The Regional Plan Association (RPA) recently released a report that highlights a major problem with affordable housing created through project-based government subsidies: as the government subsidies expire, they create periodic crises which can result in the loss of affordable housing unless they are resolved by new injections of government subsidies. Indirectly, the Report raises the issue of whether or not there are other, more effective, means of providing affordable housing – and I believe there is an evident alternative.
The RPA report, “East Harlem Affordable Housing Under Threat: Strategies for Preserving Rent-Regulated Units, (August 2012)”, estimates that there are 40,500 units of rent-regulated housing in East Harlem. Interestingly, the smallest share of this universe, 9,900 or 25% of the total units, are rent stabilized or rent controlled.These units do not expire, the Report acknowledges, but are subject to some “inevitable” and un-quantified deregulation under current law. The majority of the “rent regulated” universe in East Harlem consists of Public Housing (14,700 units), or 36% of the total. Public Housing units also do not “expire”.
The largest category of affordable housing in the Report, “other rent-regulated housing”, consists of 15,900 units of housing financed under a hodgepodge of programs including Mitchell-Lama, low-income tax credits, Article 8A loans, J-51 tax exemptions and other City, State and Federal subsidy mechanisms. This category of affordable housing is threatened by the expiration of one or more of the various subsidies involved and has become a focus of attention by other organizations, principally the Furman Center at NYU which has begun to catalogue the inventory of such subsidized housing throughout the City.
The question that keeps occurring to me whenever affordable housing “crises” of this type are discovered is: why don’t we avoid this crisis by providing rent subsidies to needy tenants, via tax abatements to private owners, rather than laboriously construct subsidized housing which we know would require financial restructuring after a defined term?
– Jack Freund, Executive Vice President, Rent Stabilization Association
(Views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of the RSA.)