To the Editor:
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 close proximity to the Riverside Train 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. When the curtain was drawn back, a troubling alignment of corporate interests in the form of donors and decision makers was revealed. Now, a year later, Desegregate CT is back with a more ambitious and potentially more destructive legislative proposal. Let’s examine what, if anything has changed in the interim.
Last year, 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 Connecticut. 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 is central planning on a massive scale that offers little to no benefit to any municipality on which it is imposed, and strips local zoning boards of their 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 some of the most progressive political figures in America. The Regional Planning Association website (we’ll discuss them later) 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.”
It also mentions that Mr. Harrison worked as a volunteer for NY Congresswoman Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez and is also 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.”
As an unsuccessful New York Congressional candidate, Mr. Harrison gave an interview with Greenpointers, a North Brooklyn online community resource in 2020. To the question “What would 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” and that 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 in 2020. Interestingly, 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 Democrats in Hartford who recognize the ineffectiveness of 8-30g and understand the concerns of the communities they represent should be wary of affiliating themselves with a group whose leadership is 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 exactly 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 just recently named a new chairman, former Citigroup executive and Democratic New York City mayoral candidate Ray McGuire. However, despite not being an employee of a real estate or development group, Mr. McGuire does have strong ties to the industry. In March 2021, while during Mr. McGuire’s campaign for mayor, a RealDeal article was headlined: “Ray McGuire draws $1.1million 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 Realty, Suffolk Construction, Related Properties, Cushman and Wakefield, Edison Properties and on and on.
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 Connecticut housing market by forcing an oversupply of housing to the market, thereby lowering surrounding property values. This much was made clear in an article last year by Nick Abbot, 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 169 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.” 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 Connecticut 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, a rising tide lifts all boats, so does an ebbing tide lower them.
Michael E. Hahn