No End to Political Hypocrisy

The City Council is now suing to block the NYC Housing Authority from leasing underutilized land for market rate housing development even though the profits will be plowed back into improving housing authority projects. Leading the charge is City Council Christine Quinn who approved exactly such a development in her own City Council district several years ago. Nor did the City Council protest the more than 4,270 housing units which have already been developed or are in development on Housing Authority property under Mayor Bloomberg’s New Housing Marketplace Plan. Could this lack of principle have anything to do with churning up support among public housing residents for the Mayoral campaign of Democratic candidate Bill De Blasio, who has also opposed leasing NYCHA property for private development?

 

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The Council says the authority shouldn’t be in the business of creating more housing for the affluent. But NYCHA officials say the lease money would go directly into developments and repairs for low-income housing residents.

BY / NEW YORK DAILY NEWS

The New York City Council sued Thursday to stop the local housing authority’s plan to lease public land for luxury development.

The Council — joined by housing authority tenants and the Legal Aid Society — contends that New York City Housing Authority should not be in the business of creating more housing for the affluent.

“NYCHA’s sole purpose is to build and maintain affordable housing — not lease public land to make way for luxury apartments,” Council Speaker Christine Quinn said. Continue reading

Mayoral Candidates Pander to Housing Advocates, but Weiner Defends Vacancy Decontrol Vote

 

Mayoral candidates Bill de Blasio, Adolfo Carrion, John Liu, Bill Thompson and Anthony Weiner answer questions from affordable-housing advocates at a forum Tues., June 26, 2013.
Mayoral candidates Bill de Blasio, Adolfo Carrion, John Liu, Bill Thompson and Anthony
  Weiner answer questions from affordable-housing advocates at a forum Tues., June 26, 2013.

 

By Irina Ivanova

 

Democratic mayoral hopefuls—minus City Council Speaker Christine Quinn—expressed strong support for affordable-housing protections at a forum sponsored by a coalition of community groups Tuesday.

Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, City Comptroller John Liu, former City Comptroller Bill Thompson, former U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner and Adolfo Carrión, an independent and former Bronx Borough President, spoke in front of about 400 attendees at the Calvary-St. George’s Church in the Gramercy Park area of Manhattan. The candidates agreed broadly on stricter enforcement of building codes, mandatory inclusionary zoning in new developments and reforming the New York City Housing Authority. All five also said that the Bloomberg administration’s ambitious housing plan to create or preserve 165,000 affordable units by the end of June 2014, largely through incentives to private developers, will fall short of meeting the need for affordable housing in the city.

“We hardly gained anything because we lost an equal number of units from rent regulation and Mitchell Lama,” said Mr. de Blasio. “There’s over a third of the city paying more than 50% of their income for rent.”

They called for the use of nonprofit developers and the implementation of mandatory inclusionary zoning as ways to build more affordable apartments. Inclusionary zoning, which is currently voluntary, allows a developer to build additional units if a certain percentage of the development is set aside for low-income residents.

Candidates also spoke in favor of stricter building code enforcement. Currently, only one-third of the building code violations that is recorded by the city result in fines. Mr. Thompson said he would “dramatically expand” the city’s Alternative Enforcement Program, which imposes additional penalties on landlords of severely distressed residential buildings, and hire more staff devoted to that program. Mr. Liu said the city should penalize building owners with a lot of violations by limiting the number of buildings in their possession.

“Even when they get fines and violations, the Buildings Department keeps giving them more buildings. The left hand doesn’t seem to know what the right hand is doing,” Mr. Liu said.

Mr. Carrión said he would create “a Hall of Shame for slumlords,” and enable the city to take poorly maintained buildings away from their owners.

When it came to reforming the New York City Housing Authority, there was no shortage of ideas. The candidates had harsh words for the mayor’s Infill/Land-Lease plan, which would rent out Housing Authority land for the construction of market-rate apartments. Mr. Carrión said money raised from selling the air rights of Housing Authority developments should go toward repairing existing public housing and building additional affordable housing. Currently, the agency has a backlog of more than 240,000 repairs, a number that once stood as high as 420,000.

