State Legislature Passes Bill That Offers Path Forward on Affordability
State Senator Mike Gianaris, sponsor of the Housing Our Neighbors with Dignity Act
Whoever is elected to the various offices representing Lower Manhattan residents today, they will have to grapple with a legacy policy failure that may yet reprise itself.
For more than a year, as local hotels emptied due to the pandemic, and various Downtown real estate projects stalled, Lower Manhattan leaders have urged elected officials to consider whether (and how) to convert commercial properties (such as hotels and office buildings) to use as residences.
This is not an exclusively local issue, but it speaks more directly to the state of the community in Lower Manhattan than almost anywhere else in New York. That dynamic is driven by multiple, converging factors. Office buildings face an uncertain future, as corporations weigh whether they will ever return to full-time, in-person working models.
(A report by the location technology company Foursquare issued earlier this month found that foot traffic in the Financial District was still down almost by almost half from pre-pandemic levels, even as other areas recovered to nearly 100 percent.)
Second, hotels were developed at a feverish pace south of Canal Street over the last two decades, and the sector is now overbuilt by almost any reasonable measure. And finally, a separate report (from development data firm Marketproof Inc.) documented in March that Lower Manhattan has an existing backlog of more than 1,400 newly developed (but unoccupied and unsold) condominium units—most of which have never even been offered for sale. According to the firm’s report, this is a greater total than is found in any other community within the five boroughs of New York City.
So what will become of unused office buildings and hotels, along with unsold condominium apartments? A similar question confronted policy makers in the 1990s, when large commercial tenants were migrating out of Lower Manhattan, leaving in their wake millions of square feet of empty office space. Their response was an incentive program that came to be known as 421-g, which allocated generous tax benefits to developers who converted office towers (south of a line formed by Murray Street, City Hall, and the Brooklyn Bridge) to residential use, in exchange for affordability protections to the people who moved in. That package of incentives resulted in the creation of almost 5,000 new apartments, across dozens of buildings. But the affordability provisions (which were designed to mimic rent stabilization) were mostly a chimera, because landlords were allowed to evade them by various legal pretexts. This has resulted in a wave of lawsuits, which may yet secure some retroactive financial benefit for tenants who were for decades deprived of the affordability protections they had been promised. That noted, the 421-g program is now widely regarded as a failure, which conferred lopsided benefits on buildings owners and delivered almost none of the intended advantages to residents, and thus contributed to the worsening shortage of affordable housing in Lower Manhattan.
A similar narrative played out after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, when the federal government authorized the issuance of Liberty Bonds to help finance rebuilding in Lower Manhattan. Over the coming years, this program subsidized real estate developers with some $8 billion in low-interest, tax-exempt, government guaranteed financing—almost all of which went to build market-rate, luxury housing and office properties.
Now, policymakers are once again considering various packages of subsidies to encourage developers to find new uses for properties that the market currently has little or no demand for. One possible path forward is offered by Mike Gianaris, the deputy majority leader of the New York State Senate, who sponsored the Housing Our Neighbors with Dignity Act (HONDA), which allows owners of financially distressed hotels and commercial properties to sell them to the State, to create permanent affordable housing for homeless and housing-vulnerable New Yorkers.
Under this plan, such properties would be operated by non-profit housing providers, recruited as vendors and partners by the State. The project would cost roughly $2.2 billion, paid for mostly with funds included in the American Rescue Plan Act, signed into law by President Joe Biden in March. (Senator Gianaris’s bill provides for an initial commitment of $250 million from the State.)
“New York has seen a decades-long affordable housing crunch, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and ensuing economic devastation,” says Mr. Gianaris. “This legislation tackles the dual problems of distressed properties and lack of affordable housing.”
Senator Gianaris’s bill differs markedly from a proposal by Governor Andrew Cuomo, which would benefit developers by using State authority to bypass local zoning rules when commercial properties are converted to residential use, but require that only 25 percent of the new units created by this process be affordable. While supported by the real estate industry, Governor Cuomo’s plan has drawn sharp criticism from local government leaders around the State, and affordable housing advocates, who argue that it would amount to another giveaway to developers, while doing little to ease the shortage of affordable housing. In contrast, the provisions of HONDA would require that all of the new units be affordable—at 50 percent of the “area median income” (equal to roughly $66,000 for a single adult in the New York City) or below. HONDA would also mandate that all such apartments be rent stabilized.
