All Hands on Deck: Providing Safe, Affordable, and Equitable Housing for Every New Yorker

Today, an average of 60,000 people stay in shelters each night, 28% of New York’s renters are severely rent burdened (as are 72% of those earning less than $15,000), our public housing is crumbling, and because our supply of housing is not keeping up with demand, New Yorkers are choosing to leave the city to find better and more affordable housing options elsewhere. It is time to move beyond a single-minded focus on big unit production goals. We cannot accept an expensive emergency shelter system that temporarily boards tens of thousands, public housing buildings that are deteriorating, or outdated and arcane land use regulations that prevent us from providing families with affordable housing across the city. 

We can and will do better. We will move our city from a haphazard, piecemeal approach to a comprehensive plan to establish New York’s place as a progressive housing beacon. 

Homelessness is a solvable problem. We cannot accept the status quo nor solve homelessness with homeless programs alone. We will move our city from a right to shelter towards a right to housing, ensuring that all New Yorkers have the access to the housing support they need.

We can do this by creating an improved system of emergency rental assistance to help people stay housed when facing economic setbacks to avoid homelessness altogether. We can do this by coordinating better across our own City agencies to ensure that people do not fall through the cracks but instead receive the support they need. We can do this by operating a well-run homeless system that efficiently gets people into permanent housing as quickly as possible so they can rebuild their lives in the community. And we can do this by maximizing all resources available from all levels of government, especially the Biden/Harris administration and Congress.

Homelessness and affordable housing are complex issues that require a multi-layered and comprehensive response. Shaun Donovan is the person with unique experience and relationships to finally make New York a city that works for everyone. 

Our plan will focus on:

Keeping New Yorkers Safe and Secure in Their Homes and Communities 

The Donovan administration will help New Yorkers stay in their homes, and stabilize the buildings and neighborhoods where they live. Every New Yorker deserves a safe and stable place to call home—free from hazardous conditions, harassment, or the threat of eviction. Having led the Obama administration’s housing efforts during the last housing crisis, Shaun Donovan understands the urgency of preventing evictions and foreclosures.

To make sure home is a safe haven for New York City tenants, we will create new and improved emergency rental assistance and foreclosure prevention programs to help people weather economic setbacks, and develop more effective and proactive code enforcement mechanisms that help ensure decent and habitable housing for all. We will expand access to counsel so that tenants can enforce their rights in court. And we will partner with landlords to maintain and rehabilitate affordable housing, while collaborating to reach New York’s climate goals. 

We are committing to the following policies and programs:

Create an improved system of emergency rental assistance to help people stay housed when facing economic setbacks

The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed how limited the current programs are in supporting our communities in times of crisis. The Donovan administration will work collaboratively with the state to increase annual spending on emergency rental assistance to $500 million and increase the amount of arrears covered to $5,000 per household. This program will provide support before renters get to housing court and certainly before emergency shelter. This emergency support will reach some 100,000 New Yorkers struggling or unable to pay rent due to economic setbacks. 

In addition, the Donovan administration will create a domestic-violence-focused flexible funding reserve that addresses problems and expenses before they lead to rent arrears and the possibility of homelessness, helping domestic violence survivors and their children remain housed after a case of domestic violence. The administration will work with and listen to domestic violence survivors to determine which pathways are appropriate.

Protect tenants from harassment and eviction

The pandemic has pushed New York City’s affordable housing crisis to a breaking point, placing thousands more residents at risk of eviction. Research shows that being evicted—a trauma in and of itself—puts households at a greater risk of long-term housing instability, homelessness, and future hospitalization. People of color, who have borne the brunt of COVID-19’s devastating health and economic effects, are disproportionately evicted. 

In order to protect tenants from harassment and eviction, we must ensure citywide expansion of NYC’s Universal Access to Counsel (UAC) program to provide free legal services for income-qualified tenants facing eviction in housing court. Lawyers are vital to helping tenants navigate the procedural hurdles of housing court, mount effective defenses, and enforce New York City and State tenant protection laws. Expanding access to counsel can also deter harassment by ensuring that landlords know that they will face a true adversarial process in court. Recognizing that access to justice matters in many spheres of vulnerable tenants’ lives, we will expand UAC to cover administrative hearings and higher courts. 

We must also work to move eviction interventions further upstream and provide landlords and tenants with meaningful alternatives to the eviction process.

Support existing homeowners and protect them from fraud and displacement

The percentage of loans that are 90 days or more past due or in the process of foreclosure is now above 5%, the highest rate since the fourth quarter of 2013. These homeowners are at great risk of con artists and fraudsters making false promises to cure the delinquency, often for a sizable fee. The Donovan administration will bring lessons from the last crisis to craft an effective set of policies to protect homeowners and allow them to stay in their homes.

