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Mayor Bill de Blasio has vowed to make combating economic inequality in the city a centerpiece of his administration. To succeed, the mayor must make it a priority to not only broadly raise incomes, but to ensure a better supply of affordable housing for the working poor, according to a new report by the Community Service Society (CSS).
The report, “What New Yorkers Want from the New Mayor: An Affordable Place to Live,” found that rising rents during former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s term in office resulted in a dramatic decline in the supply of apartments that low-income New Yorkers can afford. From 2002 to 2011, New York City lost nearly 40 percent of the total number of apartments affordable to low-income families defined as those with incomes at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty threshold, according to CSS’s analysis of Census data on the city’s housing stock. This is based on the federal rent affordability standard of 30 percent of income.
“Rent burdens now account for a staggering two-thirds of income, on average, for poor New Yorkers in unsubsidized units. After paying the rent, poor New Yorkers have precious few dollars to pay for food, transport, medical, educational costs and other necessities,” said David R. Jones, President and CEO of the Community Service Society. “Any approach to addressing the city’s economic inequality gap has to include making housing more affordable to those with the greatest need. The new leadership at City Hall understands the urgency of this issue, and the consequences if we don’t take action to ensure the city’s affordable housing stock keeps pace with the growth of the city’s low-income population.”
As a result of this loss of affordable housing, tenants’ residual income – the amount left over after the rent is paid – declined for private market renters in all but the top quarter of households. Though incomes for many New Yorkers rose over the last twelve years, for low-income New Yorkers those gains were effectively negated by rising rents in both rent-regulated and unregulated households.
This helps explain why 63 percent of New Yorkers polled in CSS’s annual Unheard Third survey believe that Bloomberg administration policies, including economic investment and real estate development, benefitted wealthy New Yorkers over the poor or middle class. Comparable majorities of New Yorkers polled also broadly support affordable housing programs, and for linking affordable housing to economic development.
Despite Efforts, Affordable Housing in Short Supply
The city’s affordable housing picture is shaped by changes to the subsidized affordable housing stock, to rent regulation, and to the unregulated private market as well. During the Bloomberg era, these forces combined to cause a net loss of 385,000 apartments affordable to low-income New Yorkers – a demographic that accounts for 40 percent of the city’s population.
Under Mayor Bloomberg, the city produced 45,000 new income-targeted apartments through the New Housing Marketplace Plan. Much of this new housing is affordable to low-income households – not the city’s poorest but still people who are not well-served by the unsubsidized rental market. The city also helped preserve 100,000 existing apartments affordable to households below the poverty line.
These efforts, however, fell far short of meeting the housing needs of the city’s low and middle income people.
The CSS report offers several recommendations on how to improve the city’s affordable housing landscape and leverage critical resources. Chief among them, and one the city should implement immediately, is ending the annual $100 million the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) pays to the city, including $75 million to the NYPD for special police services that it provides for free to all other housing developments. Doing so would eliminate the $60 million shortfall in the authority’s operating budget with funds left over to reduce or eliminate its backlog of hundreds of thousands of needed repairs and capital improvements.
Other recommendations in the report include:
- Appointing members of the city’s Rent Guidelines Board who will weigh the impact of rent increases on low-income renters;
- Halting NYCHA’s infill development process and applying the Uniform Land Use Review Process (ULURP) to any future infill proposal;
- Re-establishing priority access for homeless families to public housing and housing vouchers;
- Targeting more new affordable housing development to people with the lowest incomes;
- Using mandatory inclusionary zoning to augment affordable housing development, prevent displacement, and promote mixed-income communities;
- Tying tax exemptions for developers to stronger commitments to build affordable housing;
- Making affordable housing the highest priority use for city-controlled land.
This report is the second in a three-part series detailing policy recommendations for the new mayor based on findings from The Unheard Third, an annual survey of low-income New Yorkers. The first installment, For Richer or Poorer: What New Yorkers Want in the Next Mayor, was released in October 2013 and focused on creating jobs with upward mobility. The final report in this series, A Change in Education Policies, will be released in February 2014.
For more than 170 years, the Community Service Society of New York has been the leading voice on behalf of low-income New Yorkers and continues to advocate for the economic security of the working poor in the nation’s largest city. We respond to urgent, contemporary challenges with applied research, advocacy, litigation and innovative program models that help the working poor achieve a better quality of life and promote a more prosperous city.