penpusher: (Quarter)
There is an unspoken rule in any chats, discussions or exchanges between friends and neighbors that all live in the New York City area. People do not discuss the issues of their rent with each other. Why this is the case is as complicated as the rules for renting are, but suffice it to say that it avoids a lot of extra anger or angst, or jealousy or fear.

In the year 2000, before I had even heard of LiveJournal, well before MySpace and Friendster took over the internet and long before Facebook and Twitter were even a concept, I was on my third year of writing opinion columns, a kind of amusing commentary, and sent them out as emails to my pals and relatives on my mailing list. I gave this grouping of pieces an umbrella title: “Trendspotting.” The essays ran the gamut from science to sports, from food to foolishness, all with the bent that they were viewed through the prism, or prison, that was New York. I typically wrote one every other week that year, enough to be interesting without spamming all those excite dot com, AOL dot com or Compuserve users who agreed to receive them.

This was the era of Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, or as I (and many others, eventually) billed him: “Ghouliani,” a man who as Attorney General of the city, sent a laser like focus on “ORDER” throughout his district. Elected to office after the first black mayor in the history of the metropolis, David Dinkins, was ousted in 1993, Giuliani resolved to eliminate crime, improve neighborhoods and support business, especially businesses that would help create that “family values” image he wished to establish.

On the surface, those all seem like appropriate and useful elements that any mayor of any town would and should embrace. But, whenever you do something in New York that affects how the city functions, someone wins and someone loses. By and large, the people who had to pay were the poorest residents of the city. One of the first notable elements was that homeless people, frequently found standing at high-volume traffic intersections with a squeegee and a bucket to wash your car windows or camped out at a subway station or aboard a train, panhandling, began to “disappear.”

What actually happened to those people is unclear, but they apparently weren’t a New York problem anymore. There were suggestions that some were given bus tickets to cities with warmer climates (which, if it were true, might help explain the incredible issue of homeless people in places like Orlando, Houston and New Orleans, among other such cities in the ensuing years).

Additionally, the smutty, grimy and undeniably pornographic area of town, “Hell’s Kitchen,” which incorporated the XXX movie theaters of Times Square, was also cleansed, turned into a showcase for such retailers as Disney, Virgin, M&Ms and eventually Toys “Я” Us.

As the city’s reputation for being safer grew, so did the desire for suburban residents to return here, ditching their long commutes from Long Island, Connecticut or New Jersey for the convenience of living close by and taking advantage of the benefits of living among some of the greatest cultural wonders of any single place on the planet: museums, parks and the cultural arts among the most notable elements.

Landlords in the city knew this could lead to bigger and better paydays. But New York has some very curious laws on the books when it comes to rent. The two that matter are “rent stabilization” and “rent control.”

Admittedly, NYC is not the only place that has such laws. But it’s really apparent here because of the lengthening gap between those that live with such laws and those that do not.

As demand for space in New York increased, Economics 101 reminds you that rents, likewise went up. But, thanks to “rent stabilization” the landlord cannot jack up the price more than a small amount if the apartment in question is under the rules of that law. Not every apartment must adhere to these laws, which is what makes this so arcane.

The other problem is that if you want find a “rent stabilized” apartment, you’ll have to wait for someone to move out of one. And that could be a very long wait. Many people die before moving out, and some even put the names of family members on the lease, basically “willing” the place to their relatives!

Back when I was noting all of the changes coming to New York at the turn of the century, I, mostly tongue-in-cheek, but not quite to the satire level of the, at that point, new humor publication/site “The Onion,” stated “New York, and most specifically Manhattan island, will become a gated community in the next twenty years.”

The projection was based on the way luxury condos and co-op buildings were starting to be constructed, in relation to almost no “affordable housing” for anyone not making seven figures a year. But so many were doing so well! Wall Street was booming. Silicon Alley, the Flatiron district’s minuscule answer to Silicon Valley, was up and running (and I was also working there, at one of the dot coms of the era). The club scene was still a trend, even as the Mayor was trying with all his might to squelch it. But most of all, there was a sense that the city was on the verge of something notable. Even the local baseball teams were sharing in the excitement as they both went on to face each other in that year’s World Series.

The question I asked at the time was the question that still must be answered, now. What will happen to the workers, the people that run the town? How are they supposed to live if they can’t afford to be here? And what will become of all the artists? A city thrives on the energy of those people who create. What do you do when they all get priced out of the market? But then...

