de Blasio housing plan-compressed Photo: Monik Markus

The middle class is shrinking. A recent Pew Research Center study says that the “middle class” share of total household income in the United States has fallen from 62 percent in 1970 to 43 percent today.

To address housing issues facing the middle class, a NYU Furman Center report recommended a “tailored rental subsidy for moderate and middle-income households” back in 2012. Noting that City policies have historically served low-income families, the urban and housing policy center urged mayoral candidates to protect middle-income residents, who “might choose to leave the city altogether” and “undermine the city’s diversity and vitality.” A comprehensive plan, the Furman Center report argued, could even free up more affordable housing for low-income families.

According to Mayor de Blasio’s Housing Plan, 200,000 affordable units for low and moderate income families will be created over the next 10 years, but some say the real middle class will hardly see the benefit.

Quirks in NYC rent guidelines mean that a “middle-income” renter of a subsidized “affordable housing” one-bedroom unit for $2,500/month would need to earn between $88,102 and $95,865 a year. Gotham West had difficulty finding people who would qualify within that guideline, because the income level was too high for most applicants.

Mayor de Blasio’s Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH) and Zoning for Quality Affordability (ZQA) plans promise to address both low and moderate income households. “If you’re in a community where affordability is disappearing, we want to protect it,” said de Blasio.

But an Observer article criticizes the methodology for determining “middle income” renters. The definition is based on “area median income” or AMI. The federal government calculates AMI using the Greater New York Area’s population — which includes wealthy suburbs in Westchester, Long Island and New Jersey. These considerations can skew the numbers.

NYC Comptroller Scott M. Stringer reiterated this criticism last month with concerns to Brooklyn’s East New York Community Plan. He estimates that 50,000 current residents will be priced out of their neighborhoods with the implementation of AMI guidelines for new affordable housing unit construction. He instead advocates for a localized benchmark to determine average income.

A public hearing took place on January 6th to address public comments related to the East New York Community Plan, and the City Council is expected to weigh in on MIH and ZQA early this year.

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