Before she was Deputy Mayor for Housing and Economic Development, Alicia Glen was a star at Goldman Sachs, where she led the investment bank’s division focused on affordable housing.
But Glen’s detractors argue she’s brought a for-profit investment model from Wall Street into government, leaving deeply affordable housing by the wayside while subsidizing too high a share of middle- and upper-income apartments. And on Monday, a coalition of 10 affordable housing advocacy groups — many of whom announced their intentions in May to continually agitate Glen — penned a letter to Mayor Bill de Blasio, demanding that he immediately fire his housing czar.
The alliance of anti-Glen groups includes New York Communities for Change, the Met Council on Housing, the Black Institute, Tenants PAC and six others. All are members of the larger initiative known as Real Affordability For All.
Though some of these groups have long attempted to paint Glen as an industry plant, they’re changing the strategy to put more direct pressure on de Blasio — who is virtually certain to win another four-year term in November. They’re hoping he’ll boot Glen and find someone who will push for more lower-income housing.
“Glen has been the biggest obstacle to ensuring that your housing policies meet the needs of low-income and moderate-income New Yorkers hit hardest by the affordability crisis,” the letter to the mayor reads.
In response, Melissa Grace, City Hall’s spokesperson for housing, would only say: “This letter is ridiculous.” She did not take the opportunity to comment on whether a mayoral deputy could be an “obstacle” to the mayor doing things he would really like to do.
Not every housing group buys into the idea that Glen is subverting de Blasio’s true housing hopes, however. Earlier this year, Javier Valdés of Make the Road New York, which is not participating in the anti-Glen campaign, told the New York Times that “the mandate” on housing ultimately comes from the mayor, not from Glen.
Glen, speaking of herself and de Blasio, told Vanity Fair in 2015 that the Goldman Sachs caste “all think we’re raving Communists,” a statement that could be read as an attempt to prove progressive bona fides.
The city regularly points to the fact that Glen and de Blasio are more than one-third of the way to achieving their goal of creating or preserving 200,000 units of affordable housing.
But the deals the city cuts with affordable developers don’t play well for the dissenting advocacy groups, who want much deeper affordability on projects benefiting from city-owned land, tax subsidy or other public fundings mechanisms. They complain that the administration has signed off on nearly as many units for three-person families making more than $85,900 as for households that make no more than $25,000.
“Who you appoint to be in charge of the program is a policy decision,” said Katie Goldstein of the New York State Tenants and Neighbors group, which co-signed the letter. “We need to have someone who has extensive experience from the non-profit housing community.”
In addition to working with more nonprofits and building more lower-income units, Goldstein and other advocates want the disposition of public sites to go to more thoroughly affordable developments. Market-rate condos planned for the Bedford Armory in Crown Heights, a city-controlled site, have been targeted by activists who think the master redevelopment plan does not include enough low-income housing.
“It’s a bleak picture out here,” the letter to Glen presses, “homelessness is at its highest since the Great Depression, and tenants are being displaced as rents rise, wages stay stagnant, and new housing is constructed for high-income earners in low-income neighborhoods slated for rezoning.”
The letter concludes by saying the group would like to provide the city with a list of suitable replacements for Glen, who also worked in the Giuliani administration. Goldstein said they are not ready to publicly name names, however.
In a recent interview with New York Magazine, the mayor described a “socialistic impulse” that he said many New Yorkers have when it comes to housing policy. “Look, if I had my druthers,” he said, “the city government would determine every single plot of land, how development would proceed.”
Developers reacted predictably. “He went straight to Chairman Mao,” one real estate executive told The Real Deal last month.