Property Taken by Eminent Domain Unused

Photo by Marc A. Hermann / MTA New York City Transit

CBS2’s Mary Calvi, photo by Marc A. Hermann / MTA New York City Transit

I was interviewed by Mary Calvi on CBS New York in Man Wants Back Property NYC Took From His Family In 1967 (click here to watch the segment). The transcript of the segment reads, in part,

There is a property battle that has been brewing in the Bronx for some time.

A man is fighting to get back a piece of land that he claims belongs to his family.

He says the city took the land five decades ago saying it wants to extend a road, but all these years later nothing has changed, CBS2’s Mary Calvi reported Monday.

Fred Filomio fixes what’s broken on trucks in the Bronx. For decades, one problem has lingered, unfixed.

You see, back in 1967, when he was entering military service, the city of New York, using eminent domain, took part of his family’s property.

“When my uncle Freddie came back from World War II, they bought the whole block,” Filomio said.

A 13,000-square foot piece that sits up 22 feet above street level is a small part of a larger piece of property on Boston Road in the Bronx for his family’s trucking business. Back those 50 years ago, the city said it had to have the property in order to widen a street adjacent to it.

“They haven’t used one square foot of the property,” Filomio said, adding it looks the same as it did five decades ago.

In 50 years, the city has literally done nothing with the property. Filomio even uses it to park his trucks. His lawyer, Richard Apat, has filed suit.

“We feel showing number one it was an excess taking. Number two, it’s now being held as a proprietary. Number three, that we have been in possession we should get it back. But even with that, Fred is a reasonable person. If the city will talk to us and say let’s work something out, he’ll pay them some money, he’ll start paying taxes and that’s why I say I think it’s win-win,” Apat said.

The city responded to CBS2’s numerous requests for comment, with only the following from a spokesperson: “The property involved in this ongoing litigation is not subject to a claim of adverse possession, as a matter of law. We have no further comment while this litigation is pending.”

Professor David Reiss teaches students about eminent domain at Brooklyn Law School. He said he believes this one, like most others, is a difficult one to win.

“It looks like they have a tough row to hoe,” Reiss said. “Once the government takes ownership of the property, generally it’s theirs.”

Severe Crowding in NYC

"NLN Scott Stringer" by Thomas Good

NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer

New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer has issued a report, Hidden Households, that shows that more than one in twelve NYC homes are crowded. The report opens,

New York City is in the midst of a protracted housing emergency. The City’s net estimated rental vacancy rate is the official statistic used to gauge a housing emergency, but there are other important variables that shed light on the state of our housing environment. Chief among these is crowding. Crowding is an established predictor of homelessness and a critical indicator of negative health, safety and economic household risk factors. The City’s “hidden households”, which contain nearly 1.5 million New Yorkers, are the topic of this report.

*     *      *

Among the most notable crowding trends detailed in the report, we find that New York City’s overall crowding rate, which includes rental and ownership housing units, rose to 8.8 percent in 2013, compared to 7.6 percent in 2005 – a proportional increase of 15.8 percent. The City’s crowding rate is more than two and a half times the national crowding rate of 3.3 percent. The proportion of crowded dwelling units increased in all of the City’s boroughs except Staten Island during this time period with increases of 28.1 percent in Brooklyn, 12.5 percent in Queens and 12.3 percent in the Bronx.

Severe crowding, defined as housing units with more than 1.5 persons per room, also increased substantially, surging by 44.8 percent from 2005 to 2013, with increases seen in every borough. Most notably, the proportion of studio apartments with three or more occupants rose by over 365 percent from 2005 to 2013. All told, 3.33 percent of all dwelling units in NYC were classified as severely crowded in 2013, compared to a national severe crowding rate of 0.99 percent. (2)

The report only focuses on the problem of crowding, but it would be helpful to mention one of the main solutions to crowding — building more housing. To the extent that the NYC Comptroller can push down construction costs in NYC and support increased density in appropriate neighborhoods, he would help reduce crowding in the long run.  Lots of people want to be in NYC. We need lots of apartments to house them.

Affordable Enough for NYC?

 

Real Affordability for All has released a report, Real Affordable Communities: Mayor Bill De Blasio and the Future of New York City. The report opens,

Across the five boroughs, the affordability crisis is growing every day. Today, low- and moderate-income New Yorkers continue to be priced out of their neighborhoods. The incomes of countless New Yorkers are not increasing while rents keep rising. The growing gap between lower incomes and higher rents is making New York City increasingly unaffordable.

Indeed, a recent study released by StreetEasy, The High Burden of Low Wages: How Renting Affordably in NYC is Impossible on Minimum Wage, found that a New Yorker earning $15 an hour could afford just one neighborhood: Throgs Neck in the Bronx.

“The extent to which rent growth has outpaced income growth in New York City means low-wage workers face three options: find several roommates to lower their personal rent burden, take on more than one job, or move out of New York City,” the study finds.

According to a close analysis of the most recent Census data, Bloomberg’s housing efforts generated a shortage of more than 400,000 affordable units for low-income New Yorkers. Low-income here is defined as a household earning less than 50% of Area Median Income (AMI). For a household of four, that means an approximate annual income of less than $42,000. (In 2012 New York City area median income was $83,600 for a family of four; the 2015 New York City area median income for a family of four is $86,300).

Overall, utilizing the 2012 census data, more than 700,000 low-income New Yorkers were left behind by Bloomberg’s housing plan. To tackle the affordability crisis, Mayor de Blasio has proposed preserving or creating 200,000 units of affordable housing. He wants to achieve that goal through mandatory inclusionary zoning and dense new residential development in various neighborhoods.

To succeed, de Blasio will need to avoid repeating the mistakes of Bloomberg’s housing agenda, and ensure that real affordable housing is created for the huge number of low-income New Yorkers who were not served by the previous administration and still struggle to survive. (1-2)

The Real Affordability for All advocates that “Low-income neighborhoods like East New York and the South Bronx will be empowered to offer a ‘density bonus’ to developers in exchange for real affordable housing below 50 % of AMI and for career-oriented union construction jobs for local residents at new development sites.” (7)

The report provides an example pro forma for one building to demonstrate that this plan is do-able. The report does not, however, indicate where the De Blasio Administration would find the $15 million in additional subsidies it would take for this one building to be built according to the Real Affordability for All guidelines.

At this point, the plan is more of a wish list than a serious proposal, but it does make clear that there is a deep need for deep housing subsidies among low- and moderate-income households.

Abusive Non-Rent Fees for Rent Stabilized Tenants

The Urban Justice Center’s Community Development Project has issued a report, The Burden of Fees: How Affordable Housing is Made Unaffordable. The introduction reads,

Tenants in New York City’s poorest neighborhoods are under attack. Despite the existence of laws such as rent stabilization to protect tenants from high rents, landlords are creating new ways to push rent stabilized tenants out of their homes. One such tactic is the use of non-rent fees, a confusing and often times unwarranted set of charges that are added to a monthly rent statement . . .. These include fees on appliances (air conditioner, washing machine, dryer, and dishwasher), legal fees, damage fees, Major Capital Improvement (MCI) rent increases and other miscellaneous fees. Often these fees appear on a tenant’s rent bill without any explanation. If a tenant fails to pay, even if they are unaware of why the fee was imposed, they are sent letters that make them feel that they are being harassed and are threatened with eviction by the landlord. Most tenants have a right to object to many of these fees, and landlords are legally prohibited from taking tenants to Housing Court solely for non-payment of additional fees. But many tenants don’t know their rights about the fees and often pay them when they shouldn’t. For low-income and working class tenants who struggle each month to pay rent, these fees add up and make their housing costs unaffordable. While some of the fees are legal, many of them are not, and the consistency and pattern of the way the fees are being charged and collected suggests that some landlords are intentionally increasing tenants’ rent burdens to push out long- term, rent stabilized tenants.

This problem is proliferating in the Bronx, where New Settlement’s Community Action for Safe Apartments (CASA) works to improve living conditions and maintain affordable housing. This is particularly apparent in buildings owned by Chestnut Holdings, a company that is fast becoming one of the biggest landlords of rent stabilized buildings in the Bronx.

*     *     *

All survey respondents live in rent stabilized buildings owned by Chestnut Holdings. In total, the coalition collected 172 surveys from 23 buildings, representing 13% of the number of apartments in those buildings. The research sample accounts for 4% of all the apartments that Chestnut Holdings owns, and 28% of the buildings. Researchers also collected rent bills and other supplemental materials (including letters to and from landlords, housing court decisions, and more) from 196 Chestnut Holdings tenants. Coalition members chose to focus on these buildings because they are rent stabilized and located in the neighborhoods where each organization is actively working. Data in this report comes from surveys, recent rent bills collected from Chestnut Holdings’ tenants and interviews with tenants.

Overall, we found that the problem of non-rent fees is serious and widespread in the Bronx. 81% of the tenants we surveyed had been charged some sort of fee. From the rent bills we reviewed for this report, the average tenant had $671.13 in non-rent fees on their most recent rent bill. (1-2)

This document is obviously an advocacy document and not a piece of objective scholarship. Moreover, its methodology may not be rigorous enough to allow us to extrapolate much from its findings. That being said, the survey responses themselves reveal a serious problem: alleged average non-rent fees of nearly $700 for each survey respondent seems very, very high, even if we limit the findings to the respondents themselves.

