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596 Acres Testifies at City Council on the Housing Not Warehousing Act

15 September 2016

The story that we often hear is that real estate in New York City is running out. In this atmosphere of scarcity, communities are asked to choose between necessities: parks and gardens, much-needed housing for seniors, a day care center. Yet we look around our neighborhoods and see thousands of holes: neglected private properties collecting garbage, tax debt and worse while absent private owners face no consequence. Boarded up houses and vacant lots collecting trash are not a part of New York City’s past. They are New York City in 2016.

Thanks to the municipal Tax Lien Sale, the City routinely gives up leverage the unpaid taxes offer (see

And so communities and their elected representatives are doubly disempowered. We don’t know the state of vacancy in our neighborhoods and we don’t have the means to hold private owners of neglected places responsible.


The Housing Not Warehousing Act, a package of three City Council bills, will help change this by adding transparency and accountability to vacant public and private property in our neighborhoods. The bills in the Act:


  • create a registry that all individuals and corporations holding their property vacant have to enter or pay penalties for failure to register,
  • mandate the City perform an annual count of all vacant property in New York City, and
  • require the City to compile a list of all city, state, federally, and authority-owned vacant property.

The passage of the Act will lead to opportunities to replace abandoned spaces with public resources like gardens, parks, farms, cooperative business and permanently affordable housing. Local residents are best poised to know the needs of their neighborhoods, and often already have visions for what they would create if only they could access the space and resources needed to aid in the transformation.

The Act will also help protect existing community spaces that neighbors have created, out of desperation, on abandoned privately-owned land. Those living near abandoned private properties have few choices: continue to live with holes and dumping grounds in their midst, or make improvements without any cognizable legal interest in the properties they are improving. In desperation, community organizations advocate for demolition of dangerous structures and people get together to replace vacant lots with gardens and other shared outdoor amenities.

This Thursday, September 15, 596 Acres’ Director Paula Z. Segal and Rockaway Wildfire’s Outreach Coordinator Alexis Smallwood presented testimony before the Housing and Buildings Committee of New York City Council (event information here: Their testimony is below.

Read more about the Act on the website of Picture the Homeless:  

Picture the Homeless and 596 Acres are both part of the New York City Community Land Initiative (

Paula Z. Segal, Esq.

Thank you to the Committee for holding this hearing on the Housing Not Warehousing Act. I am speaking today as Director of New York City’s Community Land Access Advocacy Program. Over the last five years, we have facilitated the creation of over 40 community-managed open spaces in the form of farms, gardens and pocket parks that replace land that had been left fallow for decades. Most are on City property and the majority have been transferred to the NYC Parks Department thanks to our work together last year.

The story that we often hear is that real estate in New York City is running out. In this atmosphere of scarcity, communities are asked to choose between necessities: parks and gardens, much-needed housing for seniors, a day care center. Yet we look around our neighborhoods and see thousands of holes: neglected private properties collecting garbage, tax debt and worse while absent private owners face no consequences. Boarded up houses and vacant lots collecting trash are not a part of New York City’s past. They are 2016.

596 Acres has become the City’s hotline for vacant lots. My testimony today reflects five years of answering the phone when neighbors call asking what they can do about the abandoned and dangerous lot in their lives and on their block. Too often, the answer is “Not much. The property is privately owned.”

This Act, when passed, will change that answer. A registry that all individuals and corporations holding their property vacant will have to enter or pay penalties will put New Yorkers back in control of their neighborhoods. It will begin the process by which the City can chose to make a private blight into public good. An annual count will ensure that the registry is meaningful and enforced.

The Act, when passed, will also require the City to regularly compile a list of all city, state, federal, and authority-owned vacant property. Nothing comparable exists now, leaving advocates, their elected representatives and administration officials with an incomplete understanding of the opportunities we have to create positive change in neighborhoods.

To do our work, we have combed through the available data about property in New York City to arrive at a reasonable but still inaccurate map of vacant public land. You can find that at

We use PLUTO and the IPIS database. We have access to everything you have access to. Yet the data we have about public land is confounding: state, federal and authority-owned properties are difficult to distinguish, if included at all. The MTA and NYCHA lots that appear on our map are there because neighbors identified them, not because they were located in any database. Yet all public property is a site of public opportunity.

For example, of the 40 community-run open spaces that we have helped to create, two are on MTA properties that the Authority didn’t acknowledge as vacant lots because from their perspective they only existed as subway tunnel roofs.[1] The successful land access campaigns that led to these thriving spaces also started with phone calls to our hotline made by neighbors. These were calls that ended in something more hopeful than “Not much,” but without a list of all state, federal, and authority-owned vacant property in the City, we are left waiting for neighbors to take initiative and call.

Data about City property is better but not by much: 2 inch slivers are “lots” in the parlance of the Department of Finance and hundreds appear in the lists of City-owned properties, a signal-to-noise ratio that makes understanding where City-owned property actually is a time-consuming and difficult task. Vacant lots are listed as “parking” and active gardens appear as “vacant.” The accurate accounting of municipal property that the Act requires would at least provide all of us with key knowledge of where the opportunities are.

We look forward to working together to reverse the narrative of scarcity and add even more vibrant places to our neighborhoods. Thank you so much for the opportunity to testify this morning.



[1] I am referring to the fledgling Bangladeshi American Community Development and Youth Corporation Garden in City Line East New York and Q Gardens in Flatbush.

Alexis Smallwood

I am here today to ask that you create a registry for private land and property.


The registry would force all individuals and corporations with vacant properties to register them. Those who fail would pay fines and the city could ultimately have leverage over their property and give it back to the community, improving neighborhoods dramatically.


Currently, these properties have been abandoned by their owners and have become major eyesores. These property owners are creating a quality of life issue because when properties are not maintained, they become a dumping ground and infested with rats and roaches. This adds to the problem of broken windows in the community. Homeless people and families move in, and because the city has no leverage over these properties, it cannot provide the support or homestead opportunities so that these families can live safely.


An example of this is 357 Beach 70th Street. Neglectful landlord, Tanisha Blair, has abandoned the property for the four years that she has owned it [The debt Ms. Blair owed to the City for unpaid property taxes has been sold in the 2015 and 2016 tax lien sales. -ed. ]The previous owner also abandoned it for years, accruing tax debt and sanitation tickets. Tanisha has not paid her taxes and the city has sold the tax debt to a private debt collector, who is now in the process of foreclosure. Tanisha likely would not have registered on the registry that this bill would create, and the city would then have leverage over the property.


We, Rockaway Wildfire, would like to turn this building into a worker-owned cooperative with a café. Because there is not a law in place to hold Tanisha Blair responsible, we cannot get the property. The city needs to hold private landowners responsible for their irresponsible behavior, and create this registry.

Intern Dispatch from Mid-Summer: Francisco Miranda

28 July 2016

Photo by Murray Cox, copyright 2016. At Keap Fourth Community Garden


This summer I am trying to visit each and every one of the spaces that 596 Acres has helped create in New York City. I want to meet the communities around them and learn as much as I can about the spaces' impacts on the surrounding neighbourhoods.


So far, I have learned that these spaces are not only wonderful examples of how to build community and connections within different neighbourhoods, they are also key for inducing further changes in communities that are struggling throughout the city.


The process of transforming these pieces of land is in itself a political statement. The reappropriation of public assets is behind everything that goes on in these spaces and the people using them are aware of the constant struggle to keep the land accessible and public. These spaces are also platform for further political debate and action. Gardens work as a learning spaces for both children and adults, neighbours learn to share, to help one another and to improve their communities in a healthy and responsible way. Every single person I’ve talked to has remarked upon how they would have never met their neighbors before these spaces were available. Maintaining these spaces requires team work and this has been crucial towards building meaningful connections.


When it comes to real estate speculation and the ramifications of gentrification; these spaces allow neighborhoods to resist; they provide a place where people can start to organise and take specific actions directed at either City policy or specific developments in their local areas. These are public, accessible, open-for-all spaces where the community is in control and in charge. While space and land are constantly being privatised within the normative development logic of the City today, these are places that guide residents to rethink the way public land should be managed.


As I continue on my visits, I keep trying to challenge different definitions of ‘public land’ and ‘property.’ The stories behind the gardens are a strong and compelling testament to how we need to protect them and keep fighting for our right to public land.​


Francisco Miranda, Summer 2016 Intern

Francisco moved to New York from Lima (Perú) one year ago. He is an attorney and has previously practiced law in different law firms as well as in the mining and real estate/construction sector. In Fall 2015 Francisco started an MA program in Theories of Urban Research and Practice at Parsons The New School For Design. He is interested in urban themes that relate to public space, urban displacement, gentrification, property tax policies and the right to housing.

