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

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