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March 26, 2005

Why no progressive housing policy?

Housing prices continue to go through the roof, yet in New York City, in the bluest of blue cities, there is no clear policy or movement for affordable housing.

I am transfixed by the debate over the Jets stadium, not because I actually favor or oppose the stadium ardently (although I lean against), but precisely because discussions of building tens of thousands of new housing units are considered such a marginal part of the debate. That very marginality is the story.

You almost have to read the news articles from the bottom to get the housing news nuggests. Take this comment by one of the developers brought in on the most recent Jets bid:

"If we can purchase the right to build in Manhattan for $100 a square foot or less, it gives us the opportunity to build rental housing, which is becoming increasingly difficult to do in Manhattan," Mr. Brodsky said.
This is the real story of development in New York City -- and many other cities -- a story of development geared to NIMBYism and a few greased political deals for players connected to the political establishment.

In fact, the grassroots energy focused on blocking anything new feeds the power of those doling out development favors, since if the latter say no, the developers know that have little public will to use to trump the politician's vetos.

Inclusionary Zoning is not enough: Progressives do promote the idea that any new development should include a mandate that some portion of the housing be priced for affordability. Read this report for a good analysis of the benefits.

But if you look at the broadest platform for affordable housing in New York City, the Housing Here and Now coalition, what's missing is a demand for more housing, period. There's no question that advocates should require that new housing developments include a percentage dedicated to affordable units, but getting a percentage of a tiny amount of new units doesn't add up to much affordable housing.

It shouldn't take a side deal on a Jets stadium to get a discussion on building more housing. In New York and around the country, the almost complete abscense of a real progressive program for housing -- a budget item absorbing from 30%-50% of most families income -- is emblematic of the left's failure to engage the real pocketbook issues of American families.

If progressives don't deal with those family issues, no wonder the Right can seize the media high ground with their culture war issues.

Housing shouldn't be an bottom-of-the-column story. The fact that it is the fault of progressives who haven't ramped up serious national campaigns around bringing housing costs under control for families.

Posted by Nathan at March 26, 2005 08:15 AM