Gotham Gazette http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/22 Tue, 18 Sep 2018 19:31:31 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) A Path to Reduce Building Energy While Preserving Affordable Housing http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7915:a-path-to-reduce-building-energy-while-preserving-affordable-housing http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7915:a-path-to-reduce-building-energy-while-preserving-affordable-housing affordable housing align green climate

photo via the Urban Green Council


When it comes to combating climate change, the stakes have never been higher. The Trump administration’s failure to address this crisis means progressive urban leaders must do much more to reduce carbon emissions – especially in large apartment buildings that contribute so heavily to climate change.

One of the greatest challenges to addressing carbon emissions in residential buildings is ensuring that crucial energy efficiency upgrades don’t trigger rent hikes for low- and middle-income tenants living in rent-stabilized apartments. Rent-stabilized units account for a significant percent of large multifamily building space, so it is important to find a way to address this situation.

The good news is that we and dozens of other organizations have joined forces on a new proposal that would tackle this challenge – among others – by reducing carbon emissions at 50,000 New York City buildings while providing a plan to avoid hitting rent-stabilized tenants with the bill.

The new Blueprint for Efficiency by the Urban Green Council’s 80x50 Buildings Partnership – of which we and other organizations in the Climate Works for All Coalition are members – lays out a roadmap for cutting large building energy use by 2050.

As the Blueprint notes, city and state law currently allow the cost of many “major capital improvements” (MCIs) – including some efficiency measures like boiler replacements – to be passed on to tenants in rent-stabilized apartments. These costs then become permanent rent increases. They can also push units toward deregulation: above a set rent threshold, the units are forced out of stabilization. For too many tenants, MCIs mean higher rents they can’t afford, or even losing an apartment for tenants who are already stretched to the limit, rather than benefiting from lower energy bills and a healthier, better-maintained home. Additionally, taking apartments out of rent stabilization reduces the affordability of our housing overall.

So as part of this proposal, we are recommending new rules promoting low-cost, energy-saving measures for the rent-stabilized sector that do not qualify as MCIs, and oversight to ensure that if measures cause rental increases, action is taken to change the rules. We also believe there should be support and incentives provided so that the rent-stabilized sector can achieve the same kind of efficiency gains as market-rate buildings.

This kind of approach allows us to achieve significant energy reduction goals across the board, while protecting rent-stabilized tenants at every turn.

Beyond the rent-stabilized market, affordable housing owners and nonprofits often face thin margins and financing challenges, so efficiency upgrades are rarely a priority. The Blueprint recommends helping them through greatly expanded support programs, incentives, improved access to financing, and coordination with state-level programs that help reduce energy use.

Working with stakeholders who don’t often find themselves in the same room together we came up with these recommendations based on robust discussion and consensus-building.

Alongside all the Buildings Partnership members, we look forward to working as quickly as possible with the City Council and the de Blasio administration to translate our broader proposal into new legislation that can be advanced this year.

This would be a real win-win for all New Yorkers who care about combating climate change and preserving affordable housing across our city.

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Maritza Silva-Farrell is Executive Director of ALIGN: The Alliance for a Greater New York & Stephan Edel is Director of New York Working Families. On Twitter @MaritzaSf and @GreenJobsNY.

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A Path to Reduce Building Energy While Preserving Affordable Housing Wed, 05 Sep 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Scott Stringer on His ‘Agency Watch List,’ De Blasio’s Housing Plan & Restructuring NYCHA http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7796:scott-stringer-on-his-agency-watch-list-de-blasio-s-housing-plan-restructuring-nycha http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7796:scott-stringer-on-his-agency-watch-list-de-blasio-s-housing-plan-restructuring-nycha scott stringer comptroller

Comptroller Scott Stringer and Deputy Comptroller Marjorie Landau (photo: @NYCComptroller)


Comptroller Scott Stringer, the city’s chief fiscal officer who placed three city agencies on a new “watch list” in February due to concerns about their escalating spending and questionable return on investment, said recently that his office will be holding public hearings to provide stronger oversight, better transparency, and more urgency for reforms.

“We need more robust public hearings to the agencies, we need to demand more accountability from our government, and if we’re really going to be a progressive government, we need to ask whether the programs we’re putting forth are meeting the needs of struggling New Yorkers,” Stringer said during a recent appearance on the What’s The [Data] Point? podcast from Gotham Gazette and Citizens Budget Commission. “I’m going to continue to think about ways the comptroller’s office can hold these agencies accountable.”

During the discussion, Stringer not only explained his watch list, but also repeatedly criticized Mayor Bill de Blasio over what Stringer sees as an insufficient affordable housing plan; explained his belief that New York City public housing needs a new management structure; and said that the city is not budgeting responsibly.

As part of his analysis of the city budget, Stringer singled out the Department of Homeless Services, Department of Education, and Department of Correction as agencies whose spending was of most concern, forming his initial “watch list,” which includes a new web portal with detailed information about the three and plans for more robust examination of their spending and effectiveness.

In addition to public hearings, Stringer’s office inspects agencies through audits, investigations, and reports. The comptroller’s office is also responsible for approving contracts that city agencies enter with outside vendors. While Stringer mentioned on the podcast a general plan to hold his own public hearings on the watch list agencies, his office declined to provide more information in response to follow-up questions.

Stringer included the Department of Homeless Services on his watch list after determining that despite citywide spending for homelessness across all agencies more than doubling from $1.1 billion in 2013 to an anticipated $2.6 billion in 2019, the number of individuals living in shelters has grown from 49,000 in 2013 to more than 61,000 in early 2018.  

Stringer said unravelling the homeless crisis in New York City starts with taking accountability for unnecessary expenditures.

“I think we have to look at changing policy and I think we have to look at making sure every dollar counts because if we continue to house people in commercial hotels that cost $100 million and if we continue to stuff people into these terribly conditioned homeless shelters, that’s the core of what we believe in that has to change,” Stringer said. “Budgets are priorities, but you have to be smart about expenditure and analyze whether that money is doing the right thing by the people.”

While Mayor Bill de Blasio has put a variety of plans in place to combat homelessness, it has been one of the central struggles of his time in office. Stringer and de Blasio are both Democrats who were elected to their current positions in 2013 and reelected in 2017. They will both be term-limited out of office at the end of 2021; Stringer is widely expected to run for mayor in the upcoming election cycle.

When resetting his approach to homelessness a second time, in early 2017, de Blasio announced a plan to open 90 new shelters while leaving notoriously troubled cluster site shelter apartments and expensive commercial hotels. He also said the plan, which includes ongoing and enhanced mechanisms like rental subsidies and free lawyers for housing court, would result in a very modest decrease in the homeless population.

"What is the plan to really reduce homelessness?,” Stringer said. “Do not even say to me that, well, ‘our plan is to reduce homelessness by 2,500 in five years.’ At the cost of $3 billion? You’ve got to be kidding me. I mean everybody wake up here."

