Islander Addresses Affordable Housing

Written by Dana Agmon. Posted in Volume 36, Issue 17 - June 11, 2016

“People from all over the world feel at home here,” said Islander Carl Weisbrod, City Planning Commission chair, in his keynote address at the City & State event series on urban development at the 3 West Club last week; “it’s a challenge.”

Roosevelt Island was leased to New York State’s Urban Development Corporation in 1969, and developed as a mixed-income neighborhood to allow families to relocate into a socially conscious community with a vision that was ahead of its time. Now the City is saying it wants to do the same.

Weisbrod spoke about the shifting consciousness of 21st century New York and the enormous strain on the City and its infrastructure due to massive population growth in the last decade and a half. In 2015 New York City recorded its largest population count at 8.55 million, with 1.2 million newcomers since 2000.

Government Response

The City and State, says Weisbrod, have come up with a steep budget to boost affordable housing with two programs, the ZQA and MIH.

The Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH) requires developers to include affordable housing units in areas that were rezoned to allow more housing developments.

Zoning for Quality and Affordability (ZQA) made a long list of changes to the NYC Zoning Resolution aimed at relaxing the land regulations on affordable and senior housing developments.

These programs are the new versions of numerous other programs like the Mitchell-Lama Housing Program, Section 8 and LINK, set by the City that, unfortunately, fail to provide long-term solutions to the housing problems in the City.

Affordable Housing

Julie Gonzalez, director of affordable housing for Joy Construction Corporation, a full-service developer with expertise in affordable-housing developments, mentioned the difficult and rigorous process applicants have to go through with the odds of getting a unit at 500:1.

There are typically 50,000 applications for every 100 apartments, or in the case of 50 Riverside Boulevard, 88,000 applications for 55 units.

Liz Krueger, State Senator and ranking democratic member of the finance committee, is skeptical. She does not believe the new programs will make any significant or lasting changes. She thinks they pad the already padded pockets of developers and claims that rewording or calling the programs by new names doesn’t make them any different than what she sees as past failures like 421-a.


The 421-a program provided developers with large tax abatements for up to 25 years if they dedicated 20 percent of their units to affordable housing. The deals, according to Senator Krueger, turned out so well for developers that they congregated on high-value Manhattan land.

There is no need, she believes, to give taxpayers’ money to a small number of developers to build condominiums on high-value land. The Senator’s primary criticism of the privatization of MIH and ZQA programs is that very little regulation will be implemented.

Affordable units can be converted, and disappear from those buildings without anyone knowing. Krueger believes the government should have “more skin in the game;” that for any programs funded in any part with government money, the government should be considered a quasi-owner.

She advocates for more local and City authority over the processes, thereby removing the need for approval from Albany. Finally, she does concede that the outer boroughs of the City require development, but believes that zoning, regulation and budgeting should be district-based.

Carl Weisbrod’s Vision

Weisbrod’s vision also focuses on the outer boroughs. He believes that because so many resources have been consistently invested to save and later maintain core neighborhoods, the boroughs have been neglected.

It is time, he thinks, to expand outer-borough neighborhood development, particularly to encourage and build mixed-income neighborhoods. According to Weisbrod, research has consistently shown that poor children who grow up in diverse-income communities tend to do better than those who don’t.

Roosevelt Island

Roosevelt Island is not an outer borough, so we are seeing tremendous changes in our affordable-housing mix as the rental-ownership unit ratio skews.

Interestingly, the City of New York makes incredible amounts in rental property taxes. In fact, rental property tax here is one of the highest in the nation. The owner-occupied apartment buildings enjoy a very low rate. So higher-income owners pay lower taxes than mid- and low-income renters as landlords and management companies pass the buck to renters pushing rental unit prices higher and higher.

Demand for Affordability

Edward Ubiera, Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) director of policy, noted before the event: “In my fifteen years I have never seen such demand for affordability.”

Ubiera’s and LISC’s mission is to assist communities in transforming into sustainable communities of choice and opportunity. In his testimonies, Ubeira mentions the positive correlation between rents soaring in New York City and the demand for affordability. While many people call New York home, a home in New York City is not so easy to come by.

Tags: Affordable Housing

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