Archive for the ‘Research’ Category

Section 581: Visualizing Undertaxation

 

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SITU’s drawing highlights 50 of the most expensive luxury co-op or condos in a selected area of Manhattan. 50 of 700 such luxury sales in this area’s public records are visualized here.

SITU’s contribution to a new exhibit at the Storefront for Art and Architecture investigates inequalities incurred by New York State and City property tax code. Titled, Sharing Models: Manhattanisms, the show at Storefront exhibits 30 models and drawings by 30 international architects that represent various ways of reading, understanding, and analyzing the collective assets of urban life. For the exhibition opening on July 14, 2016, Storefront divided Manhattan into 30 section cuts across the city from the East River to the Hudson River, and assigned each to a participating studio. Containing significant residential sections of the Upper East and West Sides centered around Central Park, SITU’s assigned section for the exhibition is bounded by East 79th street to the north and West 62nd to the South. In response to the exhibition’s call to explore the effect of emerging sharing economies on the lived experience of cities, SITU set out to render visible the disparities in property tax code and the loss of shared city revenue through New York’s luxury co-op and condominium market.

Manhattan was split into 30 section cuts for The Storefront for Art and Architecture’s Sharing Models: Manhattanisms exhibition. In the above image, SITU’s assigned section #13 is highlighted in green.

Anachronistic tax code, anonymous shell companies and absentee residents are all distinct characteristics of New York’s luxury housing market. As the veils of limited liability companies are pierced and leaks from Panama converge on the same investments, it is illuminating to render visible the drivers of the built environment across a swath of Manhattan’s most valuable real estate and to project a future in which access and exchange of information play a greater role in shaping the City. It is also a moment to reflect on Michael Bloomberg’s enduring legacy of shoring up New York City’s standing as a hub of international luxury real estate investment and his largely unqualified conviction that concentrations of global capital are a net benefit to all citizens of the City. 1)Capps, Kriston. “Why Billionaires Don’t Pay Property Taxes in New York.” CityLab. http://www.citylab.com/housing/2015/05/why-billionaires-dont-pay-property-taxes-in-new-york/389886/.

SITU’s project, titled “Section 581”, borrows its name from the component of New York state property tax law that sets the assessment practices for Tax Class 2 residential buildings (coops and condos) in New York City. Property taxes on condos and co-ops in New York City are calculated based on an assessment of the property’s value conducted by the Department of Finance (DOF) and are not based on the sales price.

Section 581 follows:

[R]eal property owned or leased by a cooperative corporation or on a condominium basis shall be assessed for purposes of this chapter at a sum not exceeding the assessment which would be placed upon such parcel were the parcel not owned or leased by a cooperative corporation or on a condominium basis. 2) N.Y. Real Prop. Tax Law § 581(1)(a) (McKinney 2013)

In accordance with this law, co-op buildings and condo buildings with at least four units are valued by the DOF as if they were rental properties. These owner-occupied units are some of the most expensive in the city, yet they are compared to rental units across variables such as location, date of construction, and building size to determine their market value. According to the report published by the Furman Center in July 2013 titled, “Shifting the Burden: Examining the Undertaxation of Some of the Most Valuable Properties in New York City”, the most valuable rental buildings in Manhattan are valued by the DOF at well under $500 per square foot. The market has seen luxury condo sales typically made at a much higher expense per square foot — often in the $4500 range. 3)Yager, Jessica, and Andrew Hayashi. “Shifting the Burden,” The Furman Center, July 2013. http://furmancenter.org/research/publication/shifting-the-burden.

