4 Reasons a $2.5 Billion Brooklyn-Queens Streetcar Doesn’t Add Up

underserved_neighborhoods
Other neighborhoods besides the Brooklyn-Queens waterfront have much higher concentrations of people living beyond convenient walking distance to the subway. Map: NYC DOT

Later today, Mayor de Blasio is going to deliver his State of the City speech, and one centerpiece is expected to be a new streetcar running from Sunset Park to Astoria along the Brooklyn-Queens waterfront. It’s an idea that’s surfaced repeatedly in one form or another as developers have transformed sections of the waterfront into new residential neighborhoods. As alluring as it may be to picture modern rail on the streets of Brooklyn and Queens, there are good reasons it’s gone nowhere.

The argument for the streetcar goes something like this… The waterfront is booming with residential development in western Queens and northern Brooklyn, and job centers are growing at the Navy Yard and Sunset Park. A lot of this growth isn’t very close to trains, and Red Hook has always been isolated from the subway network. So connect everything with a streetcar line and voila, transit access problem solved.

The vision of a sleek streetcar connecting people and jobs, with the East River glinting in the background, has a seductive appeal. The renderings will look fantastic in the marketing materials for new luxury condos. (Major backers of the plan include developers Two Trees and the Durst Organization.) Plus the city says the project will basically pay for itself through increased property tax revenue.

Too good to be true? I think so. Based on what we know so far, there’s no way this proposal will deliver on the hype. What we’re going to end up with is a highly-subsidized transit route with modest ridership at best. Here are four aspects of the project that don’t add up.

Subway connections. A lot of the new development coming to northern Brooklyn and western Queens is a schlep from the subway. There are transit solutions to the subway access problem (here’s one), but the streetcar route isn’t a good one.

The streetcar is, instead, an expensive way to connect waterfront neighborhoods and destinations to each other. As for subway access, it won’t stop anywhere near the J/M/Z, and anyone transferring to the L would have to walk two or three long blocks:

Paying for it. The pitch for the streetcar claims that increased property tax revenue can be captured and funneled toward the $2.5 billion project cost. In a quote that has since been edited away, NYU’s Mitchell Moss told the Times, “This is going to do more to encourage more housing than any other transit improvement currently underway.”

But the properties the streetcar will serve are already getting developed. (Have you been to the waterfront lately?) The real estate doesn’t need an extra push from a streetcar with poor connections to the subway. If the project is funded by skimming property tax revenue that would have been collected anyway, that’s a plain old subsidy that comes at the cost of other public priorities in the city budget.

Operations and fare integration. Let’s assume the city does its part with street design and repurposes motor vehicle lanes and parking spaces so the streetcar won’t have to slog through car traffic. There are still some tough questions about how the streetcar will be run.

This is going to be a city project, not an MTA project, so how will it be integrated with the MTA’s fare system? Will people pay a separate fare for the streetcar, like they do for ferries or Citi Bike? If so, the streetcar loses even more utility as a subway connector. But if there’s no fare, then all the operating costs will be perpetually subsidized.

Other transit priorities. The MTA and NYC DOT have produced some excellent analysis of the city’s transit needs as planners formulate routes for enhanced bus service. The agencies look at where there are high concentrations of people without subway access, where travel demand is high but transit service is poor, and where the city is growing. Tellingly, this analysis has never concluded that the streetcar route is a high priority.

The map at the top of the post shows the largest concentrations of people who live outside convenient walking distance of the subway. The Brooklyn-Queens waterfront isn’t one of them.

Because parts of the waterfront are growing rapidly, the agencies do put some sections of the proposed streetcar route on their priority map. But other corridors would serve more people, and the waterfront priorities are much more targeted than a snaking route from Sunset Park to Astoria. Here’s a look at the transit service needs the MTA and DOT identified in 2009.

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Map: NYC DOT

Previously, the de Blasio administration has set its sights on some great transit improvements, like extending the subway along Utica Avenue and improving service on the city’s most heavily-used but sluggish bus routes. It would be a big loss if the streetcar project saps energy from those other initiatives.

  • Joe R.

    I don’t care if private auto drivers are sitting in traffic. The issue is when the traffic delays buses. More importantly, high traffic levels often necessitate traffic signals. Those are bad for both bikes and pedestrians. And all those cars spew pollution and make noise.

    In a nutshell, large numbers of private automobiles ruin cities for many reasons. Reducing congestion by discouraging private auto use makes sense, even if it might result in the remaining motor vehicles driving faster.

  • Vooch

    dedicated bus lanes plus pedestrian zones plus pay for car storage

  • ahwr

    You’re basically taking one of the three lanes in each direction for buses, effectively decreasing the car and truck capacity by 1/3.

