Gentrification, "Brooklyn's Roommate Belt," and how housing code changes could produce more affordable housing
Former Citizens Housing and Planning Council (CHPC) fellow Denali Dasgupta, now a Policy Analyst in the New York City Comptroller's Office, at the Dreamland Pavilion Conference last October contended that the cause may be less market forces than market failure.
And a revision in regulations might produce a lot more affordable housing, I'd suggest, leaving less opportunity for projects like Atlantic Yards, however questionable, to be seen as saviors.
The "Roommate Belt"
Thus, Dasgupta described what she called "Brooklyn's Roommate Belt," zones of Brooklyn--originally neighborhoods like Park Slope and Fort Greene, now extended to Kensington, Prospect Heights and Bedford-Stuyvesant--which contain large numbers of unrelated young adults sharing apartments.
While they work in relatively low-wage jobs, their collective income is higher than working-class neighbors, and thus their presence shapes gentrification, making apartments less affordable for long-term families and driving retail that speaks to their needs more than anything.
(A prime example, discussed in another session, is the lopsided ratio of laundromats to bars/cafes in Williamsburg.)
One Size Fits Some
As CHPC executive Jerilyn Perine explained at a 9/24/09 symposium, One Size Fits Some:
One of the many ironies of life in New York City is that, in a place where people are obsessed with real estate, housing, and the ensuing discussions about what people have, who has a good deal, and what they pay for it, there is little discussion or even awareness of New York City’s housing standards. And yet it is housing standards that largely determine who lives where and how much they pay for it. These standards implicitly encourage the construction of larger units rather than small ones, make it illegal for more than three unrelated adults to live together, make outlaws of extended families living in basements of small homes, and permit homeless single adults to sleep in doorways, but not in lodging houses or Single Room Occupancy units (SROs), both of which have been outlawed.Symposium
City Limits, in a 10/5/09 article headlined PROPOSED: NYC SHOULD HAVE EVEN SMALLER APARTMENTS, reports on an initiative of the CHPC:
Many current housing rules stifle innovative design, restrict the construction of new affordable housing, and exacerbate the city’s never-ending housing shortage — practically making overcrowding the unofficial housing policy.At “One Size Fits Some,” designers and developers from numerous places described "well-designed small homes and shared spaces that are difficult, if not impossible, to build under New York’s existing building codes."
“We need more variety — more different types of housing,” says Jerilyn Perine, a former city housing chief who for the past three years has headed CHPC. “For 100 years we used to think of ourselves as the housing innovators. We’ve lost that edge.”
Every apartment must have its own kitchen and a bath, thus ruling out certain configurations, including Single Room Occupancy buildings--once quite notorious but also a key source of housing for part of the population.
One reason housing advocates haven't pushed changing the rules, Perine told City Limits, is that if New York actually enforced the current housing code, immigrants sharing overstuffed apartments and houses would bear the brunt of the crackdown.
Indeed, the Daily News, in an 11/15/09 article headlined Hidden deathtraps: After Flushing fire and 200K complaints, divided apartments still run rampant, reported that the city has received more than 20,000 [not 200,000] complaints about illegal apartments in each of the past three years, with half of the investigations closed because the Buildings Department never got inside.
Perine in her speech said:
What are the best ways to house single adults? Is there room in the housing market for a new SRO model and new lodging houses? Can 21st century technology and fire safety techniques help to make new adaptations safer, cheaper, and more widely available for low wage workers and new entrants into the housing market?One solution
City Limits reported:
One speaker already has a few proposals for New York. Thousands of rowhouses could be modified to include an extra apartment if the state legislature and city council would change the law, according to Alex Garvin, president and CEO of Alex Garvin & Associates, a locally based planning and design firm.There's more, including audio and floor plans, from Urban Omnibus. Garvin pointed out that many garages in Queens are already used as mother-in-law apartments.
"Change the definition of multiple dwelling," he added. (A multiple-dwelling building is three units or more.) "Go from 'two units or less' to 'three units or less' [for buildings that get less regulation]. All of a sudden everything changes."
He also said that, by reducing the parking requirements associated with apartment buildings, it would be cheaper to build affordable housing. (Parking policy was notoriously left out of Mayor Mike Bloomberg's PlaNYC 2030.)