Housing Authority Wants to Sell Air Rights, Raise Rents

The New York City Housing Authority may sell air rights to help offset its crippling deficit, according to its five-year plan released Monday.

The report projected that by 2015, there will be a $13 billion gap between what NYCHA’s received in capital funding and what it needs to fix its buildings and infrastructure.

Among the ideas floated for closing this gap is selling air rights – the empty space above buildings – at some of its properties. With 334 developments throughout New York City, Chairman John Rhea said developers seeking air rights often approach NYCHA.

“In some cases, we’d like to pursue that conversation where we don’t think that increased density is something we would use ourselves,” Rhea said

He said hundreds of millions of dollars could be made from selling air rights.

Rhea said the Housing Authority is also exploring a plan that would allow developers to build larger projects in exchange for providing funds to fix up some of NYCHA’s rundown properties.

The idea is an off-shoot of what’s called inclusionary zoning – a policy that allows developers to increase density at market rate projects if they agree to set aside a certain amount of affordable housing. 

In addition to raising revenue, the Authority said it plans to make its developments more equitable by requiring all tenants to pay 30 percent of their income toward rent.

Now, NYCHA said approximately one-third of tenants are paying less than that because of a rent cap set at around $2,000. Rhea said the rent cap will now be replaced with whatever the market rate rent is for the area and increases will be phased in over time. 

Councilwoman Rosie Mendez said she questioned how fair it was to charge more than $2,000 a month for apartments that are in desperate need of repair.  

The highest earners in NYCHA developments will also be asked to leave public housing in order to make room for needier families.

Rhea could not say exactly how many families would be affected, but did say it would be in the thousands. There are more than 170,000 households in public housing, Rhea said. 

He added it would also free up apartments for families squeezed into units that are too small for them.

According to NYCHA there are 161,000 families currently on its waiting list.

Agnes Rivera, a public housing tenant and a member of Community Voices Heard, said even though some families have higher incomes they still wouldn’t be able to afford market rents, especially those in large three- and four-bedroom units.

“The rents out there are outrageous,” she said.

Rivera also noted that some families do have higher incomes, but it’s because there are two generations of families living together with three or four adults working in the household. She worried that if they were forced to move out and split up, there’d be no place they could afford.

NYCHA could not give an exact time frame for the changes to take place. Rhea said families that are asked to move would be given priority for any new mixed income units that become available.  

Correction: An earlier version of this article said NYCHA had 343 developments throughout the city. This is incorrect. NYCHA has 334. The article also said the rent cap was $2,000. This is not correct. The rent cap is nearly $2,000.