Photo by Francisco Miranda. Ten Neighbors Community Garden

Photo by Fransico Miranda. Greenspace on 4th

Intern Dispatch from Mid-Summer: Shannon Pepper

13 July 2016

Since I started my internship in May, I have gotten a crash course in New York City land policy: learning by doing.

The Gardens Are Community, Community Spaces in Jeopardy Bike Ride! bike tour with Public Space Party took me to Imani, Maple Street, and Elizabeth Street gardens, all of which are fighting for their right to remain community spaces within the city. What has struck me when visiting these is just how different each is, a reflection of the unique collections of people that make up the groups tending the spaces.

I also edited a blog post by Gabriel Park of Java Street Garden about decentralizing control in community gardens. Democratic management of a community space is often much more difficult and time-consuming than simply following a garden monarch. It does, however, make for a more stable and inclusive place, and helps us to imagine where else in our lives and world we could implement systems like these.

I tabled for 596 at a couple of Crown Heights festivals, talking with community members about the spaces in their neighborhoods, oriented them to existing and potential community spaces, and imagined new life for several vacant lots with kids and crayons.

I'm convinced that hanging a sign is a steady, visible way to initiate change and the spread of information. It really works: people read them and respond!

Recently I have been spending time on the Lower East Side (LES), investigating vacant or barely-used buildings in the NYC Parks Department inventory. I started making a map of them. This involved sifting through 3700 rows of data in a spreadsheet downloaded from the NYC OpenData portal to find these buildings. I sorted and plotted and found 11 buildings that could be serving their communities better.

An in-person scavenger hunt using our new map revealed some underused gems. The LES is just one part of a potentially larger map of underused parks-owned buildings in NYC. I’m getting excited thinking about how we can include and visualize public buildings—not just the land they stand on—in our network of public space resources.

Shannon Pepper, Summer 2016 Intern

Shannon hails from the west coast, bringing with her a love of land and hows it shapes and influences the people on it. She holds a B.S. in Resource Conservation from the University of Montana. After graduating she walked from Mexico to Canada on the 2,600-mile Pacific Crest Trail and reflected on people and orientation and the importance of a flexible perspective when talking about land ownership. After her hike she lived and worked on a ranch in Washington stewarded by Sacred Earth Foundation, a nonprofit land trust with a mission to teach "children of all ages" how to care for the important land and communities in their lives. A road trip that never ended brought her to Brooklyn, where she works in a butcher shop and became fascinated with urban land use policy and how it relates to gentrification, as well as the importance of public green space to the sanity of all people. She spends her spare time with queer studies, figure drawing, hiphop classes, and walking around her neighborhood.

Decentralized Organizing Tips from Java Street, a 596 Acres garden in Greenpoint

28 June 2016

Guest post by Gabriel Park, edited by Shannon Pepper

A Typical Java Street Community Garden meeting

Five steering committee members, plus three or four other members, show up at a bar near the garden. Some get drinks. If it’s summertime, the group will meet in the garden, but for other times of year, having an indoor space with light is nice. It’s not the bar closest to the garden, it’s just the closest bar that’s big enough for 10 people that doesn’t complain too much about bringing kids. Everyone has the agenda, on paper or on their phones or computers; this list of topics was circulated via a garden newsletter about a week before and posted in the garden.

The group discusses things in the order they are listed. Any issues that need to be voted on are discussed, and they try to come up with plans for the next workday. They try to capture in the agenda notes section: who is responsible for what and by when. Every responsibility gets two people assigned to it: one person takes the lead and the other person does the follow up. The meetings usually last about 90 minutes.

Java Street Garden member Gabriel Park says, from his perspective, there are 3 major components you need to “decentralize your organization:” good structure for the group, someone to be the secretary at all times, and clear communication.

Structure: Fool proof or Proof we’re fools?

The first piece of the effective structure at the Java Street Garden is the Steering Committee. The garden has about 30 members. When new members fill out the form to join, it asks them if they want to be on the Steering Committee. Everyone who answers YES gets to be on it.

The garden currently has between 10-14 people on the Steering Committee, who are subdivided into 5 main responsibility areas: Membership, Garden Design, Fundraising, Partnerships, and Secretary/Treasurer. Having at least 2 volunteers in each area keeps people honest and helps prevent personal relationships from interfering with garden business. For example, if a Steering Committee Member who volunteers on Membership has a personal conflict with a Member, someone else is their backup so the Membership volunteer can opt out of the conversation if needed.

Gabriel says, “the easier you can make it to remember the meetings and the work days, the better.” Skip the calendar. Set things up so that they are easy to remember. The Java Street gardeners set all of their meetings to the first Thursday of the month at 7:30pm and all of our workdays to the third Saturday of the month at 10am. This setup gives them time to meet, plan the workday and get necessary supplies lined up *before* the workday. And all announcements and reminders can say the same thing: “Don’t forget the meeting on the first Thursday of next month at 7:30pm!”

The Secretary Rules

It’s key to have someone organizing the agenda and holding a group to their time limits and voting rules. The Secretary at Java Street Garden uses an Agenda/ Minutes tool that the gardeners designed. Anyone can add to the agenda online prior to the meeting. The Secretary updates the document with notes at the meeting, which become minutes. As long as the roles in the document are assigned/agreed upon, the Secretary doesn’t have to do all the work. For Java Street, says Gabriel, having the Secretary as the point person has been the key to making this tool useful.

They don’t have to be fancy or bound or even written down all that neatly--but you need rules on how decisions can be made. In the Java Street garden, the rule is any member can propose a vote by putting it on the agenda at the monthly meeting, if a quorum is present at the meeting. A quorum is how many people you need to have to make a binding decision. Having a clear quorum requirement prevents a few people from making decisions that impact everyone without input. The Java Street gardeners decided to define their quorum as half of the number currently serving on the Steering Committee. This means that if there are 13 people on the Steering Committee, a quorum would be 7 people, but those 7 people present at the meeting could be any active members. The vote is communicated to the Secretary who can help frame it clearly as Yes/ No and facilitate some time before the vote to present different views. Then the vote is taken by a show of hands and the majority wins at the meeting. The Secretary records the outcome in the minutes.

Screen Shot 2016-06-28 at 11.30.51 AM.png

Java Street has used this process to decide which projects to pursue at the workdays (if they are debatable), as well as when to revoke someone’s membership. It’s not perfect--something they agreed to in May could be proposed again and voted down in June. “However,” says Gabriel, “It’s been great for us in some respects: for example, each November we vote on whether to convert all of our raised beds to community beds or leave 50% of them as ‘private’ beds which are assigned to member volunteers through the lottery process at the February meeting. Even though we may continue to propose and affirm the same practice each year, doing so affirms our majority commitment to the norms we have in place and allows room for change.


Everyone loves to talk about communication, but actually communicating is hard in a decentralized organization. It’s not because people aren’t talking; it’s that people don’t know who to listen to. Everyone has a different idea about what would look nice planted by the front gate, and what’s a weed, and what the license says. “Some tears are unavoidable every year: if you don’t put rocks around it and label what you plant, you are going to cry when someone builds a box on top of it. No amount of shared files or bullhorns will prevent that--you just have to work tissues into the budget.” There are, however, some tools you can use to ease the pain.

Use Google Drive or some other easy file sharing for keeping track of documents that anyone who needs to can get access to. Anyone who emails who wants to join, gets a standard reply from the Membership team that says: “Hi! If you want to join, read this 6 page agreement. If you agree, use a Google Form like this to sign up.” Once someone signs up, they receive a Monitoring Hours Sign Up form. When people show up for their shift, they sign next to their name verifying their attendance. The aim is built in accountability through self-reporting!

Screen Shot 2016-06-28 at 11.06.47 AM.png

Having a handwritten project list like this on a clipboard in the garden helps keep a consistent thread of communication going about which garden projects need attention. Keep everyone updated on the happenings with a follow-up like this.

A Newsletter can serve as a hub for all the group document links. Each Steering Committee member can focus on doing their work and someone can make it their business to find out what’s going on and put it in a newsletter. The Java Street garden releases its newsletter on the 15th of each month, and includes links to the Minutes/ Agenda, Monitoring Hours Sign Up Form and Project List / Updates.

