Our communities don’t have enough affordable rental homes, so it may seem odd for a housing authority to use scarce land for market-rate housing. Yet the New York City Housing Authority has proposed to do just that. NYCHA points out the important role market-rate housing will play in funding the affordable units. And I agree. It’s a smart spin-off on the idea of cross-subsidies, and it fills a difficult funding void. But the reasons don’t stop there.
Leasing land for market-rate housing on public housing properties creates mixed-income communities. Mixed-income homes are not a panacea. The literature is clear on this. But they have some documented benefits – and provide opportunities for more.
Social interaction between people of different incomes and backgrounds is a huge, but largely unrealized opportunity. Getting all the Legos together is the first step. But the blocks all stay where they are until we do the work to connect them.
Yes, land leases on NYCHA property can provide funds to improve public housing’s quality for existing tenants. But they can do more. Connecting market-rate and public housing needs to be followed with step two: adding deeper community program connections. People of all backgrounds can build real relationships across incomes or other divides when we have “common places and a reason to cooperate in them.”
Housing policies provide the tools to segregate us or integrate us. Let’s make the better choice.