The Death of Affordable Housing in NYC

The other day my job sent me to a set of project buildings in the Bronx, around Pelham Parkway. These building, along with a lot of project buildings in New York City, is run by the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA). NYCHA is the longest running affordable housing project in the country. They have provided homes for millions over its tenure, and in this day and age of skyrocketing rent, affordable housing is more imperative than ever before.

Which is why it is absolutely awful that the affordable housing project is dying.

What I saw in those buildings shook me to my core. Black mold lined the hallways, paint chipped down, water damages everywhere, a fly infestation, and a rancid odor putrid enough to make Shrek run back to his swamp. When I asked the tenants why nothing was being done about it, they all said the same thing: no one cares. NYCHA would take weeks to fix imperative issues and months to fix the others.

Of course, this isn’t a surprise to anyone who is familiar with NCYHA’s working in the city. It’s not propaganda that they are referred to as the “worst landlords in the city.” But why would NYCHA, an organization created to support the lives of average New Yorkers who don’t have that six-figure budget, not take care of its constituents?

It’s an interesting question, and one that is perhaps best rooted in one word: gentrification. Yes, that hated word that [real] New Yorkers spew with immense fury. Gentrification is what has displaced so many New Yorkers. As wealthier and wealthier people move into the city, landlords hike the rent so that those who can’t afford it will be replaced by those who can. All of those dingy apartments are then renovated to suit their newly outlandish prices.

So what happens to the people who have been displaced? Well, they either leave the city – Albany is a new destination for many – or they move into affordable housing complexes. Now, NYCHA sees that their own funds are dwindling, yet the housing market is back up on the rise. After all, how could they benefit from these skyrocketing rent prices if they are being forced to keep their apartments at a manageable cost. And hey, who gives a shit about poor people, right?

I do want to preface this by saying that NYCHA has been short on federal funding lately. They’ve seen their budget from the federal government slashed, and have tried to make it up through state funding. In fact, the NYS budget was reported to have given about $200 million dollars to NYCHA over the years 2015/16. Private developers see this gap in their war chest as an investment opportunity, and have been coming up with wily solutions to NYCHAs funding problem, which is the privatization of public housing.

That’s where the bullshit is. Privatization of public housing DOES NOT WORK. It just displaces real New Yorkers and increases cost of living. It creates more homelessness in favor of wealthier developers and landowners. I’ll try and explain why:

Programs such as de Blasio’s NextGen NYCHA allows for private developers to buy underdeveloped NYCHA lots and built luxury apartments, as long as a portion of them are allotted for affordable housing. The portion for affordable housing is calculated used the Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH) rule. Of course, it’s all bullshit because the MIH definition of “affordable” is nowhere near what is actually affordable for someone living the neighborhoods being taken over. Cuomo gave private developers over a billion dollars in tax breaks to build affordable housing units, and instead only $100 million went to those specified units.

So now affordable housing is in a predicament. NYCHA can’t take care of their building and are letting them rot. This then slowly kills off their tenants or forces them to move, which leads to underutilization. Those underutilized buildings can then be sold to private developers on the half-ass promise that they designate some of their luxury apartments as affordable housing. But this ends up creating a shortage of houses which leads to more homelessness and further displacement.

Affordable housing and, by extension, New York is dying. The city has opted to let the poor die out as the rich come in from their healthy lifestyles and take over the neighborhoods. They won’t regulate those big developers. No, it is clear that NYC is ready to abandon those who live in it.

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