Final Thoughts

Accept some pain: Decentralizing will likely mean your garden is not as artistically streamlined as you really want. It will likely mean that it takes weeks of campaigning and infighting to make relatively simple decisions. It could mean some food rots on the vine because no one knew they were supposed to eat it. That sucks. But your disappointments will be shared by your community in a way that centralized gardens usually aren’t. And when hard fought battles are through, you will have better parties. I recently heard Sir David Attenborough on record saying that primates are the best communicators of all living organisms. (Of course we would think so!)


I am not sure I agree, but clearly, we throw the best parties.

Gabriel Park has been part of the Java Street Community Garden since the group formed in 2012. He lives in Greenpoint with his wife, two daughters and two cats.

596 Acres has organizing support material in the form of Community Governance Cards, which provide guidance and activities to facilitate healthy group dynamics. You can purchase them for $10 through the 596 website using Paypal or through Etsy.


Release: Communities Propose Eminent Domain to Save Gardens Threatened by Private Development

19 May 2016

NEW YORK, NY -  It’s time we ask ourselves: “How can we have eminent domain for the Barclays Center and not have eminent domain for the constituents of the community?” 

This Sunday, March 22 from 3 to 7pm, 596 Acres will present a pop-up exhibition on #eminentdomain4good at El Jardin del Paraiso, a sprawling Parks Department community garden in the Lower East Side at 5th Street between Ave. C & D in Manhattan.

Photographs from the garden’s founding and an audio documentary made last year by 596 Acres for What Do We Do With Our Land? for the New Museum's IDEAS CITY Festival, in collaboration with founding gardeners, will be on display. Stories from other gardens in New York City that are perfectly suited to become new Parks, including Imani I Community Garden in Weeksville, Maple Street Community Garden in Prospect Lefferts and Roger That! Garden in Crown Heights, will also be shared, along with opportunities to support gardeners’ campaigns to preserve them through #eminentdomain4good.

Since at least 1807, eminent domain has been used to create New York’s parks and open spaces. El Jardin del Paraiso is among Prospect Park, Central Park, Astor Place and over 350 other condemnations for the creation or preservation of parks and open spaces that have been recorded in New York’s county courts. As El Jardin del Paraiso’s story shows, eminent domain can facilitate the preservation of value that residents create by transforming vacant lots into community spaces.

kids at paraiso.jpgchildren.JPG

L: Making Paraiso, roughly 1981. Courtesy of Howard Brandstein. R: An excerpt from Lower East Side Gardeners’ proposal to preserve open space, presented to Community Board 3 in 1982. Lower East Side Gardeners served a constituency of over 200 people from different Lower East Side gardens. Courtesy of Howard Brandstein.

El Jardin del Paraiso, a meadow-like green space in the dense Loisaida (Alphabet City), was created by local residents in 1981 out of series of empty lots, some owned by the City and some owned by private entities. Homesteaders, gardeners, artists, religious leaders, the Junior League, and the principal of P.S. 15, worked together to advocate for the expansion and preservation of the garden as a permanent park. The group convinced the City that El Jardin was perfectly situated to become a new park for the Lower East Side in a part of the neighborhood badly served by the existing green spaces. During the 1990s, the City condemned three lots that it did not then own that divided the space using eminent domain, making the park whole. 

Imani I Community Garden in Weeksville, Brooklyn has similar beginnings: neighbors got together to provide themselves with the services they needed – in this case, with open green space and fresh food – in a neighborhood full of holes. Now, over 40 years since its founding, eminent domain may be the only way to save this garden from being permanently ravaged by the City’s illegal sale of tax debt, that should have never been owed in the first place, to private speculators. It's a tough one to explain to the generations of gardeners who have been caring for the space for decades since it was created by Parishioners of Our Lady of Charity, the first black Catholic congregation in the diocese, in 1974. To keep the garden whole, the City or State government can buy the property from the private owner and turn it over to the NYC Parks Department GreenThumb program for continued management by volunteers. 

MAPLE STREET.pngsave maple street pic.jpg

Maple Street Community Gardeners organize in Fall 2015. Photos by Paula Z. Segal (R) and courtesy CUNY Law School/Public Square Magazine (L).

Maple Street Community Garden, in Brooklyn’s Prospect-Lefferts Gardens, has recently become a poster-child for the kind of trickery and fraud that accompanies real estate booms. The story of its creation is familiar: neighbors got fed up with the vacant lot on their block and, with no accountable owner in site, they began to clear out the impressive garbage that had collected in the summer of 2013. They built raised beds and planted flowers and vegetables. In 2015, State Senator Jesse Hamilton and Assembly Member Diana Richardson introduced bills in the NYS Senate and in the Assembly to preserve the Maple Street Community Garden through eminent domain. The exhibition will provide an opportunity for attendees to support the bills and to petition the Mayor, City Council and NYC Parks directly.

Roger That garden, Summer 2015. Photo courtesy Roger That! Garden.

Roger That! Garden in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, is another garden in jeopardy that can be preserved through #eminentdomain4good. Assembly Member Richardson and Senator Velmanette Montgomery have also introduced bills aimed at protecting the Roger That! Garden as parkland.

At the event this Sunday, visitors will listen to the histories, see the photos, send letters, and find out more about 596 Acres’ community land access advocacy program. This exhibition is part of El Jardin del Paraiso’s Mudball Ball.  If we can use eminent domain for El Jardin del Paraiso under Mayor Rudy Giuliani, we can certainly continue to use it for the little bits of green paradise that neighbors have created in their neighborhoods in Brooklyn today. 

Further Reading & Listening


El Jardin del Paraiso from the audio documentary What Do We Do With Our Land? -- annotating community land stewardship on the Lower East Side for the New Museum IDEAS CITY Festival:


On 596 Acres’ organizing map, Living Lots NYC:

“How a Gentrification Scam Threatens New York’s Community Gardens” by DW Gibson, The Nation, Oct. 20, 2015:

“Pol Proposes State Seizure Of Disputed Brooklyn Community Garden” by Nathan Tempey. Gothamist, Oct. 25, 2015: 

“There Goes the Neighborhood, Episode 6: Trickery Fraud and Deception” by The Nation, WNYC Studios, and Kai Wright. The Nation, April 13, 2016:

Petition for New York City Council Member Mathieu Eugene: Get New York City to preserve Maple Street Community Garden 

New York State Assembly Bill A8569 (2015-2016 Legislative Session): 

New York State Senate Bill S6073 (2015-2016 Legislative Session):   


On 596 Acres’ organizing map, Living Lots NYC: 

“3 Beloved Brooklyn Community Gardens Win Important Victories” by Nathan Tempey. Gothamist, Nov. 18, 2016: 

New York State Assembly Bill A8583 (2015-2016 Legislative Session): 

New York State Senate Bill S6093 (2015-2016 Legislative Session): 


On 596 Acres’ organizing map, Living Lots NYC: 

“CityViews: Stop the Tax-Lien Sales That Will Destroy Community Gardens” by Paula Segal. CityLimits, May 10, 2016: 

Press Contact

Mara Kravitz, Executive Assistant,, 718-316-6092 ext. 3

Take Community Property and Vacant Land Out of the NYC Tax Lien Sale

07 May 2016

The City of New York is poised to sell liens on community property and vacant lots in our neighborhoods to private speculative trusts next week. This is how the City gives up its leverage over properties where taxes have not been paid and allows community property to disappear. We have written about this before. We have struggled and saved gardens owned by New York City's community-based organizations poised to enter the sale, and in foreclosure after itSometimes we have lost; we watch decades-old gardens disappear.

Now it is time to act. 

Let's make this the first year in 20 when gardens, churches, day care centers and vacant lots in our neighborhoods are removed from the sale. Read and sign our petition to Mayor Bill de Blasio here. Then call 311 on Monday and ask the operator to let the Mayor's staff know that you want all charity institution properties and vacant lots to be removed from Thursday's sale. 

The petition text is below. Please sign it


On May 12, 2016, the City of New York is poised to give private speculative investors leverage over hundreds of properties in all five boroughs via the Department of Finance Tax Lien Sale.

By selling the right to collect unpaid taxes on community gardens, churches, day care centers and other key places owned by community-based charity organizations, the City puts all these places at risk of foreclosure by the private debt collectors and the transformation of these key institutions into private residential development.

By selling that right for vacant lots in the same transaction, the City gives up its power over the future of our neighborhoods and transforms unpaid property taxes into a “private” debt to be enforced by private debt collectors.

