Housing Policy

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Is Right to Oppose This NYC Mega-Development

But she's wrong about why it's bad.

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Fresh from their successful effort to kill Amazon's plan for a second headquarters in New York City, Queens-area politicians, including "squad" member Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D–N.Y.), are trying to stop another mega-development at Sunnyside Yards.

There are good reasons to be skeptical of the Sunnyside Yards project, which involves building a massive deck over a 180-acre rail yard, creating space for the construction of new housing, offices, and community facilities. However, few of those reasons get a mention by Ocasio-Cortez and her anti-development allies.

"The proposal as it stands reflects a misalignment of priorities: development over reinvestment, commodification of public land over consideration of public good," wrote Ocasio-Cortez and New York City Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer in a letter to the city's Economic Development Corporation (EDC), which is coordinating an ongoing master planning process for the site.

"The proposed high-rise and mid-rise residential buildings would further exacerbate a housing crisis that displaces communities of color and parcels off public land to private real estate developers," the two elected officials wrote.

Similar objections were raised in a letter by state Sen. Michael Gianaris (D–Queens), who wrote that the EDC "has not embraced a democratic process in implementing public input that prioritizes environmental and social justice."

The argument that building housing where none currently exists would lead to displacement, and that dense urban development near transit would contribute to climate change, sparked a lot of eye-rolling from free market urbanists.

Michael Hendrix, the Manhattan Institute's director of local and state policy, dismisses Ocasio-Cortez's reasons for opposing the project as "garden-variety NIMBYism."

The development of Sunnyside Yards offers the possibility of adding lots of new housing units, which should have the effect of reducing, not raising, housing costs and displacement.

A 2017 feasibility study prepared by the EDC at the instruction of Mayor Bill de Blasio—who's been an enthusiastic backer of the project for years—examined three possible development test cases. A "residential" test case estimated that as many as 24,000 new units, including 7,200 that would be affordable, could be built on a decked-over version of Sunnyside Yards, alongside commercial and community space.

The other two test cases studied by the EDC envisioned less housing and more office or commercial space. Even these scenarios estimated that a Sunnyside Yards project could create a minimum of 14,000 new housing units.

That same 2017 feasibility study also identified a huge problem for project boosters: The cost of building a deck over Sunnyside Yards would massively outweigh the value of the development-friendly land that the deck is supposed to create.

The EDC study found that a deck over the rail yard would create between $3.33 billion and $3.98 billion in gross land proceeds. It also found that the costs of building the deck and supporting infrastructure would cost between $5.3 billion and $6.8 billion.

In other words, under the best-case-scenario, building a deck over Sunnyside Yard would lose $1.73 billion, with the potential for losses as high as $3.48 billion. This would, in effect, require government subsidies to make any development of Sunnyside Yards viable.

"A negative residual land value suggests that public investment is necessary to facilitate development," reads the EDC report.

A negative residual land value also suggests that the development is not currently worth the expense, says Eric Kober, a former city planner and adjunct scholar the Manhattan Institute.

"For [Sunnyside Yards] to be viable in the long-term, the land that is being created on top of the rail yard would have to be extremely valuable. Right now, it's not very valuable," Kober says. "It's not very valuable because there're alternative places to do real estate development."

According to Kober, there are still a lot of areas with development potential in New York City that don't require building super-expensive decks over rail yards, including land adjacent to Sunnyside Yards in the Long Island City neighborhood, which is zoned for low-density manufacturing. Rezoning that land to allow for housing development would be a far would cost-effective way of adding new units, says Kober.

"One could imagine some decades from now, that all those opportunities will have been seized" and Sunnyside Yards becomes valuable enough to justify its development, he says. "That is not the case today."

Of course, rezoning nearby areas to allow for redevelopment would also likely provoke the exact same concerns from anti-development politicians opposing Sunnyside Yards. Indeed, Justice For All—a community group opposed to the Sunnyside Yards project—has called for an immediate moratorium on all building permits in Long Island City.

