The New Landscape of New York City (1998)
The New York City Partnership was created in the 1980’s to try to patch together some of the neighborhoods that had been abandoned in the 1970’s. Their plan was to inject the areas with middle-income residents in homes of their own, who would maintain their own blocks, attract new merchants to the neighborhood, and fill some of the “granny tooth” holes of vacant land between stable building left in parts of the South Bronx and East Brooklyn.
December 1998: It is currently too costly to the private sector to bear the burden of building new middle-class homes in American cities without government subsidies. In New York City, this has resulted in policy initiatives in the last decade to create networks of financial and administrative resources whose combined efforts have resulted in the largest wave of new middle-income housing starts since the inner-city abandonment of the 1970’s. With the new Republican Congress, the federal government’s role as a provider of subsidized housing is diminishing, and states, localities, and the private sector are beginning to share the burden of such high-risk development. Programs such as the New York City Partnership and the Nehemiah association of churches are often orchestrators of complex, “patchwork” financing by public and private sources.
Considering the degree of complexity of most housing development in urban areas, the amount of development which has occurred since 1990 is amazing. The South Bronx, East New York in Brooklyn, and Harlem have undergone tremendous growth in this decade in both new homeowner and new multifamily housing for low- and middle-income residents. Both the Partnership New Homes project and the Nehemiah program have created swaths of low-density homeowner housing for low- and middle-income residents across the Bronx and Brooklyn.
The New York City Partnership was created in the 1980’s to try to patch together some of the neighborhoods that had been abandoned in the 1970’s. Their plan was to inject the areas with middle-income residents in homes of their own, who would maintain their own blocks, attract new merchants to the neighborhood, and fill some of the “granny tooth” holes of vacant land between stable building left in parts of the South Bronx and East Brooklyn. Their clients are working people who are first-time homebuyers, often with family links in the neighborhood. Partnership’s recipe for success has been its skillful public-private strategy for funding, construction, and management. They offer houses at below-market rates, with deferred property taxes, and a $10,000 subsidy per house to be repaid by the homeowner to the city of the house is resold.
The Nehemiah Program was created by an association of 36 East Brooklyn Churches (EBC) in 1982, and has activist origins. Named after a Hebrew prophet from the 5th century B.C. who led exiled people of Israel in rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem, it is a self-proclaimed “people’s action” to reclaim the land that was burnt out of their neighborhoods in the post-war era from policies such as redlining. Nehemiah tends to build large swaths of buildings at a time; adequate free land in the New Lots and Brownsville areas of Brooklyn was available from the city. Their projects are cheap and efficient; they keep construction costs down, and build rows of identical houses at a time. The city grants them concessions on regulatory red tape in the construction process. Their units typically cost about $60,000 to build, and are sold for $50,000 with a $10,000 subsidy from the city. Loan pools collected through religious sources finance the large projects initially. The few mega-projects they have produced have received criticism for having worse architecture than the Partnership homes, whose design is decided by a committee including homebuyers to reflect the local vernacular, and whose aim is to gently “mend the fabric” of the existing neighborhood. In the early 1990’s, a group of South Bronx Churches began buildings under a Nehemiah Bronx program. Nehemiah families typically earn less than $25,000 per year, and receive the same subsidy and tax abatements as the Partnership homebuyers.
Bringing middle income families into economically stagnant neighborhoods helps glue them back together. Local row house vernacular and allusions to suburbia combine to both address aspirations on the part of the inhabitants and suggest a continued pattern of social mobility within the mainstream of American life. (Rowe) The projects have received little controversy for being low-density or for ignoring the worst-case housing needs; most buyers are minority families with roots in the neighborhoods. The middle-class exodus to the suburbs in the 1950’s created an “hourglass” social structure in America’s cities which these huge projects are trying to break.\n\nBut aside from a few articles in the New York Times reporting on isolated areas of the Bronx or Harlem undergoing redevelopment, this boom in new construction seems largely undocumented as yet. This is probably because of the number of different groups involved in the process; on the micro-level, each project works within its own community, but on a macro-scale, the picture is much bigger.
Michetti, F., 1993. “The New York City Capital Program for Affordable Housing,” Chapter 18 in Lederman, J., Ed. Housing America.
Orlebeke, C., 1997, New Life at Ground Zero: New York, Homeownership, and the Future of American Cities, Washington D.C.: The Brookings Institution
Rooney, J., 1995, Organizing the South Bronx. New York: State University of New York Press
Schwartz, A., 1998. “New York City’s 10-Year, $5 Billion Housing Plan: Community Impact and Policy Implications.” New York: New School.
Vergara, C., 1997. The New American Ghetto, New Jersey: Rutgers.
Low-Cost Brooklyn Housing Sees Few Foreclosures“, by Jim Zarroli
NPR’s Morning Edition catches up with the Nehemiah program in light of the 2009 mortgage crisis; their foreclosure rates are very low. Homeowner personal finance education and strict lending requirements are what worked.