Catching Up on the Holiday Shadowplay

There were key followups in the media that appeared just before or on Christmas that tie in closely with stories we covered pre-holiday:

1) The Christmas Day New York Times dissected last week’s settlement between the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and Ocwen Financial Corp., a Florida company that services mortgages, for fraudulent practices. 

It’s one of a group of CFPB settlements, joined by state attorneys general, against big players in the mortgage field for conduct that led to the economy’s massive downturn in 2008-2009. 

QuidnuncRE looked at the Ocwen settlement HERE on Dec. 19.

It turns out, the Times reports, that the $2 billion in payments and concessions to mortgagees isn’t exactly what it was advertised to be.  The write-downs may even have occurred in the normal course of business.

The analysis, by Peter Eavis, says that Ocwen actually will pay out just $66 million.  He writes:

The $2 billion number is easy to misunderstand. Ocwen is not going to have to bear any of that $2 billion write-down itself, though the consumer agency’s news release never makes that clear. Ocwen does not own the mortgages that it collects payments on. Bondholders own most of them, since banks packaged the loans into securities and sold those bonds into the markets. Indeed, a $2 billion write-down would probably wipe out most of Ocwen’s $1.8 billion in capital.

The previous government settlements also hit the bondholders hard, the article says, despite the focus on big names and their conduct, like JP Morgan.

The article can be found HERE.

2) The Tuesday Times cover page story on the skyline assault on Central Park thanks to developer’s use of air rights got two distinct media reactions: piling on by the Daily News, and a defense of the current process that allows buildings to trade rights that is now resulting in the construction of luxuriously skinny apartment towers that will cast their shadows over the park.

(a) You can refresh your memory on Michael Kimmelman’s Dec. 24 Times article HERE via QuidnuncRE, in which he says the public should be able to sign off on using air rights that get traded and allow developers to skirt approvals.

(b) In "Developers are turning Central Park into Central Dark with mega-thin towers," a Christmas Day Daily News article picks up where Kimmelman leaves off.  The Times piece focused on aesthetics, picking on Extell Development’s One57 building at 157 W. 57th St., in urging that public get more say in the air rights deals when developers plan to build above certain heights. 

The Daily News yesterday  pushed for the same controls, but instead focused on the shadow problem via a report from the Municipal Arts Society (The report, The Accidental Skyline, is available on the MAS blog, HERE.) The paper shows the society’s shadow chart, with a depiction that puts the Dec. 21 dark as far north as the lake and the Ramble—about 20 blocks north from Central Park South. The first example cited in the Daily News article is One57. You can read the objections as a well as a defense from the Skyscraper Museum’s founder and director HERE

(c) For a more strident defense of the thin high apartment homes and air-rights trading, click through to Felix Salmon’s Dec. 24 Reuters opinion piece, where he takes on Kimmelman, the shadows argument—saying the Central Park Conservancy’s long view is the correct one—and conceding that he doesn’t love One57 either.  “But,” concludes Salmon, “I do think that New York City is a city of skyscrapers; that it’s self-defeating for any city of skyscrapers to stop building such things; and that if you’re going to be building new skyscrapers, you’re never going to bat 1000.” The column, “The New Era of the New York Skyscraper,” can be found HERE.

3) Two previous thinkpieces that looked at the Central Park developments and shadows, and figure in the views presented in the current news: 

  • Shadows Over Central Park, an Oct. 29 Times op ed written by former Times reporter Warren St. John.
  • From last month, "Central Park, and the billionaires' shadow,' from Vanity Fair contributing editor Jim Windolf on Capital NY, HERE.


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