Gotham Gazette http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/22 Mon, 12 Nov 2018 20:22:10 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) Unlocking the Key to Real Affordable Housing in New York City http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/7996-unlocking-the-key-to-real-affordable-housing-in-new-york-city http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/7996-unlocking-the-key-to-real-affordable-housing-in-new-york-city unlocking key aff

(photo: @NYCHousing)


Let’s say you’re a single mother of one child with an annual income of $45,000 looking for a two-bedroom apartment in Brooklyn. Off to a seemingly good start, you found a wonderful “affordable housing” unit, but the monthly rent is $2,700 with an annual salary requirement of $95,000. This is definitely out of reach, so you try to find a studio apartment and hope for the best. You find an “affordable” studio apartment, this time in Queens -- but you need at least a $75,000 salary for a monthly rent of $2,200. This isn’t affordable either. What gives?

One of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s main priorities, since taking office in 2014, is to build more affordable housing at a rate never seen before in New York City. Last year, the mayor announced his plan to boost production of affordable housing to 25,000 apartments annually by 2021, and set a new goal of 300,000 apartments by 2026. These terms and numbers, along with the language the mayor uses in celebrating his affordable housing achievements, give the perception that people will be able to stay in the neighborhoods they grew up in and halt displacement. But how “affordable” are these homes?

A simple look at New York City Housing Connect, the online portal to access applications for affordable housing, proves these homes are not as affordable and attainable as one may think.

Who’s to blame? Congress, in part.

Why are many of these apartments considered “affordable” if you need to make almost six figures to even apply? An especially vexing question given that the median income in New York City is roughly $33,000.

The short answer is “area median income,” also known as AMI, a statistic officially calculated by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). AMIs for New York City are calculated too high to begin with, and then the city sets “affordable rates” for many apartments well above AMI.

Some of New York City’s affordable housing in new constructions is targeted at income levels as high as 165% of the AMI, making it unattainable for low- or middle-income households. And AMI for the city is high on its own because it actually includes incomes from other counties outside of the city, those from individuals in Westchester, Rockland, and Putnam counties, all of which are home to higher average incomes. Thus, New York City’s AMI for 2018 is $93,900 for a family of three.

Why are these suburban counties included in an AMI for the region, rather than the five boroughs alone? HUD uses Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs), which are based on commuting patterns determined by the federal government and often include counties far beyond an area’s urban core. Further, HUD has no formal mechanism for cities to challenge their AMI. New York’s AMI is 20 percent higher than actual median incomes in the city. This is flat out wrong and leads to New Yorkers being priced out of their homes and neighborhoods.

The very same apartments intended for low-income New Yorkers are being handed over to upper middle-class individuals and families. The city allocates millions of dollars for affordable housing projects, yet these projects are directed at the wrong people!

Some of this is by the mayor’s choice; de Blasio has decided to target more units at a broad range of affordability requirements than fewer units at lower rents.

But still, AMI is an essential component. Why can’t New York just change its AMI laws? Because AMI is determined through federal law and would require an act of Congress. Rep. Jose Serrano of the Bronx wrote a letter back in 2015 to then-HUD Secretary Julian Castro, expressing his support for a change in AMI calculation for New York City. However, Congress has not taken any action to actually mandate the reassessment of the city’s AMI.

Some have argued that changing AMI will make affordable housing development less financially viable and thus less appealing for developers to construct. The financing of affordable housing often depends on government subsidies to developers, though, so the equations are not simple ones. And, there are always questions about number of units versus depth of affordability. If AMIs were lowered to more accurately reflect need in New York City and make “affordable” apartments truly affordable to more tenants, some instances may call for a combination of developers accepting less profit and/or government offering more incentives.

There might be some hope for action in New York. Adjusting AMI may require congressional action, but that hasn’t stopped state elected officials from introducing legislation to address this issue. State Senator Michael Gianaris and Assembly Member Brian Barnwell, both Queens Democrats, have a bill pending in the state Legislature that would mandate developers calculate AMI based on ZIP code. It might not do much to reduce skyrocketing rents citywide, but this policy would definitely pave the way to a more affordable and transparent affordable housing system. The bill is still in committee, but considering the very real likelihood of a Democratic-controlled State Senate in January via the November elections, there might be a real chance for an overhaul of the current system and an outcome of meaningful change.

***
David Aronov is a graduate student at NYU’s Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service and Director of Community Relations for New York City Council Member Karen Koslowitz (the views expressed here are the author’s alone).

