As New Yorkers endure the throes of a city housing crisis, policy experts warn that the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) and other city agencies are in a crisis of their own.
According to a policy brief by the New York Housing Conference, since the pandemic, HPD — which saw staffing levels 7% lower than before COVID-19 — is 16% short of the budgeted staffing headcount.
Housing analysts warn that without more staffing, much of the work that HPD does including approving affordable housing projects and providing resources for renters in need, will be slowed down tremendously.
More than 67,250 new apartments were created or financed in New York City from 2014 to 2021, but the siting of these affordable housing projects have left areas like the northeast Bronx bare of new affordable housing.
“Mayor (Eric) Adams inherited a staffing crisis at HPD and related agencies that is affecting affordable housing production and preservation,” said Brendan Cheney, director of policy and communications at the New York Housing Conference. “While agency leadership has made adding staff a priority, there is more they can do and there are policies that are outside their control that City Hall must change. Our report outlines steps they can take to quickly address the crisis and give the agency the staff they need to carry out their mission. They must find flexibility within and outside the civil service system, increase staff pay and workplace flexibility to be more competitive, and remove unnecessary bureaucracy. In the face of a severe housing crisis, it is more important than ever that HPD be fully staffed.”
Staffing in the development offices, where the agency reviews and completes affordable housing production, is down 12% since the pandemic and 24% less than what the city budget allows for. Additionally, there are also major shortages in the Office of Housing Preservation, which includes the agency’s code enforcement staff, which is down 7% since the pandemic and 18% less than budgeted.
Mayor Adams told the Bronx Times that while he inherited the understaffed departments, he’s dedicated to fixing the “dysfunctionality” of the city and its systems.
“We’re doing a complete analysis of what we have been doing with housing. We’re looking at why is it taking so long? Why are we retraumatizing people by having them tell the stories over and over again when we have the data? We are looking at what units are available. How many people have vouchers that are being ignored?” said Adams in a statement. “So there’s a complete analysis of the dysfunctionality of housing in this city … I’ve inherited a broken city with broken systems and we can either put a band-aid on top of these broken systems or you can go to the core and fix them. I’m going to the core to fix them, so no matter who’s the mayor, we’re going to fix the dysfunctionality of this city.”
The city’s proposed budget seeks to increase HPD’s headcount by several dozen to support operations and the mayor’s $5 billion commitment in new capital money for affordable housing — including $3.6 billion for HPD — brings the city’s capital investment in affordable housing to a total of $22 billion, the highest in the city’s history.
On January 2020, there were 2,410 HPD employees. Now, 2,287 remain, with a loss of more than 120 employees in just over two years. Although HPD’s staffing budget funds the agency to have 2,621 positions, housing experts say the agency is losing people faster than they can replace them.
“Make no mistake, the staffing shortage is inefficient and hurting the government. While there may be some budget savings from the understaffing, it will cost the city more money overall,” the New York Housing Conference said in a statement. “Affordable housing production is slowing down, meaning there will be fewer units of desperately-needed affordable housing. It also means that housing services for people experiencing homelessness are short staffed and people are staying in expensive shelters longer than they need to be.”
New York Housing Conference officials have made a few recommendations to Adams including more hiring autonomy for hiring managers within the HPD, better bottom pay for city agency workers and more creative recruitment strategies.
HPD Commissioner Adolfo Carrión Jr., a former Bronx borough president, noted in a congressional hearing about the Twin Parks fire in April, that the department had been facing attrition issues, notably among housing inspectors. According to the Adams’ appointee, HPD only had 287 inspectors on payroll to fill a budgeted 429 inspector positions.
HPD isn’t the only city agency struggling with understaffing, as the Department of City Planning (DCP) has 60 fewer people on staff than their budget supports – 18% less than they are allowed.
The offices of the Human Resources Administration (HRA) and Department of Homeless Services (DHS) have also been affected by staffing shortages.
DHS is understaffed by 118 people, 6% less than they are funded for in their budget. And HRA is understaffed by 334 people, 15% less than what is budgeted for, according to the New York Housing Conference’s policy report.
A City Council report on HRA’s budget noted the staffing shortage and attributed it to a hiring freeze in 2019 and that attrition continues to outpace the agency’s ability to hire new staff.
The future of affordable housing may get even murkier without an extension of a tax break for developers known as 421-a — which expires June 15 — an incentive that Adams is a fan of and Gov. Kathy Hochul wants to tweak.
Progressives are not fans, however, calling the $1.8 billion tax break an unnecessary giveaway to developers that did little to promote affordable housing.
Reach Robbie Sequeira at email@example.com or (718) 260-4599. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes