New York City should harness rising property values in northern Manhattan—including those generated by the likely rezoning of Inwood—to fund community land trusts as a bulwark against gentrification, according to a report released this week.
“The demographic changes that New York City has experienced since 1990 put into serious question whether neighborhoods such as Washington Heights/Inwood, which have been the home to generations of Dominicans, will continue to be spaces for low-income, immigrant, and working-class people,” reads the study by the CUNY Dominican Studies Institute.
Not only have the policy responses to that threat been “piecemeal,” according to authors Ramona Hernández, Yana Kucheva, Sarah Marrara and Utku Sezgin, “recent proposals by the city, such as the one to rezone Inwood allowing for new residential and commercial construction , have faced vigorous opposition from community members as rezoning is seen as another tool to add unaffordable housing to the neighborhood and to continue the upward pressures on rents in previously affordable units.”
The de Blasio administration’s Inwood rezoning proposal, spearheaded by Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez and the Economic Development Corporation, is the fifth neighborhood rezoning under de Blasio to move through the ULURP process by which a rezoning is approved, amended or rejected. The City Planning Commission voted in favor of the proposal last month. The final step in the ULURP process is a vote by the City Council scheduled in August.
The CUNY report recommends using tax-increment financing (TIF) to fund affordable housing. Tax-increment financing allows a local municipality to collect additional property tax on the housing appreciation and those additional revenues can be set aside to affordable housing through either preservation, new construction, or both; and can be applied to local amenity improvements, such as better parks and more reliable services.
A second recommendation is to use the funding from tax-increment financing to fund community land trusts. In a CLT, land is held in a trust in perpetuity by a local non-profit organization, which is supposed represent the interests of the beneficiaries of the trust. The CLT leadership comes from residents of buildings on CLT land, community members who do not live on CLT land but are part of the CLT service area, and people who represent the public interest.
“Our TIF proposal could serve as a model to other neighborhoods in New York to restore housing security and stability,” said Hernández, CUNY DSI director and professor of Sociology in the Colin Powell School for Civic and Global Leadership, in a statement.
Hernández and her co-authors suggest that: “The idea of CLTs at the most basic level involves dedicating a revenue stream for the purchase of land for the benefit of the local community. The land is held in a trust in perpetuity by a local non-profit organization, which makes sure to represent the interests of the beneficiaries of the trust.”
A third recommendation focuses on closing what the report calls “loopholes in rent regulations.” The first of these is the vacancy bonusm which allows an owner to increase rents by 20 percent plus 1/60th of the cost of any improvements done to a rent-stabilized unit when a renter moves out, according to the report. Preferential rents, under which a landlord can offer a tenant a discount for years to reflect market conditions and then suddenly raise the rent to their legal level, are also problematic, according to the report.
The report cited 2014 data from the New York City Housing Vacancy Survey (NYCHVS), which reported that rent stabilized apartments constitute 85 percent of the rental housing stock in Washington Heights and Inwood and that 87 percent of Dominican renter households in Washington Heights and Inwood live in rent stabilized apartments. This represents a five percentage point drop since 2002.
The full report from the CUNY Dominican Studies Institute at The City College of New York can be read here.