Gotham Gazette Wed, 08 Jul 2020 04:46:49 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb (Webmaster) City Threatens to Exacerbate Affordable Housing Crisis for New York Seniors cm park center

Mayor de Blasio talks with seniors (photo: Demetrius Freeman/Mayor's Office)

For far too long, older adults in New York City have been struggling to find a safe and affordable place to call home. The pandemic has exacerbated these challenges and exacerbated an affordable housing emergency that’s especially dangerous for populations including New York’s low-income seniors. As we look to recover, we need to prioritize the sustained production of affordable housing, particularly as a way to stabilize and support our older residents now and in the future.

Older New Yorkers were struggling to make rent even before the pandemic hit. More than one-quarter (27 percent) of New York’s renters are 60 or older, the highest share in the country. Nearly one in seven seniors in the city live in poverty, according to a report from the Center for an Urban Future, and more than 200,000 seniors are on a waiting list for the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Section 202 program, according to LiveOn NY.

In fact, demographic data suggests that the senior population in the five boroughs will increase 50 percent by 2040. The need for quality, safe, and affordable housing for seniors will become more vital as our city continues to age.

Unfortunately, the latest capital budget proposed by the de Blasio administration misses the mark in this regard. The budget would cut funding to the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) by 40 percent, resulting in a loss of up to 21,000 of affordable units over the next two years, according to a recent study from the New York Housing Conference. 

There is a shadow of doubt over the entire pipeline and it is older New Yorkers that will be left behind. It is vital that the city fund, develop, and finish projects designed specifically to address seniors. For example, a project in the proposal stage in Astoria that would provide deeply affordable homes to New Yorkers over the age of 62 but may now be significantly delayed or even halted entirely. 

This is just one example of many projects designed to address this growing need and the loss is incalculable for New Yorkers that need these homes now. New York City’s aging population is depending on our elected officials to make smart policy decisions that will protect them, especially during these unprecedented times. City Hall must reverse the budget cut and commit to provide critical funding for lifelong New Yorkers in their most vulnerable years.

In fact, prioritizing affordable housing development will help pave the way toward economic recovery. A NYSAFAH study found that a 100-unit affordable housing development in New York typically generates nearly 200 construction jobs and 20 permanent jobs. Additionally, the development would result in an average of nearly $30 million in economic spending during construction and over $3.5 million in sustained local economic activity.

In other words, investment in affordable housing not only addresses critical needs, it generates critical economic activity. It’s win-win every time.

Fully funding HPD’s capital budget is the sort of low-risk policy proposal that will pay dividends in both the short- and long-term. It is exactly what we need right now – and it will remind elderly New Yorkers that their elected officials have their best interests at heart. 

Jolie Milstein is the president and CEO of the New York State Association for Affordable Housing. Allison Nickerson is the Executive Director of LiveOn NY. Karen Haycox is CEO of Habitat for Humanity NYC and President of the Habitat NYC Community Loan Fund. On Twitter @NYSAFAH & @liveonny & @HabitatNYC.

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City Threatens to Exacerbate Affordable Housing Crisis for New York Seniors Fri, 26 Jun 2020 04:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy Podcast: What's the Right Affordable Housing Policy in the COVID-19 Aftermath? 4 may mwobe

(photo: Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office)

June 10, 2020 - Max & Murphy Podcast: What's the Right Housing Policy in the COVID-19 Aftermath?

Barika Williams, Executive Director of the Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development, and Jolie Milstein, President and CEO of the New York State Association for Affordable Housing, joined the show to discuss the post-coronavirus crisis landscape for affordable housing development in New York City.

Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think -- we're on Twitter @TweetBenMax and @JarrettMurphy. You can listen to the show through the embedded audio below or download the episode wherever you get your podcasts, under "Max & Murphy," and listen to Max & Murphy live on Wednesdays at 5 p.m. on WBAI radio, 99.5FM or


Max & Murphy · Episode 228: What's The Right Housing Policy In The COVID - 19 Aftermath

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

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Max & Murphy Podcast: What's the Right Affordable Housing Policy in the COVID-19 Aftermath? Wed, 10 Jun 2020 04:00:00 +0000
It’s Actually the Perfect Time for City Government to Invest in Housing perfect time houghton

Mayor de Blasio makes a housing announcement (photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)

In the wake of the economic devastation caused by the coronavirus shutdown, Mayor de Blasio must find budget savings anywhere he can, while still advancing his mission to make New York “the fairest big city” in America.  

It won’t be easy. But the sudden drop in tax revenue should not stop the mayor from continuing to make one smart investment: creating new affordable housing.

With the pandemic exposing the full extent of the city’s homeless crisis, now is exactly the time to create more affordable and supportive housing, as well as high-quality shelter. Doing so can sharply reduce exorbitant spending on emergency homeless hotels, create good-paying jobs when we need them most, and end the terrible damage homelessness has inflicted on a generation of children.

New York City cannot afford to miss what is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the city’s economy, the mayor found himself stuck in an unwinnable war against homelessness.

Mayor de Blasio created thousands of new, locally-funded rental vouchers for homeless families, helping many return to permanent housing. But the lowest rental housing vacancy rate in decades meant too many of the vouchers went unused, unable to counter the law of supply and demand.

The mayor also launched a record-breaking affordable housing production initiative that likewise helped thousands of homeless people find homes again. But with so many New Yorkers becoming homeless each night, the housing just couldn’t be built fast enough.

The pandemic has changed all this. And while the economic repercussions will be devastating, they also present a promising opportunity for change.

No matter what we do, New York City is likely losing residents now and into the immediate future. With the drop in demand, thousands of overleveraged properties will become available for purchase and conversion to affordable housing. With far fewer tourists visiting the city for the foreseeable future, newly superfluous hotels will be available for pennies on the dollar. Otherwise healthy apartment buildings will need formerly homeless tenants with rent vouchers those tenants can finally use.

