Mayor’s housing plan won’t help neediest, say Bronxites

Most of the new housing being proposed is slated for tenants who earn between 60 and 130 percent of the AMI, making them low- to moderate-income level earners, according to the administration’s definition of affordability. That range is beyond the reach of most Bronx families.

The mayor's affordability plan
The five income tiers that make up the mayor’s affordable housing plan.

Mayor de Blasio’s plan to create and preserve 200,000 units of “affordable” housing isn’t so affordable for the cash-strapped South Bronx, say some residents and their elected representatives. Their skepticism was pronounced resoundingly in the Bronx Borough Board’s 19-0 vote against his Mandatory Inclusionary Housing plan in November.

According to the proposal, most affordable units would be set aside for New Yorkers earning between $40,000 and $78,000 annually. Developers would be required to build between 25 and 30 percent of all new housing for tenants in that rental range. That’s bad news for South Bronx residents, say advocates, because tenants with very low incomes will be forced to compete with low- and moderate-income tenants for a share of the new housing.

Affordability is determined by the Area Median Income (AMI) —- a federally-determined average of all household incomes taken from across the five boroughs and Westchester. The AMI for an individual is currently $60,500. According to the mayor’s “Housing New York” blueprint, households earning less than 30 percent of the AMI are considered “extremely low income,” the lowest of five income categories classified in the plan. Much of the Bronx is in that category.

In his plan, the mayor states that nearly a million households in the city earn less than half of AMI ($30,250 and under for an individual), and just 425,000 units are available at rents suitable for that income level, according to the plan. Any household paying more than a third of its income for rent is considered “rent-burdened.”

Most of the new housing being proposed is slated for tenants who earn between 60 and 130 percent of the AMI, making them low- to moderate-income level earners, according to the administration’s definition of affordability. That range is beyond the reach of most Bronx families.

A bill currently making its way through Albany would require developers to choose between two options in neighborhoods slated for rezoning, and a third in areas the city deems “emerging markets.” Only one of these options sets aside a small percentage of housing for tenants earning 40 percent or less of the AMI in rezoned areas.

In a Nov. 30 letter to the City Planning Commission—-the 12-member commission that decides what gets built in the city—-Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. wrote that the mayor should go back to the drawing board and create “a mix of 40-60-80 percent, or something of the like within market rate developments,” in order to “create true mixed-income neighborhoods that this proposal hopes to achieve.”

Developers see rezoning as an opportunity to turn a profit while building housing in the borough, but Bronx renters worry they’ll be left behind.

“We’re not against development, I don’t want to be painted that way,” said Julio Munoz of the South Bronx Community Congress, a grassroots advocacy group that is pushing for a better deal from the city. “We just want our people to be included.”

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