Editor: David Reiss
Brooklyn Law School

January 7, 2014

Preserving NYC’s Affordable Housing Stock

By David Reiss

The housing folks in the De Blasio Administration may want to take a look at a recent article in the Journal of Affordable Housing by Sullivan and Power.  Coming Affordable Housing Challenges for Municipalities After the Great Recession (also on SSRN) provides an overview of some modest ways to protect the existing affordable housing stock. Policies such as these can inform the Mayor’s overall affordable housing strategy which will have to emphasize preservation as much as new construction.

The authors note that for “low-income individuals who are to find employment, the disparity between wages and housing affordability is stark.” (298) They also note that while “housing prices have fallen approximately 30 percent since 2006, adjustments in value have done little to ease the financial burden of rental housing.” (2) The article then looks at various opportunities that local governments have to stem the loss of rental units to conversion, demolition and abandonment.

The authors identify three cost-effective and ways that states and local governments may be able to  “curtail the ongoing loss and conversion of affordable housing units . . ..” (308) They can adopt “no net loss” policies that could, for instance require that downzonings of residential communities be matched by upzonings . They can implement “rights of first refusal” that grant governmental and not-for-profit housing agencies “the right to notice of an owner’s intent to sell within a certain time frame and an opportunity to purchase expiring or opting-out affordable housing units.” (310) And local and state governments can amend their building codes to make it easier and cheaper for providers of affordable housing to maintain their properties.

NYC already does some of these things, but it is worth it for the new Mayor to take a fresh look at the City’s approach to preservation to ensure that there are no missed opportunities.

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