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"There is no alternative": DM Glen on de Blasio's affordable housing strategy

As I've written, Mayor Bill de Blasio sure knows how to steer and spin coverage of his affordable housing initiatives.

Indeed, his latest announcement, claiming significant progress, came with a pre-press release op-ed in the New York Daily News and then a friendly photo-op press conference with an understandably grateful--and very lucky--winner of an affordable housing lottery.

To me, though, the most significant quote came from Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen, who, as the Wall Street Journal reported:
said public housing had been “starved” of federal support for years now, leaving the city with fewer ways of creating affordable housing. “Are we relying too heavily on the private sector?” she said. “There is no alternative.”
Though Glen was using what she surely sees as a common-sense phrase, it recalls the slogan of a politician with whom I doubt de Blasio identifies: former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, a Conservative who believed in free markets.

It suggests the limits to and constraints on de Blasio's strategy, which, however signifying progress compared to predecessor Mayor Mike Bloomberg, still falls far short of the desperate need in the city, in part--yes--because of national constraints. And it comes with some spin.

Claiming success

de Blasio's op-ed, Building a more affordable city: Mayor de Blasio says his housing push is helping many lower-income New Yorkers live in Gotham, claimed success:
We heard and felt the pleas, and responded with the biggest affordable housing boom in the country’s history — a $41 billion plan to build and protect 200,000 affordable apartments by 2024, enough to help half a million New Yorkers afford to stay here.
And to the surprise of the skeptics and naysayers, we’ve actually delivered on our promise. On Thursday, we’re announcing that the city government has financed nearly 78,000 newly constructed or protected affordable homes since 2014. That’s the most affordable housing produced in any three years in New York City’s history...
We are ahead of schedule and on budget, and the pace is accelerating, with the fiscal year that just ended on June 30 our biggest yet: more than 24,000 homes. These apartments aren’t just expanding the housing supply; they directly address the affordability problem with tightly regulated rents governed by the city, tied to the incomes of their tenants.
While it's of course important to preserve and protect existing affordable housing, that doesn't add to the supply and thus address the huge need in the city. Indeed, less than one-third of the 24,000 apartments financed in Fiscal Year 2017 (ending in June) were new apartments, according to the city-produced chart below.

More from de Blasio

He wrote:
What we’ve gotten right here in New York is a lesson for the whole country as we face an attack on federal affordable housing programs from the Trump administration and congressional Republicans.
Well, partly. To really get it right would require a comprehensive strategy that emphasized equity--including improved transportation and tax reforms--to better make the case for increased density.

de Blasio suggested his program is working because it serves a broader slice of people than federally funded programs:
Today, our affordable apartments serve the full range of New Yorkers our white-hot housing market has left behind: veterans, pensioners, families facing homelessness, and also the nurses, teachers and first responders that make up the backbone of our workforce. Mixed-income buildings are one secret to our success. Not only do they preserve our neighborhoods’ diversity, they’re also more financially resilient. 
In our latest fiscal year, 43% of apartments served families making less than $43,000 per year, who pay no more than $950 a month in rent. That’s a record level of production for us. We also broke a record for the production of permanent housing for the formerly homeless. And we’ve financed thousands of homes for families making more than $50,000, because they feel this crisis, too.
(Emphasis added)

That's a rather nice way to frame buildings like 535 Carlton, aimed significantly at households earning more than $100,000.

The reaction

Nearly all the coverage came with some caveats. A Daily News article, Mayor de Blasio touts over 70,000 affordable homes created and preserved by the city, mentioned that 52,309 of the 77,651 units have actually been preserved. It also offered this harsh quote:
“To make his housing plan look better, he counts as low-income people earning more than $68,000 a year. That's insane,” Daisy Gonzalez, spokeswoman for Real Affordability for All, said. “Bottom line: today's self-congratulatory victory lap from de Blasio is a slap in the face to countless working poor New Yorkers who have been left behind by this administration and are struggling to survive.”
The Wall Street Journal, in New York City Officials Say Affordable Housing Push Is Working, offered another harsh quote:
Renata Pumarol, deputy director at New York Communities for Change, a nonprofit group, said the plan doesn’t include enough units of housing for extremely low-income residents. Ms. Pumarol said the city’s designation of $42,951 to $68,720 as “low-income” was disingenuous. “If you go into any truly low-income neighborhood in New York, those numbers are absolutely laughable,” she said.
And so did WNYC, in Mayor Touts Record on Affordable Housing:
"What we continue to see is that families can’t find apartments within this system," said Jonathan Westin, director of New York Communities for Change. "So instead of actually being able to be housed in the administration’s plan they’re ending up homeless and in the shelter system." His group has called on the city to partner with non-profits instead of for-profit developers in order to target the lowest-income families.
Gothamist, which oddly showed a photo of 461 Dean in De Blasio's Affordable Housing Plan Still Falls Short For Poorest NYers, also offered a mixed quote:
"The good news is that because of a lot of pressure from advocates they have included more deeply affordable units," said Judith Goldiner, attorney-in-charge at the Law Reform Unit of The Legal Aid Society. "That's great. The bad part is that they are still devoting numbers to people who don't really need it as much."
And it noted the loss of housing:
In 2016 alone, according to the Rent Guidelines Board, roughly 7,500 rent stabilized units were turned into market rate apartments. These numbers aren't reflected in the affordable housing gains de Blasio celebrates. Fighting deregulation is "a parallel effort and a crucial part of the overall housing agenda, but that is not Housing New York," Glen explained.
Sure, it's not under the same umbrella, but the larger picture should be seen.

