OUR HOUSING PLATFORM

POLICY CONTRIBUTORS, WRITERS, & EDITORS

POLICY CONTRIBUTORS

  • Divya Sundaram, Homes Guarantee Campaign
  • Cea Weaver, Housing Justice for All 
  • Aaron Carr, Housing Rights Initiative
  • Yovan Collado, Housing Rights Initiative
  • Josh Dean, Human.nyc
  • Lynden Bond, Human.nyc
  • Akilah Browne, New Economy Project
  • Julia Duranti-Martínez, New Economy Project
  • Brendan Cheney, United for Housing
  • Elena Conte, Pratt Center for Community Development
  • J.T. Falcone, United Neighborhood Houses New York
  • Paulette Soltani, Voices Of Community Activists & Leaders (VOCAL-NY)
  • Julian St. Patrick Clayton, Center for NYC Neighborhoods
  • Alina Shen, Caaav: Organizing Asian Communities
  • Sasha Wijeyeratne, Caaav: Organizing Asian Communities
  • Louis Cholden-Brown, Collaborative Democracy Project
  • Jamie Powlovich, Coalition for Homeless Youth
  • Samuel Stein, Community Service Society (CSS)

WRITERS

  • Hamza Taj
  • Jeanette Estima
  • Julia Duranti-Martínez
  • Zara Nasir
  • Zarin Farook
  • Lucy Merriam
  • Leena Dughly
  • Alex Hunter
  • Emma Rehac 
  • Anthony Perrins

EDITORS

  • Zara Nasir
  • Elijah Rockhold
  • Ilana Novick
THE STORY OF THE LAST SEVEN YEARS

A housing crisis. In 2013, mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio painted an accurate picture of the widening housing crisis, according to the Gotham Gazette. But as Mayor, he has not pivoted from the business and real-estate driven interests of his predecessors, choosing instead weak reforms and policies that protected power and the status quo. The city’s housing crisis continued, and did not improve during his mayoralty. According to the Bowery, 80,000 men, women and children are homeless, and almost 4,000 people sleep on city streets and public spaces. At least fifty percent of renter households were rent-burdened, even before the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the Furman Center. Now, in the COVID-19 pandemic, more New Yorkers are in threat of eviction than ever, as reported by NPR. City and state lawmakers have not enacted policies to protect tenants from eviction after eviction moratoriums end.

WINS OF OUR MOVEMENT

Despite a lack of significant departure from status quo policies, housing organizers and advocates won some big victories for tenants at the city level, including: 

  • Rent freezes. Under Bloomberg, rent regulators hiked stabilized rents year after year. Under de Blasio’s tenure, however, rent freezes and relatively low rent increases benefited millions of tenants in rent stabilized units, according to City Limits
  • Homeless housing vouchers. After Bloomberg ended a homelessness voucher program after a funding dispute with the state, the shelter population skyrocketed. Mayor de Blasio importantly brought back homeless housing vouchers as a stop-gap method of dealing with homelessness in the DHS shelter system, as reported by City Limits
  • Right to counsel. In 2017, the City Council passed legislation to establish a right to legal counsel for low-income renters facing eviction in housing court. As a result, evictions went down 40 percent between 2013 and 2019, according to City Limits

According to Housing Justice For All, organizers also won statewide victories with protections for tenants around rent stabilization and regulation, and caps on certain rent increases.

WHERE WE LOST
  • Continuance of pro-development strategies. The crowning jewel of de Blasio’s housing agenda was his plan to create and preserve 200,000 income-restricted homes across the city. Billions of dollars went into this plan that largely created housing for middle-income New Yorkers. The plan did nothing to combat the imbalance of power and resources favoring the real estate industry and pro-development actors, nor did it create enough housing to curtail the growing population of homeless New Yorkers. 
  • Housing policy driven by rezonings. In 2016, the City enacted a policy to use rezonings as a vehicle for affordable housing production known as “Mandatory Inclusionary Housing” (MIH), as reported by City Limits. For developers, creating housing under MIH became the cost of a business that was still quite lucrative, but the benefits of MIH for low-income people of color remains unclear. The rezonings did not stop gentrification, and as City Limits reports, may have exacerbated it in some cases, by incentivizing the City to rezone more areas, without capturing large quantities of deeply affordable housing.
  • More not-so-affordable housing. Like his predecessor, de Blasio aimed to produce thousands of units of affordable housing over his tenure. Like Bloomberg, de Blasio receives criticism that the plan does not include enough deeply affordable housing. A very small number of units in the plan are for homeless New Yorkers. This is despite the city’s housing crisis most impacting those with the lowest incomes, according to City Limits
  • Lack of new housing and bold policy to address homelessness. Politics around homelessness, particularly shelter sites, have outweighed actual groundbreaking policy. Advocates like Coalition for the Homeless argue that the City has squandered its limited resources to subsidize the production of expensive apartments. Instead, Mayor de Blasio has prioritized putting people in temporary shelter in lieu of investing in longer term housing for low-income New Yorkers to meet the bare minimum of “right to shelter.”
  • NYCHA. NYCHA, New York City’s public housing, home to 400,000 New Yorkers, has continued to decline, leading to the appointment of a federal monitor. Tenants have complained for decades about rodents, mold, and heat and hot water outages. According to NY1, the de Blasio administration also falsely certified that NYCHA had conducted lead paint inspections from 2013 to 2017, when in fact, the agency had not.
A VISION FORWARD

Every New Yorker deserves a home: a safe, accessible, sustainable, and affordable home. Right now, our city falls short of delivering on this vision. In recent years, housing organizers have demanded a federal home guarantee. But the residents of our city cannot wait for federal action. New York City should provide a home guarantee on the local level now. This means local elected officials must address the root causes of the crisis. Policymakers must address conditions that lead to displacement, eviction, disrepair, and homelessness. Poor and working class New Yorkers must be in the driving seat of determining where and how they live. 