As for the Department of Education, another “watch list” agency, Stringer’s office has found that the DOE was spending inefficiently and he has questioned its ballooning central staff. In a trial test of eight schools, Comptroller audits found that one third of computer hardware was unaccounted for with no follow-up actions to implement basic controls. Stringer’s staff also discovered that despite a $1 billion investment in high-speed broadband, one in three teachers are still displeased with the service. Moreover, in what Stinger’s office called “a rampant waste and lack of accountability,” $2.7 billion in no-bid contracts were doled out by DOE.

“I don’t want to see a 24% increase in administrative costs at DOE,” Stringer said on the podcast. “I want money to go into the classroom.”

Stringer included the Department of Correction on his watch list in order to highlight increases in spending and violence despite a decrease in inmate populations at city jails. Since 2008, the average daily inmate population dropped from 13,850 to 9,500 in 2017 (and as of July 2, it was just about 8,200). However, the average annual cost to house an inmate more than doubled over that same period. Over the last decade, the number of violent incidents at city jails more than tripled.

“At Department of Correction, this is something amazing, population is going down, but violence is going up,” Stringer said on the podcast. “And now we’re spending $270,000 a year [per inmate] on holding 9,000 inmates on Rikers Island. OK, this is madness.”

The agency watch list relates to overall budgeting by the mayor and the City Council, and to the effectiveness of spending on key city services, as well as how much the city is spending overall, its long-term financial commitments, and its reserves. Mayor de Blasio and the Council recently passed an $89.2 billion budget for fiscal year 2019, which began July 1. The size of the city budget has increased dramatically under de Blasio, and Stringer has been sounding alarm bells all along about the rate of spending, the lack of a recommended savings program that was used under Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and potentially insufficient reserves for the inevitable economic downturn.

On the podcast, Stringer said the city’s projected “budget cushion” — reserves as a percentage of city operating expenses — must be bolstered.

“I do think that there’s been a lost opportunity as it relates to putting more money aside for a rainy day,” Stringer said. “And we have now a record budget of $89 billion...I think we are going down a road that could cost us or hurt in the long run.”

The current budget reserves are about 9 percent of projected 2019 spending, about $8.5 billion in reserves, lower than what Stringer says is the optimal range of 12 to 18 percent. The “budget cushion” debate is a long-running one between the mayor and the comptroller. De Blasio has repeatedly stated that the city has “record” reserves, which is true in terms of absolute numbers, but as a percentage of spending, Stringer remains concerned.

Reserves are vital, Stringer explains, because when crisis inevitably hits the city, it often hurts the most vulnerable people, which was was the case after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 and after Hurricane Sandy hit in 2012, he said. Stringer has called on de Blasio to compel his agency commissioner to “scrub” their departments for savings, recommending the type of program Bloomberg used where he insisted on commissioners identify a certain percentage of their budgets for slashing, even if the cuts were not followed through on. De Blasio has not required this of his agency heads, instead instituting a voluntary savings program.

“Well, let’s go scrub the agencies for efficiencies,” Stringer said on the podcast. “That’s something that hasn’t happened in four years. Lets go agency by agency. Say to commissioners, ‘Look, there’s new technology. You haven’t looked at how to save money in an agency in four years.’ Previous mayors used to scrub those budgets and say, ‘Hold on with those expenses.’ That’s one way to do it. The city, the mayor’s refused to do that, I disagree with him. Get in there, get those savings, put is aside for that rainy day.”

As for de Blasio’s affordable housing plan -- which seeks to build or preserve 300,000 rent-regulated units by 2026 -- Stringer had perhaps his harshest words.

"There’s no real affordable housing plan to meet the needs the poorest New Yorkers," Stringer told podcast hosts Maria Doulis and Ben Max. “[W]e need a robust new housing plan," Stringer said.

"We need to think about a new subsidy program. Problem is, right now, for-profit developers is a lot of cases are, yes, they're building more density, and bigger projects in places in Brooklyn like East New York, but the reality is the affordable housing that they’re proposing, the [affordability] is not reflective of the population of the community, so the affordability is not affordable in the community, and we are gentrifying people out of the communities they built,” Stringer said.

And on the New York City Housing Authority, NYCHA, home to more than 400,000 residents of public housing that is falling apart and in need of more than $30 billion of repairs and upgrades, Stringer said it is time to change the governance model.

"That’s why I said to all who would listen, that we need to change the management structure at NYCHA,” Stringer said on the podcast. “It is abysmal. You’ve got a seven member board that doesn’t know what’s up. You’ve got a Chair, and then a [general] manager -- depending on the politics within NYCHA, one has power, the other one doesn’t, vice versa. Even in this crisis, you know, we don’t have a counsel, a chief financial officer in NYCHA, these positions are going unfilled, there’s no capacity in NYCHA.”

“I mean look, City Hall, wake up, do your part,” Stringer said, to ensure there’s “a structure in place” to oversee spending of billions of dollars and work with the federal monitor that will soon be hired based on a consent decree the city has entered with federal investigators. “But at the end of the day, the monitor doesn’t run it, management runs it, so we need one Chair, one person in charge,” Stringer continued. “Also, this is a time to get private industry involved, let’s get the best in the business from around the city, from all walks of life to begin looking at this amazing challenge before NYCHA falls apart.”

De Blasio’s office declined to respond to the comptroller’s criticisms and proposals.

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by Jordan Kimmel, Gotham Gazette
@GothamGazette

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Scott Stringer on His ‘Agency Watch List,’ De Blasio’s Housing Plan & Restructuring NYCHA Tue, 10 Jul 2018 04:00:00 +0000
It’s Time for Airbnb to Share Its New York Listings http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7717:it-s-time-for-airbnb-to-share-its-new-york-listings http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7717:it-s-time-for-airbnb-to-share-its-new-york-listings time share airbnb

(photo: Sofie Hecht / Gotham Gazette)


Teaching children to share is difficult. Teaching Airbnb to share is impossible. Airbnb’s version of the “sharing economy” means more profits for the company and less affordable housing for the rest of us. 

Airbnb repeatedly allows and provides cover for commercial operators to break the law, turn our homes into hotels, and parachute into our communities to make a profit, pilfering apartments along the way. Instead of working with enforcement officials to curb illegal listings, the company uses every legal maneuver in the books—fighting subpoenas and refusing to share data—to take more and more housing out of our communities.

Airbnb could easily disclose data on its listings. It does so in San Francisco, Chicago, New Orleans, and even China. But it refuses in New York. Why? Because it’s by far the company’s largest U.S. market, where it makes hundreds of millions more than any other U.S. city. 

It even goes as far as shielding unscrupulous commercial operators that evict tenants from rent-stabilized apartments just to protect its biggest money makers. 

And that’s on top of fueling gentrification and contributing to rising rents around the city as a result of stripping the long-term housing market of thousands of units.

