We Need Contextual Housing

(MEDIUM) Kristin Richardson Jordan, May 31, 2022

There is no argument that New York City is in a housing crisis. However, in the conversation about housing, the Black and Brown community and low income households have been left behind. When bringing new developments into neighborhoods, to protect historic identity and culture we must fight for contextual housing. Contextual housing is what happens when developers take into account the existing surrounding area, and when community standards are treated with care. In Harlem, we are down to the wire to protect long term community members from displacement against the massive, wholly unaffordable One45 project. The development team and labor union’s response has reeked of white supremecist tactics and because of this will face my opposition when the time comes for the City Council vote. The problems we are facing with One45 is indicative of housing concerns around the nation, particularly in Black and Brown neighborhoods.

The One45 project is slated to be a massive building of 915 units, mostly available at market rate prices at 145th Street and Lenox Avenue in Harlem. Any project of this size would require a drastic rezoning of the area. If built, One45 would stand at 100 feet taller than the current tallest building in the area. 145th Street and Lenox is a bustling community, which is unfortunately already undergoing structural changes and is incredibly congested. Further development, especially of this size, would put an astronomical strain on the area. Raised concerns around these facts have remained unaddressed. In fact, there has been little transparency around the project from the developers. Harlem residents have raised a number of concerns around the project, and have largely been ignored. The lack of clarity around the proposal led to Community Board 10 unanimously voting “no”.

Overall, the community concerns encompass three main issues:

  • Size of Units
  • Community Impact
  • Affordability

Size: 70 percent of the units in One45 are slated to be studio and one bedroom apartments. Making housing contextual means we need to require a majority of family sized units in new developments. In discussion for housing, large, poor families are often left out. Even when disregarding them, current trends indicate that multigenerational and group living arrangements are on the rise. The current One45 proposal leaves little room for existing group living trends or growing families.

Impact: This area is not environmentally stable enough to sustain a project of this size. Residents are already plagued with an overcrowded subway system. I am currently advocating for an expansion of our subways, but changes with the MTA need to happen before we welcome an influx of nearly 1000 apartments. Street traffic is currently a nightmare. Pedestrians have already expressed concerns regarding safety and bus and bike lanes. While I am an advocate for public transportation and green methods of travel, we must acknowledge that with these new residents will come some drivers. The developers have offered very little parking arrangements and have not come to the table prepared to speak about the state of public transportation at any moment.

I have also requested a Racial Impact Study multiple times. A bill was passed to require this from developments that necessitate rezoning, but these measures will not be implemented until June of this year. However, for projects of this size that will have a drastic impact on the community, I do not believe it is asking too much to do this study without being forced to by law. By requiring a racial impact study for new developments and analyzing quality of life, neighborhood affordability and housing security, we can then predict the level of displacement to existing residents the new structure would cause. Yes, we do badly need housing. However, it does not have to be done at the expense of long term residents and business owners.

Affordability: Getting the developers to meet our affordability standards has been the most contentious point of interactions, but thankfully has sparked a larger, important conversation about how affordability is defined in NYC. MIH (Mandatory Inclusionary Housing) requires developers to set aside a certain percentage of affordable units. Not only do developers often include the bare minimum amount of units to meet this standard, affordability is based on AMI, or Area Median Income. Unfortunately, these metrics portray a false narrative on income earnings by casting a wide net on locations and grouping the poorest of residents with the wealthiest. So when setting affordability for units in Harlem, because of AMI, income earnings from outside districts like Westchester are included. By these metrics, the 2022 AMI for the New York City region is $93,400. In actuality, the median household for central Harlem is $55, 871. To make matters worse, the median household income for the immediate area where One45 is slated to be built is $36,804. These numbers show that what is defined as affordable for Harlemites by AMI, isn’t actually so and sticking to MIH metrics allows for most of the development offerings to be at market rate pricing. Together, these structures aid displacement and gentrification.

Together, with community members on my Black/Brown Housing and Anti-Gentrification task force, we created an affordability rubric (picture below)for government-assisted projects in our district based on the census data of what long-time Harlemites can afford. Any new development would have to meet these metrics to earn community support. The original One45 proposal was at less than 5% percent of alignment for the community needs rubric. The current proposal stands at just 12.3% affordability. I am looking for, at the very least, 50% alignment of community needs. One45 has shown no effort to create a new proposal which will take into account community input. This is unacceptable. I can not in good faith vote for a development in which 2/10 Harlemites can afford to live, with a team who has shown no transparency and which will cause mass displacement to the community.

Source: Medium