Thursday, May 24, 2012
Everyone in New York is talking about fracking. We routinely have folks stopping by our door asking us to sign petitions or donate money to fight fracking. (In fact, NYSPIRG stopped by last night.) I live in the city of Buffalo, which has banned fracking. This is the case in many towns and municipalities around the state and may work because of New Yorks Home Rule law. As there is a moratorium in place pending some additional environmental review, we have some time before courts fully examine the legitimacy of these local bans. The ban in Buffalo is largely sympolic as no one is proposing to drill any gas wells here, but some of these communities are in the heart of the Marcellus shale.
Last week, Vermont became the first state with a state-wide ban. Again this is probably largely symbolic but the public outcry against this technique is worth listening to.
Friday, May 18, 2012
The Big Apple is now greener than ever. On April 30, the New York City Council adopted some significant changes to its zoning code designed to promote distributed renewable energy and green building practices. These Green Zone Amendments will make it easier for New Yorkers to gain city approvals for small wind turbines, green rooftops, solar energy installations, skylights, and similar sustainable land uses on their properties. The NYC Department of City Planning has posted some short descriptions of the amendments on its website.
Among these new amendments are provisions that encourage rooftop wind turbines on tall buildings and that relax height and other restrictions for solar panels. It will be interesting to see whether the amendments are able to spur a major increase in small-scale wind and solar energy development in New York City in the coming years.
To read a New York Times interview of an NYC city planning official and real estate developer on the potential impact of these new amendments, click here.
Wednesday, May 16, 2012
Last week the NYU Furman Center published its latest research on the State of New York City's Housing and Neighborhoods.
The Furman Center is pleased to present the 2011 edition of the State of New York City’s Housing and Neighborhoods. In this annual report, the Furman Center compiles statistics on housing, demographics and quality of life in the City, its five boroughs and 59 community districts.
This year we examine the distribution of the burden of New York City’s property tax, analyze the changing racial and ethnic makeup of city neighborhoods, evaluate the state of mortgage lending in New York City and highlight the Furman Center’s latest research on public and subsidized rental housing.
Here is a link to the full report: http://furmancenter.org/files/sotc/SOC_2011.pdf
The Furman Center does the leading empirical analysis of land use policy today. This report shows that "owners of New York City’s large rental apartment buildings are subject to a higher effective property tax rate than owners of one-to three-family homes, and bear a disproportionate share of the city’s overall property tax burden." Very interesting stuff. Thanks to Meghan Lewit for the link. Here is the web link to the project, and the full report is here.
Tuesday, May 15, 2012
Paul Boudreaux (Stetson)--the original Founding Editor of the Land Use Prof Blog-- has published a book that addresses one of the most critical issues in American land use in the 21st century: The Housing Bias--Rethinking Land Use Laws for a Diverse New America (Palgrave MacMillan, 2011). Here's the SSRN abstract:
As more than 300 million Americans squeeze into our country, and as single-person households now outnumber families of parents and children, it's time to rethink our land use laws that favor the single-family house. Our zoning laws were created in an age that assumed that nearly everyone outside of central cities preferred to live a house separated from neighbors; this assumption is no longer valid and no longer sustainable for a crowded nation. The Housing Bias explores the legal discrimination against apartment buildings and other forms of low-cost residences and how these laws make housing more expensive for modest-income Americans – a key factor in the development of subprime loans and other risky practices that eventually sparked our current economic crisis. Why do our laws prohibit the construction of low-cost housing? It is largely because existing homeowners prefer to exclude them – an astonishing example of law’s granting a legal privilege to wealthier citizens, a privilege that our nation can no longer afford.
This provocative book explores real-world 21st-century controversies of the housing bias. It visits the recent effort of Virginia suburbs to enforce “overcrowding” laws against mostly Latino families who migrated to the area to build new subdivisions, and then moves to New York, where eminent domain is used through a dubious interpretation of law to seize condominiums of middle-class families to build a new pro basketball arena. The book reports on the story of how laws requiring large house lots prevented the construction of a mobile-home community in a growing rural county in southern Michigan, and then examines the failed effort to legalize the widespread phenomenon of small “granny flats” in the backyards of the middle-class homes in the packed city of Los Angeles.
The Housing Bias concludes by exploring how we could update our laws to accommodate the housing needs of a diverse new America, in which half of all households now consist of only one or two persons. The prescriptions range from the complex, such as using state laws to override the power of local homeowners to zone out low-cost housing in certain zones, to the simple, such as facilitating the construction of apartments above suburban malls. It is useful for libraries and for college courses on society or law or for any intelligent reader. Written in an entertaining and jargon-free style, The Housing Bias is essential reading for understanding the flaws and the future of the American community.
