Skip to main content

Featured Post

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

So, does the community preference for affordable housing really do justice?

So, does a housing lottery that gives local preference --allotting half the units to residents of the local community district(s) in which a building or project sites--perpetuate segregation? Is it necessary to overcome local resistance to projects?

That's been the subject to an ongoing lawsuit and fierce debates, with very little hard evidence regarding whether the locals taking advantage of the lottery are long-term residents or newcomers. In other words, does local preference help recent gentrifiers?

On 8/1/17, Daily News columnist Errol Louis called community preference a defective concept, given that those eligible might have very shallow roots, while others, more deeply rooted, might live a little bit outside the boundary. Given historic segregation, that leaves black and brown New Yorkers at a disadvantage, he argued.

A better solution?

In Missing the Target on Segregation, a 8/15/18 City Limits essay, Harry DeRienzo, s president of the Banana Kelly Community Improvement Association, acknowledged that such preference systems were neither fair nor rational, and, given the opportunities to deliver affordable housing through cross-subsidization, higher income and historically segregated neighborhoods offer opportunity.

"But to simply argue that local preferences should be eliminated without a countervailing demand that the city affirmatively, deliberately, and aggressively seek to rezone and finance new construction of affordable housing – affordable to the very people being displaced elsewhere – in low rise, affluent (and yes) white neighborhoods is the height of irresponsibility," he wrote.

Moreover, he suggested that would be unworkable, since most people would rather take part in improvement of their own neighborhood.

"A more equitable and rational system," he suggested, "would be to redraw all of the redlined areas of this city and provide preferences in new developments for those residents who have either lived there continuously for at least five years or have been displaced from those redlined neighborhoods over the past ten years." 

(That echoes a request, not acceded to by the city, to give those displaced from the four Community Districts involving Atlantic Yards preference in the lottery.)

Rethinking the case

More recently, DeRienzo, joined by Kirk Goodrich, director of real-estate development for Monadnock Development and Ismene Speliotis, executive director at MHANY Management (which works on the Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park lottery) wrote another essay for City Limits, Housing Advocates Must Listen to Opponents of Community Preference, backing off last year's argument.

The writers and others in the field participated in an Affordable Housing & Fair Housing Regional Roundtable, growing out of the lawsuit challenging the community preference policy.

"And although no definitive consensus has been reached, those of us with an urban, mostly New York City perspective, better understand the challenges of working for housing justice in suburban areas, where Home Rule prevails and where the only housing that can be built as of right are single family homes," they wrote, noting that that policy discourages higher density, affordable housing.

Meanwhile, those on the Fair Housing side have acknowledged that community preference is often needed "to get community board approval for one of its projects." (Note that community boards have a voice, not a veto.)

Most in the community development field seek to fight displacement, but they don't have data that shows the community preference system was helping those most at risk of displacement.

They also discussed other policies, such as strengthening the rent-stabilization laws.

The writers' message is to keep an open mind, and not to bog down on an issue that might be "little more than a red herring."

One commenter suggested that "Underneath it all is structural white supremacy that forces us to fight over insufficient race-neutral policies when the real goal is to dismantle structural white supremacy."

"It's the tool we have"

Commenting on Twitter, housing analyst Tom Waters suggested that "community preference as an anti-displacement strategy" was "the tool we have... because it's a tool that doesn't cost any money." It would cost more to subsidize apartments to help those most at risk.

:So let's focus on preventing displacement and developing real long-term integration in gentrifying neighborhood," he wrote, "and then discuss the community preference in the context of a real plan to do those things."

Comments