The Visionary Koch Housing PlanFebruary 1, 2013 No Comments
The community development movement brought housing issues – skyrocketing homelessness, increasingly dilapidated housing conditions in many communities, ever-rising rents in others – to the foreground of City political debate. And ANHD groups – not-for-profit developers and community organizers – were centrally involved in implementing the Koch housing plan. We note, with some humility, that at the time, ANHD was fiercely critical of the Koch Ten Year Housing Plan (we released a 1989 report on the progress of the Ten Year Housing Plan entitled “Missing the Mark,” focused on the lack of units for low-income and the homeless in the plan). But despite our arguments with the details of the plan, we knew we were engaged in a truly visionary revitalization of New York City.
It is easy to forget the New York of 30 years ago. Many neighborhoods suffered from disinvestment and abandonment, as entire communities were written off by banks, developers, and even the government. But those neighborhoods were not written off by their residents, many of whom organized to form local community development corporations (CDCs). Nor were they written off by Mayor Koch. Before Ed Koch, no Mayor had thought that a municipal housing program could take on the huge challenges of our distressed neighborhoods. It was due in no small part to both his vision and extraordinary faith in the people and communities of New York City, that together, CDCs and the Koch administration embarked on the long journey back to a thriving and rebuilt city.
A key resource to revitalize our communities was locked up in the 100,000 units of affordable but terribly distressed “In-Rem Buildings” that the City owned and managed. These units were in the hundreds of buildings that the City had taken over because of unpaid municipal taxes and other charges. The Koch vision was to realize that these 100,000 units could be systematically renovated by skilled and caring local groups and developed as an anchor for the revitalization of dozens of neighborhoods around the city.
The CDC community did not always have a smooth relationship with the Mayor as we went forward with the housing plan (our 1989 report calls the idea that low-income families will be the prime beneficiaries of the plan a “cruel hoax”). But then again, who did? Ed Koch was someone you could battle with, argue with, and vehemently disagree with but someone whose commitment to bettering New York City you would never question. We had many disagreements with Koch over the details of the housing plan, winning some, losing others, and finding common ground to move forward on many. But Ed Koch always gave as good as he got, always kept his sense of humor and perspective, and he unquestionably left the people and neighborhoods of New York City in much better shape than he found them. He’ll be missed and remembered by the Affordable Housing Community as a fierce lover of all of the City, from the Bronx down to the Rockaways.
Koch put housing on the map. Without the Koch 10-Year Plan, we wouldn’t have the continuing commitment to Affordable Housing and Neighborhood Revitalization by subsequent mayors. We have seen how the city looked before the Koch plan, when affordable housing wasn’t the priority it is today. The city carries on the challenge today, through the New Housing Marketplace Plan. And it will be the job of the next administration to make sure that the legacy of Ed Koch’s commitment to housing, neighborhoods, and local communities continues.