    Depends where the bottlenecks are. You don’t seem to have a problem calling for far larger reallocations of space from motor vehicles.

    The second one is the buses eventually need to get on surface streets. That’s slow in Queens, and dead slow in Manhattan.

    They do right now. It can be sped up. Just because you’ll never end up with speeds of 60mph between stops doesn’t mean improvements than can be had are anything to sneeze at.

  • ahwr

    The idea here is once you have decent transit in place, you can justify measures to discourage private automobile use because many people now have a viable alternative

    Manhattan still has plenty of room for autos. Your standard of what would justify cutting down on space for autos doesn’t seem to match how stuff works out in the real world all that perfectly. And just because there is a subway stop nearby doesn’t mean it goes where you’re heading in even twice the amount of time of driving. See Flushing-Jamaica. By the way, there are buses all over the no subway areas in the city. People have options. They choose cars anyway.

    You can’t do that without viable alternatives.

    Sure you can. Just don’t care about the people you inconvenience, maybe set them up as some sort of ‘other’, or make use of some sort of provincialism etc…the way you do with people in Nassau trying to get somewhere in Queens by car.

    For example, you don’t want someone building a chemical factory a block away from a school.

    Building a chemical factory next to a school is a different order of restriction than dictating that a certain block is required to be detached houses when a block away you can have low rise apartments.

    A developer can’t make money on a single family home when land values are a few million an acre.

    Land values are that high in plenty of detached house zoned areas in the city. Probably some near you, maybe even you’re own. Plenty of people are willing to pay a lot to live in a house on quiet street. They’re just willing to pay less in aggregate than the people who would move into apartments that would get built instead if it was legal. I don’t see why subsidizing that lifestyle is more important than bringing down housing prices by permitting greater development.

    https://www.google.com/maps/@40.7610994,-73.8194482,3a,60y,232.1h,91.02t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1sSFmW4PRg7bO-DF5cRxNuJw!2e0!7i13312!8i6656

    Where’s the subway to support these apartments? It’s more than half a mile away.

    Zoning sort of follows what’s economically viable.

    It absolutely does not. Hence all the downzonings to support ‘neighborhood character’. At the expense of housing affordability.

    http://www.politico.com/states/article/city-hall/2014/02/8540743/quiet-massive-rezoning-new-york

    10K to 20K per square mile is considered high density by any reasonable standards.

    Then you need much greater than high density to support a grid of subways.

  • Joe R.

    My standard for streets is if you have so much traffic you need traffic lights for people to cross streets then you have too much traffic. They actually have reduced traffic levels to where you can eliminate traffic signals in many European cities. Sure, that means it’s often not possible to drive door-to-door by car. It’s a matter of inconveniencing the least space efficient, least essential users first. If that doesn’t achieve the desired results then you go to the next least space efficient user. The goal here is to make it convenient and fast for necessary motor vehicles to get around, even if that comes at the expense of private automobiles. Many of those who used to drive can get around just as fast by bike under such a scenario. For example, your hypothetical Flushing to Jamaica trip which takes 40 minutes by transit takes maybe 15 to 20 minutes by bike.

    By the way, there are buses all over the no subway areas in the city. People have options. They choose cars anyway.

    The buses as they exist now are really only a viable option to get to the subway. Even then they’re still dog slow. Off-peak they run on something like 10 or 15 minute headways AND you often need multiple transfers for many practical destinations. It should tell you something that I invariably choose to walk 3 miles to downtown Flushing rather than take the bus. The bus at best saves me 10 minutes over walking but at the price of a fare. The only time I’ll take the bus to Flushing is if I’ll be getting on the subway.

    Given that, it’s no surprise people choose cars. We can and should do a combination of things to discourage private car use, like reduce parking while outright banning private autos from “downtown” areas. At the same time however there is a lot of room for improving local transportation. More buses, bike share, better bike infrastructure where necessary are all things which can potentially replace car trips. People used to use streetcars to get around my area 75 years ago. The difference between then and now is the streetcars weren’t delayed by hordes of automobiles plus loads of traffic signals. We can’t speed up public transit or bikes unless we get cars out of the way. That’s really the problem citiwide but there’s no political will for this.

    Land values are that high in plenty of detached house zoned areas in the city. Probably some near you, maybe even you’re own.

    http://therealdeal.com/issues_articles/486631/

    The article mentions $137 per square foot which comes out to $6 million an acre. Remember this is an average of the entire borough. Places like LIC are bringing that average up. I am seeing 5 or 6 story apartment buildings going up when older buildings are torn down near me, so that’s probably an indication of about what the economic value of the land is. Then again, we had buildings this high when we moved here.

