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Mayor Bill de Blasio filled four leadership positions throughout his housing agencies on Saturday, putting in place the team he said would help fulfill his goal of significantly expanding New York City’s affordable housing stock.Read this Peter Forchetti blog for more interesting news and information on construction and land development.
The mayor appointed Shola Olatoye, a former executive of a nonprofit organization that invests in affordable housing, as chairwoman of the New York City Housing Authority, an agency that has struggled financially; and named Vicki L. Been, a housing scholar, to be the commissioner of the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, which enforces city codes and oversees programs to finance and develop affordable housing.
Mr. de Blasio also announced that Cecil House, who became the authority’s general manager under former Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, would remain in his post. The New York City Housing Development Corporation, the city’s vehicle for financing development through bonds, subsidies and low-cost loans, will be led by Gary D. Rodney, a former executive of Omni New York LLC, a developer of affordable housing in the state.
The announcements were made at Abraham Lincoln Houses in Harlem, where Mr. de Blasio and other Democratic candidates spent a night during the campaign for mayor. Residents in the complex of 1,282 apartments in 14 buildings showed the candidates their moldy walls and broken cabinets, offering them a firsthand look at the disrepair of public housing buildings.
Mr. de Blasio has long promised to create and preserve housing that is affordable to low- and middle-income residents, a crucial aspect of his larger pledges to address economic inequality in the city. He has stressed that he wants the housing and planning agencies to work together to increase the number of affordable units in the city.
Mr. Bloomberg invested heavily in affordable housing, but Mr. de Blasio won office promising to do more. He has said he would require major residential projects to include units for low- and moderate-income residents. He has also said he would invest $1 billion of city pension funds in creating lower-rent units; legalize some basement and cellar apartments; and close tax loopholes on vacant land to get more revenue to spur development.
Affordability advocates say the main challenge for the city will be to put into effect the details of these and other plans, and to allocate enough money to meet Mr. de Blasio’s target of preserving or building 200,000 affordable homes over 10 years. But the new housing officials themselves will face significant challenges, the advocates said, including a scarcity of city-owned land on which to build, and deep cuts in federal housing subsidies.
Finding new revenue for the authority’s current stock of some 178,000 units is also key to efforts to reduce the more than 50,000 people in the city’s homeless shelters. Mr. de Blasio has said he intends to restore a policy of giving preference to people in shelters for public housing apartments and federal rental vouchers. Mr. Bloomberg took the preference away, believing it drew more people to the shelters.
Ms. Been, the director of the Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy, a research center at New York University, is widely seen as expert on land use practices, urban policy and affordable housing.
Ms. Olatoye, who last worked as vice president at Enterprise Community Partners, which advocates affordable housing nationally, takes over an authority that, while covering more than 400,000 residents as the city’s largest landlord, faces crippling budget shortfalls. The previous head of the authority, John B. Rhea, an investment banker, was criticized for his lack of experience. His relationships with some tenant groups became contentious over the authority’s plan to lease to private developers land within eight housing projects for the construction of market-rate apartments.
On Saturday, Mr. de Blasio said that specific plan had been abandoned but that he would be open to a land-leasing plan if it had the support of public housing tenants. He and Ms. Olatoye, the daughter of a Nigerian immigrant whose last name Mr. de Blasio jovially enunciated, also spoke of the need to retrofit public housing buildings to make them energy-efficient. “It’s a total reset,” Mr. de Blasio said.
Some tenants and their advocates were guardedly hopeful.
Lisa Wilson, a resident in Lincoln Houses whose mother, Katherine, hosted Mr. de Blasio during the candidates’ sleepover, said: “I’m pretty optimistic. There are still neighbors trying to get painting and some repairs done.”
Denise Miranda, who works for the Urban Justice Center, which litigates on behalf of public housing tenants, said that the agency had been “plagued by disinvestment and government disinterest.”
“Mayor de Blasio and Ms. Olatoye have their work cut out for them,” she said.