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Socially Inclusive Mixed-Income Housing Is A Long Way Of...

Socially Inclusive Mixed-Income Housing Is A Long Way Off For New York City

New York City, New York is infamous for being one of the least affordable cities in the country, reflected directly in the city’s state of housing. According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), those who spend more than thirty percent of their income on their housing are “rent-burdened” and qualify for affordable housing.

The main entrance of One Riverside Park, Upper West Side, New York City, New York. Photo by Quinn Harding. The main entrance of One Riverside Park. Photo by Quinn Harding.

New York City, New York is infamous for being one of the least affordable cities in the country, reflected directly in the city’s state of housing. According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), those who spend more than thirty percent of their income on their housing are “rent-burdened” and qualify for affordable housing. One million households meet this standard in New York City. The demand for subsidized housing is far outpacing the number of available units. New York City continues to become more expensive, however incomes of its residents are remaining stagnant, forcing locals to spend even greater percentages of their income on housing.

During the 2013 mayoral election, Mayor Bill de Blasio promised an aggressive overhaul of the current housing situation in New York City. So far, the mayor has lived up to his word. In 2014, Mayor de Blasio announced an initiative to create 200,000 affordable housing units over the next 10 years, an extremely ambitious, yet necessary plan. In New York City, nearly a quarter of the population cannot afford to live in market rate housing. These buildings would not be exclusively affordable units, but rather would be mixed in with market-rate housing. While this approach ostensibly brings people from different backgrounds together, it does not bring true integration.

Mixed-income housing is a program that was started by Mayor Bloomberg in 2009, who offered tax breaks to developers that included affordable housing units in their complexes. As a result, many luxury apartments contain several units that are below market rate. The intention behind this legislation was to create diverse communities comprised of people from a variety of incomes brackets. The main issue with this approach, however is the fact that it has not brought true integration, instead it has created segregated groups that happen to live in the same building. Perhaps the most famous example of this phenomenon is One Riverside Park.

One Riverside Park. The view from the main entrance side of the building extends across the Hudson River into New Jersey, Upper West Side, New York City, New York. Photo by Quinn Harding. The view from the main entrance side of the building extends across the Hudson River into New Jersey. Photo by Quinn Harding.

One Riverside Park has become infamous for its “poor door.” The “poor door” is located on the back side of the building, and is the main point of access for the residents that live in the fifty-five affordable units in the building. While having multiple entrances to a building is a building code requirement, to many skeptics of the design, the door comes off as a means to keep the tenants of the affordable housing isolated from the rest of the residents living in the market rate units. This feature of the building’s design has sparked a great deal of controversy, and highlights the tension that still exists when dealing with the issue of providing sufficient housing for those in need of assistance.

One Riverside Park. The view from the "poor door" side is significantly different, with images of smoke stacks and buildings under construction, Upper West Side, New York City, New York. Photo by Quinn Harding. The view from the "poor door" side is significantly different, with images of smoke stacks and buildings under construction. Photo by Quinn Harding.

One Riverside Park is only one complex with fifty-five affordable units. Under Mayor Bill de Blasio’s initiative, another 200,000 units will be built. Such a significant number, while it will certainly provide housing for those in need, it will also magnify the issues of affordable housing to a much greater scale. Until this point, Mayor de Blasio has not presented a specific plan to address this fatal flaw in mixed-income housing. At this point, the mayor has only offered legislation to increase the number of affordable units. While this approach is valuable, it does not address the human element. How will tenants of affordable housing relate to their environment when forced into an unfamiliar situation like living in a luxury apartment? How will members of the affluent community react? Addressing these questions could go a long way in creating housing solutions comprised of different income classes of people.

Is more housing the answer? Will Mayor de Blasio’s approach experience any major changes? How does affordable housing affect your city? What initiatives are in place to make housing affordable in your community? Share your thoughts and your city's stories in the comments area below.

Credits: Photos by Quinn Harding. Data linked to sources.

  • Martin Horník

    I have hard time understanding the meaning of this sentence: “How will tenants of affordable housing relate to their environment when forced into an unfamiliar situation like living in a luxury apartment?” Like they win a lottery, or how exactly would they be “forced” to live in a luxury apartment?

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