Update on affordable housing in Manhattan: there is none
The lord works in mysterious way, and so, I’m sure, does Bloomberg and the NYC Housing Authority. This new mixed-income building is a wacky postmodern hybrid of high and low, defined by Marxist overtones. Huh? Hold on. Each according to his need. You were to be given a lease according to your income bracket. Had I really gotten in, the way I thought I was going to, I would have paid $1,600 + for a studio or $1,800 for a one bedroom. There were only 20 available units for my income bracket and family size (my son and me). I fell under the middle-income category and there was a whole separate scale for the low-income category. You could have snagged a studio for about $400 if you made only $23,000 a year. I could have theoretically quit my job and become the grocery-store clerk that my heart often longs to be and been set for life. But I know that’s not the point.
So, in a sense, we’re defined by our housing in NYC, more than in any other city. I used to live on a dubious block filled with crackheads and prostitutes and now I have groups of tourists prancing down my street on their way to the High Line. My block hasn’t really changed. I mean, they paved the street and kicked out all the homeless alcoholics when the Republican Convention was in town, but everybody came back. The payphone on the corner still serves as a public toilet and all, but my rent has almost doubled since I moved in.
But back to affordable housing. My son and I decided to go to the open house and check out the apartments. We’re still plotting to get in there when the first person in our income bracket moves out. My father, god rest his soul, revealed in his later years that at work he was known as The Pusher. And no, it wasn’t about drugs, even if he was a chemist by profession. He got things done. This is no doubt where I get my propensity for finding the slightest crack and sticking the wedge in. I once asked my former assistant principal at my job if I pushed too much and he gamely replied “just enough”—the very definition of balance to me. So somewhere inside me I thought if we went to the open house we might just be that much closer to getting in.
It snowed that day, in October, a near-record for the city. My son and I had gone to the Bronx to be present at my school for an open house there … the season, I guess. We didn’t have much time left when we got back so we tore over to the building. The open house went till two. We found the front entrance around the corner from 9th on 25th Street and we opened the glass doors. It was still just all concrete and a security guard was there and a young woman. They had a table set up and you had to sign a waiver—even my son did—and wear a hardhat to walk around in the building. I started rambling to the woman about how I’d been chosen for the lottery but didn’t get an apartment. She frowned a little. “Did you get approved?” she said.
“Yeah,” I said, “and then they said they didn’t have an apartment for us.”
“That’s weird,” she said. Dah dun! The crack.
“Is it weird?” I said. They’d screwed up. They’d investigate. We’d get in after all.
Just then the guy who had interviewed me last spring—went over my paperwork and everything—stepped out from behind a door or something. “Oh, you’re that guy,” I said, sort of more shrilly and abruptly than I’d intended. My voice reverberated against the concrete walls. The young woman repeated to him what we’d talked about.
“No, you got chosen,” he said, kind of slowly, very clearly, annunciating. “But then when we cleared all the people in your income bracket your number was too high and we didn’t have an apartment left for you.” Yeah, well, I knew that.
“Well, we just thought we’d come look at the rooms because we really want to get in here,” I said. “And thanks for emailing me.” Was my voice really echoing around in the empty lobby or was I just having a panic attack by now? He’d answered my email query about the building going up on 26th and 8th that I thought was going to be another affordable housing building. It’s not.
“Sure,” the guy said. He looked tiredly patient and indulgent, a look you don’t really set out to elicit in people. My son was trying on different hardhats and exclaiming about the features of the concrete lobby. The snow had turned to rain. We were about to go into the elevator when another guy burst through the doors, tall, from Baltimore, he said. I imagined him as a real person with a real job, who had real money and was actually looking for a place to live. As opposed to me, who was absurdly trying to scheme on the chance that someone had made a mistake, or something.
We all went up together. Nice elevator. Beautiful halls. Tiny studio. Significantly smaller than ours. Holy crap, maybe it’s better we didn’t get it, my son and I signaled to each other with a look. The guy from Baltimore was taking pictures with his phone. We then moved on to the two bedroom. Now this we could live with. A lovely kitchen. Two small bedrooms. Three closets. A small front room off the kitchen, small, but if we each had a bedroom ….
The guy from Baltimore was photographing away. He was asking reasonable questions, some about the neighborhood, which my son and I were answering. Animatedly. “Do you think someone might move out?” I said to the guy from the real estate office.
“I don’t know,” he said. Granted, if my son had asked the question it might have been more fitting. I started to get all-around paranoid.
The whole way to the grocery store to get lunch my son and I talked about moving into that two bedroom, walking quickly, hunched under our one broken Mets umbrella (don’t ask!). Too bad we can’t possibly afford it. But I can see it now—our little round table in the front room. Even the one bedroom at that building was only as big as our studio is now. Affordable housing? No.
Hey Manhattanites—or anybody else! Any ideas out there for a single-mother teacher and her 10 year-old son?