Mayor Bill de Blasio makes remarks on new affordable housing numbers at Tres Puentes in the Bronx on Wednesday, January 16, 2017. (Photo from NYCMayorOffice Flickr stream)
In what is becoming an annual victory lap, Mayor Bill de Blasio on Wednesday once again congratulated his administration for breaking another record for affordable housing: a total of 34,160 affordable homes financed by the city in 2018.
The milestone failed to win over some housing analysts, and especially the city’s main homeless advocate. In August, an analysis of de Blasio’s housing program found that while it represents an improvement over Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the administration has failed to reach many New Yorkers who are most desperate for affordable housing.
By all accounts, the city is currently in the throes of a housing crisis, exacerbated by high rents, weakened rent laws leading to the de-regulation of tens of thousands of rental units, and near-record levels of homelessness.
Of the 2018 total, 10,099 were newly created homes and 24,061 were preserved affordable apartments. In order to reach that unprecedented number, the administration also broke a cost record: spending $1.73 billion, a 57 percent increase over 2017, when the city spent $1.1 billion to finance 24,500 affordable units.
“By itself it’s a big number and it’s great to see that the city is making progress,” said Oksana Mironova, a housing policy analyst with the Community Service Society of New York, about the mayor’s latest announcement.
But Mironova notes that only 16 percent of the affordable units built or preserved to date were designated for New Yorkers facing the most urgent housing needs: the homeless and those making under 30 percent of the area median income — which comes to $21,930 for an individual or $28,178 for a family of three.
Unsurprisingly, the Coalition for the Homeless on Wednesday lashed out at de Blasio’s announcement. According to the nonprofit, the city has over five years created under 1,000 units annually for the homeless. The nonprofit estimates that 63,600 homeless individuals sleep in shelters every single night.
“Mayor de Blasio is crowing about financing more than 34,000 units of affordable housing last year, but out of all the units he has financed to date, and in the face of ever-rising record homelessness, a measly four percent were developed for homeless individuals and families, apart from the Mayor’s separate commitment to create supportive housing for homeless individuals living with a severe mental illness or other disability,” said Giselle Routhier, the Coalition’s policy director, in a statement on Wednesday.
Calling his track record a “travesty,” Routhier urged the mayor to finance 2,500 new units each year for homeless New Yorkers.
Through his six years in office, de Blasio has now created and preserved a total of 122,000 affordable units, suggesting that the mayor is well on his way to reaching his goal of 200,000 affordable units by 2024.
To date, the bulk of affordable housing under de Blasio — 52,641 units — has been for those making between 51 percent to 80 percent of the area median income, or from $36,550 to $58,480 for an individual, according to figures from the city Department of Housing Preservation and Development. The amount of housing for those who make under 30 percent of the area median income — $21,930 for an individual — was third highest on the list: a total of 19,885 units to date.
Comptroller Scott Stringer has seized on this disparity, urging the mayor “realign” the goals of his affordable housing plan. “While Mayor de Blasio deserves credit for announcing incremental progress towards building housing for the lowest income New Yorkers, we need bigger, bolder, and quicker action for those who are already at a breaking point when it comes to housing affordability,” he said in a press release Wednesday..
Stringer issued his own affordability plan in November. He has outlined three steps for the city to take: re-allocating roughly 85,000 new construction units toward those in the lowest income bracket; creating a $125 million operating subsidy to help make buildings affordable to the poorest New Yorkers while also financing repairs and maintenance of those properties; and setting aside 15 percent, triple the current rate, of both new and preserved affordable housing units to homeless families.
Stringer, whose plan has received the support of the Community Service Society, has said that the city could pay for his proposal by reforming the city’s property tax system to make it more progressive.
Mironova said that the city’s affordable housing policy should not solely be about achieving “a specific number” of affordable units, but “reframing the plan to serve those in greatest need.”