    I don’t see why subsidizing that lifestyle is more important than bringing down housing prices by permitting greater development.

    Most of the people who can afford houses these days are professionals of some sort making well into the six figures. Not sure we’re “subsidizing” them at all given that they pay real estate taxes, a lot of income taxes, and a lot of sales taxes. Quite a few send their children to private schools so they’re paying for public education but not using it. Overall it wouldn’t surprise me if in aggregate the apartment dwellers who might potentially replace them are subsidized more.

    Many have cars unfortunately. We are heavily subsidizing their car use with free curbside parking, free bridges into Manhattan, etc. That subsidy should end long before any supposed subsidy for housing. NYC doesn’t do this because these people (including wealthy Manhattanites who live in apartments but own cars) pay a lot in taxes. NYC is afraid of losing them if they clamp down too hard on their car use. I’m not sure I agree there. There are plenty of equally wealthy professionals willing to live car-free who would take their place.

    Anyway, it’s hard to say which housing arrangements end up being subsidized more. I will say villainizing people who live in one or two family homes isn’t a productive thing to do. A lot of NYC’s professional tax base prefers this living arrangement. We’re not ending the housing shortage by replacing every single family home with a 6-story apartment building, at least not without greatly improving water, sewer, electrical, and transportation infrastructure. It’s not as easy as buying out a home owner then slapping up an apartment building. Consider the costs to upgrade the infrastructure in your calculations. Much of it is barely adequate for single family homes.

  • Joe R.

    Right on my general attitude about reallocating space from motor vehicles. At the same time, I’m realistic enough to know even your proposal would go nowhere, let alone some of mine like banning private automobiles altogether from Manhattan. It is nice to talk about these things in the hopes some future leader will read them, perhaps think they make sense.

    On the buses, if we had the wherewithal to reconfigure our streets appropriately, I see no good reason the buses couldn’t be going 60 mph between stops. Consider a fenced off center running bus lane. Now add in traffic light preemption plus railroad-style crossing gates at intersections. Perfectly safe for the bus to go highway speeds in such a scenario. You avoid the need for expensive grade separation. It won’t even be that bad for people crossing given that at most you might have a bus every minute or two. With 2 to 4 stops per mile, you could probably achieve average speeds better than 25 mph, more or less matching decent subway service.

  • Chen Li

    That’s why you need the circumferential routes, if you were to take all these sub-centers in an urban layout. Triborough RX would be one step in that direction. We can even envision an outer route along the grand central parkway to air train corridor. Just because the rapid transit system in inadequate (mostly because the system stopped growing largely after the depression), doesn’t mean that public transit is a bad idea for moving people around outer boroughs. Look at the overground system in London, add in DLR, you would see the solution to just about everything you have raised in this thread.

  • ahwr

    For example, your hypothetical Flushing to Jamaica trip which takes 40 minutes by transit takes maybe 15 to 20 minutes by bike.

    For a rare fitness junkie or someone zipping around an ebike (at what point does that become a dreaded motor vehvicle?), maybe 20 minutes. That’s 15 mph. That’s not a typically sustainable speed. Counting all the junctions where slowing down considerably would be needed, slowing or stopping as needed for pedestrians/cross traffic/freight traffic/transit vehicles, congestion etc…and a 35-40 minute travel time would be more typical. You’d have something comparable to transit excluding waiting for the bus today, worse than driving during rush hour. You can build subways so everyone is a half mile from a station (not met in much of the areas that have subways), you can build some busways and bikeways connecting parallel subway lines, but you won’t get average travel speeds up to 20 mph. The subway system average is less than that excluding time to get to the station/wait for a train/transferring etc…

    The buses as they exist now are really only a viable option to get to the subway. Even then they’re still dog slow.

    They are used by many many people who aren’t going to a subway. And they can be faster than the subway for trips between subway stations. Say Jamaica-Flushing.

    http://www.zillow.com/homes/for_sale/32074376_zpid/globalrelevanceex_sort/40.737014,-73.795521,40.728023,-73.809253_rect/15_zm/

    For this sort of house, new construction wouldn’t cost 250k. The value of the current structure is much less, maybe 150k if it’s been very well cared for and rehabbed recently. At the depressed May ’11 sale price of 580k the entrenched land value is still $107.50 a square foot. Land values in Fresh Meadows and many other single family neighborhoods are high, you would have much denser development if it wasn’t prohibited. And note that the land values are depressed by development restrictions. If you could build twice as much that house would sell for more money.

    Most of the people who can afford houses these days are professionals of some sort making well into the six figures. Not sure we’re “subsidizing” them at all given that they pay real estate taxes, a lot of income taxes, and a lot of sales taxes.

