Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Rescuing the Rescue Plan for America and for Manhattan

In light of the failure of the economic rescue plan in Washington yesterday and the resulting 777.7 point drop in the Dow Jones Industrial Average, Manhattan Viewpoint goes off-cycle and focuses on our country's financial health.

There is no county in the United States with more at stake in the latest economic crises than Manhattan. As the financial capital of the United States and as the economic center of the world, Manhattan has the most to gain from stabilization of the US economy.

Congress defeated the first attempt at stabilization yesterday in large part because the package they received was poorly presented, poorly named, lacked certain key enhancements to create a better risk-reward dynamic for the American taxpayer, and lacked a respected champion or advocate to calm fears and add credibility. Without a stabilization plan, the world economy risks collapse and the accompanying high unemployment and wealth destruction that has not been seen in the United States since the Great Depression.

Dana Chasin (pictured at the right and bio at http://tpmcafe.talkingpointsmemo.com/profile/Dana%20Chasin), Senior Advisor in the Federal Fiscal Policy group at OMB Watch in Washington, DC, published a blog today that articulated the views of Manhattan Viewpoint. Please read it at this link:http://tpmcafe.talkingpointsmemo.com/2008/09/30/rescue_plan_for_the_rescue_pla/

Manhattan needs a stabilized economy and a stabilized financial sector in order to create the future than Manhattanites deserve. Manhattan needs Congress to pass the legislation needed to stabilize the financial sector. The vote is Thursday. Try to get your friends from around the country to encourage their Congressional representatives to support this effort.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Crowded Schools in Manhattan

In Manhattan, our educational infrastructure needs larger quantity as well as improved quality. The desire for better quality education is well established all over New York City and all over urban America. In many neighborhoods in Manhattan, the lack of educational infrastructure quantity also deserves attention.

New School Construction Is Rare

When the Thurgood Marshall Academy on 135th Street opened its own building in early 2004 after sharing space with other schools for a decade, it was the first new public high school built in Harlem in over 50 years. http://www.nyc.gov/portal/site/nycgov/menuitem.c0935b9a57bb4ef3daf2f1c701c789a0/index.jsp?pageID=mayor_press_release&catID=1194&doc_name=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.nyc.gov%2Fhtml%2Fom%2Fhtml%2F2004a%2Fpr025-04.html&cc=unused1978&rc=1194&ndi=1


In an unprecedented development that may help light a path for others looking to improve the quantity of space in NYC devoted to educating our children, Thurgood Marshall Academy was built by a NYC non-profit organization rather than by the School Construction Authority http://schools.nyc.gov/Offices/SCA/AboutUs/default.htm that has been responsible for all such projects since its creation. The lack of new school construction is a problem in every part of Manhattan and has led to overcrowding in many communities, and an apparent lack of sufficient planning may cause that overcrowding to persist well into the future.

The Growing School Seat Deficit

In April 2008, the Manhattan Borough President's Office focused on this problem in its report Crowded Out, http://www.mbpo.org/newsroom_details.asp?id=1163 which illuminated some startling statistics. First, for the areas of Manhattan with the greatest crowding problems in the public schools, NYC issued permits for new buildings estimated to represent more than 2000 new students during the period from 2000 to 2007. During that same period, the number of additional seats added for students in those same areas was only 143 seats. If that deficit of nearly 2000 seats seems backward looking, the current state of planning for the future appears to exacerbate the problem. Over the next five years, NYC plans to create new seats in public schools to serve approximately 4,300 students in Manhattan. Unfortunately, the overcrowded schools in Manhattan already have a 3,900 seat deficit. If the number of students attending Manhattan's public schools did not grow, AND if we also could target all of the new seats to the most crowded schools, we'd still need all five years just to eliminate the deficit. Realistically, Manhattan's student population is very likely to grow materially in coming years, and NYC's official estimates assume substantial growth in the population of Manhattan. Moreover, the additional capacity for students at public schools in Manhattan will not be targeted 100% to the areas with the greatest capacity needs. Therefore, we are almost certain to have more overcrowding in five years than we have today, even if we achieve NYC's current plans for expanding capacity over that time frame.

