A Blast from New York

Mr de Blasio, at newly renovated affordable apartments in the Bronx. Michael Appleton for The New York Times

Mr de Blasio, at newly renovated affordable apartments in the Bronx.
Michael Appleton for The New York Times

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio is ‘going big’ on his plans for affordable housing, according to the New York Times. In his 116-page plan launched this week, the new mayor promised to build or keep 200,000 affordable units over the next ten years, trumping previous mayor Bloomberg’s 165,000 units over 12 years. De Blasio intends to invest $8.2 billion of city money, which he thinks will lever in sufficient funds to create over $40bn of investment in total. If it works, the plan will keep 120,000 apartments already let at affordable rents that are in danger of being lost, and create 80,000 more. He announced the programme at a new development site in Brooklyn which, when finished, will let 50% of its apartments at affordable rents.

As Red Brick has pointed out before, New York’s mixed communities are heavily dependent on rents kept low through regulation or subsidy. The new plans are specifically aimed at low-income families – those earning less than $25,000 for a family of four. This is because, of the city’s rent payers, one third spend more than half their income on rents and utility bills, whereas the city’s own guideline maximum is 30% of income. The current problem is that the city is losing more rent-regulated apartments than it builds, and once out of regulation rents go sky high. De Blasio wants to identify neighbourhoods vulnerable to gentrification, and “lock in” affordable rents before it’s too late.

Apart from subsidy, the essence of the de Blasio plan is to permit higher-rise developments providing they meet affordable housing quotas and that the units are guaranteed as affordable forever. This is thought to be risky, as some developers may simply refuse to build if they have to comply with the new norms. However, the president of the influential Real Estate Board of New York said the plan provides “a realistic road map for solutions”, so there is hope that the private sector will co-operate.

The ambition and pace of the plan is exciting given that the new mayor was only elected in November. His focus on very affordable housing is in complete contrast to the Johnson plan for London, whose result has been to push even so-called “affordable” rents up still higher. And as Steve said at the time of de Blasio’s victory, his ideas could be an inspiration for Labour: set an ambitious, well-constructed plan, and go for it soon after the election while your new mandate can help nullify any opposition.

 

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