Bloomberg’s Affordable Housing Legacy

As Mayor Bloomberg’s twelve-year term comes to a close and we prepare for his successor, it’s a good time to step back and analyze his administration’s impact on housing in New York City. NYC affordable housing has had a lot stacked against it – the vacancy rate has been unable to top 5%, we have the second-highest rents in the nation (after San Francisco), and gentrification is a constant, powerful force in our neighborhoods. ANHD released a 57-page report in February called “Real Affordability: An Evaluation of the Bloomberg Housing Program and Recommendations to Strengthen Affordable Housing Policy”, which analyzes Bloomberg’s affordable housing legacy and raises some interesting questions about the standards we should hold affordable housing up to.

Soon after he became mayor in 2002, Bloomberg launched the New Housing Marketplace Plan (or NHMP). Its declared purpose is to build and preserve affordable housing for low and middle income New York residents. By 2012, almost 150,000 units of affordable housing had been built or preserved. Bloomberg’s parting goal is to bring that number up to 165,000 by the end of 2014, and so far several sources, including ANHD, confirm that the program is on track to meet its goal. This makes NHMP the largest city affordable housing plan in this country’s history – but how successful is it? ANHD’s report focuses both on the elements of the plan that work, and on the ways it may be missing the mark.

The first criticism is that the units are not as “affordable” as they sound – one third of NHMP units have upper income limits above New York’s median income. According to the ANHD report, the units built are often too expensive for average people in the neighborhoods they are built in.

Also, the units will not be permanently affordable. As Mitchell-Lama housing has already expired out of its affordability and we are beginning to see this happen with other programs, these new units are in some cases replacing units that have lost their affordability rather than adding to the city’s pool of affordable housing. The report points out that by 2037 the city might lose almost as many units of affordable housing as the NHMP has created, calling into question the sustainability of this $7.5 billion undertaking.

ANHD suggests to improve affordable housing policy in the future by changing the way we measure progress:

“By simply counting “units,” production incentives are skewed toward creating smaller, less affordable units, which are superficially less expensive to create but do not necessarily provide the most public benefit.”

The “Real Affordability Index,” which is outlined in the report, is a new metric that takes into consideration the length and depth of affordability, unit size, and the impact a development will have on its community.

Meanwhile, affordable housing has been a hot topic in the race for our next mayor, and Bill de Blasio proposes that he will build 100,000 and preserve almost 90,000 affordable units during his term. We hope that the next mayor takes advice from housing organizers and advocates, and creates an efficient, sustainable, and impactful affordable housing plan.

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