August 14, 2017 by
A new luxury apartment building has begun accepting tenants at 2763 Morris Avenue in Bedford Park. No date for occupancy has been set yet. Elina Golovko of Douglas Elliman Real Estate has been named the exclusive leasing and marketing agent for the project. “Basically, the rent varies,” said Jessica Kroll, public relations manager for Elliman. “For one bedroom, it’s $1,900 to $2,875. I think that the response rate they have gotten thus far has shown that people are able and willing to spend.” A new luxury rental development is now accepting lease applications at 2763 Morris Avenue in Bedford Park. The 11-story building has 75 apartments, including studios, 1-bedrooms and 2-bedrooms. Developed by Alex and Eric Berkovitch of Universal Contracting, the 11-story building comprises 75 residences. Architecture is by James McCullar Architecture, PC and interiors are by Ana Monasher. “I set out to create a residential building that promotes an active lifestyle while embracing the essence of modern urban living,” Berkovitch said. “The high-end features and amenities of 2763 Morris Avenue introduce a never-before seen lifestyle to Bedford Park.” Berkovitch also said that it is unlike any other development in the area, and feels that it will have a positive impact on the local economy and the residents of the community. Berkovitch purchased two properties — one was a home that was demolished in 2008 — and the other was an Episcopalian church that was replaced two years ago, according to Kroll. They made a deal with the church that it would be included within the building. So now there’s 9,000 square feet of space for the church on the ground floor of the building. There’s a room for Sunday school, offices, a cafeteria and a place of worship. Golovko added that “there is no other residential project in the area that exudes this level of style and attention to detail. This, combined with the building’s luxurious amenities and outstanding views of the city and river, have us anticipating a high velocity of leasing for these spectacular units.” The views offer full vantage points of the city down to Freedom Tower at the WTC, the Palisades Cliffs, Lehman College, Fordham University and the NY Botanical Gardens. The luxury building is composed of one- and two-bedroom units, along with several studios. Rental prices range from $1,755 for the studios, $1,985 to $2,540 per month for 1-bedroom apartments; $2,075 and $2,310 for 2-bedrooms. Each residence includes room-by-room controlled heating and cooling, which is included in the price. The open floor plans provide residents with a spacious living environment, while the state-of-the-art facilities within the building give them access to amenities. These features include a top-of-the-line fitness center, on-site laundry room, 9th floor sun terrace, tenant lounge room with coffee bar, a private terrace and bicycle storage to promote an active lifestyle. High-speed Internet is incorporated throughout. Security features for the residence consist of a part-time doorman in the lobby, a real-time security monitoring screen also visible online and a video intercom in every unit. For more information on the property, visit www.elliman.com or call (646) 288-2535. Councilman Fernando Cabrera was reviewing the apartment plans and was not ready to comment yet. source

August 14, 2017 by
Local community leaders are railing against a White Plains Road building that recently started to house homeless families, but a city spokesman said the building has been in operation for months. Councilman Andy King led a protest with several neighborhood leaders outside the seven-story residential building at 3677 White Plains Road on Monday, July 31 to protest what he called a ‘bait and switch’ by the developer, the Stagg Group. “The Stagg Group has built an 80/20 building where 80 percent of the residents are from shelters,” King said. “But at the first conversations I had with the Stagg Group a year and half ago they were going to build market rate affordable housing for working families, with some mixed use.” King said he was not opposed to supportive housing, but said moving such a large number of homeless people into a building can overwhelm a building and the surrounding neighborhood. Mr. Moore (c), a neighboorhood resident, aired additional issues he has regarding the city administration’s abuse of his community. “Because of the behaviors of whatever is happening with some of the folks in that building, we have more homeless people outside of the building during the summer months, drug use out in the open, public urination,” he said. Some of the local business owners also lodged complaints about residents panhandling outside their store or shoplifting, King added. Community Board 12 district manager George Torres said the board had lobbied for permanent housing but was frustrated by how the city and Stagg had handled the creation of such facilities. The NYC Department of Homeless Services recently announced a similar building on Broadway in Kingsbridge would be used for homeless families after Stagg told the community it was market-rate housing, drawing the ire of local politicians and Community Board 8. “Mark Stagg has a history in this district and it’s not a very good history,” Torres said. “This is like the third time he’s taken a building developed as market rate and turned it into something else.” Torres said the city did not