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?
According to the Comptroller’s website, his job is to be:”…responsible for providing an independent voice to safeguard the fiscal health of the City, root out waste, fraud and abuse in City government and ensure the effective performance of City agencies to achieve their goals of serving the needs of all New Yorkers. ”
Why is the amount of the liens on 89 Schenectady said to be $95,000 when the amount shown on the notice of intention to sell tax liens was only $1,844.20?
Why wasn’t NYRP notified of the liens, given that they own the adjacent lots at 87 and 91 Schenectady which together with 89 Schenectady form Imani Garden? Is the Comptroller aware that selling this lot will cut a community garden into two pieces, including the largest chicken coop in Brooklyn and destroy a 60 foot willow tree that’s the centerpiece of the garden?
Given that the owner of 89 Schenectady Ave is a non-profit shown as active by the Secretary of State, why does it owe real estate taxes in any case?
Aren’t these enough questions to prompt the Comptroller to “root out waste, fraud and abuse”, or at least stop the sale scheduled for August 3rd so the facts can be investigated?
Mia Hilton has been assigned to investigate this case by the Comptroller. She called today to say they are reaching out to the Intergovernmental Affairs office to get some answers. Watch this blog for more updates.
Since at least the Bloomberg administration, NYC has been aggressivlely trying to paint itself as being “green”. The building codes are now requiring many green features and incentivising builders to add even more. Builders get additional buildable square feet for adding water storage tanks on site and get tax credits for adding solar panels. Bloomberg launched the “Million Tree” initialive and much progress has been made towards that goal. PlanNYC initiated by Bloomberg and recently updated by DeBlasio calls for every NYer to be within a ten minute walk of green space.
Yet when the sustainability agenda collides that of real estate developers, guess who get thrown under the bus? As you may already know, Imani Garden II at 1680 Pacfic Street, an established community garden with 13 raised beds, water storage system and greenhouse was put on a list along with 18 other gardens sent to developers as sites for “affordable” housing.
Now we learned that, in a process still unclear to us, on June 18th, 89 Schenectady Avenue, the middle of three lots that comprise Imani I Garden, was sold to a private investor for the sum of $365,000. In conducting a difficult referee sale, the community was overlooked and is now paying the price! Let us bring this great error to Comptroller Scott Stringer’s attention. Let him know that Crown Heights is who is suffering most from this dispute. The other side lots in Imani are owned by the New York Restoration Project. If this sale goes forward on August 3rd, Imani will be effectively cut into two pieces, and the 60 foot willow pictured above, an icon in Weeksville for a very long time, will be cut down.
To allow time for our elected officials to save the tree and the lot, please ask Comptroller Scott Stringer to halt the closing. Scott’s hot line number is 212-669-3916. Ask him to stop the sale so that the erroneous liens can be rescinded.
Also contact Stephanie Zimmerman, Council member Robert Cornegy’s Chief of Staff at 718-919-0740 x 106. Ask her to have the Council set aside money to reimburse the City for the sale price of 89 Schenectady.
If you want more information about how you can help, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
We are working on an on-line petition and Facebook page to address this injustice. Stay tuned for further developments.