Monday, March 19, 2012

Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez: Northern Manhattan’s population is shrinking; we need more affordable housing

Rodriguez says rising rents and a shortage of affordable housing has triggered a 'silent crisis' in his district, resulting in a population drop of more than 18,000

  Octavio Estevez inside his new apartment at 369 Edgecomb Avenue, with City Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez, who helped him find housing, which was necessary for Octavio to be put on a kidney transplant list.

Michael Schwartz for New York Daily News

Octavio Estevez inside his new apartment on Edgecombe Ave. in Washington Heights, with City Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez, who helped him find housing, which was necessary for Estevez to be put onto a kidney transplant list.

Octavio Estevez was in a battle for his life. After having to leave his job because of a potentially deadly illness, he was unable to find an apartment he could afford in his neighborhood of Washington Heights. He and his family were forced to leave the place he had called home for decades, to relocate to a homeless shelter in the Bronx.

While there, he found out that in order to get the kidney transplant he needed to survive, he would have to find more stable housing. With no other options in sight, it seemed as if Estevez might never get the life-saving treatment he needed, because of a shortage of affordable housing.

Through stories in the Daily News and other media, Estevez and his family were able to partner with the Community League of the Heights and a local developer to find an apartment in a newly renovated building. His new apartment is a victory we can all be proud of, but what about the families forced to leave Northern Manhattan who don’t get their faces in the paper? These are the families who have become part of a silent crisis.

This silent crisis has caused the population of Northern Manhattan to drop from more than 208,000 to 190,000; a loss of more than 18,000 people. Considering the addition of people who have recently moved into the community, this means the number of residents who have left is likely to be higher than 20,000. These 20,000 people are our friends, our families and our neighbors, but have been forced to move by the drastic rent increases in the past 10 to 15 years.

As dramatic as this exodus is, many don’t notice it until it’s too late, because it happens one family at a time. You have a goodbye party for one of your neighbors one week, the next you notice that a small local bodega has shut down, and the family owning it now has to move to the Bronx. Many of us look at each of these stories individually, not necessarily connecting them as part of a much bigger problem. So, many residents stay quiet, the only visible evidence is the “For Rent” signs and the moving trucks, and the number of people hurt by this silent crisis continues to rise.

In my office, every single day local residents come in who are facing eviction because the rents of the apartments they’ve lived in for years are suddenly and dramatically increasing. While we work hard to advocate for them, and are often successful, the reality is that we’re up against forces bigger than any one of us. While my office can advocate, we cannot create new affordable housing by ourselves. Since 2004, only 138 units of affordable housing have been built in Northern Manhattan — just over 1% of the total units built in the borough of Manhattan in the same time period. So while we lose 10% of our people, we’ve only received 1% of the new housing, and a small percentage of the preservations.

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