disclose to the board where the shelters and cluster sites are located in the district, making it difficult to even know how saturated this district is compared to other parts of the city. “It’s unfair to continue to dump on my district,” he said. Mohamet Mbaye (c) addressed the neighborhood’s deterioration since the building at 3677 White Plains Road has been turned to a de facto homeless shelter, without sufficient resources. But DHS spokesman Isaac McGinn said the community was alerted to the facility nearly a year ago before the tenants moved in, and that protests were detrimental to the building’s occupants. “As we address the dual citywide challenges of homelessness and affordability, which impact every community across the five boroughs, we are proud to deliver high quality, affordable housing for formerly homeless families,” he said. The building is currently home to 93 formerly homeless families, as well as 24 other households, McGinn said. Forty-two of those homeless families previously resided in the Bronx, including nine families who lived in CB 12. Calls to the Stagg Group and its owner, Mark Stagg, went unanswered. source

August 13, 2017 by
Construction is underway on a $67 million supportive and affordable housing project in the Bronx. The building being constructed, part of a larger mixed-use development known as La Central, will create 160 units of housing, including 97 supportive units for formerly homeless New Yorkers with special needs. “This new development will provide quality homes and will support vulnerable Bronx residents in need allowing them to live independently and with dignity,” said Governor Andrew Cuomo. “By giving these individuals a roof over their head and a safe place to call home, we help create a stronger New York and a more vibrant Bronx for years to come.” The La Central development will feature multiple buildings with mixed-income affordable housing, retail, community and recreation spaces, helping to revitalize the Melrose neighborhood in the South Bronx. Breaking Ground will develop the supportive housing component of La Central, while Comunilife will provide support services. The new building was designed by FXFOWLE Architects and MHG Architects. The general contractor is Monadnock Construction, Inc. The building will feature ultra-efficient fixtures and water-saving appliances, a green roof, and roof-mounted solar panels that will provide energy savings and reduce reliance on the area’s electrical grid. In addition, the building will include a 4,500 s/f accessory community facility space. “The La Central development epitomizes the art of creative, sustainable and equitable city-building. Our design of Breaking Ground’s supportive housing building is a key part of La Central and embodies a powerful combination of civic ethos, sustainable strategies and thoughtful programing,” stated Senior Partner Dan Kaplan, FAIA, LEED AP. “The building will create an identity that is both forward-looking and rooted into the larger neighborhood. Most importantly, it creates a sense of place that speaks to the project’s mission of providing homes and fostering a thriving, healthy community.” The total development cost for the project is $67 million. The project is financed with several resources from HCR, as well as State and local partners. New York State’s Housing Finance Agency is providing $31 million in tax-exempt bond financing towards the construction of the project. At project completion, permanent financing will consist of nearly $27 million of Low Income Housing Tax Credit generated from HFA’s tax credit allocation; $11.5 million from HCR’s Supportive Housing Opportunity Program; $5.9 million from OTDA’s Homeless Housing Assistance Program; $12 million from the Supportive Housing Loan Program via the City of New York’s Department of Housing, Preservation and Development; and $230,000 from the NYC Office of Environmental Remediation. The project is also part of the newly launched Empire State Supportive Housing Initiative. Additional capital funding came from Wells Fargo and the Corporation for Supportive Housing. As part of the second phase of the Governor’s $20 billion five-year plan for the creation or preservation of 100,000 affordable and 6,000 supportive housing units, three State agencies have made available more than $650 million in capital funding and $30 million in service and operating funding for supportive housing. HCR, OTDA and the Office of Mental Health have each released Requests for Proposals to distribute these funds. source

August 13, 2017 by
New York City landlords trying to drive their tenants out with noisy construction work — and take advantage of the city’s hot market with new renters — will have to answer to a new Office of Tenant Advocates. The office, which will be in the Department of Buildings and monitor construction-related complaints for landlord harassment, is one result of an armful of tenant protection bills (18 total) passed by the New York City Council Wednesday. Other measures impose more severe penalties for doing unpermitted construction work, increase regulations where construction is being performed, require that permits posted at construction sites indicate when the building is occupied, classify visits or phone calls from landlords at odd hours as intimidation, and allow Housing Court judges to award damages to tenants bringing successful harassment claims against their landlords. An