Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Should the Poor Get the Housing That Koch Built?

Week in Review
Should the Poor Get the Housing That Koch Built?

Published: March 18, 1990

LEAD: A SINGULAR achievement of former Mayor Edward I. Koch's last term was the creation of a huge housing program, which has already produced about 3,500 new subsidized apartments in formerly abandoned buildings in New York City's poorest neighborhoods. About 13,000 other apartments are under construction, and a total of 47,000 are to be renovated by the mid-1990's.

A SINGULAR achievement of former Mayor Edward I. Koch's last term was the creation of a huge housing program, which has already produced about 3,500 new subsidized apartments in formerly abandoned buildings in New York City's poorest neighborhoods. About 13,000 other apartments are under construction, and a total of 47,000 are to be renovated by the mid-1990's.

The effort is the most ambitious in the nation, far exceeding affordable-housing initiatives by any other city or state.

That has become a problem for David N. Dinkins. The new Mayor has not yet formulated his own housing policy, and he has thus been easy prey to advocacy groups of all stripes, from those who want him to dismantle the Koch plan to those who want him to continue it unaltered.

On Friday, more than four months after his election, the Mayor finally selected a housing commissioner. That assuaged some critics, who had grown impatient over what they saw as drift in the housing effort. They had feared that the city would lose the momentum gained in recent years, leaving its most urgent housing needs unmet.

But the selection of Felice L. Michetti, who for the last four years was the first deputy commissioner of the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, did not end the debate over what the new Mayor should do with the ambitious program he inherited. Much of the debate revolves around a fundamental question: Who should benefit when the government creates housing?

Mr. Koch believed that the city should help a broad cross-section of New Yorkers. He argued that, since the private market in New York only meets the needs of the affluent, the government had to help everyone else. Thus, in addition to the revival of abandoned buildings, the Koch plan includes 35,000 new subsidized apartments and houses primarily for middle-income people, defined as households with incomes as high as $53,000 a year.

Many advocates of low-income housing, including some ardent Dinkins supporters, believe that the bulk of the city's resources should be concentrated on those most in need, the homeless and the poor. A Beneficiary Himself

As Manhattan Borough President and as a mayoral candidate, Mr. Dinkins supported the Koch effort. He himself lived for years in a Government-subsidized, middle-income housing cooperative in Harlem.

Ms. Michetti's selection appeared to confirm the Mayor's support for an inclusive plan. She was one of the Koch program's architects in 1986 and has overseen its management ever since. Proponents of the plan, including the two Koch housing commissioners whom Ms. Michetti served as first deputy, saw her selection as a sign of continuity. Mr. Dinkins, in announcing his choice, did nothing to allay the impression.

''I don't know anybody more qualified to hit the ground running and to move ahead aggressively than Felice,'' said Abraham Biderman, who stepped down as housing commissioner on Jan. 1. He said the appointment ''points to the overall success of the program and the desire for continuity.''

But others were not convinced. Harold DeRienzo, the chief executive of the Consumer-Farmer Foundation, a nonprofit group that promotes housing for the poor, said Ms. Michetti had championed low-income housing. ''I think Felice worked to soften some of the roughest edges of Koch's housing policy,'' Mr. DeRienzo said.

Mr. DeRienzo noted that the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Development, Barbara Fife, told a conference of planners and architects last week that the entire Koch plan would be reviewed.

Many advocates for low-income housing want the Mayor to end one component of the city plan, in which abandoned buildings are turned over to private developers for renovation. Most of these apartments go to moderate-income people, defined as households with annual incomes between $19,000 and $32,000. In three other segments of the Koch plan, nonprofit groups or the city itself renovate vacant buildings and rent apartments to a mix of tenants, primarily the homeless and low-income families, defined as those with incomes below $19,000 a year.

Many people also want Mr. Dinkins to reject several large middle-income complexes proposed by Mr. Koch, including projects to be overseen by the developer Samuel J. LeFrak and the Milstein Organization. These would benefit families with incomes as high as $53,000 a year.

Ms. Michetti and Mr. Dinkins will also have tough choices to make on whom to award the few remaining large empty plots of city-owned land. The groups vying for them represent very different constituencies.

For example, one of the most successful housing efforts of the 1980's, the Nehemiah plan in the East New York and Brownsville sections of Brooklyn, is threatening to stop working in New York unless it is awarded more land on which to build inexpensive, two-story brick rowhouses for middle-income families. The Koch administration denied Nehemiah several sites in Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx.

The Dinkins administration also has to begin planning for the day, perhaps only three or four years away, when virtually all of New York's abandoned structures will have been rebuilt. It will have to decide whether the city can afford a much more expensive program to construct brand-new housing for low- and moderate-income people.

Ms. Michetti is well equipped to make such decisions, said former housing commissioner Paul A. Crotty, who made her first deputy commissioner four years ago. ''Anyone else who came in from outside would have had a much more difficult time picking up the ball,'' Mr. Crotty said. ''It's a real good appointment, good for Felice, good for the Mayor and good for anyone who cares about housing.''


These are the main parts of New York City's housing program. Low income is under $19,000 a year, moderate income is $19,000 to $32,000 and middle income is $32,000 to $53,000.

......................................Units started.... Units being
......................................or completed.... developed
Special Initiatives Project......... 2,800...............3,239
*3*Private contractors hired by the city rehabilitate abandoned
*3*buildings for a mix of homeless and the working poor.

Construction management........2,922................955
*3*Construction companies rehabilitate large areas of abandoned buildings,
*3*which are owned and managed by nonprofit groups. The home
*3*less get 30 percent of the apartments.

Vacant buildings.........................3,546...............5,541
*3*Private developers and a few nonprofit groups renovate, own and
*3*operate small clusters of abandoned buildings. Most of the units
*3*go to moderate-income families.

Enterprise Foundation/
Local Initiatives Support Corp. ...1,855..........1,260
*3*These two national groups supervise about two dozen local nonprofit
*3*groups, which renovate small clusters of vacant buildings. The
*3*homeless get 10 percent of the units, low- and moderate-income
*3*households the rest.

New York City Partnership ........ 2,900 ........ 5,867
*3*This civic group works with the city and private developers who build
*3*small apartment buildings, which are sold as condominiums to
*3*moderate- and middle-income households.

Nehemiah houses..........................1,149............507
*3*This Brooklyn church coalition builds inexpensive rowhouses in East
*3*New York and Brownsville and sells them to moderate-income families.

(Source: New York City Dept. of Housing Preservation and Development)

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