‘Affordable’ apartments aren’t always affordable under state’s 421a program
In October 2017, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced his goal to create or preserve 300,000 units of affordable housing by 2026. At this point, the city is ostensibly well on the way to achieving its goal, but the numbers are not always what they seem.
At the root of the problem, according to Brownstoner, is the definition of affordable housing. In some developments created by city agencies and nonprofits, the number of affordable apartments is often 100 percent and aimed at low-income families.
The same is true with affordable housing built under the Extremely Low and Low-Income Affordability program, which requires that 10 percent of the units in a project are reserved for the formerly homeless and an additional 30 percent are aimed at what the city defines as households with extremely low and very low incomes.
Brownstoner said much of the problem comes from privately owned buildings built under the state’s 421a tax exemption program. While developers must earmark a percent of the units in those buildings as affordable units, the state defines “affordable” as units that rent at 130 percent or more of the area’s median income.
Since New York City’s median income is $93,000 for a three-person family, the program doesn’t particularly help residents of low-income neighborhoods such as East New York and East Flatbush, Brownstoner reported. Jose Lopez of the Bushwick advocacy group Make the Road said that members of the group, on average, earn between $18,000 and $35,000 annually.
Indeed, in some buildings there isn’t much difference between affordable and market-rate rents. An affordable studio at the Bushwick development known as The Saint Marks rents for $2,013 a month, while a market-rate studio in the same complex rents for $2,150, a difference of $137, Brownstoner reported.
Critics of the system, such as Councilmember Antonio Reynoso (D-Bushwick-East Williamsburg) say the 421a program has to be drastically renegotiated.
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