Affordable and Attainable: A Conversation on Housing with Lindsay Haddix

Housing is the foundation of New York City and its neighborhoods. Beyond providing shelter, housing communicates identity for individuals, neighborhoods, and boroughs, and its affordability, availability, and ownership determine who occupies the city. Today’s housing discussions focus on rising prices and waves of new luxury high rises. But just five years ago, stalled development and foreclosures dominated the discourse, as abandonment and decay did in the 1970s and 1980s.

Throughout market fluctuations and demographic shifts, New York City’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) is charged with promoting housing equality and viable neighborhoods by funding, incentivizing, developing, and preserving affordable housing. We sat down with Lindsay Haddix, Chief of Staff for the Office of Development at HPD, to hear more about the agency’s current initiatives, how the agency adapts to changing realities of the city’s residents and housing stock, and the distinction between affordable housing and public housing. Haddix describes multiple approaches, each tailored to the distinct challenges and contexts contained in a city where housing refers to everything from a 30-story apartment building in Manhattan, to row houses in Brooklyn, to a detached, single-family home in Queens. –J.T.

PS90, before and after its renovation into affordable by HPD
Urban Omnibus (UO):

What is the mission of the Department of Housing Preservation and Development and how does it relate to or differ from other housing agencies in the city?

Lindsay Haddix (LH):

HPD is a large agency of about 2,000 employees across a number of different offices — the Office of Asset and Property Management, the Office of Enforcement and Neighborhood Services, the Office of Financial Management and Analysis, just to name a few. The Office of Development, where I’ve worked since I started at HPD, represents about a quarter of the agency.

The Office of Development is charged with financing the creation or preservation of 165,000 units of affordable housing by the end of fiscal year 2014 under Mayor Bloomberg’s New Housing Marketplace Plan. We do that in a variety of different ways. Our Division of New Construction, as the name would indicate, handles new construction projects on vacant city-owned land, privately owned land, and/or land where we demolish underutilized existing buildings.

During the downturn in the housing market, HPD was the place to turn to when banks weren’t financing new construction.We also have several programs under two divisions focused on the preservation of existing units affordable to low-, moderate-, and middle-income families. Our Division of Preservation Finance deals with private owners who want to rehabilitate or buy an existing building and make it an affordable housing development. Those developers approach HPD in order to secure financing, and as a condition of the relatively cheap financing we provide they agree to restrictions on the rent or sales prices they can charge and the income of people who can live there. These developers are not-for-profit sponsors, community organizations focused on affordable housing, and private for-profit developers who may also want to create affordable housing as part of their mission. During the downturn in the housing market, HPD became the place to turn to when banks weren’t financing new construction, and we are a good source for funding for those working in neighborhoods that aren’t attractive to most developers. We also provide financing for home ownership projects — one- to four-family homes or cooperatives — though we largely develop and preserve rental projects.

The Division of Property Disposition deals with our in rem stock: properties the City took over because the owners neglected to pay taxes on them. In the past, the City owned a lot of buildings acquired through foreclosure on neglected or abandoned properties – nearly 100,000 units. During the Koch Administration, the City decided that it wasn’t in anyone’s best interest for the City to be landlord of that many buildings. HPD worked with communities where underutilized and vacant buildings were clustered to convert those to productive uses and affordable housing. We still take properties through tax foreclosure, but the City never takes ownership of them. We use a third-party entity to hold the property until we identify sponsors through Requests for Qualifications who will rehabilitate those buildings and responsibly manage them.