With these new conditions suddenly in place, the mayor finally has the chance to lay the foundation for his successor to end widespread homelessness in New York City.

To do so, the city should first maintain – or even increase – capital investment in affordable housing production this year. The city borrows to fund this housing investment, so it has an outsized economic effect: the money creates housing (and jobs) today, but the bonds are paid back over decades. Fortunately, at this time interest rates are low, and the share of the city’s budget going toward borrowing costs is far below the 15% fiscal experts recommend as a cap. In short, we can afford to do this.

The administration has instead proposed slashing the capital housing budget by 40% — roughly half-a-billion dollars annually — this year and next. These cuts will delay the creation of thousands of new affordable housing units right when we need them most, and just as the cost of acquisition and development is falling.

Cutting half-a-billion dollars from the capital budget sounds like a lot of savings. But because the money for long-term investments like affordable housing is borrowed, the cut will only reduce the city’s cost of paying the money back — less than $50 million a year in savings. But in reality,  we won’t save a thing. If these cuts go through, the next mayor will end up spending even more sheltering New Yorkers who remained homeless because the housing was never built.

Of course it’s not enough just to restore the cuts to affordable housing. Despite its newly straitened circumstances, the city should stick to the mayor’s original vision and keep providing rental vouchers to homeless households. It must redirect capital dollars to acquire newly available distressed properties. And it should build housing for the people who need it most: homeless, senior, and very poor New Yorkers, because housing vulnerable people has been proven, over and over again, to reduce public spending on health care, shelter, and other expensive emergency interventions.

Our city’s terrible homeless crisis demands a renewed commitment to creating more housing. Fortunately, few economic activities generate more benefits: such an effort will bring precisely the kinds of increased jobs and consumer spending we need right now to restore the city’s economy. It is the most effective and cost-efficient option available to the mayor to spur the city’s comeback. At the same time, no investment will do more to cement the mayor’s legacy of correcting long-standing systemic inequities that have plagued the city for decades.

Ted Houghton is the President of Gateway Housing, the former Executive Deputy Commissioner of New York State Homes and Community Renewal and former Executive Director of the Supportive Housing Network of New York. On Twitter @Gateway_Housing.

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It’s Actually the Perfect Time for City Government to Invest in Housing Wed, 20 May 2020 04:00:00 +0000
Renters are Facing an Unprecedented Emergency; We Need a Federal Answer, Not a Rent Strike housing New York City

An economic crisis is upon us (photo: Edwin J. Torres/Mayor's Office)

For millions of American families, making rent each month is a familiar struggle: last October, a new analysis found that half of American renters were spending more than they could afford on monthly rent payments. But now, with the COVID-19 pandemic ushering in a new economic crisis and the real unemployment rate at its highest level since the height of the Great Depression, America’s housing affordability crisis is a true economic emergency. An unprecedented number of households will be newly unable to pay rent – and that threatens our whole economic system.

An emergency of this magnitude requires a swift and massive response from the federal government, which thus far has not materialized. As a way to press the issue, some are calling for a statewide rent strike in New York. But this approach will harm the affordable housing stock and the tenants who live in it. Rent is required to keep the buildings maintained, staffed, and clean. Rent strikes by tenants who are able to pay also hurts the ability of an owner to help those tenants who really need it.

This problem will require a multifaceted solution set, but must be centered around direct assistance to renters in the form of flexible emergency rental assistance and far more robust stimulus payments.

It is clear that renters need immediate help: last month, a nationwide survey by the National Multifamily Housing Council found that just 69 percent of American renters paid their rent by April 5, a year-over-year decline of 12 percentage points. While the figure rose to 84 percent a week later, there is evidence that these trends are more pronounced in the areas hardest-hit by the coronavirus, like New York City. 

There is no question May will be worse. The national economic crisis has deepened, with tens of millions more out of work, and those who were struggling a month ago are likely facing even tighter budgets today. That is a real threat not just to the individual families but also to our entire economic system.

The affordable housing stock has thinner margins and less cash flow than its market rate counterparts and tends to have less in reserves. Many New York State Association for Affordable Housing (NYSAFAH) member buildings have already seen far lower levels of rent collection than the surveys of residential buildings as a whole have reported.

Rent payments ensure that families live in quality apartments maintained with basic services. It pays the salary of the building service workers who maintain sanitary conditions. Crucially, a suspension of rent would also freeze liquidity that is used to build the affordable and market-rate housing New Yorkers, and Americans across the country, desperately need to ease the housing crisis in the first place.

Rental assistance will keep that system in place while also protecting the most vulnerable among us. By building on the foundation set by the Emergency Solutions Grant (ESG) program, that assistance can be rapidly distributed, providing immediate housing security to American renters while preserving the sanctity of their buildings.

The fight ahead will not be easy, but it is absolutely necessary. We must all band together and raise our voices as one to demand the real protections that American renters deserve.

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

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Renters are Facing an Unprecedented Emergency; We Need a Federal Answer, Not a Rent Strike Thu, 30 Apr 2020 04:00:00 +0000
Jails, Affordable Housing and Other Capital Projects Delayed as City Grapples with Cash Crunch man bx skyline

New York City building projects are on the chopping block (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)

The coronavirus fallout has created a severe cash crunch for New York City, forcing Mayor Bill de Blasio to slash his proposed operating budget for the next fiscal year by $6 billion, with more cuts likely before adoption. At the same time, the city’s cash flow problems mean that its capital plan, a four-year, $67.2 billion agenda that pays for crucial, long-term infrastructure like schools and roads, will also need modification and could mean some major changes to how the city will build for its needs over the next several years.

