De Blasio plans to turn cluster sites into affordable housing

Mayor de Blasio wants to buy privately owned apartment buildings used to house the homeless and turn them into affordable housing units — and if owners don’t want to sell, he’s prepared to try to force them.

“If there is not good faith negotiation, the city is prepared to use as a last resort eminent domain to take these buildings and convert them to permanent affordable housing,” de Blasio said at a Bronx press conference Tuesday. “One way or another, we will achieve the goal.”

The buildings at issue are “cluster sites,” or apartments the city houses homeless people in, often paying the building owners well above the market rent — as much as $4,000 a month.

The mayor promised to stop using the apartments — which are often in shabby shape — in January 2016, but progress has been slow, sometimes tragically: Two children were killed in a steam radiator explosion in a cluster site last December.

The city has reduced the number of apartments it’s using by 1,100 units, but the process has taken longer than originally planned. Today, 2,272 families remain in about 2,300 cluster units.

Now it wants to help nonprofits buy 25 to 30 where half or more of the units are currently being used as cluster housing for the homeless. The nonprofits would fix them up and then offer the tenants of the buildings — about 800 homeless families and 300 other tenants — rent-stabilized leases. 

RELATED: Check out the top housing markets that would be affeced by high interests rates:

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13 US housing markets that would be most affected by rising interest rates
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13 US housing markets that would be most affected by rising interest rates

13. Austin, Texas

Zillow Home Value Index: $263,400

Monthly mortgage payment at 4%: $1,006

Monthly mortgage payment at 5%: $1,131

Difference in monthly mortgage payment: $125

Source: Zillow

12. Riverside, California

Zillow Home Value Index: $321,200

Monthly mortgage payment at 4%: $1,227

Monthly mortgage payment at 5%: $1,380

Difference in monthly mortgage payment: $153

Source: Zillow

(Davel5957 via Getty Images)

11. Sacramento, California

Zillow Home Value Index: $355,000

Monthly mortgage payment at 4%: $1,356

Monthly mortgage payment at 5%: $1,525

Difference in monthly mortgage payment: $169

Source: Zillow

10. Portland, Oregon

Zillow Home Value Index: $357,000

Monthly mortgage payment at 4%: $1,363

Monthly mortgage payment at 5%: $1,533

Difference in monthly mortgage payment: $170

Source: Zillow

(AndreyGatash via Getty Images)

9. Denver

Zillow Home Value Index: $356,900

Monthly mortgage payment at 4%: $1,363

Monthly mortgage payment at 5%: $1,532

Difference in monthly mortgage payment: $169

Source: Zillow

8. Washington, DC

Zillow Home Value Index: $380,900

Monthly mortgage payment at 4%: $1,455

Monthly mortgage payment at 5%: $1,636

Difference in monthly mortgage payment: $181

Source: Zillow

(sborisov via Getty Images)

7. New York City

Zillow Home Value Index: $404,800

Monthly mortgage payment at 4%: $1,546

Monthly mortgage payment at 5%: $1,738

Difference in monthly mortgage payment: $192

Source: Zillow

6. Seattle

Zillow Home Value Index: $413,900

Monthly mortgage payment at 4%: $1,581

Monthly mortgage payment at 5%: $1,778

Difference in monthly mortgage payment: $197

Source: Zillow

(aiisha5 via Getty Images)


 

5. Boston

Zillow Home Value Index: $413,900

Monthly mortgage payment at 4%: $1,581

Monthly mortgage payment at 5%: $1,778

Difference in monthly mortgage payment: $197

Source: Zillow

(SeanPavonePhoto via Getty Images)

4. San Diego

Zillow Home Value Index: $530,900

Monthly mortgage payment at 4%: $2,028

Monthly mortgage payment at 5%: $2,280

Difference in monthly mortgage payment: $252

Source: Zillow

(marlenka via Getty Images)

3. Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, California

Zillow Home Value Index: $595,700

Monthly mortgage payment at 4%: $2,275

Monthly mortgage payment at 5%: $2,558

Difference in monthly mortgage payment: $283

Source: Zillow

(Photo by DeAgostini/Getty Images)

2. San Francisco

Zillow Home Value Index: $833,600

Monthly mortgage payment at 4%: $3,184

Monthly mortgage payment at 5%: $3,580

Difference in monthly mortgage payment: $396

Source: Zillow

(Ershov_Maks via Getty Images)

1. San Jose, California

Zillow Home Value Index: $970,000

Monthly mortgage payment at 4%: $3,705

Monthly mortgage payment at 5%: $4,166

Difference in monthly mortgage payment: $461

Source: Zillow

(Nancy Nehring via Getty Images)

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The city would not say how much rents might cost, but said homeless families who want to remain in their apartments would be given various forms of rental assistance if they needed it to make the new rent.

De Blasio said the city would offer the property owners a “fair price,” though he would not offer a ballpark for individual properties or for the program as a whole.

“We would like fruitful, positive negotiations to result in a sale at an appropriate price,” de Blasio said. “If that’s not happening, we’ll move to eminent domain.”

Human Resources Administration Commissioner Steve Banks said eminent domain laws allow the city to purchase property at a fair price “for a public purpose.”

“Our public purpose is addressing homelessness, family homelessness, and ending the cluster program,” Banks said.

The Rent Stabilization Association, which represents owners of 1 million rent-stabilized units in the city, ripped the plan — calling it “unfeasible, impractical and unsustainable” and warning of a “housing catastrophe.”

“Are you going to keep taking apartments from the private sector every time a politician declares the need for affordable housing?” RSA President Joseph Strasburg said in a statement. “Where do you draw the line?”

For years, building owners raked in big dough from the city on the cluster program — raising the question of why they’d consider selling their buildings. But de Blasio argued they should know that gravy train will end.

“The cluster program is ending — there’s one incentive,” he said, noting the departure from 1,000 units already. “We’re willing to offer a fair price and I just think it’s the right thing to do.”

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