That's a counter-productive attitude. New York City is a rapidly growing urban area that's been adding jobs much faster than it has been adding housing over the past decade.

The result is that more people are competing for the same number of housing units, raising rents for those who can afford to stay in the city, and forcing those who can't into longer and longer commutes from comparatively cheaper suburbs.

Making New York City a more affordable place to live requires accommodating the city's growth with more housing development, not fighting against such development.

Ocasio-Cortez's opposition to Sunnyside Yards is rooted in an anti-growth mentality that will worsen problems of affordability and displacement—the very problems the congresswoman is clearly concerned about.

The master planning process for Sunnyside Yards is expected to be completed sometime next year. After that, any project at the site will spend years going through environmental review and the city's planning process.

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  1. //Making New York City a more affordable place to live requires accommodating the city’s growth with more housing development, not fighting against such development.//

    In other words, more rent control and Section 7 housing … since we are talking about New York City, after all.

  2. A. She’s a US representative and city matters are none of her official business. Butt out.

    B. Whether it’s a misalignment or not is up to the investors who stand to lose their money, not to second- and third-guessing political hacks.

    1. Those investors will fall back on government to bail them out, so it’s everyone’s problem.

      1. “fall back on government to bail them out” — The problem that needs fixing……. Don’t care if it’s politicians or investors — I sick of subsidizing collective “stupidity” with my own checkbook.

        I’ll make the world a deal today — I’ll pay for my own stupidity if you’ll pay for yours.

    2. Whether it’s a misalignment or not is up to the investors who stand to lose their money, not to second- and third-guessing political hacks.

      The implication of the study is that it will be the city who will fund and build the deck. There is some language implying that they’ll go to Amtrak for some funding, but I’m guessing Amtrak will say “no.”

      In fact, if you look at the “Next Steps” discussion in the “Conclusion” section of the study, it doesn’t look like Amtrak was consulted in any way regarding its operational plans for this yard or its own building plans. So this “Feasibility Study” is only half baked, in point of fact. It says “this structure is physically possible to build, and will cost a whole lot.” What more it says its only pretending to say.

      On an up note, this study probably cost about $500k to produce.

  3. AOC is the most effective ally libertarians have in Congress.

    1. I guess every website needs it own Crazy. Thanks OBL…

      1. It’s the truth, in an ironic sort of way.

        1. Actually, OBL is right. AOC shows the insane fringe of Progressive thought, and what we can expect if she and her ilk win out.

    2. we need *one* worth looking at so …

  4. Fuck NYC and fuck Reason

    Let the New Yorkers free to do whatever.

    and this gem from Reason:

    ‘and that dense urban development near transit would contribute to climate change’

    Reason has definitely gone Green – libertarian not so much…

    1. If you read the full quote, it’s clear that Reason is paraphrasing the environmentalist argument, not endorsing it. Either way, libertarianism and belief in climate change are in no way mutually exclusive.

      1. Climate Change is just another disguise for Socialistic policies and definitely excludes libertarianism…

        1. Human-caused climate change. Climate change itself is real but not under control of humans.

          1. Industry is responsible for the ice age!

        2. It’s beyond that. Cloistering urban centers around public transportation is pretty socialist public policy. Everything contributes to climate change and it’s become a thought terminating, I-don’t-like-it-because-reasons-I-can’t-articulate argument like “It’s racist.”

          I don’t like plates ‘o shrimp, they contribute to climate change.

        3. Socialist policies exclude libertarianism, yes. But there’s nothing logically inconsistent in believing that the climate is getting worse and that the best way to address it is free market capitalism. Whether the climate actually is getting worse is another question, but there’s no need to assume that the only answer is more government. Stop letting progressives dictate the conversation.

          1. ^ Exactly this.

          2. But there’s nothing logically inconsistent in believing that the climate is getting worse

            getting worse = change:change =/= getting worse.

          3. Now now bignose, you’re just being too *reasonable* here. The correct response is to froth at the mouth about socialists and to repeat Team Red talking points.

