One of the city’s most difficult, intractable problems is the lack of affordable housing, and in recent years the situation has only gotten worse. In just one illustration, research shows that since 2002, rents in the city have gone up 40 percent, while incomes have only risen 15 percent.
Meanwhile the top 25 hedge fund managers in the country earned a collective $21.1 billion in one year, meaning their average income was nearly $1 billion. And of course they don’t pay the same tax rate on that money that they would if it were regular income.
The stock market has pretty much fully rebounded since the financial crisis of 2008, but the employment situation for the average American, though improving, is lagging far behind.
Everywhere you look, there’s evidence that the middle class is being squeezed. And that’s at least as true in New York as it is anywhere, due to the extraordinarily high cost of living here. Especially when it comes to housing.
So it’s commendable that Mayor de Blasio this week presented a detailed plan to create or preserve 200,000 units of housing, the vast majority of them affordable. Though there are a couple areas of concern, most of the proposal is positive.
The mayor’s goal is to have 10 percent of the created or preserved units go to the middle class. As part of that, he would create a “mixed-income” program, under which half of the housing units in it will be set aside for the middle class, while the other half will go to low- and moderate-income people. It’s crucial that the middle class get to benefit from the program, rather than only the truly impoverished.
In any rezoning that substantially increases housing capacity, a portion of new units would be required to go to low- and moderate-income households. The city will do a study to provide a basis for incorporating this “mandatory inclusionary zoning” into law.
The mayor also wants to double the Department of Housing Preservation and Development’s annual capital budget, spur development of small vacant plots, slow the tide of rent deregulation, and shift funding for the homeless toward more permanent housing.
All of this would result in more housing density, and one concern is that city infrastructure, from schools to sewers to public transit, keep up with it. Another concern is the proposed legalization of many illegal apartments. Yes, that can be done in some instances without affecting quality of life and safety, but not all.
De Blasio’s plan is promising overall, but as always, the devil is in the details.