In the 1970s, predatory landlords hired bruisers with bats and pit bulls to frighten tenants into leaving their homes. In the 2000s, a new generation of predatory landlords used abusive court filings to achieve the same purpose. There is a very real risk that high non-rent fees represent a new tactic for predatory landlords to drive out rent-regulated tenants with under-market rents. To the extent that non-rent fees represent a new tactic to harass tenants, government regulators should actively seek to end it and punish those who employ it.

Housing Affordability in NYS

The NYS Comptroller issued a report, Housing Affordability in New York State. The report finds that

The percentage of New York State households with housing costs above the affordability threshold, as defined by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), rose for both homeowners and renters from 2000 to 2012, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. As of 2012, more than 3 million households in the State paid housing costs that were at or above the affordability threshold of 30 percent of household income. Within that group, more than 1.5 million households paid half or more of their income in housing costs. Statewide, the estimated percentage of rental households with rents above the affordability level increased from 40.5 percent in 2000 to 50.6 percent in 2012. (1, footnote omitted)

The report suggest that “that many New Yorkers are feeling pressure from a combination of stagnant or declining real income and increasing housing costs. A combination of factors including comparatively slow economic growth over time, a rising real estate tax burden, and limited housing supply in many areas of the State contribute to the increasing challenge New Yorkers face in finding affordable housing.” (2)

A pretty consistent theme on this blog is that limits on housing production necessarily limit housing affordability. While this seems obvious to me (perhaps I hang around too many economists?!?), it certainly is not to other people. Many people with whom I discuss affordable housing policy acknowledge that in theory, limits on the supply of housing should effect the price of housing (they all took Econ 101 when they were in college). But they look around New York City, see new high rises going up while housing prices are going up at the same time. They then doubt that increasing the supply of housing will reduce the cost of housing. All I can say is who are you going to believe — your Econ 101 teacher or your own lyin’ eyes?

But of course that is not a compelling argument. So I tell my interlocutors that it is necessary to take into account the fact that NY is seeing a dramatic increase in demand. This demand comes from the increasing resident population as well as the inflow of the ultra rich who want a (fifth?) part-time home in NYC as well as a safe place to park some capital. This high demand masks a problem that NY has faced for decades — too little new housing construction to support the existing residents, let alone all of the new residents.

The de Blasio Administration has acknowledged the need for increased housing construction as part of its program to increase housing affordability in the five NYC counties. The Comptroller’s report acknowledges that a similar dynamic is occurring throughout New York State. Perhaps Governor Cuomo will identify ways in which the State government can take a leading role in encouraging housing construction in all 62 of New York State’s counties.

Reiss on BK Live!

The BK Live segment on Mortgage Inequities in Brooklyn has been posted to the web. Mark Winston Griffith (Brooklyn Movement Center Executive Director), Alexis Iwaniszie (New Economy Project) and I discuss mortgage inequities and how they effect Brooklyn (and beyond). REFinblog.com gets a nice shout out from BK Live.

Reiss on Mortgage Inequities

I will be appearing on a segment on BK Live on BRIC , the Brooklyn Public Network, about “Mortgage Inequities/Fair Housing in Brooklyn” on Thursday, February 13th at noon (running again at 2pm, 8pm, 9pm and 10pm (Cablevision Ch 69, Time Warner 56, RCN Ch 84, Verizon Ch 44 or online at: www.bkindiemedia.bricartsmedia.org).

I will be appearing with Mark Winston Griffith, Executive Director of the Brooklyn Movement Center, a community organizing group based in Bed-Stuy and Crown Heights, and Alexis Iwanisziw of the New Economy Project.

We will be discussing The New Economy Project’s recent study about inequities in mortgage lending based on race in NYC:

Mortgage lenders made markedly fewer conventional home mortgage loans in communities of color than in predominately white neighborhoods in New York City, according to a series of GIS maps published today.

The maps show unequal lending patterns based on the racial composition of communities in New York City, controlling for the number of owner-occupied units in each neighborhood. New Yorkers who live in predominantly white neighborhoods on average receive twice as many conventional home purchase loans as New Yorkers who live in predominantly black or Latino neighborhoods, for every 100 owner-occupied housing units in the neighborhood.

“The maps show that banks continue to redline communities of color across New York City,” said Monica M. Garcia, Community Education Coordinator at New Economy Project, which produced the maps. “For decades, banks have excluded neighborhoods of color from fair access to mortgage financing, allowing predatory lenders to flourish right up to the financial crisis. Now it’s déjà vu all over again, with banks failing adequately to provide conventional mortgages to people in predominantly black and Latino neighborhoods.”

“The maps highlight the profound and continued need for strong government action against banks that violate fair housing and fair lending laws,” said Sarah Ludwig, Co-Director of New Economy Project.

The series includes a map of New York City and borough-level maps of Brooklyn, Queens and Bronx.

To produce the maps, New Economy Project analyzed home mortgage lending data for 2012, the most recent year for which the data are publicly available. New Economy Project received partial funding to produce the maps from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Fair Housing Initiatives Program.