Regional Plan Association Testimony on New York City’s “Where We Live” Plan to Affirmatively Further Fair Housing

Thank you for the opportunity to submit testimony. My name is Moses Gates, and I am the Vice President for Housing and Neighborhood Planning at Regional Plan Association. RPA is a non-profit civic organization that conducts research, planning and advocacy to improve economic opportunity, mobility, environmental sustainability and the quality of life for those who live and work in the New York metropolitan region. We would like to applaud the administration for conducting this assessment of fair housing,  despite the changes in AFFH requirements under the Trump administration. Acknowledging the history and current reality of racism, segregation and housing discimination is important, as is creating a plan to address it. We would particularly like to acknowledge the dedication, inclusivity and hard work of the staff of HPD’s Neighborhood Planning division and their counterparts at NYCHA throughout this process, as well as that of the community-based partner organizations. We would also like to acknowledge the value of previously implemented policies, many of which are mentioned in the report, such as the right to counsel in eviction proceedings. 

However, it is noticeable and disappointing that this report calls for no new legislation, no significant administrative policy changes, only two additional funded initiatives and targets no concrete results or a system for measuring progress. This is an especially noteworthy omission as HUD AFFH guidelines explicitly state that fair housing goals should include “metrics and milestones for determining what fair housing results will be achieved, including the timeframes for achieving them.” It is also in notable contrast to the City’s other planning efforts such as OneNYC, which has indicators and targets for each stated strategy and goal. 

This is not for lack of information or ideas. There is a heavy and admirable focus on hard data and statistics when talking about past progress and the current state of segregation and discrimination in the report. For instance, under “Progress So Far”  the City cites the reduction of the concentration of poverty, noting the share of census tracts with more 40% of New Yorkers living in poverty has dropped from 13% in 1990 to 8% in 2012-2016. However, there are no targets for the further reduction of the concentration of poverty, or even a stated goal of reducing the concentration of poverty. In order to meaningfully address fair housing, segregation and discrimination, we first need to know what we are working toward and what constitutes progress. In addition to the need for specific goals and metrics, there is also a need for concrete and actionable policies including legislation, dedicated funding and stated administrative policy changes. An 18-month process, conducted several years into an administration, involves enough time and discussion to come to real conclusions about what to do. There are several areas in which draft recommendations should be solidified into actionable items by the time it is adopted as a final report. For all recommendations which do remain in the exploratory stage in the final report, the administration should commit to issuing an update to the Where We Live plan by the end of 2020 either detailing the policy changes which have resulted from these explorations or explaining the reasons the administration has not chosen to enact any changes.  

Some specific suggestions for the final report follow, which are by no means comprehensive.  

Strategy 1.1.3 - “Explore new regulations to address discrimination by co-op associations.” 

In the final report the administration should support council legislation, first put forward in 2017, specifically designed to help curb discrimination in housing cooperatives. This would require cooperative corporations to provide prospective purchasers with a written statement of each and all of its reasons for withholding consent to a sale within five days after deciding to withhold such consent.

Strategy 1.2.1. “Explore City legislation to address discrimination in the housing market based on residents’ involvement with the criminal justice system.” 

In the final report the administration should support the introduction of legislation to address this discrimination.

Goal 2: Facilitate Equitable Housing Development in New York City and the Region

Overall, it is surprising that nowhere in this section is the administration’s signature initiative for facilitating equitable housing development mentioned, which is the Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH) policy. Inclusionary Zoning in general is designed for wealthier, whiter neighborhoods which lack affordable housing options. However the administration has applied this policy almost exclusively to low-income neighborhoods which are predominantly Black and Latinx. An announced policy of applying MIH to wealthier neighborhoods with higher housing markets would not only make more sense economically it would be very much in line with the goal of facilitating equitable housing development. The lack of support for applying this policy in the current SoHo/NoHo rezoning is a particularly noteworthy omission, and would leave the wealthiest neighborhood to undergo a comprehensive neighborhood rezoning as the only one where the administration does not add affordable housing. 

Strategy 2.1.1 “Explore opportunities to accelerate land use review and remove obstacles to the approval of affordable housing development, particularly in amenity-rich areas with limited affordable housing options.”

