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Goldman Sachs in City Hall: How Alicia Glen's Development Partners are Cashing in on De Blasio's New York


During the presidential campaign, Donald Trump consistently pointed to Goldman Sachs as the best symbol of the financial elite’s hold on elected officials.

He won the presidency on a populist message of draining the swamp, but instead he has allowed the swamp to seep into the highest levels of power in his White House. While Trump has loudly scapegoated immigrants for job loss, he has more quietly appointed nearly half a dozen Goldman Sachs alums—architects of the 2008 housing crisis—to his administration.

The Wall Street firm prides itself on the revolving door between Goldman Sachs and public service. Its employees consistently donate to and serve in governments of both Democrats and Republicans.

But Goldman Sachs hasn’t just infiltrated the federal government. The firm also gains influence by controlling State houses and City Halls across the country—including New York City’s.

Bill de Blasio also won on a populist message of ending the tale of two cities, and promised to steer us away from Bloomberg’s efforts to create a luxury city for the wealthy. But a week before he officially took office, de Blasio announced he would appoint Alicia Glen, a banker from Goldman Sachs, to a deputy mayor position in his administration. Her primary responsibility would be overseeing the implementation of his housing agenda.

Many housing advocates who worked hard to elect de Blasio and expected a clean break from the Bloomberg administration were perplexed with Glen’s appointment.

With Glen at City Hall, they worried about a continuation of policies that shut low-income New Yorkers out of affordable housing.

It turns out they were right.

Glen’s housing and development model at City Hall has failed to serve low-income New Yorkers who are most in need of affordable housing. This is the same vulnerable population of New Yorkers left behind by Bloomberg and still living on the brink of homelessness. 

How the mayor can create real affordable communities

A study will show that the city can drive a much harder bargain with developers

Shortly after Bill de Blasio was elected mayor in 2013, a broad coalition of advocates, workers and residents came together to begin demanding real affordability in new housing and quality job opportunities in neighborhoods that would be rezoned for residential development.

Over the past two years, members and leaders of Real Affordability for All have called on the de Blasio administration to ensure that low-income New Yorkers are not left behind.

Thousands of New Yorkers involved in this campaign agreed on something crucial: Just as de Blasio’s election was a referendum on the growing inequality tied to his predecessor Michael Bloomberg’s legacy, so must de Blasio’s housing and rezoning plan slow the gentrification and displacement connected to Bloomberg’s luxury housing boom.

Together, de Blasio’s Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH) and Zoning for Quality and Affordability (ZQA) are intended to boost the supply of affordable housing across the city. The two initiatives recently passed the City Council with broad support and were strengthened to increase the depth of affordability for countless struggling New Yorkers who are far from middle class, let alone rich. De Blasio’s plan is an important step, but it does not cover all low-income New Yorkers—especially workers earning $30,000 or less per year, who are struggling the most to survive.

De Blasio will not fulfill his mandate as mayor to create a more affordable and livable city if housing is out of reach for working-poor New Yorkers in danger of displacement and homelessness.

To his credit, de Blasio himself has acknowledged the importance of doing more to create deeper affordability and spur local hiring in ways that empower low-income residents in our neighborhoods.

Last month, he said, “We want to look for any other ways we can go further … We want to keep innovating. We want to find ways to do more because this affordability crisis is so real.”

He was referring to a new study the city will conduct with our coalition to examine all the available tools for getting to deeper affordability and job standards in low-income neighborhoods to be rezoned.

This is where the real work begins. It’s crucial to recognize that MIH and ZQA are only a baseline—a solid starting point for new affordable housing in rezoned neighborhoods, but not the end of the story.

New residential density will increase the number of apartments in many neighborhoods, and that means developers will be earning bigger profits. But instead of allowing developers to keep all of that profit, communities should be able to withhold extra density and only offer it if developers agree to build deeply affordable housing, including apartments for residents making below 30% of the area media income (AMI) and offer career-oriented jobs for low-income residents.

How density can be used to create real affordable communities is what we hope to study as part of a collaborative effort with the administration, labor unions and community groups.

This proposed study is a crucial first step toward a new model of community planning in New York City. We believe low-income New Yorkers can use the results of the analysis to drive a much harder bargain with developers and win more affordability, greater economic opportunity and job standards in neighborhoods that are rezoned.

Our goal is to put into practice additional policies and land-use strategies that can drive mixed-income developments where at least 50% of new apartments are affordable to current residents, including low-income New Yorkers who would be hired locally to build new housing they can afford.

Construction is a growing industry and more New Yorkers should be able to gain access to apprenticeship opportunities and new careers building apartments they can actually afford.

Zoning for increased residential density will reshape not just our skyline but the lives of millions of New Yorkers for decades to come. The process can and should create real affordable housing and good jobs that meet the needs of low-income New Yorkers, while still enabling new development to thrive.

Community-based developers, land-use experts, labor leaders and housing policy analysts are ready to work with City Hall to show how de Blasio’s housing and rezoning efforts can live up to the bold, progressive vision of his mayoral campaign.

Let’s roll up our sleeves and make it happen, together.

Maritza Silva-Farrell is campaign director of Real Affordability for All.

This op-ed originally appeared on Crain's NY's website on April 13, 2016.

New York City Council Backs Affordable Housing Plan

A proposal by Mayor Bill de Blasio to rezone parts of the city to build more housing cleared its most important hurdle on Monday, emerging from a City Council meeting with enough revisions to satisfy major critics and city lawmakers who had opposed the plan for not doing enough to provide housing for the poorest New Yorkers. Read the full story.

Housing Deal is a Major Victory for Real Affordability for All

New York, NY— Real Affordability for All, a coalition representing many thousands of New Yorkers, released the following statement about the deal between Mayor de Blasio and the New York City Council to increase affordability in new housing built in rezoned neighborhoods:

"This is a major victory for our coalition and for countless New Yorkers. Through intense advocacy and organizing, we demanded a better plan with deeper affordability, and that’s what the New York City Council has secured. We are very grateful to City Council Members Jumaane Williams, Ritchie Torres, Donovan Richards, and Ben Kallos for their tireless leadership on behalf of the most vulnerable low-income New Yorkers. They played a crucial role in securing a stronger, more robust affordable housing and rezoning plan,” said Maritza Silva-Farrell, Campaign Director of Real Affordability for All.  

“Today is a big step forward, but more must be done to protect and preserve real affordable communities in our city. That’s why we are developing a study with City Hall that will identify specific ways to achieve even deeper affordability and job standards in new housing planned for rezoned neighborhoods. We want to ensure that at least 50 percent of all new housing is affordable to current residents and built with union labor. More low-income New Yorkers should gain access to union construction jobs and careers building new housing they can actually afford,” said Silva-Farrell, Campaign Director of Real Affordability for All.