OPINION: Brooklyn and Queens need more affordable housing, here’s how to start
Brooklyn and Queens, in many ways, are symbolic of New York City’s recent citywide success. Both boroughs have undergone a sustained period of urban renewal and new growth, leading them to become truly global destinations. In order to make that growth sustainable, elected officials at both the local and city level must continue to prioritize the preservation of existing and development of new affordable housing — and that begins with increased collaboration between the public and private sectors.
The clear lack of affordable housing in both boroughs has likely been exacerbated by the borough’s growth in recent years. A new report released by state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli details many of the persistent housing challenges facing the 5 million people who call Brooklyn and Queens home.
These challenges are best exemplified by statistics on rent burden rates. To qualify as rent-burdened, a household must spend more than 30 percent of its income on rent. In Brooklyn, more than half of all households qualify — and a full third are severely rent-burdened, meaning that they devote 50 percent or more of their income on rent. In Queens, 56 percent of renters are rent burdened, and a staggering 40 percent of seniors pay 50 percent or more on rent. These figures have risen considerably in recent years, which means that more work needs to be done.
These are troubling figures, but they are familiar to those officials, policymakers and everyday citizens concerned with the ongoing housing crisis facing New York City — but that just means that there are solutions already in place that we can build on.
Thanks to programs such as Housing New York and Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH) that were born of close collaboration between city officials, affordable housing developers and advocates, tens of thousands affordable units for low- and middle-income households have been created or preserved citywide since 2014.
It is clear that this collaboration has borne fruit: without these efforts, the Comptroller’s housing snapshots would likely be even worse than they are today. These smart, sensible policies have made lives better for many families of all backgrounds in both Brooklyn and Queens.
But it is also clear that much more work needs to be done.
Consider Greenpoint, Williamsburg, Bed-Stuy, Bushwick, Brownsville and Ocean Hill. Each of these neighborhoods saw median rent increase by more than 50 percent between 2006-16. And in Queens, Bayside and Astoria came close to approaching this figure over the same period. More needs to be done to serve the thousands of families who are working hard to provide for their loved ones but are still struggling to make ends meet. We need to commit even further to support affordable housing projects and initiatives in the borough.
After all, the bedrock for durable and sustained economic prosperity sits right underneath this urgent crisis: Brooklyn has the fastest rate of household income growth in the city, a rising educational attainment rate and declining unemployment rate and Queens has a low unemployment rate, a growing population, and the highest private sector salary rate in NYC outside of Manhattan.
But to capitalize on, sustain, and truly benefit from this growth, policymakers and the affordable housing developers must continue to work together to ensure that every family in Brooklyn and Queens has access to safe housing at a decent price — it is what they deserve.
Jolie Milstein is the president and CEO of the New York State Association for Affordable Housing.
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