During the downturn in the housing market, HPD was the place to turn to when banks weren’t financing new construction
LH:

We also have several programs under two divisions focused on the preservation of existing units affordable to low-, moderate-, and middle-income families. Our Division of Preservation Finance deals with private owners who want to rehabilitate or buy an existing building and make it an affordable housing development. Those developers approach HPD in order to secure financing, and as a condition of the relatively cheap financing we provide they agree to restrictions on the rent or sales prices they can charge and the income of people who can live there. These developers are not-for-profit sponsors, community organizations focused on affordable housing, and private for-profit developers who may also want to create affordable housing as part of their mission. During the downturn in the housing market, HPD became the place to turn to when banks weren’t financing new construction, and we are a good source for funding for those working in neighborhoods that aren’t attractive to most developers. We also provide financing for home ownership projects — one- to four-family homes or cooperatives — though we largely develop and preserve rental projects.

The Division of Property Disposition deals with our in rem stock: properties the City took over because the owners neglected to pay taxes on them. In the past, the City owned a lot of buildings acquired through foreclosure on neglected or abandoned properties – nearly 100,000 units. During the Koch Administration, the City decided that it wasn’t in anyone’s best interest for the City to be landlord of that many buildings. HPD worked with communities where underutilized and vacant buildings were clustered to convert those to productive uses and affordable housing. We still take properties through tax foreclosure, but the City never takes ownership of them. We use a third-party entity to hold the property until we identify sponsors through Requests for Qualifications who will rehabilitate those buildings and responsibly manage them.

True Colors, a supportive housing development in Harlem | Image courtesy of HPD
UO:

What is the difference between affordable housing and public housing? Who is your constituency?

LH:

I spend a lot of time explaining this distinction. Public housing in the city is owned and operated by the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA). There are income qualifications and waiting lists for those units, similar to HPD units, but our developments are owned and operated by private entities. You can think of HPD’s Office of Development as a bank of sorts: if you want to build or rehabilitate, we might provide low-cost loans in exchange for restrictions on how much rent you can charge and who you can rent to. And we target a variety of income levels, depending on the needs of the community.

Our funding sources mandate certain restrictions, whether it’s from federal funding or low-income tax credits. We have our own housing choice voucher known as a Section 8 allocation, which is funded through the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). When we use Reso A funds — funds contributed by borough presidents or city council members — we can have more flexibility in setting rent restrictions, which we peg to a metric calculated annually by HUD called the Area Median Income (AMI). The lowest income band we target is 30% of AMI. NYCHA tends to serve lower income populations than we do in aggregate. Through our Division of Special Needs Housing, we also develop housing for the elderly, formerly homeless, people with HIV/AIDS, and victims of domestic violence, and those residents tend toward lower income bands than our other programs. There is definitely overlap between the populations that HPD and NYCHA serve, and we also have the same issue in that demand far outpaces supply, which you can see in our lottery and NYCHA’s waitlists.

Lindsay Haddix | Photo by Cassim Shepard
UO:

What is your role at HPD?

LH:

I am the Chief of Staff for the Office of Development. I’m essentially the gatekeeper for the office — if anyone in other divisions of the agency has a question or needs help, they generally reach out to me. My job is to make the Deputy Commissioner, Eric Enderlin, and the staff’s lives as easy as possible by identifying efficiency improvements and handling internal and external inquiries. I brief the Commissioner and Deputy Commissioner for meetings with elected officials and participate in strategic planning. I focus on improving processes so outside groups we work with have an easier experience and so our staff can get projects off the ground instead of dealing with administrative barriers.

I’ve been spending a lot of my time lately working with our Technology Department, our Strategic Planning Department, and an internal performance analysis group on how we warehouse our data. As you can imagine, among the many parts of our agency and different things that we do, we have a lot of data, and in order to analyze, understand, and share what we do, we need an integrated system from which to pull that data. I think this initiative will improve our internal operations exponentially and allow us to share information more efficiently and effectively with the public. It’s not the most glamorous task, but it’s very, very important.

UO:

Does HPD use incentive programs, such as being able to build higher than zoning otherwise allows because the building includes affordable units?

