New York City’s housing crisis is well documented. Most are familiar with dire statistics illustrating the skyrocketing cost of housing and the equally extreme loss of affordable and subsidized housing. It is also clear that, despite the current Mayor’s ambitious New Housing Market Place plan, this problem is actually worsening. As we rapidly lose affordable units, the majority of the newly constructed units are studios and one–bedroom units that are too small to house families. In addition, most new units are neither deeply nor permanently affordable. In fact, 72.3% of all units developed between 1987 and 2007 will be at-risk of losing their affordability by 2037. The current housing crisis is not just the result of challenging or speculative market forces, it is also the consequence of our city’s failure to build the housing we need and to adequately preserve the affordable rent regulated, subsidized and public housing that we already have.
Historically, housing for low- and moderate-income working families, developed by a not-for-profit neighborhood organization and managed and controlled by the community, was the cornerstone of New York City‘s affordable housing policy, ensuring a more stable affordable housing model. However more recently, affordable housing programs have diminished. Workers at all levels of New York’s multi-sector economy are finding it increasingly difficult to secure decent housing within the City’s limits. Furthermore, escalating housing prices have exacerbated income inequality and destabilized communities. Many residents who have remained in their neighborhoods during the worst of times, too often find themselves at risk of displacement either through worsening conditions or rapidly rising rents. New York City’s future depends upon its ability to attract and retain the people who drive our city’s economic engine. Quality housing must therefore be affordable and accessible to individuals and families of all income levels.
Inextricably linked to the problem of housing affordability is housing quality. The enforcement system that ensures that New York City’s housing is maintained in decent, safe condition is a crucial part of addressing our housing crisis. Inadequate code enforcement allows building owners to neglect building maintenance, sometimes effectively removing units from the market as a consequence. Too much of the City’s affordable housing stock is compromised because of physical deficiencies, making the market even more constrained and forcing tenants to spend an increasingly high percentage of their income on housing. Given the lack of affordable alternatives, low-income tenants are frequently forced to endure inadequate housing conditions due to ineffective code enforcement. In addition, any housing lost due to poor maintenance, is very expensive to replace. Addressing the limitations of the current code enforcement system is essential for preserving both the quality and the affordability of New York City’s housing stock.
In addition to strengthening code enforcement in the private housing stock, much needs to be done to ensure the City maintains and preserves its public housing resources. With 2,602 buildings and more than 178,000 apartments, public housing is part of the critical infrastructure of affordable housing in the City. Yet, with some of the buildings over 70 years old, much is needed to maintain the stock. Investing in this infrastructure is essential to maintaining them long term and ensuring that public housing will be preserved in the City for years to come. In order to do this, residents must be regarded as valued partners in the preservation efforts.
New York is largely a city of renters; however the housing crisis is equally important for homeowners. In the wake of the recent financial crisis, many New York City homeowners have faced foreclosure or are underwater, owing more on their mortgages than their homes are worth. Not only has this devastated individual families, it has also created entire neighborhoods with depressed home values and vacant houses lining the streets. This crisis has disproportionately impacted communities of color, in some cases wiping out an entire generation’s accumulated wealth. Resistance by lending institutions to work with at-risk homeowners only exacerbates the problem.
New York City at its best is an exciting, cosmopolitan city of opportunity, its diversity and vibrancy attracting the best and brightest from across the globe. However, it will not remain so if the people who give this City its dynamism cannot afford to live here. New York City therefore needs a new housing vision that encapsulates the needs of New Yorkers of varied incomes, backgrounds, and housing needs.
The 2013 mayoral and City Council elections present New Yorkers with the chance to radically alter the city’s housing policies. Not only is 2013 the time to shape housing and foreclosure policy in New York. It is also the time to convince the next mayor and incoming City Council members to take bold, progressive steps that can revolutionize how municipal power is used to produce and preserve affordable housing.
New York City requires an expansive and innovative vision for housing that addresses four key issues:
1. Improving Code Enforcement:
- Expand the Alternate Enforcement Program to have greater citywide impact.
- Overhaul the Housing Maintenance Code enforcement system by establishing an administrative Repair Enforcement Board to increase Code compliance and fine collection.
- Expand and improve the local law allowing HPD to issue orders to correct for underlying conditions.
2. Committing to a Real Affordability Development Policy:
- Commit to a housing policy of deep and permanent Affordability which must entail building housing units that are permanently affordable to a wide range of low- , moderate- and middle-income households; focusing resources on where the need is greatest, including the lowest-income third of New Yorkers, and pricing units appropriately relative to local need.
- Commit to partnering with responsible, community based not-for-profit organizations whenever possible, to ensure maximum community benefit and control.
- Commit to a Mandatory Inclusionary Zoning policy that would require developers to build affordable housing if they are to benefit from future rezonings.
3. Improving and Preserving the Public Housing Stock in NYC:
- Increase the fairness of NYCHA’s underfunded budget by discontinuing the $100 million payments that NYCHA pays the City for policing, sanitation services and Payment In Lieu Of Taxes (PILOT) and redirect these resources to much-needed repairs and upkeep.
- Commit to careful stewardship of NYCHA’s land resources by addressing the inadequacies of the current infill plan and exploring alternative revenue and cost-efficiency measures that would not result in siting luxury units on the grounds of public housing. Ensure substantive resident input into and decision-making power over all disposition proposals on NYCHA sites in accordance with HUD Section 18 requirements.
- Commit to fulfilling and expanding upon the federal “Section 3” mandates to increase job and training opportunities for NYCHA residents on capital projects, implement “first source” hiring policies and establish a Worker Training & Hiring Center.
4. Promoting Homeownership Opportunities and Preventing Foreclosure:
- Increase funding for foreclosure prevention and first-time homebuyer counseling, push lenders to maintain foreclosed properties, encourage the productive re-use of foreclosed homes as new affordable homeownership opportunities, and expand resources for the First Look program to preserve multifamily housing.
- Hold banks accountable to act as responsible City and community partners by implementing the Responsible Banking Act and only issuing City bonds to banks that are responsive to the City’s housing and foreclosure needs.