Over this and next fiscal years, the city intends to spend far fewer funds – about $3.1 billion in fiscal year 2020 and $1 billion in fiscal year 2021 – on building new schools, replacing Rikers Island facilities with borough-based jails, affordable housing preservation and development, new police facilities and equipment, and energy efficiency infrastructure. These cuts to planned spending change the timelines for major infrastructure projects, meaning additional leeway for de Blasio’s successor to shape the city’s capital plan when a new mayor takes office in 2022. 

There are several aspects to the complicated capital budgeting process, including the ten-year capital strategy that assesses infrastructure needs for the next decade; the capital budget itself, which includes funding that cannot be exceeded for the coming fiscal year and the three years after it; and the capital commitment plan, which details the actual amount that will be spent on agency projects. Updated commitment plans are released with each iteration of the mayor’s budget.

Most capital spending is financed with long-term borrowing through the sale of bonds, which requires regular payment of debt service (paying back the borrowing and interest incurred), which is included in the annual expense budget. The city’s debt service for the current fiscal year was roughly 11.5% of annual revenue, which is well below the 15% limit that fiscal watchdogs and the comptroller believe should not be exceeded in any given year.

In de Blasio’s executive budget proposal released earlier this month, the administration did not make significant reductions in capital commitments for the current and next fiscal year. Mostly, the administration moved several capital projects into the out-years of the ten-year capital program, between fiscal years 2024 and 2029. 

Some of the changes follow the general pattern of capital budget planning. The city will often move funds to subsequent years if a project does not get off the ground as intended. The city also had a habit of front-loading projects into the first two years of the capital program even though most took several more years to complete, something the City Council pushed back against, achieving some adjustments in this year’s versions. 

Nonetheless, there were some notable changes to capital spending in the executive budget such as on affordable housing, as first reported by Politico New York, and changes to expected spending on the borough-based jails plan. 

Planned capital spending was reduced for the Department of Correction, which was intended to be used for the construction of four new borough-based jails facilities to replace Rikers Island jails. The $140 million budgeted in the current fiscal year was zeroed out, and in the next fiscal year (FY21), the city expects to spend only $196 million, as opposed to $392 million that was allocated earlier. 

The capital budget for the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) -- which runs the city’s housing programs, including the mayor’s 12-year, 300,000-unit affordable housing program -- was shrunk from $1.48 billion to $902 million in the current fiscal year (FY20) and from $1.19 billion to $741 million next fiscal year. This funding goes toward subsidizing affordable housing, both newly-built and preservation of rent-regulated deals that are close to expiring, as well as supportive housing and more.

On Tuesday de Blasio called the changes to the housing plan “sad” and “horrible” but necessary, and promised that the housing plan would still be completed down the road. 

The Department of Environmental Protection capital budget is seeing some fluctuation, but an overall increase in the short-term, falling from $2.3 billion to $2.27 billion in the current fiscal year and increasing from $2.37 billion to $2.72 billion in the 2021 fiscal year. The Department of Sanitation saw a drop from $463 million to $264 million in its capital budget for the current fiscal year, but will see its FY21 allocation increase from $522 million to $690 million.

The Department of Education will also see a substantial cut this year and next, from about $4.4 billion to $3.9 billion in the current fiscal and then again from $3.6 billion to $3.22 billion in the next fiscal year. Among the things on the chopping block was planned building of new schools, which reduced from $683 million to $458 million in FY20 and $1.28 billion to $1.05 billion in FY21; spending on “rehabilitation of school components” was also reduced from $926 million to $751 million in FY20 and from $510 million to $379 million in FY21. 

Even the NYPD, which has never struggled for funds under the mayor, was not spared. Its FY20 capital spending projection fell from $540 million to $264 million, while its FY21 spending increased from $339 million to $420 million. The shifts include less planned spending on facilities and vehicles.

One of the bigger capital plan cuts is in planned courts spending. The city will only spend $18.2 million this fiscal year, a drastic cut from the $288 million it had planned largely to reconstruct and renovate court facilities. In FY21, spending is also slated to decrease from $539 million in the preliminary budget to $406 million in the executive budget.

Under Speaker Corey Johnson, the Council has taken a particular interest in the capital budget and has pushed the administration to make more realistic projections for the actual amounts of money that will go into projects each year. Johnson created a subcommittee dedicated to the capital budget, which is chaired by Council Member Vanessa Gibson of the Bronx.

“Due to the COVID pandemic, the current priority is to provide support for New Yorkers and continue city services as millions are now relying on social safety net programs to support themselves and their families during the COVID crisis,” Gibson said in a statement. “The capital process will be delayed to focus on health and safety projects to provide relief for residents, but I will be working with Speaker Corey Johnson and Finance Chair, Daniel Dromm to monitor the situation and ensure that our City Council priority capital projects remain at the forefront of our negotiations.”

That also echoes budget experts from the Citizens Budget Commission and the Manhattan Institute who have repeatedly urged the mayor to streamline and reform the capital budgeting process. There has been some progress over the last few years but not nearly enough, they say. 

“CBC has been saying for a while that the capital budget is too large, and the timing of it is unrealistic, and we've urged them to make sure that it's better targeted,” said Sean Campion, senior research associate at Citizens Budget Commission. 

Part of the issues around capital investments currently stem from uncertainty that the coronavirus has caused in the construction industry and for interest rates for government bonds. The city also has no clarity on whether it will be able to meet its debt service obligations – debt incurred by issuing bonds that is paid on the operating budget side of the ledger – as the federal tax deadline was pushed and revenues coming into the city are delayed. Officials in the city and state are waiting with bated breath (and aggressive advocacy) for the next round of federal stimulus funds that they hope will replace many billions in lost revenue. 

When de Blasio was asked by a reporter on Tuesday specifically about the cuts to HPD, he insisted as much. “This is about slowing down some investments and postponing some things,” he said at his daily coronavirus briefing. 

He added, “[W]hen you think about the budget dynamics, we were dealing with suddenly a massive budget gap. We were dealing with a cash flow crisis on top of that. Anytime that you book a capital project, it has ramifications for the budget. Obviously for the expense side of the budget too because of debt service. We had to slow down a lot of capital investments just to be able to make sure we could pay the bills now. And it's really a horrible situation, but that's what we had to do. But the plan is intact and it will be implemented in the future.”

The federal stimulus, he said, would determine the city’s fiscal future. “There'll be tough choices any way you slice it, but the stimulus, if it actually takes into account what has happened here, all the costs, human and otherwise that have been inflicted on New York City and all that's been lost – and including first and foremost the human loss but then, of course, the horrible impact on the budget that's used to provide services to people – if it's really, really heard and understood and acted on, that stimulus could be a lifesaver for us. And if it's not, we're going to be in an even tougher situation, but that's going to then really govern everything else we have to decide in June.”

Campion and Nicole Gelinas, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, said the city needs to focus on routine maintenance work, ensuring that the infrastructure that undergirds the city – its bridges, tunnels, streets, and sewers – do not degrade. They also noted that the city is not close to its debt limit yet, so it should be able to cover capital costs through borrowing. “There's no immediate crunch,” Campion said. 

“It could present an opportunity to focus on priority investments, things that need to get done in the short-term, before focusing on longer term resiliency or rebuilding,” he added.

Gelinas said the city’s debt could rise out of control in the out-years if interest rates on long-term bonds go up, though the rates are in flux as the Federal Reserve announced that it is buying up to $500 billion in municipal bonds. Nevertheless, Gelinas said the situation should prompt some introspection from the administration about whether there are more cost-effective options for big infrastructure investments.

For instance, on the jails plan, with its cost reaching as high as $889 million in fiscal year 2022 and $2.1 billion in 2023. “I think they're really going to have to rethink whether they can do this or whether they're going to have to build new jails more cheaply at Rikers Island,” she said. “At least compare the costs of the two and then decide.”

“As we go into deeper rounds of cuts, we just have to protect core tax-generating infrastructure,” she insisted, pointing to the rebuilding of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway (BQE) as a project that shouldn’t be abandoned. The city will have to push non-essential projects to later years, she said, holding out hope on a federal infrastructure package that could come to the rescue and spur job creation and economic growth. 

Council Member Brad Lander, a Democrat who is running for comptroller in 2021, took that point further, saying the city should take advantage of the fact that it can receive federal stimulus money and should make sure key capital investments are not reduced, particularly if they can boost jobs in the short-term. “When you're doing that, you are investing in the future. You are saying, ‘In order to make investments that are critical at this moment, we're going to incur debt that will have to be paid back in the future,’” he said. If the city commits to investing in affordable housing, it would also build confidence in the market, Lander said.  

Lander insisted that what the city should not do is borrow funds to balance the operational budget, which would require permission from the state Legislature. The mayor has suggested that measure as a last resort. “That's like taking out a loan to buy your groceries,” said Lander. “It's not good to take out a loan to buy your groceries because you’re still going to need to buy groceries next month or next year, and then you're going to be paying for your groceries twice.”

Council Member Helen Rosenthal, a Manhattan Democrat and also a comptroller candidate, expressed a different opinion. Rosenthal said the city should be seeking that borrowing authority from Albany right now. “The fundamental problem right now is we don't have any cash,” she said. “The right thing to do is to borrow money and continue to push Congress and the federal government to get local aid.”

As someone who previously worked at the city’s budget office, Rosenthal noted that the changes to the capital budget are simply routine, with lump sum funding being shifted from one fiscal year to the next, and that it’s too soon to tell if specific projects are going to be left on the cutting floor, and said that’s not really what the focus should be right now.

“If we can’t feed people today, we should be borrowing money to make sure we’re feeding people,” she said.

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

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Jails, Affordable Housing and Other Capital Projects Delayed as City Grapples with Cash Crunch Wed, 29 Apr 2020 04:00:00 +0000
The Coronavirus Crisis Demands a Federal Emergency Housing Response myabdb

Keeping people in their homes is of the essence, the author writes (photo Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office

The federal response to the economic crisis just over a decade ago swiftly bailed out banks and other financial institutions, but left far too many struggling families in the lurch. It was too little, too late. This was devastatingly true for black families, whose home-ownership rates dropped from 50% to 42%, representing an enormous loss of generational wealth.

We must respond differently this time to ensure that homeowners hold onto their homes and apartment building owners and renters maintain safe and stable housing through the COVID-19 public health crisis that has also spurred an economic one. And because it is a health crisis, we should first prioritize vulnerable populations like those without a home and low-income renters at risk of homelessness.

While we are still processing the gravity of COVID-19’s destructive capacity and the consequences for our families, communities, and economy, as has occurred in past natural disasters, we know the effects on homeless people, low-income renters, and homeowners will be catastrophic unless we act quickly.  Federal housing assistance is desperately needed both to slow the spread of the coronavirus and in response to what is looking like a significant economic downturn as businesses and entire industries may be closed for months while capital markets are in turmoil and job losses skyrocket. 

Emergency housing assistance is a critical component of a comprehensive response of public policy measures to stop the spread. New York already has an alarming number of confirmed cases of the new coronavirus in homeless shelters. Statewide, there are more than 92,000 homeless people. In addition, 100,000 children were living doubled up last year in overcrowded homes. Without the ability for social distancing or isolation, homeless people are at great risk while living on the street, in congregate shelters, or doubled-up in close quarters.

If the virus spreads through the 841 beds in the Bellevue men’s intake facility, for example, those men could nearly fill the 1,000-bed naval hospital ship scheduled to sail to New York City to bolster hospital capacity next month.

