Saturday, August 23, 2008

Neighborhood Demolition

I have been spending the past couple of days trying to write down why I feel so strongly about saving affordable housing in New York City. It's something I do about once every 2 months and I have yet to distill all my thoughts into a comprehensible essay that addresses all the points. It's a tough subject with a lot of subtlety.

It is amazing to me how many people feel so strongly against landlord abuse in this city, mostly because they are angry that they are paying way too much for their rents. I agree, you are paying too much. That is why we need some stability and protection. The rest of the country is suffering serious downturn. In New York, a downturn is when prices increase 5% instead of 20%.

I have not completed my thesis on this subject yet, but I am working toward it. The themes have to do with keeping communities intact by not encouraging a mass of transient housing at the expense of affordable housing for low and middle income families, and about how mixed income communities are the most healthy for the long term success of the city.

The problem with my essay is that there are other people out there so much more articulate than I, so I keep deferring to them. I found the explanation below very compelling and distills the economics of what is happening in way that I hadn't read about before. I hope the shadow doesn't mind my copying it here. I found it at this great neighborhood blog.

Early next year, after the (s)election of the next president, interest rates will rise dramatically as the availability of money for loans dries up. You know what happens then -- inflated property values evaporate, leading to a huge wave of defaults and foreclosures as the economy grinds to a halt. (This is the scam the money masters pull in roughly ten year cycles: inflate the economy and sell holdings at the peak of the market, then implode the economy and buy assets for pennies on the dollar -- this is what was behind the market crash of October 1929).

In each cycle, real estate developers overbuild beyond market demand because money is so readily available. In the 80s cycle, they built too many hotels; in the 90s cycle, they built too much office space; in the current cycle, they're building too many "luxury" apts. All of these developments end up vacant when the money supply is restricted as inflated property values crumble.

Why we're seeing a frenzy of activity in demolishing old buildings and then putting up crappy structures as quickly as possible is because developers are trying to lock into what money they can get at low rates before the coming crash results in higher rates and makes loans and funding unavailable.

It should be noted that there is a secret policy within city govt to change the demographics of the city by using the private sector. In this way, people focus anger on developers rather than on the officials that make the destruction of their neighborhoods possible. To assist the private sector, areas are re-zoned, variances are granted, tax credits and other breaks are provided, and low-interest loans are made readily available.

It matters not that developers are not building according to demand -- the real goal is to get rid of the poor folks who stand in the way of gentrifying every fucking inch of the city.

The out-of-scale building that has been permitted to take place in the old-world neighborhoods just east of Houston (Orchard, Ludlow, Allen Streets, to name a few) is the best proof of this.

A nice market crash (even though it is manipulated) will stop this over-development for a while, at least until the next cycle of inflated property values begins anew.

But, the irreversable damage has been and is still being done. Even after the crashes, displaced residents cannot return to their apts, mom + pop shops don't re-open, beautiful old buildings and architecture that define the character of neighborhoods is gone forever and the social fabric of neighborhoods is eliminated.

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