Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Big men dream big

From the Observer:

Appearing with Vice President Joseph Biden Jr. today, Gov. Andrew Cuomo vowed to dramatically reshape the city’s two aging airports and turn two other little-known airports in major economic hubs.

The vice president and governor touted the value of infrastructure investment, with Mr. Biden providing the sweeping rhetoric and Mr. Cuomo the nuts-and-bolts of what could come to the airports: a Long Island Rail Road and ferry link to LaGuardia Airport, tax free zones at small airports in the city’s suburbs and a speedier transit option for John F. Kennedy Airport on the southern tip of Queens.

Mr. Cuomo was vague on details. Tax free zones, a favorite tool of Mr. Cuomo’s, would be established at Stewart and Republic Airports to encourage business investment and take on some of the traffic that LaGuardia and JFK now absorb. He touted the idea of a rail link, with no apparent means of funding it, to LaGuardia, along with a ferry. He would also increase the speed and efficiency of transportation to JFK, now served by a rail link from an LIRR hub in Jamaica, Queens, and add food and retail options to the airport.

He did not tell reporters how the cash-strapped state, Port Authority or Metropolitan Transportation Authority would pay for these upgrades, but told reporters all options “were on the table,” including new tolls on bridges.

Even more homeless shelters for Queens!

From the Daily News:

The city is planning to open more emergency homeless shelters in Queens in the coming months, including one in Far Rockaway.

That news brought an outcry from leaders in Rockaway, where the city recently converted the former DayTop center in Arverne into a homeless shelter.

"Whenever the city has a problem they sent it to Rockaway," said Jonathan Gaska, district manager of Community Board 14. "It's a matter of fairness."

More than 100 adult men are slated to move into the former Rockaway Manor on Beach 8 St., which was severely damaged two years ago during Hurricane Sandy.

Officials from the Department of Homeless Services met with legislators from across the borough last Thursday to let them know their districts were being scoped out for possible shelter sites.

But no specifics were given during the pow-wow at the Overlook in Forest Park, which has led to a borough-wide guessing game.

One of the targeted districts, represented by Assemblywoman Nily Rozic, includes Fresh Meadows and Bayside which currently have no homeless shelters.

City Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley and Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan, who both represent Ridgewood, were also notified. There are rumors a shelter is planned for that neighborhood.

Other districts under consideration include ones represented by Assemblymembers Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst), Jeffron Aubrey (D-Corona)and Andrew Hevesi (D-Forest Hills).

And do you know why this is happening? DeBlasio loosened the criteria for acceptance into the homeless system, which benefits the fat cats (campaign donors) who have contracts with the city to warehouse the homeless.

Where Bloomberg offered shelter to roughly 40% of applicants, de Blasio’s team boosted the acceptance rate to 49% or more, hitting a high of nearly 57% in March.

Heard about the skel that beat his stepdaughter to death this weekend in a shelter? This was in the Times:

The shelter on Cooper Street is managed by Housing Bridge, a nonprofit group under contract to the Department of Homeless Services to provide transitional housing and social services to homeless families. Housing Bridge, which was established in 2006, manages 1,000 transitional housing units for families and adults in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan and Queens, according to a spokesman. Its founder and chief executive, Isaac Leshinsky, is a longtime supporter of Mr. de Blasio, and contributed to his mayoral run last year.

This actually smells like a scandal and you'd think the papers would report it as such instead of demonizing the residents who don't want these human warehouses in their neighborhoods.

Tack on another $1500 per person to homeless cost

From the NY Post:

The city has shelled out more than $200,000 to store a homeless woman’s belongings — enough to have set her up in a swanky Manhattan apartment for years.

Andrea Logan’s possessions have been locked up — at taxpayer expense — since she lost her Upper East Side apartment in 2006 after a debilitating stroke, court records reveal.

And the city has picked up the tab, following a state law that requires it to cover storage expenses for homeless people.

