editorial comment

Shelter from the storm


As many as 40,000 city residents will need housing in the wake of superstorm Sandy. 

And while Mayor Michael Bloomberg was quoted at a news conference as saying, “We don’t have a lot of empty housing in this city,” we do have an inventory of vacant apartments here in Riverdale. 

New buildings like Fieldston Lofts and the Solaria have multiple vacancies. Even older buildings like the Whitehall, those in the Skyview and Hudson Manor Terrace complexes have some apartments to spare.  

FEMA says it will begin providing free hotel rooms for up to two weeks to victims whose homes are not habitable, as authorities try to move people out of emergency shelters. The agency will also provide some assistance for temporary apartments. 

Some of them could, and should be here. 

Our communities are closely linked with many of those in the hardest hit areas and Riverdale and Kingsbridge residents have already demonstrated how much they want to help through the community’s quick and robust outpouring of relief efforts. 

But canned goods and sweaters are not enough. People need shelter. 

In New York State, 69,000 have registered for FEMA assistance. The temperature is dropping and the need is both acute and chronic. Every day that goes by without a plan for those forced into homelessness by an unforgiving Sandy invites an ever-greater humanitarian crisis. 

Income disparity should not be an issue. Mixed-income housing is far from unprecedented. Much of the new construction in Manhattan during the last couple of decades has been done through the “80/20 Program,” sponsored by the New York State Housing Finance Agency, the New York City Housing Development Corporation and the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development.
It uses tax-exempt bonds to create affordable housing for low-income tenants in generally desirable locations throughout the city. 

According to nyc.gov, “the use of tax-exempt bonds to finance the construction of large residential buildings in the city greatly reduces costs. In exchange for the low-cost financing, 20 percent of the apartment units are reserved for low-income tenants earning no more than 50 percent of area median income.”

Creative thinking fostered this virtually invisible and highly successful housing program. Surely, the application of a little creative thinking about compensating property owners during a time of crisis could benefit both families in need and developers who find themselves with excess inventory.

If the city is turning over every stone in search of places for people to stay, it could do far worse than to look here.