New York City needs quick fix for low income housing

It is a long running joke that in New York City, everything is expensive. In order to purchase a cup of coffee, one virtually has to put their car up for collateral-that is if they can even afford a car. It is no wonder why people are up in arms about the cost of rent and housing.

All joking aside, the issue is quite serious. Low and moderate housing values are necessary for the city to thrive and continue to function as “The city that never sleeps.”

According to The National Low Income Housing Coalition, New York State ranks 47th out of 50 states in renter affordability. The NLICH obtained the ranking based on state level 2003 American Community Survey (ACS). New York’s rank fell just above that of Oregon, Florida, and top ranked California.

Since the city has rebounded from Sept. 11, people have been flocking back and are willing to pay whatever it costs to own a little piece of the big apple. Unfortunately for some, landlords are far too eager to accept any price, even if it means outing their current tenants in favor of the bright eyed, deep pocketed new prospects.

Not to say that new-comers to New York City are doing a serious injustice to families who have been here for generations, but it is becoming more difficult for the lower to middle class to keep up with their Madison Avenue counterparts.

So what counts as affordable housing? According to the New York City Rent Guidelines Board, it is when 30 percent of the average household income at $39,937 is devoted to gross rent (including utilities). The board estimates that at least a quarter of the city is dedicating half of their total yearly income to gross rent.

This does not necessarily mean that the other three quarters are sitting comfortably sipping on lattes without tormenting over rent. According to the board’s 2005 Income and Affordability study, “In order to afford a two-bedroom apartment at the City’s Fair Market Rent (FMR), as determined by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), a full-time worker must earn $19.58 per hour, or $40,720 a year.” It continues, “Alternately, those who earn minimum wage would have to work the equivalent of 131 hours a week (or two people residing together would each have to work 65.5 hours a week) to be able to afford a two-bedroom unit priced at FMR.”

65.5 working hours a week goes above and beyond the call of the average “nine to five” which translates to a 40-hour workweek. Two people would have to work 13 hours a day in order to live in a two bedroom apartment. This leaves 11 out of a 24 hour normal day. This hefty work schedule does not include commute, household chores, and most importantly of all, sleep. It is amazing that waitresses all over the city are not falling face first into their patron’s mashed potatoes to sneak in a catnap.

Mayoral candidates Fernando Ferrer and incumbent Mayor Bloomberg have made the issue high on their lists of priorities, respectively.

Mayor Bloomberg’s official website, www.mikebloomberg.com, states, “Over the next five years, the $3 billion New Housing Marketplace plan will create or preserve 68,000 units of affordable housing for more than 200,000 New Yorkers. As of now, 26,000 units are already in development.”

Meanwhile, Ferrer wants to work with the over development of housing. He explains, “We will require that 30 percent of newly created units be set aside for moderate and low-income individuals in targeted “growth zones” — and provide substantial financial incentives for developers to set aside an additional 20 percent of the units for affordable housing.”

While these promises are intriguing, there is little doubt that, regardless of who is elected, these plans are unlikely to come to fruition. There is no simple solution for this problem and any efforts made to alleviate the situation would take years before the affects are seen. There are several things that the city can do. One way to fix this quandary is to raise the minimum wage, which is currently being introduced with a slight increase every year, so that by 2007 it will go from $6.00 to $7.15.

The second is to lower the property taxes so that landlords will not have to charge more for rent. But that idea of course is the least likely to happen because the city needs the money.

Lastly, the city could maintain and extend rent control and stabilization. Perhaps stretch the cut off to buildings built before 1984 instead of the current cut of date of Jan. 1, 1974. The reasoning behind this is to make up for the number of buildings that are becoming derelict because of inevitable deterioration.

To maintain its elite status as a financial haven, New York and its politicians must provide low-wage workers with low-income housing. If we lose those workers, we lose vital businesses, and most importantly, vital people.