Reminding all of us how crucial it is for a community to have many local voices in reporting…Without local media vital issues would be buried.
Here are three articles by Allegra Hobbs two on Rivington House and one on the Stanton Building in Sara Roosevelt Park.
She did an important investigative piece on the loss of nursing homes in the lower east side. And much much more.
Thanks Allegra for all you’ve done to keep us honest.
Mayor’s Revisions to Deed Restriction Process ‘Not Enough,’ Community Says
By Allegra Hobbs | July 13, 2016 6:10pm
LOWER EAST SIDE — Mayor Bill de Blasio has introduced a bevy of revisions to the city’s process of handling modifications to deed restrictions in an attempt to address concerns arising from the sale ofRivington House, along with pledging money to the Lower East Side community as compensation for the loss.
But community members, who have demanded nothing less than the return of the property, say the changes are not enough.
The mayor’s office on July 8 unleashed a hefty list of proposed policy changes aimed at increasing transparency, oversight and community involvement when it comes to dealing with properties saddled with deed restrictions in the future.
Additionally, the mayor ruled that the $16 million collected by the city for lifting the deed restriction on former nursing home Rivington House that ensured its use as a nonprofit health care facility — a transaction that allowed the building to be sold to a residential development for a condo conversion — will be put towards creating “affordable senior housing” in the Lower East Side.
The city will also “explore” the creation of more nursing home beds in the community, according to the mayor’s office.
But community members, who recently banded together to form a coalition demanding the return of the building to their neighborhood, still are not satisfied, said a member of the newly formed Neighbors to Save Rivington House.
“For me, it is very clear that it’s not enough, and it’s not what we were talking about,” said Melissa Aase, executive director of the University Settlement, an organization providing social services to low-income families, elderly and youth. “We’re going to keep trying to fight for the building to come back to the community.”
The group has launched a petition demanding the city re-implement the deed restriction that was lifted and “return Rivington House to the people of the Lower East Side,” which had gathered more than 1,500 signatures as of Wednesday.
The group is joined by Community Board 3 in issuing the demand. The board in April passed what then-Chairwoman Gigi Li called its “laser-focused resolution” demanding the return of the building, stating the board is “adamant that the sale of the deed restriction be reversed and the complete deed restriction for Rivington House to be reinstated.” The board’s position has not swayed, according to district manager Susan Stetzer.
“The CB did not ask for money to mitigate the loss of Rivington House nursing home beds,” said Stetzer in an email.
The mayor’s office did not respond to repeated requests for comment regarding the community’s demand, and did not respond to repeated requests for clarification on how the $16 million will be allocated within the community.
The proposed policy changes are in response to widespread outrage following the February sale of Rivington House — for decades a nonprofit health care facility for HIV/AIDS patients — to residential developer Slate Property Group, which now plans on putting condos in the building.
A handful of city, state and federal watchdogs are probing the transactions, questioning whether the city’s process for removing deed restrictions is stringent enough.
Comptroller Scott Stringer has demanded transparency from the city, saying the public has “a right to know how these deed restrictions are being managed and whether taxpayers and our communities are being protected.” The investigation is ongoing, said a rep for the comptroller, along with investigations from the attorney general’s office and the city’s own Department of Investigation.
The mayor’s proposed changes — slated to be put into action in the coming months — require the city use “legally binding language” while modifying deed restrictions that would prevent the property from being used for an alternate purpose.
The legislation would also change the way deed restriction modifications are financially compensated — while under the current law, owners are charged 25 percent of the property’s market value for a modification — as was the case with Rivington House — these requests will now be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.
Greater transparency and oversight will also be instated under the policy changes — the Department of Citywide Administrative Services, the agency tasked with overseeing deed restriction modifications, will now present any request for a deed modification to a committee made up of a handful of city representatives.
Additionally, the city will work out a new process for notifying the community and gathering feedback while considering a request for a deed restriction modification — while previously the local community board was not notified or involved in the public hearing process, the city going forward would work in partnership with the boards to ensure community engagement.
Elected officials have offered tepid support of the revisions following the mayor’s announcement, with Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer calling the policy changes a “step in the right direction,” noting “the Rivington House’s value to the community far exceeded $16 million” and that there is much work to be done to create needed nursing home beds in the community.
