Housing crisis

As rents soar, dysfunctional City Hall exacerbates New York’s housing crisis

Mayor Eric Adams’ administration has failed to fill key housing agency positions, leaving its response to skyrocketing rents and the Big Apple’s worsening housing crisis crippled, officials said. insiders, activists and city officials told the Post.

The growing frustration comes as affordable housing production has plummeted in recent months and developers struggle to get key city approvals for new buildings while completed projects struggle to get inspections and permits. opening necessary.

“I first found out about this because I have buildings that are up and restaurants that are ready to open but I can’t get approval,” said councilor Gale Brewer, who previously served as Manhattan Borough President.

“A lot of their vacancies are in places badly needed to build affordable housing.”

The shortfalls are highlighted in the city’s own statistics: the town hall missed its objective of building or refinancing apartments at stabilized rents in the 2022 budget year by 36%. Only 16,000 of the planned 25,000 apartments were built or kept in the 12 months between July 2021 and June 2022.

It was the first time City Hall had missed the benchmark in at least five years – a streak that unfolded during the worst of the coronavirus pandemic, even as the local economy came to a halt.

The production shortfall comes as rents have skyrocketed in New York: The average cost of an apartment in Manhattan jumped nearly $1,000 in the last year alone, hitting $4,100 a month in August.

Mayor Eric Adams’ administration has failed to fill key positions at the city’s housing agencies, according to activists and city officials.
AP Photo/Julia Nikhinson

“The mayor campaigned on the fact that he was going to make it a ‘yes city,'” said a frustrated promoter. “And nobody sees that in affordable housing. It takes longer to get approvals.

The person added: ‘And as far as the housing agencies are concerned, there is a general dysfunction and shortage of staff and it is impossible to get an answer out of town.

The dysfunction extends to even the city’s most high-profile projects, which require City Council-approved rezonings and would typically require significant time from any recent previous administration, sources say.

Insiders pointed to two particular projects where the absence of the Adams administration was keenly felt: the breakdown of negotiations for the construction of an apartment tower at 145e Street in East Harlem and the recent agreement to build three apartment towers and a waterfront plaza in Astoria.

“We probed and put it there. It’s a big project, it wasn’t a surprise,” a lawmaker said of the trio of towers now installed for Halletts Points in Queens. “We have had no feedback, no indication from the mayor.”

The politician added: “So we found ourselves negotiating and pulling things from the developer without any prompting.”

The city missed its target to build or refinance rent-stabilized apartments for the 2022 budget year by 36%.
The city missed its target of building or refinancing rent-stabilized apartments by 36% for the 2022 budget year.
Levine-Roberts/Sipa USA

That disengagement left Council insiders particularly angry when Adams staff tried in July to schedule an appearance by the mayor at the ribbon cutting.

Spokespersons for the Adams administration disputed that characterization and said the mayor pledged to address the city’s housing crisis in response to questions from the Post.

They highlighted a series of zoning changes that Hizzoner will put in place in the coming months that aim to speed up housing construction by reducing parking space requirements in new buildings and providing new incentives for builders to add affordable units.

And the mayor’s representatives pointed to Adams’ recent budget, which allocates an additional $500 million a year for subsidized housing and public housing. However, this money, they acknowledge, was needed to keep production levels constant due to rising costs.

“Mayor Adams has made clear that ensuring all New Yorkers have access to safe, high-quality, affordable housing is an urgent priority, and he has outlined a bold vision for a ‘Yes City’ in which every neighborhood is doing its part to build more affordable homes,” said City Hall spokesman Charles Lutvak.

He added, “This administration is making historic investments in affordable housing while refocusing the city’s housing policy on creating homes for our most vulnerable neighbors, improving living conditions [public housing] residents, and providing safety and dignity to the homeless.

Ever-worsening staff shortages at key agencies have been fueled by a range of aggravating factors, according to a dozen interviews with insiders and experts, many of whom asked to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation.

The struggles came at an inopportune time as rising interest rates and a plummeting stock market wreaked havoc on markets – but insiders said the town hall’s housing struggles were of its own volition.

