Posted by Leonard Steinberg on October 19th, 2013

Its almost a certainty that New York’s next mayor will be Bill de Blasio who has been very vocal about the need for more affordable housing. He is correct, and just like Mayor Bloomberg has added more than 156,000 units in his 12 years, very close to his administration’s goal of 165,000, Mr de Blasio should likewise continue encouraging the development of luxury housing. But it should be done wisely and with contractual obligations. Surely in the new FAIR de Blasio New York, we should all be treated equally?

The affordable housing supply is shrinking as fast as it is being replenished. When rents are rising more quickly than incomes, when gentrification and the erosion of subsidized housing have robbed the city of hundreds of thousands of affordable units, too many New Yorkers have to pay way too much to live here according to the New York Times editorial this morning. Estimates show that 31 percent of New Yorkers are “severely” burdened by housing costs, spending half or more of their incomes on rent. Critical to acknowledging this factor is that this does not just apply to ‘poor’ New Yorkers: many very middle class and upper middle class people are experiencing the same dilemma.

Affordable housing should NOT be the exclusive burden of private enterprise: making landlords pay for cheap housing to help government officials appeal to a certain voter base must be stopped. We should develop unused city-owned property, like the land surrounding New York City Housing Authority buildings. Affordable housing should be EVERYONE’S responsibility, something to beef up those who simply cannot afford to live here but who are needed in the City.

Mr. de Blasio says he would take a more aggressive stance with developer by changing zoning laws to force them to include affordable units in new buildings and to discourage speculators who let vacant lots sit idle. This is a slippery slope: ALL new residential condominiums raise the real estate tax base dramatically:  maybe a better law would be to take these escalated real estate taxes and earmark them specifically for building affordable housing built for and paid for by the government. He said he would also add new units into the system by bringing illegally subdivided apartments up to code. De Blasio needs to continue encouraging the construction of ALL housing as needed and let the markets decide what that is. West Chelsea would not exist today if it weren’t for the Bloomberg administration’s re-zoning laws and tax breaks to encourage construction. The tax base of West Chelsea will increas ten fold because of it….and create a thriving neighborhood.

Mr. de Blasio should also focus on CORRUPTION:  yes, all those recipients of affordable housing, rent controlled and regulated apartments that have defrauded the system by lying about their financial circumstances. These abusers of the system should not only be removed from their apartments forcefully (isn’t that what we do to all other thieves?) but they should also be forced to pay back all their rent savings over the years with interest…..if we are going to be fair. I think anyone who gets affordable housing should be contractually obligated to certain terms: and those terms should not be designed to encourage them to work less to keep their cheaper rent. The very cheap units should be provided to people to give them a head-start… should not be about cheap housing for life: who gets to choose who these lucky parasites will be? I know of a famous actor who divorced his wife (they still live together) in a 4 bedroom rent controlled apartment on the Upper West Side……they are rich. And they pay about $ 2,000/month in rent while neighbors pay at least 5x that. They also have a house in the Hampton’s: this form of corruption has to stop and should be dealt with a aggressively as the IRS is when it goes after you for missing a $ 250 item.

MOST IMPORTANTLY, Mr. de Blasio must address the vast discrepancies in the real estate tax system that plagues many New Yorkers who are grossly disadvantaged next to people just like Mr de Blasio who is paying a quarter of the real estate taxes many New Yorkers pay for the exact same valued property. The variation in property taxes is disgraceful: why should some pay $2 per square foot per month and others half that?  Who decides this? Why is NOTHING being done about it? Yes, we all know the laws governing this, but what about changing them to make the fair?

The Times says Mr. Bloomberg ‘has often been tone-deaf on the issue’ of affordable housing……really?  I think EVERY New Yorker should give Mr. Bloomberg credit for his superb leadership through the worst financial crisis of our time, that not only created more jobs than any other city, but also diversified the industries that this City relies on for its income, raised its tax base dramatically, improved quality of life not only in Manhattan, but in Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx too (where New Yorkers pay substantially less real estate taxes), encouraged development and building, reduced crime, and yes, created over 150,000 affordable housing units.

Mr de Blasio: please be careful what you wish for. Which City has the best supply of affordable housing? Detroit!