Again, that’s not sharing. That’s taking. And that’s why the New York City Council’s efforts to rein in an unaccountable, deceitful corporation by forcing Airbnb to disclose the addresses of its listings to enforcement officials needs to happen, and happen soon.

Here’s the thing about Airbnb: the company thinks the rules don’t apply to it. In cities across the country and, in fact, across the globe, there has been a reckoning with communities and local governments passing sensible regulations to protect residents, only to see those laws ignored by a corporation that has built assets totaling more than $30 billion. And there are few cities that know this better than New York.

In 2010, state lawmakers modified the 1929 Multiple Dwelling Law to ban short-term rentals in New York City apartment buildings for fewer than 30 days while the primary tenant is not present to ensure the “sharing economy” did not close the door to affordable housing on actual long-term tenants, or create quality-of-life issues in buildings not zoned for hotel and commercial activity. It was strengthened in 2016 to allow for more enforcement but Airbnb continues to throw up roadblocks.

The company’s refusal to follow that law has allowed tens of thousands of illegal entire home/apartment listings to proliferate across the city in the midst of an affordable housing crisis when New Yorkers needed those apartments the most. 

Just last year alone, Airbnb generated $435 million in revenue from illegal listings in New York City, according to the School of Urban Planning at McGill University. That’s 435 million reasons why Airbnb cannot be trusted to police its own website, and why New York officials must step up, yet again, to pass additional regulations to stop Airbnb from breaking our laws. 

Like the stories we have heard in cities such as San Francisco, Boston, Washington, D.C., New Orleans, Chicago, Barcelona, Paris, Toronto, and Amsterdam, to name a few, the wealthiest among us have come to view Airbnb as a tool to make millions by turning homes into hotels and reducing available housing stock for everyone else. In New York, this has resulted in 13,500 units being removed from the housing market, according to the McGill report, making it even harder to find an available and affordable place to live. 

Make no mistake: despite the company’s best attempts to distract from the truth, the legislation being proposed by the New York City Council would have zero effect on the nice families in Airbnb’s commercials using the platform to make ends meet. Regular folks sharing their homes legally and responsibly are not the problem, and they are also not the norm when it comes to Airbnb. The millions of dollars the company invests in slick marketing and expensive lobbyists to peddle their ongoing misinformation campaigns does not change the fact its platform is overrun by unscrupulous landlords subverting our laws to make extra bucks at the expense of regular New Yorkers.

Why should Airbnb be rewarded for having the track record of a greedy corporation that refuses to follow the law?

In San Francisco, when Airbnb refused to police its site of illegal listings, the city enacted regulations forcing Airbnb to disclose the addresses of its listings, sending a strong message to bad actors and serial lawbreakers that they would no longer get a free pass to flout the law and profit from illegal activity.

Almost immediately, Airbnb listings in San Francisco dropped by more than half and thousands of apartments returned to the long-term market for permanent residents. 

Now it’s New York’s turn. 

No corporation should get to pick and choose what laws it follows and what laws it breaks in order to make a profit on the backs of middle-class families.

The New York City Council and Mayor de Blasio must see through Airbnb’s lies and deceit and act once and for all to protect tenants by swiftly passing legislation requiring Airbnb to share the addresses of its listings so enforcement officials can protect our communities and affordable housing.

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Tom Cayler is a member of the West Side Neighborhood Alliance in Manhattan.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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It’s Time for Airbnb to Share Its New York Listings Wed, 06 Jun 2018 04:00:00 +0000
To Make New York City More Affordable, End the Cap on Density http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7679:to-make-new-york-city-more-affordable-end-the-cap-on-density http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7679:to-make-new-york-city-more-affordable-end-the-cap-on-density far rockaway queens mayors office

(Benjamin Kanter/Mayoral Photo Office)


New York’s severe housing crisis can be traced to a simple fact—our city doesn’t have enough homes for the people who want to live here. The shortage has led to ever-increasing rents, the steady displacement of long-standing communities, and levels of homelessness not seen since the Great Depression. To put it bluntly, we need to build more homes. Lots of them. Affordable and market rate. Yesterday.

One senseless obstacle to new housing is a statewide cap on the density of new residential construction. Since 1961, New York has prohibited the construction of any residential building that has floor space greater than 12 times the size of its lot. This limit is ill-suited for New York City, which needs to allow larger residential buildings to house its growing population in neighborhoods with good transit and good schools. The Regional Plan Association, a respected and nonpartisan think tank, has called for the repeal of this cap, arguing that without more dense construction, displacement in gentrifying neighborhoods will accelerate and the City will choke on worsened congestion.

It is encouraging that Mayor de Blasio and the state Senate have signaled support for ending these restrictions. Unfortunately, Andrew Berman, Executive Director of The Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation (GVSHP), recently published an op-ed with Gotham Gazette that includes several misleading arguments in favor of the density cap. Berman argues that fighting against new housing will somehow result in a more affordable city. He is mistaken; while new highrises will not single-handedly fix New York’s affordability problem, they deserve to be recognized as a serious tool for addressing the housing crisis.

In a shortage, the rich, whether they be landlords, wealthy tenants, or homeowners, always win. In a housing glut, tenants win. Denser buildings would produce more housing units, a substantial portion of which would be permanently affordable through the Mandatory Inclusionary Housing law. Before leaving office in 2016, the Obama Administration published an analysis of the barriers to new construction of affordable housing, and the most destructive factor they identified were burdensome restrictions on the size and shape of new buildings, like those Mr. Berman endorses.

Many readers may be skeptical of the idea that new market-rate homes help keep rents low, but studies have shown that denser, market-rate apartments in in-demand neighborhoods relieve pressure on existing homes citywide. Recent construction has lowered median rents across Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Queens, not just the top of the market. And south of 96 Street, the most affordable neighborhoods also happen to be the densest—the Upper East Side and the Lower East Side—and not, tellingly, neighborhoods hemmed in by ‘historic’ zoning, like Mr. Berman’s Greenwich Village.

If we don't produce enough new market-rate units, the people who might move into a new condo building in Downtown Brooklyn might instead buy a converted brownstone In Crown Heights, displacing existing Crown Heights residents in the process. People who might want to live on the Upper West Side are priced out and move into West Harlem instead. Forbidding dense development in one neighborhood is a recipe for gentrification in the next one over. Members of my organization, Open New York, have experienced this first-hand. Some of us, priced out of neighborhoods like Kips Bay, have become reluctant gentrifiers of Bushwick or Bed-Stuy. Others, like myself in the East Village, worry about our rents rising and facing the same fate.

Although unscrupulous landlords or rapacious speculators hardly help matters, the unfortunate truth is that the city’s housing crisis and the displacement it has wrought are primarily caused by these kinds of restrictions. Wealthy and politically-connected residents in desirable neighborhoods consistently use these laws to thwart the construction of new housing under the guise of ‘preserving neighborhood character,’ keeping their communities exclusive and pushing both new residents and their communities’ most vulnerable residents into less well-off areas. The result is gentrification and skyrocketing rents. New York needs to consider another way.

