Most New ‘Affordable’ Housing Isn’t, ANHD Report Says

Most of the “affordable” housing built by the Bloomberg administration is too expensive for the majority of New Yorkers, according to a report released last month by the Association for Neighborhood Housing Development.

The report, “Real Affordability,” hails the administration’s New Housing Marketplace Program as an “impressive achievement,” and says it’s likely to meet its goal of creating or preserving 165,000 units. The problem, it says, is that the income levels used to determine affordability are much higher than what New Yorkers actually earn, and the program has produced very little housing for the poorest third of city residents. For example, in Harlem, it defines as “affordable” both a $531-a-month three-bedroom apartment for a family making $36,000 a year and a $1,492 studio for a single person making up to $97,000.

The program bases its definitions of “low-income,” “moderate-income,” and “middle-income” on percentages of the median household income for the metropolitan area, with rents set at 30 percent of those incomes. “This labeling is misleading and does not reflect the actual income levels of New Yorkers,” the report says. The metropolitan area median income is about $80,000—but for city residents, it’s slightly below $50,000, and two-thirds of city households make less than $75,000. 

Of the 124,000 units the NHMP program has produced so far, about half have been aimed at people making around the city median or slightly less. More have been built for households making more than $100,000—defined as “middle-income”—than for those making less than $32,000, who comprise almost a third of the city’s residents. 

In fiscal years 2009 to 2011, the NHMP produced more than 38,000 apartments, but only about 3,000 were available to that low-income group. In Chinatown and the Lower East Side, only four of the more than 3,000 units built were; in Central Harlem, 164 out of more than 2,000. In the South Bronx’s six community districts, where the median income is less than $25,000, less than 500 of the 9,100 apartments produced were affordable to the average household there—barely 5 percent.

“A sizable portion of our communities that have long been priced out of market-rate housing are now being priced out of the affordable-housing market as well,” the report says.

Another issue, it adds, is how long these apartments will stay affordable. Only 2 percent of the city-subsidized housing built since the 1980s has to remain affordable permanently. The rent restrictions for most of it expire after 30 years—so within five years, the report predicts, when the first units built under the Koch administration reach than deadline, the city will begin losing an average of 11,000 apartments a year that it subsidized. By 2037, it could have lost “the affordability of as many units as were built by NHMP.”

The city should not use taxpayer subsidies to build housing unaffordable to the local community—indeed unaffordable to the majority of New Yorkers overall—and then call it ‘affordable housing,’” the report recommends. “The next administration must address the disparity between the inflated income levels that the city uses to construct deals, and the actual incomes of New York City residents, especially in the communities where this housing is being built. The city will not address its affordable housing crisis if they continue to prioritize subsidized housing too expensive for most New Yorkers.”