We, the undersigned, urge you to take all properties owned by Not-for-Profit Corporations and other charitable institutions entitled to be free from paying property tax under the New York State Constitution out of next week's tax lien sale. We urge you to remove all properties, including those that appear on the May 2, 2016 Final Not-For-Profit Non-Responders List and uncountable others around the City that are poised to enter the sale but do not appear on the posted list, like the Garden of Youth in the Bronx.

In addition, we, the undersigned, urge you to remove all vacant lots from next week's tax lien sale. Allowing private debt to compound the pains of neighborhoods that have been abandoned by absentee property owners will not lead to responsible development of gardens, community centers and housing. The City's retaining leverage over these properties is key for NYC communities.

Finally, we urge that, once removed from the 2016 Tax Lien Sale, all properties that are determined to be not needed by City agencies to fulfill public purposes be directed to the Third Party Transfer program and reserved for transfer to stable Not-For-Profit organizations and/or community land trusts.

Thank you for your attention to this pressing matter,


Please sign.

Intern With Us: Spring 2016

29 March 2016


596 Acres is seeking an intern who can work with us 10 hours per week for 10 weeks, May 16 - August 19, 2016. 

Your tasks will include putting up signs on vacant lots, helping us transition our online tools and generally helping us improve the work that we do with focus on the New York City Community Land Access program. Here's an unsolicited review from a former intern. 

This is an unpaid internship, though we would love it if someone else was paying you! In the past, we have worked with the East New York Farms! Externship program (another intern reflection is here). 

You will be working out of our office at Spaceworks (540 President Street) in Gowanus, Brooklyn at least 2 days per week. You can make your own hours and there will be opportunities for field work or research on the weekends and in the evenings.

Comfort with navigation in parts of NYC you have never visited (even if you've been nearly everywhere) is key. Willingness to talk to strangers and learn how to do tasks on the computer are equally important. 

Please send a resume and a letter of interest. Include a picture of a place your neighborhood where participation by people who live or work close by could help make it better. 

Application due by 5:59p.m. on Friday, April 15, 2016, to with the subject "Spring 2016 Intern Application."

Civic Groups Welcome Launch of NYC Open Records Web site

15 March 2016

Important step towards faster, fairer FOIL responses

Released March 11, 2016  Major New York City civic groups thanked Maya Wiley, Counsel to Mayor Bill de Blasio, Commissioner Pauline Toole and her team at the NYC Department of Records, and NYC DoITT for launching the beta version of the new OpenRECORDS website. The groups say the Open RECORDS website is an important first step towards making New York City’s FOIL process fairer, more transparent, and more efficient.

Based on the 2014 study Beyond Magic Markers, the groups think the new website, when adopted by all agencies and including a full set of features, will save taxpayers as much as $12 million a year in reduced FOIL costs.

The groups are optimistic the site will continue to evolve and will help reduce the widespread delays and agency non-compliance that Public Advocate Bill de Blasio documented in his 2013 report Breaking Through Bureaucracy.

Additionally, the groups believe the new website will help show what data is most frequently FOILed and should be published on the city’s Open Data Portal.

In early 2014, dozens of organizations, led by the NYC Transparency Working Group, wrote in support of the “OpenFOIL” bill, which mandated the creation of a website displaying all Freedom of Information Law requests and responses like the federal FOIA Online portal. That bill was sidelined by City Hall in favor of the just-launched OpenRECORDS portal, which contains few of the transparency features called for in the council bill. 

Despite praise for an important first step, the groups note that the launch version of the Open Records portal is far less transparent than the Port Authority’s FOI web page, or the federal government’s FOIA Online portal: both of which publish the names of requesters, the request, and the agency response. The groups say that for the NYC OpenRECORDS portal to be at all useful as a transparency tool, it will have to equal these sites. The groups also note that journalists submit less than 2% of all FOIL requests in NYC and NYS, and that FOIL needs to work for the entire public.

Lastly, the groups say the new website provides an ideal opportunity for NYC to create a uniform FOIL process, for all agencies, including a written guidance like the U.S. Department of Justice provides to federal agencies.

For Further Comment, Contact:


RFP for Community Partners at New! NYCHA Campus Farms

26 February 2016

We are reposting the opportunity that Fund for Public Health in New York has announced.

The original can be found here: (click on the little "RFEI" link)


Request for Expressions of Interest:

Seeking Non-Profit Community Based Organizations to Participate in the

NYCHA Urban Agriculture Initiative


Issue Date: February 22, 2016

Response Due Date: March 25, 2016

Focus Neighborhoods: (1) Brownsville, Brooklyn (2) Canarsie, Brooklyn (3) East Harlem, Manhattan  


To:       New York City Community-Based Organizations

Re:      Partnering with Fund for Public Health (FPHNY) on the NYCHA Urban Agriculture Initiative at select New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) developments



The Fund for Public Health in New York, Inc. (FPHNY), in partnership with the Mayor’s Office of Strategic Partnerships, NYCHA, and Green City Force, is seeking expressions of interest from community-based organizations to participate in the NYCHA Urban Agriculture Initiative at select developments:

·      Howard Houses in Brownsville, Brooklyn

·      Bay View Houses in Canarsie, Brooklyn

·      Site to be selected, East Harlem, Manhattan


A separate Request for Expressions of Interest for partnership at additional target developments in Staten Island and the Bronx is expected to be issued at a later time.


Each participating organization will receive up to $50,000 per year (with potential for renewal) for their involvement in this project. 

 Interested community-based organizations must complete the Expression of Interest Application, and include an IRS tax form indicating the organization has non-profit status. Deadline for Submission: Friday, March 25, 2016 at 11:59pm.

A.  Introduction

This request for Expressions of Interest (RFEI) is issued by The Fund for Public Health in New York, Inc. (FPHNY).  Founded in 2002, FPHNY is an independent, not-for-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of the health and well-being of all New Yorkers. FPHNY mobilizes capital and leadership for sustainable innovations that protect and promote the health of New York City’s almost 8.5 million residents. Working closely with the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) and other city agencies, including the New York City Housing Authority, FPHNY pilots and expands world-renowned programs to address pressing public health needs and supports research regarding new ways to combat threats to the health of all NYC’s residents. 

The NYCHA Urban Agriculture Initiative is a component of Building Healthy Communities (BHC), a new initiative by the de Blasio administration that aims to improve community health outcomes in 12 neighborhoods by increasing access to fresh food, improving opportunities for physical activity, and promoting safe and vibrant public spaces.   BHC will align the resources and programs of 11 agencies, leverage the City's investment to secure significant new private funding, and connect City efforts to individual, nonprofit, business, and community efforts to maximize collective impact.  Building Healthy Communities is coordinated by the Mayor’s Office of Strategic Partnerships and FPHNY.


B. Partners


In addition to the Fund for Public Health in NY and the Mayor’s Office, other project partners include Green City Force (GCF) and New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA).


Green City Force 

The primary partner in this project is Green City Force, which recruits NYCHA residents (age 18-24) to work in teams to build and cultivate the new farms.  Green City Force will hold license agreements assuming legal responsibility for the farm sites.  Green City Force Corps Members receive a monthly stipend and an AmeriCorps award of $5775 upon completion of the program for college or job training. During their 10-month assignments, the Green City Force team members work full time at the farms and attend classroom training sessions on job readiness, eco-literacy, and technical training. This work-learn model prepares graduates for full-time employment, and ideally, can be hired by community-based partners.



NYCHA is the largest public housing authority in North America, serving low- and moderate-income New Yorkers by providing decent, affordable housing in a safe and secure environment. NYCHA provides city agency leadership for the project. The agency develops necessary agreements with Green City Force, coordinates with property management and helps guide engagement of local residents and community based partners. NYCHA collaborates closely with GCF and helps execute the build out of the farms.


C. Purpose of the RFEI and Process of Selection


FPHNY, in cooperation with New York City Housing Authority and Green City Force, is leading the initiative to seek qualified community-based organizations to serve as local partners in the NYCHA Urban Agriculture Initiative, lending local technical expertise and building long term project sustainability. Project partners anticipate selecting one community-based organization to serve as the local partner for each of the three farms expected to be established in 2016. 


This RFEI seeks to determine the readiness of the organization to work within the parameters of the NYCHA Urban Agriculture Initiative. The information provided in the RFEI will be the only written opportunity for organizations to demonstrate their readiness and capacity to meet eligibility requirements. Written RFEI responses will be reviewed and scored by a committee in March. Selected applicants will be asked to participate in an in-person meeting in April.  Applicants selected as local partners for each of the three target farms will enter into an agreement with participating organizations.