NYC Rent Guidelines Board meeting in 2015 As journalist Ben Adler wrote for Next City in June, tenant harassment is one of the more insidious unintended consequences of New York rent regulation. “Although there isn’t authoritative data available, tenant rights advocates say that because the city’s rising market-rate rents have increased the incentive for landlords to get rid of rent-regulated tenants, harassment has spiked in recent years,” he reported. A landlord’s motive is simple: Bring in a new tenant and you can hike the rent. And while some progress has been made on renters’ behalf — Mayor Bill de Blasio signed three new laws to curtail aggressive “buy-out” tactics in 2015; City Council approved a bill in July that will provide tenants facing eviction with legal services — some housing advocates worry that the council’s actions don’t go far enough. Among the reasons: A state-allowed “vacancy bonus” permits rents to rise as much as 20 percent between tenants. “Eliminating the vacancy bonus would mean rents are actually stabilized, as opposed to going up between tenants, and it would dramatically reduce the incentive for harassment,” Katie Goldstein, executive director of Tenants and Neighbors, told Adler. But the Republican-majority state Senate and a governor with pro-business leanings both pose significant hurdles. “Our bills always pass the Assembly but not the Senate, and Gov. [Andrew] Cuomo has not been a friend to us because of his massive support from the real estate industry.” City Council Member Helen Rosenthal sees the collection of bills as an important step, however. “While many at [the Department of Buildings] do important work on behalf of tenants, the bureaucracy just isn’t in place to make tenants’ voices heard,” she said, in a release about the bills passing. She pointed to one of the bills, which “will change that, giving tenants a dedicated watchdog and workhorse on their behalf.” source

August 11, 2017 by
Tenants of the commercial building at 2800 Bruckner Blvd. are on edge after receiving another letter this week telling them to move out.  The letter was signed by Michael Fernandes, who oversees the building for Steward Redevelopment. Yolanda Castro-Arce, a tenant in the building, met with him this week after rumors that new ownership would use the building as a homeless shelter or detox center.  Castro-Arce says Fernandes told her that there would be no evictions.  Days after that meeting, her law practice received a letter telling her that the business does not conform with the building certificate of occupancy because it is not a nonprofit. It says she will need to vacate the building.  "He still needs to go through the courts in order to evict us, and, at that point, all this mess he is stirring up will come up before a judge," says Castro-Arce. News 12 tried to reach Fernandes for comment but has not heard back. source

August 11, 2017 by
Wells Fargo has already admitted to charging people for overdrawing bank accounts that they didn't have and for car insurance that they didn't need. Now, it's being accused of ripping off vulnerable mom-and-pop businesses. For several years, Wells Fargo's merchant services division overcharged small businesses for processing credit card transactions, a lawsuit alleges. Business owners who tried to leave Wells Fargo were charged "massive early termination fees," according to the lawsuit filed in US District Court. The "overbilling scheme" targeted less sophisticated businesses by using "deceptive language" in a 63-page contract designed to confuse them, the lawsuit filed on August 4 claims. The lawyer filed court documents to seek class action status. The latest controversy centers on Wells Fargo Merchant Services, a joint venture that is 60% owned by Wells Fargo and 40% controlled by First Data (FDC). A former employee of the Wells Fargo (WFC) business told CNNMoney that he was instructed to target these small businesses. "We used to be told to go out and club the baby seals: mom-pop-shops that had no legal support," he said in an interview. The former Wells Fargo employee spoke on the condition of anonymity, but CNNMoney verified that he worked for Wells Fargo Merchant Services. The former Wells Fargo employee told CNNMoney that when he worked there, from 2011 to 2013, it was nearly impossible for business owners to leave the merchant agreement. "God would have had a hard time" escaping the contract, he said. "It really was like a shady used car deal." One of the plaintiffs in the suit, Queen City Tours, claims it was assessed a $500 early termination fee after trying to leave Wells Fargo Merchant Services. The North Carolina company, which focuses on African-American themed tours in Charlotte and is owned by military veteran Juan Whipple, alleges in the lawsuit that Wells Fargo charged it monthly fees of $20 to $35 for failing to have a minimum number of transactions. That's despite the fact that the company claims the contract said there would be no such fees. The tour company says in the lawsuit that its business is seasonal, and that it has few sales during off-peak months. The second plaintiff, the Pennsylvania restaurant Patti's Pitas, claims it was "pounded by excessive fees" -- even after it went out of business in May 2017. When Patti's Pitas tried to leave the contract, it was told it couldn't because of a three-year term that the owner wasn't aware of, the lawsuit said. Wells Fargo, which