HNY site on 127th

Jarrett Murphy

An affordable housing construction site on 127th Street in Harlem.

If you heard a pile-driver driving or saw workers setting rebar on a residential construction site in New York City in late March or April, chances are it was affordable housing that was being built. Construction of subsidized apartment units was one of the essential functions exempted from the governor’s PAUSE order. And that was logical: With nearly 60,000 people in the city’s homeless shelters, the coronavirus did not lessen the need for new housing at reasonable rents. It also didn’t hurt that sustaining those projects kept a lot of people employed.

But what a global pandemic couldn’t stop, a local fiscal crisis soon could. Reacting to the drastic drop in city revenue, Mayor de Blasio has proposed shifting $1 billion in capital spending on his housing plan from this fiscal year and next to later years as part of an overall reduction of $2.3 billion in capital spending. By some counts, that cut could mean 20,000 fewer housing units.

On Wednesday’s Max & Murphy Show on WBAI, Barika Williams from the Association for Neighborhood and Community Development and Jolie Milstein of the New York State Association for Affordable Housing discussed the impact of that cut on the mayor’s affordable housing plan and the city’s economy, as well as the broader impacts of COVID-19 on the housing market.

Milstein indicated the economic hit from the cut would not be felt evenly.

“On an affordable housing construction site, many of the construction workers are from the neighborhood and are people of color,” she said. “We really think that borrowing money, much like the country did with WPA, for physical infrastructure, in this case, housing, is very good and has proven to be successful public policy because it puts people to work, addressing an emergency housing crisis.”

Williams said that the mayor’s plan, which is not yet halfway to its 300,000-unit goal, remains a work in progress in many ways.

When you look at all of the data metrics, when it comes to rent burden, when it comes to overcrowding, we haven’t made a dent in the affordability crisis in New York City, ” she said. “It’s not enough to just increase the number of affordable housing units, we want those investments, we need it but we really need to be much more intentional about designing an affordable housing plan to impact the people who need housing the most.” 

Hear the conversation below, or listen to the full show, which includes a discussion about how the city’s open spaces are being affected by the pandemic.

Barika Williams and Jolie Milstein on COVID-19 cuts to housing funds

Max & Murphy Full Show of June 10, 2020

With reporting by Anika Chowdhury

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