Lifting the state density cap would not affect residents’ right to have a say in new development. Any changes to a neighborhood’s zoning would still have to go through the regular land-use process and be approved by the City Council, and the city’s Mandatory Inclusionary Housing law would still apply, ensuring any changes include a mix of affordable and market rate units. But eliminating the ban would give residents more flexibility to decide how to grow, whereas keeping it forces us to double down on the same failed policies of exclusion. Rather than looking to Greenwich Village—one of the most expensive neighborhoods in the city—as a model to emulate, we should be working to eliminate the barriers to affordable growth. Removing this counterproductive restriction on density is a good first step.

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William Thomas is an East Village resident and a member of Open New York, an independent pro-housing advocacy group. On Twitter, @OpenNYForAll.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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To Make New York City More Affordable, End the Cap on Density Thu, 17 May 2018 04:00:00 +0000
To Maximize Affordable Housing, Increase Collaboration Between Public and Private Sectors http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7660:to-maximize-affordable-housing-increase-collaboration-between-public-and-private-sectors http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7660:to-maximize-affordable-housing-increase-collaboration-between-public-and-private-sectors department housing affordable

(photo: @NYCHousing)


The millions of New Yorkers struggling to deal with impacts of an urgent housing crisis deserve to see more collaboration between government officials and industry leaders who have the power to provide more affordable homes for low- and middle-income families.

Fortunately, the recently-passed state budget provides a reminder of what can be achieved when public officials advance smart, pro-housing policies with appropriate input and feedback from local leaders and those who build and preserve affordable housing. Alongside ongoing positive strides at the city level, New York City is well-positioned to further address its housing crisis and truly turn the tide in the months and years to come.

Just as importantly, this roadmap for crafting public policy – driven by an ongoing dialogue between the public and private sector – will help New York to more effectively mitigate recent changes at the federal level that have created some new challenges to maximizing affordable housing production.

Aside from continuing to advance New York State’s multi-billion-dollar commitment to financing affordable housing construction and preservation, the new state budget includes two prime case studies that demonstrate the benefits of increasing that kind of collaboration.

First, the state approved changes that will allow builders of affordable housing to utilize State Low-Income Housing Tax Credits (SLIHTC) separately from federal LIHTC. Previously, those credits could only be used together, even after recent federal tax cuts led to a devaluation in federal credits that made it harder to finance low-income housing.

Sensing the long-term implications of this challenge, NYSAFAH raised the issue directly with state lawmakers and administration officials. The result was a commonsense, pro-housing decision to split up, or bifurcate, the state and federal tax credits and to certificate the state credits – and these simple moves will attract millions in additional private financing for affordable housing each year, at no cost to the state.

Another area of fruitful collaboration involved a different issue regarding tax credits. The initial state budget proposal included a provision that would have deferred the use of several different credits – which play a crucial role in the production of affordable housing – for at least the next three years, and devalue the credits for a far greater period.

Again, NYSAFAH and other stakeholders understood from our experience on the ground that this was an area of tremendous concern. Taking pivotal tax credits off the table would have made it impossible to build and preserve affordable housing in communities that need it most.

And again, the conversations with and persistent advocacy before state officials led to a successful outcome – the tax credits were preserved and the affordable housing pipeline will continue to produce homes for low-income New Yorkers.

Together with the ongoing work at the local level, these statewide advances should demonstrate to all policymakers and stakeholders that open, fact-based dialogue is one of our best and most valuable tools in the fight to confront New York’s affordable housing crisis.

As NYSAFAH welcomes leaders from across the public and private sectors to its 19th Annual New York City Conference in the days to come, we have every reason to believe that these positive discussions will continue. And that is good news for all New Yorkers.

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Jolie Milstein is president and CEO of the New York State Association for Affordable Housing (NYSAFAH). On Twitter @NYSAFAH.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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To Maximize Affordable Housing, Increase Collaboration Between Public and Private Sectors Mon, 07 May 2018 04:00:00 +0000
What's The [Data] Point? 4, with Sally Goldenberg http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7655:what-s-the-data-point-4-with-sally-goldenberg http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7655:what-s-the-data-point-4-with-sally-goldenberg whats the data point


What's The [Data] Point? Episode 39 -- 4, with Sally Goldenberg [You can download What's The [Data] Point? wherever you get your podcasts, including on iTunes]

wtpd md bm sally goldenbergSally Goldenberg, a senior reporter for Politico New York currently covering housing and real estate, joins the podcast to discuss Mayor de Blasio's approach to neighborhood rezonings and affordable housing, among other topics. The episode's data point, 4, is the number of neighborhood rezonings that have been passed so far under de Blasio: East New York, Downtown Far Rockaway, East Harlem, and the Jerome Avenue corridor in the Bronx. We discuss those, as well as proposals that have not gone through, new project and rezoning ideas on the table, and much more.

With a good deal of experience covering City Hall, city politics, budgets, and now housing, this week's guest brings a great deal of expertise to the discussion.

Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think: Ben Max of GG (@TweetBenMax), Maria Doulis of CBC (@MariaDoulis). Listen below or download wherever you get your podcasts!

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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What's The [Data] Point? 4, with Sally Goldenberg Fri, 04 May 2018 04:00:00 +0000
The Mayor's Mistaken Attempt to Supersize Buildings http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7633:the-mayor-s-mistaken-attempt-to-supersize-buildings http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7633:the-mayor-s-mistaken-attempt-to-supersize-buildings mbdb hanac

(Credit: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)


Nearly every day it seems, a new record is broken for a tallest new residential structure in our city. Whether it is Downtown Brooklyn’s first 1,000+ foot tall tower, Queens’ tallest tower in Long Island City, or the 1,550 foot tall West 57 Street residential tower that will soon rise higher than the top floor of One World Trade Center, residential building in New York City is reaching new heights.

But for Mayor de Blasio and the real estate industry, even these record-breaking heights are not enough. They are advocating for repealing a 60-year-old state law, which, while capping the size of residential developments in New York City, is still so generous as to allow the unprecedented giants going up now.

If the mayor and the real estate industry have their way, the sky could literally be the limit for residential high-rises in New York City. And not just in Midtown or the Financial District, but residential neighborhoods like the Upper East Side and Upper West Side, Greenwich Village, and various parts of Brooklyn and Queens, where current rules limit new residential development to at or near the cap imposed by state law.

The possibility is more than theoretical. Two years ago proponents of lifting the cap came close to getting the State Legislature to do so. This year the State Senate pushed for the measure to be included in the state budget, but the Assembly ultimately did not go along with it (though the cap removal definitely has its proponents in the Assembly majority). Most observers expect the supporters of lifting the cap to push the measure again before the state legislative session ends in June, possibly as part of the “big ugly” – the annual package of often unrelated and controversial measures passed in the final hours of legislative session, with little public notice or input.

