As Mayor de Blasio’s initiatives to create affordable housing continue to fail, bright spots for advocates of a better and more inclusive New York City are few and far between. In the Two Bridges area of the Lower East Side, JDS, Extell, CIM, L+M, and the Starrett Group are planning five new towers with 700 affordable units. NIMBYs don’t care. Despite all that affordable housing, red herrings went flying at a community meeting last night, and the echo chamber of outrage reverberated all the way onto the internet.
The collection of towers will include over 3,000 units, with retail spreading across the base of each project. That means anything demolished will be more than replaced. Local NIMBYs already seem to have forgotten the frivolity of their previous fight regarding displacement of retail options, when they attacked Extell for closing a supermarket in order to build 252 South Street. Per Curbed’s report on last night’s meeting, residents are now concerned over the closure of a deli.
While uninformed citizens may be partially justified in their anger, local politicians have used it to secure permanent voting blocks and clog the city’s development process with so much paperwork and overhead as to make change nearly impossible. That’s especially true in the various fiefdoms of public housing that sprang up during the Robert Moses area. This includes the entirety of the neighborhood surrounding the proposed new towers. These residents are not vulnerable to change or movement of any sort. Nevertheless, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer attended the meeting to mollify dissent between disaffected neighbors and the developers.
Intentions speak louder than alleged actions, and by placing herself at the forefront of the fight for nothingness, Brewer continues to make herself a martyr for a cause that has no clarity. In recent years, she has blockaded new schools and apartment towers on the Upper West Side while favoring the subsidization of a luxury bookstore on 57th Street, in an apparent misunderstanding of how the free market works and what the government can subsidize. Now, she once again supports a nonsensical position that will prevent new housing, affordable and otherwise, from being built.
From a political perspective, her martyrdom is sensible: the public housing projects are completely safe from development, so it isn’t like constituents are going to be let down. And the blocks and blocks of public and middle-income housing created by Robert Moses are a surefire way to keep the voters locked into the same neighborhoods for life. They cannot risk the luxury of moving elsewhere, lest they lose their “affordable” housing and get stuck at the back of the line in a system that does little to help anyone not already in it.
Ultimately, the city’s local Democrats have used misinformation to mobilize their constituencies against their own interests. While Gale Brewer has advocated for affordability and equality, her actions have resulted in lost opportunities for New Yorkers of all ages and backgrounds.
The dissonance between elected officials’ words and actions is especially evident when examining the behavior of Mayor Bill de Blasio, whose actions point to a troubling future for affordability in New York City. The mayor refused to cooperate with Governor Cuomo, who essentially left the 421-a tax break for dead. Things have mostly been in free-fall since then, and the Mayor’s “affordability” initiatives are about to become even more controversial.
With over 60,000 homeless New Yorkers and de Blasio’s promised affordable housing nowhere in sight, the city is going to force developers to begin accepting homeless people ahead of qualified applicants for affordable housing, giving them outright priority. Housing the homeless is a good thing but forcing cohabitation between market-rate tenants and the homeless is a deranged effort that’s only going to make things worse, especially when those qualified affordable housing applicants are passed over in the process.
This brings us back to last night’s meeting for new towers on the Lower East Side. The city is in the middle of overall affordability crisis, and new units anywhere will help alleviate the lack of housing everywhere. But NIMBYs still whined and moaned about how nine seniors who will have to be relocated for over 3,000 new apartments. Meanwhile the government officials who nominally represent their interests sat by and watched, happy to feed on the anger and misinformation, and eager to ensure that their constituents remain precisely where they are.
Whether the towers set to rise next to Extell’s are approved or not remains to be seen, but in this instance, they’ll offer big benefits with few downsides. In fact, JDS’ 247 Cherry Street will cantilever over an existing building, in an effort to minimize impact to residents and preserve the area’s urban fabric. Starrett’s tower and the twins by CIM and L+M may be slightly less stunning in terms of design, but their presence will nevertheless be beneficial, in terms of adding both retail and housing to a neighborhood that needs them.
The next meeting for Two Bridges is in January. YIMBY is hopeful that opposition may be tempered beforehand, but New York City’s elected officials are unlikely to halt maintenance on the fountain of ignorance that keeps them in office, which means additional complications are likely.
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