In the years since Logan became homeless, the cost to taxpayers for providing such storage to homeless people has soared from a total $6.8 million in fiscal year 2006 to $14.6 million in fiscal year 2014.

The average cost per case also rose, from $1,333 a month to $1,549.

State law mandates that the city pay for storing furniture and personal belongings for homeless people “so long as eligibility for public assistance continues and so long as the circumstances necessitating the storage continue to exist.”

They all have something to hide

From the Daily News:

Two top deputies of Mayor de Blasio, who campaigned on creating a new era of government openness, commonly use their personal Gmail accounts to discuss city-related issues, the Daily News has learned.

First Deputy Mayor Anthony Shorris and director of intergovernmental affairs Emma Wolfe routinely communicate via their private email addresses, according to multiple government insiders.

Good-government groups contend that’s a behind-the-scenes way to dodge oversight and contrary to the open government de Blasio vowed to run as he campaigned for mayor.

“Public officials should use their public emails for public activities,” said Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Research Group.

Through the law, the public can legally access copies of emails sent from official government addresses.

Personal emails from City Hall honchos discussing government issues are also fair play under the state’s Freedom of Information Law.

But reporters and curious members of the public need to know those exact addresses when making a request for information.

Call to repair Jamaica Bay bulkheads

From the Daily News:

Jamaica Bay's crumbling seawalls are putting some Queens residents in jeopardy of flooding.

City Councilman Donovan Richards and other officials called on the city to repair Hurricane Sandy-damaged bulkheads in order to protect Arverne streets and homes from the bay’s deluge.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is studying the seawalls, but the report will not be completed quickly enough to stave off current flooding threats, Richards said.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Illegal conversions are number one DOB complaint

From the Forum:

It seems that Queens continues to keep the city Department of Buildings very busy.

That was the story Tuesday night at the Community Board 9 meeting as DOB officials detailed how active the borough is with complaints, inspections and penalties.

“In the city, there were 278 access warrants [filed] last fiscal year,” said Anthony Iuliano, director of intergovernmental affairs for the DOB, referring to building-inspection documents, “Two hundred seventy two were in Queens.”

Iuliano also noted that illegal curb cuts remain an issue throughout the borough.

“[Homeowners] have to correct the condition,” he explained, adding that property owners can have curb cuts installed as long as they adhere to codes or resolutions. “Legalize it, or remove it.”

Still, the most pressing DOB issue in Queens is illegal dwelling conversions, Iuliano said. Of all borough building-condition complaints made via the city’s 311 system, more than half are for illegal conversions.

Doctors handing out food coupons at Elmhurst Hospital

From the Daily News:

Visits to the farmer’s market could soon replace trips to the pharmacy for some patients.

Elmhurst Hospital is the latest city hospital to adopt the Wholesome Wave Fruit and Vegetable Prescription program targeted to overweight or obese children.

Doctors write fruit and vegetable “prescriptions” for their young patients. The writeups are then turned into so-called Health Bucks at certain greenmarkets.

Health and Hospitals Corporation officials said the average prescription translates into $14 of food for a family of four.

Protesters link Crown Heights to Astoria

From the NY Times:

Negotiations over the fate of Astoria Cove, the first new city development to opt into Mayor Bill de Blasio’s affordable housing program, have attracted no shortage of advocates and critics hoping to influence the process.

Housing advocates are pushing for the developer to increase the number of cheaper affordable units. Local officials are concerned about transportation and density. Real estate executives are worried that the city’s sharpened focus on affordable housing will cut into profits.

But on Sunday, the back-and-forth over the Queens project found a new set of stakeholders from another rapidly gentrifying neighborhood: Crown Heights, Brooklyn. The developer of the 1,700-unit Astoria Cove, Alma Realty, owns about 700 units around Prospect Place and is seeking to take them out of rent regulation.

“Mayor de Blasio, don’t fail this test!” pleaded one sign at a rally outside one of the buildings on Prospect Place in Brooklyn on Sunday, when elected officials and tenant organizers urged the City Council not to approve the Astoria Cove project unless Alma Realty rolls back the rent increases in Crown Heights and addresses concerns about its plans in Queens.