In order to protect homeowners, the City must expand the capacity of legitimate foreclosure assistance organizations to conduct outreach to homeowners to encourage them to turn to trustworthy resources and ensure homeowners at risk of delinquency or foreclosure know about available help. 

The Donovan administration will also partner with the state and federal government to develop a flexible mortgage assistance program, modeled after best practices identified by the US Treasury’s Hardest Hit Funds program. Such a program would be combined with housing counseling and legal services and offer support for a variety of tools including principal reduction, down payment assistance, mortgage payment assistance, and transition assistance.

We will develop a home repair program for seniors to fund necessary repairs and home modifications to maintain their independence. New York City has over 1 million seniors and the population is growing. At the same time, New York City has one of the oldest housing stocks in the nation, with the median age of a residential building currently at 90 years old. 

A home repair program for seniors, with a combination of grants and loans repayable upon resale, could help seniors retain their independence in a safe environment. The program would provide up to $10,000 in assistance to 2,000 homeowners per year. Similarly, the City must reduce the cost of home improvement by streamlining permits and fees for routine improvements. Read more about our plans to support older New Yorkers in our Aging Platform.

Establishing flexible funds for acquisition of distressed, single-family homes can help stabilize them and keep them affordable. A small government investment could leverage private capital to help responsible players acquire distressed single family homes, rehabilitate them, and sell them to responsible owner-occupants. 

Launch an awareness campaign targeted to renters and owners who are facing challenges in light of COVID

Too often, homeowners and renters lose their homes because they don’t know about available resources. The Donovan administration will train 311 and a network of housing providers to ensure households know about available resources and to address common concerns about eviction, foreclosure, forbearance, and housing alternatives. 

Stabilize buildings and keep New Yorkers safe and secure in their homes

Effective and collaborative code enforcement matters more than ever. Too many tenants have had to weather the pandemic while living with mold, pest, leaks, and other hazards. Meanwhile, small building owners have struggled to maintain their properties in the face of reduced rental incomes and decreased incentives for investment. The Donovan administration will move from reactive and punitive code enforcement to a more collaborative approach, balancing safety and equity with the need to maintain the city’s affordable housing stock. This shift will benefit a wide range of New Yorkers, from lower-income tenants who stand to benefit from reduced bias and an improved affordable housing stock, to small landlords—many of whom are immigrants—who will benefit from lower administrative costs and a more effective compliance regime.

To get there, we will move to a more proactive and collaborative code enforcement regime. Equitable code enforcement is essential to New York City’s efforts to ensure that dwellings are available and habitable for all residents. But under a reactive code enforcement regime like the one currently in place in New York, the loudest voices get attention, while too often, those who are wary of involving the government or fear retribution get none. The Donovan administration will shift to a more proactive approach, using predictive analytics to identify problem buildings and implement randomized inspections. 

The City must provide technical and financial assistance through initiatives like its Landlord Ambassador Program to help landlords keep their properties safe and viable and using proactive “nudges” to improve compliance.

Revamping the Multifamily Housing Rehabilitation Loan Program (formerly known as the 8a loan program) and J-51 preservation incentive will help responsible building owners improve their buildings and meet climate goals. Additionally, we will expand the New York City Energy Efficiency Corporation’s Green Predevelopment Loan Fund to make more capital available to affordable housing providers to fund energy conservation measures. 

And we will step up enforcement of annual required rental building registration so City officials can build an accurate registry of rental buildings, identify owners of buildings, and inspect full portfolios.

Investing in and Preserving our Public Housing

With more than 2,300 residential buildings and over 173,000 units, the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) is the single largest provider of deeply affordable, low-income housing in the city. More than 400,000 of our most vulnerable New Yorkers call NYCHA home, and its aging and deteriorating properties are woven into the fabric of communities in every borough. As the health and stability of NYCHA declines, so too does that of many of our neighborhoods. 

Unfortunately, over the years we have watched as Congress has cut billions of dollars from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) budget, and by extension, slowly starved the nation’s public housing system and our own Housing Authority. As of early 2020, NYCHA has a roughly $40 billion capital needs gap. And that number will grow further if NYCHA does not make repairs that its residents need. 

It is time for New York City to take the lead and to treat our public housing as a priority, an irreplaceable asset, and as one of the long-term keys to the success of our recovery. Shaun Donovan will ensure that we no longer operate NYCHA as if it is a separate city within our city. For NYCHA to thrive and for New York to thrive, our public housing must be part of a comprehensive plan that spans housing and community development, climate change and resiliency, and so much more. 

To achieve this goal, the Donovan administration will fully adopt and aggressively implement the NYCHA Blueprint for Change and the recommended policy goals of the “From the Ground Up 2021” plan from United for Housing. 