Rental prices for the average apartment in Manhattan rose by nearly $1,000 last year.
Rental prices for the average apartment in Manhattan rose by nearly $1,000 last year.
Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

“The city is not doing what it can do to even give people the assurance that if other aspects were different, it would be doable,” an insider said.

“It’s taking too long because the town hall is not leaning to do it,” the person added. “They don’t follow up internally.”

Another expert said the issues driving the drop in affordable housing production were “80-20” because of the town hall.

Adams, according to a dozen sources, allowed only a small circle in his administration to make key hiring and policy decisions, often leaving his deputy mayors and commissioners left out of the process.

“He runs City Hall like he ran City Hall,” said a veteran city official. “He consolidates power in two or three people and they are not experienced managers.”

“It becomes micromanagement because they don’t know how to manage. They make decisions four weeks after they have to be made,” the person added. “It’s the largest municipal workforce in the country, you have to manage.”

This was further exacerbated by Hizzoner’s requirement that minority candidates be given preference, a policy City Hall enforces by requiring agencies to provide photographs of finalists. Competition for highly qualified minority applicants is particularly fierce because the overall pool of potential recruits is small.

The Department of Town Planning and the Department of Housing Preservation and Development are beginning a battle for talent against the private sector with serious disadvantages, both new and old.

Councilor Gale Brewer said there are buildings in her district waiting to be cleared to open.
Councilor Gale Brewer said there are buildings in her district waiting to be cleared to open.
Daniel William McKnight

The two agencies have historically struggled to match the salaries offered by corporations and businesses, while residency requirements effectively force city workers to spend more of their small salaries on rent by preventing them from living in the New Jersey.

These longstanding challenges have been compounded by Adams’ ban on agencies providing hybrid work accommodations and its failure to empower agency heads to navigate the city’s Byzantine hiring process, which can take months without high-level intervention.

“It’s a really competitive market and the city is not competitive. The City takes so long, you have to go through the civil service list, the City starts with a really low offer, ”said an insider. “It makes things really, really difficult.”

Take city planning, where the staff shortage is so severe that there is currently only one chief planning officer for a single borough: Queens. The positions for Manhattan, Brooklyn, the Bronx and Staten Island are vacant and currently filled with interim staff.

Vacancies at the top have been further exacerbated by Adams’ decision to appoint long-serving politicians to run the agencies, instead of seasoned planners or administrators who could immediately dive into bureaucracy and help pick up the slack.

Planning Commissioner Dan Garodnick and HPD Commissioner Adolfo Carrión are both former city councilors.

“It’s poor agency leadership that’s at the heart of the problem,” said a frustrated official. “We hired friends to run city agencies, not administrators. You can find sympathetic admins, but if we had done that, we wouldn’t be in the mess we’re in.

Sources said the problems are even worse at HPD, where the vacancy rate is comparatively below 15% – but there are so many vacancies in the key divisions that oversee affordable housing funding and approvals that the projects stagnate.

“The HPD is the real mess,” said one longtime observer. “People are starting to complain because they can’t fund their deals.”

“It’s the Eric Adams mess,” the person added. “Adams got his direction and then they didn’t fulfill anything.”

HPD quietly blamed its failure to meet housing targets on its staffing crisis in a mandatory annual report released in September.

“The decline in production levels in fiscal year 2022 was largely due to rising construction costs and agency staffing issues,” officials wrote in the report. “HPD is committed to investing in people and resources to support the creation and preservation of as much affordable housing as possible.”

A general view of the New York City Hall building in New York
“The HPD is the real mess,” said one longtime observer.
Christopher Sadowski

Its target for 2023 is 18,000 units built or refinanced – just a fraction of its previous target of 25,000 and the peak of 32,517 apartments built or refinanced in 2018.

“If they don’t have the people there to process the loan closings, then we won’t get the closings,” said Rachel Fee, executive director of the New York Housing Conference, which advocates for grant programs. to housing. “But what’s really concerning is that they’re still losing staff and not turning things around.”

She added, “We don’t want to go into a downward spiral when we have an urgent housing crisis in New York.”