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Quinn calls for task force to address housing crisis

In coverage yesterday of City Council Speaker Christine Quinn's State of the City speech, only the New York Sun, among the dailies, noticed her attention to the housing issue. In an article headlined Quinn Positions Herself For Mayoral Race, the Sun reported:
The biggest applause of the speech came when Ms. Quinn announced the creation of a task force that would recommend ways to expand the city's supply of middle-income housing and develop "a citywide Mitchell-Lama plan for the 21st century," as she put it.

..Asked about Ms. Quinn's new housing task force, [Manhattan Borough President Scott] Stringer said that while he was not sure if it would ultimately succeed, the city needed to look for ways to add more affordable housing units. "In our borough, right here in Manhattan, the housing crisis is now out of control," he said. "Somebody's got to step up with new ideas."

$110,000 and struggling?

Here are some excerpts from Quinn's speech:
Now, the single biggest complaint I hear from New Yorkers is the syrocketing cost of housing and the devastating impact it’s having on our middle class.
The reality is, if you are a teacher and firefighter, raising your kids in Clinton Hill and together make $110,000 a year, it’s hard to find a decent place to live.

Note that, under the guideline that people spend 30% of their income for affordable housing, the annual rent for such a household would be $33,000 and the monthly rent $2750. Also note that $110,000 is within the top range of households eligible for Atlantic Yards affordable housing.

Quinn is right that affordable housing is a challenge to many people. (Still, there are apartments in Clinton Hill well under $2750.) But Atlantic Yards was endorsed by the low-income group ACORN because its members thought it would help them.

Some progress

Quinn continued:
Talk about untenable. We can’t expect to keep a strong middle class here in New York or provide opportunities to immigrant families if we make the city literally uninhabitable for them.

...We have made some progress on this score. Last year, the Council passed several historic pieces of legislation to preserve and upgrade the limited supply of affordable housing we already have. And by the end of this month, we’ll pass Dan Garodnick and Melissa Mark Viverito’s antitenant harassment bill into law.

Also, the Mayor’s New Housing Marketplace and Commissioner Shaun Donovan are creating tens of thousand of new housing units. This year, to help ease the squeeze on working families who don't own their homes, we will continue our push to pass a Renter's Tax Credit. After all, it's only fair if we're going to give a rebate to homeowners to do the same for renters.

This refundable credit of three hundred dollars will give an immediate boost to more than one million New Yorkers.

It's worth noting that she spent more time on the renter's tax credit than praising the Bloomberg administration (or criticizing it).

New focus

She continued:
But if we are going to hold onto our middle class and those striving to join it for the long term, we have to expand our focus and even the definition of affordable housing.

What we really need, as many of you have heard me say before, is a City-wide Mitchell-Lama plan for the 21st Century – a comprehensive approach to creating housing that is affordable to our middle class and stays that way permanently.

One of our top priorities this year will be leveraging all the great expertise and energy across the city to help us develop just such a blueprint. We will convene a high-level task force and will charge them with coming back to us in six months with detailed and doable recommendations on how best to deal with this complex challenge.

...Our goal will be to unveil our next generation Mitchell-Lama plan this fall and to have the commitment and resources next year to begin implementing it. But in the short-term, we are going to look for realistic opportunities this year to make an immediate difference in increasing the supply of affordable housing.

New partnership

She continued:
One of our best allies in this fight has been and will always be the city’s unions and workers. They have a record of stepping up to help the city in tough times. Don’t forget, these were the same folks who offered up their pension funds during the 1970s and helped bail out our city. Today, to help make sure that we continue to preserve and expand affordable housing even in these challenging times, our Central Labor Council has committed to an innovative new partnership with the City Council.

The CLC will be forming a new non-profit organization – collaborating with its local unions – to use a combination of pension funds available through the AFL-CIO's Housing Trust Fund and private equity to expand the supply of housing available to middle-income New Yorkers. Together, we’ll identify housing at risk of being sold or deregulated and between the union's resources and the City’s leverage we'll make competitive bids that will keep tenants in their homes.

We’ll also partner with developers to build new middle-income housing – with the CLC providing financing and the City offering tax incentives.

Starrett City, the CLC, and ACORN

Interestingly, the CLC last year tried to buy Starrett City to capture the development from an investor opposed by affordable housing advocates, but ran into trouble with ACORN, because it thought the rents would be too high.

(Is the tension between low-income affordable housing and middle-income affordable housing what Quinn meant by expanding the definition of affordable housing?)

As the New York Observer reported last September:
But the labor council ran into resistance from Acorn, an affordable housing advocacy group, which objected to parts of the labor council’s future plans for the 5,881-unit complex, he said. Under those proposals, a copy of which was obtained by The Observer, nine-tenths of the tenants would be transferred to a federal program that would cap the rent they paid to 30 percent of their income. But once those tenants left or died off, just 30 percent of the apartments would be preserved for low- or very low-income residents; another 20 percent would be sold to tenants making up to $85,080 for a family of four.

That threshold struck housing advocates and elected officials as too high, particularly in the far-out stretches of Brooklyn, where the median income was a lot lower.

The median income of the folks who attended Atlantic Yards public hearings/meetings in search of housing was a lot lower, too, as ACORN's Bertha Lewis discovered at a July 2006 affordable housing information session.