“Public land is a treasury that we must maximize for truly affordable housing,” said councilman Lincoln Restler, whose new bill would prevent the city from selling land to private, for-profit developers unless ‘no qualified non-profit group makes an offer.

Jordan Moss

The Kingsbridge Armory, a sprawling city-owned property in the Bronx, sat unused for decades.

New York City’s community land trusts and nonprofit developers could get the first chance to secure public land for affordable housing under a new bill introduced Thursday by Brooklyn Councilman Lincoln Restler .

The legislation aims to maximize affordable housing development by preventing the mayor and city agencies from selling land to private, for-profit developers unless no qualified nonprofit group steps in to make a bid, said Restler. Too often, he added, the city has disposed of its most valuable asset — its land — without getting enough affordable housing commitments from developers.

“Public lands are a treasure we need to maximize to create truly affordable housing, good jobs, and what our communities really need,” Restler said. “I think every progressive organization and elected official strongly agrees that 100% affordable housing on every public site is a prerequisite for development consideration.”

The bill, which has 19 co-sponsors so far, revives a bill first introduced by former council member Brad Lander in 2021.

Restler said he was motivated to reintroduce the bill in the sale of the Bedford Union Armory, a municipal property in Brooklyn, to a private company that won rezoning approval to build 415 apartments in 2017. Some 250 apartments will have rent caps for families earning 60% of the area’s median income, or about $72,000 for a family of three. Other apartments are priced at what the owner can get on the open market.

“There was deep opposition to the redevelopment of a city-owned dockyard that included substantial amounts of luxury housing,” Restler said. “I think it’s shifted the conversation and the advocacy as there’s now a broad consensus that every publicly owned site should be maximized for the public good.”

William Alatriste/NYC Council Media Unit

Bill’s sponsor, Lincoln Restler.

He has previously taken a stand against the transfer of public land to private companies in his district at the site of an MTA-owned bus wash station at 40 Quay Street in Greenpoint. The MTA agreed to lease the land to developer Gotham for $39 million in 2022. Gotham plans to build a 900-unit tower, with a quarter of the units priced to low- and middle-income tenants.

More than three-quarters of all city-owned sites that were redeveloped between 2015 and 2018 went to for-profit developers, sometimes for as little as $1, according to an analysis by Restler’s office.

The legislation could be a boon to the city’s burgeoning Community Land Trust (CLT) movement, a network of nonprofit organizations that buy property and keep the land while renting apartments at affordable rates in permanence. Residents can also buy and retain ownership of homes on CLT land, but are prohibited from reselling them for significant profits, curbing the kind of speculation that has eroded affordable housing options in neighborhoods like East New York. and Central Brooklyn.

“This bill will be a game-changer for community land trusts in the city,” said Will Spisak, senior program associate at the New Economy Project, which coordinates CLTs in the five boroughs. “For decades, the city has donated valuable public land to for-profit developers building luxury housing and other projects that displace black, brown and immigrant New Yorkers.”

There are approximately 400 CLT units throughout the city, primarily operated by the Cooper Square CLT on the Lower East Side as well as El Barrio CLT in East Harlem and the Interboro CLT, which has property in Brooklyn, with additional buildings in the pipeline in the Bronx and Reines. About 1,000 CLT units were in the “pre-development” stage last year, a senior HPD official told a council hearing last year.

A similar bill introduced by council member Carlina Rivera in April would give CLTs and nonprofit developers first notice of all sales, including private properties.

Restler said he supports Rivera’s bill and sees his measure as “an even closer fruit.”

“The right of first refusal is a huge opportunity and something that has been successfully implemented in other cities,” he said. Both Washington DC and San Francisco have versions of the legislation on the books.

The bill comes as rent prices are skyrocketing across the city and the availability of affordable apartments is at its lowest in decades: Less than 1% of homes priced below $1,500 a month remain empty, according to the city’s most recent vacancy survey. lowest rate since 1991.

The measure could be a hurdle for Housing Preservation Departments (HPDs) when it comes to selling property, but an agency spokesperson said the intent of the legislation appears to coincide with the Mayor Eric Adams’ housing plan.

“As the blueprint for Housing Our Neighbors sets out, this administration is focused on transforming New York City into an affordable place to live and supporting our nonprofit partners in the process,” the gatekeeper said. word of the HPD, William Fowler. “We look forward to reviewing this bill and working with our Council partners to achieve our common goals.

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