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de Blasio takes another affordable housing victory lap; experts skeptical (+ AY disconnect)

A mayoral press release yesterday (after a New York Times exclusive) announced Mayor de Blasio: NYC Sets Affordable Housing Record, Highest Production Since 1989, with the subheading "23,284 affordable homes financed in Fiscal Year 2016 – second highest in history." (This follows up on last year's triumphant press release.)

The lead:
NEW YORK—Mayor Bill de Blasio today announced that his administration secured 23,284 affordable apartments and homes during Fiscal Year 2016, the second highest production in New York City history and the most since Ed Koch was mayor.
The Mayor’s Housing New York plan now is ahead of schedule, with 52,936 affordable homes financed so far, enough for 130,000 New Yorkers. Affordable housing for the very poorest New Yorkers – those earning less than $24,000 per year – surged with 3,500 new apartments. More than 4,000 affordable homes for low-income seniors are also underway.
The City is protecting neighborhood affordability on every front. The City is investing more than ever in NYCHA and its 600,000 tenants, evictions have declined 24 percent in two years, and the Rent Guidelines Board just passed its second consecutive rent freeze affecting 2.5 million tenants.
But how much of an impact can this make? Consider that preservation, while certainly important, doesn't help those hoping to get an affordable apartment, and the city has started only 17,341 units, according to the chart in the press release.


Note this paragraph:
One-quarter of all affordable housing financed since 2014 will reach New Yorkers making less than $31,100 for an individual or $40,800 for a family of three. Of these homes, 50 percent are for New Yorkers making less than $19,050, or $24,500 for a family of three. This progress reflects the traction of new programs and initiatives targeting the very lowest-income families, including the formerly homeless.
That's progress, but how significant? The chart below counts "starts" as either new construction or preservation. So we don't know how many new apartments there were for extremely low and very low income households.

The middle-income anomaly

Of course--though it's often not mentioned--"affordable" means that people pay 30% of household income on rent, so it can range from low-income to middle-income.


So, why did I highlight middle-income housing? Because in the upcoming two "100% affordable" buildings in Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park, 65% of the units, or 390, are middle-income units.

That's not where the need is greatest. Nor is it the focus of de Blasio's program. As announced in 2014, only 11% of the total were supposed to go to that cohort.

From Housing New York, Mayor de Blasio's 10-Year Plan, 2014
Several elected officials praised de Blasio's progress, including Assemblymember Walter Mosley and Council Member Brad Lander.

The coverage

In De Blasio Administration Says It’s Ahead of Schedule on Affordable Housing, the Times reflected the administration's line, but then noted criticism from housing activists and pointed out that "nearly a quarter of affordable apartments preserved with city financing last year were in two Manhattan projects, both devoted to middle-class tenants: Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village, on the East Side between 14th and 23rd Streets, and the Riverton Houses, in East Harlem."

The article concluded:
“We are pleased to see that the administration has increased the pace of production of housing for low- and extremely-low-income New Yorkers,” said Barika Williams, deputy director of the Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development, a nonprofit advocacy group. “But the need and demand for that kind of housing has only increased. And it won’t be met by the administration’s housing plan.
AM New York, in Mayor Bill de Blasio announces affordable housing progress, met with mixed reviews, supplied significant skepticism, pointing to the amount of new construction:
“The key figure for me is NOT 23,284 — which includes 17,187 units that received additional subsidies to extend already existing rent caps — but 6,097,” the number of new affordable homes actually built, said Matthew Lasner, co-author of “Affordable Housing in New York: The People, Places and Policies That Transformed a City.” 
While de Blasio’s affordable housing creation is 11% higher than the average annual output of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, it falls short of De Blasio’s stated goal of 8,000 new units per year, said Lasner, an associate professor of urban studies and planning at Hunter College.
The 421-a issue

DNAinfo, in City Claims Record-Breaking Affordable Housing Despite Loss of 421-A Break, noted the challenge with the lack of restoration of a certain tax break:
[Deputy Mayor Alicia] Glen said one of the worst consequences of the loss of 421-a is the inability to build affordable housing in expensive neighborhoods.
"That's tragic, and Albany needs to be held accountable for that," she said. "Our ability to do the kind of mixed-income building and neighborhood planning that's a sort of tent of our Housing New York plan is definitely at risk."...
Glen said the administration is "ahead of schedule," though they created only 6,097 new units in FY2016, which was 28 percent fewer than in the previous fiscal year and fewer than they would need to be on track if they were aiming to build 8,000 units per year to meet the goal of 80,000 in 10 years. 
[Housing Preservation and Development Commissioner Vicki] Been also suggested that the higher number in FY2015 was a "bump up... because of the natural rush to get into the ground" before the 421-a tax break expired.
The Observer, in De Blasio Administration Now Says It Can Hit Its Housing Goals Without 421a, reported:
Nonetheless, numerous experts have told the Observer that the mayor’s grand designs are largely dependent on getting the state to create a new 421a program. The centerpiece of his housing agenda is Mandatory Inclusionary Housing, which obligates market-rate developers to set aside a percentage of new rental apartments for middle and low-income tenants.
But without 421a, there is little incentive for developers to build rental units.
“When you look at a budget for a building, if all of a sudden your taxes are running at 30 percent of your operating expenses, there’s not a lot of room for profit,” real estate attorney Steve Hochberg explained to the Observer earlier this year. “The concept of what the mayor planned was meant to go hand in hand with a 421a.”
A union head warned that the only profitable unsubsidized developments are now condominiums. And unless a new version of the exemption arrives, developers just won’t build the low-income units de Blasio’s plan requires.


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