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Town Hall on Homelessness Takes Aim at De Blasio's Affordable Housing Plan

By Noah Hurowitz | January 6, 2016 3:52pm
 Councilwoman Rosie Mendez speaks as a member of the advocacy group Picture the Homeless, Councilman Dan Garodnick, and Borough President Gale Brewer listen at a town hall meeting on homelessness on Tuesday night.
Councilwoman Rosie Mendez speaks as a member of the advocacy group Picture the Homeless, Councilman Dan Garodnick, and Borough President Gale Brewer listen at a town hall meeting on homelessness on Tuesday night.
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DNAInfo/Noah Hurowitz

GRAMERCY — Mayor Bill de Blasio’s affordable housing policies will have to cater more to the poorest New Yorkers if he wants to address the city’s homelessness crisis, according to the politicians and East Side residents who packed a town hall meeting on the subject Tuesday.

Residents and politicians at the meeting, held at the Church of the Epiphany at East 22nd Street and Second Avenue, zeroed in on de Blasio’s mandatory inclusionary housing proposals, saying the lowest income bracket for affordable units under the program is not low enough to cater to the area's neediest residents.

“We’re in the middle of a major crisis and the policies don’t provide for the working poor or lower middle class,” said Kathleen Kelly, a resident of Peter Cooper Village. “People are at risk of losing their homes and there are so many more units of luxury housing coming in than affordable.”

Mandatory inclusionary housing would require developers building in certain areas to create below-market-rate units as a part of the development project. The income level for tenants eligible for those affordable units is based on the city's average median income, or AMI. 

Those eligible for affordable units under the new housing plan would need to make 65 percent or below the current AMI, which translates to $46,620 annually for a family of three.

The mayor has touted his mandatory inclusionary housing plan, saying it's a way of keeping moderate and low-income New Yorkers in their homes. But community boards and housing advocates across the city have argued that the requirements will leave the poorest behind.

During the meeting, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer suggested that more homeless New Yorkers could be taken off the streets if her constituents continue to lobby elected officials for a lower AMI threshold.

“Developers want to make the AMI higher because it works for their bottom line, but it doesn’t work for New Yorkers,” Brewer said. “We need to get down to $13,000, $14,000, $15,000 a year for seniors and individuals.”

The meeting on Tuesday, which was held in conjunction with Councilman Dan Garodnick, Councilwoman Rosie Mendez, officials from the Department of Homeless Services and directors of homeless support programs, focused on the impact that eastern Manhattan has felt as numbers of homeless individuals skyrocket throughout the city. 

The homelessness crisis is a citywide issue, but the east side is especially burdened considering the presence of the city's largest shelter — the 850-bed 30th Street Mens shelter near Bellevue Hospital.

Karen Lee, of the Kips Bay Neighborhood Association, said the city should take the pressure off her neighborhood by looking into dispersing some of the services centralized at the 30th Street shelter, which serves as a system-wide intake center for homeless men entering shelters.

“Is [the 30th Street Men's Shelter] just too big?” she asked to applause from the crowd. “Is 800 beds just not manageable?”

Garodnick acknowledged that the area has been impacted by the large shelter. But considering the severity of the homelessness problem in the city, the possibility of downsizing the shelter is dubious, the councilman said.

“I don’t need to explain to anyone in this room what the numbers are, what the crisis looks like, how massive a problem this is,” Garodnick said. “The idea that now would be the time that we would be likely to go from 800 beds to 200 beds is unlikely.”