On a rising NY economic tide and longer commute times


On the way home tonight from Yankee Stadium, I wrapped up my read of Alan Ehrenhalt’s The Great Inversion. Written during the depths of the recent recession and published in mid-2012, Ehrenhalt examines the changing demographics of urban life. It’s not about gentrifiction as Enrenhalt refuses to use the word, but the idea is that urban and suburban demographics have completely flipped. The urban core is where the wealthy, and largely white, upper class while middle and lower class communities, often majority-minority, are moving further away from downtown areas and often into the suburbs.

Over the past 12 years of the Bloomberg Administration, we’ve seen this happen on a citywide scale. Even during the economic doldrums of the 1970s, Manhattan was always the wealthy core, but the surrounding areas were hit hard by bad times following white flight. Only recently have areas like Williamsburg, Long Island City and even Park Slope and points further south become expensive neighborhoods. Even the South Bronx — an area with a history of neighborhood problems but very quick transit access to Midtown — seems to be on the rise.

As part of their assessment of the Bloomberg Era, WNYC has taken to examining the changing demographics of New York City. We know it’s become very expensive to live here, and many members of the middle class are being priced out. But for those that stay, the changing nature of the city means longer commutes. For those that want to or need to stay but find themselves priced out of areas close to the city’s job centers, travel is taking up more and more time.

Jim O’Grady discussed this problem at length in the story I’ve embedded above, and he produced a short written companion piece:

During Mayor Bloomberg’s three terms, it became especially expensive to rent or buy a home in Manhattan and neighborhoods close to it. Over the last 10 years, most of the growth in commuting to well-paying jobs in Manhattan has occurred in Manhattan itself – and in places like Williamsburg and Greenpoint, Downtown and Brownstone Brooklyn.

That development has pushed some New Yorkers of limited means to neighborhoods further from Manhattan, where most of the jobs are located. And increasing numbers of New Yorkers are traveling within or between the outer boroughs to get to work, often using a Manhattan-centric transportation system that is not well suited to getting them where they need to go.

But Bloomberg supporter Mitchell Moss, an NYU professor of urban planning and a former adviser to the mayor, argues that the economic growth that is driving up real estate prices hasn’t displaced that many people. “No one was living in parts of Hunters Point, no one was living in parts of Lower Manhattan, no one was living in DUMBO,” Moss said. “Those areas have become, not gentrified, they’ve become populated.”

Even so, it will be the next mayor’s job to try and lower the number of New Yorkers who commute more than an hour each way to work – a problem Mayor Bloomberg, for all his success at adding transportation options to the city, couldn’t solve.

Along with this piece, WNYC produced a heat map of travel times within the city. We’ve seen similar maps before, but along with their coverage of the socioeconomic changes, it drives home the point that a zone fare system would be inherently unfair to many people who cannot afford to pay more or live closer to their job centers.

So how can the next mayor or city planners fix the problem of, displacement, access to jobs and disparity in housing? The easy answer is to say that we need a massive expansion of the subway system along with a serious network of real bus rapid transit lines that feed both Manhattan and other job centers. Economically, that may not be feasible without a massive realignment of interests in City Hall and Albany and better control of project costs on the part of the MTA.

In another vein, Josh Barro at Business Insider proposes a few other fixes focusing around urban policy. Upzoning residential neighborhoods and incentivizing developers to construct taller buildings with more housing stock near the city’s core along with an aggressive push toward eliminating parking minimums could help increase available housing and ideally lower rents through market forces. That’s a controversial plan from the start.

Likely, there isn’t a very good answer. New York City is a hot place to live right now, and time has become a very valuable commodity. It will remain expensive to live close to the areas featuring high-paying jobs, and the price creep — which is extending further and further away — will continue to push those without money toward the fringe and ever-increasing commutes.

102 Responses to “On a rising NY economic tide and longer commute times”

  1. Larry Littlefield says:

    “So how can the next mayor or city planners fix the problem of, displacement, access to jobs and disparity in housing?”

    They can’t, because the problem is beyond the ability of New York City to solve. Basically the U.S. needs five to six or ten additional New York City’s to meet the demand, and they won’t fit within the city or NY metro area’s common borders.

    Remember this sequence. In 1950 the U.S. has lots of economically viable downtowns and decent, walkable urban neighborhoods with transit. But more and more people wanted a detached house and a auto-oriented lifestyle.

    The supply of urban neighborhoods exceeded the demand, and the cities thus became less valuable and the repositories of the poor and troubled. The suburbs and newer Sunblet cities were more valuable and boomed of their own momentum.

