Action Needed to Counter Displacement Threat

The housing affordability crisis that has put nearly one million people in the New York metropolitan region at risk of displacement has many roots, and it will take sustained effort at the state and local level to protect vulnerable residents and foster healthy local economies, policy experts said Wednesday at a forum hosted by Regional Plan Association at the Ford Foundation.

RPA New York Director Pierina Ana Sanchez presented the findings of the new study. 

The forum coincided with the publication of a study by RPA examining the growing threat of housing displacement around the region. "Pushed Out: Housing Displacement in an Unaffordable Region," identifies communities, including many outside New York City's urban core, that are at risk of seeing poorer residents pressured to leave for more distant areas while more affluent people move in. In addition to the study, RPA published an interactive map featuring interviews with residents feeling displacement pressure.

During a panel Wednesday moderated by NY1 News Anchor Errol Louis, Maria Torres-Springer, New York City’s commissioner of housing preservation and development, said displacement pressure didn’t only arise from a shortage of housing options. She noted that incomes for some residents have stagnated even as population and job growth have accelerated overall, narrowing housing options for low-income households.

Dina Levy, director of community impact and engagement in the office of the New York State attorney general, cited an assortment of “unnatural causes” behind displacement, including the growing involvement of private equity and other investors in the real estate rental market. Aggressive pressure by landlords and outright fraud, the purview of her office, also are factors. She described homeowners in suburban communities who have been the targets of scams, even as these residents struggle to recover from the foreclosure crisis. “There is a fine line between predatory behavior and illegal behavior,” she said.

Jersey City Deputy Mayor Marcos D. Vigil talked about the importance of having economically diverse communities. If the city is going to continue to thrive, “we can’t just have high-tech, high-income jobs,” he said.

Speaking on a second panel, New York City Council Member Antonio Reynoso said city safeguards against displacement sometimes are being outpaced by the surge in development. He advocated changes to city land-use and environmental review processes to include more community input earlier in the process and to take displacement pressure into account. He was joined on the panel by Afua Atta-Mensah, executive director of Community Voices Heard, Raymond Ocasio, the executive director of La Casa de Don Pedro, and Ingrid Gould Ellen, director of New York University’s Furman Center. 

--Wendy Pollack