New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s proposal to build homeless shelters across the city is facing backlash from local residents due to plans to build a shelter to replace the Park Savoy Hotel, which stands just behind the One57. The One57 is a “super-luxury” residential skyscraper in a wealthy New York neighborhood commonly referred to as “Billionaire’s Row.” Although the shelter may diminish the neighborhood’s luxury appeal, the city’s wealthy elite cannot continue to hide from the endemic problem of homelessness that pervades their city.
According to a December report from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, there are more than 76,000 homeless people living in New York City, more than any other city in the country. These numbers represent a 4 percent increase in homelessness numbers from 2016, and include increases in both people living in shelters and in the streets. 30 percent of the nation’s homeless families with children live in New York City.
The cause of the city’s homelessness epidemic is an affordable housing crisis that has plagued the city as its population has grown steadily since 1980, adding over a million new residents since then. As the city has grown rapidly, the private sector has been unable to keep up with the demand for housing at an affordable price, thus leaving many New Yorkers homeless in the city. The average monthly rent of a one-bedroom apartment in New York City is about $3,100, while the minimum wage in the city ranges from $12 to $13 an hour. However, a full-time 40-hour worker making $12 in New York only receives about $2,900 in pre-tax income monthly.
Although $3,100 may be the average cost of rent, real estate company Zumper has estimated that the lowest prices for single-bedroom apartments hover around $2,100 monthly. After paying taxes and other expenses, however, it’s dubious that many minimum wage workers will be able to buy housing for just themselves, let alone for their families.
New York City is a city of incredible wealth; in 2016, the GDP of the metropolitan area alone was approximately $1.5 trillion, and 82 of the world’s billionaires have homes in the city. The great prosperity of that city is not due solely to its richest inhabitants; the entire community of New York, especially the minimum wage workers, are all integral to the infrastructure of the city. As all of this wealth has been generated, New York’s homeless shelters have seen their population nearly double since 2007.
It’s undeniable that the city’s homelessness epidemic is a problem of shared responsibility by all residents. As record numbers of residents have seen themselves rise to prosperity, others have fallen behind. In 2014, the bottom 50 percent of the city’s earners brought in just 5.6 percent of the city’s total earnings, while the top 0.1 percent brought in 24 percent of the earnings. While some level of inequality is inherent in an efficient economic system, New York’s income inequality is an issue that has been clearly dismissed by the city’s economic elite for too long.
De Blasio’s plan is a restrained, reasonable proposal that will distribute costs upon each of the city’s neighborhoods in a fair manner. In addition to increasing housing subsidies aimed to prevent homelessness, de Blasio is now moving forward with plans to create 90 new homeless shelters that can house about 150 people each.
The shelter to be built on “Billionaire’s Row” may diminish the value of the $1.5 billion luxury skyscraper that it is next to; however, as the shelter is built, it will not only fundamentally change the lives of 150 people who may need it the most, but also force the city’s affluent residents to confront the darker elements of the city that they have neglected for so long.