Mayor Bill de Blasio promised 200,000 affordable housing apartments, including 50,000 units for New Yorkers earning less than $40,000. Critics have long said that’s not enough. Now, the Real Affordability for All coalition, led by New York Communities for Change and Bertha Lewis’ The Black Institute, is attacking de Blasio and his Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen for “a Goldman Sachs model of development” that promotes gentrification.
Why is housing so expensive?
There simply aren’t enough apartments in New York City. While new buildings are going up, they don’t make up for all the people who want to live in New York. In addition, the new housing that is built is frequently luxury condos purchased by foreign investors while actually affordable apartments slowly disappear.
As a result of this imbalance, landlords are able to jack up rents on apartments. Younger people might be comfortable moving in with roommates to afford an apartment. However, that’s not a realistic solution for nearly a million families classified as very or extremely low-income. There are just over 400,000 apartments available to them so the remaining 500,000+ families are in a difficult situation. The same pattern of vast demand for affordable housing and a paucity of homes is becoming increasingly common in cities around the country.
With that in mind, it’s no wonder that homelessness is increasing. Even people who are working can’t always afford to pay rent.
What’s the Mayor’s Plan?
The mayor’s plans, dubbed Housing New York, will build more housing but perhaps not nearly enough for the people who need it most. De Blasio calls for 200,000 affordable homes but that’s only 80,000 new apartments; the rest will be keeping apartments affordable.
About half of the units created or preserved by the Mayor would be for low-income families, defined as a family of three making between $40,800 and $65,250. However, low-income families aren’t even in poverty. The close to a million households who are very or extremely low-income will see only 40,000 affordable apartments, a drop in the bucket compared to the need.
In order to build all this housing, New York City will subsidize developers erecting new buildings around the city. In this way, de Blasio hopes to create and preserve economically-diverse neighborhoods, rather than concentrating the poor in outlying neighborhoods like Robert Moses did with the Rockaways.
Developers will make money from the program but they’ll also build affordable housing. The subsidies and the profits from market-rate apartments will cover the costs of the new affordable housing being built. Advocates of the plan say that without the unregulated market apartments, there both wouldn’t be enough money for more affordable housing and that higher-earners would go for the apartments meant to be affordable, displacing poorer New Yorkers.
Why does Real Affordability for All oppose that?
Critics say that de Blasio’s housing plan doesn’t do enough to help the poorest New Yorkers. Only a quarter of the new housing will be available for families who make less than the national average. The million families who need the most help will see fewer available options than even households making over $65,000.
With that imbalance of housing, some critics see an incoming tidal wave of gentrification. In East New York, according to one estimate, more than half of the plan’s housing would be slated for households earning more than $75,000 a year, even though only 14% of East New York residents earn that much. It’s the same affordable housing imbalance that we previously reported on.
Some of the backers of Real Affordability for All say that these new affordable options will only increase gentrification by bringing new residents to the neighborhood. Landlords outside the program will see opportunities for increasing rents beyond what they are now and existing tenants could be pushed out.
New housing projects on city land should help the community where they are built, which isn’t always the case. However, some of those activists have shown that they would rather try to keep their neighborhoods the same than create affordable housing, blocking plans last year to build hundreds of affordable apartments. The developers are instead building a slightly smaller building without any affordable housing.
San Francisco shows the problem
Trying to keep neighborhoods from changing unfortunately doesn’t often work out. San Francisco has faced many of these same issues and responded in absolutely the wrong way. Rather than build more, they’ve tried to keep the city the same, restricting new construction for fear that it will cause gentrification. Instead, the opposite has happened and San Francisco has become one of the most expensive cities in the country.
If Real Affordability for All actually wanted an effective program that would allow lower-income New Yorkers to afford to live here, they’d take a different tack. Rather than advocating against de Blasio’s affordable housing plan for its potential gentrifying effects, they should be pushing for more construction, more affordable housing, in every neighborhood. Rather than just fight about Brooklyn and the Bronx, they should be trying to build more housing in places like the Upper East Side which used to be relatively affordable and could be in the future with the right policies. However, no one is really seriously calling for that.
So what’s the answer?
Real Affordability for All is fighting the wrong fight but de Blasio’s policies aren’t perfect, either. Instead of making perfect the enemy of good, the only real path forward is for activists to accept half a loaf and to keep pushing the Mayor to make both the loaf and the slice that is affordable housing larger.
Update 5/11/17: The Hotel Trades Council, a big supporter of the affordable housing plan (since their members need affordable housing) endorsed Bill de Blasio.