Federal resources must be appropriated for a swift response or COVID-19 is certain to rip through congregate shelters, street homeless communities, and reverse other containment efforts. Congress must appropriate at least $15 billion in McKinney-Vento Emergency Solutions Grants to move homeless people off the streets and out of crowded shelters. 

Rental assistance and rapid re-housing programs can be used, as they have in the aftermath of other national crises, to house vulnerable populations. This time, these housing programs can also save lives.

The White House and Senate Republicans have included zero emergency housing assistance in the stimulus package currently being negotiated. This is a strategy to fill hospital beds at a rapid pace and further overwhelm our health care system.

And while they are proposing direct assistance — up to $1,200 to individuals — it will be insufficient, particularly in high-cost markets. In New York City, where 50% of all households already pay more than 30% of their income towards rent, the median rent was $1,450 in 2017.

According to the New York State Department of Labor data, in January there were roughly 1.3 million people in the state working in hospitality jobs in the arts, hotels, or restaurants and bars, or in retail jobs like clothing, electronics, and sports. Most of these people are now out of a job.  Their income has been reduced to zero.

We are grateful that these workers will have the protection of the state’s foreclosure and eviction moratoriums. However even with this, people aren’t going to be able to afford the back payments in six or 12 months. A moratorium alone is only kicking the can down the road. We need assistance now that is appropriately sized to cover household costs.

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac offered loan forbearance for building owners who offer protections to their renters. This approach makes sense because it shows that we are all connected and in it together, even when we are trying to keep six feet apart. But much more needs to be done.

The New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), steward of New York City’s most affordable housing, also estimates that it will need $300 million in additional operating funds to cover rent losses, and additional time and contractors to keep up with the higher standards of cleaning now required to protect its 400,000-plus residents. All properties assisted by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Section 8 program will face the same challenge of declining income and insufficient funding. Congress must include these critical HUD programs in the stimulus to ensure that these programs are fully funded and families are not kicked off programs due to lack of funds.

We urge Congress to do the right thing this time and ensure there is emergency housing assistance in the economic stimulus and coronavirus recovery bill that protects renters and homeowners across the nation. This is how we can do better than our response in 2008, help families hang onto their homes and vulnerable renters stay in their apartments.

Rachel Fee is Executive Director of New York Housing Conference, a statewide affordable housing policy organization. On Twitter @RachelFeeNYHC & @theNYHC.

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The Coronavirus Crisis Demands a Federal Emergency Housing Response Mon, 23 Mar 2020 04:00:00 +0000
City Council Members and De Blasio Planning Chief Spar Over Neighborhood Rezonings at Budget Hearing navy yards we

Mayor de Blasio makes an announcement (photo: Edwin J. Torres/Mayoral Photo Office)

What was ostensibly meant to be a City Council hearing on the proposed preliminary budget for the Department of City Planning on Tuesday turned into a debate about the de Blasio administration’s approach to neighborhood rezonings. Several Council members expressed their displeasure with rapid gentrification and resident displacement, and what they believe are the city’s insufficient efforts to stop those trends while at times exacerbating them through rezonings, while Mayor Bill de Blasio’s planning chief, Marisa Lago, defended the administration’s approach to housing and community development.

At a hearing of the City Council’s Committee on Land Use, chaired by Council Member Rafael Salamanca Jr. of the Bronx, Lago -- who is the director of the Department of City Planning and chair of the City Planning Commission -- found herself on the defensive as she explained the administration’s strategy behind its neighborhood rezoning plans, which undergird de Blasio’s 12-year plan to build and preserve 300,000 units of rent-restricted housing. DCP plays a central role in that rezoning process, while the City Planning Commission winds up voting to approve or disapprove the proposals that make their way through the city’s land use review process.

Since 2016, the administration has successfully moved six large-scale neighborhood rezonings, which involve changing land use regulations to create more housing density while mandating inclusion of affordable housing in new, larger developments, as well as provide a slew of infrastructure and community investments such as libraries, schools, community centers, parks, and more. The rezonings also often change land use regulations related to commercial and manufacturing space.

But those rezonings have been focused in low-income communities of color, an approach that has been criticized for exacerbating existing displacement pressures and accelerating gentrification that is already underway, though the mayor and his top housing deputies have repeatedly argued that the rezonings are often the best way to mitigate the effects of market forces already taking hold in certain communities.

So far, rezonings have been approved in East New York, Brooklyn, East Harlem and Inwood in Manhattan, Jerome Avenue in the Bronx, Downtown Far Rockaway in Queens, and the Bay Street corridor on Staten Island. (East Midtown in Manhattan was also rezoned but was aimed at revitalizing a commercial district rather than aimed at building housing.) The Inwood plan has been halted by a judge, however, the subject of an appeal by the city. Other proposed neighborhoods for rezonings, including part of Flushing, were shelved before the planning process really got going, largely due to local opposition.

When asked which rezonings could be certified by the time de Blasio’s tenure is up, Lago seemed confident that one in Gowanus, Brooklyn would go through. She was cut off before she could name any other neighborhoods that have been identified for a rezoning but have yet to move.

If the administration were to stop rezoning wide swathes of neighborhoods, market-rate “as-of-right” housing would continue to be built, Lago said.

As she explained at the hearing on Tuesday, 80% of housing construction in the city takes place “as-of-right,” which involves private development where the city does not have a role to play. “New housing,” she said, is “disproportionately built in the city’s most affluent neighborhoods – 30% of new units since 2015 have been in the 20% of neighborhoods with the highest median incomes. These neighborhoods are also getting a proportionately large share of new affordable housing – 20% of new affordable units have been built in the most affluent 20% of neighborhoods.”

Acknowledging that its affordable housing plan needs to create deeper affordability, the administration has reset its housing program multiple times, most recently by expanding the number of units that will be set aside for the lowest income and homeless New Yorkers, Council members have repeatedly said the rezoning plans don’t create enough housing that is affordable for the current residents of the neighborhoods involved.

