Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Section 8 boost means 22,000 families housed affordably

Yesterday, on the same day that we learned that the city had agreed to put another $105 million into Atlantic Yards infrastructure, came some interesting news about a nearly equivalent sum.

A federal infusion of $100 million--nationwide, but significantly in New York--means that 22,000 low-income New Yorkers will gain Section 8 vouchers over the next two years.

That's significant, because New York's waiting list for the federal Section 8 program--which offers subsidies so households pay only 30 percent of their income in rent--closed in 1994, leaving a 127,000 people in the lurch.

Those eligible for Section 8 can earn up to half the median income--$35,450 for a four-person household. Among the 2250 affordable rental units planned for the Atlantic Yards project, 900 would be within the Section 8 income limits.

90 a year at AY?

If the project were to be completed in ten years, assuming the developer's best-case scenario, that would mean 90 units a year for households also waiting for Section 8. If it were to be completed in 20 years, as even some supporters predict, that would mean 45 units a year.

Such numbers are dwarfed by the new Section 8 announcement. The parallels aren't quite direct--the new vouchers help pay rent, but don't necessarily simulate new construction--but the lesson is clear. A change in government spending or policy would help a lot more New Yorkers than one megaproject.

Confronting the issue

That may seem trite, but, given the way the issue's been framed, it's worth repeating. On the Brian Lehrer Show last May, Forest City Ratner executive Jim Stuckey criticized project opponents, saying, "They really don’t want to confront the issue of affordable housing, and the fact that we desperately need housing."

Maybe it depends on what a government entity does with a spare $100 million--or the overdue reform of a subsidy like 421-a.

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