Bill de Blasio’s Housing Plan Short on Specifics, Experts Say

Mayor Bill de Blasio unveiling his housing plan on Monday. (Photo: Ed Reed for the Office of Mayor Bill de Blasio)

Mayor Bill de Blasio unveiling his housing plan on Monday. (Photo: Ed Reed for the Office of Mayor Bill de Blasio)

Yesterday, after weeks of hype, Mayor Bill de Blasio unveiled his long-awaited plan to create and preserve 200,000 units of affordable housing over the next ten years with considerable fanfare. There was a background briefing for reporters, followed by two major press conferences, in Brooklyn and the Bronx, a slick book chock full of colorful charts, and lots of lofty rhetoric.

But despite its six chapters, spread out over 116 pages, the plan has left some housing experts eager for more specifics on how exactly Mr. de Blasio plans to execute his lofty goals.

“I would call it more an outline than a plan,” said former Republican Congressman Rick Lazio, who served as chairman of the House’s housing subcommittee, and now leads the law firm Jones Walker’s affordable housing and housing finance practice.

While Mr. de Blasio’s plan outlines $41.1 billion in spending to preserve 120,00 affordable units and build another 80,000 more over the next decade, precisely how he intends to do that remains, in many cases, to be determined. City Hall, for instance, plans to depend heavily on mandatory inclusionary zoning–a practice in which developers are forced to build a certain number of affordable units if they want to take advantage of less stringent height and density zoning restrictions–but his team has yet to decide which neighborhoods to target, how tall they plan to allow buildings, and how much affordable housing developers in those areas will be forced to provide.

“The first thing we have to do is embark on studies of those neighborhoods that we think are appropriate for rezoning. And we’ll be starting … by first identifying those neighborhoods, then by talking to the local elected officials and communities in those neighborhoods,” City Planning Commissioner Carl Weisbrod said yesterday.

Mayor Bill de Blasio at his Bronx event yesterday. (Photo: Ed Reed/NYC Mayor's Office)

Mayor Bill de Blasio at his Bronx event yesterday. (Photo: Ed Reed/NYC Mayor’s Office)

As part of his plan, Mr. de Blasio also set out to reduce the number of people in homeless shelters, which he said would be done through a combination of tactics, including giving homeless families priority at NYCHA buildings.

“We will selectively use section 8 vouchers. We’ll selectively use NYCHA units. We’re not changing the basic admissions procedures for NYCHA. But we are going to make some targeted moves to get that shelter population down. There’s a lot of other tools we’re going to use in that process,” Mr. de Blasio offered.

Brenda Rosen, executive director of Common Ground, which develops supportive housing for the homeless, praised the mayor for making a clear commitment to supportive housing. But, citing the vagueness of the plan, she also said she was unable to comment more specifically.

“I don’t know exactly what the mayor plans to do, I guess there will be ongoing conversations about that,” she said.

“At this point, I think that his plan touches on everything that we all thought was very, very important, hitting the low-income folks all the way up through middle income. I thought that was a very thoughtful way to approach it,” Ms. Rosen remarked. “I think the devil is in the details around the mandatory inclusionary zoning.”

Mr. Lazio also praised the goalposts, but was less enthusiastic about the plan outlined by the mayor’s team. “Make no mistake, it’s a very aggressive goal,” he said. “Right now you can’t criticize the mayor because there’s nothing to criticize. May well be that they find the right equilibrium. Early stage effort, gives us some things to think about.”

Even Vicki Been, the mayor’s commissioner for the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, seemed to question the decision to embark on several studies instead of pushing for immediate action, in an interview yesterday afternoon.

“I’m quite happy with the plan,” she said. “I think one of the great things about the plan is that it’s an inter-agency effort. But there are certain things that I feel like I would have liked to see implemented without further study.”

“I know it’s a prudent approach that we’ve taken,” she added, “but the would-be dictator in me…”

Asked about the criticism at a press conference yesterday, Mr de Blasio told the Observer he was “very satisfied with this plan.”

“It’s a very detailed plan. It shows a number of substantial departures from past policy. We’re setting out very ambitious goals,” he said, noting that his administration would be held to those goals in the years ahead. “We could have come in with a lesser plan. We wanted the plan that we thought was absolutely the outer limit of what could be achieved in a decade,” he said.

Mr. de Blasio went on to promise “a series of announcements in the months hereafter to keep adding additional pieces to the plan,” just like his administration had done with its pre-K and after-school effort, which he noted some people had also questioned the specificity of–until his team came out with a teacher recruitment plan, a parent outreach plan and then a space acquisition plan.

“And then it became very clear that all the pieces were falling into place,” he said. “You’re going to see the same progression here.”