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Bill de Blasio housing plan criticized as not affordable enough

New York city council members discuss during the

New York city council members discuss during the City Council zoning subcommittee hearing on mandatory inclusionary housing in City Hall, on Feb. 9, 2016. Credit: Yeong-Ung Yang

City Council members representing fast-gentrifying neighborhoods said Tuesday that their signoff on key elements of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s affordable housing plan is dependent on a better break for the poorest New Yorkers.

De Blasio’s team contended that it must cater to a range of incomes in order for developers to bite. Council member Donovan Richards (D-Queens) said longtime residents of Bushwick, Bedford-Stuyvesant, Jamaica and other areas with largely black and Latino populations have been priced out.

“We hear the words ‘economic diversity’ all the time,” Richards said. “To many of our residents, it spells displacement.”

A handful of protesters broke into a chant of “de Blasio’s plan ain’t affordable for me” at the start of the packed, daylong council hearing. The crowd of attendees required three overflow rooms.

Under debate — and up for a council vote in 50 days — is a requirement that developers include low-rent units in their construction. Council members said they support the approach in principle, but disagreed over whether it would do enough for those with the lowest incomes.

So-called mandatory inclusionary housing is a major prong of the mayor’s signature effort to secure 200,000 affordable apartments in 10 years.

De Blasio’s aides said they are limited in who they can reach and how low they can push the affordability threshold because the plan must be financially and legally feasible for developers.

“If we push too far, we get zero housing,” said Vicki Been, commissioner of housing. “We can’t expect MIH to solve all the world’s problems.”

The requirement was approved last week by the city Planning Commission. But it may face steeper resistance from council members who take cues from the borough and community boards that overwhelmingly rejected it.

Mandatory inclusionary housing is targeted to New Yorkers making between 60 percent and 120 percent of area median income, or $47,000 and $93,000 annually for a family of three.

Jumaane Williams (D-Brooklyn) called for more units below 30 percent of AMI, or $23,000 per year.

More than half of the units proposed citywide by de Blasio will be reserved for those making between $38,000 and $62,000. They would pay between $1,000 and $1,700 in monthly rent.

Some lawmakers also were concerned about the lack of union labor requirements and whether the suspension of the 421-a tax abatement program might hurt the rollout.

Been said labor issues cannot be addressed in a zoning proposal. Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen said she believes the state legislative session will produce an alternative to 421-a, and the city, meanwhile, has other incentives at its disposal.

Outside City Hall, members of the Hotel Trades Council and others behind United for Affordable NYC, a nonprofit backing de Blasio’s housing agenda, rallied to show their support.

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