    They wouldn’t be able to afford a house if the city wasn’t protecting them. They could afford a nice apartment, maybe a nice penthouse with a bit of a view and lots of light. But unlikely they would live in a detached house in a neighborhood of other detached houses.

    Consider the costs to upgrade the infrastructure in your calculations.

    Given how real estate taxes skyrocket after development projects that reset valuations together with the generally expanded tax base from denser development, together with much room to hike development fees, it’s an overstated issue.

    A lot of NYC’s professional tax base prefers this living arrangement.

    Let’s see how they feel if they have to pay for it. Let property taxes float with real estate values, evened out over five or at most ten years. Allow denser development, but don’t mandate it. Even have the state/city pass any needed laws to accommodate a neighborhood that wants to form a cooperative to own the area so they can choose not to permit denser development. But they have to pay full price. That means 100% of area residents have to agree to join. I’ll even allow that once you get to 90% support that the potential future coop can be given right of refusal to buy any property that comes on the market. But until they own it, a developer can build a five story apartment on the site. So whatever the developer is willing to pay, they have to match if they want to buy it. And property assessments would be done for the area as a whole, development restrictions would not be taken into account. If there were willing buyers for the entire neighborhood without development restrictions at twice the going rate per house, with them, the area’s property taxes would be based on the higher valuation. You’d see development in single family neighborhoods in the city spring up quickly. Many of those who prefer that living arrangement would quickly come to enjoy a nice apartment in an area with nice parks. Some would move to the suburbs. A few would probably just end up miserable old curmudgeons.

    I will say villainizing people who live in one or two family homes isn’t a productive thing to do.

    I’m only villainizing those who demand the city protect their deatched house neighborhood character at the expense of housing affordability, and demand reduced property taxes to go with it. Low density housing leads to cars. You should be with me on this. Few trips by Queens residents are to Manhattan. Extending the E/F/7/M/R east wouldn’t leave you with low traffic streets, even without any new development to support the infrastructure investments.

    . It’s not just home owners who want to keep NYC frozen in time.

    Correct. And limiting development in Manhattan has driven up prices as well.

    https://works.bepress.com/lewyn/112/

    Construction costs are in fact only slightly higher in New York than in other markets: overall, construction costs are only 19% higher in New York than in Chicago,17 yet the median New York-area house is more than twice as expensive as the median Chicago-area house.18

    This gap, standing alone, does not show that housing price gaps between regions are due to government-imposed supply constraints. For example, unusually high demand might cause housing prices to exceed construction costs. But if demand alone explained high housing costs in expensive cities, increases in housing prices would lead to new construction, as developers decide to build more housing in order to benefit from increased demand. In Manhattan, this was the case in the 1950s and 1960s: increases in housing prices were followed by new construction.19 Between 1955 and 1964, the city permitted 11,000 new housing units per year in Manhattan.20 But in the 1980s and 1990s, this correlation disappears: evidence that some other factor (possibly regulation) is preventing housing supply from responding to higher prices.21 Between 1980 and 1999 permit grants averaged only 3120 per year.22 This diminution of housing supply began to occur not long after New York City institutionalized NIMBYism by creating neighborhood review boards, which have the right to comment upon new development projects.23 Thus, it seems that when government uses zoning to limit housing supply, prices do in fact increase.

    You don’t want community boards to have a say, or have only a reduced say, on transportation projects. I say extend that to development and zoning. Vetoing apartments should be out. Vetoing your chemical factory next to a school is still a good idea though.

    I’ll turn the tables here and ask how would Nassau residents feel if hordes of people from Queens drove through Nassau and parked on the streets there?

    Look at the sign at the top

    https://www.google.com/maps/@41.0783824,-73.862799,3a,15y,72.27h,89.4t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1sPtClSeRZxLFauJRVc7XwVw!2e0!7i13312!8i6656

    Go a few blocks away to Broadway. It’s not tolled. At most, that’s what would happen. A comparable measure in Queens would not include toll gates at the city line. Note that many parking permit systems around the country allow workers of businesses in the parking area to take part. As well as give parking permits to cars registered out of state as long as they are in the same name of someone who can show a lease, utility bill, etc…to prove they are otherwise eligible to park their car on the street. At least sometimes extended to work as long as the last name on the registration is the same. The sort of parking and access management you call for would be unusual, and not necessarily legal to implement.

    Why is it OK then for suburbanites to flood NYC with car traffic?

    Most Nassau residents work in Nassau. Less traffic near you is suburban through traffic than you think. You don’t live in a cul-de-sac. NYC is not a cul-de-sac. It sometimes seems that’s what you want. You won’t ever get that wish.

