Where We Live Now Report

HPD/Beyond My Ken

After a two-year long process, the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) and other stakeholders have put forth their draft plan – Where We Live NYC (WWL) – to complete a more inclusive, comprehensive, and affirmative fair housing plan.

The WWL process engaged a wide range of neighborhood and citywide organizations and included public events and community conversations that drew in direct participation from a diverse array of New Yorkers. The extensive analysis in the 215-page draft report captures the diverse voices of the participants in the process and presents a detailed snapshot of our city through a host of indices on demographics, segregation, accessibility, well-being, safety, economic opportunity, and housing stock.

Perhaps most importantly, the WWL plan acknowledges the historic roots of the systemic and structural policies that created and still maintain racial inequality in New York and continue to perpetuate wide disparate outcomes in neighborhoods and communities. Race has and continues to shape every part of our lived realities – from education to where we live. Any efforts to address the needs of New York City’s communities of color and marginalized communities must recognize the legacies of oppression that created our current conditions. The policies that shape our cities today are rooted in the legacies of slavery and settler colonialism. In order to move forward, we need to acknowledge our past. We must confront how these legacies continue to manifest today in our homes, our neighborhoods, and our governmental policies.

While every analysis can be improved and expanded, we applaud the thorough work of the HPD team that engaged in challenging, and sometimes uncomfortable, conversations in an effort to ensure an inclusive and comprehensive process, research, and data analysis. The analysis they produced could and should be a foundation to make different and better policy decisions for our city.

What the ‘Where We Live’ draft plan fails to do

Despite this extensive and thorough analysis, WWL falls short when it comes to delivering actionable steps toward dismantling racial inequities across New York.

There are no bold steps. There is no new course charted. There is no clear path towards the more equitable, just New York City we all deserve. There are merely a few real concrete commitments for change to which we might hold our government accountable.

If we begin from the premise that our current system is built on inequities and injustices – as the WWL draft plan does – then the recommendations should look vastly different from the status quo. But the recommendations consist primarily of platitudes calling for further exploration, convenings, taskforces, annual reports, and the expansion of existing policies. All these recommendations amount to nothing less than small tweaks on our existing development and planning systems which we already knew are entrenched in, and continuing to reproduce, inequality.

The urgency of the moment demands more. It is 2020, and this is New York City; it is no longer enough to analyze, research, discuss, and tweak the structural racism, systemic oppression, and ongoing inequality in New York City today. Our communities urgently need – and deserve – transformation and honest, measurable movement towards a just future.

The Association for Neighborhood & Housing Development (ANHD) was founded to fight for systemic changes. Our more than 80 community-based non-profit organizations represent diverse racial, ethnic, immigrant, religious, and identity communities in the five boroughs. Together, our work is to build community power that builds movements that can confront the longstanding problems created by institutionalized racism and oppression and build the equitable neighborhoods and city New Yorkers deserve. The threats of displacement, of harassment, of predatory practices, of discrimination, and of gentrification are real. They are immediate. And they demand action. We know, our communities can’t wait.

What New York City really needs

What we need is a new development and planning agenda that centers racial equity and social justice. Each disparate outcome identified in the data analysis should be clearly linked with the corresponding recommendation that moves us forward. And each recommendation should have clear benchmarks with the intended impact and expected timeline.

The WWL analysis highlights fairness in land use as an issue, but only recommends convening a taskforce because “these questions will require further analysis.” Yet while the city convenes its taskforce, will it continue to almost exclusively target low-income communities of color for upzonings while ignoring community-generated plans in those same neighborhoods? A variety of detailed recommendations exist right now to address this “fairness” issue: from comprehensive planning, to reform of the City Environmental Quality Review, to a new approach to tackling capital investment and services. In ignoring this, the city ignores the past six years of community organizing, research, analysis, proposals, testimony, and policy recommendations – not to mention decades of experience under prior administrations – at the neighborhood and citywide level.

The WWL analysis highlights disparities in housing conditions and rent burdening but continues to assume a supply-side approach to housing development that blurs the line between more housing and more affordable housing. A variety of actual recommendations – like shifting resources towards deeper affordability and reorienting policy and budget priorities to build more housing at the income bands where New Yorkers need it rather than relying on the market to supply small amounts of housing only affordable to a select few – have been made by ANHD and others for many years.

The recommendations already exist, and they have been generated by the communities most deeply impacted by racial inequity. The report’s stumbling block is not the lack of clarity on what to do – it’s the lack of willingness from the administration to commit to the necessary changes. The recommendations proposed by Where We Live are nothing short of a missed opportunity for the de Blasio administration to move us forward towards a more just New York City. We urge the administration to continue to work in partnership with community-based organizations and go beyond simply listening to our histories of marginalization and toward implementing an actionable agenda that addresses and dismantles histories and legacies of racial inequity, in our city’s housing and beyond. ANHD, our members, and our movement are ready to move forward with a new agenda of equity and justice; we need government to step forward with us and act.

Barika X Williams is the Executive Director of the Association for Neighborhood & Housing Development (ANHD). ANHD is a member of the Thriving Communities Coalition.