D. Background Information


The first large-scale NYCHA urban farm at Red Hook Houses was launched in June 2013 in close collaboration with Green City Force, the NYC Center for Economic Opportunity, the NYC Department of Sanitation, and Added Value (current community partner at Red Hook). Since 2013, the NYCHA farm in Red Hook has grown 2.6 tons of vegetables for distribution to the Red Hook community. The farm has collected 195 pounds of food scraps for composting and composted 200 tons of food scraps and leaves. Hundreds of residents have engaged in compost-for-food exchanges, volunteering, and events at the farm. Nearly 500 students have been educated through farm-based learning, and community members have participated in 10 healthy cooking demonstrations at the farm.


The project is expanding to include 5 other farms in 2016-2017.  The table below shows the proposed farm build schedule.




NYCHA Development

YEAR 1 (March 2016-Jan 2017)

Brownsville, Brooklyn

Howard Houses


Canarsie, Brooklyn

Bay View Houses


East Harlem, Manhattan

Site to be confirmed

YEAR 2 (Feb 2017-Jan 2018)

North Shore, Staten Island

Site to be determined


South Bronx

Site to be determined

YEAR 3 (Feb 2018-Jan 2019)

Full scale, year-round programming at all sites



The proposed project includes planned NYCHA Urban Farms in Brownsville, Canarsie, and East Harlem in 2016, as well as farms in Staten Island and the Bronx in 2017 (sites to be determined). The program will leverage the success of the pilot site in Red Hook as part of the newly launched city-wide program called Building Healthy Communities (BHC). BHC is a place-based initiative that recognizes that a community’s health is not limited to access to medical care. Physical health and mental health, and quality of life are critical elements for improving social well-being.


Vibrant public open spaces are a crucial feature of livable urban neighborhoods. Parks, pedestrian plazas, community gardens, and recreation centers are essential community resources where people come together to play, learn, grow food, exercise, and relax. Despite this, many of NYC’s more densely populated and higher-poverty neighborhoods have been neglected from public investment in the preservation, rehabilitation, and activation of open spaces and playgrounds. Many of the same communities continue to report high rates of crime, and equally high rates of obesity and diabetes. Building Healthy Communities aims to address these inequities and improve community health outcomes in the neediest neighborhoods by increasing access to physical activity, healthy food, and promoting public safety. Urban agriculture can enhance the health and quality of life of its residents and surrounding communities, preserve green space, sustain biodiversity, and provide sustainable career pathways.


E. Role of Community-Based Partner

The local CBO partner is a critical component to community connectivity and long-term sustainability of the farms. This document is meant to solicit input from a range of community partners active in and around the new farm sites. Selected partners will be convened on a regular basis to establish a learning community and ensure continuity in roles and responsibilities across the farms.


The community-based partner will help to build on the capacity and resources that already exist in the surrounding community. CBO partners will be brought on board as place-based partners for each farm site. CBO partners will also help develop and lead a plan to sustain farms beyond the original three year development phase.


NYCHA, FPHNY and Green City Force will provide:

·      A New Urban Farm site

·      Funding and Administrative oversight

·      Green City Force AmeriCorps Members’ workforce and workforce oversight

·      Common standards and practices, coordination among partners for coherence and sharing of resources.


Together, partner groups will be involved in activities that take place at the farm site. A sampling of tasks for 2016 is below (note that not all sites will be operational in May):


Plant warm-weather crops and annuals, weeding, composting, plan community programs, start weekly cooking demonstrations, plan farm stand and produce distribution


Weeding, harvesting, composting, cooking demonstrations, farm stand and produce distribution. Continue succession planting.


Continue planting, weeding, harvesting, compost, and planning healthy cooking demonstrations.


Plant fall crops, plan harvest celebration, distribute harvest, and participate in ongoing technical training classes.


Execute annual harvest celebration, monitor weeding, manage farm stand and continue to supervise resident compost collection.


Continue to harvest last of fall crops, oversee end-of-season farm clean up and winterizing garden, assist with recruitment of new team of GCF Corps Members.


Attend partner meetings, facilitate relationships with residents and community groups, work with corporate partners and funders, help manage and train volunteers, and liaise with other environmental groups to help with job development for GCF Corps Members.


F. Scope of Services:

The community-based partner:

1. Brings "local” capacity to the designated farm: helps engage public housing residents, helps recruit Green City Force Corps Members from among local residents who meet the requirements, aids with distributing produce, publicizes events, recruits local volunteers, disseminates farm information, and acts as a “thought partner.”

2. Once the farms are operational, takes responsibility for the day-to-day managing of the farm, with oversight, assistance and partnership from GCF and NYCHA: ensures that the designated farm is productive and well-tended and operates as a training and service location for the Urban Farm Corps, as well as community space for residents.

3. Works on job creation: prioritizes hiring of graduates from the Green City Force Urban Farm Corps for farm management work with support and guidance from GCF and NYCHA.

4. Adheres to guidelines and instructional practices of farm management and operation established by NYCHA and Green City Force. 


5. Collaborates with GCF and NYCHA to develop farm-based community programs in areas such as cultivation, cooking and nutrition, and composting.

6. Is willing to work with project funders including corporate partners to advance farm goals and objectives.

7. Participates in monthly meetings with all core project partners and contributes to a learning collective.


8. Builds the capacity over time to assume more direct responsibility for farm planning and management.


G. Eligibility Criteria

Applicants must be non-profits with tax-exempt status from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).  


Organizational Competency:

1. Must have a “developed base” (defined by a physical or programmatic presence and a strong network of community and partner support and engagement) in the target neighborhood or in an adjacent neighborhood.  Applicants should have a demonstrated record of leading projects in and around public housing communities and be able to show evidence of a strong record of resident engagement and working in partnership.


2. Must hold expertise in one or more of the following areas: urban agriculture, composting, land improvement, organic farming, food distribution, organic food preparation, community health. Can demonstrate an ability to build new capacity in areas not yet developed.

3. Has experience managing volunteers.


4. Motivation for the goals of the project and willingness to take part in a multi-faceted, multi-stakeholder initiative.


H. Considerations


1. RFEI Format and Responses

Interested community based organizations must submit responses using the attached documents.


Responses not submitted on the prescribed form(s) may be considered incomplete or non-responsive, resulting in rejection. Failure to furnish required documentation may result in delay in review or rejection. Applicants who wish to submit additional materials are welcome to do so; these materials may be considered during the evaluation process at the sole discretion of the Fund for Public Health.


All responses are due no later than Friday, March 25, 2016. All responses are to be submitted electronically to: Responses received after that time may be reviewed at a later date, at the sole discretion of the Fund for Public Health.



2. Inquiries  

We encourage inquiries and welcome the opportunity to answer questions from all interested applicants. Questions must be submitted to Jacquelyn White at All questions are due by Friday, March 11, 2016. The responses to all questions will be posted on the FPHNY web site ( by Thursday, March 17, 2016. Any oral communication with regard to this RFEI should be considered unofficial and non-binding.


3. Right to Reject Proposals

FPHNY may reject any or all proposals received, and may ask for further clarification or documentation. Submitted information that does not respond to all items in this RFEI may be excluded from further consideration, and alternative information may not be accepted. FPHNY may decline to review an application in the event the applicant submits a response after the submission deadline and/or any disparity is found during the evaluation process.


4. Costs

FPHNY is not responsible for any costs incurred by any vendor in preparing delivering, or presenting responses to this RFEI.


5. Fulfillment of Requirements

By submitting an information package, the organization acknowledges that it has read and understands this RFEI and is capable of fulfilling all requirements.


6. Submitted Information

Once submitted, vendor responses will be the property of FPHNY and will not be returned.


7. Right to Amend or Cancel this RFEI, or Solicit a New RFEI

FPHNY may amend or cancel this RFEI at any time, without any liability, at its sole determination. FPHNY may solicit new requests for information regarding the products and services addressed in this RFEI at any time.


8. Amount of Business

FPHNY does not guarantee the recipients any specific amount of business, revenue, or contracts as a result of this RFEI.

