Eric Adams’ “Housing Our Neighbors” blueprint is missing key details about how to track and accomplish its broad goals, according to critics. City officials pledged to include the updated benchmarks in a revised Mayor’s Management Report (MMR), an annual assessment of municipal agency performance over the previous fiscal year.
More than two weeks after the release of Mayor Eric Adams’ highly anticipated housing plan, administration officials faced down a now-familiar question from members of the City Council at a hearing Friday: How exactly will the city measure success?
Those details are coming, Team Adams said, whenever the next report on city agency performance is released.
“We are absolutely going to provide regular updates as to our progress under the plan,” Chief Housing Officer Jessica Katz told councilmembers. “And as we incorporate new metrics and development data systems in order to collect that data, we will be updating the Council and the public regularly.”
The 97-page “Housing Our Neighbors: A Blueprint for Housing and Homelessness” outlines a holistic approach to developing new apartments, preserving existing affordable units, improving conditions in NYCHA, holding landlords accountable for safety in privately-owned buildings and streamlining processes for unhoused New Yorkers to move into permanent homes. The plan no longer treats those issues as separate siloed problems and relied on input from directly impacted residents, including public housing tenants and people staying in homeless shelters.
Missing, however, are key details about how to track and accomplish its broad goals, said City Council Housing Chair Pierina Sanchez.
“The plan is called a blueprint. Yet, in some ways, if I handed this blueprint to builders today, architects, engineers, the structure that they would build might fall for lack of detail and specificity,” said Sanchez, who weeks earlier issued a statement in support of the mayor’s housing blueprint. “The plan is thin on details [and] shares no quantifiable affordable housing production goals.”
Sanchez asked for more specifics on zoning and regulatory reforms intended to spur housing production, how city agencies will address “serious understaffing” and about the costs associated with production and preservation.
Public Advocate Jumaane Williams also criticized the plan for missing “the specifics of what we need to know.”
City officials say the updated benchmarks will be included in a revised Mayor’s Management Report (MMR), an annual charter-mandated assessment of municipal agency performance over the previous fiscal year. When it comes to housing, the MMR tracks code enforcement and affordable housing creation under the Department of Housing Preservation and Development along with length of shelter stay and move-outs under the Department of Homeless Services. The 2021 fiscal year report was released in September. City Hall said the new report is in the works but did not provide a time frame.
They say the new report will track existing goals while adding more specific benchmarks, like moves into various forms of permanent housing, including NYCHA and apartments secured with different rent subsidies, along with the amount of time it takes for people to make the moves. The housing plan refers to these concepts as “people-focused metrics.”
A report last year by the Citizens Housing Planning Council, Katz’s former employer, foreshadowed some of these elements by targeting the “brutal bureaucracy” that, for example, leaves vacant affordable housing lottery units empty for more than a year on average before a tenant moves in.
Katz said the city will also hone in on the number of NYCHA apartments that are rehabilitated and brought back on line as well as the vacancy rates in affordable and supportive housing.
Previous administrations only focused on how many units were financed, and not how many had opened to tenants or how long it took for people to move into homes, she said.
“This administration will make every effort to continue building at the same rate as recent years to ease the housing shortage, but we are also going to move beyond the singular focus,” Katz said. “Rather than focusing solely on a top-line financing number, we will incorporate new metrics that more clearly demonstrate our priorities and more effectively measure progress.”
Adams’ housing plan, released June 14, is supposed to solve New York City’s daunting housing problems. More than 61,000 people stay in New York City shelters each month, according to figures tracked by City Limits, and the number of homeless families has begun to rise after statewide eviction protections came to an end in January. Less than 1 percent of all apartments priced below $1,500 are vacant, the city’s most recent housing survey shows, while median rents have surged to record highs.
The New York City area needs about 772,000 new income-restricted apartments to meet the need for affordable housing, experts estimate. NYCHA has a roughly $40 billion capital repair deficit.
The first budget of Adams’ tenure adds about $5 billion for affordable and public housing over the next 10 years, increasing the city’s total capital investment to around $22 billion— though that falls short of his campaign commitments.
In the past, mayors have set specific production and preservation targets in their housing plans to alleviate the housing emergency. Adams’ predecessor Bill de Blasio pledged to create or preserve 200,000 units of affordable housing in 2014 before revising that number up to 300,000 by 2026. Ex-Mayor Michael Bloomberg set a goal of 165,000 new and preserved units.
At a press conference unveiling his housing plan, Adams said that other mayors incentivized volume instead of tailoring production and preservation for people most in need of affordable housing and then tracking who actually moved in.
“We were focusing on these high numbers and not how many people we place in apartments,” he said. “That is our metrics. How many people we place in the apartments. How many people we place in housing.”
Still, a lack of concrete metrics would make it hard to gauge the plan’s success or failure.
