The Ramifications of Mayor De Blasio’s Affordable Housing Plan

The mayor of New York City, Bill De Blasio, recently announced a housing plan that will preserve and create a total of 200,000 affordable units. MHN talks to Bomee Jung, interim director at Enterprise Community Partners Inc., about what this plan means for affordable housing.
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New York—The mayor of New York City, Bill De Blasio, recently announced a housing plan that will preserve and create a total of 200,000 affordable units. MHN talks to Bomee Jung, interim director at Enterprise Community Partners Inc., about what this plan means for affordable housing.

MHN: What does Di Blasio’s plan mean for Enterprise? How do you feel about the plan?

Jung: Enterprise has been in New York for the past 27 years and has supported multiple administrations through their housing plans over the years. We’re very excited to be making this decision a reality here.

[The mayor’s] focus on affordable housing is very welcome. It’s the kind of leadership that we look to mayors to provide in general across the country, so the fact that we’re seeing that leadership being exercised here in New York is obviously good news for those of us working in this industry in New York.

Among the things that were outlined in the plan that caught our attention was the commitment to double the City’s housing agency’s capital budget. We were also pleased to see that in addition to providing an increase in the capital budget, they’ve also thought about the fact that in order to get capital funding out the door, you need to have additional capacity within the city agencies to do that effectively; so the commitment to increase staffing is also very welcome. In terms of how the plans line up with Enterprise’s priorities, the issues that are outlined in the housing plan are in fact the issues that Enterprise cares about. We have built our program and capital delivery to serve. The issue of the need to preserve affordable housing is an issue that Enterprise has been at the forefront of championing for the past 27 years. The statements that were made in the housing plan around making sure the preservation is being done in an environmentally sustainable, climate-resilient way is another aspect of the preservation work that Enterprise leads. Finally, the connection that the housing plan makes between providing affordable housing as a solution to homelessness and solving the housing crisis for vulnerable New Yorkers is another area where our work has been very focused over the last few years.

MHN: You mentioned sustainability. What are some of Enterprise’s strategies for sustainability?

Jung: Over the past five or six years we have been looking at the issue of sustainability through three lenses. One is in setting standards and helping the city to lift the bar on all new construction and substantial rehabilitation. The City, in 2010, adopted the Enterprise Green Communities criteria as part of the City’s green policy for affordable housing. What that’s helped to do is to mainstream the process of using green practices and green technologies. That’s been an area in which New York City has really been at the forefront of municipal housing agencies in the country. The second lens is retrofitting and providing technical assistance around capital improvements for existing affordable housing, as well as looking at the ability of the affordable housing organizations that are stewarding the affordable housing stock to do so in a way that is both financially prudent and environmentally sustainable. Those two things together yield benefits in terms of savings for the residents in their utility bills and health benefits. The third lens we really added in the last year and a half or so is our response to Superstorm Sandy. We have extended our view of sustainability from thinking about things like energy efficiency and climate mitigation to looking at how are our affordable housing buildings being reinvested in in such a way that when we have coastal hazards like Sandy happening, or other climate-related events like heat waves, how are these buildings positioned to provide safe homes for the residents who are living in them.

MHN: So instead of just looking at the overall picture, you started looking at the nitty gritty.

Jung: Exactly. The practical ways of what does it mean for operation, what does it mean for capital improvements. One of the pieces of our Sandy program brings together 12 portfolio owners of affordable housing to really comprehensively look at this issue of how to operate affordable housing in a climate-resilient way. We’re talking about everything from making sure as part of the communication to the residents you have clear messaging around what to do when there is an emergency and how to interact with their staff during an emergency, to things like where are the mechanicals located and is there backup power. It’s a really comprehensive look at how to both meet the day-to-day needs and meet the mission needs of the housing organization, as well as looking at what are the physical needs of the actual buildings.

MHN: It sounds like there are a lot of great things coming from the Mayor’s announcement. Are there any challenges?

Jung: The housing crisis is a tremendous challenge. When you get from that macro level to looking at some of the specific challenges, at the end of the day, buildings need reinvestment. The affordable housing stock that we currently have in the City’s portfolio needs reinvestment. In order to expand affordable housing in the way that the plan proposes to do, we will need investment. On the one hand there’s the perennial question of, “Will we be able to get sufficient resources in order to reinvest in these properties in a way that really makes them as secure as possible for long-term affordability?” The second question is something that folks in the field have really been intrigued by, which is the way that this administration proposes to use zoning as a means to deliver affordable housing. I’m sure that we’ll see more in the upcoming weeks and months about what that will really mean in practical terms.

MHN: Is there anything you’d like to add?

Jung: I think that the vision [for the affordable housing plan] is very promising, and we’ll see how the City moves on the specifics.