In a recent New York Times article, New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer “discovers” that the City’s Department of Housing Presevation and Development (HPD) has allowed large parcels of land to sit idle for decades while the City suffers through the worst affordable housing crisis in its history. Why hasn’t HPD developed housing on these sites the AG wonders. HPD posits many reasons including lack of appropriate infrastructure, inaccessibility and lack of funds.
Yet while the Comptroller so sanctimoniously pillories HPD, the Department of Finance which he has a statutory mandate to oversee, continues selling City tax liens on vacant land to wealthy investors, folks speculating in one of the hottest real estate markets in the country. Is there any wonder why the City has no land for developing affordable housing when it no longer takes property for delinquent taxes, as it did up until 1996 when Guiliani began the tax lien sale program? Since 1996, the number of City owned lots has shriveled. Now the City is forced to look at remote and unattractive development sites because it has nothing else left.
Of course, among the parcels sold to investors was 89 Schenectady Avenue, the middle lot of Imani I garden. (the two side lots are owned by New York Restoration Project, the garden group founded in the late 90’s by Bette Middler). Previously this lot had been owned by a church affiliated non-profit. Because the non-profit, located in Weeksville, the 2nd oldest independent African-American community on the East Coast, failed to file the necessary paperwork, the City began taxing the lot, even though the owner was technically tax exempt. Why is it that the City puts the burden of filing paperwork on the least advantaged, while allowing the most advantaged to reap the benefit? Is this part of the systemic racism that causes areas like Weeksville to be filled with tax foreclosed properties and now makes them a hotbed of real estate speculation?
This is the story that the Comptroller should be looking into, not HPD’s failure to develop random lots in fringe neighborhoods.
When will Stringer begin doing his job, the job we the people elected him to do?
I was astonished to find, in the Business Section of all places, a story about cover cropping in the NY Times today. Just as permaculturists and organic farmers have known for decades, monocrop farmers are now discovering that cover crops increase yield, improve soil health and reduce loss of topsoil. The article recounts how the Anson family, and Doug Anson in partiucular, attended an unspecified “seminar” (was it a permaculture talk?!?!) about cover cropping and returned home with “his hair on fire”. Sound familiar, those of you who have attended a permaculture talk?
He insisted that the family plant at least a small percentage of their acreage with a cover crop that fall. So in part to humor him and in part out of curiousity, his two brothers agreed to let him plant a cover crop on 1,200 acres, a fraction of the 20,000 acres on the “family farm”. Incredibly, as predicted, yields increased by 20-25 bushels per acre! And less quantitatively but more satisfyingly, the soil felt better, less sandy more granular and lumpy, the way good soil should feel.
The article goes on to note that none other Monsanto is now investing in studies to determine if in fact cover cropping actually has the benefits its promoters say it has.
I’ll never forget one of the opening observations made by Geoff Lawton when I took his 72 hour permaculture in 2007 (sponsored by Green Phoenix Permaculture). He stated that America’s number one export was not corn, soy or Boeing airliners, but rather top soil. I’ve often repeated this quote in gatherings and it never fails to draw astonished looks.
Now it seems that commercial agriculture as reported in the Business Section of Americas newspaper of record, is beginning to feel the heat.
Will this new awareness trigger a revolution in agricultural practices? And more interestingly how will Monsanto and other big ag companies figure out how to subvert cover cropping for their own fun and profit? Let’s all pay careful attention over the months and years ahead.