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Building More Buildings Does Not resolve Neighborhood Decline

Today, the New York Times contained an article about low-income high-rise apartment buildings being planned for the Bronx. The Bronx has many blighted areas where buildings have crumbled or been demolished without replacement. Now nonprofit housing agencies are partnering with contractors to raise nice new low-income housing buildings. Eventually the developers hope that, as people move in and stabilize the neighborhood by reducing its homeless population and by giving people a well-built place where they can stay for years, the developers will then be able to build market-rate apartments.
     But it won't work. Adding new buildings has never helped a location become more prosperous. If anything, adding more low-income housing adds to neighborhood decline. That's what happened to Hempstead Village, which started adding apartment buildings in the late 1940s. By about 1957, blight was already appearing in some of the fringe business sections of the village. This loss of businesses owed partly to the rise of malls with easy parking that drew business away from municipalities. Also, more and more surrounding municipalities like East Meadow and Franklin Square were building their own high schools, and they didn't have to send their children to Hempstead for high school anymore. If people have to come somewhere for their children's sake, they are likely to shop in that location. Remove the children and you remove the business.
     Starting in the early 1960s, more and more apartment buildings have periodically been added in Hempstead, to entice more people to enter the village and become shoppers. But locations lose their elan before long; they become just another lot of apartment buildings, while the young people who occupied the apartments at first move on to getting their own homes. Hempstead has so many inhabited but ugly apartment buildings, it's pitiful.
     Mayor Hall's proposal to build new mixed-use apartment buildings with 42% affordable housing will not revitalize Hempstead. It may give the illusion of revitalization, but as young people occupy the apartments and realize they still are living cheek by jowl with a troubled school system and entrenched crime areas, they'll leave. They'll start out their independent lives in those apartments and then leave. And we will return to square one, where homeowners groan under ever-increasing prpoerty taxes and yet another 300-plus apartments in a building have to be cleared of crime with federal intervention. I don't look forward to it.
 

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