At the same June event, Adams told reporters not to ask how many units his plan would create. When reporters asked anyway, he said that numbers only tell a partial story and used the hypothetical scenario of 30,000 homeless New Yorkers moving into permanent housing.
“If you say 30,000 and you have 50,000 that are homeless, then what success is that? I got 20,000 people that are not,” Adams said. “So I’m not at this magic number. I’m going to get as many people, in my four years, to get into housing as possible. And I’m not playing ‘What is this number?’ No, everyone needs to find housing. Those are my goals.”
In May, however, HPD Commissioner Adolfo Carrión did offer some specifics. He told councilmembers that the city needs to produce at least 20,000 affordable units each year. He said the administration “will come up short” this year with only 16,000 new units.
At the hearing Friday, officials from the Department of Social Services touted one success so far: The number of vacant supportive housing units has decreased from more than 2,500 at the start of the year to less than 1,500 today, meaning at least 1,000 people have moved into homes.
Sanchez also questioned the administration about the city’s weakened response to source of income discrimination—when landlords, illegally, refuse to rent to tenants who use a rental subsdiy—after City Limits first reported that a key enforcement unit in the New York City Commission on Human Rights (CCHR) lost its last staff member earlier this year.
Katz said the new city budget restores funding to the CCHR SOI unit and added that the administration plans “to combat source of income discrimination, both in terms of discovering it where it happens and then prosecuting the landlords who refuse to stop.” The budget does not actually add new SOI enforcement officers to city government and instead moves staff out of the Human Resources Administration into CCHR.
The mayor’s overall approach has earned praise from many housing groups, including the Association for Neighborhood & Housing Development (ANHD).
The organization said it was “thrilled” that “the Adams Administration has finally moved New York City away from the problematic affordable housing unit count goals of past housing plans.”
“Instead, we should be focusing on the outcomes our communities need—outcomes like ending homelessness, preventing displacement, eliminating rent burdens, and ensuring safe, healthy housing for all,” ANHD added in a statement.
Zoning for a ‘City of Yes’
The housing plan builds on what Adams has dubbed his “City of Yes” zoning text amendments, which are in part intended to spur affordable housing development.
New York City is carved into zones that dictate what kind of buildings can be constructed, down to the specific size (a one-unit stand-alone house? A 20-story tower?) and use (a factory, a storefront, an apartment complex?).
Those zoning rules limit new housing construction and act as a safeguard against irresponsible, unfettered demolition, development and displacement. But they also hinder new housing production, forcing developers or the city government to navigate an onerous land use process and often hostile communities to win changes. Adams said he plans to adjust some of the rules, though that will require Council buy-in.
“We are going to turn New York into a ‘City of Yes.’” he said at a business forum last month. “Yes in my backyard, yes on my block, yes in my neighborhood.”
One of the text amendments, “Zoning for Housing Opportunity,” would permit larger allowable floor area ratios (FAR) in new residential projects that include affordable housing. FAR refers to the maximum square footage of a building allowed by local zoning rules based on a multiple of the lot size. An FAR of five, for example, means five times the size of the property lot.
The text amendment would also ease conversions of commercial buildings for residential use and reduce parking requirements in exchange for more affordable units.
“We will leverage zoning and regulatory reform to increase citywide supply and ease pressure on renters across income levels,” Katz said at the Council hearing.
In addition, the plan indicates Adams’ desire to concentrate more development in “transit-rich” neighborhoods and legalize accessory dwelling units—extra apartments beyond what current zoning allows—in low-density districts.
The changes, the plan states, will “combat the legacy of redlining and segregation” in New York City.
The proposed regulatory reforms earned praise from Sarah Watson, interim director of the Citizens Housing and Planning Council (CHPC), an organization previously run by Katz.
Watson said the plan was “deeply exciting” and offers a “new vision for our housing interventions.”
CHPC issued a report last month outlining other specific zoning reforms the city could pursue to streamline housing production. The proposals include upzoning wealthy neighborhoods, allowing housing in some commercial and light manufacturing zones and removing the FAR cap of 12. Watson said her organization’s proposals complement the city’s housing plan.
She also encouraged the city to exclude supportive housing from the Universal Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) and ease the pricey precertification process before rezoning applications actually begin the formal approval process. That can take years and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, and tends to lock out smaller affordable housing developers, she said.
“When you have such a laborious pre-certification process, you have no idea how long that will take,” she said. “It’s very hard for smaller companies to take that on because you literally don’t know how long it will take to get to ULURP.”
Overall, however, the plan paves the way for a more affordable city—even if the metrics are missing for now, Watson said.
“It’s a far wider look at our housing landscape and not just a narrow look at our affordable housing development and preservation,” she said. “A holistic look is needed when we have crises of homelessness and affordability.”