In the final report the administration should commit to instituting a fair-share policy including numeric unit goals for affordable housing, supportive housing, permanent housing for individuals experiencing homelessness, and emergency shelter in neighborhoods which lack it, and illustrate a specific process for expediting the construction of these types of housing to meet these goals.  

Strategy 2.3.2. “Evaluate opportunities to redevelop underused public properties, including on NYCHA land, in amenity-rich neighborhoods with affordable housing for extremely- and very low-income households, homeless, and other special needs populations.”

The criteria for what is an “underused public property” should be determined and made clear, and specifically include viable development sites near transit which are used as parking for city agencies and NYPD precincts. 

Strategy 3.1.1. “Implement NYCHA 2.0 plan to improve conditions in and the management of NYCHA’s approximately 175,000 apartments.”

The preservation of NYCHA is by far our most important and needed affordable housing initiative. The administration needs, at the highest level, to explicitly commit to bringing all 175,000 units of public housing back to a state of good repair and put all available resources on the table to achieve this goal.  

Strategy 3.1.4. “Explore further opportunities to support and enable mission-based groups, including Mutual Housing Associations and Community Land Trusts, in creating and preserving affordable housing.” 

In the final report the administration should illustrate the specific policies it will enact to support mission-based groups. This could include a dedicated share of affordable housing funding and a preference for mission-driven nonprofit entities in the disposition of public land for affordable housing. We applaud the announcement by the Mayor today about further supporting Community Land Trusts by dedicating 3,000 affordable homes to this structure. This is an admirable start, however 3,000 units of a 300,000 unit housing plan cannot be considered anywhere near a proper commitment for supporting mission-driven development.

Specific policies to support for-profit M/WBE developers and owners, which are already part of OneNYC should also be included in the Where We Live plan and the policies designed to support mission-based groups should in turn be added to OneNYC.

Strategy 3.1.6 “Study outcomes of basement legalization pilot and explore opportunities for expansion.”

We applaud the City’s announced plan to extend this program. The city should commit to expanding this program citywide in as broad a way as possible and build on it by exploring other ways to legalize and add housing in existing buildings. While we understand the need for Pilot demonstration projects, new programs should be developed with the aim of a quick road to citywide implementation.      

Strategy 3.2.1 “Continue citywide expansion of NYC’s Universal Access free legal services for tenants facing eviction in Housing Court and NYCHA proceedings, and conduct proactive outreach.”

In the final report the administration should commit to immediately expanding this program to include all current and former NYCHA developments, in particular those which have undergone or are undergoing RAD or other PACT to Preserve conversions. 

Strategy 6.1.1 “As part of the NYC Equity Initiative, expand the number of City agencies conducting equity assessments and developing equity action plans.”

In the final report the city should require all city agencies, as well as similar city entities, to conduct equity assessments and develop equity action plans, and make these easily available to the public.

Strategy 6.1.4 “In key neighborhoods that have historically experienced disinvestment, conduct community-based planning processes, such as the Brownsville Plan, to ensure government policies and capital plans are informed by a diversity of local perspectives.” 

New York’s community-based plans, such as those done in Brownsville and Edgemere, have been by far the best neighborhood planning efforts from the city in terms of both process and outcome. There is no reason to restrict these to just a few neighborhoods. In the final report the city should build on this success by recommending a specific process to move these plans from concepts to reality, and enacting a more robust and fair comprehensive land use process, based on this community planning process, such as that suggested last year to the Charter Revision Commission. 

Strategies 2.3.1 and 5.1.1,  establishment of task forces: 

The administration proposes two task forces, one to make recommendations to systematically help people with disabilities transition out of institutional settings, the other to recommend zoning, land use, and other regulatory actions that will promote equitable growth across the five boroughs. These Task Forces would be most effective if they have strict timelines and are specifically charged with recommending concrete and specific legislative, budgetary and administrative changes which can be enacted by the City of New York. These task forces should also incorporate a majority of members from communities which have been most affected by racism, discrimination and barries to obtaining housing. 

This does not disavow the fact that other levels of government are also responsible for our history or current state of of racism, segregation and housing discrimination, and must be part of the solution, or that these task forces should not also recommend changes which may not be able to be enacted exclusively by the City of New York. 

Thank you for the opportunity to testify. We look forward to working together to working together to address the legacy and current reality of racism, segregation and housing discrimination in New York City.