In her 2013 State of the City speech, City Council Speaker and Democratic mayoral frontrunner Christine Quinn focused on housing affordability—namely middle-class housing.
Ms. Quinn’s headline proposal is to “build 40,000 new middle-income affordable apartments over ten years.” It’s unclear what definition of “middle-income” she would use, but the Middle Class Squeeze report that she released earlier today defines middle class as “households with incomes between 100 percent and 300 percent of area median income.”
To emphasize how close to home the issue hits, Ms. Quinn brought her father to the podium to introduce her. He spoke about her grandfather leaving Ireland in 1913, and she mentioned her mother’s parents snagging a rent-controlled apartment in Inwood 70 years ago (rent control in New York City began in 1943). “That apartment gave them the stability that allowed them to work their way up to the middle class,” she said.
These new middle-class housing units would, according to Ms. Quinn, be paid for with “government efficiencies,” achieved by everything from better vehicle fleet management to IT reforms. Second on her list was “using our capital budget more efficiently.” She cited $50 million a year in Parks Department funds “for something called ‘miscellaneous capital projects’—money that hasn’t actually been used.”
“The third strategy,” Ms. Quinn said, “is to borrow additional money.” She identified low interest and federal mortgage rates as reasons to borrow.
In her speech, Ms. Quinn name-checked the Mitchell-Lama program and the more than 100,000 middle-income rentals and co-ops created in the 1960s and 1970s, but lamented that the program has since lost more than 30,000 of those units to market-rate conversions.
Ms. Quinn said that she convinced state Sen. Martin Golden and Assemblyman Keith Wright, Chair of the Housing Committee, to introduce the Permanent Affordability Act. The program would convince landlords to “convert a number of units to affordable middle-income housing,” for which they’d be rewarded with property tax caps. A “win for them, a win for middle-class renters and a win for the city,” the speaker said—though capping property taxes might make her first goal, to build 40,000 new apartments, a bit tricky.
“Because it won’t stop with Manhattan,” Ms. Quinn said regarding the housing cost hikes that have been buffeting the city of late. “If we don’t reverse that trend, Park Slope and Carroll Gardens will be next.” Perhaps she lifted that line from the 2003 State of the City and forgot to edit it? Park Slope has an $18 million townhouse listing, and just after the New Year a $4 million townhouse sale set a new Carroll Gardens record.
The property tax proposal appears similar to one pushed by the Real Estate Board of New York and Related Companies chairman Stephen Ross two years ago, as the Wall Street Journal’s Eliot Brown pointed out on Twitter. Related Cos. employees have also continued to support Christine Quinn’s mayoral campaign by an overwhelming margin, despite Joe Lhota’s entrance into the race and his business-friendly image.
The speaker also identified other housing reforms she would like to implement, including stricter enforcement of the building maintenance code.
“Contrary to what you might think,” Ms. Quinn said, “this idea is supported by both tenant advocates and the real estate industry. Because it isn’t about unfairly targeting landlords—it’s about taking down the slumlords that give good owners a bad name.”
Lofty and admirable goals—the middle-class housing crunch is a serious problem for New York—but it’s unclear if Ms. Quinn’s proposal, if it is ever enacted, would prove any more effective than Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s $7.5 billion plan to increase affordable housing units. The plan, which has for the most part been lauded by housing advocates, has nonetheless struggled to keep to create and preserve more affordable housing units than the market subtracts.