Photo by Carl Solder on Unsplash

One-Apartment Building Short: Anti-Housing Activism Is To Blame For New York’s Lost Congressional Seat

The state was just 89 people shy of holding onto its previous 27-seat delegation in the House of Representatives

ew York was one apartment building short of not losing a congressional seat, according to recent census data released in April. The state was just 89 residents shy of holding onto its previous 27-seat delegation in the House of Representatives, but was ultimately beat out by Minnesota for the 435th seat. The loss of a congressional seat may signal other consequential losses, including a reduction in federal funding each year.

New York State assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou issued a statement on Twitter to both share her disappointment regarding the lost congressional seat, and to take a swipe at Governor Cuomo for “withholding funding to our communities that are hard to count.”

While funding may have certainly impacted the ultimate count, there is a more obvious reason for New York’s perpetually shrinking delegation: the lack of affordable housing and, just as importantly, a widespread anti-housing stance held by New York activists and politicians, including Niou.

Take, for instance, the Haven Green project, a mixed-use building proposal that would have brought 123 affordable units to Lower Manhattan for seniors — a demographic in particular need for viable living spaces, as an estimated 200,000 seniors are currently on hosuing waiting lists. Moreover, the building plans apportioned 30% of the units for formerly homeless individuals. The project was slotted to replace the Elizabeth Street Garden and would have maintained 8,000 square feet of open space.

Still, Niou sided with the privately-managed garden and sued to prevent the 100% affordable build in her district, arguing the need for green space shouldn’t compete with the need for housing.

Of course, one more housing project likely would have been enough to maintain New York’s 27-seat delegation, given the razor-thin margins surrounding the census count.

But green space is an important commodity within urban centers, facilitating livelihoods with less stress, better physical and mental health, and even a reduction in noise pollution — community activists and politicians like Niou are right to recognize this. However, credibility diminishes and concern for green spaces appears superficial when these same individuals also seek to prevent housing builds aiming to replace asphalt parking lots.

A proposal to build a mixed-use tower in Manhattan’s Seaport District at 250 Water Street has also faced immense opposition. The original two-pronged tower design would have been the first affordable housing project built in the Seaport District—ever.

The proposal would have provided 100 affordable housing units — almost matching the total amount of affordable housing units built during the entire de Blasio mayoralty in Community Board 1 neighborhoods — and another 260 at market rate. This is all without mentioning the project estimated the creation of 2,200 jobs throughout construction. Additionally, the project would have awarded a $50 million endowment to the struggling South Seaport Museum in exchange for an air rights transfer — a potential saving grace for the museum’s survival.

However, the Landmarks Preservation Commission rejected the proposal in January, claiming it was too tall for the district — echoing a number critics of the mixed-use housing proposal, including the City Club of New York.

The developers have presented a new proposal with a reduced project size, but many still opposed the plan. Assemblymember Niou has been consistently critical of Water Street housing proposal, of both the new and revised plans.

And neighborhood activist groups like Community Board 1, the Friends of South Seaport, and the Seaport Coalition have campaigned, including through online petitions, to prevent the affordable units to be built. Ultimately, the 250 Water Street developer has previously stated if the revised plans are not approved, a smaller tower will be built without any affordable units.

When parking lots garner more support than those in need of affordable housing, it is difficult to take these activists’ concerns seriously. Whether it is tepid uncertainty about the amount of green space in New York, lack of community feedback, or, simply, whining that a tower is too tall — the “concerns” begin to sound instead like disingenuous excuses to prevent affordable housing residents from entering a comfy historical district.

Ultimately, it is no exaggeration to say either one of these recent proposals would have housed enough people to keep the now-lost 27th House seat in New York.

Anti-housing activism has serious consequences and affects important areas of everyday life for state citizens — including the amount political representation they have. Hopefully, this will serve as a wake-up call.

Anthony DiMauro is a freelance writer in New York City. J.D. Candidate. NYU philosophy alum. You can follow him on Twitter @AnthonyMDiMauro

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