With all the problems facing New York City right now, from dysfunctional subways to crumbling public housing to crippling congestion, why is this an issue the mayor has chosen to take on?

Mayor de Blasio and some of the proponents of lifting the cap claim it’s necessary to build affordable housing.  But not because they want affordable housing developments that exceed the current record-breaking heights. Because they want to allow real estate developers to build vastly larger for-profit, luxury housing developments.  In return, they will require them to attach a comparatively small amount of affordable housing to the development.

This is a false dichotomy that the real estate industry has promulgated and the mayor has endorsed – that the best and, in many cases, only way to get new affordable housing out of for-profit developers across the city is by supersizing the amount of luxury, market-rate housing they can build, and then attaching these smaller amounts of affordable housing to it.

It’s due to this approach that communities throughout New York City have opposed the mayor’s rezoning plans – both because they would destroy the scale and character of their neighborhoods, and because under the guise of introducing “affordable housing” (which in many cases is unaffordable to the residents of the neighborhood), vastly increased quantities of very expensive housing is built, which more than counteracts any good done by the relatively small amount of affordable housing created.

Take Greenwich Village and the East Village. These increasingly wealthy neighborhoods with decreasing affordable housing have been begging the mayor to support a zoning plan we have proposed that would allow modest increases in the allowable size of developments as a condition for creating or preserving affordable housing. The mayor has adamantly opposed the plan, saying he would only be willing to consider the kind of massive increases in the allowable size of residential development that would bump up against the current state cap, to say nothing of destroying the character of these human-scaled neighborhoods.

Don’t let the mayor or Big Real Estate fool you. The state cap on the size of New York City residential buildings is not limiting anything New Yorkers should be worried about. The only thing it’s limiting is the already astronomical profits of developers, and the ambitions of some politicians to increase them even further.

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Andrew Berman is Executive Director of Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation. On Twitter @GVSHP.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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The Mayor's Mistaken Attempt to Supersize Buildings Tue, 24 Apr 2018 04:00:00 +0000
City Seeks Developers to Protect Affordability Through Housing Purchases http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7590:city-seeks-developers-to-protect-affordability-through-housing-purchases http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7590:city-seeks-developers-to-protect-affordability-through-housing-purchases de Blasio affordable housing

Mayor de Blasio (photo: Edwin J. Torres/Mayor's Office)


In October, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that his ambitious affordable housing plan was two years ahead of schedule, prompting him to expand his target of creating and preserving 200,000 affordable units by 2024 to 300,000 units by 2026. At the same time, the mayor said his administration would undertake efforts to increase the involvement of non-profit developers in keeping housing affordable, likely a response to critics who said the administration was relying too heavily on the for-profit real estate industry.

As part of the enhanced and recalibrated plan, the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) will take the first step on Thursday in launching its latest initiative. HPD will start seeking out developers who are interested in, and able to, purchase rent-regulated housing and maintain its affordability. The agency will then connect that list of developers -- including for-profit and non-profit entities -- with sellers.

HPD will issue a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) to create that list of developers, judging applicants based on “acquisition and development experience, portfolio management history, financial capacity, and the quality of their identified property manager.”

Additionally, the non-profit developers that qualify for the list will be eligible for the administration’s “Neighborhood Pillars” program, a $275 million public-private fund intended to provide financial assistance to mission-based organizations, minority- and women-owned business enterprises and community-based organizations to buy and preserve unregulated and rent-stabilized housing for the long term. HPD estimates the program, which is expected to launch by next fiscal year, starting July 1, could help fund the purchase of 7,500 units within eight years.

“As we accelerate and expand our work through Housing New York 2.0, we are taking a more targeted, data-driven approach to preserving affordability and protecting residents from the threat of predatory investment,” said HPD Commissioner Maria Torres-Springer, in a statement. The program, she said, would “help safeguard the affordability of our city for generations to come.”

Sam Marks, executive director of Local Initiatives Support Corporation NYC, which worked with HPD on the creation of Neighborhood Pillars, said in a statement that rent-regulated multi-family homes are a “key resource” for maintaining affordability for low- and moderate-income New Yorkers.

“[W]e applaud the City for creating a dedicated program to enable mission-driven developers to acquire and steward these assets,” he said. “The Neighborhood Pillars Program has the potential to protect these buildings from predatory purchasers and speculators. We are hopeful that the HPD will prioritize locally-based, mission driven developers, such as community development corporations, that would commit to long-term affordability even beyond what the public financing regulatory agreements require.”

The effort is intended, in part, as an answer to the rampant housing speculation across the city, which housing advocates say has been triggered in some cases by the administration’s proposals to comprehensively revise land use rules in low-income communities to spur affordable housing creation. The mayor pushed back against that notion when he first announced Neighborhood Pillars in October, when a reporter asked if the new program was an acknowledgement that the city may have exacerbated housing speculation.

“It’s an acknowledgement that speculation was already a problem,” he said. “I’ve said this a thousand times...the speculation problem is separate from any question [about] rezoning. We’ve seen massive speculation in Bed-Stuy, in Bushwick, in places that never had a rezoning, as well as places that had a rezoning coming. It’s unfortunately ubiquitous. So we have to approach it with new tools.”

Along those lines, the administration has taken measures, in conjunction with the New York City Council, to prevent developers from driving out rent-regulated tenants and raising rents at astronomical rates. The most recent of those is the “Predatory Equity” bill, sponsored by Council Member Ritchie Torres from the Bronx and passed by the City Council in December. The bill mandated the creation of a publicly available “Speculation Watch List” of rent-regulated buildings which have been recently sold and where the tenants could face displacement pressures. The administration will publish the list this fall.

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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City Seeks Developers to Protect Affordability Through Housing Purchases Wed, 04 Apr 2018 04:00:00 +0000
De Blasio Planning Appointee Becomes Ardent Foe http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7577:de-blasio-planning-appointee-becomes-ardent-foe http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7577:de-blasio-planning-appointee-becomes-ardent-foe Mayor de Blasio afforable housing

Mayor de Blasio unveils his housing plan (photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)


Michelle de la Uz was first appointed to the powerful City Planning Commission in 2012, by then-Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, then re-appointed in 2017 by the current Public Advocate, Letitia James. Over the course of time, and with de Blasio now in his fifth year as mayor, de la Uz has become the most consistent and often lone dissenter on the 13-member commission, voting against a variety of de Blasio’s land use plans.

During a recent appearance on the Max & Murphy podcast from Gotham Gazette and City Limits, de la Uz gave her perspective on the city’s housing crisis and de Blasio’s approach to affordable housing and changing land use rules for various swaths of the city, often known as neighborhood rezonings, which have so far occurred in low-income communities of color like East New York, East Harlem, and the Jerome Avenue corridor in the Bronx.

