Rivington House Fallout: Mayor Will Personally Sign Off on Future Deed Changes

Mayor de Blasio on the Lower East Side, May 2016.
Mayor de Blasio at an event in Tompkins Square Park in April.
Mayor de Blasio at an event in Tompkins Square Park in April.

Mayor de Blasio is vowing to personally approve all future deed changes.

His administration faces at least three investigations — after city officials lifted deed restrictions at Rivington House, allowing the former nursing home to fall into the hands of luxury condo developers. De Blasio has said he did not know about the matter before reading about it in the newspaper in March of this year.

The mayor held a news conference yesterday, responding to new questions that have been raised about a similar situation in Harlem. Per the New York Times:

In an unusual scene at City Hall, Mr. de Blasio addressed the subject while seated with top city lawyers — the corporation counsel, Zachary W. Carter, and the mayor’s counsel, Maya Wiley — as well as top officials from the Department of Citywide Administrative Services, which handles changes to deed restrictions. Mr. de Blasio told reporters that a process in place since at least 2010 had been followed in the decision to remove the restriction on a lot in Harlem at Saint Nicholas Avenue and 152nd Street in exchange for $875,000, paid by the nonprofit Dance Theater of Harlem. “But that’s a different question from whether that’s the right process,” said Mr. de Blasio, who released memos and emails related to the Harlem property, which was sold by the nonprofit to a developer last month. “We want more community engagement.” Neither the community board nor elected officials in Harlem were made aware of the change, which was approved in November.

This is rationale the mayor gave for his new policy:

“I think it is essential since these are rare actions, it’s essential that they be personally agreed upon by the mayor… This has not been the habit in the past. The decisions stopped short of requiring a signature from the mayor himself. Given the importance of these matters, I’m going to make very clear in our new policy that there will be no action on any deed restriction without my personal sign off.”

45 Rivington St.
45 Rivington St.

Several administration officials, including senior aide Avi Fink, were in discussions with the nursing home’s previous owner (the Allure Group) as early as December of 2014. Now the New York Post reports that another high-ranking de Blasio confidant, Emma Wofe, was also involved in talks concerning Rivington House. Here’s an excerpt from this morning’s story:

Wolfe, the mayor’s director of intergovernmental affairs, and City Councilwoman Margaret Chin (D-Manhattan) were in talks about the struggling facility in January 2015, according to sources and correspondence reviewed by The Post… E-mails between Allure exec Joel Landau and Community Board 3 district manager Susan Stetzer also reveal that the deed restriction was an issue from the start. Chin spokesman Paul Leonard insisted she didn’t talk to anyone in January 2015 about deed restrictions.

It is not news that conversations about the deed were taking place over the course of many months. Community board members and board staff first brought up the issue publicly at a September 2014 meeting of the human services committee. But the community board never took a position on the deed change. Their primary concern was keeping Rivington House open as a community facility. Council member Chin has said repeatedly that the deed issue never came up in her conversations with city officials in 2014 and early 2015.

During yesterday’s news conference, the mayor said, “I’m not happy with the outcome of Rivington,” but citing the ongoing investigations, he refused to answer specific questions.