New York City Council pushes affordable housing package

Several bills are in the Community Land Act, including two that prioritize nonprofits in housing development.

With over half of New York City tenants spending nearly a third of their income on rent, affordable housing is crucial to ensuring a safe future for New Yorkers. That’s why advocates in have rallied and thrown their support behind the Community Land Act, a package of bills before the New York City Council that would provide nonprofits and community land trusts with the resources to develop permanently affordable housing. Community land trusts hold land under community control, thus guaranteeing the community derives benefits from it. Spearheading this campaign is the NYC Community Land Initiative, a coalition of housing organizations trying to expand social housing. 

The Community Land Act includes several bills, including two that prioritize nonprofits in housing development. The Community Opportunity to Purchase Act, sponsored by Council Member Carlina Rivera, would allow CLTs and nonprofits a first right to buy property when up for sale. COPA would not only offer relief to nonprofits in an otherwise competitive real estate market, but prevent private equity firms and prominent investors from flipping property or charging astronomical rates. 

The Public Land for Public Good bill, sponsored by Council Member Lincoln Restler, would require the city to prioritize CLTs and nonprofit developers when disposing of land. Like COPA, this bill would allow communities a chance to purchase land to serve as a public good. 

Both pieces of legislation are just a few votes away from having a veto proof supermajority, with 31 co-sponsors for COPA and 33 co-sponsors for the Public Land for Public Good bill. Restler even expressed confidence that a simple majority would be supportive of the bills. 

Reflecting on final efforts to push for the act’s passage, he mentions “engaging with stakeholders around the legislation and hoping to make some final tweaks to the bill to get it over the finish line. There's a tremendous coalition of advocates that have been leading the way on community land acts, and we're working closely with them to build momentum.” 

Among these advocates is New Economy Project, an organization dedicated to creating equitable economic institutions that has spent the last few months campaigning for the act to ensure its passage. 

“We want to make sure that before council members have to turn their attention to their reelection bids, we get this out of committee and brought to the city council for a vote,” Spisak, senior program associate at New Economy Project, said. 

He emphasized that the Community Land Act lays the groundwork for potential growth of New York’s affordable housing landscape. 

“We've really been laying it on thick to make sure that community land trusts are not just in the conversation, but are the conversation. The Community Land Act is an essential piece of supporting community land trusts because without some kind of intervention, it's hard to insert CLTs in this very hyper competitive New York City real estate market.”

Will Depoo, senior campaign organizer at the Association for Neighborhood & Housing Development, added that the importance of community-led discussions surrounding social housing. 

“Who's in the room when developing housing is being discussed? For us, it's very important to think about, ‘how do we ensure folks who have been doing the work and have a vision for community ownership are working together to be able to keep folks in their homes and to thrive in their communities?’”

Restler, whose past experience working at nonprofits informed his bill, invokes similar sentiments to Depoo. 

“It’s the neighborhood nonprofit organizations who we need to invest in and support because they're integral to working class New Yorkers continuing to be able to call their neighborhoods home.”