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City’s $500M commitment to affordable senior housing questioned

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Mayor Bill de Blasio promised $500M to build low-income housing for seniors on city-owned land last June

The city committed $500 million toward creating affordable senior housing in June. Only $100 million in direct city capital will actually go toward that end.
Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Nearly a year ago, Mayor Bill de Blasio promised $500 million to build low-income housing for seniors. Now, the city is walking back that figure, which it says merely reflects an estimate of the total resources needed to fund the senior developments—only $100 million in direct city dollars will actually go toward building those apartments. The rest of the housing will be funded through subsidies, tax credits, and borrowing off of revenue expected from rent subsidized by the federal Section 8 program, according to a mayoral spokesperson.

The de Blasio administration announced last June that it would create up to 1,000 affordable apartments for seniors, and has identified six development sites for those units on city-owned land. The $500 million was billed as a funding commitment in the city’s annual budget to create sorely needed housing for the city’s elderly.

At the time, The Wall Street Journal reported that “New York City has committed $500 million” to that end. An October City Council press release says “the FY19 Budget included $500 million for the Department of Housing Preservation & Development to fund six senior affordable housing projects” across the boroughs.

But the city says that $500 million is actually “an estimate of the total resources needed to fund the senior housing projects on these public sites,” according to Jane Meyer, a spokesperson for the mayor’s office.

“There’s basically no building that is ever funded through city capital alone,” said Meyer. “We’re using city capital to leverage these other funding sources, like Section 8 vouchers, tax breaks, all of these different sources. That’s the plan for these sites as well.”

Advocates with the Metro Industrial Area Foundation, which pushes for affordable senior housing, shook hands with the mayor and lauded the arrangement to fund the six new developments on the steps of City Hall last June. They say the funding commitment was clear-cut.

“There was no ambiguity in the commitment,” Rev. David Brawley of MIAF told THE CITY. As it turns out, the $500 million that was committed to build those developments was never actually placed in the budget, THE CITY reports. In a letter to city Comptroller Scott Stringer Tuesday, top housing officials said the “$500 million commitment is not memorialized in the budget,” according to THE CITY. Brawley says he feels betrayed.

“What the letter verifies is that the mayor lied,” Brawley continued to THE CITY. “He made a commitment to us—a commitment to New York City for the $500 million in the budget—and it’s not there.” MIAF did not immediately return requests for comment from Curbed.

The Comptroller did not answer questions on the funding commitment’s inclusion in the budget and the letter he received, telling Curbed in a statement that “our city is in a housing crisis and we need to prioritize helping seniors who have built up our communities.”

Of the six lots slated for affordable senior housing, two of them are planned on property owned by the New York City Housing Authority: the Kingsborough Houses in Crown Heights and the Morris Houses in Claremont Village. The other four developments are set for lots in Astoria, Prospect Heights, Bedford-Stuyvesant, and Highbridge.

To date, a Request For Proposal (RFP) has gone out for one of those sites, with RFPs expected for the remaining five on track to be released by June 2020. Funds won’t be allocated until proposals are selected through the RFP process, according to Meyer.