Rental class warfare has reared its head on Williamsburg's East River waterfront. Two new condo developments — Northside Piers and the Edge, both built by the Toll Brothers — were each given tax abatements and permitted to build an extra 1.25 square feet of luxury condos for every square foot of affordable housing. But for those tenants living on the affordable side of each development, the experience is as divergent as the rent. At Northside Piers, between North Fourth and North Fifth Streets, condos run from $385,000 to $2.9 million, where rents on the affordable side, filled by a lottery, start at $398. A block away at the Edge, condo prices run from $395,000 to $2.85 million, where rents on the affordable side start at $886. The affordable renters also have separate entrances, empty lobbies, and no access to any of the condos' amenities like pools, billiard rooms, and Jacuzzis.
The effect seems to have enforced the class system that those rental laws — and tax breaks, which typically come during the building phase and cover the loss of rent — are designed to eliminate.
“We knew full well what it was, and you don’t want to complain,” one Northside Piers affordable housing renter told the New York Times. “But we joke it’s like the projects,” he said. “It’s just, you see them, they’re right there, in their balconies, their decks and the pool.”
It might be hard to sympathize with someone who won the lottery to pay as little as $398 to live on the waterfront, even in a building where buyers on the luxury side have complained about shoddy construction and mold. But it's equally as trying on the empathy muscle to understand where one woman — a 32-year-old mother-to-be who chose to pour her and her husband's life savings into their one-bedroom luxury condo — is coming from when she said she envied the people who qualified for affordable housing.
“Sometimes we feel they are luckier,” she said. “We are not that rich.”