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Much work still to be done to address affordable housing crisis

Now that the dust has settled from an eventful legislative session in Albany, it is time to review the implications of the policies as they relate to the affordable housing industry.

The New York State Association for Affordable Housing (NYSAFAH) again played a leading role in advocating for initiatives which will promote affordable housing development and preservation, while opposing proposals which diminish affordable housing — especially critical undertakings during the ongoing housing crisis.

First, the new Democratic majority in the State Senate, and the longstanding Democratic Majority in the Assembly, passed sweeping changes to the state’s rent regulatory framework, which were subsequently signed into law by Governor Andrew Cuomo.

NYSAFAH, along with the Legal Aid Society and Enterprise Community Partners, formed a first-of-its-kind coalition to advocate for smart, sensible changes to the existing system.

We urged the Legislature to support changes to high-rent vacancy decontrol and preferential rent, and we are pleased to see that these recommendations were included in the enacted law and that some of New York’s vulnerable affordable housing stock is now protected in a new way. Loopholes in the previous framework allowed for the loss of more than 150,000 rent-regulated units in just over 20 years. These changes will prevent future losses, and that is good news.

We are, however, concerned about the impact of the new laws on affordable housing buildings under regulatory agreements, which are built upon certain rent increase assumptions, but which are mandated to keep rents affordable to their tenants. We will be discussing this issue with NYSAFAH members and our housing agency partners in order to resolve this issue, and we are prepared to pursue a legislative remedy, if necessary.

In addition to the tools to protect the existing stock, New York must continue to address the shortage of affordable housing stock that is driving up rents and greatly exacerbating the housing crisis. Accordingly, we will need to rely upon our New York State and municipal government partners, including New York City, for resources to develop new and preserved affordable units across the state. Governor Cuomo and the Legislature have continued to support their historic, $20 billion housing plan in this year’s state budget, and we will fight for continued, and even greater, housing resources from our public partners over the next several months and beyond.

Finally, there was unprecedented pressure by the building trades, the Legislature and the Governor to expand the prevailing wage mandate to projects receiving state funding and incentives — which would include most ongoing/planned affordable housing construction.

We were pleased that late-introduced legislation on this issue included an exemption from the prevailing wage mandate for affordable housing projects.

We believe this signaled that legislative leaders and the Governor agreed with our persistently advocated position – that significantly higher wages would dramatically inhibit our ability to develop and preserve vital affordable housing, to the detriment of vulnerable New Yorkers.

While there was not ultimately a final agreement by legislative leaders and a bill was not passed by the time that the Legislature adjourned, we expect this issue will be a legislative priority in 2020.

We will continue to engage with policymakers in the interim to ensure their continued understanding of the potential impact of wage mandates upon the affordable housing industry.

As expected, one-party rule in Albany created some opportunities and some challenges, but we were pleased that the affordable housing industry was heard and was able to educate legislators regarding our critical role in helping New Yorkers to have safe and stable housing. The reality is that the affordable housing industry has much to cheer in the final outcome. It is now easier to preserve existing housing stock, and detrimental efforts to make affordable housing production more expensive did not become law. That is good news for all New Yorkers, but especially those looking for an affordable place to call home.

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