City officials cannot turn back decades of federal disinvestment, limits on the city’s revenue raising tools, the state’s preemption of most rent-regulation policy, and a foundational prioritization of property rights in U.S. law. Where the city does have control, it must choose the boldest most drastic policy interventions. The housing crisis impacts poor and working class New Yorkers most deeply. Thus, the city’s efforts must focus there. That might mean less flashy policy or numbers of units, but in service of addressing the root of the crisis.

POLICY RECOMMENDATIONS

1) ADDRESS HOUSING INSECURITY WORSENED BY COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has left many New Yorkers without the means to pay their residential rents or mortgages. In April of 2020, one-third of renters failed to pay rent, according to the Atlantic. In response, housing organizers and tenants pushed state elected officials for immediate and emergency relief and organized the largest rent strike in American history. As The City reports, New York’s housing organizers are advocating for a “cancel rent” state bill that would create a hardship fund for homeowners and some small landlords. New York City must adopt policies that support the “cancel rent” movement while protecting tenants from eviction. 

1A. Temporary rental assistance due to pandemic, not contingent on housing court

Problem: A growing number of New York City tenants are in threat of eviction due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As many as 1.2 million New York households are currently at risk of being evicted, according to the New York Times. Even with eviction moratoriums, tenants are still expected to pay months of back rent despite lost livelihoods or wages due to COVID-19. When these moratoriums end, New York City is expected to face an unprecedented level of evictions.

Recommendation: The City should offer rental assistance to tenants who are facing eviction due to circumstances resulting from the COVID-19 crisis. There are various sources of funding coming to New York City through federal relief for this purpose, including $225 million for Emergency Rental Assistance Program and potential monies attached to the American Rescue Plan, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Residents should not be required to go to housing court to receive assistance or encounter extensive barriers to be eligible. Such assistance should apply to back rent in order to allow more tenants to stay in their homes, as this will be a key reason many tenants will face eviction, according to the New York Times.  The City must work with housing and homelessness advocates as well as directly impacted individuals to ensure that Federal eviction support efforts are targeting those most in need as defined by those working on the ground.

Office: Mayor, Council

Mechanism: Budget, City Legislation

1B. Ensure protection of residential tenants under national & state eviction moratoriums

Problem: According to The City, state legislature’s COVID-19 Emergency Eviction and Foreclosure Prevention Act of 2020 prohibits evictions until at least May 1, 2021, if tenants fill out a form indicating they’ve experienced financial hardship or face health risks because of the pandemic. At President Biden’s direction, the eviction moratorium from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been extended to March 31, according to the New York Times. Despite these protections, tenants are still being evicted illegally in New York City. 

Recommendation: The City cannot enact its own city eviction moratorium because of state pre-emption around housing law. The City should ensure that the Department of Housing Preservation and Development and Department of Buildings have the resources and staffing to provide inspections and intervention in illegal evictions violating state and federal eviction protections. The City should also heavily promote the hardship form required to extend the moratorium in different languages through robocalls and other methods to reach New Yorkers. 

Office: Mayor, Council

Mechanism: Budget, Mayoral and/or Agency Policy

1C. Block city marshals and sheriffs from effectively evicting tenants until 2023

Problem: As thousands of tenants face the risk of eviction, state and federal eviction protections remain limited and rent relief absent. Eviction and foreclosure proceedings in New York can only be prevented until May 1, 2021, if the tenant fills out a form indicating they’ve experienced financial hardship or face health risks because of the pandemic, as reported by The City. Landlords are likely to seek money judgments to extract unpaid rent from renters’ wages and assets as soon as they are able to do so, according to Curbed NY.

Recommendation: The City should enact legislation that prevents marshals and city sherrifs from seizing or restituting of property or executing money judgments, issuing and executing evictions, and collecting debts, as the Council was considering in 2020, according to Curbed NY. The legislation would discontinue the execution of money judgments to prevent landlords from withdrawing unpaid capital from tenants’ wages, personal property, and credit ratings, and pause all residential and small commercial tenants rent-related debts for New York City tenants. This legislation should remain in effect until at least 2023.

Office: Council

Mechanism: City Legislation

2) KEEP PUBLIC HOUSING PUBLIC

NYCHA has a population larger than the cities of Atlanta or Minneapolis, according to the Community Service Society. NYCHA’s 178,000 apartments represent one out of 12 rentals in the city, housing a half million residents. As of 2020, NYCHA is home to 1 in 15 New Yorkers. Yet NYCHA residents live in housing conditions that continue to be deplorable, far worse than those facing low-income tenants in the private rental market, according to the Community Service Society. The City must prioritize public housing through deep investments to improve conditions, and democratic co-governance systems that give power to NYCHA residents.

2A. Invest in NYCHA Repairs and include NYCHA in city’s housing enforcement

Problem: The city has followed the federal government in divesting from public housing. The Gothamist reports the cost of bringing NYCHA’s buildings and apartments into a state of good repair is approximately $40 billion. The City should not engage in strategies that ultimately lead to the loss of public housing through the sale of land to private owners or demolition and conversion into mixed income housing. While these strategies bring in capital dollars, they have resulted in a net loss of units affordable to public housing residents, and less tenant power and public accountability. 

Recommendation: The next administration must fully fund the City’s public housing, retain public ownership, and create new mechanisms for preservation and repair. The City must end the loss of public housing through the sale of public buildings and land to private owners, and the demolition and/or conversion of public housing into mixed-income housing, as recommended by the Homes Guarantee coalition. The City should reallocate local funds and work with our state and federal partners to create new funding streams earmarked for NYCHA repairs. The United for Housing plan recommends that the City dedicate $1.5B in city funds, with a state match, and integrate NYCHA into code enforcement systems.

Office: Mayor

Mechanism: Budget

2B. Restructure NYCHA to involve real democratic resident power

Problem: Despite their power in numbers, NYCHA residents are not consulted adequately in changes to their housing authority’s structure, management, or future. Most residents do not perceive the official resident bodies authorized by NYCHA as spaces of resident power, and only 39 percent of residents surveyed felt that their Resident Advisory Board had the power to make changes in their development, according to a Community Voices Heard survey of 798 residents. 