    Yes, there are parts of NYC zoned for detached homes but they’re often surrounded by areas zoned for apartments.

    How does this change anything? The city is still reducing the available supply of land by reserving some for that space inefficient use of it.

  • ahwr

    Look at how people talk ‘poor’ service on the G. That ‘poor’ service is supported by ~5k riders/mile. Eastern Queens bus routes top out at around 2k riders/mile for the most densely used subway feeders. Circumferential routes have much lower ridership. There isn’t enough density to support a real subway ‘grid’ in much of the city. Improving public transit circumferential routes is a great idea. In Eastern Queens it will mean at grade busways, not heavy rail. Heavy and light rail, whether elevated, underground, or at grade, will make sense in some other areas.

  • Vooch
  • Joe R.

    So what’s you idea here? Use what amounts to virtual eminent domain to seize property from people by suddenly driving up the price of their housing to the point of unaffordability? Real estate taxes on a parcel of land should roughly reflect the cost of the city to deliver services like garbage collection or education to those living there. If a single family home is there the needed services are a lot less than a 50 story apartment building so the taxes are less.

    I submit it’s the obsession with parking minimums which are the bigger problem. Let’s start by eliminating them citiwide, even over the objections of community boards. I can see for myself how expensive parking requirements make new construction when you’re going down perhaps 3 levels just to provide parking.

    Let’s also reign in real estate speculators. They’re partially at fault for making housing unaffordable. Who do you think buys up houses in areas like mine, rents them out, fixes one or two into McMansions to drive up the price of the remainder? Interestingly, it’s looking like that’s run its course. I’m not seeing too many more of these conversions, perhaps because it’s getting harder and harder to find takers now that the prices are getting into 7 figures for them. Anyway, prohibit renting single family homes, require the owner to live in one of the units of two or three family homes, don’t allow corporations to own these homes. That will get the speculators out of the picture. Prices will drop to reflect the true value of these homes.

    Since we both mentioned Manhattan, let’s also consider how rent control, rent regulation, plus limiting development there have made housing costs unaffordable. This in turn created more demand for housing in the outer boroughs than otherwise would have existed, driving up prices.

    Nationally, we have the same story. There’s a major shortage of urban housing. That wouldn’t be fixed even if NYC suddenly got rid of all existing single family homes. Other cities have much more space for new development than us in the form of parking craters. The best part here is you’re displacing cars, not people. It’s not NYC’s job alone to fix the affordable housing issue.

    I’m only villainizing those who demand the city protect their deatched house neighborhood character at the expense of housing affordability, and demand reduced property taxes to go with it. Low density housing leads to cars. You should be with me on this. Few trips by Queens residents are to Manhattan. Extending the E/F/7/M/R east wouldn’t leave you with low traffic streets, even without any new development to support the infrastructure investments.

    No, it’s not inevitable that lower density housing leads to cars. The Netherlands actually has a rather high percentage of private home ownership in areas with very high bike mode share. If we design for cars, that’s what people will use. If we design for bikes, many will use them instead. Bikes can largely supplant cars in areas like mine. In fact, walking can supplant quite a few car trips. The over 60 generation here got into the awful habit of driving two blocks for errands. That’s simply because we decided to make such car trips convenient by providing parking on both ends. That isn’t a given. Design for bikes, design for walking and that’s what you’ll get. If you did design for biking, you wouldn’t have all those things which slow down a hypothetical bike trip from Flushing to Jamaica. Someone in not too bad shape could indeed average 15 mph when they don’t need to stop or slow down.

    Not sure either where you get the idea that property taxes on single family homes here are reduced, either. Our property taxes are about $5K annually. They would be closer to $6K without the veteran’s and senior credits. That’s $500 a month, more than rent in a lot of places. For a house we already allegedly own. Take a look at the national picture:

    http://taxfoundation.org/blog/how-high-are-property-taxes-your-state

    Tax rates in the area of 1% of the property value seem to be the norm. With houses like ours going for around $600K that puts the taxes right around there. Not too low, not too high, roughly around where they should be.

    NYC could get a major windfall in property taxes, plus lots of room for new housing, by getting rid of existing parking lots. We don’t have as many as most cities but the fact they exist at all given our housing shortage is sinful. As a plus, if you get rid of the parking lots you’ll discourage auto use. So my answer here is eliminate parking minimums, build on parking lots for a start. If that doesn’t have the desired effect start developing under expressways or train viaducts. Think for example how much housing could be built where we have parking under the #7 viaduct.

