Op-ed: A Victory In The Fight To Preserve Affordable Housing

Shirley L. Huntley

June 27, 2008

When we talk about affordable housing in New York City, we are talking about doing two things: expanding the number of affordable housing units to meet our city's pressing need, as well as preserving existing units as affordable.
The truth is, investing in the development of 100 new units of affordable housing does us little good when during construction, 200 units of affordable housing are lost to market rate rents or have disintegrated into disrepair—something that is happening at an alarming rate. According to testimony provided last year by the Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development at a Senate Democratic hearing last year, "Each year, more than 14,000 apartments lose their affordability when they are removed from Rent Stabilization or Rent Control."
The development and preservation of affordable housing is one of the issues I work most on in the Senate. In this real estate environment, when the market is busting at the seams and many renters have lost their voice, I believe it is the job of government to protect families by protecting their homes. And one major State initiative in my district will do that and serve as a model for us moving forward.
Governor David Paterson and the New York State Housing Finance Agency (HFA) recently announced a $20 million financing project at Baisley Park Gardens, an affordable housing development in the Jamaica part of my District. Designated as Section 8 with 212 units, Baisley Park Gardens will benefit from a refinanced mortgage that will pay off the mortgage and also provide much needed funding for capital improvements to the property. Very often in developments such as these, there is no incentive for the owner to fix up the buildings or keep the units affordable for the long-term. Thanks to this financing program, the residents will enjoy improved living condition, and in return, the property will remain an affordable development for about 40 more years. This is a win-win for the community, the residents, and the owner.
Besides the Baisley Park Gardens, there are two other financing projects to preserve units currently in the works—another in Queens and one in Brooklyn. The program follows the first real investment in housing in the State Budget in years, to the tune of about $300 million; which is still not enough.
The truth is, investing in affordable housing was once a priority in New York. Unfortunately, much of that funding has dried up in recent decades and a lack of vision has had devastating effects on our city, particularly here in Queens. With one million more residents expected by the 2030, as Mayor Bloomberg predicted in PlaNYC2030, and the Department of City Planning projecting one-third of the population to be elderly at that time (a group most in need of affordable housing) we are in trouble if more is not done immediately.
The victory at Baisley Park Gardens is a step in the right direction, but only one small step in a race against time. Yet it is a tangible victory that helps hundreds of Queens residents remain in their home, and moves us toward the goal of an affordable, safe, and maintained home for every constituent in my 10th Senatorial District.