was already under heavy legal scrutiny regarding unauthorized bank and credit card accounts, eventually closed the account without a termination fee. Regarding the lawsuit, the bank said, "We deny these claims and intend to defend against [it]." The company added that it believes its "negotiated pricing terms are fair and were administrated appropriately." Wells Fargo declined to respond to the specific claims by the former employee. First Data also declined to comment to CNNMoney. The overbilling allegations are the latest black eye for Wells Fargo. Nearly a year ago, the bank admitted it created some two million potentially unauthorized bank and credit card accounts. Wells Fargo recently said an ongoing review of earlier accounts is likely to reveal many more fake accounts. Wells Fargo has taken countless steps to try to fix its broken culture, including reforming the unrealistic sales goals that were at the heart of the scandal. The bank has also replaced its senior management and conducted an exhaustive internal investigation that uncovered red flags going back to 2004. But Wells Fargo has landed back in hot water in recent weeks. Late last month, the company said it charged as many as 570,000 customers for car insurance they didn't need. About 20,000 of those customers may have had their vehicles repossessed in part because of those unnecessary insurance costs. Wells Fargo has apologized for the auto insurance fiasco and promised to refund those customers affected. A New York regulator subpoenaed two Wells Fargo divisions last week demanding the bank turn over loan agreements and other documents, a person familiar with the matter told CNNMoney. Samir Hanef, a clinical social worker from North Carolina, is one of the Wells Fargo customers who had his car repossessed. "I was forced to pay for Wells Fargo's mistake," Hanef told CNNMoney. source Read More: How to solve the Wells Fargo problem

August 10, 2017 by
The recent 40 percent increase in New York City street homelessness per the 2017 HOPE Count has brought much deserved attention to bringing those street homeless inside. It’s also important to assess efforts to permanently house those street homeless once they come inside. Mayor de Blasio and Commissioner Steve Banks participate in homeless outreach (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office) According to data from the Mayor’s Management Report, single homeless adults are increasingly bottlenecking in city shelters, and when they are housed, they too often return to shelter within a year. Since fiscal year 1999 (FY99), a single homeless adult’s shelter stay has more than tripled from 108 days to 355 days in fiscal year 2016. Also, since fiscal year 2001, nearly one in five adults -- 17.2 percent in FY01 to 18.9 percent in FY16 - return to shelter within a year of permanent housing placement. This indicates a lack of permanent housing exit options as well as homeless adults struggling to maintain tenancy once housed. To some extent, better exit options and sustained tenancies are on the horizon. Over the next 15 years, New York State and City will create 35,000 units of much needed supportive housing. This alone will not address these persistent issues though. Not all homeless adults will need supportive housing or be eligible. Given these figures, would it not be better to engage an existing housing supply -- the private rental sector -- so it better fits the purpose of housing the homeless? While the private rental sector often causes homelessness, it may be part of the solution, particularly in the low-vacancy, high cost market of New York City. One place to look for guidance is the United Kingdom. They share similarities regarding causes of homelessness including inadequate welfare housing benefits, rent increases outpacing wage growth, and a diminishing supply of public or social housing. Individuals in both countries also encounter similar barriers to renting. These include unstable rental histories, unaffordable rent and a lack of affordable housing as well as landlord imposed barriers -- refusal to rent to those enrolled in a government program, charging increased access costs to rent, and biases about renting to the homeless. Organizations in the UK, however, use these barriers as opportunities to engage the private rental sector so it better fits the purpose of housing the homeless. One example is Crisis, a 50-year old homeless charity operating in England, Wales and Scotland. It has worked since 1997 to make the private rental sector a viable housing option. In April, through the Transatlantic Practice Exchange, I spent three weeks at Crisis with its Edinburgh and London housing teams, learning about its private rental sector work. Based on my learning, I have four recommendations for City homelessness regarding exit options and tenancy sustainment. 