We are committing to the following policies and programs:

Establish a Preservation Trust to empower NYCHA residents

The Donovan administration will immediately introduce legislation in partnership with the state to establish a New York State Public Housing Preservation Trust, a key element of both the NYCHA Blueprint and United for Housing’s plan. This new nonprofit entity would meaningfully engage residents in oversight, provide the means to leverage multiple funding sources, access Tenant Protection Vouchers (TPVs), and ensure that we can make repairs to every apartment. As former HUD Secretary, Shaun Donovan has the unique expertise to navigate both the state and federal processes needed to make the Trust a reality. 

Commit to making meaningful investments in housing

The NYCHA Blueprint proposes to use federal funding via TPVs to leverage dollars for capital repairs for the roughly 110,000 apartments not covered through Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) conversion projects. Even if successful, this would still leave a significant shortfall of $6 billion.

As mayor, Shaun Donovan will make a historic commitment of up to $2 billion per year in City capital dollars to accelerate repairs across NYCHA’s portfolio to ensure that tenants have safe homes they can be proud of. 

Committing up to $2 billion per year in City capital funding would help fill gaps and speed the process of making critical repairs and upgrades to tenants’ homes as we continue to work with our federal partners. 

Reduce costs by prioritizing efficiency goals

According to 2017 Census data, NYCHA’s public housing accounts for nearly 8% of the city’s rental housing. Given its sheer size, the greening of NYCHA’s housing will undoubtedly have a positive impact in the communities where it is located. This is an opportunity for NYCHA to show that public housing can lead the way in helping the City achieve its carbon reduction goals, while improving the health of residents by eliminating environmental injustices. Through resident apprenticeships, training, and jobs placements programs, established in collaboration with unions, we could also provide well-paying, secure employment to NYCHA residents.

Shaun Donovan will commit to reducing operating costs across NYCHA’s developments by accelerating energy-efficiency and resiliency investments through the use of energy performance contracts or other mechanisms to capture significant savings upfront. Achieving significant energy efficiency across NYCHA’s portfolio represents a historic opportunity to improve the quality and resilience of its housing stock, lower operating expenses, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions while providing tenants with a healthier and more comfortable living experience. Learn more in our Climate Platform.

Address persistent issues caused by NYCHA governance

Long-standing systemic issues within NYCHA’s management structure have led to years of roadblocks and dysfunction. If significant reforms are not made—from the ground up—to the fundamental way NYCHA does business, no mayor will be able to bring about the real change that its nearly half million tenants deserve. 

As mayor, Shaun Donovan will overhaul NYCHA’s governance structure to improve performance, drive decision-making closer to residents, and improve resident engagement and communications. 

Starting at the top, NYCHA should be led by an expanded board of directors that includes tenant representatives and people with expertise in fields such as property management, housing finance, and social services administration that would normally be required to run an organization that oversees what would qualify as the 32nd largest city in the nation by population. Currently all seven board members, including the Chair, are appointed by the mayor, with the Chair also serving as NYCHA’s Chief Executive Officer (CEO). Under the new governance structure, the board would select NYCHA’s CEO, separating it from the Chair position and freeing it from political wrangling. Additionally, a new Chief Operating Officer position would be created to oversee management and operations. 

In order to drive efficiencies and address the emerging needs of NYCHA’s residents, a neighborhood-based management structure and development-based budgeting system will be created. This will give NYCHA property managers more control over their budgets, as well as the ability to respond quickly and efficiently to maintenance and operations issues. 

Advocate for greater support at the state and federal levels

While our nation’s public housing stock is managed locally by public housing authorities (PHA) like NYCHA, it is primarily overseen by HUD and its management is largely beholden to federal laws and regulations. However, decades of disinvestment at the federal level by Congress has left this aging housing stock without the resources it desperately needs to make critical upgrades and repairs. The ability to run the country’s largest PHA efficiently, and to enact the innovations and changes needed to reform NYCHA depends on developing a clear and consistent federal advocacy strategy

NYCHA must be aggressive in its requests to federal and state lawmakers, and stress the importance of increased funding in rehabilitating NYCHA properties. NYCHA should directly engage the New York congressional delegation and push NYCHA funding as a top priority of any housing- or infrastructure-related policy. Advocacy efforts should focus on: 

  • Increased appropriations for Tenant Protection Vouchers (TPVs) for tenants in developments transitioning to Section 8, including in RAD conversions
  • Regulatory flexibilities to allow NYCHA to better serve its residents
  • Allowing NYCHA to access recycled tax-exempt bond capital or unused bond capital from other states
  • Increased annual appropriations for NYCHA’s capital fund

Expanding Housing Choice for All New Yorkers

One of New York City’s key strengths is its diversity and inclusion. Yet many residents still face barriers in reaching the city’s neighborhoods. Further, disparities in homeownership rates among communities of color continue to plague neighborhoods across New York City. This imbalance perpetuates the racial wealth gap and prevents many families from achieving the long-term economic stability that often results from becoming a homeowner. The Donovan administration will invest in new policies and programs to open up neighborhoods and ensure that all residents have a rich set of choices of where to live.