    By the 1960s and 1970s the cities collapsed, economically, socially, and fiscally, to the point where even many of those people, businesses and economic activities that would have been better off in the cities fled to the suburbs.

    Today, more and more people want to live in economically, socially, and fiscally viable cities. Not everyone. Not even most. But far more. But there are only a few left standing. And the price of all of them is through the roof.

    Capital and moving and development is starting to respond. Downtwon Detroit is the hottest neighborhood of metro Detroit, for example, even as the broader city continues to collapse. But moving to a city involves moving into social ills, fiscal burdens left by those who pillaged and moved away, and public employee unions whose members live elsewhere and believe they have a right to more in exchange for less.

    Detroit is bankrupt. Philadelphia is essentially bankrupt. Chicago is essentially bankrupt. Providence should have gone bankrupt, but accepted the elimination of public services in exchange for high taxes instead (as NYC did in the 1970s). All have huge debts and soaring, crushing pension problems, with no decent schools and eventually perhaps no transit due to deferred maintenance. And yet people want to live there, and not in the suburbs, today.

    So San Francisco is crushingly expensive. So is Seattle. And New York. Even DC, the nation’s murder capital 30 years ago.

    • Larry Littlefield says:

      One idea. Since the U.S. is so anti-city, perhaps Europe, which has lots of viable cities but a birth rate far below a population break even, should try to recruit immigrants from the U.S.!

      • Bolwerk says:

        Not a well studied phenomenon, to my knowledge, but anecdotally there seem to be hipstery Little USAs in many major European cities, including Berlin. They aren’t traditional immigrant communities, however; they’re just wankers hanging out and drinking PBROettinger.

        The problem with the idea, however, is (at least Northern and Central) Europeans are generally better trained and educated than Americans from the get-go, before you even consider the language barrier. Yet while Europe might be ahead in a lot of socioeconomic, their growth is generally lower than ours and they can’t even find gainful employment for all their citizens.

        That said, there is enough racial angst in Europe where they might want to give it a shot…you know, since they don’t deal with Muslims very well.

      • Alon Levy says:

        You’re 10 years behind US vs. European fertility trends.

    • SEAN says:

      I saw an article in the SF Cronical entitled “The end of Suburbia?” The article reflects the points in this post, but was published in 2009. Also take a look at the following sites http://www.kunstler.com, http://www.citydata.com, http://www.walkscore.com & http://www.urbanland.com.
      1. Is James Howard Kunstler author of such books as “The geography of Nowhere” & “The Long Emergency,” a sobering look at America’s oil adiction. His most recent book is “To Much Magic.”
      2. Is City Data, a site full of all kinds of statistics on communities across the nation.
      3. Is Walk Score, where adresses & neighborhoods are ranked on walkability & transit accessability. Recently added bike friendlyness as well.
      4. Is The Urbanland Institute.

      • Miles Bader says:

        But keep in mind: Kunstler is kind of nuts… (not only does he hate suburbia, he more or less hates everything built after 1850)

        • SEAN says:

          Yeah, he is nuts but he does recognize the problem or problems that exist regardless if you agree with him or not.

          • AG says:

            suburbs won’t be ended – because although city life is in higher demand… there will always be ppl (especially with children) who get “tired” of city life.

            • SEAN says:

              It depends on the type of suburb you are talking about. Are you refering to East Brunswick NJ wich is car dependent or White Plains NY wich is quite walkable.

              • AG says:

                Even the East Brunswicks of the world. what might happen is sprawl might cease (it already slowed down)… but there will never be enough space in cities to house everyone… unless the population is severely reduced.

            • Nathanael says:

              Streetcar suburbs are always popular, but they’re going to get expensive.

              Many “inner” suburbs will turn back into cities. The Bronx is technically a suburb, remember.

              The “East Brunswick NJ” sort of car-dependent suburb will become a SLUM. Why? They’re not rural enough to be “getaways for the rich”. As gas prices stay high, the people living there will be spending all their money on transportation. As poor people are priced out of the cities, this is the sort of place they’ll end up, and then they’ll find themselves in a poverty trap. It will hollow out like suburban Detroit.

              Meanwhile, the US has undergone the demographic transition, and *Mexico is undergoing it too*, and the net immigration is now *from* the US *to* Mexico, so the population of the US *will* be getting smaller.

              • AG says:

                “The Bronx is technically a suburb”??? What?? This is not the 1880’s.

                Your predictions of East Bruswick could prove as wrong as the predictions that NYC would be dead by now (when that was “prophesied” back in the 1970’s). Fact is many middle class also move out of cities just like the poor. You don’t know if it will become a slum… and Detroit proper is hollowed out – not necessarily it’s suburbs.

