Date: April 2014

Originally Published: Huffington Post

The word “affordable housing” is virtually meaningless to the vast majority of New Yorkers. In the past 10 years, rent has increased at twice the rate of household incomes citywide. The number of rent-regulated apartments continues to vanish, while most new housing construction has been geared towards wealthier New Yorkers. On the forgotten end are those who are considered “low” and “moderate” income, and New York City’s homeless population, which has soared to the highest levels since the Great Depression.

Let’s not repeat history. Our middle class is just a sliver that divides the top 1 percent — those who received the most significant benefits of the city’s housing policies over the past twenty years from those who live paycheck to paycheck, with over half of their income going to rent. Far too many fall into homelessness as a result of this crisis, with more than 52,000 homeless New Yorkers, and 22,000 children currently living in homeless shelters.

Although we can’t build our way out of the problem, if we balance the need to preserve existing units and develop new units, we can end this crisis. But, it is going to take a lot more than the 200,000 affordable units that the Mayor plans to build and preserve. It’s going to take political will, commitment and resources.

As the Chairman of New York City Council’s Housing and Building Committee, there are ten areas I think should be addressed for the Mayor’s housing plan to be complete. Many of these proposals are supported by the Real Affordability for All (RAFA), a citywide coalition of housing advocates dedicated to reform. Although this list of recommendations is not a comprehensive housing plan, they should be included in the Mayor’s overall housing proposal, to provide the housing changes New Yorkers need to help the crisis of affordability in housing.

• The administration must prioritize repealing the 1971 Urstadt Law in Albany. This outdated law prevents New York City — with more than 8 million residents — from strengthening rent regulation laws that are meant to protect the nearly 2.5 million tenants who live in rent-stabilized or rent-controlled apartments. Repeal would help stop the permanent loss of more than 150,000 rent-regulated units every year.

• We must not repeat the mistakes of the last twenty years and adopt policies that focus primarily on development. We can’t build our way out of this crisis. We must focus on preserving existing units across the city with various tools, including repealing vacancy decontrol and luxury decontrol, and ensuring that buildings that leave programs like Section 8 and Mitchell-Lama remain affordable for low income residents. We should also be more aggressive in enforcing all relevant codes, laws, and regulations that are designed to protect and preserve housing.

• The existing 80/20 “affordability” model has failed to create nearly enough income-targeted units required to meet our city’s needs. We must pursue a more effective model. We should research and explore programs such as the 50/50 model supported by RAFA. Under this model, 50 percent of new units would be market rate, and 50 percent of the units would be income-targeted. Subsidies should only be offered to developers who can fully commit to building the largest number of apartment for households earning below 50 percent of Area Median Income. Most apartments in these developments, however, should be allocated to households earning as low as 25 percent of Area Median Income.

• Although this recommendation isn’t a panacea, the administration should prioritize implementing Mandatory Inclusionary Zoning, so that finally, we can put a stop to housing segregation based on income and ensure that all new housing developments are guaranteed income-targeted units.

• The Mayor should work with Council Member Ritchie Torres, chair of the Public Housing Committee and I to improve the city’s public housing stock — NYCHA developments. This can be accomplished by developing a ten-year capital plan that funds major NYCHA infrastructural improvements, reducing the capital improvement backlog, currently estimated between $7 and $10 billion.

• The administration should commit to affordable housing for the city’s often neglected groups, including neglected homeless New Yorkers, seniors and disabled residents. For example, the Mayor should reestablish a rental subsidy program to help preserve affordable units, and prevent evictions and increases in the homeless shelter population.

• Developers must accept that their return on investment won’t mean earning every single penny of profit. They must begin to see their investments offering two types of returns: financial profit and, equally as important, social capital.

• The administration must ensure that any federal, state and city subsidies invested in developers actually leads to promised increases in income-targeted housing. Additionally, we must fight to increase all three subsidies to help preserve and create units.

• As a practical matter, we must consider upzoning and increased density as an incentive for developers. However, these tools must applied with a scalpel to ensure that they do not fundamentally alter the character of our neighborhoods.

• Lastly, we must develop a local alternative to the Area Median Income. The existing federal formula does not lead to the creation of income-targeted housing for those who need it most.

New York City funnels billions of dollars annually into the growth and enrichment of our city. It is time we dedicate our resources to building housing that is truly affordable, for all. Though change will not happen overnight, I am confident that this administration is committed to change, unlike the previous two. I look forward to seeing the Mayors’ plan, and I am hoping that it includes these and other policies to finally dismantle the crisis of affordability in housing.