September 11, 2001.

What nobody discussed in the wake of those events was that the rental marked bottomed out as people initially knee jerked when they considered that NYC was probably the biggest target for any terrorist that had issues with the west generally and the United States specifically. The UN is here, so an attack here sends a message everywhere.

But, on second thought, as a sense of pride, of caring, of feeling that we could and would make it through this, costs started to rise again, in some cases even higher than before the attacks. Suddenly corporations wanted to be here, and not just in the standard business district locations. It was boom time, again.

But maybe the most frightening element for anyone wanting to live in NYC were three entities serving as “Super Landlords” that have made the market what it is today.

The first two were the most noted seats of learning in the city: Columbia University to the North and New York University to the south. Both of these schools had sought more space, for classrooms, storage, research, but also for students, as dorm rooms were both difficult to come by, and extremely lucrative. With both schools buying up as much property as they could for their faculty, staff and students, it put a strain on anyone living in the areas of Morningside Heights or Greenwich Village who wanted to stay there.

But the biggest issue that still must be addressed somehow are The Banks.

J. P. Morgan Chase, Citi and Bank of America own a lot of properties around New York. Many of those properties are some of the best in town. The problem is that there is no wiggle room with a bank. Where a normal landlord may have to make a compromise and allow a tenant to rent space from them because that landlord has to pay expenses, these megabanks have no such issue. They can sit for an endless length of time, properties vacant, until they get the price they want from the tenant they like.

This is a major issue because it creates a rent shortage and a luxury gap. Because of how expensive the most expensive properties have become, businesses and tenants that might have located in those areas were forced to a more “affordable” space. As that happened, the people who might have been able to continue in that space got pushed out into a cheaper neighborhood. And with “gentrification,” (a misnomer for rooting out what were minority neighborhoods and converting them into “mainstream” places), a horrible game of Musical Chairs is in constant motion where the loser is out of luck and likely out of town.

Granted Mayor Bill de Blasio has created tax breaks for any luxury builder that provides space for “affordable housing” on their property. But even the term “affordable” is questionable, in a town where people are subletting closet space as a bedroom for over a thousand dollars a month (but hey! You have access to the living room and kitchen when nobody else is home)!

So, how does someone actually afford to live in New York City? If I told you, I’d have to kill you.

//

This thinkpost was written for LJ Idol, using the prompt "The Rent I Pay."
penpusher: (MTA)
Back in the day, NYC had three different subway companies: the BMT or Brooklyn Manhattan Transit, The IND or the Independent Transit Line and the IRT or the Interboro Rapid Transit. Eventually, these separate subway systems came together to form what we now know as the New York City Subway System.

In 1983, a group came along that capitalized on the initials IRT, but in this case they stood for Interboro Rhythm Team. They created a song that followed the route of the Broadway Local from South Ferry to Upper Manhattan. The name of the song was a familiar phrase to people who listened to the conductor's announcements as they rode: "Watch The Closing Doors."

I remember hearing this song and loving it, and I probably heard it on WKTU, which was the radio station that played Urban/Dance music when it was released. I never got to play it as a DJ because I never found a copy of it, but certainly I would have fit it into my set list if I had, it's just that much fun and worthwhile.

The great thing about the song is that it's accurate to the Uptown bound 1 Train as far as descriptives and order of station stops, and it reflects the sound, tone and attitude of NYC, mid 1980s.

I'm pleased to present This Lost Classic, and to paraphrase the automated subway announcement circa 2016: Stand clear of the Dancing Floor.

penpusher: (Dean and DeeDee)
Sunday, May 15 2016 and Cyn and Kevin, aka [livejournal.com profile] cynnerth and [livejournal.com profile] low_delta were in town, had a bit of free time that afternoon and evening and we spent an unseasonably cold afternoon and evening together!

a skosh of the scotch! )
penpusher: (Yankees Logo)
The smallest county on the United States mainland is, quite arguably, the most famous one. New York County, also known as the island of Manhattan, is the tiniest county outside of one in the Hawaiian Islands, yet it has come to dwarf most everything else in the entirety of the country. Some people actually believe and loudly proclaim that New York is at the heart of everything.

I’m being very sincere when I say... )

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