An Update on The State of Affordable Housing in NYC

The last time I wrote about affordable housing in NYC, the New York City Housing Authority, or NYCHA, was facing a budget shortfall of $225 million and it was unclear how Mayor de Blasio planned to move forward with his pledge to construct 200,000 new affordable units by 2024. A lot has changed since then, so let’s take a closer look at the current state of affordable housing in NYC.

Because of a 1998 law that limits the number of public housing units eligible for federal subsidies, creative problem solving has been required of the office of the Mayor. Ultimately, the city has enacted a multi-pronged plan with three main components: preservation efforts, mandatory inclusionary housing for rezoned areas, and partnerships with private developers and landlords.

The city has been providing incentives to landlords (usually a combination of city money and new financing agreements) for keeping existing apartments at or below market rate. There has also been a review of building code and plans for rehabilitating previously existing government-owned buildings. As of July 2017, the Mayor’s office reported that 52,000 homes had been protected under this initiative.

Rendering of plans for one of the city’s rezoned areas – Fresh Creek in Brooklyn. Image courtesy of nychdc.com

The city’s rezoning efforts allow for taller buildings and more residential density, in exchange for the inclusion of affordable units in new developments. Known as mandatory inclusionary housing, the program requires developers to set aside a certain percentage of the total available units for individuals or families whose income falls below the Area Median Income (AMI).

In some cases, the city provides tax subsidies to further incentivize developers to build in these rezoned areas – as of July, 77,651 affordable units were financed through this program. It is this part of the city’s affordable housing efforts that has garnered the most media attention as of late. Known at the “80/20 rule,” it requires developers to set aside 20% of units for households making up to 40% – 50% of the AMI. Often, that works out to $26,720 – $33,400 for an individual or $38,160 – $47,700 for a family of four.

Tenants who meet the income eligibility requirements can enter a lottery, where tens of thousands of applicants will apply for every 100 apartments. While the competition is stiff, the lucky New Yorkers who get selected live in luxury developments located in neighborhoods like Battery Park City, enjoying amenities such as doormen, laundry on-site, and storage. The New York Times reports that the largest concentrations of units created under this program have been in the South Bronx, Harlem, and Stuyvesant Town in Manhattan.

Many New Yorkers who make more than 40% – 50% of the AMI still struggle to afford rising rents, and have expressed frustration at not qualifying for these “80/20” units. As a result, the Mayor’s Office has expanded the program, allowing for some units to go to individuals making up to 60% of the AMI, and still others for those making “moderate to middle-income.” These programs are for households making 100%, 130%, or sometimes 165% of the AMI (which works out to $110,220 for an individual or $157,410 for a family of four).

While we’ve all heard the stories about years-long waiting lists and the arduous application process, there still seems to be a great deal of mystery around how someone goes about obtaining an affordable housing unit. The truth is, it’s a long process that requires recertification every year — so even once you’re in an affordable apartment, it’s not guaranteed that you can stay there forever.

We talked about the income requirements already, but there are other criteria the city uses to give priority to certain applicants. First, those with disabilities are given preference: 5% of units are set aside for those with mobility disabilities; 2% of units will go to those with hearing or visual disabilities. Next, current residents of the neighborhood in which the property is located will be given consideration for 50% of units. Third on the list is New York City employees, as long as no conflict of interest is present. And finally, developers may make specific agreements with the city to consider other populations, such as senior citizens or veterans.

Applicants are also subject to credit checks, home visits to their current place of residence, and an interview process that involves verifying all the financial information provided along with some additional paperwork. As I mentioned previously, once someone moves into an affordable unit, they must verify their income each year, and they have to show there are no tenants residing in the unit who were not on the initial lease.

Mayor de Blasio announces progress for affordable housing plan in July 2017 – image courtesy of nyc.gov

While Mayor de Blasio is on his way to creating the 200,000 affordable housing units he originally pledged (and may achieve the goal 2 years early), there are still concerns about the future of affordable housing in NYC. Even though neighborhood residents are given preference in the lottery, there are still many who fear being displaced, and still others living in those affordable units worry that developers may try to increase their rents to market value 10 or 15 years down the road. And, while “middle to moderate-income” New Yorkers are feeling relieved about the recently expanded income cap for some buildings, some of New York’s most rent-burdened residents might have a harder time getting selected for the lottery. You can keep up with the progress of the city’s affordable housing here.

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