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

]]>
Unlocking the Key to Real Affordable Housing in New York City Mon, 15 Oct 2018 04:00:00 +0000
In Need of Partners: Affordability Gap Too Large for New York City to Cover Alone http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/7994-in-need-of-partners-affordability-gap-too-large-for-new-york-city-to-cover-alone http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/7994-in-need-of-partners-affordability-gap-too-large-for-new-york-city-to-cover-alone afford hou

(photo: @NYCHousing)


New York City is a city of renters, and affordable housing is a perennial concern of New Yorkers. Under Mayor Bill de Blasio, the city has committed an unprecedented level of resources to create and preserve affordable housing units and make critical repairs at the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA). But is it realistic to think the city can address affordability for all rent-burdened New Yorkers?

A new report from Citizens Budget Commission (CBC) indicates rental burdens have not improved since 2014, and are most severe for low-income single households, particularly single seniors. The most effective programs for providing low-income, affordable housing have been federally funded; the city cannot handle the affordability problem on its own.

CBC analysis of data from the 2017 Housing Vacancy Survey (HVS) shows more than 921,000 renter households in New York City, or 44 percent of all renters, pay at least 30 percent of their income in rent, even after accounting for the value of federal rental housing vouchers and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits (food stamps). Twenty-two percent of households – more than 462,000 families and single adults – are severely rent burdened, which means they pay 50 percent or more of their income in rent.

Severe rent burdens disproportionately affect single households: 35 percent of single seniors, 27 percent of single households, and 26 percent of single-parent households were low-income and severely burdened. In contrast, about 15 percent of households with multiple adults were low-income and severely burdened.

These findings are largely unchanged from the last time the HVS was conducted in 2014. The share of rent-burdened households increased to 44 percent from 42 percent, while the share of severely burdened remained unchanged. Severe burdens increased slightly among low-income single households and seniors.

The primary challenge in tackling the “affordability gap” is that the lowest income households require subsidies to supplement what they can afford to pay in rent. Historically, federal housing programs have been most effective at addressing these needs. According to the 2017 HVS, two-thirds of the lowest income households that are not rent burdened either reside in federally-subsidized public housing or receive Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers. Most of the remaining third benefit from some other form of subsidy from the city, state or federal governments.

While city government has a role to play in addressing rental burdens, it is unrealistic to expect the city to close the gap on its own. The number of extremely and very low income New York City households that pay half their income in rent exceeds the mayor’s entire 300,000-unit housing plan. Meanwhile, NYCHA faces a $32 billion capital need, and its public housing units are in the worst condition of all rental housing in the city. The cost of addressing these challenges vastly exceeds the city’s financial resources. Any meaningful response to preserve public housing and address the housing needs of severely rent burdened New Yorkers will require willing partners in Albany and Washington.

***
Sean Campion is a senior research associate for Citizens Budget Commission. On Twitter @cbcny.

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

]]>
In Need of Partners: Affordability Gap Too Large for New York City to Cover Alone Mon, 15 Oct 2018 04:00:00 +0000
A Path to Reduce Building Energy While Preserving Affordable Housing http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/7915-a-path-to-reduce-building-energy-while-preserving-affordable-housing http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/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.

***
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.

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

]]>
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/city/7796-scott-stringer-on-his-agency-watch-list-de-blasio-s-housing-plan-restructuring-nycha http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/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.

***
by Jordan Kimmel, Gotham Gazette
@GothamGazette

Read more by this writer.

]]>
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/130-opinion/7717-it-s-time-for-airbnb-to-share-its-new-york-listings http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/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.

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

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

]]>
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/130-opinion/7679-to-make-new-york-city-more-affordable-end-the-cap-on-density http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/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.

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

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

]]>
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/130-opinion/7660-to-maximize-affordable-housing-increase-collaboration-between-public-and-private-sectors http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/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.

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

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

]]>
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/city/7655-what-s-the-data-point-4-with-sally-goldenberg http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/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!

***
by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

]]>
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/130-opinion/7633-the-mayor-s-mistaken-attempt-to-supersize-buildings http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/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.

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

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

]]>
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/city/7590-city-seeks-developers-to-protect-affordability-through-housing-purchases http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/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.

***
by Samar Khurshid, Senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

]]>
City Seeks Developers to Protect Affordability Through Housing Purchases Wed, 04 Apr 2018 04:00:00 +0000