Meanwhile, Mr. Weiner said he supported development on Housing Authority land, but for uses other than market-rate apartments such as commercial. “Let’s have specialized housing for seniors,” he said.

All five candidates also supported halting the nearly $100 million payment Housing Authority gives to the city each year for services like policing and sanitation. Many housing activists say the payment, which was instituted during the Giuliani administration, amounts to double taxation on public-housing residents. No other housing provider in the city is required to make such payments.

The mayoral forum was sponsored by a number of community groups, including Community Voices Heard, Good Old Lower East Side, the Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development, Los Sures and the Pratt Area Community Council.

 

Source: Crain’s New York Business

Alms for the Upper Middle Class: Subsidized Apartments Aim at $200K Earners

 

 

 

 

By Stephen Jacob Smith

Standing outside a shiny new red and tan brick building at 401 West 25th Street, indistinguishable from any other late-2000s new construction throughout the West Side, you can catch a glimpse of the future of housing if New York City’s Democratic mayoral candidates get their way.

A young woman who works in finance and moved into this building from a “real shithole” in the West Village, a computer programmer from South Carolina, a lifelong New Yorker who moved in from the projects a few blocks south, and a gay couple—one a playwright, the other a social worker—with a son, who moved from 14th Street and Seventh Avenue.

Inside an Elliott-Chelsea apartment.

They all found places in a 22-story middle-income affordable housing development in an increasingly unaffordable Chelsea. The Elliott-Chelsea, developed by Artimus Construction, rose on New York City Housing Authority property with the help of an alphabet soup of government agencies. Some of the 168 units in the  building are typical low-income units, reserved for families earning under $40,000 a year. But the bulk of the complex is set aside for middle-income earners, a group that this cycle’s crop of Democratic mayoral candidates is eager to court.

Some of these units can legitimately be called middle-income apartments, with half a dozen one-bedroom apartments available to couples earning a combined $64,000 to $101,000 a year. But there are also 45 two-bedrooms that go for $3,421 a month, for households, no matter the size, ranging in income from $119,143 to $190,080. In the world of New York City affordable housing, this is what passes for middle-income.

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Report: New Mayor Should Stop Re-Housing the Homeless

Report: New Mayor Should Stop Re-Housing the Homeless

Some mayoral candidates want to restore programs that place homeless families in regular housing. But one think-tank believes those programs drive shelter demand.

By Diane Jeantet

ICPH's Ralph de Costa Nuñez speaking at an event in October. He argues that a succession of approaches to rapidly rehousing shelter clients has led to shelter recidivism and increased demand for shelter beds.

Homeless numbers have reached historic levels, shelters are mushrooming throughout the city, homeless-related expenditures have gone through the roof and for the first time in three decades, there is no rental assistance or other housing program available to help shelter residents move into more permanent housing.

With more than 48,000 people sleeping in the city’s homeless shelters every night, and no end to the crisis in sight, homelessness certainly has been a topic of discussion among the candidates for mayor.

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Bill de Blasio Unveils Affordable Housing Plan: 190,000 Units, Legalized Granny Flats and More

 

Until now, Bill de Blasio’s housing platform has mainly consisted of sniping at frontrunner Christine Quinn. But no longer: this afternoon Mr. de Blasio announced measures he would take mayor to curb what he calls the “full-blown crisis” of affordable housing. (Old habits, though, do die hard: Mr. de Blasio did take another shot at Ms. Quinn, saying, “Letting the real estate industry keep calling all the shots with our affordable housing policy isn’t going to deliver what working people need”—an allusion to her tax credits-for-affordable housing plan, which seems cribbed right from REBNY and Steve Ross’s proposals back in 2011.)

Public Advocate Bill de Blasio unveiled his housing platform today in Williamsburg, where housing prices have nearly tripled since 2004.

Mr. de Blasio started out, as all candidates do, with a promise for the number of affordable housing units he’d create: 100,000 “new affordable units,” plus preservation for “nearly 90,000″ others.

As a comparison, Ms. Quinn called for the construction of “40,000 new middle-income affordable apartments.” In 2005 Mayor Bloomberg wanted to build 92,000 units and preserve 73,000 by 2014, but the number of new units was revised downwards to 60,000, with the balance shifted to preservation. In 1985 Ed Koch promised 250,000 new or renovated affordable units over ten years, but only delivered 150,000, the vast majority of which were renovations.

