United for Homes: A New Path to Preserve Affordable Housing

Check out today’s guest post from our friends at New York State Tenants & Neighbors about the United For Homes campaign. The Surreal Estate is always looking for contributions from allies in the fight for affordable housing. If you’d like to see your perspective represented here, email UHAB Organizer at Cea Weaver at weaver@uhab.org. 

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Tenant Meeting at Essex Terrace, an East New York Mitchell Lama.

Tenants & Neighbors joined the United for Homes campaign, spearheaded by the National Low Income Housing Coalition, in July 2013. Tenants & Neighbors is a grassroots organization that helps tenants build and effectively wield their power to preserve at-risk affordable housing and strengthen tenants’ rights in New York. We work closely with low- to moderate- income regulated and subsidized tenants, who are increasingly burdened by New York’s housing affordability crisis.  Tenants & Neighbors – and our tenant constituents – are involved with the United for Homes campaign because of its potential for preserving housing at risk of losing its affordability.

With shelter stays at an all-time high and 61% of the city’s low-income households paying at least half of their income in rent (according to Good Place To Work, Hard Place To Live, a recent report by the Community Service Society), it is not surprising that New York City’s housing affordability crisis has taken center stage during the election season.

A major challenge for our next administration will be not only to finance the production of deeply affordable units, but to preserve existing housing stock at risk of losing its affordability. The city has lost almost as many affordable units as it has produced in the past ten years.

The affordable housing shortage is acutely felt by low and moderate income tenants. As Vanessa Trahan, a HUD subsidized tenant involved with the Tenants & Neighbors HUD leadership committee put it, “we need more affordable and permanent housing in New York City.”

The last major wave of federally-subsidized property opt-outs ended in 2007.  However, the underlying need for protection of existing affordable units remains. According to the Community Service Society, “as long as the city retains a growing economy, the real estate market will exert a strong pressure toward … the removal of subsidized housing from the at-risk affordable stock.” Further, despite the temporary lull in New York City opt-outs, Tenants & Neighbors is currently working – through the Tenant Resource Network program – with two federally-subsidized properties right outside the city that are in danger of losing their affordability. Homestead Village is located in Suffolk Country and Waverly Arms is located in Yonkers. In the case of Homestead Village in particular, an opt-out would result in a loss of 431 units in a community with minimal affordable rental housing.

Federally-subsidized properties become vulnerable to affordability loss when there is not enough federal funding to incentivize the owners to keep the property in a HUD program. Even before the sequester, HUD experienced a series of repeated budget cuts that will likely continue in the near future. At the same time, New York City will see another round of opt-outs in the next few years, as HUD contracts expire.

Given the current political environment, it is unlikely that there will be a major increase in funding for preservation of existing subsidized properties within the parameters of the HUD budget. In March 2013, the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) launched the United for Homes campaign, an innovative proposal that, if enacted, will radically reshape federal housing policy.

The campaign proposes to modify the current mortgage interest deduction by reducing the size of a mortgage eligible for a tax break from $1 million to $500K and converting the deduction to a 15% credit. These changes would raise $196 billion in revenue over ten years. United for Homes proposes to use this revenue to fund the National Housing Trust Fund (NHTF).

The NHTF was designed as a permanent federal program that would not be subject to the annual Congressional appropriations process. As a result, it would be under less risk for defunding and would not directly compete with other programs in the HUD budget. If funded, the NHTF would be the first federal program in forty years created for the benefit of low-income renters.

United for Homes is an innovative solution to our most pressing housing problems. With NHTF funding New York can prevent the exacerbation of the housing crisis by preserving existing subsidized housing.  As Emanuel Hickson, a member of the Tenants & Neighbors HUD leadership committee and the Vice President of the Board of Directors, puts it, NHTF revenue should also be used to “build solid, long lasting housing affordable to low income households.”  To get involved in the campaign, please contact Oksana Mironova at omironova@tandn.org.

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