By LYNN EDMONDS
With rents rising faster than wages and a homelessness crisis that has wracked the city, City Hall is looking for ways to keep New York affordable.
The aim for Borough President Melinda Katz is to prevent the displacement of thousands of residents throughout the city, especially senior citizens who can no longer afford the neighborhoods they’ve lived in their whole lives and working families who are struggling to gain financial stability.
At a media roundtable in January, Katz spoke about how the issue of affordable housing was close to her heart.
“I’m the mother of a four year old and a seven year old, and what is clear to me, is you cannot focus on the rest of the world unless your children are safe in a warm place to live, and unless you know that you’re going to have that place to live the next month,” she said.
But by no means is there consensus on the best way to achieve the goal of creating affordable housing.
While Mayor bill de Blasio has taken on the issue with his Mandatory Inclusionary Housing plan as well as Zoning for Quality and Affordability text, Queens Community Boards have generally not welcomed these proposals. Eleven of Queens’ 14 Community Boards voted not to approve ZQA and 10 of them voted against MIH.
The plans call for modifying existing regulations so that they are friendlier to developers, in exchange for requiring them to set aside a certain percentage of units for low to middle income earners.
Criticisms have revolved around the hot-button issue of parking, as the plan would eliminate certain parking requirements, as well as a concern that the planned “affordable” housing would still be too expensive for current residents.
The price point for affordable housing is to be set using the city-wide annual medium income. But in Queens’ neighborhoods like Flushing, the average family of four’s income is $39,000, as compared to the citywide average of $78,000. Thus new developments that use the Citywide AMI as a measuring stick would still likely be out of reach for many residents.
The community boards weren’t the only ones that turned down MIH and ZQA.
Katz was another voice that spoke out against them, ahead of the borough board vote on Dec. 1, 2015.
“The breadth of neighborhoods in a city like New York requires far more nuanced and strategically planned re-zonings instead of a wholesale ‘one size fits all’ approach,” Katz said.
In a later phone interview she elaborated.
“It’s the ZQA that’s really the issue, to a large extent, on my part. I think that we need parking for units of housing that are put up, whether they’re affordable or market rate,” Katz said. “I find the affordable housing text amendment [MIH] to be less problematic. I do wish it was more of a neighborhood negotiation and that is wasn’t one-size-fits-all.”
She added that she had concerns about the senior housing as well.
“The senior housing is really not permanent. It’s dependent upon the not for profit or whoever is providing it. And I think we need to have some semblance of permanent affordable housing.”
Nonetheless, Katz praised the mayor for taking on the issue of affordable housing.
“One of the things I have respected about this mayor is that he does take on big issues,” she said in a phone interview.
And at her media roundtable in January, Katz didn’t focus too much on her differences with the mayor regarding strategy. She highlighted instead the belief that they seemed to both share: that, at least in part, the City must develop its way out of an affordable housing crisis.
“We may agree or disagree sometimes on how to get there, but the one thing that I believe is necessary in the City of New York is that we create more affordable housing units,” Katz said.
But that didn’t just mean designating more units as affordable.
“We need to create more inventory,” Katz said.