We are committing to the following policies and programs:

Make it easier for New Yorkers to afford homes

The Donovan administration will launch a downpayment assistance program that will offer prospective homebuyers financial assistance to purchase a home. The program will be targeted to formerly redlined areas in New York City where incomes remain low. The program will offer low- and zero-interest loans for up to 5% of a home’s value. For low- and moderate-income families, the loans will be zero-interest and forgivable if the buyer remains in the home for a period of 10 years. 

To implement the program, we will partner with a group of responsible lenders who agree to programmatic goals and terms. We will also capitalize community land trusts so they can jointly purchase homes with first-time homebuyers receiving down payment assistance. 

Since security deposits are often the final hurdle tenants face in obtaining affordable housing, the City must create a security deposit guarantee program for low-income New Yorkers to use in resource-rich neighborhoods. For a relatively small investment, the City can help to clear away that barrier.

Another key step in helping New Yorkers build wealth that can be put toward homeownership is Shaun Donovan’s Equity Bonds proposal, whereby each child in New York City would receive $1,000, deposited into a city-administered savings account, with up to $2,000 added each subsequent year. Learn more about the Equity Bonds plan here.

Strengthen and expand Fair Housing Protections

Housing segregation remains a crisis in New York City. Far too many people of color are unable to find sustainable, affordable housing because of a long and painful history of discriminatory practices with which the city is still reckoning. The Donovan administration will take the following steps to move us closer to the day when every New Yorker, regardless of identity, can find housing in our community without fear of prejudice:

  • Support local legislation to address discrimination based on past involvement with the criminal justice system, since a criminal record—even for a minor offense—is often an insurmountable obstacle to obtaining housing. Obtaining housing is a vital part of reacclimating to society, gaining employment, accessing health care, and reintegrating with family or support networks. Read more about these and other efforts in our Criminal Justice Platform.
  • Identify and encourage the use of alternative and less exclusionary tenant screening practices, including in public housing, to remedy the disproportionate impact that screening has on communities of color
  • Expand the use of “paired testing” to enforce the strong fair housing protections we already have enshrined in law. Paired testing, in which multiple applicants who are similar except for a relevant characteristic (like race) apply for the same housing, is one of the most effective tools we have to root out discrimination.

Improve the City’s voucher program

The Donovan administration will advocate for universal vouchers at the federal level, coupled with a city-level shift from funding shelters to providing rental assistance for lower-income households.

We will enforce the city’s source of income discrimination laws and break down barriers to make the voucher program easier to use for both tenants and landlords.

We must also support housing navigators—trained professionals who can provide information about neighborhoods around the city as well as the process of obtaining housing—to help housing voucher holders secure homes in a wider range of neighborhoods, promoting greater upward mobility.

Addressing Homelessness through Housing

Homelessness is a solvable problem. We cannot accept the status quo nor solve homelessness with homeless programs alone. An emergency shelter system is essential for families and individuals in crisis, but the focus of past administrations has been to build a larger and larger system, draining money from permanent housing. The Donovan administration will spend smarter, moving our city from a right to shelter towards a right to housing, ensuring that all New Yorkers have access to the housing support they need. 

We can do this by creating an improved system of emergency rental assistance and other services to help people stay housed when facing economic setbacks to avoid homelessness altogether. 

We can do this by coordinating better across our own City agencies to ensure that people do not fall through the cracks but instead receive the support they need. 

We can do this by operating a well-run homeless system that efficiently gets people into permanent housing as quickly as possible so they can rebuild their lives. 

And we can do this by maximizing all resources available from all levels of government. 

We are committing to the following policies and programs:

Invest in keeping people in their homes

In order to help prevent families from becoming homeless in the first place, we must create a new, flexible rental assistance program that could serve 200,000 low-income households per year when the program fully ramps up. The administration will commit $330 million from reducing reliance on shelter, with an additional $500 million coming from state matching funds, and $1 billion from the federal government. 

Provide appropriate housing and services

The Donovan administration will create and fully implement a simple, client-focused process of placement of individuals and families who are homeless into safe, affordable permanent housing. Increasing the speed from which people move from homeless into permanent housing will relieve pressure on the homeless system. This streamlined system will build upon the Coordinated Assessment and Placement System (CAPS) model which focuses on getting the right person into the right housing as quickly as possible, based on the individual or family needs. Managing housing placement across systems will allow the city to hold itself and the landlords accountable for timely placements and housing stability.

We must make sure to expand the creation of permanent supportive housing units for those who need the more intensive support provided by this form of housing. The administration will aim to create 2,000 supportive housing units annually for individuals and families living with a serious mental illness, substance use disorder, or other disability, and young adults.

