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De Blasio’s new housing czar has ‘mandate’ to improve affordable housing

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Vicki Been previously worked as the commissioner of the Department of Housing Preservation and Development

Photograph by Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office

Following the departure earlier this year of Alicia Glen, the deputy mayor for housing and economic development who played a major role in many of the de Blasio administration’s signature policies, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced this week that Vicki Been, who previously served as the commissioner for the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, will step into Glen’s old role. Been’s first day will be May 6.

“As HPD Commissioner, Vicki changed everything about affordable housing in New York City,” de Blasio said in a statement. “As Deputy Mayor, she will dig deeper and ratchet up all our efforts to confront the biggest crisis facing our city: affordability.”

Been has plenty of the experience necessary to tackle such a role: She has a law degree from NYU, and has recently served as the faculty director of that school’s Furman Center, which “advances research and debate on housing, neighborhoods, and urban policy,” per the organization. She was the HPD commissioner from 2014 to 2017, and was instrumental in drafting de Blasio’s Housing New York plan.

And, crucially, she’s lived in affordable housing in New York City: During a press conference announcing her appointment, she noted that her first apartment in the city was in the Webster Apartments, a women’s-only affordable complex on 34th Street and Ninth Avenue.

“It was a clean, safe, comfortable place to live with lots of other scared and lonely young women trying to make a go of it. I paid $50 a month for a small room and dinner and breakfast. That’s what allowed me to come here,” she said during the press conference. “And that housing and the job opportunities that came because of that internship that that housing allowed me to take, allowed me to have this incredibly rewarding career.”

That experience will undoubtedly inform Been’s tenure as deputy mayor; during the press conference, she noted that her goal is for “this city to open doors for people in the way that it opened doors for me by providing an affordable home in a safe, vibrant neighborhood that offers jobs and schools and a sense of belonging and a sense of promise. I want them to be able to say, like I’m saying now, my neighborhood helped me be who I wanted to be.”

In order to do that, de Blasio said that she has a “mandate” to ensure that low-income New Yorkers have better access to affordable housing. That includes reforming NYCHA, which Been said is one of her top priorities, as well as finding new ways to improve the housing options available to the poorest city residents, including seniors. She also namechecked the “once-in-a-lifetime chance” to reform the rent-stabilization laws in Albany when those expire this year, including policies like vacancy decontrol and preferential rent.

“We have more to do to make sure our affordable housing plan reaches lower income New Yorkers,” de Blasio said during the press conference. “We have more to do to ensure that seniors can reach affordable housing, a growing part of our population.”

Earlier this year, the de Blasio administration announced that it had financed a record number of affordable homes in 2018: 10,099 new homes—often financed through the city’s Mandatory Inclusionary Housing program, which gives developers tax incentives for including affordable housing in their new buildings—and 24,061 homes that were “preserved,” which helps keep tenants in their apartments.

But that’s still not enough to fix the city’s affordable housing crisis. A recent report from the Furman Center (under Been’s leadership) highlighted the challenges facing New Yorkers in search of affordable housing—namely, the fact that the adult population growth in the city has outpaced the addition of housing stock, and what housing does exist is largely out of reach for low- to middle-income New Yorkers. The Furman Center’s analysis “highlights the need for more housing production in general, especially for more housing that is affordable to low- and moderate-income households,” Been said at the time.

Now, she’s is in the unique position to tackle that problem head-on.