The Battery Park City Authority last week gave final authorization to the allocation of $130 million of excess revenue to the New York City Housing Trust Fund to pay for the construction or preservation of 4,300 affordable housing units. The long-awaited move marks the first time that this revenue stream will be used for its original purpose. Work on some of these units should begin within a year, said Neill Coleman, spokesperson for the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD). All of the restoration and construction will be funded, if not actually started, within three years, Coleman said. HPD will administer the program and work with nonprofit and some for-profit developers to develop properties in all five boroughs. According to Coleman, the Fund will especially target low-income New Yorkers not sufficiently helped by existing programs.
Julie Miles, executive director of the nonprofit coalition Housing Here and Now, one of the organizations that supported the Housing Trust Fund, welcomed the Authority’s decision. “It’s something that advocates have been calling for for decades,” she said. “Advocates will continue to pay attention to the implementation,” she said, but was optimistic. “We’re all hopeful.”
The Authority operates by leasing its land on the southern edge of Manhattan to private developers. These developers are exempt from property taxes, but pay the Authority a Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT), as well as rent on their leases. When the Authority was first created in the 1980s, revenue it collected — excluding PILOT and its own operating costs — was earmarked for affordable housing with the provision that the city could divert the money elsewhere if deemed necessary. Until now, the money has been added to the city’s general revenue, rather than used for affordable housing.
Some of the money will also be used to fund the New York Acquisition Fund, a longer-term initiative begun last year that will provide money to developers to acquire more land for affordable housing. Most of the Acquisition Fund’s money, however, will come not from the city, but from charities, banks, and the housing-focused Enterprise Foundation.
“This commitment came about from sustained, grassroots-level advocacy,” said Irene Baldwin, executive director of the Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development (ANHD), another housing-focused nonprofit group.
Baldwin said that ANHD was “mostly not concerned” about how the plan would be implemented, but will be watching a few things. One issue is that affordable housing programs often guarantee affordability only for fifteen or twenty years. Instead, the city should “make it permanently affordable, or at least for the lifetime of the residents,” she said. The Trust Fund should also result in a net increase of funding for affordable housing — that is, the city shouldn’t use it to make up for funding cuts elsewhere. But despite these concerns, Baldwin stressed, “We’re very happy with this.” [08/07/06]