[Hpn] Rudy=?ISO-8859-1?B?uQ==?=s Housing Swan Song Is 2554 Days Late and $1 Billion Short and $1 Billion Short

chance martin streetsheet@sf-homeless-coalition.org
Thu, 25 Jan 2001 16:36:43 -0700


http://www.villagevoice.com:80/issues/0103/lobbia.shtml

THE VILLAGE VOICE
Published January 17 - 23, 2001

Towers & Tenements
by J.A. Lobbia
Rudyıs Housing Swan Song Is Too Little, Too Late
2554 Days Late and $1 Billion Short 

Rudy Giuliani thought the housing plans he pitched last week in his state of
the city speech were so important, he leaked them to the press a day in
advance. But it wasn't until a full hour and seven minutes into the
90-minute, January 8 address that Giuliani even mentioned housing. Even so,
the delay was minor, considering that seven years of his administration have
passed with housing earning little attention at all.

Now, as his mayoralty winds down, Giuliani thinks it's time to rev up a
four-year spending plan to bring on line about 10,000 units of affordable
housing. No matter that three of those four years will be under someone
else's administration, and that 10,000 units are nowhere near what the most
conservative estimates show are needed to ease the city's housing shortage.
Rudy's finally ready to do something to the housing budget besides cut it,
and to him, that is apparently something to brag about.

In truth, the mayor should blush at his proposal, which doesn't even begin
to remedy the years of damage he's done by cutting the number of housing
inspectors and litigators who prosecute renegade landlords, and slashing the
capital budget for housing.

Indeed, a chart of inflation-adjusted capital spending on housing that
compares the Koch, Dinkins, and Giuliani administrations looks like a side
view of the Coney Island Cyclone: After reaching steady heights under the
two Democrats (about $700 million a year), the budget precipitously plunges
in the first Giuliani year (to $262.1 million), then levels out and remains
flat. Project onto that graph the mayor's plans for the next four years
(about $332 million a year), and the roller coaster zips up a bit, but never
comes anywhere near the pinnacles of the late 1980s and early 1990s.

"I don't see how what he's proposing can be seen as anything but a first
step; it's certainly nothing to get excited over," says Patrick Markee of
the Coalition for the Homeless, who designed the chart. "Over the years, you
can see what a whack Giuliani took out of the capital budget," which fell to
a low of $120.7 million in 1998. The slash is especially disturbing since
funding under Koch and Dinkins came during recession years, while Giuliani's
paltry spending happened during years of surplus.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

It would actually take well over 100,000 available units of housing to
achieve a vacancy rate above 5 percent.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

Now, Giuliani says he wants to spend (and have his successor spend) $600
million in city money over the next four years, or about $150 million
annually, with the private sector kicking in an equal amount, for a total of
$1.2 billion over four years. Three city programs would be expanded to build
3100 new apartments and homes and to renovate 7100 units in 133 so-called in
rem buildings, which became city property after private landlords abandoned
them decades ago. The plan essentially continues Giuliani's initial goal of
divesting rental property. The city has long considered itself a landlord of
last resort, and indeed some of the worst housing conditions are found in
city-owned buildings.

"It's been a self-fulfilling prophecy," says Peter Marcuse, an urban
planning professor at Columbia University. "The city doesn't want to own and
manage housing, and so it makes political choices to cut budgets and get rid
of competent people. No wonder it's a bad landlord. The mayor's main goal is
to get the city out of the housing business, but the goal should be to see
that New Yorkers are adequately housed."

The city is in a permanent housing emergency, defined by the state
legislature as a vacancy rate of 5 percent or less. The most recent rate,
based on 1999 data, shows a vacancy of 3.19 percent. On paper, it would take
about 39,000 additional vacant available units to exceed 5 percent. But in
reality, overcrowding and population growth would fill those apartments
rapidly, and it would actually take well over 100,000 available units to
achieve a vacancy rate above 5 percent.

Marcuse argues that returning property to the private sector, which
abandoned it in the first place, is rife with trouble: If the economy turns
down, abandonment is likely to recur. And if the market remains strong,
gentrification and displacement are unavoidable. For instance, although the
city's main programs for returning in rem buildings to the private sector
offer current tenants some rent protections, rents in vacant apartments are
considerably higher. That puts economic pressure on entire communities.

"What ultimately happens," says Marcuse, "is that a neighborhood is no
longer affordable to those who have the greatest need."

Tell us what you think. editor@villagevoice.com


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