Mayor Bill de Blasio’s first year in office has been an eventful one, to say the least. Despite other citywide issues, Mayor de Blasio has made it clear that his agenda throughout his term is to target the rental housing industry. Besides his appointment of five new members of the Rent Guidelines Board and a call for a rent freeze, the Mayor launched an historic affordable housing plan last May that will build and preserve 200,000 affordable housing units.
On February 3rd, the Mayor delivered his second State of the City speech and made his affordable housing plan the centerpiece of his 90-minute speech. As we already know, the plan calls to build 80,000 new units and preserve 120,000 existing affordable units. Mayor de Blasio stated that prior to the end of 2014, approximately 16,000 new units have been constructed, which is nearly a quarter of the proposed plan. As a result, we are left to believe that the task of constructing 80,000 new units may not be such a farfetched idea after all.
However, many people, including some elected officials, left the State of the City speech with doubts about this affordable housing plan after Mayor de Blasio delivered some big-time promises. The Mayor noted that the targeted area to construct a large portion (approximately 11,250) of these new affordable units is Sunnyside Yard, Queens, which is lacking in housing for a reason. For one thing, the land is owned by Amtrak, which is Federally operated, and the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA), which is State operated.
The MTA is currently using the land to store trains and is transporting materials needed to construct the new Long Island Railroad Station through Sunnyside Yard. Even if MTA wanted to sell the property, it would cost the City a hefty price tag, not to mention the additional funding needed to construct these thousands of units. The idea for this astronomical plan is perhaps nothing but a fantasy. Hypothetically speaking, if this long-term project was to be successful, it would take at least twenty years for it to be completed. Obviously, this is well beyond Mayor de Blasio’s possible second term, which would end in 2021.
The Mayor’s speech was primarily focused on his plans to construct another 60,000-70,000 affordable units throughout the City. The biggest question remains: How do you preserve 120,000 existing units? This is by far the biggest problem in his entire affordable housing plan. How will Mayor de Blasio reach his goal of preserving all of these units when his goals are to freeze rents and convince the State Senate to develop tenant-friendly rent regulations when the current rent laws expire in June? If there was ever any doubt that Mayor de Blasio is fully engaged in the Rent Guidelines process, his gloating over the “lowest rent increases in the history of the City” last year was a legitimate indication that he will continue to advocate for even lower if not zero increases. The math is simple Mayor de Blasio: small owners cannot maintain and preserve the existing affordable housing stock if you do not provide them with adequate rent increases while operating costs continue to skyrocket. Last year we raised concerns about this affordable housing plan and the question still remains: Is Mayor de Blasio’s affordable housing plan doomed?
There are only a few weeks to sit and ponder on Mayor de Blasio’s State of the City speech. We soon shall see how much the Mayor plans on having a say in this year’s process, with the Rent Guidelines Board expected to convene for the first time this year on Thursday, March 12th. RSA and the entire housing industry want to help the Mayor achieve this monumental goal, but we cannot do so if the blueprint is not realistic.