Broken HARP: The City’s Out-of-Tune Affordable Housing Program

Just over a year ago, the Department of Housing Preservation and Development began accepting applications for HARP, the Housing Asset Renewal Program. It was the brainchild of Council Speaker Christine Quinn, and was seen as a solution to two problems in the city—a desperate shortage of affordable housing and a glut of stalled or empty “luxury” housing created during the boom. The program was heralded by pundits and politicians alike as brilliant, gaining national attention in part for its novel, even ironic, twist—in which the luxury housing that had so battered affordable housing would be turned into it. The Bloomberg administration and the City Council set aside $20 million for a pilot program, with the hope of converting 400 units from luxury to affordable, with more no doubt to come, following the programs presumed popularity.

On HARP’s first anniversary, not a single unit has been converted, not a dollar spent.

Meanwhile, the program has been almost entirely ignored, except for the occasional story remarking on its ineffectuality. Part of the problem is the city has been a victim of its own success, where prices remain good enough that even the most underwater developers refuse to take the haircut HPD is insisting on. Still, HPD remains committed to the program, despite the apparent lack of success (the deadline has been pushed back twice and since lapsed as of July 1) and despite the gaping holes in both HPD’s and the city’s budgets. The money could probably be better spent on, say, Section 8 vouchers. Yet Eric Bederman, a department spokesman, insisted in an email that there is no giving up:

No deals have been finalized so no funding has been allocated to a specific applicant. We don’t talk about the specifics of the process or about deals until we have reached solid agreements. I can say that even though the application period has ended, we’re still receiving unsolicited applications from interested parties. We’ve spoken to dozens throughout the course of this process and, like I said, we are very encouraged by the response and the progress we’re making. Certainly none of HPD’s other programs or operations were negatively impacted or slowed because of the funding that was allocated towards HARP.

Maybe Bederman is right, given how bad the housing market seems to be getting. Again. But unless you are in desperate need of one of those 400 units—and, really, who isn’t—don’t hold your breath.

Broken HARP: The City’s Out-of-Tune Affordable Housing Program