One of the great things about land use is that it is fundamentally about places and their stories, and in this book Paul uses these examples to make a larger point about a critical issue of law and policy. The Housing Bias is definitely worth reading and thinking about.
Saturday, March 31, 2012
We are pleased to share with you the latest policy brief from the Furman Center and its Institute for Affordable Housing Policy: Searching for the Right Spot: Minimum Parking Requirements and Housing Affordability in New York City. The report examines the minimum residential parking requirements in communities throughout the city, and explores the effects the requirements may have on housing affordability and the city's sustainability goals.
Our findings suggest that the requirements generally cause developers to provide more off-street parking than they think buyers and tenants really demand, potentially driving up the cost of housing and promoting inefficient car ownership. The report provides examples of tools other cities have used to refine their parking regulations to better balance concerns about housing affordability, sustainability, and traffic congestion with the needs of car owners.
The Center has also released its Fourth Quarter NYC Housing Report:
We are pleased to share with you our latest New York City Quarterly Housing Update (Q4 2011). We find that home sales volume continued to decline, with the number of transactions citywide down 15 percent from the previous quarter and 11 percent from the fourth quarter of 2010.
The report finds, however, that foreclosure starts were down in most of the city, with 33 percent fewer foreclosure notices issued in the fourth quarter of 2011 compared to the same quarter in 2010. Manhattan was the only borough where the number of foreclosure starts increased, although the number of foreclosure notices issued in Manhattan remained well below the numbers issued in any of the other boroughs. You can read the full report here, or the press release here.
The Furman Center's Quarterly Housing Update is unique among New York City housing reports because it incorporates sales data, residential development indicators, and foreclosures. It also presents a repeat sales index for each borough to capture price appreciation while controlling for housing quality. The publication is available on a quarterly basis at:
Very valuable research and analysis, as usual.
Monday, March 26, 2012
Property Prof Blogger extraordinaire and official Land Use Prof Blog Buddy Steve Clowney draws attention to an interesting recent column from NY Times architecture critic Michael Kimmelman about NYU's plans to expand within Greenwhich Village. I agree with Steve's assessment that the column focuses too much attention on the effect the expansion would have on a little used plot of park space. It is curious that Kimmelman opens the column describing NYU's expansion plans as "acrimonious" but then immediately pivots away from describing any of the actual acrimony to an issue that only he seems to care about, to wit, this "underrated" park that nobody know exists.
Kimmelman's main argument appears to be that NYU itself is responsible for the park space in question falling into disuse, and so the city should leverage its zoning power to force NYU to make the park more accessible. At this point, I was running for my land use casebook to consult the Supreme Court's exactions jurisprudence (For land use newbies: governments are generally not allowed to leverage their zoning power for concessions absent an "essential nexus" between the concession sought and the land use approval requested).
In any event, I can't say Kimmelman is wrong as a policy matter. He may be right that the village needs more open space and that NYU's plan is antithetical to that need. To me, the most interesting part of Kimmelman's piece was his contention that the original Modernist "tower-in-the-park" design that spawned the endangered park space had actually done a good job of bringing much-needed open space to the village before NYU messed it all up. This is at odds with the conventional wisdom that the tower-in-the-park idea was a monstrosity that necessarily brought about extremely alienating public spaces (wisdom made conventional, of course, by a previous crusader against Greenwhich Village construction plans, Jane Jacobs). For an example of such an alienating space, check this out:
For those wondering, this is Empire State Plaza in Albany, New York, a gift of Modernist-loving governor Nelson Rockefeller.
I see an interesting parallel between Kimmelman's affection for Modernist park design in this column and his paean to the virtues of Modernist housing complexes in another column about which I blogged previously. Kimmelman seems committed to resuscitating a form of urban design that has been largely relegated to the dustbin of bad planning ideas. For that, I commend him!
Wednesday, March 14, 2012
While visiting New York City recently for the Association of American Geographers' annual meeting, I took in a great exhibit at the Museum of the City of New York entitled The Greatest Grid: The Master Plan of Manhattan 1811-2011. The exhibit coincides with the 200th anniversary of the adoption of the famous street grid for the island of Manhattan. It is a fascinating exploration of one of the most significant urban planning endeavors in American history. You can see an overview of the exhibit here, and the New York Times Review of the exhibit here. My thoughts on the exhibit, with pictures, are below:
Monday, February 20, 2012
The case of Harmon v. Markus, currently before the Supreme Court on a petition for cert, is starting to draw some attention. Among others, George Will devoted his latest column to urging the Court to hear the case in Supreme Court should take on New York City's Rent Control Laws:
James and Jeanne Harmon reside in and supposedly own a five-story brownstone on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, a building that has been in their family since 1949. But they have, so to speak, houseguests who have overstayed their welcome by, in cumulative years, more than a century. They are the tenants — the same tenants — who have been living in the three of the Harmons’ six apartments that are rent controlled.