            1. Because the socialists are clearly proposing reasonable solutions, and disagreeing with them is a Team Red talking point.

              Clown.

      2. Climate change is the Trojan Horse to system change.

        If you’re libertarian you should be rejecting this cult and its suspect assertions. Notice how in order to ‘save earth’ it takes taxes, regulations and the need to ‘smash capitalism’.

    2. dense urban development near transit would contribute to climate change

      While AGW is BS, shorter commutes reduce energy use. So the watermelons should be supporting this.

      1. Which is the point made by the article. The complaining commenter can’t read.

        1. ^ This. The larger takeaway is that this is not the first time we have seen AOC tack “Climate Change” onto her political positions when she clearly hasn’t even given two seconds of thought as to whether it’s relevant or, indeed, directly counter to what she’s claiming it’s relevant to, as she does here.

          The term “Green-washing” is gaining currency even on the “Environmentalist Left,” and that’s a good thing.

          1. Just to drive the point home, we see a similar thing in the recent “I love China” comments from Bloomberg – he says “China is great, they sooper care about Climate Change, which is why they’re building all their new coal plants away from the cities.”

            In order to make these comments, Bloomberg

            1) isn’t actually concerned about Climate Change
            2) wants you to believe he is
            3) wants you to believe a narrative about Climate Change that he knows to be wrong
            4) points to a dictatorship that he knows per the dominant narrative is doing the exact wrong things and tells you they’re doing better than we are, which is a bald-faced and easily verifiable lie.

            If he thinks people on the Earnest Left aren’t noticing this, he’s an idiot, and so is AOC.

        2. Who reads the article? The headline and the picture are enough to start commenting.

  5. One has to wonder what kind of gold plated toilets are being installed to cost $6 billion in building over the rail yards. One might also wonder if the estimate came back high (and the ROI low/negative) on purpose.

    1. That’s not the cost of the buildings. That covers the deck and infrastructure that the buildings will stand on.

    2. One might also wonder if the estimate came back high (and the ROI low/negative) on purpose.

      At this phase of planning, we call this a WAG (short for “Wild-Assed Guess”), which is where you are before you can claim to be at a Rough-Order-of-Magnitude (ROM). And yes – you want those to be high, so you do what you can to inflate them, which theoretically decreases the amount by which you will eventually bust that budget.

      The simple fact that this project will involve a market-impacting amount of steel all on its own means these cost projections are worth very little, in the end. Think SF-Bay-Bridge-level guesswork.

      The study is more about “what can we build in this space according to the laws of physics” rather than “how much will this realistically cost and is it worth doing from an economic perspective.” I mean, yes – it makes gestures that way, but those gestures are mostly empty posturing.

  6. “The proposed high-rise and mid-rise residential buildings would further exacerbate a housing crisis”

    Because nothing is worse for a housing shortage than building more housing.

    1. These new units are likely to be above median price, which will raise the median price.

      Why do you hate poor people?

      1. I hate poor people because they don’t make enough money to keep the Social Security fund solvent with their taxes.

      2. So folks who want a better place move out, leaving lower cost housing for folks who want to move to to that.

  7. Next at Reason Why It’s OK to Keep IN and Out Burger Out of Your Town.

    1. I thought they ran that article last month. THe long line at the drive through makes climate change worse.

  8. Nothing beats the smell of diesel fumes and rumbling trains below your apartment.

    1. “Why has no one thought of building apartments over train yards before?!