1) Offer Tenancy Support to Those in Shelters, Alternatives to Shelters and Supportive Housing Crisis addresses landlord barriers to renting by working directly with the homeless on landlord concerns before and during tenancy. This helps prepare individuals to live on their own and maintain a tenancy. As Crisis’ Private Renting Program Manager Bridget Young stated, “What’s good for the tenant is good for the landlord.” At Crisis, potential members attend a housing induction to acquaint them with housing services. This two-hour group session covers topics such as an individual’s housing priorities and compromises. For example, one man came into the group set on living in a certain London borough but left understanding he would need to be flexible in his housing search. I was impressed with the early candid conversations such as these to acquaint individuals with the realities of the tight London rental market and the need to adjust housing expectations. After induction, members attend a Mini Renting Ready workshop. This addresses how to search for housing, the type of housing to search for and the rent one can afford. After that, members work with a housing coach and attend a property searching club. Crisis staff also support tenants during tenancy. This can include offering an accredited “Renting Ready” course with topics such as housing rights, money management and communicating with roommates and landlords, or it may involve aftercare from housing coaches for up to 12 months after moving in. Tenancy training enhances exit options and tenancy sustainment. It facilitates an individual’s transition to housing, helping address barriers that prevent them from moving into a home and maintaining it. According to staff at Crisis and other UK housing and support agencies, landlords appreciate tenancy training and are more inclined to offer tenancies to someone who has engaged in it. Tenancy training also addresses the informational inequities among those unstably housed, equipping them with information they lack such as their housing rights. A more informed tenant would know about grounds for eviction and about their right to counsel in housing court, and thus contest an eviction instead of entering shelter. New York City should offer tenancy training to those in the homeless services system and supportive housing. Similar to Crisis’ work, it could include early conversations with those individuals about housing as well as housing education. It may be particularly useful for those most estranged from housing - chronically homeless adults and those exiting the criminal justice system - as well as those lacking housing experience such as homeless youth and those exiting foster care. The city could pilot a program involving these groups, assessing its impact by tracking tenancy length and return to permanent housing. 2) Match Individuals in Transitional Housing as Roommates Prior to Moving into Shared Permanent Housing, and Provide Shared Housing Support Another type of tenancy support is roommate matching. This consists of matching individuals in transitional housing with their shared permanent housing roommate prior to moving, and supporting sharers before and during shared housing. An example is Scottish provider Trust in Fife’s Tenancy Share, a transitional housing program helping those under the age of 35 to move into shared housing. Before sharers move, they’re matched with their roommates via a matching assessment, discussions and meetings. Fife transitional housing staff also support sharers before, during and after they move. Matching attempts to improve shared rental housing, which is a byproduct of the unaffordable housing market for homeless single adults. It prepares individuals so they are not blindly moving into living with strangers. It also gives tenants a support system during and after their transition. This enhances tenancy sustainment. From 2013-16, Tenancy Share created 45 shared tenancies with a six-month tenancy sustainment rate of 90 percent. New York City should implement a pilot akin to Tenancy Share in which drop-in centers, Safe Haven or shelter providers would match shared housing roommates as well as provide support during the transition to and tenancy in shared housing. Those ripe for a pilot are youth aging out of foster care and homeless youth in drop-in centers or shelters. Matching would provide these individuals with support, particularly valuable given their diminished support systems. The housing itself would equip them with independent living skills and build rental histories. 3) Develop a Housing Pilot Program for Single Adults Exiting Transitional Housing in Need of Tenancy Support Crisis also works to strengthen the private rental sector as a viable housing option for the homeless by funding and advising Help-to-Rent projects. Help-to-Rents support tenants and landlords during tenancy. An example is Trust in Fife’s Fife Keyfund. Fife negotiates a one-month written guarantee, instead of a cash deposit, with the landlord, who may claim it in case of property damage. Their staff maintain regular contact with tenants, visiting them and working with them to save towards the deposit. They also serve as a point of contact for landlords to resolve tenancy issues. Tenants in Help-to-Rents sustain their tenancies. From 2014-15, Fife Keyfund created 318 tenancies with an 85 percent tenancy sustainment rate. Help-to-Rents also entice landlords to rent to those homeless, even at lower rents. Fife staff stated that landlords buy into their housing program because they know Fife provides support. According to Stephen Green, the Board Chair of the UK housing and support provider Nomad Opening Doors , even when landlords leave for the commercial market, they return as they find it easier to rent to Help-to-Rents. New York City should develop a housing pilot for single adults in transitional housing exiting to permanent housing in need of tenancy support. It could be modeled after Fife Keyfund and the city’s scattered-site housing program. The pilot for adults with more stable rental histories would mirror Fife Keyfund where the temporary housing provider negotiates a lease for the client. The pilot for those with unstable rental histories would mirror the city’s scattered-site housing with the transitional housing provider renting units from private rental sector landlords and subletting them to clients. Ideally, after the first year, the individual would enter into a lease with the landlord instead of subletting. For each pilot, the transitional housing provider would be the named contact for the landlord to address tenancy issues. Keeping the housing provider as the service contact provides continuity for the tenant and ensures the landlord has contact with staff most familiar with the individual’s housing. 