The City Planning Commission is responsible for reviewing land-use applications across the city, ranging from small projects on individual plots of land to the redevelopment of the Hudson Yards, community-wide plans, and more. Several hundred applications come through the Commission each year, most of them not controversial, but there are typically at least a handful of great significance.

Seven of the CPC members are appointed by the mayor, five by the individual borough presidents, and one by the public advocate. De la Uz described working on the Commission as a privilege, and said of the different land review processes that, “some of them are quite technical and relatively minor, honestly, and others really call into question what are broader public policy questions around planning.”

Also the executive director of the Fifth Avenue Committee, a non-profit community development organization in Brooklyn that seeks to promote economic and social justice through a wide range of local initiatives, de la Uz has a particular philosophy about city planning and land use that not only comes from a social justice and equity lens, but also starts with “do no harm.”

“One of the reasons why I was appointed by Public Advocate de Blasio and Public Advocate Tish James, was not only my knowledge and expertise, but also quite honestly my independence,” she said, “at the time I think he was enamored with it.”

De la Uz has been an outspoken critic of the mayor’s planning policies, and recently voted against the major rezoning plans in East Harlem, East New York, Jerome Avenue, downtown Far Rockaway, and Inwood, often as the only dissenter on the Commission. This slate of rezonings would allow for more development in these neighborhoods and is central to the de Blasio’s affordable housing policy and community development efforts.

According to the his plan, Housing New York 2.0, the city aims to build or preserve 300,000 affordable homes by 2026. Neighborhood rezonings typically include new land use rules to allow more housing with greater density, and a variety of neighborhood investments, such as new schools, transportation improvements, park land, and more. De Blasio has defended his administration’s rezoning of only low-income communities of color, indicating that the city has gone where there has been interest from local officials and opportunity to add housing.

While de la Uz agrees that the mayor’s policies are headed in the right direction, she emphasizes the need to provide deeper affordability and for more careful zoning. She thinks there is significant room for improvement to the approach, including how the city leverages private investment to create affordable housing and how it uses other subsidies at its disposal.

On the podcast, de la Uz spoke about the New York Housing and Vacancy Survey of 2017 (HVS), and the upcoming HVS of 2018, which indicate that apartment vacancy rates in the city are extremely low, at 3.63% citywide, which qualifies as a housing crisis (below 5%). This has been a consistent problem for more than 20 years. Low vacancy rates give leverage to landlords over tenants in rent negotiations. The city addresses this imbalance with rent stabilization, among other programs.

According to a city official, in 2017 there were 966,000 rent-stabilized units (occupied and vacant available), comprising 44 percent of the total rental stock. De la Uz described rent-stabilized housing as one the city’s most valuable assets, together with public housing.

Giving some credit to the de Blasio administration’s efforts, de la Uz pointed out that “the city produced more [housing] units in the last few years than it’s had in decades, and I think that certainly is an endorsement of Mayor de Blasio’s affordable housing plan.” She also mentioned other measures that de Blasio has instituted to help tenants keep their rents affordable or stay in their homes.

As of November, landlords in certain areas need to provide “certificates of no harassment” signed by tenants, if they want to make significant alterations to their building. And, as of August 2017, the city has promised legal counsel to many low-income tenants facing eviction. De la Uz also expressed cautious optimism about the new “Neighborhood Pillars” program, which will pledge capital to help non-profit organizations acquire and preserve affordability in existing, unregulated, and rent-stabilized buildings.

“What’s interesting is that rents, especially at the upper income levels, are actually coming down,” she said, “the problem is that the rents really aren’t coming down for the folks that are most in need, and the people the Fifth Avenue Committee serves, and other non-profit community development corporations serve.” This pattern corresponds with the vacancy rates of different affordability brackets: according to the HVS, for units with rents less than $800 a month, the vacancy rate is 1.15%, while for units with rents more than $2,000 a month, the vacancy rate is 7.42%, and above $2,500 asking rent, the vacancy rate was reported at 8.74% in 2017.

A key part of de Blasio’s housing plan is the Mandatory Inclusionary Housing policy (MIH), which, through zoning actions, forces residential developers to build a certain percentage of units that are affordable to households in different income brackets, measured as a percentage of Area Median Income.

De la Uz expressed dissatisfaction with the MIH targets -- she voted against MIH at the Commission -- which underlies many of the neighborhood rezonings and land use measures the city backs to help create affordable housing through new development. “We know it’s the most aggressive mandatory inclusion policy in the country, but the need is much, much greater than that,” de la Uz said of how the MIH income targets play out in low-income communities.

Asked to respond to de la Uz’s critiques, a spokesperson for the de Blasio administration noted that the city added $2 billion to its affordable housing budget last year, specifically to preserve and build more deeply-affordable units, with nearly half allocated for families living on less than $43,000 per year. The city official also reported that the share of households that are rent burdened is still high, but it is stable with about half of renter households rent-burdened, and one-third severely burdened. A household is defined as rent-burdened if it spends 30% or more of its income on rent, and severely rent-burdened if that percentage hits 50.

De la Uz made a connection between the MIH targets and the strong local opposition to the major rezonings: “you have nearly 27% of New York City’s population that is not benefitting, whose incomes are so low that they are not benefiting from any of the new development that's happening in a community, right, so that's part of the problem -- MIH doesn't reach below 40% AMI, and yet in a number of the neighborhoods that have been rezoned or are targeted for rezoning, that’s the majority of residents in that community. So no wonder people are opposing it...none of the new housing is going to be for them. People want to see themselves in what is happening.”

While that is not entirely true, there has been some community opposition to the rezonings, with some people feeling that development will exacerbate market pressures, accelerate gentrification, and displace local businesses and residents. Although these rezonings have come in packages which include major investments in the neighborhoods, one critic, Emily Goldstein of the Association for Neighborhood & Housing Development, has pointed out that wealthier neighborhoods have been able to receive city resources “without having to “trade” for something City Hall wants.”

De la Uz explained where her skepticism comes from, saying, “I think [it’s] because I run a non-profit community development corporation, one that has seen all the mistakes of past rezonings.” Citing significant losses of rent-stabilized housing in North Park Slope, South Park Slope, and Sunset Park following their respective rezonings in 2003, 2007, and 2009, during Mayor Bloomberg’s tenure, she emphasized the need for caution. “Zoning can be too broad, you need a scalpel...It could be more targeted.”

De la Uz also expressed frustration with the environmental impact review process employed by the City Planning Department. At the moment, rent-stabilized housing is not viewed as at risk of demolition, but following the rezonings in Park Slope and Sunset Park, she said “certainly Fifth Avenue Committee and I, personally, have seen that that's just not the case.” More broadly, they don’t take into account risks of displacement of rent-stabilized tenants. “We have no data, or no data that’s being shared. That’s really critical, that the city and state’s information around rent stabilization is not publicly accessible,” she said, “If you don’t measure it how could you possibly know what the impact is?”