Recommendation: NYCHA residents must have real decision-making power and the ability and resources to meaningfully and democratically participate in official resident leadership structures. These values are reflected in U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal for Public Housing legislation, and advocated for by Community Voices Heard (CVH), CAAAV, and Data for Progress. According to CVH, NYCHA should establish a participatory budgeting process and allow residents to decide a large percentage of the capital budget. NYCHA should also set up a more autonomous streamlined system through which resident leaders can access Tenant Participation Activities funds and ensure that resident bodies have sufficient resources to organize, set-up, and run active Resident Advisories at every development, with accessibility and language access supports. All co-governance structures should permit residents above age 18 to run for office and vote for elected representatives.

Office: Mayor

Mechanism: Mayoral and/or Agency Policy

Homelessness is a racial and social injustice. Homelessness most exposes the ways in which the City’s social safety net, or lack thereof, is failing to meet the basic needs of New Yorkers and prevent them from housing or economic insecurity. Nearly 80,000 people are considered homeless in New York City, according to Bowery. According to City Limits, 57 percent of the city’s adult shelter population is composed of Black New Yorkers, despite Black people being only 24 percent of the city’s population. The City has the ability to end homelessness now, if only it had the political will to prioritize housing for the most marginalized New Yorkers. The city’s current budget to support unhoused New Yorkers is around $3 billion, according to the Citizens Budget Commission. Overtime, this should increase but also shift from temporary to more permanent solutions for more stability and safety for low-income New Yorkers.  

3A. Focus production of housing on low-income and homeless New Yorkers

Problem: The City’s housing plans have not prioritized housing for those who need it most. Mayor de Blasio’s housing plan, touted as the most ambitious housing plan in the country at one time, prioritized creating the highest number of units possible, rather than building less units overall but more units focused on housing extremely low-income New Yorkers, according to the Coalition for the Homeless. Between 2014 and 2018, only 23 percent were created for extremely low-income households, with most units created for middle-income households, according to ANHD

Recommendation: The City must focus housing production and preservation on housing for homeless, extremely low-, and very low-income New Yorkers. The City’s limited funds must be used to preserve and develop permanently affordable housing at 0-30 percent of area median income, specifically for homeless individuals and families. These units will require much higher levels of subsidy in order to achieve deeper levels of affordability, so therefore it is likely that overall less units will be built. But this tradeoff is worth the lower number of units overall, as middle or higher income New Yorkers, although rent-burdened, are not in emergency homeless situations. 

Office: Mayor

Mechanism: Budget, Mayoral and/or Agency Policy

3B. Coordinate housing and homelessness policy for permanent housing placement

Problem: The City fails to move a significant proportion of people experiencing homelessness into permanent housing each year. According to NY1, less than five percent of voucher holders are able to find an apartment, and according to the NYNY Campaign, there is only one supportive housing unit for every five eligible people. According to the Coalition for the Homeless, fewer than 1,000 homeless households in the DHS system moved from shelters into apartments through the Department of Housing Preservation and Development in 2019, the lowest of any City agency with housing programs. Despite abysmal placement rates, the City has no plan to improve placements in any measurable or coordinated way.  

Recommendation: The City must respond to homelessness through coordinated housing and homelessness policy that prioritizes eligibility based on a person’s lived experience, not what system they are receiving services and support from. United for Housing advocates for metrics including the number of placements from shelters to units created through the City’s housing plan, the average number of days to rent up homeless set aside units, the number of housing-first placements from the street to supportive housing, and the number of rental assistance vouchers issued to homeless New Yorkers in shelters or on the street. The City must also ensure that people experiencing homelessness in the youth and domestic violence system systems have equal access to all supportive housing and voucher based supports. The City’s Deputy Mayor of Housing must publish and use these metrics to place more homeless New Yorkers into permanent housing. 

Office: Mayor, Council 

Mechanism: City Legislation, Mayoral and/or Agency Policy

3C. Create and build more supportive housing for the most vulnerable New Yorkers

Problem: A subset of people face chronic homelessness due to chronic substance use, mental illness, disability, or other chronic conditions. Many of these individuals encompass the city’s street homeless or single adult shelter population, according to the Coalition for the Homeless. Without consistent support, these New Yorkers can cycle between shelters and the street, or worse, city jails, majorly filled with people with “Brad H status,” an indicator of mental illness, according to Vera Institute. Yet, the City’s supportive housing supply has never met the need.  

Recommendation: People placed in supportive housing visit shelters less frequently, require hospital care less often and for less time, and are significantly more likely to avoid homelessness or incarceration in the future, all of which decrease costs to the City’s safety net, according to the Supportive Housing Network of NY. In 2015, the City committed to building 15,000 supportive housing units over the next 15 years. The City should continue to make good on this commitment, and connect vulnerable homeless New Yorkers to supportive housing.

Office: Mayor

Mechanism: Budget, Mayoral and/or Agency Policy

3D. Fully fund rental assistance programs and housing subsidies at market rent

Problem: As a result of low amounts offered by rental assistance programs such as CityFHEPs, landlords routinely deny these housing vouchers and throw tenants with vouchers into greater housing insecurity, according to NY1.  Income discrimination from landlords leads to high competition between potential residents for the few units available at that price range; renters may become constricted to low quality housing, sometimes in dangerous conditions with landlords unwilling to fix mold or lead issues, or limited or no heat and hot water. As WNYC reports, with housing subsidies not working, the number of people in shelters keeps growing.

Recommendation: CityFHEPs and other city-based rental assistance programs should be fully funded to meet fair market rent rates, so that New Yorkers on rental assistance are able to find quality safe housing in the city, and not face the income discrimination from landlords. Passing legislation like Intro 146 will raise CityFHEPS vouchers to fair market rent, making rental spaces more accessible to those who most need it. Funds initially given to landlords as signing bonuses should be redirected towards increasing the value of assistance program vouchers.