In parallel, we must expand models of shelter that have very easy access, such as safe havens and stabilization beds, recognizing that some people, particularly those living on the streets, do not want to enter the shelter system.

And, we will fund a service-enriched model of aftercare for formerly homeless New Yorkers, to ensure that formerly homeless people are supported in their new homes. The program will be administered through neighborhood-based centers that provide holistic aftercare and “poverty alleviation” services to local communities.

Increase accountability and improve citywide coordination

Homelessness is not caused by one issue or touches one group of people. It touches many people and has its roots in many things. What we do know is that many individuals and families leaving systems end up homeless. Each system requires a different yet coordinated response.

In order to link historically distinct City departments under singular leadership for greater accountability and consistency, the Donovan administration will empower a single Deputy Mayor for Housing Opportunity & Economic Development to assert clear goals and demand progress in addressing New York City’s homeless crisis across agencies including the Department of Education, Administration for Children’s Services, Department of Homelessness Services, Department of Housing Preservation and Development, and NYCHA. We will also improve targeting of homeless services by creating a 21st Century integrated data system, improving data sharing and communications across agencies, and enhancing the use of predictive analytics while ensuring racial equity. Read more about these efforts in our Innovation Platform.

It is also important that we hold systems and institutions accountable and give them the tools needed for effective discharge plans to end prisons, hospitals, foster care, and other institutional endings as the beginnings of or returning to homelessness.

In the case of hospitals, we must create medical respite programs with pathways to permanent housing to reduce the revolving door between hospitals and homelessness for people experiencing homelessness who have complex medical needs. We will develop and implement a city-level legal framework and programmatic approach to provide medical respite care for vulnerable populations that ultimately leads them to housing. Also, the City should provide funding of hospital-based housing specialists and develop a formal protocol on how hospitals and street outreach teams should communicate and collaborate. And, we will work with health providers, including hospitals, to prioritize available land for senior or homeless housing and explore how health care payers might directly invest in affordable senior and homeless housing with services.

In 2017, 54% of people released from state prisons to New York City went to a city homeless shelter. We will partner with the State and City correction departments to ensure housing placements for individuals exiting New York State and New York City jails & prisons while ensuring it does not impact parole prospects and public safety. We will work to break down barriers so that justice-involved people can access housing and jobs, and reunite with their families to get the support they need to thrive in their communities. Read more in our Criminal Justice Platform.

Investing in initiatives for families to end the cycle of generational homelessness will also be critical in the coming years. We will identify families, especially pregnant mothers, that are at-risk of homelessness through thoughtful screening and connect them to housing resources that will prevent shelter entry and promote the well-being of the family. Almost 25% of child-welfare-involved families experience homelessness; therefore the Donovan administration will work closely with the Administration for Children’s Services to ensure that housing placement and wrap-around services are provided to mitigate impact on the children, including young adults aging out of foster care.

And, it is important to recognize that one of New York’s most vulnerable populations is our aging seniors. It is our priority to find housing for all seniors residing in the shelter system, and provide needed supportive geriatric services. In addition, low-income people living in affordable housing and supportive housing are aging in place. The Donovan administration will establish enhanced geriatric services and building modifications to allow these seniors to avoid nursing homes and stay in their homes. Read more in our Aging Platform.

Protect domestic violence survivors

The Donovan administration will create a domestic-violence-focused flexible funding reserve that addresses problems and expenses before they lead to rent arrears and the possibility of homelessness, helping domestic violence survivors and their children remain housed after a case of domestic violence. The administration will work with and listen to domestic violence survivors to determine which pathways are appropriate.

Reforming Land Use Policy to Be More Equitable, Inclusive, and Sustainable

Simply put, existing land use policies do not serve the best interests of New Yorkers. At both the local and state level, many of these regulations were enacted to address fundamentally different problems from the ones we face now; at their worst, they deepen our city’s affordable housing crisis and make solving it more difficult. The past decade has seen the city’s population and job growth significantly outpace housing stock, leading to a shortage of units and far too many New Yorkers struggling to pay rent. Further, efforts at building and preserving affordable units have not been equitable, with high-opportunity neighborhoods in the city not asked to provide their fair share.

A Donovan administration will enact land use reforms to update outdated zoning regulations, encourage inexpensive housing development on an expansive and equitable basis, and expedite processes to increase affordability. These efforts will be carried out in parallel to other land use reforms aimed at supporting local business growth, improving mobility across the city, and ensuring each neighborhood is a “15 minute neighborhood”—where a good school, fresh food, rapid transportation, a park, and opportunities to get ahead can all be found within 15 minutes of one’s front door.

