Friday, October 05, 2007

Laboring for Affordable Housing

In today's NY Post the paper reports on the joint effort between the UFT and Comptroller Bill Thompson's office to build affordable housing for teachers. As the paper says: "The buildings, which are to go up in the Melrose section by 2009, will offer 234 units to qualifying teachers, teachers' aides and school administrators, with rents ranging from $806 for a studio to $1,412 for a three-bedroom."

This is, of course, a fabulous idea and it underscores that the concept of affordability doesn't need to be restricted to people who are at or below the poverty line. The cost of housing in the city is getting to be so out of control that municipal workers are finding it hard to find decent places to live. As Thompson pointed out to Metro: “With the cost of living rising in New York City, there’s no better way for us to invest in our teachers than to help them afford the cost of housing,” said Thompson, who noted almost 30 percent of city households pay half their incomes for shelter."

Clearly, however, this is no more than a good start. As NY1 reported yesterday, "The 234 rental units would only benefit a fraction of the city's teachers, teaching aides, principals and assistant principals..." The program would enable the teachers to pay only about 30% of their income for housing, a number that is way below the 50% average that most families are currently paying.

The housing plan here is called "workforce housing," and it is a concept that is being advanced by the Central Labor Council and its executive director Ed Ott. Ott, who was featured in an Observer story on this topic last week. The CLC is very interested in advancing the workforce housing idea, which is why we had Nick Sprayregen reach out to the group when he developed his idea for an affordable housing plan in a swap of properties with Columbia University.

The idea makes practical and political sense and, as the Observer story pointed out; "It is also clear that the labor council can offer something to for-profit developers—although Mr. Ott is clear that he would enter into a partnership only if it would lead to a significant number of affordable apartments and a pro-union management.“I think if unions are involved, it’s reassuring to people in the neighborhood,” Mr. Ott said. Financial partners, he added, “also want us to use our political strength, which we feel is part of our capital and which we are proud of.”

All of this plays into the city's overwhelming need to help keep the middle class in the city. The key in all of this is to find good spots for building-which brings us to Columbia's 18 acre expansion area. As CPC Commissioner Battaglia told Lee Bollinger, affordable housing needs to be an essential ingredient in the Columbia plan; and it must transcend a theoretical commitment that includes some money but no concrete building plan.

So the UFT plan is a really good start. As Randi Weingarten told the Post: "This measure, in particular, will help in a critical area by creating the first workforce housing development that educators can actually afford," she said." Now let's expand this great idea into West Harlem-it's time that Columbia thought outside of its own blue and white box.