Tackling New York’s Housing Affordability Crisis

Crystal Patterson is a fourth-generation New Yorker whose city roots run deep: she was raised in East Flatbush, has family in Bedford-Stuyvesant and works in Midtown. Yet, even though Crystal calls New York home, for years she had no home to go to; she was one of the hundreds of thousands of city residents who struggled to find safe, affordable housing.

Today, New York is experiencing an unprecedented affordability crisis. In all five boroughs, from Williamsbridge in the Bronx to Williamsburg in Brooklyn, the cost of housing has become increasingly out of reach for low, moderate, and middle income New Yorkers. In many ways, we have become victims of our own success: while the city has become safer, more vibrant, and more welcoming than ever before, it has also become more expensive to live here. The simple economic principle of supply and demand has caused this emergency, but it will take an innovative, multifaceted solution to get us out of it.

One creative solution has already proven to be successful in Brooklyn: public-private partnerships. Last week, Greenland Forest City Partners was proud to open 535 Carlton, our COOKFOX-designed, 298-unit building in one of the most desirable parts of the city. The best part? It’s 100 percent affordable, and proof positive that our public-private affordable housing model delivers great results. This pioneering partnership ensures that Pacific Park Brooklyn, our 22-acre project in downtown Brooklyn, enhances the area’s diversity, vibrancy, and accessibility.

Working in conjunction with the city and the state, we at Greenland Forest City developed a plan to accelerate the timetable for affordable housing coming online. We committed to delivering 2,250 units of below market-rate housing by 2025. In exchange, the city’s Housing Development Corporation (HDC) provided financial resources to guarantee two 100 percent affordable buildings, 535 Carlton and 38 Sixth Avenue, would start construction earlier than planned. These buildings wouldn’t just be for low-income New Yorkers; they would also include housing for moderate and middle income New Yorkers who have been increasingly priced out of their neighborhoods.

Moreover, Greenland Forest City committed to building affordable housing designed by the city’s top architects. COOKFOX, the architect behind 535 Carlton, is a pioneer of sustainable, environmentally-responsible design, which permeates throughout the property. The building sits adjacent to what will become the eight-acre, publicly accessible Pacific Park. It includes resident gardens on the rooftop and a green wall in the lobby. Many of the sundrenched apartments have views of the neighborhood, nearby Prospect Park, and New York Harbor.

For lottery winners, these units are life-changing. For years, Crystal lived in AirBnB rentals, spending a few short months in different neighborhoods throughout New York and beyond. She applied to 60 affordable housing lotteries throughout the five boroughs, each time praying that she would finally get a lucky break and a place to call home.

Late last year, that break came: Crystal opened her email to find out she had won the affordable housing lottery for 535 Carlton. She now lives in a two-bedroom apartment with her 15-year-old son, Trey. The building has a fitness center, children’s play area and resident lounge, amenities more likely to be found in a luxury building than a 100 percent affordable one. But for Crystal, the best part is building a new, stable life in the city she loves.

“The joy we felt was indescribable,” said Crystal on securing her apartment in 535 Carlton. “Today, I feel like my son and I are part of the growing community in both the building and the neighborhood.”

Ultimately, we want more New Yorkers like Crystal to feel that they are part of our shared future, and that there will be enough affordable housing supply for generations to come. Pacific Park Brooklyn aims to meet this vision, and is already proof that putting affordability first can reap great rewards for the citizens of New York.

Ashley Cotton is Executive Vice President, External Affairs at Forest City New York.

Gotham Gazette