Why Is New York So Afraid Of Affordable Housing?


In the 1960s and 70s New York City was a shit hole, sort of like most places in urban America. As people left the cities in droves and bought into the fantasy of safety, comfort, a yard and clean air that the suburbs promised cities were left on the brink of collapse. On October 29th, 1975 Republican President Gerald Ford gave a speech where he said he would deny New York City any emergency federal assistance that would save it from bankruptcy.

The next day the Daily News ran one of the most infamous headlines in New York City history: “FORD TO CITY: DROP DEAD.”

As anyone who has moved to New York and paid first months rent, last months rent, security deposit and broker fees to move into an apartment, going from having a comfortable savings to lol in a matter of seconds, now most people can barely afford to live in the city at all. According to one study a one bedroom apartment in Chelsea could cost you more than $3400, with studios coming in nearly $1000 less. In Brooklyn prices are a bit more sane (except for Williamsburg). A studio in Cobble Hill comes close to $2000.

This all sounds fine and well if you make, say, 70,000 a year. But factor in that in New York you must also make at least 40 times the rent to even quality for your own place. That means if your rent is $2200 for a studio in Brooklyn you need to make $88000 per year at minimum to even qualify for that bad boy.

Unless, of course, you’re one of the lucky few who manages to get a rent stabilised unit. The thing is when rent stabilized units become vacant the owner can shift the unit to the market rate. So if you do find one of these magical beasts do not move out of it. Ever.

That is, if rent stabilization is still a thing in the future.

On June 15th the current NY rent stabilization laws will expire and it’s unclear whether they will be extended and what the conditions of the extension will be. The Republican controlled senate is more interested in preserving the 421-a tax abatement program which gives tax breaks to developers who build luxury buildings in the city so long as they make a certain number of their units “affordable.”

The best example of the 421-a tax abatement program is the viral story from 2013 of 40 Riverside Boulevard, that luxury apartment building with a “poor door” or separate entrances for millionaires and folks living in the affordable units.

As cities around the world become increasingly desirable places to live we need to come up with solutions so that all people can realize the dream of living in the big city. Gone are those Madonna-y days when you could roll off the Greyhound bus with $30 and a dream in your pocket.

Thankfully, some cities with terribly expensive housing markets have already made small gestures. In London there’s a “Part Rent Part Buy” program that allows people making under 71,000 pounds a year to buy shares in their apartments, often new construction in great areas, and pay rent on the rest. And Berlin recently became the first city in Germany to impose a law so that landlords can’t charge more than 10% of the local average on units.

The problem with affordable housing — aside from the fact that it is usually ugly — is that people often have it in their minds that people who need affordable housing are simply too lazy to find better work. But that’s not true. But if you’re a student graduating college and you want to live somewhere cool, where you’ll have a fun life in a city where you’ll meet people like you, chances are you can’t really afford to live there.

Why should rich people be the only ones who get to enjoy urban living?

What makes cities interesting is the cacophony of lifestyles, opportunities and having so much diversity right at your fingertips. That’s why people want to live in cities. No city any where in the world needs one more luxury residential skyscraper.