In the Jerome Avenue corridor rezoning process, for example, a neighborhood where the real-estate market is relatively weak, the Department of City Planning predicts that all of the residential development in the short-term will be subsidized and 100% will be income-targeted, according to Abigail Savitch-Lew from City Limits. Even in such cases, de la Uz wants to ask the question, “what was there before? - because in a number of these communities, there were naturally occurring affordable communities that had no subsidy from government to create the affordability, and often times the income level of the folks were lower than the new housing that's being created, especially in East New York. You know, that's a community that's moderate income that has a lot of homeowners.”

“What's being lost at what AMI level, and what’s being gained at what AMI level?” de la Uz asked. She also raised the concern that the rezonings displace undocumented immigrants. “We’re talking about people who are not eligible for the new affordable housing programs,” she said.

“You really need multiple strategies, and the city now, with the tenant right to counsel, and the certificate of no harassment, with MIH, these are the things -- and many more things -- that you have to put together in order to have the desired outcome of really increasing economic diversity and preserving not just buildings, but neighborhoods and the people that have lived in them,” de la Uz said, giving the de Blasio administration and other officials some credit.

She raised the possibility of using another strategy, saying, “none of the land use actions have thought about using value capture to help preserve public housing. NYCHA is talked about as if it’s a totally different universe despite the fact that it is all in these communities.”

The Gowanus rezoning process, occurring right in de la Uz’s backyard, could be a welcome break with the pattern of only rezoning poorer neighborhoods, as some have called for rezonings in more prosperous areas. The process is being led by City Council Member Brad Lander, who succeeded de Blasio in the City Council representing the area, and who was de la Uz’s predecessor at Fifth Avenue Committee.

De la Uz discussed her work with the Gowanus Neighborhood Coalition for Justice, a coalition of public housing residents, industrial business advocates, nonprofits, religious groups, and civic members, who are currently advocating for the community’s interests in four separate rezoning processes, including the larger Gowanus plan.

GNCJ is pushing for even deeper affordability than in MIH, investment in NYCHA through value capture, and the creation of the city’s first eco-district; close-by are three manufactured gas sites, and the neighborhood has lived with the environmental impacts for decades, not to mention the polluted Gowanus Canal. Additionally, there is a large industrial-business zone in the area, “that really needs much more attention and really should be leveraged, and should be thought of as part the mayor’s 100,000 jobs plan.”

Since de la Uz and Fifth Avenue Committee are involved in the local processes, she will have to recuse herself on the City Planning Commission.

On the city’s larger battle to create affordable housing, de la Uz also touched on the large number of vacant apartments in the city, according to the HVS.

“I think the other interesting number is the number of apartments that are vacant, but not for rent. So, pied-a-terres. There are over 70,000 apartments in the city of New York that are vacant or not really available, because someone is using them as investment properties. That number is more than the homeless population that we have in the city of New York. We don’t tax those units differently, for instance. To have an affordable housing crisis, and to have a public housing authority crisis, to have the highest number of pied-a-terres in the city’s history, not looked at, in my mind, as something that should be taxed or should be regulated more directly. They're not contributing to relieving the city’s housing crisis basically, they’re sitting there as investment property,” De la Uz said.

Mayor de Blasio has repeatedly advocated for a pied-a-terre tax and a mansion tax, which would additionally tax sales of expensive properties to support more affordable housing subsidies. Any tax legislation would have to pass through the State Legislature.

“We support wealthy out of towners paying their fair share through a pied-à-terre tax,” said de Blasio spokesperson Melissa Grace. “As we continue to explore our options in this challenging legal area, the Mayor is pushing hard for a mansion tax targeting a similar ultra-high-income group. Meanwhile, the Mayor’s Office of Special Enforcement is aggressively enforcing laws that bar property owners from taking permanent housing off the market to create illegal hotels.”

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by Gabriel Slaughter and Ben Max

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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De Blasio Planning Appointee Becomes Ardent Foe Wed, 28 Mar 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Expert Points to Disconnect Between De Blasio Housing and Homelessness Plans http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7552:is-de-blasio-s-housing-plan-doing-enough-for-homeless-people http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7552:is-de-blasio-s-housing-plan-doing-enough-for-homeless-people bdb mayor tides

Mayor de Basio (photo: Edwin J. Torres/Mayoral Photo Office)


The city’s homelessness crisis has been a major challenge for Mayor Bill de Blasio since he took office in 2014. While the crisis was growing over the course of decades, key decisions were made just a few years before de Blasio became mayor that appear to have accelerated the trend, namely the elimination of city and state rental subsidy programs.

When de Blasio became mayor, he set out to reinstitute rental subsidy programming, among other pieces of his homelessness and housing agendas, which have continued to evolve over the course of his more than four years in office. But, the city’s homelessness population continued to increase, hitting record highs above 60,000 individuals, and de Blasio has faced a great deal of criticism for not handling the issue better, including on specifics like shelter safety, outreach to homeless people on the streets, and attention to homeless students.

His voucher programs have not been as successful as he hoped, though he has been fairly aggressive in preventing evictions and city efforts have helped keep thousands at risk of displacement in their homes through legal services and rent-arrears payments.

Generally, it is the sheer number of homeless people living in the city that continues to frustrate the mayor and other New Yorkers. While the de Blasio administration’s efforts have shown some results in breaking the trajectory of the increase in homelessness, with the population relatively steady for much of 2017, there are major questions about the city’s ability and willingness to do what it might take to significantly reduce that number. Indeed, in de Blasio’s second major reboot of his approach to homelessness, his Turning the Tide on Homelessness report issued in February 2017, the mayor announced a goal of reducing homelessness to about 57,500 in five years, which would mark the end of his tenure as mayor if he serves his full two terms.

A leading policy advocate, Giselle Routhier of Coalition for the Homeless, recently outlined several areas of concern with de Blasio’s policies during an appearance on the Max & Murphy podcast from Gotham Gazette and City Limits.

Routhier is the Coalition’s policy director and author of its recent annual report, “The State of the Homeless,” which looks at “how the city and state can tackle homelessness by bringing housing investment to scale.”

According to the report, an average of 63,495 people slept in the city’s homeless shelters each night in December 2017; overall in 2017, more than 110,000 city students were homeless at some point; and nearly one in five homeless parents today were homeless as a child.

During the podcast appearance, Routhier gave de Blasio some credit, but stressed the urgency of the situation and criticized the mayor for not going nearly far enough. “So what the mayor has done is gone from nothing to something,” she said. Adding that, “he has not been bold enough to implement policies to actually ‘turn the tide’ as of yet, as said in his plan that he released last year.”