              • Alon Levy says:

                the net immigration is now *from* the US *to* Mexico

                [Citation needed]

                • AG says:

                  I don’t have a citation myself – but I think he’s slightly off…. I do know that in 2011/12 the net migration was basically zero as many Mexicans went home because the economy was improving while here it was floundering.

    • alen says:

      NYC has lots of decent schools. most of them out of manhattan, park slope and the other trendy neighborhoods. district 26

    • Eric F says:

      “But there are only a few left standing.”

      The cities of the west have surprisingly walkable down towns. Portland is the poster child, but Seattle, Denver, Salt Lake and others I’m forgetting fit the bill as well. I’d much prefer living in center city Denver than living most northeast cities.

      • Eric Brasure says:

        I recently visited Salt Lake City and I’d call it a lot of things but “walkable” isn’t really one of them.

        • Eric F says:

          I’ll take your word for that one, with only minimal time spent there. I know they’ve opened some light rail lines there recently. I’ll stand by my contentions as per Seattle and Denver, where I’ve spent a fair amount of time recently. That said, job centers in those places tend to be dispersed and so you might live downtown to do the loft thing while commuting to a suburban job center. It sounds like this is becoming a feature of life in San Francisco.

          • Bolwerk says:

            I think with all those cities, even Portland, the walkable areas tend to be fairly small areas. Not sure anything like NYC really exists elsewhere in the USA, where such a huge proportion of the city is walkable. Not sure how to put a number on it, but figure Manhattan, inner Brooklyn (e.g., wburg, Greenpoint, Park Slope, Brooklyn Heights), inner Queens (e.g., LIC, Astoria, Sunnyside) are all extremely walkable, and probably together bigger than all those cities combined, without even considering the grey underbelly areas that walkable but still suck to live in (e.g., Bushwick, South Bronx, East NY). Maybe SF, Chicago, and Boston are the closest actual analogs.

            Still, those places all have potential. SLC’s transit record is impressive – an actual North American demonstration of small city rail transit.

            • Larry Littlefield says:

              It’s an example of trying to recreate, or create where it didn’t exist to begin with, what most cities have lost. Downtown LA and San Diego are other examples.

              If anyone “won” during the housing bubble, it is Miami. Speculators put up all kinds of high-rise, high amenity condos downtown. Those went bust, got recycled as more affordable apartments, and are now filled up — creating something of a real place where there was none before, all on the taxpayer dime. Red State subsidized development.

              • Karm says:

                Miami does not have many filled apartments… they are mainly bought by New Yorkers looking for a 2nd home and even moreseo by South Americans looking for a place in the U.S. to park cash.

            • Karm says:

              by what measure do the “grey underbelly areas” “still suck to live in”??? San Fran/ Chicago/ Boston all have bad areas. In fact The Bronx as a whole has a lower homicide rate than Boston/Chicago/San Fran.

              • Bolwerk says:

                It’s not just homicide, or even crime. Actually, crime is an overplayed problem that gets too much attention over the problems that cause the crime. Stupid people are just enamored by danger.

                Food swampsdeserts, poor education, low employment, and (usually, at this point) terrible transportation are all problematic factors for such neighborhoods.

                • AG says:

                  food deserts happen because of the income of the neighborhood residents. Many “hip” neighborhoods now would have been called that even 10 years ago. Income levels rise – food choice increases.
                  As to transportation – well the South Bronx actually has some of the best transit not in Manhattan or Downtown Brooklyn…
                  And it’s true – not all is nice in the cities you named… especially Chicago.

                  • Bolwerk says:

                    Where did I even comment about whether or not any of those cities was “nice”? The scope of the comment was about walkability.

                    • AG says:

                      probably because you said they are walkable but “suck to live in” (opposite of nice)… even East NY – while not bucolic or even hip – is much improved.
                      Crime is a function of the low employment you mentioned… Same with schools – though there is school choice in the city.

                      Farmers markets exist in every poor area in the city now also.. if residents don’t use them it’s because they are not informed. You have places like Padre Plaza in the South Bronx and the one on 161st. near the courthous. Even East NY has it’s own community farmers:


                      I can see complaining about transit in East NY… but not the South Bronx (served by numerous subway and commuter lines).

                    • Bolwerk says:

                      I said I hadn’t even tallied places that are walkable but suck to live in. If I had, it would only have increased the surface area of walkability I was talking about. No, crime is not a function of unemployment, unemployment is only a factor that influences crime. Incidentally, I’m not sure it’s a very big one, either.

                      As for farmers markets, it makes perfect sense to me that people avoid them or make minimal use of them. A dollar of junk food buys more calories than a dollar of fresh vegetables. This is part of the reason why poor people are often obese, and wealthier people are slim.

