The NYC Affordable Housing Plan: The Complexities of a $41B Endeavor

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s new $41 billion affordable housing plan, Housing New York: A Five-Borough, Ten-Year Plan, covers a lot of ground. And it has to. Here are some specifics and how they could be accomplished.
Bill de Blasio

Bill de Blasio

By Barbra Murray, Contributing Editor

One-hundred-and-fifteen pages produced by 13 agencies. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s new $41 billion affordable housing plan, Housing New York: A Five-Borough, Ten-Year Plan, covers a lot of ground. And it has to. The area median income for a four-person household in New York City is $83,900, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. However, effective rents, Marcus & Millichap Real Estate Investment Services reports, are expected to increase 2.6 percent to $4,104 per month this year.

At a press conference on the new plan, de Blasio asserted that his outline for handling affordable housing in New York City is quite different from that of his predecessor, former Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Referring to a chart in the document outlining the plan, he stated, “One of the things that will be abundantly clear: Four times as many units will be built for the lowest-income New Yorkers under this plan than under the affordable housing plan of the previous administration.”

The de Blasio plan, which will result in the development and preservation of 200,000 affordable housing units, has a bevy of facets, one of which includes the initiation of a new program for renters in the middle-income bracket, a group consisting of households earning 121 to 165 percent of AMI. The mixed-income program will require that 50 percent of the units falling under the program will be designated for middle-income families, with the remaining 50 percent reserved for low- and moderate-income households.

The seniors population is another segment getting special attention. Per the plan, Project-Based Section 8 vouchers will be leveraged to make housing affordable for seniors with fixed or decreasing annual incomes. And the homeless sector will be addressed with the transfer of a percentage of current funding for homeless shelters to investments in lower-cost permanent housing for the homeless.

And the list goes on; there are more than 50 initiatives in the plan. De Blasio’s plan also calls for the development of two new programs that will pave the way for the transformation of hundreds of small vacant parcels into thousands of new apartments.

Another initiative calls for the city and the state to work together, as the renewal of rent regulation approaches, to inhibit the misuse of vacancy and luxury decontrol stipulations and capital improvement regulations. “Every day in New York City, there are, unfortunately, examples of tenants being quietly or sometimes quite aggressively pushed out of affordable housing,” de Blasio said during the press conference. “We’re going to beef up the enforcement staff at HPD to fight against that. We’re going to go after landlords who unfortunately are violating the law more aggressively.”

De Blasio also has not ignored the importance and economic advantages of sustainable living in the affordable housing endeavor.  Under the pan, the city will work with local utilities to offer energy and water-use retrofits at small and mid-size apartment properties in return for property owners’ commitment to housing affordability.

All This and Jobs, Too

The benefits of the plan extend beyond the actual increase and preservation of affordable residences. A positive offshoot will be the creation of approximately 194,000 construction jobs and nearly 7,100 permanent jobs.

Of course, with any major affordable housing program, money is the big question mark, and de Blasio’s vision has perhaps a bigger price tag attached to it than most. To address this, the mayor will propose a 100 percent increase in the New York Department of Housing Preservation and Development’s annual capital budget, for a total of $2.5 billion.

“Coming up with $41 billion is a pretty big financing gap to fill; it’s a challenging thing to do. But there are some programs out there that have worked,” Beth Mullen, national director in the affordable housing industry practice of national accounting, tax and advisory firm CohnReznick, told Commercial Property Executive. “Maybe one of the biggest challenges is what’s going on in the federal government and at the state level. Obviously, resources at the federal level have been cut and are continuously under threat as we talk about balancing the budget and other issues. So some of the key programs that this whole plan relies on are under attack at the federal level.”

Money is always an issue in the affordable housing world; however, Mullen added, there are, here and there, potential methods of mitigating the hurdles presented by limited subsidies. “Ease up on the restrictions to make the permitting process quicker or come up with ways to come to an agreement on different restrictions or different types of financing,” she suggested. “It seems like every program has got its own set of rules, so if you could perhaps limit it to one set of rules for developers to follow, I think that all of those things contribute to making construction or renovation of properties more achievable with fewer subsidies.”

Overall, de Blasio has put forward ideas that are being well received. Mullen concluded, “(In general) I don’t see a downside to the mayor’s plan.”