New York City’s Brownfield Redevelopment Program: Economic Catalyst or Taxpayer Giveaway?

Tatyiana Gordon


The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and the New York City Office of Environmental Remediation (OER) manage and coordinate brownfield cleanup programs. These are intended to promote environmental restoration and redevelopment of underutilized or abandoned properties that have been affected by the presence or discharges of oil or hazardous substances. This paper seeks to determine whether these programs have achieved the goals and objectives sought by decision makers and if the cost of those achievements in terms of public money subsidies and forgone tax revenue have been commensurate with the realized benefits.

The DEC brownfield program offers financial incentives, such as tax credits, as well as regulatory benefits (limited liability protections) to promote alternatives to greenfield development. OER efforts are New York City centric with incentives divided into three sectors: procedural, legal, and financial with a major goal of reducing remedial (cleanup) timeframes. To evaluate the effectiveness of the New York City Brownfield program changes in property values over time were evaluated. The five New York City counties experiencing the two highest percent increases in property values also claimed the highest brownfield credits. Queens and Brooklyn received most brownfield credits during this period but also experienced the most redevelopment. These and other data illustrate a return on the brownfield investment (ROBI) credit of about one to six; or one dollar in brownfield credit stimulating six dollars in project spending. New York City counties’ ROBI is consistent with all other New York State County ROBI’s: roughly six dollars in redevelopment activity being stimulated by one dollar in brownfield credit. The roughly $6 ROBI presented here is similar to ROI’s for other public services such as disease prevention and incarceration intervention.

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