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Does NYC’s affordable housing program go far enough?

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A new report delves into where the city has fallen short in its housing plan

A section of highway with cars. Max Touhey |

It’s been five years since Mayor Bill de Blasio put forth his Housing New York (HNY) plan, with the goal of creating or preserving 300,000 affordable housing units by 2026. So far, his administration has gotten nearly halfway there, creating or preserving 135,437 affordable homes by July 2019.

Still, housing advocates believe those numbers don’t tell the whole story as the city continues to face record high levels of homelessness and an affordability crisis. A new report by the Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development (ANHD), which City Limits first reported on, delves into where the city has fallen short in its plan and how the value of those units can be maximized.

The report is based on data from Local Law 44—which requires NYC’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) to collect information about city-funded housing development projects and make it available to the public.

ANHD defines public value of affordable housing units by three factors: depth of affordability; length of affordability (short or long-term affordable housing); and if the developer of the units is a for-profit or non-profit institution.

The report found that 42 percent of the units developed by the city were for low-income households (see the graphic for how those are defined), 25 percent for very low-income households, and 17 percent for extremely low-income households. But according to the analysis, the numbers are inverse to what the city needs, based on its population: Very low- and extremely low-income households make up 41.4 percent of NYC’s population, while low-income households make up 16.3 percent.

Additionally, the report found that there are 234,520 city-backed affordable units that may lose their affordability by 2037 because of expiring regulatory agreements from past administrations. The report does recognize, however, that the de Blasio administration has taken steps to address the so-called “expiring-use crisis,” by issuing new rules and requiring new units built under the Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH) program to be permanently affordable, among other things.

“There is no way to accurately predict which of these units or how many will lose their affordability through a developer choosing to opt-out,” the report, which was written by Stephanie Sosa of ANHD, reads. “However, the past few years indicate that units controlled by mission-driven non-profit developers will see their affordability restrictions renewed, while buildings controlled by for-profit developers will face the danger of opting out of affordability restriction when the initial regulatory agreement expires.”

According to the report, nonprofit developers build more extremely low-income units (35 percent) than for-profit developers (18 percent). But in fiscal year 2018, for-profit developers accounted for 71 percent of new construction deals.

Therefore, the analysis recommends creating a new framework for the city and developers to maximize the value of these units for New Yorkers by conducting a yearly analysis that determines city dwellers’s Area Median Income (AMI) and align it to its development goals; awarding more projects to mission-driven (or nonprofit) developers to increase depth of affordability on city-owned land; and increasing the length of affordability by requiring city-financed development projects to be permanently affordable.

But the city says it disagrees with ANHD’s findings. “This report uses a limited dataset and does not take a comprehensive look at what we’ve accomplished under Housing New York,” Matthew Creegan, a spokesperson for HPD, told Curbed in a statement.

“Preserving the affordability of this city’s neighborhoods is the cornerstone of the Mayor’s ambitious Housing New York Plan,” Creegan said. “Since 2014, we have preserved over 91,000 affordable homes for New Yorkers, and we’re continuously working with our partners throughout the city to both create new affordable housing and lock in affordability wherever possible.”