On Affordable Housing: Vicki Been
Commissioner, New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development
Q: The Department of Housing Preservation and Development is largely responsible for designing Mayor Bill de Blasio’s 10-year affordable housing plan. How will the mayor’s new sustainability blueprint, OneNYC, mesh with HPD’s work in this area?
VB: The mayor’s affordable housing plan and the drive to create a sustainable and resilient city share a common goal that is rooted in equity and livability. For instance, utility costs account for roughly 25 percent of the average operating budget of a rent-stabilized building—costs that have played a significant role in exacerbating the crisis of affordability threatening our city. Green retrofits can conserve energy, which helps owners control costs and maintain affordability while also achieving broader sustainability and resiliency goals.
Unfortunately, energy-efficiency upgrades can be out of reach for many small building owners. This month we launched our Green Housing Preservation Program to remove these barriers by offering owners the financial resources and technical expertise needed to make their properties more sustainable and energy efficient. We’re anticipating that buildings in the program could reduce utility costs by about 10 percent or more annually.
Q: Can you give an update on the mayor’s housing plan? How many affordable units have been preserved to date, how many are being constructed to date, and what does “affordable” mean in these instances?
VB: We’ve made big strides in aligning our programs with Mayor de Blasio’s priorities since the housing plan was launched last May. To date we’ve financed more than 18,390 units across all five boroughs, with more than 6,600 new construction units and 11,790 preservation units. We’re also on pace to exceed our fiscal year 2015 goal of 16,000 units. Creating a more equitable city means reaching the populations that are most in need. Approximately 85 percent of our production has been targeted to low-income New Yorkers with more than 2,430 units for households at the very lowest incomes and for people with special needs.
“Affordable” means having a rent that is appropriate for a specific income. When we set rents for our housing we’re taking into account household size and household income, and the rent is set so that it doesn’t exceed about a third of that annual income.
Q: What mechanisms has HPD been using or is considering using to preserve affordable units?
VB: Protecting and improving the existing stock of affordable housing is a major component of the mayor’s plan, and it’s a critical tool in safeguarding affordability in our neighborhoods. The majority of preservation projects are occupied buildings where families have been living for years. Our mission is to ensure that those families can stay in their homes, and that those homes remain affordable and in good condition. We provide the resources to ensure the buildings receive the repairs and solid financial footing that will keep them affordable for the long term.
We have a robust toolbox of finance programs aimed at preserving buildings that are already in affordability programs that may be thinking of exiting, and programs to bring privately owned buildings into new affordability programs. The most common way to do this is by providing low-cost financing or other benefits to assist owners with capital repairs and refinancing, and in exchange the owners enter into a regulatory agreement that locks in affordability.
Q: What other initiatives are you focused on?
VB: With our partners in the administration and other stakeholders, we are working hard to advance the mayor’s legislative agenda, which includes a slate of reforms to strengthen the rent stabilization laws, make the 421-a program more efficient, and secure additional resources for our affordable housing plan. Closer to home, in an effort to do more for small buildings, in the last few weeks we piloted a help desk to offer small building owners physical, financial and technical assistance in exchange for extended affordability. Nearly 50 percent of units citywide are in buildings with fewer than 20 units, and small buildings represent the majority of units in some neighborhoods, so we are looking at ways to tailor existing programs to meet their needs to help preserve affordability.