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New York City has a new mayor, and if his State of the City address in January is any indication, his top priority is affordable housing.
In his speech on February 3, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio focused on the problem of economic inequality. And at the heart of that, he argued, is access to housing. The New York Times reports here (see: "State of City Address: Full of Ambition, but Light on Details," by Michael M. Grynbaum). "Mr. de Blasio, a Democrat and liberal champion, is determined to harness his civic toolbox of housing programs and zoning rules to an overarching purpose: curbing economic inequality," the Times reports. "'Nothing more expresses the inequality gap, the opportunity gap, than the soaring cost of housing,' the mayor said in his remarks, which lasted 75 minutes. Without a change in housing policy, he said, 'New York risks taking on the qualities of a gated community, a place defined by exclusivity rather than opportunity.'"
Not surprisingly, reaction to the Mayor's vision statement was mixed, even critical. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo's office threw cold water immediately on de Blasio's suggestion that the city could redevelop Sunnyside Yards, a Queens rail depot, for housing. According to a spokesperson for the governor's office, the yards are "not available" because of state control. (De Blasio's staff countered that at least part of the site is owned by Amtrak, which they say is open to the idea.)
The Mayor's plan relies heavily on proposed construction in parts of the city that are at risk from flooding — and many of which in fact flooded during Hurricane Sandy. Inside Climate News reported, "These areas include Long Island City, Staten Island, the Rockaways and East Brooklyn, according to the plan de Blasio outlined yesterday in an unusual single-focus State of the City address. While the program will create jobs and help bridge the gap between rich and poor, it will also have to be carried out carefully to avoid putting more people in danger as water levels rise because of global warming, some New York environmental leaders said." (See: "De Blasio Plans Affordable Housing in Areas Swamped by Hurricane Sandy," by Katherine Bagley).
But these polite objections pale beside the reactions of some residents of the city's boroughs — people who fear that whatever happens with the Mayor's proposals, they are likely to lose out. The New York Times has this story about the political blowback on the street (see: "Some See Risk in de Blasio's Bid to Add Housing," by Vivian Yee and Mireya Navarro).
"Around New York, people who have watched luxury buildings and wealthy newcomers remake their streets are balking at the growth Mr. de Blasio envisions, saying the influx of market-rate apartments called for in the city's plans could gut neighborhoods, not preserve them," the Times reports. "'We see what's going on around in the city,' said Joyce Scott-Brayboy, 58, a local community board member and retired city worker. 'No to that in East New York. No. No.'"
Discussions of affordable housing, like other policy debates, involve confusion over the meaning of "affordable." What does that mean in New York City? The Staten Island Advance takes a look (see: "What is 'affordable housing'? Understanding the term within mayor's plan for the city," by Rachel Shapiro.
The Advance looked at the city's description of the Mayor's plan, published as a 117-page PDF on the city's web site (see: "Housing New York: A Five-Borough, Ten-Year Plan").
"[The plan] considers Area Median Income -- AMI -- also known as Median Family Income, when determining eligibility for residents of affordable housing developments," reports the Advance. "AMI is the point at which half the households in an area make less and half make more. The median annual income figures are adjusted for family size and calculated annually by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for every regional area in the country. The AMI for New York City in 2014 was $83,900 for a four-person household. Because the mayor's plan is to provide 'affordable housing' for four income categories, the formula used to determine eligibility gets convoluted. The four categories are: very low income (below 50 percent of AMI) including extremely low income, or below 30 percent of AMI; low income (50 to 80 percent of AMI); moderate income (81 to 120 percent of AMI); and middle income (121 to 165 percent of AMI). A de Blasio spokesman said that while the city will use the federal guidelines outlined above, 'every neighborhood will be a little different' and will develop properties that fit in with their surroundings."