We the People: Looking for transparency in the de Blasio administration

The mayor’s opinion polls reflect that more New Yorkers than ever disapprove of his performance and that some citizens believe he is out of touch with the people. Marcia Kramer, a CBS reporter, tried to get him to answer questions at a press conference in San Juan, Puerto Rico about the transparency of his City Hall. The reporter — who had been denied an opportunity ask the mayor about a homeless encampment at a bill signing in City Hall two days earlier — was told by Mr. de Blasio that there are “regular opportunities” for journalists to question him. The mayor said, “We have a vision that we think is the right vision, we do press conferences throughout the week. There’s going to be regular opportunities for off-topic questions. Obviously we’re going to focus a lot on on-topic questions, too.”

Kramer got into a heated confrontation with Karen Hinton, a spokesperson for the mayor, when she originally posed the question about the encampment in Soho. Kramer asked why she had been told the encampment had been removed when it was actually still in place and Hinton responded. “There’s a difference between inaccurate information and a lie.”

Mr. de Blasio should answer questions and clear up inaccuracies so that it does not seem that City Hall is hiding things from the public. The mayor said crime is down and that things couldn’t be safer in New York City but we have gunpoint robberies occurring in Bay Ridge and a young criminal was just shot by undercover detectives that he tried to rob in Bedford Stuyvesant. Are we experiencing more shootings and gun violence since the mayor took office or is it a figment of the public’s imagination?

The mayor needs to shed light on his complicated proposed Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH) program and his Zoning for Quality and Affordability (ZQA) plan. The people want to know if the policies will deliver affordable housing or if it is a boondoggle for developers. Many economists view the problem of affordable housing as a matter of supply and demand: the city has not built or encouraged building of enough housing to accommodate a growing population and the short supply makes the rents rise for all families and middle-class families are squeezed out of the market.

The complex proposals call for developers to follow the (MIH) rules for new construction when it falls in certain areas. New buildings would be granted substantially increased density and height in contravention of zoning so that the new buildings would be wider and taller than normal. Under MIH, a developer constructing, enlarging or converting a building of more than 10 units would be required to set aside a percentage of floor area for affordable units according to an affordability set-aside formula: 25 percent of the floor area for families making an average of 60 percent of the AMI (average median income) or $46,620 for a family of three or 30 percent of the floor area for families making an average of 80 percent of the AMI ($62,160) or, in special cases, 30 percent of the floor area for families making an average of 120 percent of AMI ($93,240).

The Department of Housing and Development will decide on a case-by-case basis whether the weakness of the market necessitates that the developer receive subsidies in order to meet the requirements of option 1 and 2. All three options also assume the developers will receive 421-a property tax abatements, and will be permitted to income average, meaning the “affordable” units can go to a household where the residents earn up to 130 percent of $101,010 in AMI.
City planning officials state that the purpose of the policies is to promote economic diversity by offering developers a set of options that are “broadly feasible in a range of neighborhoods and market conditions for different construction projects.”

The proposals do not satisfy all affordable housing advocates. “These levels are, quite simply, not where the need is greatest,” wrote Moses Gates, director at the Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development who said, “Any new policy needs to specifically address [the need] of affordable housing for truly low-income New Yorkers across all of these options.” No MIH development would include parking for tenants.

Other experts call on the city to preserve existing affordable housing while building public housing on the over 800 acres of land owned by New York City. It is unclear if MIH and ZQA will truly increase affordable housing for the middle class or if it will merely create economic benefits for developers for years to come.

The proposed legislation should have a “sunset” provision so that it will expire unless renewed by the City Council. In that way, the people will not be stuck with it forever if it turns out to be ineffective or, worse, detrimental to the city’s housing and its neighborhoods.

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