February 15, 2008
NO PLACE LIKE HOME
Donovan assesses housing progress
On Wednesday a panel of experts said that Mayor Michael Bloomberg's 10-year plan to create or preserve 165,000 affordable housing units by 2013 is on track, with 70,000 units already completed. But advocates for the indigent and homeless say that not enough of the $7.5 billion project brings housing to the homeless.
The presentation summarized the New York City Independent Budget Office (IBO) report, which was issued at the request of the Women's City Club (WCC) of New York and Housing First! The expert panel included WCC Vice President of Public Policy Barbara Zucker, Housing First! Coordinator David Muchnick, IBO Deputy Director Preston Niblack and New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) Commissioner Shaun Donovan.
The panel unanimously praised the progress of the Mayor's plan but expressed concern that as it shifts from restoration of properties to building new apartments, the pace of development could slow. There is no way of knowing if a future mayor will complete the project, but the Mayor's office is hoping to lay the groundwork, citing former Mayor Koch's plan, which was completed by Mayor Dinkins.
Homes for the homeless?
Sixty-eight percent of the planned 165,000 housing units are set aside for "low income" residents—defined as families of four earning $57,000 a year or $39,700 for a single person. Eleven percent of the units are for "moderate income" households—families of four who earn up to $85,080. Twenty-one percent of the housing units will be set aside for "middle income households," or families of four earning between $85,080 and $141,750 for a family of four.
According to the IBO study, of the units completed by 2006, 80 percent were for low-income households. The IBO broke "low-income" down into more specific categories. Of completed low-income residences, 25 percent were for households that make less than $21,270 a year, and another 32 percent were for households that make between $21,270 and $35,450. But the Partnership for the Homeless (PFTH) argues that 75 percent of the planned 165,000 affordable housing units should go to those making between $21,270 and $42,540.
"We work with home health aids and security guards, and we're trying to increase their incomes. In the meantime they need housing," said Heidi Siegfried, a PFTH supervising attorney who attended the panel. "We need new constructions for these families. I don't understand why we are building housing for those who make incomes twice what I make."
Frank Clark, currently homeless and living in the shelter system, agreed. "This presentation didn't answer the question of how to deal with New Yorkers in poverty and the growing homeless population that is a result of the housing market," Clark, a representative with Picture the Homeless, told the Update.
Muchnick, while praising the Mayor's plan, also questioned how well it will address the city's increasing rates of homelessness. According to the HPD, although no housing is specifically set aside for the homeless population there are 3,000 units of supportive housing, plus 9,000 additional units supplied by NY/NY III, a joint city-state housing project.
When Siegfried asked Donovan why housing subsidies are being provided to New Yorkers making six-figures, he responded that the plan attempts to strike a balance between providing housing for low-income residents and the middle-class, who are leaving the city for affordable housing elsewhere. "Twenty years ago, when you asked middle-income people why they are leaving the city, it was because of crime or schools. Now the reason is housing," Donovan said. "When we talk about a housing plan, we're talking about subsidized housing and keeping housing below market values. But within that world there's the broader universe of 'market-based' housing and we can't control that."