We are committing to the following policies and programs:

Streamline ULURP for 100% affordable housing development

Discretionary land use approvals of all types—from a parking waiver for a luxury condo development to a neighborhood rezoning, to a special permit for a single affordable apartment building—require several layers of review, public hearings, and extensive documentation under the City Charter. It is extremely rare that an application under the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) can be approved in less than a year, and often the process stretches to three or four years. A Donovan administration would seek legislation to significantly shorten ULURP and expedite environmental review for any project comprising 100% affordable housing.

Adopt citywide inclusionary zoning, to ensure that every neighborhood contributes to a citywide solution for affordable housing

The original Inclusionary Housing program was designed to create an incentive for developers to build affordable units in exchange for bonus floor area. However, both this program and the more recent Mandatory Inclusionary Housing program have been applied inequitably, targeting low-income or quickly gentrifying areas while leaving out high-opportunity neighborhoods across the city. A Donovan administration would seek zoning text changes to apply an Inclusionary Housing program on a citywide basis, creating an evenly-applied standard and set of robust incentives that would encourage new production of affordable homes in every neighborhood.

Eliminate outdated and unnecessary parking requirements in transit-rich areas

New housing is typically required to include off-street parking spaces, even in areas where car ownership rates are low or there is excellent access to public transit, or both. Encouraging unnecessary automobile dependence isn’t just harmful environmental policy; it’s also an expensive housing regulation which raises the cost of new development. A Donovan administration would eliminate parking requirements in transit-rich areas of the City, and would consider other targeted reforms to loosen parking regulations in connection with affordable housing development.

Zoning to accommodate appropriate density levels in all neighborhoods

As President Obama’s Housing and Urban Development Secretary, Shaun enacted one of the most significant fair housing regulations of the last fifty years, to “affirmatively further fair housing”—a fact highlighted by Donald Trump’s shamelessly racist attacks against these regulations during the 2020 presidential campaign. As mayor, Shaun will apply these fair housing principles to New York City, seeking an equitable allocation of affordable units, particularly by providing new opportunities for families to live in affluent neighborhoods which have been off-limits to low-income families for too long. Rezoning efforts such as those in SoHo, NoHo, and Gowanus are a good first step; a Donovan administration would seek to identify other high-opportunity areas across the city where bulk and use restrictions can be modified to stimulate new affordable housing production.

Amend the zoning text and Building Code to facilitate conversions of underutilized commercial and manufacturing sites to supportive and affordable units, and to legalize below-grade accessory units that are safe and inexpensive

The city’s housing affordability crisis, made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic, demands a reimagining of traditional zoning concepts—including the prohibition on residential uses within certain areas of the city that were zoned decades ago for exclusively commercial or manufacturing uses. A Donovan administration would seek zoning text amendments to ensure that these millions of square feet of office and hotel space can be repurposed for residential use, along with changes to the Building Code and state law that date to the tenements of the early 1900s. A Donovan administration would also seek to legalize existing below-grade units, and to facilitate new development of such units, through local legislation and possibly state law changes. With these outdated restrictions eliminated, New Yorkers would have access to a wave of new, inexpensive, and safe apartments. 

Require the City to consider housing impacts of historic district designation

Stemming from the tragic demolition of the original Penn Station, the city’s Landmarks Law has been a vital tool in our historic preservation efforts. However, designation or expansion of historic districts can have unintended consequences—among them, the long-term suppression of new construction, which can drive up housing costs. A Donovan administration would seek legislation to require the City Planning Commission or the City Council to estimate the loss of buildable square footage resulting from new district designations and expansions, and to consider this factor in its approval of such designations.

Work with the City Council and borough presidents to ensure that community boards are representative of their communities

Community boards are a crucial part of local democracy as a voice on a range of issues—perhaps most prominently on land use policy. However, in many cases the makeup of community boards are not representative of the community districts that they represent, including with respect to age, race, ethnicity, and gender identity. Community board meetings and hearings also favor those with the time and savvy to attend during the workweek, often after little effective public notice. A Donovan administration would work with the City Council and borough presidents to reform the appointment process and ensure that community board meetings represent an accurate reflection of the opinions of the community.

Support state legislation to raise the 12.0 floor area ratio (FAR) cap as applied to affordable units, and to curb exclusionary zoning in New York City suburbs

A mayor Donovan would work closely with Governor Cuomo and legislators in Albany to modify at least two critical aspects of state law which affect the city. First, the state Multiple Dwelling Law imposes a universal prohibition on any zoning lot containing a residential floor area ratio of more than 12.0—essentially a hard cap on housing development that overrides our local zoning. A Donovan administration would seek to eliminate or at least raise this cap with respect to affordable units, allowing New York City the freedom to update its own zoning in the wake of COVID-19 and boost affordability. 