That’s also why some Council members have sought to downzone parts of their districts in neighborhood rezonings, to preserve the character of their communities and prevent the kind of rapid development that they fear will lead to rising rents that push out long-time residents.

“Does City Planning not care about keeping the character of neighborhoods intact?” asked Salamanca, who recently put the kibosh on a potential rezoning in part of his district.

Lago pushed back on the suggestion, noting that downzonings limit the city’s ability to spur the building of more affordable housing. “As a department that looks citywide, and a city that is growing, and in a city that has an affordability crisis, we need to recognize that the solution is not to stop housing construction,” she said.

That was a central divergence point that led to the abrupt stalling of the city’s effort to pursue a neighborhood rezoning in Bushwick, Brooklyn. In January, the city halted the environmental review process for the proposed rezoning after rejecting a request by elected officials and community activists to consider an alternate, community-based plan. The Bushwick Community Plan, which was years in the making, was “in essence, a downzoning,” Lago said at Tuesday’s hearing, citing the words of Vicki Been, the deputy mayor for Housing and Economic Development.

Council Member Antonio Reynoso, who represents Bushwick, disagreed, as he has before, and delivered the harshest criticism of the hearing. Reynoso condemned the city’s decision to walk away from the Bushwick Community Plan and questioned why the administration was instead interested in a plan that would lead to more displacement through development of what he sees as too much new market-rate housing. “At this point, it just doesn't seem like you're playing a fair game with the community, and asking us to engage in a system where the outcomes are only what you want and nothing else,” he said.

Lago emphasized that the displacement Reynoso fears would happen regardless. “We are seeing displacement occur with or without rezoning,” Lago emphasized, noting that the city’s approach has been to prevent displacement through various other means including free legal services to low-income tenants facing eviction and anti-tenant harassment measures, among others.

Lago particularly leaned on that argument when Salamanca questioned whether DCP supported legislation he has proposed along with Public Advocate Jumaane Williams to require a racial impact study with city-sponsored rezoning proposals. Lago did not directly say she supported the legislation. “We very much agree on the need critically to analyze land use actions, and we also need to analyze the status quo and what is happening, even in the absence of a discussion about rezoning,” she said.

“I would welcome the opportunity to engage with the Council on identifying whether there is a causality between racial displacement and rezoning,” she added.

Some of the criticism of DCP stemmed from housing and zoning decisions made well before Lago took over as planning chief, and almost a decade before de Blasio became mayor. Council Member Stephen Levin, for instance, noted that the Williamsburg-Greenpoint rezoning approved in 2005 under former Mayor Michael Bloomberg did not lead to the many projected improvements that city planning officials had predicted at the time. DCP released an analysis of the long-term impacts of the rezonings last year and he asked the department to conduct similar analyses of other rezonings.

Council Member Mark Treyger echoed Levin’s sentiment in forceful tones, noting that a Coney Island rezoning from 2009 had similarly failed to promote robust economic activity as envisioned and that current residents cannot wait for a decade for affordable housing to be built. “The reason why I'm bringing this to the attention of DCP is because it was your agency and others that sold my community a bag of goods about the 2009 rezoning,” he said, calling for remedial measures to help fix the problems the rezoning created.

“Michael Bloomberg failed Coney Island and we need to address the crisis my constituents face right now,” he said.

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

City Council Members and De Blasio Planning Chief Spar Over Neighborhood Rezonings at Budget Hearing Wed, 04 Mar 2020 05:00:00 +0000
Lessons from Amazon 'HQ2': Corporate Tax Incentives and Affordable Housing Need to be a Package Deal corporate establish hq

The planned Amazon site (photo: Kevin P. Coughlin/Governor's Office)

This week marks the one-year anniversary of Amazon’s contentious withdrawal from its Long Island City plans. Meanwhile, the construction of 'HQ2’ is making steady progress in Arlington County, Virginia, and residents are preparing to welcome thousands of new Amazon employees to their neighborhoods. With its close proximity to Washington D.C., established infrastructure, and educated workforce, Arlington County was a natural choice for Amazon and has been an attractive market for years, with median sales prices steadily increasing between 5-8% annually. Since the announcement, however, housing prices have spiked by 12.6%, and many residents are blaming ‘HQ2’ for throwing the housing market into a frenzy.

Given the fact that the State of Virginia pledged $750 million in subsidies to attract Amazon to Arlington County, it is fair to consider the possibility that taxpayers may have financed their own affordable housing crunch. The most obvious solution to this problem would be to build more housing - yet Arlington is subject to restrictive zoning laws that prohibit multi-family zoning in most of the county. Public officials in Arlington and beyond need to recognize that large corporate tax incentives must be paired with zoning and permitting policies that allow cities to respond to their housing supply and affordability gaps.

The ‘HQ2’ bidding process showed that municipalities looking to revitalize their communities are eager to offer tax incentives in exchange for the promise of new jobs – a competitive bidding practice that has become increasingly popular. Supporters claim that these incentives are a net positive for cities, with tax expenditures offset by the increased revenue generated by economic growth and related "spillover" effects. Yet this analysis ignores an important part of the equation: the increased strain on infrastructure, public services, and affordable housing. 

In anticipation of Amazon’s arrival, Arlington County has started making infrastructure improvements such as updating its public transit systems and roadways. Yet, its to-do list fails to include the construction of new housing - largely because less than 12% of the city is zoned for multifamily development, like apartment buildings. Those restrictions stand in stark contrast to Long Island City, which by some estimates added almost 20,000 units of high-rise housing between 2010 and 2020, one of the highest absolute growth rates of any neighborhood in the nation.

