Volume 19 Issue 42 | March 2 - 8, 2007


More is needed to stay affordable

Mayor Bloomberg is the first mayor since Ed Koch to take the city’s affordable housing shortage seriously. In five years, Bloomberg has made substantial progress on his goal of preserving or building 68,000 below-market units by next year, but these gains are threatened as more and more large complexes are being taken out of rent protection programs.

A study by the Community Service Society, a non-profit advocacy think tank, found that between 1990 and 2005 the city lost 23 percent of its affordable units in an upward trend that, alarmingly, peaked the last year of the study. One third of the apartments lost were due to landlords and co-op owners leaving the model Mitchell-Lama middle class housing program.

The latest example is Brooklyn’s Starrett City, which is likely to leave Mitchell-Lama if a $1.3 billion sale to a new owner is approved. Bloomberg, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and others are now pushing for a state law extending rent stabilization protections to Mitchell-Lama buildings built after 1974, in cases in which the landlord buys out of the program. (Rent stabilization currently protects pre-’74 Mitchell-Lamas.) The new law will protect Starrett City tenants and others in similar predicaments across the city — and is desperately needed — but more must be done.

Here in Lower Manhattan there are too many affordable housing complexes facing short- and long-term threats.

At Independence Plaza North in Tribeca, tenants, Bloomberg and the landlord were able to negotiate an agreement after the new owner bought out of Mitchell-Lama in 2004, but the long-term prospects of the deal are dependent on the federal government continuing to fund its “sticky vouchers,” so-called because they stay with tenants when they move. The new Democratic Congress should strengthen federal subsidies while working with New York and other states on new programs.

Battery Park City’s largest complex, Gateway Plaza, is under rent stabilization thanks to an agreement brokered by Speaker Silver, but the deal expires in 2009 and it gets increasingly difficult to renew each time. The long-term prospects for affordable housing at Knickerbocker Village, Lands End One and other Lower East Side developments remain uncertain.

And even in complexes likely to stay in Mitchell-Lama or similar programs, the original goal of building housing for teachers, cops and other public servants is being eroded as income limits have not kept up with the times. Many of these city workers make too much money to get a coveted apartment.

The complex array of housing laws governing these projects means there is no simple legislative package to fix the problems. Housing advocates and many of our local politicians, including Councilmember Alan Gerson, favor creating an affordable housing trust fund to generate money to continue to preserve and build below-market rate housing and to fund incentives for landlords and co-ops to stay under rent protections. This is a much-needed change. Bloomberg has taken important steps in this direction by redirecting B.P.C. surplus revenues back to affordable housing and identifying funds to extend his pledge to preserve and build 165,000 affordable units by 2013.

That pledge will require the commitment of state leaders, future mayors and could use federal help as well. The value of a vibrant city with a mix of incomes is priceless but the cost of all apartments shouldn’t be.

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