Contact: Jeff Maclin
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New York’s supply of housing affordable to low-income New Yorkers has been steadily dwindling. As the city’s economy continues to generate large numbers of low-wage jobs, the amount of affordable housing being produced now is not keeping pace with the growth of the city’s low-income population – now three million people.
A new report by the Community Service Society (CSS) provides the first comprehensive analysis of New York’s public and subsidized housing inventory and the underlying causes of the losses in housing affordable to low-income New Yorkers. It also draws attention to the key levers the mayor can use to preserve and expand the city’s existing stock of affordable housing to meet the city’s most urgent needs. These include the income targeting of new housing, city budgetary decisions, zoning, advocacy for stronger federal and state housing policies – and important policy changes for the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA).
“The next mayor will inherit an incredible public housing resource which once served as the model across the nation,” said David R. Jones, President and CEO of the Community Service Society. “But unless changes are made, public housing for low-income New Yorkers will continue to be put at risk. Those changes should focus on accountability to public housing tenants and strengthening NYCHA’s ability to act as a steward of its property and affordable housing mission. And not on weakening it or allowing its underfunding to continue.”
The report, “Good Place to Work, Hard Place to Live, The Housing Challenge for New York’s Next Mayor,” was released at an April 20 mayoral forum focused on NYCHA and sponsored by CSS and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Local 237. The five leading Democratic candidates for mayor participated in the forum and expressed support for a key recommendation of the report -- ending the practice of the city taking nearly $100 million in operating funds from NYCHA for primarily police services it provides free to private landlords.
NEEDS OUTPACE SUPPLY
In 1970 New York City had 64 units of subsidized housing for each 1,000 low-income people. By 1990, that number had risen to 122, thanks primarily to the construction of about 100,000 new U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and Mitchell-Lama rental units. But by 2010, the number had fallen back to 114, despite Mayor Bloomberg’s New Housing Marketplace.
In other words, the total effort that government makes toward affordability per low-income resident peaked around 1990, and has now fallen by seven percent. At the same time, the total assisted stock has also shifted in income targeting. The result is that subsidized housing is now targeted to somewhat higher income households than before.
Even the city’s public housing is now threatened by underfunding. NYCHA owns and manages the city’s 179,000 public housing apartments housing a half million New Yorkers. More than half of the city’s poor households are either public housing residents, hold Section 8 vouchers from the Authority, or are among the 140,000 families on NYCHA’s waiting list. Hit by funding cuts from the federal, state and local levels of government, NYCHA has an operating shortfall of $60 million a year, and a $6 billion backlog of major capital improvements.
The report argues that the decline in the government’s affordability effort is one reason for rising rent burdens for low-income households. This situation will continue to worsen as the city’s low-wage workforce continues to grow. In 2011, 61 percent of the city’s low-income renter households paid at least half of their income in rent compared to 46 percent in 1999.
In addition to eliminating NYCHA’s unnecessary payments of nearly $100 million a year to the city treasury, the report urges the next mayor to be a national advocate for a better federal response to the housing shortage that exists in New York and many other cities across the country. It also calls for the city to:
- Invest its technical capacity and its own financial resources in maximizing the use of the federal Low Income Housing Tax Credit and other affordable housing subsidies;
- Take steps to promote permanent affordability in tax credit developments;
- Ensure that any NYCHA land that is redeveloped supports the Authority’s mission to provide affordable housing to low-income New Yorkers;
- Release long-withheld HUD tenant participation funds so that tenant groups can obtain independent technical assistance during the process;
- Increase the Housing Preservation and Development’s (HPD) role in inspecting NYCHA units and ensuring accountability to tenants.