Office: Mayor, Council

Mechanism: Budget, City Legislation

3E. Transition low-use and vacant hotels and office buildings to affordable housing

Problem: According to United for Housing, hotels in parts of the city are in oversupply, the industry is distressed with the sharp decline in tourism and there are a great number of vacant commercial properties that are similarly in distress. About 14 percent of the office space in Midtown Manhattan is currently vacant, amounting to hundreds of thousands of rooms and large swaths of commercial spaces, according to the New York Times

Recommendation:  The United for Housing platform calls for the City to acquire struggling hotel properties and convert them into permanently affordable housing and supportive housing, including “safe havens” for the City’s unsheltered homeless. A conversion plan would also prevent vast parts of the city from sitting fallow indefinitely, and put these properties to use for our city’s most vulnerable tenants. According to United for Housing, as 20 percent of the 125,000 hotel rooms in New York City may never open again, hotel owners may be more likely to accept an offer to sell their holdings to the City at a discounted value.

Office: Mayor, Council

Mechanism: Budget, City Legislation, Land Use Action

4) OFFER IMMEDIATE RELIEF TO STREET HOMELESS NEW YORKERS

As the Bowery Mission explains, nearly 4,000 people sleep on the street, subway,or in other public spaces. Though the City behaves as if street homeless New Yorkers are making a ‘choice’ not to use city shelters, as Human.nyc explains, “[street] homelessness is not a result of “tolerable” living conditions in the streets. It is the result of deep economic and structural societal problems that leave our most vulnerable and traumatized neighbors out in the cold.” The City has historically used a “hand up, not a hand out” approach that impedes harm reductionist and housing first approaches that would meet the immediate needs of street homeless New Yorkers.

4A. Restructure street homeless outreach to meet needs in a harm reductionist approach

Problem: The City’s homeless outreach teams are on the frontlines of addressing the almost 4,000 New Yorkers who remain unsheltered in the city’s streets and subways. These New Yorkers are particularly vulnerable and face unique challenges like increased exposure to inclement weather, and interaction with the police. However, the City’s current policies around street homeless outreach are dehumanizing. Outreach teams have long operated under the misconception that providing people with basic necessities deters them from going into the shelters. This approach makes it difficult for people experiencing street homelessness to trust outreach workers.

Recommendation: According to Human.nyc, the City should fully fund outreach and case management so there are no waiting periods or eligibility requirements. Outreach workers should adopt bright colorful uniforms to minimize intimidation. The City should also fund and require outreach teams to use harm-reduction techniques and provide tangible support like food, coffee, water, socks, blankets, hygiene supplies, and single hotel rooms or similar units to offer to individuals for whom shared or congregate spaces is not an option. As in Philadelphia’s Mental Health Partnerships model, the City should fund staff lines for DHS- and DYCD-contracted homeless outreach providers to hire formerly homeless New Yorkers and youth as outreach workers. 

Office: Mayor, Council

Mechanism: Budget, City Legislation

4B. End discriminatory screening for supportive housing placement

Problem: With demand for supportive housing exceeding supply, New York City supportive housing providers are forced to choose which applicants to their housing will receive tenancy. A true “Housing First” model does not exist, as applicants must prove they are “housing ready.” Applicants are repeatedly rejected for vague reasons like “not having insight into their mental illness.” According to the Safety Net Project, supportive housing providers “cherry pick” which individuals are granted tenancy. This practice undermines a true “Housing First” model, and keeps individuals with more pressing care needs on the streets and in shelters.

Recommendation: As recommended by Human.nyc, New York City must change to a true “Housing First” model where our most vulnerable neighbors are screened in, not screened out. Until capacity is significantly increased, elected officials must ensure prioritization of housing for the most high-needs, marginalized, and at-risk individuals. The best way to meet that objective is for the City to ensure that their Coordinated Entry process, known as the Coordinated Assessment and Placement System aka CAPS, is implementing a truly Housing First approach by eliminating the supportive housing interview process, which is where people are typically screened out, despite already being deemed eligible by HRA. According to New York Attorney General’s office, federal, state, and local laws prevent housing providers and lenders from housing discrimination on the grounds of disability, among other identities or statuses. 

Office: Mayor, Council

Mechanism: Budget, City Legislation

4C. Meet the immediate needs of unsheltered homeless New Yorkers

Problem: The Department of Homeless Services operates under the false belief that homeless outreach teams providing people with basic necessities deters them from shelters. For people on the streets or subways who refuse to enter a shelter due to past trauma or other reasons, this practice sends the wrong message and fosters distrust of City outreach teams. Street homeless New Yorkers must live on the streets for nine months before they are eligible for a safe haven or permanent housing. 

Recommendation: As recommended by Human.nyc, New York City should meet both the immediate and long-term needs of unsheltered homeless New Yorkers. The City should equip DHS outreach teams with basic needs items like socks, clothes, underwear, and water bottles, and provide contracted outreach teams additional funding to operate shower programs and food trucks like private efforts by New York City Relief. The City should remove the nine month chronicity requirement for safe havens, and allow all outreach teams to place people who would otherwise qualify. Most importantly, the City should open single rooms for every unsheltered homeless New Yorker.

Office: Mayor, Council

Mechanism: Budget, Mayoral and/or Agency Policy

4D. End policing of street homeless New Yorkers

Problem: As reported by the New York Times, for decades New York City has relied on sweeps to harass and move homeless people out of sight and off public property. The de Blasio administration has significantly expanded the use of sweeps, conducting more than 1,300 sweeps in 2020, twice that of the prior year, according to the Safety Net Project. These multi-agency sweeps, or “clean-ups” as the City calls them, include DHS outreach workers and DSNY, and often NYPD, and lead to disruption of homeless people’s everyday lives and communities, destruction of homeless people’s property and vital documents, and criminalization, according to the Gothamist, and the Appeal.  

