BY TRONE DOWD
Despite the severe need for affordable housing across the borough, a new report from the Municipal Art Society (MAS) of New York says that there is rampant flagrant misuse of property throughout the city by city agencies, with Queens as one of the worst offenders.
Initially reported on by the real estate website “The Real Deal,” the MAS released its “Public Assets: City-owned and Leased Properties” study, along with graphics illustrating the way land is used by city agencies. In total, New York City agencies own 14,000 properties. According to this study, as much as 20 percent of land currently owned by city agencies—an equivalent of 3,162 properties or 43,000 acres— is not being used. Of that figure, as much as 86 percent of those properties is completely vacant.
To give people a relative scale of the inefficient land use, the MAS concluded that the total amount of property owned by the city is roughly the size of Brooklyn. Of that land mass, underutilized properties are about twice the size of Central Park. The MAS said that the study was conducted in order to encourage transparency in the arduous process that is city planning.
The MAS calls this large amount of land the unofficial “sixth borough” of New York City. Most of the unused property is located right here in Queens, with a total of 1,143 plots of land of varying sizes.
According to a statement from MAS president Gina Pollara, this information should be used by “municipal agencies, developers, researchers, students, planners, designers, preservationists, environmentalists” and “anyone interested in the city of today and tomorrow” due to the effect land misuse has on all New Yorkers.
“New Yorkers deserve to know that we collectively carry the cost, but also potential profit, on land holdings as large as Brooklyn,” Pollara told “The Real Deal.” “These findings raise serious questions about whether our city’s available property is being appropriately leveraged for civic benefit.”
Some additional noteworthy information gathered from the study included, for example, the fact that 247 city-owned and -leased properties are toxic, cause pollution, and are fully or partially designated as New York State environmental remediation sites. As much as 64 percent of these properties is within one-half mile of a subway station, and 90 percent of the properties is within one-fourth mile of a bus stop, making it a missed opportunity for affordable housing near transit hubs.
In addition to that, the report says as much as 71 percent of the misused properties is in low-density, low-income areas. A total of 6,969 properties—approximately 15,511 acres of land—is “located within census tracts with low median household incomes.”
“Forty-three thousand acres is an extraordinary amount of land, for New York City or any other city,” Pollara continued in a statement. “As we confront the challenges of rising population and density, climate change, infrastructure development and social equity, Public Assets provides a detailed view of city-owned land—a key to understanding the city and achieving its potential.”
This isn’t the first time misuse of land has been pointed out to the city. In February of this year, City Comptroller Scott Stringer released a report declaring that as many as 1,100 properties owned by city agencies were vacant and were potential sites for affordable housing. The Department of Housing Preservation and Development, however, argued that 700 of these properties were located in flood zones where residential housing is impossible to build.
Reach Trone Dowd at (718) 357-7400 x123 firstname.lastname@example.org or @theloniusly