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Recent Victories

Since the launch of the Assembly's "Building the Blessed City Together" campaign, we have seen tremendous progress in the development of policies to benefit those in our city who are homeless and those who are at risk of homelessness. We believe, given the extraordinary level of cooperation among groups advocating for policy change, the growing involvement of New York's faith community, and the receptivity of the current mayoral administration, the next few years represent an exceptional opportunity to establish into law - policies that will significantly address the housing needs of low and moderate income New Yorkers.

Here is a brief report of some of the recent successes on our Public Policy Priorities and an indication of work that still needs to be done - Updated as of April,2006

In May 2004, Building The Blessed City Together developed its comprehensive public policy platform and in consultation with our advocacy partners, set its public policy priorities. Since then Housing Here and Now, Housing First!, Habitat for Humanity and other advocacy groups and coalitions have been organizing for public policy changes - and we have seen much progress.

NY State New Commissioner of NYS Department of Housing and Community Renewal (DHCR) – Deborah Van Amerongen
  • Greater transparency in the operations of DHCR
  • Addressing the needs of tenants as well as landlords
  • Meeting regularly with housing advocacy groups
  • Directing more of the state’s limited housing resources to those with greatest need
  • Revising DHCR regulations to prevent landlords from automatically receiving an increase in rents when they withdraw their buildings from the Mitchell-Lama or other regulation programs – closing the “unique and peculiar circumstances” loophole. The unique and peculiar provision allows landlords to apply for rent increases for apartments that have artificially low rents for “unique and peculiar” reasons. For example, if a landlord has a family member as a tenant, or a building manager who enjoyed a lower than normal rent as part of his compensation, the landlord could use the unique and peculiar clause to increase the apartment’s rent when they were re-rented. Some landlords, however, have tried to use this provision in order to bring apartments leaving the Mitchell-Lama or other regulation programs immediately up to market rate. They were claiming that their decision to end their participation in Mitchell-Lama, or other government program, qualifies as unique and peculiar circumstances. No longer will leaving a government financing program entitle a landlord to a rent increase owing to unique or peculiar circumstances. Landlords will now have to seek such an increase through other, established means.

  • New Legislation Passed to Create Parity Between Public and Private Housing Providers with Respect to the Shelter Allowance
  • Landlords receive a “shelter allowance” from the state to cover rents paid by those on public assistance.
  • Prior to this legislation, the size of stipends provided to private landlords was much larger than that given to public housing authorities – sometimes nearly three times greater depending on family size and apartment size.
  • This new legislation equalizes these two shelter allowance rates, creating parity
  • between both types of housing providers.
  • The shelter allowance increase will be phases in over three years – immediately rising to 50 percent of the maximum level provided to private landlords, and then increasing to 75 percent in 2008-2009, and 100 percent in 2009-2010.

  • Revision of the 421-a Tax Abatement Program
  • The areas of the city where affordable housing is now required in order to receive the 421-a exemption expands from most of Manhattan to all of Manhattan, huge swaths of Brooklyn, and parts of the Bronx, Staten Island and Queens.
  • Affordable housing is required in the developments themselves so that 421-a will operate in the exclusion areas as a mixed-income housing development program.
  • Provisions are included to make sure the affordable housing units stay affordable, and that they are available to people already living in the neighborhood.

  • Proposed $400 Million Housing Opportunity Fund
  • The proposed $400 million Housing Opportunity Fund (HOF) will have two initial sources of funds. One, SONYMA’s Mortgage Insurance Fund will transfer $100 million in excess reserves to the HOF to fund its initial “upstate” housing activities. The budget bill establishing the HOF provides that SONYMA’s board will make an annual determination of how much the MIF may transfer to HOF. The bill also provides that the HOF can receive additional funds from other state and federal sources. This would allow advocates to press for the fund to receive additional dedicated revenue from other state sources.
  • The HOF is to receive $300 million for its “downstate” housing activities from the proceeds of the sale of a state-owned parcel south of the Javits Center. There does not appear to be significant opposition to the sale of the south parcel. It will take time, however, for the sale to happen and the funds to flow to the state.
  • What is needed is “bridge financing” to the HOF before the actual sale of the south parcel so that the HOF can make funds available to downstate projects in FY08-09. This could be accomplished by making transfers to the state’s housing agencies to expand their existing capital programs. The HOF’s transfers to these agencies would get money out to developments in their pipelines while concurrently establishing the HOF as an operating entity. This is preferable to separate line-item add-ons to the appropriations proposed for the existing housing capital programs in the Executive Budget.