But it’s once you get past Mr. de Blasio’s headline number that things start to get interesting. He calls for “mandating [that] developers include affordable housing in large development” (we used to have a name for this: rent control), which he says will be responsible for half of his 100,000 new affordable units.

He also calls for investing $1 billion from the city’s public pension funds in affordable housing—an interesting proposal, but one that would put city workers’ retirements in jeopardy if this not-highly-remunerative investment doesn’t pan out.

Beyond that, he also has some ideas for how the government can ease constraints on private builders and landlords—a sop to the real estate industry that he decried earlier if you want to be uncharitable about it, or a recognition that the market also has a role to play in creating affordable housing, to put a more generous spin on it.

His first idea piggybacks onto something that Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer has already gotten behind: legalizing basement apartments and “granny flats” in places where they are currently illegal—namely, the outer boroughs. “Housing experts estimate there are about 100,000 illegal units throughout the city,” City Limits reported back in 2010, unregulated and prone to building and fire code violations, ”housing as many as 500,000 New Yorkers,” with the largest concentration of illegal units in Queens.

(In his press release he mentions bringing them into the “the legal, rent-regulated system,” but his press secretary clarified to The Observer that he would only seek rent controls for units developed through city programs; the rest would simply be brought into “the legal system, like we did with lofts several years ago.”)

His second idea is to allow development rights to be transfered “not just to adjacent properties, but within a neighborhood, in order to encourage more affordable construction.” As it is now, neighborhood-wide transferable development rights only exist within special areas, like around the High Line. Allowing easier air rights transfers across the city—with the vague “affordable construction” caveat—would certainly make it easier to build, though it would also raise the ire of NIMBYs the city over.

Mr. de Blasio also includes a number of other housing issues in his plank, from ”closing the vacant land tax loophole” to “launching a national coalition of mayors and governors to secure more federal investment in affordable housing.”

Though given the secular decline in federal involvement in housing over the past few decades, we wouldn’t hold our breath for that last one. For better or worse, housing is New York City’s problem now.

 

Source: The New York Observer

When ‘Affordable’ Is Just a Word

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The spring has the real-estate press enthusiastically reporting on the construction of 432 Park Avenue, an apartment tower that its developers claim will be the tallest residential building in the Western Hemisphere. Apartments in the tower, designed by Rafael Viñoly and to be completed in 2015, are offered in the $20 million to $80 million range, which in the context of Ludicrously Priced Housing for Oligarchs Who Spend Most of the Year in Tax Exile on Mediterranean Yachts isn’t as numbing as it might otherwise be. Such is the historical moment that a few blocks west, in another glass tower, called One 57, apartments have sold in the past year for more than $90 million.

Barbara Cortijo and her sons, Joel, left, and Jomar, live in affordable housing in the Bronx.

Given these perversions, it is hard to understand what affordable housing means in New York, in one sense because the market doesn’t really abide it, and in another because the phrase itself in policy terms has become so amorphous.

Just as shocking, arguably, as the $44 million four-bedroom duplex in TriBeCa that turns up in the real estate listings of The New York Times is the $1,400-a-month, two-bedroom rental apartment in the Belmont section of the Bronx. According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, which calculates what it calls the housing wage— the earnings necessary to pay no more than 30 percent of your income on rent, the threshold usually used to define affordable housing — you would need to make $26.92 an hour, or $56,000 a year, to afford the apartment. If you held a minimum-wage job, a likely circumstance in a neighborhood where the poverty rate is 43 percent, twice the city’s on the whole, and median household income is just over $22,000, you would have to work 149 hours a week to meet the cost. Alternatively, you could clone yourself 2.7 times.

As it happens, affordable housing was the subject of a mayoral forum last week at New York University. Democratic candidates all expressed the view that despite the Bloomberg administration’s ambitious and lauded affordable housing program — which has financed the preservation and construction of 165,000 units of low-, moderate- and middle-income housing — the city, at a time of record homelessness, soaring rents and stagnating wages, needs to do more and needs to generate affordable housing that is actually affordable.

