt load of more than $1 billion, and has the capacity to borrow hundreds of millions of dollars more. It also gives out contracts worth more than $10 million each year.
“Quite frankly,” Mr. McGowan continued, “one of the things demonstrated by the Pause the Saws effort”—the protest movement that halted the planned Essential Workers Monument last summer—“is that there’s a large, incredibly well-qualified pool of candidates in our community who not only understand the values and the priorities, but also have an incredibly deep, rich level of experience, expertise, and passion for the neighborhood. We want to leverage that passion, experience, and knowledge base.”
No Time for Sergeants
Police Union Boss Who Pushed Lie about Cops Being Poisoned at Downtown Shake Shack Charged
A disgraced former police union official, who spread a false narrative about officers being deliberately poisoned at a Lower Manhattan Shake Shack restaurant during the height of the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests, was indicted Wednesday by federal prosecutors.
Ed Mullins, the former head of the Sergeants Benevolent Association (SBA) was charged with wire fraud, in connection with a scheme to steal hundreds of thousands of dollars from the union, through the submission of fraudulent expense reports. To read more…
At Debt’s Door
Downtown Developers Go Belly Up on Two Marquee Properties
Two Lower Manhattan trophy properties have defaulted on their mortgages, according to multiple published accounts and public records.
China Oceanwide Holdings, the owners of the development lot at 80 South Street, in the South Street Seaport, failed to make a $1.3-million payment to creditors in January, which has spurred lenders to declare the entire $175-million note on the property in default, and to demand immediate payment of the full amount.
As the date for the payment approached, China Oceanwide scrambled to sell the property for $200 million, a fire-sale discount from the $390 million the firm spent to acquire the property from the Howard Hughes Corporation in 2016. But there were no takers, even at the asking price of 48 percent lower than the original purchase. To read more…
Lower Manhattan Is Fourth-Fastest Growing Community in NYC
Alliance Report Parses Census Data to Show Downtown’s Population Swelled by Five Figures in Ten Years
An analysis by the Downtown Alliance of preliminary results from the 2020 Census indicates that Lower Manhattan boomed in the decade between 2010 and 2020, with the local population rising by 33 percent to 60,803 residents.
This makes the combined catchment of Battery Park City and the Financial District the fourth-fastest growing community anywhere in the five boroughs of New York City, trailing only Long Island City/Hunters Point in Queens (which grew by 198 percent), Downtown Brooklyn/Dumbo-Boerum Hill (67 percent), and the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn (41 percent). To read more…
‘He Drove Me Away Like A Dog’
Black History Month: Lower Manhattan Taken for a Ride on Monument It Actually Needs
While the saga of Rosa Parks and the 1956 Montgomery bus boycott has become a canonical American parable, New York played out its own version of the same drama, more than a century earlier. In July, 1854, Lower Manhattan resident Elizabeth Jennings Graham was on her way to church, and boarded a horse-drawn street car at Chatham and Pearl Streets.
Like much else in mid-19th century New York, street car service was segregated, with most coaches reserved for white riders, but some bearing signs that read, “Negro Persons Allowed in This Car.”
Visit the exhibitions and the ships of the South Street Seaport Museum for free. At 12 Fulton Street, see South Street and the Rise of New York and Millions: Migrants and Millionaires aboard the Great Liners, 1900-1914, and at Pier 16, explore the tall ship Wavertreeand lightship Ambrose.
2022 marks the 530th anniversary of the arrival of Christopher Columbus in the Americas. Sponsored and dispatched by the Spanish monarchs Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile, Columbus led a fleet of three ships on August 3, 1492 to sail west to search for a direct sea route to reach Asia as an alternative to the overland trade routes.
On October 12 of that year, the ships made landfall—not in Asia, as Columbus assumed, but on San Salvador in the Bahamas. Subsequently he made three more voyages to the New World in 1493, 1498 and 1502, reaching the Caribbeans, and Central and South Americas. Although Columbus always maintained that he had reached the Far East, he never set foot in Asia.
Columbus’s interest in traveling to the East was sparked by the famed Travels of Marco Polo, an account of the author’s travels to China in the 13th century that held Columbus spellbound in his childhood.
To learn about Marco Polo’s travels to China and the impact he made, the Renwen Society presents a lecture on February 26 by Prof. Jia Hongyan, an expert on tourism who will discuss Marco Polo’s storied journey to the East, what he saw and experienced in China, and how the legendary book was brought back to China. Online in Chinese. Free.
Join the Museum and Our Travel Circle for a virtual walking tour of Kazimierz, the historic Jewish quarter in Krakow, Poland. Kazimierz was originally an independent city set up outside of Krakow by the King of Poland. As the neighborhood grew, its Jewish residents thrived and established synagogues and businesses. In the 1930s, before the onset of the Holocaust, a quarter of Krakow’s population was Jewish. Our tour guide, Anna, will show us the Tempel Synagogue, the oldest in Krakow; the Krakow Jewish Community Center, which is a hub of the city’s resurgent Jewish community today; and interesting Jewish sites including Helena Rubinstein’s family home. $36.
