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City creates record number of affordable homes for vulnerable New Yorkers, but critics remain skeptical

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Advocates weigh in on the city’s new housing numbers

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Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration recently released new data touting its creation of affordable housing, but advocates say those numbers don’t tell the whole story of the city’s efforts to address the affordability crisis.

Those new figures, released by the mayor’s office earlier this week, show that the city financed (e.g. created or preserved) 25,299 new below-market rate homes in fiscal year of 2019—the highest production of units for supportive housing, seniors, and the homeless for any year on record, the city claims. Since 2014, the city has created 135,437 affordable homes, inching forward its goal to create 300,000 affordable units by 2026 as part of the Housing New York (HNY) plan.

“We are making tremendous progress in our goal to expand affordable housing in our city, and this year we’ve produced a record number of homes for our most vulnerable friends and neighbors,” de Blasio said in a statement. “Each affordable home secured is a family served, and we’re going to continue to push forward on our goal to make New York a fairer city for all.”

But advocates argue that there’s nuance missing in those newly-released numbers: Namely the lack of housing for homeless New Yorkers and very low-income individuals and families, and how the data stacks up to years past.

”Every summer, like clockwork, Mayor de Blasio trots out a blizzard of gauzy housing numbers that obscure this reality: His housing plan is doing nothing to reduce record levels of homelessness,” says Jacquelyn Simone, policy analyst at Coalition for the Homeless.

Overall, the number of apartments financed dropped from 32,244 last year to 25,299 this year, with the amount of very low-income units dropping from 12,236 to 8,486.

“The number of apartments for homeless households financed in FY19, 2,682, is woefully inadequate given the scale of the need,” Simone adds. Coalition for the Homeless found that in May, there were 61,129 homeless people sleeping in the city’s shelter system every night. “To date, just 8.5 percent of the total 135,437 HNY apartments financed have been set-aside for homeless New Yorkers. And most of these are preservation of already-occupied apartments, and therefore do nothing to help the thousands of homeless families and individuals currently relegated to shelters.”

Other housing advocates bring up the city’s spate of neighborhood rezonings, and how those could be contributing to rising inequality across the city. Two months ago, several elected officials introduced a bill that would require the city to study how rezonings affect the racial makeup of New York City neighborhoods.

“The city is wasting billions of dollars in subsidies by rezoning low-income communities over wealthy communities, and that is because the lower market rate rents cannot cover the cost of the affordable units on their own,” says Aaron Carr, founder of the Housing Rights Initiative.

“The city would create significantly more affordable housing for less if it were to change this misguided and unjustifiable approach,” he adds.