The Surreal Estate

Perspectives on Tenant Organizing from the Urban Homesteading Assistance Board

What Speaker Quinn Has to Say about Predatory Equity in Her State of The City

A few weeks ago in her State of the City, Speaker Quinn discussed how New York should and will tackle challenges in affordable housing in 2012. We mentioned it last week when we discussed her announcement to amend the NYC Housing Code. Now, we have some direct quotes from her speech for those of you who may have missed it click here for a link to the entire spiel.

It’s impossible to talk about rising costs without talking about housing. How many of you can remember the first time you laid eyes on your home? Not just your house or apartment, but your home in the truest sense of the word.

You could imagine the pencil marks on the door frame as you watched your kids grow. You knew exactly where you’d hang that big screen TV once you saved up the money, picked out a spot for the recliner when you retired.

For far too many New Yorkers that dream gets cut short. They moved into affordable housing hoping they’d be there for the rest of their lives. Then they discovered that affordable now doesn’t mean affordable forever.

Right now, when the City negotiates deals with developers, we provide incentives in exchange for affordability. The problem is that affordability has a built in expiration date, usually thirty years. So homes we built three decades ago are now in danger of losing their affordability. Which means families get pushed right out of their homes, and the working class gets pushed out of entire neighborhoods. Sometimes – working with community members – we are able to find ways to keep buildings affordable beyond the expiration date. Like when Council Member Helen Diane Foster helped protect more than a hundred homes at the birthplace of hip hop – 1520 Sedgwick Avenue in the Bronx. But other times, we’re not so lucky. We need to create housing that’s not just affordable for a few years, but for generations.

So let’s talk about an idea that’s long overdue in New York City – permanent affordability. For years it’s been thought of as a pipe dream. But the City Council has a plan to make it happen. I’m happy to announce that HPD is going to start requiring sixty year affordability in many of our biggest developments.

Sixty years isn’t permanent, but it’s a critical first step. I want to thank Council Members Erik Martin Dilan and Joel Rivera for their leadership on this issue. I want to thank Senator Adriano Espaillat and Assembly Member Vito Lopez, for agreeing to sponsor the necessary legislation.

But we won’t stop there. Our goal will be a new kind of deal with developers as long as the City keeps renewing your benefits, you have to keep your housing truly affordable. I’m very grateful to HPD for agreeing to work with us to develop a strategy for permanent affordability. This work will continue until we get there. With permanent affordability, we’ll make sure the people who built a community get to stay in that community.

Working together we can create a brand new rental assistance program to help families cover rent in private buildings. And we need to prioritize homeless New Yorkers for NYCHA apartments and Section 8 vouchers, so we can get even more families into long term stable housing. By the way, this isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s the fiscally responsible thing to do. The average cost of a rental subsidy for a family of four is $800 a month. To house that same family in a shelter? $3,000.

Now it’s not enough to just make sure New Yorkers have a place to live. We need to make sure those homes aren’t falling apart. One of my first jobs in New York City was as a local housing organizer. I remember the frustration we felt watching bad landlords let a building deteriorate so they could push out tenants and sell their building for more money.

I’ve made it my mission to tackle these problems head on. This year we’ll expand on the success of our Safe Housing Act, a law we passed in 2007. It’s already made top to bottom renovations in hundreds of the city’s worst buildings.

Now we’ll pass legislation, sponsored by Council Member Gale Brewer, that allows the Department of Housing Preservation and Development to target the root cause of a housing problem. I want to thank Commissioner Mathew Wambua for working with us on this initiative.

Instead of just fixing water damage, landlords will have to repair the hole in the roof that’s causing it. Slumlords will have to spend real money and fix the real problem or we’ll haul them into housing court.

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