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More housing for the poor, now: Build more for low-income New Yorkers, and pay for it by rejiggering homebuying taxes

New York Daily News logo New York Daily News 12/12/2018 Scott Stringer
a group of people holding a sign © Gregg Vigliotti For New York Daily News

Throughout New York City, the signs of a strong economy are everywhere. Unemployment is at record lows, construction cranes are in the sky, and nearly 63 million tourists visited the city last year. And yet, a crisis is raging in plain sight.

Every night, a record 61,000 New Yorkers go to sleep in a homeless shelter — a third of them waking up the next day to go to work. Seniors who stuck out the hard times of the 1970s and rebuilt their neighborhoods are being priced out. Meanwhile, new graduates, young families and immigrants who want to start a new life here can’t afford the rent.

Today, 580,000 New York City households are paying more than half their income on rent. And the vast majority of them — nearly 90% — are scraping by on less than $47,000 a year for a family of three.

Chances are you know these New Yorkers: the home health aides who take care of our aging parents, the cashiers who sell us our groceries and the people who care for our children, to name a few. For them, the choice between paying the rent and going hungry or filling a prescription is all too common.

And while Mayor de Blasio deserves credit for the ambition of his affordable housing plan, fewer than 15% of units under Housing New York actually go to those most struggling households. That’s barely scratching the surface.

If we want to solve this crisis we need to acknowledge that despite its merits, the plan meant to help these families is misdirecting its resources and kicking the can down the road for another administration to solve.

Instead, let’s build and preserve the remaining 85,000 units to be built under Housing New York for the families in the greatest need of affordable housing. We can start by partnering with non-profit developers to build on the more than 600 vacant lots that the city already owns — each one an island of hope that right now the administration is all but ignoring.

While we’re at it, we need to recognize that a key driver of homelessness is the lack of an affordable place to live — which is why I support tripling the number of units set aside for homeless New Yorkers to 15%. But let’s go further and make sure we reach that goal each and every year.

Refocusing on more deeply affordable housing will be more expensive, but we can pay for it by fundamentally reforming the regressive, outdated way we tax home purchases in New York City.

Right now, if you are a homebuyer able to pay all cash for a New York City apartment, you actually pay less in taxes than a working family who has to borrow to afford the same home because you avoid paying the mortgage recording tax.

And guess what? Wealthy buyers have figured this out, which is why more than half of all Manhattan apartments in the second quarter of 2018 sold for all cash, including nearly 80% of apartments selling for more than $5 million.

I’m proposing we scrap the mortgage recording tax, and reform the real property transfer tax that all homebuyers pay to actually lower costs for middle-class buyers who take out a mortgage. This tax will also get us in line with most international cities and raise rates on luxury home purchases. With the estimated $400 million a year in additional resources that this would generate, we would build more affordable homes for the New Yorkers who need it the most.

That’s how we develop the housing we need and reduce homelessness. That’s how we show the backbone of our city that there’s a place in New York to call home.

Stringer is New York City controller.

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