Affordable Housing or Lack Thereof
While Mayor Bloomberg is furiously trying to push through as many projects as possible before his departure (the Midtown East rezoning, SeaPort City, making people take the stairs), his commissioners have, as commissioners are wont to do in the last months of an outgoing mayor’s term, been making arrangements for life after Bloomberg. New York City Housing Preservation and Development commissioner Mathew M. Wambua is the latest to depart, leaving to take a position as president of RHR Funding LLC, part of the Richman Group’s mortgage lending business, the agency announced today. He will be succeeded by deputy commissioner RuthAnne Visnauskas.
Mr. Wambua, who has held the position since the spring of 2011, inherited the task of bringing Bloomberg’s New Housing Marketplace Plan, which aimed to create or preserve 165,000 units, home, so to speak. The mayor’s office credits Mr. Wambua with creating or preserving 47,000 of those units during his time in the position. He also oversaw the first phase of the Hunter’s Point South affordable housing development, which with 5,000 units, will be the largest such complex built since Co-op City.
Unlike most forms of government assistance—for example, food stamps, Medicaid or Social Security—which are doled out equally to all of those who qualify (even if in sometimes less-than-ideal amounts), affordable housing in New York City is allocated in a far more random fashion. To win a coveted place below-market-rate unit—way below-market-rate, in fact—you used to have to bookmark the city’s affordable housing lottery page and keep going back to it to find out which new developments were accepting applications, and fill each one out individually.
To win a place, it’s not unheard of to have to spend years applying—one couple The Observer spoke to for our piece on (upper-)middle-income affordable housing said they’d been submitting applications for 15 years before they finally hit the jackpot.
Though Joel Loutan has earned a nod in the New York Public Advocate Office’s Worst Landlords Watchlist, he has yet to grab a coveted spot on the site’s “50 Worst Landlords” list. After today, however, it’s likely he will.
Bronx Housing Court recently issued an arrest warrant for Mr. Loutan, a landlord who allowed his Read More
These days, the housing crisis seems a distant memory in many areas of Brooklyn, as buyers arrive at overcrowded open houses in Park Slope and Cobble Hill, ready to sign a contract on the spot and sellers from Red Hook to Greenpoint vie to set new neighborhood records. But the crash and its aftereffects have not vanished from the borough, as the plight of tenants in a trio in Sunset Park buildings illustrates.
While billionaires grapple over ever-loftier trophies, tearing out onyx to install carrara or vice versa, the tenants of 545, 553 and 557 46th Street in Sunset Park are still mired in the foreclosure crisis, living in decaying buildings with 684 housing violations spread over 51 apartments, according to the department of Housing Preservation and Development.
STATE OF THE UNIONS
New York City’s public housing complexes are small cities unto themselves, sealed off from the grid and flow of surrounding streets, pinwheels of bricks and concrete with scant patches of green. Built in 1956, Forest Houses, a 46-building New York City Housing Authority complex in the Morrisania section of the Bronx, is characteristic of its era. Besides the fact that the buildings top out at two stories, they do not relate to their immediate environment, let alone the environment.
More than 50 years later, affordable housing remains one of the city’s greatest challenges (if not its greatest). The architecture, on the other hand, has improved considerably. Arbor House, a privately-owned 124-unit, housing complex that abuts Forest Houses, opened today at 770 East 166th Street. It boasts not only energy-efficient features and a living green wall, but also a 10,000 square foot hydroponic rooftop farm.
As promised, the City Council overrode the mayor’s veto of Intro 730, a bill dubbed the HPD Transparency Act, by a unanimous vote. Speaker Christine Quinn defended the 46-0 override saying, “This piece of legislation, which is simple in many ways, it’s just transparency. It’s just the info. Why don’t we want to have the info behind our Department of Housing out there? Why don’t we want New Yorkers to have all the facts out there.”
The bill has been criticized for it’s wage reporting standards, which opponents say adds an onerous bureaucratic burden for small firms and MWBEs. Opponents of the bill argue that the supposed transparency of the bill would do little to ensure quality construction. Just knowing how much someone gets paid does not guarantee a better building, the ostensible reason for the bill. When asked about how the bill might still achieve this, the speaker stood by Intro 730.
Affordable Housing or Lack Thereof
On March 23, Wendell Walters plead guilty to two counts of racketeering and bribery. As the assistant commissioner for development at the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development, he oversaw billions of dollars in city contracts to build and repair the city’s vast stock of private affordable housing. The projects only grew over the past decade as Mayor Bloomberg launched a program to create or rehabilitate some 165,000 units of affordable housing.
During that time, the kickbacks to Walters also grew, totaling some $2.5 million over the course of a decade involving at least 10 different affordable housing developers in the city. Some payments were made in coffee cups, others in thick envelopes stuffed into Walters’ golf bag as he and the builders took in a round of golf. Among the gifts received was a brownstone on 139th Street in Harlem, free renovations to the townhouse and a honeymoon in Greece.
When he was arrested last October, Walters was paraded in front of the Brooklyn Federal Court House. Like so many perps, he was caught by surprise and still wearing his morning clothes, a black fleece pullover and black sweatpants. Tall and handsome with a shaven head, the 49-year-old Walters looked shocked, embarrassed, dismayed.
So was Matthew Wambua.
Affordable Housing or Lack Thereof
Last Friday morning, Felix Guzman woke up early, grabbed his fishing pole, and headed over to the East River for some catch and release fun. For 40 years he has lived in the same building on Academy Street in Inwood and in that time he has “seen a lot.” So when he got back to his apartment around 11 am and saw that his street was teaming with newscasters, elected officials, cameramen, and local community members, he wasn’t surprised. They’d been there before. “It’s always been tough here,” Mr. Guzman said. “I’m glad they’re doing something about it.”
The building in question was 552 Academy Street, a crumbling 72-unit brick building located across the street from Mr. Guzman’s apartment. A year ago he had stood outside and watched as dozens of tenants dragged their belongings onto the sidewalk, confused and frightened and wondering where they would relocate to next.
The building, the city told them, was unsafe, which was why they had to vacate the premises. Although Mr. Guzman had never been inside, he heard rumors that at times the units lacked gas, running water, and electricity. “This is what happens when you get these slumlords and all they care about is the money,” Mr. Guzman said, referring to the building’s landlord, Rachel Arfa, whom the City blames for the hazardous conditions.
“We’ve been doing it the same way since before we had email,” affordable housing developer Martin Dunn lamented, speaking to The Observer about the grueling process through which New Yorkers have historically had to apply for subsidized housing in the city.
Council Speaker Christine Quinn put it even more starkly in her 2011 State of the City address, when she called on the Bloomberg administration to find a way to digitize and streamline the process: “In a 21st century world—where you can do everything online—we still make people apply for housing using 18th century technology.”
Today is the day, as they say, and as of working hours, NYC Housing Connect should be live, the first one-stop shop for subsidized housing online.
Yesterday, The Journal (rightly) complained the lack of progress at two major affordable housing projects, Hudson Yards and Willets Point. This got The Observer wondering about another, though: whatever happened to Hunters Point South, which was approved the same day almost four years ago as the Willets Point project.
Things are moving along quite nicely, it turns out.
It may seem as though there has been limited tangible progress since Related Companies was tapped to develop the project in February of last year, but that is because most of the work is being done below the surface—with on the banks of the East River and the banks of housing finance.