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ANHD's New Report Analyzes Bloomberg Affordable Housing Legacy

February 14, 2013

Analyzing the Real Affordability of New Housing Marketplace Plan:    
For years, housing advocates and policy makers have asked for details about the City's New Housing Marketplace Plan - where the housing was built, how long it's affordable for, what size apartments, and how affordable the units are. Today, ANHD is releasing Real Affordability: An Evaluation of the Bloomberg Housing Program and Recommendations to Strengthen Affordable Housing Policy (read here),  the first in-depth analysis and evaluation of New York City's affordable housing production plan under Mayor Bloomberg, the New Housing Marketplace Plan (NHMP).  In raising these issues, ANHD hopes to spark a dialogue among affordable housing advocates, experts, and policy makers on how best to analyze our affordable housing production in a more comprehensive and nuanced way, and how to best shape our affordable housing policy for the next decade to maximize the impact for local residents and communities."   The report  confirms that the Mayor's initiative is on track to meet its goal of developing or preserving 165,000 units of affordable housing for New York City. It then takes an in-depth look at the housing built under the New Housing Marketplace so far. Main findings include:  Depth of Affordability:   NHMP's units too often do not meet the actual affordability needs of the neighborhoods in which they were built. Approximately one-third of NHMP units have an upper income limit above the actual New York City median income. And in half the City's community districts, the majority of units built in the community are too expensive for a household earning the local median income for the neighborhood.
Length of Affordability: City housing policy, including NHMP, has not preserved the long-term affordability of the units that are built. Starting in 2017, the City will be at risk of losing an annual average of 11,000 units built with City subsidy and by 2037, the City could lose the affordability of as many units as were built by NHMP, greatly undermining the value of the City's efforts.  
Location:  NHMP units were concentrated in a few community districts, although generally for valid development reasons.  Five of the City's 59 community districts account for 30% of all NHMP units built or preserved.
Household Size: NHMP unit sizes largely match the distribution of household sizes for NYC.  Two-, three-, and four-person households make up 56% of New York City households, with 58% of the NHMP units appropriate to house these size households. 
The report also questions how much of what has been built has actually met local housing needs. Two-thirds of New Housing Marketplace units are too expensive for the majority of local neighborhood residents. And in half the City's community districts, the majority of affordable units built in the community are too expensive for a household earning the local median income.   "The city's commitment to, and execution of, its New Housing Marketplace Plan is commendable. It would have been easy to dial its ambition back during the recession, but instead the City decided to recommit to seeing it through," said Moses Gates, co-author of the report.  "But a comprehensive affordable housing program needs to be about more than just number of 'units built.' It also needs to take into account the needs of local residents. If we're going to invest in building affordable housing, what we build should be affordable to the people in the neighborhood." This isn't to say that everything the city has built has been out-of-context for local residents. ANHD pointed to a recent development in West Harlem, the Dempsey, as an example of a city-sponsored affordable housing development that meets local needs. The Dempsey is a joint venture of two not-for-profit organizations; the locally-based West Harlem Group Assistance (WHGA), and Phipps Houses, a citywide non-profit housing developer and manager. In addition to being affordable to people in the neighborhood (rents range from $461 for a studio to $1,087 for a three-bedroom apartment), the development brings an outdoor sitting area for residents, and replaced a dilapidated playground with a state-of-art, ADA compliant play area for local children at multi-service center next door. "When you have developers who really know and are committed to the community, the City can facilitate some great projects that help build and stabilize neighborhoods," said Benjamin Dulchin, Executive Director of ANHD. The report also points out another shortcoming of the NHMP - much of what has been built is only affordable for the short-term, 30 years, placing thousands of affordable units in jeopardy for our children and generations to come. Starting in 2017, the City will be at risk of losing an annual average of 11,000 affordable units a year, and by 2037 the City may lose as many units as were built by NHMP. "When the affordability restrictions on a unit expire, we are stuck with a lose-lose scenario" said Barika Williams, the other co-author. "Either we lose vital, affordable housing, potentially displacing  families and putting them at risk of homelessness, or the city has to overpay to keep owners from evicting tenants and cashing in on luxury rents. We've seen this happen with the Mitchell-Lama program, and we're about to see it happen with the housing developed under the Koch housing plan. Eventually, we'll see it with the Bloomberg plan. We need to break this cycle - the next administration needs to put an end to this idea of publicly subsidizing the creation of housing only affordable in the short-term, and require that the units be permanently affordable."  Housing policy experts agree that while the New Housing Marketplace was an unprecedented achievement, the next administration has to take a further step, and start measuring progress in a more comprehensive way. "The bottom line is, the city has to address its affordable housing crisis with a nuanced and three-dimensional approach," said Deb Howard, Board Chair of ANHD and Executive Director of the Pratt Area Community Council. "Aligning affordable housing programs and policies to better reflect the needs of residents and communities is critical to stabilizing neighborhoods and ensuring affordable housing opportunities for the future." "New York City Mayors have long understood the critical role that safe, decent and truly affordable housing plays in ensuring that New York City remains a global capital that attracts people from around the world to live in vibrant neighborhoods that offer opportunity to all" said Michelle de la Uz, Executive Director of Fifth Avenue Committee.  "The challenges for the next Mayor are clear - we must re-tool, re-double and re-align the city's efforts to supportpermanent and real affordable housing, or risk becoming a city that only the very wealthy can afford." ANHD has also come up with an outline for this new way of measuring progress, called the Real Affordability Index  (pages 40 - 44 of the report).  Instead of simply counting units, the index measures a developments impact along different metrics - length and depth of affordability, as well as unit size and other community impacts a development might bring. Advocates and the City can then tell which potential developments would be the best use of City subsidy - calculating the public impact gained, per subsidy dollar spent. The report outlines these findings in detail and is available online read here, at anhd.org. For the New York Times 2/14/13 coverage of this report, read NYT article here.

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