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NYC must do more to transform vacant sites into affordable housing: report

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HPD has vehemently countered many of the assertions made in a new report by Comptroller Scott Stringer

In February 2016, Comptroller Scott Stringer put out a rather damning report claiming that the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development was sitting on 1,125 vacant city-owned lots that could have been developed into affordable housing.

Two years later, in a follow up report, Stringer claims that HPD has barely made any progress, costing New York City an estimated 57,000 permanently affordable units in the long run. Stringer says that of the 1,125 properties he identified two years ago, 1,007 properties still remain with 64 having been transferred for development, and 54 given to other city agencies for their use.

“Two years ago, as rents were skyrocketing, we counted vacant properties and gave the world a blueprint for what to do with them,” said Stringer, in a statement. “HPD promised the public that hundreds of those properties would be developed in two years. Now, we’ve come back two years later, and we’ve uncovered that the agency’s promises were as empty as these vacant lots.”

HPD has refuted many of the findings in Stringer’s report, much like it did two years ago. For starters, HPD claims that 190 lots have been transferred for development or given to other agencies since the Comptroller completed his first audit.

“HPD is aggressively developing its 1,000 remaining public sites for affordable housing, almost all of them small and hard to develop lots,” said HPD Commissioner Maria Torres Springer, in a statement. “The comptroller’s report misrepresents the facts and denies the very real progress made by HPD over the last four years from Seward Park, which now has housing after decades of neglect, to the hundreds of small sites where affordable homes and apartments are in the works.”

In highlighting these hard-to-develop sites, HPD pointed to 280 lots in Edgemere and Arverne in the Far Rockaways; HPD says these sites face a severe threat of flooding, and a lot more work and assessment would need to take place for them to be developed. HPD also pointed to an additional 27 lots tied up due to the Broadway Triangle litigation in Williamsburg.

In his report, Stringer asks that HPD set up specific timelines for the development of the remaining vacant sites, but HPD has countered by saying that in many cases these types of time frames would just not be feasible given the existing conditions at the site.

The agency went on to add that Stringer’s report had also failed to take into account the additional 450 lots HPD has identified for development that are currently in the midst of Request for Proposals (RFP) or Requests for Qualifications (RQF), and as a result haven’t been transferred for the intended use.

Both sides agree that more needs to be done for affordable housing in New York City, but HPD says it’s not relying solely on vacant city-owned lots to develop affordable housing.

UPDATE 2/12/2018: In response to HPD’s many rebuttals to Comptroller Scott Stringer’s most recent audit on vacant city-owned lots, a spokesperson for Stringer has come to the report’s defense.

“Here’s HPD’s track record,” said Tyrone Stevens, a press secretary for Stringer. “They distort numbers, twist the truth, and deflect attention from their inaction. At a time when New Yorkers are suffering, the agency is giving intentionally misleading answers to questions it doesn’t want to answer. HPD isn’t comparing apples and oranges — it’s comparing apples and twinkies. Their claims are a repeat of the same baseless arguments they made two years ago. This is Groundhog Day for excuse-making, and we’d strongly encourage the agency to come clean, fix the actual problem, and do all it can to mitigate our affordability crisis.”

In response to HPD’s specific charge that Stringer’s office didn’t take into account the hundreds of lots that were slated for transfer, Stringer’s pointed to the 21-month timeline on those transfers, and said only 26 percent of these lots had been transferred within the given timeframe.