            • Nathanael says:


              Minneapolis is quite walkable, believe it or not. Despite the weather. High rate of walking.

              LA is also quite walkable, again contrary to what you’d expect, and has huge rates of walking. LA’s weird, though. The walkable parts are what might be called “the neighborhoods”, meaning that most people need to drive (or take the bus or the subway) to get to *work*, but — unlike in your typical car-dependent city — not for shopping or socializing.

              In “old cities”, Boston is extremely walkable, and so is Philly.

              Those are all the ones I feel I know well enough to talk about. Denver is largely unwalkable with walkable pockets, but they really are trying to change that. Chicago is similarly unwalkable with walkable pockets, and whether or not they are trying to change that, I think the trend there is more walkable.

              • Bolwerk says:

                There are lots of walkable places, but I’m not sure anywhere in the U.S. has the proportion of walkable square mileage New York has.

                I don’t even find Philly very walkable, at least not outside the core.

                • alen says:

                  same with NYC
                  once you get outside of manhattan, there are huge parts of the city that are barely walkable. even parts of manhattan are not very walkable.

        • Kai B says:

          It seems that Salt Lake City is at least working very hard to become more walkable / car-independent:


  2. Eric F says:

    I’m a big believer in lower travel times. The implicit complaint seems very odd to me, however. Long commute times from, say, remotest Queens is fine when middle class whites live there but become scandalous when other demographics live there? I don’t understand why that would be the case.

    • I would say that long commute times aren’t fine at any point really, but as the demographics shift, the people who can least afford it are traveling longer. Is that a better way of putting it?

      • Larry Littlefield says:

        Look at it another way, however. Does it make sense that those who could bid the most for housing would end up with the longest commutes?

        That was a historical anamoly, a product of a developing region. The new housing, built to the latest standards and in the best condition, is built further out, leaving old, obsolete deteriorating housing closer in. Housing gets passed down to those poorer when it reaches 50 years old, and much of the infrastructure of the building — excluding the shell — becomes obsolete and needs to be replaced.

        We now have a fully developed and essentially stable region. New housing has to replace existing buildings, and thus has to be high rise to be profitable, and is thus located in the center. Other buildings in the center are in effect made new.

        Meanwhile, more and more suburban housing and office parks reach 50 years old, and start to get passed down. And while there is some exurban development in the NY metro (Orange County NY, Poconos, down the Jersy Shore), because it is now so big, the commute times from there are truly horrendous.

      • Eric F says:

        “the people who can least afford it are traveling longer”

        Ok, so this may be annoyingly technical, but I think you have that reversed. if the cost is in time, then low wager workers can most afford it, not least. The time value of someone making $10 per hour is much less than some specialist or other making $1,000 per hour. Your law firm will gladly burn paralegal hours in waiting around for higher priced lawyers, the worst result economically is when you have you $1,000 per hour litigator or M&A guy waiting around for a $50 per hour paralegal to get some admin. task done. The call this “a dime holding up a dollar” in the construction business.

        • Larry Littlefield says:

          “If the cost is in time, then low wager workers can most afford it, not least. The time value of someone making $10 per hour is much less than some specialist or other making $1,000 per hour.”

          Since the opportunity cost of time lost in transit is exactly in proportion to how much money each worker has, and thus can afford to spend, you’d have to say the impact is as much equal.

          The $10 per hour worker loses that much, but only has that much to lose. The $1,000 worker could give up more hours worked and still live pretty well.

          • Eric F says:

            If you look at who takes the trains to and from NYC airports, its very often the Euro-tourist backpacker set, as opposed to the business set. I’m generalizing wildly, but this is what I see. The opportunity cost of their longer ride is less than the person who is hitting the ground running for a meeting.

            • Alon Levy says:

              Well, the trains are even with taxis on travel time from Manhattan to JFK during afternoons and faster during rush hour, so it’s not really a time preference thing. More likely it’s a self-perception thing (“we don’t want to figure out airport shuttles,” “we are too important to take the subway”).

              • Bolwerk says:

                And, in all fairness, a practicality thing. Even if the A, E, or J go where you want to go, that’s at least one transfer with potentially a lot of baggage. Those trains only tangentially hit the CBD.

                • Alon Levy says:

                  I get the comfort issue, just saying, it’s faster to just about every Manhattan destination.

                  • Bolwerk says:

                    Is there any data actually supporting that? I could see more reliable, but not faster. I mean, prevailing traffic is probably manageable or even away from Manhattan, except during the morning rush. It’s more than just comfort. A few suitcases and more than one transfer is a nightmare.

