Like many other American cities, New York City is currently mired in an affordable housing crisis. And the situation seemingly grows more dire by the day. As Gothamist reported earlier this year, weakened rent laws and economic pressures have made the problem worse (In its recent report, the Coalition for the Homeless said that in February 2019, “an average of 63,615 men, women, and children slept in New York City shelters each night, just shy of the all-time record set in January”). Although earlier this year Mayor Bill de Blasio touted that the city has financed a record total 34,160 affordable homes in 2018, critics have said that a very small percentage of those homes was actually allocated to the poorest New Yorkers.
On the development side, one example of how the city is trying to combat the housing shortage is something called Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH). The Department of City Planning and the Department of Housing and Development formulated this zoning tool that requires developers to incorporate affordable housing into new development projects in rezoned areas. In 2016, the City Council revised the MIH policy. As stated on the City's Council website, the goals of the MIH modification were to “reach lower income households while maintaining flexibility; close loopholes in the program administration; improve transparency; address safety and local hiring concerns; and address problems of displacement and tenant harassment.”
But the question remains whether Mandatory Inclusionary Housing is actually an effective way to provide more affordable housing overall, or is it just a patch on a fundamentally broken system. There may be no clear-cut answer to that complicated question -- but first we'll look at the issues and consequences surrounding the crisis.
In today’s New York, land is becoming increasingly scarce as the number of vacant parcels continues to dwindle. As Jason Barr, professor of economics at Rutgers University-Newark, explains in his blog Skynomics, a square foot of land in East Hampton, Connecticut cost $184; a square foot in Brooklyn costs $667, and in Manhattan the price jumps to over $1,000. It's simple supply and demand: when supply is limited, prices climb. That is one of the main reasons housing is so expensive in New York City, and it is expected to get worse.
So when new development does happen, where does it get built? For the most part, it takes place in the more fringe areas of the city, such as sites along the Grand Concourse in the Bronx; Upper Manhattan; and the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn. To be sure, these areas aren't uninhabited wastelands; these are neighborhoods that often have deeply rooted and established communities of working-class and immigrant New Yorkers. These communities are often faced with substantial change when new housing development arrives, which is why the City Council adopted a more responsive approach.