Affordable for Who?

Affordable housing plays multiple roles in Mercedes’ situation. On one hand, it is what enables her to continue residing in Los Sures. On the other hand, the mayor’s new affordable housing plan, and Bloomberg’s plan before that, enabled many new residents to move to the neighborhood. In fact, Bloomberg’s affordable housing plan made “no distinction between the value of a unit targeting a family of four earning a household income of $24,900 (30% of HUD-determined Area Median Income) versus a unit targeting a family of four earning a household income of $136,950 (165% of HUD-determined Area Median Income)” (Gothamist). In other words, Bloomberg’s definition of affordable was intentionally geared towards the wealthier half of New York citizens. By redefining affordability, the city government redefined who was able to find housing in low-income areas like Los Sures.

What concerns Mercedes isn’t just the new housing plan, but the way in which that housing is allotted: namely, the lottery system. “Now everything is lottery to get an apartment,” Mercedes noted. “A lottery? Why don’t you look in the computer people waiting from [the year] 19-something and give them the opportunity to get an apartment? No, everything is a lottery.” Currently, the average wait time for affordable housing in New York City is around 8 years. In fact, there are more people on the NYC Affordable Housing waiting list than there are affordable housing units in the city. While there are 179,000 occupied units in New York, 270,000 people are waiting for an affordable apartment (Gothamist). DNAInfo asserts that for all 60 lotteries in their analysis, there were than 2.9 million applications—a staggering 843 applicants per unit (DNAInfo). Furthermore, DNAInfo gathered that most people searching looking affordable housing units in New York were on the search for studio apartments. The least popular unit was a 3-bedroom. This analysis lends itself to the exact situation that is happening in Los Sures: affordable housing is not going to low-income families, but to young, single professionals who got lucky off the lottery system. 

Mercedes also alluded to the racial undertones that plague the affordable housing system, and gentrification as a whole. Speaking of the affordable housing units that house mainly white, young professionals, she said, “And who they put in the building? To cover it up? A Spanish super. “Oh, you can’t tell because we have a Spanish here.” But it’s the super! What about the majority?”

Affordable for Who?