                    I prefer rail as much as anyone, but they really bastardized AirTrain by not at least sending it to the CBD.

                    • Alon Levy says:

                      I’m basing this on a lot of anecdotes of traveling to JFK, often in the afternoon rush to make the early-evening flights to Europe.

                      The fastest method, incidentally, is taking the subway to Forest Hills and taking a taxi from there. No need to crawl through Manhattan and bridge traffic, or to do the AirTrain transfer. I don’t do it more regularly purely because I’ve only done it once, and I don’t know if there are taxis cruising QB or if I just got lucky.

                • Alex says:

                  Am I the only person who takes the LIRR to JFK?

        • Bolwerk says:

          You also have to consider the value of the labor. The low-wage worker may value his/her time at his wage, but the market value of the worker’s output might be several times his/her wage. Not to mention, value is only the tip of the iceburg. Many low-wage, low-skill jobs are in fact vital, even if the market only values them at low price.

          Finally, long commutes have other consequences, such as draining social services. Children need care in daycares longer, there is less time to exercise, less time helping offspring with homework, etc..

  3. alen says:

    the commute times aren’t that long, its the crowding. last few years the E and F lines are overcrowded. when the kids are taking the train to stuyvesant the E train literally can’t hold any more people. its so crowded you can’t even play angry birds

    • al says:

      Adjust school start times. Aviation HS and Stuyvesant HS are 2 trip generators that create demand surges that coincide with the morning peak in peak direction. If more kids started class at 9:15AM or 9:30AM, crowding during the morning would greatly decrease. The same applies with CUNY schools. LaGuardia CC (Manhattan bound 7 local), BMCC (123, ACE), and Hunter College (456) all create large demand spikes on packed lines for the 8AM class starts.

  4. Eric F says:

    The main point I think is that middle class whites are always causing problems. When they moved from the cities, this was “white flight” and that was bad. When they came back, that’s gentrification, surprisingly, this is also bad. If they would just stay put somewhere, well that might be good, or it could be termed “white geographic stagnation”, and also bad.

    • al says:

      We Americans like new things, even if its old.

    • Jeff says:

      Actually due to generally low birthrates of middle-class white populations, that might indeed be a real problem… If white people stay put in an area and no other ethnicity moves in, eventually it’d be like in Europe where depopulation occurs 😉

    • BBnet3000 says:

      A portion of society with a ton of money shifting their money around geographically every few decades has a negative effect on the poorer people who arent as mobile.

      • Eric F says:

        Is mobility a function of money? If you are renting and not ensconced in some uber desirable area, why is moving harder than if you own a place, have to coordinate a sale, and have to get to an area that meets 10 items on a checklist? Students have tons of mobility, mid-career professional less.

        Being poor is highly undesirable, but it doesn’t follow that every measure of life is inexorably worse as you move down an income scale.

    • Bolwerk says:

      It’s not a moral good/bad value judgment. There are attendant problems with both phenomena, and we have to cope with them.

    • Larry Littlefield says:

      Denis Hamil once wrote an article in the Daily News about troublesome white migrants ruining Windsor Terrace, where he grew up and I have lived since 1986s.

      Summarized, it essentially said “go back to Yonkers you college-educated son of a bitch, and tell your wife to go back to Flatbush.”

  5. AlexB says:

    To start, the political leaders of New York have shown a massive lack of vision on this topic, seizing only on issues that even the least informed New Yorker can identify with. Everyone wants cheaper housing, but instead of talking about increasing the housing supply, most politicians just like to pontificate on how they can force developers to provide a greater percentage of their units at lower cost (I’m talking to you Quinn). We all know the real answer to the problem: more transit and more density; but the solution for a city the size of New York is more complicated. While we definitely need more subways, enlarging the system is too expensive and time consuming to solve the problem alone. We have HOV lanes on the LIE in Eastern Queens, an underserved area. And, we have dedicated bus lanes on 34th St. If we could connect these two systems, there is nothing stopping us from creating a bus network that covers everything from South Jamaica to Whitestone, connecting those lower rent neighborhoods with all the jobs in Manhattan. If we could also add bus stations within the LIE similar to LA’s Harbor Transitway, we could revolutionize travel within Queens.

    Manhattan is not just an expensive place to live, it’s also an expensive place to work. The best solution for the cost of living and commuting time problem is a dispersal of more jobs to regional centers and a regional transportation system to get workers to their jobs. A higher level of creativity is required for this than any NY politician has ever really shown. The city re-zoned downtown Jamaica for higher density commercial development and then followed it up with…. nothing. If we want businesses to consider downtown Jamaica as a place they may actually want to set up shop, they have to know that employees can get there. The rezoning should have been accompanied immediately with a plan for a regional bus and/or light rail system and through-routing of NJ Transit trains that would allow someone in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Northeast Queens, and New Jersey to get to jobs in Jamaica without their cars or going through Manhattan. Ditto for all the other regional job centers in the metropolitan area: 125th St, Downtown Brooklyn, Mineola, St George, White Plains, Newark, etc.