NY1 reported, As Mayor touts affordable housing, critics say the city doesn't do enough for poor New Yorkers, another harsh quote;
"A lot of the affordable housing he is creating isn't really affordable for the residents in those communities," said Dennis Osorio of Community Voices Heard.
The Daily News offers perspective

From a 7/17/17 editorial, Affordable, at what cost? Bill de Blasio's housing plan is getting results, thanks to billions and billions in taxpayer subsidy:
On the campaign trail, de Blasio suggested the magic ingredient would be a tool called mandatory inclusionary zoning, to make developers in swaths of the city produce for the common folk in exchange for getting to build bigger. Everybody wins, at no cost to taxpayers.
The truth: That’s been a couple of sprinkles on the cake. The cake is made of money.
A lot of money. At the outset, in May 2014, de Blasio committed $6.7 billion in city capital funds to fill gaps in the cost of construction.
He has since bumped that up to $7.8 billion and again to $9.7 billion to bring rents on more apartments in reach of the poorest tenants.
Annual capital spending on subsidizing affordable housing dwarfs that by the previous administration by three to one.
Meantime, the ballyhooed zoning change, which requires set-asides of at least one in four apartments in newly approved buildings, has been responsible for producing just four apartments thus far, with 624 on the horizon.
That’s not a typo.
Why the spectacular failure of the supposedly brilliant idea? Parochial City Council politics — and a mayor who’s proven woefully unpersuasive or unwilling to take on opponents.
The press release

Mayor de Blasio Announces Record Pace Building and Protecting Affordable Housing
July 13, 2017

52,000 homes protected, 25,000 under construction since 2014-enough to house the entire population of Salt Lake City; one-third of all homes serve families making under $43,000 and record number for formerly homeless families

NEW YORK—Mayor Bill de Blasio today announced that his administration secured 24,293 affordable apartments and homes in Fiscal Year 2017, the highest overall production since 1989. The 10-year Housing New York plan to create or preserve 200,000 homes has financed a total of 77,651 affordable homes since January 2014, including the highest three-year streak of affordable housing production in the City’s history.

New Yorkers can apply for affordable housing at or by calling 311.

“Affordability is the key to protecting New York families, stabilizing our neighborhoods and the city as a whole. By making smart investments we are stretching public funds and creating more and better homes for New Yorkers, from formerly homeless families to seniors, firefighters, police officers and teachers. We have more work to do, but this city is for New Yorkers – and we will keep it that way,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said.

Of the 24,293 homes financed this past Fiscal Year, which ended June 30, more than 40 percent are for families earning less than $43,000 a year, including more than 4,014 homes for families of three earning less than $26,000 a year.

Under new programs created by the City’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development and Housing Development Corporation, this past Fiscal Year saw the highest production of homes for formerly homeless families in New York’s history: 2,571. That beats the record set in Fiscal Year 2016: 1,907 homes. The HNY total is 6,533. Affordable homes typically require individuals or families to pay 30% of their income on rent.

With 4,627 affordable senior apartments financed under HNY, the City is nearly a third of the way towards its goal of creating 15,000 homes for seniors, many of who are living on fixed incomes. The 929 homes created in Fiscal Year 2017 include the first projects to benefit from the City’s Zoning for Quality and Affordability amendment, which makes it easier and less expensive to build quality, affordable senior housing citywide.

HNY numbers are available here.

Helpful links for tenants and landlords interested in finding out more about HPD programs are available here, here and here, with further information below.

On budget and ahead of schedule, the 77,651 affordable homes and apartments started under HNY include the highest total production in any three-year period in HPD’s history. One-third of all affordable housing financed will reach New Yorkers making less than $33,400 for an individual or $43,000 for a family of three. Of these 24,782 homes, 50 percent are for New Yorkers making less than $20,000 for an individual or $25,800 for a family of three.

Fiscal Year 2017 saw the financing of 7,705 new apartments and 16,588 preserved homes. This represents a direct investment of $1 billion by the City of New York, which leveraged more than $1.3 billion in bonds issued by the Housing Development Corporation during Fiscal Year 2017. This brings total direct City investment under the housing plan to $2.8 billion, and total bond financing to $5.5 billion.

Earlier this year, Mayor de Blasio committed an additional $1.9 billion in City subsidy to ensure that 50,000 affordable homes, one quarter of the HNY total, will be for the lowest-income New Yorkers, with particular commitments for seniors and veterans. By adding a mix of incentives and requirements to its programs, HPD is working to put the new funds to work as quickly and efficiently as possible.

“Through the 77,651 units financed to date under Housing New York, we are delivering affordable housing on a scale that hasn’t been seen since the Koch era,” said Housing Preservation and Development Commissioner Maria Torres-Springer. “More importantly, we are reaching more of the city’s lowest-income families, making good on our commitment to reach far deeper levels of affordability. While much of the emphasis is on numbers, at its heart, the housing plan is about people. Each affordable unit we finance is a home – for working families, seniors struggling on fixed incomes, and New Yorkers facing rising rents across our neighborhoods. Their individual stories and very real needs are what motivates us at HPD to do more and better, and to fight for the resources we need to shape a more affordable, inclusive city for generations to come.”

“We ramped up from day one to meet the goals of Housing New York and are now seeing the results of those efforts. Through various programmatic and policy changes, we’ve exceeded our targets and are achieving deeper affordability for New York City residents. Building affordable housing on this scale requires us to use all our tools, and the numbers serve as a powerful reminder of how critical federal programs are to our efforts to build a more affordable city. I would like to thank the administration, the teams at HDC and HPD, and all our partners in government and across the affordable housing community for their commitment to addressing the housing needs of our city,” Housing Development Corporation President Eric Enderlin said.

“Behind today’s groundbreaking numbers are real New York households with a wide range of incomes who can sleep more comfortably, knowing that they will have a roof over their heads. Providing stability for these households helps ensure that our city’s neighborhoods remain affordable, vibrant and livable,” City Planning Commission Chair Marisa Lago said.

“DCA believes that all New Yorkers should have access to an affordable place to live,” Department of Consumer Affairs Commissioner Lorelei Salas said. “Through the Ready to Rent program our Office of Financial Empowerment offers free one-on-one housing focused financial counseling to help New Yorkers overcome challenges in qualifying for affordable housing. Our financial counselors provide the tools and resources needed to help New Yorkers improve their credit and achieve financial stability for themselves and their families.”

Today, the Mayor visits the Crencher family at Strivers Plaza, a new eight-story, Central Harlem development that serves 54 New Yorkers at a range of incomes, including individuals earning as little as $27,000 a year and families of three earning $35,000. There is a NYC FRESH supermarket opening on the ground floor, and community space for Street Corner Resources, a Harlem-based not-for-profit organization dedicated to reducing gun violence and gang activity.

“Our new home is just what the doctor ordered. It’s clean, beautiful and offers me and my family the stability we need to live and work in the city we love,” said Matthew Crencher, who recently moved into a new, two-bedroom affordable apartment with his wife and uncle.

Some projects financed this past Fiscal Year:

Bronx: Bronx Commons, a mixed-used development in Melrose, combines 305 affordable apartments with retail space and a 300-seat music- and arts-centered community hub, the Bronx Music Hall. The homes will serve households with incomes as low as 20,040 for an individual and $25,770 for a family of three.

Brooklyn: Ingersoll Senior Residences is a 17-story, affordable senior housing project on NYCHA land at the Ingersoll Houses campus in Fort Greene. The 145 new homes will be for low-income seniors supported by Section 8 rental subsidy. Services and Advocacy for LGBT Elders (SAGE) will operate a senior center on the ground floor.

Manhattan: The affordability of 506 affordable homes in 39 East Harlem buildings, collectively known as Hope East of Fifth, will be preserved for families earning as little as $33,400 or $42,950 for a family of three. The buildings and apartments will see needed improvements. More than 100 units are set-aside for homeless households.

Queens: One Flushing will create 208 new affordable homes for individuals earning as little as $20,040 and $25,770 for a family of three. The project, on City-owned land, was formerly a parking lot. The project provides supportive services for 66 seniors and a rooftop farm.

Staten Island: 35 homeowners with incomes as low as $42,950 received support through various HPD programs to provide down payment assistance or home repair loans to low-income and senior homeowners.

Beyond the numbers:

Most housing for the homeless: Last Fiscal Year saw the highest production of housing for the city’s homeless, with 2,571 homeless units financed. The second highest year was Fiscal Year 2016, with 1,907 homeless units, bringing the total number of apartments for homeless New Yorkers produced under the plan to 6,533 apartments. This progress reflects the requirement of homeless set-asides in the majority of HPD’s affordable housing programs, and new initiatives such as Our Spacethat provide additional capital subsidy to create a reserve to fund units affordable to homeless households without relying on rental assistance.

First MIH units: The City financed its first 400 units under the City’s new Mandatory Inclusionary Housing program, which requires developers to build permanently affordable housing in areas rezoned for growth. Since MIH was adopted, 18 applications for approximately 6,800 homes – about 5,000 of them affordable – have been approved by the City Council. At least 1,700 of them will be permanently affordable.

Enhancing preservation outreach: To further expand the City’s outreach to owners and landlords, last month HPD launched the Landlord Ambassadors program to select community-based nonprofits to help owners of small- and mid-sized multifamily buildings take advantage of HPD’s affordable housing initiatives. Organizations will be provided with the training and funds to hire staff as they work with landlords to stabilize and upgrade buildings, including those on the City’s tax lien docket. A new preservation marketing campaign is also now underway, building on the outreach that HPD made in the last year to the owners of more than 12,400 properties across the city to make them aware of the agency's various loan programs.

Improving access to affordable housing: Through funding from the City Council, HPD expanded its Housing Ambassadors program, and produced a video to help New Yorkers prepare and apply for affordable housing. HPD and the City’s Office of Financial Empowerment also launched the Ready to Rent program. This program works in partnership with the financial counseling provider Ariva and offers free one-on-one financial counseling and additional assistance to those seeking affordable housing.

Record Affordable homeownership: The City achieved the highest number of affordable homeownership units in over a decade with 5,827 affordable homes, bringing the total financed under the housing plan to almost 10,000. This includes the preservation of critical Mitchell-Lama developments that provide an anchor of affordability in key neighborhoods across the city, and is in addition to the many efforts underway to work with homeowners to provide counseling, pursue mortgage modification or refinancing, or reposition foreclosed homes as affordable homeownership opportunities, especially to support neighborhoods continuing to struggle in the aftermath of the foreclosure crisis.

Job opportunities: Approximately twenty projects set M/WBE goals for the first time under the City’s new M/WBE Build Up program, which requires developers receiving more than $2 million in contribution from the City to set and meet M/WBE goals. Through this program we expect greater inclusion of M/WBEs over the course of design and construction of our development projects. And through HireNYC, the City is expanding access to jobs on affordable housing projects receiving more than $2 million in City subsidy. Last fiscal year, HPD closed 51 projects, including almost 9,000 units that require participation in HireNYC.

"The construction and preservation of affordable housing for families across the socioeconomic scale is the top priority of my administration. 21,000 units in Brooklyn since 2014 is an impactful start, but by no means the end of our mission. We must, and we will, continue build new and protect existing affordable housing across our borough," said Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams.

"The construction and preservation of several thousand new units of affordable housing in Queens is a welcome addition to our borough's permanently affordable housing stock," said Queens Borough President Melinda Katz. "Thanks to Mayor de Blasio's aggressive agenda with Housing New York, this is just the beginning of offering quality affordable housing for Queens families, and hope to soon bring our count up to par with our fellow boroughs."

“Housing affordability is not only key to growing and protecting our working class, but it is essential to the sustainability and future success of our city,” Representative Joe Crowley said. “I’m glad to see the City is working on its commitment to making New York more livable for low-income families and our vulnerable communities, and I’m encouraged by the investments that continue to be made under Housing New York.”

“New York is the greatest city in the world, but too many families have been priced out due to skyrocketing housing costs. The Mayor and City Officials have been proactive in responding to this issue, and I commend them for the record setting pace at which they are building and preserving affordable housing options. I will continue to work with my colleagues at the federal level to procure even more funding for New York City families,” said Representative Eliot Engel.

“I commend Mayor de Blasio for his effort to preserve and bring more affordable housing to our city,” Representative Adriano Espaillat said. “New York City should not be reserved solely for our most wealthy citizens and should remain a city of hope and aspirations for all and affordable housing is a key component of that concept. Today’s announcement is further proof that the Mayor’s initiative to ensure affordable housing is working and helping us keep New York a city open to everyone.”

