November 19, 2014
By Marc Bussanich
New York, NY—The long anticipated City Council hearing to learn more details of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s affordable housing plan on Monday proved “squishy” as the commissioner of the housing agency couldn’t provide exact numbers on the number of units targeted for preservation.
The commissioner of the Department of Housing Preservation & Development, Vicki Been, provided some details of how the city will be able to preserve and/or build 200,000 affordable housing units over the next 10 years.
Councilman Jumaane Williams, Chair of the Council’s Department of Housing and Buildings, was trying to learn from Ms. Been how is the agency calculating the exact number of 120,000 units the City wants to set aside now for preservation using a wide variety of programs the City has historically relied upon to preserve affordable housing units.
For example, Commissioner Been provided information on four programs providing assistance to New Yorkers—a low- income housing tax program, the Housing and Urban Development multi-family program, Mitchell-Lama housing and project-based Section 8 assistance.
“These are our main preservation programs that provide tens of thousands of units per year, up to about 50,000 units,” said Been.
But when Councilmember Williams asked how many units can the City expect to preserve from other programs so that the City can get to 120,000 units today, Been said she didn’t have a specific number.
“It’s a very hard number to come up with…..It's maybe like 30,000 units, but it’s a very squishy number……,” said Been.
Councilmember Williams expressed his frustration that the commissioner didn’t have the numbers for Monday’s meeting.
“We waited a very long time to have this hearing. I pushed it back a few times because we were told that we would have that information by the time we had this hearing. I would like to have squishy or non-squishy numbers to my questions because we waited such a long time with anticipation that these numbers would be ready,” Williams said.
Ms. Been seemed equally annoyed and told the Council why she didn’t provide exact numbers.
“Numbers are a great thing, but they can be used in ways that I don’t think you are sufficiently appreciating. That is, if I give numbers for each and every program they become leverage points because when I’m trying to close deals, a developer may say you projected that there would be, say, 1,326 units in this category this year, but you’re short,” she said. “[This] becomes a constant source of tension when there are lots of little numbers that add up to the big total. For that reason we didn’t release numbers for each and every program [because] it’s never been our practice because we need the flexibility.”
But Councilmember Williams wanted to make sure that Ms. Been appreciated the Council’s efforts to facilitate the Mayor’s affordable housing plan.
“We appreciate what you’ve said, but I’m not sure if you appreciate that we want to help to put the plan together and we believe, for the same reasons you gave, we need the numbers so that we can make sure we are on track and we can put as much pressure or non-pressure as needed to help achieve those goals; it’s hard to talk about a plan if we don’t have numbers, squishy or not,” he said.
In the accompanying video interview, we asked Councilman Williams about his frustration with the lack of specific numbers at the hearing.
“They didn’t seem to have certain numbers, goals and projections for some of the categories. In order for us to do our job we have to have information. We pushed this [hearing] back a few months with the understanding that we would have the information [by the time of] the hearing.”
He had to get back to the hearing’s afternoon session where he hoped more specific numbers would be forthcoming.