By Michael E . Hahn
I am writing this letter as a concerned citizen, taxpayer and an individual who recently participated in DesegregateCT’s presentation to the Greenwich Planning & Zoning. My home is in proximity to the Riverside Metro Station, a target of this proposal. It is imperative certain interests are clarified.
A year ago, an article was circulated throughout the Connecticut press that uncovered what (and who) was behind the curtain at the pro-affordable housing group Desegregate CT. Asthe curtain was drawn back, a troubling alignment of corporate interests in the form of donors and decision makers wasrevealed. Now, a year later, Desegregate CT is back with a more ambitious and potentially more destructive legislative proposal. Let’s examine what has changed in the interim.
Last year, the group known as Desegregate CT proposed a plan centered around Transit Oriented Development (TOD), or what could also be viewed as the oversupply of both market rate and affordable housing in close proximity to transit hubs throughout CT. This year, they have chosen to change the name to Transit Oriented Communities (TOC). “Communities” being a friendlier, fuzzier term than “development”. The bill they have sponsored (Live Work Ride) is predicated on the concept of TOC. It consists central planning on a massive scale (Think New Rochelle MTA complex) that offers little to no benefit to any municipality on which it is imposed, simultaniasly stripping local zoning boards the ability to effectively manage these developments.
One change from last year is that Desegregate CT has hired a new Director, Peter Harrison. Research into Mr. Harrison’s background unveils a body of work on behalf of the most progressive political figures in America. The Regional Planning Association website [visit website here: https://rpa.org/about/staff/pete-harrison] states; “Mr Harrison also advised on the presidential campaigns of Vice President Kamala Harris, Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, and former HUD Secretary Julian Castro.” The website also mentions that Mr. Harrison worked as a volunteer for NY Congresswoman Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, a self proclaimed member of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA). On its website, DSA states “The Democratic Socialists of America is the largest socialist organization in the United States, with over 92,000 members and chapters in all 50 states. We believe that working people should run both the economy and society democratically to meet human needs, not to make profits for a few.”
An unsuccessful NY Congressional candidate himself, Mr. Harrison gave an interview with Greenpointers, a North Brooklyn online community resource in 2020. [see the interview here: https://greenpointers.com/2020/06/10/peter-harrison-wants-to-unseat-congresswoman-carolyn-maloney-and-cancel-rent/] To the question “What could be the first piece of legislation you’d push for if elected to the U.S. Congress?” Mr. Harrison replied as follows. “It’s the one I’ve got to work on, which is the Homes Guarantee, a national progressive plan to solve the housing crisis. Representative Ilhan Omar has introduced both the broader goal of Homes Guarantee but also the emergency bill to cancel all rent and mortgages and utilities.” The introduction to the interview also states that Mr. Harrison “isn’t paying rent for his apartment” as he is “refusing to fork over money to landlords during a global pandemic”. In Mr. Harrison’s case, he went on “rent strike” to protest his landlord in Stuyvesant Town, NY in 2020. In an Instagram post, Mr Harrison called his landlord a “greedy private equity landlord”.
Why is Mr. Harrison’s history important to the debate? Because reasonable legislators in Hartford should recognize the ineffectiveness of 8-30g and understand the concerns of the communities they represent should be wary of affiliating themselves with a group who’s leadership is to this extreme. For the prior six years the Regional Planning Association (RPA) had been chaired by the CEO of RXR Realty, one of the largest owners of commercial and residential real estate in New York City. RXR Realty also specializes in transit-oriented development (or “communities”) which is what is being pushed by Desegregate CT. This represented an uncomfortable and concerning alignment of interests between the RPA and Desegregate CT.
Perhaps in an effort to rectify those bad optics, RPA recently named a new chairman, former Citigroup executive and Democratic NYC mayoral candidate Ray McGuire. However, despite not being an employee of a real estate or development group, Mr. McGuire has strong ties to the industry. In March 2021, while during Mr. McGuire’s campaign for mayor, a RealDeal article headlined “Ray McGuire draws $1.1million in real estate contributions” [read article here: https://therealdeal.com/new-york/2021/03/17/ray-mcguire-draws-1-1m-in-real-estate-contributions/] . This represented 33% of the $3.2 million his campaign had received up to that point. A Commercial Observer article in 2021 called him “Real Estate’s favored NYC mayoral candidate” in its headline. Although a more benign figure than his predecessor, Mr. McGuire’s close ties to the real estate development community should give rise to questions for groups who are inclined to support Desegregate CT’s initiatives.
As was noted a year ago, the list of RPA’s donors leans toward corporate interests and the real estate industry. Most of its donor list is an assemblage of the most powerful players in the real estate industry including, Blackstone, The Durst Organization, RXR, SL Green Mgmt, Suffolk Construction, Related Properties, Cushman and Wakefield, and Edison Properties
Desegregate CT represents an extreme point of view toward affordable housing. Some think its main goal is to create more “affordable” market conditions in the CT housing market by forcing an oversupply of housing to the market, thereby lowering surrounding property values. This was made clear in a letter to the editor Nick Abbot wrote last year, who described himself as Deputy Director of Desegregate CT. Mr. Abbot wrote; “The only people in this debate with a financial conflict of interest are a few wealthy homeowners – like our opponents – who have a vested interest in starving our state of supply so that their property values will continue to skyrocket.”
In saying this, Mr. Abbot is confirming that his approach is designed specifically to drive down real estate values.
Live Work Ride, TOC and similar legislative proposals are not in the best interests of CT’s municipalities. Instead, they are a profit driver for the real estate industry at the expense of our communities. Mr. Harrison recently said on a Zoom call that “If you build it, they will come” without any regard to the infrastructure such as parking and schools.
That is music to the ears of the developers and real estate companies who clearly know they will be the principal beneficiaries of these initiatives. While Mr. Abbot’s target may be “wealthy homeowners” – ALL homeowners in CT will be adversely impacted by a decline in real estate values. Those who do not fall into the category of being wealthy homeowners will see a disproportionate decline in property value and their net worth. As the saying goes, as a rising tide lifts all boats, an ebbing tide lowers them all.