    Here’s more food for thought. If land values here really would be so high without zoning restrictions then how much affordable housing would really end up being built? I recall a few people here discussing something along those lines not long ago. Even at $5 million an acre you’re probably not getting affordable housing by building apartments. Point of fact, I’ll bet good money you could zone most areas like mine for 6-story apartments and 25 years later at best only a few percent of lots will have them. There isn’t a huge market for what would probably be $2000+ a month apartments in areas like mine, at least not a huge enough market to absorb a few hundred thousand more units.

  • ahwr

    Use what amounts to virtual eminent domain to seize property from people by suddenly driving up the price of their housing to the point of unaffordability?

    How is it eminent domain? If someone doesn’t pay taxes the city can issue a lien against the property. I’d have no objection if they don’t foreclose on it if the resident is near the poverty line until the property changes hands. For people with decent incomes? That the city is no longer protecting their neighborhood from development hardly makes them charity cases.

    Prices will drop to reflect the true value of these homes.

    How is it the true value if you’re restricting who has access to them and how they get used?

    Parking minimums are a problem. That another problem exists doesn’t justify maintaining the inequities in the zoning code.

    . There’s a major shortage of urban housing. …It’s not NYC’s job alone to fix the affordable housing issue…Let’s also reign in real estate speculators….

    Did you read the paper I linked? You’d be well served to.

    Not sure either where you get the idea that property taxes on single family homes here are reduced, either. Our property taxes are about $5K annually

    http://www.cbcny.org/sites/default/files/Interactive/2013_Conference/REPORT_PropertyTaxes_12062013.pdf#page=12

    Class 1 properties have a much lower tax rate than other classes. Not sure why what happens in Texas should be more relevant than that.

    A lot of the rest might well have homes which remained in the family simply because they couldn’t find buyers given the exorbitant prices.

    Why are you distorting your scenario by not letting people sell to a developer that would allow more people to live in the area?

    There just isn’t a huge market for what would probably be $2000+ a month apartments in areas like mine

    http://therealdeal.com/issues_articles/nycs-construction-craze/

    https://smartasset.com/mortgage/price-to-rent-ratio-in-us-cities

    Apartment construction prices in Queens are $200-300/square foot. Land prices in your area right now sound to be in the $3 million an acre range. At 5 million an acre with a residential FAR of 4.0, that’s a land price of less than $30 per square foot of housing. Far below construction costs, with a lot of construction targeting more expensive finishes to satisfy an upscale market. Apartments in your area could be built for $250 a square foot including land. Modest thousand square foot condos could go for $300k. Nationwide historical price to rent ratio was about 15. It’s likely above 20 now. Was close to 25 in 2007. Anyway, the rent for this modest family apartment using a ratio of 15 is <$1700 a month. Using the ratio of ~30 you have in Queens it would be half that. Studios or small one bedrooms could go for under a thousand in new construction in your area. More affordable than the housing there now. But not affordable for many. New construction tends not to be. People at the bottom of the housing market still benefit from this sort of middle class affordable housing, because it reduces price pressure on existing nearby apartments.

    how much affordable housing would really end up being built?

    Having new construction be your main source of affordable housing is a backwards approach to a big problem. Get rid of NIMBYS, let new housing get built, and older housing stock will provide plenty of affordable units.

    The apartment buildings that exist in my area are right off main arteries like 164th Street or Jewel Avenue.

    Because that’s where zoning permits them?

    It’s MUCH easier to fill up apartment buildings when they’re near transit

    Yes, and allowing development a bit further back allows for less desirable = cheaper housing to develop there.

    What it comes down to is if you want to densify this radically, you have to build the transit first

    Why? Permit the housing. Builders will come and throw up denser housing. You don’t need transit to incentivize that. You want transit and restrictions on autos for the sake of your quality of life. That’s a different issue.

    You also have to hope real estate values don’t skyrocket to the point that just luxury housing gets built. NYC in the 1950s and 1960s didn’t have that problem. NYC today does.

    Don’t have to hope. There is not unlimited demand for luxury housing. It’s ridiculous to assume that there is. Development is severely restricted, and has been for a long time. Going into the 50s, that wasn’t the case. That’s why the city didn’t have this problem then. Building in your area replaces luxury priced housing for middle class priced housing.

    Think for example how much housing could be built where we have parking under the #7 viaduct.

    Really? That’s your solution?

  • Miles Bader

    a) Blanket upzone entire city by 2x

    Just get rid of geometric zoning completely, it’s a stupid idea that has caused far more harm than good.

  • Joe R.

