As controversy widens around City Hall’s involvement in the lifting of two deed restrictions on nonprofit AIDS hospice Rivington House, Comptroller Scott Stringer says his own report on the matter is coming out “very shortly.”
Two deed restrictions on the Lower East Side facility required that the site operate as a nonprofit and as a nursing home. The city removed those restrictions and got $16 million from Allure Group, a nursing home company that bought the site from its first owner, Village Care. Allure Group then received $72 million after it handed the facility over to luxury condo developers.
A Department of Investigation report revealed that the Department of Citywide Administrative Services knew that Allure could look to sell the property for condo development. Mayor Bill de Blasio insists that the city was deceived and blamed an old policy that preceded his administration, claiming that the decision never came to his desk.
The comptroller, who is seen as a potential challenger to the mayor in the Democratic primary in 2017, said he sent a letter to DCAS many months ago asking for information about the process in which the deed restrictions were lifted.
“For the last several months, my office has been investigating the Rivington fiasco. I will be issuing our findings very shortly and at that time, I will answer and elaborate on many of these questions,” Stringer told the Observer at an unrelated press conference this afternoon.
He said he could not yet specifically comment on City Hall’s response to the report, handling of the deed restriction process for Rivington House or a Queens councilman’s calls for the DOI to take the de Blasio administration to court to get documents and computers in connection with its investigation.
“We are still in the middle of, we are still investigating this land-grab so I don’t want to get ahead of the release of our report that seeks to address many of the issues,” he continued.
But he maintained that he is troubled by the circumstances surrounding the process.
“I felt it was absolutely unbelievable that a restriction could be lifted in the middle of the night and a for-profit developer could walk away with $72 million,” he said. “How could that possibly happen in our city?”
Yesterday morning, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and Councilwoman Margaret Chin introduced legislation that would require deed restriction modifications to undergo the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure—a move that would give the City Council the authority to change or lift deed restrictions. Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and Public Advocate Letitia James have backed the proposal.
Councilman Rory Lancman has argued that DOI Commissioner Mark Peters should take the de Blasio administration to state court to compel it hand over unredacted documents and computers.
Though the mayor has dismissed the agency’s assertion that they did not provide documents and computers requested, he acknowledged the tension between the city’s Law Department and the DOI. His spokesman also referred to Lancman’s request as a “blatant publicity stunt,” insisting that it cooperated with the agency’s request for relevant materials but legally declined to provide unfettered access to all City Hall communications, including communications irrelevant to the agency’s investigation.