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New York City Has Been Zoned to Segregate

New York City Has Been Zoned to Segregate
A new book argues that poor communities of color are hurt by the city's zoning and housing policies.

Today, historical color lines are being redrawn through a concentration of wealth and the displacement of communities of color. In New York, that phenomenon may be spurred in part by the city's well-intentioned land-use policies. Various types of rezoning--upzoning and mixed-use zoning, for example--have inadvertently but disproportionately harmed poor neighborhoods. That's the central argument of Zoned Out!, a new book edited by Tom Angotti, an urban planning professor at the City University of New York, and housing advocate Sylvia Morse.

we talk about in the book is the watering down of the word "affordable." Affordable housing used to imply that it was housing for people who had less money, who needed help affording housing. Now, it basically means anything that meets the federal guidelines for rent not costing more than 30 percent of household income, and really there's a lot of room to obscure which groups you're serving through affordable housing. I think that's a very New York City-specific context. Of course, we still have the old school, low-density NIMBYism, which we talk about [in the book].

Angotti: [History] demonstrates that the city's housing and development and zoning policies have produced a segregated city. They have had racial consequences, even as the city proclaims that they are race-neutral and color-blind. That was an important part of the argument: That this [phenomenon] is not simply a function of the current mayor or even the last three or four mayors. This has very deep historical roots. What we do is demonstrate how the current mayor and the previous mayor have very carefully followed tradition.

Morse: I think urban renewal is one where there are a lot of parallels with the mega-development projects these days. I think [of] the specific history of the use of the Housing Act of 1949 to target communities of color and use [the word] "slum" as a proxy for race.

We see a lot of that happening now, where if people are living in poverty, and if those people are people of color, their neighborhoods are immediately labeled as needing a certain kind of investment. Rather than that investment in social programs, that investment comes in the form of subsidies for developers that are going to make a ton of private profit. I think there's a direct line between that history of urban renewal projects like Lincoln Center to what we're seeing today.


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