Empty Promises

Housing Activists Say the City Wastes Its Vacant Lots

The city appears to be finally taking some of the advice in the Golden report. Bloomberg's plan calls for disposition to be overseen by the deputy mayor for economic development and rebuilding. The hope is that placing it under one office will generally make for a system that takes into account the needs of the community, instead of just selling land to the highest bidder.

One thing that won't happen is a moratorium on public auctions, something that several councilmembers have called for. Jennifer Falk, spokesperson for the mayor's office, highlighted the effort to better coordinate city agencies. "That said, the city still has an auction that's scheduled for this summer," Falk said. The auction "will happen."

illustration: Ryan Sanchez

If there were a moratorium, the city would continue to wrestle with a problem of sheer economics. Many of the vacant sites are smaller parcels on which it would be relatively expensive to build housing. In restoring dilapidated dwellings, the city overcame this problem through scattered site renovation—basically packaging smaller sites at different locations together to make renovation more economically feasible. But because new construction is so much more expensive, it's not clear that such a strategy could work on vacant land. Thus it remains unclear what the city should do with smaller lots that blight neighborhoods and theoretically could be used for housing. "It's a very good question," says Alexander. "And if you find a solution, you'll get a lot of money."

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