Thousands of low-income New Yorkers, including frustrated public housing residents and members of the clergy, rallied outside of City Hall this afternoon to promote a new affordable housing plan they say will serve more poor New Yorkers than Mayor Bill de Blasio's controversial Housing New York initiative.
Reverend David Brawley, pastor of St. Paul Community Baptist Church in East New York, presented the plan to Mayor de Blasio last week at a town hall meeting there.
Conceived by East Brooklyn Congregations and the Metro Industrial Areas Foundation, the plan focuses on housing thousands of low-income seniors by building apartments on vacant NYCHA property and other vacant city lots. With 15,000 new senior apartments, organizers argue, elderly NYCHA residents could move into new homes, opening up more large NYCHA apartments for as many as 50,000 new residents.
The groups are also calling on City Hall to prioritize NYCHA's staggering $17.1 billion in unmet capital needs, and to criminally prosecute landlords who illegally evict tenants in gentrifying neighborhoods to maximize their profits.
"I'm sitting next to one of my friends here who has been living in Bushwick for 30 years, and living in her apartment for 15," said Blanche Romey, 77, a Bushwick resident since 1983 and an EBC member. "Now the landlord wants her out. She has nowhere to go. How would the mayor feel if his grandmother, his mother, was shut out? She's 82."
"Me and my husband, we bought our house in the '80s for $5,000," Romey added. "It was the only empty house on the block. Now we've cleaned up Bushwick, and now they [landlords] are trying to shut us out. Thank God I have a place to stay. What they need to do is give these NYCHA lots to the seniors so the people can afford a place to stay."
According to City Hall, de Blasio has created or preserved a combined 77,651 units of affordable housing since 2014, on track and within budget to reach the 2024 goal of 200,000 units. During the fiscal year ending in June, the city created more units for poor New Yorkers than it did in the two years previous.
But advocates have long argued that City Hall's benchmarks for affordability, recently deepened with an additional $2 billion investment set to kick in next year, represent too little too late. Before Mayor de Blasio's housing plan was implemented, the city was short 550,000 affordable apartments for families that make less than $42,000 per year. Meanwhile, NYC's population is booming. The supply and demand imbalance is obvious every time a new lottery for affordable housing opens. And thanks to loopholes in the existing rent laws, the Alliance for Tenant Power estimates that the city could lose 100,000 affordable units by 2019.
EBC's plan to fund NYCHA endorses a 2014 proposal to dedicate surplus Battery Park City revenue to NYCHA—an estimated $400 million over a decade (Mayor de Blasio has maintained that the excess should go towards his larger affordable housing plan, not NYCHA specifically). The group also calls for a new, independent construction authority that would handle all capital repair work, taking the responsibility away from NYCHA.
The plan also includes a funding proposal for the 15,000 new senior units, estimated to cost $3.83 billion, subsidized with a mix of Low Income Housing Tax Credits, Housing Preservation and Development subsidies, and loans through the City Pension Fund.
The Pink Houses in East New York. (Christian Hansen / Gothamist)
City Hall already has a NYCHA infill plan in the works. NextGeneration Neighborhoods is intended to chop $4.6 billion off of NYCHA's $17.1 billion in unmet capital needs—through private development, as well as increased rent collection, administrative staff cuts, and commercial leases on NYCHA property. Some developments will be entirely below market rate, while others will be half-and-half.
But advocates say NextGen is generating middle class housing while failing to adequately fund NYCHA repairs or create more space on NYCHA property for the working poor.
"It fails to address the improvements needed by making [NYCHA residents] live in disgusting conditions, and it does almost nothing to address the low-income families in New York making between $20,000 to $35,000 a year who need housing," EBC organizer Matthew Marienthal charged.
City Hall says it has met with the organizers of today's action, and are open to working with them further.
"The Mayor and agency commissioners have met with Metro IAF and made clear our interest in collaborating," mayoral spokeswoman Melissa Grace said. "We share the same mission."
Yet Mayor de Blasio has also pointed to funding constraints.
"Let's be honest about this...we're probably stuck right now through 2020 with effectively no new housing aid from Washington," the mayor told Gotham Gazette during a recent press conference. "And then the state really hasn't delivered on any of the programs they said they were going to create for us. So we're on our own, anxious to do more but I don't know where the resources would be for something really big at this point. We'll keep looking for them though."
"The bottom line is we're in a crisis and we need to do more," Marienthal said. "We don't pretend that our plan is the only plan, but we know what we are doing now isn't enough."
"De Blaiso needs to make that $17 billion [NYCHA deficit] a priority," he added. "And Ben Carson and Donald Trump aren't coming to save us."