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New York Daily News

 

A Better Way To Back NYCHA

August 20, 2013

By Howard Husock

The Bloomberg administration’s announcement Friday that it’s pushing ahead with its plan to invite private developers to erect market-rate housing on available land in eight of New York’s large public housing projects will provide the current crop of mayoral candidates, especially Democrats, a tempting target.

It might seem, after all, to fit the populist narrative of a city government that works more for the rich than for the poor.

As a matter of timing, the new mayor will inherit these proposals — and may be tempted to dismiss a plan that began with a lame-duck administration. But that’s an instinct that the next mayor, even if that person is a liberal Democrat, should resist, since the proposal, in reality, stands to benefit the city’s poor.

Not only is it one of the few practical ideas aimed at restoring the city’s dangerously dilapidated, 186,000-unit public housing system — by far the nation’s largest — but if offers a way, as well, to relieve real-estate pressure on low-income neighborhoods around the city.

As Daily News readers know, NYCHA housing is in serious disrepair — with long waits the norm for even simple repairs and longer ones, still, to meet the huge backlog of major capital projects. NYCHA estimates the system needs more than $6 billion in investment — money that tenant rents can’t come close to covering and federal aid no longer provides.

But new, privately owned housing on vacant plazas and parking lots could provide a stream of income for NYCHA — $30 million to $50 million a year. It’s a start.

If this seems like the gentrification of projects like the Baruch Houses on the Lower East Side or the Washington Houses in East Harlem (two of the eight proposed sites) it’s actually the opposite.

Public housing tenants themselves, despite (understandable) concern, can’t be replaced by wealthy newcomers; NYCHA, by definition, serves those of low income. In other words, those who believe in mixed-income neighborhoods would, by supporting the proposal, be taking steps to create new ones.

What’s more, those who fear the displacement of low-income households in an expanding ring of outer-borough neighborhoods should cheer the idea as well.

An increased supply of market-rate housing on public housing sites, where those of low-income will not be displaced, will serve to relieve market pressures in Brooklyn and upper Manhattan. When there’s new supply to meet demand, there will be a safety valve for such pressure.

Private developers — whom the city has invited to respond to its “request for expressions of interest” — will have good reason to do so. Finding already assembled real estate cleared for development is among the city’s greatest barriers to new construction. Put another way, it’s important for those concerned about housing affordability to encourage — indeed, enable — construction of housing of all kinds.

Census data shows that, surprisingly, New York — despite its reputation for welcoming newcomers intent on making it in the big city — has the lowest housing turnover rate (just 11.4% a year) of the 10 largest U.S. cities.

Because they have limited new housing options, New Yorkers stay put.

New construction for the affluent can mean new housing options for other income groups, as units are vacated. Housing experts call this “filtering” — and it’s a better approach than building yet more subsidized housing at a time when the city is hard-pressed to pay for the essential services it must provide for all citizens.

Of course, this is not to say that NYCHA can neglect the details here. It will be crucial to the future attractiveness of the private, mixed-income housing (20% will be set aside as affordable) for the adjoining public housing to remain in good condition. Thus, at least 50% of lease revenues should be dedicated to the projects immediately adjacent — and developers should be asked, even before they break ground, to show good faith by repairing playgrounds and other public areas.

The mayor on Friday said he would stop short of calling for formal requests for proposals, leaving that to his successor. Instead, developers will offer specifics — including for improvements that will benefit project residents — with the hope of building momentum for the idea that will carry over into next year.

As mayoral candidates from Bill de Blasio to Christine Quinn continue to beat the drum for the construction of yet more subsidized housing in the city, which already has by far the most in the nation, let’s hope the outgoing administration’s prudent proposal reminds them another approach is possible: preserve and maintain the low-income housing we already have.

Original Source: http://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/better-back-nycha-article-1.1429431

 

 
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