Important Dates to Remember:

February 22, 2016     RFEI Released

March 11, 2016          Questions regarding RFEI due by 11:59PM to Jacquelyn White at

March 17, 2016          Answers to all RFEI questions will be posted on the Fund’s website 

March 25, 2016          Expression of Interest due by 11:59PM to 

April 15, 2016                        Deadline by which finalists will be notified of their selection to the next phase

April 18-29, 2016       Finalists will be interviewed and additional information may be requested

May 6, 2016                Final notification decisions are announced



Fund for Public Health in New York: Expression of Interest Application

NYCHA Urban Farm Initiative: Seeking Non-Profit Community Based Organizations

Summary: The Fund for Public Health in New York (FPHNY), along with NYCHA and Green City Force, invites organizations to participate in the 2016 NYCHA Urban Agriculture Initiative. Participating organizations can receive up to $50,000 per year (with possibility of renewal). If selected, partner organizations will engage in support of managing the farm site and its programmatic initiatives.


To submit your program’s expression of interest, complete the attached form, scan, and send as a PDF attachment to Jacquelyn White at no later than March 25, 2016. Please also include letter of support (if applicable) and an IRS tax form documenting non-profit status.

PLEASE NOTE: Application should be no more than 4 pages in length (single-spaced, 12 point font). 

Organizational Information

Organization Name






Primary Contact Name


Primary Contact Email


Primary Contact Phone Number


Director’s Name


Director’s Email


Director’s Phone Number


For which site are you applying? (please check all which apply)

2016 Sites:

Brownsville, Brooklyn                   Canarsie, Brooklyn                      Manhattan (East Harlem)                    

1.     If you are an affiliate of a larger organization, please attach a letter of support from the executive leadership of your parent organization.  This letter should demonstrate a commitment to support the NYCHA Urban Agriculture Initiative.  


2.     Describe your organization’s experience with urban agriculture and/or community gardening. (20 points) 


3.     Describe your organization’s experience in the following areas:  community engagement, environmental education, cooking and nutrition education, youth leadership and workforce development, and volunteer management. (15 points)



4.     Describe the neighborhood and population your organization currently serves. (15 points)




5.     What is your organization’s past experience engaging with NYCHA residents? (10 points)




6.     Please describe how NYCHA residents and the surrounding neighborhood would benefit from your participation in the NYCHA Urban Farm Initiative. (10 points)





7.     Describe partnerships in which your organization has been involved, including those that may have included corporate partners. (10 points)




8.     How will you measure success and evaluate your involvement at the farm site? (10 points)



9.     How does the operation of a NYCHA-based urban farm align with the long range strategic plans of your organization? (10 points)




10.  How would your organization prioritize the recruitment of Green City Force graduates for positions that you would create to support your involvement in the NYCHA Urban Farm? (considered)






Name and Title of Project Coordinator


Name and Title of Executive Director/Designee




Signature of Project Coordinator


Signature of Executive Director/Designee

New York City Real Estate Investment Cooperative January 2016 Update

08 January 2016

Dear NYC REIC Members, 

Happy 2016! The first newsletter of the new year focuses on our Governance! Read on for ways to get involved as we build our cooperative and formalize our structure.


Scroll down for opportunities to help by facilitating upcoming meetings, making calls to remind members about upcoming events, helping with our member data management and joining workgroups.


You can sign up here and complete your membership process IN PERSON on Thursday, January 28, at 6pm or 8:30pm at New Middle Collegiate Church, 2nd Ave and 7th Street, in the East Village in Manhattan. You will be an active member once you have done these three things:

(1) Read and signed the member agreement (in person or online);

(2) Contributed a membership fee of $10 (in person); and

(3) Attending a quarterly All-Member NYC REIC meeting (next chance: January 28, 2016!).

You will then be expected to conduct yourself in accordance with the principles of cooperation. Active members only can participate in Workgroups and the Steering Committee and make nominations, as described below.


REIC U (the Case Studies Workgroup) is doing incredible research into best practices that can be applied to your nascent social justice-driven real estate investment projects as well. Scroll down for a detailed report-back.


Our next steps will be to elect a Steering Committee and finalize its Charter. 

What is the Steering Committee?

The Steering Committee will be NYC REIC’s first democratically elected governing body. It will help govern the REIC and act on our behalf while steering our work on a longer-term governing structure. As part of this work, it will be responsible guiding the REIC to the point where we put in place a permanent governing body (such as a Board of Directors). The NYC REIC opened the nominations for Steering Committee on January 5th, and we will hold elections for those seats at our next General Meeting on January 28th. Members can nominate themselves or other members here.

Please come to the Meet the Candidates meeting to hear directly from nominees for the Steering Committee - and for a last chance to make nominations - on Thursday, January 14th at 6:30-8:00 pm, at 33 Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn on the 6th floor. 

What is the Charter?

The Charter is a short document defining the rights and responsibilities of the Steering Committee. It states, for instance, whether the Steering Committee will be able to sign contracts on behalf of the REIC, whether they will be able to spend money collected by the REIC, and whether they will be empowered to file the necessary documents with the State to form the REIC as a business entity. It also specifies how the Board will be established, or if the Steering Committee is required to bring this decision to back to the membership. Governance has presented a final draft Charter, and we invite all members to continue to provide final comments!

How will this all come together?

Here’s how the process will work:

  • ONLINE, January 5: The Governance Workgroup integrated feedback from the December 14 meeting into a draft of a Charter and sent it to all members for final objections. HERE IS THE FINAL DRAFT. Click to read it.

  • ONLINE, January 5: The nominations period for the Steering Committee has opened.

  • IN PERSON, January 14: We will hold a “Meet the Candidates” meeting on Thursday, January 14th at 6:30-8:00 pm, at 33 Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn on the 6th floor. On this night, we will incorporate final comments to the Charter so that it can be put into place, meet candidates for the Steering Committee nominated through the online form (here) and make floor nominations for new candidates. Nominees can accept their nominations, knowing what will be in the Charter.

  • IN PERSON, January 28: We will hold elections for the Steering Committee and ratify the Charter at our next General Meeting on Thursday, January 28, 6:30-8:30pm at New Middle Collegiate Church, 2nd Ave and 7th Street, in the East Village in Manhattan.

MEMBERS! Please come to the January 14 and January 28 meetings, as your involvement is crucial to the success of this work! This is a huge step for REIC and the result of a huge amount of effort and input from many of us, particularly the members of the Governance Workgroup. Many thanks to Governance and everyone who has participated in this process!


Can you volunteer to come early or stay late to set up, clean up, sign NYC REIC members in, and sign new members up to join? We need members to volunteer to help at the following times:

Thursday, January 14, 5-7pm at 33 Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn

Thursday, January 14, 7-9pm at 33 Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn

Thursday, January 28, 5-7pm at 2nd Ave and 7th Street in Manhattan

Thursday, January 28, 7-9pm at 2nd Ave and 7th Street in Manhattan

If you can sign up, email with the date and time as the subject line. THANK YOU!


Calling other REIC members is fun! Have a few minutes to spare this month? Want to wish lovely folks you are getting to know a happy new year? Give them a call on the phone to remind them about the key upcoming meetings on January 14 and 28. Directions are here.



If you are interested in getting involved in our work, please come to our next meeting on January 21, from 7-9 pm, at 139 Fulton Street, in Manhattan (Apt. 903). Please contact Leland at to post on a topic specific to your workgroup or anything else related to the REIC in the NYC REIC blog.


The Governance Workgroup held a very well attended all-member meeting on December 14 to discuss what the Steering Committee’s rights and responsibilities should be. Based on this feedback, Governance has presented a draft Charter, and we invite all members to continue to provide additional comments! Please send us your thoughts, questions, and insights at


We could still greatly use some more technical help to join our crew - we're looking for someone who has great data / web skills. Ideally you're great at using CMSes with a solid grasp of HTML/CSS under your belt, have a good understanding of data formats (CSVs, JSON, etc.), maybe some familiarity with databases and web development, even? We really want to make sure we have good systems in place for communication, decision-making and tracking our input. Email with the subject PHONE TREE if this is you!


Case Studies began the month of December with a brainstorming meeting in pursuit of a new educational tool for REIC U that will highlight promising governing structures for the REIC and deal with other important questions, like mechanisms for keeping commercial space permanently affordable and for addressing systemic injustices through our structure and practices. To make this pursuit easier, members broke off into different research tracks in preparation for the month of January, some of which are highlighted below.

As part of their research, the facilitators of Case Studies and the Interim Facilitation work group attended a Skype session with Seth Leon from the Alberta Community and Co-operative Association, who gave the REIC a great range of ideas for governance structures, membership engagement, and financial mechanisms (more on ACCA’s work can be found here:, and the audio from this session can be found here: Audio Link).

