During Bill DeBlasio’s and Joe Lhota’s campaigns for mayor, both addressed the future of affordable housing. New York, and particularly New York City, has the most robust system of affordable housing in the country. During his seemingly interminable stewardship, Mayor Bloomberg stayed true to character, setting clear goals (165,000 new units by 2013) and tracking progress. NYC’s Housing Planning and Development (HPD) and NYCHA responded to the challenge, but building new housing represents the sexier development side of affordable housing; Bill DeBlasio’s biggest challenge will be preserving and extending the useful life of existing housing stock. (Affordable Housing is composed of a few different areas–rent controlled units and other programs that dictate affordability as it relates to median income. There are approximately 350K units under this umbrella, of which NYCHA runs approx 180K.)
With an average building age of over 40 years NYCHA currently finds itself with nearly a third of units under occupied: single senior citizens living in 2 and 3 bedroom apartments. Recent attempts by NYCHA to address these mass inefficiencies across its housing stock have failed. NYCHA has wilted in the face of complex notions of community, relocation costs, and tenant rights. Affordable housing, already acting as a market anomaly, must solve its existing stock problem in order to remain viable in the future. The real question Bill DeBlasio faces is not how many more units to build, but how to address aging populations and aging stock. In essence, how will affordable housing grow up?
—Ryan Cassidy is the Director of Property & Construction Management for an affordable housing developer in Brooklyn, NY.