Monday, April 14, 2014

Debating Gentrification

The New York Times' "Room for Debate" asked me to participate in their discussion on gentrification and what can be done about it.

Here's my take--in 300 words (for the longer, more thorough version, check out my post on hyper-gentrification):

The old-school gentrification of the 20th century, while harmful, wasn’t all bad. It made streets safer, created jobs and brought fresh vegetables to the corner store. Today, however, what we talk about when we talk about gentrification is actually a far more destructive process, one that I prefer to call hyper-gentrification.

Unlike gentrification, in which the agents of change were middle-class settlers moving into working-class and poor neighborhoods, in hyper-gentrification the change comes from city government in collaboration with large corporations. Widespread transformation is intentional, massive and swift, resulting in a completely sanitized city filled with brand-name mega-developments built for the luxury class. The poor, working and middle classes are pushed out, along with artists, and the city goes stale. Urban scholar Neil Smith wrote extensively about the phenomenon, calling it “a systematic class-remaking of city neighborhoods.”

Cultivated by former mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, hyper-gentrification in New York was implemented via strategically planned mass rezonings, eminent domain and billions in tax breaks to corporations. This led to the eviction of countless residents and small businesses, destroying the fabric of our streets and putting the city’s soul on life support. To save it, we need politicians, activists and citizens to get tough and retake this city. Let’s drastically reduce tax breaks to corporations and redirect that money to mom-and-pops. Protect the city’s oldest small businesses by providing selective retail rent control, and implement the Small Business Survival Act to create fair rent negotiations. Pass a citywide ordinance to control the spread of chain stores. Strengthen residential rent regulation. Shop local and protest the corporate invasion of neighborhoods.

Unfortunately, too many New Yorkers say, “This is normal. The city always changes.” They’re in denial. This is not normal. It is state-sponsored, corporate-driven and turbo-charged.

The first step to healing is to admit we have a problem.


Anonymous said...

Great and accurately disturbing statement. Thanks Mr. Moss.

Will send link your link around yet again.

Anonymous said...

Or, you could upzone all neighborhoods, repeal or means test rent control, and limit historical landmarking and make the city affordable for people again, by making housing available that normal people can, you know, actually rent.

You’re only protecting insiders at the expense of outsiders, the old at the expense of the young, parents at the expense of their children who wish to move out but stay in the city. You're encouraging politicians to buy votes via more overpriced subsidized housing in a city where 60% of all rental housing is already subsidized by one party or the other. Agreed that developers don’t need tax abatements, but I don’t agree that anyone should have a tax break. Rent regulation recipients don’t pay their fair share of imputed property tax, and that has to be made up by others. Also, why do single-family homes receive preferential tax treatment over denser apartment buildings or condos?

What about the legions of people in their 20s living doubled up in (often illegal) housing far out along the J because the more accessible places in the city can never change (zoning, landmarking) or the apartments can not be rented at any price (rent controls), especially in places with excellent transit (e.g., the Villages)? Hundreds of thousands of people spend hours on the subway every week commuting underneath places where they could live but can’t because of rent controls and downzoning. As long as city planners and pro-regulation folk such as yourself make it profitable at $100/hr to ride the subway to more distant housing by displacing current residents, you’ll get your “hyper-gentrification.”

The basic problem is that more people are moving to NYC every year than there is housing being built for them. At least Bloomberg recognized that industry wasn’t coming back in many of the areas he rezoned for development, producing new housing. If rezoning didn’t occur, the higher-income residents would just be displacing existing residents elsewhere. We need more development, more condos, more upzoning, more more more. That's the only way things will get cheaper.

laura r. said...

big differene between rent control & rent stablization. rent "control" can be the same rent from 1962. some people have huge fancy apts for only several 100 dollars. "stablization" means the rent goes up when you resign the lease (different % for 1yr 2 yr 3 yr). some people have had those places for years, they are affordable even for poor seniors. newer market rate rents are not affordable for most people even if it is stablized. no NYC is not just "changing". this is not normal! but it is all over the world, its a global corp thing. the same corps who build malls in central america build them in NY. same people build the skyscrapers. dont know how much power the new mayor has. dont think he cares much anyway. hes also just a fish in a world wide pond. so much of the world looks the same now. good read, well said. this is way beyound change.

Charles said...

A policy of "more more more" would be worse than what we have now. It would decimate quality of life and destroy the city's past forever in the vain hope of making a place for everybody who wants to live on what is already one of the most overcrowded cities in the world. It's a glibertarian pipe dream anyway because rich property owners who care about their neighborhoods would never allow the kind of upzoning that would be needed to make a dent. There's a reason the most business-friendly supreme court in history has gone nowhere near striking down land use regulation: rich people like it.

Frankly, there's no satisfying answer to the problem of gentrification. New York is a "winner" in the global sweepstakes of our winner-take-all economy: the rich and upwardly mobile want and need to be here and will spend any amount to buy or rent a piece of it. New big buildings, designed by computer to maximize efficiency, will never feel as human as old ones. To banks and landlords, increasingly indistinguishable, national chains are always better propositions, financially, than mom-and-pops. The old New York that created our beloved institutions now gasping their last breaths was a working-class city, and that class has long since vanished, replaced by the 1% and its vast army of servants.