“Mayor de Blasio knows what New Yorkers’ most pressing needs are and top of that list is access to affordable housing. By securing nearly 25,000 additional affordable apartment units this year as part of his 10 year plan to create or preserve a total of 200,000 units, the City’s government is expanding access to quality housing and investing in the stability of our neighborhoods and families. On behalf of the Bronx, I thank Mayor de Blasio for this effort to help the City’s most needy and vulnerable families and individuals,” Representative José Serrano said.

“Affordable housing remains a perennial challenge in New York and I applaud the Mayor for making this a priority. While this represents progress, there is much more to do and we must work at all levels of government to expand the stock of affordable housing. For my part, I will continue fighting in Washington to oppose cuts to federal housing funds and work to secure resources for housing programs,” Representative Nydia M. Velázquez said.

"Generating more affordable housing is imperative to reducing our homeless population and ensuring lifelong New Yorkers can stay in the neighborhoods they grew up in," Senator Toby Ann Stavisky said. "I am proud to have supported the One Flushing project that will provide relief to hundreds of seniors in Queens."

"The announcement and commitment are a game changing as Bronx Commons in the Melrose Commons section of our district will provide affordable housing, community programming and soon the Bronx Music Heritage Center. We commend Mayor de Blasio and the administration for focusing on Bronxites in our 79th assembly district living and thriving affordably to continue," said Assembly Member Michael Blake.

“Protecting and building affordable housing has been a key priority in the Assembly and is integral to fulfilling our goal to help all our residents – working families, seniors living on fixed incomes, people struggling with unemployment – to find stability, hope and a place they're proud to call home,” said Assembly Member Steven Cymbrowitz, Chair of the Housing Committee. “I’m pleased that Mayor de Blasio has been such a strong partner in this effort and I’m gratified by his commitment to make affordable housing a reality for so many New Yorkers.”

“I welcome this news and commend the Administration for this effort in making the city truly affordable for its residents. As our neighborhoods grow and change, it becomes even more important to preserve and create affordable housing,” said Council Member Jumaane D. Williams, Chair of the Committee on Housing and Buildings. “In order to reduce homelessness, we must prevent and reform policies and practices that undermine efforts to create quality inexpensive housing options for New Yorkers. This includes ensuring efforts to preserve and expand affordable housing are evenly dispersed throughout the City. I look forward to working with the Administration in continuing to push for more income-targeted affordable housing choices for the City’s residents.”

“Creating and preserving affordable housing is one of the most important things a city can do for its families. I thank Mayor de Blasio for his vision and my Council colleagues for their commitment to ensure that projects are approved and financed in a way that benefits a broad spectrum of New Yorkers all across our diverse neighborhoods,” Council Member David Greenfield said, Chair of the Committee on Land Use.

“During the discussions for Mandatory Inclusionary Housing, we heard from countless New Yorkers about the enormous need for more affordable housing,” said Council Member Donovan Richards, Chair of the Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises. “The City must make every effort to ensure that all New Yorkers have the ability to find stable, affordable housing in the neighborhoods they have called home for so long. I’d like to thank and congratulate Mayor de Blasio and HPD Commissioner Maria Torres-Springer for working to secure these crucial investments that will allow New Yorkers to stay in the City they know and love.”

“Our identity as New Yorkers is deeply rooted in the diversity that exists throughout the five boroughs, particularly in the borough of Brooklyn. From Fort Greene to Crown Heights, the landscape of my district is drastically changing and accelerating the displacement of longtime residents. Housing New York has been our city’s steadfast commitment to ensuring that single-parent households; minimum wage earners; fixed, low, middle-income and formerly homeless families can continue to thrive in the communities where they have lived for generations. I am proud of our unprecedented gains in the creation and preservation of affordable housing, including nearly 600 units in Prospect Heights' Brooklyn Jewish Hospital Complex, to protect everyday New Yorkers from being displaced by rising rents,” said Council Member Laurie A. Cumbo.

“Quality affordable housing for fixed-income seniors and low-income families is among the top needs in our community, and the One Flushing project is a great example of the city responding to these needs with a range of solutions. Coupled with community spaces, support services, and commercial opportunities, One Flushing seeks to provide quality living for everyone who lives, works and visits our community,” Council Member Peter Koo said.

“In my district in the South Bronx, perhaps no issue is more important than working to create or preserve affordable housing,” said Council Member Rafael Salamanca, Jr. “While there is still much work to do, we are on the right track in creating new housing options for all New Yorkers, especially in our working class neighborhoods.”


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