LH:

Yes, you’re referring to our inclusionary housing program, which allows larger developments to be built in exchange for additional affordable units. We also use the 421a tax exemption to incentivize the construction of affordable units in buildings and neighborhoods where it’s usually cost-prohibitive, in Manhattan for example where we don’t have in rem stock. These, and other incentives we use like them, are great tools because we aren’t directly subsidizing the development, but they don’t work in all communities. Their effectiveness is driven by the private market; if nobody is building, nobody is taking advantage of the bonus, and therefore no new affordable units are being created.

Housing Connect Screenshot
UO:

What are some of the responsibilities of HPD outside of the Office of Development?

LH:

We are responsible for the enforcement of the City’s housing code — if you call 311 and you lodge a complaint about the condition of your apartment, that report gets routed to HPD. We send out inspectors and, in some extreme cases when landlords are absent, HPD will make emergency repairs or deliver fuel, for example. We then have the statutory authority to lien the property for the cost of making those repairs. Our inspectors make sure that people regardless of income or where they live in the City have at least their basic needs met.

We also have a technology department that builds and designs new applications to improve efficiency and data usage in our business process. A good example of that is the system we developed for processing housing applications. In the past if somebody wanted to apply for our housing, the only way to enter was by filling out a paper application specific to each development in which they were interested and mailing it in. We would pull the applications out, log them, and start calling people to request documentation to substantiate that they were income-qualified.

Last month, we launched Housing Connect, an online portal for the lottery. Now people can submit their applications for multiple projects at the same time online and keep their information stored for future lotteries. We still accept paper applications as well so that the lottery remains available to those who don’t have access to the internet. But since the launch, we’ve seen a huge uptick in people applying.

Arverne by the Sea under construction
UO:

You’ve mentioned neighborhoods a few times and they are explicitly mentioned in the mission of HPD — how does the focus on that scale play out in the work that you do?

LH:

The clearest example of our interest in the neighborhood scale is the work we’ve done in urban renewal areas, which are large swaths of land that HPD owns and redevelops in collaboration with community boards and the Department of City Planning. When we have large vacant areas, we don’t just build housing; we build mixed-use developments and retail space. My first job at HPD was Senior Project Manager for the Arverne Urban Renewal Area, which is comprised of three different development sites in the Rockaways. One of those developments, Arverne by the Sea, includes over 2,000 units, a grocery store, a transit plaza, and a school, all served by new roads and sewer lines. Another part of the site, which is the subject of our current FAR ROC design competition, will include a nature preserve.

It’s really about building in neighborhoods that were abandoned or blighted for whatever reason and creating a stable, livable foundation in order to incentive the private market to further develop the area.

Rendering of FAR ROC boardwalk proposed by Seeding Office, a finalist in the competition | Image via FAR ROC
UO:

How did you get into housing? Tell me about your professional background leading up to this.

LH:

As an undergrad, I focused on environmental studies. My senior thesis looked how vacant commercial properties influence the property values and code enforcement violations of the surrounding area. After college I served in the Peace Corps in Ipala, Chiquimula, Guatemala as an environmental education volunteer. There is no sense of planning in the built environment there, no rhyme or reason to how things are built, and it affects the quality of life in a very tangible way. I decided then to pursue a graduate degree in city and regional planning, with a focus in housing and community development. I got my master’s in 2008 and started at HPD soon after.

My previous position at HPD was in our Distressed Asset Financing Group, which was created to respond to the foreclosure crisis. I oversaw parts of our HUD Neighborhood Stabilization Program grants. The Housing Asset Renewal Program was also a part of the Distressed Asset Financing Group. Its intent was to create affordable housing while jumpstarting the market by providing financing to stalled private residential developments in exchange for affordability. I also continue to work with the Center for New York City Neighborhoods, a non-profit founded in 2008 by HPD, city councilmembers, and community groups to connect homeowners of one- to four-family homes facing foreclosure with assistance. I still run the Mortgage Assistance Program (MAP) that HPD created, which is administered by the Center.