  • NY City Passage of City Council Legislation Making It Illegal for Most Landlords to Refuse Tenants Who Intended to Pay Their Rent Using Federal Subsidy Vouchers, Known as Section 8 vouchers, or Any Other Form of Local, State, or Federal Government Assistance.
  • Although the legislation was vetoed by Mayor Bloomberg on February 29, 2008, the City Council is expected to override the veto.

  • Anti-Harassment Legislation Intro 627 – Anti-Harassment Legislation
  • Harassment = “Any act or omission by an owner that causes or is intended to cause a lawful occupant to vacate an apartment unit or forgo occupancy rights, including threats, violence, and ‘repeated baseless or frivolous court proceedings.”
  • This legislation allows tenants to pursue harassment charges in housing court against a landlord based on the above definition which is further specified in the law.
  • Judgments against the landlord would include civil fines of $1,000 to $5,000 for each home where the violation occurred.
  • Where a tenant alleges lack of heat or other essential services, the landlord would have to prove that the problem did not result from intent or gross negligence and that reasonable efforts were made to correct it.

  • Mayor’s New Market Housing Plan Good Progress – Concerns for the Future
  • In November of 2007, the Independent Budget Office (IBO) issued a report on the Mayor’s Housing Plan that calls for the preservation or creation of 165,000 housing units for low- and moderate- income New Yorkers by 2013.
  • The report found that four years into the 10-year plan, nearly 40 percent of the 165,000 units, or 64,408 units, had been financed, and $2.5 billion o f the program’s $7.5 billion cost had been spent through 2007. Production has averaged nearly 18,000 units per year in the last three years, a rate that if sustained for six more years would reach the mayor’s goal.
  • HPD’s analysis of those living in the housing units completed in the fiscal year of 2006: Of the more than 13,000 units built or preserved in 2006, 75 percent went to low-income people – those making less than $56,700 a year for a family of four, which is 80 percent of Area Median Income. This is above the Mayor’s goal of 68 percent, but it is also down from 2004, when 80 percent of units went to low-income households. People of moderate income (ranging from $56,700 to about $85,000 for a family of four) fared about the same over the two years, accounting for around 12 percent of the units preserved or created. Households earning over $85,000 doubled their share of units preserved or created to about 13%.
  • While there is good news in terms of the number of units preserved or created, there is some concern about the declining percentage that is going to those at the lower end of the income scale, although the City contends that the plan was to start with a high percentage going to lower income persons with the percentage declining to the percentage that was set in the original plan. This decline in the percentage of units preserved or created that are affordable to low-income New Yorkers is a point of concern given the dwindling supply of affordable units in the City.
  • A 2005 study by the Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy at New York University found that the number of rental units affordable to households earning 80% of the city’s median income, or $33,203, fell by nearly 205,000 units between 2002 and 2005 Red Flags for the future:
  • The IBO report found that the Housing Development Corporation had planned to use $548 million from its reserves to help finance 42,000 units, but had already used $493 million to fund 30,838 units. The report said the agency was facing a shortfall of $130 million.
  • The number of tax-exempt bonds allocated to the state by the federal government has outpaced supply.
  • Funding from the city’s capital budget “is sufficient to fund slightly less than half – 49 percent – of the units needed to meet new construction targets.”
  • Rising construction costs and land prices.
  • The newly revised 421-a program that is intended to generate affordable housing development is dependent on the overall health of the housing market.

  • Raise the New York State Minimum Wage - Success. Nov '04, the state legislature passed a minimum wage bill over Governor Pataki's veto.

  • Inclusionary Zoning - Three victories and more to come. As a result of great work led by the Inclusionary Zoning Campaign, the West Midtown community got a guarantee of 28% affordable housing in its rezoning plan -- nearly the 30% that it had called for. The Greenpoint-Williamsburg, community, with broad citywide support, called for 40% affordable housing -- and the City approved a plan that includes 33% affordable housing. Chelsea also won a guarantee of 23%. More re-zonings are in the pipeline.

  • Battery Park City - Great news, but more action is needed. After nearly 30 years of mostly broken promises to provide funding for affordable housing, City Comptroller Bill Thompson and Mayor Bloomberg committed to contribute $130 million of BPC revenues over 5 years to an Affordable Housing Trust Fund. For this to become policy, Governor Pataki must also agree. If enacted, this action would represent the first of two major BPC revenue streams that could be committed to affordable Housing. Work is needed to get Governor Pataki's agreement on this - and to see to it that the other funding stream is also used for affordable housing.

  • Increase the Utilization of Food Stamps. Finally some progress. With over 400,000 "food stamp eligible" New Yorkers not receiving them, nearly $1 billion in Federal funding is lost every year and nearly 1 out of every 10 New Yorkers are needlessly forced to chose between food and other basic needs. This summer a federal contract was awarded to two local organizations to increase access to those who seek emergency food assistance. The City Council approved applications on-line to facilitate this increased access, but the Mayor's approval is still pending.

