Report: Bloomberg Housing Policy Falls Short

In the Press

Audio: Report: Bloomberg Housing Policy Falls Short

WNYC
08/16/2013

A new report found that one of Mayor Bloomberg's signature affordable housing policies has fallen short of expectations.

The city first introduced its "Inclusionary Housing Program" eight years ago. The program allows developers to build larger and taller as long as they also set aside a portion of their apartments for low- to middle-income tenants.

In 2005, there was great hope that developers would jump at that opportunity, especially in Greenpoint and Williamsburg, two quickly gentrifying neighborhoods that had just been rezoned. At a waterfront press conference, Shaun Donovan, the city housing commissioner at the time, touted the new initiative and credited the Mayor for it.

"This mayor has made new ideas the hallmark of what he has done," Donovan said.

So far, 949 apartments have been created in these neighborhoods, less than half of what had been projected, according to the new report from City Councilman Brad Lander of Brooklyn. Lander said large developments on the waterfront took advantage of the program, but smaller developments inland did not.

"Developers reported that it was more difficult to use the program in smaller developments," Lander said.  "You still have to go through the same process and it takes time and energy for much less benefit.  You don't get as big a density bonus if you're building a smaller development."
 
Lander's report also concluded that developers took advantage of inclusionary zoning much more at Hudson Yards on the West Side, most likely because developments there were much larger.

The city defended its inclusionary housing policies. Officials said that the market-driven program was operational during one of the worst economic downturns in recent history, a situation the report did not address. 

But housing advocates believe much more could be extracted from developers if the program was made mandatory.

"Developers stand to gain quite an exorbitant amount of money when they build and put up these big luxury developments," said Barika Williams, Policy Director at the Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development. Williams collaborated with Lander on the report.

She said that any new building that goes up in New York City, should include a portion of cheaper affordable apartments.

"We would advocate for being careful to structure the program in a way so that it would not hinder or squash development but there is a way to put a program in place to say this is part of recapturing the public good," Williams said.

Lander, Williams and many other housing advocates are hoping that a new mayor will drive a harder bargain with developers. Right now the two democratic front runners have differing stances. Public Advocate Bill de Blasio supports a tougher policy, while City Council Speaker Christine Quinn is more cautious and has said she supports the idea but that concerns have been raised about its legality. 

It's difficult to say currently whether the government is getting enough back in return for what it is offering to developers: density bonuses, tax breaks and/or cheap financing. Lander said there's not enough transparency to make the calculations.

The city's housing department said it's constantly reviewing the program and trying to strike the right balance.

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