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Getting to the real story behind New Yorkʼs affordable housing crisis

New York’s affordable housing crisis is often discussed, analyzed and scrutinized through the lens of hard numbers and data.

How many units are in a new development? What are the income restrictions? How much does it cost? How is it being financed?

These questions are often vital to advancing our efforts – but they do not provide the whole picture of what affordable housing development is and what it means to residents.

Explaining the human impacts of our work can sometimes be just as important – if not more so – when it comes to advocating for the resources our industry needs to keep building and preserving affordable housing across the state.

This crucial question of how we publicly communicate the issues of affordable housing is in part why NYSAFAH hosted Ben Austen, author of “High-Risers: Cabrini-Green And The Fate Of American Public Housing,” at our annual Upstate Conference last week in Albany.

Austen is an expert storyteller whose work reveals the distinctly human narrative underlying all our discussions of housing policy. As its title indicates, his book tells of the Cabrini-Green public housing complex, built in the North Side of Chicago in the mid-20th century and demolished a decade ago.

The distinction of Austen’s work lies in his ability to weave the policy and political issues – federal disinvestment, management challenges and other dynamics – into narratives of the residents of Cabrini-Green and what it meant for families to have and then dramatically lose their homes.

It is impossible to hear this story without reflecting on its relevance in our state. This is especially true as public housing authorities in New York City and across upstate New York face severe challenges in repairing and managing existing housing stock and ensuring that public housing residents can have the safe, quality homes they need and deserve.

The day before our Upstate Conference, NYSAFAH joined state government officials at a ribbon cutting to the celebrate the completion of Phase I of renovations at the Martin Luther King Apartments in Troy.

The work was executed through a new partnership between the Troy Housing Authority, which manages the property, and Beacon Communities Development. This public-private partnership will ultimately provide hundreds of low-income Troy families with high-quality, renovated homes.

The impact of these partnerships is felt in the five boroughs, too. At New York City Housing Authority properties like Ocean Bay, the city has utilized a tool called Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) to leverage private funds for much-needed repairs and renovations.

As the housing crisis facing our state and the nation deepens, it is imperative for members of our industry to learn from storytellers like Ben Austen – men and women who put the human narratives of housing front and center.

By reminding our elected officials and members of the public of these real-life stories and their value to real people, we can ensure that their needs are not forgotten.

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