    • Nathanael says:

      This is a case where a zone system — *for LIRR* — would have done wonders.

      Zone 1: New York City, at the same price as the subway
      Zone 2: starting in Nassau….

      Plenty of businesses would have headed for Jamaica.

    • Agreed. One advantage Los Angeles has over us is it’s “edge cities” like Century City and the Warner Center. Shoehorning more commuters into Midtown won’t cut it anymore.

  6. JMB says:

    Upzone everywhere that is within a 10 block radius of a subway line. That would allow so much more housing within the 5 boros. Start there, nimbys/real estate interests be damned and we will be able to accommodate all demographics.

  7. Ian says:

    Ben, thanks for calling attention to the WNYC piece. This is another in a line of articles outlining how NYC, for market-driven reasons, is becoming increasingly unfriendly to working and lower class residents. (Not that it ever truly was.) Here’s something to think about: at what point does NYC become so inhospitable towards middle and lower-income families that the loss of them causes substantial harm to the city’s economy? Not advocating that poor people should remain poor, but am pointing out that an area that places substantially greater barriers on economic mobility will gradually lose its overall attractiveness.

  8. Dan says:

    On that time map, I live in like a 90 minute zone to Midtown Manhattan where I work. Living in Marine Park is nice because it’s a good neighborhood but getting anywhere from here sucks.

    Every part of NYC is becoming overpriced at this point, it’s pretty much impossible to rent out a place on your own unless you’re making a LOT of money at a stable job. Otherwise you end up having like three roommates. That’s why I’m moving down to Arizona in a few years. I can get a house there for like $800 a month, and I can just drive everywhere because it’s not as crowded there. Here in NYC I can drive to work too, but finding parking takes almost as long as the driving, so it’s pointless.

    • pubadmin031568 says:

      Arizona is Nevada on steroids. NY has drawbacks, but the housing market is relatively stable. Your $800 payment in Arizona could be worth $400 in a few years, as the housing prices decline 50-80%, as they have in the past.
      Would you like to buy a home, and be surrounded by neighbors who merely rent theirs? What does this say about Neighborhood stability?

      • Alon Levy says:

        What’s with the hatred of renters?

        Incidentally, also, New York has a majority of renters.

        • AG says:

          I think the point they were making was that those are mostly single family homes out there in Arizona being rented (similar situation in many parts of Florida)…. that’s a completely different situation than NYC where most of the housing is actually built to be rented out.

          When you own a single family home and the majority of homes in your neighborhood are rented… that’s not good for your property value.

          • Bolwerk says:

            The potential for income ought to improve property values, though I guess it’s possible in many cases that the income can’t possibly support the loan.

          • Nathanael says:

            It’s OK if the neighborhood is expected to remain fully-rented-out forever, like in parts of northern Chicago.

            But we’re talking Arizona. There have been waves of abandonments and vacancies which run for years. Being surrounded by abandoned, foreclosed, and unrentable properties is really really bad for your property values.

            • pubadmin031568 says:

              anyplace with high unemployment, such as AZ or NV, and a high number of foreclosures, is going to become the largest apartment complex in the US. Foreign investors are buying homes to rent out. This is NOT good for the surrounding neighborhood: apartments are built to be rented, houses are NOT. Most people buy homes to LIVE in, not as a business. Do you want your neighbors to change every 6 weeks?

              • AG says:


              • Bolwerk says:

                That’s silly. Stable renters can last for years, for one.

                More importantly, why should anyone care if their neighbors rent? It has virtually no impact on anything. It might be covariant with other problems, but it is not by itself a problem. If anything, those houses could be made more valuable if they could be subdivided into flats for people to rent out.

                • pubadmin031568 says:

                  In NY, renters stay put for years; in western states, not so much. Apartment buildings have multiple units to rent out; houses are 1 or 2 family, tops. Houses are not meant for renting because there is too much to break, apartments are constructed so as not to have so many breakable parts. in general, tenants are not mechanically-inclined; if they were, they would buy homes. so, why put someone who is used to having a maintenance man on call into a house thay can barely take care of?