“I think it’s OK to say that [the homeless population is] stabilized. It’s important to remember that it’s stabilized basically at record levels,” Routhier said. Of the mayor’s goal for homeless census reduction, Routhier said, “2,500 people over five years. Not households, people. That’s fewer households. That’s crazy. We can’t accept that as an appropriate solution.”

When asked what she would have done differently, Routhier expressed her frustration that, although the plan was bringing sorely needed improvements to the shelter system, it did not create enough permanent housing.

Routhier did recognize the city’s significant and various efforts to mitigate the crisis and to help families avoid homelessness. She pointed out that de Blasio inherited a very tough situation from his predecessor. In 2006, Mayor Bloomberg ended a series of housing assistance programs for the homeless, and drastically reduced the use of key federal housing resources, and “had these Federally funded resources been consistently deployed to serve homeless families and individuals over the past decade, over 36,000 more households would have moved out of NYC shelters into stable, Federally subsidized homes,” according to Routhier’s report. De Blasio has reinstated a slate of city-funded subsidies and some access for homeless people to public housing and Section 8 vouchers.

Both on the podcast and in her report, Routhier commended the city’s substantial spending on rent subsidies, and the extension of free legal services to tenants threatened with eviction. She wrote that subsidizing tenants’ rent “is a fiscally sound investment and often costs a fraction of the $61,262 it costs per year to provide emergency shelter for a family.”

A de Blasio administration spokesperson, responding to Gotham Gazette inquiries, said that, without the administration’s initiatives, there would be roughly 70,000 people in shelters today, as opposed to the 60,366 in the shelter census for March 14, according to city figures.

“We are building and protecting affordable homes for families—including those facing homeless—at a record pace,” said Jaclyn Rothenberg, a spokesperson for Mayor de Blasio, in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “Between our affordable and supportive housing plans, free legal help for tenants fighting eviction, and rent assistance programs, we’re headed in the right direction.”

Routhier applauded the mayor’s initiatives to improve the quality and accessibility of its shelter system, which has expanded in an ad-hoc manner for years, and still needs a lot of attention. She and many others support the de Blasio plan to end the use of commercial hotels and so-called cluster site apartment rentals as homeless shelters, and to continue to fix up and secure existing shelters while opening dozens of new ones in an effort to keep homeless people in their communities and closer to their prior homes.

The city is now spending $217 million on shelter security, according to a spokesperson for the city. It created a Shelter Repair Squad that conducted more than 34,000 shelter inspections in 2016 and 2017. It tightened shelter regulations to make sure they were functioning adequately. It has doubled its investment in street outreach programs, looking to spend $97.6 million in FY18. It has hired liaison workers with the Department of Education to help families address transfer options, transportation requirements, and special education needs. According to an audit by city Comptroller Scott Stringer’s office done in 2015 and 2016, a sample of 73 homeless students were chronically absent or late and not given the proper attention from the DOE.

“The two things can’t be divorced in our minds,” Routhier said of improving shelters and providing permanent housing. In her report, she wrote that, “in 2017 there were more than 860,000 households that needed to spend less than $800 on rent in order for their apartment to be affordable (consuming 30 percent or less of income), but only 350,000 such apartments existed - a shortage of more than 510,000 apartments.”

Both the mayor and Routhier see this lack of affordability in the rental market as the major driver of homelessness in New York City. However, they have different views on what to do about it.

Crucially, Routhier wants the mayor to change the composition of his affordable housing plan, Housing New York 2.0. Of the projected 300,000 “affordable” units to be built or preserved, 15,000 units are allocated to homeless households. Routhier added, “to put that in context, Mayor Koch, over a shorter time period, did half as many housing units over all, and allocated more to homeless families at a time when homelessness was a third of what it is today.”

Routhier wants the mayor to double the allocation to 30,000 units to serve homeless households, of which 24,000 units should be newly-built, in order to ensure that they are quickly available (virtually all “preserved” affordable units are currently occupied). For Routhier, this is the best way for the city to ensure a “robust supply of housing that’s going to be available to people of extremely low incomes, over the long term.”

During the podcast, Routhier further said that Mayor de Blasio is driven by “an ideological desire to create housing for everybody, in all income bands, when in fact that doesn’t really match with the data that show where the housing need really is.” De Blasio has emphasized that the city needs to affordable housing for families across much of the income spectrum, including middle-class families. But Routhier said, “If you really look at the data, people that are at 80 or 100% of AMI, that are making $80,000 to $100,000 a year, they’re going to be OK, it’s going to be possible for them to find housing in the market.” She believes that the mayor should build housing to address the highest-need demand, even if it means fewer overall units, but more at lower affordability thresholds.

In her report, Routhier also criticized top government officials over not following through quickly enough with their pledges to create supportive housing, which is permanent affordable housing that includes social services. “Despite the Mayor and Governor both making historic commitments in 2015 and 2016 to fund a combined 35,000 units of supportive housing...The City has so far opened only approximately 200 units of supportive housing under its NYC 15/15 commitment, despite the goal of opening over 500 units before the end of 2017. The State so far has opened none.”

Routhier went further in her criticism for Governor Andrew Cuomo’s administration. Cuomo, a second-term Democrat running for reelection this year, is a former federal housing secretary who has touted his own expertise in dealing with homelessness, but has not been effective at reducing the rising homeless population in the state.

Along with citing the lack of state support for subsidy programs, Routhier noted a recent NY1 segment by reporter Courtney Gross, which showed that state prisons are often discharging parolees who wind up going straight into the New York City shelter system. In 2017, the shelters accepted more than 4,000 people from upstate prisons, according to Routhier’s report. What’s more, the state has “systematically cut off cost-sharing with the city on a number of things.” For example, the cost of the shelter system has increased by $500 million in recent years, and the state has only supplied 5% of those funds, Routhier said during the podcast.

Voicing her fears about the federal government, which has been disinvesting from public housing for decades, and which is currently considering further cuts to the Housing and Urban Development budget, Routhier said that “It leaves the responsibility to the city and the state to then come up with those resources in a much more aggressive way, which is very challenging.”

Routhier’s report includes further policy recommendations which would help homeless families and individuals find permanent housing, including measures to aggressively enforce the source-of-income anti-discrimination law; establish a proper inspection protocol to guarantee that all housing placements made through NYCHA, section 8, or city subsidies are adequate for their families; increase the number of Section 8 vouchers provided to homeless families from 500 to 2,000 a year;  increase the number of public housing placements to 3,000 a year; and provide all homeless individuals and families with housing application and search assistance.

On the podcast, Routhier said that if the city adopted the Coalition for the Homeless proposals, “we could reduce the shelter census by 30%.” She claims that, while her proposals are aggressive, they are also realistic. “There are tools in our hands, and the mayor can use these tools to really advance his housing policy and to decrease homelessness.”

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by Gabriel Slaughter and Ben Max

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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Expert Points to Disconnect Between De Blasio Housing and Homelessness Plans Wed, 21 Mar 2018 04:00:00 +0000