The incongruities of such comps become evident even though a quick reading of the physical structures and amenities of the units themselves, as well as in the demographic characteristics of the people who live in them. In the case of newer luxury condos there are almost no rental buildings that are truly comparable. Furthermore, nearly 30 percent of rental buildings selected for comps are also rent stabilized, confounding the notion of arriving at co-op market values based on comparisons in rental income (rent stabilized income is artificially limited and therefore not subject to the market). The Independent Budget Office estimates that citywide, the discount this assessment system creates—which is referred to as the 581 discount—for condos is about 82 percent; for coops it is around 77 percent. In other words, only 18 percent of the market value of condos is included in the tax base. 4)New York City Independent Budget Office. “Twenty-Five Years After S7000A: How Property Tax Burdens Have Shifted in New York City,” December 2006, http://www.ibo.nyc. ny.us/iboreports/propertytax120506.pdf

While the inequalities engendered by the real estate market leave many signatures on New York City’s built environment, the arcane model of calculating property tax and the misalignment of this process with the realities of the contemporary market are particularly acute. This condition is concentrated in the most expensive properties in the city – many of which are located in the area assigned to SITU by Storefront. We set out to explore this in greater detail through both physicalizing the relationship between sales prices and assessed values in our model and creating a drawing that unpacks selections of the underlying data.

As part of our research for this project, SITU delved into available open data published by the NYC DOF and Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications (DoITT). Making use of NYC’s rich information commons, the model and drawings are based on analysis of available financial and geospatial datasets in the public record. Comparison figures for assessments draw from the Department of Finance’s property assessment roll for fiscal year 2017. Sales data were gathered through the DOF’s rolling and annualized datasets from the last 13 years (2003 to June 2016). Our process focused on the luxury co-op and condo sales in our section that were present in the data, of which there were 700.

SITU found significant discrepancies in valuation. One of the most expensive recorded sales in our section was $33,000,000 for a single co-op unit in an 111 unit building on Central Park West. The city assessed the entire market value of the building –all 111 units– at $60,722,00 for the fiscal year 2017, only $28,000,000 over the sales price for just a single apartment in a luxury building of many. The sale price of that $33,000,000 apartment is nearly 60 times its value assessed by the DOF for tax purposes.

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Detail of the drawing focusing on Tax Class 2 luxury sales along Central Park West.

In SITU’s section of Manhattan, the highest disparities are concentrated along Central Park West and along Park Avenue, where some of the most expensive apartments in the entire city are located. Expanding this analysis across our area of interest reveals a total undervaluation of around $5.2 billion dollars in the luxury condo and coop market.

The drawing unpacks selections of the underlying data. It identifies the 50 most expensive of the 11,000 undervalued unit sales in our section and compares their respective sale prices to the values used for property tax assessment. This study represents a small fraction of the lost property tax revenue that could be captured across the entire city. As a general trend, the more expensive the sales price, the more extreme the disparity, in some cases numbering in the tens of millions of dollars for a single unit alone.

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In SITU’s study section of Manhattan, the highest disparities are concentrated along Central Park West and along Park Avenue, where some of the most expensive apartments in the entire city are located (highlighted in green).

In the model, the height of the acrylic surface above a coop or condominium building represents the relative magnitude of difference between sales price and assessment value. It seeks to present a skewed reality wrought by Section 581 that is difficult to see: a real estate market that has benefited an elite class of New York home owners and disproportionately burdened the less wealthy with the funding of public life and works in the city.

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13_SITU_Section581_Model_Detail6All photos are by Patrick Mandeville

 

References   [ + ]

1. Capps, Kriston. “Why Billionaires Don’t Pay Property Taxes in New York.” CityLab. http://www.citylab.com/housing/2015/05/why-billionaires-dont-pay-property-taxes-in-new-york/389886/.
2.  N.Y. Real Prop. Tax Law § 581(1)(a) (McKinney 2013)
3. Yager, Jessica, and Andrew Hayashi. “Shifting the Burden,” The Furman Center, July 2013. http://furmancenter.org/research/publication/shifting-the-burden.
4. New York City Independent Budget Office. “Twenty-Five Years After S7000A: How Property Tax Burdens Have Shifted in New York City,” December 2006, http://www.ibo.nyc. ny.us/iboreports/propertytax120506.pdf

SITU Research Launches SPEA Project

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Image courtesy of SITU Research and Forensic Architecture.

SITU Research is pleased to announce the launch of Spatial Practice as Evidence and Advocacy (SPEA) – a project that will utilize spatial analysis and visualization in the service of human rights fact-finding and reporting. Mobilizing innovative applications of existing and emerging technologies, a primary goal of SPEA is to broaden the “tool kit” and culture of human rights work to include design as an integral component of legal and advocacy initiatives.

Made possible in part by the generous support of the John D. and  Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the Oak Foundation, SPEA will undertake applied casework with human rights organizations, news outlets, legal counsel, scientists, and researchers to generate reports targeted at synthesizing diverse forms of evidence into precise, coherent and compelling spatial narratives. Further, the SPEA project seeks not only to represent consequential data in the most effective way, but also to extend the impact of these often technical and prosaic findings through public-facing, interactive reports.

As a cross-disciplinary project, SPEA has a unique opportunity to bridge the gaps that traditionally separate and segment the fields of human rights and design. SPEA will build upon the long-form textual structure of traditional human rights reporting with the integration of spatio- visual content that can enrich the analysis of specific human rights violations. Work will focus on the collection and synthesis of disparate forms of evidence, both quantitative and qualitative, that may be gathered in a specific case (e.g., satellite imagery, video footage, the verbatim testimony of witnesses, munitions specifications, etc.) Over the next 22 months, SPEA will collaborate on a series of reports that will be made available to the public. Examples of other human rights cases that SITU Research has worked on can be found here.

Uneven Growth: Community Growth Corporation (CGC)

The Community Growth Corporation, Jesse M. Keenan, MAS Summit 2014

As part of its research for the Uneven Growth project, SITU worked with Jesse Keenan of the Center for Urban Real Estate (CURE.) to propose an ownership and development model focused on capturing the value of unused air rights in the service of funding affordable housing.  In addition to working closely with Jesse, the Furman Center’s guidance and work on Transferable Development Rights was an essential component of this research.  This post focuses on SITU’s strategy for unlocking development rights as one approach to addressing the affordability crisis in New York on a localized level.  The CGC proposes a scenario where underutilized urban spaces could be opened up to a new type of incremental growth facilitated through neighborhood based organizations called Community Growth Corporations. In the below video, Jesse Keenan explains the principles and mechanics of the CGC at this year’s annual Municipal Art Society Summit.

 

CGC1. Redistribution of FAR in the outer boroughs.

The Community Growth Corporation (CGC) is a hypothetical development model meant to align social and financial capital in a way that allows for the preservation of affordable housing and the creation of community-driven neighborhood projects. The mechanism for capitalization is a public auction of excess floor area ratio (FAR) within a community that would otherwise go unused, or where the cost to build to the FAR outweighs the benefit of added interior space. Excess FAR is then exchanged for a share of the CGC. Altering the existing regulations so that FAR is no longer restricted to contiguous properties, but instead can be aggregated – forming new kinds of development– both low-rise affordable housing or higher rise mixed-income developments in adjacent neighborhoods that are suited for denser development (Image 2).

 

20141114_CGC44. Intra-borough Receiving and Donating Zones.

“Receiving Zones” are identified as areas that are capable of accepting increased density due to the availability of space as well as existing access to transportation infrastructure. “Donating Zones” are identified as areas that are currently over-populated and are severely rent-burdened, meaning that on average households spend more than 50% of their income on housing. The transfer of FAR between the two zones can only occur if they are adjacent.

 

20141114_CGC33. FAR Bank and redistribution of FAR

By exchanging excess FAR for shares in the CGC, landowners of properties with affordable housing receive modest investments returns that must be used to renovate or further develop the property. These returns are attached to the property itself rather than its owner in order to ensure that investment in affordable housing is continual, especially in neighborhoods that are already over populated and rent-burdened. All residents are able to gain shares in the CGC, regardless of whether or not they are landowners, through “sweat equity” – participating in street and public space improvements, engaging in senior care activities, coordinating transit pools, etc. Returns for these CGC shareholders come in the form of unit renovations or as rent credits, ensuring the advancement and quality of affordable housing.

 

20141114_CGC64. Participation in the CGC.

A CGC web interface would allow shareholders and community members to manage how their returns are both distributed, personally and within the larger community. A portion of yearly returns would be allocated to community developments ranging from schools to bike lanes and the interface would allow community members to participate in the decision-making process.

The CGC is predicated upon the commodification and a redistribution of the public asset of the right to build to ensure another right – a right to housing.

SITU Research joins panel discussion about US drone debate at Studio-X

This past Thursday, SITU Research participated in a panel discussion titled “Landscapes of Secrecy: Data and Reporting in the Drone Debate”, hosted by Columbia University GSAPP’s Studio-X New York and Bard’s Center for the Study of the Drone, and moderated by Arthur Holland Michel from Bard’s Center for the Study of the Drone.

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Brad Samuels, Partner at SITU Research, Naureen Shah, Legislative Counsel at the ACLU, and data artist and web developer Josh Begley talked about the gathering and reconstruction of data regarding US drone strikes in the context of their practices. All three panelists stressed how important it is for the law makers’ and the general public’s understanding of the nature and extent of U.S. targeted killing operations to not only gather reliable data on civilian deaths by drone strikes, but also to disseminate this data in an accessible format.

SITU Research shared a recently launched interactive website presented as part of UN Special Rapporteur Ben Emmerson’s drone inquiry, detailing 30 drone strikes in five different countries.

A screenshot of the web-based platform that maps - and collects information and media relevant to - each of the thirty strikes the UN Special Rapporteur has called for further investigation of. © Forensic Architecture in collaboration with SITU Research, 2014.

A screenshot of the UN SRCT Drone Inquiry website
© Forensic Architecture in collaboration with SITU Research, 2014.

Naureen Shah highlighted how personal narratives in Amnesty International USA reports on drone strikes impact the broader public, and described how detailed on-the-ground accounts and in-depth interviews help to put a human face on the statistics.

Data artist Josh Begley’s intervention is an app that disrupts its users’ daily routine by sending push notifications directly to the mobile device in their pocket whenever a drone attack happens. These real-time alerts for every reported United States drone strike can also be added to an application programming interface (API) – a collection of building blocks for software development that allows anyone with basic coding skills to organize, analyze and visualize drone strike data dating back to 2002.

Josh Bogley’s Metadata+ app sends real-time alerts for every reported United States drone strike to its users.

Josh Bogley’s Metadata+ app sends real-time alerts for
every reported United States drone strike to its users.

This event was the second in the Studio-X Global series on Security Regimes, which examines global spaces of exception, from supermax prisons to territories where mass surveillance or lethal targeting are allowed in the name of security. The series will be followed by a collaborative publication by Studio-X, the Center for the Study of the Drone, the New Institute and dpr-barcelona.

Emerging Voices 2014

This year,  we are fortunate to be among eight groups of practitioners in architecture, landscape design and urbanism honored by The Architectural League of New York as Emerging Voices in their discipline. This invited, juried portfolio competition recognizes potentially influential firms and individuals based in the U.S., Canada, or Mexico.

All eight winning teams have been giving lectures in New York throughout March, and on the fourth and final evening of the lecture series on March 27, we had the pleasure of giving a presentation on our practice alongside Guadalajara-based Estudio Macías Peredo at the Scholastic Auditorium in Manhattan.

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Salvador Macías Corona and Magui Peredo Arenas from Estudio Macías Peredo
share recent design and construction work.

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SITU partner Aleksey Lukyanov-Cherny shares images of Heartwalk installed in Times Square last year.

A shared interest among both Estudio Macías Peredo and SITU is making. The material experimentation and fabrication processes in our work, as well as the celebrated role of local masons, blacksmiths and craftspeople in the building process were highlighted in both presentations.

A warm thank you to The Architectural League of New York for this opportunity. We are honored  to be in the company of so many talented designers in receiving this award.

Work by Forensic Architecture and SITU Research presented as part of UN inquiry into Drone Strikes

Today marks the public launch of a web-based platform created by Forensic Architecture (Goldsmiths, University of London) and SITU Research for the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Counter Terrorism and Human Rights, Ben Emmerson.

A screenshot of the web-based platform that maps - and collects information and media relevant to - each of the thirty strikes the UN Special Rapporteur has called for further investigation of. © Forensic Architecture in collaboration with SITU Research, 2014.

The website provides an online presence for the Special Rapporteur’s inquiry into civilian casualties by drone strikes in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and Gaza. The report calls for increased government transparency and documentation of drone strikes when civilian casualties are known or suspected.

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The web-based platform focuses on the 30 drone strikes that are included in the Special Rapporteur’s report. The strikes are  geospatially located and are correlated with additional information provided by Emmerson’s report. Forensic Architecture’s work also analyzes several strikes in greater detail by synthesizing multiple sources of data including photographs, interviews, and satellite imagery and the resultant spatial analyses are shown through short videos.

The online platform can be accessed here.

A short demonstration video of the platform can be found here.

The videos and stills detailing the four cases can be viewed here.

Situ Research: Division and Website Launch

Last week we launched Situ Research, a site dedicated to interdisciplinary design work that addresses urgent contemporary spatial issues. Over the past few years we have collaborated with human rights organizations, scientists, city planners and lawyers on vide range of projects, all collected on our new website

Situ Research associates McKenna Cole and Charles-Antoine Perrault share a few words about their investigations on two current research projects.

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Deforestation patterns, militarization, and urban development in the Ixil territory are strongly correlated. This map illustrates how Guatemalan government’s “Model Village Program” participated in the destruction of Ixil people’s natural environment.

Charles is working on the investigation of a genocide case in Guatemala – A project undertaken in collaboration with Forensic Architecture and Paulo Tavares.  From March 1982 to August 1983, General Efraín Ríos Montt ruled the country with an iron fist during one of the bloodiest periods of its long civil war. Montt is now facing accusations of crime against humanity and genocide against Mayan groups before the National Court of Guatemala. Charles is producing a set of time-based maps and visualizations representing Rios Montt government’s intent to destroy a particular ethnic group. “Leveraging a broad range of evidentiary material (military logs, exhumation data, historical pictures, satellite images…), we reveal intersections between military operations, indiscriminate violence against civilian populations, systematic destruction and relocation of indigenous communities, and transformations in the urban and natural environment.” This work is intended to enter as evidence in Ríos Montt’s trial and will be integrated in a publicly accessible online geospatial platform.

Explore more Situ Research projects on Human Rights issues here

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Image of PLUTO Dataset joined with building footprints translated into a 3d model of the Jackson Heights section of Queens.

McKenna is engaged in the development of the research for Uneven Growth: Tactical Urbanisms for Expanding Megacities a fourteen-month long workshop series culminating in exhibition at MoMA in November 2014. Situ is collaborating on this project with Cohabitation Strategies. Mckenna explains: “We’re reaching out to other practitioners, organizations and non-profits in the process of trying to formulate a clear understanding of the unevenness in New York City as it is physically manifested in disparate housing conditions, access to infrastructure, and policies at large. We’re analyzing and manipulating publicly available datasets to help us understand housing conditions on both a city-wide and neighborhood scale. Mapping and modeling are being used simultaneously in order to visualize the spatial implications of the data being used.”

Learn more about our participation in the first workshop at MoMA PS1 and keep an eye on the blog for updates as we visit Shenzhen & Hong Kong Bi-City Biennale of Urbanism\Architecture in mid-December.

Explore past blog posts on Situ Research projects here

Uneven Growth: Workshop at MoMA PS1

This past week Situ Studio and Situ Research participated in the launch of the MoMA exhibition “Uneven Growth: Tactical Urbanisms for Expanding Megacities.” This past Friday and Saturday marked the first in a series of workshops that will culminate in a publication and an exhibition at MoMA in November 2014. The six teams chosen to participate met for the first time at MoMA PS1 where teams began to collaborate and think through the questions prompted by the exhibition brief. Situ Studio has been pared to work with Cohabitation Strategies on New York City for this exhibtion. The other teams will be working in Hong Kong, Istanbul, Lagos, Mumbai, and Rio de Janeiro.

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Gondola transportation system in the favela community “Morro do Alemao” in Rio de Janeiro
Photo Pedro Rivera, RUA Arquitetos

The workshop on Friday began with presentations by a panel of advisors on the topic of the subjects of uneven growth and tactical urbanism including Sasia Sassen, Nader Tehrani, Michael Sorkin, Teddy Cruz, Alfredo Brillembourg, and Mimi Zeiger.  The rest of the day teams worked on compiling presentations of past work as individual firms as well as initial impressions of the prompt and the city in which the work will be done.

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Situ partner, Brad Samuels, presents a map created from 311 complaints to the Department of Buildings reporting  illegal conversions as part of the research on informal housing in New York City.

While the workshop on Friday was closed to the public, the presentations on Saturday were opened up to the public.  Beginning with an introduction by curator Pedro Gadanho, each team presented their past-work and preliminary research.  A panel of respondents including Neil Brenner, Ed Keller, Quilian Riano, and others, reflected on the early proposals.

A second workshop is set for Shenzhen in mid-December. To learn more about this project please visit this MoMA’s website here

New Evidence Released in the Left-to-Die Boat Case

In a follow up to the Left-to-Die Boat report that Situ worked on last year with collaborators Charles Heller and Lorenzo Pezzani (part of Forensic Architecture – a project funded by the European Research Council) that focused on the reconstruction of the events that lead to the death of 63 migrants in March/April 2011, a press conference was held today to present new evidence and announce a new legal cases that are finally being brought to court in Spain and France. After the Paris Prosecutor’s Office ignored initial complaints in April of 2012, two survivors filed the case as civil parties, forcing open a judicial investigation as to why French and Spanish military ships criminally neglected a vessel in distress, ultimately resulting in the unnecessary deaths of 63 people at sea.

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The above image shows new Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) data describing ships over 50 meters in length on the morning of April 4th 2011. Highlighted area indicates migrant vessel’s range of locations on that day. Below is the addendum itself that was released at today’s press conference in Paris held by International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH).

 

Experts Report Life to Die Boat

At the press conference, Lorenzo Pezzani describes the inclusion of the new vessel detection data that is has been incorporated to strengthen the report’s spatio-temporal reconstruction of the events analyzed in the report. His description can be viewed at 30:00 of the below video.


Video streaming by Ustream

The addition of new SAR (synthetic aperture radar) data from the morning of April 4th 2011, the crucial time when a military ship is thought to have crossed within 10 meters the migrant vessel (see image at top of page), has been instrumental in gaining further insight into the provenience of the military ship the survivors recall encountering. While this new data narrows down the possibilites, the question remains – which ships were present in the area, informed of the vessel’s distress and failed to respond? Read FIDH’s most recent coverage of the report here.

 

Salvaging Material from NY/NJ Boardwalks Damaged by Sandy

Last Friday we began the process of collecting salvaged lumber from boardwalks damaged by Hurricane Sandy for our upcoming installation in Times Square – Heartwalk.  The following photos are of the boardwalks in Atlantic City and Sea Girt, NJ.  On Tuesday we’ll be visiting Long Beach, NY.  What we found in the two sites of New Jersy was astonishing.  In Atlantic city the quater-mile section of boardwalk along the Absecon Inlet was almost completely torn from the concrete piers.  In Sea Girt, the mile-long boardwalk will have to be entirely rebuilt.

Over the next couple weeks we’ll re-purpose 300-400 boards from the three sites for the Times Square installation.

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One of the few remaining sections of Absecon Inlet boardwalk, Atlantic City.

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Splintered section of the Atlantic City boardwalk at Oriental Ave.

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Warped and fractured section of Sea Girt boardwalk.

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Picking boards from pile of debris in Atlantic City, NJ.

 

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