New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio's bold plan to build 200,000 affordable units in New York City over the next ten years was designed to serve as a protective measure against resident displacement. Unfortunately, it's turning out that the one-size-fits-all prophylactic it was intended for may do more harm than good.
First, let's look at the word "affordable." Affordable for whom?
For example, the Brooklyn neighborhood of East New York-- already deemed the next new target for mass development (read: gentrification)-- is first up on the mayor's list for rezoning for affordable housing. However, according to a report released today by New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer, these so-called affordable units (at around $1,300/mo), by the City's own standards would be too expensive for 55 percent of the neighborhood's current residents.
"There's nothing affordable about a housing plan that is beyond the reach of half the community," said Stringer.
And unlike neighborhoods like Fort Greene and Clinton Hill, which have enforceable rent regulation laws, and Greenpoint and Williamsburg which have enforceable rules prohibiting tenant harassment, East New York has zero protection for 21,788 units that house low-income tenants. In other words, once the rezoning and development is completed, it will potentially displace close to 50,000 of its current residents.
The number of rent stabilized units in the 37th Council District (which includes part of East New York and the surrounding communities) already has dropped by more than 14 percent between 2007 and 2014 —the eighth largest decline among the City's 51 Council Districts. The rezoning will only add fuel to the fire.
Stringer noted that for generations, East New York has been overlooked and under-resourced by the City in the way of its schools, parks, public transit and affordable housing. He added, the City's new plan to add a large number of so-called affordable and market rate units would make matters worse by effectively pushing more than half of its residents right out of the neighborhood.
According to the report, the rezoning plan would add a total of 6,312 new apartments to the neighborhood. However just 1,724 of these would be affordable rental units available to existing neighborhood residents, and in certain circumstances that number could drop to low as 948 units.
The report shows East New York's Area Median Income (AMI) at $32,815. Using City and State metrics which define an affordable rent as 30 percent of income, a family of three would have to earn at least $46,620 a year to afford one of the new units-- a difference of nearly $14,000 between what it would cost and what a family actually earns.
Further, for that same family to move into a market-rate unit in that same new building, it would have to make upwards of $83,484 — more than double the current AMI in East New York and still far beyond the median income for Brooklyn, which was $47,520 in 2013.
Comptroller Stringer shared the data with the City Planning Commission on Wednesday, along with a letter addressed to the commission's Chair Carl Weisbrod: "Instead of strengthening the affordability of this community, the proposed rezoning would serve as an engine for displacement," said Stringer in the letter.
The Comptroller urged the commission to "amend the current proposal and chart an alternate course," one that abandons the one-size-fits-all approach to rezoning based off a citywide standard and instead takes into full account the income levels of each local community.
Another recommendation was to included establishing clear, enforceable rules prohibiting the harassment of existing tenants to reduce the threat of displacement.
"We have to do this right," said Stringer. "One-size-fits-all doesn't work for New York City. We must find ways to ensure community-based development is the way we move forward together.
"When it comes to urban planning, we need to do a better job of listening to existing communities, engaging residents, and considering the long term impact of rezoning on the people who have lived in our neighborhoods most, if not all, of their lives."
Listening to and engaging the current, local residents in the planning process.
How about that? Maybe it made too much sense.
*To read the full report, go here.*