Morningside Heights Group Organizes Against Development


An older building in Morningside Heights. Photo by Ryan.

The Morningside Heights Community Coalition, a group formed to stop “luxury overdevelopment” in the neighborhood, is meeting on Wednesday night at 7 p.m. at Corpus Christi Church, 529 West 121st Street, east of Broadway.

Several nonprofits — including the Cathedral of St. John the Divine and Jewish Theological Seminary — have sold properties or partnered with developers in Morningside Heights, leading to new apartment towers. The group thinks a rezoning could slow development or at least force developers to provide more affordable housing.

“Aside from casting shadows, blocking views and sunlight – the luxury towers will cause area tax rates to rise and lead to landlord harassment, meaning the displacement of long-time residents and small businesses facing higher rents,” the group said in a statement. “The market rate housing will put pressure on neighborhood schools, and make it difficult for small neighborhood businesses to grow, lead to overcrowded transportation, and an uncontrolled increase in density. Community Board 9 is pushing for rezoning and has allocated staffing resources to work with the Department of City Planning as a budget priority.”

The coalition’s website is here.

NEWS, REAL ESTATE | 27 comments | permalink
    1. Sherman says:

      Much of Morningside Heights is run down and decrepit and long overdue for new development. This badly needed new development has been prevented because so many of the buildings there are rent regulated and therefore can’t be replaced with modern and more efficient ones that can accommodate more people.

      The building in this picture does not exactly look like the type of place many people would aspire to live in.

      If these people truly cared about NYC being “affordable” then they would allow new construction.

      The last time I took a college economics class I recall an obscure theory that increases to supply lead to a decrease in price.

      • Giulia says:

        The building in the picture looks absolutely fine, and Morningside Heights is cozy, friendly, and lived in. It actually feels the way New York used to feel, and the way many visitors want it to feel when they come here. Where do you live, Trump Tower?

        • Sherman says:

          Not too long ago Manhattan – and Morningstar Heights especially – was grimy and dangerous.

          I’m glad you’re so nastolgic about the way “New York used to feel”.

    2. John says:

      Ugh. More NIMBY obstructionism.

      “Aside from casting shadows, blocking views and sunlight” – That this is now the go-to argument against development says a lot. Yes folks, buildings cast shadows. That’s not an argument to turn New York into a time capsule.

      “market rate housing will put pressure on neighborhood schools” – Rich people are good for schools. There’s also not a cap on schools. We can build more.

      “make it difficult for small neighborhood businesses to grow” – Rich people spend money. That’s a great opportunity. Rents may go up, but that’s because there are more people spending money in the neighborhood.

      “lead to overcrowded transportation” – Then we should build more transportation. This shouldn’t be an argument to stop all development in its tracks.

      “uncontrolled increase in density” – This is New York City, not Greenwich, CT. Density is our game. If it’s any consolation, Manhattan used to have a population nearly 50% higher than it is now.

      Don’t get me wrong, I know that gentrification can lead to increased rents and that people might have to move as a consequence. This sucks, but that’s the game with renting. I’ve had rent raised to levels that I think are unreasonable, and I’ve moved. It’s not the end of the world. It’s unreasonable to expect landlords to shoulder the burden if a neighborhood turns south, but not participate in the upside if a neighborhood improves.

      Overall, NIMBY arguments are fraught with the sky-is-falling pessimism. New York is know for its can-do spirit. It’s willingness to make change and make things work. It’s depressing to see so many people argue that basically any and all development is bad and that things have to stay exactly the way things are.

      • H says:

        If only everything you stated was simple(or true), which they are not.
        LOL @ “rich people are good for schools”. Eh, not entirely. It helps with fundraising to add additional resources but as we’ve seen with the zoning debate with schools on the UWS, it can also solidify the classism and segregation that exists in schools.
        LOL again, “rich people spend money”. All people spend money. You must be a trickle down advocate. Yeah that works! Will those “rich people” make up the difference of the “not rich” who have to pay more in rent but cannot afford to move so they have less to spend in their community?
        “make it difficult for small neighborhood businesses to grow” – Rich people spend money. That’s a great opportunity. Rents may go up, but that’s because there are more people spending money in the neighborhood?
        LOL # 3 @ “build more transportation”. Clearly you’ve not been paying attention to the 2nd Avenue subway and it’s costs…or the congestion of vehicles on roads. What “more transportation” would you propose? Maybe the “rich people” you speak of will foot the bill? Yeah, didn’t think so.
        Now I’ll agree with you that many of the arguments against something being built are bogus at best. It doesn’t always have to be an either/or-winner/loser situation but unfortunately that is what happens and it is usually those “rich people” who end up the winners at the expense of moderately to lower income people who have often helped mold communities over the years and are forced out or forced to spend the majority of their income on rent.

