Mark Winston Griffith
Vann Bill Demands Developer Disclosure
In light of recent controversial, high profile development projects like Brooklyn's Atlantic Yards, one of the most vexing questions facing neighborhood stakeholders is, how do you ensure that developers feeding from the public trough do the right thing when pursuing a large development project in a low- and moderate-income area? Community Benefit Agreements, like the hotly controversial one generated between ACORN and Forest City Ratner for the proposed Nets stadium and surrounding development, has been one way for community-based organizations to assert some minimal control over the kind of impact that powerful, deep-pocketed, politically connected developers have on the city.
In this same spirit, Council Member Al Vann today announced new legislation that would compel developers receiving public subsidies accountable to disclose what kind of demographic and economic impact their projects would have on the surrounding area.
The bill is designed to "strengthen reporting requirements for private development projects that receive economic development benefits from the city…, Under this legislation, a city agency or department that requests an economic development benefit for a private development project must prepare a community impact report before the economic development benefit can be approved."
In the "community impact report" the developer would be obligated to provide basic information that would speak explicitly to the economic, racial and class-based fears inspired by a particular development project, such as: The number of residents, businesses and jobs to be displaced and the projected number of jobs to be created; the number of residential and commercial units created as well as a projection of the impact this would have on local market values; the projected demographic make-up of the workers whose jobs would be lost and created.
It's hard to argue against any measure that would try to create more transparency in the community development process in New York. While most politicians would just as soon leave this hot potato alone, Vann, with this legislation, makes a good faith effort to offer areas like his own district of Bedford-Stuyvesant/north Crown Heights some modicum of self-defense in the face of looming development. Vann's council district residents and businesses are experiencing not only displacement and gentrification anxieties, but also the concern that private development and even public projects could bring down property values in an area with strong upwardly mobile aspirations. For instance, a recent announcement that the City would make a homeless shelter in Crown Heights the central intake point for homeless men in the City, has created an uproar among local residents.
Could Vann's legislation be stronger? Most definitely. Even accepting the fact that the city is limited in what it can do to imposet penalties on developers for failing to fulfill promises or meet job creation and affordable housing goals, the legislation offers little in the way of making sure that developer provides accurate, un-cooked numbers and information. An internal analysis of the proposed legislation done months ago by DMI's Director of Research, Amy Traub, noted that the Vann proposal includes no progress reporting or follow up provisions that enable the public to actually hold developers accountable and compare what was promised to what was actually done.
The greatest danger in this legislation is, instead of making it more difficult for developers to usher in toxic projects, it would simply facilitate a public relations opportunity for the developers to make rosy projections and claims that they have no intention of honoring.
Hopefully, it won't come to that. As modest as it is, Vann's legislation could be a positive step towards shifting the grossly unequal balance of power between developers and the working class areas that host them.