Recommendation: The deep involvement of DHS outreach teams in sweeps often leads to distrust of outreach workers, and shifts valuable outreach resources to displacing and disrupting homeless people and homeless communities. And while sweeps forcibly move homeless people around, they do not get anyone housed. According to Human.nyc, the City must end street sweeps, combat the targeting of homeless New Yorkers on the subways, and remove NYPD from combined homeless outreach and canvassing efforts.  Instead, the City should provide immediate housing options, and compassionate and supportive outreach to street homeless New Yorkers.

Office: Mayor, Council 

Mechanism: Budget, Mayoral and/or Agency Policy

5) OVERHAUL THE CITY’S LAND USE PROCESS

Low-income communities of color have taken on the brunt of the city’s rezonings, density, and siting needs while receiving little protections to stay in their homes, while white residents are able to block these actions in their neighborhoods. The resulting approach to city land use policy is racist, classist, and discriminatory. This is largely because of a piecemeal and heavy-handed approach to city planning and land use, and over-reliance on ULURP, the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure. A new approach, one that recognizes this history and involves those most impacted in planning decisions moving forward, is needed. 

5A. Create a comprehensive planning process with equitable goals and engagement

Problem: The City’s planning centers on piecemeal zoning to extract housing and density from neighborhoods, and site homeless shelters, waste treatment centers, and other city facilities. The Department of City Planning (DCP) has historically proceeded with rezonings in low-income neighborhoods of color without much engagement, rushing them through ULURP processes, while white wealthier neighborhoods avoid rezonings or retain down-zonings. According to City Limits, wealthy, powerful communities and profit-driven developers game the system and exploit it for profit and personal gain.

Recommendation: The City should implement comprehensive planning connecting budget, land use, and strategic planning processes, and address disparities, fair share, displacement risks, and impacts of prior development. The plan should set citywide and neighborhood targets for housing, open space, jobs, facilities, and infrastructure, and deter proposals that do not meet targets. The City should also fully fund community planning, and reform community boards to promote diversity and representation, according to City Limits. The City should also enact concrete ways to empower marginalized communities and unhoused people in the process. 

Office: Mayor, Council

Mechanism: Budget, Charter Referendum, Land Use Action, City Legislation, Mayoral and/or Agency Policy

5B.  End single family zoning and legalize all accessory dwelling units

Problem: As KQED-NPR reports, single-family zoning was historically used by wealthy, white neighborhoods to prevent denser development and integration with Black people. In single family zoned areas, it is illegal to build anything other than a single family-home on a single lot. According to the New York Times, 15 percent of residential land in New York City is zoned for single-family homes. New Yorkers who live in multi-family arrangements in accessory apartments in basements and attics in these areas are deemed to be living illegally and are unable to get the City’s assistance with poor conditions due to fear of eviction. 

Recommendation: The New York Times reports that in Minneapolis, which ended single family zoning, over time, the upzoning of 5 percent of the largest single family homes would produce about 6200 new housing units. New York City should end single family zoning, legalize small apartment buildings with 2-4 residents in all residential areas, eliminating parking minimums, and legalize accessory dwelling units to promote low-cost rental housing for the benefit of marginalized low-income New Yorkers. Ending single family zoning does not preclude New Yorkers from living in a single family home arrangement, but allows for a variety of different residential uses.   

Office: Mayor, Council

Mechanism: Budget, Land Use Action, City Legislation, Mayoral and/or Agency Policy

5C. Support working class people of color-led and community-led planning

Problem: New York City’s current processes for city planning and land use exacerbate inequity, segregation, and displacement. The Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) does not support community-led planning, introducing ‘community engagement’ only after the city has already started the process to approve land use decisions, placing communities in a reactionary position. When communities set forth their own proactive plans for the future of their neighborhoods, they are often ignored. 

Recommendation: As recommended by the Right to a Roof coalition, New York City must support community planning and center “local knowledge within a true citywide framework.” The City should provide communities the resources to develop their own planning processes. Community-created plans that follow the comprehensive planning framework should have the support of the City as a co-applicant. With early, ongoing, and equitable community engagement, the City must practice transparent planning, publically list any commitments that arise through the community planning process, and follow through with commitments made. Historically marginalized communities must be engaged, centered, and empowered in determining the future of their neighborhoods. 

Office: Mayor, Council

Mechanism: Budget, City Legislation, Mayoral and/or Agency Policy

6) INVEST IN HOUSING FOR PEOPLE, NOT PROFIT

Underlying New York City’s housing crisis is the conflict between a profit-driven model of housing creation and housing as a basic human need and right. As the Washington Post reports, federal, state, and city governments have largely relied on for-profit entities for affordable housing production and incentivize production of below-market housing units within market-rate developments. However, this approach does not address the huge shortage of affordable housing units, and the profit-driven motives that drive deregulation, neglect, and rising rents. The City must build more pipelines for housing creation that promote the goals of social housing, as defined by CSS NY: decommodification, social equity, and resident control.

6A. Use public land for public good

Problem: Publicly-owned land is one of the City’s greatest assets, which should be used for the benefit of all New Yorkers. According to the Right to a Roof report, the City owns vacant and underutilized property that it often transfers to developers for as little as a dollar, without meaningful community input, oversight or commitment to permanently-affordable housing. Public land developed in this way often fuels displacement in low-income and BIPOC neighborhoods.

Recommendation: As both United for Housing and the Right to Roof reports recommend, public land must be used for public good. The City must direct public land and resources to community- and BIPOC-led organizations committed to creating and preserving permanently affordable social housing, such as public housing, community land trusts, limited equity coops, and HDFCs. The city should pass legislation that limits public land disposition to nonprofits that commit to permanent affordability and community ownership. The City should provide funding to support rehab of distressed buildings, new construction on vacant lots, and operating subsidies. 

