Is It Possible To Make Affordable Housing In Manhattan Seem Reasonable?

In my continuing coverage of the "worst possible public policy," namely so-called "affordable housing" in Manhattan, I wrote back in June about a new project nearing completion in Harlem known as Sugar Hill Development.  Now in the Arts section of yesterday's New York Times, we find an architecture review of the exact same project by the Times's architecture critic, Michael Kimmelman.  Shall we contrast my take and his?

Here is the picture of the project that I included in my June 12 article:

My take:

Could it be more hideous?  This makes the old time "projects" that New York is famous for look positively pleasant.  If you didn't know what it was, you would probably guess it's a prison.

The Times article occupies most of the first page of the Arts section, and continues onto most of the second page.  You can guess where it's going from the headline:  "Building Hope And Nurturing Into Housing."  Here is their picture:


Definitely the same building, although in their view from the downhill side the thing looks even more likely to tip over.  Nice gas station next door!  So, Kimmelman, what do you think?

[Sugar Hill] has been conceived to serve some of the very poorest New Yorkers, who will move into anything but a run-of-the-mill building. Designed by a marquee architect, with no concessions to timid taste, the project aspires to must-see status. . . .  [I]t posits a goal for what subsidized housing might look like, how it could lift a neighborhood and mold a generation. . . .   It’s clad in shadowy gray precast, thickly grooved concrete panels spectrally embossed with abstracted roses that refer to floral decorations on historic buildings in the neighborhood. . . .  I like the building’s exterior.

Well, my betting is that something this brutal will never "lift a neighborhood and mold a generation."  And how about the part that this building has been "conceived to serve some of the very poorest New Yorkers."  Kimmelman gives no details.  Is this true?  Actually, no.  The sponsor's website lists the income restrictions for the building:

124 apartments are planned with 70% of the units set-aside for households earning very low incomes defined by the City of New York as 50% of the Area Medium Income (AMI) or below, this is less than $38,400 for a family of four. 30% of all apartments will be dedicated to those at extremely low income levels of 30% of AMI ($23,050 for a family of four) or below. 10% of the apartments will be targeted at 50-60% AMI. Community residents with no lease, doubled or tripled-up in seriously substandard conditions in the community will be accommodated as will homeless households residing in the emergency shelter system. The remaining 20% of the apartments will be extended to low income working families at 80% AMI, or less than $61,450 for a family of four.

Translated into English, only 30% of the building is going to families at or near the so-called "poverty level," and the $61,450 limit for the top 20% is actually well above the median family income in the United States according to the most recent Census data.  Then Kimmelman hits us with this ridiculous piece of deceptive information:

Broadway Housing Communities estimates that each resident in a supportive housing development like Sugar Hill costs taxpayers $12,500 a year, on average.

Did you notice that he just switched from talking about "families" to talking about "residents"?  I guess that $12,500 per "resident" would be $50,000 for a family of four.  Can somebody please explain to me how it can possibly make sense to subsidize one family of four earning more than the national median income to the tune of $50,000 per year, every year, year after year for their whole lives?  That's a gift of present value of between $1 million and $1.5 million.  But even that is a huge underestimate, because it's just talking about the on-budget cash outlay, when the whole idea of these kinds of projects is to hide the costs where they can't and won't be measured.  To get to the real cost to the taxpayers, you have to add to the cash outlay an additional amount representing the opportunity cost of the rent you forewent by renting at below-market prices.  The market rental of these apartments will be in the range of $3000 to $4000 per month, and the lucky residents will be paying at best about half that.  So the real number, as I estimated in my previous article, is about a $2 million present-value gift per family, 70+ percent of which are not "poor" as we define that term in our official data.

Well, at least they'll be "nurtured," or something like that.  Actually, maybe not.  We haven't yet considered what's on the inside of this building.  Back to Kimmelman:

The apartments seem like an afterthought: awkward, with angled walls, quirky layouts that tenants may find hard to furnish, and deep-set, weirdly placed windows of various sizes.  Sugar Hill turns out to be like an A student who crams for the big test and then forgets to bring a pencil.

But I'll still bet that nobody will ever move out.  Nobody moves out from the subsidized "affordable" housing in Manhattan.  Would you give back half of your $2 million gift before collecting it?  I wouldn't think so.

Some day, a long time from now, the residents of this building will get bought out and the place will be dynamited.  Probably, I'll be long dead.  But in the meantime can we at least stop building more of these things?