NYC in danger of becoming “a gated community”

Development experts riff on the city’s affordable housing crisis

From left: Jack Nyman and Vicki Been
From left: Jack Nyman and Vicki Been

Rent costs are a severe burden for a third of New Yorkers, and the city is at risk of becoming a gated community unless it can solve its affordability crisis, housing experts said at a conference this morning.

“The number one expense for New Yorkers,” said Jack Nyman, executive director of the Steven L. Newman Real Estate Institute and the organizer of the Implementing Affordable: New York’s Affordable Housing Crisis conference, said on Wednesday, “is living.”

Addressing a packed conference room at Baruch College — across the street from where, a fortnight ago, Mayor Bill de Blasio delivered his state of the city address — Nyman said that New York City is in danger of losing its character. Referring to the 70,000 people who applied for 38 affordable units in Williamsburg in December, Nyman said that the city is at risk of becoming “a gated community.”

NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development Commissioner Vicki Been, the keynote speaker at the conference, said that 56 percent of New Yorkers are “rent-burdened,” and for one-third of New Yorkers, the problems were severe.

“For these families, the affordable housing crisis is not an abstraction,” she added.

The de Blasio administration’s plan to tackle the issue will require $8.2 billion in city capital and funds, Been said, adding that the city already invested $400 million in 2014 alone. That $400 million had also been used to leverage private investments at a ratio of 8:1, she said.

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HPD set a goal of financing 16,000 affordable units last year — a goal it exceeded by almost 1,400 units, Been, formerly the director of NYU’s Furman Center, said. “Our progress to date shows that our goals are not only ambitious, but doable,” she said. “They’re bold, not crazy.”

De Blasio has called for the city to ramp up new construction. To act on this, Been said that the HPD is “looking high and low across the five boroughs for land on which to build. “We’re looking for land wherever it is, under every railroad track” she said. But, “we’re not just plopping down buildings,” she said. “We’re also building neighborhoods.”

Franklin Avenue in East New York

Franklin Avenue in East New York

To that end, HPD has formed a new office, the Office of Neighborhood Strategies, which deputy HPD commissioner Daniel Hernandez said was dealing with neighborhood residents’ concerns of displacement in the face of increased density. The HPD has taken some stick for its initial forays into Brooklyn’s East New York neighborhood, some residents of which see the city’s development efforts as a mechanism of gentrification. “Getting into neighborhoods, we’re not great at,” Hernandez acknowledged. “But we’re great about getting the word out.”

“The concerns aren’t about housing,” another panelist, Howard Slatkin, deputy executive director of strategic planning for the Department of City Planning, added. “It’s about the implication of the housing.”

Nyman was cautiously optimistic about New York’s ability to tackle the affordability crisis. “The mayor is focusing his administration to preserve affordable housing as a precious component of this city,” he told The Real Deal. “Will the goal, if it is met, be effective at bridging the gap?” he asked, referring to the mayor’s 200,000 number. “Only time will tell.”