Gotham Gazette http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/1037 Mon, 20 May 2019 22:56:55 +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.

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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).

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

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Unlocking the Key to Real Affordable Housing in New York City Mon, 15 Oct 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Mayor and Speaker: Rezoning Plans Will Change Before Council Vote http://www.gothamgazette.com/government/6007-mayor-and-speaker-rezoning-plans-will-change-before-council-vote http://www.gothamgazette.com/government/6007-mayor-and-speaker-rezoning-plans-will-change-before-council-vote mmv bdb via city council twitter

The Speaker & the Mayor (photo via the City Council)


Speaking at separate events over a two-day span, both Mayor Bill de Blasio and City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito acknowledged significant community pushback against the mayor's rezoning proposals and said that those plans will be tweaked before the Council votes on them.

On Monday, de Blasio was asked about the largely negative reaction across the city to the zoning proposals at the center of his affordable housing plans. Many community boards are voting against the two rezoning proposals, which call for changes to how space is used, including allowing more retail and housing density as part of new development with market-rate and affordable apartments.

Both the Bronx and Queens Borough Boards - made up of community board leaders, City Council members, and the borough president - have voted against them. The Brooklyn and Manhattan Borough Boards are expected to vote next week, while a Staten Island vote is not yet scheduled.

De Blasio said Monday that he is "resolute," adding that he is not surprised community boards have objections. "Those objections should be heard and we should think about them," de Blasio said, "and where we see the need to make certain modifications we will."

"But in the end," the mayor continued, "the community boards aren't the final decision makers. The mayor and the City Council make the decisions, in some cases, obviously, with the City Planning Commission. And that's where our process is set up, and that's how it's worked for years."

What de Blasio will need, of course, is City Council buy-in. As the mayor, top administration officials, and his city planning department consider feedback from local leaders and make "modifications" to the rezoning plans, they'll need to convince Council members representing the districts set to undergo the most change that they should vote in favor of the plans. These include representatives from communities like East New York, East Harlem, Flushing, and areas of the Bronx, among others initially targeted for the zoning changes and more housing.

The leader of the Council, Mark-Viverito, also happens to represent East Harlem and part of the Bronx. She abstained as the Bronx Borough Board voted against the mayor's plans and said she'll abstain when Manhattan votes on Monday, Nov. 30. While the community and borough board votes are non-binding advisory opinions, they are indicative of concerns throughout the city about de Blasio's plans. Those concerns include worries about rising prices and gentrification accompanying new development; that new housing won't be accompanied by new schools and transportation infrastructure; lack of parking; and more.

On Tuesday Mark-Viverito said that she is sure the plans will need to be changed in order to pass through the Council. Saying that Council members are listening to their constituents and that the plans will "obviously go back to City Planning," Mark-Viverito said, "The plan that has been presented originally, I can assure you, will not be stagnant and...will not be the plan that comes before us at the Council."

Some of the key changes that may be made based on community pushback include creating more flexibility within the proposals for how area median income (AMI) is determined - instead of using one set of figures for the whole city as the plans do now, AMIs would be set more by local geography so that apartments being labeled as "affordable" would truly be so for local residents, especially the lowest income earners. On the other hand, in some areas of the city, residents are looking for more units to be carved out for middle-income earners. There are also historical and neighborhood preservation concerns in some places.

Other possible tweaks relate to ensuring that affordable housing for seniors is made permanently so; that parking is protected; and that affordable units are required to be built among market-rate units, not off-site or even on separate floors.

"The land-use review process is extensive," Mark-Viverito said Tuesday. When it comes to the two rezoning proposals, Mandatory Inclusionary Housing and Zoning for Quality and Affordability, the speaker said, "We're at only the beginning stages of that debate and that conversation. So yes, community boards are taking a position, some borough boards have taken positions; but we're nowhere near engaging in that level of debate at the Council level."

She promised continued constituent engagement and figuring out how to "make additional improvement" to the plans. Calling some of the community concerns "legitimate," Mark-Viverito said "some communities want greater AMIs, some communities want lower AMIs. It's going to be a very, very heated conversation."

For his part, the mayor said "it's all part of a democratic process," and that the community boards "inform the process." He did remind, though, that community boards are indeed advisory and that the elected officials - who often disagree with community boards - make the final decisions.

"I'm listening. My whole team is listening to them," the mayor said Monday. "We're looking at if we think any of the points raised a need to make any changes." De Blasio and his team will continue to defend the plans, even if they're open to tweaks. They argue that the city desperately needs more housing, especially affordable units, which can only be built in most cases if new market-rate housing is also allowed. They also sell the plans as community development, highlighting new retail space that will created, and with it, employment and shopping opportunities.

"It does have an impact on our thinking," de Blasio said of community feedback. "It does help us figure out things we need to do better."

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
@TweetBenMax
@GothamGazette

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Mayor and Speaker: Rezoning Plans Will Change Before Council Vote Wed, 25 Nov 2015 01:46:08 +0000