Councilwoman Margaret Chin, while congratulating the mayor on the revisions, said she will continue to fight alongside the community for the return of the property.
“While I will continue to explore every option to take back Rivington House, I thank Mayor de Blasio for taking these important first steps to make this community whole again,” Chin said in a statement.
According to Aase, the Neighbors to Save Rivington House coalition is expected to release a statement reaffirming its position in the near future.
City Hid Rivington House Memos From Investigators, DOI Says
By Allegra Hobbs | July 27, 2016 8:55am | Updated July 27, 2016 4:27pm
House to the community.View Full Caption
MANHATTAN — City officials tried to hide evidence from investigators that showed City Hall knew about a plan to turn Rivington House into condos long before the sale went through — and only agreed to hand over thousands of pages of evidence after the Department of Investigation threatened to sue, officials said Tuesday.
The city’s Law Department refused to cooperate with DOI investigators probing the controversial deed restriction on Rivington House — even redacting or marking damning documents as “not relevant” in order to withhold them from investigators, according to a DOI report of the city’s mishandling of the issue.
DOI Inspector General Jodi Franzese on July 21 sent a letter to Corporation Counsel Zachary Carter demanding the release of all relevant documents, as well as access to computers used by city officials — requests Law had continually rebuffed, said Franzese.
“DOI has the exclusive prerogative to determine how it conducts its investigations and what information is relevant to its investigations. Neither City Hall, Law, nor any other City agency or official is entitled to interfere or refuse to cooperate with a DOI investigation or determine what material is relevant to that investigation,” Franzese wrote.
The city and the mayor have repeatedly insisted they had no prior knowledge of the deal before developers bought the property from the city, then turned around and sold the nonprofit nursing home for HIV/AIDS patients to be converted into private condos.
But the DOI found the Law Department actively attempted to thwart the investigation by deliberately holding back relevant documents — including a memo weighing the pros and cons of lifting the deed restriction on Rivington House, which revealed city officials knew about a possible condo conversion early on, as first reported by theDaily News.
The city gave the DOI blank pages in place of the memo, according to the letter, and only provided the non-redacted version when specifically asked for it by DOI, the letter read.
“This Memo provided vital information showing that City Hall was involved in the decision-making process on Rivington House and is therefore directly relevant to City Hall’s involvement in the Rivington matter,” the letter states. “If DOI had not determined through other means that the document existed, and had not requested that particular document, Law would not have provided it.”
“This was not Law’s decision to make, and it wrongly withheld the document.”
STORY CONTINUES BENEATH MEMO
The Law Department also withheld a memo about lifting a deed restriction on the Dance Theatre of Harlem, again claiming the document was irrelevant to the investigation, the letter states — a claim that was “innappopriate and incorrect,” according to DOI officials.
Days after DOI’s letter threatening legal action, the Law Department finally agreed to hand over all requested documents, DOI said.
On Tuesday, the department also gave DOI access to the hard drives of Mayor Bill de Blasio and other City Hall staffers that they’d refused to turn over earlier in the investigation.
“I am pleased that the Law Department decided to comply with the law,” DOI Commissioner Peters said in a statement. “And, I am proud of the DOI staff who doggedly pursued access to these records so DOI can fully investigate the matter at hand.”
Meanwhile, Mayor Bill de Blasio on Wednesday brushed off the furor surrounding the city’s mishandling of Rivington House, calling media coverage of the investigation “overheated and off the mark” and sarcastically comparing the scandal to Watergate,the Daily News has reported.
“This is probably bigger than Watergate,” he said at a panel in Philadelphia, the Daily News reported, before going on to assert that the investigation would ultimately find his administration blameless.
“It’s all going to show the exact same thing at the end, that things were handled appropriately,” he said.
The Department of Investigation is still reviewing the thousands of pages of documents provided by the Law Department, according to a representative.
The city’s Law Department on Wednesday afternoon responded that DOI’s claims it had withheld documents are “false” and that the department had been fully cooperative — the Law Department had promptly notified DOI of the existence of the Rivington memo, it claimed, and then produced the un-redacted version of the memo immediately upon request.
