New York City has a problem. As local politicians have consolidated their grip on power over the past several decades, many have become increasingly prone to serving specific groups of constituents instead of overarching ideals, noble, or otherwise. The Five Boroughs are no stranger to this kind of issue, with periods of historical stagnancy well-documented. But with electoral participation at staggeringly delegitimizing lows, local leaders like Gale Brewer will easily cruise to re-election. Amidst a backdrop of surging NIMBYism that is now more than glad to co-opt the tactics of Fake News, the outlook for the next few years on election day is rather bleak, as the politics of New York’s inward-looking regressive leaders will put up far greater barriers to entry than any potential wall along the Mexican border.
To start, while the words of New York’s local politicians regarding President Trump have been vociferously critical, a look behind the curtain reveals that family ties align perfectly with the interest of specific local Democrats. Perhaps the brightest fire of well-moneyed NIMBYism has burned at 432 East 58th Street, where Gale Brewer, Dan Garodnick, and Ben Kallos have expedited a spot-rezoning to preserve views of NIMBYs in surrounding buildings, specifically The Sovereign, which Donald Trump Jr. calls home.
Lower Manhattan has been equally vulnerable. There, along the Two Bridges waterfront, Council member Margaret Chin has teamed with Brewer in an attempt to derail another 800 new units of affordable housing, which would come alongside thousands of market-rate units. The neighborhood is currently an urban no-man’s-land with ample unused space and relatively excellent access to transit, and with Extell’s One Manhattan Square already rising, it will hopefully continue changing for the better with or without self-interested meddling.
Even affordable developments have been vulnerable to power plays. Council member Darlene Mealy has said she will veto an affordable project that would deliver 125 affordable housing units to Brownsville, with a design by Robert A.M. Stern Architects promising to enhance both the site and the neighborhood.
As participation in local elections has increasingly dwindled to a shockingly-low 8%, the increasing opportunism exhibited by characters like Brewer, Chin, Gardonick, and Mealy should hardly be surprising. But unfortunately things are likely to get worse before they get better.
In good news, it seems as though DeBlasio’s housing plan may actually end up making parts of New York City substantially more affordable. In bad news, it is not because housing numbers are going to meet demand, as new permits have fallen rapidly since 2014, with the year-over-year decrease seemingly turning into an outright cliff as 2017’s last numbers trickle in.
YIMBY recently covered the proposed change to M-1 zoning that will affect some new hotel developments in New York City. The idea is based on the fact that inventory is going to have ballooned well over fifty percent between 2010 and 2028. Alongside the advent of websites like AirBnB, the price of hotel rooms has already dropped substantially across the Five Boroughs, but tens of thousands of new beds are still impending.
Most crucially, many thousands of hotel beds will soon be built in the Outer Boroughs, in neighborhoods where the market is untested, and has already been proven quite soft.
If New York City’s residential building stock had increased as much as its number of hotels in recent years, the city would have ballooned past 12 million people by now. The disparity has been overwhelming, and is now jaw-dropping, but when one considers the rise in transient housing alongside the spike in transient populations, emerging evidence from several neighborhoods makes the boom make somewhat more sense.
The population count for the number of homeless in the Five Boroughs is hardly an exact science, but estimates show over 62,000 individuals, including almost 25,000 homeless children, as of this September. This was an all-time high, and these numbers are up 75% over ten years prior, according to the Coalition for the Homeless. With these numbers only including those sleeping in shelters, estimates ranging upwards of 70 to 80,000 in total would not be unreasonable.
Unfortunately, NIMBYs have essentially overwhelmed City Planning to the point where surprise hotel-to-homeless shelter conversions are the only legitimate way new beds can be built. With this workaround in mind, and on-the-ground happenings in neighborhoods like Sunnyside, Corona, and Maspeth confirming the trend, the continued rise in inventory is probably going to yield a community relations crisis of epic proportions.
Most of these Outer Borough neighborhoods with new hotels are marginally commercial or industrial to begin with. More importantly, society’s most vulnerable are typically those who end up homeless, and critical social services are necessary to ensure transient housing does not cause issues with the general community. These locations are lacking.
In this gaping chasm between NIMBY-driven housing shortages and the burgeoning homeless population falls the most sizable increase in hotel bed supply New York City has ever seen, many of which can be turned into homeless-ready-housing after nominal paperwork is completed.
The outcry has already been substantial, with social media covering the outrage extensively. While the official position from City Hall is that the hotel-to-shelter trend will end by the early 2020s, the massive impending glut of hotel rooms and ramping protests from outraged local residents would argue otherwise.
Though the Mayor has done a relatively decent job of pushing for affordable housing, the backdrop of NIMBYism has worsened substantially during DeBlasio’s first four years, and uncooperative local politicians, mostly Democrats, have become increasingly emboldened in challenging new housing development, both affordable and market-rate. The culmination of regressive local politics is unfolding before all New Yorkers’ eyes, and as the homeless population continues to mushroom, the literal manifestation of leaving people out in the cold is becoming widespread physical reality.
Unfortunately, the signs for the next few years are growing darker. And while there has been substantial rhetoric on a national scale regarding a potential border wall, the barriers to entry being built by local NIMBY politicians are far more insidious, as they do not discriminate between domestic or international migrants. They filter by those who are already here, and those who are not.
With mounting internal pressures, if this reality is not already apparent to most everyone, it soon will be. The number of displaced domestic refugees is approaching levels not seen since the Dust Bowl, with the cumulative impact of events in Texas, Florida, California, and Puerto Rico leaving hundreds of thousands on the move and needing shelter. While the words of Emma Lazarus have traditionally been interpreted as having meaning to those seeking refuge from overseas, they must be equally applicable to Americans from elsewhere within this country.
Even more importantly, unlike the time when the flow of international immigrants was fed through checkpoints at Ellis Island, there are no international borders to keep the domestically displaced out of New York City. If they want to stay, they will, and housing must be built so they are not forced to live on the streets.
As disasters continue accumulating, and the number of displaced internal migrants skyrockets, there are several questions for New Yorkers to consider on what the future will look like in another four years.
Will the number of homeless people be higher? If the answer is yes, by how much? And if the answer is “yes” and how much is “a lot,” what are the practical implications for the city’s urban areas that are already regressing to 90s-era quality of life?
Will the hotel epidemic across the Outer Boroughs continue unabated? Will City Planning strong-arm the construction of actual homeless shelters with appropriate support facilities? Or will the tens of thousands of existing and impending new beds ultimately fill the void?
Finally, what will the impact of these developments be on the real estate market in general? Can the uber-luxury segment of $20M+ condominiums continue flying off the shelves as sidewalks down below become increasingly cluttered with cardboard boxes?
Tune in come 2021 to find out. In the meantime, vote “Yes” on the Constitutional Convention option on today’s ballots, because if nothing else is clear, New York’s politics need a complete rethink — even if the means to get there are not completely clear just yet.