Gotham Gazette

The Place for New York Policy and politics


Adams 2021: Housing - Create and Preserve Affordable Housing, For All Who Need It

To deal with our housing crisis in New York, the city must rapidly build new affordable housing while protecting existing apartments everywhere. That means bold, aggressive measures that are even more necessary now as we simultaneously fight a pandemic and an economic crisis. Here’s how:

  • Up-zone wealthier areas where we can build far more affordable units.
  • Repurpose city office buildings and hotels for affordable housing.
  • Think big by thinking small and add basement apartments, SROs and other small units.
  • Provide homes and help for the homeless and those struggling with rent.

Add housing – for everyone – in wealthier areas.

For years, our re-zonings focused on adding apartments in lower-income areas — which led to higher-income people moving in, making communities less affordable, and often forcing out longtime residents. We will build in wealthier areas with a high quality of life, allowing lower- and middle-income New Yorkers to move in by adding affordable housing. And we will eliminate the community preference rule in those areas, which keeps many New Yorkers out of desirable neighborhoods.

Repurpose City office buildings for affordable housing.

We will convert a number of City office buildings into 100 percent affordable housing by taking advantage of more City workers working from home and consolidating workers that will still be in-person to free up space.

Allow private office buildings and hotels to become housing.

The pandemic emptied many of our hotels and office buildings. In some cases, their owners want to convert the buildings to housing, but City regulations make that either too expensive or too challenging. With some zoning tweaks and other rule changes, we can allow appropriate conversions and add desperately needed housing stock — particularly at hotels in the outer boroughs.

Think big by building small.

Outdated rules prevent New York developers from building the kind of small, cheaper micro-units common around the world. Homeowners in single family zones are prevented from legally leasing “accessory units” like “granny flats.” And single room occupancy units, or SROs, and basement apartments are still illegal, despite their common use elsewhere. By allowing all of these to be built or legally used, we will quickly add hundreds-of-thousands of affordable apartments.

Prioritize those who need supportive housing the most.

New Yorkers in local shelters — especially those who lived in the neighborhood beforehand and were displaced — will be prioritized for supportive housing. So too will young people aging out of foster care, who should be given every chance at starting off adulthood on the right foot.

Also, we will expedite the construction of supportive housing units, moving up by five years the timeline of the City’s 15/15 Supportive Housing Initiative, which currently aims to create 15,000 units of supportive housing in 15 years.

Improve rent subsidies to prevent New Yorkers from becoming homeless.

New Yorkers on the brink of homelessness and in shelters need far greater assistance to transition into permanent housing. One way we will accomplish this is by increasing the value of the City FHEPS housing vouchers so they reflect the value of the housing that is actually available in our city. There was a time when $1,323 for a one bedroom and $1,580 for a two bedroom was sufficient, but that time is long gone. And when the cost of a person in the shelter system is $124, and the cost of a family is $196 per day, increasing the value of vouchers is common sense governing.

Streamline the process to help New Yorkers behind on their rent.  

When New Yorkers fall behind on rent – as many have during the pandemic — their options to get help involve navigating a long trail of red tape and bureaucracy with the City’s One-Shot Deal and CBO’s rent relief programs. It is demoralizing to endure multiple long application processes while facing eviction. Rent relief programs need similar information from applicants such as amount owed, proof of residence, and a summary explaining the situation. The City can create a common application for those in need and allow approved CBOs access to the information. It will also allow an applicant to go to one place to see the status of their various applications for help with paying back arrears.

Fill empty affordable apartments, with priority for homeless New Yorkers.

It’s time for transparency from the City on how many affordable units are vacant, and proactive policies to fill these units as soon as possible — by any means necessary. As mayor, I will ensure HPD immediately discloses its current inventory of available affordable housing units by length of time vacant and income eligibility, as well as scales back its requirements to prove affordable housing qualification, to make the lottery process as reasonably simple and speedy as possible.

We will pursue a policy to fill open affordable units within 60 days of a new building’s certificate of occupancy or for vacancies in existing buildings, with a priority for those in our shelter system and temporary housing. To help make units in 100 percent affordable developments targeted at higher-income tenants accessible to lower-income tenants who need them, we will offer a new subsidy for units that sit vacant for at least 90 days, for not less than one year, to pay the difference for the next income tier down between the listed rent and 30 percent of the tenant’s monthly income.

Combat discrimination against Section 8 voucher holders

A recent lawsuit by Housing Rights Initiative alleged that dozens of brokerages and landlords had discriminated against low-income New Yorkers with Section 8 housing vouchers. It’s time to take the profit out of preventing people from having housing and send a clear message, particularly during this affordability crisis, that it will not be tolerated. We will enact new City policy that stipulates all civil penalties collected in cases of source-of-income discrimination be dedicated to the New York City Commission on Human Rights for the purposes of hiring additional legal staff to support its income distribution unit.

Additionally, we will pursue State legislation to specify new penalties for real estate brokers found to have violated the Human Rights Law regarding source-of-income discrimination; in addition to existing penalties, first-time offenders would have their licenses revoked and be unable to reapply for a year, second-time offenders would have their licenses revoked and be unable to reapply for two years, and third-time offenders would have their licenses permanently revoked.

Support Mitchell-Lama housing.

Mitchell-Lama housing is a critical affordable housing stock for our middle class, and in recent years developments have been in danger from systematic neglect and deliberate sabotage by predatory developers looking for a pay day. Both City- and State-managed properties need financial assistance, technical support, and oversight of property management. An Adams administration will empower the voices of shareholders and secure the financing needed to preserve the affordability of these units.

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