Ironically, the very construction boom that made Long Island City such a competitive candidate for an Amazon campus may have spurred the opposition that ultimately torpedoed the deal. Still, local governments that offer tax incentives to attract large corporations would do well to mimic the LIC landscape by lifting the ban on housing types that can accommodate a growing, economically-diverse population.

That said, many recipients of economic development incentives are starting to grapple more seriously with the disruptive effects they have on local housing markets, which ultimately hamper their ability to attract talent. Tech giants like Google (which received a 22-year tax break) and Apple (a $10 million tax break) are blamed for making San Francisco one of the most expensive housing markets in the country. In 2019, both companies made headlines for their respective pledges to finance housing initiatives in California, with the hope of mitigating the housing shortages they contributed to creating. But unless cities reduce the regulatory barriers to creating more housing for a wide range of households, these generous donations will fall far short of their ambitious goals.

Given the political motivation for elected officials to create jobs for the cities and states they represent, it is safe to say that we can expect more of these incentives in this upcoming election cycle, notwithstanding the high-profile breakup between Amazon and New York. Research on the actual costs and benefits of these incentives is still inconclusive and highly contested. However, looking at Seattle, San Francisco, and now Arlington County, one thing is quite clear. Economic development incentives must be paired with more housing construction to foster diverse and inclusive cities.

Brittany Mazzurco Muscato is a Graduate Researcher at the NYU Furman Center and a Master of Public Administration candidate specializing in Public Policy Analysis at NYU’s Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service. On Twitter @bamazzur.

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Lessons from Amazon 'HQ2': Corporate Tax Incentives and Affordable Housing Need to be a Package Deal Thu, 13 Feb 2020 05:00:00 +0000
Stringer Calls for 'Universal Affordable Housing' and Overhaul of City Subsidy Use comptroller universal

Comptroller Scott Stringer (photo: @NYCComptroller)

New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer on Wednesday again took aim at perhaps the most pressing issue facing New Yorkers: housing affordability, and while repeatedly criticizing Mayor Bill de Blasio’s approach, unveiled a new plan headlined by a “universal affordable housing” proposal to require income-targeted units in every new development across the five boroughs.

Stringer, a fellow Democrat who hopes to succeed the term-limited de Blasio by winning next year’s mayoral election, is also calling for fully using city subsidies to help create new affordable housing for low- and very low-income households, a new nonprofit land bank to better utilize city-owned vacant lots, and ending state-authorized tax abatements that he argues are not spurring enough affordable housing.

The comptroller’s overall plan, which also includes a component aimed at increasing home ownership in the city, is dubbed “Housing We Need,” and seeks to take a more comprehensive approach, he said, than the current piecemeal efforts that too often involve upzoning communities of color to add housing that accelerates gentrification and keeps the city racially segregated. De Blasio’s approach, Stringer has long-argued and reiterated Wednesday, does not utilize city dollars to subsidize enough housing for those who are most rent-burdened, many on the verge of losing their homes.

Universal affordable housing would be a “fundamental shift” in the city’s approach, Stringer stressed, more aptly responding to the affordability crisis, and requiring that 25% of all new as-of-right development with ten or more units is set aside for permanent low-income affordable housing. Such an approach may face constitutional questions, given that it would be a requirement added to as-of-right property use, while the city under de Blasio passed Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH) where certain percentages of rent-regulated housing is required when developers are able to take advantage of an upzoning to build bigger or higher.

Stringer criticized MIH and its use, saying de Blasio’s approach has “facilitated rezonings in a few cherry-picked neighborhoods and allows developers to build buildings that are bigger and higher than the rules would normally allow in exchange for setting aside 20 to 30 percent of new units as affordable housing,” and said that even the affordable units are not affordable enough to existing residents of the impacted communities and “out of reach” for most New Yorkers.

“Our affordable housing programs were meant to be an answer to New Yorkers being priced out of their homes,” Stringer said. “They were supposed to yield hundreds of thousands of affordable units. They were supposed to anchor communities against the growing costs of living in this city. Instead, they’ve reinforced unaffordability. Instead of solving the problem, we’ve made it worse.”

Mayor de Blasio has a different perspective, of course, and believes that his 12-year, 300,000-unit affordable housing plan, which has evolved over the years, is a very sound one, helping to preserve and build rent-regulated housing for people of a variety of income levels, and taking advantage of neighborhood zoning opportunities where local City Council members have been willing to negotiate. De Blasio’s office did not return a request for comment on Stringer’s speech and plan.

On Wednesday, Stringer made perhaps his most aggressive case yet that de Blasio’s housing plans are failing, especially with regard to how well they are attuned to the severity of the affordability crisis for low-income New Yorkers.

“To make sure these units are actually affordable,” Stringer explained of his universal affordable housing idea, “they should all be set at an average of 60% of the Area Median Income, or a household income of $58,000 a year for a family of three.” To avoid how development has spurred or reinforced segregation, the proposal applies to developments in all neighborhoods “whether it’s in the Upper East Side or in East Tremont.” 

“A framework of Universal Affordable Housing would set a new course for the much-needed integration of all our communities. In requiring affordable housing across all new buildings in all neighborhoods, we’re sending a strong and clear message that racial and economic diversity, in every corner of our city, across all zip codes, is paramount,” Stringer said. 

During his speech, Stringer emphasized eliminating the 421-a tax subsidy program that applies to certain developments in higher-value neighborhoods that include some affordable housing. “It costs taxpayers $1.6 billion a year, but four out of every five dollars actually supports market-rate development,” Stringer said Wednesday, speaking at the YM & YWHA of Washington Heights & Inwood in front of a crowd of supporters. “With greater flexibility to tailor benefits, including property tax abatements and capital subsidies, we can steer money to where it’s actually needed: to finance permanently affordable units.”

