Stuyvesant Town, site of one of the de Blasio administration's most expensive, and controversial, housing preservation deals. Middle-class housing was saved there; the author wants more of it preserved and built.

Mayor de Blasio is doing a great job bringing attention to the need for more affordable housing. In fact, he was re-elected in large part because of the success of his affordable housing program. Since his re-election, de Blasio has doubled down and extended his affordable housing plan. Dubbed “Housing New York 2.0,” the expanded initiative aims to create 300,000 new affordable housing units, double the goal set out in his initial plan. Although Mayor de Blasio is bringing tremendous attention to affordable housing, an issue which is commonly overlooked, this alone is not enough.

As formidable as Mayor de Blasio’s efforts may be, they take focus away from a major part of the solution to the affordable housing crisis, which is to provide affordable housing to people of all income levels. I applaud Mayor de Blasio’s ambitious goal of creating 300,000 new affordable housing units, and I am confident that New York City will be able to achieve it, but sadly that is still not enough units to help all of those in need.

As a nation, we continually focus on providing assistance to homeless and low-income populations. However, we need to begin shifting our focus to the working class, and providing these individuals with more stepping stones. Unfortunately, many working-class individuals are stagnating in the current system. We need to provide these hard-working New Yorkers with an opportunity to grow and succeed in today’s convoluted housing system.

It is no secret that applying for affordable housing is complicated. It is dependent on a number of factors, the biggest of which are income and family size. However, a change in circumstances, even relatively small, can affect someone’s access to affordable housing. For example, if a person qualifies for affordable housing at his or her current salary but gets a raise, he or she could potentially be at risk of losing his or her subsidy or affordable housing unit. This puts current residents in a tough situation where building a financial foundation is nearly impossible.

While Mayor de Blasio’s housing plan does set aside 20 percent of its housing for moderate- and middle-income groups (i.e., people making between $77,000 and $138,000 for a family of three), the remaining 80 percent goes to extremely low-income households. There is no doubt that these low-income individuals need assistance as they are at the entrance to affordable housing; however, more work needs to be done to help moderate- and middle-income working-class individuals with affordable housing. It is well documented that middle-income residents in New York City live paycheck to paycheck, and lower housing costs would benefit them immensely.

What’s more, if we do not address the housing needs of our working class, they will move out of New York City. If they move away, we will be at risk of losing tax dollars and, more importantly, high-quality workers. It is not cheap to live in New York City, with our tax rate being one of the highest in the country. Add in the high cost of living and many other cities become a lot more attractive – and affordable. If our working class moves, our companies will lose great talent and human resources. We need to do more to keep our working class housed, as they are the backbone of our city.

Instead of focusing only the lower-income population, we need to create a system of “stepping stones” for our working class. This will save New York City from stagnation, while supporting our working class and helping them build a strong financial foundation. By creating more housing for all income levels, we will be providing a road map everyone can strive for. We can outline a plan for almost 600,000 New Yorkers currently benefitting from affordable housing programs, one that will allow these individuals to grow and succeed.

Even with Mayor de Blasio’s housing initiatives, the majority of New Yorkers still spend more than half their income on housing. Millions of people in this city live paycheck to paycheck, scraping by to pay rent. Now is the time to take this conversation to the next level – and put it into action.

Heidi Burkhart, founder and president of Dane Real Estate, is a 14-year veteran of the real estate industry and has facilitated closings in excess of 11,500 affordable housing units and over $1.6 billion in transactions.

5 thoughts on “CityViews: NYC Needs More Housing for the Middle Class

  1. To Whom It May Concern:

    I’m sorry, but, Mayor DiBlasio, Ms. Heidi Burkhart, et al’s plans for affordable housing fall miserably short of assisting New Yorkers, especially, in low-income neighborhoods, for Hispanics & African-Americans to grow & succeed. Why, because, you have these real-estate piranhas going after every housing development in Manhattan in particular, & converting them into luxury rental units, that those who are rightfully residing in them now, are struggling to afford NOW!! Manhattan is being converted into a “millionaire’s row”. The areas that have been designated, means that surrounding housing developments, are losing their businesses, (local bodegas, restaurants, baseball fields,) etc. that took years to obtain. To add insult to injury, the areas designated for this hi-rises to be built, take away from the view, a view that at least gives some respite to those who may be homebound. Now, when you look out the windows, there are these hi-rises, blocking views!! There is, also, the fact that employment is scarce, & educational pursuits are difficult for most of our youth. The requirements, & eligibility standards are not geared for the poor, or, the working-class poor!!

