OPINION: A healthy city must provide for all income groups

The fact that many Brooklyn neighborhoods have received such an influx of wealthy people that they rival such well-heeled Manhattan neighborhoods as Chelsea, Midtown and Greenwich Village is perhaps inevitable, and isn’t really news to people who have been following Brooklyn real estate.

In a recent Brooklyn Daily Eagle article, reporter Mary Frost summarized a report by New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer that revealed that the median apartment rent has risen by 75 percent since 2000, while real incomes have declined by 4.8 percent. By contrast, the report says, rents in other parts of the country only rose 44 percent during the same time period.

Frost’s article also mentioned that while real incomes are dropping, a number of Brooklyn neighborhoods are getting richer. She names Brooklyn Heights, Fort Greene, Williamsburg, Greenpoint, Park Slope and Carroll Gardens as being “increasingly posh” neighborhoods. (I thought that Brooklyn Heights and Park Slope had been growing progressively more upscale since brownstone enthusiasts discovered them in the ‘60s and ‘70s.)

What’s behind this? Simply speaking, it’s the fact that New York is becoming more and more of a magnet for people from all over the world. It is perceived as a glamorous, exciting, dynamic city, with its financial district, film and television industries, high-tech companies, trendy restaurants and so on. When New York was down and out, in the 1970s and ‘80s, you didn’t see many ambitious young people from prestigious colleges coming to the city – indeed, they were leaving the city. Now, the game has changed.

Supply follows demand, and the expensive condos that are being constructed in some parts of Brooklyn wouldn’t be there if there weren’t a large number of successful professionals, businesspeople and artists who could afford to live there. The very successful have always had their own neighborhoods, and that doesn’t bother me any more than the fact that, say, Satmar Hasidim or Pakistani immigrants have theirs.

What does bother me is that the robust growth in upper-income housing isn’t being matched by middle-income and working-class housing. Neighborhoods like the one where I grew up in the Bronx, and where many readers doubtlessly grew up in Brooklyn, are increasingly a thing of the past.  

Yes, the city has made efforts to increase the amount of affordable housing.  But why should such an effort even be necessary? Back when the city had a healthier economy, builders put up middle-income apartment houses in Canarsie and Midwood as well as high-rises on Park Avenue – and made a profit from both.

Comptroller Stringer’s report, officially titled “The Growing Gap: New York City’s Housing Affordability Challenge,” contains more grim statistics, which were quoted by Frost in the Eagle. While the median home value has doubled, nearly 360,000 apartments renting for $400 to $1,000 per month disappeared from 2000 to 2012. Also, the number of New Yorkers living in shelters has risen from around 31,000 in 2002 to more than 52,000 today.

A city, to be viable, must contain a healthy mix of occupations and income groups. There’s nothing wrong with the Lincoln automobile, but do you think that Ford Motor Company would be viable if it only made Lincolns? I think not. The same is true for New York City.