Stalling Out

East, East Coast
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
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A stalled building in--where else--Williamsburg. (Courtesy Curbed.com)

A stalled building in--where else--Williamsburg. (Courtesy Curbed.com)

Last week, the Times reported on efforts by the city to address the wave of stalled projects plaguing the city. It was a surprising story, but not because of the news of the program–mind you, we were well ahead of the Gray Lady on that. No, what took us aback was the huge jump in the number of stalled buildings the Department of Buildings had recorded between the time our story ran on June 11 and theirs on June 19, with the total number of stalled buildings more than doubling from 138 to 362. We immediately called the DOB to find out more but, well, this being summer, we just heard back today.

Turns out the five-man team that makes up the stalled building task force has been hard at work, with the current count for stalled buildings standing at 395. We learned this from the new weekly updates the department is now posting on its website–complete with such useful information as borough, address, and bin number–that DOB spokesman Tony Sclafani helpfully pointed us to this afternoon.

So how fast does the task force work? How many buildings can they process in a given week or day? Sclafani couldn’t say, except to note that the program had its soft-launch in February, when five existing inspectors were reassigned, with their colleagues helping to call in prospective buildings and answering public complaints. There has been no additional money allocated for the task force at this time, either. Judging by the data on the DOB website, the task force really got to work at the end of March, when a few buildings were filed on the 31st, followed by dozens on April 2nd in Brooklyn and Manhattan.

(Those could also simply be the days preceding fieldwork was filed in the computer, as there were similar explosions in the database in early and mid-June in Brooklyn and Queens, respectively–ground zero for most of the stalled, and foreclosed, projects in the city–and another burst of activity in Queens on July 14. There were also smaller numbers of filings scattered throughout the past four months.)

Whether this is just the beginning or the end of the task force’s work also remains to be seen, or, as we put it to Scalfani, Are we looking at 400 to 500 projects or 4,000 to 5,000? “In terms of identifying where the trend is, I couldn’t say,” he replied. “Obviously the numbers have gone up, but it’s a little too early to say.” Furthermore, they’re in flux. Prior to this week’s database entry, dated July 26, there’s one before it, from July 21. In it, 398 buildings were listed as stalled, meaning three came off the list between last week and this week. Whether that’s a trend or a fluke remains to be seen, but be sure to check back next week, when we’ll take a look and see where this is headed.

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