New York Magazine:
Middle-class families all over the country are helping to push other families just like them out of New York. How? By sending their kids checks. The city’s creative industries (like magazine publishing, fashion, and performing arts) couldn’t exist without a renewable supply of the young and the underpaid whose salaries (if any) are supplemented by remittances from home. It’s a form of tribute, really. Someone has to pay for the hipness of Brooklyn, and so money flows in from Shaker Heights and Merion and Menlo Park, supporting tattoo salons, craft-beer bars, and real-estate brokers.
Meanwhile, roughly a third of New Yorkers—nearly 3 million people—live in quarters that suck up more than half of the household’s income. (It’s small comfort to know that the housing burden is worse in eight other cities, including San Jose and Detroit.) De Blasio has cast himself as a champion of the poor, but their struggles are part of larger pressures. Almost everyone in New York is being nudged out of somewhere, migrating from neighborhood to neighborhood, from doorman building to walk-up, from two-bedroom to studio, or leaving the city with a mixture of regret and relief. The surreal cost of housing has propelled teachers out beyond tolerable commuting distances, signaled to young college graduates who lack parental subsidies that they might want to think about Pittsburgh, and ratcheted up the pressure on affordable housing so high that nearly 60,000 people applied for the 105 subsidized apartments in a new building in Greenpoint.
So what’s a well-meaning mayor to do? Does New York’s only hope of affordability lie in a summer of spectacular crime or a well-placed riot? Are we faced with a choice between choking on affluence and old-fashioned urban decay? Surely not.
Part of the answer may lie in deeply un-chic neighborhoods like southeastern Queens. To Manhattanites, commuters, and tourists, Jamaica is where the LIRR, the subway, and the AirTrain meet. It’s also an area that is encouragingly incomplete. It has underused buildings, vacant lots, and a dearth of shopping. Andrew Manshel, an executive with the nonprofit Greater Jamaica Development Corporation, estimates that his organization could find land for 5,000 apartments without breaking a sweat, and 7,500 with a little more effort.
And yet even Jamaica is too expensive for the people most likely to live there. Enter de Blasio’s affordable-housing program. Here, where developers need to be coaxed into taking a risk, where profits are low and the market wobbly, the city can pump in subsidies and pile up an inventory of affordable housing without worrying about stoking a real-estate wildfire. It’s happening: The developer BRP will soon start construction on two towers with some 500 total units in southeast Queens that could turn the neighborhood into a permanently affordable haven. That doesn’t come close to solving the problem. For one thing, de Blasio is hoping to build 80,000 new affordable units; for another, it would be nice to alleviate New York’s economic segregation rather than increase it. But Jamaica is one of the few remaining counterweights to the commodity culture of housing. Well connected but far from cool, the area is a natural habitat for cops and teachers, not slumming financiers. “People aren’t paying a premium to live in Jamaica,” Manshel says. We can only hope that they never do.