By: Jeremiah Geffe
Student Writer for The Journal of Gender, Race & Justice, Volume 18
New York City has allowed tax credits for developers who offer low income housing in their buildings. While this is an admirable goal and a worthwhile program, it is not without its faults. The first and perhaps largest problem is that these benefits can expire. The New York Attorney’s General Office has addressed this problem by allowing owners of buildings who currently provide low income housing to take advantage of the current real estate market by selling their market rate units now, in exchange for either keeping their low income housing past the expiration date, or adding additional low income units.
Then there are buildings with so-called “poor doors”, which force those who live in the rent regulated portions of the building to use a door that is separate from the door used by the residents who pay market value for their units. This is the issue with the low income housing in New York that has troubled the public the most. New York City Councilwoman Helen Rosenthal called the situation “a disgrace.”
The separation of rent-regulated tenants and those paying market value extends beyond just different entrances. There are some buildings where certain amenities, such as gyms and children’s areas are off limits to those in rent regulated units. Developers are open about their reasoning for keeping these extras off limits to their rent regulated tenants. These amenities are meant as enticements for renters who will be paying market rate and therefore opening them up to their rent regulated tenants would defeat the purpose of attracting tenants who would pay market rate. This has had the effect of making rent regulated tenants feel as though they are not as good as tenants who pay market rate.
Los Angeles, through the Skid Row Housing Trust, just opened a new housing complex for the homeless. The bottom floor of the building houses the county’s Department of Health Services’ Housing for Health Division, which hopes to house 10,000 of the county’s sickest homeless people in the next ten years. This is a great success for a city attempting to provide housing for their homeless population.
Beyond designing the complex for the homeless, the designer of the building recently opened a high end apartment complex that has allocated 88 of 438 units for low income renters. However, this new building also reflects the problem that is creating the need for the lower income housing. This luxury building is being built in an arts district, but the rising costs of rents is driving the artists out of the area, and the neighborhood is in danger of losing its artistic character.
The attempted fixes of adding rent regulated housing to new buildings is adding affordable housing to markets where it did not previously exist. Yet it has also created situations where the rent regulated tenants are treated differently than tenants who pay market rate and added to the need for low income housing by raising the rate of rent in certain neighborhoods. Large cities need to create policies that provide low income housing without allowing those who provide the housing to discriminate against their lower income tenants.