For five years, Alicia Glen wielded an enormous amount of power as Mayor Bill de Blasio’s deputy mayor for housing and economic development. Glen, a former Goldman Sachs executive who was often accused of being too cozy with developers ("dying for a hamburger and bottle of Montrachet” she confided to one developer and friend), oversaw the rollout of the mayor’s new ferry system, the ongoing crisis in the city’s public housing authority, the botched deal with Amazon, and the administration’s plan to build and preserve 300,000 units of affordable housing by 2026. In December, Glen announced her departure, and on Thursday morning de Blasio tapped Vicki Been to take her place.
Been was de Blasio’s Housing Preservation and Development Commissioner from 2014 to 2017, and is currently an NYU law professor and the director of the Furman Center. At a press conference announcing her appointment, Been said that NYCHA is her chief concern.
“My top priority is getting NYCHA back on track. Making that path a path forward that puts it on a course that won’t—that nobody can turn back from,” Been told reporters.
NYCHA is home to about 400,000 New Yorkers, and needs more than $30 billion in repairs and replacements over the next five years. The authority hasn’t had a permanent leader since April of 2018—Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia took over as interim chair from 81-year-old Stanley Brezenoff in February. Around 61,000 apartments in 21 different complexes, which is around a third of NYCHA’s housing stock, are set to be managed by private developers, and the city also wants to develop some parcels of land to help pay for the improvements.
The de Blasio administration recently agreed to a deal with the federal government that would impose a monitor to oversee the authority (but would provide no additional funding).
“The federal government, of course, starved NYCHA for resources for decades and the price of that neglect hit us in the face, it came due,” Been said.
In January, the de Blasio administration announced that they had created and preserved a total of 122,000 affordable units out of their goal of 300,000, but only 16 percent of those apartments were for homeless New Yorkers, or those making just 30 percent of the Area Median Income—$21,930 for an individual or $28,178 for a family of three.
Been said that tools to address the needs of these New Yorkers already exist—like the Our Space subsidy open to developers who set aside homes for very poor New Yorkers—but that they needed to be streamlined and applied more rigorously.
“So it’s programs like that but every one of our programs we have taken a look to see—can we push more?” Been said. “Can we get more of those units at the lowest income levels? Can we bring in more seniors? How can we get more of those homes to the people that need them most, quicker?”
Still, the new deputy mayor insisted that her goal wasn’t to start from scratch: “I’m not coming out with “Housing Plan 3.0 so that’s not what we’re talking about, we’re just talking about being more effective, being more efficient, and getting it done even faster because people are worried.”
Critics of de Blasio’s affordable housing strategy—enticing developers to mix permanently affordable low and middle income apartments with market-rate units in re-zoned neighborhoods—say that it’s a kind of trickle-down plan that helps wealthier New Yorkers and displaces residents of gentrifying neighborhoods, who are often people of color.
“The new housing is almost entirely built for the luxury market, and has had the secondary effect of raising rents and land values in the existing housing stock, further displacing many long-time residents,” Hunter College urban planning professor Tom Angotti wrote in a 2017 essay on the administration’s strategy. “Areas targeted for new development are disproportionately low-income communities of color, while areas protected by zoning are disproportionately white and middle-and upper-income.”
In a written response to Angotti’s essay, Been called his skepticism that building more housing overall would help alleviate the affordable housing crisis “the housing world’s equivalent of climate change denial.”
“Even building only affordable housing wouldn’t solve the problem—unless we keep others out, building more affordable housing will not address the demand for housing by those who want to move to New York,” Been added.
The majority of affordable housing built and preserved under de Blasio — 52,641 units — has been for New Yorkers making $36,550 to $58,480 for one person, which represents 51 percent to 80 percent of AMI.
Tom Waters, a senior policy analyst at the Community Service Society, told Gothamist that setting aside 16 percent of affordable homes for homeless and very low income New Yorkers as part of an overall, market-driven scheme is “pretty close to the limit of what you can do with that approach.”
“I don't think the administration properly took credit for that. They have a lot to brag about there," Waters said.
“If you want to create housing for low income people, you have to do it on purpose,” Waters added. “I'm not a believer in the trickle-down method. Building a bunch of $2,000/month apartments is good for people who can afford $2000/month apartments.”
Additional reporting by Lydia McMullen-Laird.