Peace to the Chicken Palaces, War on the Tent Cities

Rent in New York is rising fast. At the same time, the mayor is clearing more homeless camps — and those who can afford it build palaces for chickens.

They are the happiest chickens in the world. At least, that is what Pietro Cicognani claims. The architect, with a self-proclaimed liking for the baroque, specializes in fulfilling the wishes of very wealthy clients. And because his clientele has discovered conserving chickens as a hobby, Cicognani now designs luxury chicken coops.

His current masterpiece is in the Hamptons, New York’s Gold Coast, on a “heavenly piece of land,” as the high society magazine Town & Country recently reported. It belongs to the estate of Katharine Rayner, the billionaire heiress to Cox Communications, whose occupation is described in the report as “philanthropist.” She is now putting part of her considerable resources into conserving rare breeds of chicken.

While designing the poultry palace, Cicognani was apparently inspired by the Chinese-style Sanssouci Palace, the summer residence of Frederick the Great in Potsdam, Germany. The birds were, however, nearly evicted from their stylish home as Rayner found the building so enchanting that she wanted to use it as an office. Still, her love for the animals prevailed and the philanthropist passed up redecorating.

On the other hand, the New York police showed no leniency when they cleared another homeless camp last Wednesday. Eight people were arrested, mostly activists who tried to stop the police from proceeding. A sign at one of the camps read, “Human lives enclosed (do not discard).”

The number of these camps in the city has increased during the pandemic. In Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, under highway bridges, on sidewalks in front of churches. New York’s new mayor, Eric Adams, has ordered the camps to be cleared, with force if necessary. Adams, a former police officer, apparently sees that as a solution to the growing problem of homelessness. If his plan is to force people living on the streets into homeless shelters, then it has not succeeded so far. Since March, 710 tent cities have been cleared, but only 39 of those living there were prepared to go to a homeless shelter.

The shelters, run mostly by nonprofit organizations commissioned by the city, are notorious for violence and chaos. They are, however, good business for some. In the last year, reporters from The New York Times uncovered how Victor Rivera, the chief executive of a nonprofit organization who ran an entire set of such shelters, had defrauded the city for years.

Since 2017, Rivera’s Bronx Parent Housing Network has received $274 million in public funding. He diverted more than $1 million of that to finance real estate, including a $780,000 property with a heated swimming pool and waterfall. Moreover, according to statements from former female residents of the shelter, he used his position to sexually abuse the women. The women who were allegedly abused shared this with female reporters.

Sadly, Rivera’s actions are not an isolated incident. The operator of another shelter, with the illustrious name Millennium Care, admitted last November that she had embezzled more than $2 million. She used the money entrusted to her by New York taxpayers to shop in luxury department stores like Bergdorf Goodman and Bloomingdale’s , buying Ferragamo and Manolo Blahnick shoes.

How do these corrupt individuals succeed, unchecked, in accumulating money for decades? The hard answer is probably that they offer a seemingly simple solution to a problem that Adams as mayor has not managed to solve. New York is too expensive for a growing number of its residents — and the situation is coming to a head. Rent has increased on average by around 33% in the last year.

The extreme jump in rent prices reflects demand that has recovered after the pandemic in 2020 prompted a short-term exodus. Certainly large real estate groups in particular are using this renewed demand to make more money and offset losses. Still, you can’t deny that housing space is notoriously scarce in New York, partly because building in the metropolis is extremely expensive. In fact, as a result of this, New York City is regarded as one of the most expensive cities in the world.

It is also true that utility costs have increased for heating, electricity and manual labor. After damage from Hurricane Ida, which swept through New York last summer, insurance companies raised already high premiums, and the city has raised property taxes accordingly. That’s especially tough for smaller landlords. People fear that even more New Yorkers will soon be on the street. After the end of the moratorium that banned evicting renters during the pandemic, the courts are now reporting a flood of cases.

In response to this predicament, Adams wants the city to commission even more shelters, and has announced that the city will provide $171 million for construction. At the same time, the mayor has successfully fought to increase the New York Police Department budget again. New York’s finest, as the cops like to be called, will receive an additional $465 million, bringing the total annual budget for New York cops to nearly $10.

It is pointless to speculate about what you could do with so much money in dealing with the housing shortage. Make no mistake: neither additional funds for homeless shelters nor the police will eliminate the reasons why so many people in the richest metropolis of the U.S. sleep under plastic sheeting in the park. If only they were chickens in the Hamptons.

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