OP-ED: Working for Affordable Housing, Piece By Piece

| 17 Feb 2015 | 05:09

By Margaret Chin

Like many other housing advocates, I applauded and was heartened by the July 10 announcement that Mayor Bill de Blasio's administration had by that point financed more than 8,700 units of affordable housing across the city. And, like the mayor, I'm passionate about working to achieve his goal of building or preserving 200,000 units of affordable housing within the next 10 years.

That's why my office has already identified numerous city-owned lots within my Lower Manhattan district that I believe would be best used for building affordable housing.

Several weeks ago, as part of that effort, I asked the city to consider allowing residential development on a Lower East Side lot that is currently used as a municipal parking garage. The site - which could support around 90 units of affordable housing - had long been identified as a possible location for such development, but was never offered up by the Bloomberg administration.

Large-scale development and zoning changes will play vital roles in accomplishing Mayor de Blasio's 10-year plan, but I believe we should place an equally urgent emphasis on identifying and acting on smaller sites. Along with the obvious fact that they provide us with many additional development options, these smaller sites throughout the five boroughs can often be converted to residential use relatively quickly and easily.

Whether it's another 25, 50 or 100 units of affordable housing here and there, those numbers will really start to add up.

I understand why there's sometimes resistance - from officials or local stakeholders - to certain proposals for new housing on city-owned lots that currently exist as parking garages or open space. It's true that many of these lots already serve some purpose within our communities, and it can be difficult to commit to giving up a public resource in order to make way for housing. As the City Council representative of a district that already includes some extremely dense areas, I certainly recognize the need for open space and adequate transportation options within a community.

There's almost always going to be some argument against giving up one of these city-owned lots. Some people might say, "Don't take away my parking!" Others might say, "Don't take away my green space!"

They all generally lead back to the same question: "Can't you just find a different place for housing?"

But if we're really serious about completing the mayor's plan in a decade, the fact is that all of us - council members, community boards, residents - must make affordable housing a priority in our districts. That means identifying sites now, and doing our best to act on them, so we can get new residential units under construction as soon as possible. We simply can't spend years trying to find those different places for housing that can please everyone. The sites are there, and we have to take advantage of them as swiftly as possible. Let's remember something - the sooner these new units are built, the sooner they can house the hardworking low- and middle-income families that make this city great.

So I'll keep pushing for new affordable housing on all of the sites I've already identified within my district. I hope all my council colleagues will join me in taking these small steps that can make a huge impact on achieving our affordable housing goals for New York City.

The mayor's housing effort is undoubtedly one of the most important 10-year plans this city has ever undertaken. And piece by piece, we'll all have to work together to make it happen.

Chin is the City Council member representing District 1 in Lower Manhattan.