Editorial: When affordable housing is a prize

Last week, Blackstone reopened its lottery for reduced rent apartments in Stuyvesant Town, an announcement that was welcome news to the rent burdened but still raised the inevitable question of whether a discount of a few hundred bucks on rents that would otherwise start at over three thousand is truly affordable.

The answer is of course it is not, and it’s still hard to grasp — at least to us — how things got to the point where in order to get an affordable place to live in New York, one literally has to win a lottery. It feels a bit like a dystopian cautionary tale of what could happen when a wealthy politician, untouched by the people’s concerns about the need for affordable living, prefers to simply let the market do its thing. Oh, wait… that actually happened.

Fast forward to the present. Mayor Bill de Blasio has been quick to tout the affordable housing he’s built and preserved, as he promised to do on the campaign trail, but again, the Devil’s in the details. In the case of Stuyvesant Town, the 5,000 units committed to so-called affordability (which start at $2,800 for one-bedrooms) only become available as each rent-stabilized unit turns over. Additionally, half of those units, once vacated due to a tenant moving out or dying, will become market rate. So income eligible market rate residents and others hoping for at least some relief may be in for a very long wait. Note: We don’t blame Blackstone for this 50/50 arrangement, which seems fair, or for reopening the lottery, which as we also reported last week, prompted a few hopeful people we spoke with to try their luck.

Incidentally, one of them, who happens to be running against de Blasio, Joshua Thompson, told T&V, “I’d love to save five to six hundred dollars a month. It’s still not affordable.”

So, while it is a good thing, this lottery is not enough. If entering lotteries and putting names on wait lists is now the only way to keep people from getting priced out of the city in droves, then there needs to be more of them, lots, lots more, and in new buildings, so people in need don’t have to be kept in limbo until a place becomes available.

Additionally, as the Stuy Town lottery has made clear, even households earning incomes that total six figures can find themselves unable to afford much of the market rate housing that’s out there, so the city needs to keep a variety of incomes in mind when offering incentives to developers in exchange for some discounted units.

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