Di Blasio's Affordable Housing Plan
and the Whitening of New York City
By Jaime Estades
The NiLP Report (October 23, 2017)
The "class approach" to many of the public policies embraced by New York City Mayor Bill di Blasio reflects a fundamentally "race-neutral" strategy. This wrongly assumes that there is equality among the classes and that integration can be accomplished. Unfortunately, this well-intentioned methodology utilizes unaffordable housing strategies that result in the displacement of people of color.
Creating public policies based exclusively on a "class analysis" excludes from the equation those social and economic realities within which African American, Latino, and Asian communities exist in this City and results in an incomplete class analysis. The inclusion of these groups is necessary, especially in a multi-cultural, multi-racial city like New York. If their reality is excluded, any resulting policies will neglect the most exploited and discriminated working-class groups --- people of color.
Some on the left fear that including race in a class analysis is a sacrilegious act -- similar to inviting Satan to give a speech in heaven. However, the exclusion of race from the class analysis can result in disparate impact and potential displacement. The city government has a responsibility to make sure that "affordable housing" does not create racial isolation and worsen discrimination.
A recent article in the Amsterdam News (3/23/17) quotes a housing activist saying, "The defense of gentrification as not being racist is founded on the premise of affordability not being a racial issue but simply based on one's ability to pay." The design of the Mayor's housing plan implies that its effects will trickle down to poor and working-class communities of color, to provide them affordable housing. This shows an ignorance of how working class people of color have been treated throughout the history of this country's public policy implementation, especially at the local level. This is a process some have called "trickle-down progressivism."
In contradiction to its stated purpose, the implementation of the plan has concentrated and targeted areas for housing development in African American, Latino and Asian communities, thereby accelerating gentrification. As a result, many longtime residents are displaced due to rapidly rising rents throughout the community while only a few benefit from the new units created through the "housing affordability plan." Interestingly, the City formula and its class approach neglected to include a plan to develop "affordable housing" in affluent white neighborhoods. As a friend recently told me, under the Mayor's formula "they can come and live here, but we can't go and live there!"
Evidence of sound credit is one the most fundamental eligibility criteria for potential tenants in Mayor di Blasio's "Affordable Housing Plan." Developers and bankers will not accept anyone without good credit to compete for affordable housing. Even if they fit one of the classifications of median income such as making $36,000 to 42,000 a year, many minorities may not be able to compete with a white person in the same classification, They would be comnpeting with those who have a better opportunity than most minorities of acquiring loans, sound credit, collateral assets, history of non-evictions, not to mention the history of discrimination of lending institutions against minorities even if they have all of their papers in order.
Furthermore, comparatively few minorities will be able to compete in the higher classifications, above $50,000, since the median income for minorities in the City is far below this level. This makes the higher classifications almost impossible to reach, thereby making the remaining stock of affordable housing inaccessible to most non-white working people. This makes the Affordable Housing Plan one that basically accelerates the whitening of the City.
A recently graduated white person, new to the working class and already residing in a low-income minority neighborhood can apply under one of the most affordable housing categories. This recent graduate is more likely to already have a student loan, which can help him/her establish a credit record, and may potentially already have sound collateral, a clean loan record, etc. In addition to these criteria, there are dozens of other factors, too numerous to mention here, that make affordable housing extremely difficult to secure for people of color even if the family income falls within the classification
Workers and people of color don't need to use a Marxist analysis to know when they are being screwed. No wonder most Community Boards in the City have overwhelmingly rejected the Mayor's housing plan!
The progressive Mayor's reaction to advocacy and grassroots groups is anti-democratic shaming -- a tradition of progressive politics that was cemented in public and democratic participation. The Mayor has disregarded Community Board decisions while preferring to bypass them by instead utilizing the City Council's top-down decision-making process. In four years, he has participated in more meetings, and conference calls with developers than with neighborhood tenant associations, not to mention his attempts to exclude local leaders and local elected officials who are willing to question his housing and homelessness policies.
To aggravate his stance even more, the Mayor has failed to reconsider and modify his "legal" but "suspicious" "quid pro quo" relationship with lobbyists and developers in his second term. That cloud over his head is not "illegal," but like Bob Dylan said once: "people don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind is blowing".
New York City communities of color insist on asking the di Blasio Administration: "Affordable for whom?" In other words, this plan has created anxiety, based on the potential "whitening" of the city. In other words, "You don't need a weatherman to know when it's raining outside."
is a lawyer and adjunct lecturer at Rutgers University and the founding president of the Latino Leadership Institute. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.