Office: Mayor, Council

Mechanism: City Legislation, Mayoral and/or Agency Policy

6B. Pass “Opportunity to Purchase” legislation and establish related funding

Problem: According to the Gotham Gazette, The looming real estate downturn threatens to further fuel speculation in neighborhoods hardest-hit by COVID-19, as predatory equity firms raise funds to purchase distressed buildings at a discount and later sell them for a huge profit margin. Instead, the City can expand its housing stock by preserving multi-family buildings as permanently-affordable, tenant-run cooperatives and rental housing–including through partnerships with community land trusts. 

Recommendation: As the United for Housing and Right to Roof reports recommend, the City must advocate for the passage of the Tenant and Community Opportunity to Purchase Acts; TOPA at the state level, S3157/ A5971, as Gothamist reports, and COPA at the city level, or Int 1977-2020, as the Gotham Gazette reports. The bills would require landlords to give notice when they put properties up for sale and give tenant and community organizations a right of first refusal. Both policies must be paired with public acquisition and rehabilitation funding and technical assistance, to support tenants and community organizations in exercising their rights and putting together offers on buildings.

Office: Council

Mechanism: Advocacy for State Reform, City Legislation

6C. Incubate and Expand Community Land Trusts (CLTs)

Problem: According to the NYC Community Land Initiative, Community Land Trusts (CLTs) are non-profit organizations that treat land as a public good, rather than a privately-owned commodity.  CLTs  ensure that housing on CLT land remains permanently affordable, thereby preserving public subsidy and ensuring continued community benefit. Forming a CLT in New York City however, requires navigating multiple legal incorporations and requirements, regulatory frameworks, and complex real estate transactions, in addition to sustaining ongoing community education and organizing that are central to the CLT model. Strong municipal support for CLT organizing, expansion and technical assistance is essential if CLTs are to reach scale.

Recommendation: NYC must increase funding for CLTs.  As reported in City Limits, in Fiscal Year 2020, the City Council launched a citywide CLT discretionary funding initiative to support CLT education, organizing, and technical assistance. The Council must build on this work by expanding discretionary funding and providing targeted capital funding support as CLTs get off the ground, to help CLTs reach scale and ensure lasting community stewardship over land, housing, and other resources. The Mayor should baseline funding for CLTs and expand incubation programs for CLT development, connecting CLTs to a pipeline to convert city-owned land into community ownership.

Office: Mayor, Council

Mechanism: Budget

6D. Expand programs like Neighborhood Pillars to promote affordable housing

Problem: Neighborhoods experiencing gentrification face heavy market competition for land and residential properties. This makes it difficult for nonprofits and mission-driven developers to buy residential properties to keep them affordable and/or rent-stabilized. They cannot compete with private buyers especially at the early stages of the purchase process. This dynamic fuels further privatization, rising rents, and gentrification pressure.

Recommendation: The City should scale HPD’s Neighborhood Pillars program, which, as NextCity assists buyers with the early steps in buying large-scale residential properties. This includes early technical support, down-payment assistance, sourcing, and contracts for participating buyers. The program requires buyers to agree to 30-year affordability terms on up to a third of the units. According to Curbed New York, it requires that no units exceed 120 percent of the neighborhood’s area median income (AMI), resulting in lower rents in those properties. 

Office: Mayor, Council

Mechanism: Budget, Mayoral and/or Agency Policy

6E. Prioritize mission-driven and nonprofit developers and management 

Problem: In New York City, non-profit developers are more likely to keep revenue in the community through direct service delivery and to build more deeply affordable housing. Yet, the City has historically favored for-profit developers over mission-driven non-profits, even for developments on public land, according to the Right to a Roof coalition. These for-profit developers, driven by the bottom line, maximize rents with no interest in the public good, leaving thousands of New Yorkers more vulnerable to eviction and homelessness, especially when regulatory agreements end. 

Recommendation: The City must turn city-owned land into opportunities for public good, and sites must be developed as 100 percent permanently affordable housing by mission-driven, not-for-profit and/or community controlled developers.  If the City is offering critical subsidy or financing for affordable housing development, preservation, or management, it should prioritize mission-driven and/or non-profit organizations, increasing access, capacity, resources, and outreach to these groups. This strategy, according to the Right to a Roof report, would encourage these developers to take on more complicated preservation projects while maintaining competitiveness in new construction.

Office: Mayor, Council

Mechanism: Budget, Mayoral and/or Agency Policy, City Legislation

6F. Invest in Social Housing 

Problem: The private market of residential housing, with its profit driven motives, continues to fail to accommodate thousands of renters, and puts thousands more in precarious housing insecure situations. According to the United for Housing report, more than 900,000 New Yorkers pay more than 30 percent of their income in rent. This market produces shorter-term tenancy, and gives zero control to residents over their homes.

Recommendation:  The City should invest in social housing. Cities in Western Europe like Vienna have already done this, according to NPR and The Prospect. It’s time for New York City to follow suit. This includes public housing, non-profit owned or controlled housing, or community or resident controlled residential properties like community land trusts or limited-equity coops. The City must fund local capital and new operating subsidies to serve hard to reach and the lowest income populations. These projects should be rooted in neighborhood planning and a fair share framework for comprehensive planning by accelerating public approvals and environmental review for social housing that meets fair share goals, as articulated by the Thriving Communities coalition. 

Office: Mayor, Council

Mechanism: Budget, Mayoral and/or Agency Policy

7) PROTECT TENANTS & VULNERABLE HOMEOWNERS OF COLOR

Low-income New York City tenants and homeowners of color face a myriad of challenges in accessing safe affordable accessible housing. Thousands of tenants in shelters, private rental housing, or in NYCHA live in hazardous conditions in housing falling into disrepair, and many in private housing are routinely harassed by landlords and face the threat of eviction. Racism, ableism, and discrimination in housing practices and policies prevent equitable access to housing and shelter for especially for Black and Latinx people, people with disabilities, and LGBTQIA+ people. The City must expand legal protections and enforcement, and eliminate discriminatory housing policies to better protect these tenants and homeowners. 

