NEW YORK—City Council Speaker Christine Quinn targeted the difficulty of middle-class people and families to live in New York City with almost constantly rising housing prices and other areas contributing to “the middle-class squeeze.”
“I refuse to accept the notion that large portions of our city are destined to become a luxury only available to the wealthiest among us,” said Quinn in her State of the City address on Monday at City Hall.
Manhattan and Brooklyn have the highest cost of living nationwide, according to the nonprofit Council for Community and Economic Research.
If a range of new and improved policies—most importantly, a resurgence of affordable middle-class housing—are not implemented, areas of the city outside Manhattan will start becoming unaffordable, too, said Quinn.
“If we don’t reverse that trend, Park Slope and Carroll Gardens will be next, then Astoria and Long Island City, Throgs Neck and Saint George, and maybe one day the whole city,” she added.
Much of the material Quinn presented in her speech and a concurrently released report on how the middle class is being squeezed out of New York seems to draw from previous reports, including one in 2009 by the Center for an Urban Future (pdf) studying the many challenges facing the city’s middle class.
A year in the making, the report provides snapshots into the migration of the middle class away from New York. It tells of how successful immigrants, municipal workers, and university professors have, in large numbers, been deciding to move away.
As an example, Mark Elliot was a history professor at Wagner College on Staten Island until 2008. Elliot went to teach in North Carolina, citing high housing costs in New York.
“We have two kids, and in North Carolina you can get twice the house for half the price,” said Elliott.
Quinn proposes to create, over the next decade, 40,000 new apartments that are affordable for the middle class. An annual income of $66,400 to $199,200 defines middle class in New York City. The median middle-class income was $102,780, according to the City Council’s Finance Division. By comparison, a report from the Drum Major Institute (pdf) pegs the median income of all New York workers at $36,720, in 2010.
Jonathan Bowles, executive director of the Center for an Urban Future, said in a phone interview that the proposals outlined by Quinn were encouraging and very necessary.
“The kind of housing that’s getting built right now in the city, it’s either subsidized housing for the low income, or it’s market rate luxury housing—there’s very little in the middle,” he said.
Councilmembers said after the speech that the focus on middle-class housing was very relevant. Councilwoman Margaret Chin, representing Manhattan’s Chinatown, said that “it’s really a major issue for New York City,” including her district, where affordable housing is being lost while luxury housing is being built.
Councilman David Greenfield, representing south Brooklyn, said the proposal for new units “is very exciting.”
“I always get the complaint from my constituents that those folks who are working class, they seem like they have benefits, the folks who are wealthy obviously don’t need any benefits, it’s the folks in the middle who are getting squeezed,” he said.
The lack of affordable housing was the top reason cited by people moving out of the city (23 percent), according to a 2006 survey by Harris Interactive commissioned by the city. Educational opportunities and job changes tied for second at 10 percent.
Quinn said that, to create the new units, the city would have to further streamline operations (cut costs), use the capital budget more efficiently, and borrow more money. With interest and mortgage rates at an all-time low, according to Quinn, “This is the right move at the right time,” she said.
Given much attention in several Center for an Urban Future reports—and not given a word in Quinn’s speech—was the link between improving transportation and life for the middle class.
Bowles, of the center, said expanding and improving the transit system outside Manhattan is a key element of making the city more affordable.
“I don’t hear a lot of politicians talking about transit as a key part of addressing the middle class—I think that they’re completely linked and I would’ve loved to see something in the speech about that—but I don’t know that she’s alone in leaving this out,” he said. “I don’t see anybody really making the connection between expanded transit and the middle class.”
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