      1. They’re doing it on the far West Side of Manhattan, and those apartments will be VERY pricey.

  9. I built a deck onto my house and it increased its value. As usual Britschgi doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

    1. Did you adjust your cost estimate to see how much it would have been with New York union labor?

    2. Did it cost 6 billion dollars though?

      1. Is your deck strong enough to build a high rise apartment building on top of it?

  10. This is why I oppose shelters for the homeless: They contribute to climate change.

    1. If we can figure out how to get energy out of the homeless, we would have an endlessly renewable resource.

      1. Setting them on fire solves the energy and the homelessness problems all at once.

    2. I’m always losing loose change in my sofa. We need to build a giant sofa so we can lose climate change in it. 🙂

    3. Warmer weather makes tent cities more comfortable.

  11. Reason finally gets one right.
    AOC should ensure there is no private property in NYC (or anywhere else here in the Union of Soviet Socialist Slave States of America) if we are to continue down the path of socialist enlightenment. Private property is an antiquated form of ownership where millions have suffered unduly and only through public ownership can the masses truly enjoy their lives. One only needs to look at the wonderful abodes of public housing where the little people enjoy all its benefits like bad plumbing, fire hazards galore, electric failures, drug dealings in the open, murder in the hallways, roaches everywhere, rats prancing about, and deteriorating walls with no privacy. The masses should be very grateful they do not live in such squalor afforded by private homes that have clean, running water, safe neighborhoods, constant running electricity, garages, swimming pools (for those fascist pigs who take extra money out of their pocket just to enjoy themselves), roofs that don’t leak etc.
    The people who live in public housing are very fortunate indeed we have wise and beneficent socialist leaders who know what’s best for them and are not afraid to suffer the indignities of living in gated, guarded and walled housing themselves as a token of their sacrifice to the people they love so much.

    1. More affordable housing = More unmanageable housing projects.

  12. AOC once again proves the actual value of a degree in Economics from Boston – – – – – –

    1. I wonder if she had to take any econ courses to get an econ degree.

      1. Sometimes I wonder.

        It makes no sense based on the utter stupidities she says.

        And the utter arrogance of her delivery is through the roof.

        I just saw her conflate ‘price’ and ‘value’ in discussing health care and the value of human life.

        She’s an idiot.

  13. Didn’t she stop Amazon from coming into NYC?

    Something tells me this is along those lines.

    She’s an illiberal illiterate.

  14. With AOC shutting down expansion and cutting new jobs plus the taxes that the democrats are proposing it will not be long before NYC will have to be importing people even the homeless just so it will not be abandoned.

    1. California has some we can ship them.

  15. What is the impact on global climate warming change when you trap all that train emissions under a roof? Are there plans to capture and transport it or what? Or will they ‘discover’ later that it is a bad thing and get rid of the trains they say we have to switch to?

    1. I thought the Green Raw Dealers loved trains? Taking America back to the 19th Century!

  16. These politicians who champion the ‘little people’ for their votes in truth despise them. The ‘little people’ are made of up a lot of people who make bad choices and stupid decisions.

    People who work hard and do the right thing deserve to have quality housing, they earned it. When you get everything for free, you respect nothing and accept no responsibility for it … check the difference between rental housing and owned housing.

    Nothing good comes easy. That is why it take character to succeed in life. It’s okay to have some losers in life as a warning of what can happen if you decide to be a leftist stooge.

    1. the problem is: up through the early 20th century, nature had a way of keeping the ranks of losers pretty thin.

      we’re starting to really see the impact of a few generations of “society can leave no one behind”…where “leaving no one behind” by and large doesn’t mean picking them up, dusting them off, and having them continue on their own. it means dragging them along.

  17. AOC is concerned about affordable housing and displacement, but she doesn’t want to fix them — she wants to make sure they continue so she can continue to cash in on appealing to voters with empty promises and more government control.

  18. look gentrification doesnt have to be a bad word but it is these days. Gentrification is common sense math, like for example spraying bug spray wont eradicate your pest problems in a appartment because the pests will simply move to another unit in the building. You must first analyze the buildings blue print first, then come up with step by solutions. Its like when people move in to a new city after gentrification and complain of human feces on the ground or petty crime next door to them those people dont seem to realize they stole someones home because they moved into a brand new expensive appartment in which the poor people could not afford and were not provided proper accommodations which resulted in the former tenants to be evicted and homeless due to not just gentrification but lack of compassion and planning on both parties involved.

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