Borough President Scott Stringer recently updated his April report to include data from January to August 2008. http://www.mbpo.org/newsroom_details.asp?id=1193 In that report, we learn that the number of housing units represented by buildings approved during the first 8 months of 2008 is 32% ahead of the average level established for a full year from 2000 to 2007, even though the year is only 67% complete. The increased flow of housing units is a positive development, but the additional homes result in an increase in the size of the public school seat deficit identified in the April report.

Planning for the Future

Later this year, the NYC Department of Education and the School Construction Authority will propose a capital plan for fiscal years 2010 to 2014. As Manhattanites, we should encourage Chancellor Klein and his leadership team take into account the public school seat deficit and the continued growth of the population of our borough. In Manhattan, several of our neighborhoods are already facing serious school overcrowding, and we'll need to create space as soon as practical for our children who are in school today as well as plan aggressively in order to allow ourselves to provide ample space for the children who will populate Manhattan's schools over the next 10+ years.

On October 3, at 9am on the steps of City Hall, concerned residents of NYC will rally for increased quantity and quality of educational infrastructure, reduced class size, and better planning for the future space needs of our children. http://abccampaign.wordpress.com/ Your voice can make a real difference in the decisions our city's leaders make with regard to school overcrowding.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Preserving Affordable Housing in Manhattan

Ennis Francis Houses - A Model

As communities in Upper Manhattan seek to reduce displacement, we need to take advantage of new ideas and promote innovation. One of the most encouraging examples of innovation in the fight against displacement is the landmark achievement of the successful fight to save 231 units of affordable housing at Ennis Francis Houses.Ennis Francis Houses is a housing development in a prime location - nearly a full city block of affordable housing from 124th Street and 7th Avenue to 123rd Street and 8th Avenue. Its ideal proximity to mass transportation and commercial goods and services positions the property as a prime target for luxury housing development, high-end retail development, or other uses that would result in the reduction of the affordable housing portfolio of Manhattan. After years of abuse and neglect at the hands of private owners, the tenants of Ennis Francis Houses, led by one of their younger tenants named Kim Smith, went to court to seek the removal of those landlords. The tenants had decided that they could no longer permit the landlords to abuse them with the sewage running through the development, the mold, the illegal drug activity, the prostitution, and the threats and the reality of physical abuse. With affordable housing so hard to find in Manhattan, where would these tenants go if their courage resulted in there removal from their homes? So, while conditions were beyond unacceptable, the question remained: Would removing the abusive landlords result in a sale to the highest bidder, a loss of affordable housing, and/or increased displacement?

Innovation and Preservation

That is where the innovation began. Abyssinian Development Corporation (ADC), Harlem's leading community development organization, was asked by the tenants to administer the property while the landlords who had done so much damage to so many people sought to avoid being held accountable for their actions and disappeared for a time.The New York City Housing Court ejected the landlords and put ADC in the role of administrator. Later, the US Government sued the landlords for civil damages related to their misuse of funds received from the US Government during the period of their control over the property. http://www.usdoj.gov/usao/nys/pressreleases/December06/ennisfrancispr.pdf

ADC worked with elected officials and governmental agencies in NYC and NY State to convince the Federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to avoid foreclosure on Ennis Francis Houses. If HUD had foreclosed, hundreds of Manhattanites would have lost their homes after enduring deplorable conditions for years in an effort to hold onto their homes. ADC was successful in guiding HUD to take the deed for Ennis Francis Houses rather than foreclose.With HUD taking ownership of the property, an unprecedented approach, ADC influenced HUD to only allow non-profit organizations committed to maintaining affordable housing and avoiding displacement to participate in the auction. Not only did ADC convince HUD that such an approach was proper, ADC won the auction and won a grant from HUD to rehabilitate the property. After rehabilitation, the property will offer more than 400 units of affordable housing. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PikrlgAzHL4

