Affordable Housing Becomes a Museum Exhibit

By George Capsis


To replace the semblance of a human presence after 55 years of marriage, I keep WNYC on all day—and my ears pricked up during lunch when I heard the familiar nasal voice of Leonard Lopate saying “with skyrocketing rents placing affordable housing outside the reach of thousands if not millions of its residents, but, the struggle to provide New Yorkers with quality housing within their means is nothing new and according to a new exhibit at The Museum of the City of New York that struggle is a key part of the history of New York.”

Oh, wow, that is just what WestView has been talking about all these months so I called the Museum and the article by the exhibit’s curator, Thomas Mellins follows—but there was a lot of good stuff in the interview I still wanted to share with our readers. I called both WNYC and the Museum to see if we could get a transcript—WNYC said “no budget” and Museum has yet to get back to us so our wonderful editor Christy Ross contacted our IT provider Heather who had her daughter Rachel do a transcript, and indeed it has some great quotes.

When I left the family apartment, 550 Riverside Drive, some sixty years ago, the recommended share of your
income to pay rent was 25% of your
“take home pay” (that is after taxes and stuff). Leonard quotes Newsweek that it is now 58.4% and that rents have
increased by forty percent in the last twenty years.

New York pioneered public housing under LaGuardia in 1934 three years before Washington under Roosevelt established the US housing Authority with the building of the Eleanor Roosevelt Houses on the lower East side. I don’t think young people under seventy know that the Essex Market buildings were designed to allow the pushcarts to gather in a sheltered hall.

Affordable housing is the principal and oft repeated promise of our mayor—200,000 new or refurbished units in 10 years and 15,000 units for those who simply cannot ever earn a paycheck. Right now 46% of tenants in public housing are black 44 percent Hispanic, 5% Asian and 4% white.

There is so much good stuff in this 23-minute interview that we may do a follow up article on it for the January issue.

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