Yesterday, New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio gave his second annual State of the City address. And, in a historical departure from past mayors' speeches, de Blasio took the opportunity to talk mainly about one subject: housing.
"Nothing more clearly expresses the inequality gap, the opportunity gap, than the soaring cost of housing," the Mayor said. "If we do not act, and act boldly, New York risks taking on the qualities of a gated community."
De Blasio even mentioned the word 'gentrification', which is definitely a first for a New York SOTC.
But beyond De Blasio's refreshing rhetoric is a large problem: his policies won't actually help solve New York's affordability crisis.
That's because a large part of De Blasio's strategy relies on mandatory inclusionary zoning – which means when a neighborhood is rezoned for residential use, developers there will be required to make some of their apartments affordable, usually around 20 or 25 percent. In exchange, they'll be given tax breaks from the city.
While mandating affordable apartments is a good thing, the fact that they come on the backs of even more "market-rate" (read: luxury) housing is not. The city plans to rezone previously-affordable neighborhoods like East Harlem, a section of Staten Island, and East New York for these new mixed-use developments, which could tower over the existing housing stock, and people there are justifiably worried about the new projects increasing rents for everyone.
"Everybody's not paying attention to the 80 percent luxury units that actually decreases affordability," Alicia Boyd, a Brooklyn activist told the New York Times. "Yet somehow, this image of affordable housing keeps being pushed at us."
There are some undeniably good parts of de Blasio's plan, like creating a 11,250-unit affordable housing development in Queens that has no market-rate apartments, and a new ferry service connecting far-flung parts of New York to Manhattan.
But the sad truth is creating even 200,000 new affordable apartments wouldn't solve a housing crisis in a city where over 1 million people spend more than 30 percent of their incomes on rent.
Unfortunately, the only way to help the vast majority of New Yorkers would be to reduce rent by force, and reduce income inequality, both of which the Mayor has little control over. Rent control laws are governed by the New York State legislature, which is one of the most corrupt bodies of government in the nation, and largely bankrolled by the real estate industry. And decreasing inequality by raising the minimum wage is also out of De Blasio's control.
In other words, De Blasio's housing plan kind of sucks, but it's the best we're going to get, for now.