“In politics stupidity is not a handicap.”— Napoleon Bonaparte
Having written several articles about a newly popular political concept called Affordable Housing, I’d like to revisit the issue since it has become a cudgel for developers and politicians trying to justify the rewards they’ve received for having delivered the goods to their deep-pocketed business friends. I mean, where were these socially responsible City Planners when the 100,000 rent-regulated apartments were litigated off the table. Where were they when landlords were using the litigate to evict ploy like a couple of former dentists downtown? The newest case in point is the ongoing SoHo/NoHo Rezoning Plan. How many Affordable apartments are they going to provide compared to those losses?
The current state of this plan is that since May there have been meetings to move it along as quickly as possible. Currently, it has devolved into a mud-slinging contest apparently pitting the residents against the monied-interests being pushed by City Planning whose official role is:
“To be responsible for the conduct of planning relating to the orderly growth and development of the City, including adequate and appropriate resources for the housing, business, industry, transportation, distribution, recreation, culture, comfort, convenience, health and welfare of its population.”
Got that? Welfare of the population? Not the Welfare of the Mayor. So, who does he work for anyway? The residents who elected him as their servant? I don’t think so. Who do the Borough Presidents answer to who appoint the members of that commission? The voters?
So what we have here is a shell game. All of these characters are supposed to give fealty to us, the voters. But, it turns out that they don’t work for us at all. They work for the people who pay them — one way, or the other.
Supposedly, this is a plan that “the Mayor wants.” It reminds me of the Trump Soho project that “the Mayor,” Bloomberg at the time, wanted, and his City Council underling and Speaker Christine Quinn, who helped push through his third term as Mayor, fended off an investigation into the perks of office called Slushgate, and saved Trump SoHo. At the time, neither of them were antagonistic towards The Donald and his goonies from Kazakstan. It even saved The Villager publisher John Sutter from having to reverse the sale of some very profitable air rights to the likes of Felix Sater and his money-laundering friends. When I pointed this out to his editor Lincoln Anderson, he was instructed to produce a hit piece on me — as if Bob Clifford, the Joseph Goebbels of the now convicted D.A. Thomas Spota, who prosecuted me for writing about his corruption, wasn’t enough. After a number of media sales, the archives wound up with community leviathan Schneps Media.
But back to Afffordable Housing and SoHo. City Planning is now prosecuting this plan to add more commercial real estate, more gallery space (Art for the Masses?), more artist’s spaces, and, last but not least, more affordable housing. Okay, and just to add to the usual suspects, it’s not Edison or any of the other Masters of the Universe of Manhattan realty who have already spread around cash and are involved. It’s respected institutions like New York University that want this — for us and our children, mind you. Well, someone’s children, anyway — not anyone you know who resembles middle class lives in the neighborhood. That went out of style at NYU in the 1970’s unless you remained a cash-heavy Alumni. Even with corporate donations and a $4.4 Billion dollar endowment. Their current favorite rejection ploy is the “Wait List.” Believe me, I know, I earned three degrees at NYU. My children, however, have been wait listed numerous times along with multiple rejections for me for additional graduate degrees.
So, here’s how Affordable Housing really works. First comes approval for whatever the developer wants to build. Second, comes selling or renting new units to the public at market prices. Third, comes the lists of units that are earmarked as “Affordable.” No sales rep at the new buildings have any information about affordable units since they receive no commission for renting them. Like the development of 111 Varick Street which had “Affordable Housing” signs plastered all of the building, it wasn’t until I made a few phone calls did I discover that HPD — the very agency that is supposed to force landlords to comply with the rules regarding heat, hot water, deteriorating walls and ceilings — handled the affordable units on its very own website. They can’t get existing rent-regulated tenants heat and they cannot get you an affordable apartment.
I applied for an affordable apartment at HPD and never heard from anyone — not to mention the fact that no one at 111 Varick Street knew about or could even advise me about which apartments were affordable or how much they were. Oh, and there was no phone number to call at HPD. The 111 Varick Street rental office ($4000-6000 a month for market rate apartments), couldn’t get me off the phone fast enough.
Now, take the the history of the 100 Varick Street building which sought and received approval for an eight story rental building through Community Board #2. The developer proposed affordable units for the community and was approved — and then sold the entire project to a developer who explained that he was going to build a hotel and had “as of right” ability to build thirty or forty floors if he did not get approval for 20 floors of condo units — affordable units were not mentioned any longer. It made everyone crazy but before this developer could even get that approval he sold the project again to the current developer who bought it — and built Twin thirty story towers. (The zoning had changed while the deals took place) A few Community Board members made out well on that deal and we now have mega condo towers known as Renzo Piano two blocks from The Dominick, where Trump once was. None of the units in its last iteration claimed to be affordable. Games were played upon us with Trump Tower, 111 Varick, Renzo Piano — because that is how developers treat the community. And, City Planning plays ball along with the politicians. The idea that new studio space, affordable housing, the arts in SoHo, making it more attractive to tourists and enabling the educational interests of the community with the SoHo/NoHo Partnership — is pure bullshit. It is nothing but a real estate play.
As one resident confided about City Planning said, “Look no further than former DCP Director Carl Weisbrod. He’s in a perpetual revolving door, private – public – private -public – private…The DCP is in bed with big real estate and the organizations that support big real estate. Google the DCP team leader of Soho/Noho rezoning, Sylvia Li, she’s on boards of real estate ‘non-profits.’ It’s really incredible, they don’t even hide the corruption.”
Its a money play using one of the most convenient agencies in New York — City Planning. The members have been chosen by elected politicians who owe someone — from the developer’s ranks. Politicians like Margaret Chin, who sold out SoHo long ago, in order to sell out the community. SoHo does not need more tourists, more art galleries, or more condos and certainly does not need any more commercial space. The artists have been gone for thirty years. Where was the City then? Oh, I forgot, the artists brought the developers so it didn’t matter when they were forced to leave. You think they’ll come back to more tourists and traffic?
The tourists overwhelm our streets so that pedestrians are routinely hit or killed, stores are vacant and boarded up in SoHo and the Village. And we need more commercial space for whom?
Yes, for the developers. Who’ve paid for it.