The City Council is holding a hearing on whether to approve the project on Monday morning. Council members can push the developer to change its proposal before accepting or rejecting the project.

Councilwoman Laurie A. Cumbo, who represents Crown Heights, said she could not support the Astoria Cove project in part because of what she said was Alma’s history of underpaying black and Hispanic construction workers.

“They’re demonstrating irresponsible development,” she said, adding that she would tell Alma that in order to win her vote, “we need you to come back and clean up your act.”

Since the administration announced in September that all new real estate projects requesting a zoning change from the city would have to build affordable units in exchange, Astoria Cove, which overlooks the East River, has become something of a litmus test for how developers and the city will negotiate future projects.

Part of me wants to say that Alma's chickens are coming home to roost. But then there's the part of me that doesn't see the City Council voting down a megadevelopment project.

Introducing Progress Queens

Dear All :

I have launched a news Web site called Progress Queens, which will primarily report about news and politics in the borough of Queens, but it will also include articles about New York city and state politics.

The site, which was launched on September 15, can be found here : http://www.progressqueens.com/

I'm currently looking for partners, to help me expand this platform. I envision Progress Queens to be supportive of an aggressive reform agenda and an opposition publication against the corrupt status quo.

-- Louis

Calling 311 an exercise in futility

From Cleanup Jamaica Queens:

New York loves the motto, that came about after 911, "If you see something suspicious, say something, tell a police officer, blah blah blah............."\

But don't always expect something to be done.
Case in point. Saturday, October 18th, a small apartment building is going up at the corner of 170th and 90th Ave (89-28 170th St) and they have been in the process of putting in water/gas lines. Now this past summer, 170th Street was paved and an individual in Queens Borough DOT told me that once streets are paved they should not be torn up for x amount of time except for an emergency. Well the developer of this building in the past few weeks have torn up the road several times and this past Saturday was at it again from 7:30am to around 5pm (constant jack hammering, tamping down of asphalt, etc) and the whole time, the street was closed off. The permit is for work only on Monday through Friday. When I approached the man in charge and asked if he had a variance permit on Saturday, his answer was "Ah, yeah, I think it was done the other day, but I don't have it with me. But we are working on an emergency." Actually there was no emergency, they were just finishing up their job, which was probably behind schedule. Of course when you call 311 about this, they tell me DOB will eventually come out in x amount of days. Of course said work is already done, so they will see nothing and the developer gets off the hook.
Since the part of 170th Street was closed, the illegal trucks that use 170th then had to detour on another residential street, 90th Avenue, so then you had several of these trucks, many carrying chemicals barreling through several very narrow residential streets. A complete day of illegal activity and quality of life issues.Makes you wonder sometimes about reporting anything anymore, especially in Queens and especially in Jamaica.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Oakland Lake is now closed

From the Times Ledger:

Oakland Lake is closed to visitors until next fall.

Recreational enjoyment is off-limits at the 15,000-year-old spring-fed, glacial kettle lake as it undergoes a major transformation to upgrade the sometimes flooded path and improve the water quality.

According to a spokeswoman from the New York City Parks, the project includes the installation of stone swales and drywells “to collect water seeping from surrounding slopes and divert water from the pathway.”

Parks said while construction is underway, “it is necessary to keep the park closed in the interest of public safety.”

Oakland Lake, originally known as Mill Pond, has been closed off since the end of last month. The lake was renamed for the 19th century estate on the site called The Oaks, because of the abundance of oak trees in the area.

Once the project is concluded, “the original stream bed will be re-established and slopes will be stabilized with boulders,” the spokeswoman said.

In addition, the reconstruction will also clean out the existing drainage system and, in some areas, the contractor will install new native wetland plantings.

The work is part of the city Parks and Department of Environmental Protection capital improvement project to restore the 46-acre Oakland Lake Park.

