RPA Report Paints Stark Picture of Affordability Crisis Facing East Harlem

Despite two consecutive mayors who put the creation and preservation of affordable housing atop their agendas, neighborhoods throughout New York City and the metropolitan region are experiencing a crisis of affordability. East Harlem, which has one of the city’s greatest concentrations of regulated affordable housing, is in danger of losing a significant share of its affordable housing stock.

Over the next 30 years, East Harlem could lose from between 200 and 500 units of affordable housing each year if existing programs aren’t extended or made permanent. A new study by Regional Plan Association estimates that 4,121 units have affordability restrictions that will expire between 2020 and 2030. In all, one-fourth of the 56,000 residential units in East Harlem have affordability restrictions due to expire by 2040.

A loss of regulated affordable housing of this magnitude would increase economic pressure on low and moderate-income residents, prompting many to leave a neighborhood that historically welcomed people excluded by discriminatory policies from living elsewhere. Their displacement ultimately would be damaging for the city and for the entire region, which relies on having residents of diverse backgrounds, income levels and experiences to fill the range of jobs needed to make our economy function. And it would harm residents who would face leaving a community that is well connected to jobs, health care and education.

The solution lies with requiring affordable housing created to guarantee affordability in perpetuity. This can be done by restructuring existing programs, or supporting community and public ownership models including community land trusts, land lease agreements and expanded public housing. In the last few years, the city has made great efforts to extend the affordability of individual East Harlem buildings facing expiration through the housing department’s division of asset management, but more permanent changes would prevent the need for being reactive. As urban areas become more attractive and new residents move in, there should be more efforts to shore up long-term residents’ ability to remain a part of the community.

East Harlem will be among the first gentrifying neighborhoods to be rezoned under Mayor Bill de Blasio’s housing plan, and the rezoning could serve as a lab for the encouragement of inclusive and sustainable development. While the rezonings have the potential to produce more affordable housing, aggressive protections for existing vulnerable residents will be critical in order to prevent involuntary displacement that would result from escalating price pressures. This report was aimed at helping community leaders identify properties at risk of expiration in the near future, and advocate for their preservation. Earlier this year, the East Harlem Neighborhood Plan coalition, led by the office of New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, community group Community Voices Heard and Community Board 11, incorporated the RPA analysis in the development of the neighborhood plan.

This report follows a longstanding collaboration between Community Board 11 and Regional Plan Association, who have worked together since the late 1990s to help the community plan for the eventual building of the Second Avenue subway. Recent work enabled Community Board 11 to intervene and preserve dozens of units, and for civic groups to join together to establish a community land trust. This report continues the collaboration, and contains a decade-specific analysis, putting the affordability crisis in East Harlem and New York City within its regional context where housing production isn’t keeping pace with demand.