HOUSING THEORY

leninLast night I took part in a panel organized by Fordham University. The topic was “A Home in the City,” and the discussion was about future housing strategies for New York. The talk ranged over modular housing, micro apartments, affordable housing, single-room occupancy, and zoning regulations. Of course, everyone knows that housing in New York is very expensive–although not equally expensive for everyone. More than 400,000 New Yorkers live in public housing, and almost a third of New Yorkers live in rent-controlled apartments. Furthermore, as Mary Anne Gilmartin, the CEO of Forest City Ratner, observed, under current regulations new housing developments are required to provide 20 percent affordable units, that is, the expensive market housing subsidizes the lower-income tenants. “Affordable” in this case is a relative term: qualifying annual income for a family of four is $85,900. After the panel, I spoke to Rosemary Wakeman, chair of urban studies at Fordham, who made the point that the unspoken sentiment that lay beneath the surface of the symposium was the feeling of helplessness that middle-class New Yorkers currently had, surrounded by ever more new condo towers for the world’s super-rich. You walk down the street and see the darkened getaways of Russian oligarchs, she said. That reminded me of Lenin’s Theory of Housing. There is no such thing as a housing problem, he said. You simply divide the housing stock by the number of people that require to be housed and that is the amount of space each citizen gets. Which is precisely what European Communist regimes during the Cold War did. Every citizen had the right to a certain number of square meters of housing, if your dwelling happened to be larger, you had to accept another occupant or two; if you were lucky–or knew whom to bribe–they would be relatives or friends. The Lenin Theory would solve New York’s housing problem overnight, although it would hardly make the Russian oligarchs happy. Been there, done that.

One Response to HOUSING THEORY

  • Eric Fazzini says:

    This makes me think of the issue Cincinnati’s Over-the-Rhine is having attracting the middle class. Myself, when I near the marriage/child years I will not likely be looking to buy in Over-the-Rhine for two reasons. First, the housing stock just isn’t there from a form or price standpoint. There’s an overemphasis on affordable housing (Jeff Speck preaches this in Walkable City) and the limited amount of new housing coming online from 3CDC is either rental or condos unaffordable to a middle class government employee- $300,000 to $1.2 million shown currently on Zillow.

    There are still more buildings to redevelopment than have been rehabbed, but for Over-the-Rhine, it will be crucial to provide a modified housing stock that is desirable and available to buyers planning on eventually being married with 1-2 children. I think the positive urbanism data we’re seeing on Millenials is to a great deal a result of my generation delaying marriage and children and less a referendum on urbanism vs. suburbia, though I do not argue with the statistics on family size, VMT, downtown population gains, etc. So unless there is a sudden rush of missing middle-type housing with 2-3 bedrooms for an eventual family priced between $100,000 and $200,000, I will likely follow the existing trend of most locals by moving to one of the great city neighborhoods (or Newport/Covington/Bellevue, KY), not that there’s anything wrong with that, as the housing stock exists for married couples and families and is affordable to the middle class. But as far as being able to buy at an affordable price point within walking distance to work, that scenario may only exist in Covington.

    Despite the positive momentum and interest, I believe the lack of condo’s or single family homes in OTR will be a hindrance to its widespread, long-term redevelopment as a result of retaining an OTR middle class being overlooked as a desired housing strategy. Cincinnati is not a global city like Chicago and there is not an infinite amount of transplants, Creative Class or other Millennials to fill the entire neighborhood that historically has reached a population around 40,000. Within my family, the historic decision to live in Detroit vs. their suburbs had not been about crime, schools, transportation, politics, or race, but has boiled down simply to the housing product. When the kids start popping out, it’s time for 2-3 bedrooms.

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