Developments Hurt Renters, Says New Movie

For more than three years, producer/directors Jen Senko and Fiore DeRosa have been exploring the development of the expansive luxury-housing marking in New York City -- and around the globe -- and the dire effect it has had on middle- and lower-income renters. Through their short film, "The Vanishing City," they reveal just what kind of damage all those cranes have been doing, from Brooklyn to Queens and all over New York City.

After an exhibit at the Architectural League, the two filmmakers came face to face with a model of the city that included toothpick-like-sticks representing every new high rise being added to the city.

"It looked like porcupine quills, there were so many," say Senko. "More than 300 of them in Manhattan or nearby!"

"Beyond that, the large-scale development we saw around us was, just by itself, overwhelming," adds DeRosa. "You could stand on almost any street corner, and in every direction there'd be construction."

The growth of the luxury housing industry occurred at an explosive rate up until the housing crash of 2008. The result? The middle class has been slowly
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priced out of inner-city housing and forced farther away from jobs and schools. For good or bad, this has led to a greater disparity in wealth among the city's population. At the same time, as commercial rents pushed higher and higher, city government gave increased control to housing owners while taking power from tenants.

"Designated middle-class housing [such as Mitchell Lama Housing in New York] was allowed by the city to be sold and become market-rate co-ops and condos," says Senko. "All the while, rent regulations have been chipped away."

Since the recession, another collection of problems has emerged.

"There's a glut of luxury condos with numerous empty units that are not selling," says DeRosa.

As a result, renters might be able to catch a break.

"It is possible to take advantage of this and possibly bargain for rent reductions," he says, "but we don't think a dramatic change in rents is coming anytime soon."

In the meantime, it is the low-rise middle-class neighborhoods of Brooklyn and Queens, in the neighborhoods closest to Manhattan, that have suffered the most, according to Senko and DeRosa. "The targeted rezoning and the subsequent development has made a huge impact," emphasizes Senko. As an example, she points to the closing of privately owned businesses whose lease increases were affordable only to giant corporate entities.

It is not news that Manhattan real estate is expensive and getting pricier. But middle class workers are now finding themselves priced out of homes even in the outer boroughs.

"I spoke to a policeman recently," says DeRosa, "and he said he was trying to find an apartment in outer Brooklyn. I said, `You work in the West Village and you can't find any place closer?' He said it's just too expensive.

"He knows a lot of policemen living an hour and a half or more outside of the city. We hear stories like this all the time."

"The Vanishing City" is now showing at the Schomburg Center in Harlem and at The National Arts Club in New York City on December 15. For more
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