There’s a state program known as 80/20 that’s supposed to encourage developers to set aside units in new developments for low and moderate income tenants. The developer agrees to set aside 20% of the development for people with income no greater than half of the neighborhood median–in exchange, the state allows him or her to raise capital by selling tax exempt bonds, and helps with the securing of federal tax credits. The other 80% of the units can be rented or sold at market-rate.
That sounds good, but it turns out that nothing in the 80/20 program says that the units for lower-income residents have to be of the same quality as the market-rate 80%. In some cases they aren’t even in the same building.
I recently drove by Larry Silverstein’s new modestly-named Silver Towers development, on West 42nd. I was with Christine, an architect who has worked on 80/20 projects, and Jeffery, a non-profit executive who had looked into renting at Silver Towers, where market-rate studios start at $2,300/month.
“I wanted to rent here,” Jeffery started, “because I heard they had low-income units available, and because it’s really actually a pretty gorgeous pair of buildings.” But when he came to tour, he realized there was another building in the development he hadn’t noticed.
“And I get there, and the low-income units are all in this dumpy little place in the back. I couldn’t believe it.”Christine chimed in: “And if you look closely, you can see that the floors on the little building don’t even line up with the ones in the towers–the ceilings are actually two feet lower on all of them!”
I asked her if this was common. “I can’t think of one that’s as flagrant as this, but yes, it’s definitely common to see lower quality in the low-income units.” She pointed to the small building again: “The thing that’s worrisome here is that this is a complete separation from the general development.”
“Yes, there are some low-income units, but they’re in a separate building, with lower ceilings and a shitty view of a gross bus terminal. It’s not a fucking mixed-income development.”
Jeffery said he’d talked to a friend of his, one who lived in the low-income building: “His keys don’t even work in the other buildings. He can’t get into the gym.”
I called Lisa Kish, the development’s tenant coordinator, and asked her about this directly. She wouldn’t give an answer, referring me to the website, which told me nothing.
Although no cash gets handed out directly, 80/20 is a pretty heavily subsidized program– if you count the taxes lost to exemptions on bonds, and the tax credits given by the federal government. So it would seem like it ought to really promote mixed-income developments.
“They got so much help to build this thing.” Jeffery said, as we passed by, heading towards Times Square. “They built a little ghetto.”
UPDATE: Hey, check out this picture of the development’s playground: