Mayor de Blasio and his housing team will release their important new affordable housing plan on May 1st. We know the plan will be ambitious, striving to fulfill the Mayor’s promise of 200,000 units. But building an equitable city is about much more than just arithmetic. The details of the plan can’t just be about the highest quantity of units, but also about the highest quality development for neighborhoods. Truly strengthening neighborhoods is about what we’re building, where it’s built, when its affordability will expire, who builds it and who it’s built for:
New York City has the most talented and dedicated affordable housing community in the country. Ever since the City partnered with local non-profit organizations to rebuild our communities devastated by the diWhat
sinvestment of the 1970s and 80s, we have found ways to creatively build and finance affordable housing. We have an amazing resource here in New York – and although over the last 12 years the previous administration turned to a for-profit affordable housing model, the City should support this not-for-profit community-based development sector that built our affordable housing infrastructure from its beginning. A strong and quantifiable role in the new housing plan for local not-for-profit developers, with experience working in the community, is a must for any housing plan that seeks to go beyond just building brick-and-mortar to truly build the neighborhoods New York City needs to thrive.
The plan must achieve Real Affordability of affordable housing units in neighborhoods. All New Yorkers – most notably the more than 1/3 who don’t make enough money to even qualify for the vast majority of affordable housing built over the last 20 years – must be part of this new plan. There should be a place for members of our city who require housing beyond what happens to be the easiest to build. The majority of affordable housing needs to actually be affordable for people living in the neighborhood in which it is built. This is the key to a new development being an opportunity for a new home for a local community member and to being an opportunity to help stabilize a local neighborhood. We need to have mixed-income neighborhoods in New York. The challenge today is retaining populations that are being priced out of our once-affordable neighborhoods, and creating places for low- and moderate income New Yorkers to live throughout the city. Everyone suffers from the housing crunch here, but the greatest resources must be put toward very low-income New Yorkers, the population with the greatest need – and a population that was left out of the last plan.
Units need to be Permanently Affordable to ensure our public investment remains over the long term. We’ve seen what happens to developments where the affordable housing has come with an expiration date, and it’s a lose-lose: either stable, working- and middle-class communities become the scenes of rent pressure and harassment, or the city overpays to keep a few more years of affordability. We cannot afford to repeat this mistake. Mixed-income neighborhoods need to stay mixed-income, through the new affordable housing being affordable permanently.
Mandatory Inclusionary Zoning can guarantee affordable housing is a part of all future city growth. We need to look at shift what we ask for from developers and landowners in exchange for what we grant them in tax breaks, and the ability to build tall and dense. The city must ask, “what is the public getting in return?” It has become self-evident that 80/20 does not come close to the correct balance for our large-scale developments, like the recently-certified Hallets Point rezoning. We need a Mandatory Inclusionary Zoning policy – a centerpiece of the de Blasio campaign platform – in place across-the-board, throughout all of our medium- and high-density neighborhoods.
There is a lot more we can do to build up our communities, including ensuring that we have comprehensive preservation programs, helping owners of 1- to 4-family homes keep their rents affordable for their tenants, intentionally creating mixed-use communities also include light-industrial and local manufactures jobs, allowing safe and affordable basement apartments, making sure we have the tools to force bad landlords out of buildings and get in community-minded owners who will keep the buildings both sound and affordable, and expanding HPD’s preservation work to move beyond code enforcement to also include slowing the loss of affordable private apartments through often questionable rent increases.
But all of these ideas have one thing in common – they look at a housing plan as more than just a way to reach a number, but as a way to reach a more equitable city. We have great confidence in the ability of Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen, HPD Commissioner Vicki Been, HDC President Gary Rodney, NYCHA Chair Shola Olatoye and NYCHA General Manager Cecil House, and other professionals who make up the City’s housing team. We know that their plan will be the blueprint of a sound and creative way to achieve the 200,000 unit goal. But we have a historic chance to make a real shift – building the neighborhoods for the future that all New Yorkers need and can and be proud of – and afford to live in.