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Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park graphic: what's built/what's coming + FAQ (pinned post)

de Blasio's affordable housing re-set and the road not taken (naming Speliotis, emphasizing nonprofits earlier)

At a press conference Tuesday announcing his affordable housing program was two years ahead of schedule and setting more ambitious numerical goals, Mayor Bill de Blasio eagerly entertained that inevitable question: what's affordable? 

"So I want to give you some real life examples from this building you’re in right now," de Blasio said, citing the CAMBA Gardens II project, which includes only low-income units, not moderate- and middle-income ones. "In this building, a one bedroom apartment rents for $900 a month. A two bedroom for $1,066 a month. That is affordable housing, and that’s what we want to produce a lot more of for the people of this city."

At a January 12 press conference, however, after a reporter cited some far more expensive affordable housing, de Blasio danced around the issue. "Affordable is – it’s a question for every family, what their situation is, what they can afford. We’re trying to match it with a whole range of families... But if the thing – if I was able to say to you – affordable means every apartment in New York City is $1,000 a month and all, that would be a beautiful world. It would be an impossible world, but it would be a beautiful world."

And now this

He's right that it "would be an impossible world," but that doesn't mean he should--or should have--dismissed alternatives. 

After all, this past week de Blasio also announced a new “Neighborhood Pillars” program, involving a "a $275 million public-private fund to target fast-changing neighborhoods where aggressive speculators threaten traditional rent regulated apartment buildings."

Aimed to preserve 1,000 apartments a year, the program "will provide financing to non-profit organizations and other mission-driven organizations to purchase older rent-regulated buildings to keep them affordable and keep current tenants in place." That's a meaningful commitment, but it's not game changer.

As Katie Goldstein of Tenants and Neighbors and the Real Affordability for All Coalition told Gothamist, such a program had been recommended by the coalition. "But when you're talking to me about buildings that are 30 to 50 units, that's small and piecemeal compared to the major assets and public land that have been going to private developers."

de Blasio's fork in the road: his appointees

The question is why even this took so long. As former Daily News columnist Juan Gonzalez reports in his new book, Reclaiming Gotham: Bill de Blasio and the Movement to End America's Tale of Two Cities, de Blasio faced an earlier fork in the road, and took the more conventional path.

Ismene Speliotis, the longtime low-income housing advocate at Mutual Housing Association of New York (and formerly New York ACORN Housing) would have been the city's housing commissioner if activist and de Blasio advisor "Jon Kest had lived," one de Blasio ally told Gonzalez. (Speliotis's organization oversees the affordable housing intake for the Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park project and has expressed concern about the emphasis on middle-income affordable housing but also has praised the building.)

Instead, de Blasio named Alicia Glen, formerly of Goldman Sachs, as Deputy Mayor overseeing housing, and Vicki Been, a law professor specializing in housing, as Commissioner of the Department of Housing Preservation and Development.

In an interview last month in Gothamist, Gonzalez said, "I think that on affordable housing, he simply has not confronted the depths of the crisis, or what it will take to build sufficient affordable housing." He added, "But I've told him, directly, you need to fire Alicia Glen. You need to get rid of her. You know? And until you do, you're not going to really reshape your housing policies."

de Blasio's fork in the road: his tactics

Those activists had bigger plans for the mayor, including the use of not just zoning, subsidies, and tax abatements, but also eminent domain "to incentivize the building of mostly low- and moderate-income, not market-rate housing," writes Gonzalez in his book.

Gonzalez notes advocates' criticisms of de Blasio's plan, in which affordable housing comes mainly as an adjunct to market-rate housing, and de Blasio's defense that the numbers have to work for the developers to commit. He allows that the mayor's "argument cannot be dismissed easily," but suggests the city could do better. 

In an interview for the book, Speliotis told Gonzalez that the mayor had been favoring for-profit developers while discounting non-profit groups--a pattern that the latest announcement in some ways.

Moreover, Speliotis warned that rezoning in low-income areas like East New York would lead to gentrification because of the mismatch between neighborhood income and affordability under the mayor's citywide program. (The interview took place even after the city revised its plan to increase affordability.)

That overall criticism was repeated by Jonathan Westin of New York Communities for Change in a tweet regarding de Blasio's expanded goals: "100k more apartments that are unaffordable for communities! 'Affordable housing' has really become a meaningless term."

That said, Gonzalez in his Gothamist interview--before this week's announcement--suggested that de Blasio had moved toward greater affordability and could go farther. The question, even now, is how much farther to go.

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