    If the long-time residents of these housing developments have been residing in these units for more than ten years, & developers want them to re-locate, the fairest method, is to offer apartments to them first minus the bureaucracy & red-tape, because, when these people began the fight to preserve their standing in the community, research has been done, & many have already been targeted for removal, THIS METHOD IS HIGHLY UN-AMERICAN, & THE WEALTHY ARE SOLELY RESPONSIBLE FOR THE MISERY, & PLIGHT OF THE POOR. WE HAVE BEEN YOUR PAWNS FOR AS LONG AS I CAN REMEMBER. Here’s what all of you greedy individuals forget each & every time; that there IS A GOD who has not forgotten!! If you consider yourself a “true American”, then, you know that without HIS consent, you will not be able to continue treating those less fortunate like garbage!! HE WATCHES EVERYTHING!!! Ironically, while the wealthy play the games, the innocent are always the ones that pay the price. The wealthy think of only ONE THING: HOW TO BECOME WEALTHIER, the poor like myself, just want to wake up in the morning, ask how we can help someone in need, & hope we get home safe, & be safe in conditions that are nothing less than deplorable. Shame on You!!! This is a world in desperate need of prayer!!!

  2. I don’t think we need to “shift” the focus, but rather BROADEN the focus to include lower middle class and middle class people, as well as small business. Almost everyone in New York suffers from the high cost of space and housing. Why, even people at the lower reaches of the 1%, especially those with families and/or college debt, struggle to buy homes where in other cities they could buy a palace. The poor suffer the most, but it doesn’t mean the rest of us aren’t suffering too. I applaud DeBlasio for taking up some of the key initiatives recommended by housing activists, such as providing legal support for tenants against rapacious landlords. We need to focus beyond building new to controlling these landlords, making them pay for their crimes, raising taxes on the ultra wealthy and the real estate industry. Fines need to be much higher and there needs to be not just tougher enforcement, but a point at which a “bad apple” can’t practice real estate any more. You can bet the landlords who didn’t provide heat in this vicious winter are trying to push people out. There’s got to be decent people in the business who would make buildings that are ALL affordable, not just some small percentage. All vacant lots and vacant buildings where the owner is not paying taxes or doing maintenance should revert to the city and be made into affordable housing. Perhaps even our top companies could do like they do in SF and build their own housing for their workers. We need a much broader focus than what deBlasio has done to date.

    • Sorry but forget the middle class. The lower income housing should be priority. They middle class should no be included when so many are at poverty level. I am disabled, on disability and can only work part time. I am 30 years old and have to live in a roach and rat infested shithole with 5 other roommates . The housing connect is a joke. Only two on the whole list are for low income people. I am lucky to make 23,000 a year. With the focus on so many middle class affordable housing units , you are casting us low income people and disabled people into homelessness. Forget the rich and middle class. I am tired of living in socalled first world country that treats its poor like shit. Before long , there will be nobody to clean your homes or cook your food. The housing connect want me to pay 60 or 70 percent of my wage because they only have one low income apartment in a safe area. What q joke.

  3. While there is no doubt a crucial need for affordable housing and plans to help combat neighborhood gentrification, it may be that the present systems are simply too convoluted or hidebound to address the issues.

    Market-based incentives to have constructed what the area wants and needs are arguably likely to be far more effective than is the more piecemeal arrangement of small set-asides in larger projects. If businesses that make these projects happenare driven by maximizing profit and returns (as all businesses are), the only way to get them to build what you want its to make it as profitable to build it as would be a project of their choosing.

    Instead of asking developers for set-asides for low, moderate and even middle-income housing, perhaps an idea is to discuss with builders their expectations for return on investment from a development, and over what period of time.

    For discussion’s sake, and realizing that this is a simplistic example, if developing a luxury property would bring 5,000 units that return $50 million in profit, but building 6,000 lower-cost or affordable units isn’t nearly as profitable for the builder (i.e. only $25 million), they of course will look to maximize returns and build the development that brings $50 million in profit, and will push for the luxury development.

    However, why not start with a mechanism that “”guarantees”” the profit to the builder for building the affordable housing that the city actually needs and desires? Have the builder construct the 6,000 units but guarantee to them that the final profit on the development will be the $50 million they were expecting to realize on the luxury project, with city/county/state funds used to make up the remaining $25 million.

    The builder gets their profit, and the city gets more affordable housing. Of course, it’s not as simple or easy as this, but could be an idea worth considering, especially as viable properties for such large-scale developments are becoming scarce.

  4. I am a single mother with a male child and I have been applying for affordable housing through nyc housing Connect. But due to my salary of $54,000 annually I’m not eligible for any of the lottery apartments. I’m not poor enough. It has been a struggle financially. I hope things change quickly, because I need a break, I desperately need an affordable apartment.

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