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

NYCHA’s lawsuit…fair to property owners?

Tenants in a New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) project have brought an action in Housing Court to compel NYCHA to fix long-standing repair problems in Lower Manhattan’s Smith Houses or to pay civil penalties.  If Smith Houses were a privately owned property, the owner would have been in Housing Court, and possibly in jail, a long time ago.

It will be interesting to track what happens in this case.

 

   – Jack Freund

 

The Alfred E. Smith houses in Lower Manhattan comprises 12 apartment buildings.

 

 

Additional sources: 

Housing Authority Is Sued Over Slow Pace of Repairs– The New York Times, 4/29/13.

When ‘Affordable’ Is Just a Word

By 

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

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