4) Advocates and Electeds Should Engage Landlords in Homeless Advocacy Crisis recognizes its common interest with landlords in resolving homelessness issues and engages them in policy recommendations and campaigns to address issues. An example is its work to improve homelessness prevention for single adults. Prior to the UK Parliament’s passage of the Homeless Reduction Act earlier this year, local authorities often reneged on their duty to advise and assist adults coming to them with an eviction notice. Crisis recommended statutorily obligating authorities to assist individuals earlier in the process. This would prevent evictions and address landlord concerns about authorities returning tenants to their property without assistance until bailiffs evict them. Crisis then engaged landlords in advocacy to adopt the recommendations. It reached out to landlord associations and membership groups. It also invited landlords to lobby Parliament by signing an online petition and directly speaking with Members of Parliament. New York homeless advocates and elected officials should recognize their common interests with landlords and engage them in advocacy. An issue ripe for this is the inadequate state shelter allowance. Just like English landlords benefit from obligating authorities to assist tenants earlier in eviction, New York landlords benefit from a higher shelter allowance. It addresses their reservations about renting to those homeless due to a shelter allowance inadequate to pay rent. Encouragingly, New York City’s largest landlord group, the Rent Stabilization Association, has endorsed the Home Stability Support bill proposed by Assemblymember Andrew Hevesi to create a state subsidy to supplement the shelter allowance. Advocates and elected officials should capitalize on this and use the opportunity to bring other landlords and State legislators on board. Ending homelessness requires various sectors working together. *** Nicole Bramstedt is the Director of Policy at Urban Pathways, a nonprofit social services and supportive housing organization. On Twitter at @UrbanPathwaysNY. source

August 9, 2017 by
Montreal Olympic Stadium, better known as the Big O, for the O-shaped design of its seating area, hasn’t been home to a professional sports team since 2004, when the Montreal Expos baseball team became the Washington Nationals. It has since been used for trade shows, concerts, and the odd sports event. This week it holds hundreds of temporary beds for asylum seekers who have left the United States fearing deportation under US President Donald Trump, according to the New York Times and news reports from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC). Pay attention. Originally built for the 1976 Olympics, the stadium building with its striking inclined tower has become a makeshift shelter for refugees who have crossed into Quebec illegally, walking across fields and through forests, avoiding border control posts where they risk being turned away. Thus, they can take advantage of a legal loophole that allows asylum seekers to stay in Canada and apply for refugee status once inside the country. Since January, when Trump moved into the White House, more than 4,300 asylum seekers have entered Canada this way, according to Government of Canada statistics. By comparison, in all of 2016, the RCMP reportedly arrested about 2,500 people who had illegally trekked over the border. Quebec has been the entry point for the majority of the latest wave of refugees, so authorities there were already struggling to process a larger than expected number of applicants when they saw a sudden spike in arrivals over the past two weeks. In that time, the number of people walking into the province has quadrupled, reaching 250 arrivals per day. Overwhelmed, the agency assisting asylum seekers began channeling many to the stadium after other city shelters hit capacity last week. A spokesperson for that group, Programme régional d’accueil et d’intégration des demandeurs d’asile (Praida), tells Quartz that 800 people are currently sleeping in the stadium. That number is expected to fluctuate daily between now and September, when a new shelter should be available. Olympic Stadium. As the CBC reported, a crowd of Canadians rallied for the new arrivals this weekend, holding signs that read “Refugees welcome” or “No one is illegal” outside the Big O. Many of the travellers are Haitians who left the US believing that, in January, Trump will end a program that has allowed them to stay in the country since the 2010 earthquake; they have been met by volunteers from the large local Haitian community and others