Mayor’s housing plan has tenant protections

By Sabina Mollot

Mayor de Blasio, then a candidate, was endorsed by TenantsPAC in Stuyvesant Town last August. Pictured with de Blasio is Tenants PAC Treasuer Mike McKee on the mayor's right and ST-PCV Tenants Association President John Marsh (also a TenantsPAC member) to his left.

Mayor de Blasio, then a candidate, was endorsed by TenantsPAC in Stuyvesant Town last August. Pictured with de Blasio is Tenants PAC Treasurer Mike McKee on the mayor’s right and ST-PCV Tenants Association President John Marsh (also a TenantsPAC member) to his left. Photo by Sabina Mollot

On Monday, Mayor de Blasio unveiled his long-awaited plan that would create or preserve 200,000 units of affordable housing throughout the city over the next decade. The proposal, with its $41 billion pricetag, would mostly preserve existing affordable units –120,000 — while building 80,000 new ones. There would be a focused effort on city agencies using “every tool at their disposal to protect tenants in both subsidized affordable housing and rent-regulated housing from the tide of deregulation,” the mayor announced.

To accomplish this, the city would work with the state as rent regulation comes up for renewal in 2015 “to prevent abuses of the vacancy and luxury decontrol provisions and capital improvement rules.” The city would also more closely scrutinize situations of landlord harassment or neglect and possibly step in with legal action. There would also be increased support for seniors through Section 8 vouchers if they have declining incomes, working with NYCHA to implement more senior housing in its developments and expanding eligibility for SCRIE (Senior Citizen Rent increase Exemption).

De Blasio also promised to work with communities to develop housing on vacant lots, create “quality” construction jobs and cut down on red tape that would slow down development or raise construction costs. Additionally, any rezoning aimed at building bigger to accommodate more housing would require that some of that housing would be affordable. The city would also launch a mixed-income program where 50 percent of units in these “projects” would be set aside for middle-income households, and the remaining 20 and 30 percent, respectively, set aside for low and moderate income households. The Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) would see its budget doubled.

In response to the 115-page plan, tenant advocates, landlords and politicians have mostly been singing the mayor’s praises, although some have expressed concerns.

TenantsPAC Treasurer Mike McKee said the goals were good in some ways but fell short in others.

The good news, said McKee, was where new housing is concerned. “In terms of production, he’s gotten away from the 80/20 model and is more realistic” with a higher percentage of affordable units. But, he added, “Where it’s deficient is in preserving rent regulated housing. Instead of calling for a repeal of vacancy decontrol, which is what he promised when he was running, he talks about ending the abuses of vacancy decontrol. It’s worded very carefully. If you want to end the abuses of vacancy decontrol, you have to repeal it.”

McKee added, “If the mayor doesn’t close the loopholes in the rent laws, we’re going to lose more apartments in the next 10 years than he can build.”

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, meanwhile, said she had some concerns about the mayor’s plan, though she was otherwise impressed.

“In particular, his proposal to double the HPD budget would provide necessary resources,” she said, “and his call for mandatory inclusionary housing would ensure there are units available for various income levels in all neighborhoods. The mayor also proposes a respectful and neighborhood-focused approach to exploring new developments on NYCHA property.”

Still, said Brewer, she noted “major concerns” about efforts to downsize Section 8 residents to smaller units, and said the use of single room occupancy (SRO) buildings, many of which have vacant units, has yet to be addressed.

The plan also has some in the real estate industry worried. Bob Knakal, chairman of brokerage Massey Knakal, suggested the requirements for landlords to include affordable units could end up backfiring.

“Anything that creates more requirements means that developers can afford to pay less for land,” said Knakal. “When sellers are offered less, they don’t sell. The net result in the short term is that there will be fewer affordable units built.”

Others, however, expressed nothing but glowing praise for the proposals in statements released by the mayor’s office.

One of the supporters, Archbishop of New York Timothy Dolan, said the church looks forward to working with the city on the plan.

“New York City’s current crisis of housing affordability threatens the basic human right to decent housing,” said Dolan. “Since the 1960s, the Catholic Church in all boroughs of New York City, through parishes, religious communities, community-based organizations and Catholic Charities, has been at the heart of the development and preservation of affordable housing.

“I applaud the Mayor’s far-reaching 10-year plan to build and preserve 200,000 affordable housing units throughout our city, and the Church in all boroughs of New York City looks forward to continuing to work with NYC and Mayor de Blasio to help achieve this important affordable housing goal.”

Steven Spinola, president of the Real Estate Board of New York (of which Rob Speyer is the chairman), said the mayor’s plan “identifies the problems and provides a realistic roadmap for solutions. The Real Estate Board of New York looks forward to working with the administration to implement these critical objectives.”

Adam Weinstein, owner of Phipps Houses, a not-for-profit owner with buildings in Kips Bay, said, “The commitment to capital is among other things an amazing step forward for affordable housing.”

State Senator Brad Hoylman praised the mayor’s “bold and ambitious” plan, which, he noted, marks a “significant departure” from the previous administration’s hands off approach to the housing market.

“The Mayor’s plan will help keep our diverse communities intact and the local economy moving in the right direction,” he said.

State Senator Liz Krueger said she thought “there’s much to be thrilled about” in the plan, in particular the mayor’s willingness to work to repeal the Urstadt Law, which currently gives the state’s legislators the power to set the rent policies for the city.

State Senator (and Senate Democrat co-leader) Jeff Klein praised the plan and said the government has an obligation to not let working class New Yorkers get “squeezed out” when attempting to set down roots.

“At the same time, we must also focus on expanding the ranks of the middle class, which is why I first proposed the creation of a Mitchell-Lama 2020 plan that will add hundreds of thousands of new middle-income housing throughout the entire state,” said Klein.

However, despite his support of the plan, McKee has called Klein the biggest impediment to affordable housing and a tool of the real estate industry. TenantsPAC is currently supporting Klein’s opponent, Oliver Koppell. The reason, said McKee, is that when the Senate Democrats briefly had the majority, Klein blocked any pro-tenant legislation from getting through.

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