                • AG says:

                  have you ever owned a single family house in a neighbor filled with such like?
                  too many houses not owner occupied creates a sense of an unstable neighborhood…. much of real estate value is based on such instrinsic feeling.
                  subdividing a house absolutely lowers property value – and is often illegal in many areas…

                  • Alon Levy says:

                    It’s illegal because there are certain assholes who create a housing cartel in order to drive up their housing values. Same reason why apartments in New York that cost $200,000 to construct sell for nearly a million dollars. It’s monopoly rents.

                    • AG says:

                      “cartels”??? wow… well those exist… but for the vast majority – it’s called wanting a “seemingly” stable environment to raise their children. again – we’re not talking about 1 or 2 houses in a neighborhood being rented… we’re talking about places where there is a significant about of the single family homes rented.

          • Alon Levy says:

            So what if it’s bad for property values? Your property values are my rents. I don’t particularly want high property values. I want them to be as close to construction costs as possible, and that for the record is $210,000 for a 1,000 ft^2 apartment in a new New York condo.

            • pubadmin031568 says:

              It’s bad for property values when your investmant declines, making it impractical to pay your mortgage when your home is now worth 25% of what you paid for it, so you abandon it. the rent you could collect on the house does not cover the mortgage payment, which was inflated because banks were giving out mortgages to anyone who could hold a pen, regardless of their ability to pay.

            • AG says:

              “So what”??? Ummm – people buy property and houses for the purpose of gaining/creating wealth… When that doesn’t happen markets collapse and the economy tanks…

              • Alon Levy says:

                No. The construction of housing creates wealth. The buying of housing is speculation. It’s the same as investing in the stock market, only there’s a cultural expectation that all proper middle-class people should do it.

                • AG says:

                  semantics… in reality a lot of building is speculation too. doesn’t change the fact of the purpose as to why ppl do it.

                  • pubadmin031568 says:

                    After 2008, the buying of homes in many parts of the USA is speculation, due to the free-falling of the housing industry, brought upon by lack of regulation. But, it was not meant to be this way. it is supposed to create wealth over a number of decades, not in 1 year.

    • Nathanael says:

      Arizona is a BAD place to move — no water. It also has the worst development patterns in the US outside Texas. Global warming is going to murder it, as the heat levels rise to the “stand outdoors and die” level, and did I mention there’s NO WATER. Expect Phoenix to be abandoned.

      If you are 20 years or more away from death, then if you have any sense, stay away from Arizona. You could be quite happy moving to California, or to Colorado, or to Rio even, but Arizona — stay AWAY.

  9. Hank says:

    Somehow I do not see this as a big problem, provided we make the correct investments in mass transit. Simply put, you live where you can afford to live with the amenities that you prioritize. The recent news re: NYC rents should emphasize the market distorting and grossly unfair nature of public housing/rent control-stabilization efforts. If we want to be fair and have a livable city, we should concern ourselves with building the right transit infrastructure to enable people to get to the jobs WHEREEVER they can afford to live.

    Also, JMB great point re-upzoning subway stop areas.

  10. Rob says:


    I have invariably found you to be perceptive and fair. But this post falls short.

    1. After you quote a prof saying there has not been much displacement, you, undeterredly maintain that it is a problem.

    2. You bemoan the long commutes of the less affluent who may be moving farther out, but apparently when the affluent lived [and live] far out, that is no problem at all.

    • Did you read the article or listen to the story where it was described, in fuller detail than Moss provided, as being a problem?

      As to your second point, I’ve addressed that in the comments already. The wealthy who chose to live far away had a choice; the less affluent who can’t afford to live close to where they work suffer because it’s not a choice.

      • Nathanael says:

        Same as it always was. The traditional solution was for factory owners to build “company housing” next to the factories. This could still be done in New York City, if employers cared.

  11. Tower18 says:

    I’m not sure how much CAN be done, within reason. If you rule out construction of any 10mi+ super express trains, things are pretty much as good as they can be, with the exception of areas along Utica Ave, farther south on Nostrand/Flatbush, and the area covered by extended E and F trains along Archer and Hillside. We can open subway access to more areas, which would cut down travel times, but it’s still ~40-45 minutes from 179th to Rockefeller Center, and that ain’t getting any faster.

    • BSS says:

      You might be better off with extended E service down Merrick rather than Archer. LES, central Bronx and northern Queens are all dense areas that could seriously use subway service. Some thoughtful crosstown service lines in the outer boroughs wouldn’t be a bad idea either.

