Pols, housing advocates call on de Blasio to revamp affordable housing plan

Pols, housing advocates call on de Blasio to revamp affordable housing plan

Pols, housing advocates call on de Blasio to revamp affordable housing plan
January 27, 2016

New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer, Public Advocate Letitia James and Building and Construction Trades Council President Gary LaBarbera joined a few dozen people at City Hall Wednesday to call on Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration to revamp its housing agenda. The group claimed, to date, de Blasio’s plan has targeted fewer low-income residents than former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s plan – an assertion disputed by City Hall.

Real Affordability for All, a coalition of affordable housing advocates, community groups and construction unions, indicated that de Blasio has done little to improve on the record of the previous administration. The group claimed that 5 percent of the 40,000 affordable housing units de Blasio said he’s built or preserved are slated for families earning 30 percent or less of the area median income – a measure of income in the broader metropolitan area – a marginal improvement from 4 percent under Bloomberg. Technically, the 40,000 figure cited by RAFA refers to how many units the administration has secured financing to build or preserve.

However, the group also found that 11 percent of the units built or preserved under de Blasio are reserved for those earning between 31 and 50 percent of the area median income. Under Bloomberg, a larger share – 17 percent – were reserved for this income group.

“We have to ensure that there is lower AMIs; we have to ensure that there is union jobs; we have to ensure this plan is an actual progressive plan,” said Maritza Silva-Farrell, campaign director of Real Affordability for All.

The de Blasio administration said RAFA’s report was skewed because it compared three years of data under Bloomberg to two years under de Blasio, and the coalition’s numbers did not match the city’s data. In all, de Blasio’s office said it has created 1,909 homes for families earning less than 30 percent of the area median income, which exceeds the 1,869 such units financed under the final five years of Bloomberg’s housing plan.

RAFA said it used figures reported in city press releases and compared three years under Bloomberg to two years under de Blasio to ensure a similar cohort of units were being reviewed. The group said its analysts would welcome data from the administration.

Statistical squabbling aside, Stringer, James and LaBarbera said the larger housing agenda advanced by de Blasio should do more to house lower-income families and to incorporate unionized labor.

LaBarbera said 15 of the 16 construction deaths last year occurred on non-union sites, and consequently, the city work with unions to ensure safety standards are met and the workers building affordable units have a shot at being able to afford them.

“Those deaths, those workers are minority workers,” LaBarbera said. “Why has the City Council and why has the administration not stepped up on this issue? Why? I don’t want to draw the conclusion, ‘Because they’re minority workers.’”

The administration said the Department of Buildings hired 100 inspectors and has increased proactive inspections to confront these safety issues. The mayor’s team has said using unionized labor would drive up the cost of construction and cut into its ability to subsidize units for more in need of them. The city Independent Budget Office found a subsidized project’s construction cost went up, on average, about 13 percent when it abided by prevailing wage requirements often sought by unions.

But James and Stringer expressed confidence that labor unions could and should be incorporated into the affordable housing agenda, while still ensuring it provides shelter for poorer families.

“We urge the administration, that if you build, you need to provide good jobs; you need to build union, with standards, so that we can prevent individuals from dying on the job,” James said. “My recommendations are to lower the income eligibility, because the current guidelines exclude more than a quarter of New York City’s households in need of affordable housing.”

James’ office did not directly respond when asked if there was any zoning she weighed in on or witnessed as a City Councilwoman that she would describe as a model for using union labor and providing the deeply affordable homes she said were needed.

Stringer suggested the Clinton community zoning, in the western part of Midtown, may be a viable template, but cautioned that he also believed more community involvement would be key.

“One of the ways to do that is to create special districts, as we did with the Clinton Special District – that’s a plan worth studying,” he said. “If you look at the Clinton community today, the Hell’s Kitchen community, you can actually see where that special district protects the community. Now there are luxury and wealthy buildings around that, but the Clinton district is as strong today as it was back then”

“All of this is about creating a community-based planning process that factors in a lot of things, not just housing, but how a community is going to be created,” he added. “I think that’s been missing in this discussion.”

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Sarina Trangle