Members spent the rest of the month pursuing additional investigation tracks in preparation for the January 7 meeting, where we shared the findings of our research and continued to brainstorm our next REIC U educational tool. New members are welcome to join! To reach Case Studies Workgroup by email:

PBIG (Public Buildings Inventory Group & Community Outreach)

During the month of December, we continued to divide tasks among ourselves and the properties we have continued to consider feasible for potential REIC projects, in Jamaica, Coney Island and the South Bronx, as well as looking into other potential properties. We have been planning our best routes of community outreach, conducting further research, and connecting with the relevant government agencies.

PBIG made a strong showing at the Governance meeting in December, and then held its own meeting just before Christmas to plan our next steps in the new year. We hope to have a joint meeting with the Case Studies workgroup soon.

We are holding our next meeting just prior to the Meet the Candidates meeting, between January 11-13, TBD. If you would like to get involved, please email us at:

One more note:

A shout-out and a big thank-you are due to Urban Cartographies for a generous donation to Spaceworks, Inc. to support the expenses incurred by the NYC REIC in its incubation!


Become a Member of NYC REIC

There are 4 requirements for active membership in NYC REIC:

(1) Reading and signing the member agreement;

(2) Contributing a membership fee of $10;

(3) Attending a quarterly All-Member NYC REIC meeting (next chance: January 28, 2016!);

(4) Endeavoring to conduct membership in accordance with the principles of cooperation.

Check out our Calendar:

We maintain a Google Calendar with all workgroup meetings. Please add this to your gCal, or look at to stay updated with our meeting times:  

Please Help Cover our Current Operating Expenses!
You can support REIC’s development by making a charitable donation during this incubation period for very basic expenses, like the monthly charges that must be paid to circulate this e-newsletter. Please contact us at if you’d like to make a charitable contribution (not an investment) during the incubation period of the NYC REIC. 

REIC Learn and Share

What the REIC? Check Out Our Video:

Please take a minute, literally, to check out this amazing video that NYC REIC members produced to explain the REIC in under 60 seconds, and share widely.


Stay connected:  

If you add to your email contacts, this newsletter will come directly to your primary inbox instead of your promotions inbox or your spam folder. Also, if you're interested in helping with this newsletter, please drop us a line at

Join our mailing list for bi-weekly newsletters:

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Come to a meeting:

In Cooperation,  

New York City Real Estate Investment Cooperative

Our 2016 Policy Recommendations

06 January 2016

596 Acres advocates for community access to land for open space projects as well as for housing, work space, cultural production, retail and other neighborhood needs.


We believe the Community Land Trust (CLT) model is a great tool to put residents in charge of how precious urban land resources are distributed and how these resources can be permanently protected from speculation. New York City already has organizations that hold land and function as CLTs: the Cooper Square Community Land Trust and the Brooklyn Queens Land Trust are just two.


596 Acres is a member of the New York City Community Land Initiative (NYCCLI), building capacity for CLTs to hold land for housing the most vulnerable, protecting our precious open space and stewarding places for key neighborhood institutions to thrive and bring vibrancy, vitality and recirculating wealth to our communities. For 2016, we invite you to consider community land access for gardens, parks and community farms in context of these broader goals.


596 Acres adopts NYCCLI’s housing and community development policy recommendations for New York City for 2016.

  1. Incorporate the following core principles into all new and existing programs:

  • Affordability for low- and extremely-low income households. Current methods for developing affordable housing shut out those most in need.

  • Permanent affordability that can be enforced. We must ensure that the resources we spend today on affordable housing keep working many decades from now.

  • Community-led planning, development, and preservation to maximize the provision of stable housing for New Yorkers excluded from the housing market.

  • Fair Housing. Equal opportunities to access affordable housing for all New Yorkers.

2. Re-define “affordable.” Current methods of calculating affordability are based on the Area Median Income (AMI) for New York City and some of its wealthy suburbs, as defined by the Department of Housing & Urban Development. As a result, most “affordable” housing is not, in fact, affordable to many New Yorkers, including people who are homeless, low-wage workers, or those living on fixed incomes. The City should instead calculate affordability based on the lower of  the median income in a Community District where a project is located or the AMI.

3. Use city-owned property as a resource to promote housing development and preservation for the lowest income New Yorkers. City-owned property is the single most valuable resource to create housing for low- and extremely-low income people. The City has a critical responsibility and opportunity to prioritize the disposition of city-owned vacant properties for truly affordable housing:

  • Prioritize CLTs for disposition of city-owned properties.

  • Ensure that housing created on formerly city-owned properties is and will remain affordable to the existing residents of the neighborhood.

  • Issue a moratorium on the disposition of city-owned properties in East Harlem and other communities with existing or actively developing CLTs. These properties, both vacant and occupied, could form critical components of these new CLTs.

4. Establish a Vacant Property Registry and Count. Vacant properties, which frequently remain empty and contribute to neighborhood blight while owners wait for development opportunities, could be used for affordable housing and other community uses. The City does not currently have a database for tracking vacant properties and is unable to develop an appropriate plan for addressing vacancy.

  • A vacant property registry and count should include the requirement that property owners and mortgage-holders register vacant property with the City and state a reason for the vacancy. Escalating fines for failure to register which, if left unpaid, will become liens that the City can enforce through in rem foreclosure and transfer to third parties, such as CLTs.

  • The registry should be published on Open Data NYC.

  • The City should create a community reporting mechanism to enable the public to report vacant properties in their communities.

  • Prioritize census/property count in neighborhoods with high concentrations of vacancy.

  • Develop programs to restore vacant properties to active uses that contribute to the supply of affordable housing for low income New Yorkers and to community resources.

5. Use the Third Party Transfer program to create and preserve permanently affordable housing for very low income people and community resources.

  • Prioritize CLTs and nonprofit developers for TPT and require permanent affordability for buildings moving through the program.

  • Broaden the pool of properties in TPT to include non-distressed properties.

  • Use the Alternative Enforcement Program to cluster troubled buildings by neighborhood and transfer them to CLTs.

6. Divert funds currently spent on emergency shelter to permanent housing. Currently, the City spends more than $3,000 per month to shelter a homeless household. This is five to six times average operating costs for a non-profit rental apartment, and the money often creates significant profits for private shelter providers. A subsidy program for housing in permanently affordable apartments should be developed to improve the efficiency and use of these funds.

7. Refrain from approving rezonings without significant, enforceable anti-harassment protections in place.  

8. Create a housing trust fund with a dedicated revenue stream to support the creation and preservation of permanently affordable housing for the lowest income New Yorkers. We must invest more in housing for New Yorkers who are most in need of housing and have the least political capital. To address this gap, the City should create a housing trust fund, supported by a dedicated revenue stream generated by increasing the property taxes on vacant and luxury properties.

9. Clarify tax assessment policy for land owned by a CLT and improvements on that land. Ensure that people and entities leasing land from a CLT are not taxed on the value of the land.


Gardens Being Transferred to NYC Parks!

29 December 2015

The following gardens formerly on HPD land are being transferred to the NYC Parks Department:


West 111th Street Harlem Garden (Electric Ladybug)** (previously on the HPD RFQ list, offered for sale to developers for $1)(covered in DNAinfo on December 31, 2015)

Henry Garnet Garden (Harlem Grown) (previously on the HPD RFQ list, offered for sale to developers for $1(covered in DNAinfo on December 31, 2015)

Harlem Valley Garden** (previously on the HPD RFQ list, offered for sale to developers for $1) (covered in DNAinfo on December 31, 2015)

Casa Frela Sculpture Garden**

Siempre Verde Garden** (covered in The Lo-Down on December 30, 2015 and Bowery Boogie on January 4, 2016).