MAP is an interesting program. Through MAP, we give no-interest loans of up to $25,000 to families facing foreclosure, and we’ve lent over $2 million to around 110 families since the program’s launch in 2010. Those families would likely have been thrown out without the City’s assistance. And the foreclosure crisis is not over. There are still many families struggling, and we continue to lend. In terms of unit count, it’s not splashy, but it’s keeping people in their homes that’s important.

HPD rehabilitation of a foreclosed home
UO:

How has the agency’s approach changed and adapted over your time there?

LH:

Throughout we’ve been focused on the Mayor’s plan to finance 165,000 affordable units by the end of the 2014 fiscal year (June 30, 2014). We reached 95% of our goal by the end of the 2013 fiscal year, and we are on track to finish the plan on schedule. But both the objectives and our strategies have evolved over time; nothing is static. The plan was announced in 2003 and the agency had to pivot to respond to the housing crisis in 2008. We adapted to conditions on the ground by shifting resources from new construction to preservation. It didn’t make sense to keep building housing. HPD was the only game in town during those really dark days of the crisis. We were able to use our resources to preserve more units and make market-rate units affordable again.

If you don’t preserve the affordable housing people already live in, you aren’t making progress.
LH:

We’ve also launched the Proactive Preservation Initiative that is designed to address problems in privately owned multi-family buildings before they reach a crisis point. It’s not part of the 165,000 unit plan, but there’s a lot of data, a lot of community outreach, and a lot of good old-fashioned legwork involved in that initiative. And it’s making a difference. In general, I don’t think preservation of affordable housing gets enough credit. You can build and build new, but if you don’t preserve the affordable housing stock people already live in at the same time, you aren’t making progress. An important part of neighborhood stabilization is enabling people to stay where they are, living in safe, decent, affordable housing.

UO:

You spoke about HPD’s policy to decrease the amount of its in rem property. How has having less property on which to develop housing forced HPD to be more creative with its programs?

LH:

Beyond our incentives and financing for privately owned buildings, we also partner with other agencies. We’ve worked with the Department of Transportation to build on underused parking lots, and we’ve developed vacant NYCHA land. HPD is open-minded: we keep our feelers out and collaborate with advocates, academia, and for-profit developers to develop new ideas. Working in a city as large as New York allows us to do things bigger and try new things, but we also recognize that we can learn from previous projects in other cities.

UO:

What draws you to public service? What stimulates you about the work you do at HPD?

LH:

I cannot imagine doing anything other than serving other people. I’ve really only worked in the public service realm, and it’s a completely foreign concept to do anything else. It’s in my DNA to help others, however cheesy that may sound. I’ve found that HPD provides an environment where I’m able to excel in that. The staff here, contrary to the popular image of public servants, is an amazing group of smart, creative, motivated, innovative, and realistic individuals. There’s a good mix of people who have been at HPD for long time and new blood straight out of graduate programs, which serves to combine a certain type of idealism with realism and experience to create something both great and workable. I love my job. I really do.

Lindsay Haddix is the Chief of Staff for the Office of Development at the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD). Her responsibilities include representing the Deputy Commissioner in discussions with senior staff around agency-wide policy and operations; tracking ~14,500 annual housing unit starts with a total development cost of ~$2 billion; and managing the Mortgage Assistance Program which provides loans to households facing foreclosure. Lindsay joined HPD in December of 2008 as the Senior Project Manager of the Arverne Urban Renewal Area projects and has worked in multiple positions within the Office of Development. Prior to HPD, she served as an environmental education volunteer with the Peace Corps in Guatemala, working in elementary schools and with a local sustainable development NGO. Lindsay earned a a B.A. in Environmental Studies from Brown University and a Masters degree in City and Regional Planning from UNC-Chapel Hill where she received the UNC Graduate Education Advancement Board Impact Award for a Masters Project selected as having exceptional quality and being of particular benefit to the state of North Carolina. She enjoys karaoke and running in Prospect Park.

The views expressed here are those of the authors only and do not reflect the position of The Architectural League of New York.

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