Turn Empty Lots into Housing, Stringer Urges


City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer released an audit on Thursday pinpointing more than 1,000 city-owned vacant lots as potential sites for affordable housing and blaming the city for dragging its heels in transferring the lots to developers.

“We want to give the people the opportunity to stay in the community they elevated,” Stringer said at a press conference staged in front of an empty trash-filled lot in East Harlem, rebuking the city Housing Preservation and Development agency for lost opportunities to house local residents.

The comptroller proposed forming land banks to lease the vacant lots long-term to non-profit community groups to get the ball rolling on building local housing throughout the five boroughs.

Jonathan Westin, executive Director of New York Communities for Change, supported this suggestion. “This land should not be used to line the pockets of developers who have exploited our communities for decades,” he said.

The audit examined the city owned properties managed by HPD from June 2014 to September 2015. At the end of September 2015 the audit identified 1,131 vacant lots across the five boroughs. Over 70 percent of those properties had been owned and left vacant for 50 years by the city, with Brooklyn having the largest number, 556 properties.

HPD officials have disputed Stringer’s findings. Of the 1,131vacant lots in the study, housing officials said, 310 lay in flood zones or had other obstacles to development, and 150 were more aptly earmarked for other purposes, including parks, recreation centers and community gardens. The rest were already tagged for development, they added.

Stringer stuck to his guns, saying that with 58,000 people living in shelters and thousands more living on the streets, developing the lots would go a long way to softening the homeless problem. The audit shows that since 2000, the city has lost over 400,000 apartments renting for $1,000 a month or less.

Anna Burnham, lead organizer of Banana Kelly, a non­profit community development corporation of the South Bronx, supported the idea of using community land trust models to build affordable housing.

Non-profit leaders, contended that de Blasio’s housing plan was not affordable for most local residents whose average median income was less than $30,000 a year and over 56 percent of residents spend more than one third of their income on rent.

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