No Vacancies

Mayor Michael Bloomberg said on the radio on Friday that New Yorkers are lucky to live in a city where apartments are so hard to find. “Somebody said that there’s not enough housing,” he said. “That’s a good sign. As fast as we build, more people want to live here.”

Mr. Bloomberg acknowledged that affordable housing is a problem, and he pinpointed the solution in his own pro-growth, developer-friendly policies: If a city is full of hungry investors and eager builders, housing will get built for people “at all income levels.”

But even this mayor admits that market solutions aren’t the whole answer. Though he makes no apologies for wanting the city to be a magnet for ultraluxury condos, he hasn’t ignored the city’s responsibility to produce affordable housing. More than 156,000 units have been built or preserved in his 12 years, very close to his administration’s goal of 165,000.

That’s a lot, but it’s not enough, a point that the candidates to succeed him — Bill de Blasio, Joseph Lhota and Adolfo Carrión Jr. — have focused on in the mayoral race. The affordable housing supply is shrinking as fast as it is being replenished. When rents are rising more quickly than incomes, when gentrification and the erosion of subsidized housing have robbed the city of hundreds of thousands of affordable units, too many New Yorkers have to pay way too much to live here.

The latest data from the Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy at New York University show that 31 percent of New Yorkers are “severely” burdened by housing costs, spending half or more of their incomes on rent.

All three candidates would tackle the problem in various ways, many of them strikingly similar. Mr. Lhota, a Republican, and Mr. Carrión, the Independence Party candidate, want to push hard to develop unused city-owned property, like the land surrounding New York City Housing Authority buildings. That is a reasonable idea that could help finance much-needed upkeep to public-housing units, as long as tenants and neighborhoods are respected. Both candidates are urging new initiatives to increase the shrinking supply of rent-subsidized apartments.

Mr. de Blasio, the Democrat, would take a more aggressive stance with developers. He would change zoning laws to force them to include affordable units in new buildings and to discourage speculators who let vacant lots sit idle. He would also add new units into the system by bringing illegally subdivided apartments up to code.

The shift to mandatory housing requirements for builders was the focus of a surly exchange between Mr. Lhota and Mr. de Blasio in their debate on Oct. 15. Mr. Lhota questioned the legality of this approach, but Mr. de Blasio rightly noted that other cities have successfully imposed such requirements. It could work here, too, but it’s unclear whether it will deliver as many units as Mr. de Blasio promises, particularly in downturns and in poor neighborhoods that developers avoid. It needs to be part of a multipronged campaign for affordability, from aggressively finding new land to build on to keeping vulnerable people in their homes.

There is much that Mr. Bloomberg has tried to do to expand affordable housing, though he has often been tone-deaf on the issue. The good news is that the candidates are taking the issue as seriously as the voters are.


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