Thursday, January 14, 2016

Off the charts: ANHD Cheat Sheet offers damning context for Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park "affordable housing"

Not-so-affordable "affordable housing," anybody? Subsidized housing aimed at a tiny fraction of some of the city's best-off residents?

The Association for Neighborhood Housing and Development (ANHD) has put together a very useful "Cheat Sheet" regarding the all-important issue of Area Median Income (AMI) levels, key to affordable housing.

Half the units in next two "affordable"
buildings aimed around this tiny cohort
In doing so, it offers context regarding the Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park affordable housing, in which some 390 units--nearly two-thirds of the units (65%)--in the next two "100% affordable" buildings will go to middle-income households who represent just a fraction of the city's population, and among the least needy.

The Cheat Sheet explains how each AMI % translates to:
  • A household income amount for a four-person household. 
  • A monthly rent for a two-bedroom apartment.
  • The % of New Yorkers at each AMI level. 
It's not easy to read--click to enlarge--but the key thing to recognize is that only 9.2% of city households are moderate income, with only 1.75% at 160%, the highest middle income level.

That means annual income of about $138,000 for a four-person household and rent of approximately $3,500 for a two-bedroom unit.

And a good chunk of the coming Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park affordable housing is even fractionally less affordable. Fully 50% of the subsidized units in the upcoming B14 (535 Carlton) and B3 (38 Sixth Avenue) towers will go to households at 165% of AMI.

Another 15% will go to another middle-income cohort, at 145% of AMI, with two-bedroom units exceeding $3,000. (Rents go down, of course, for smaller units and smaller households.)
Note: It does not break down each income level into smaller households and commensurate lower rents.

Looking at mayor's plan

As I've written, in Mayor Bill de Blasio's ambitious plan to build or preserve 200,000 affordable units, only 11% --not 65%, as in the next two towers--are supposed to go to middle-income households.

Not that the goal has been met. Politico NY on 1/11/15  recently offered an update on the Mayor's plan, noting that so far a greater proportion of middle-income units have been launched. It quoted a critic:
Jonathan Westin of the coalition "Real Affordability For All" criticized the income breakdown.
"City Hall’s own press release reveals that little progress has been made: only 5 percent of the so-called affordable housing units are going to families living in poverty—those earning 30 percent or less of Area Median Income (AMI)," Westin said. "Mayor de Blasio’s housing and rezoning plans give most low-income New Yorkers nothing to celebrate or cheer. Too many low-income people are still at risk of displacement and homelessness in de Blasio's New York."


Why AMI is off

A blog post pointing to the Cheat Sheet--written by Barika Williams, Deputy Director, ANHD (who also happens to be a member of the Atlantic Yards Community Development Corporation)--explains why the federally-set AMI methodology is especially off-base in New York City.


It explains why federal Department of Housing and Urban Development AMIs for New York City exceed actual median incomes:
  • wealthier suburban counties are included.
  • HUD adds an upward adjuster onto New York income limits, based on the high cost of housing here, which artificially lifted AMI by 26.1% in 2010
  • HUD uses a formula to set income for different housing sizes, but the reality (a single person household earns just 49% of a four-person household) does not match the formula (70%)
This orients studios and one-bedrooms even more to the middle class.



Differences by borough

There are also significant differences by borough, with median incomes for the Bronx and Brooklyn--at least at the time of this report--well below Staten Island and Manhattan.

That means that "affordable housing would need to be developed at about the 50% and 70% AMI levels, respectively, to be affordable to the median households in each borough." (That's far from Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park, of course.)


Mismatches by Community District

The report notes:
The mismatch between HUD’s Area Median Incomes and the actual median incomes at the City and borough levels are especially true when looking neighborhood by­ neighborhood. Figure 7 shows each Community District’s median income as a percentage of AMI. Two-­thirds, or 40 of the 59 Community Districts in the City, have median incomes at or below the “Low ­Income” limit of 80% of AMI. And every single Community District in New York City, even the wealthiest, has a median income less than the “Middle­ Income” limit of 165% of AMI.


The solutions, of course, aren't simple, but this observation should resonate:
There is a clear need for more housing options throughout the City, across all income levels. However if these options aren’t affordable, the “affordable housing” is simply “housing.” The City should not use taxpayer subsidies to build housing unaffordable to the local community – indeed unaffordable to the majority of New Yorkers overall – and then call it “affordable housing.”
(Emphasis added)

But it has such a nice ring to it, leaving elected officials willing to praise "affordable housing" devoid from context, as happened last June.

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