PRESS RELEASE: Questions the Furman Center Ought to Have Asked

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For Immediate Release:
Questions the Furman Center Ought to Have Asked

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New York University’s real estate think tank, the Furman Center, released today their annual compendium of selected statistics. It is splashily packaged with the title “State of New York City’s Housing and Neighborhoods in 2017 Report.”  Furman claims in their press release for the document that “supply has not kept up with demand” – with the implied policy implication of “build baby build,” a claim that seems at odds with their own data. That data actually suggests there has been an 8% increase in housing units over the period discussed, with a 3.7% vacancy rate citywide, and an increase of adult households of 11%, which is oddly close to that rarest of rare events, a near meet-up of supply and demand.  Read on for more.

What Furman does get right is a call for more housing for low and moderate-income households. There is a clear mismatch between what developers build (market rate, mostly luxury housing) and what the city needs (housing at the bottom end of the market). The vast majority of the units developers put up in the past few years were not for the New Yorkers who needed them the most. Strangely, a conclusion that is shied away from is the obvious one: the policy of trickle-down housing supply has failed miserably.

There are also other important omissions. Furman ignores that the population increase in NYC has come from foreign immigration, usually from people seeking housing at the lowest housing rung, while more residents actually left New York than domestic migrants moved in.  Neither does Furman report on the loss of rent-stabilized units from a program that serves over a million New York City households. Nor do they report on evictions, on displacement, or on the concentration of real estate wealth and rental property ownership into the hands of a tiny oligarchic elite. And they even do a bit of race-baiting with the peculiar and unscientific “diversity index”.  But none of these biases should come as a surprise when you consider who the Furman Center’s report sponsors are, or who sits on their Board of Advisors.

Of the annual report’s 46 sponsors, 93% are for-profit entities working directly in or for Big Real Estate development in NYC. There are 22 real estate development companies (only 5 specializing in affordable housing and only one is a non-profit), 13 major banks, and 11 companies involved in supporting real estate projects-legal firms, advisors, construction, and of course, REBNY, the big real estate lobby.

And, there’s this, the Furman Center’s Board of Advisors. Of the 61 companies represented there, 82% represent what economist Jason Barr calls the “skyscraper industrial complex” – meaning Big Real Estate and its buddy law firms, banks, and lobbyists.  And of those 61, 28% also sit on the Board of Governors of the Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY).

How can the public expect Furman to produce balanced, objective and unbiased data when pretty much all their funding is coming from large, for-profit real estate interests and most of their board is made up of the same?

NYC government officials–the Mayor, Deputy Mayors, Dept. of City Planning, and Council members, use this report, and others like it, as political cover to back up-zonings, super-tall towers, and massive development projects like Hudson Yards, Sunnyside Yards.  These projects are tearing apart our city with very little public benefit to show for it and lots of negative consequences for current residents and businesses.

It’s time for the pay-to-play system that dominates the NY political landscape to end.  It is time to give the city residents a real say in what happens to their city. The Alliance for a Human Scale City supports major campaign finance reform, changes to the city charter that allow for more direct democracy level, and new regulations to limit the size and density of buildings. It’s time to take our city back from large corporations and oligarchic industries and the politicians who do their bidding.



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