Two months ago, a report issued by the Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development, a consortium of neighborhood housing groups, indicated that out of the 38,670 units developed by the Bloomberg housing plan from 2009 to 2011, only one-third of them were economically within reach of households making the median income or less for the typical household in their neighborhood. Of the units the city developed over the same period, only about 8 percent were intended for households making less than 40 percent of the metropolitan area’s median income, though they make up nearly one-third of all New York City households.

Another dimension to all this is what Alex Schwartz, a professor of urban planning at the New School, likens to a bathtub with a running faucet and an open drain. As the city builds new units of affordable housing, old units age out of the system. Much of the affordable housing isn’t meant to be affordable forever simply because it isn’t financially feasible, so rents go up, tax breaks expire and units nudge toward market rate. Last week, the housing development association issued new data indicating where existing affordable housing had disappeared or was threatened. In the University Heights section of the Bronx, 5,000 units of housing from 2008 to 2011 became unaffordable, with rents requiring incomes of more than 80 percent of the area’s median income.

The New York City Housing Authority, where the average monthly rent as of this year is $436, offers permanent affordability, of course, but there are currently more than 167,000 families on its waiting list (and more than 123,000 families on a waiting list, now closed, for Section 8 federal housing vouchers, which have had their financing reduced by sequestration). One partial solution to clearing the backlog would be to relocate older residents living alone in large apartments in public housing to smaller ones and give over two- and three-bedroom apartments to the families who need them. “It isn’t all that complicated,” Christine C. Quinn, the City Council speaker and a Democrat, said at the candidates’ forum, “even though it isn’t happening.”

Creating actual affordable housing, buildings that can pay for themselves in the absence of growing subsidies, will be a formidable challenge for the next mayor. John C. Liu, a Democratic candidate, proposes to do it with what he calls the People’s Budget, which he unveiled last week and which includes $27 million in housing vouchers for the homeless and $3.7 billion in capital funds to help create 100,000 units of affordable housing over a four-year period. He would finance these and other ambitions through tax increases on those making more than $1 million a year, charging rents to charter schools using city facilities and taxing private equity firms’ carried interest, to cite a few examples.

Advocates and analysts in the affordable housing world have talked about addressing some of this difficulty by cross-subsidizing buildings, a process that would have a mixed-income building in the Bronx, for instance, helping to offset the costs of a primarily low-income building in Brooklyn. I would propose another form of cross-subsidization called the You Don’t Need to Live in a $50 Million Penthouse Tax, which would require anyone buying a property for more than $10 million (of which there are currently about 280 listed in The Times) to pay a percentage of that cost to an affordable-housing fund. And then commit, in writing, to never complain about it.

Source: The New York Times

Why Your Rent’s Too High

Posted: February 11, 2013

If there were one lesson our mayoral aspirants would do well to learn, it’s this: The reason basics in New York are so much more expensive than they should be — e.g., rent, real estate, education — is because our politicians are limiting supply.

The less supply the city has, the less affordable this city becomes.

That’s especially worth remembering when politicians prattle on about “affordability.” A perfect example: the opposition to a promising move by Mayor Bloomberg to open more city land for housing.

The plan is simple: Lease city land to developers to build luxury apartments, set aside 20 percent for families making less than $50,000, then use the revenues to pay for badly needed repairs for public housing.

Makes sense, right? In the land of common sense it does — but not in New York politics. Already, three likely candidates for mayor — Chris Quinn, Bill Thompson and John Liu — are attacking it. Posing as champions of the people, they claim the city should be building more affordable units, and fixing the ones New York has.

What’s notable is what they don’t say: how to pay for it. The city doesn’t have the cash, and good luck getting it from Washington.

Bloomberg understands this. He understands too that this city desperately needs more housing. Even adding luxury housing helps, because the more units on the market, the more prices go down — and folks have more chances to move up.

In an ideal world, Bloomberg would be selling the city’s land entirely and getting the government out of the housing business. That would include ending subsidies exploited by the rich (e.g., rent control) as well as giving the poor more opportunities to afford private apartments, rather than packing them off to public housing.

