Columnist

The whitening of New York City

By Bertha Lewis |  

March 10, 2016 |  

(Ed Reed / Mayor's Office)

Every day, New York City’s affordability crisis gets worse. The gap between low wages and high rents continues to grow. Black and Latino New Yorkers are most in danger of being pushed out of their homes, yet the current discussion around Mayor Bill de Blasio’s housing plan ignores the harsh reality of race.

The numbers are nasty, brutish, and unacceptable. The mayor’s Mandatory Inclusionary Housing proposal will not require any developer to build housing for people earning less than 60 percent of Area Median Income – $47,000 for a family of three. That means nearly half of all black and Latino households will be excluded and left behind, according to the latest census data on household income in New York City.

Even if all New Yorkers of color employed in fast food, retail and other low-wage sectors started to earn $15 an hour in full-time positions, they would only see their incomes rise to around $31,000 per year – not nearly enough to afford any apartment that will be created by de Blasio’s widely criticized plan.

So, listen up, New York City Council: Preserving and increasing real affordable housing for low-income folks is the only way to ensure racial diversity continues to exist in our city. If de Blasio’s plan is not substantially improved, we will witness the forced exodus of countless black and Latino New Yorkers.

Who will take their place? Let’s not kid ourselves. We all know the answer: wealthier white people.

It’s time for Council members to step up and demand a better plan that delivers real affordability for low-income people of color. The de Blasio administration says it can’t be done. Nonsense!

City Hall uses the same talking points as developers who whine about not making enough money. But affordable housing should never be a get-even-richer scheme. The reality is that plenty of highly qualified nonprofit developers will build real affordable housing without asking for a massive windfall profit.

As it stands, de Blasio’s current housing agenda will only accelerate the whitening of New York City.

The mayor has promised 200,000 affordable units, but the math does not work in favor of the most vulnerable black and brown New Yorkers living on the frontlines of gentrification and displacement. 80,000 of these units will be new apartments, but most will be out of reach for working poor folks of color. And the remaining 120,000 are older apartments that will be “preserved” as affordable, a vague term that the de Blasio administration has yet to flesh out, much to the delight of unscrupulous landlords.

Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen’s additional plan to build 175,000 market-rate units is equally worrisome. This will only increase the supply of luxury housing and put upward pressure on rents, making it harder for many New Yorkers of color to hold onto affordable apartments.

More and more neighborhoods like East New York and the South Bronx are being taken from black and brown tenants, as the real-estate elite deems them hot spots for white people with a lot of disposable cash. Many struggling folks who invested years, if not decades, in their communities are now being told to leave. They know exactly why: Property owners would like more affluent white people to be the faces of neighborhoods that, until recently, were historic strongholds of real affordability for black people, Latinos, and a very diverse mix of often non-white immigrant groups.

It’s offensive and wrong for the de Blasio administration to allow a message of “whites only” to circulate in a growing number of zip codes, and they are doing little to stop it. The administration has put not a single person of color in leadership to focus on the housing affordability crisis. City Hall has only dispatched white bureaucrats to places like East New York and the South Bronx to sell their plan, and their often condescending and arrogant presentations have generated far more anger than applause.

Let’s be real: De Blasio would not have been elected mayor without the support of low-income black and brown New Yorkers – the very people shut out of his housing plan. Just as they paved his way to City Hall, they can also throw their considerable political power behind another mayoral candidate next year.

Recent polling clearly shows that New Yorkers of color earning less than $50,000 a year are most concerned about not being able to afford to stay. Any Democrat considering a run against de Blasio could easily make his failure to deliver real affordable housing a key component of their platform.

If de Blasio thinks we will stand by him in 2017 no matter what, he’s in for the rudest of awakenings.

Bertha Lewis is president of The Black Institute.

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