A Model for the Future

As a result of the success of this innovative approach, other residents in Manhattan now have an additional play for the affordable housing preservation playbook. When possible, HUD, by taking the deed of a neglected affordable housing development rather than foreclosing, can preserve that housing by working with community organizations. http://www.lisc.org/new_york/about_us/releases_1196/2005_7656/press_release_5_20_2005_8148.shtml
The crisis of expiring-use affordable housing properties can be seen all over New York City. The imminent threat of displacement for such residents is on the rise with HUD expiring-use, opt-outs, and funding shortfalls. As a result of these negative forces, the affordability of thousands of homes in Upper Manhattan communities is at risk. In January 2004, the National Housing Trust released a special report which listed the 10,217 HUD Section 8 subsidized housing units located in Harlem alone that would be lost due to expiring contracts. An additional threat posed in the upcoming fiscal year, is the $2 billion HUD funding shortfall. This inadequate funding makes it impossible for HUD to guarantee all project-based Section 8 contracts for the normal twelve-month period.

In the case of Ennis Francis Houses, 231 Manhattan families had their homes preserved through their own determination and through innovation of those working on their behalf, and nearly an equal number of additional families will have new homes to enjoy as a result of the courageous accomplishments of those who endured the difficult years of abuse and neglect. I am proud to share this Borough with those persevering (and now, triumphant) individuals.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Tax Changes to Create Affordable Housing in Manhattan

Efforts to increase the amount of affordable housing in Manhattan take many forms. Some of the most powerful efforts involve changing the incentives in the private sector to spur growth in the number of affordable units. In a recent example, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, State Senator Jose Serrano, State Assemblymember Denny Farrell, and Governor David Paterson worked together to remove significant incentives for owners to leave property vacant in Upper Manhattan. They accomplished this change in incentives by harmonizing the tax treatment of vacant property in Upper Manhattan with the treatment of vacant property in the rest of the borough.

Locating the Vacant Properties

One of the catalysts for this change was Manhattan Borough President Stringer. In 2006, his office launched the first ever large-scale, street-by-street count of abandoned buildings and vacant lots in Manhattan. That survey helped to identify possible locations for the creation of more affordable housing and led to greater understanding of what causes buildings and lots to lie unused when the demand for housing is so high. Based on survey results, in 2007, the Borough President released a report entitled No Vacancy: The Role of Underutilized Properties in Meeting Manhattan's Affordable Housing Needs. http://www.mbpo.org/uploads/NO%20VACANCY.pdf

Two of the report’s key findings were that the vast majority of vacant property in Manhattan is located in Upper Manhattan and that half of all of the vacant property in Manhattan is privately owned.

Specifically, the report highlighted that:
  • 2,228 properties in Manhattan appear to be vacant or have vacancies; 1,723 of the properties contain built structures, and 505 are empty lots
  • Enough developable space exists on these vacant lots and enough residential units exist in these vacant buildings to create nearly 24,000 units or one in eleven of the 265,000 housing units the NYC Mayor Bloomberg has said are needed to meet our city's future population growth
  • 50% of the vacant properties are privately owned, while only 6% are government owned and 3% are owned by not-for-profit entities
  • 74% of vacant residential buildings and 71% of all vacant lots are located above 96th Street, in Upper Manhattan
  • $5 to $10 million in property taxes are lost annually because vacant lots above 110th Street are taxed as Class 1 residential properties

Changing the Incentives

Based on the findings of the No Vacancy report, State Senator Jose M. Serrano and Assembly Member Herman D. Farrell, Jr. introduced state legislation (S.6207-B/A.8666) that amends the Real Property Tax Law to equalize the treatment of vacant land throughout Manhattan by placing all vacant land into Class 4. The legislation encourages the development of much-needed affordable housing in Manhattan by allowing property owners to remain in Class 1, and therefore stay in a lower tax bracket if they file plans to develop affordable housing. It also provides financial penalties for owners who warehouse vacant properties, and it gives the city additional tools to work with owners to foster the creation of affordable apartments, along with more than $5 to $10 million in new tax revenues.

