A Push for ‘Housing Not Warehousing’

DeBoRah Dickerson, community activist with Picture the Homeless, in front of abandoned properties along Third Avenue between 106th and 107th streets. (Photo by Adi Talwar for City Limits)

Just how many vacant buildings and lots across the city might be available to provide much-needed affordable housing for the homeless?

The Department of Housing Preservation and Development says it is doing what it can to facilitate development on public land; a new state law is enabling it to get a better handle on delinquent private properties at risk of foreclosure. Meanwhile, Comptroller Scott Stringer has released his own tally of both city-owned and privately-owned buildings and lots that are unused – numbers that HPD challenges.

Now, advocates for the homeless and for more affordable housing are pushing the de Blasio administration to do a better job of surveying and tracking vacant properties across the five boroughs. Abigail Savitch-Lew of City Limits writes about the “Housing Not Warehousing” bills that would address this issue in a coherent fashion.

…just how much vacant land still is sitting around is a source of contention. Since 2015, Picture the Homeless and other groups have been pushing a package of three bills called the Housing Not Warehousing Act, which would mandate property owners to register vacant properties, require the city to conduct a census of vacant property, and oblige the city to produce a report about the status of vacant publicly-owned parcels and describe their path to development. While the organization would like to see the city take aggressive steps to penalize or ban warehousing, they believe the first step is for the administration to get a clear picture of the landscape.

The City Council has been actively working on behalf of tenants, adopting anti-harassment legislation recently. The three bills that promote “housing, not warehousing,” are likely to get adopted in the current environment, Savitch-Lew writes.

Bills 1034 and 1036 each have over 30 sponsors, 1039 is already veto-proof, and the sponsors of the three bills recently penned an editorial in support of the Act in City and State.

“I do believe it’s time to get moving,” says Councilman Jumaane Williams, one of the sponsors and chair of the committee on Housing and Buildings. He says he’ll be meeting with HPD soon on his bill, hopes to resolve some disagreements, and may push it forward anyway even if disagreements can’t be resolved.


“I’m not sure that we have the best grasp on what’s out there,” says Williams. “I don’t know if it’s a form that’s manipulate-able enough for us to make good policy,” he said, adding that there may also be communication issues between HPD, elected officials, and advocates about the status of vacant properties. He says that even if the de Blasio administration is taking an active approach to repurposing vacant land and buildings “that doesn’t make that the next administration will and it’s important to codify this.”

Go to City Limits to read why some of the vacant properties may legitimately be deemed unsuitable for development, and to read what experts think of the idea of imposing a “vacancy tax” on unused private properties.

One Comment

  1. nyc taxpayer says:

    Dear Idiots,

    The City of New York DOF does identify vacant land (Stringer should know this) and sends it’s owners quarterly property tax bills like any other property owner. The City also maintains a publicly available list of city-owned/leased properties at this link – https://data.cityofnewyork.us/City-Government/City-owned-and-Leased-Property-Local-Law-48-of-201/4e2n-s75z

    Expect numerous court challenges if this bill passes, particularly regarding a ‘vacancy tax’. The city has no constitutional authority to tell private property owners how their property should or shouldn’t be developed.

    ‘DeBoRah’? Really….

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