The power struggle between Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio has taken a hazardous turn, threatening the development of affordable housing in Queens and the rest of the city.
The governor has upped the ante in his apparent campaign to undermine the mayor’s efforts to build 80,000 units for the working poor and the homeless over the next 10 years. Developers have been warned that the governor plans to divert a big chunk of the $900 million in federal tax-exempt bonds for affordable housing projects in the city to his own new multibillion-dollar statewide program.
Cuomo is angling to shrink this critical source of funds for the city at a time when two-thirds of New Yorkers in a recent poll said they feared being priced out of their homes. The ranks of the homeless continue to grow, despite a drop in evictions, as overcrowding in tiny apartments and ruthless landlords drive desperate tenants into the streets.
Corona and Jackson Heights have the most crowded living conditions in the city, according to a recent survey by Street Easy.
A full 40 percent of people living in the Pan Am family shelter in Elmhurst work and many parents still send their children to school in the Bronx, where they lost their homes.
What is the governor thinking? What did the mayor do to antagonize Cuomo to the point that he seems intent on revenge at the expense of some of the city’s most vulnerable residents? The governor’s actions could sabotage the mayor’s signature plan to provide affordable housing and encourage developers to build thousands of market-rate units, which could take some pressure off soaring rents.
A key issue in the Dem vs. Dem skirmish is the tax abatement program known as 421-a, which gave developers an incentive to set aside a percentage of new apartments as affordable housing. The mayor backed revisions to the program after extensive negotiations with the city’s Rent Board, but Cuomo threw a wrench into the works by demanding that developers use union workers.
After the program expired in January, developers said they might have to abandon ambitious projects for lower-rent housing without help from 421-a. The Hallets Point development in Astoria, which broke ground on one building, has called a halt to the rest of the megaproject, which involves 2,000 units – nearly 500 of which were to be affordable.
There are no winners in this feud. Everyone stands to lose if the governor cannot stop knocking the mayor’s housing program and let him do what’s right—economically and morally—for the city.