Thursday, January 21, 2016

Cooptation of the Left and the permanent shadow government at the local level

Underneath the community boards' rejection of de Blasio's zoning proposals lies a practical and familiar issue: money. Bloomberg's 120 rezonings each went through the arduous public process in which community boards -- and crucially its members -- played an important role. De Blasio's proposals bypass the community level by writing the upzoning directly into the zoning law (called "the zoning text"). The Blaz's proposals eliminate any local leverage for funds that local community non profits might obtain. 

Affordable housing built by developers to meet zoning requirements must be managed by a non profit community-based organization (CBO). It's part of their mission and they get funding for it. As a result, CBO's are often the most vigorous proponents of development at the local level. Without the market rate development, no affordable housing -- the market-rate housing "subsidises" the "affordable" housing (a deceptive expression -- the housing is often beyond the means of local residents). That's the Inclusionary Zoning/Inclusionary Housing model -- 80% market rate, 20% "affordable." The non profit becomes complicit with gentrification and displacement. 

Displacement is difficult to quantify. Unless a tenant died, the reason for vacating an apartment is anyone's guess, since it's not recorded. Affordable housing is eminently quantifiable, which is one reason why politicians romance it and parade it. Same with CBO's. If  the market-rate housing raises real estate values and landlords evict tenants wholesale, as long as the affordable units are built and occupied, no one will be the wiser even though the net affordable housing in the neighborhood has declined. 

CBO's have a long life in the neighborhood. Their members often sit on the community board. There they often create a consensus of what is "right" for the neighborhood, which too often means colluding with developers to obtain the "affordable" housing the CBO's will manage. 

The political opportunists that cohabit the community boards recognize the going game, and, being political opportunists, play their game. The community board, and underneath the CBO's, are the permanent gov't at the local level. Given that the CBO's are receiving funds to implement the policies that the community boards vote on, the CBO's can also be described as the shadow gov't at the local level.

I'm preparing a talk for Occupy Wall Street Altbank Group about zoning and how gov't coopts the Left through community-based non profits. I want to present this in the context of the amenity dilemma: every material improvement made in a low-income neighborhood attracts wealth and its whiteness, raises real estate values, increases pressure from landlords to evict and yields displacement. Maybe the only solution to the amenity dilemma -- remain in poverty or be displaced to poverty elsewhere; all things accrue to the top -- is protection. So the talk will include a defense of rent regulations, the defense I've made here and elsewhere many times. 

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