The Harmons want the Supreme Court to rule that their home has been effectively, and unconstitutionally, taken from them by notably foolish laws that advance no legitimate state interest. The court should.
This “taking” has been accomplished by rent-control laws that cover almost 1 million — approximately half — of the city’s rental apartments. Such laws have existed, with several intervals of sanity, since the “emergency” declared because returning soldiers faced housing shortages caused by a building slowdown during World War I.
This is a tough issue on the equities; rent-control laws (most prominently in New York) are of incredible help to some people and have a very negative effect on others, not only developers, but also (perhaps most especially) would-be entrants-- which is why the politics on this issue are more difficult to track. Rent control favoring current (and often, inherited) tenants is getting increasingly hard to justify on policy grounds, but as a matter of property law, is it unconstitutional? Harder to prove on legal doctrine.
Richard Epstein has a podcast on the case for the Federalist Society. I've been looking for commentaries on the other side but haven't found quite as much; let me know.
February 20, 2012 in Affordable Housing, Caselaw, Constitutional Law, Landlord-Tenant, Local Government, New York, Politics, Property Rights, Supreme Court, Takings | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Wednesday, February 15, 2012
Hot off the wire, the 2012 John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Awards for Creative and Effective Institutions have just been announced. Among the big winners were our friends at the NYU Furman Center:
We are delighted to announce that the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation just named NYU's Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy a recipient of the MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions. This distinguished award recognizes the Furman Center's excellence in providing objective, policy-relevant research to address the challenges facing neighborhoods in New York City and across the nation.
The award also is an investment into the Furman Center's future. It comes with a grant of $1 million, which we will use to build data and research partnerships that will allow us to broaden the geographic scope of our research; strengthen and expand our policy analysis; and improve our communications and data management infrastructure. This provides us with a remarkable opportunity to expand our research beyond New York City to help policymakers in Washington and across the nation make more effective housing and community development investments and policies.
By my rough count, about 6 of the 15 awards went to groups for land use, housing, or environmental projects. Here are some of the others:
Albertine Rift Conservation Society – Kampala, Uganda ($350,000) champions collaborative conservation initiatives in one of the world’s most important ecosystems;
Business and Professional People for the Public Interest – Chicago, Illinois ($750,000) works to strengthen impoverished communities, preserve and increase affordable housing, improve Chicago schools and promote open, honest government in Illinois;
Center for Responsible Lending – Durham, North Carolina ($2 million) protects homeownership and family assets by working to eliminate abusive financial practices and consumer products;
Community Investment Corporation – Chicago, Illinois ($2 million) provided assistance to developers of rental housing in low- and moderate-income neighborhoods in Chicago
Conservation Strategy Fund – Sebastopol, California ($750,000) trains conservation professionals in economics and policy analysis to strengthen and protect the environment;
Congratulations to the winners; and thanks to Hattaway Communications for the heads-up.
Saturday, February 11, 2012
I hope Matt will forgive me for moonlighting, but The Atlantic Cities blog (a great resource I have blogged about before) invited me to write a guest blog post about how the Occupy protests challenged the predominant model of urban government. You can check it out here. My basic thesis is:
The Occupy movement challenged cities’ attachment to mobile capital by making place central to its worldview. In establishing flimsy tent-cities in actual urban spaces and refusing to leave, the Occupy protests mocked the idea of mobility peddled by urban officials. More than that, they implicitly advocated the notion that urban areas are places bound up with the identity of local communities, rather than disposable products in a global marketplace.
Wednesday, February 1, 2012
First, thanks so much to Stephen Miller for doing such a terrific job guest-blogging throughout January. Great stuff.
Next, we're proud to welcome Susan J. Kraham (Columbia Law School) as our guest blogger for the month of February. Here's Susan's bio:
Susan J. Kraham is a Senior Staff Attorney and Lecturer-in-Law at Columbia Law School's Environmental Law Clinic. Susan has spent her legal career representing public interest clients with a particular focus on environmental and land use law. Prior to joining the Environmental Law Clinic, Susan served as Counsel to the New Jersey Audubon Society. From 1998 until 2005 she was an Associate Clinical Professor in the Environmental Law Clinic at Rutgers Law School, Newark. Susan was a 1992 graduate of Columbia Law School. She also has a Masters in Urban Planning from New York University’s Wagner School. After graduation from Law School, Susan clerked for the Honorable Justice Gary Stein of the New Jersey Supreme Court. She was a Skadden fellow. Susan was also an echoing green fellow where she partnered on a community-based environmental justice project.
