By George Capsis
A depressed, crime-ridden, vermin-infested, and dilapidated city the size of Atlanta, with more than 600,000 inhabitants (45% Black, 45.8% Hispanic) with family incomes around $24,000 a year in nearly 200,000 apartments, traces its way through the City’s five boroughs in 328 enclaves. It is called the New York City Housing Authority, or NYCHA, and it is the largest such city within a city in the world.
Lacking federal funds for decades, NYCHA has fallen apart and the cost to fix it—$17 billion—is beyond the capacity of any city government. So the City, once again, is trying to force (or make) a tax abatement deal with the big developers, which they, and even the tenants, are resisting.
The glowing hope of City officials charged with doing something about this citywide tracery of poverty lies in the now valuable land on which it was built. Manhattan square foot prices have exploded from $325.11 in 2010 to $578.67 in 2014. So, for example, why not build very tall and skinny apartment towers in the nearly empty NYCHA parking lots and make them available to both market rate and permanently poor tenants?
The City wants to force developers to build such below market rate apartments. However, the permanently poor mobbed a recent hearing arguing that this amounted to gentrification and that it would not help third generation NYCHA inhabitants, just nice young white college kids pushing them out of their under $500 apartments. (More than a third of New Yorkers spend half of their income on rent and utilities).
Three quarters of the NYCHA heads of households are women who take care of some 100,0000 kids and hence cannot, and do not, work. Also, if you exceed the income levels set by NYCHA you can be asked to leave so there is a strong inducement to not earn or to lie about income. We have created by bureaucratic edict a city of the permanently poor and it is growing.
But in a recent Times article we learned that more than a few luminaries have emerged like iridescent butterflies from NYCHA poverty dorms, including Lloyd Blankfein, the Chairman of Goldman Sachs and Sonia Sotomayor of the U.S. Supreme Court. This suggests that there is hope for the next NYCHA generation so why not build a pre-K to college housing complex with professional training and a small education city on say Staten Island where the land is cheap to educate the next NYCHA generation permanently out of poverty? The new city could be activated by multi-million dollar grants from successful NYCHA graduates like Blankfein and Howard Schultz, Chairman of Starbucks. Classes would be open to all so those with poor or aborted grade school educations could, without peer pressure, learn what they missed and take a more confident step toward higher education.
The idea is not to perpetuate bureaucratically mandated poverty prisons but to invest in the next generation so that we eliminate NYCHA housing forever.