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When Bill de Blasio became mayor of New York City in 2014, he made no secret of his intent to place affordable housing at the center of his term. Not long after his election, he rolled out his Housing New York plan–a 10-year strategy to build or preserve around 200,000 affordable units across the city’s five boroughs.
Affordable, when it comes to housing in New York, is a slippery term. Critics of de Blasio’s plan have pointed out that the majority of the units built or converted under Housing New York remain out of reach of low-income New Yorkers–those earning less than $43,000 per year. And while the plan has succeeded making a nearly 100,000 unit dent in the city’s 550,000 affordable-unit shortfall, the terms of the new unit’s affordability are ephemeral:
The majority of the units created and preserved under the mayor’s plan are only regulated temporarily, often for as little as two decades.
There is no guarantee that a unit designated as affordable today will remain so in perpetuity, and with New York’s population growing and incomes failing to meet living costs, the structure of de Blasio’s plan has left housing advocates concerned.
A more radical housing model, one that ensures that units will remain affordable in perpetuity by linking housing costs to income, not market rates, is called a community land trust (CLT). CLTs have, since the concept originated in 1969, advanced the idea that housing is a need, and must remain accessible to all city residents.
To date, there are over 200 CLTs nationwide. As member-organized nonprofits, CLTs use a combination of public and private funds to buy up a property and place it into community ownership. If the units are being leased, the rent is not tied to the real estate market: CLTs calculate prices by taking one-third of the local median wage, multiplying it by the standard 25-year mortgage rate, and adding a deposit rate of 10%. Other CLTs sell their units, but should the owner decide to sell, they must set the sale price via a formula that follows the same principles. That stipulation essentially positions housing as a necessity changing hands, rather than a commodity being bought up by a new owner willing to pay the price.