As part of the DEP’s Bluebelt Program, workers will also install storm sewers in the streets near the park in order to prevent erosion.

1 down, one to go

From the Daily News:

All traces of a longtime Queens eyesore have been replaced by a smooth, wide sidewalk.

The city has paved over the site of a tattered, shuttered newsstand on the busy corner of Metropolitan Ave. near Fresh Pond Road, which residents and civic leaders have complained about for years.

“Persistence pays off,” said City Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley, who held a press conference at the site to highlight the issue over five years ago.

Wow, congratulations, Liz! It only took you 5 years! I guess she'll need another 5 years in office to demolish the dilapidated former gas station across the street.

Eviction rates are sky high

From AMNY:

More New Yorkers are turning to the city to avoid getting kicked out of their apartments.

In the 2005 fiscal year, the City's Human Resources Administration paid $48 million in emergency grants to landlords to prevent eviction for 31,478 households that had fallen into rent arrears.

In the 2013 fiscal year, the number jumped to 43,412, and the city doled out $121.6 million.

"We've never seen this many people in trouble. In my life, I've never seen anything that even approaches this," said Sally Dunford, executive director of the West Bronx Housing and Neighborhood Center, who said her agency serviced more than 1,300 people last year for eviction prevention.

While a job loss or illness is most often to blame for a tenant falling behind, landlords of stabilized units who illegally hike rents "hoping no one would catch them," are aggravating the loss of affordable units, she said.

Because legal increases are permitted after a vacancy, the more churn there is in the market "the more rents go up," she noted. Overcrowding is at epic levels, she added.

While the number of completed evictions -- about 30,000 annually -- has wavered only slightly in the last three years, more New Yorkers are facing the nightmare that is housing court.

The number of eviction cases filed in the city jumped from 119,263 in 2004 to 138,732 in 2013 -- with the number of cases in the city's poorest borough -- The Bronx -- rising from 40,387 to 50,134 during the same time period.

There are more cases than evictions because many people finally come up with money owed after their landlords have filed suit (sometimes, with the help of a one shot grant) or they move voluntarily.

DeBlasio files suit against AirBnB

From the Observer:

Bill de Blasio is not amused by Airbnb, the bane of modern hotels, and, as of Friday, he’s going big stick on some of the properties that use the site for listings.

Mayor de Blasio has filed a motion against the buildings at 59 Fifth Avenue and 5 West 31st Street, which have allegedly been renting out vacant apartments as illicit hotel rooms. Hosting a few guests overnight doesn’t exactly seem like a crime, but according to government officials, it’s one more obstacle that city dwellers must overcome to actually dwell in the city.

“Illegal hotels and apartment rentals destroy a neighborhood’s quality of life, and I applaud the City’s actions to crack down on this irresponsible and inconsiderate behavior,” NYC Council Member Rory Lancman said in a press release.

Result of rezoning Queens Blvd

From Curbed:

The 69-unit building is being developed by Steve Cheung (based in Bayside) and will be designed Michael Kang (an architect based in Flushing). It will entail 55,000 square feet of residential and 5,500 square feet of commercial space. There will also be a small communal space and an asymmetric rooftop that will form penthouse terraces, plus a garage with room for 59 cars. According to YIMBY, about a quarter of the development was backed by foreign money (probably Chinese) under the EB-5 visa program, which grants green cards to foreign investors whose projects will produce American jobs.
Above is a screenshot from Google Street View of the site. The lot is across the street from the former St. Mary's elementary school. I'm not sure why there's a pedestrian bridge depicted where the Entenmann's outlet store is in the rendering. I wonder what kind of prices they'll get being a block away from the Metro Motel (hot sheets/family homeless shelter).

Although Curbed & YIMBY made a big deal about this being in Elmhurst (and Curbed actually linked back to this blog, thanks) the project is actually in Woodside which was rezoned along with northern Maspeth in 2006. (Elmhurst wasn't rezoned at all.)