As for the memo on the Harlem property, the Law Department only stated that it had provided the memo to DOI on May 3, 2016, which does not contradict DOI’s claim, and did not comment on whether the document had been initially redacted or was clearly marked for DOI’s review.
The Law Department further stated that DOI had requested “unprecedented access” to its computers, “far beyond what would be necessary ot locate any documents relevant to their investigation of the Rivington transaction,” and that DOI had ultimately agreed to use certain search terms while searching the computer databases.
The Department of Investigation did not immediately respond to a request for further comment.
And on Stanton Building
Sara D. Roosevelt Park Still in Need of Public Restrooms, Locals Say
By Allegra Hobbs | May 25, 2016 1:47pm
The Parks Department building on Stanton Street is currently being used for storage.
LOWER EAST SIDE — For more than two decades, those who live and work around Sara. D Roosevelt Park have been begging the city’s Parks Department for adequate public restrooms — but little progress has been made, according to advocates of the green space, and the lack of facilities is taking its toll.
The Sara D. Roosevelt Park Coalition since 1994 has been championing efforts to have the city reactivate a Parks Department building on Stanton Street — beginning with the unused restrooms — that has sat as an otherwise derelict storage facility since the 1980s.
And the coalition’s president has seen firsthand the area’s dire need for restrooms — she has even cleaned up human feces in the park, she says, where the homeless population is left with no alternative.
“We have put people in a pretty messed up position which pits them against the neighborhood, and I don’t think that’s right,” said Kay Webster, who in 2013 penned an opinion piece for the Lo-Down outlining the importance of the building to the community.
“It’s been a very long time,” she continued. “We definitely need that building.”
And it’s not just the neighborhood’s homeless who suffer from the lack of facilities. Jennifer Marcus, who helps maintain the park’s M’Finda Kalunga Garden, says she and her fellow gardeners often go searching for nearby coffee shops, or else go to the Whole Foods on E. Houston Street, where they are asked to buy something in order to use the restroom.
“There is no bathroom anywhere,” she said. “People are always coming and asking — people with kids, tourists from everywhere — and there are no facilities for the kids playing basketball and soccer.”
While the restrooms at the nearby BRC Senior Services Center are available to gardeners on the weekdays, the center is closed on the weekend, said Marcus, and is not open to other users of the park.
The park, which spans over half a mile from E. Houston Street to Canal Street, currently has one available public restroom on Hester Street, which is open daily, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m — the facility sits near the southern end of the sprawling park, leaving a void on the northern end, said Webster.
A facility on Broome Street is in need of major reconstruction due to a sewage issue, according to a Parks Department representative. The Lo-Down last year reported on an incident in which a department worker was hospitalized, reportedly due to fecal fumes, after someone had jammed a hoodie into a toilet when the building was left open overnight.
Work on the Broome Street building is expected to kick off by the end of the year, according to the rep.
Meanwhile, the limited hours of the Hester Street building fail to serve the homeless community, and in turn fail to serve the surrounding community, Webster said.
The solution, Webster said, is to reactive the Stanton Street building, to have at least one facility open 24 hours a day, and to hire staff members paid to supervise the facilities in order to prevent misuse.
After years of fighting for adequate facilities, the Parks Department is moving toward making at least some of the suggested upgrades a reality. The staff bathroom in the Stanton Street storehouse will be converted into public bathrooms, thanks to a collective $1 million donation from Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and Councilwoman Margaret Chin — the renovation is currently in the design phase, according to a parks rep.
Still, the department has been unable to estimate a timeline for the project, according to a representative for Chin’s office. And from Webster’s perspective, having fought for the conversion for years, the conversion is inching along at a painstaking pace.
Meanwhile, the department remains unmoved in the face of locals’ demands to return the rest of the Stanton House building to community use as a youth center — a demand that remains among the park coalition’s goals, and has been staunchly supported by Community Board 3, according to board chair Gigi Li — arguing the department needs the space for storage.
The coalition has suggested an alternative storage site under the Williamsburg Bridge, said Webster, which she says has been discussed with Parks Department reps at monthly coalition meetings. A rep for the department, however, said it is not in conversation about moving the storage.
“I’ve tried to be diplomatic and work with parks,” said Webster. “I don’t know what it’s going to take.”