    Some reading on speculation:

    http://www.alternet.org/economy/billionaire-speculators-greed-makes-life-hard-renters-and-would-be-homebuyers

    http://www.marketwatch.com/story/housing-hotspots-and-rampant-speculation-could-lead-to-another-crush-2016-06-09

    My thoughts on laws to stop speculators are to prevent the market manipulation they cause. Speculators have caused similar price spikes with gasoline and other commodities. If we both truly believe in free markets, then those markets should reflect the real supply and demand. With real estate, the supply is the available housing stock, and the demand is people wishing to buy that stock to live in long term. Speculation affects rents as well as the prices of private homes. In fact, one article mentions speculating on condos. It’s in NYC’s interest to stop speculation cold. If these people want to invest, try the stock market.

    Class 1 properties have a much lower tax rate than other classes. Not sure why what happens in Texas should be more relevant than that.

    The problem is more that rentals have too high a tax rate, not that private homes have too low a tax rate. I’m all in favor of lowering the tax rate on apartment buildings to match that of private homes. This will also lower rents without impacting the profits landlords make. NYC can certainly find a way to trim a few billion or more from the budget. Start by cutting the NYPD in half. The fact is we tax way too much in this part of the country but we really have very little to show for it in terms of what these taxes buy.

    Permit the housing. Builders will come and throw up denser housing. You don’t need transit to incentivize that. You want transit and restrictions on autos for the sake of your quality of life. That’s a different issue.

    Note that even suburbs with far less density than you envision end up with major traffic problems. That’s the issue here. If you put up lots of new housing in areas where people primarily get around by car you end up with traffic nightmares. I’ve seen it by me with just the new development allowed by present zoning restrictions. So you need to put in transit, disincentivize car use before you increase density, and get rid of parking minimums so you encourage people without cars to move in. Cars don’t scale in an urban environment. That’s really the reason this site exists. You can’t have downtown Brooklyn or Astoria density in an area like mine without also having the access to transit plus better access to retail within easy walking distance. Many parts of areas like mine where you might like see apartments aren’t close to easy walking distance of retail. Another part of this complex puzzle then might be to start rezoning some residential blocks for commercial.

    Really? That’s your solution?

    It’s part of the solution. The idea is to get more land for housing first by using land which presently has car storage on it. If we develop in the right way then very few people here will need cars. If people want them, then let’s see what the market value for private garages is. Whatever distortion NYC may have caused in the real estate market pales next to the huge market distortions in the cost of car ownership thanks to things like parking minimums or free curbside parking. You may complain private homes receive subsidies which benefit those with higher incomes but indirect automobile subsidies are an even more insidious example of the same. Moreover, at least owner-occupied dwellings have some larger societal benefits like stability. Not sure there are any benefits to encouraging car ownership in NYC but there are loads of downsides.

  • ahwr

    With real estate, the supply is the available housing stock, and the demand is people wishing to buy that stock to live in long term.

    The demand also includes people wishing to rent housing short term. That includes short term stuff like airbnb. Or run little shops.

    https://www.google.com/maps/@42.0405657,-74.1193142,3a,75y,172.39h,81.78t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1s8YijpAvXtST4J0Ko-D96GA!2e0!7i13312!8i6656

    https://www.google.com/maps/@45.5321454,-122.6986969,3a,75y,105.73h,86.82t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1s-cENJzxsi_Vpb-ToChy0vA!2e0!7i13312!8i6656

    https://www.google.com/maps/@41.9347681,-74.0199288,3a,75y,83.41h,84.93t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1sKmehlyweFbt01A1h9_oGQQ!2e0!7i13312!8i6656

    Why is it right to exclude all uses other than long term owner occupied housing? Why are the people with enough capital to purchase a house, and who want to commit to living in an area long term, the only people that mass tracts of land should be reserved for. It’s like devoting mass tracts of space to the exclusive use of people getting around in cars, de jure or de facto.

    Arguing against a chemical factory next to a school is not the same as saying your neighbor can’t split his house into a few apartments. Or renting some of them short term. Or building a new place bigger than the old one. Or running a little shop, law office, or medical facility on the ground floor.

    you need to put in transit, disincentivize car use before you increase density, and get rid of parking minimums so you encourage people without cars to move in.

    Traffic problems aren’t the end of the world. Your neighborhood character of low traffic streets is less important than expanding the housing stock enough to allow housing to remain affordable. This applies to people complaining about traffic, parking, historical properties, views and similar issues in Park Slope, East Village, every little town in Nassau and Westchester, and cities, suburbs, towns, and villages all over the country. There are people everywhere who complain about over development, poor infrastructure etc…who want to send new people somewhere else, just like you. The only fair solution I see to that is to tell everyone no. Let housing get built wherever it’s going to get built. As money allows, build infrastructure to accommodate it. Massive government investment before anything gets built like at Hudson Yards, or choosing the occasional property to be preserved in perpetuity as some historic monument/museum has to be the exception, not the rule.