      • Bob Hobbes says:

        John,

        Regarding the transportation bit, do you really want another subway line on the UWS since that seems to be what you’re advocating by ‘build more’. The UES 2nd avenue subway project went so swimmingly, that sure, let’s do it over here!

        Bob

      • Woody says:

        “It’s unreasonable to expect landlords to shoulder the burden if a neighborhood turns south, but not participate in the upside if a neighborhood improves.”

        I like this rational assessment and challenge anyone to present a credible argument in opposition.

      • Johnny UWS says:

        I’m getting bored of all the real estate lobbyist wanna bes that that comment on WSR. John is hardly the worst of them, his comments are reasoned to a degree and not full of vitriol. Just to state simply and without passion or nostagia for the past, take a walk down 6th Ave in Chelsea and look up and around: this is what overdevelopment looks like. Walk along West End Avenue from 66th to 59th St look up and around this is what overdevelopment looks like.

        There are just some things the free market cannot and should not be allowed to control. Our environment out community our history, our connections, real estate developers do not care about that stuff how high and how dense is their questions.
        We as communities must care, look Manhattan is the 3rd most traffic congested city on the world, dont refer to the past for answers, new solutions are needed and more government regulation is needed, this will not happen when 7 of the Mayors top contributors are real estate developers, but lets just face the facts this is a city of money and built and maintained for those folks, the others are just spectators in this great charade.

        • Sherman says:

          Do you honestly believe that West End Avenue between 59th and 66th is worse off today because of “overdevelopment”.

          Not too long ago this was a desolate and dreary and dangerous part of town.

          Now it’s full of ultramodern new apartments and stores and restaurants. Soon there will even be green space available to the public.

          I’m not sure how or why you consider the construction in this area a bad thing.

          • js says:

            Sherman:
            Respectfully disagree with your assertion that it was dangerous until “not too long ago”.
            my relatives moved to Lincoln Towers when it was built and were completely comfortable. Same with other friends and family who moved nearby in the 1970s and 1980s.
            Recall you mentioning that you grew up in the suburbs? likely you heard the suburban myths about the scary “city”
            IMO The area is now overdeveloped with new glossy luxury high rise buildings. And overdevelopment which generates traffic congestion.

          • Johnny UWS says:

            My critique is not based on some dollars and cents debate, rather a experiential and visceral. And imagine if, in that desolate are they would have planned some moderate development, more park space, instead of tower after tower crushing over civic experience, and who was one early developer our own President.

            Its all ugly and high and the small concession of a park surrounded by towers in a sham. But I do not argue with you and with what most people would say, its good development lots of nice tall shiny apartment buildings, its me not you.

            But really more development does not mean affordable housing it mean more development. Look at the percentages from the development starting at 72nd St going to 59th St in the last decade, do you know its about 4% of the total rentals in that area.

            We are losing affordable housing at an alarming rate on the UWS so the solution is obviously not just building more buildings. That’s why I look at the block of new shiny buildings and dont think oh great. Between 2007 and 2014, 25 percent of the rent-stabilized apartments on the Upper West Side of Manhattan were deregulated. Start worrying less about the real estate industry and GDP and more about your neighbor being evicted or displaced.

            • Sherman says:

              I don’t worry at all about the real estate industry. They are making tons of money with 421-A tax breaks for providing “affordable” housing.

              Like it or not the only way to solve NYC’s housing affordability crisis is to build more and deregulate.

              This is not some far-fetched right wing theory. This is Economics 101.

            • Jay says:

              You can’t have a conversation about housing unless you want to take about economics. If you can’t do that, then there’s not much to talk about.

              For example, you think that by stopping development that affordable housing is just going to occur on its own? You need to create incentives for private developers to create affordable housing and that’s exactly what happens through the current system. If you have better ideas, share them with your reps. So far, I haven’t heard any from the NIMBY crowd.

        • Josh P. says:

          “There are just some things the free market cannot and should not be allowed to control. Our environment out community our history, our connections, real estate developers do not care about that stuff how high and how dense is their questions.”
          Serious question – who do you think built our community? The vast majority of the UWS (and probably the home where you live!) was built by greedy developers. Developers in the 1890s weren’t angels building housing out of the goodness of their hearts. Do you think the blocks of huge, beautiful brownstones that line some of the UWS’s most beautiful blocks were affordable housing when they were built? Show me a neighborhood in New York that has frozen development and become more affordable. Increasing supply and forcing landlords to compete for tenants instead of the other way around is lowering rents and improving living conditions right now https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.bloomberg.com/amp/news/articles/2018-02-08/manhattan-tenants-get-big-breaks-as-rents-fall-most-since-2011. We need more!

          • Johnny UWS says:

            GOod points but to harken back to 1890s development and tie it to the eventual birth of some affordable housing takes some leap. This is not about real estate interests being bad its just there is so little intelligent government oversight into good mixes of affordable, low income, and high end housing, and no oversight on the matter of overall public good and aesthetics. Is there a neighborhood in Manhattan where in the last 40 years where this theory you put out has worked?

