“Whether De Blasio realizes it now or he figures it out later, if he really believes in affordable housing, it’s not going to create itself,” says one executive involved in several such projects. Precedent would suggest that every mayor eventually comes to terms with developers—it’s the only way anything ever gets built. Bloomberg came to office believing that optional incentives could nudge the private sector to build or preserve affordable housing, but after seeing disappointing results—fewer than 3,000 units since 2005, according to one study—he fell back on offering something developers really value: free land.
The other day, the mayor unveiled a mixed-income development called Essex Crossing, to be built on the site of a city-owned market and parking lots on the Lower East Side. While he brusquely dismissed reporters’ questions about his legacy, the announcement could be read to say: Here is your real tale of two cities. Half of Essex Crossing’s 1,000 units will be market rate and half subsidized.
To some of De Blasio’s supporters, that result might sound like a sellout to developers. But it’s easy to imagine that a few years from now, a Mayor De Blasio might take credit for overseeing the creation of thousands of affordable units at Essex Crossing and other projects now in development. Every mayor capitalizes, to some degree, on groundwork laid by his predecessor: Think of poor David Dinkins, who set Times Square’s revival in motion, only to watch Rudy Giuliani bask in all the accolades. How will this revolution end? With a ribbon-cutting, most likely.