Back in 2009, at the height of outrage over the financial crisis and the bailouts that went to many of the very firms whose drive for profit created the crash, Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi famously wrote that Goldman Sachs was “a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money.”
Now a ten-year veteran of the bank will be Bill de Blasio’s deputy mayor for housing and economic development—and in overall charge of his plan to create or preserve 200,000 units of affordable housing.
Fans of Alicia Glen, however, say she’s not part of the squid-ish part of Goldman’s operation. She’s the managing director of its Urban Investment Group, which oversees the bank’s compliance with the Community Reinvestment Act, or CRA, the law that requires banks to lend in the low-income neighborhoods from which it draws deposits. Goldman received a rating of “outstanding” from the Federal Reserve on its CRA examination this year, same as it had in 2010. Only one in nine banks reviewed last year got that highest rating.
Glen was an assistant commissioner at the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development from 1998 to 2002, right before she joined Goldman. Earlier, she worked for a legal services firm that assists low-income people, and then as a real estate lawyer. She’s given campaign contributions to Howard Dean, John Edwards and Barack Obama on the federal level, and has favored Comptroller-elect Scott Stringer (right now, he’s the Manhattan Borough president) with $7,374 of the $10,909 in city campaign contributions she’s made over the years. She donated to both de Blasio and the man who placed second in the Democratic primary, former Comptroller Bill Thompson, this year.
Not surprisingly, Glen was a player in many of the complex interactions of private money and public policy that characterized the Bloomberg era: investing in Mayor Bloomberg’s CitiBike program and a state program to improve access to healthy food in low-income neighborhoods, cheering the gentrification Harlem in a Financial Times story and calling for more experimentation with social impact bonds.
That kind of corporate involvement in policymaking can be unsettling: If it were that easy to align the profit motive with the public interest, why would we have food deserts in the first place, right? But when it comes to building affordable housing, the private sector is already deeply involved, because it has to be; after all, somebody’s got to buy the tax credits and the municipal bonds that make the system go. In fact, one of the knocks on Mayor Bloomberg’s affordable housing plan—which celebrated 160,000 units this past weekend—was that it was dwarfed by the amount of affordable housing simultaneously devoured by the private real-estate market. With federal support for housing fading, it takes a lot of imagination to build affordably, because the more “affordable” (i.e., cheaper) an apartment is, the bigger the gap between operating cost and rent rolls. Somehow that gap has to get filled.
If symbolism matters, it’s nice that Glen’s title will be “deputy mayor for housing and economic development.” Under Bloomberg, only the “economic development” part got top billing, even if the portfolio was more or less the same. The linkages between the two issue areas are at the heart of de Blasio’s housing hopes, which rely to a substantial extent on inclusionary zoning, in which developers are compelled to create affordable units when they build any other kind of unit.
It’s a cool idea, but for it to generate affordable units requires substantial new real estate development in a city that’s already seen a lot of that recently. Managing that—and the eternal tension between residential and industrial uses, which will be a key factor in whether manufacturing makes some kind of real comeback in New York—would be Glen’s gig.
• De Blasio named Laura Santucci, the executive director of his transition team, to serve as his chief of staff. Before that, she was acting director of the Democratic National Committee.
• The local chapter of the National Organization of Women endorsed de Blasio’s preferred candidate for City Council speaker, Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito, with chapter president Sonia Ossorio saying: “Mark-Viverito has been a powerful ally and advocate for women and girls. Electing Mark-Viverito to the number two position puts our city in the absolute strongest position to level the playing field for women. She is a leader that reflects both the values and diversity that are New York City. This is why a majority of City Council members have publicly agreed to support her as the next Speaker.”
• A Marist poll found that “about two-thirds of registered voters in the city—66 percent—are hopeful about de Blasio becoming the next mayor of New York City. Fourteen percent are content, while 11 percent are disappointed. Two percent describe themselves as angry, and 7 percent are unsure. “