80-20 tax breaks seen as “most inefficient” housing program

November 01, 2013 09:30AM

While the mayoral candidates agree that more affordable housing is needed in New York City, a debate rages on about how best to provide it.

Using the so-called 80-20 program, developers like Joseph Moinian have built subsidized housing into glassy new towers, such as a 656-foot tower at West 42nd Street at 11th Avenue that offers a basketball court and indoor and outdoor swimming pools. But housing advocates urge the city and developers alike to look into more pragmatic options — perhaps in less tony neighborhoods and with fewer bells and whistles.

City officials told the Wall Street Journal that market-rate buildings using 80-20 and comparable programs have provided about 6,470 affordable apartments since 2004. Critics say the tax-exempt bonds the city has access to — about $1.9 billion in bonds per year — are all being eaten up by that type of project, however, when other more affordable projects of greater numbers could be built.

“It is about the most inefficient way, from the taxpayer’s point of view, to provide affordable housing,” Benjamin Dulchin, executive director of the Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development, a coalition of nonprofit developers, told the Journal.

Developers, for their part, claim that help from tax-exempt bonds and other subsidies are the only way to make a project pencil out financially.

“We can’t make rental projects work without the benefits of inclusionary zoning, and tax exemptions,” Jon McMillan, an executive vice president of residential developer TF Cornerstone, told the Journal. TF Cornerstone is currently seeking approval to build a Far West Side tower with 1,189 apartments, including 238 affordable units, the Journal said.

“We are doing the most common thing developers are doing now,” he said. [WSJ] — Guelda Voien