MANHATTAN — With the city’s homelessness crisis unabated, housing advocates are asking why most of the units created or preserved under Mayor Bill de Blasio’s affordable housing plan fail to target the city’s low-income New Yorkers who need help the most.
The de Blasio administration has developed or preserved more than 77,650 units of “affordable” housing in the past four years as it works toward its 200,000-unit goal.
So far, however, just 11,000 of those units — or 14 percent — targeted households earning about $25,770 for a family of three (which is 30 percent of the Area Median Income), according to a report released Thursday by the Real Affordability for All coalition (RAFA).
“In order to make a dent in the homelessness crisis, we must increase the number of units developed for households who earn less than $25,000 a year — households that are not served by the private market,” states the report from the RAFA coalition, which includes groups such as Legal Aid Society, United Neighborhood Houses, and Tenants & Neighbors.
The group, for instance, is critical of the plan for the Bedford Union Armory in Crown Heights where an entire city-owned block will be used for 386 units of luxury housing while just 18 units would be affordable to the local community earning about $34,000 for a family of three.
The project's developer, however, noted that there are an additional 49 units targeting families earning roughly $43,000, which is just above the area's median income.
In the rezoned area of East New York, the report pointed out, the so-called affordable housing being built is more expensive than the asking rents in the area.
“By focusing on quantity over quality, de Blasio misses the real need facing our city,” the report continues. “Despite the constant self-congratulatory press conferences announcing progress toward the 200,000 goal his plan does not include nearly enough apartments at the lower income tiers — where the affordability crisis is most acute and most painful.”
The city’s homeless population is the highest it has been since the Great Depression, the report notes. There were 59,775 people sleeping in city shelters on Tuesday, according to the latest figures from the Department of Homeless Services.
The gap between rents and wages has been a big problem, with the city’s rents in the lowest bracket of the market — those in the 20 percent least expensive tier — increasing the most since 2010 at 4.9 percent a year. Meanwhile wages for those in the bottom 20 percent of the workforce saw the least amount of growth among the roughly 4.1 million employed New Yorkers, according to a recent StreetEasy analysis.
The city’s affordable housing plan targets households earning between $52,000 and $69,000, as well as those at higher incomes, according to the Association for Neighborhood Housing and Development (ANHD).
Echoing RAFA’s concerns, a recent blog post from ANHD’s Emily Goldstein notes that extremely low-income New Yorkers are extremely underserved by the city’s housing plan.
“Ultimately, even if the city continues to meet the goals of [the plan], it is unlikely to meet the goal of reducing the affordability crisis in New York City,” Goldstein wrote. “And that ought to be the actual measure of success.”
As de Blasio is likely to win a second term, RAFA is calling on him to focus more on lower income New Yorkers with his housing plan. It wants the city to create better pathways out of shelters and hold negligent landlords responsible for their role in displacement and harassment of tenants.
It also wants the administration to ensure that all public land is developed by nonprofit developers committing to 100 percent affordable to low- and moderate-income New Yorkers. They are closely watching what’s happening with the rezoning of Inwood public library for housing, public sites in East Harlem on East 111th and 126th streets, the Greenpoint Hospital redevelopment and three sites in Brownsville.
The report was most critical of Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen, who they say has prioritized the financial interests of for-profit affordable housing developers she worked with when she was at Goldman Sachs.
“So long as Glen oversees de Blasio’s housing plan, it will not succeed at increasing real affordability for low-income and moderate-income New Yorkers,” the RAFA report said. “Simply put, it’s time for her to go.”
Mayoral spokeswoman Melissa Grace said the report repackaged old criticisms.
“[It] overlooks what the city is actually doing: Building and protecting an unprecedented amount of affordable housing for the very poorest, providing universal access to free lawyers for tenants who are harassed, sending bad landlords to prison, and winning the first two rent freezes in city history," she said. "We stand by our record — and add to it daily."