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Developing Affordable Housing and Jobs

by Brad Lander, Dec 13, 2004
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Mayor Michael Bloomberg's development plan will remake neighborhoods like Long Island City, Throgs Neck, and downtown Jamaica.

Articles in this Feature:
• Developing Affordable Housing and Jobs by Brad Lander
• Create Conditions for Business to Thrive by Sandy Hornick
• Reform the Building Code by Julia Vitullo-Martin

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When we consider Mayor Michael Bloomberg's development plans, we must ask questions like: Who is the development for? Who benefits from it? And what kinds of jobs are created? And the city's new development must be seen in the context of the decline and resurgence that New York City has experienced in the last 40 years.

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Through the 1960s and 1970s, New York City experienced a dramatic decline, as manufacturing declined, business decentralized, middle-class white families moved to the suburbs. Sprawling suburban development became the norm, and many of the city's neighborhoods were abandoned.

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Yet despite these deep negative trends, New York City has by many measures experienced a remarkable comeback. One component of the resurgence began in the 1980s – the rise of finance, business services, and cultural production as key elements of the city's economic base. Other trends, such as escalating land prices and a rising population, did not become fully evident until the 1990s.

The problem is that now we now have a much more unequal economy. Add in raising property values and housing costs, you have an even greater income divide between those at the high end of the salary scale and those at the low end.

The Bloomberg administration is the first to recognize economic development and create an urban planning policy around it.

The mayor's plan features a host of benefits. It would create recreational and open space. It would bring jobs, especially the short-term construction work - 18,000 construction jobs on the Far West Side, 15,000 to build the Nets Arena Complex, 10,000 for lower Manhattan redevelopment. It would create housing, particularly high-earning residents, who would likely otherwise live in the suburbs and generate the property, sales and income tax revenues for the city.

But there are number of costs and risks that I think must considered.

While it is true that city has an aggressive housing plan, but these rezoning and redevelopment initiatives build almost only market-rate housing. In lower Manhattan, about 6,000 of the apartments that have been authorized or financed, only about one percent are affordable.

Another concern is preserving the manufacturing jobs we still have. In 2000, about 250,000 manufacturing jobs remained in New York City. This is still a lot of jobs, and industry should not be written off. And the manufacturing jobs we are losing today are due in large part to high real estate prices.

In its effort to strengthen the office economy, the development plan ignores opportunities to use development to benefit the city's working-class and middle- and low-income residents, especially in neighborhoods of color. We have an increasingly segregated city by income and race. We should be conscious about that and make investments in those neighborhoods as well.

There are also environmental concerns. In a growing city that is going to have new office space and housing, we need to generate new energy and we are going to produce more waste. We need to think about this over the next 50 years in order to make the investments so certain neighborhoods aren't dumped on.

Brad Lander is the director of the and Pratt Institute Center for Community Environmental Development. His remarks are based on a report called Remaking New York City: Can Prosperity be Shared and Sustainable? (available in .pdf format)


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