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Affordable housing: a look at the numbers.

Do we need affordable housing in the city? Here are some numbers. The City Housing Authority, a major public provider of affordable rental housing, operates 240,000 occupied apartments and has a waiting list of 240,000, according to a recent report. In the past two years alone, its occupancy list has grown by 60,000 -30,000 a year - and its annual turnover is some 8,000 units. There are tens of thousands of apartments that turn over in the private market. And neither public or private turnovers are sufficient to house all those seeking apartments.

Where are the families coming from? What leads newcomers to believe New York City has decent, affordable housing for them when the Authority-already has a huge waiting list -- and when so many thousands of publicly and privately owned units are occupied by doubled and tripled up families? Is the city dealing either with the supply or with the demand side of the issue?

Demand for affordable housing here is so intense the city has indicated it would not enforce payment of certain water bills --many of which have risen to record highs -- because it won't risk another round of foreclosures. Good. I look on that as a tacit admission that something is wrong with the new water metering regulations. Similarly, I note that the city also wants the legislature to set limits on an existing law requiring it to provide permanent housing for all who come here.

Obviously we need more affordable housing, but just about nothing is being built by private investors, and there are many ways to explain this, many ways to highlight affordable housing problems. The above certainly are among them. Another emerges from ' reading" between the lines of a Channel 2 TV report that focused on scandalous problems the City's Department of Housing Preservation and Development is having in renovating in rem apartment buildings.

The implications of the Channel 2 report, I feel, highlight a number of the affordable housing issues. The station, in its 11 o'clock news program, has been reporting that city housing repair workers have been told to 'paper over' structural problems of in rem housing they were rehabilitating. The TV program also reported 'widespread corruption in the city's multi-million dollar program to create housing' and it cited millions of dollars of waste (unnecessarily higher costs) uncovered by City Comptroller Elizabeth Holzman in bidding and purchasing practices.

Judging by these reports, it appears that the city as landlord allows itself a lot of unusual liberties, that the city can't do the job without skirting the law.

However, there's another question I want to raise about the rehabilitation of in rem apartment properties: Why isn't the work being done by the private market? The city has been doing the work or turning over its in rem buildings primarily to non-profits and then offering them subsidies and financial aid. Private investors certainly could do the job efficiently if given all the assistance that the non-profits receive-and probably even with less funding. Moreover, few if any private owners would run the risk of papering over structural defects, because the city would never allow an owner to get away with it.

I have no doubt that some non-profits have done a good job in converting rundown, in rem apartment buildings to healthy properties. But there is another aspect to the non-profit/private option that should lead city officials toward the private sector: According to a newspaper story, a non-profit in the Bronx acknowledged that to successfully accomplish its job as an apartment building operator, it increasingly had to take on the characteristics of a private landlord. For example, it could not allow tenants who didn't pay rent to stay in apartments. It decided it was unfair to allow asocial tenants to disrupt the lives of other tenants and destroy the property. As private owners do, it, too, complained that water metered charges would be written in red ink. And it resented Housing Court eviction-delays, because it needed the apartments for viable tenants who would pay rent and enable the non-profit to pay bills.
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Title Annotation:Review & Forecast, Section II; evaluation of vacancy rate, turnover, supply and demand of public and private affordable housing in New York, New York
Author:Klein, Ruben
Publication:Real Estate Weekly
Date:Jan 27, 1993
Words:683
Previous Article:Meeting the challenges of changing times.
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