Reflections on de Blasio's housing plan: What about families now?

Jun 24, 2014 | Jennifer Vallone

In early May, Mayor Bill de Blasio released a ten-year housing plan to protect and expand housing affordability across all five boroughs. The plan would serve more than half a million New Yorkers, representing a $41 billion investment. University Settlement's Jennifer Vallone – a senior staff member and director of our eviction prevention program, Project Home – shares her thoughts on the plan:

The Mayor's plan is much more ambitious than previous plans and promises to build or preserve 200,000 units of affordable housing over 10 years —60% of the units will be preserved and 40% will be new construction. It is a vast relief to hear an elected official talk openly about truly affordable housing for extremely low-income New Yorkers — a group almost always left out of housing conversations and plans.

Mayor de Blasio's use of mandatory inclusionary zoning is something that the housing community has been demanding for a while, and it is nice to see a rebalancing of the wants of developers with the needs of low-income tenants. I'm thrilled that the Mayor has said developers are "required" to build affordable housing; left to their own devices, they do not invest in truly affordable housing. His emphasis on individual communities as his team figures out mandatory inclusionary zoning is great and much better than a one-size-fits-all approach for all five boroughs. For example, high density buildings are a must and will fit in some neighborhoods, while others will need a different approach to preserve their historic character. There should be room for low to moderate income tenants in every neighborhood in NYC, and his plan to have mixed-income programs that incorporate a percentage of apartments in new developments targeted to the extremely low-income and another percentage for moderate and middle income residents ensures that buildings will have a vibrant, integrated feel.

The Mayor talked about preserving the affordability and quality of the existing housing stock and mentions the need to coordinate with neighborhood and community groups to identify areas at risk of gentrification. This allows the city to allocate resources to those areas most at risk of losing their affordable housing stock or at risk of having tenants pushed out of their homes due to larger economic forces. More details on how this will be executed are needed to protect our communities.

It's refreshing that Mayor de Blasio talked about new strategies to improve the housing stock to ensure that tenants live in safe homes. It's also critical that he discussed stemming the tide of state-regulated rent by asking the state legislature for "home rule" for NYC; this would effectively give the city ownership of its own rent regulation policies, as compared to upstate officials who do not face the same issues and are often buffeted by real estate interests.

I still have some concerns. How do we help tenants who are at risk of losing their homes right now because they have become unaffordable? Here's an example: a family of five came to us through our new court navigator program. There are two working parents who have low-wage jobs and have to support their three children. Their rent is $40 over the Family Eviction Prevention Supplement (FEPS) limit; FEPS — an enhanced rental subsidy to help low-income parents — will not assist them and the landlord refuses to lower the rent a mere $40 to the FEPS cap. This family is now stuck in an apartment that they cannot afford and are just out of reach for assistance they so desperately need. Fortunately, University Settlement's Court Navigators Program is working with them in the city's Housing Court, providing trained guidance and information to aid them through the legal process.

Ultimately, there are many positive steps forward. But there needs to be more eviction prevention! We need a firm commitment from Mayor de Blasio and the City Council for more resources to provide legal services to those in danger of eviction. We also need to reevaluate how the FEPS subsidy is applied. A ten-year plan is an essential move towards the future – but what about the families in need now?

To read a detailed overview of the housing plan, check out the official press release.


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