Just last week, Mayor de Blasio said the city had in his first year of office financed 17,300 units of affordable housing toward his goal of preserving or building over the next decade some 200,000.
But the plan will still be taking shape over the next few months in term sheets with developers, at construction sites and—if Housing Committee Chairman Jumaane Williams has his way—in the City Council hearing room.
Williams, a Brooklyn Democrat with a background in tenant advocacy, spoke to City Limits for a City & State TV interview on January 14, the same day he released a statement imploring Albany to “meet this crisis with absolute urgency before our City’s rent regulations expire this spring.”
The worry isn’t just that rent regulations could expire, Williams said. It’s that if the regulatory system isn’t strengthened, more apartments will be destabilized through vacancy decontrol—which knocks apartments off the rolls once the monthly rent surpasses $2,500—and other leaks.
“The mayor’s housing plan is supremely important, so we’re going to do a lot in the housing committee when it comes to that,” Williams said. “But if Albany doesn’t renew these rent laws and if they don’t strengthen them then we’re behind—I don’t know what, the 8-ball isn’t even a good analogy here.”
In late January, Williams’ committee will hold a hearing on 421-a, a real-estate tax abatement that is due to expire around the same time rent regulations must be renewed. “The question is whether or not we actually need the 421-a program, and then he second question is do we need it the way that it is,” he said. “For 421-a, I don’t believe we’re getting the right rate of return. I also believe the government does have to put up money. We have to put our skin in the game to make sure we get the units we need. But we have to demand a lot more.”
The housing committee is planning a series of hearings over early 2015 on different aspects of de Blasio’s housing plan. Williams’ panel first wanted to quiz housing officials about the mayor’s vision in June, but postponed the meeting to give the administration more time to prepare. At the rescheduled session in November, Williams expressed frustration at what he thought was a lack of detail from housing officials.
In the interview, Williams backed the administration’s commitment to density, though he wanted to know more about where it will go: “I don’t think as a city that we have much of a choice. We don’t really have much else to build on. We don’t have the vacant land that we used to. So we’re going to have to build up. The question is, do we completely change the character of a neighborhood by doing that? And so it’s important to me that neighborhoods are in this discussion. You don’t want to build a 20-story building in a place that has only had two stories. That’s probably unfair. But you can no longer say, ‘We’re not going to have any increase.'”