Upstairs, Downstairs Managing Income Disparities in Co-ops & Condos

Because of resident turnover, the city’s practice of requiring real estate developers to devote a certain percentage of units in new buildings to market- or below-market rate in order to fortify the city's stock of more affordable housing, and just the sheer fact of 8 million people living in a very concentrated geography, many of New York City’s co-ops and condos are home to people of differing income levels.

These residents may occupy the same floor of a building, but not the same socioeconomic stratum. This mélange of the wealthy and the not-so-wealthy contributes mightily to the city’s diversity, and ensures that Manhattan in particular does not become the country’s largest gated community (at least not for another decade or so).

But managing a building that is home to millionaires, fixed-income retirees, and folks on public assistance poses some distinct challenges—some economic, some social.

A Changing Cityscape

While some parts of the five boroughs have always been middle-class neighborhoods and others enclaves of the well-to-do, much of the city has changed through the years. Greenwich Village, for example, used to offer cheap rents once upon a time, which made it a haven for artists, which made it desirable but ultimately, more expensive. The spacious prewar buildings in Harlem were built during a real estate boom in the last century. The real estate market crashed just as the construction of Penn Station drove many African-American families out of what was then called the Tenderloin. Rather than go broke, developers uptown reluctantly sold and rented to these families, thus creating the city’s most famous black neighborhood.

But New York and Manhattan in particular, has become prohibitively expensive for even middle-income earners to live. Bill de Blasio was elected mayor on the strength of his populist stance on that issue—and, perhaps, because unlike the previous mayor, he is not one of New York City’s most wealthiest residents. “The truth is, the state of our city, as we find it today, is a tale of two cities, with an inequality gap that fundamentally threatens our future,” Mayor de Blasio said in his first State of the City address. “Our middle class isn’t just squeezed; it’s at risk of disappearing altogether. That disparity, that inequality crisis, is the greatest risk to our New York promise.”

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