Comptroller Says City Could Use Vacant Lots Better for Affordable Housing

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New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer in front of a vacant lot in East Harlem that he said the city had owned since the 1970s.

In a report released Thursday, New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer faulted the city for failing to turn more than 1,000 vacant lots that it owns into low-income housing more quickly than it has been doing.

“It's our job to ensure that every New Yorker has a fair and fighting chance in this city,” Stringer said at a news conference in front of one such lot in East Harlem he said the city had owned since the 1970s. “That starts with providing them a fair and affordable place to live.”

Stringer estimated that the lots could create more than 57,000 units of affordable housing.

Jonathan Westin, director of New York Communities for Change, joined Stringer to advocate for the use of a land bank — a nonprofit corporation that that would collect the lots and then lease them to builders.

“We need to be clear that this land does not go to the favored developers of City Hall,” Westin said, “that this land goes to developers, non-profit developers, like the comptroller is calling for, that keeps it affordable forever.”

By leasing the land through a land bank instead of selling it, Stringer said the city could assure the lots become and remain permanent low-income housing.

Stringer said land banks would also expedite the development process, which he said has taken too long. City Hall officials did not respond to WNYC’s request for comment, but told The New York Times that it has been trying to have the lots developed, but that many of the projects had been delayed due to low demand and planning challenges.

Mayor Bill de Blasio mentioned land-banking as a possible strategy to build affordable housing when he issued his 10-year housing plan in 2014.