In her State of the State address, Gov. Kathy Hochul announced an impressive strategy to combat New York’s housing crisis. The New York Housing Compact, through various means, aims to build 800,000 new homes over the next ten years — an acknowledgement that a shortage in supply has driven up costs and made a secure and dignified life too difficult for too many.
Especially notable is her plan to include 3,500 new units of housing with support services for New Yorkers living with mental health needs, who rank among our most housing-insecure.
In my capacity leading one of the largest providers of transitional housing for people experiencing homelessness in New York City, and with a statewide portfolio that includes more than 700 units of supportive housing and nearly 4,000 units of affordable housing, I applaud the governor for her vision and commitment to meet this dire need. Yet to be truly effective, her plan must extend one step further: It must include investment in existing housing stock.
In a 2017 report on the state of New York City’s housing, the NYU Furman Center noted that most of New York City’s housing stock was built more than 50 years ago – and that report is now five years old.
And this should worry the governor, because the nonprofit sector’s aging housing stock is currently providing affordable, permanent homes to millions of New Yorkers, a majority of them in New York City. Crucially, some of the most affordable units already in existence are operated by nonprofit organizations like mine.
As our buildings age, nonprofit property managers struggle under budget constraints to address major issues like structural hazards, heating and plumbing systems, energy efficiency, and roofing. With insufficient cash flow and without access to unrestricted funds, we will be unable to make these upgrades and maintain affordability.
Without proper investment, older units could grow costlier, or disappear entirely, just as new ones are being introduced. This would impede the governor’s intended gains.
I was excited to learn about the governor’s EmPower Plus initiative to retrofit low-income, single-family homes. Were that initiative extended to nonprofit providers of affordable and supportive housing, we could address some of our critical repair needs with environmentally sustainable upgrades. Surely our buildings deserve energy retrofits, too.
We want to be good landlords and careful stewards of the environment in which our tenants live, but as not-for-profit housing providers, we cannot do this without a major investment of capital from the state. The governor should consider it an important investment in the future of New York’s affordability and its people.
Lymaris Albors is the CEO of Acacia Network (acacianetwork.org), a New York City-based social services organization.