Good Feelings, Vague Ideas at the ANHD Annual Community Development Conference

This Thursday, the ANHD’s 4th Annual Community Development Conference was held at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Manhattan.  They keynote speaker was Vicki Been, Mayor de Blasio’s pick to run the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, commonly known as HPD.

Mrs. Been emphasized several times in her remarks that she could not provide many specifics about Mayor de Blasio’s housing plans – yet.  “I’m not withholding details.  But they’re really honestly in progress,” she said, referring to the Mayor’s planned May 1st affordable housing announcement.

She did, however mention broad ideas that echoed throughout the all-day conference, such as allowing higher density building, preserving current affordable housing, and taking a more holistic approach to neighborhoods. This includes aspects of community life like employment, healthcare, and literacy, rather than just aiming for that famous 200,000 number that Mayor de Blasio has touted.

Mandatory inclusionary zoning, a de Blasio idea , merited its own panel.  Mandatory inclusion would require developers to include affordable housing units rather than continue to offer them incentives that currently exist. Josiah Madar of the Furman Center talked about the bureaucratic problems that developers currently face.  “The administrative burden frightens or at least turns off some possible participants.  Developers always complain about the city dragging its feet…we’ve heard that HPD’s approval can delay projects.  Paying more attention to admin is a way to grease the rails.” Another panelist, Seth Ullman, spoke about the trouble measuring the impact of voluntary inclusionary zoning that is already in place.  “Trying to evaluate how the programs work has been a challenge because it’s not administered in a way that ‘s entirely transparent.  We can’t see where every unit that’s been built on either side – affordable or for profit – has gone.”

Frank Lang, the Housing Director at St. Nicks Alliance, spoke about land prices.  “The price of land is going to be a real determinate.  There’s a lot of people who own land, and have owned it for many generations, and they have an expectation of what the price is. During the real estate bubble bursting, we saw those people were willing to wait out the four years until they could get the price of land per square foot that they expected in 2007.” Josiah Madar elaborated on land use problems for affordable housing by taking aim at New York City’s low property taxes. “Things are just strange here, where the city can’t or won’t raise more money through the property tax where it could.  Where people have extremely low effective tax rates. “

Later on, at a Future of Affordable Housing Development in NYC panel, the tone was celebratory, but remained vague.

City Councilman Jumaane Williams emphasized points that had been made throughout the conference.   “We need to go further to preserve even more units… The unions have come to the table and are speaking with the housing advocacy world…Looking at AMI (area median income) is also important to me….inclusionary mandatory zoning is important but only if you put it in context with everything else that is going on. “ He added later “I don’t mind developers making money, I just don’t want them making all the money.”

The new head of the New York City Housing Authority, Shola Olatoye, was clear that she sees a new day for her organization.  “The Mayor has really brought NYCHA into the conversation, and removed us from that island status.“

When asked about the role that intermediaries had to play to ensure that neighborhoods, not deals, were the focus of housing policy, Denise Scott of LISC NYC strongly endorsed third party mediators.  “I call for a third of it (the capital budget) to be set aside for not-for-profit development.”  The audience applauded. “Your work is grounded in a mission that goes beyond the house, it is focused on the whole family.”

Scott, however, also offered a kind of concession to the long-haul fight for affordable housing in New York City. “At the end of the day, we are willing to say that we’re willing to take fewer units for long term affordability.  I think that needs to be part of the reality.”

 

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