By Michelle Neugebauer
To create a fairer, more equitable New York, our next mayor needs to address Brooklyn’s affordable housing crisis. It is a dire situation: the median monthly asking monthly rent in the borough is $2,395, despite a pandemic-driven drop in median rent. Eviction proceedings have continued despite the moratorium, primarily involving tenants in central Brooklyn. And let’s be clear: this crisis disproportionately harms Black and Brown residents.
Brooklyn desperately needs a partner in City Hall who will work with the community groups that understand the reality of Brooklyn’s housing crisis and how it intersects with longstanding racial inequalities. That is why we came together with over 90 organizations with wide-ranging expertise to create a plan to help the next mayor solve the housing crisis in Brooklyn and beyond. Our recommendations, found in the United for Housing: From the Ground Up report, provide the next mayor with a blueprint for housing and racial justice that will materially better the lives of countless households in Brooklyn.
The plan calls for an investment that matches the scope of the crisis in Brooklyn and every other borough. We ask the next mayor to invest $2.5 billion for affordable housing rental and homeownership opportunities and $1.5 billion for the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) – a total of $4 billion annually. This historic investment would markedly change the landscape we see today by creating jobs, supporting local communities, and increasing the availability of truly affordable housing.
This is also a matter of racial justice: racism in our housing policy has contributed to segregated neighborhoods, concentrated poverty, and lack of wealth-building opportunities for people of color. This has amplified the effects of the current crisis for Brooklyn residents of color. In other words, we must center racial equity in our housing policies now to overcome the legacy of racist policies in our past.
First, we propose dedicating the bulk of our funding for the creation of truly affordable housing for families and individuals with the lowest incomes and the greatest need so they can actually find a place to call home. One simple way to boost the supply of deeply affordable housing right now is to make it easier for property owners to convert their basement/cellar into a safe, legal, and rentable apartment. We have been a part of the city’s pilot program and know that this is a part of the solution. Utilizing Community Land Trusts will also ensure that new residential construction in Brooklyn meets residents where they are – and will keep those apartments affordable in the long-term.
Second, we propose a rental assistance program worth $200 million to the most vulnerable households. Providing direct relief will prevent evictions, provide immediate financial support for families in dire need, and ameliorate a worsening housing and homelessness crisis.
To complement these efforts, we need every candidate to explain how they will end housing discrimination. Boosting supply is only helpful if the residents who need that housing most are able to actually live there and will not be turned away based on their race or the fact that they utilize rental assistance vouchers. We also need to condemn the housing speculation – e.g., house flipping – that takes housing opportunities away from neighborhood owner-occupants.
Finally, we propose the creation of a new down payment assistance program to help Black and Latinx households access the capital they need to buy a home. We would expand the existing program to increase assistance for those with income under 80 percent AMI to $60,000 to help close a racial wealth gap.
Brooklyn’s current housing crisis is at an inflection point. With the city set to elect a new mayor, City Council, and Brooklyn Borough President, it is more important than ever before to get it right – the next decade is at stake. New York City must take an ambitious approach to housing that not only supports our borough’s most vulnerable but also reverses course on the injustices of the past. Brooklyn deserves nothing less.
Michelle Neugebauer is the Executive Director of Cypress Hills Local Development Corporation.