City has power to end blight of arrested development

In the Press

City has power to end blight of arrested development

Brad Lander
New York Daily News
10/06/2009

During my primary campaign for City Council, I climbed thousands of Brooklyn stoops.  In most cases, I knocked on the door, asked people what they wanted to see the Council working on, and heard a lot about issues large and small –- from overcrowded subways and classrooms, to overgrown tree roots breaking up the sidewalk.

One stoop in particular -- 824 Friel Place, in Kensington -- stands out, because there was no door behind it.

824 Friel Place is a stoop in front of a pile of rubble.  There’s no construction fence, so it's only a matter of time before a child gets hurt.  A homeless veteran is living in a small hut he has built.  The property is a major blight for its next-door neighbors -– working class families without much clout, who have been complaining about the property for years.

There are dozens of failed construction sites throughout the 39th Council District (Cobble Hill, Carroll Gardens, Park Slope, Windsor Terrace, Boro Park, and Kensington) –- and hundreds throughout the city.  On this one, a developer called Just Homes LLC was supposed to build a new home before they succumbed to the financial meltdown.

The building on Friel Place stands out because there’s no construction fence, and it is being squatted in the light of day. I hope to be able to get this one fixed early in my term of service.  I’m going to work hard to help find a decent shelter option for the homeless veteran, get the site boarded up before somebody gets hurt, get the property out of the hands of Just Homes LLC, and get it into the hands of somebody who can take care of it.  Maybe we can make it into a community garden for a few years.  And someday, it’ll be a perfect site for a working class family to buy their first home and stay in a great community.

The broader issues of responsible development in the wake of the financial crisis call for citywide solutions.  Right now, we allow developers to keep renewing construction permits forever, even if they never build anything.  We award building permits to almost any contractor, no matter how many times they’ve broken our laws, failed to pay taxes, and put workers and neighbors lives and health at risk.  We tax these blighting sites at a low rate, and when they fall into chaos, we hope the courts will clean up the mess, even though that often takes years.  Meanwhile, homelessness is on the rise, and more families are at risk of losing their homes.

New York City has the power to do something about this.  We can change the rules so that blighted construction sites have to be quickly cleaned up … or we’ll take them over, and turn them into something useful, like affordable housing for families who need it, or community gardens (if the site is a vacant lot).  The main obstacle here is not money.  It's our willingness to confront developers whose failure has become a blight to our neighborhoods.  We’ve been all-too-willing to use eminent domain to help developers acquire property for mega-projects.  Why not use the City’s tax, emergency repair, and foreclosure powers to help our neighborhoods confront real blight?

I’ve got my work cut out for me, at 824 Friel Place, and citywide.  Neighbors wonder whether government can really make their lives better.  I believe it can, in some ways small and large.  Here’s one site, and one issue, where I’ll have a chance to prove it.

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