Commissioner Maria Torres-Springer tells Washington: ‘Don’t withhold funding for affordable housing’

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‘Coming to HPD is a little bit of a homecoming.’ The FilAm photo

‘Coming to HPD is a little bit of a homecoming.’ The FilAm photo

By Cristina DC Pastor

New York City Housing Commissioner Maria Torres-Springer said her office is on track to build 200,000 affordable housing units over a period of 10 years.

“The mayor has an incredibly ambitious housing plan – 200,000 units over the course of 10 years. We are a few years in, and I am happy to report that we are on budget and ahead of schedule having financed more than 63,000 units of affordable housing across the five boroughs,” she told FilAm journalists.

Torres-Springer was appointed commissioner of the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) in January. By the time she assumed the post vacated by Vicki Been, who returned to teaching at New York University, Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Housing New York Plan has financed 62,500 affordable homes. Torres-Springer is four months in her new role at HPD, and said she is building on the accomplishments of her predecessor.

She took note, however, of “very strong headwinds” coming from Washington D.C., referring to President Trump’s threat to cut federal funding for housing and urban development projects across the country. She would not categorically connect the threats to New York City being a sanctuary for immigrants. The Trump administration believes that sanctuary cities coddle undocumented immigrants, and warned it would withhold federal money from about 300 cities and counties that continue to declare themselves “sanctuaries.”

She said the federal housing budget is important, as it will help the city enforce programs geared toward enforcing the housing maintenance code, addressing emergency repairs, and assisting first-time homebuyers.

At the CUNY-CCEM Newsmakers Series answering questions from the community and ethnic media

At the CUNY-CCEM Newsmakers Series answering questions from the community and ethnic media

“The president is proposing that there are severe cuts to that budget,” she said. “What that means is their support of programs in different parts of the country is really threatened.”

The good news, she added, is that New York City is not alone.

“We are working very very closely with our counterparts in different parts of the country,” she said. “There are red states and purple states working with us because those parts of the country too rely on affordable housing programs in order to meet the needs of their residents.”

She called attention to the reality that one in four renters nationally pay more than 50 percent of their income on rent.

“This is a crisis that is affecting not just New York but other parts of the country. What that means is that Washington cannot walk away from its obligations,” she said during the Newsmakers Series of the Center for Community and Ethnic Media held June 3 at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism.

Torres-Springer said she has handled different roles – small businesses, economic development — under the De Blasio administration but being housing commissioner feels a little bit like a “homecoming.”

She grew up in Section 8 housing in California. “Our family for as long as I can remember really relied on Section 8 rental assistance voucher in order to make ends meet,” she said during the forum attended by members of the ethnic and community media.

“I remember the feeling of each annual inspection by the Alameda County Housing Authority. It was an important inspection and if it didn’t go well, there was always that possibility we would lose that voucher. I remember that feeling I had in my stomach the night before an inspection, and it’s a feeling I carry with me every day in my work.”

Copyright © 2017 The FilAm

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