Mr. Gianaris’s HONDA measure passed both houses of the State legislature on June 9. It now heads to Mr. Cuomo’s desk for approval or veto. The Governor has not said whether he will sign it.
Questions for Manhattan Borough President Candidates
Hoylman and Kallos Hold Forth on Five World Trade Center Plan, Homeless Shelters, and Impact Fees
State Senator member (and Borough President aspirant) Brad Hoylman
City Council member (and Borough President hopeful) Ben Kallos
Today (Tuesday, June 22) is the last day of voting for a broad slate of City offices, including Manhattan Borough President. Among the candidates vying to succeed the term-limited Gale Brewer are Brad Hoylman, who has represented the 27th State Senate District (covering larger parts of Greenwich Village, Chelsea, and Midtown) since 2013, and Ben Kallos, who has represented the Fifth City Council District (stretching from the East 50s to the East 90, along the waterfront of the East River) since 2014. The Broadsheet asked Mr. Hoylman and Mr. Kallos to address issues of concern to Lower Manhattan residents. Their responses follow.
(Editor’s Note: Video of a two-hour forum featuring all the Manhattan Borough President candidates, hosted by Battery Park City for Black Lives Matter, can be found online at: www.youtube.com/watch?v=zj_BqfdAkh0)
Exercise in disguise! Join in on the fun featuring easy-to-follow Latin dance choreography while working on your balance, coordination and range of motion. Come prepared for enthusiastic instruction, a little strength training, and a lot of fun. Participants are expected to bring their own equipment: weights, water bottle, hand towel, etc. Masks required. Participants must maintain six feet of physical distance between households. All programs will be held in accordance with New York State reopening guidance. Free
As Above So Below
Lower Manhattan Cultural Council
As Above So Below is a collaborative project that reveals connections between sacred and historic spaces of the African Diaspora in Lower Manhattan. The project will have special emphasis on the African Burial Ground Commons and Historic District featuring the African Burial Ground Memorial, Black Lives Matter Plaza and the Triumph of the Human Spirit Monument. Throughout the Festival and through a series of walking tours and podcasts by Kamau Ware and Rodney Leon, As Above So Below will create an interactive multidisciplinary set of experiences to engage, inspire and educate the public about the impact of the African Diaspora on the establishment and development of New York City. Tour begins 192 Front Street. Free
If you wish to access the meeting using the meeting code and password, the information is here:
Meeting code/ID: 173 399 0189 password “mcb1” without the quotes.
To phone into the meeting, see below.
+1-408-418-9388 Access code: 173 399 0189
Press *3 to raise your hand if you are dialing in through the phone.
EYES TO THE SKY
June 14 – 27, 2021
Milky Way of summer stars with streaming fireflies
As evening twilight deepens, a cosmos of blinking earthly stars attracts and mesmerizes stargazers in areas a distance from street and house lights. Fireflies are connecting our joy in the celestial with breathtaking wonder close around us. In the dark, over gardens, parks, backyards and countryside meadows and forests, our attention is lured away from the starry heavens by undulating streams of countless fireflies flashing. Floating, glowing ribbons of curved light drop from the treetops and move above the ground.
Unaware of time, I find myself alternately looking up to my favorite summer constellations, then stealing time to lower my eyes to the pulsating world of lightening bugs in the landscape all around me. Close above the west-northwest skyline, planet Venus makes a brief appearance at dusk today and is visible until nightfall by next week.
City Council Hopeful Jenny Low on Mass Transit, Congestion Pricing, and Tax Reform
Seeking election to the City Council must seem natural for Jenny Low, who has helped manage that body for years, as part of the staff of Council Speaker Corey Johnson. After emigrating to America at age 12, Ms. Low attended New York City public schools, and graduated from Yale University. The first Asian-American elected as a Democratic Party District Leader (a post she has held since 1995, representing Chinatown), Ms. Low is also the vice chair of the New York State Democratic Committee. The Broadsheet asked her to address a range of issues that are on the minds of Lower Manhattan residents. Click here for Ms. Low’s replies.