  12. David Brown says:

    The problem with this argument is the wrong target is aimed at. The real culprits behind ” gentrification” are white liberals who do not want anyone who is different around them ( such as minorities or White Conservatives like myself). No better example is The Greenwich Village Society For Historic Preservation and its wack job leader Andrew Berman. They did not want St. Vincent’s Hospital to add condos because of the anti- development mentality and they were sickened by the idea of a Catholic Hospital operating there because on religious grounds they opposed abortion, and they ended up with even more condos. They oppose NYU expanding so they can stop more students from entering the community ( you would think NYU is building homeless shelters and jails ( oops those same people demand more shelters get build but in different neighborhoods)). They made a stink about Hudson Square rezoning because of more condos and cars. Berman complained about condos and improvements on 14th st, because he felt that gay bars and crime ridden streets represented real New Yorkers. We see Berman’s fingerprints on Moynahan Station ( trying to recreate the Original Penn Station no matter the cost (taxpayers and commuters be damned)). If people want to know why there is ” gentrification” lets start with the left who opposes anyone who does not think or act like them.

    • Alon Levy says:

      The culprits behind this sort of gentrification are powerful people who use government regulations to create a housing shortage that boosts their property values. The liberal power brokers of the Village do it; so did the conservative ones of interwar and postwar suburbia, back when it was solidly Republican.

      • Bolwerk says:

        David Brown is sorta right. They don’t want people who look differently, act differently, or think differently. Least of all the latter.

        What he gets wrong are the labels: the “liberals” are the conservatives, and the self-styled “conservatives” are a delusional and usually stupid band of revanchists.

        • Larry Littlefield says:

          It is a fair and ironic point that exclusionary zoning is a blue state phenomenon. So are huge disparities in public school spending.

          NYC, however, only has zoning that inflates the cost of housing in a few places, notably Soho and Tribeca with their large minimum unit sizes.

          Perhaps the cause of liberal guilt is that liberals are guilty. Or they aren’t really liberals, they’re “I’ve got mine jack” types.

          • Bolwerk says:

            It’s not that surprising. Blue states are wealthier, have more sophisticated economies, more specialization, and more, well, social hierarchy. Though I would point out, states with flatter societies are sometimes pretty blue too, like Iowa or New Hampshire. It’s really quite true that blue states have more strictly “conservative” characteristics than red ones.

            However, I suspect exclusionary zoning in red states is not used because it has mostly been unnecessary. The population is still pretty socioeconomically stratified.

            • Nathanael says:

              There are two main groups of “red states”:
              (1) The Empty Part of the West, which truly has not used exclusionary zoning. Land is cheap, people drive absurdly long distances without thinking about it, nobody is going to bother with exclusionary zoning — would it even work?

              (2) The Deep South, where racism and other forms of bigotry were quite sufficient to segregate the population. Zoning was not necessary, since the threat of your neighbors lynching you (or simply ostracizing and harassing you, if you were a poor white in a rich-white area) was more than enough.

              It’s way worse in the Deep South than it is in most of the “blue states”.

              • Bolwerk says:

                That’s what I mean. Exclusionary zoning in the northeast is probably more classist than racist, even if class tends to fall somewhat along racial lines.

          • Alon Levy says:

            It is a fair and ironic point that exclusionary zoning is a blue state phenomenon. So are huge disparities in public school spending.

            You really don’t want to know how bad things are in the South. In some states, after desegregation they completely gutted the public school systems and the whites send their children to private or parochial schools. In some Southern cities, the NIMBYs are against sidewalks on the grounds that they might make the area more accessible to carless (disproportionately black) people.

            • Larry Littlefield says:

              Not long ago political correctness combines with anti-business liberalism to produce a warped version of this.

              “We don’t want African Hair Braiding establishments and McDonalds to be allowed in our neighborhood because of neighborhood character!”

              Not to mention the fight to keep subway extensions out of SE and SW Queens, back when such things seemed possible, which mirrors attitudes in Cobb County Georgia toward MARTA.

              • Alon Levy says:

                But the MTA at least gets state support. MARTA does not.

                Not that New York is that much better than the South – the difference in brutality is whether people pay the cops to shoot unarmed blacks or do it themselves – but it’s no worse.

                • AG says:

                  well when it comes to education – healthcare and such measures… then yes NY is certainly better.

                • Bolwerk says:

                  Things like stop ‘n frisk are just spooky, and New York has its authoritarian tendencies in ways that “liberals” don’t realize or ignore, but I’m not sure NY is anywhere near as bad as the South in terms of sheer brutality.

                  And it can’t delight either state to hear this, but the NYPD is full of what might be called Texas sharpshooters. 😐

          • AG says:

            Larry – Soho and Tribeca were industrial neighborhoods.

            • Larry Littlefield says:

              Right. But they were rezoned to allow “certified artists” to live in “joint live work quarters” that had to be as large as luxury housing units. Then the “certified artist” (an absurd concept) went away. Exclusionary zoning remained.

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