Intro 48 is a City Council bill that would empower the city to conduct an annual count of vacant buildings and lots in the five boroughs. Written by homeless people and introduced by Council Member Melissa Mark Viverito, Intro 48 will let us see just how much underutilized housing exists, and allow communities to come up with their own strategies to return them to productive use.
Understandably, lawmakers and city agencies may be concerned with the cost of conducting a citywide vacant building and lot count. To that end, Intro 48 does not mandate HOW the count should happen—meaning that the city has some leeway in shaping the project so as to keep costs down. In fact, Intro 48 does not even charge a specific city agency with spearheading the count, calling instead on: “The office of operations or such other office or department as may be designated by the mayor.”
For this cost analysis we have outlined two different courses of action, with a cost estimate for each.
COST OF INTRO 48, ESTIMATED BY COMPARISON WITH BOSTON’S PROPERTY CENSUS
Boston initiated its own vacant property count in 1997, and the city saw its stock of vacant property decline by 67%. Through our conversations with the Boston's Department of Neighborhood Development, we learned that their annual count is coordinated by one staffer, who takes a van out block by block to count vacant property. Working with the support of 8 student interns, he reported that it only consumes about 15% of his total work time in any given year. Given that New York City is almost exactly six times bigger than Boston (304.8 square miles vs. 48.4), multiplying that 15% by six still doesn't add up to the cost of one dedicated staffer—90% of a full-time associate inspecter’s average salary of $46,000. Based on comparison with Boston, and replicating their methodology, the estimated cost of Intro 48 would be under $50,000 per year.
COST OF INTRO 48 AS ESTIMATED BY TOM ANGOTTI, PhD—HUNTER COLLEGE DEPARTMENT OF URBAN AFFAIRS AND PLANNING
A vacant building and lot count could be executed at the community board level, with each of the 59 boards hiring student interns from fields like urban planning, to collect data that would be passed on to the city agency in charge of the count. At twelve dollars an hour, for an estimated fifty hours per community board, canvassing all 59 community boards would cost $35,400.00 without factoring in staff supervision—which would be far less than one full-time position. Executing the count at the community board level would carry an estimated cost of under $60,000 per year.
These are only two examples. In practice, there are dozens of ways in which a citywide vacant building and lot count could be carried out. Given the bill’s broad support within the council, and the deep resonance of the issue of vacant property in many different communities, we are optimistic that a cost-effective solution will be developed.
Additionally, it’s important to remember that the bulk of the necessary information already exists in the databases of agencies like the Department of Environmental Protection, FDNY, NYPD, and Con Ed. Compliance from these agencies in sharing information would dramatically reduce the cost of gathering data.
Coordinated by Picture the Homeless