  • Stop the Loss of Federal Section Eight Vouchers. A Crisis in the making! As a result of a concerted effort among advocates nationwide last year, some of the worst threats to cuts in Section 8 funding were successfully opposed. However this year, in the context of Katrina and other pressures, great efforts are needed to prevent the massive loss of affordable housing funds throughout the country.

  • Preserve Affordable Housing. Real movement, but more is needed. As a result of the Feb. 2005 Housing Here and Now Rally and the Fix It Now campaign to target the City's worst landlords, there has been real progress. The City Council has introduced "Healthy Homes" legislation to establish procedures to finally enforce housing codes in the worst buildings, City Bank and New York Community Bank have agreed to a adopt a set of principles pressing landlords that borrow funds into repairing run-down buildings, and the Bloomberg administration has entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with advocates to begin to address some of the worst areas in the city. Many still want legislation to put the MOU into law so that future administrations will be legally bound to continue this progress.

  • Create Supportive Housing for the Mentally ill and People with Aids. Finally a Victory. November2005, one of the major public policy priorities of the Housing Advocacy community was achieved. With the agreement of Governor Pataki, the NYNY III agreement will create 9,000 units of housing for those with mental illness and physical handicaps, resulting in a total of 12,000 such units in Mayor Bloomberg's housing plan. Congratulations to advocates, Mayor Bloomberg and the Governor.

  • Provide Adequate Housing Subsidies for the formerly Homeless. A start; more needed to avoid a crisis. As a result of the anticipated significant drop in Section 8 funding, the Bloomberg Administration has introduced "Housing Stability Plus" as an alternative way of providing funds to subsidize housing costs for those who have been homeless. Though an important first step, the plan is flawed in a number of ways. The cap on rents is too low to enable sufficient numbers of individuals and families coming out of homelessness to secure housing; the subsidy is reduced by 20% per year until it ends in year five; and eligibility requirements mean that if a family is able to identify additional income to offset the reduction in subsidy, they might find themselves cut off the program.

  • Produce and preserve 185,000 units of affordable housing over the next ten years. Tremendous success! In 2001, Housing First! Established this number as a target for new and preserved units that NYC needed to begin to effectively address the shortage of affordable housing. In October 2005 in the midst of the Mayoral Campaign, Mayor Bloomberg made a pledge to produce and preserve 165,000 units of housing in NYC during his tenure - 70% of them affordable to "low-Income" New Yorkers (those earning $50,000 or less) Congratulations to Housing First! For its leadership in the advocacy community and to the Bloomberg administration for making this ambitious target city policy! The next challenge will be to see to it that a sufficient portion of these units are new units affordable to very low (under $35,000) and extremely low income (under $20,000) New Yorkers, those New Yorkers most in need!

  • Strengthen the section 421 tax exemption program to encourage the development of more affordable housing citywide – the 421a tax exemption was established 30 years ago to encourage housing development citywide during a low point in the City’s history. What began as a boon to the city has turned into a massive tax giveaway resulting in $400 million in 421a tax breaks given in 2006 to developers for creating luxury housing! In December 2006, the Interfaith Assembly and its allies gathered the signatures of 60 faith leaders in support of a series of revisions to the program that would result in thousands more affordable units citywide over the next 15 years. With the leadership of Housing Here and Now, Housing First! and others, the City Council and the Mayor sent to the state legislature recommendations for a much improved 421a. Now we must encourage our state elected officials to make 421a stronger still when they enact a revised 421a by the end of 2007 when the current program expires.

  • Develop stronger enforcement of current housing code violations – for over a decade affordable housing advocates have been pointing to weak housing code violation enforcement as a key cause of the loss of decent affordable housing and the resultant homelessness. City Council Intro. #561, introduced in April 2007 by City Council Speaker Quinn and fifteen other council members is intended to “result in reaching the core of the physical problems in distressed buildings” and “ is intended to alleviate the serious physical deterioration of those buildings by forcing the owner to make effective repairs or have city government do so in a more comprehensive fashion so that emergency conditions are alleviated and the underlying physical conditions related to housing code violations are addressed.”
    We applaud the Speaker and her colleagues for this Intro and encourage all of our partners to support their efforts in seeing it result in effective legislation.
  • The Interfaith Assembly and its advocacy partners will continue to monitor the development of policies to address the needs of poor, homeless and ill housed New Yorkers and will advocate for wise, humane and cost effective solutions. All people of faith and good will are encouraged to join these ongoing efforts. For more info and to get involved please contact us at 212-316-3171 or email us at

    Cry out full-throated and unsparingly, lift up your voice like a trumpet blast....

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