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Solving affordable housing crisis means changing the conversation

Any New Yorker who has tried to rent a house or apartment recently knows that New York City is in the throes of an affordable housing crisis. Most people would say this is a serious problem that needs to be addressed, but many of those same people balk at the idea of development. The reality is that the way out of this crisis requires a combination of preserving existing housing stock and new construction — and accomplishing that will require working with, and not against, housing developers.

The New York Times recently recognized as much in a thoughtful article, noting that “in any city with a housing shortage, there are also few practical solutions that don’t at least partly involve more development.”

The article also rightfully questioned the discrepancy between unsubstantiated slogans and the facts, including that developers are crucial to solving a problem that they — and the real estate community — are routinely accused of exacerbating or creating, in the first place.

As the head of New York’s affordable housing industry trade association, I can say with confidence that our industry is and has been a critical part of the solution. New York City has a pronounced housing shortage, with a vacancy rate at 3.63 percent — far below the 5 percent threshold that triggers an emergency, according to the City Council. That vacancy rate decreases as housing affordability increases, according to the latest New York City Housing and Vacancy Survey. The affordable housing industry is on the front lines in ensuring this affordability equation trends in the favor of those in need of affordable housing.

The examples of this are abundant, but here are just a few:

New York City financed 25,299 affordable homes in FY2019 alone, putting it well on track to meet its ambitious goal of creating and preserving 300,000 by the year 2026. A significant percentage of those units were reserved for the elderly and/or the formerly homeless.

Just a few months ago, Camber Property Group and Belveron Partners spent $77 million to return a 400-unit building in the Bronx to complete affordability. The largest LGBTQ-friendly affordable housing development in the city will open this year, aimed at creating a safe, accepting environment for aging LGBTQ seniors who frequently face unique challenges securing housing Another affordable housing development, built for formerly homeless families and individuals, that recently opened in the South Bronx is the largest building in North America to qualify for Passive House certification for energy efficiency.

Other projects, every bit as laudable as those highlighted here, are happening across the five boroughs and across New York. They are projects that provide hard-working families with a roof over their heads, and give them safety and stability so they can excel in school, work and the community. They help address the homeless crisis and improve the general well-being of the entire city. Helping people requires a combination of approaches to solve, and our industry is playing a big role in that effort.

It is also worth highlighting that the projects in which our members are involved promote sustainable building methods and green construction. We are at the forefront of this effort, working to prevent further environmental degradation and to combat climate change. Producing new, environmentally friendly buildings and converting existing buildings to new standards of sustainability are critical if we are to achieve the ambitious climate and energy goals set by the city and the state.

It’s clear that working together, and not against one another, is the best way to maximize our efforts and create a new, better New York. Demonizing developers, without whom achieving this goal is simply not possible, is divisive and unproductive.

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