We're excited to have her on board, and we look forward to reading her posts!
Wednesday, December 14, 2011
Ioan Voicu (US Gov't--Office of the Comptroller of the Currency), Vicki Been (NYU), Mary Weselcouch (NYU Furman Center), and Andrew Tschirart (US Gov't--OCC) have posted Performance of HAMP versus non-HAMP Loan Modifications--Evidence from New York City. The abstract:
Policymakers have heralded mortgage modifications as a key to addressing the ongoing foreclosure crisis. However, there is a lack of research about whether modifications are successful at helping borrowers stay current on their loans over the long run and what kinds of modifications are most successful. Our empirical strategy employs logit models in a hazard framework to explain how loan, borrower, property, servicer and neighborhood characteristics, along with differences in the types of modifications, affect the likelihood of redefault. The dataset includes both HAMP modifications and proprietary modifications. Our results demonstrate that borrowers who receive HAMP modifications have been considerably more successful in staying current than those receiving non-HAMP modifications.
Tuesday, December 6, 2011
David Reiss (Brooklyn) has posted a review of Harvard economist and urban theorist Edward Glaeser's new book. Book Review: Edward L. Glaeser, Triumph of the City: How Our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier, and Happier (The Penguin Press 2011), forthcoming in Environment and Planning (2012). The abstract:
It is always a bit unnerving to read someone else’s love letters, but even more so, when you have the same object of desire. Edward Glaeser’s TRIUMPH OF THE CITY is a love letter to cities and to New York City in particular. Glaeser provides a theoertical framework of the city, arguing that “Cities are the absence of physical space between people and companies. They are proximity, density, closeness.”
Glaeser prescribes three simple rules to protect the vitality of the urban environment: First, cities should replace the current lengthy and uncertain permitting process with a simple system of fees. Second, historic preservation should be limited and well defined. Finally, individual neighborhoods should have some clearly delineated power to protect their special character.
While Glaeser does not fully justify his set of rules, he does provide a thought-provoking discussion of the consequences of not following them. If you were to take nothing else from TRIUMPH OF THE CITY, you should attend to its cri de coeur: “the real city is made of flesh, not concrete.” But, notwithstanding its limitations, the book offers much, much more than that. It challenges broadly held beliefs and presents a theory of the city that helps to evaluate urban policy proposals with a clear eye.
Tuesday, November 29, 2011
They NYU Furman Center has released its Third Quarter New York City Housing Report:
We are pleased to share with you our latest New York City Quarterly Housing Update (Q3 2011). We find that home sales volume remained low in the third quarter of 2011, with the number of properties sold citywide four percent lower than the number sold in the third quarter of 2010.
The report finds that property values are also lagging in most of the city. Manhattan is the only borough where properties have appreciated in price over the last year. Foreclosures have continued to slow citywide, with 32 percent fewer foreclosure notices issued in the third quarter of 2011 compared to the same quarter last year. You can read the full report here, or the press release here.
Sunday, November 6, 2011
Further to my post below, the New York City Department of City Planning has recently released another great resource for students of New York City zoning -- this time, it's a collection of documents relating to the adoption of the city's 1961 zoning resolution. Some great bedtime reading for the archivists among us. The publication of these documents is timed to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the resolution, as is this one-day conference on "Zoning the City," set for November 15. I won't be able to attend, as I'll be stuck here in balmy southern California soaking in the sunshine, but it promises to be very interesting, with a great lineup of speakers.
Thursday, November 3, 2011
From the "You Must Hear This" Dept., we have a really interesting NPR report this morning on attempts by some citizens of the town of Dryden, NY to zone out hydraulic fracturing ("hydrofracking") as a means of removing oil and gas from local shale deposits. The report features commentary on crucial state preemption issues by Eduardo Peñalver (Cornell).
I think siting of hydraulic fracturing operations is a terrific subject for discussion in a Land Use, Environmental or Property law class. I even used a hydraulic fracturing hypothetical on my Property final last Spring to test on inquiry notice and reciprocal servitudes. Focusing on public rather than private land use regulation, this story frames the state and local government issues nicely. Enjoy.
