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Harlem Lawmaker Calls Use of Term 'Affordable Housing' a 'Lie'

By Gustavo Solis | November 5, 2015 5:56pm
 State Sen. Bill Perkins
State Sen. Bill Perkins
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DNAinfo/Emily Frost

HARLEM — The economic yardstick used to determine eligibility for affordable housing is a sham, state Sen. Bill Perkins said Thursday.

“It is becoming more and more of a lie than just a term of art. It is becoming more and more of a misnomer that hides the truth of who is and who is not going to be the beneficiary of taxpayers’ dollars that, generally speaking, go to allowing developers to build affordable housing.”

The city determines affordability by the Area Mean Income (AMI), which is set forth by the federal government. The AMI of the five boroughs also includes Putnam, Rockland and Westchester counties. Because those counties have higher median incomes than the city, the income limits are higher than they would be if the area would be restricted to the city, according to the mayor's affordable housing plan.

The city's AMI is about $77,000 for a family of three. In Harlem, the median household income is about $36,000.

“There is no question in my mind or anybody else’s mind that [affordable housing] is a term of art,” Perkins said.

The criticism came before representatives from the Department of Planning visited Community Board 10 to present proposed zoning changes mean to create more affordable housing.

Part of the proposal includes “Mandatory Inclusionary Housing,” which would require all developers asking for rezoning to set aside a percentage of the units they build toward affordable housing. Currently the city’s inclusionary housing program is voluntary.

This change only applies to future developments and it would make any affordable units built permanently affordable.

How affordable the housing turns out to be depends on the AMI, which is set at the federal level and based on median income and adjusted for household size, local housing costs and other geographic factors.

Under the proposal developers would set aside 25 percent of their buildings for residents with incomes averaging 60 percent AMI — or $51,780 for a family of four.

There is also another option to have developers set aside 30 percent of units for an average of 80 percent AMI — or $67,100.

Affordability levels can be broadened through a variety of local, state and federal programs, a City Planning representative told the Community Board.

The community board expressed some concerns with the city’s zoning change. On Nov. 19 CB 10's Land Use committee will hold a public discussion on AMI.