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Citizens Union

Waterfront Development or Neighborhood Displacement?

Mayor Bloomberg's 2030 Plan touts the Williamsburg-Greenpoint rezoning and waterfront development as a shining example to be followed elsewhere in the city. But a closer look will show that what's happening there is the displacement of affordable housing and the people who live in that housing. I have seen first hand these devastating effects and would not want to see them in other neighborhoods.

One huge problem is that the new "affordable housing" to be built is calculated using the citywide Area Median Income, which is much higher than Brooklyn's median income. The median income for a family of four is $70,900, and 80 percent of that is considered low income. Yet in Williamsburg-Greenpoint, the median income is close to $30,000, and with average wages of under $14 an hour most renters cannot afford the units the city considers affordable.

The city's inclusionary zoning, which gives developers the option of adding floor area if they include "affordable" housing units, is not working to solve this problem. We see mostly luxury development where affordable homes and businesses once stood. In areas adjacent to the waterfront, a lot of new apartments are being built, most of them with no affordable units. Such developments are destroying low-income and working class neighborhoods that have been home to generations of working people and immigrants.

The surge of new luxury units is changing the demographics of this and other less affluent communities and forcing people to move. The new wealthy residents have higher incomes, putting pressures on local retail outlets to change what they offer and how much they charge. Instead of hardware stores, affordable supermarkets and laundromats, the commercial core changes to noisier bars, expensive restaurants, boutique food markets and so on. Stores offering less expensive goods can no longer pay the cost per square foot to rent in the gentrified neighborhood.

While some affordable homes are to be built, there is a larger net loss of affordable housing in the surrounding areas as real estate values and rents rise. With the loss of rent protections and the lack of enforcement, neighborhoods are being torn apart.

Contrary to the mayor's plan, private developers do not need to hefty tax incentives to build where the most new homes rent or sell at the market rate. But then maybe the mayor doesn't think anything can be done about rising housing costs? As he said during the November 1, 2005 mayoral debate, "This is an expensive city; it always has been, probably always will be."

Phil DePaolo is president of the New York Community Council.


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