A number of affordable housing activists and advocates praised Stringer’s plan. “For years, New York City’s affordability crisis has spiraled, perpetuated by a status quo that relies on business as usual,” Jonathan Westin, Executive Director, New York Communities for Change, said in a statement accompanying the release of Stringer’s plan. “Comptroller Stringer’s plan upends our broken system that’s pricing working people out of our city--and barring them from putting down roots. We can’t allow taxpayers to continue to blindly fund the gentrification of our communities that’s pushing so many long-time residents out of the neighborhoods they helped build.”

Over the last five-plus years since de Blasio released his original Housing New York affordable housing plan, Stringer has been a regular critic. In the last two weeks, his office released an updated analysis showing “that the ‘affordable’ housing created by the plan is too expensive for at least 435,000 of the city’s lowest-income households,” and that only a third of newly constructed units in fiscal year 2019 were affordable for extremely low- or very low-income New Yorkers. 

In a stark departure from the de Blasio approach, Stringer is proposing that “all of our current housing capital subsidies should be used to build housing for extremely and very low-income families.”

The comptroller is also adding to his regular calls to leverage “1,000 vacant lots owned by the city” to provide housing for the city’s lowest-income families. The comptroller's office put out a report in 2018 that said the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) is dragging its feet on developing the city-owned vacant lots. In response, HPD said the city is working on developing units, but that many of the lots are small or prone to flooding, which slows down the process and removes many from the buildable list, Curbed reported. Over several years, the city has stressed that it is moving as many publicly-owned vacant lots through the affordable housing pipeline as it can, and as quickly as possible.

In an effort to develop these lots, Stringer proposes creating a non-profit New York City Land Bank to “turn these vacant lots into sites that could generate tens of thousands of permanently affordable housing units for the lowest-income New Yorkers,” a plan that Stringer first suggested in 2016. The non-profit would take out long-term leases, which would allow the city to enforce affordability and keep costs low.

While the mayor's office did not respond to requests for comment on Stringer's speech, criticism of de Blasio, and new proposals, a spokesperson for de Blasio recently said in a statement to Gotham Gazette, "We are attacking the affordable housing crisis from all sides – from a record number of affordable homes to free lawyers for tenants facing eviction and rent freezes for the first time in history. In the past year alone, nearly half of all of the homes produced will serve the lowest income New Yorkers, and we will continue pushing to ensure there is housing for those who need it most."

Just after Stringer's speech, the city's Department of Housing Preservation and Development tweeted some crticism of the comptroller, saying, in part, "Comptroller Stringer's proposals would actually worsen New York City's housing crisis. They'd make it next to impossible to build new buildings and lock countless hard-working families out of homes they could actually afford."

Asked recently on WNYC's The Brian Lehrer Show about his approach to neighborhood rezonings, de Blasio said that his administration has often eyed areas of the city with more available land and willing local partners, but also said, "We have to create affordable housing everywhere if we're going to keep this city a city for everyone. And that means in neighborhoods that are more privileged and every kind of neighborhood." He stressed that the conversations can be challenging in more privelaged neighborhoods, but that "some of the rezonings coming up are in communities that have done pretty well for sure," perhaps referring to Gowanus, but tempered expectations for SoHo and NoHo and beyond, saying, "what I want to be very real about, in the next two years, is where are the things that we are absolutely certain there will be the support for in the ULURP process to get it done. Because I got two years to work urgently on these issues, Brian, and I'm going to put my energy in the places where I'm convinced we can get something done."

Stringer closed his Wednesday speech by addressing homeownership rates in New York City, which he pegged at 32% of housing and half of the rate of the rest of the country. Further, he added that less than 16% of home loans are granted to black and Hispanic borrowers despite the fact they make up the majority of the city’s population.

The comptroller’s plan aims to help increase homeownership rates by giving tenants the right of first refusal to buy their building when it goes up for sale, waving property transfer and mortgage recording taxes for qualified first-time homebuyers, and expanding programs like HomeFirst and HomeFix, to provide “moderate- and middle-income homeowners with up to $40,000 toward down payments and loans for home repairs,” Stringer said.

Some of the elements discussed Wednesday appeared in Stringer’s November 2018 housing plan, “NYC For All: The Housing We Need.” The plan sought to allocate $500 million in additional annual funding for extremely and very low-income housing, which included $375 million in capital costs and $125 million in operating subsidies. Stringer also suggested scrapping the mortgage recording tax and building on the city-owned vacant lots, just as this new plan says.

Stringer’s new plan adds the elements of universal affordable housing and completely redirecting all city capital dollars housing subsidies, among other planks.

“We came here today to ask one question. Who is New York City for?” Stringer said. “Our answer is loud and clear. This is your city, and your city cannot be bought.”

by Katie Kirker, Gotham Gazette

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Ben Max contributed to this article.

Note: this article has been updated with comments from de Blasio and the de Blasio administration.

Stringer Calls for 'Universal Affordable Housing' and Overhaul of City Subsidy Use Wed, 29 Jan 2020 05:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy Podcast: Taking Stock of City Housing & Neighborhood Development Policies mayorunveils bor

(photo: Ed Reed/Office of Mayor Bill de Blasio)

January 15, 2020 - Max & Murphy Podcast: Taking Stock of City Housing & Neighborhood Development Policies

matt murphy 150Matthew Murphy, executive director of NYU's Furman Center and a former city housing official, joined the show to discuss the city's housing and neighborhood rezoning policies, and the larger housing context.

Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think -- we're on Twitter @TweetBenMax and @JarrettMurphy. You can listen to the show through the embedded audio below or download the episode wherever you get your podcasts, under "Max & Murphy," and listen to Max & Murphy live on Wednesdays at 5 p.m. on WBAI radio, 99.5FM or

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

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Max & Murphy Podcast: Taking Stock of City Housing & Neighborhood Development Policies Wed, 15 Jan 2020 05:00:00 +0000