offering food and basic necessities. Rohingya children sleep on stadium seating in Sumatra. The images of refugees moving into the massive stadium calls to mind more distressing photographs from recent history and from stadiums around the world. “There’s a real irony to these temples,” says Benjamin Lisle, a professor of American studies who has a new book out, Modern Coliseum: Stadiums and American Culture. Ironically, former “expressions of extravagance” from the 1960s and 1970s have occasionally become holding pens for people for whom we don’t have the social commitment to care for properly. Syrian refugees in the National stadium of the Greek island of Kos. Even among peacocking urban design projects, Montreal’s Olympic Stadium is a standout. Its more common nicknames are the Big Oh-Oh and The Big Owe for the $1.6 billion spent over 30 years to complete its construction and repairs. Both stadiums and airports, including Greece’s Olympic venues built for the 2004 games, have become campgrounds for thousands of migrants seeking asylum in (or transit through) Greece. In 2015, ethnic Rohingya escaping violence in Myanmar were left living in small stadiums in Sumatra. That same year, Burundians fleeing conflict at home found themselves sleeping in stadiums in Tanzania. source

August 8, 2017 by
Take a look around city neighborhoods and you’ll see thousands of neglected private properties—boarded-up houses and vacant lots collecting garbage, tax debt and worse—with absent owners who face no consequences. Frustrated neighbors have little or no recourse. It doesn’t have to be that way. A pending City Council bill called the Housing Not Warehousing Act would create a registry that all owners of vacant private property will have to enter or be forced to pay penalties. This will put community members back in control of their neighborhoods and create a useful inventory that will allow the city to begin turning derelict properties into much-needed low-cost housing. The act will also require the city to regularly compile a list of vacant property owned by the city, state, federal government or public entities such as the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Nothing comparable exists, which leaves advocates, elected officials and City Hall with an incomplete picture of the opportunities to create positive change in our neighborhoods. There is no transparency when it comes to derelict private properties. Instead of ensuring that they are put to good use, the city tolerates private warehousing of precious land and buildings. Some owners wait for years, even decades, for markets to heat up and neighborhoods to get upzoned so that these properties can be sold to investors who will replace these holes with luxury construction. Access to housing is a serious problem for working families. The ratio of median gross rent to income was 36.4% in 2014—with a third of tenants paying more than half of their income for rent. Approximately 58,000 New Yorkers slept in shelters last night, 22,000 of them children. Clearly, we need more affordable housing—giving the City Council a compelling reason to act now. Inexplicably, the city's Department of Housing Preservation and Development is fighting the Housing Not Warehousing Act. Last year, HPD asserted to the City Council that the bill is unnecessary and redundant, given the information the agency is already collecting. When pressed by council members, they were unable to provide it. The city’s failure to take stock of its vacant property is particularly troubling in a political moment when the mayor is highlighting the so-called successes of an "affordable housing" program that overwhelmingly leaves out the needs of extremely low-income New Yorkers. If de Blasio is truly committed to increasing the supply of affordable units, why not start with an accurate inventory of vacant buildings and land? The Housing Not Warehousing Act is an important tool to give residents and advocates the information and power they need to shape our neighborhoods while cleaning up dangerous properties. This legislation will make it possible to turn abandoned and boarded-up properties into vibrant community spaces, places for businesses to thrive, and permanently affordable homes. It’s about more than cleaning up eyesores and chasing away vermin; it’s about relieving the ever-increasing human suffering caused by unaffordable housing. source Read More: Mayor unaware of vacant-property bill Announcing… the Housing Not Warehousing Act HELP US PASS THE HOUSING NOT WAREHOUSING ACT  

August 8, 2017 by
Flood insurance largely helps well-off homeowners and is $24 billion underwater. Here's how to fix it. In the long-running debate over housing subsidies, experts tend to focus on the mortgage interest deduction, a $70 billion tax break that functions as an expensive subsidy for wealthy Americans. But there are lesser-known government programs that also have the same problem—and are ripe for reform. We don’t think of them this way but one of them is flood insurance. Since 1968, the federal government has provided subsidized insurance for homeowners who live in flood-prone areas—a program known as the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). It was created after a Department of Housing and Urban Development study in 1968 recommended the federal government provide flood insurance, arguing that a government insurance program could better balance