Saturday, August 25, 2012

Has the Bloomberg administration "built" more than 130,000 units of affordable housing? No, but that's not what the Times reported

See link to other examples.

The New York Times has provided a misleadingly rosy picture of Mayor Bloomberg's housing record, avoiding an obvious correction regarding a 5/20/12 profile of City Planning Commissioner Amanda Burden, which stated:
On her watch, the administration has undertaken financing 165,000 units of affordable housing by 2014, of which more than 130,000 have been built, and has created projects like Via Verde, the handsome, eco-friendly subsidized development in the South Bronx.
(Emphasis added)

I left a phone message on the corrections line and, a week later, sent an email to that address and to Senior Editor Greg Brock. I wrote:
Note that 130,000 affordable units have not "been built" from the ground up. As the Times reported two years ago, "In 2005, the city said it would build 92,000 units and preserve 73,000 by 2014. Now, it expects to build 60,000 and preserve 105,000."
The Wall Street Journal reports similarly today on Bloomberg's affordable housing record.
The response

Brock responded:
Your message never reached me. You have written so many times now that the spam filters automatically grab your emails and send them to junk....
I will mention this to the editors. But we're not going to correct it. We didn't say from "the ground up." I will ask them to be more precise next time. The point seems to be that units are being both constructed and renovated. That could include anything from pouring foundations for some to making costmetic changes to existing one or totally gutting existing ones. The bottom line is that there will be that number of affordable, habitable units in the end.

As I have suggested more than once, you should concentrate on significant errors -- and quit nitpicking...
A meaningful error

Brock seems to suggest that this is nitpicking, rather than a small but meaningful error that could have been corrected without a response or debate. Even so, the newspaper's Corrections policy, does not make a distinction:
Corrections. Because our voice is loud and far-reaching, The Times recognizes an ethical responsibility to correct all its factual errors, large and small. The paper regrets every error, but it applauds the integrity of a writer who volunteers a correction of his or her own published story. Whatever the origin, though, any complaint should be relayed to a responsible supervising editor and investigated quickly. If a correction is warranted, fairness demands that it be published immediately. In case of reasonable doubt or disagreement about the facts, we can acknowledge that a statement was "imprecise" or "incomplete" even if we are not sure it was wrong.
At the very least, this one was "imprecise"--Brock even admitted it himself.

It is misleading shorthand to use "built" (to create or construct) describe an ambitious policy that has undergone what the Times has called a "shift". And that shorthand served the overall theme of the article, an admiring portrait of Burden.

While Brock declares that "The bottom line is that there will be that number of affordable, habitable units in the end," that obscures the policy switch, which enables the administration to achieve its overall goal by spending far less money and creating fewer new units. 

That's a significant switch. The Times itself has reported this, as I noted in my letter to Brock. The Times headline was City’s New Plan on Affordable Housing: Build Less, Preserve More. The Observer's 9/23/08 headline was Tougher Times Hobble Mayor’s Affordable Housing Ambitions.

The official language

Governmental agencies are more careful to not use "build" or "create" as a shorthand for the whole program, as noted in the excerpts below, to which I have added emphasis in bold. In July 2011, the Mayor's office announced:
New York City is now three-quarters of the way towards completing Mayor Bloomberg’s goal of creating and preserving 165,000 units of affordable housing by the end of 2014.
This past February, the city department of Housing, Preservation, and Development announced:
To date, the plan has funded the creation or preservation of over 129,200 units of affordable housing across the five boroughs...
The New York City Economic Development Corporation recently stated:
The new housing units are a part of Mayor Bloomberg's $7.5 billion New Housing Marketplace Plan to build and preserve 165,000 units of affordable housing over ten years - the largest municipal affordable plan in the nation.
Other reports

Other news outlets and stakeholders are more careful, as well. City Limits reported last September:
... and preservation has been promoted over new construction. The final goal is now 54,500 new affordable units built and 105,600 subsidized apartments preserved.
NYU's Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy and its Institute for Affordable Housing Policy last September stated in a press release
Mayor Bloomberg’s New Housing Marketplace Plan... is on track to finance the preservation and creation of 165,000 units of affordable housing.
Crain's New York Business reported this May, drawing on a press release from the New York City Housing Development Corporation:
Macedonia Plaza is a part of the city's ambitious New Housing Marketplace Plan, which aims to create or preserve 165,000 homes by the end of fiscal year 2014.

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