7A. Perform proactive, routine, systematic housing code enforcement

Problem:  According to the Mayor’s office, in fiscal year 2019, HPD issued 604,068 housing code violations, including 86,258 emergency violations for conditions like heat and hot water, lead, and mold. Currently, the City’s Department of Housing, Preservation, and Development (HPD) and Department of Buildings (DOB) operate under a reactive model, only conducting inspections around harassment, code violations, and health and safety through tenant reporting. However, this model falls short as the City is unlikely to be aware of all existing violations which exacerbate over time, and may be less accessible for vulnerable tenants, according to Local Housing Solutions

Recommendation: HPD and DOB should engage in routine, systematic housing code enforcement that would not replace complaint-based inspections, but would allow for proactive inspections leading to earlier identification of violations, and potentially a reduction of complaints over time, as explained by Local Housing Solutions. In order to have the staffing capacity to be able to engage in proactive code enforcement, HPD and DOB should be funded accordingly. The City should integrate NYCHA into its housing code enforcement systems so that residents can register complaints using the City’s 311 system, as recommended by United for Housing

Office: Mayor, Council

Mechanism: Budget, City Legislation

7B. Expand right to counsel

Problem: New York City’s 2017 Universal Access law establishes the precedent that no one should have to face eviction proceedings without access to an attorney, giving tenants with income levels below 200 percent of the poverty level the “right to counsel” in eviction proceedings, as reported by Bloomberg. This policy had dramatically increased tenant representation and lowered eviction rates citywide. However, as CSSNY explains, households in the low to moderate income bracket are still vulnerable to housing instability, often facing eviction proceedings without an attorney.

Recommendation:  According to the Right to Counsel NYC Coalition, three bills would strengthen New York City law: Intro 2050, Intro 1104 and Intro 1529. These bills would expand the Right to Counsel to tenants within 400 percent of the poverty level, expand the program citywide, and increase efforts to educate tenants of their rights in housing court. City Council should pass this true universal Right to Counsel Act, ensuring the right to an attorney for all vulnerable tenants facing eviction proceedings in all venues.

Office: Council

Mechanism: Budget, City Legislation

7C. Increase Fair Housing and anti-discrimination enforcement capacity

Problem: According to the National Fair Housing Alliance, discrimination against people with disabilities produces the largest number of fair housing complaints each year. Separately, Black, Latinx, and other New Yorkers of color still face vastly different circumstances and health outcomes, due to housing disparities. According to the Where We Live NYC Plan, children in East Harlem and the Bronx are 15 times more likely to visit the emergency room because of asthma-related conditions, and Black and Latinx children in New York City’s public schools are four times more likely than white children to live in unstable housing.  

Recommendation: As recommended in the Where We Live Plan, the City should increase the staffing and budget capacity of the NYC Commission on Human Rights (CCHR) to enforce fair housing and anti-discrimination laws and increase routine paired testing investigations for fair housing violations in the private rental market. The City should increase the number of CCHR attorneys and investigators to add capacity and shorten processing and response times for fair housing complaints. CCHR should pay particular attention to source-of-income discrimination, reasonable accommodation requests, accessibility requirements, and increase the number of large-scale, affirmative cases against owners repeatedly violating fair housing laws.

Office: Mayor, Council

Mechanism: Budget

7D. Abolish the New York City tax lien sale

Problem: According to a report by the New Economy Project, the New York City Community Land Initiative, City College of New York, and TakeRoot Justice, New York City sells its property tax and water debt to a private trust, which then collects the debt and eventually forecloses on the property if the owner does not pay. Although the revenue this generates for the City is relatively small (typically less than $70 million annually, compared to roughly $30 billion in annual property tax revenue), the tax lien sale fuels speculation and displacement and extracts wealth from Black and Latinx communities and communities of color.

Recommendation: NYC Council passed legislation in January 2021 creating a one-year timeline and task force to explore alternatives to the lien sale. As a next step, New York City must end the tax lien sale and develop tax collection and property disposition systems that will prevent speculation in Black and Latinx communities and other communities of color, keep vulnerable homeowners in place, support tenants in distressed buildings with delinquent landlords, and expand the City’s stock of affordable and social housing. Community Land Trusts are ideally positioned to partner with the City to develop alternatives that meet three goals: in-rem foreclosure, property disposition, and/or the creation of a land bank or other entity to handle foreclosure and disposition. 

Office: Council

Mechanism: City Legislation

7E. Invest in housing organizing

Problem: New York City’s housing crisis and legacies of racist planning practices such as red-lining remain, disproportionately impacting low-income communities of color. In response, a strong movement for housing justice has emerged, led by those directly impacted. Many housing organizations fighting for safe, quality, and permanently affordable housing also provide vital services to tenants’ eviction prevention, protection, and housing court assistance. Despite the monumental impacts of housing organizing on New York City tenants, including statewide rent stabilization and regulation laws, anti-harassment legislation, and right to counsel mandates, organizing work remains shamefully underfunded. 

Recommendation: New York City must invest in grassroots housing organizing and expand funding for initiatives such as Stabilizing NYC and Community Land Trusts. Investing in housing organizing means investing in the many services provided by housing advocates including eviction prevention, tenant protection, housing court assistance, housing-related public education, combating predatory equity landlords, and maintaining affordable housing. Funding for community-led housing organizing not only supports work that builds community engagement, but centers and empowers those directly impacted in creating solutions to the housing crisis and leading the movement for housing justice.

Office: Mayor, Council

Mechanism: Budget

7F. Ensure Safety and Access in Shelters for TGNCNB New Yorkers

Problem: Transgender, gender non-conforming, and non-binary (TGNCNB) New Yorkers face extraordinary discrimination in housing and formal employment, and increased violence from families as youth that conributes to high rates of homelessness, according to NCTE. Even in seeking emergency housing, TGNCNB folks face great discrimination in the NYC shelter system. TGNCNB people are often not housed according to their gender identity, and their bathroom access and other needs may not be taken into account. The Sylvia Rivera Law Project reports their members’ mental and physical health have been extremely affected by the negative conditions for TGNCNB people within the shelter system. 

Policy Recommendation: TGNCNB New Yorkers of color are at increased risk of housing insecurity and may face increased violence on the streets. Thus, TGNCNB people and survivors of violence should be prioritized by DHS in permanent housing, supportive housing, and voucher referrals. DHS must create TGNCNB-specific floors or wings and enforce their own policy around LGBTQIA+ cultural competency and anti-bias training to ensure staff do not misgender and/or exhibit homophobia or transphobia against TGNCNB shelter occupants. DHS staff who do not follow their policy to treat TGNCNB people with respect and dignity must face real consequences. The City should also remove barriers and prioritize LGBTQ people facing violence for vouchers and supportive housing placement for quicker placement in housing.

Office: Mayor

Mechanism: Budget, Mayoral and/or Agency Policy

7G. Ban criminal background checks on potential tenants

Problem: Due to racism, classism, and marginalization, formerly incarcerated New Yorkers and/or New Yorkers entangled in the criminal legal system are disproportionately Black and Latinx, and are frequently denied housing opportunities because of criminal records. According to the Where We Live Plan, the City has been overhauling the admissions process to City-supported affordable housing to address this discrimination since 2016. However, the private market has failed to adopt the procedures required by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Extensive discrimination contributes to repeated experiences with homelessness and housing insecurity for formerly incarcerated New Yorkers.

Recommendation: As suggested in the Where We Live NYC Plan, the City should enact local legislation to address discrimination in the private housing market based on residents’ past involvement with the criminal justice system. Such protections should be designed to eliminate if not minimize the impact that criminal records-based discrimination poses for Black and/or Latinx people of color. This anti-discrimination legislation should build on currently existing legislation in the council, Int 2047-2020, which has not yet passed, and Int 1314-2018 which has passed.

Office: Council

Mechanism: City Legislation

8) REFORM THE CITY’S PROPERTY TAX SYSTEM 

As reported by the Gotham Gazette, the effective tax rates paid by New York City’s residential property owners are deeply unequal; wealthy homeowners currently benefit from abatements, systems of valuation, and assessment that lower their effective tax rates. Rental properties and working class homeowners take on additional tax burden. Meanwhile, the City, facing a financial crisis needs to find more sources of revenue in ways that do not regressively tax working class New Yorkers of color. Capital expenses like school construction, improvements to NYCHA, and housing construction are much needed, and could use this kind of revenue generation to fund these important social goods. 

8A: Reform the City’s property tax system on Class 1 residential property 

Problem: The assessed value for one to three family homes, called “Class 1” properties, is set at 6 percent of their market value, while all other classes of property are assessed at 45 percent. Some class 1 properties are assessed at even less than 6 percent of their value due to a Assessed Value Growth Caps policy. The impact of this policy is that homeowners in wealthy and gentrifying neighborhoods with strong real estate markets and rapid value growth pay taxes at a lower effective rate than homeowners in working class and neighborhoods of color where home value appreciates at a more modest rate, according to NYU’s Furman Center

Recommendation: The New York City Commission on Property Tax Reform issued a  preliminary report issued in December 2020 containing 10 recommendations. Most of the recommendations will require State action, so City leaders should work with the State legislature to change the state policies that have fueled inequality in the City’s property tax system, including eliminating Assessed Value Growth Caps and creating a circuit breaker to lower tax burdens on low income homeowners. At the local level, the City should assess properties at their full market value. 

Office: Mayor, Council

Mechanism: Advocacy for State Reform, City Legislation, Mayoral and/or Agency Policy

8B: Reform the City’s property tax system on Class 2 residential property

Problem: Owners of most coops and condos benefit from being placed in “Class 2” alongside large rental buildings, which undervalues coop and condo properties, in turn lowering their assessed value and tax rates, according to the Furman Center. Additionally, according to the Department of Finance’s Annual Property Tax Report, the Cooperative and Condominium Tax Abatement is the most expensive abatement by dollar amount in Fiscal Year 2020, accounting for about half of all abatements and costing almost four times as much as abatement programs that protect vulnerable tenants, like Senior Citizen Rent Increase Exemption (SCRIE) and Disability Rent Increase Exemption (DRIE). 

Recommendation: The New York City Commission on Property Tax Reform’s December 2020 preliminary report includes a few local actions that New York City can take, in addition to advocating for changes at the state level, including moving condo and coop properties into Class 1 and changing their valuation method to a sales-based system, and replacing the Coop and Condo Tax Abatement with a partial homestead exemption for low-income homeowners. The City should assess properties at their full market value.

Office: Mayor, Council

Mechanism: Advocacy for State Reform, City Legislation, Mayoral and/or Agency Policy

8C. Reform the property tax system to raise revenue for City’s recovery and future

Problem: Property tax is New York City’s largest, most stable source of revenue and the only tax the City has the power to change the rates of, according to NYU’s Furman Center. The New York State Constitution limits the property tax the City can levy and collect for City services to 2.5 percent of the full value of all of New York City’s property. According to the Regional Plan Association, the City has typically levied more than 95 percent of the total constitutional limit. 

Recommendation: Because undervaluation of certain properties and underassessment, the City is missing out on tax revenue from the full value of local properties. City leaders should work with State leaders to pursue reforms recommended by the New York City Commission on Property Tax Reform to more accurately value properties with higher assessment rates which would raise revenue without violating the constitutional limit. Since capital expenditures and the debt service for capital expenses are exempt from the constitutional cap, the City should take advantage of this exemption and set property tax rates over the constitutional limit to fund the capital budget and other non-capital debt service obligations to the greatest extent possible.

Office: Mayor, Council

Mechanism: Advocacy for State Reform, City Legislation, Mayoral and/or Agency Policy