Governor Paterson signed the legislation into law on July 25th, 2008, and it will take affect on January 1, 2009.

Private Sector Solutions

This change in the NY State tax laws improves the likelihood that the private sector will invest in affordable housing and reduces the chances that valuable land will be underutilized for long periods of time. Rather than placing the government in the driver's seat for determining the future of the privately owned vacant properties in Upper Manhattan, these tax law changes leave the private sector flexibility. Owners can pay higher taxes than they did previously (but not any more than they would pay if the property were elsewhere in Manhattan) while keeping their properties vacant, or they can develop those properties and avoid the increased tax burden. By shifting the incentives for Upper Manhattan property owners in the direction of the creation of housing, NY State is enlisting the private sector to help accomplish the public goal of increased affordable housing while increasing tax revenues.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Vote Tingling on Tuesday in Manhattan

Manhattan Viewpoint breaks with tradition and publishes early this week in order to encourage all Manhattanites and all friends of Manhattan to vote on Tuesday, September 9. We will return to our traditional Monday posting on September 15, 2008.

On Tuesday, September 9, 2008, New York State will hold its primary elections. Here in Manhattan, the Democratic Party will pick its candidate for Surrogate Court Judge. There is no Republican candidate, therefore the choice of the Democrats will become the next Surrogate Court Judge. I will be voting for NYS Supreme Court Judge Milton Tingling for Surrogate Court Judge.

What is the Surrogate Court?

Surrogate Court is the Trusts and Estates court for New York State. In each NYS county, the Surrogate court hears cases involving the estates of those who have died. It also handles adoptions and related matters. In every county in NYS except two, one judge hears all Surrogate cases for that given county. In Manhattan and in Brooklyn, there are two judges in the Surrogate Court. They answer to no one and have no oversight beyond themselves. These judges choose which attorneys will administrate certain estates, and they also play a large role in determining the future of the estates of those who die without a valid will. In Manhattan, the dollars that come through the Surrogate Court are in the billions of dollars, and who serves in this position without oversight is crucial.

Why Vote for Milton Tingling?
  • Judge Tingling is the only candidate running who has judicial experience
  • The other two candidates are being pushed forward by law firms and power brokers in order to attempt to stop the anti-corruption reform of the Surrogate Court that Judge Tingling has pledged to undertake
  • Judge Tingling will open up the court to ordinary people, ensure that for the first time translations are available for those who do not speak or understand English, and establish an Upper Manhattan satellite location to bring trusts and estates information to a larger number of people

Others who have looked at this race have come to the same conclusions that I have. Judge Tingling is our best (only) hope for reducing the corruption in the Surrogate Court and making it accessible to the people of Manhattan. See the links below for the thoughts of others.

Friend of Manhattan Seeking Re-election in Brooklyn

A quick note about a Friend of Manhattan. Brooklyn State Senator Kevin Parker is facing a tough primary battle on Tuesday. He has served admirably as the Minority Whip in the State Senate, and he has stood up for Manhattan's interests on numerous occasions.

He bested his opponents in a recent debate.

Manhattan Viewpoint encourages anyone in the 21st Senate District in Brooklyn to support Senator Kevin Parker, and we hope that Manhattanites with friends and family in that district will encourage their loved ones to vote for Kevin Parker on Tuesday. Though he represents Brooklyn, he improves lives in Manhattan through his work on behalf of Brooklyn. We'd like to see our friend back in Albany fighting for us.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Manhattan in Denver - DNC 2008

On this Labor Day, Manhattan Viewpoint salutes all workers and unions. We will examine labor issues later this year. This week's posting looks back at the 2008 Democratic National Convention and the race for the Presidency of the United States.