Still, the mayor deserves kudos for a plan that represents a huge step forward over the status quo. As for the hapless mayoral wannabes attacking it, a big Bronx cheer — and a free copy of the collected works of Milton Friedman.

 

Source: New York Post

Preaching to the Choir on Housing. At last week’s debate, New York’s mayoral candidates sang the same old chorus.

NICOLE GELINAS
28 January 2013

At last Thursday night’s mayoral debate on housing policy at an East New York church, Joseph Lhota, the Republican newcomer to the race,distinguished himself by being quiet. The housing forum showed how hard it is to run for mayor by talking to everyone, and how politically brave one has to be to try. The hosts and the questioners accepted as fact that New York faces an affordable-housing crisis and that it’s the city’s job to fix it. Everyone who spoke wanted the city to build or “preserve” city-controlled housing—whether private, rent-regulated buildings or public units. The first questioner, Erica Townsend of Brooklyn, asked: “Mayor Bloomberg is on the right track to build and renovate 165,000 units of housing, 15,000 per year. . . . Do you agree, and commit to preserving and building a total of 60,000 of housing [units] over four years?”

Not one of the candidates on stage—four Democrats, Lhota, and fellow Republican Tom Allon, a publisher—dared say no. City comptroller John Liu; his predecessor, Bill Thompson; and public advocate Bill de Blasio all agreed that 60,000 new city-supported housing units should be the minimum. Liu said that he had used $440 million in city-guaranteed pension-fund money to invest in 38,000 units of government-controlled housing; De Blasio said Liu hadn’t done enough.

Christine Quinn, the Democratic city council speaker, jumped in, too. Touting her “first job” as a tenant activist, Quinn said, “we’ve lost 300,000 . . . affordable housing [units] in this city” in recent years “because of the way Albany has eroded rent protection.” Quinn cautioned that building new city-controlled housing would not be “cost-free.” Her solution? “You need to decide it’s a priority in your capital budget.”

For a small-l libertarian—as Lhota describes himself—or just someone concerned about groupthink, there was plenty to respond to here. Lhota could have pointed out that when the city devotes taxpayers’ money to building brand-new housing for a few, it does so at the expense of investments in subways or keeping cops on the street—spending that benefits everyone. When Lhota did speak up, he quibbled only with housing programs’ inefficiency. Depending on what your particular subsidy is, he said, “you gotta talk to HPD, sometimes you gotta talk to HDC, sometimes you have to talk to City Planning, you always have to talk to the Buildings Department, you’ve got DEP on water bills, you’ve got . . . the rent-control board, there’s NYCHA, there’s Section 8 from NYCHA or from HPD. . . . The entire housing apparatus of the city needs to be completely reorganized . . . and focused on the problem at hand.”

Lhota showed that he is not politically naive. Politicians must pick their battles. Falling on his sword over public housing inside a church surrounded by public housing would have disqualified him on grounds of political incompetence.

Yet Lhota missed opportunities to turn a debate over one issue into a debate about who can best manage all of the city’s issues. He could have said that, as MTA chief until last month, he learned that public-housing residents needed better bus service to get to their jobs. That’s why he restored service that his predecessors had cut. He could have pointed out that, as deputy mayor in the 1990s, he learned that all New Yorkers—whether they live in public housing or in rent-regulated apartments in poor neighborhoods—deserve a safe, quiet environment. That means fixing the city budget so that we don’t lose another 6,000 cops, as we have under Mayor Bloomberg. The audience might have been receptive to a candidate willing to depart from issue-advocacy talking points.

When Townsend, the first questioner, asked about affordable housing, she also said that “at one time,” East New York “resembled a war zone, burned-out buildings, abandoned buildings,” with “drug dealers” operating under cover of burned-out street lamps. Townsend added that she had fought for “more police patrols in my neighborhood.” Someone on stage could have responded: Your affordable housing isn’t good enough if you can’t send your kids outside without getting shot, or if you can’t get to work without a long delay.

Lhota will have other chances. Nobody will remember that he treated the first debate as an opportunity to watch and learn, whereas everyone would have remembered a gaffe. But Lhota should remember that voters already have access to elected officials who use their current jobs to fight for their favorite special interests. New Yorkers want the next mayor to see the big picture.

Source: City Journal