Chestnut Street Garden**

Ashford Teaching Garden**

Ashford Variety Garden**

South Brooklyn Children's Garden**

Pirate's Cove Community Garden**

Java Street Garden**

Saratoga BSCAH Urban Farm**

451 Bedford Avenue Garden (La Casita Verde)(previously on the HPD RFQ list, offered for sale to developers for $1)**

Patchen Community Square (previously on the HPD RFQ list, offered for sale to developers for $1)**

Halsey Ralph Howard Community Garden (previously on the HPD RFQ list, offered for sale to developers for $1)

462 Halsey Garden (previously on the HPD RFQ list, offered for sale to developers for $1)**

Willoughby Avenue Garden (Tranquility Farm)(previously on the HPD RFQ list, offered for sale to developers for $1)

Evergreen Lots Garden (El Garden)(previously on the HPD RFQ list, offered for sale to developers for $1)**

Student Farm Project (previously on the HPD RFQ list, offered for sale to developers for $1)

Ten Neighbors/Saratoga Blake Garden (previously on the HPD RFQ list, offered for sale to developers for $1)**

Green Valley Garden (previously on the HPD RFQ list, offered for sale to developers for $1)

Imani II Garden (previously on the HPD RFQ list, offered for sale to developers for $1)

Isabahlia Garden (previously on the HPD RFQ list, offered for sale to developers for $1)

Brownsville Community Farm / James McKeather Garden

Prophecy Garden Church of God

President Street Garden** (covered in DNAinfo on January 5, 2016)

East 43rd Street Block Association Garden

Hattie Carthan Herb Farm

Her-King Alagantic Garden

Positive Seeds of Life Garden

Surfside Garden

Pagan's Garden


McKinley's Children Garden (previously on the HPD RFQ list, offered for sale to developers for $1)


Libertad Urban Farm

Rincon Criollo

Havemeyer Garden

This is great news. Lots of gardens that were threatened with becoming housing development sites through the Request for Qualifications issued by NYC HPD early this year are on this list and now protected. Sites that were at risk are listed here: (three remain threatened: New Harvest in Brooklyn; Jackie Robinson and Pleasant Valley in Harlem).

This raises the tally of sites now protected as Parks Gardens that were created through 596 Acres' facilitation from **8 to 25**. The ones in our network on the list above have ** next to them.

Some general press coverage: 

Hyperallergic (January 8, 2016) 

CityLimits (January 4, 2016)

Brooklyn Deep (January 4, 2016)

DNAinfo (December 31, 2015)

Capital New York (December 30, 2015)

And some legal context:

Can a New York City agency just tell me that my group can't use the lot anymore after we put work into it?

If the site belongs to the city and has a GreenThumb license, Parks Department regulations require GreenThumb to provide your group with an alternate site as long as one is available either within 1/2 mile of the existing garden or within your Community District. This rule applies to any City Agency site (Housing Preservation and Development, Parks & Recreation, etc.).

For sites that are under the Parks Department's jurisdiction or otherwise considered "parkland" by the public, the City Agency also needs to get approval from the State Legislature to turn the site into something other than open space. The law that makes this approval necessary is called the "public trust doctrine." If your group signs an agreementment that explicitly states the site is for "interim use," it's not likely that public trust doctrine will apply. The City Agency will be able to assign another use without state approval, but will still need to provide your garden group with an alternate site if one is available.

596 Acres in 2015: Our Annual Report!

04 December 2015

With your support, we have had an amazing year. Click here to read about 2015 and please continue to support community land access advocacy by donating online or by check

City Council Hearing Today on Proposed Urban Agriculture Advisory

03 December 2015

The New York City Council Committee on Economic Development is holding a hearing at 1pm today at 250 Broadway on the 14th Floor on a proposed bill that would create an Urban Agriculture Advisory Committee to advise on "matter[s] relating to agriculture in the city, including the identification of existing and potential agricultural food production sites, opportunities to increase local agricultural food production, impediments to local agricultural food production, and urban agriculture training programs and expansion thereof." 

Paula Z. Segal will be testifying for 596 Acres, commending the bill and urging the creation of another mechanism empowered to address the disposition of public land specifically. You can read Paula's full testimony here. 

An exerpt: 

The universe of activities that can be defined as “urban agriculture” is broad, spanning from neighbor­tended community gardens, to production farms, to goats being used instead of pesticides to keep the weeds down. What unites urban agriculture practitioners is the need for space to practice: land access is fundamental to any community­based or entrepreneurial agriculture activity. Land disposition for municipal real estate may need its own focused committee to address a multiplicity of community needs, not just the needs of urban agriculture practitioners. I urge that such a committee be created, and focused on land disposition.

The Urban Agriculture Advisory, as proposed today, will be a great collaborator to practitioners of urban agriculture no matter the underlying ownership of the land. There are regulatory and collaborative hurdles for programs that a cross-­sector advisory with members of City Agencies will be well­ positioned to address.

The land access issues are more complex, and I believe they require greater focus and collaboration with other community advocates working on the development of permanently community­controlled affordable housing, of parks, and of other community facilities. Such a committee could be charged with studying the entire municipal real estate inventory, altering the process through which the Department of Citywide Administrative services assigns land to agencies that frequently then hold it with no development for decades, and assessing the “surplus” real estate auction through which our public lands and buildings are currently regularly offered for purchase by private developers.

Community Boards in 2015!

16 November 2015

In 2015, 596 Acres continued its crucial outreach project to city community boards, teaching critical skills and raising awareness about their role in expanding public access to vacant properties. Thanks to a grant from the New York Community Trust, 596 Acres was able to meet multiple times with seven community boards, paying particular attention to those with the most vacant, public land. We shared our district-specific vacant property maps and our New York City Advocate’s Guide to Land Access, introduced community board members to the neighbors spearheading projects in their districts, and worked with board members and residents to improve communication around local public space initiatives. 

bronx 12 photo.JPG

Bronx Community Board 12; photo by Paula Z. Segal for 596 Acres.

We brought vital information about the threat that a new Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) infill program launched in 2015 posed to existing gardens and the key ecosystem services they provide. We also informed community boards that, as of February 2015, HPD has ceased issuing interim use licenses for lots in its jurisdiction, reserving all land for prospective housing development, no matter the local conditions or the appropriateness of particular parcels being used for housing. 

HPD had not, we learned from our conversations with Board members, informed these community boards about how their new programs would impact their neighborhoods. 596 Acres providing current information about the city’s plans for public land in the districts was a key to having district planning boards know about the plans. Having information about upstream changes in City land disposition strategies meant that community boards could engage effectively. In Brooklyn Community District 5, for example, where HPD has suddenly stalled the licensing 743 Blake Street through the Parks Department GreenThumb program after a two-year neighborhood organizing campaign, we recommended that the district’s Parks Committee take the cause to HPD directly – part of our larger strategy to engage community boards in more public space advocacy to elected officials and City agencies. 

We also found that community boards were hampered by general misconceptions about city land-use. Some boards did not understand that HPD deeds properties to developers but does not actually construct housing; thus when HPD would tell them that plans were in place [to seek out a developer to construct housing] for a property, board members interpreted it to mean that development was imminent and thus their vision for a community project was unattainable. When in reality, HPD had neither a developer nor a construction timeline, and a variety of futures were still possible. The pivotal role that 596 Acres played in educating community boards is clear.

596 Acres’ core organizing platform remained the powerful center of many of the community board meetings. In all seven community districts whose boards we revisited since 2014 – five repeats and two additions in 2015 – residents began working with us to improve their neighborhoods. 

At a Bronx Community Board 4 Parks Committee meeting, one neighbor approached 596 Acres for help addressing a lot next to his business at East 150th Street and Grand Concourse, an eyesore that attracts rodents, trash, and drug dealers; meanwhile, a board committee member raised ideas about a long-vacant property just west of the Macombs Dam Bridge, near Yankee Stadium. We immediately started working with both these residents on their land access puzzles, and connected them to more neighbors who would strengthen their causes. 

At subsequent 596 Acres General Meetings, residents like these shared numerous stories of the energetic efforts that our community board meetings had galvanized across the city.

Bronx Community District 1 (print map here)
In the South Bronx, there are 12 acres of vacant public land (click for an interactive map)! Here is one parcel that is very close to being community controlled:

Bronx Community District 3 (print map here)
In the South-Central Bronx, there are 3 acres of vacant public land (click for an interactive map)!

Bronx Community District 4 (print map here)
In Mt. Eden, Highbridge, West and East Concourse, there are 3 acres of vacant public land (click for an interactive map).

Bronx Community District 12 (print map here)
Baychester, Eastchester, and Woodlawn, there is 1 acre of vacant public land (click for an interactive map).

Brooklyn Community District 5 (print map here)
There are 36 acres of vacant public land in East New York and Cypress Hills (click for an interactive map); 596 Acres has already facilitated five new community projects in Community District 5 with local community-based organizations at their helms.

Brooklyn Community District 16 (print map here)
There are 24 acres of vacant public land in Brownsville and Ocean Hill (click for an interactive map); 596 Acres has facilitated two fantastic project here.

Queens Community District 14 (print map here)
There are 153 acres of vacant public land in Rockaway (click for an interactive map); Beach 45th Street Farm is thriving and catalyzing neighbors to organize.


Brooklyn Community Board 5; photo by Mary Elizabeth Prall for 596 Aces.