There’s no question that New York is in the midst of a full-blown housing crisis—you don’t need studies and articles to make that clear (though plenty of those exist). The evidence is right in front of us every day, whether it’s skyrocketing apartment prices (and too few of the affordable ones to go around), or the rising numbers of homeless New Yorkers.
When Mayor Bill de Blasio took office in 2014, he pledged to address the city’s worsening housing problems (and the income inequality so often at its root), and has managed to make some headway. This year, the city announced it would meet its goal of preserving or creating 200,000 units of affordable housing by 2022, and upped its commitment—now, it’ll aim for 300,000 units by 2024. (There have also been some setbacks—see the end of the historic rent freeze.)
Still, there’s plenty of work to do—a fact that the De Blasio administration acknowledges. Melissa Grace, a spokeswoman for the mayor, tells Curbed that the administration’s focus on building more affordable housing is “among our greatest challenges—and successes.” She points to several initiatives the administration undertook in 2017—such as the Housing New York 2.0 plan, which was just announced last month, and rezonings in key neighborhoods like East Harlem—as proof of the administration’s commitment to combating the housing crisis.
“We don’t rest on our laurels, and New Yorkers should know there is more to come,” Grace says.
With that, let’s take a look back at the ways the city worked to address the housing crisis in 2017, and which measures will—with any luck—move the needle in 2018.
Housing New York 2.0
One of the De Blasio administration’s core initiatives is its Housing New York plan, created in 2014 with the goal of adding or preserving 200,000 affordable units for New Yorkers by 2022. (It’s also not without its critics—a study from earlier this year noted that the plan hasn’t done as much as it could to help low- and extremely-low income New Yorkers.)
But after hitting that self-imposed target earlier this year, the mayor announced that the city would up its commitment with Housing New York 2.0, now with the goal of adding another 100,000 affordable apartments by 2026. The plan itself consists of several initiatives—creating new units for seniors, working with nonprofits to prevent displacement, investing in modular housing and micro—intended to ease New York’s housing woes.
In the past three years, De Blasio and the New York City Council have pushed through several neighborhood rezonings—namely in East New York, Far Rockaway, and East Harlem—that will bring about large-scale change in those areas. Increasing and preserving affordable housing is always a significant piece of the larger rezoning puzzle, though housing and neighborhood activists (particularly in East Harlem) contend that the city isn’t doing enough in that regard.
On a smaller scale, development-related rezonings presented wins for both the city and housing activists: In Crown Heights, for example, the rezoning that would allow developer BFC Partners to re-imagine the Bedford-Union Armory passed—which De Blasio and other politicians had pushed for—but without condos and with more affordable apartments, which was a sticking point for neighborhood residents. (Many, however, still view it as a bad deal.)
Turning “cluster sites” into affordable housing for the homeless
The city’s cluster site housing program went into effect in 2000, and has been plagued by problems—owing, in large part, to slumlords running ill-maintained buildings, including one where two young girls died—for just about as long. De Blasio’s administration has pledged to eliminate the program by 2021, and took a major step in that direction by announcing that it would turn many of those properties into permanent affordable housing for homeless New Yorkers.
Here’s how it’ll work: The city will partner with “trusted locally-based not-for-profit developers,” using public funds to acquire sites it has identified as candidates for this transformation. If the owners of those sites do not comply, the city will seize their properties using eminent domain. The city and the Department of Housing Preservation and Development will then work with the new owners to ensure those buildings are permanently affordable, and earmarked for the formerly homeless and low-income New Yorkers.
Investing in the Mitchell-Lama housing program
As the Mitchell-Lama program nears its 65th anniversary, many of its buildings have exited the program, due to either landlords or co-op owners deciding they’d rather go market-rate. But in October, the De Blasio administration announced that they’d help staunch that loss by committing $250 million to preserve 15,000 units by working with owners to implement repairs and restructure debts.
Still, not all Mitchell-Lama residents are convinced that this program will help them in years to come. Half of the program’s nearly 70,000 rentals have been lost thanks to rising property values; landlords realize they can charge market-rate rents, make up the difference that the program’s tax breaks would have afforded, and act accordingly.
“If an owner wants to cash out and is in a rapidly gentrifying neighborhood, the financial incentives to do so are pretty intense,” a board member of one Mitchell-Lama building told the Village Voice.
Helping New Yorkers become homeowners
A 2016 study by NYU’s Furman Center found that, for the majority of New Yorkers, homeownership is simply not an option—the gap between the city’s median income and the amount needed to purchase a home is just too great. The short version: unless you’re really, really, really wealthy, it’s never gonna happen.
This year, however, the city launched two programs to combat that: The first, called Open Door, will boost construction on apartments for moderate- to middle-income families (defined as those making between $69,000 and $112,000 per year). The second, HomeFix, will make it easier for low- and moderate-income New Yorkers to receive low-interest loans for fixer-uppers.
Reviving dormant affordable housing projects
The former Greenpoint Hospital is an abandoned relic, having shut its doors more than 30 years ago; but where some see a derelict building, the city sees a potential goldmine for affordable housing. After many fits and starts, the De Blasio administration is again trying to find a developer who can transform the hospital into at least 300 affordable apartments. A Request for Expressions of Intent was issued in August, which means it’s now a waiting game to see what the city decides.
A high bar has already been set for this type of project: In 2016, HPD unveiled the Residences at P.S. 186, which saw a derelict Harlem elementary school transformed into a gorgeous new affordable housing complex.
Protecting tenants from shady landlords
The housing crisis doesn’t just stem from a lack of shiny and new affordable apartments; it’s also due, in part, to tactics used by unscrupulous landlords to push tenants out of rent-regulated apartments. (See: the preferential rent loophole, or slumlords using minor repairs as an excuse to make buildings uninhabitable.)
This summer, De Blasio signed into law a bill creating an Office of the Tenant Advocate (under the aegis of the Department of Buildings), and is intended to, as we previously reported, “monitor various protection plans for tenants and respond to complaints from tenants about construction problems.” At the same time, a Stand for Tenant Safety package was approved, offering protections against harassment, intimidation, and other landlord-tenant issues.
Another measure, the Certification of No Harassment law, punishes building owners who’ve engaged in tenant harassment by making it more difficult for them to receive construction permits. That was signed into law just last month.
Empowering community land trusts
Though they’re not widely used in New York City yet, housing advocates point to community land trusts (CLTs) as a method for boosting affordable housing and empowering neighborhood residents to have a say in what happens in their communities. (CLTs are set up as nonprofits where a group of people own and manage development on parcels of land—thus, an excellent way for community members to have a voice.)
The process of creating those got a bit easier this year, as housing nonprofit Enterprise awarded $1.65 million to HPD to expand the number of CLTs in the five boroughs. It helped created the first citywide land trust, called the Interboro CLT, as well as a learning initiative that gives neighborhood organizations the tools they need to implement CLTs in their own communities.
De Blasio’s “mansion tax”
The mayor has touted increased taxes on the wealthy as one approach to solving the myriad funding crises facing the city—see also the proposed “millionaire’s tax” that De Blasio claims would raise as much as $700 million to fund transit projects.
Similarly, he claims that the so-called “mansion tax”—which would levy a 2.5 percent charge on all residential real estate transactions over $2 million—could provide funding for affordable housing initiatives. But while the proposal garnered plenty of ink earlier this year, it failed to find a foothold in Albany.