Keeping The Light: Black Lighthouse Keepers
The National Lighthouse Museum
200 The Promenade at Lighthouse Point, Staten Island
Presented by Harriet Tubman herself, portrayed by award-winning actress Christine Dixon. Harriet Tubman’s harrowing and dangerous life unfolds as she tells the moving story of how she brought hundreds of slaves, and her own family, to freedom during the Civil War. Actress Christine Dixon tells the story of Tubman’s life in this dramatic one-woman performance about the heroic “Moses” of her people. She will also tell the story of Richard Etheridge, the first African American keeper of the United States Life Saving Service and stories of Sandy Ground’s oystermen. Questions and answers to follow. In person and zoom Click here for a preview video of this event.
EYES TO THE SKY
February 22 – March 7, 2022
Leading the Sun at dawn: eye-popping Venus, our solar system’s hottest planet
Planet Venus, an orb of white fire gleaming in darkness, rises above the southeastern horizon in early dawn. Venus is the third brightest object in Earth’s sky, next to the Sun and moon. Similar in size to Earth and our closest planetary neighbor, its brilliance is not to be attributed to its proximity. As described by scientists at EarthSky.org, “Venus is bright … because it’s blanketed by highly reflective clouds. The clouds in the atmosphere of Venus contain droplets of sulfuric acid, as well as acidic crystals suspended in a mixture of gases. Light bounces easily off the smooth surfaces of these spheres and crystals. Sunlight bouncing from these clouds is a big part of the reason that Venus is so bright.”
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Analysis By Housing Group Cites Declining Affordability in Lower Manhattan
A leading housing advocacy organization has completed an exhaustive look at threats to affordability in every community in the five boroughs, and has found that Lower Manhattan ranks among the ten most at-risk neighborhoods by one key metric, while also placing in the 20 most-endangered by another.
The Bowling Green Greenmarket brings fresh offerings from local farms to Lower Manhattan’s historic Bowling Green plaza. Twice a week year-round stop by to load up on the season’s freshest fruit, crisp vegetables, beautiful plants, and freshly baked loaves of bread, quiches, and pot pies.
Fulton Street cobblestones between South and Front Sts. across from McNally Jackson Bookstore.
Locally grown produce from Rogowski Farm, Breezy Hill Orchard, and other farmers and small-batch specialty food products, sold directly by their producers. Producers vary from week to week.
SNAP/EBT/P-EBT, Debit/Credit, and Farmers Market Nutrition Program checks accepted at all farmers markets.
TODAY IN HISTORY
Painting by Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919) An Impressionist who celebrated the beauty of feminine sensuality, it has been said that “Renoir is the final representative of a tradition which runs directly from Rubens to Watteau.”
628 – Khosrow II, the last great king of the Sasanian Empire, is overthrown by his son Kavadh II.
1336 – Four thousand defenders of Pilėnai commit mass suicide rather than be taken captive by the Teutonic Knights.
1836 – Samuel Colt is granted a United States patent for the Colt revolver.
1856 – A Peace conference opens in Paris after the Crimean War.
1866 – Miners in Calaveras County, California, discover what is now called the Calaveras Skull – human remains that supposedly indicated that man, mastodons, and elephants had co-existed.
1870 – Hiram Rhodes Revels, a Republican from Mississippi, is sworn into the United States Senate, becoming the first African American ever to sit in the U.S. Congress.
1901 – J. P. Morgan incorporates the United States Steel Corporation.
1919 – Oregon places a one cent per U.S. gallon tax on gasoline, becoming the first U.S. state to levy a gasoline tax.
1932 – Adolf Hitler obtains German citizenship by naturalization, which allows him to run in the 1932 election for Reichspräsident.
1933 – The USS Ranger is launched. It is the first US Navy ship to be designed from the start of construction as an aircraft carrier.
1941 – February strike: In the occupied Amsterdam, a general strike is declared in response to increasing anti-Jewish measures instituted by the Nazis.
1964 – North Korean Prime Minister Kim Il-sung calls for the removal of feudalistic land ownership aimed at turning all cooperative farms into state-run ones.
1994 – Mosque of Abraham massacre: In the Cave of the Patriarchs in the West Bank city of Hebron, Baruch Goldstein opens fire with an automatic rifle, killing 29 Palestinian worshippers and injuring 125 more before being subdued and beaten to death by survivors.
1664 – Thomas Newcomen, English pastor and engineer (d. 1729)
1670 – Maria Margarethe Kirch, German astronomer and mathematician (d. 1720)
1841 – Pierre-Auguste Renoir, French painter and sculptor (d. 1919)
1873 – Enrico Caruso, Italian-American tenor (d. 1921)
1888 – John Foster Dulles, 52nd United States Secretary of State (d. 1959)
1918 – Bobby Riggs, American tennis player (d. 1995)
1928 – Larry Gelbart, American author and screenwriter (d. 2009)