Consider the following:
• There are 114,000 homeless children, either living in shelters or “doubled up” with a friend or relative, attending New York City’s public schools. That’s about the same number of people as the entire population of Hartford, Connecticut.
• Some 50 percent of New York City residents spend more than 30 percent of their annual income on housing, with one in every four spending more than 50 percent. Many of these housing-burdened New Yorkers are seniors and families with young children, their day-to-day existence made precarious and their economic futures constrained by how much it costs just to put a roof over their heads.
These are not bad-luck cases, or people who are unable or unwilling to work. These are our home and institutional health care aides, our preschool and day care teachers, small business owners, EMTs, and the people who comprise the backbone of our service and retail sectors.
• About 17 percent of New York City’s housing stock was flooded during Sandy, and a much larger portion of the city than that will be at risk of flooding as our climate becomes hotter and hotter, and more unstable.
These dismal numbers make it clear that New York City needs more housing, period, and more affordable housing specifically. Not only has the city added 700,000 residents since 1970, but average household sizes have decreased significantly, meaning we’d have needed more housing units per capita if the population had remained flat, or even if it had declined a bit.
Pieds-à-terre, Airbnb, and a perceived lack of available land are all scapegoats for a fundamental lack of new housing supply.
Riverdale, with its relatively lower density and more restrictive zoning than most of the city, is both a part of the problem, and part of the solution. Our iconic bell tower is only 9.6 miles away from Rockefeller Center, as the crow flies. This is simply much too close to the urban core to justify maintaining suburban-style restrictions on land use.
In a well-functioning market, a higher demand for housing would create more housing across all price ranges, not just higher prices for previously built units.
Worries about traffic, preservation, green space and historical significance aren’t necessarily unwarranted, but it is easy to see how such concerns, especially in a neighborhood as politically powerful and relatively affluent as Riverdale, might be employed to thwart the creation of any units and to exclude lower-income neighbors.
Riverdale has a genuinely well-deserved reputation for being family- and senior-friendly, for its enduring community and religious organizations and enviable cultural institutions, and for its beautiful setting. I don’t think it would be controversial or accusatory to say that it also has a reputation for being somewhat disconnected from the fabric of New York City.
It’s time to change that through upzoning, by allowing more multi-family housing to be built, by allowing multi-family hosing to be built taller and with a larger number of units, and by encouraging higher density in general and the network of city services and transportation necessary to support it.
The affordable housing crisis is real, and it is urgent.
And it is time for the people and leaders of Riverdale to take an active role in addressing it.