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Michael Greenberg’s lengthy article in the New York Review of Books is available (maybe just briefly) without the paywall. A few quotes to give the flavour:

What makes the crisis especially startling is that New York has the most progressive housing laws in the country and a mayor who has made tenants’ rights and affordable housing a central focus of his administration. The tide of homelessness is only the most visible symptom. There are at least 61,000 people whose shelter is provided, on any given day, by New York’s Department of Homeless Services…

New York is the only city in the United States to have taken on the legal obligation of providing a bed for anybody who asks for one and has nowhere else to sleep. This came about after advocates for the homeless argued, in a series of lawsuits in the 1970s, that shelter was a fundamental right, not just a social service…

In fact, 75 percent of New York’s homeless are families with children, and at least a third of the adults in these families have jobs…

The system of rent stabilization is another development peculiar to New York, with its history of overpopulated slums, tenant activism, and crusaders for social reform. No other American city provides legal protection to tenants at anywhere near New York’s level. Housing shortages after World Wars I and II, protests (and sometimes riots) against price gouging and substandard conditions, and a huge voting bloc of renters with shared interests have led, over the past hundred years, to an evolving series of state-enforced regulations….

Currently almost half of the rental apartments in New York City are stabilized—about 990,000 units, with 2.6 million people living in them.1 Three quarters of these units were built before 1947. They are found in late-nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century tenements, pre-war towers, and U-shaped apartment blocks, and they are among the city’s most precious resources, as critical to its well-being, I would argue, as its transit system and public parks. In view of this extraordinary level of regulation, it may seem surprising that New York faces a crisis in affordable housing. But rent-stabilized apartments are disappearing at an alarming rate: since 2007, at least 172,000 apartments have been deregulated. To give an example of how quickly affordable housing can vanish, between 2007 and 2014, 25 percent of the rent-stabilized apartments on the Upper West Side of Manhattan were deregulated…

A major reason for this is that once the monthly rent of an apartment exceeds $2,700, the owner may charge a new tenant whatever the market will bear—which, because of the exceptional pressures on New York real estate, may be thousands of dollars more. Not long ago a rent-stabilized building would sell for ten or at most twelve times its rent roll—the amount of money, before expenses, that it generates in a year. Today, it sells for perhaps thirty or forty times that amount, or ten times what the rent roll would be after regulated tenants have been dislodged. The clearing out of rent-stabilized tenants has become such a common real estate practice that it is added to a building’s value even before the fact. Landlords have found enough loopholes in tenant protection laws to make widespread displacement a viable financial strategy…

When a landlord embarks on a campaign to “unlock value” in his building, it becomes a consuming psychological torment for renters. “Landlord harassment is practically all anyone I know talks about,” a beleaguered tenant named Nefertiti Macaulay told me. “When it comes, it’s like a bomb’s gone off in your living room.”…

Mayor de Blasio is keenly aware of the pressures bearing down on what, as a candidate in 2013, he called “the other New York”—that vast sector of the city’s population that lost considerable economic ground during the twelve-year mayoralty of his predecessor, Michael Bloomberg. De Blasio has tried to blunt the hardships, but he also concedes that the forces responsible for the city’s housing emergency are beyond his control…

The core of de Blasio’s housing plan, announced in 2014, is to “build or preserve” 200,000 affordable rental units throughout the five boroughs by 2024. The preservation part of the plan aims to keep 120,000 units that are already affordable from passing into the unregulated market. Often the administration’s efforts involve buildings that landlords allowed to fall into decrepitude and then forfeited, on account of unpaid taxes in the 1970s and 1980s. The city arranged financing for builders to renovate them and either keep existing tenants or, if the properties had become uninhabitable, give affordable leases to new ones. These arrangements usually last for twenty to thirty years—the time it takes the builders to repay their loans—at which point the affordability requirement expires, and they have the right to assume full control over the properties. The de Blasio administration has been stepping in, negotiating an extension with these owners to keep their buildings affordable…

The “build” part of de Blasio’s build-or-preserve housing plan gives private developers tax breaks to include a total of 80,000 affordable rental units in newly constructed market-rate buildings. The tax break, known by its legislative code number, 421-a, dates back to 1971…

Today, the tax break’s main purpose is to encourage large developers to build. Under 421-a, owners are exempt from paying the increase in property taxes that would normally result from new construction: if a building worth $200 million is erected on a lot valued at $10 million, the owner will not be taxed for the $200 million enhancement. In exchange, developers must set aside 20–30 percent of the units at below-market rates for tenants who are chosen by city officials in an income-based lottery. The apartments remain affordable for the duration of the tax exemption period, which in April was extended from twenty-five to thirty-five years….

The 421-a exemptions cost New York $1.4 billion in uncollected property tax in 2016, and de Blasio’s housing plan is now expected to cost at least $10 billion in exemptions by 2024. The city appears to be getting relatively little affordable housing for the money.