The New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) is the largest public housing authority in North America and has a mission to increase opportunity for low and moderate income New Yorkers by providing safe, affordable housing. NYHCA owns and oversees over 179,000 housing units in NYC or 8.1% of all of NYC’s housing units. Over 400,000 residents live in NYCHA-owned housing representing 4.6% of the City’s total population.

NYCHA has $17 billion in unmet capital needs citywide and the three public housing developments in Gowanus alone have a gap of $336 million in capital needs to help maintain and preserve the 21 buildings that are 45 to 68 years old. The three NYCHA developments in Gowanus represent 25% of the total rental apartments in the community and are home to nearly 4,400 residents, over 30% of whom live below the federal poverty level.

Gowanus is one of 15 neighborhoods in New York City that Mayor de Blasio has announced will be rezoned. To date, NYC has not considered a value capture mechanism to help maintain and preserve NYCHA as part of any of the land use actions being discussed, including in Gowanus.

Value capture is a type of public financing that recovers some or all of the value that public infrastructure or a rezoning generates for private landowners. Usually money from local development can go anywhere in New York City. Value capture mechanisms attempt to keep money local.

There are several precedents for value capture in New York City including the High Line, Hudson Yards and more recently, East Midtown. In each of these examples zoning was used to ensure multiple public benefits including transforming a rail yard into a public park through transfer of air rights in exchange for easements and amenities; by redirecting property taxes generated by new development in Hudson Yards to finance the 7-train subway extension and generating other public amenities and, in the case of East Midtown, to make transit and public realm improvements as New York City’s premier businesses district grows.

NYCHA is a critical NYC public asset and its preservation is essential to NYC remaining a racially and economically diverse City. NYCHA’s Next Generation 10 year strategic plan has made progress over the last two years to help stabilize the Authority and its finances but additional cuts from Washington threaten that tenuous progress. Meanwhile many NYCHA residents live in sub-standard conditions that most New Yorkers would be appalled by. All options to maintain and preserve this deeply affordable housing and ensure that NYCHA residents have access to quality affordable housing should be on the table. Why not value capture for maintenance and preservation of NYCHA developments in Gowanus and beyond?

Michelle de la Uz, Fifth Avenue Committee

Image courtesy of: Aidan Wakely-Mulroney/Flickr