    Many parts of areas like mine where you might like see apartments aren’t close to easy walking distance of retail.

    Yea, there’s no retail because zoning prohibits it. Really, if someone wants to run a shop on the ground floor in a residential area, that should be allowed as of right. I’d be fine if that was turned back a bit, and done with some minimal restrictions attached, like limiting the number of deliveries by anything bigger than a large van to once every month or two, not allow places to be open too late or serve alcohol, or stricter noise regulations than in ‘commercial’ areas. It wouldn’t be ideal, but it would be an improvement over the status quo.

  • Joe R.

    Arguing against a chemical factory next to a school is not the same as saying your neighbor can’t split his house into a few apartments. Or renting some of them short term. Or building a new place bigger than the old one. Or running a little shop, law office, or medical facility on the ground floor.

    Huh? I never said I was against any of those things. That’s quite a bit different than a developer building a 6-story apartment next door. I’m against speculators who buy houses, rent them out short term, then kick out the tenants when they feel like selling. I’m certainly not against a long term owner renting out part of their house. My brother had exactly that arrangement for a long time. He rented the top floor and finished attic in an elderly woman’s house. She just wanted a good tenant, didn’t care about getting what the market would bear, so she only charged him $600 a month. It worked out great for both of them until she got sick, was put in a nursing home by her niece, and my brother was forced to move back in with us when the niece more than doubled his rent. He eventually bought his own place in the Rockaways, but it’s been a struggle compared to his old arrangement where he was a mile from work.

    The idea of using part of a private home for business dovetails nicely with what I said about putting in more nearby retail when you increase density. Sadly, this type of thing seems to be mostly illegal in NYC.

    Really, if someone wants to run a shop on the ground floor in a residential area, that should be allowed as of right.

    I’d like to see this as well, and not just because it facilitates greater density without more car use. I’m tired of all the generic chains taking over NYC retail. Mom and pop stores were driven out by high commercial rents. It would be nice to see them return being run from private homes. I’m all for relaxing zoning enough to add a few floors to house if need be both for family members and for business reasons. With some reasonable restrictions like you said, I think it would work out nicely. It might also help solve the unemployment/underemployment issue.

  • ahwr

    That’s quite a bit different than a developer building a 6-story apartment next door.

    After years of prohibiting more incremental development the unmet demand is substantial. Incremental development may no longer be sufficient, and more radical changes wouldn’t be unexpected. And downzoning to prohibit incremental development isn’t something that has stopped.

    http://newyorkyimby.com/2014/08/where-have-all-of-new-york-citys-small-builders-gone.html

    http://www.census.gov/construction/bps/

    In 2006 Queens has ~3800 units approved in 2-4 unit structures. In 2015 it was <500.

  • Joe R.

    Well, that partially explains why I’m not seeing any two or three family homes going up in parts of my neighborhood. They’re still legal on my block but apparently large swaths were downzoned to prohibit them. I’d like to see areas like mined zoned to allow going up to perhaps 4 floors, allowing owner run businesses, and also legalizing things like basement apartments. These things aren’t going to radically alter the “character” of the neighborhood, despite what the naysayers might think, but they’ll provide some much needed middle class housing and a lot more diversity in retail. While we’re at it, let’s even put a bike rack or two on every residential block, perhaps in what is the parking spot nearest the crosswalk. This will daylight intersections while implicitly encouraging more bike use in the neighborhood.

  • Chen Li

    No one is talking about having to build heavy rail, except only in the cases where Amtrak and CSX owned ROW and infrastructure is largely already there, and left little used (Triboro RX). Most of the proposals under discussion here are intermediate modes of transit, such as BRT, LRT, Trams, etc. The G is poor in ridership not because subways are not needed, but because it doesn’t go many places where there isn’t already service, and no longer go to queen boulevard. I think you will see it do the heavy lifting once they shutdown the canarsie line for reconstruction in 2019. In eastern parts of the boroughs, of course subways are not needed everywhere, surface transit with limited ROW is your best bet in connecting transit points like Jamaica, Willets pt, Broadway jct, etc.

    There are plenty of circumferential routes where many transit deserts would be very well served, especially area such as middle village, utica ave, E. elmhurst, etc. There a rapid tansit system. In those places, not necessarily heavy rail, but something with high rate of on-time service during rush hours (so not surface bus), that can move a substantial number of people to connect to the radial transit corridors into Manhattan and B/Q water front, would do wonders for those communities. Extreme eastern queens is another story (where even with reliable rapid transit, you are looking at 1hr + commute time into manhattan).

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