Bronx Community Board 8 has rejected a resolution on affordable housing policy in New York City after the land use committee took painstaking efforts to hone the final text and bring it to a vote before the full board May 9.
It failed “by a hair,” chair Laura Spalter said. The vote was tied, with 16 CB8 members in favor and 16 abstentions. Four board members were absent.
The resolution needed a majority vote.
For the better part of six months, the land use committee has sought a paradigm shift on truly affordable housing because, as chair Charles Moerdler said, “conscience dictates we do it.”
The resolution passed the land use committee by a slim margin May 1, with five committee members voting in favor and four abstaining.
It called on elected officials to redouble their efforts through a list of eight specific policy changes.
In the final round of edits, Moerdler agreed to excise language committee members could not agree on, like a troublesome clause that invoked eminent domain to build housing on underutilized land. But the concessions were not enough to quell lingering doubts.
CB8 members stated their positions before the final vote took place.
Land use member Dan Padernacht commended Moerdler “for all the work he put into this,” but abstained on the resolution for a few reasons. “We shouldn’t be telling city and state agencies what income band must be used in projects within their own communities,” Padernacht said. To me that’s overstepping.”
He said CB8 could take a stand for affordable housing “in a more concise manner.”
Land use member Bob Bender stated his case in favor of the resolution.
The clincher, he said is “Affordable housing is the only alternative to homeless shelters. Please bear that in mind.”
The final text of the committee’s resolution contained eight points addressed to city and state elected officials. It’s a policy brief with ideas to address questions ranging from how to measure housing affordability and build more of it for the income levels that need it most, to factors that determine apartment sizes, and ideas for planning on a neighborhood and citywide scale. The list goes on.
The resolution’s demands are the result of a colloquium on affordable housing Moerdler has convened over the last nine months, with input from experts like Housing Preservation & Development Bronx director Ted Weinstein.
The city housing agency is the subject of nearly all the recommendations included in the resolution.
It calls on HPD to draw up an annual list of city-owned properties that could be utilized for housing construction, though the idea proved to be one of the least popular bullet points.
Moerdler points to the seemingly derelict sanitation department building near St. Barnabas Hospital as an example.
Though perhaps the more ambitious proposal in the resolution is for city council to study options to force owners to rent vacant units in rent-stabilized buildings.
It asks for HPD to compile area median income data by community district and release it annually in the hopes the data might be “utilized in more relevant localized form.”
City and state agencies that provide public subsidies and tax incentives for new housing construction typically use U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development figures, which calculate area median income on a far less granular scale. A stalemate has persisted despite the yawning gap between the federal data and real income in New York City.
The land use resolution also calls on the city and state to prioritize financing for housing developments that set aside at least 15 percent of units for people making less than 50 percent of AMI and 25 percent of units for people making less than 100 percent AMI.
The resolution touches on one point of particular interest to Bronx Borough President Vanessa Gibson – the need for more family-sized apartments.
CB8 land use members were vouching for HPD to give greater weight to apartments with two or more bedrooms, which often figure less favorably in developers’ balance sheets.
Gibson singled out the issue of family-sized apartments as particularly salient in the Bronx.
In a recent statement, she said it’s a topic she is aiming to address strategically. Gibson said she “has regular meetings with HPD and HCR” about various policy initiatives. They include “advocating for family sized units, both in regards to the size of the units and for creating more 2-, 3-, and 4-bedrooms that will allow families to continue to stay in their communities.”
Another item added to the resolution in the final round of edits asked the city and state housing agencies to study the feasibility of creating a new Mitchell-Lama style program. It specifically recommended utilizing cooperative ownership concepts at Amalgamated Housing Corp. and Mitchell-Lama developments in Bronx Community Board 8.
What has motivated him in undertaking this effort? One purpose, Moerdler said, “was to make clear where we stand.”
He said he wants to refute characterization of CB8 as “anti-affordable housing, exclusive, what have you, and accused of being NIMBY.”
“I want to reject that.”
Second, Moerdler said “we need to get a handle on planning.”
When it comes to comprehensive planning, Moerdler tends to wax sentimental about past decades. When community boards were adopted, he said, they were called community planning boards. When agencies work in silos to make planning decisions, he said, “it denigrates the neighborhood.”
But he said, “the third reason is the most important — we have got to signal everybody has a responsibility to provide housing for people that need it.”
Abigail Nehring is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.