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

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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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

RSA President Joe Strasburg responds to the City Comptroller’s recent report on rising rents in Crain’s New York

Letters to the Editor: The truth about rents

City comptroller’s report misleads on housing-cost burden

 

The city comptroller’s recent report on rising rents (“High rents hitting middle-class New Yorkers,” CrainsNewYork.com) slices and dices the statistics to erroneously make it appear that rent burdens in New York City are higher than elsewhere and, unbelievably, to suggest that middle-class renters have greater housing affordability problems than poor renters.

First, New York’s rents have been rising along with rents in the rest of the country to the point where a majority of renters in New York and nationally pay more than 30% of income for rent, making the 30% limit an outdated standard. (Some of your readers may recall that the federal government used to define paying more than 25% as unaffordable.)

Second, a large part of the rise in rents is the direct result of the increase in government levies for real estate taxes and water and sewer charges, yet the comptroller does not suggest restraining those increases as a way to rein in rising rents—perhaps because Comptroller John Liu, as a city councilman, voted for two midyear real estate tax increases. Nor does he suggest that zoning and other restrictive regulations raise the cost of housing.

Third, when gauging affordability, the comptroller’s report fails to consider that many renters willingly pay more than 50% of their income in rent for the privilege of living in core Manhattan or highly desirable outer-borough neighborhoods (or to consider the 1 million college students who are paying rent with little or no income).

There is a clear need to expand the supply and contain the costs of housing in New York City, but exaggerating the scope of the problem while ignoring root causes does not foster the rational discussion we need.

 

— Joseph StrasburgPresident 
    Rent Stabilization Association

 

Source: Crain’s New York

High rents hitting middle-class New Yorkers

“Here’s a new twist on the affordability scale: middle-income renters have greater affordable housing issues than low-income renters! Tell that to the low-income housing advocates. I guess the affordability issue doesn’t die until everyone gets a subsidy. “ 

              – 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.)

 

High rents hitting middle-class New Yorkers

Families in the middle squeezed the most over the last decade, according to a new study.

By Tania Karas

Skyrocketing rents are increasingly squeezing middle-class New Yorkers, according to a report released Wednesday by City Comptroller John Liu.

The report shows that almost half of city households spend more than 30% of their income on rent, compared with 26% of households nationally. Federal benchmarks deem rent unaffordable when it exceeds 30% of household income.

Middle-income renters, defined as those earning between $35,000 and $75,000 annually, face the most pressure in Manhattan, where 45% pay rent that is officially “unaffordable.” But even those living in less expensive Staten Island and Queens aren’t much better off. There, 44% of middle-class residents in both boroughs shoulder unaffordable housing costs.

According to the study, 30% of New Yorkers devote more than half their income to rent alone. The high cost of living here is threatening to drive the middle class out of the city, Mr. Liu said.

“Working families should not be forced to leave town or live in inferior housing,” he said. “We need to invest more in affordable housing for middle-income renters so that our city is not only home to the very wealthy and the very poor but also to the vast majority of New Yorkers who fall in between.”

Some 70% of New Yorkers rent their homes, compared with 30% nationally. The vacancy rate of rental housing is 3% in New York City, compared with 10% nationally, and falls to less than 1% at peak times of the year.

The comptroller’s study, titled “Rents through the Roof,” cited census data showing that the high cost of living in the city disproportionately affects middle-income households. Low-income and high-income families don’t face the same pressures. Those earning less than $35,000 can turn to affordable-housing programs, while those in high-income brackets spend a similar percentage of their income on rent as the rest of the U.S.

And relief for the middle class is nowhere on the horizon, the study points out, as New Yorkers continue to face rising rents and record-low vacancy rates. In 2000, 23 of the city’s rental units were unaffordable to middle-income households, but that figure had jumped to 38% in 2010.

Source: Crain’s New York