Housing in Brief: What It Would Take to Bring Mass Social Housing to New York

Also: San Jose passes a rent freeze, and a Kalamazoo nonprofit converts a motel for housing. 

The Grant Houses in Morningside Heights, Manhattan (Photo by Oscar Perry Abello)

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What It Would Take to Bring Mass Social Housing to New York

Brad Lander, a New York City Council member and candidate in the upcoming election for city comptroller, is endorsing a plan to solve the city’s housing challenges through a mass program of social housing, according to a report in Bloomberg CityLab. The plan calls for the city to invest billions of dollars in buying and preserving thousands of housing units and making them “democratically owned, permanently affordable” and “removed from for-profit speculation,” according to the report. Lander calls for the city to acquire 15,000 units a year, while investing more in public housing, resident-owned co-ops, mutual housing associations, and community land trusts, the story says. In all, the plan calls for the city to build 154,000 new units and preserve 388,000 more, according to the story.

“There has long been shared equity homeownership and community land trusts at the margins of our housing policy,” Lander said, according to the report. “Part of what this plan does is put them at the center of our housing policy.”

Lander would not have the power to implement the plan as comptroller, but calls for the city to invest an additional $1 billion in the Department of Housing Preservation and Development and $1.5 billion in NYCHA, with $1.5 billion invested by the state, according to the report. The plan emphasizes working with nonprofit developers rather than for-profit developers, who received 80% of the city’s housing subsidies from 2015 to 2018, according to the report.

“For far too long New York City has relied on a market-based, trickle-down, transactional approach towards affordable housing that has clearly not worked to resolve the ever-increasing need for affordable housing that has now resulted in a homeless and housing affordability crisis of epidemic proportions,” Ismene Speliotis, executive director of the Mutual Housing Association of New York, said in a statement, according to the report. “Focusing resources based on need and in partnership with not-for-profit developers and community residents is the right approach and long overdue.”

Kalamazoo Group Buys Motel for Affordable Housing, Homeless

The Lift Foundation, a nonprofit housing developer in Kalamazoo, Michigan, has purchased a motel with plans to redevelop it as permanent affordable housing, according to a report in Fox 17 West Michigan. And in the meantime, it is using the property to house people experiencing homelessness during the winter. The group is planning to create 60 studio apartments on the site, according to the report. It has received two loans from the city to support the project, according to the report.

Earlier this week, according to a separate report on MLive, the city of Kalamazoo cleared a small homeless encampment and moved residents into the recently purchased motel. Overall, 20 people experiencing homelessness have moved into the motel, and 20 former motel residents have remained, according to the MLive report. The owners plan to begin construction in May and have the project completed before next winter, according to the report.

“When the building is ready to go under construction in May, the idea is to get everyone placed in some alternate form of permanent housing that meets their personal needs and is something they are interested in,” Lisa Willcutt, vice president of Lockhart Management & Consulting, the property manager for the motel, told MLIve.

Earlier this year, as Next City reported, the city of Missoula, Montana, purchased a motel to use as emergency housing for people experiencing homelessness during the pandemic and then to redevelop for permanent affordable housing. The state of California has also invested in a program of motel-buying for affordable housing called Project Homekey.

San Jose Enacts Rent Freeze

The City of San Jose has adopted a rent freeze for tenants who have lost income because of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a report in The Mercury News. The freeze applies to tenants in one of 39,000 apartments and 10,000 mobile homes that are covered under an existing rent stabilization policy, according to the report. Buildings with three or more units that were built prior to September 1979 are covered by the policy, according to the report. The city passed a rent freeze first in April, but it expired about a month ago, the report says.

“You would hope people would do the right thing in a COVID-19 pandemic, but no, I have a lot of residents who have gotten eviction notices and for a couple of months, I had had a lot of residents get rent increase notices,” said councilmember Maya Esparza, who proposed the rent freeze. “And what we know is that those rent increases are happening not at the expensive apartments. They’re happening on the apartments for the low-income folks who desperately rely on them.”

Before they raise rents, landlords are required to provide a copy of the “Declaration of COVID-19 Related Financial Distress” document to tenants. Unlike the previous policy, the new rent freeze only applies to tenants who have been financially affected by the pandemic.

This article is part of Backyard, a newsletter exploring scalable solutions to make housing fairer, more affordable and more environmentally sustainable. Subscribe to our weekly Backyard newsletter.

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Jared Brey is Next City's housing correspondent, based in Philadelphia. He is a former staff writer at Philadelphia magazine and PlanPhilly, and his work has appeared in Columbia Journalism Review, Landscape Architecture Magazine, U.S. News & World Report, Philadelphia Weekly, and other publications.

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Tags: new york citycovid-19homelessnesspublic housingrentsan josesocial housingkalamazoo

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