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Undeniable ambition in de Blasio's housing plan

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, second

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, second from left, holds a news conference at City Hall to announce four appointments to his administration on Tuesday, April 8, 2014. Photo Credit: Charles Eckert

Mayor Bill de Blasio yesterday launched a stunningly ambitious campaign to build or preserve 200,000 units of affordable housing within the city in the next 10 years.

The urgency of his mission is undeniable.

The city's median annual household income took a nasty tumble during the Great Recession and its aftermath -- from $54,000 in 2009 to $50,700 in 2012.

And rents zoomed skyward. The average lease last year soared past the $3,000-a-month milestone in the four boroughs excluding Staten Island.

The toll has been catastrophic.

The numbers help explain why 46 percent of New Yorkers are living at or near the poverty level.

They help explain why the homeless-shelter census in the city stands at record levels -- with 52,807 in the system last Tuesday: 30,169 adults and 22,638 children.

And they help explain why families throughout the city are doubled up with friends or relatives -- paying what they can and struggling to make ends meet.

The mayor says his program would use $8.2 billion in public money and more than $30 billion in private cash to add tens of thousands of apartments, rehab tens of thousands more, and ultimately guide 500,000 priced-out New Yorkers back into the housing market.

The result, he says, would be a denser city -- but a more equitable place -- where more New Yorkers are better poised to start climbing the income ladder. He expects the program to have a $41 billion overall impact on the city.

We wish him well. But this is a massive project -- the largest housing initiative in American history, as the mayor points out. And de Blasio isn't yet known for his talents as a master builder and remodeler.

Even Fiorello La Guardia's creation of the New York City Housing Authority early in his mayoralty pales against the task de Blasio has carved out. NYCHA has 179,000 units, and de Blasio is going for 31,000 more than that. But La Guardia quickly became a legend for his ability to build. De Blasio will need some of that same stuff.


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