Wednesday, November 2, 2011
The NYU Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy has just sent out news of its latest fascinating and important study: American Murder Mystery Revisited: Do Housing Voucher Households Cause Crime? The study is authored by co-director Ingrid Gould Ellen, Michael C. Lens, and Katherine O'Regan. From the announcement:
We are pleased to share with you the latest paper from the Furman Center, American Murder Mystery Revisited: Do Housing Voucher Households Cause Crime? The study explores the link between housing vouchers and neighborhood crime rates. More than two million renters now receive Housing Choice Vouchers, which subsidize rent in private apartments. Although voucher holders live in a large variety of neighborhoods, community opposition to vouchers can be fierce due to perceptions that voucher holders will both reduce property values and heighten crime. The widely-circulated 2008 Atlantic Monthly article “American Murder Mystery” highlighted this controversy.
Our study, which examines changes in crime and voucher use over 12 years in ten major U.S. cities, finds no evidence that an increase of voucher holders in a community leads to increases in crime. Instead, we find a different association: that voucher holders are more likely to move into areas when crime rates are already rising. The paper was featured in an article in The Atlantic Cities, and presented September 19 at an internal briefing held at the HUD headquarters in Washington, DC. You can read the full paper here and accompanying fact sheet here.
When it comes to housing and land use, everyone has an opinion, because everyone lives somewhere and has anecdotal information. It's great to have a study like this to clarify popular conceptions based on facts. The Furman Center leads the way in producing these kinds of helpful studies.
Sunday, October 30, 2011
From the Wall Street Journal's Developments blog: What Occupy Wall Street Owes to Zoning.
Occupy Wall Street’s monthlong protest has been helped by donors willing to supply food, temperate fall weather and support from organized labor and some elected officials. But a less-visible asset has proved a big boon for the protesters: New York City’s land-use policy.
The geographic center of the protest is lower Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park, a one-block collection of trees and benches that is owned by an office landlord, Brookfield Office Properties Inc. Private ownership actually makes the space more accessible than public parks, many of which close at night.
As discussed in a Journal article on Saturday, the city’s zoning code requires that many privately owned parks be open to the public at all times — one of the factors that made Zuccotti Park a hospitable venue for the protesters’s all-hours encampment.
Termed a “privately owned public space” — or POPS, in zoning parlance — these plazas stand at the intersection of capitalist instinct and public interest. The zoning code puts restrictions on the scale of towers that developers are allowed to build. In an attempt to add public space in Manhattan without buying new parkland, city government allowed developers to build bigger structures if they set aside a plaza that remains open to the public.
While many of these are tucked away in the backs of buildings or in lobbies, Zuccotti Park turns out to be one of the most accessible POPS in the city. Of course, there is an irony that the space in which Occupy Wall Street has found a continued home is owned by the city’s largest landlord for financial services firms — the very industry they are protesting.
Tuesday, October 25, 2011
Sewin Chan (NYU Wagner), Michael Gedal (NYU Wagner), Vicki Been (NYU Law), and Andrew Haughwout (Federal Reserve Bank-New York) have posted The Role of Neighborhood Characteristics in Mortgage Default Risk: Evidence from New York City. The abstract:
Using a rich database of non-prime mortgages from New York City, we find that census tract level neighborhood characteristics are important predictors of default behavior, even after controlling for an extensive set of controls for loan and borrower characteristics. First, default rates increase with the rate of foreclosure notices and the number of lender-owned properties (REOs) in the tract. Second, default rates on home purchase mortgages are higher in census tracts with larger shares of black residents, regardless of the borrower’s own race. We explore possible explanations for this second finding and conclude that it likely reflects differential treatment of black neighborhoods by the mortgage industry in ways that are unobserved in our data.
Thursday, October 13, 2011
Sewin Chan (NYU Wagner School), Claudia Sharygin (NYU Furman Center), Vicki Been (NYU Law), and Andrew Haughwout (Federal Reserve Bank--NY) have posted Pathways after Default: What Happens to Distressed Mortgage Borrowers and Their Homes? The abstract:
We use a detailed dataset of seriously delinquent mortgages to examine the dynamic process of mortgage default – from initial delinquency and default to final resolution of the loan and disposition of the property. We estimate a two-stage competing risk hazard model to assess the factors associated with whether a borrower behind on mortgage payments receives a legal notice of foreclosure, and with what ultimately happens to the borrower and property. In particular, we focus on a borrower’s ability to avoid a foreclosure auction by getting a modification, by refinancing the loan, or by selling the property. We find that the outcomes of the foreclosure process are significantly related to: the terms of the loan; the borrower’s credit history; current loan-to-value and the presence of a junior lien; the borrower’s post-default payment behavior; the borrower’s participation in foreclosure counseling; neighborhood characteristics such as foreclosure rates, recent house price depreciation and median income; and the borrower’s race and ethnicity.