Crain’s Business Week July 5, 2017 1:59 p.m. Updated 07/05/2017
By Joe Anuta
The city has not released adequate information about how much money it has spent on affordable housing three years into the mayor’s plan to build or preserve 200,000 subsidized units, a fiscal watchdog group said last week. While the administration has touted the number of units it has financed, the group said, the missing data make it difficult to tell how much has been spent to accomplish the goal and how much more cash might be needed to finish the job down the road.
Mayor Bill de Blasio announced his Housing New York plan in 2014 and pledged $41 billion in public and private money over 10 years to make it happen, including $6.7 billion in city capital dollars. However, since that time the administration has not revealed enough information about how it is spending the cash, according to the Citizens Budget Commission. “Without this basic data, whether the mayor’s Housing New York plan is deploying its capital in the most cost-effective way cannot be evaluated,” Sean Campion, a senior research associate at the nonprofit, wrote Friday.
The city typically releases information about how many units it has financed twice a year and includes the total cost of those apartments. The commission, however, wants to see more granular figures to find out whether taxpayer dollars are being spent wisely, and which programs appear to be the most efficient.
The city argued that the best representation of their plan is the number of units and how affordable each one is, and countered that the budget commission never asked the Department of Housing Preservation and Development for the very information the nonprofit says has been kept hidden. “While HPD worked closely to get information to the Citizens Budget Commission over several months, the commission never asked for … project-level funding information, or even which programs projects that have been funded so far used,” says its spokeswoman.
In February de Blasio announced an additional $1.9 billion in city capital dollars designated to make future affordable apartments created through the program even cheaper for low-income New Yorkers. While the city did provide information about which programs are set to receive the money, it did not furnish a per-unit cost breakdown, making it impossible to know how many apartments the money will affect.
“This difficulty reflects a broader concern about the financial transparency of the affordable-housing plan,” Campion wrote. “While the city regularly shares information about the number of units built or preserved to date, it infrequently updates the public on what [it] has spent toward reaching its goal.”
Figures such as per-unit costs are not released publicly, City Hall said, since developers could use the data to their advantage when negotiating on projects.