‘I Will Hold Developers Accountable’
City Council Hopeful Susan Lee Reflects on Land Use, Affordability, and Public Safety
Susan Lee and her family moved to New York from Hong Kong when she was six years old. Growing up in a working class section of the Lower East Side, she and her brother were two of just four Asian-American students in their elementary school. Ms. Lee inherited from her parents a strong belief in the power of education, which led her to Brooklyn Tech, Barnard College, and graduate school at New York University. She has worked extensively in the non-profit sector, including for Covenant House International (where she fought sex trafficking), on the boards of Nomi Network and MercyFirst (where she has worked to end modern-day slavery). Her campaign for City Council prioritizes affordable housing, aid to small businesses, crime reduction, and support fo education and environmental resiliency. The Broadsheet asked her to share insights across a spectrum of topics that concern Lower Manhattan residents. Here are Ms. Lee’s replies.
‘The Jail Proposal Is Being Rushed Through’
City Council Contender Susan Damplo on Taxes, Affordability, and Governance
Attorney and activist Susan Damplo points with pride to the fact that she is not a career politician. As a young girl, she supported Shirley Chisholm’s 1972 presidential run, and was then elected president of her fifth-grade class, which makes her current campaign for the City Council seat representing Lower Manhattan Ms. Damplo’s second bid for elective office. But she is no stranger to government, having clerked for multiple judges, served as a State administrative law judge, and worked on the staff of the Committee on Education and Labor in the U.S. House of Representatives, where she focused on civil rights. As a Downtown resident for more than a decade, Ms. Damplo is making issues such as quality of life, social justice, police reform, and federally funded childcare the centerpieces of her campaign. The Broadsheet asked her to share insights on a variety of topics that affect Lower Manhattan residents. Click here for Ms. Damplo’s replies.
‘We Can’t Create Governance Structures That Box Out Residents’
City Council Candidate Christopher Marte Outlines His Priorities
Christopher Marte grew up on the Lower East Side, where his father owned a bodega. From a young age, he began building a record as a community activist, culminating in a City Council run in 2017, which he lost by only a few hundred votes. Since then, Mr. Marte has played a leading role on local issues such as opposition to the de Blasio administration’s plan for a large new prison facility in Lower Manhattan, and support for affordable housing. The Broadsheet asked him to address a range of issues that are of concern to Lower Manhattan residents.
‘There Are Fundamental Issues That Need To Be Addressed’
City Council Candidate Gigi Li Talks about What She Hopes to Accomplish in Office
Gigi Li is one of the candidates seeking the City Council seat representing Lower Manhattan is, which is currently held by Margaret Chin (who is barred by term limits from seeking reelection). Ms. Li was born in Hong Kong and emigrated to the United States as a small child. In 2009, she was appointed to Manhattan’s Community Board 3, on the Lower East Side, where she became the first Asian-American to be elected to serve as a community board chair (anywhere in New York City) in 2012. Since 2019, Ms. Li has served as chief of staff to Ms. Chin. The Broadsheet asked her to address a range of issues that are of concern to Lower Manhattan residents. To read more…
‘A Few Affordable Units in Fancy Developments Are Not The Answer’
City Council Hopeful Maud Maron Hold Forth on Ferries, Congestion Pricing, and Housing
Attorney Maud Maron is a veteran public defender, who also serves as an elected member of the Community Education Council that gives parents a voice in the governance of public schools in District Two, which includes Lower Manhattan. Ms. Maron Maud has served on the board of Greenwich Village Little League, and was a member of Community Board 2 for five years. The Broadsheet asked her to reflect on a series of issues that are of concern to Lower Manhattan residents. Here are Ms. Maron’s answers.
River to River Festival Is Back:
Don’t Miss These 5 Acts
As we come out of covid, it’s clear the city’s thriving cultural scene is on its way back — and Lower Manhattan’s leading the way.
In May, the Downtown Alliance teamed up with En Garde Arts and + The Tankto present Downtown Live, a multi-weekend festival stocked with live performances ranging from music to theater to spoken poetry. The revival of Downtown’s cultural scene continues into June, with the return of the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council’s River to River Festival.
