Affordable Housing That’s Very Costly

The New York Times

By Josh Barro — June 7, 2014

Abington House, at 500 West 30th Street near the High Line in West Chelsea, is a new luxury residential building and, like a lot of new luxury developments in Manhattan, it’s extremely expensive. The cheapest two-bedroom apartment now listed there rents for $5,850 a month. That gets you only one bathroom; a two-bed, two-bath can run as high as $8,695.

But 78 apartments in the building, or 20 percent of the total, are set aside as affordable housing under New York City’s “inclusionary zoning” program. That means 19 two-bedroom apartments are priced from $687 to $873 — about a 90 percent discount to market rents. Those apartments were granted to 19 households that make from $25,612 to $42,950 a year and won a housing lottery the city held last year.

There are two appealing facts about inclusionary zoning: developers pay for it, so it has no direct fiscal cost at a time when direct subsidy dollars for affordable housing are scarce; and it produces economic integration, with high- and low-income households living on the same hallways. This is no small thing in Manhattan, where high housing costs — rents rose 19 percent from 2005 to 2012 — are turning it into an island of exclusivity. On the other hand, the affordable housing units created by inclusionary zoning are extremely expensive. The subsidy to each family getting an affordable two-bedroom unit at Abington House will be worth nearly $90,000 a year. That money could cover rent for several families in a middle-income neighborhood in boroughs outside Manhattan, like Sunnyside, Queens.

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