As a real estate developer and a volunteer EMT, I see things other developers don’t get to see: that the homeless people dying in the streets aren’t invisible. To me, the homeless aren’t a “problem”, they’re a product of a bigger issue, one that NYC hasn’t begun to figure out how to solve. Because New York is overcrowded, there exists a severe housing crisis – at least an affordable housing crisis. This translates to a frenzy that often leaves the disabled and homeless out in the cold, literally. One way NYC has been providing affordable housing for tenants is through the 80/20 program, but even that disqualified many families who live in shelters.  

So yes, 80/20 is a term developers and lower income families know well, but according to the Housing Preservation & Development Agency (HPD), 80/20 will be redefined a bit. The transformation to the housing landscape changes will definitely bring some hemming and hawing along the way. An updated handbook released by New York’s Housing Preservation & Development Agency a few weeks ago will require developers with subsidized units to set aside units to community and disabled residents as well some homeless people currently in shelters. If past reactions from developers and neighbors are any indication, things are going to become divisive.

Communications advisor for the Housing & Economic Development, Wiley Norvell insists that, “The set-asides for people with disabilities stand, and must be met, regardless of other preferences established within the program.”

HPD has already begun informing landlords about the new ‘modifications’ to 80/20, but landlords, and lawyers, are asking if that is even legal. Real estate attorney, Alvin Schein, who is representing landlords, says no; he doesn’t think the HPD even has the authority to make such unilateral demands of landlords.

Says Schein, “My view is it’s illegal. And adds, “It’s a major change in the law, or at a minimum, change in regulation.”

I don’t envy DeBlasio who has gotten criticism on both sides of the spectrum. With a tally of 60,000+ homeless in New York but no one wanting them in their neighborhoods, DeBlasio’s had to walk a tightrope. In an attempt to assuage the homeless problem, his administration has increased housing set-asides. In fact, DeBlasio spent about $50 million this year to house homeless families in abandoned hotels and motels. Sounds like it would make sense, but to the surrounding neighbors, like a neighborhood in Queens, it smells like trouble.

I personally think developers have an obligation to give back in this way. Programs like these generally give tax breaks for landlords, so more than likely, it’s not just the money that stops landlords in their tracks; it’s the stigma of being homeless. Many non-homeless people see the  disabled and homeless as subhuman if they choose to see them at all. Frankly, we can’t complain that there is a homeless problem but deny the homeless housing.

To qualify and get approved for 80/20 could take years for applicants, so I’m not sure how long the qualification process under the new program will take — most likely quite some time. In that time, it is possible that landlords’ legal teams and neighbors will water down HPD’s mandate, or knock it down completely, which I doubt, but that’s TBD. In NYC, housing is at a premium so people tend to get heated about that issue.

Even without this latest announcement, I try to house homeless people in my properties when I can. I will be monitoring the news closely regarding this issue but I’m hoping we’ll come out on the right side of housing history.