Witnessing the beginning of the end of the 2008 Presidential race while enjoying the city of Denver, my mind remained focused on the world's most important city and on the Borough of Manhattan that anchors our great city. It was fabulous to be in Denver to witness the official nomination of the next President of the United States. It is also great to be home.

Manhattan Should Be Proud

Denver welcomed Manhattan's public leadership last week, and Manhattan should be proud of how its leaders conducted themselves on the National Stage. NY Governor David Paterson spoke on Tuesday at the Democratic National Convention. He electrified all of those assembled in the Pepsi Center with his very clear explanation of why the US needs to reject John McCain and embrace Senator Barack Obama. http://www.demconvention.com/david-paterson/
David Paterson represented our State and our borough perfectly. I was cheering loudly as anyone ("David. David. David. . .") as he concluded his remarks.

Later, Chairman Charlie Rangel, by whom I am represented in the House of Representatives, led the remarks of Congressional Black Caucus in a tribute to the late member of Congress Stephanie Tubbs Jones. As usual, his remarks were well suited for the moment. While there had been controversy regarding whether Chairman Rangel would be permitted to address the Convention, the Chairman rose above the controversy and made us all very proud with his sensitivity and eloquence. http://www.entrepreneur.com/PRNewswire/release/55224.html

Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton spoke as well as they've ever spoken, and these two adopted Manhattanites (or Friends of Manhattan if you wish) were the Story of Tuesday and Wednesday of the Convention. Bill Clinton's office is in the heart of Upper Manhattan, and he represented us extremely well on Wednesday. Hillary Clinton couldn't have done a better job of making it clear that all of us should work as hard as we can to elect Senator Barack Obama to the Presidency. She's been attacked, underestimated, underappreciated, and pushed aside by so many (which is a familiar experience for many of us in Upper Manhattan). She showed on Tuesday night of the Convention that she is better than her critics. She returned later in the Convention to make the motion to nominate Senator Barck Obama for the Presidency by acclimation. She was the heroine of the week. http://www.demconvention.com/hillary-rodham-clinton/

Bill Clinton's presentation at the Convention was the single best presentation by any speaker. No one was surprised, but everyone was excited. http://www.demconvention.com/bill-clinton/

After the Convention, We Pray for a President Obama

The 2008 Democratic Convention was strong in terms of pageantry and high on emotion. It was historic and inspiring. I had to wait in line for 2 hrs to get into Invesco Field for the final night of activities (see the picture at the right for a view of the size of the line for entry to Invesco Field), but it was worthwhile. I'll tell my grandchildren about it someday.

John McCain interrupted the Obama momentum with his daring choice of Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate. I respect McCain for being willing to share the national stage with a strong, outspoken woman who has the executive experience that he, Senator Obama and Senator Biden all lack. As I look at the impressive life and accomplishments of Governor Palin (beauty queen, basketball star, Governor, mother of five, and reformer), her emergence on a national ticket reminds me how much focus will be necessary to elect Senator Obama to the Presidency. She is a true conservative who does not favor abortion rights, and she is very unlikely to support improved lives for those of us in New York City if she joins John McCain in the White House. We Democrats should not claim that she is "more of the same", because she is like nothing we've seen before. We Democrats should not claim that she is unqualified, because her qualifications meet or exceed those of our Presidential nominee. We Democrats need to remind the electorate that the electorate agrees with the Democrats on all of the key issues. The electorate is disappointed and disgusted with the Republican Party and wants to give us Democrats a chance to see if we can do better.

Manhattan needs an Obama Presidency - two terms. Let's pray that the incredibly appropriate words of Chairman Rangel, our Governor, and our friends, the Clintons, can combine with the hard work we all must do during the next 2+ months to propel Obama - Biden into the White House and give Manhattan the friend in the Oval Office that we've lacked for the last 8 years.