It is a timely and exciting mission. Too-slow growth and gentrification have shrunk the supply of affordable housing while greatly increasing New Yorkers’ anxiety about what their city is becoming. Mr. de Blasio’s answer is this: Build aggressively and densely, and demand that a significant portion of new units be permanently affordable. Use all means possible to protect what’s there, including strengthening rent regulations and tripling, to $36 million a year, the amount the city spends to protect tenants from greedy landlords in housing court.That's hardly all that needs to be done. The increase in units will not be offset significantly unless the steady conversion of below-market and rent-regulated units stops or slows. Nor does de Blasio's plan project nearly enough units for poor New Yorkers.
The skeptics hit back almost instantly. Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office pronounced one of the mayor’s ideas — a plan to create 200 buildable acres from thin air on a deck over the Sunnyside rail yards in Queens — dead on arrival. And residents in some neighborhoods where Mr. de Blasio hopes to build, worried that they were doomed to be overwhelmed by a tide of soaring rents and evictions, asked the million-dollar affordable-housing question: affordable for whom?
The success of the plan, laid out by the administration in a 116-page book of policy prescriptions, will depend on several factors. One is toughness: mandatory inclusionary zoning, stronger rent laws, an army of Legal Aid lawyers, stricter code enforcement against landlords who let properties decay.
Another is persuasion. Mr. de Blasio will have to convince New Yorkers that the huge construction binge he wants — including 160,000 new market-rate units plus 80,000 affordable ones — and years of noise and inconvenience will be for their benefit. And this, in turn, involves making the difficult argument that even though only a fraction of the new units will be affordable — 20 percent or 30 percent or more, depending — this will be enough to build a city within the city that is within a regular New Yorker’s financial reach.
Nor does it address a full reform of tax policy, including but hardly limited to a tax on pied a terre units. And, of course, housing would become more affordable if there are more middle-class jobs. Also, while de Blasio does plan some transit improvements, far more needs to be done; here's YIMBY's proposal re eastern Queens.
That is one reason the mayor has been talking openly about gentrification and promising to help batten down neighborhoods’ affordability before the wave hits. It is also why his administration has been dispatching officials to community meetings across the city where neighbors have been up in arms— for good reason. Brooklyn’s Barclays Center project gave developers and corporate tenants the tax breaks and profits they wanted, but the gauzy promise of an affordable neighborhood around it has not yet been fulfilled. In Manhattan, giant luxury towers still sprout skyward, while rich foreigners park their money in luxe apartments that stay empty.(Emphasis added)
By taking on affordable housing, Mr. de Blasio is making a full, multiyear commitment to a mission that, like “cleaning up Albany,” sounds vague and impossible. But Mr. de Blasio seems to mean it.
Cynicism is easy. Idealism is hard when you’re a politician who is making a huge promise, is expected to deliver and could lose his job if he fails. For the salvation of New York as a diverse, mixed-income city that is there for everybody, it’s essential that Mr. de Blasio gets this right. He needs to get hammering, starting now.
Note that corporate tenants, unless you count the Brooklyn Nets and associated sponsors, haven't gotten tax breaks. And note that the language about "affordable neighborhood" suggests it might yet be fulfilled. It won't.
There will be 2,250 below-market units, but they will overall fuel gentrification, given the overall increase in household income, because 1) the Area Median Income (AMI) floats ever higher and 2) de Blasio has allowed the percentage of AMI in the next two all-affordable towers to exceed that promised in the Community Benefits Agreement and Affordable Housing Memorandum of Understanding.