Homeownership remains small part of city housing production

Beat Memo

Mayor Eric Adams has pledged to expand opportunities for low- and middle-income New Yorkers to buy homes. But affordable homeownership units made up a paltry share of the new homes financed during his first year in office.

His administration financed 144 new income-restricted homeownership units in 2022 and preserved another 875, about 7 percent of the affordable housing produced over the year, according to city data compiled by the New York Housing Conference. Newly constructed homeownership units were around the same level in 2021, but the number of units preserved — 9,538 — was much higher. (Housing preservation in general fell significantly in 2022, driving a 47 percent drop in total affordable housing production.)

The low share of homeownership units — which made up 9 percent of total production in the last fiscal year, per the latest mayor’s management report — drew criticism at a City Council hearing last week.

“This doesn’t square with the administration’s ambition and our own of truly promoting homeownership,” Council Member Pierina Sanchez, chair of the housing committee, told city housing officials, referring to the 9 percent figure.

Kim Darga, deputy commissioner for development at the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, cited staffing shortages as one contributor to low production. She also detailed some of the challenges around new capital projects in this area, but said homeownership is nonetheless a major focus of the agency.

There are two main ways the city can create new opportunities for homeownership, Darga said. One is financing new affordable housing projects — largely limited-equity cooperatives, with income restrictions and caps on resale prices. And the other is offering direct down payment assistance to prospective buyers.

“That is something we have really increased support for,” Darga said on down payment assistance, including putting more city resources and federal funds toward the effort. The city is now offering as much as $100,000 per household, up from $40,000 previously. “That is a much more efficient investment in public resources for us, so that is something we are very interested in.”

New homeownership capital projects are “really expensive work,” she said, and the average capital investment per new home in city programs range from $230,000 to $500,000 per unit.

“That is one of the big challenges, so we would love to do more, and we have made sure that those programs exist and are available, but we invest more in capital in those programs than basically any other work that we do,” she said.

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Driving the Day

CONGESTION PRICING MOVES AHEAD — POLITICO’s Danielle Muoio Dunn: The Biden administration on Friday cleared New York’s congestion pricing plan to move forward, approving an environmental review that suffered such significant delays many doubted the first-in-the-nation tolling system would ever happen. The Federal Highway Administration issued a letter approving the New York Metropolitan Transportation’s Authority environmental assessment and issued a draft “Finding of No Significant Impact” that will now be up for public review for 30 days, according to a copy of the letter obtained by POLITICO.

The news means the agency has been given the green light to start charging drivers entering central Manhattan at peak times in an effort to cut down on gridlock.

PUBLIC TRANSIT STILL HURTING FROM PANDEMIC — POLITICO’s Danielle Muoio Dunn and Ry Rivard: Public transit systems at the heart of major American cities were built around the 9-to-5 — and that old business of shepherding workers to downtown offices turned into their greatest weakness. The riders transit agencies have catered to for decades are also the ones who abandoned their systems in droves, and some transportation officials are facing a difficult prospect: To win back straphangers, they must remake public transit to better serve everyone whose lives don’t revolve around traveling into a central business district.

But the very issue pressuring them to do so — a dramatic decline in ridership that’s left the largest systems with less than 70 percent of their pre-pandemic traffic even now — is also the biggest obstacle to innovation. Public transit is facing a financial rut that’s spurred their CEOs to press city and state governments for new funding streams and taxes.

RENT VOTE DRAWS OUTCRY — POLITICO’s Janaki Chadha: Five progressive City Council members joined tenant advocates to interrupt the Rent Guidelines Board’s vote Tuesday as the mayor-appointed panel indicated it would approve rent hikes as high as 5 percent over one year on the city’s nearly 1 million rent-regulated apartments.

In a preliminary decision Tuesday night, the board voted 5-4 to raise rents between 2 and 5 percent on one-year leases beginning this October, and allow increases between 4 and 7 percent on two-year leases. The vote came during a raucous meeting where tenant activists flooded the stage and chanted over board members’ remarks. Activists, including the five Council members, remained on stage for a substantial portion of the meeting.

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Odds and Ends

NEW YORK FINALLY MOVES ON HOTEL CONVERSION — New York Times’ Mihir Zaveri: “The halting effort to transform struggling New York City hotels into much-needed affordable housing appears to be moving forward, at long last: An airport hotel in Queens is set to be turned into a housing development with more than 300 units.

The project, made public by developers on Wednesday, is the first under a 2021 state program designed to capitalize on the dip in tourism during the pandemic by making hotel conversions easier and cheaper.”

POTENTIAL 421-A WORKAROUND? — The Real Deal’s Kathryn Brenzel: “With the expiration of property tax break 421a threatening plans for thousands of apartments, the state might cut separate deals with developers to help finance them. The property tax break expired last June, and efforts to extend or replace it have failed. But the state and city could reach agreements for payments in lieu of taxes, or PILOTs, instead.

“During The Real Deal’s New York City Real Estate Forum on Thursday, real estate attorney Ken Fisher indicated that state officials are considering the idea. The state would take over project sites and lease them back to developers through long-term ground leases.”

PARKING GARAGES GET VACATE ORDERS — New York Post’s Nolan Hicks: “NYC’s Buildings Department ordered three more parking structures to be partially or completely vacated due to severe structural issues Wednesday following last month’s fatal collapse of a garage in Lower Manhattan.

“Seven parking structures have now been partially or completely closed since the April 18 collapse, which killed the garage’s manager, Willis Moore, and injured five others. Two of the garages are located on the East Side of Manhattan, while the third is in Brooklyn.”

Quick Links

— New York is joining other cities in experimenting with free bus service, but the move has proven divisive among transportation policy experts.

— A new report finds office landlords in New York and Chicago are paying the largest property tax bills in the country.

— “How the Sale of Signature Bank’s Huge Mortgage Portfolio Could Change the Lives of NYC’s Tenants,” The City reports.