            • Josh P. says:

              “No oversight on the matter of overall public good and aesthetics” – What’s your favorite building in New York? What’s your favorite neighborhood? I can almost guarantee you that the buildings you love the most in the city were built before the time when Community Board busybodies tried to micromanage every aesthetic detail of new buildings. Everything old and beloved was new and different once. Maybe developers build some ugly buildings, but there have always been ugly buildings. Nobody ever thinks about the architecture that we are missing. To each his own, but I prefer a vibrant, living Nee York on the forefront of design, not the Colonial Williamsburg style museum that the “Defend the UWS!” crowd prefers.

        • Ground Control says:

          Couldn’t agree more Johnny! It’s rather interesting how many commenters here have absolutely no interest in the community or the common good. It’s very Trumpian. They like to spin a specious argument that overbuilding is great and will bring down rents. Really? When 80% of that building is luxury condo development? How does that bring down rental prices? The new condos in my neighborhood have an entry price point of $3.4 mil. How exciting. To build these they removed 45 working & middle class apartments to now build 25 for those luxury dwellers. Does wonders for the housing supply.
          I can only imagine there are a lot of REBNY folks who comment here-or armchair quarterbacks who do absolutely nothing for their own communities. Maybe commenting in YIMBY would be more up their alley.

      • 9d8b7988045e4953a882 says:

        Some of the NIMBYs also benefit economically by using state power to restrict the supply of housing. Co-op and condo owners get higher property values. Rent-stabilized or rent-controlled tenants increase their chances of a lucrative buyout.

    3. Josh P. says:

      This city has a housing crisis. More homes are needed at every price level in every part of the city. People trying to turn their neighborhood into a gated community and enjoy all the benefits of density without the costs are the reason this city has become unaffordable for all but the wealthiest. Shame on these people. More housing now!
      If you love New York, you love cities. Cities ARE density. This isn’t a moral question – we all want the same things. More affordable housing, thriving local businesses, a walkable neighborhood. The question is do we get more of those things by freezing development or allowing the neighborhood to continue growing? The neighborhoods that have frozen in time (look at the West Village) have become deserted playgrounds for the rich.
      The UWS is great because of its people, not any specific building. The remain dynamic and culturally vibrant we need more people, not a gated community the shuts out newcomers.
      Upzone the Upper West Side.

      • Giulia says:

        “Shame on these people. More housing now!”

        It would be wonderful if that simply solved the housing crisis. Unfortunately, a high percentage of housing built in NYC these days is for the ultra-rich, who have no idea there even IS a housing crisis as they can rent/buy up luxury property at any cost.

    4. Jake van Hoensbroek says:

      But I’ll bet the activists like to spend the tax money luxury apartments bring?

    5. J says:

      Understanding NYC is run by the real estate industry, it is nonetheless shameful that St. John the Divine sold off to luxury real estate and that no wealthy donor was willing to support the Cathedral deficit.
      Looking at the campus now, the message is “real estate trumps religion, history, preservation and architecture”.

      In contrast Washington National Cathedral is lovely and unspoiled by encroaching luxury buildings.

      By the way the Cathedral School is altering its beautiful building – again ruling classic architecture forever.

    6. Carolyn says:

      What has really ruined the neighborhood is Columbia University’s encouragement of landlord greed, so that fine old buildings (some historically landmarked) are turned into rabbit warrens, with illegal partitions called bedrooms allowing 5 students into what was a two bedroom apartment, 3 into a one-bedroom, kitchens turned into bedrooms, etc., and the buildings overloaded with too many people for too little services and not enough elevators.

      Now if Columbia would build its own dorms instead of ruining neighborhood buildings by encouraging subdividing ad infinitum, the neighborhood might not be so angry about more “development,” which turns out to mean more fast-food places and bars. Rezoning rules should include rules forbidding sweetheart arrangements between Columbia and landlords happily pocketing rents while ruining what were once family-oriented buildings.

      If you think the building in the photo doesn’t look appealing, it’s probably because you know that the insides, once family-sized apartments, have probably been chopped up to squeeze in students at exorbitant rents. “Rezoning” should address greedy landlords, bad housing policies by CU, and corrupt public housing authorities who allow owners to encourage these conditions. Now THAT would be rezoning we could live with!

      Every time another storefront closes on Broadway, around Columbia it is filled with a fast-food place. Or it remains empty for a long, long time. We don’t need more banks or bars, or more crowding, but better landlords.

    7. Kayson212 says:

      St. John the Divine took the most reasonable course to address financial challenges. The National Cathedral may have pretty grounds, but its deficits have forced it to close Cathedral College, eliminate 100 of 170 staff positions, freeze salaries, cut member programs and start charging admission to visitors. I prefer apartments.

    8. Leslie Rupert says:

      They need to enlist the help and support of Landmarks West. This organization can be tremendously helpful.