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Adams' Top Housing Official Outlines New York City's Shift In Approach

New York Housing Conference Executive Director Rachel Fee, New York City Chief Housing Officer Jessica Katz, HPD Commissioner Adolfo Carrión Jr., HDC President Eric Enderlin and DSS Commissioner Gary Jenkins speak June 28 at a housing forum in Manhattan.

New York City's new housing plan under Mayor Eric Adams walks back many of the previous administration’s philosophies and measures for success — a fresh approach the city's housing chief says will get better outcomes for the city.

"I think the expectation was that the next housing plan should just be more units than the last guy," New York City Chief Housing Officer Jessica Katz said at a New York Housing Conference forum this week. "I really wanted to make sure that we had a housing plan that saw homelessness as a central part of its mission."

Katz was speaking alongside Gary Jenkins, the commissioner of the Department of Social Services, Department of Housing Preservation and Development Commissioner Adolfo Carrión Jr. and Eric Enderlin, the president of the New York City Housing Development Corp.

“We really wanted to make sure that we had a housing plan that could address the needs of New Yorkers directly, and not just sort of continue on the path that we've been doing," Katz said.

The fire at the Bronx affordable housing building that killed 17 people in January, as well as her experience at working in city government during Superstorm Sandy, has shaped her approach to policy, she said.

“Rather than just giving you some tweaks about what the [area median income] should be, what the unit count should be, we decided to step back a little bit and take a broader look about what the policy is overall,” Katz said.

After nearly six months in office, Adams released his official housing plan earlier this month amid a worsening housing crisis that has nearly 50,000 people in homeless shelters and a median rent in Manhattan sitting at a record $4K per month.

In "Housing Our Neighbors: A Blueprint for Housing and Homelessness" the mayor put out a plan that raises funding to support homeownership and provides incentives for developers to develop new units. There is also an emphasis on preserving affordable units and a promise to improve public housing and shelter access.

Katz said that in formulating the plan, the administration convened a group of New Yorkers who have experienced homelessness to ask them for advice. She said officials also sought input from residents living in New York City Housing Authority buildings — with whom she said there is significant “broken trust” – to find out what should be done with the city's decaying public housing.

Talking about housing and homelessness as one issue is a new philosophy for the city, Katz said, which people have avoided in the past because of an unspoken belief it will encourage homelessness, rather than fix it.

“The fact that homelessness and housing were separate before, I think, if you scratch the surface of that little, there's this kind of underlying value — I think it sends two messages that we never quite said out loud," she said. "One is that if you give homeless people good stuff, you're going to draw more homeless people.

“There's [also] a subtext that, again, we don't say very often, which is that these people are so messed up, that the four walls are not going to be good. And so housing is not the answer," she added. "Housing is the answer … case management itself, which is very important, will only be effective if you have a roof over your head.”

Notably, Adams' plan doesn't set a specific housing unit production or preservation goal, which was a pillar of the previous administration's approach to addressing housing. Mayor Bill de Blasio said his government had financed the preservation or construction of 200,000 affordable homes during his eight years in office.

The administration had set a goal of producing 300,000 affordable housing units by 2026, which it said late last year it was on pace to achieve. But Katz has long argued that putting out unit targets meant housing policies fail to address things like the health of the city’s residents and the administrative problems in accessing housing or shelter. 

“What that does is it excludes NYCHA, which was a huge error in judgment on behalf of all of us, frankly, in this room .. time is way overdue for thinking that way,” Katz said.

“I don't expect to conceal the number of deals that we close, that’s still going to be in there," she said. "We will continue to report on that year after year, with the hopes, though, that there's some other [issues] that get the same amount of energy, the same amount of headlines that these other ones do.”