THE AFFORDABILITY CRISIS
There is no question that New York City is facing a serious and unprecedented affordability crisis. It is the first issue on nearly every voter’s mind – young and old, low-income and upper-middle class. If we do not act, our city could become a place where only the absolute wealthiest can survive.
To address the issue, we need to do three important things: (1) build more affordable housing units and strengthen rent stabilization laws to keep people in their homes, and (2) introduce new laws to protect small businesses from unfair rent increases and harassment.
(1) INCREASING AFFORDABLE HOUSING STOCK
Despite considerable public investment to stimulate the production of housing that is affordable to low and moderate-income New Yorkers, the supply of publicly-subsidized housing meets the needs of only a fraction of the people in these income groups. To do this, we must end unaffordable tax exemptions for real estate developers, and demand that they invest in the communities they impact.
For the past decade, the city has been losing affordable housing units. Since 2007, over 172,000 apartments have been deregulated. Mayor de Blasio’s housing plan from 2014 aims to “build or preserve” 200,000 units, with only 80,000 of those units falling under the “build” category. This current plan comes up short. We must aggressively add to the affordable housing stock to keep up with demand.
We are giving away far too much to real estate developers in the form of tax exemptions like 421a, which cost the city billions of dollars in tax revenue each year and produce woefully few affordable housing units, particularly units for the lowest-income renters. We would be better served by keeping the revenue from tax exemptions, and using it to build new affordable housing units that would not be at risk of becoming market rate after the 25-35 year tax exemption period.
The status quo for New York City Democrats is to publicly condemn development, while privately allowing developers to do as they please. This strategy wins elections, but short changes New Yorkers. Real estate developers are radically altering the needs of neighborhoods, and leaving the city scrambling to fill the gaps. The result is overcrowded schools and underfunded services.
To fix this, the City Council must exact more from developers. When developers come into a neighborhood and build, they are adding more residents, who will in turn require more services from the city. The City Council should require that developers invest in the community that they are changing. This means more money for schools, parks, renovating local transportation hubs, like subway stations and bus stops, or contributing funds to non-profits directly serving the community.
(2) PROTECTING SMALL BUSINESSES
The City Council must do more to protect small businesses. For the past 30 years, we have been losing many local neighborhood businesses due to excessive rent increases and tenant harassment.
The first step we must take is to pass the Small Business Jobs Survival Act (SBJSA). The bill has been kicking around City Hall since 1988, and currently has the votes necessary to pass, yet the speaker and mayor refuse to bring it to a vote. The legality of the act has been a point of contention for years. However, a 2010 commission determined that the act was legally sound. As the next City Council Member, I will vocally support the bill, and demand that it be brought to a vote.
The SBJSA is only the first step. We must enact stronger commercial tenant protection laws, similar to the laws we have for residential tenants, in order to protect businesses from price gouging and landlord harassment. We also need to explore how the city itself is overburdening small businesses. To provide relief for small business owners, we need to review regulations to determine their necessity.