Additional reporting by Greg David
The city agency tasked with developing affordable housing has just one full-time employee in a critical unit that funds projects, government records reveal, down from six — part of a larger staffing shortage that’s hobbling construction and code enforcement.
The Department of Housing Preservation and Development also has three out of 10 deputy commissioner slots vacant, even as Mayor Eric Adams attempts to advance a sweeping new affordable housing agenda.
Documents obtained by THE CITY show that the department’s Low Income Housing Tax Credit program is so short-staffed that the unit — which finances the creation of hundreds of low-rent apartments annually — has had to take extraordinary measures to keep its work going.
Last month, the program’s former director, Christina Duran, obtained a waiver from the city Conflicts of Interest Board to allow her to pitch in as a paid consultant. Under city ethics rules, former city employees are usually barred for one year from continuing to work on projects they handled as municipal employees.
HPD Commissioner Adolfo Carrión Jr. sought the waiver when the unit had two workers on leave and two vacancies — the associate commissioner for housing incentives and assistant commissioner for tax credits and incentives — before Duran’s departure in April, according to the waiver approval letter.
An HPD spokesperson last week confirmed there were three vacancies and two people on leave in the tax credit office.
“You anticipate an increase in applications during the spring and a significant workload through the end of 2022,” the conflicts board said in its May 9 response to Carrión, approving the waiver request. “Having access to Ms. Duran’s institutional knowledge and area expertise will help mitigate the impact of these staffing shortages on the city’s affordable housing goals.”
On Tuesday, HPD’s website listed four vacancies among its 10 deputy commissioners — including at the position of executive deputy commissioner. An agency spokesperson said one of the slots was recently filled while another is being handled by an acting deputy commissioner.
Hiring Freeze and Low Pay
The challenges come on the heels of a report released last month by the New York Housing Conference that identified agency-wide shortages at HPD, which in March was staffed 16% shy of its budgeted headcount — down 7% from pre-pandemic levels.
The staffing issues, first reported by the New York Post, were more acute for the team that completes affordable housing production — down 12% since the pandemic hit New York City in March 2020.
As for housing maintenance code enforcement, 140 of the 470 budgeted inspector positions were vacant as of late March, according to NYHC.
A spokesperson for the Housing Conference said more recent numbers show a net loss of three positions at HPD from March to May — to 2,241 employees — at a time when the agency should be staffing up.
The agency’s budgeted headcount for the fiscal year that starts on Friday is 2,698.
“The staffing shortages, especially among project managers, are slowing affordable housing production, making the production more costly to the City and the developers as they pay real estate taxes and interest on loans waiting for deals to close,” the group said in its policy brief.
“The understaffing is also affecting new projects being planned and added to the pipeline of new affordable housing as developers are reporting that they are not getting project managers assigned in a timely fashion.”
The New York Housing Conference attributed the staffing problem to a host of issues exacerbated by the pandemic, including a temporary hiring freeze, civil service rules that require hiring from lists of people based solely on high test scores, and a highly competitive labor market.
The group also cited the relatively low pay of housing officials who work for the city, compared to salaries for similar jobs in the private sector.
Will Depoo, an organizer for the Association for Neighborhood Housing and Development, said the coalition of community nonprofit developers had heard from its members that efforts to refinance apartments whose tax credits were reaching the end of their 15-year lifespan were also facing delays.
That means rehabilitation programs are taking longer to get off the ground.
“We have raised the issue that, because of staffing issues, this is making it hard for our nonprofit developers to move their programs,” said Depoo. “It really impacts their ability to develop truly affordable housing because of the challenges they’ve been facing in terms of not having a project manager to reach out to, or it’s taking a long time, or they never hear back from them.”
At an event hosted by the New York Housing Conference on Tuesday, Carrión was asked about his efforts to address the worker shortage.
He acknowledged that the agency, like others, had lost hundreds of staff as a result of a partial hiring freeze that was in place before the pandemic struck — after which it was intensified — before being eased last year.
Carrión put the HPD headcount higher than where NYHC did — at about 2,400 — and said the agency had secured money to hire 77 new workers under the April executive budget.
He acknowledged that salary and other perks, or lack thereof, were an issue.
“We started seriously and aggressively marketing these new positions,” Carrion said at the event. “And we’re also working with the appropriate agencies in the city, OMB [Office of Management and Budget] and DCAS [Department of Citywide Administrative Services], to one, increase salaries, to be more creative with titles and not be locked into certain narrow lanes of how we deal with employee opportunities.”
Earlier this month, Adams released a wide-ranging affordable housing plan that includes efforts to preserve public housing apartments at NYCHA as well as new initiatives to address homelessness.
The recently passed city budget funds the plan to the tune of $22 billion over 10 years, short of the $4 billion per year that advocates said he pledged last year as a mayoral candidate to allocate toward affordable housing development.
Housing groups praised the ideas in the plan, which didn’t specify targets for the number of units to be built.
Instead, Adams said the city would work to place “as many people as possible” into housing.