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.
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
It has long been a cliche that New York City apartments were no bigger than shoeboxes, even as sprawling units and reconstituted townhouses quietly replace them in this booming, bourgeoisie town. Still, every so often a YouTube video goes viral showing someone making due in 150 square feet or less. As the city continues to grapple with a shortage of apartments, the Bloomberg administration has embraced the less-is-more approach. They’re trading Gracie Mansion for Malibu Stacy’s Dream House.
The mayor wants to adAPT the city’s housing stock to the 21st Century, as a new pilot program announced today is known, by allowing developers to create smaller apartments than regulations currently allow.
For much of New York’s history, landlords and developers were building small, often substandard apartments to serve the city’s soaring population—a fact anyone who has ever lived in a Lower East Side tenement can attest to. Zoning and building regulations rose up to combat these unfit dwellings, but now there is a demand for more apartments than the city, either through publicly financed housing projects or privately built developments, can afford to build.
The new adAPT program takes a plot of land in Kips Bay and a few zoning modifications to try and solve these problems.
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.
It used to house cast offs from some of the city’s oldest buildings, but soon it could house low-income New Yorkers.
The city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development is seeking a developer to turn a Williamsburg warehouse that served as storage for the Landmarks Preservation Commission into an affordable housing development with 50 apartments. The development, at 337 Berry Street, sits on a 15,000-square-foot lot and calls for commercial or community space on the ground floor, as well as about 1,200 square feet of open space for residents.
The views are not too bad, looking out on the Williamsburg Bridge and Manhattan, though the rumble of the J-Train just might intrude on the apartments, as well, barring some good windows.
To combat the city’s growing bed bug problem, the Department of Housing Preservation and Development has gone to the dogs. Say hello to Nemo and Mickey, the latest members of the department’s Maintenance Code inspection team. And rather than the vet, the two Beagles were fortunate enough to get their tags—we mean badges—from Council Speaker Christine Quinn and Housing Commissioner Mathew Wambua.
“Awww, look at their little jackets,” cooed Ms. Quinn when she first set eyes on the dogs.