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Can New York City Housing Be a Human Right Again?


The State Budget is on the way… or so we hope. 

Negotiations are ongoing. Among the proposals –a new plan from New York State Democrats to revamp the Mitchell-Lama program. The plan was established in the '50s and it allowed middle class families to move into buildings and pay a rent proportionate to their income. They could also buy their homes.

But, one of the biggest changes in the new plan would be to stop those sales. The idea is that it would keep apartments affordable.

Author Jennifer Baun just published "Just City: Growing Up on the Upper West Side When Housing Was a Human Right." She grew up in Mitchell-Lama housing and she is a fan of the new proposal…


I don't think in Mitchell-Lama 2.0 privatization provision should be allowed. If you move into a building with the expectation it's going to be affordable, it should stay affordable. You know, and it's also creating it's creating a lot of division because there are those who want to privatize and then flip their apartments and make millions. And there are those who believe in keeping it public and affordable.


For listeners that don't know, this program is going to be using $250 million to expedite and build more long term affordable housing on state owned land throughout New York State. So, what are your thoughts on this program? 


It's a good thing because the Mitchell-Lama model has really worked. 


And I'm going to play a little bit of devil's advocate here. So instead of spending $250 million on the construction of new houses, we know that New York State has tens of thousands of houses that currently can't be renovated because there's no money to renovate them from the land owners. And so they're vacant. Wouldn't it be better to spend that budget on renovating houses that are already existing?


Um, can't we do both? Things are always presented as an either or situation, you know, and so it can be room to do both. I think so 


So, we're waiting for the state budget to be released. And housing is a focal point of that. And it's also a very debated point. Governor Hochul wants to develop new housing. And then there's state lawmakers who are like, well, but we have an overcrowding problem.


It's kind of I think it's false to say there's no room to build buildings for working people. There seems to be room to build upscale buildings. We need to build more affordable housing. 


And in the book you talk about New York City as a just city. That's what titles your book. You also call it the embodiment of the dream of equality through architecture. What does that mean, exactly? 


Well, postwar, the government really supported people in a way that it doesn't support people now. New York City built more public housing per capita than any other city in the country. So in that way, it was a just city. There was a sense that housing was a human right. 


So in the book, New York was a just city. Is that true today? Is that utopia, as you call it in the book, still working or not? 


No, no, I mean, it's a very different city today than it was when I was growing up. There's really an affordable housing crisis in New York. The homeless population is is, you know, almost at depression levels. It's a real crisis.


Jennifer Baum, thank you. 


Oh, thank you. Thank you very much.


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