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NEW YORK CITY-City Council Speaker Gifford Miller and several Council members have released a plan that would completely revamp the Liberty Bond program for residential development in Lower Manhattan. At a press conference yesterday, the Speaker called on Governor George Pataki and Mayor Michael Bloomberg to use the $1.6 billion in Liberty Bond funding to build more affordable housing units.

“Given the condition and prospects for the City’s budget (a deficit projected to be at least $3.7 billion in Fiscal 2004) the investment of additional City capital dollars for affordable housing is not realistic,” said Miller. “But with Liberty Bonds we have an unprecedented opportunity to create more than 5,000 units of new housing, a substantial portion of which would be affordable to the families of public school teachers, firefighters, police officers, nurses, clerical workers, hospital employees, and other hard working residents.”

Under the current plan, which is administered by the New York State Housing Finance Agency, 5% of housing units in Liberty Bond-financed buildings must be designated affordable. According to Miller, an annual family income of at least $94,000 is required to qualify for an affordable apartment under the current structure, which, he says, eliminates roughly 85% of New York City households. “This plan,” said Speaker Miller, “will benefit wealthy New Yorkers renting luxury apartments at the expense of thousands of low and middle income residents.”

The system caught considerable heat earlier this summer when the first three Liberty Bond projects received HFA approval for $340 million in funding over the strenuous protests of housing activists, who said the funding was being squandered on luxury housing. Two of those projects were later tabled for further study by the Public Authorities Control Board, which oversees and reviews projects financed for public authorities, including HFA. (Community Board 1, which advises the Council on housing matters in Lower Manhattan, approved the two projects at its meeting earlier this week.)

Miller and Council members Alan Gerson, Bill DeBlasio, James Sanders Jr., Maria Baez and Madeline Provenzano also noted the absence of a plan from Bloomberg, saying the Mayor’s only commitment to date is a 3% assessment on residential Liberty Bond funds that is to be earmarked for affordable housing, a fee that amounts to roughly $24 million.

The City Council proposes a plan under which:

  • No less than 35 percent of the total units built, or 1750 units, is affordable to families making between $50,240 and $94,200; and
  • No less than 20% or 1,000 units of the total units built, be affordable to low and very low-income families

    The City Council also is actively lobbying Congress to amend the Liberty Bond legislation to:

  • Allow bond monies to be used in conjunction with Low Income Housing Tax Credits; and
  • Create a waiver allowing 25% of the residential funds to be used outside the Liberty Zone, as is being done with the funds for commercial development.

    The Council also suggests Liberty Bond funds should be distributed through a competitive request for proposal process. An RFP would allow both the City and State to choose from among developers that have included the largest amount of affordable housing in their proposals.

    Miller praised the Liberty Bond Housing Coalition, a group of research, advocacy and community organizations that came together in June to increase the amount of affordable housing required for Liberty Bond projects. Bettina Damiani, project director for Good Jobs New York, an LBHC member, gave Miller and the Council high marks for their stance.

    “We’re thrilled that the Speaker and the City Council have taken the initiative and are thinking creatively how these historic resources can be used to benefit hard-working New Yorkers,” she said to GlobeSt.com after yesterday’s press conference.

    “What we are urging here today is for those that control the bond money to keep every New Yorker in mind,” concluded Miller. “We must build affordable housing as a long-term investment for this City.”

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