Affordable Housing In Albany - Action, Not Talk

Across this country, a lack of affordable housing has become a crisis, and the City of Albany has not been spared. According to the City of Albany’s Housing Affordability Task Force Report (2016), “half of renters in Albany earn less than $25,000 per year,” and the report places the city’s poverty rate at 25%. However, “there is a deficit of 6,591 affordable units for households receiving less than $24,999 per year.” Furthermore, the report cited the fact that “median rent in the city has increased 60% since 2000, more than twice the rate at which the median income has grown.” In other words, over the past two decades, rents have increased dramatically in Albany while incomes have failed to keep up.

The effects of this housing crisis impact Albany’s residents in a number of ways. As Miriam Axel-Lute wrote in an April 13 article for The Alt, “(s)afe and affordable housing has emerged as one crucial factor affecting people’s health,” and when people have to “choose” between paying the rent and some of life’s other necessities, it isn’t really a choice; they pay the rent. To put it as directly as Axel-Lute did in citing Matthew Desmond’s Evicted, “The rent eats first.”

I along with many others had previously held out hope that the Rezone Albany plan would address this situation in a meaningful way, and that input from the community would be respected and taken seriously. However, the stance that the Mayor and her administration have taken regarding affordable housing is one that runs contrary to the needs of at least a quarter of Albany’s residents. In a recent Times Union article, the Mayor’s City Planning Director, Chris Spencer, was cited as saying that the market won’t allow for a guarantee that a relatively small percentage of affordable housing is included in the Rezone plan. In the same article, Mayor Sheehan herself said when speaking about affordable housing that “building a mandate into our zoning is not where we are at this point, in our ability to spur development in the city."

My question is, “Why not?” What the Mayor’s position fails to account for is the belief that government has a positive, proactive role to play in the housing market and in the market generally. Is it not the role of government to intervene when markets are clearly failing people? This is a classic case of market failure: necessary goods and services (such as housing), are not being delivered by the market when it is left to its own devices.

Things do not need to be this way in Albany. Through public policy and government action, we can change this harsh reality that many of our neighbors face. As with so many other challenges facing policymakers today, affordable housing is a moral issue, and elected officials need to choose which side they are on. Either they are on the side of profit-driven corporate developers, or they are on the side of everyday people living in this city. I believe the City needs to take positive action and require that any new development that uses public funds be required to have an inclusionary zoning provision (indeed, United Tenants of Albany has suggested this very thing here).

By placing the needs of residents ahead of the interests of corporate developers, we can prevent the kind of so-called “development” plans we have seen over the past few years, particularly the transformation of Park South, where we saw the heart of a neighborhood razed to the ground to make room for high rent housing and parking garages. That isn’t development, it’s gentrification. While Albany may run in large part because of the hard work of its working class residents, it can’t make progress by leveling their homes. As Mayor, I will make accessibility to quality affordable housing a priority of my administration.