Stringer town hall focuses on affordable housing, zoning rules
The need for more affordable housing and the contention that more community input is needed into the city’s new proposed zoning rules were among the main themes of New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer’s Brooklyn town hall meeting on Thursday night.
Some strictly community specific matters were also brought up — including the plan to build new residential towers at the Pier 6 end of Brooklyn Bridge Park.
The meeting was held at the Brooklyn Music School in Fort Greene, a stone’s throw from BAM. A largely working-class crowd packed the school’s auditorium to have their say about whatever was on their minds. Speakers came from all parts of the borough, from Greenpoint and Williamsburg to Brighton Beach.
Stringer received tremendous applause when he criticized the Mayor Bill de Blasio’s first proposed rezoning in East New York. The average household income in the neighborhood, Stringer said, is about $32,000.
However, he said, a three-person household would have to earn $46,000 to qualify for one of the proposed residential units. Therefore he said, about 55 percent of the area’s residents wouldn’t be able to access one of the planned “affordable” apartments.
In general, Stringer said, the zoning plan needs more community input, since what works for one neighborhood doesn’t work for another.
Chris Robles, who said he has lived all his life in “South Brooklyn” (an old term for Cobble Hill, Boerum Hill, Carroll Gardens and Red Hook), recounted he had recently been to a meeting at Wyckoff Gardens, a New York City Housing Authority development, which was recently selected for an “infill” program, and people were concerned.
Under this program, private developers build mixed-income developments on little-used sites within New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) projects, such as parking lots, and in return funnel some of the money back to the bankrupt NYCHA.
Stringer replied that when the infill program began during the Bloomberg administration, the main thrust was to benefit the developers. Now, he said, the program needs to bring more benefit to NYCHA residents, who often wait months for simple repairs.
Stringer mentioned that Battery Park City, a Manhattan housing development that is administered by a public corporation, is obligated to pay “excess revenue” to the city. “Battery Park City is estimated to have a surplus of $400 million. I’d like to use that money to repair NYCHA buildings.”
A retired police officer from Sunset Park charged that under current affordable-housing rules, a development “could only include 15 to 20 affordable apartments,” for which there is a huge demand. “In one case recently, 60,000 people applied for that number of apartments. Meanwhile, there’s no level on how much money the developers can make,” he said.
Stringer held up the example of the Mitchell-Lama program, which subsidized the construction of more than 200 middle-income developments during the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s. “In Mitchell-Lama, developers got a fixed rate of return — it was not a cash cow,” said Stringer. The comptroller called for the return of the program.
Several speakers protested the Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation’s plans to build two residential towers at the Atlantic Avenue (Pier 6) end of the park. Joan Goldberg commented, “I’ve gone to Brooklyn Bridge Park and spoke to park-goers from all over the city. I’ve showed them the Pierhouse development [under construction at the North Heights end of the park] and how it will block the view.
“Then, I told them that two more towers are planned for the southern end of the park. Everyone was horrified.”
Ren Richmond, a director of People for Greenspace, said that the park corporation has said it would only build as much that is needed to support the park. Since the park plan was originated in 2005, he added, the value of the land has gone up tremendously, from $700 to $2,000 per square foot, and the park revenue has gone up dramatically. “A transparent analysis of the park’s financials would show that no further development is necessary,” he said.
Stringer replied that he had sent two letters to the park corporation. In response to the first, asking for information about the park’s finances, the corporation sent him more details. The second letter was about the possibility of issuing bonds to finance the park, said Stringer, and he has not yet received a response.
Development of a different type was addressed by Maria Rojas of Sunset Park. Both the local schools and the local public library branch, she said, are terribly overcrowded. But the majority of the available land in the area is in the hands of “hot-sheet motel” developers. What’s more, she continued, some of these developers have converted their shady motels into homeless housing, creating even more problems.
Stringer answered that the city’s budget is in better shape than it has been for decades, with no “budget gaps” this year. He proposed a “peace dividend” that could be used to help solve problems like the ones mentioned by Rojas.
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