New Law Needed
A hot topic around any civic association meeting these days is illegal conversions. The subject appears constantly in the newspapers. The city has recently added several additional inspectors to investigate the reported violations and there has been a big push underway to stop their proliferation. The situation is out of hand and getting worse day by day.
In addition to the illegal conversion problem, we, the civic associations, are always fighting the other constant battles of illegal curb cuts, driveway widening, commercial vehicle parking, fences on city property, commercial offices in homes and people building illegal sheds and additions to their houses.
We find ourselves in a constant monitoring position in order to preserve the zoning integrity of our neighborhoods. People wrongly assume that if somebody down the block is altering his property in some way, that it might be legal otherwise they couldn’t do it.
When talking to people around the neighborhood, we are very surprised to learn that most people are not even aware of what residential zone they live in, or of any restrictions that exist in the zoning laws. After trying to find out myself, I can understand why. Getting this information is not easy. You can go to the Buildings Department on Queens Boulevard and spend the whole morning just finding out which line you should stand on, or you can wade through several hundred pages on legal text reading the zoning resolution and not understanding what you find. There’s got to be a better and easier way.
It’s quite obvious to me that homebuyers should be aware of the building and zoning restrictions that exist in the area where they are looking to buy a home before they buy. If somebody is looking for income property for example, they should know that they couldn’t remodel the garage and take in a tenant. Knowing the restrictions up front would greatly clarify the use issue of the property.
We recently saw an ad in a major home magazine picked up at the grocery store advertising a one family house in an R-2 zone as “good for a rooming house” which is blatantly in violation of the zoning laws in our zone. Either the real estate broker didn’t know the laws, or didn’t care.
The Creedmoor Civic Association has resorted to going to real estate open houses to look for illegal conversions within their boundaries in an effort to combat this problem. Recently, they said, a real estate agent told them that renting out the apartment in the cellar could offset the monthly mortgage. When asked if the cellar apartment was legal the agent replied that “the apartment was not legal, but that people in this area don’t care.” According to the Buildings Department, basement apartments in Bellerose are illegal.
Clearly, a new widespread approach is needed. Therefore, I am proposing a new law be enacted to cover low-density residential zones. The new law should require that all houses put on the market be inspected by city inspectors for violations and that any and all violations be removed prior to sale.
In addition, real estate brokers should be required to post zoning maps in their offices and inform homebuyers of zoning restrictions in which the homebuyers are buying before they buy.
We intend to present this approach to our politicians who can create such a law for us. We are, therefore, seeking endorsements of the creation of such a law from all local civic associations in Queens and the Queens Civic Congress.
Tyler Cassell, zoning chairman,
North Flushing Civic Assn.
(This letter was sent to Mark Green, public advocate for the City of New York.)
Dear Mr. Green:
We know your office has been studying the Transit Authority’s plans for rerouting trains in conjunction with the opening of the 63rd Street Tunnel—Queens Boulevard connection. As you know, the 63rd Street services will bypass most of Long Island City, have only one inconvenient stop on the east side of Manhattan and not transfer to the Lexington Avenue IRT.
The project allows the Transit Authority to reshuffle the Queens Boulevard line express service but not increase it. Indeed, small increases in service come at the expense of large inconvenience.
Under the Transit Authority’s plan, F trains will operate via 63rd Street rather than 53rd Street with the attendant disbenefits. When it is suggested that the Transit Authority leave the existing E and F services alone and simply provide a Queens Boulevard local service (those tracks having unused capacity), the Transit Authority says it won’t get any riders. Hence, to get riders via 63rd Street and show the federal government that its investment was valid, the Transit Authority, in essence, has to “force” existing riders to use it by rerouting an existing service. F riders going to places bypassed in the reroute have the option of crowding on the E or taking the slow V.
Also note that the Transit Authority’s service plan cuts 53rd Street service by 20 percent. While the Transit Authority says it will restore the level of service when it has more cars, the Transit Authority is not good in keeping service promises. Back in the 1960s, the Transit Authority spent a large amount of money to allow the operation of 90 trains per hour through DeKalb Avenue in Brooklyn, but has never operated anywhere near that level of service. Is it a case of transit service “fraud” again?
Dr. Stephen Dobrow, president,
Committee For Better Transit, Inc.,
For years, New York City parents have charged Albany with shortchanging our city schools. Now the verdict is in: to absolutely no one’s surprise, New York State has so significantly underfunded New York City schools that it is guilty of violating both the State Constitution and federal law. Eight long years ago an organization of parents and community leaders called the Campaign for Fiscal Equity sued New York State, claiming that the state so severely underfunded New York City schools that New York City schoolchildren were denied the “sound basic education” guaranteed by the Education Article of the New York State Constitution.
It was also claimed that the state system of funding education violated federal law because the system’s inequities fell more harshly on minority students.
The most prominent causes of the system’s failure are, according to the court, low quality teachers who, compared with the rest of the state, more likely lack certification, have fewer years’ experience, attended a less competitive college and have less higher education; inadequate instructional materials, including hardcover textbooks, libraries with too few books, and schools with only half as many computers per 100 students as schools in the rest of the state; and, overcrowding impacting nearly 60 percent of city school kids.
The court found that these ills are directly traceable to lack of adequate funding. For example, New York City pays teachers 20 percent to 36 percent less than do New York City’s suburbs and therefore, naturally attracts, on average, the least qualified teachers in the relevant labor pool.
This lack of adequate funding is primarily attributable to Albany’s shortchanging of New York City schools through phony financing “formulas” that are manipulated backwards from an agreed upon result between the “three men in a room:” the governor, the Democratic assembly speaker advocating for New York City and the Republican Senate majority leader advocating for the suburbs and upstate.
As a consequence, for example, from 1994 to 2000, New York City, which has approximately 37 percent of the State’s enrolled students, has received a percentage of total state aid ranging from only 33.98 percent to 35.65 percent. Under the current state education aid budget of approximately $13 billion, each percentage point shortchange costs $130 million.
Districts determined by the state to have the same ratio of special needs children to available resources as New York City received up to 50 percent more per pupil in state aid than New York City. The court correctly noted that New York City’s own government shares a measure of blame by reducing its share of aid to New York City schools vis-a-vis the state over the years contrary to the state “maintenance of effort law,” which requires New York City to keep pace with education funding from year to year.
New York City’s limited taxing powers, higher costs for providing extensive municipal services to its residents, and heavy tax and debt burdens make it much harder for New York City to give a greater share of its budget to education.
It is now up to the state legislature and the governor to decide how to fix this broken and dishonest system. But it is up to parents and civic leaders to make sure they do it right. The answer is not, as Long Island Republican State Senator Dean Skelos is quoted as saying, simply to make New York City “pony up.” Although both the state and New York City must spend more money in absolute terms, the first priority must be to install a system of distributing state aid that no longer treats New York City students as less worthy and deserving than suburban and upstate students and is clear and transparent and immune to manipulation.