He may not be calling for Moscow on the Hudson, but compared with his four Democratic rivals and their proposals for solving the city’s housing crisis, Republican mayoral candidate Michael Bloomberg is looking positively pinko.
Last Tuesday, Bloomberg emerged from his black Chevy Suburban to tour two homeowner developments rising in Ocean Hill-Brownsville. One nearly complete (“Stove is gas?” asked Bloomberg in good apartment-hunter form) and one just getting its cinderblocks in place, both are being built with the help of the New York City Housing Partnership and are targeted at middle-income homebuyers. “The city’s job,” Bloomberg told Brooklyn builder R.W. Hall, who was presiding over his St. Marks Avenue construction site wearing a rodeo hat and a belt made of .22 bullets, “is to provide the wherewithal and get out of the way.”
Candidate Mike turned out to have a concept of wherewithal almost as vast as his collection of monogrammed shirts. At a portable podium, he announced a vision of aggressive government intervention to get housing built. Calling for an increase of at least 100,000 housing units and the preservation of the 2.9 million that exist now, Bloomberg would designate a deputy mayor to be city housing czar, “re-engineer” the bureaucracy-bound Department of Buildings to fast-track development (including making available permit, abandonment and other data on the Internet), and beef up the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, which now only responds to complaints, into an active policing force.
He wants to put owners of vacant land on notice that they could have their property condemned for housing development; give tax incentives only to builders who maximize the size of their developments (unlike the low-rise Partnership model, about which Bloomberg asked Hall, “Why isn’t it taller?”); and turn city-owned waterfront land into new housing zones (including affordable housing designed through an “international architectural competition”).
But perhaps most radically, Bloomberg wants the city to seize buildings that have suffered chronic housing code violations and turn them over to responsible owners. (Currently, the city can take over a distressed building only if a landlord also owes back taxes; alternatively, a court can appoint a temporary “7a” caretaker.) “It would have to be an extremely dilapidated building for that to work,” said Irene Baldwin, executive director of the nonprofit development advocacy group ANHD, “but it’s something we’re really happy about.”
The Rent Stabilization Association, which represents landlords, is less impressed. “It seems a little draconian to seize buildings for simple code violations,” said Jack Freund, executive vice president of RSA. “There are current provisions for transferring title and appointing administrators in cases where an owner has abandoned a property or failed to maintain it.”
Billionaire Bloomberg and his self-financed campaign don’t have to please the RSA, which is a major political donor. Democrat Peter Vallone, for instance, has accepted nearly $182,000 in contributions raised by RSA chief Joe Strasburg, as well as $108,000 from donors hit up by Real Estate Board of New York president Steven Spinola and $6,700 so far from the RSA’s and other real estate political action committees. But Vallone chalked up a big loss among all those gains: Kathleen Cudahy, formerly his chief housing and infrastructure aide on the City Council, is now an advisor to Bloomberg and was instrumental in putting together the housing proposal.