Second, we must recognize that affordability is a crisis which does not follow the boundaries of the five boroughs. New York City’s suburbs, including those in New York State, have some of the most exclusionary land use policies in the country, often preventing all but the most affluent from owning or renting. Shaun Donovan will advocate for reform of these policies, bringing his experience as President Obama’s cabinet secretary overseeing housing in crafting policies to ensure that all communities do their fair share to support low- and moderate-income housing.

Producing More Housing Affordably and Equitably Across all Five Boroughs

The Donovan administration will make an unprecedented investment in New York City neighborhoods by increasing the supply of affordable housing, equitably and inclusively, across all five boroughs. 

As commissioner of the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD), Shaun Donovan crafted and carried out the largest and most ambitious affordable housing plan in the nation. He boosted the housing plan from a 65,000-unit program to 165,000 units and spurred the revitalization of neighborhoods that had long struggled to recover from the blight and abandonment of the 1970s and 1980s. 

Today, the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated an affordable housing crisis in our city that primarily impacts low-income, underserved communities of color. Prior to the pandemic, these communities were already facing systemic disparities that affected their opportunities for fair and affordable housing and economic growth and prosperity. The economic impacts of COVID-19 are serving to destabilize an already at-risk population, and have shown the need for prioritization to ensure these New Yorkers don’t fall through the cracks.

We are committing to the following policies and programs:

Expand capital funding for affordable housing

In order to begin making necessary and long-overdue investments in affordable housing, we will adopt United for Housing’s call for $4 billion per year in capital funding for affordable housing production and preservation. 

This involves making a historic commitment of up to $2 billion per year in City capital dollars to accelerate repairs across NYCHA’s portfolio to ensure that tenants have safe homes they can be proud of. NYCHA’s housing represents the single largest portion of our city’s deeply affordable housing stock that cannot be replaced, and which currently serves over 400,000 low-income New Yorkers. This funding will help fill gaps and speed the process of making critical repairs and upgrades to tenants’ homes as we continue to work with our federal partners. 

The other $2 billion annual investment would provide the resources for HPD to create new affordable housing programs and to expand existing programs. While production has been at peak levels over the last several years, in order to meet demand and address the need for deeply affordable housing, overall production goals should be 30,000+ units per year with a focus on: 

  • Mixed income housing with deep affordability: The mixed income model is the gold standard in affordable housing that allows the City to stretch its subsidy dollars. By leveraging our historic commitment to rental assistance for severely rent-burdened households, we will create a new mixed-income model that includes deeply affordable units and provides housing options for all in communities across the city. 
  • Preserving existing affordable housing with expiring regulatory agreements: Investing in the preservation of existing affordable housing has been a critical piece of past administrations’ housing plans, and will be a pillar of the Donovan administration’s plan. In addition to improving the conditions of the existing housing stock, preservation also keeps existing low-income tenants in their homes, preventing displacement and providing stability to the community. 
  • Homeownership: Owning an affordable home, condo or co-op can give people a chance to put down roots and build equity in their communities. Affordable homeownership not only provides a stable housing option for households but it also promotes equity and inclusion by allowing households to build wealth. Increasing homeownership can be done by increasing affordable housing production, expanding access to down payment assistance, and creating new mechanisms for tenant and community-based ownership of rental buildings.

Ensure regulatory agreements match the public investment and need

We must make sure that our public investments match the benefit that is being generated through new affordable housing. To achieve this, we will conduct a comprehensive review of the regulatory framework and establish a sliding scale for public financial support—by way of subsidy, tax abatement or exemption, land, or other methods—that matches the amount of support to the amount of affordable housing being produced. Over time, the stock of affordable housing can be considerable and a durable contribution to community and public equity, similarly to parks or open space, and we should incentivize its production. The City should also commit to permanent affordability on City land, along with substantial public investment. 

Adopt United for Housing’s recommendation to implement a city-state housing partnership for affordable and supportive housing

Both New York City and State have separately committed to historic levels of investment in our communities through the creation and preservation of affordable and supportive housing. As mayor, Shaun Donovan will work to create a partnership that coordinates and leverages each other’s work to ensure resources are constant and delivered seamlessly. We will build upon past collaborations between City and State governments that have housed thousands of individuals in supportive housing.

Create good-paying jobs for hardworking New Yorkers

The Donovan administration will create good-paying jobs for hardworking New Yorkers, including the creation of a minimum construction wage so that the people who build our housing can build stable lives in our city. Job creation will focus on leveling the playing field and erasing the systemic barriers that communities of color have faced in the development sector. In past administrations and in past crises, whether it’s the blight and abandonment of the 1970s and 80s, the tragedy of September 11th, or the Great Recession, the City has invested in the production of affordable housing to help lead the economic recovery of our communities. In the Donovan administration, affordable housing will play a critical role in our recovery from the fallout of COVID-19, and as mayor, Shaun Donovan will ensure that our economic recovery will be equitable and sustainable. Read more about our plans to power our economy’s recovery in our Economic Development Platform.

