Jessica Katz oversees multiple New York City agencies as chief housing officer, including the New York City Housing Authority and the city Department of Housing Preservation and Development. The Eric Adams appointee is staying optimistic about what the city got from the state budget to put toward affordable housing, despite the fact that the governor fell short of her ambitious housing goals. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
While New York City has its own ambitious housing plans, there is a lot of overlap between those goals. With the Hochul administration’s housing plan put on hold, does the city need to adjust its outlook on housing or its goal to build 500,000 units in the next decade?
Well, let me start with the good news about what’s in the budget. I think a lot of ink has been spilled about what went wrong. And I just want to highlight the fact that a major achievement in this year’s Albany budget, which is the tenant (Emergency Rental Assistance Program) money for NYCHA tenants. That was a really, really important kind of threshold issue for us. NYCHA tenants were excluded from the ERAP program previously, when all their other neighbors were able to participate with it. And we were really proud to work with the state and Albany to make sure that money made its way into the budget. We are, with our “Get Stuff Built” report, doing everything that is just in our control alone, in terms of our zoning and our codes and our procedures, to try to build as much housing as quickly as possible. We put record amounts of capital into our capital budget for affordable housing. So we are full speed ahead on everything that we are able to do. But, that said, there are significant tools that come from Albany, in particular, our tax tools that we are looking to Albany to help achieve. It’ll be a real shame if we can’t get them. If we get them in this session, we’ll be really proud.
The New York City Housing Authority has a huge backlog of maintenance. How important do you think it is that the housing authority be able to catch up on that backlog? What will happen to the larger affordable housing picture if more NYCHA units are lost to disrepair and disinvestment from Congress?
I mean, I can’t speak to the rest of the state, but in NYCHA, in particular, there’s hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers who live in NYCHA housing. That’s the size of but what most people would consider a fairly large city across the U.S. So there’s two ways that you expand housing supply. One is by building new, and one is by preserving what you got. And again, NYCHA is the most at risk and the most deeply affordable. So certainly, it’s not new construction, but it’s certainly any housing supply and supply and demand aspect of our housing plan NYCHA’s going to play a central role in. So we’re really happy that we’re getting that leg up from the state budget this year.
There is wide agreement that more needs to be done to address the affordable housing crisis. Do you think lawmakers, activists and other stakeholders are closer to the type of big changes most agree are necessary to tackle the issue?
I think the various parties are more aligned than they’ve ever been. For the first time in my career, I’ve got a mayor and a governor who are aligned, not just on housing policy, but in general, which I can’t tell you what a difference that makes when you’re trying to make very complicated and nuanced (and) detailed policy decisions. There’s really no silver bullet left in housing; we did all the easy stuff. So at this point, we have a variety of different tools that we need to help take a bite out of the housing problem. And I think because the housing crisis has gotten so bad, it has led to a much wider group of stakeholders who are not going to rest until we solve it. So I think we’re closer than we’ve ever been, I have to retain some optimism that we’ll make some progress this year. I’ve got to hold Albany to its word that they wanted this to be a big housing year, and that it still can be. And I think that there’s a variety of different pathways to get there.