goals of mitigation and economic development in flood plains than the private market. As of 2016, the NFIP has over 5 million policies in force and saves policyholders around $3 billion annually. But the program is out of control: It is currently $24 billion in debt; future costs will be much higher. The good news is that Congress has a perfect opportunity to reform the program, since the NFIP must be reauthorized by the end of September. It’s time to implement real reforms that put the program on sound fiscal footing—and reduce this regressive housing subsidy. The NFIP’s main problem is that it doesn't really function like private insurance. For instance, it does not assess flood risk for each property; instead, premiums reflect average historical losses within a property’s risk zone. Moreover, the floodplain maps determining a property’s risk zone are often several decades out of date. As a result, premiums may bear only a tangential relationship to the true risk of flooding. The cost of an NFIP policy averages about half of what would be a market rate. Congress actually mandates this inaccurate pricing method. In 2014, it hastily revoked a few tentative steps at reform after constituents complained loudly when the NFIP tried to charge something approximating market rates for flood insurance. Who benefits from flood insurance? People in flood-prone states like Louisiana and Florida, of course. But many beneficiaries also share another characteristic: they are upper income. Evidence suggests that recipients of flood insurance are on average wealthier than the typical homeowner. A Congressional Budget Office study found the median value of an NFIP insured home is about twice that of American homes in general. About 80 percent of NFIP households are in counties that rank in the top income quintile. As of 2012, 42 percent of NFIP properties took out the maximum $250,000 in coverage, reflecting the fact that properties near water tend to be more expensive than properties in general. Wealthier households also tend to receive larger subsidies. A University of Massachusetts study examined the relationship between property values and premiums paid per $100,000 in coverage in that state, finding a negative relationship between property value and premium cost. For example, homeowners on Martha’s Vineyard pay an average premium of $400 per $100,000, while residents of Fairhaven, a blue-collar town with a median household income of about $40,000, pay over $800. These numbers reflect the impact of the NFIP’s explicit subsidies to homes built before the first Federal Emergency Management Agency flood map of a given area, which constitute 15-20 percent of the total policies in the program. Policyholders receive a 60-65 percent discount for these properties. NFIP recipients are also heavily concentrated along the coasts of the states in the Southeast, and about 25 percent of explicitly subsidized coastal NFIP properties are vacation homes, according to the CBO. One of these homeowners receiving government money to live on the beach was John Stossel, the former ABC and Fox News pundit. He saved thousands annually on insurance for his waterfront property in New York. The NFIP does not charge nearly enough to cover the expected costs of its liabilities. The assessments are not sufficient to build any buffer to cover an extraordinary year, such as what occurred with Hurricane Katrina in 2005 or Hurricane Sandy in 2012. Because homeowners don’t incur the full cost of building in a flood zone we end up with more houses there than if homeowners incurred the full cost of the flood risk, which exacerbates the government’s costs in the next disaster. Since 1970, the number of Americans living in FEMA-designated Special Flood Hazard Areas has increased from 10 million to over 16 million today. The optimal solution would be for the government to get out of the flood insurance business entirely and leave it to the private market, which would endeavor to accurately measure risk and charge a price for its insurance that covers the expected costs. While full privatization may not be politically feasible now, Congress could enact reforms that allow private insurers to compete with the NFIP on a level playing field and introduce a modicum of market discipline on the market. For example, mandating FEMA to release property-level flood data would greatly benefit private insurers. Reforms to improve actuarial fairness and the quality of mapping in the NFIP would also be welcome. The Southeast Atlantic Coast Senators are sure to object to any changes that might make their constituents pay more, watering down good reforms that already passed the House. But these senators are missing the forest for the trees. Allowing private market competition in the flood insurance industry would save the government money in a markedly progressive fashion—something that should transcend ideological and geographical differences. Smart reforms would also help Congress refrain from throwing money at disasters, bailing out homeowners who shouldn’t have built in flood-prone areas to begin with. Sensible long-run incentives to mitigate damage would discourage such homebuilding by exposing homeowners and businesses to the real cost of building in floodplains. The key is to act well in advance of the next disaster. Without new legislation, we will assuredly be bailing out wealthy homeowners once again before too long. source