The “Where We Live” report, released by HPD, outlines the city’s five-year commitments to create more equitable housing and capital investments to further its Fair Housing goals.

Adi Talwar

The report outlines how the city plans to expand existing programs and resources to meet its fair housing goals.

The city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development released an extensive report specifying how it will address the decades-long legacy of inequities which have impacted housing, education and job opportunities across New York’s five boroughs.

The more than 200-page “Where We Live” report, released late last month, is rooted in  the Obama administration’s 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule (AFFH),  which sought to strengthen enforcement guidelines in the milestone Fair Housing Act of 1968 by requiring states and cities to study how their housing policies affect segregation. While the Trump administration later repealed that effort, the city launched its own segregation study in 2018 to fill the vacuum left by the feds.

In January, the city released a draft report detailing the goals it wants to achieve over the next three decades: to combat persistent, complex discrimination with expanded resources and protections; facilitate equitable housing development, preserve affordable housing and prevent displacement of long-time residents; enable more rental assistance benefits with a focus on amenity-rich areas; create more independent living options for people with disabilities; and make equitable capital investments in communities which have historically seen discrimination, segregation, and concentrated poverty.

The final plan, released Oct. 20, dives into the commitments the city plans to make over the next five years which could impact land use and housing over the next several decades, including its intent to propose and support legislation to create more equitable housing and capital investments. However, it does not specify any current policy changes or legislation.

“The disparate impact COVID-19 has had on communities of color is yet more evidence that we have a long way to go to make the promise of fair housing a reality for all,” Vicki Been, deputy mayor for housing and economic development, wrote in a letter introducing the report. “The Where We Live NYC Plan is a blueprint for exactly what New York City must do over the coming years to make the New York way of life fairer and more just.”

Better enforcement

The city’s earlier draft plan analyzed four major racial and ethnic groups (white, Hispanic, Black and Asian or Pacific Islander) and found stark differences when it came to things like income, living conditions and education, as well as housing-related experiences like getting approved for a mortgage or living in “unstable housing” (such as being doubled-up with family and friends or living in a type of shelter or some other form of temporary housing).

One tool the plan focuses on to address these inequities is through better housing enforcement: The city says it plans to expand investigations into illegal housing discrimination and increase its agency resources for addressing things like source-of-income discrimination, or failure to accomodate accessibility requirements. 

It will also better train community boards, groups and elected officials on the city’s responsibility to affirmatively further fair housing, as well as publish legal enforcement guidance for cooperative (co-op) associations for how to avoid discrimination in the application process. Other efforts would include supporting legislation to to address housing discrimination in the private market, particularly against New Yorkers who have history with the criminal justice system or are undocumented.

Other efforts include continuing the launch of the new version of Housing Connect, a city website that connects eligible New Yorkers to affordable housing, and expanding the Housing Ambassadors program, which provides assistance with the affordable housing application process, focusing on homeless households. This also includes expanding informational outreach on the NYCHA Family Reentry Program, which reunites those with criminal justice backgrounds with their families in NYCHA housing. 

Equity in zoning and development

Another of the city’s fair housing goals is to “facilitate equitable housing development.” It will do this, the plan reports, by analyzing opportunities to accelerate land-use review and remove obstacles to the approval of affordable housing projects, especially in areas with more amenities and low-density housing, like the currently proposed SoHo/NoHo rezoning. The city also supports state legislation to change the state cap on residential floor area ratio, which is currently not allowed to exceed 12.0 for residential buildings. 

The city will also examine the housing market and demographic changes to see where and how its Mandatory Inclusionary Housing program can be applied more effectively, according to the report. It specifically wants to restrict the use of “Option C,” under the 421-A tax incentive program, which requires at least 30 percent of units in an applicable project be affordable to households at the higher end of the income bracket (earning 130 percent of area median income, or an annual income of $133,120 for a household of three). Additionally, the city’s strategy includes developing affordable housing on underused public land, including NYCHA land in amenity-rich neighborhoods. 

Additionally, the city is planning to accelerate opportunities for innovative housing strategies such as community land trusts or mutual housing associations with a goal of “gaining over 3,000 units of community-owned or shared equity housing.” It will also continue advocating for improvements to the federal policy Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) for investments in low-to moderate income neighborhoods and plans on studying the impact of HPD’s homeownership programs. 

This effort also includes connecting low-income New Yorkers and NYCHA residents to more job training and work opportunities. It will also focus on creating more diverse and integrated schools by looking at more district diversity plans, looking at distances between schools and residences and expanding informational outreach on discriminatory practices. Additionally, the city and the MTA will work together to expand on faster and more reliable bus services, propose zoning regulation which would require developers with sites adjacent to transit stations to work with the MTA about gaining zoning bonus for “transit accessibility improvements.”

Another of the city’s larger goals is to focus on creating more independent and integrated housing opportunities for New Yorkers with disabilities. Its plans include the  creation of a task force to make recommendations to help residents with disabilities transition out of nursing homes, hospitals, rehab care and other institutions. The city also plans on examining the percentage of affordable housing units that HPD requires developers set aside for people with disabilities, currently set at 7 percent of the total number of a project’s affordable housing units.

Considering racial impact

In its last goal, the city plans on investing city capital dollars in a more equitable fashion, in part by including analysis of the racial characteristics of a study area as part of its environmental land use review process. 

During a city-initiated rezoning or project, the city must do an environmental review to understand and assess the impact a proposed project may have in a given neighborhood. This analysis, known as the environmental impact statement (EIS), follows a Technical Manual that is overseen by the Mayor’s Office of Environmental Coordination; currently, the Technical Manual does not factor in the racial characteristics of a study area. 

The report did not specify which indicators it would use to analyze racial characteristics in an EIS, or if it would support existing legislation that’s been proposed to do so. In December, Public Advocate Jumaane Williams introduced legislation which would mandate a racial impact study for land-use actions that require an environmental review. The legislation has the support of dozens of housing advocacy groups across the city.