The festival, which runs June 10–June 27, joins the explosion of post-vaccine outdoor events and art exhibits that are set to take over the city this summer. Here are five acts you won’t want to miss, and visit lmcc.net/river-to-river-festival for the full schedule.
Processions with Miguel Gutierrez, Okwui Okpokwasili and The Illustrious Blacks
(June 20, 25)
Artist Okwui Okpokwasili is following up her recent piece on the High Line called “On the way, undone” with another processional performance, which means you get to participate in the art. Okpokwasili’s performance will happen at Rockefeller Park in Battery Park City on June 20, followed by processions led by choreographer Gutierrez and musical duo the Illustrious Blacks will also conduct processions on June 13 and June 25.
Kamau Ware, Land of the Blacks (June 10-27)
Black history scholar and co-found of Black Gotham Experience Kamau Ware is writing an original piece on “Land of the Blacks,” 28 Black-owned farmsteads that once covered a swath of Lower Manhattan. It will debut on the River to River website.
Womxn in Windows (June 15-27)
Womxn in Windows is a multi-part video installation installed in Windows across the Seaport District. They’ll focus on the confluence of culture and society in an exploration of the multi-faceted female identity, created by artists from diverse cultural backgrounds.
Mariana Valencia, Futurity (June 25-27)
Choreographer and performer Mariana Valencia brings a 2021 version of Futurity, a dance performance that will transmit the queer stories of elders in Greenwich Village from the 1960s to the present.
Photo courtesy of Damon Davis
CLASSIFIEDS & PERSONALS
Swaps & Trades, Respectable Employment, Lost and Found
The Battery Park City Authority asks that the public not interact with or feed the urban wildlife in the neighborhood’s parks and green spaces, and at the waterfront.
9/11 Victim Compensation Fund Report
More Survivors than Responders Now are Submitting Claims
The September 11th Victim Compensation Fund (VCF) has released its annual report for 2020, which documents some significant developments.
Over the course of its ten years of operation thus far, the VCF has awarded $7.76 billion to more than 34,400 individuals who have suffered death or personal injury as a result of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 and their aftermath. The vast majority of these injuries take the form of illness caused by exposure to toxic materials that were released by the destruction of the World Trade Center.
1633 – The Holy Office in Rome forces Galileo Galilei to recant his view that the Sun, not the Earth, is the center of the Universe in the form he presented it in, after heated controversy.
1783 – A poisonous cloud caused by the eruption of the Laki volcano in Iceland reaches Le Havre in France.
1807 – In the Chesapeake–Leopard Affair, the British warship HMS Leopardattacks and boards the American frigate USS Chesapeake.
1839 – Cherokee leaders Major Ridge, John Ridge, and Elias Boudinot are assassinated for signing the Treaty of New Echota, which had resulted in the Trail of Tears.
1870 – US Congress created the United States Department of Justice
1898 – Spanish–American War: United States Marines land in Cuba.
1907 – The London Underground’s Charing Cross, Euston and Hampstead Railway opens.
1942 – Pledge of Allegiance formally adopted by Congress
1969 – The Cuyahoga River catches fire in Cleveland, Ohio, drawing national attention to water pollution, and spurring the passing of the Clean Water Act and the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency.
1990 – Checkpoint Charlie is dismantled in Berlin.
916 – Sayf al-Dawla, Syrian Emir of Aleppo (d. 967)
1757 – George Vancouver, English lieutenant and explorer (d. 1798)
1903 – John Dillinger, American bank robber (d. 1934)
1906 – Anne Morrow Lindbergh, American pilot and author (d. 2001)
1921 – Joseph Papp, American director and producer (d. 1991)
1922 – Bill Blass, American fashion designer, (d. 2002)
1949 – Meryl Streep, American actress
1276 – Pope Innocent V (b. 1225)
1961 – Maria of Yugoslavia (b. 1900)
1965 – David O. Selznick, American screenwriter and producer (b. 1902)
1969 – Judy Garland, American actress and singer (b. 1922)
1987 – Fred Astaire, American actor, singer, and dancer (b. 1899)
1993 – Pat Nixon, 44th First Lady of the United States (b. 1912)
2008 – George Carlin, American comedian, actor, and author (b. 1937)