In order to promote local hiring, Shaun Donovan will implement a comprehensive resident hiring and training program, based on the Building Skills NY model of job placement assistance, across all HPD-funded new construction. 

It is also critical that we ensure our workers are paid reasonably. On projects receiving HPD funding or city-owned land, the City will set a minimum wage rate over and above the prevailing wage rate required by the state for construction. The City should also convene a coalition of private developers and contractors to set a minimum construction wage across the industry on projects not receiving City funding.

Recognizing the historic barriers to success faced by Minority and Women-Owned Business Enterprises (MWBEs), the Donovan administration will put programs and systems in place that require the city to partner with minority developers as the primary entity, while also streamlining the certification process for MWBEs.

Convert distressed properties into affordable housing 

COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on the city’s economy, impacting commercial real estate and bringing tourism and the hotel industry to a halt. This economic tragedy presents an opportunity to strategically acquire distressed properties that can be converted to affordable housing. Specifically, we will:

  • Convert underutilized hotels into supportive housing with onsite social services: The conversion of hotels into single-occupancy units for permanent supportive housing has been part of New York City’s housing plans for decades. We have the experience, infrastructure, and capacity to make this a part of our city’s economic recovery. Additionally, supportive housing is one of the most effective pathways to addressing the ongoing homelessness crisis. Tenants who were served by supportive housing spent fewer days in jail, homeless shelters, and State-sponsored psychiatric facilities, than those who were not. While there are many supportive housing developments across the city, perhaps the most visible example is the Times Square Hotel, a former grand hotel that was converted into a 652-unit permanent supportive housing development for formerly homeless adults. The project, which is currently listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is credited with developing a new approach to ending long-term homelessness and helping to stabilize the Times Square neighborhood. 
  • Convert vacant office space into housing: After the September 11th terrorist attacks, the conversion of office space to residential housing using the Liberty Bond program and the 421-g tax abatement were critical in the revitalization of Lower Manhattan. Today, we can use the lessons learned from that effort to craft a comprehensive plan to revitalize our city’s commercial and business districts while focusing on inclusivity, diversity, and affordability. And while Midtown East is the most obvious candidate, any solution must be scalable for smaller business districts facing similar issues across the five boroughs. 

Implement United for Housing’s recommendation to lead an inter-agency effort to innovate new models, create efficiencies in process, modernize building codes, and streamline approval processes

The financing and construction of new affordable housing and the preservation of existing affordable housing can require the work of multiple city agencies, including the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, the Housing Development Corporation, the Department of Buildings, the Economic Development Corporation, the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, the Department of Homeless Services, etc., and some one may not consider but may be required for permitting, like the Department of Transportation, the Fire Department of New York, the Department of Environmental Protection, and others. The Donovan administration will engage stakeholders to develop a strategy to streamline approvals and interactions between agencies, with the goal of reducing the average affordable housing construction timeline by 20% while maintaining all necessary safety standards. 

We will also reduce hard costs in affordable housing construction by 20% while maintaining all necessary safety standards, by allowing innovative forms of project delivery, expanding allowed materials in construction, and reviewing labor requirements. By reviewing ballooning site insurance costs and other insurance costs, reviewing HDC financing fees for possible savings, and applying other similar strategies, we will identify extraordinary soft costs that can be reduced through exemptions or alternatives.

Investing in Improved Data and Analysis

New York City officials are limited in responses due to inadequate information and outmoded data systems. The Donovan administration will invest in 21st century data infrastructure that city agencies can use to better assess needs, design effective policies, target assistance equitably and efficiently, monitor outcomes, and effectively asset-manage city investments. 

We are committing to the following policies and programs:

Adopt a data-driven approach to help coordinate the city’s response to homelessness

The Donovan administration will invest in real-time, individual data across all city agencies (including the City’s public hospital, child welfare, youth, homelessness, and criminal justice systems) that allows for recognizing the needs of people currently or at risk of experiencing homelessness and delivering services in a targeted way. We will also expand the Bronx Frequent Users System Engagement (FUSE) data sharing system—which identifies frequent users of jails, shelters, and hospitals and connects them with supportive housing and other services—to the other four boroughs. Read more in our Innovation Platform.

Improve tracking of city rental buildings and establish better metrics for measuring success in housing

We can better enforce the city’s annual building registration requirement in order to create a more robust and up-to-date directory of rental buildings and ownership that the city can use to target both inspections and assistance.

And, the City must change its affordable housing tracking systems to count people assisted rather than units built. We will develop more nuanced metrics that will include the incomes and racial backgrounds of households assisted, progress on NYCHA renovations and repairs, the number of days it takes to re-rent housing units set aside for households experience homelessness, the number of people released from prisons, jails, or hospitals that go to city homeless shelters, and building energy use. 

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