Williams Advocates For Affordable Housing Production, Increased Staffing Levels In City Budget

March 15th, 2023

Press Release

With rents at historic highs and city staffing levels at some agencies at dramatic lows, New York City Public Advocate Jumaane D. Williams called for increases in income-targeted affordable housing production and increases in the number of inspectors for the Departments of Buildings and of Housing Preservation and Development as priorities in the city budget for FY2024. At a hearing of the City Council Committee on Housing and Buildings, he highlighted the urgency of the housing and homelessness crisis in the city and several of the steps needed to address it.

"With a deteriorating housing stock and a worsening affordability crisis, preserving and building new income-targeted affordable housing in the city of New York is now more important than ever," said Public Advocate Williams in a statement. "As of February, the city’s homeless population reached a high of 77,000 people, a concerning number that coincides with the loss of thousands of rent-stabilized apartments in the city and loss of thousands of income-targeted affordable units as a whole."

The Public Advocate noted the urgent need for additional inspectors to identify and correct dangerous conditions in buildings citywide, saying "Staffing the departments in charge of these programs is key; a recent report by the Comptroller’s office found that amid high vacancy rates, HPD only met 33% of its targets, the Office of Administration ranking as one of the units of appropriation with the highest vacancy rate across city agencies."

He supported efforts to convert commercial office space into residential units, emphasizing the need for deep, income-targeted affordability in that development, "I urge the Council to pass Resolution 503, which calls for the conversion of commercial units to residential units. We have to make sure that affordability is key there, and that those neighborhoods have what they need to live comfortable lives. The creation of the Affordable Housing from Commercial Conversions (AHCC) tax benefit program would stimulate more funding for conversion projects, funding often cited as a key barrier to conversion efforts. DOB staffing should be increased to move this process forward quickly and create new housing."

As part of the effort to increase the safety and availability of housing, Public Advocate Williams also called for the legalization and regulation of converted accessory dwelling units. The Public Advocate's full statement as delivered is below.

STATEMENT OF PUBLIC ADVOCATE JUMAANE D. WILLIAMS

TO THE NEW YORK CITY COUNCIL COMMITTEE ON HOUSING AND BUILDINGS

MARCH 15, 2023

Good afternoon,

My name is Jumaane D. Williams, and I am the Public Advocate for the City of New York. I would like to thank Chair Sanchez and the members of the Committee on Housing and Buildings for holding this hearing. My testimony will address housing issues as well building code enforcement as overseen, respectively, by the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) and the Department of Buildings (DOB). 

With a deteriorating housing stock and a worsening affordability crisis, preserving and building new income-targeted affordable housing in the city of New York is now more important than ever. As of February, the city’s homeless population reached a high of 77,000 people, a concerning number that coincides with the loss of thousands of rent-stabilized apartments in the city and loss of thousands of income-targeted affordable units as a whole. 

The Mayor's current proposal allocates $36 million dollars for HPD’s Office of Development, earmarking funds for homeowner assistance programs, supportive housing and emergency rental vouchers. An additional $660,000 is allocated towards rental subsidy programs, reflecting a critical need to support rent-burdened households. Staffing the departments in charge of these programs is key; a recent report by the Comptroller’s office found that amid high vacancy rates, HPD only met 33% of its targets, the Office of Administration ranking as one of the units of appropriation with the highest vacancy rate across city agencies. 

In addition to supporting homeowners and renters, the city must invest in efforts to legalize, regulate and ensure the safety of converted accessory dwelling units (ADUs). The conversion of ADUs can help meet the need for housing stock. There are currently an estimated 400,000 people living in basement and cellar dwellings across the five boroughs. In addition to this, the city and state have explored converting empty office buildings into housing as an alternative to building on public land, which proves difficult given the shortage of publicly-owned land. I urge the Council to pass Resolution 503, which calls for the conversion of commercial units to residential units. We have to make sure that affordability is key there, and that those neighborhoods have what they need to live comfortable lives. The creation of the Affordable Housing from Commercial Conversions (AHCC) tax benefit program would stimulate more funding for conversion projects, funding often cited as a key barrier to conversion efforts. DOB staffing should be increased to move this process forward quickly and create new housing.

Furthermore, with recent legislation seeking to amend building codes, DOB must commit to enforcing code compliance. Code enforcement will not only equip our city’s buildings with the means to weather the impact of climate change, as it pertains to new green energy-efficient initiatives, but it will also ensure the lives and safety of New Yorkers as it relates to fire prevention. In this, I commend the administration for allocating additional city funds to reinspecting buildings with existing self-closing door violations. 

I will say, as the Chair has mentioned, in both of these agencies there seems to be a high rate of vacancies, and I do agree with trying to find efficiencies where possible in terms of vacancies, but not every vacancy is the same. Vacancies at DOB and HPD are very harmful, particularly if we don’t have enough people to inspect housing, for people to go into, or inspect construction sites, where we sadly have seen an uptick in deaths. I’m proud to have worked on [Local Law 196] so it does concern me to see what we can do to prevent those deaths.

I would also like to know -- what is the total revenues received from issuing After Hours Variances (AHV) for this fiscal year and the previous fiscal years before and during the pandemic? And in closing, I would like to know whether the AHV revenues end up in NYC’s general funds, or remain in the agency? 

Thank you.

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